Redland mayor backs report which finds regional towns lack services

THE Regional Australia Institute has today unveiled its Small Towns Report Card – scoring access to psychologists, preschool teachers and dentists an “F”.

ISLAND WOES: Island communities face larger challenges, says mayor Karen Williams.

ISLAND WOES: Island communities face larger challenges, says mayor Karen Williams.

The Report Card ranks how we have fared as a nation in providing access to 10 essential professionals for residents living in small towns across Australia.

RAI chief executive Jack Archer said while some professions had made progress over the past 30 years, the report card questioned government spending to improve education and health outcomes.

“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 Archer said.

Redland City Council mayor Karen Williams said there was no doubt regional towns lacked services, particularly health services, and the institute did valuable work in highlighting these shortages. 

“Unfortunately, however, this report does not capture the gaps that exist on our island communities," she said.

“Other levels of government include the whole of the Redlands as part of the greater Brisbane region, which skews the data, with services closer to Brisbane offsetting the obvious lack of health and community services on our islands.

“The fact is our island communities face a greater challenge because they are viewed by other levels of government as a metro region with no consideration of their isolation. 

“While as a city we are geographically close to Brisbane, it is more difficult, costly and time consuming for island residents to access these services, which needs to be recognised and adequately planned for."

Cr Williams said that with an average age of 58 years and more than 25 per cent unemployment on some of our islands, these communities were also financially isolated from access to services the region often took for granted. 

“There would have been little, if any growth of professional services on our Southern Moreton Bay Islands despite the population growing, which is in contrast to these mainland isolated communities whose populations are shrinking," she said.

“I have raised the issue of access to medical and social services on our island communities a number of times with both the state and federal government and will continue to lobby for services we need and deserve."

The 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.

Government figures show that one third of students in regional and rural areas do not 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.’’