Are Millenials leading the push to the bush?

COULD the the Clarence Valley be on the cusp of achieving something that has looked unattainable in recent years - demographic change?

A recent report by the Regional Australia Institute into internal migration found there has been a population shift away from cities and into regions - being led by millenials.

The Big Movers: Understanding Population Mobility in Regional Australia showed from 2011 - 2016 both Sydney and Melbourne lost more residents to regions than they gained.

In NSW, millenials, aged 20-35, were more likely to move away from Sydney with 37,000 moving to the regions and only 32,000 back.

The Clarence Valley's struggle to retain its youth has been well documented, with The Daily Examiner's Future Clarence Valley series investigating the issue in some depth last year.

During that series, demographer Bernard Salt explained the economic incentive to retain and attract young people to the region.

"People in their 20s and 30s buy consumer goods, form families, have babies, they work, pay tax, play sport, volunteer and inject energy and aspiration into your community," Mr Salt said.

Analysis in the REI report showed mid-sized towns of 5000 to 50,000 residents enjoyed a net gain in millenials. Though when this was examined in more detail, 'connected towns' attracted the most.

While these are towns situated close to major regional or metropolitan centres the second biggest cohort of millenials were moving to coastal lifestyle towns, indicating the potential for townships like Yamba to attract a younger demographic. Of course the key has always been retention so with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating a change in flexible working arrangements, the question is whether the often-discussed issue of decentralisation might finally come to pass.

Sustained productivity while working from home opened up "a whole range of opportunities" which Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said was enhanced by improving services.

"People may be more attracted to come and live in a country town so long as you have good connectivity, healthcare, education and transport routes to facilitate that."

RAI CEO Liz Ritchie says the notion of how we work has been turned on its head and she hopes this change will see significant population growth in regions, following on from a trend that has already been set over a decade.

"From 2011 to 2016, our two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne lost more residents to regions than they gained - and this was well before COVID-19. Over the last few months, we've all had to change how we work and this has allowed staff and employers to see that location is no longer a barrier for where we choose to work," Ms Ritchie said.

Ms Ritchie says that the policy questions are more about how we can further understand and amplify the drivers of this movement toward regional Australia to extend the population settlement even further and supercharge the regions.

"Now is the time to work together with industry, government and regional communities to ensure regionalisation of the workforce," Ms Ritchie said.

"As a country, we are an extremely mobile nation, and we have a propensity to change our address at twice the rate of people in most OECD countries. If location is no longer a barrier for employment, it's possible that the trend line over the next decade could see an even greater swing to regions - and this is the RAI's ambition," Liz Ritchie said.

The report also found 207,510 millennial-aged people moved between communities in regional Australia, eschewing a city lifestyle to remain in a regional setting.

And while regional migration was "multi-faceted" the information gleaned from the study showed regional communities were more likely to receive new residents from other regional communities, which "should inform population attraction campaigns.