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Regional Renaissance – New data unveils dynamic change in Australia’s demographic landscape: RAI

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Regional Australia Institute (RAI), Media Release, 4 September 2023

A surge of millennials leaving Australia’s capital cities for country communities is helping drive a regional renaissance, new research from the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has found.  

Big Movers cover

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie said the Big Movers 2023 report has found an additional 54,000 millennials headed for the regions during the latest Census period (2016-2021) compared to the previous Census period (2011-2016).

“For so many years we’ve heard stories about young people from regional communities leaving the country to undergo further study and take up jobs in the cities, never to return.  But today we can debunk that myth,” Ms Ritchie said.

“This data shows there’s been a remarkable turnaround during the last Census, with a net loss of just over 37,000 millennials in the regions in 2011-2016, to a net gain of more than 57,000 in 2016-2021.”

Big Movers 2023 analyses population data from the latest Census period (2016-2021), building on RAI research undertaken in 2020 which utilised information from the previous Census period (2011-2016). For the first time ever, this latest report also takes a close look at two key demographics in Australia – millennials (25-39 years) and those born overseas.

Ms Ritchie said a similar story unfolded amongst the overseas-born population, with regional Australia doubling its net gain of this demographic across the two Census periods.

“The data also shows a significant increase in the number of millennials and overseas-born residents relocating from urban to regional areas.  This is a dynamic change in Australia’s demographic landscape,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Millennials and the overseas-born population are highly skilled and well educated.  Their desire to live in regional Australia can partly be attributed to the strong jobs market in country areas, as well as the enviable lifestyle benefits – like the reduced cost of living, and more space.”

Big Movers 2023 has also found that regional Australia saw a significant increase in net migration from capital cities of 166,000 people – almost triple the net gain of the previous Census period.

Ms Ritchie said between 2016-2021 more than 600,000 metro Australians packed up their homes and embarked on a new life in the country – 120,000 more than during the previous Census period.

“While migration out of capitals was strong, the number of regional residents relocating to cities only marginally increased between the two-time frames,” Ms Ritchie said.

Sydney and Melbourne were the largest net exporters of people to regional Australia, with a net loss to the regions of more than 110,000 and almost 82,000 respectively.

The report also found regional areas in all states of Australia, except the Northern Territory (NT) and Western Australia (WA), had a net gain in population from capital cities during the last Census period, which indicates those who’ve relocated out of urban areas are staying regional.

Ms Ritchie said this shift in population could have profound implications for regional Australia.

“Millennials have a higher propensity to move to more remote areas than the general public – the locations RAI classifies at Heartland -which are smaller communities, isolated from capital cities and larger regional centres,” Ms Ritchie said.

The report shows Local Government Areas (LGAs) such as Dungog (NSW), Loddon (VIC), Blackall Tambo (QLD), Tumby Bay (SA) and Chapman Valley (WA) all saw significant net migration rates for the millennial cohort.

More than 150 regional Heartland LGAs recorded a positive net migration rate of millennials (See Appendix B, Big Movers 2023 Report for full list).

Ms Ritchie said regional leaders have told the RAI, the acceleration in population has strained existing social and physical infrastructure. Substantial investment is needed in areas like housing, healthcare, and schools.

“We must see collaboration between federal and state governments to ensure regional Australia has the services and investment it needs so it can thrive and take its rightful place in our country’s history,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Regional job vacancies reached a record high of 94,000 last October and have remained elevated throughout 2023.  Policies that focus on aligning these two key demographics with the skills and qualifications needed in regional Australia would maximise the economic impact of internal migration.”

Whilst the recent COVID pandemic was a significant catalyst for capital to regional migration, this report along with its earlier counterpart shows increased movement between cities and country areas is a trend that’s been building for a decade.

“Australia’s in the midst of a regional renaissance.  We need governments, policymakers, leaders and community to work together to support regional Australia through this period of change, we need them to shift their gaze towards our regions,” Ms Ritchie said.

Heartland LGAs with highest millennial net migration rate

Later this month, at the Regions Rising National Summit – Shifting Our Gaze  the RAI will release the first progress report into the Regionalisation Ambition 2032, which will highlight how we, as a nation, have moved the dial on 20 targets set for regional Australia.

This event will be held at Hotel Realm in Canberra on 13-14 September. For more information, please click here.

The Big Movers 2023 report is funded by the Australian Government through the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts.

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