I’ve been travelling for the last few days, visiting Mackay and Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Trying to cover the whole state of Queensland is a tall ask, but I try to squeeze in meetings with as many groups and people as possible when I do visit a place.
The biggest issue on these visits has been housing affordability and availability. This is atrociously bad in this region, especially in Mackay. From what one person who came to meet with me in Mackay said, it’s even worse inland in the mining towns like Moranbah.
As well as people working in the area of housing, I also met with people from Chambers of Commerce and others from multicultural groups. Business development, migration and housing opportunities all intertwine, so the housing issue kept coming up in almost every meeting I had.
It looks like the housing affordability crisis is finally getting some political attention at federal level, which is a good thing. However, it is important that any package of solutions take into account the different nature of the problem in regional cities. A ‘solution’ that helps in western Sydney or Brisbane may not help much at all in central Queensland – it could even make things worse, depending on what the ‘solution’ is.
The growing number of migrants to these areas presents both a risk and an opportunity. It obviously puts stress on housing availability, although the people coming to the area are doing so to meet a strong employment demand, especially in skilled positions. Doing more to provide the necessary infrastructure for people in these regional cities is an essential part of filling the labour market shortages, as well as providing one way of encouraging people out of the overburdened south-east corner of Queensland and into other parts of the state.
The majority of migrants helping to fill those skill shortages are coming on long-term temporary visas. Unfortunately, most of our assistance programs for migrants only apply for people on permanent visas. This means many migrants do not get the sort of basic initial support that can assist them to quickly and effectively connect with the wider community. I think it is time the nature of our settlement assistance changed to recognise the very different nature of migration, compared to even five years ago. A small extra investment in assisting people when they first arrive can significantly improve their contribution to our communities and will pay significant dividends to Australia over time.