Sydney gets the push: Aussies’ flight from cities to live in regions has finally slowed

High interest rates and house prices mean Australians are staying put for the first time since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when record numbers of people left the cities for the country.


Feb 28, 2024, updated Feb 28, 2024
The Sunshine Coast is still the most popular place for city dwellers (photo: Sunshine Coast Council)

The Sunshine Coast is still the most popular place for city dwellers (photo: Sunshine Coast Council)

Movement across the nation fell by 11 per cent in final three months of 2023, while the number of people moving from the cities to the country dropped by nine per cent, internal migration data shows.

The Regional Movers Index, a quarterly population report, hit a four-year low, with movement from the capitals to the regions sitting just above pre-pandemic levels.

“This is attributed to the typical seasonal trend of reduced mobility in the last three months of the year and the uncertainty that 2023 delivered through repeated interest rate rises, and high property prices,” the report says.

But Australians continue to seek a country life, with 25 per cent more people moving from the cities to the regions than in the other direction.

During pandemic restrictions, that rate peaked at an average of 53 per cent.

The Index, compiled by the Regional Australia Institute using Commonwealth Bank data, shows the fastest growing regions are Boddington and Bridgetown-Greenbushes in WA and Bellingen, NSW.

WA was increasingly appealing for its diverse industries, bank executive Paul Fowler said.

“WA’s economy is strengthening beyond traditional resources, with wholesale trade, construction, professional services and agribusiness coming to the fore,” he said.

The Queensland coast had the biggest share of movers, along with Greater Geelong and Moorabool in Victoria.

Capital city residents tended to move to regions close to the cities, including the Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, while country residents chose regional hubs such as Toowoomba in Queensland and Maitland in NSW.

“Regional Australia offers something more for many people, especially those from big cities: more space, more time, more affordability,” institute chief executive Liz Ritchie said.

“This shift away from capital city living has been under way for a decade.

“It was definitely supercharged by COVID, but this data proves the regions are still very desirable for a significant proportion of the population.”

The federal government’s recent State of Australia’s Regions report shows the population shift has increased the time to save for a house deposit in the country to 9.7 years.

That put the regional market only slightly behind capital cities, where it takes 10 years to get a deposit.

A report by CoreLogic released on Monday showed the regional housing market is outperforming the capital cities despite an easing of regional growth.

The institute said the next data set would confirm whether the migration drop was a sustained trend or a seasonal dip.


* Internal migration fell by 11.5 per cent in the December quarter

* People moving from the cities to the regions has fallen 9.2 per cent

* People moving from the regions to the cities has fallen by 12 per cent

  • Country living is still attractive, with nearly 25 per cent more people moving from the cities to the regions than in the other direction


* High interest rates and house prices could be behind the lower rates in domestic migration

* Several regions in WA have experienced fast growth, likely due to their diverse economies across agriculture and industry


* The most attractive areas for people moving from the capitals were Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, Greater Geelong and Moorabool in Victoria and Lake Macquarie, NSW

* The areas with the greatest growth were Boddington, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Greater Geraldton in WA, along with Bellingen in NSW and North Burnett in Queensland

* Sydney is losing the most residents to the regions out of all the capital cities

* Both regional and city movers found Brisbane and Perth the most appealing capitals

Source: The December 2023 quarter Regional Movers Index

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