Australians are continuing to move from the capital cities to regional areas in record numbers, following a trend that started in line with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
According to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers, a net total of almost 43,000 people moved from capital cities to regional areas in 2020, the highest annual total since the recording started in 2001.
Of the net 42,971 people that moved to a regional area in 2020, 13,356 chose to move to regional Victoria.
In the December 2020 quarter, Melbourne lost a net total of 8491 people, the most since 2001.
About half of those people, 4243, moved to regional Victoria, down slightly from the previous quarter's net total of 4701 people that moved from Melbourne.
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This continues a trend that peaked in the June 2020 quarter when almost 6000 people left Melbourne for regional Victoria.
However, a net total of 2288 people also moved from regional Victoria to other parts of the country.
McCrindle social researcher Geoff Brailey said the numbers showed people were looking to move to 'greener pastures'.
"People are looking for that tree change, that seachange, looking for that opportunity to save time and, possibly even more important to many Australians, to save money and to get ahead in this low wage growth environment," he said.
"People are looking for a way to make every dollar count and every day count at the moment. We've definitely noticed that people are appreciating the renewed ability to work from home and that trust to do that in the workplace."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said the numbers confirmed what could be seen on the ground and showed an urgent need to update growth forecasts.
"If we are using outdated growth numbers, then we're not going to be able to keep up with the infrastructure demands that the reality is creating for us," he said.
"The data we're using to project our growth is clearly now outdated and we need to update those growth figures based on current data to make sure our planning processes are keeping up with the population growth."
Mr Poulton said stronger policies around decentralisation and regionalisation would help regional centres cope with growing demand and relieve population stress on capital cities.
"Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, and the smaller towns around those cities, will benefit when we focus less on the continuing urban sprawl of Melbourne.
"That stress on Melbourne can't continue unabated and part of the solution to reducing that stress on Melbourne is to have really strong policies and direction on regional growth and supporting regional growth with the right amount of funding and infrastructure to ensure that cities like Ballarat can continue to thrive with the growing population."
ABS director of demography Phil Browning said in recent decades, more people moved from Australia's capital cities to the regions than from the regions to the capitals, resulting in a net internal migration gain for regional areas.
"In the 2020 calendar year, 233,100 people arrived to live in regional areas and 190,200 people departed for the capitals. This resulted in a net gain of 43,000 people for the regions, up from 18,900 in 2019," he said.
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