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Fault Lines Exposed: Advantage and Disadvantage Across Australia’s Settlement System

CHAPTER SIX

COMMENTARY SAYS THE BUSH IS IN BAD SHAPE: IS THAT REALLY THE CASE?

Scott Baum
Kevin O’Connor
Robert Stimson

This chapter focuses on the fault lines that exist between towns and regions in rural Australia. They are places with populations greater than 1,000 people with urban populations less than 50 per cent. The analysis of the non-metropolitan rural towns and regions began with a large number of places and using the methodology outlined in Chapter One the result was five groups. From the five groups we get two groups of advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and three groups of disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions. The advantaged places are income/employment advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and income advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions. The disadvantaged places are income/employment disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and two groups of agricultural- based disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions. The chapter discusses each of these in turn.

INTRODUCTION

Australia’s history is resplendent with stories about the bush, the jolly swagman, squatters and perhaps debatably the way in which these cultural icons have impacted on the way modern Australia is positioned. Bernard Salt (2001) talks about the bush in terms of it being the ruling culture at the time of Federation, a culture which has been overtaken by the culture of the cities. The bush is generally thought to be in decline. Falling populations, falling economic prospects and declining services are often talked about. There is a widely held view that the magnitude of the problems faced by rural and remote localities is often different from their larger urban counterparts. The concerns of academics such as Mathew Tonts (1996), Geoff Lawrence (Lawrence and Williams 1990, Gray and Lawrence 2001) and others discussed in Chapter Five on small non-metropolitan cities, towns and regions can be echoed here, and in some sense the problems of rural Australia are a lot more serious. In particular it has been argued by the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission Secretariat (2000 p. 1) that:

 

The attention now being given to the hardships of rural communities arises at a time of growing crisis in areas of rural Australia. There is now widespread concern at the prospect of Australia becoming 'two nations', based on growing inequalities between metropolitan and rural regions. While it is true that economic changes of recent decades have impacted detrimentally on many regional centres and areas within metropolitan cities, it is simply the case that rural localities have endured particular and acute hardship over many years.

A similar point is made in the edited book by Stewart Lockie and Lisa Bourke where they argue that:

 

For a decade or more our newspapers and televisions have been regularly littered with images of drought-stricken, salt-infected and barren landscapes; worthless livestock being shot and buried; bank foreclosures; the grieving relatives and friends of suicide and accident victims; boarded up and derelict buildings; and angry political meetings (Lockie and Bourke 2001 p. 1).

They go on to argue that ‘in too many ways rural Australia is in crisis’.

While these concerns are echoed across a range of areas for example, health disadvantage, infrastructure disadvantage and education disadvantage, as with the small non-metropolitan cities, towns and regions considered earlier, the picture is not all bad. The work by Stewart Lockie and Lisa Bourke mentioned above goes on to talk about the exciting prospects for some places, those who can work against the drivers of crisis. Others also make this similar point. In a report on small town renewal Peter Kenyon and Alan Black point out that:

 

Although long-term economic, technological and social factors have resulted in the decline of many small inland towns in Australia, other such towns have successfully implemented a range of survival and revival strategies. This has resulted in positive outcomes for residents in terms of quality of life and economic opportunities (Kenyon and Black 2001 p. iii).

Hence as with other places in the settlement system, the fault line picture is complex and it is not a simple divide between advantage and disadvantage.

DIFFERENTIATING THE NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS

The non-metropolitan rural towns and regions are the focus of this chapter. They are places with populations greater than 1,000 people with urban populations less than 50 per cent. Population size ranges from 26,891 in the rural part of Tweed (New South Wales) to 1,008 in the rural part of George Town (Tasmania). Obviously across such a large population range there are significant differences in the level of urban populations, ranging from SLAs with no urban population such as in the remote areas of western New South Wales and rural parts of larger towns (Dubbo – Pt B), to places with almost 50 per cent urban population such as Tenterfield in New South Wales and Cardwell in Queensland.

