Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is pushing a multi-million-dollar “move-to-the-country” campaign, after the Commonwealth allocated $4.6 million to the Regional Australia Institute.
McCormack says that many city dwellers would be able to afford better houses in regional Australia.
“You could live like a king or queen in regional Australia with … five bedrooms, three bathrooms, three-car garage, huge backyard — all those things at a fraction of the price that you could, living in a boxed apartment, in a terraced house or whatever, in Melbourne or Sydney,” he said.
He also said life in regional Australia promised shorter trips to work and more time with family across areas where there are 54,000 job vacancies.
The push is great and certainly the covid-19 crisis, that has impacted mainly capital cities, has seen many urban dwellers head for the country.
But the regions need more than a population push. They need:
Infrastructure investment in roads, telecommunications, water and services. For decades, federal and state government infrasturuce programs has focused on the big cities, while infrasturuce in the regions has deteriorated. The further you go from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, the worse the roads become.
For decades, ABS data has shown a net migration from large areas of regional Australia to the major cities and adjacent areas (as the map above indicates), because of the lack of job opportunities and the run-down of farming under fundamentalist economic policies.
Incentives for businesses to be set up in regional areas are needed.
Reform of agriculture is needed to make Australian farmers profitable. For starters, exempt agriculture from National Competition Policy so farmers can collectively bargain, reform of the Murray Darling Basin plan to restore irrigation reliability so that farmers can plan their investments, and declaring agriculture a strategic industry.
How will Australia defend its borders when it’s losing population across most of this already sparsely populated continent from above a line that starts in southern coastal Queensland and runs down to Sydney and across southern NSW to Adelaide?
In short, encouraging people to move to regional areas should be part of an integrated plan to rebuild Australia’s industrial and farming base as set out in the NCC’s White Paper Manufacturing: double production by 2035 and as part of a plan to build the population of Australia to 50 million by 2060.
I summarised this White Paper in my News Weekly article, INFRASTRUCTURE, YES; BUT, PRIME MINISTER, WE NEED MANUFACTURING LIFTED TO 15% OF GDP BY 2035.
(a) Net migration intensity is the difference between the number of in-migrants (people moving in to a region) and the number of out-migrants (people moving out of a region) divided by the population in the region at the start of the period.
Source: ABS Census of Population and Housing, 2016.