Australia should ‘‘connect the dots’’ and help rural areas capitalise on the opportunities migrant communities can offer, a regional think-tank has argued.
But regional leaders say industry in Shepparton has largely been built on migrant communities across the past century and that the region is a model of success in this space.
The Regional Australia Institute released a paper last week, warning that in more than 150 regional local government areas across the country the number of Australian-born residents is decreasing. This population decline in regional areas could be stopped if communities could welcome an extra 3000 migrants a year, the institute says.
That population loss has led to labour shortages in many areas, with the institute arguing there is currently no systematic way for migrant workers to link up with rural employers.
It wants the government to develop a new way to work out priority labour shortages in regional areas and to offer incentives for migrants to move to those locations.
Shepparton Ethnic Council manager Chris Hazelman said there were many examples of communities that had greatly benefited from migration.
‘‘Shepparton is clearly one of those,’’ he added.
He said the annual labour demands of harvest were connected with population growth in Shepparton because of the availability of that seasonal work.
He questioned how the region’s annual food harvest historically would have succeeded if not for the region’s migrant communities.
‘‘In the right circumstances, targeted migration and settlement can be the lifeblood for regional cities,’’ he said.
‘‘If you take migrants out of the labour pool what sort of impact would that have on Shepparton?’’
Mr Hazelman argued discussions more broadly needed to revolve around national population policy, including ‘‘what our economy needs and what are the infrastructure demands to service that population are’’.
He said a discussion could be had about linking migration to industry.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief Sam Birrell argued the waves of migration the Shepparton region had seen since the 1920s, ‘‘and the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that resulted, has made this region’’.
— with AAP