Again mining appears to be, at least in part, associated with advantage. There is also evidence of advantage being associated with regions that are part of the broader hinterland of a larger settlement, or at least in the same region. Agriculture is associated with relative disadvantage and as with the cities, towns and regions discussed in earlier chapters, population growth appears to be linked to both advantage and disadvantage. The analysis of the non-metropolitan rural towns and regions began with a large number of places (in this case 262) and using the methodology outlined in Chapter One the result was five groups, whose socio-economic performance can be analysed from the data presented in Tables 6.1ad and 6.7ap. From the five groups we get two groups of advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and three groups of disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions. The advantaged places consist of 35 income/employment advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and 61 income advantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions. The disadvantaged places consist of 44 income/employment disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions and two groups of agricultural-based disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions containing a total of 122 places (Figure 6.1).

Figure 6.1 Typology of advantaged and disadvantaged localities in Australia’s non-metropolitan rural towns and regions

ADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS

RURAL ADVANTAGE (INCOME/EMPLOYMENT ADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS)

The rural crisis often talked about has clearly not impacted on all places. There are some rural localities, as discussed in the introduction to this chapter, that reflect advantage rather than crisis. These places include those with a mining industry which have benefited from the strong outcomes associated with the resources sector and there are also agricultural areas which have managed to perform well even in the face of decline. Some of the towns and regions are highly remote in terms of access to services and facilities, while others are located closer to larger population settlements. Some of these places have been noted for their high incomes (Harding et al. 2004) and for some places the ability to tap into new rural activities has paid off.

Among the rural towns and regions included in this group (Table 6.2ac) is the area making up the region of Unincorporated Far West (around 10 million hectares in the far north-western corner of New South Wales) which has no distinct urban centre or locality, and places such as Peak Downs (Tieri and Capella) (Box 6.1) and Nebo (Nebo and Glenden) in Queensland. Victoria and Tasmania have none of these regions, but in South Australia the regions include the area comprising the Unincorporated Flinders Ranges (home to the coal mining town of Leigh Creek) and the Unincorporated Far North (Mintabie, Indulkana, Fregon, Ernabella, Amata and Mimili). The greatest concentrations of these regions are in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In the west there are localities such as Yilgarn Shire (Southern Cross and Marvel Loch) and Mount Magnet Shire (main settlement of Mount Magnet), while in the Northern Territory there is West Arnhem (Oenpelli and Gulin Gulin – Weemol) and Tennant Creek – Balance (Alpurrurulam and Warrabri).

Table 6.1a Means of socio-economic variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions
Note: Cells that are bold and shaded indicate that this is an important differentiating variables and sets this group apart from others.
Cells that are bolded only indicate that this is an important variable but does not individually differentiate this group from others.
Cells in italics indicate that the variables are of interest in that the mean is above or below the average, but they do not differentiate the groups from others.

Table 6.1b Means of socio-economic variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Note: Cells that are bold and shaded indicate that this is an important differentiating variables and sets this group apart from others.
Cells that are bolded only indicate that this is an important variable but does not individually differentiate this group from others.
Cells in italics indicate that the variables are of interest in that the mean is above or below the average, but they do not differentiate the groups from others.

Table 6.1c Means of socio-economic variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Note: Cells that are bold and shaded indicate that this is an important differentiating variables and sets this group apart from others.
Cells that are bolded only indicate that this is an important variable but does not individually differentiate this group from others.
Cells in italics indicate that the variables are of interest in that the mean is above or below the average, but they do not differentiate the groups from others.

Table 6.1d Means of socio-economic variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Note: Cells that are bold and shaded indicate that this is an important differentiating variables and sets this group apart from others.
Cells that are bolded only indicate that this is an important variable but does not individually differentiate this group from others.
Cells in italics indicate that the variables are of interest in that the mean is above or below the average, but they do not differentiate the groups from others.

