Geelong to play key role in rebalancing Australia’s population

Victoria’s largest city has already benefited from a rapidly growing population in recent years, and yet the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) has placed the city at the heart of its plans to “rebalance the nation.”

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As part of a framework unveiled by the RAI last September as part of the Regionalisation Ambition 2032, a decade-long plan aimed at placing regional and metropolitan Australians on a level playing field with regards to services, infrastructure and investment, the institute is targeting 11 million regional Australian residents during the next 10 years.

For Victoria, this equates to an extra 85,000 people migrating to its smaller communities, such as Geelong and Ballarat.

According to RAI chief executive officer, Liz Ritchie, the institute’s Regional Movers Index, which charts the migration patterns of Australians, shows this goal is “achievable.”

Over the 12 months to March 2023, Melburnians have comprised over half of the net outflows from capital cities into Australia’s regions, up 6 per cent on the equivalent period a year earlier.

Ms Ritchie noted the same data set indicated Greater Geelong as one of the five regional Australian local government areas attracting the most newcomers. Over that same period, she shared the “Campaspe, Pyrenees, and Moorabool regions were identified as growth hotspots, luring both city dwellers and regional residents.”

According to the RAI, Victoria is well placed to meet several rebalancing targets by 2032. Nowhere is this push towards rebalancing more evident than Geelong. Last year, Geelong’s mayor, Trent Sullivan, described migration to the region, which surged through COVID-19 pandemic before continuing at a steady pace in 2022, as a “blessing and a curse.”

A core component of the region’s attractiveness to new and prospective residents is the fact “there’s a lot that is accessible for living down here.”

“Traffic isn’t as bad. There’s not as much congestion. It’s much easier to drop the kids off at school and go to work if you want to,” the mayor said.

However, despite the consensus around greater Australian regional expansion being skewed towards the positive outcomes, Mr Sullivan stressed it’s not always clear skies when the moving trucks roll in.

“People think that new residents mean new ratepayers and that pays off for everything when it really doesn’t.”

At the time of his exclusive conversation with SPI, Geelong was edging closer to its population growth target of 2.5 per cent, a trend Mr Sullivan explained places a “strain on the budget.”

“Naturally, with more people, we need more spending,” he added.

All these factors act as a counterbalance to the myriad of positives which arise with regional population growth.

Now, Mr Sullivan’s city is at the heart of the RAI’s push to rebalance the nation. Among the ambitious targets is a desire for 90 per cent of Victorian regional areas classed as having moderate to high capacity for disaster resilience.

Currently, that figure is around 83 per cent, significantly higher than the national average (50 per cent), highlighting Victoria’s advances regarding national rebalance when compared to other states.

Among the list of targets the RAI hopes to achieve by 2023 includes increasing the portion of Australians aged 15 to 39 residing within regional areas to 35 per cent of people in that age bracket, as well as increasing the portion of migrants flocking to our regions.

“We need to let our new Australian residents know about the benefits of regional living – the space, the work-life balance, and the welcoming communities,” Ms Ritchie said.

Regional expansion does not only benefit those regions, according to economic modelling from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research, which found Australia’s gross domestic product would be $13.8 billion larger in 2032 “under a scenario of a larger regional population rather than a ‘business as usual’ population scenario.”

“By advocating for regionalisation, we are advocating for a better Australia for all,” Ms Ritchie concluded.

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