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Country matters: social atlas of rural and regional Australia 2008

21 Apr 2008

This report, the third in a five-yearly series, describes the pattern of social and economic change throughout rural and regional Australia, particularly associated with the prolonged drought that has occurred in Australia over much of the past decade.

The 2008 Atlas is based on recently released Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Population Census data.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) has a commitment to ‘achieve stronger rural and regional communities through more sustainable, competitive and profitable rural industries’. Understanding people is fundamental to the design and delivery of policies and programs to achieve this outcome. This includes focusing on people’s wellbeing and contributing to social resilience so that rural Australian communities and industries are able to manage the changes they face. Wellbeing is a broad concept encompassing factors such as family and social networks, amenity of the landscape, and access to services and resources, as well as a range of individual issues such as employment, financial resources and health. Wellbeing has different meanings for different people; how people experience and perceive wellbeing is situation-dependent, reflecting local geography, culture, and ecological circumstances. At a collective level, social resilience signals a capacity to manage and adapt to changing conditions. Resilient communities are those that take action to enhance the personal and collective capacity of their residents, including the capacity of people to anticipate and plan for the future. This approach sees people, industries and communities in rural and regional Australia as active participants in creating and managing social and economic change.

The Bureau of Rural Science (BRS) is the Australian Government’s leading source of scientific analysis and information to inform policy development and to measure the social consequences of policy decisions relating to agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The Atlas, available online, is a central BRS platform to provide information and analytical commentary about the characteristics of people, communities and industries across rural and regional Australia. It compares the social circumstances of rural Australians with those living in larger urban areas. There is a need for social and demographic analyses of issues and trends in rural and regional Australia for decision-makers at government, industry and community levels. This online tool is used extensively throughout DAFF to develop and implement policies and programs that ensure Australia’s primary industries remain sustainable, and rural people and communities remain strong.

The Atlas provides detailed analyses and commentary on over 800 non-capital city Statistical Local Areas (SLAs) across Australia on the following themes: • Population — dynamics of demographic change. • Education — levels of educational attainment and work skills affecting future labour supply for industry. • Participation in the labour market — characteristics of labour markets. • Employment — industry diversification and changing concentrations of industry. • Families — social change affecting families and households. • Income — variation in levels of income. • Disadvantage — the extent of need for support for people with a disability is used as an indicator of disadvantage. • Access to information technology — levels of access to the internet for individuals business and communities • Housing — differences in housing tenure. • Community participation — involvement in the community through volunteering activities. This release of the Atlas includes information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006 Census of Population and Housing Census and compares trends with 1996 and 2001 Census data. The Atlas provides information for policy development on many critically important issues including: • drought • climate variability and change • water shortages • regional development.

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