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Outback Queensland spotlighted in rural susta -

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Outback Queensland spotlighted in rural sustainability study

Nicole Butler reported this story on Sunday, September 20, 2009 12:52:15

PETER CAVE: Researchers have travelled to Queensland's far west in search of answers about the
long-term viability of remote towns. The sparsely populated Diamantina Shire is thriving so it's
being put under the microscope. The Regional Futures Institute hopes clues uncovered there can be
applied to other parts Australia where the future is less certain.

In Brisbane, Nicole Butler reports.

NICOLE BUTLER: The Diamantina Shire in Queensland's far west is a true outback community.

GRANT CAIRNCROSS: The first thing you notice when you get there is its huge. Its twice the size of
Denmark and yet it's got a population of 350-360.

NICOLE BUTLER: Those sorts of statistics aren't all that unusual in regional Australia. So why is
Southern Cross University researcher Grant Cairncross examining life in the Diamantina?

GRANT CAIRNCROSS: The unemployment rate is probably 2.5 per cent over the whole shire and of course
when you compare that to what is going on elsewhere in Australia, it is very low.

NICOLE BUTLER: Dr Cairncross and other members of the Regional Futures Institute at USQ have
travelled to the far west to find out what makes this tiny Queensland shire thrive, particularly as
so many other remote communities are struggling to survive.

GRANT CAIRNCROSS: We're looking at what they're doing well and saying will this be transferable to
some other remote-area communities in Australia. Are there things that we can learn that we can
apply say elsewhere in the Territory or in WA or wherever.

NICOLE BUTLER: He's already uncovered one clue as to the Diamantina's almost nonexistent
unemployment rate.

GRANT CAIRNCROSS: There's a very proactive council and previous proactive councils - they've been
incredibly forward thinking in the way they've gone about trying to ensure that they have plenty of
work for people in the shire.

So one of the things that has really come out is the importance of local governments to remote-area
communities and the Diamantina Shire is a pretty good example of how to do that right.

NICOLE BUTLER: Dr Cairncross says the shire's councils have also been particularly smart when it
came to shoring up jobs for locals.

GRANT CAINCROSS: One of the main things that the Diamantina Shire have looked and said well OK, we
have only got 360 people. We have got this massive area. How do we turn that to advantage and they
have gone, well roads.

Road are crucial for linking the community, getting goods from one end of the shire to the other
and then onwards out into the broader market and they have gone and said it is very expensive for a
state government to look after the roads out here. Let's put a proposal to the State Government.
They look after the roads for the State Government and contract them out and as a result, that has
led to a lot of employment.

That then means a lot of the people in the shire have very good transferable skills that they pick
up from working on the roads and also the shire then has equipment that they can lease out to other
shires to do the work.

So one thing has led to the other and it is a pretty good business model, I'd have to say.

NICOLE BUTLER: But wait, there's more. Dr Cairncross says the outback Queensland community has got
more than just employment right.

GRANT CAIRNCROSS: The very first thing that leapt out was how generally smooth relations between
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were and clearly again I think this is a strategy taken by
important shire leaders and the current and previous shire council to ensure that everybody living
in that shire has a place in that shire and are seen as being valuable.

NICOLE BUTLER: Birdsville is the best-known part of the Diamantina shire. Thousands of people
travel to the town to experience outback Australia - not to mention the legendary Birdsville Races
in September.

JOHN HANNA: Just about everybody that's anybody comes through here at sometime. It almost seems
like everybody in Australia comes through here.

NICOLE BUTLER: John Hanna is a bartender at the Birdsville Hotel. He agrees life's very good in the
Diamantina.

JOHN HANNA: I like it here because when I first come here it was just a really nice peaceful
feeling here. It is everybody gets along. It is just a very friendly place as well. Everybody just
takes you as you are.

And it is adventurous. It is at a place where you can go and it is out in the middle of nowhere and
it is a bit of a struggle to get there I suppose. There is no bitumen roads. But there is nothing
lacks at all. It is a very tidy, a very clean town. Very smart place for where it is. You don't
expect to find anything quite as big and as tidy when you come out here.

PETER CAVE: Birdsville bartender John Hanna ending Nicole Butler's report.