The government has dusted off an old policy. Is there any hope for it this time around?
So the government is flirting with a ‘migrants to the bush’ scheme – a program that will require immigrants to move to regional areas.
Scott Morrison and Cities Minister Alan Tudge haven’t given us the exact details yet, but in recent week’s they’ve been letting us know something is coming.
With 87% of migrants moving to either Sydney or Melbourne, and both cities bursting at the seams, maybe it could help ease congestion and improve livability.
And if we’re pushing population out to the regional centres, that’s could maybe push up housing demand…
So… does that mean it’s time to buy the regions?
Oh, no. Hang on. Not so fast. Scott Morrison just launched a blistering broadside against the idea on the ABC:
“It holds out unrealistic promises that all of this can be turned around by everybody moving to regional areas.
We simply know, through centuries of migration experience, that that simply isn’t how it happens….
… The Government says it is not about immigration and they want to put out this false hope that they can move all these people around the country differently…
… To hold out some false hope that this problem’s going to be solved because a Population Minister is going to fantastically move people around like has never been done before in our history, is I think unfair to the Australian people to suggest that that is realistic option, certainly in the short or medium term. Long term I think there are still real doubts.
The history of settlement over centuries means that people will come and gravitate to areas where there is population…
Ok, I’m being cheeky. I’ve dug up some quotes from 2010 and 2011 when Morrison was in opposition, and Labor was proposing something similar.
The point I would make is that Morrison is right. Well, he was. This kind of artificial social engineering is hard.
How do you enforce it, when all the incentives are for migrants to move to the big cities? What are we talking about? Some kind of tag and release program?
And even if you could enforce it, how do you sustain it?
SBS is running this story about Rajinder K Bhullar who immigrated from India in 2014. Part of her visa condition was that she spend three years in a regional area, so she went to Albury-Wodonga.
Thing was though, in India she was a university lecturer in computer science. Turns out there’s not much demand for computer science lecturers in Wodonga, so she ended up packing shelves at Aldi. So as soon as her visa conditions were up, she moved to Melbourne.
Of course, she did.
But that’s the thing. If all your doing is forcing migrants to have a holiday in the regions before they move the capitals, you’re not doing anything for permanent regional migration levels. And therefore you’re not doing anything permanent for housing demand.
The other thing is that some regional centres seem to be welcoming it for now. But what happens when they realise it means the federal government is sending them computer science lecturers to compete with their kids for entry-level jobs?
Are they going to be happy about it?
Regional unemployment is already way higher than in the big cities.
And this is the thing about population growth. Where jobs grow, population flows.
You need employment. You need economic activity.
If you don’t have these things, then you are putting the horse before the cart, and it’s not going to end well.
So I’ll keep an eye on it, but right now I’m not seeing something that’s going to transform the economic fortunes of our regional centres, and I’m not seeing something that’s going to increase housing demand and prices – not in the medium term.
I think the impulse to decentralise Australia – to take pressure off our cities and energising the bush – is great. We should be doing more of it.
But forcing migrants to have a gap year in the bush is just not going to cut it.