A FEDERAL government idea to force skilled migrants to live outside of the major capital cities has been welcomed by Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke, who believes it could be an economic boost provided it was accompanied by infrastructure investment.
Minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population Alan Tudge raised the idea on Tuesday as a way of easing congestion in Melbourne and Sydney, but with little detail.
He said the government “would be pleased to work with” Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy on his policy of a fast train from Melbourne to Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong as part of the push.
Regional Cities Victoria chair and Bendigo mayor Margaret O’Rourke said encouraging skilled migrants away from the major cities could be a boost to economic activity and cultural diversity in regional cities.
“However, such a program would need to be carefully managed and supported by investment in regional infrastructure, such as fast rail, improved road networks, community facilities, and expansion of healthcare and education services to match increased demand,” she said.
“For any migrants, adjusting to a new city and a new culture takes time.
“If we want to ensure that migrants remain in our regional cities beyond the period of their visa requirements, we need to be able to offer support programs for new families to help them settle in, find work and schools, and connect with the community.”
Mr Tudge suggested skilled migrants – whose job was not tied to a specific geographic location – should live outside of Melbourne or Sydney for up to five years as a condition of their visa.
According to the latest Census, 15.5 per cent of residents in the City of Greater Bendigo were born outside Australia.
Of those, 1.8 per cent were born in England, 0.7 per cent from New Zealand, 0.6 per cent from India and 0.4 per cent were born in Myanmar, with a further 0.4 per cent from Thailand.
It was an overall increase from 11.7 per cent in 2011, reflecting a nationwide trend.
The overall population of Bendigo was forecast to increase to 144,000 by 2031, based on a 1.7 per cent annual population increase. It could reach 200,000 by 2050.
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said addressing issues with 457 visa workers should be a greater priority.
“The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government has done absolutely nothing to address the use of temporary work visas that are leaving Bendigo workers on the jobs queue,” she said.
“Why are the Liberals obsessed with importing overseas workers on 457-style visas rather than training Australian workers first?”