Sunday, December 21, 2008

More on Bourke and the sale of Toorale Station

In End of Historic Toorale Station I discussed the joint decision by the Commonwealth and State Governments to buy Tooorale Station and turn it into a national park. Using rough, back of envelope, calculations I pointed to the economic costs involved, doubting the value of the Government's action.

During the week I had cause for other reasons to to look at Bourke's demographic statistics. The following table sets out a few key numbers from the 2006 census for Bourke Shire, the area that includes Tooralee.

Item Number
population 3095
indigenous population 910
workforce 1428
of this  
employed full time 913
employed part time 294
unemployed 113
total private dwellings 1436
vacant private dwellings 294
media household income $A821

If you look at these numbers, you see that Bourke has:

  • a high indigenous population (29.4%)
  • a significant number of part time workers (20.6% of the workforce) and unemployed (7.9%)
  • a large number of vacant dwellings
  • and a median household income well below the national average of $1,027.

Bourke also has significant social problems, especially among the indigenous community.

Now take out the 100 full and part time jobs reportedly associated with Tooralee station. Unemployment almost doubles, average incomes will drop, more people will be forced to leave the district.

These are the type of on-ground effects that are so often ignored in policy making. In theory, Bourke residents should be compensated for the losses imposed on them by external decision. In practice, this does not seem to happen.

As a nation, we seem to have given up on inland Australia unless, as in the case of some remote Aboriginal communities, the social scandal becomes too great. There is no excuse for this.

In a post on my personal blog,  Saturday Morning Musings - Byzantium, ARIA and Australian public policy, I pointed to the perverse and indeed iniquitous effects of the mindless application of things like the ARIA remoteness classifications on public policy.

As a people, we seem to have lost the ability - the vision if you like - to develop new approaches. Too much of our time is spend on trying to fix things within parameters set by current pre-conceptions. Too little time is spent on challenging those pre-conceptions.

I write a lot about New England because this is my country. Here I frequently point to the way that decisions ignore real problems. However, New England is but a symptom of a broader problem.

As more and more Australians cling to a thin costal strip, living in growing ignorance of the rest of the country, problems increase.

Instead of the almost mechanistic approach to nation building adopted by the Federal Government, how about a genuine national revolution centred on reclaiming and developing the whole country, not just 5 per cent of it.

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