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Census exposes rural decline

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A loss of residents means critical council services are reduced, which affects maintenance of local roads that are critical for the freight movement of agricultural products. Photo by Ray Sizer

The continued decline of remote towns was made apparent in the first release of data from the 2021 census.

Greg Rogers, from NSW Farmers Western Division, said the latest census data revealed small communities in western NSW were shrinking at an alarming rate because of a perfect storm of population decline and substandard services.

“Population decline is a critical issue for the economic stability of these regions — once people move away it is very difficult to bring them back,” Mr Rogers said.

“When populations decline essential services are lost — banks, medical services, schools, retail outlets and government agency shopfronts close.”

Dig deeper into the overall population trends captured by the 2021 census and it’s apparent the ‘great tree change’ or ‘bush change’ wasn’t that large.

From 2016 to 2021, regional Australia — which encompass everything outside the capital cities — grew by 70,900 extra residents.

Regions that gained the most new residents were all outer city suburbs (Cranbourne East, for example, on the edge of Melbourne) or near the Gold Coast.

Mr Rogers said a loss of residents meant critical council services are reduced, which affects maintenance of local roads that are critical for freight movement.

“Farmers out west are expecting to see a third successive year of productive output growth, but this is at risk if we can’t attract and retain individuals and families to these areas,” he said.

“Agriculture is a major economic driver for our state, but we are already facing critical workforce shortages — a loss of local amenities makes it even harder to attract and retain critical skilled workers and their families.”

The first release of 2021 census was on June 28. Over the coming months, the Australian Bureau of Statistics will release more census data to the public.

The census was conducted in August 2021 and continues the work of the 2016 census.