Since the global financial crisis, austerity has become the new byword as governments across the world cut back spending on services.
But how do governments’ austerity measures in Australia impact on our regional areas?
Southern Cross University researchers have been looking to answer just that question.
Dr Subas Dhakal and Professor Robyn Keast are working to identify the factors that contribute to regional resilience using the historic north Queensland town of Charters Towers as a pilot study.
‘The 2011-2012 State of the Regions report from the Australian Local Government Association reported that inequality between regions has been growing for the past five years and the evidence pointed to this continuing – and possibly accelerating – over the next five years and beyond,’ Dr Dhakal said.
‘Consequently there is a great interest in communities in regional Australia and how they are grappling with economic, environmental and social challenges. Our research aims to engage with regional Australia and identify the challenges in communities so that policies and initiatives can be formulated to contribute to enhancing regional resilience.’
Dr Dhakal said that various types of services like community housing, disability services, emergency relief and environmental stewardship delivered by community organisations to regional communities are the building blocks of regional strength.
‘These contributions, however, are often underestimated by the communities they serve and are mostly under-documented as well as under-reported by the organisations themselves,’ he said.
‘Our research suggests that regional resilience might be adversely affected if the services provided by community organisations can no longer be available during current austerity measures such as those undertaken by the Queensland government.’
The Charters Towers Region is an interesting case study, Professor Keast noted, as it is predominantly rural and covers about 70,000 square kilometres, equivalent to the size of the state of Tasmania and was once one of the largest towns in the late 19th century and a thriving community.
‘However, the area has been hit hard by government austerity measures with some services cut back, impacting on both service delivery and the economic health of the area,’ she said.
Data collection for the research started in Charters Towers earlier this year. Insights into the significance of community-based services on regional resilience are expected by the end of the year. Similar research is being carried out in regional NSW.
*This research project is supported through the Australian government’s Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) program.