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| Simon Haag

CEDA State of the Nation: Recovering Confidence in Economic Growth in Australian Communities-Part 2

In part-1 of this two part blog seriesI looked at key takeaways from Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s (CEDA) State of the Nation conference and its recent research showing that there is a ‘disconnect’ between Australia’s economic performance and individual perceptions of prosperity

In this blog, I will discuss how migration can help business success and overall community development.

It may just be regional Australia that is currently providing the model for turning around some of these perceptions. Regional areas are a microcosm of how business success supported by immigration is assisting communities to develop and flourish. In his State of the Nation presentation, the CEO of the Regional Australia Institute Jack Archer cited immigration as a key to driving growth outside of Australia’s capitals. Regional areas have experienced a 20% increase in job vacancy rates since late 2016, far exceeding growth in the cities. Migration has been key to meeting demand for skilled and semi-skilled labour in an expanding range of industries as business activity in regional areas diversifies.

Challenges of attracting and retaining migrants to Australia’s regional areas

Part of the challenge in attracting and retaining migrants to regional areas is those areas’ livability relative to the inner cities. Historically, migration programs aimed at driving migrants to regional areas have had mixed results, for the same reason that the regions experience a drain to the cities – infrastructure development, suitable housing, job creation and recreational activities – to which one might add job prospects for partners, social networks, places of worship and the availability of certain foods. It is evident over the last ten years that the approach to regional migration has slowly been evolving, with a renewed focus at state level of developing inland regional cities into viable hubs of business and economic activity that are attractive places for people to live and work – and earlier in their career, not just sea- or tree-changers. This is complemented by a whole-of-government approach at a federal level in response to the 2015 White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. This is primarily an effort to take pressure off outer metropolitan areas, but it also lends itself well to settlement in parts of Australia that may not have seen much overseas migration since the post-war boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

Changing face of migration in regional Australia

The way that migration to the regions is changing was illustrated to me on a recent drive from Melbourne to Adelaide. I stopped overnight at Nhill, just shy of the Victorian side of the border, where I was able to see the positive impact of a community-led regional migration program first-hand. A decade ago the area’s biggest employer, Luv-A-Duck poultry, faced challenging labour market conditions as it sought to expand its operations: a declining town population, with virtually no unemployment. With the help of AMES Australia, the business began assisting cohorts of Burmese Karen refugees to move to Nhill for employment at Luv-A-Duck. Over time, 200 Karen made their way to Nhill as the positive experiences of the first arrivals became known to others, taking up work not just in the poultry farm but throughout the town’s economy. Today, Nhill’s population is 10% Karen.

The locals I met spoke positively about the revitalizing impact this influx of people has had on the town, in both economic and social terms. In turn, the community recognised the importance of these new arrivals by creating programs to help adjustment to their new home, ensuring that all members of each family unit were welcomed with positive settlement outcomes. In keeping with the theme of the CEDA conference, Nhill’s experience has meant that both a struggling small country township, and a community needing a new home under dire personal circumstances, were able to help each other find their economic and social resilience.

We congratulate the Board of CEDA for another successful State of the Nation conference.  

Learn more about Simon Haag and our Australia practice