The Australian government has revealed its plan to divert migrants away from major cities and boost population growth in rural areas.
Alan Tudge, Minister for Population and Cities, dubbed the "minister for congestion busting" by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, announced the policy in a speech on Tuesday, promising decentralization and incentives to direct new migrants away from Melbourne and Sydney.
Under the current system only 5,000 of Australia's annual intake of 190,000 migrants are diverted to regional areas, while the new reform could force nearly half of the migration stream to settle in smaller states.
"About 45 percent of our visas aren't attached to a geographical location as such, and therefore there are those opportunities to provide those incentives and encouragements to reside elsewhere," Tudge said.
The new visas would require recipients to live outside major cities for "at least a few years."
Australia's population grew by an average of 220,000 every year between 1982 and 2007 but that figure has grown to 375,000 per year since 2007 with the majority coming from net annual migration.
The nation's total population was forecast to grow by 2.5 million between 2003 and 2018 but instead swelled by five million.
"While the overall population of Australia has been growing at the rapid rate of 1.6 percent per annum, our three large population centres have been some of the fastest-growing cities in the world," Tudge said.
"Melbourne last year grew by 2.7 percent, Sydney by 2.1 percent and southeast Queensland by 2.3 percent," he said, saying "We are working on measures to have more arrivals go to smaller states and regions and require them to be there for a few years,"
"In that time, the evidence suggests, many will make it their home for the long term," he said.
Figures published by the Department of Home Affairs in August revealed that 87 percent of migrants who arrived in Australia between June 2016 and June 2018 settled in either Melbourne or Sydney.
While Melbourne and Sydney have experienced strong population growth, the population of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia (SA), grew by 0.7 percent in financial year 2017 while that of Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory (NT), grew by 0.5 percent.
Steven Marshall, Premier of SA, has previously called on the federal government to direct a greater share of migrants towards his state to stimulate population growth.
Tudge also said that the government was investigating fast rail links connection regional areas set to benefit from the policy to major cities.
He said that fast trains would resolve the congestion problems plaguing Sydney and Melbourne, citing Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics data that revealed peak-hour travel times in Sydney are 65 percent longer than non-peak and 55 percent longer in Melbourne.
The Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) criticized Tudge for his lack of detail on which visa categories would be targeted under the policy.
"It's not really a plan. This is just a sort of generalized discussion," ALP Senator Jenny McAllister said.
"I think that's where the flaws lie," he said.