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Demographic changes challenge rural Australia

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6 February 1997

Demographic changes challenge rural Australia

‘Rural population losses have been severe with losses up to 40 per cent over the past 20 years’, said M r Bernard Salt, Director of Coopers and Lybrand Consultants at OUTLOOK 97 in Canberra today.

This compares with an increase of 29 per cent in Australia’s population in the past two decades. Mr Salt said, ‘much of this growth has attached to the eastern seaboard and to formerly rural communities located within commuting distance of capital city workplaces’.

Most of the population loss is occurring in the wheat-sheep belt. ‘Townships and villages are yielding population and services to strategically positioned provincial cities which are soaking up the bush. For example, the population of Horsham in Victoria’s Wimmera increased by 1 000 between 1976 and 1995, whereas the number living within 100 km of the township actually dropped by 9 000 over the same period’, Mr Salt said.

Such changes in population can have important impacts on rural communities according to Professor Rose Olfert from the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of Saskatchewan. Drawing on her experiences in Canada, she said that ‘fewer and fewer communities can be supported by primary production as farms become larger and fewer in number.’ Rural areas in Saskatchewan experienced population losses over 35 years that left few urban centres with a full range of public and private services.

Professor Olfert said ‘the maintenance of a population base requires income earning opportunities’. Industries such as mining, tourism, forestry and manufacturing provide important employment opportunities in some districts of Saskatchewan. However, most communities require some measure of participation in urban-based economic growth.

‘The future health and adaptiveness of the farm sector depend on the entry of people with appropriate skills, knowledge, attitudes, and motivations, as well as adequate financial resources,’ said Mr Richard Stayner, Senior Project Officer of the Rural Development Centre, University of Armidale.

Reporting on research undertaken for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Mr Stayner said that most entrants still come from farming families and formal agreements on rewards and clear plans for future succession could assist successful entry.


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More than half the farmers obtained off-farm income to help them get established. He also noted that entrants coming from non-farming careers ‘exhibited considerable initiative in devising ways of acquiring the required financial and human capital and seemed to be very open to innovation and to seeking objective advice’.

Speakers at the session, ‘Rural communities in change:!’, were: Mr Bernard Salt, Director, Property and Infrastructure, Coopers and Lybrand Consultants; Professor Rose Olfert, Assistant Professor, Department o f Agricultural Economics, University of Saskatchewan; Mr Richard Stayner, Senior Project Officer, Rural Development Centre, University o f Armidale.

For further information, contact: During the Conference, Ms Rebecca Casey, OUTLOOK Media Centre on (06) 276 5243 or 018 487 825; After the Conference, Ms Jayne Garnaut, ABARE on (06) 272 2369.

ABARE thanks Apple Computer as the major sponsor o f OUTLOOK 97.