Australia’s history is built on immigration, and it seems that the mantra “populate or perish” is as in vogue today as it was following WWII. The only difference these days is that the need has shifted to rural areas facing a population decline.
The Regional Australian Institute (RAI) presented its policy paper in Canberra on Tuesday, outlining a two-pronged program for a successful rural migration strategy that could be a solution for country areas desperate for workers, and looking to keep schools and shops open despite their fading populations.
In an effort to prevent a rural collapse, the regional think tank wants to motivate rural communities to be established as “priority settlement areas”.
To be labelled as such, the areas would need to offer employment opportunities, affordable housing as well as initiatives for successful social integration.
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These settlements would be given preferential treatment. Pushed to the top of the country’s migration list, they would need to have resources for locally-led migration plans and manage the social aspects of the projected influx.
RAI also recommends providing incentives to encourage migrants to settle in rural areas, such as set-up costs and increased opportunities for family reunion.
Done correctly, it would be a win-win situation for all. Small towns would be offered the opportunity to prosper, grow and acquire a cosmopolitan outlook, and migrants would find welcoming homes, jobs and a positive future outlook in a country still seen as the “promised land”.
Of course, it’s not the first time that we’ve seen this happen. Let’s not forget the large influx of mainly Italian migrants that headed to Inglewood after WWII when the tobacco industry flourished. And Tingha still hosts a Chinese festival to honour its Asian heritage during the tin mining boom in the 19th century.
Now, with proper guidelines and planning to ensure that small towns reap the benefits of population growth, we can ensure that small towns will enjoy the shift of migration from larger cities.
Many towns are already experiencing a construction boom with new homes erected for the first time in generations as foreign workers take up job opportunities.
Over time, such sustainable growth can bring prosperity and create a spiral for more jobs and business opportunities.