Regional Development Australia (RDA) Orana has called on governments to introduce incentives for people to live in small towns.
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The call was sparked by the release of a report card on small towns by the Regional Australia Institute, which found health and education were in short supply.
Results from the 2016 Census showed that rural areas in the Orana region were in decline, but the bigger population centres of Dubbo and Mudgee both experienced population increases.
Other small towns in the region need more assistance to ensure they remain viable.
“Although the Orana region has had a net gain of 2.6 per cent, this has been driven by the growth of the Mid-Western (7.9 per cent) and Dubbo (5.9 per cent) regions,” RDA Orana executive officer Megan Dixon said.
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Providing access to basic health services and education facilities was crucial to stopping the population decline for towns like Nyngan, Warren and Cobar, Ms Dixon said.
“We need to see more incentives to encourage people to live in those communities,” she said.
“The federal government has ruled to support teachers in repayment of their HECS debt, we’d like to see that in all professions.
Towns closer to major population centres were more likely to have access to professionals in the health and education industry, while those in more remote areas were found to be severely lacking, the RAI’s report found.
Access to dentists, psychologists and preschool teachers were particularly poor in remote and very remote towns.
Ms Dixon said while Dubbo and Mudgee had thrived, some of that success had come on the back of small towns around them. She said small towns and the lifestyles they could provide should be supported.
“In a region, small towns have a role. They support important and valuable industries, that can’t operate without people and services,” Ms Dixon said.
“It can be a brilliant experience living in a small town and making the most of being part of a close-knit, friendly community. You just don’t get the same feeling in a bigger place.”
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