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Regional Wellbeing Survey shows Northern Basin at a tipping point

Here at NFF we are big fans of the Regional Wellbeing Survey conducted by the University of Canberra. It’s a great snapshot on the state of play in rural and regional Australia.

Here at NFF we are big fans of the Regional Wellbeing Survey conducted by the University of Canberra.  It’s a great snapshot on the state of play in rural and regional Australia.

In June this year, the survey team released its main findings in the report “Wellbeing, Resilience & Liveability in Regional Australia”.  What the results of the 2015 survey show is that regional communities in the Northern Basin are indeed at a tipping point when it comes to their social and economic wellbeing. 

While the regions used in the Regional Wellbeing Survey differ slightly from Northern Basin catchments, the alignment is pretty good with much of the Northern Basin covered in the Darling Downs & South West (Qld), Orana & Far West (NSW) regions.

So, what are some of the headline key messages for these 2 regions that we can take from the report?

  • They have a relatively low proportion of the population with high personal wellbeing (pg 63), and a relatively high proportion of their community with low levels of personal wellbeing (pg 62)
  • Overall community wellbeing Is declining (pg 65)
  • They fall into the lowest category of community economic wellbeing, and economic wellbeing is declining when compared to surveys from previous years (pg 104 / 105)
  • They score low when it comes to their belief that the liveability of their communities are changing for the better (69)
  • They score lowest (Queensland), and moderate (NSW) when it comes to belief that their local economies are changing for the better (pg 78)
  • Household financial wellbeing is declining (pg 95)

The underlying drivers for the results in each region are many and varied and the Basin Plan is only one. The Regional Wellbeing Survey results indicate the importance of considering how all the drivers of change might be influencing individual or community wellbeing. 

Today, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has released a 160 page report on the community scale social and economic impact analysis it has undertaken.  This analysis seeks to understand the vulnerability of local employment to different water recovery scenarios.  What this shows is while the 21 northern basin communities analysed are different – there is a fundamental nexus between the availability of water for irrigation and local employment.  

Removing water from productive use adds another layer of pressure to communities already at – or well beyond – their tipping point.  Water goes, irrigated production drops, there are less on-farm jobs at planting, through the season and at harvest, and so it flows through the supply chain, reverberating through the community. 

In the Gwydir Valley for example, the MDBA's analysis which was recently presented to industry groups shows that water recovery thus far has resulted in 25% reduction in irrigated area, 42% of agricultural jobs lost and 30% of jobs lost in non-agricultural related employment.

This week we heard about the decline in school enrolments in Dirranbandi, a Northern Basin town that has been hit hard by the Basin Plan.  Water recovery is resulting in very real social impacts.

The key question that the MDBA will need to ask itself is whether they choose to add additional pressure on communities that are already vulnerable.  

The Regional Wellbeing Survey report is well worth a more detailed look.  To their credit, the MDBA has been a key funder of the research.  We hope that the Authority has taken the time to digest the results of their investment in this research – so their decision this week can be based on #morethanflow

You can download the "Wellbeing, resilience and liveability in rural and regional Australia: the 2015 Regional Wellbeing Survey  - part 1 and 2" here.

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