‘Stepping stones’: Why more Australians are moving between these regional hotspots

Queensland's Sunshine Coast remains a drawcard for people moving away from capital cities.

Queensland's Sunshine Coast remains a drawcard for people moving away from capital cities. Photo: AAP

A growing number of Australians who escaped major capitals for regional centres are again relocating to smaller towns, according to new data spotlighting a “stepping stones” trend.

Figures published on Friday by the Regional Australia Institute found the number of people leaving big cities for the regions remains high, now about 20 per cent above pre-Covid levels.

But increasingly those who have made the shift to coastal cities, such as the Gold Coast in Queensland and Geelong in Victoria, are moving once again to surrounding areas, Commonwealth Bank’s regional general manager Paul Fowler said.

“We’ve seen a continuation of trends in terms of those seaside locations – they’re a particular drawcard,” he said.

“City dwellers are moving to locations that are in closer proximity to major metropolitan centres, but then using that over time to move to more remote or rural regional settings as well.”

Stepping stone trend

The Regional Movers Index didn’t survey Australians on why they’re moving between regional areas or whether they regret their initial sea change from major capitals during the pandemic.

Regional Australia Institute chief Liz Ritchie said the trend actually reflects a reality that Australians are among the most mobile populations in the world and are willing to relocate.

Source: Regional Movers Index.

High rates of internal migration, whether from big cities or regional centres, show families want a combination of an idyllic lifestyle with adequate access to services and housing, Ritchie said.

“What’s interesting is that all of these hotspot growth areas; they do have that commonality of really strong liveability and something special about each of them,” Ritchie explained.

Areas with the largest regional migration outflows in the March quarter were the Gold Coast (-3.7 per cent) and Noosa (-2.5 per cent), as well as Queanbeyan, neighbouring Canberra (-1.9 per cent).

The broader Sunshine Coast region to the north of Brisbane, meanwhile, has experienced regional to regional migration inflows of 9.2 per cent over the same period, demonstrating the trend.

Ritchie said the stepping stoning is happening to some degree in many other regional centres as well, spotlighting Victoria’s Geelong, which has had huge migration inflows from Melbourne.

“You start to see [people] taking that next further step out to the Surf Coast,” Ritchie explained.

Source: Regional Movers Index.

Millennials driving regional shift

The stepping stone trend is the latest development in the huge wave of internal migration that occurred during Covid-19 as families sought to escape big city lockdowns by moving to regional centres.

But an important finding in the research was that the flow of Australians out of the major capitals towards regional centres is still continuing and can no longer be viewed as a Covid trend.

Instead, Fowler said a “structural” shift is under way as relatively strong economic conditions in many regional areas and availability of housing push city residents away from the major capitals.

“What we’re clearly seeing is this structurally sustained pattern of migration into the regions,” he said.

“The overwhelming, strongest cohort of demographics and people that are making the move are millennials.

“The stereotype that perhaps some of those people moving to the regions may be pre-retirees looking to pursue retirement plans is absolutely untrue.”

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