Immigration

Forcing migrants to regional areas to relieve city congestion 'will have little impact'

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A planning expert has weighed in on a government plan to relieve congestion in Australia's biggest cities by forcing new migrants to settle in regional areas.

Government reforms to make some new migrants spend at least a few years in regional areas to ease population pressure in Australia's biggest cities would make little impact, a planning expert believes. 

Cities and Population Minister Alan Tudge said migrants were responsible for more than half the country's population growth and encouraging some to live outside of Sydney and Melbourne would ease congestion.

File image of Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge
File image of Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge
AAP

"Net overseas migration accounts for 60 per cent of the overall population growth and around 75 per cent of the growth of the two big cities," Mr Tudge said on Tuesday. 

"Settling even a slightly larger number of new migrants to the smaller states and to the regions can take significant pressure off our big cities."

But Melbourne planning analyst Michael Buxton said population pressures were so significant in Australia that encouraging migrants to live in regional areas "would make little impact". 

Migrants will be directed away from these cities under the government's plan.
Migrants will be directed away from these cities under the government's plan.
SBS News

The emeritus professor of environment and planning at RMIT University said the problem was that governments failed to plan and build the infrastructure to cope with rapid population growth. 

He said that is particularly true in Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Tudge conceded that Sydney was in what he called a "catch-up stage" when it came to infrastructure.  

Prof Buxton said the infrastructure failings occurred because governments relied too much on the private sector.

"They've deregulated governance and left a lot open to the private sector, so there's this sort of mentality built up in Australian governments that governments really don't need to do too much."

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Alan Tudge on migrants and regional plan.
Alan Tudge on migrants and regional plan.

"And they've handed over responsibility to the private sector for more and more decision-making. And when it comes to an issue such as infrastructure, this mental attitude has really caught them short and led to a crisis."

Prof Buxton said Melbourne was adding a million more residents every eight years, with some forecasts predicting the population would reach 10 million by 2050.

He said even if the federal government relieved that population pressure by convincing a million migrants to settle in regional areas, Melbourne and Sydney would still face significant challenges. 

"The scale of the increase is still going to be concentrated in the capital cities, despite herculean attempts by government to develop regional settlement, along with a massive infrastructure cost that will involve, such as the opposition in Victoria are now proposing, you know, nearly $20 billion to provide fast rail," he said.

Migrants will be forced to live on regional Australia  up to five years.
Migrants will be forced to live on regional Australia up to five years.
SBS News

Prof Buxton said some of the most congested cities in the world, such as Los Angeles, were taking infrastructure challenges seriously, with significant investment in public transport.

"Los Angeles, San Francisco, all the US West Coast cities have got massive new public-transport infrastructure programs, involving the complete rebuilding of the city's public transport," he said. 

"Over the rest of the world, or much of the world, governments actually play this role, including the big mega Asian cities. So governments really need to adopt the responsibility of planning and anticipating the infrastructure needs and then going about building it, and stop being reactive and, as Mr Tudge said, trying to play catch-up."

Raginder Kaur
Raginder Kaur
SBS News

Raginder Kaur took up a sponsored visa opportunity, requiring her to live in the town of Albury for two years. 

The Indian national said she enjoyed living the town, but a lack of employment opportunities forced her to move to Melbourne when her tenure was up.

Despite the hardships, she said moving to Albury was the best thing for her family.  

"It was a big decision to move to Australia. It was difficult but thank god we went to Albury and not to Melbourne," she told SBS News. 

"Melbourne is so expensive and so fast, but Albury was calm and peaceful, it's within your budget."

She said the people of Albury treated her and her family "lovely".

"The Albury people were so kind, I didn't expect that they will treat me with so much love. I would say that from the first moment of our journey, in finding a house to finding a job, they helped me every step of the way." 

Audrey Liu
Audrey Liu
SBS News

Audrey Liu migrated to Australia from China in 2017, settling in the NSW town of Young. 

She now works in the town's visitors' centre and described living in Young as "amazing".  

"You will learn more about Australia's culture and it will also help you with your English," she said. 

Young Mayor Brian Ingram supports an incentive plan for migrants if the town was given the resources to take them on.

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