The idea of growing regional populations always sounds like an attractive proposition for somewhere like the Goulburn Valley, but it does raise a few questions.
Federal Population Minister Allan Tudge started the discussion by outlining a growth policy to send migrants to regional communities.
Overseas migration accounts for about 60 per cent of Australia’s population growth, with nearly 90 per cent of skilled workers gravitating to Sydney and Melbourne, as well as almost all of the humanitarian intake.
Under the new policy, some migrants would be required to live in the rural areas (or smaller states) as part of the conditions for their visa, thus creating an instant population growth for places like Greater Shepparton — which has a modest annual growth rate of about 1.4 per cent, forecast to fall to 1.2 per cent.
Shepparton has already shown itself to be a welcoming community for people from other cultures and has been particularly hospitable to refugees seeking a new start in life.
So, is there a catch?
The answer may lie in the motivation by the government in seeking to locate population growth in smaller states and regional areas.
Much attention has been given to the bloated state of Sydney and Melbourne (which has already reached five million people), and the attendant infrastructure challenges, often focused around the time it takes to travel to work in the CBD.
The big cities have been getting the big population increases in recent years, and getting the lion’s share of resources for more than a few decades.
Governments are only now discovering the cost of focusing so much spending on the cities and neglecting the needs of regional communities.
Could it be that one of the reasons for the population growth in Sydney and Melbourne is the resources and facilities that have been created there? Maybe the population is making their own decisons about life being more attractive where the health, education and transport facilities are located.
So it follows that if the Federal Government wants to bring more people here, then we would welcome them, provided the influx was accompanied by a matching increase in resources and a more practical commitment to decentralisation.