Sunday, March 04, 2007

New England's Poor Towns - a failure in public policy

One of my consistent arguments on this blog is the need for New England to develop an effective voice.
In my posts on the NSW Government's State Plan, I began by looking at New England's needs. As part of this I pointed to the need for economic development to provide jobs and overcome economic and social deprivation.

In my second post I examined the Plan against New England's needs. I concluded:
If you look at my simple analysis of New England's needs in the previous post, and then compare it to the Plan you will see that most of New England's needs are not addressed or addressed in a peripheral fashion.
In this context, one way of testing the potential value of a plan is to ask what the position would be at the end if every target were to be achieved. Here I think that we can say that at the end of ten years New Englanders will be at best marginally better off, more likely they will have seen a further deterioration in New England's position.
Professor Vinson's new national study into economic and social disadvantage drives home my argument about the failure of Government policy to address New England's needs.

Nearly all the poorest and most socially disadvantaged towns and villages in NSW can be found in New England.

Bonalbo, Kempsey, Tingha and Windale. Bowraville, Casino, Deepwater, Urunga and Coraki. Nambucca Heads, Tweed Heads, Walgett and Forster. Kurri Kurri, Woodenbong, Boggabilla and South West Rocks. Tenterfield, Ashford, Iluka and Inverell. Sawtell and Taree. The list goes on.

Circumstances vary from place to place.

I think, for example, that Inverell would be surprised to find itself on the list, yet on the key social indicators used by Professor Vinson the town ranks low because of the presence of disadvantaged groups. On the coast, the presence of retirees pulls average incomes down. There is also , I suspect, a close correlation between the relative size of local aboriginal populations - the Aborigines form a much higher proportion of the New England local population than the national average - and the average measures of economic and social deprivation.

Whichever way you cut the numbers, many New England towns and villages have been going backward in relative terms, in some cases absolute terms, for many years. In some parts of New England real youth unemployment ranges from 20 to over 40 per cent. This sometimes sits side by side with the presence of skilled labour shortages that compound the problem by reducing incomes and support jobs.

I can see no sign that these problems are being addressed. Just the opposite.

The Mid North Coast has the lowest average incomes in NSW with above average unemployment. Yet the NSW State Government's coastal strategy for the Mid North Coast postulates a population increase for the area of 91,000 over the next twenty five years. The strategy is silent as to where the jobs will come from to employ these people.

Unless and until New England can again get its act together to force our politicians to look at New England's needs as a whole, these problems will remain unresolved.

Take Kempsey as an example.

The simple reconstruction of the inland road over the Big Hill to Armidale would increase traffic through the Upper Macleay valley to Kempsey and the adjoining resorts. It would also open up the inland to Macleay valley products. An effective inland New England development strategy would add to the impact.

There are already close links between the Macleay valley Aborigines and those in Armidale. Many of Armidale's Aborigines came to the city in the 1950s from the Upper Macleay Valley. There is scope to develop an Aboriginal tourism strategy that links the Macleay Valley and Armidale. New England as a whole has to learn to recognise its Aboriginal people as a New England asset, not a local concern.

These are not complex suggestions, now will they solve the problem in total. We need to try a whole range of things. But this will not happen so long as New Englanders continue to be bound by localism.

Update 25 July 2015

Over five years since I wrote this post. The latest data shows that the problem continues

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