Can migration boost regional development?
As seen in The Land, 21 July 2018
Many rural areas have no spare workforce.
With an aging population and youth migration moving away from country and mostly towards cities in search of further education and opportunity, jobs back home are increasingly hard to fill.
During the recent Moree Next Crop forum, hosted by The Land with Good Fruit and Vegetables, the issue of population decline and hard-to-fill jobs raised the question of how permanent migration from overseas could be a solution.
In fact, migration is already creating a positive impact on rural Australia.
There are towns like Pyramid Hill, Vic, where Filipino families brought to work in a local piggery have flourished and revived a a town previously destined for dying. It now celebrates its new diversity with an annual fiesta.
At Hamilton, Vic, similar things are happening with new Australians while at Mingoola, east of Moree on the Mole River, there is a new wave of overseas immigrants helping to revive community.
Moree district could benefit from such an influx.
“Australia has a long history of migration from the Irish to beyond the Italians,” says Jack Archer, chief executive officer of the Regional Australia Institute.
“However, immigration alone is not enough to get regional communities back on a path to growth. It is critical that we connect migrants with work and community networks in order to realise this renewal.”
Of course there are barriers. “Every community has racism but too often those loud voices are unrepresentative of the debate.
“Would you say rural communities are not welcoming?” he asks. “Not in my experience.”
In communities where migrant populations have established, the trend away from decline is being reversed – 10 to 15 per cent growth, which is not excessive.
“Migrants are up for the hard work,” explains Mr Archer.
“Migrants have that energy to make the most of those opportunities.”
The chance of new residents being exploited as cheap labour is less if a migration program is driven by the community.
“If there is community-led migration the chance that they will be exploited is not there,” says Mr Archer. “There are children in school, for instance.”
In fact, temporary workers are the most vulnerable to exploitation and, as a double-edged sword, those businesses forced to use temporary migrants are frustrated by having to retrain new labour next time around.
“We want to see a permanent population,” says Mr Archer, “Growing through migration.”