Today, at the NSW Regional Settlement Conference, hosted by SSI and the NSW Settlement Partnership (NSP), we harnessed insights and shared perspectives on the key ingredients of successful regional settlement.
The virtual conference provided the opportunity to hear not just from service providers but from the newcomers they have helped.
Australia is one of the most urbanised nations in the world, with nearly 70% of us living in capital cities. As a result, regional and rural areas often miss out on the social and economic benefits of migration because newcomers are more likely to live in a capital city where there are more employment opportunities, infrastructure and established social connections.
Often this trend is amplified by people moving away from regional areas, driven by more opportunities in the cities.
Migrants often choose to stay in regional and rural areas based on factors including employment, education, lifestyle, availability of services and the warmth of welcome from locals.
Local community attitudes and involvement, and strong social networks within and between communities, are important prerequisites for successful settlement.
Yet regional settlement policy often doesn't consider the local host community conditions or the aspirations of newcomers. As a result, regional areas often lack the specialised health, education, housing and employment services that refugees and migrants need to build their lives.
The NSP is a consortium of settlement providers with a footprint across Sydney and regional NSW, through which we deliver the Australian Government's Settlement Engagement and Transition Support program.
The partnership's ethos is underpinned by the belief that there is a need for a coordinated, holistic approach to regional development that acknowledges the role refugees and migrants play in reinvigorating regional areas.
At today's conference, our insightful panels and discussions explored a wide range of issues, including affordable housing, educational and employment opportunities, and culturally responsive service delivery.
SSI supports a regional settlement approach that builds social connections through community-led activities. Regional migration and settlement policy should seek to align newcomers' aspirations with host community needs and settlement capacities and capabilities at a local level. Newcomers in regional areas should feel empowered to make life choices and shape their future in their new community.
While community engagement and social cohesion are important, there is no substitute for the specialised settlement services and expertise that settlement providers can offer. Robust, adequately funded, and resourced settlement services can help newly arrived people to gain confidence and become self-reliant in a new and unfamiliar environment.
I am proud of the important work being done by SSI and the NSP to ensure our regions continue to be attractive destinations for Australia's newcomers.