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Rural revival needed to stop drift.

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Senator John Cherry Australian Democrats Regional Development & Services Spokesperson

24th February, 2003 MEDIA RELEASE 03/097

Rural revival needed to stop drift

The Australian Democrats have called for the establishment of a high-powered State Office of Rural Communities to reverse the worrying slide in the population of centres in western NSW.

Democrats’ Regional Development and Services spokesperson Senator John Cherry, releasing the initiative in Wagga Wagga today, said recent analysis of the 2001 census showed that 35 of the 50 western shires in NSW lost population between 1991-2001, and urgent action was needed.

“In that decade, the population of Sydney rose by 480,000, that of the coastal regions rose by a further 202,000, and that of western regions by just 26,000,” Senator Cherry said.

“But virtually all the population growth was in the big eight rural cities (Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Griffith and Queanbeyan) which rose by 34,000.

“The population of the smaller centres and shires fell by 8,000. And when the 15 shires on the western strip from Mudgee to Yass are excluded, the population slump for rural western NSW rises to 14,000 - or one in thirty residents.

“When development pressures on Sydney and coastal towns are so extreme, it is crazy to allow this population drift to continue.

“The Democrats propose the establishment of a high-powered Office of Rural Communities based on the Queensland model, to put rural revival at the forefront of State Government thinking,” Senator Cherry said.

The Office would: *Prepare Rural Impact Statements on major State and Federal policy initiatives to inform decision makers *Promote and fund community based rural development initiatives, helping communities to help themselves *Develop more creative ways to deliver State services to regional areas, particularly utilising new technology

“The population drift identified in the 2001 census is a social and economic body blow for western NSW, and needs to be reversed. The Carr Government needs to recognise that the State does not end at the Blue Mountains,” Senator Cherry said.

“A high powered Office of Rural Communities would ensure a voice for western NSW when decisions are being made that affect them,” Senator Cherry concluded