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Small country towns deserve government support at all levels in the 21st century

By Judith Troeth - posted Saturday, 30 September 2000

The Sydney Olympic Games has given rise to a debate about our national destiny and the economic and cultural impetus given to the nation by the Games. With the inclusion of stock riders in the opening ceremony and the boisterous welcome given to the Olympic torch in country areas, it is timely to consider the place of agriculture and rural life in that destiny, and as part of any future social policy considerations.

Much has been written about the seemingly inevitable demise of the smaller country towns, yet in the past 200 years some Australian towns have periodically sprung into being, enjoyed a period of boom, and then have declined rapidly, in some cases disappearing all together.

Many of the gold rush towns in Victoria and NSW in the 19th century are examples of this phenomenon.


But the country towns that have survived since their initial settlement until today obviously provide a continuing focus for the surrounding district they serve and cannot be simply written off.

In order to survive to this point they have needed to be cohesive, supportive communities which satisfy the basic need for human beings to be connected to others in a social framework, whether large or small.

Many people choose to live in small country towns because they enjoy the feeling of knowing and being known, an element that is not always present in larger communities.

It is unreasonable to view country towns solely as economic units. These communities provide a useful and valuable alternative lifestyle to that seen in much larger communities, and their viability should not be judged on economic factors alone.

Many of these smaller towns exist as agricultural service centres. This is another reason why they should be judged as worthy of maintenance and ongoing support.

Although agriculture’s share of gross domestic product has fallen, and Australia no longer rides on the sheep’s back, agriculture remains one of our most efficient industries and our farmers are some of the world’s best. Unlike other countries, they do not receive subsidies. Farmers, like every other group in our community, require appropriate support in their professional and personal lives, and it makes economic and social sense for a


profitable and healthy farming sector to have access to nearby facilities.

Another challenge is Australia’s vast size. With settlement concentrated on the coastal fringe, careful planning is required to ensure an equitable provision of infrastructure, such as transport and communications facilities.

Access to modern information technology and communication facilities has grown in importance to become an absolute necessity of rural life. A strong, competitive communications sector (further enhanced by the complete privatisation of Telstra) should be one factor which will enable people to remain living in the country if they wish.

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This article was first published in The Australian Financial Review (p33) on 19 September, 2002.

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About the Author

Judith Troeth is a an active member of numerous Parliamentary Committees, most notably as the Chair of the Senate Employment, Workplace Relations and Education Legislation Committee. Before entering Parliament she lived near a small town in south-west Victoria.

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