Melbourne CBD workers flee the city


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The 2021 Census indicates that the number of Melbourne CBD workers who reported their place of usual residence as outside of the Greater Melbourne area almost doubled from around 6,800 in 2016 to nearly 12,000 in 2021, or an increase of 6,200. The pace of this change was likely heightened through the COVID pandemic as Melbourne experienced successive lockdowns.

The largest increases were experienced in Greater Geelong and the Bellarine/Surf Coast area, followed by Ballarat, the Heathcote-Castlemaine-Kyneton SA3 region, and South West Gippsland (containing the Bass Coast and Phillip Island). While part of Greater Melbourne, there was also a noticeable increase on the Mornington Peninsula.

Generally, workers living out of Greater Melbourne have chosen places that are still close enough to commute from on an infrequent basis, or that offer significant lifestyle attributes, such as coastal areas.

While some regions did not experience a major absolute change, the increases were still substantial relative to the number of Melbourne CBD workers already living there. For example, Mildura’s Melbourne CBD worker population more than tripled (from 8 in 2016 to 27 in 2021), while Warrnambool’s increased more than fourfold (from 17 in 2016 to 79 in 2021).

Notably, the aggregate increase in Melbourne CBD workers in regional Victoria (+2,700) was outnumbered by the rise in those living interstate, rising from 1,319 in 2016 to 4,837 in 2021 (+3,518).

The question is whether this trend will be sustainable in the coming years or whether this type of remote working has only been a temporary response to the lockdowns experienced in Melbourne through the pandemic. The permanency of these trends will have implications for population growth in the regions. It will also have implications for regional economies, given these remote workers are likely to be on higher incomes than the existing population. Further analysis of this demographic is likely to provide more insight.