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Bridging the Gap – Strategies for renewal in rural and remote communities

By Neil Polglase - posted Monday, 15 May 2000


Rural and Remote communities Australia wide, are facing their greatest challenge since the great depression of the 1930s.

The advent of globalisation and the removal of tariff protection in the late 1980s have required Australian industry to rethink their strategies towards economic diversity, productivity and viability. No longer can Australia linger in the "hazy days" of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, where virtually the only industry was primary production and we as Australians, accepted readily the lifestyle of "living off the sheep’s back".

With live sheep and beef exports in the 1980s and with the imposition of a wool stockpile, Australia's standing within the world primary production market is diminishing. This is particularly evident in the sheep industry where the cost of production outweighs the benefits or profits obtained from this market. As such, many graziers are currently opting out of the sheep industry for the beef industry, which is currently experiencing a growth through expanded world markets. However, as more and more graziers opt for this market it too will become "saturated" and diminished profits from over supply will eventuate.


Today’s economy therefore must rely heavily upon a revitalised manufacturing industry; the further development of natural resources eg minerals, oil and gas supplies; the further advancement of technology and chemistry; coupled with improved tourism opportunities.

Most of these developments have been established in regional or metropolitan Australia based purely on efficiency and production cost benefits.

As such, rural and remote Australia has been experiencing an economic decline over the last decade which has seen a huge population decrease and the removal of support services including government facilities, banks etc.

The introduction of the Hilmer Report in the 1980s, and the implementation of the National Competition policy, places further burdens on rural and remote communities to ensure that they too, compete openly with other local authorities and private enterprise in the delivery of services, while still trying to redress a diminishing local economy.

The challenge therefore, for rural and isolated communities, is to galvanise our communities to at least sustain current population. To seek new and /or alternative markets, industry, to establish tourism potential where appropriate, and to explore other avenues for economic development or niche enterprises.

Social Exclusion in Rural and Remote Communities

Social exclusion is experienced in rural and remote communities through the following: -

  • Population drift
  • Depressed local economy
  • Small population base
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Market failure

In rural and remote towns, local Councils and Community Organisations are very concerned at the decline of their towns.

This decline has not only been in their economic wealth but also the employment prospects and the associated population drift – especially for their young people.

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This is an edited extract of a paper delivered to the National Housing Conference in November, 1999.

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About the Author

Neil Polglase is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Bulloo Shire Council.

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