Rural Australia Institute rural migration policy a winner for everybody: Our say

THE Regional Australia Institute’s rural migration policy is a win-win, for everybody.

With sustainable growth comes prosperity. RAI’s research found that when a town’s workforce shortage was filled by migrant workers, it created more jobs and business opportunities. 

The rental market fills up, more houses have to be built, more money is spent in local businesses and the schools are full – which is extremely important for many towns with a small, or ageing population.

It’s a policy that shouldn’t meet resistance from metropolitan and coastal areas, where congestion, high house prices and job competition are all common problems that would be made slightly easier by shifting more people to the bush.

No doubt there will be people yelling the age old fear mongering cliche of “they’re taking our jobs”. But the fact is, workforce shortages in regional areas is not a new problem – it’s been growing in prominence over the last decade. 

We’ve been working hard to get doctors to stay in regional areas, with some success, but we always need more, and it’s the same for other health professionals and specialists. There is always work at the abattoirs, but frankly put, many Australian-born people don’t see the abattoirs as desirable work. More people are leaving farms for cities than there are those staying to work the land.

If there was another solution, we would have found it by now.

While the strategy has a big focus on smaller country towns, it also applies to regional hubs like Tamworth.

The 2017 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show the Tamworth Regional Council area grew by 556 people – a whooping 68 per cent of those people were overseas migrants (379 people).

Tamworth is already becoming a hub for overseas migrants – and the city has embraced them, as seen through events like Fiesta La Peel. It makes sense to leverage the city’s attractiveness to migrants to fill workforce shortages.

This is a strategy that doesn’t require a lot of funding, it just requires a slight tweaking of national policy and a shift in our mindset. We’ve been trying to tackle this problem for so long, with such little success, that we’ve told ourselves it’s too big to overcome.

But all it takes is a couple of mini-bus loads of overseas migrants – who are skilled, keen to work and start a new life – to get these small towns back on a positive growth trajectory.