The advantage in these places is driven by income and generally positive employment outcomes. At $31,558 wages and salaries are higher than the average, with some localities such as Peak Downs and Nebo in Queensland being significantly higher than the average. There are slightly more low-income households than high-income households, but this ratio is better than the ratio for other disadvantaged groups of towns and regions. Like some other places these advantaged rural localities do not have a lot of savings, which is reflected in interest received from bank deposits being below average.

The employment profile of the income/employment advantaged rural localities is characterised by employment in mining and by generally positive employment performance. Although not as dominant as in the other groups of mining-based localities discussed earlier, employment in the mining industry is above average, with a large proportion of workers also being employed in mass goods and services industries. Employment in the so-called old-economy jobs are not in abundance, but then neither is employment in new-economy jobs a feature of these places. This group of rural places has the highest proportion of people working in occupations characterised as vulnerable. Relative to other groups unemployment is low for the income/employment advantaged rural localities, but despite this the rate of labour-force participation is also (slightly) below average, although this does not differentiate this group from the others. These places have also been places of employment growth and commensurately population growth (partly due to some places with significantly large population growth such as Wiluna and Greenough – Pt B in Western Australia).

The overall socio-economic advantage/disadvantage picture for these places is mixed. There does not appear to be a high reliance on government transfers, with both age pension receipts and rental assistance being below the average. Likewise, households being financially disadvantaged through the payment of high rents are also below the average. However, the income/employment advantaged rural localities don’t have it all good. There are signs of disadvantage, with high levels of single-parent families and families with no employed parent. The presence in this group of a number of remote localities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory is reflected in the above average proportion of Indigenous Australians among those counted on census night. There is also below average levels of aged people and households owning their homes.

Table 6.2a Rural advantaged localities

Table 6.2b Rural advantaged localities (continued)

Table 6.2c Rural advantaged localities (continued)

Box 6.1 Peak Downs (Queensland), a rural advantaged locality

 

Peak Downs Shire is located on Queensland’s central coast inland from Rockhampton and Mackay. The shire contains the towns of Capella and Tieri and has a significant rural population. The region has been described as a place where ‘miners helmets and hard hats are now more common than drovers hats’ (Readers Digest 2003 p. 440). The economic base of Peak Downs Shire is concentrated in coal mining, farming and grazing and over 50 per cent of the employed workforce has jobs in either mining or agriculture. Reflecting its position as one of the income/employment advantaged rural localities, the shire has above average wages and salaries ($48,888) and nearly three and a half times more high-income households than low-income households. ABS data indicates that the large proportion of total personal income in this shire comes from wages and salaries (around 90 per cent), with only a small proportion coming from government transfers (3 per cent of the population receive age pensions and only 2 per cent receive rental assistance). The average total tax for the shire was $15,337 in 2001 and the effective tax rate was 23 per cent. The ABS index of socio-economic advantage/disadvantage listed Peak Downs among SLAs in the 7th decile indicating more advantage than disadvantage. At only $321, interest received was below the average, suggesting that only small amounts of income are drawn from investments.

In employment terms, Peak Downs actually has a slightly higher proportion of people classified as educated professionals (there were 5.2 per cent of workers in new-economy jobs). Reflecting the economic base it has high levels of labour-force participation (69 per cent) and low levels of unemployment (3.2 per cent). Peak Downs has below average levels of single-parent families and non-earner families (in contrast to the group as a whole) and it also has below average levels of people suffering from rental financial stress (2.5 per cent) and age dependency (7.1 per cent). Only 25 per cent of households owned their homes.

RURAL COMMUTER ZONES (INCOME ADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS)

Next to the more urbanised cities, towns and regions which were identified as advantaged service centres, are a range of largely rural regions, many of which act as commuter zones for the sponge cities (Table 6.3ab). Some of the localities here are characterised as being commuter zones to larger places and may have some sea-change or tree-change characteristics. But these might be sea-change places that have positive socio-economic outcomes. Downshifting professionals might be located in some of these places, looking for places with a rural feel, away from the rat race of urban living, but still within easy access of services. Other places are regions with small service towns, which function as focal points in the wider rural community. The rural commuter zones are not doing too badly in terms of the socio-economic characteristics of their residents, although there is a sense that in some cases these local settlements might miss out on local service provision, instead being reliant on services located in the larger regional localities.

