Rural refugee resettlement plan sparks interest among south-west advocates

A QUEENSLAND plan to attract asylum seekers to regional areas has sparked interest among south-west refugee advocates about replicating the initiative in Victoria.

The Newman government has flagged a plan to allow immigrants and refugees to have their visas fast-tracked if they agree to live in regional Queensland for a set period of time.

Sunshine State cities such as Townsville, Rockhampton and Cairns have been earmarked as areas of future migrant growth, but only if the federal government commits to investing in more regional infrastructure.

Humanitarians in the south-west said a similar scheme could be adopted in Victoria.

But they added that a potential population plan would require funding for English language classes, among other initiatives, to ensure immigrants were not disenfranchised in their new communities.

Warrnambool asylum seeker advocate Katherine Stewart said the Queensland plan was worth looking at but could not be undertaken lightly.

Ms Stewart was one of several south-west residents who organised a tour by Sri Lankan refugees to Warrnambool earlier this month as part of the Home Among the Gum Trees program.

“It’s an interesting idea but you have to have the support mechanisms in place to ensure new residents fit into their communities,” she said.

Diversitat chief executive Michael Martinez said with sufficient funding, the program would address the population implosion occurring in some parts of Victoria.

“If you examine the census and a lot of the population data out there, it shows that some parts of Victoria don’t have static populations, they’re actually going backwards,” he said.

“The Wimmera, Mallee, even some parts of south-west Victoria, are losing people and they’re not being replaced. 

“But if you’re going to introduce a program like this in regional Victoria you have to be serious about it and have a critical mass — at least 150 people relocating to an area in order to make it work.”

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said roughly 65 per cent of Queensland’s population lived in the south-east of the state, primarily Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

He said the state government wanted to have half of the state’s population living outside the south-east by 2043.

“It could be that if you want to come to Australia, you might be on a certain waiting list ... maybe you could get bumped up the queue if you go and spend at least five years in a regional city in Queensland, a regional town,” Mr Newman said.with AAP

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