Journal article

New ways of seeing regional issues: using information to move beyond stereotypes

Regional planning Population Rural and remote communities Victoria
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ln any debate about regional Australia it is easy to use well-worn perspectives and stereotypes. For policy makers, researchers and media commentators this can be reinforced by the fact that most reside in capital cities. Challenging such stereotypes is an important step in developing and exploring new perspectives on old problems. For example, does population decline mean the'death' of a town or a region? Why do many economic indicators improve in the face of such decline? And which population are we actually measuring when we determine patterns of decline? Sometimes, our understanding of existing issues can be reinvigorated by introducing information from other fields of research. lt can also be enhanced through the development of broader timeframes - both historical and projected.

This article examines a number of regional issues in such ways. lt arises from work undertaken by the Victorian Government which has been published as Regional matters: An Atlas of Regional Victoria. This whole-of-government project involved both traditional and new data sources in the production of charts and maps. lts focus is on issues, not iust data: it informs us on the basis of what needs to be known rather than what is simply easy to illustrate. And, where possible, it highlights linkages between issues rather than quarantining issues within single portfolios or fields of study. For example, agriculture is as much about economic restructuring, community cohesion and environmental sustainability as it is about crops and animal husbandry. Regional economic development is not just about industries and employment - it is also about communities, lifestyles and the services needed to attract skilled workers.

Throughout this paper, the term 'regional Victoria' refers to non-metropolitan Victoria, that is, all parts of the State which lie outside the Melbourne Statistical Division. While it is a commonly used geographical construct, it is not a single, homogeneous place, but rather a series ofdiverse regions with differing landscapes, local economies and communities.

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