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Small towns report card essential reading for Parliamentarians

A new report released today, has revealed the real pressure Australia’s small towns are under when it comes to providing basic services such as health, education and law and order.

Developed by the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) the Small Towns Report Card has awarded an ‘F’ for access to psychologists, preschool teachers and dentists in small towns.

The rankings have been drawn from the RAI’s latest report “Pillars of Communities” – which tracks the number of police, teachers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, dentists, psychologists, and social workers in small towns across Australia over a 30-year period – from 1981 to 2011.

RAI CEO Jack Archer says while some professions have made progress over the past 30 years, today’s report card questions government spending to improve education and health outcomes in regional areas.

“Governments have spent decades pouring billions of dollars into programs to give regional Australians better access to professionals and services - but our research unveiled today has shown it’s not reaching the areas that need it most,” Mr Archer said.  

The report finds that for many of the 1.8 million Australians who live in small towns, accessing a GP, dentist, pre-school teacher or psychologist is nearly impossible.

The people, the families, the communities behind our farm sector, absolutely deserve access to basic services...
Fiona Simson, President, National Farmers’ Federation

National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said the Report Card was salient reading but the findings did not come as a surprise.

Ms Simson’s home community of Premer, on the Liverpool Plains of NSW has a population of just over 200, which she says is representative of the towns assessed in the report.

“My family and I understand firsthand the difficulty rural communities have in accessing basic services our urban counterparts take for granted.

Ms Simson said agriculture was the bedrock of many, if not most, of Australia’s small towns.

“The sector is also a driving force behind Australia’s economic prosperity.

 “The people, the families, the communities behind our farm sector, absolutely deserve access to basic services including general practitioners, psychologists, early childhood education and police help.”

Ms Simson said RAI’s report should be essential reading for all Parliamentarians.

“In particular I draw our elected officials to the recommendations highlighted in the report – which outlines ways to address poor service delivery in our small towns.”

Regional Australia Institute, Small Towns Report Card, page 11

The recommendations include better support for community initiatives, role flexibility, delivery of online services and more targeted funding.

The RAI report shows that inner regional towns, which are closer to cities, have seen an 85 per cent growth in professionals – while remote and very remote areas have only grown by 7 per cent.

From a place of advantage in 1981, the per-capita rate of preschool teachers in small towns has now fallen well below the national average.

The lack of service professionals coincides with higher rates of early childhood development issues in rural and remote areas.

According to government figures, one third of students in regional and rural areas do not finish Year 12 and only 18 per cent will go on to complete a university degree.  Rural students are up to one and a half years behind their metropolitan counterparts on NAPLAN and PISA tests.

“People in regional Australia need to know that the services in their town will improve and that the spending will not be soaked up by places that don’t need it or in funding for initiatives that are based a long way from their community,” Mr Archer said.

A copy of the RAI Report – Pillars of Communities – is available here.

About the Regional Australia Institute

The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) is a think tank devoted to issues concerning regional Australia.

  • We gather and analyse the best information we can find on regions and make this readily accessible to people around the country.
  • We work with regional leaders around the nation to understand their challenges and help them identify opportunities for future development that they can implement.
  • We also talk to governments at all levels and provide independent, evidence-based advice about the options they have to make regions even greater.

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