Regional town report card revealed

REPORT CARD: One third of students in regional and rural areas don’t finish Year 12. Photo: Jude Keogh
REPORT CARD: One third of students in regional and rural areas don’t finish Year 12. Photo: Jude Keogh

Psychologists, preschool teachers and dentists have been given Fs on the latest Small Towns Report Card.

The Regional Australia Institute has unveiled its report card which ranks how we have fared as a nation in providing access to 10 essential professionals for residents living in small towns across Australia.

RAI CEO Jack Archer said while some professions have made progress in the past 30 years, the report card questions government spending to improve education and health outcomes in regional areas.

“Governments have spent decades pouring billions of dollars into programs to give regional Australians better access to professionals and services – but our research unveiled today has shown it’s not reaching the areas that need it most,” Mr Archer said.

“It should be no surprise that many small towns are overwhelmed by significant dental, mental health and educational achievement issues,” Mr Jack Archer said.

The rankings have been drawn from the RAI’s latest report “Pillars of Communities” – which  tracks the number of police, teachers, doctors, nurses, paramedics, dentists, psychologists, and social workers in small towns across Australia over a 30 year period – from 1981 to 2011.

“For many of the 1.8 million Australians who live in small towns, accessing a GP, dentist, pre-school teacher or psychologist is nearly impossible,” Mr Archer said.

The RAI report shows that inner regional towns, which are closer to cities, have seen an 85 per cent growth in professionals – while remote and very remote areas have only grown by 7 per cent.

“While the story of declining services in small towns isn’t new, this is the first time the shift in professional services has been analysed to this extent by researchers in Australia,” Mr Archer said

From a place of advantage in 1981, the per-capita rate of preschool teachers in small towns has now fallen well below the national average.

“This lack of service professionals coincides with higher rates of early childhood development issues in rural and remote areas. We see the same pattern in dentistry and mental health which are also areas where regional outcomes have been poor for a long time” Mr Archer said.

According to government figures, one third of students in regional and rural areas don’t finish Year 12 and only 18 per cent will go on to complete a university degree.

“Rural students are up to one and a half years behind their metropolitan counterparts on NAPLAN and PISA tests.

“People in regional Australia need to know that the services in their town will improve and that the spending will not be soaked up by places that don’t need it or in funding for initiatives that are based a long way from their community,” Mr Archer said.

The RAI report suggests four ways to address service delivery in small towns. These include: supporting community initiatives, role flexibility, delivery of online services and targeted funding.