The income advantaged rural localities include the regions of Dungog near Maitland and Newcastle and Mulwaree (Box 6.2) near Goulburn in New South Wales. In Queensland the region of Gatton (with the settlements of Gatton, Grantham, Helidon, and Withcott) between Brisbane (it is often considered to be part of Brisbane’s urban fringe) and Toowoomba, together with the region surrounding the urban centre of Mackay (Mackay – Part B) are included. Victoria has a large number of regions in this group and they include what is essentially the rural hinterland of Wangaratta and the regions of Colac/Otway North and South in Victoria’s south west. South Australia has the Renmark – Paringa SLA in the Riverland and the District Council of Grant (Tarpeena and Port MacDonnell). In Western Australia we see the inclusion of the regions of Donnybrook – Balingup (Donnybrook) and the rural part of the Harvey region (Harvey Part B), both in relative close proximity to towns like Capel and Bunbury.

Above average wages and salaries define this group and there is, at least relatively, a low level of disadvantage. Average wages and salaries as reported to the Australian Taxation Office are around $28,800 per annum, and while there are more low-income households than high-income households, at least the ratio is better than average. The regions in this group have had population growth over the period 1991 to 2001 and commensurately this has been associated with growth in employment. However, this population growth does not appear to be retirement led with a below average age dependency rate.

For those who are of working age about two-thirds are engaged actively in the labour-force and there is employment in new-economy jobs. Mass goods and services industries account for the largest share of jobs and employment in the agricultural sector is also important. Indicators of socio-economic disadvantage are present, but not to the same extent as in other groups. Single-parent families are not common (around 10 per cent) and neither are families with no employed parent. Public rental accommodation is low in this group of regions, although there is an above average proportion of a household suffering financial stress through high rents.

Table 6.3a Rural commuter zones

Table 6.3b Rural commuter zones (continued)

Box 6.2 Mulwaree (New South Wales), rural commuter zone

 

Mulwaree, with its townships of Taralga and Marulan is part of a large rural shire (Goulburn Mulwaree Council) incorporating the town of Goulburn and within commuting distance of Canberra and it is part of the Capital Region Area. In 2001, 1,358 or 50 per cent of the resident workforce made a journey to work outside the SLA. Mulwaree has high levels of wages and salaries with the average sitting at around $31,000, but despite this there around 1.5 times more low-income households than high-income households. The ABS places Mulwaree in the 6th decile on its index of socio-economic advantage/disadvantage. The majority of personal income comes from wages and salaries (around 70 per cent), and there is only a small proportion of government transfers. In line with the region’s advantaged tag it has below average levels of households suffering from housing related financial stress with only 13 per cent of renters being classified as suffering housing financial difficulties.

In employment terms Mulwaree is characterised by positive outcomes. Being close to the Australian Capital Territory there are above average proportions of new-economy workers (8.3 per cent) and also those classified as educated professionals (23.7 per cent). Unemployment, both in general terms and for young people is below the average. Indicating a lower level of disadvantage than other places Mulwaree has below average levels of single-parent families (9.1 per cent) and non-earner families (8.9 per cent). The SLA recorded above average population and employment growth, reflecting the fact that many people are attracted to the area to access affordable housing. The level of age dependency is below average at 17.9 per cent, despite the fact that the area is also attracting retirees who are seeking close proximity to major cities and services (Capital Region Employment Council 2005).

DISADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS

RURAL INCOME AND EMPLOYMENT DISADVANTAGE/SEA-CHANGE LOCALITIES (INCOME/EMPLOYMENT DISADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN, RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS)

While there are some rural localities that have been able to leverage advantage in terms of employment and income, there are others who have not. Rural income and employment disadvantage is associated with two types of places. The most common are rural population growth areas or sea-change places. Some of these places might be close to larger settlements and be essentially part of future peri-urban regions, while other localities are part of the rural hinterlands of the better known sea-change localities. Many are high amenity rural areas with facilities that attract people. They are the localities of down-shifters and retirees and some, according to Burnley and Murphy (2004 p. 27), are the location of ‘a substantial amount of cheap, isolated farmland [which] provide the footholds for alternative lifestyles.’ These sea-change places share some characteristics of the larger urban sea-change localities and can also be thought of as welfare/retirement migration localities. Other places do not have the sea-change hallmarks, but are connected with a more general trend of rural disadvantage, that is, low incomes and poor employment outcomes. Some of these might be the rural alternatives to the urban non-metropolitan cities and towns that have been associated with the negative impacts of restructuring or disadvantaged agricultural regions (Table 6.4).

The income/employment disadvantaged rural localities include the regions of Bellingen and the rural parts of Lismore (with settlements such as Nimbin – a bridgehead of counter culture settlement (Burnley and Murphy 2004) and Richmond Valley (settlements of Evans Head, Broadwater and Woodburn) in New South Wales. In Queensland the hinterlands surrounding Noosa and Hervey Bay (Box 6.3) and places such as the rural part of Burnett Shire (with Moore Park) and Isis (Appletree Creek, Childers, Cordalba and Woodgate) are included. There are of course some exceptions. One might not call Stanthorpe in Queensland or Murray in New South Wales sea-change localities. Additionally, some places in Tasmania (those around Hobart such as Huon Valley) might be reflecting the growth associated with some peri-urban growth.

Generally population growth is apparent in this group of towns and regions and is above the average. Like those sea-change localities discussed earlier, these rural sea-change localities have above average levels of people working in consumption-based industries and while these places have seen some employment growth to match their population growth, much of it is likely to have been in these consumer-based industries that often offer less security and lower pay. Employment in mass recreation industries is above average as is employment in mass goods and services and the construction sector. Despite some indicators of low employment opportunity, there are some people working in the new-economy sector (there are also an average proportion of people with educated professional occupations). But sea changing is also associated with high levels of unemployment and relatively low levels of labour-force participation. For those who do work, there is also an above average employment in part-time jobs. Once again Wayne Swan’s comment that sun and sand is more plentiful than economic opportunities appears to be relevant (Swan 2005). The rural sea-changers are not super rich with low wages being a distinguishing characteristic of this group and there being many more low-income households than high-income households.

Table 6.4 Rural sea-change localities

Other indicators of disadvantage are not difficult to find in the rural sea-change towns and regions. There are more single-parent families and families with no working parent than the average, and households doing it tough on their mortgage and rent payments are relatively high. The presence of welfare dependency is also strong, with above average proportions of people receiving rental assistance and aged pensions. Although not a defining characteristic of this group, there is an expected above average level of age dependency and, reflecting this, there is also an above average proportion of outright home owners.

Box 6.3 Hervey Bay – Pt B (Queensland), a rural sea-change locality

 

The SLA of Hervey Bay – Pt B contains the centres of Pacific Haven, Howard, Torbanlea and Aldershot and is in the rural hinterland of Hervey Bay Shire. Like the more urban parts of the shire, the rural hinterland is characteristic of a sea-change locality associated with welfare and retirement migration. Population change has been rapid with the population increasing by around 23 per cent between 1991 and 2001. Employment has also grown over this time, but as with its urban neighbour (Hervey Bay Pt A), this employment is likely to have been in less secure consumer or population driven industries which account for almost half of all employment. Reflecting the retirement tag of the area the age dependency rate was 23.1 per cent, which is above average.

