''WE USED to be cheap and easy, but we're not any more.'' That's how one Queenslander explains the fading allure of the Sunshine State.
The number of people moving to Queensland has plunged to its lowest level since 1984 and Treasurer Andrew Fraser is now warning of another ''significant drop''. Net interstate migration nearly halved from 18,388 in 2009 to 9576 last year.
The rising cost of housing, increasing congestion and the global financial crisis are all being blamed for the drop that could have profound consequences for the state's economy, which is driven as much by population growth as mining.
The procession of people heading north has been slowing since 2007 as the gap between Sydney and Brisbane house prices narrows.
''If you got sick of Sydney you could cash in your outrageously expensive property … buy a lifestyle property in [south-east Queensland], top up your super, go on a world trip, buy a new car and live happily ever after,'' demographer Bernard Salt said. ''There's not that gravity pull any more.''
It now costs more to buy a block of land in Brisbane than in Melbourne, and Melbourne's west has overtaken the Gold Coast as the fastest growing region in Australia. In a bid to make new Queensland homes more affordable, the Bligh government cut developer charges last week.
The famed relaxed Queensland lifestyle is also being challenged as services are strained by the existing population, whose growth has outstripped the supply of infrastructure. To ease the pressure, new arrivals are being shepherded west to suburban centres, away from the iconic coastline.
The global financial crisis has further diminished the state's appeal. Queensland, with its exposure to the international economy via its coal exports and tourism industry, was the hardest hit state in the country.
Retail, hospitality and construction jobs have dried up, while the increasing prevalence of fly-in, fly-out mine workforces means tradesmen no longer have to move where the work is. The Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast in particular are suffering.
''Historically, people going to Queensland were young adults, small-business people, looking for new opportunities. There's not going to be that attraction while the economy in south-east Queensland remains in the doldrums,'' Bob Birrell, director of Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research, said. State taxes and regulation are also rising faster than anywhere else in Australia.
Meanwhile, potential migrants are wary of making the move amid such economic uncertainty.
''The GFC crystallised the caution in the market,'' Mr Salt said. ''Selling up, quitting your job and relocating is an easier step in boom times than a downturn.''
Mr Fraser said there would be another ''significant drop'' in Queensland's population growth over the next year, as interstate migration continued to slow and entry conditions to Australia were tightened. Net overseas migration to Queensland fell from 61,900 to 39,700 last year.
But migration numbers are expected to rebound within three years. Queensland's population growth of 2 per cent is still the second-highest in the country, just behind Western Australia (2.2 per cent), and it remains the destination of choice for interstate migrants.
''The 7 million people of NSW's aspirations for lifestyle are crystallised just across the Tweed River,'' Mr Salt said. ''When economic circumstances change … they'll spring out of the box and flood north.''
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