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More Migrants for Small Towns – It’s a National Opportunity

May 21 2018

A handful of rural towns across Australia have found a solution to population decline and workforce shortages – and now the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) says it’s time the rest of the country gets on board.

RAI CEO Jack Archer says regional migration projects scattered across Australia are paying huge dividends for the towns involved, with some small towns increasing their population by up to 15 percent.

“In many cases, these migration strategies have been locally-led, but carried out in isolation. Now we need to connect the dots and help other rural towns capitalise on the opportunities migrant settlement programs can deliver,” Jack Archer said.

Today at Parliament House in Canberra, the RAI is hosting the More Migrants for Small Towns event to showcase the success of towns including Nhill, Pyramid Hill, Mingoola, Biloela, Dalwallinu, Hamilton, Rupanyup, and Nobby.

“From a position of decline, these towns are now thriving. But collectively, we must take stock of what has worked and what will work in the future for other rural towns,” Mr Archer said.

Pyramid Hill, in Victoria, has a population of just over 550 people and around 100 of those are Filipino. The biggest employer in town now has a strong workforce, schools have grown, and new homes are being built for the first time in many years. It even has a new Filipino grocery store.

Tom Smith and his sons own Kia-Ora piggery in Pyramid Hill. Along with his family, he was instrumental in driving his town’s migration strategy. The Smiths now employs 24 migrant staff originally from the Philippines.

“Staff are your biggest asset and without them, we didn’t have the confidence or the capacity to expand when we needed to,” Tom Smith said.

The RAI has today unveiled its newest policy paper – The Missing Workers – that highlights an opportunity for a new national policy.

“A new national policy facilitating the establishment of a network of priority rural migration areas could enable many rural communities to meet their local labour market needs and provide support for local growth and community renewal,” Mr Archer said.

The RAI’s policy paper addresses the resources required for regional assessments, support for new arrivals, employment tools, as well as a ‘local toolkit’ to help communities successfully welcome new migrants into their towns.

“We also have identified some changes to government policy that should be considered to help make it easier for rural employers to employ migrant staff,” Mr Archer said.

“We have a national opportunity here to alleviate some of the biggest issues affecting regional Australia.” Mr Archer said.

The RAI says that if Regional Australia could welcome an additional 2,000-3,000 migrants per year, this would put a stop to population decline – in most rural areas.

“These policy changes could be achieved at low cost to governments and we know philanthropic investment may also be an option for other resources needed,” Mr Archer said.

“Most importantly, we know that many communities in rural Australia are ready to pursue this option – if we can make it easy for them to do so,” Mr Archer concluded.

To find out more about some of the towns and regional cities including Orange, Bendigo, Tamworth, Toowoomba and Mount Gambier that have welcomed migrants across Australia, view our Community Narratives here. A copy of the RAI’s new policy paper is available here.