In terms of social disadvantage Hervey Bay Pt B has above average concentrations of single-parents (13.9 per cent) and just over one-fifth of all families with dependent children have no employed parent. Unemployment is high at almost 16 per cent and the youth unemployment rate is 30 per cent and labour-force participation is below average at 55 per cent. Average wages and salaries are below average at $25,454 and there are almost ten times as many low-income households as high-income households. It is not surprising that ABS data places the SLA in the bottom decile in terms of disadvantage and figures indicate that only about 50 per cent of personal income comes from wages and salaries with over a quarter coming from government transfers. The average tax bill in 2001 was around $5,000 and the effective tax rate was 15 per cent. Households suffering housing financial stress through high rentals or high mortgage repayments are well above average.

DECLINING AGRICULTURE TOWNS (AGRICULTURAL-BASED DISADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS 1)

If there is an archetypical example of a disadvantaged rural locality, then those based on agriculture come easily to mind. We have already seen reference to the so-called rural crisis in earlier chapters (Gray and Lawrence 2001; Lockie and Bourke 2001). These are the localities that are no longer, in the words of Mark Vaile (Foreign Affairs and Trade 2001), living off the sheep’s back. They are the types of places that Ian Gray and Geoff Lawrence (2001 p. 53) talk about when they argue that the process of change in rural Australia has forced people and their communities ‘to make fundamental changes which are likely to affect them detrimentally and severely, potentially affecting their livelihoods, state of health and general quality of life’. The Australian Productivity Commission (1999) talks about these places when they discuss the negative impacts of the National Competition Policy where declining industries have impacted on a range of social and demographic outcomes. As with the earlier discussions, the changes that have taken place in agricultural and farm practive have seen declining regional incomes in localities that were once strong and vibrant agricultural economies. These declining incomes flow on to impact on the viability of retail and other services in local towns and settlements.

The agricultural-based disadvantaged non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (1) is one of two groups of places with an economy dependent on agriculture (Table 6.5ab). The towns and regions in this group generally have larger populations and this includes larger urban populations (although still less than 50 per cent). The group includes the towns and regions of Guyra (Guyra and Tingha) and Wentworth (Wentworth, Dareton and Buronga) in New South Wales and Wambo (Jandowae and Bell) and Hinchinbrook (including Ingham) in Queensland. Moving to Victoria there is the region of Moyne – South (Koroit and Port Fairy) and Yarriambiack – South (Warracknabeal, Minyip, Murtoa and Rupanyup). Across the border in South Australia there is Yorke Peninsula – North (with Maitland, Ardrossan, Port Victoria, Minlaton and Port Vincent), Goyder (Burra and Eudunda) (Box 6.4) and the Mid-Murray region (Cadell, Morgan, Blanchetown, Swan Reach and Mannum), while in Western Australia there is Beverley and Plantagenet (Mount Barker). Moving off the mainland, Tasmania is represented by the rural part of Northern Midlands (with Campbell Town, Ross, Cressy, Longford and Evandale) and Dorset (with Scottsdale, Branxholm, Ringarooma and Bridport).

Table 6.5a Declining agricultural towns and regions – 1st level

Table 6.5b Declining agricultural towns and regions – 1st level (continued)

Like the rest of the disadvantaged agricultural-based localities, this group of places is defined by low incomes. Wages and salaries are below the average and the group is strongly differentiated from others in terms of the income ratio indicating more low-income households than high-income households. These are income poor but asset rich localities with interest received per taxpayer being above the average. Declines in population and employment also define this group, reflecting the typical ‘rural crisis’ that is often associated with these places due in part to young people leaving the farm in search of better economic opportunities (Gray and Lawrence 2001; Salt 2001). Labour-force participation is below average (although this does not set the group apart from others) and those working are likely to be found in agriculture more than other industry sectors, and there is a relatively low level of employment in mass goods and services. Employment in the mass recreation industries is, on average, absent from these towns and regions as are people employed in the construction sector. New-economy workers and those classified as educated professionals are not in abundance and nor are those only working part-time. Unemployment, although not a defining feature of this group, is around average.

Disadvantage in terms of single-parent families and non-earner families is apparent but not above average, although there is an above average rate of age dependency and households suffering from financial stress associated with high rents and low incomes. Reflecting the housing market characteristics of many of these towns and regions, outright home ownership is above average and in line with the level of age dependency, the proportion of people receiving aged pensions is above average.

