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Pandemic sees doubling in net migration from capital cities to regional Australia

Pandemic sees doubling in net migration from capital cities to regional Australia 

Net migration to regional areas during 2020 and 2021 is more than double the level in the two years prior to the coronavirus pandemic – despite a 10-percent drop in the number of city-country relocations during the December 2021 quarter, according to the latest Regional Movers Index. 

The index – a partnership between the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) and Commonwealth Bank (CBA) – tracks movements between capital cities and regional areas using relocation data from CBA’s ten million customers. 

RAI Chief Economist and Acting CEO Dr Kim Houghton says that quarterly migration from capitals to regional areas during 2020 and 2021 has been, on average, 15 percent higher than during the previous two years. 

“At the same time, more people who have been living in regional Australia have chosen to stay there,” Dr Houghton says. 

Dr Houghton says seasonal factors were the main reason behind the 10-percent decline in the number of city dwellers moving to regional Australia during the December 2021 quarter. The decline also came amid tight housing conditions in some regional areas. 

“With two years of the Index we can now clearly see the positive impact that COVID has had on people seeking a regional lifestyle,” Dr Kim Houghton says. 

“It is particularly exciting that many of the smaller regions showing high rates of growth are inland towns. It looks like the pandemic is changing some long-established movement paths, which is a good sign for more balanced population growth across Australia in future.” 

Commonwealth Bank’s Executive General Manager for Regional and Agribusiness Banking, and RAI Regional Australia Council (RAC2031) member, Paul Fowler says: “City-siders have really embraced Australia’s regions over the past two years and, as we see flexible working arrangements continue and Australia’s domestic and international borders opening up, it’s likely we will continue to see this movement as people recognise the benefits of a regional lifestyle.” Page 2 of 2 

The local government areas (LGAs) which experienced the strongest annual growth in migration from capital cities during 2021 were all in South Australia and Queensland: 

Port Augusta, SA (+54 percent from 2020) 

Douglas, Qld (+49 percent) 

Western Downs, Qld (+48 percent) 

Mount Gambier, SA (+44 percent) 

Banana, Qld (+40 percent) 

The most popular LGAs for metro-movers during 2021 were large coastal centres, close to capital cities: 

Gold Coast, Qld (11 percent share of regional migration) 

Sunshine Coast, Qld (5 percent share) 

Greater Geelong, Vic (4 percent) 

Wollongong, NSW (3 percent) 

Lake Macquarie, NSW (2 percent) 

In 2021, Sydney was the capital city which accounted for the largest net outflow to the regions (53 percent) as opposed to Melbourne, in 2020 (50 percent). 

More metro-movers from across Australia chose New South Wales for their sea or tree change than any other state, with regional NSW increasing its share of total capital city inflows from 36 percent in 2020, to 50 percent in 2021. 

Dr Kim Houghton and Paul Fowler will hold a joint online media conference to discuss the latest Regional Movers Index report on Thursday February 17, 2022 between 9am and 9.30am AEDT. Please register here to get your zoom link.