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EDITORIAL: Making the most of population shift

The entire October 6, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

We are hearing and talking about the potential for a great ‘tree change’ that might already be underway or on the cusp of getting up a full head of steam.

What a significant and progressive change it would be for Victoria if all the predictions we are hearing and fresh data we are noting led to a greater population spread and a reshaping of regional demographics.

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So what does it actually look like so far? Figures are certainly suggesting people are on the move as they seek work and lifestyle changes beyond the urban sprawl of metropolitan Melbourne.

A predictable picture has quickly emerged that many of the people on the move are prepared to make the big decision to pack up and leave – but not too far away from familiar environs.

That means provincial cities and centres within a good cooee of Melbourne have become primary targets of people keen to get the best of both regional and heavily urbanised worlds. Geelong and Ballarat, for example, are experiencing a population boom.

Regional Australia Institute and the Commonwealth Bank have had a look at details nationally and identified most of the regional shift is occurring in a three-hour drive from capital cities.

If this proves to be accurate and a profound influence on how Victorian population change progresses, it presents philosophical and financial opportunities and challenges for our leaders and planners.

The safe thing for our leaders to do would be to be reactive and simply respond to the whims of the populace and concentrate investment wherever the majority settles.

The more adventurous move would be to look beyond the immediate horizon and through creative investment and service provision rekindle development in Victoria beyond the Port Phillip district. 

Can we perhaps sum this up by pinching a line from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, ‘build it and they will come?’

Not quite. The reality is that while regional communities can, to a point, control their own destinies in establishing platforms for growth and prosperity, they will always need state or federal support, backing and-or encouragement.

The difference between the population shift we’re experiencing being ‘good’ or ‘great’ for Victoria will depend on how well we as a state, whether in the big city or country area, can work collectively. Settlements sitting within the three-hour limit of Melbourne, such as Ararat for example, might have based on the data, a head start in turning development concepts into reality. They will still need to be creative and proactive.

Those outside the limit, which includes much of the Wimmera and if they accept such a handicap exists, will have to be even more creative and more proactive.

Importantly, both groups must have the ear and the understanding of the people in power. 

That means an invisible wall that seems to exist between metropolitan and the real regional Victoria must come down.


WDA – Look beyond the ‘three-hour limit’