Box 6.4 Goyder (South Australia), a disadvantaged level 1 agricultural region

 

The District Council of Goyder in South Australia is an example of a declining agricultural region. Named after George Woodroffe Goyder, whose famous ‘Goyder's Line’ traverses the former district council areas that now make up the single regional council, Goyder is located in the south-east of South Australia. Renowned for its cereal crops and merino wool as well as diary, beef cattle, piggeries and chicken farms the region’s economic base is firmly entrenched in agriculture. Reflecting this, almost 40 per cent of employment is in agriculture with mass goods and services industries (such as retailing) also contributing a significant share. Goyder is, relatively speaking, income poor. Average wages and salaries are amongst the lowest for the towns and regions considered in this chapter at $22,065 and the income ratio indicates there are almost five low-income households to each high-income household. Despite this there are above average levels of bank interest received, with the average being $858. ABS figures indicate that around half of personal income is derived from wages and salaries, with the rest coming from self-owned businesses or government transfers. The index of socio-economic advantage/disadvantage places Goyder in the 2nd decile, indicating a high level of relative disadvantage. Unemployment in Goyder is 6.37 per cent and the labour-force participation rate is below average at 55 per cent. Reflecting this there is an age dependency rate of 25 per cent. The other indicators of social disadvantage such as single-parents and non-earner families are about average.

DISADVANTAGED RURAL PASTORAL DISTRICTS (AGRICULTURAL-BASED DISADVANTAGED NON-METROPOLITAN RURAL TOWNS AND REGIONS 2)

A second group of agricultural-based rural places are showing signs of disadvantage associated with low incomes. Some of these places are more remote than the previous group of towns and regions (they have a lower average urban population) and generally have smaller populations (Table 6.6ab). Again they are the places that have seen fundamental changes to their economic circumstances (Gray and Lawrence 2001) and have among them towns that academics such as Gordon Forth (2000 p. 3) talk about when they suggest that ‘certain Australian country towns were already, or were in the process of becoming pockets of significant poverty and disadvantage’.

The rural part of Blayney Shire with the settlement of Lyndhurst and the shire of Conargo both located in New South Wales are included, while in Queensland the Monto Shire and Richmond Shire are in the group. Some localities in the dry farming areas of the wheat-sheep belt in Victoria (such as West Wimmera and Part of Yarriambiack Shire) are present and over the border in South Australia the Southern Mallee District (with towns of Lameroo and Pinnaroo) and the Robe District Council in the South Australia’s south east make the list. Western Australia is also represented with places such as Cranbrook Shire and Pingelly Shire (Box 6.5).

The defining characteristics of this group of towns and regions are their low incomes and their dependency on agricultural production. The group as a whole has low wages and salaries with regions such as Karoonda – East Murray and Le Hunte both in South Australia, having the lowest average wages and salaries of the 262 places considered in the chapter. Like the other agricultural based-localities this group of agricultural-based disadvantaged rural localities have characteristics suggesting that while farm income is low, the localities do obtain some income from investments. On average imputation credits were $502 and interest received was $916. Reflecting the problems associated with the spiral of decline facing agricultural regions, the average level of population change and employment change for this group are both negative. Despite population and employment loss there is an above average labour-force participation rate and levels of unemployment, both in general and for young people are below average. Obviously agriculture accounts for a large proportion of employment, being around 50 per cent. New-economy industries have not made a big impact (and nor have old-economy jobs) and the consumer-based industries such as recreation and goods and services do not figure significantly in the employment statistics. Typically, given the industry characteristics of these places, there is a below average level of part-time employment.

This group of localities have high levels of home ownership – typical of rural and remote agricultural towns and regions – and indicators of disadvantage such as single-parents and households without any working parent are low. Welfare spending – at least in terms of rent assistance – is not a feature and generally those with low incomes who are paying rent appear not to be suffering financially.

