Tides change as regional relocators give Qld the flick

Regional NSW has stolen the crown from Queensland as the location that’s proving the most attractive to metro dwellers looking for a change of pace.

liz ritchie RAI spi esizwt

According to the latest Regional Movers Index (RMI), capital to regional migration in Australia has returned to strength after experiencing a slowdown as COVID-19 movers returned to the cities. As of the September 2023 quarter, migration from capital cities to regional areas is 11.7 per cent above the pre-COVID-19 average, driven largely by cost-of-living pressures spurring Aussies to seek out affordable places to live.

Moreover, in the 12 months to September 2023, capital to regional migration accounted for an 11 per cent share of all relocations, compared to 9.1 per cent making the move from the regions to the city.

But while regional Queensland was the most desirable location for those seeking a lifestyle shift throughout the pandemic, it’s regional NSW that has recently emerged as the place to be.

The latest RMI showed that 38 per cent of net movers relocating from cities headed to regional NSW in the 12 months to September 2023, up from 26 per cent in the previous 12-month period.

In comparison, regional Queensland captured 33 per cent of people vacating cities. Regional Victoria was third in line, accounting for 21 per cent of net capital outflows.

According to Regional Australia Institute (RAI) CEO Liz Ritchie, it’s Sydneysiders seeking smaller communities who are leading the charge towards regional NSW.

“When you look at all the people who left cities for the regions in the last year, 80 per cent of them came from Sydney. In the 12 months to September 2022, it was just over 60 per cent. It suggests that the bigger our cities get, the stronger the draw to our wonderful regions becomes,” Ms Ritchie said.

The Snowy Valleys local government area to the southwest of Canberra emerged as one of the favoured destinations for movers, recording more than 200 per cent increase in net internal migration over the last quarter and almost 130 per cent increase over the last year.

The Greater Hume Shire also in the south of the state, was also a hot spot, as were the more northerly locales of Ballina, Cessnock and Lake Macquarie.

However, movers to regional NSW were fairly dispersed, which is why the top five locations targeted by regional relocators are still largely Queensland locales, with the Sunshine Coast continuing its reign as the most popular. The Gold Coast and Fraser Coast also rank in the top five, while Victorian hot spots Greater Geelong and Moorabool make up the rest.

But even with these pandemic hotspots continuing to draw a crowd, Ms Richie said that the data out of the September quarter further cements the fact that regional migration in Australia is not a fad.

“RMI data is repeatedly showing the exodus of people from capital cities wasn’t a short-lived phenomenon due to pandemic lockdowns,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean that pandemic impacts don’t play a part in this continuing surge. The wider acceptance of remote or hybrid work has helped boost the employment options available in non-metro centres, as noted by Paul Fowler, executive general manager of regional and agribusiness banking at the Commonwealth Bank, which partners with RAI on the quarterly report.

“Good regional job prospects and the likelihood of better house prices and availability are attracting many people to these more remote regional growth hotspots. Digital connectivity also means that where you are is less relevant today. As a result, it’s likely many Millennial small business owners are choosing to take advantage of the increasing investment and interest in regional development,” Mr Fowler said.

In turn, the population influx to many of these areas is also supporting local economies, with the job market strong in regional locations across the quarter as well.

“In September there were 91,400 jobs advertised in regional Australia, which is partly why we’re seeing such strong migration to our country communities,” Ms Richie added.

Mr Fowler noted, however, that the economic prosperity of these regions greatly depends on its ability to meet the housing needs of the increasing number of people choosing to call them home.

“To support our expanding regions, we need to ensure rental vacancy rates rise, building approvals keep pace with population growth, and services like childcare and transportation are at suitable levels,” he said.

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