The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) latest Small Towns Report Card – scoring access to psychologists, preschool teachers and dentists an “F”.
The Report Card ranks how communities have fared with the provision of access to 10 essential professionals for residents living in small towns across Australia.
RAI CEO Jack Archer says while some professions have made progress over the last 30 years, today’s 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.”
“It should be no surprise that many small towns are overwhelmed by significant dental, mental health and educational achievement issues.”
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.
It shows that 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.
The RAI report shows that inner regional towns, which are closer to cities, have seen an 85 % growth in professionals – while remote and very remote areas have only grown by 7 %.
“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.”
Mr Archer says 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”
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.
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.