Table 6.6a Declining agricultural towns and regions – 2nd level

Table 6.6b Declining agricultural towns and regions – 2nd level (continued)

Box 6.5 Pingelly (Western Australia), a disadvantaged rural pastoral district

 

Pingelly is located in the heart of Western Australia’s central south wheat-belt 150 kilometres from Perth and includes the urban centre of Pingelly and the other settlements of Morrumbine and Datteng. The shire’s economic base is largely associated with agriculture, a fact reflected in the large proportion of people employed in this industry accounting for 44 per cent of the total employment share. Like the previous agricultural-based region, Pingelly is income poor, with average wages and salaries at $22,436 and there are five times as many low-income households as high-income households. Countering this is an above average level of interest received ($1,341), a characteristic of other income disadvantaged agricultural regions. ABS figures indicate that slightly less than 50 per cent of personal income is derived from wages with own business income, investments and government transfers accounting for the remaining proportion. Disadvantage in terms of people receiving rent assistance is low (2.5 per cent) and there is an above average level of renters suffering financial stress (17 per cent). In line with other agricultural regions Pingelly lost population between 1991 and 2001 and commensurately also lost jobs. There is however, an above average level of unemployment, which is in contrast to the average for the group of towns and regions as a whole. Approximately 12 per cent of all families are single-parent families and about the same proportion of families are classified as no-earner families.

SUMMARY

We have considered in this chapter the differences in advantage and disadvantage across the 262 towns and regions making up rural Australia. We have found that like the other levels of the settlement system, socio-economic restructuring has impacted on rural towns and regions in different ways. Clearly, the talk of the rural crisis, while a reality in some instances, is not quite as bad in others, although the analysis here has shown that there are many more disadvantaged towns and regions than advantaged ones, a finding that should still be of concern. The picture is not straightforward and the pattern of differentiated advantage and disadvantage is complex as well as uneven. Again it is interesting to note that population growth is a characteristic of both advantaged and disadvantaged places, so being a boom town in terms of population growth is not always associated with positive outcomes. Rural sea-change localities such as the hinterlands of Queensland’s Hervey Bay have population growth and some employment growth, but they display relatively poor outcomes in terms of income, and unemployment is a persistent problem. Then there are the population-boom regions that include some rural localities just beyond the established peri-urban zones of some metropolitan regions or large centres. In these places there is positive population growth and associated growth in employment, and also indicators of positive socio-economic outcomes. Industry mix has some importance and there is a least a small sign that employment in mining is associated with advantage. However, those rural towns and regions that identify with the mining sector are not as dominated by this industry as groups discussed in earlier chapters. And then there is the agricultural sector. Two large groups of rural towns and regions are showing the effects of the turndown in agricultural incomes and the disadvantage associated with this and it is these places that best reflect the commentary regarding the rural crisis.

Table 6.7a Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7b Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7c Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7d Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7e Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7f Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7g Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7h Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7i Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7j Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7k Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7l Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7m Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7n Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7o Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

Table 6.7p Selected individual variables, non-metropolitan rural towns and regions (continued)
Source: 1 ABS Integrated Regional Data Base; 2 ABS CData 2001.

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Lockie, S; Bourke, L. (editors). Rurality Bities: The Social and Environmental Transformation of Rural Australia. Annandale: Pluto Press Australia: 2001.

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Salt, B. The Big Shift: Welcome to the Third Australian Culture. South Yarra, Melbourne: Hardie Grant Books; 2001.

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Tonts, M. ‘Economic restructuring and small town adjustment: evidence from the Western Australian central wheatbelt’. Rural Society 1996; 6: 24–33.

Cite this chapter as: Baum, Scott; O’Connor, Kevin; Stimson, Robert. ‘Commentary says the bush is in bad shape: Is that really the case?’. Fault Lines Exposed. Melbourne: Monash University ePress; 2005. pp. 06.1–06.39.

 

Fault Lines Exposed: Advantage and Disadvantage Across Australia’s Settlement System

   by Scott Baum, Kevin O’Connor & Robert Stimson