Time to face the facts on rural poverty in Australia

Two of the nation’s peak community bodies have come together to release a snapshot of the extent of poverty and disadvantage outside Australia’s major capital cities, highlighting the devastating impact on people’s lives and on country towns and communities.

The report, ‘A Snapshot of poverty in rural and regional Australia’, shines the spotlight on poverty and other resource disadvantages that prevent people in country areas from attaining the basic standard of living and access to services the rest of us take for granted.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Tamworth today, Executive Director of the National Rural Health Alliance, Gordon Gregory said, “It’s time for our leaders to face the fact that for many people in rural areas life is extraordinarily difficult, with an unfair share of basic resources like income, work and access to essential services and infrastructure being the norm rather than the exception.

“There’s a perception that somehow life in rural and regional areas is easier and cheaper, away from the stresses and speed of life in our major cities. In so many respects life in rural Australia is the best in the world, however, we know that country life brings its own set of stresses that are mostly unseen and not talked about. That’s precisely the reason for this joint effort by our two peak bodies to bring this reality to the attention of policy makers and our government leaders at all levels.

“People living in poverty in our country areas are missing out on opportunities and resources the rest of us enjoy, such as adequate health and dental care, good education, employment opportunities, affordable quality food and recreation. Overall the prevalence of deprivation is higher in large country towns and other rural areas than in our major cities,” Mr Gregory said.

Also speaking at the launch, Deputy CEO of ACOSS Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine said, “We certainly want to see measures to address growing poverty in our country to be a priority of this federal Parliament.

“We know that despite two decades of unprecedented growth, the gap between people who are doing well and those that are falling behind is growing. This includes the city-country divide.

“ACOSS’ major poverty report last year found that, allowing for the costs of housing, poverty is worse in rural, regional and remote areas (13.1 per cent outside capital cities) than in capital cities (12.6 per cent). Having more than two million people living below the poverty line in a country as wealthy as ours is simply unacceptable.

“It’s critical we all work together to improve the underlying factors that are leaving people behind in our country areas. These include reduced access to services such as health, education and transport, declining employment opportunities, lower incomes of people living in these regions, and distance and isolation,” Dr Boyd-Caine said.

“From the perspective of the National Rural Health Alliance, alleviating poverty is a crucial part of what needs to be done to achieve better health for the people of rural and remote communities,” said Mr Gregory. “To do this there needs to be work on critical determinants of health, such as education, work, housing and transport, access to and the cost of goods and services, and community connectedness,” he added.

“ACOSS and the National Rural Health Alliance will continue to draw attention to these issues and urge our elected representatives at local, state and federal government levels to work together in the shared interest of improving the life opportunities of all our citizens,” Dr Boyd-Caine concluded.

Media Contacts: 

Fernando de Freitas (ACOSS) – 0419 626 155

Penny Hanley (NRHA) – 0430 102 488