Record exodus out of Melbourne mid-coronavirus pandemic

Melburnians fled the city after the first coronavirus lockdown, seeking refuge in regional Victoria, Queensland and even Sydney in a demographic shift that could weigh on the city's economy for years.

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in the three months to the end of June, an average of 127 people a day left Melbourne for regional areas such as Bendigo, Shepparton and Wodonga while others left the state entirely.



All of those who left Melbourne would have avoided the hard lockdown which gripped the city from early July and which, according to an Ipsos poll, commissioned by The Age and Nine News, is the main reason one in four Melburnians are now reconsidering where they live.

The data for the September quarter is expected to follow the trend, but urban policy experts say it could be a temporary phenomenon which will reverse once the economy bounces back.

Melbourne suffered its biggest quarterly departure of residents on record as 11,746 moved out of the city. In net terms, the city suffered a loss of 5903 residents to regional Victoria, compared with 2610 for the same quarter last year.

In the first quarter of this year, 2200 people left Melbourne, with most heading elsewhere in Victoria.

Australian National University demographer Liz Allen said the virus had clearly up-ended the longer-term trend of people moving into large cities. "COVID is a major disruptor to the way we live our lives," she said. "It won't be a long-term trend. Once there is a solution to COVID, then people will start returning to the cities but whether they are the same people as those that left is another story." Jago Dodson, an urban policy professor and director of RMIT University’s centre for urban research, agreed that it was probably a short-term trend, noting that working from home meant many white-collar professionals had the option of doing their usually city-based jobs from other locations.

‘‘Whether [the trend] will reverse is hard to say. While borders remain closed, one might expect people won’t be rushing back but once the borders are open things will tend to even out,’’ he said. Thousands have flocked out of capital cities and escaped to the country during the pandemic.





The future of Melbourne's ability to attract movers from interstate and the regions now hangs on its "return to normality" after the lockdown, independent economist Terry Rawnsley said. "A few hundred people leaving Melbourne won't register [on the city] but regions will really feel it in the housing market," Mr Rawnsley said. CoreLogic data released on Monday showing regional property prices across the country rose 0.9 per cent in October, compared with a 0.2 per cent increase for capital city homes. The average cost of buying a home in regional Victoria rose by 0.5 per cent over the month but Melbourne prices fell 0.2 per cent. A spokesman for the Victorian government said independent modelling showed state government stimulus saved or created about 81,000 jobs in the June quarter. "When it comes to economic growth, job creation and building vital projects, Victoria has led the nation for years - and it's these credentials that will hold us in good stead as we kick our economic recovery into high gear," he said. "Later this month, the Victorian government will hand down a budget that will be unprecedented in its size and scale." Opposition planning spokesman Tim Smith said he was unsurprised by the statistics and said the "extreme failures" of the Andrews government were the reason why "many young Victorians are seeing greater opportunities for themselves far away from Melbourne". Robert Smedley and his partner left Richmond during the pandemic, heading first for Albury and then Sydney. What future can Melbourne expect after COVID? The engineering firm manager said his decision to leave was "about getting out of a city that’s definitely depressed economically”. The company Mr Smedley works for has offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and he says that most of his workers would get out of the city if they could. “Probably all my employees would [leave Melbourne] if they didn’t have family or mortgage attachments” Mr Smedley's partner has also moved and is working remotely. “He’s a manager at an accounting firm. He has to work from home, well home can be anywhere. "Why not work from home in Sydney.” Chris Brimble, general manager with removalist Dawson Moving and Storage, said he has seen a “40-60 per cent increase” in people making enquiries about moving out of Melbourne. Mr Brimble said many of the bookings he receives are for people who had moved to Melbourne for greater opportunities but were now moving back home after losing their source of income. “They’ve said if it turns to crap they’d probably up and leave. And it has, and they have."

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