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Regional wellbeing critical to Australia’s future: UC report

Regional wellbeing critical to Australia's future: UC report

Claudia Doman

18 June 2014: Most rural and regional Australians enjoy living in their communities, with 78 per cent rating their community a place with a 'bright future' where they feel proud to live in, a new University of Canberra study shows.

Some of the key findings, however, show that irrigators, people under 30, people who want to shift to a new community and rural Queenslanders are among those with the poorest wellbeing. 

In comparison, older people, dryland farmers and people living in NSW were the most satisfied with their lives.

Jacki Schirmer & Jacki Schirmer

Dr Jacki Schirmer presenting her report on regional communities wellbeing. Photo: Michelle McAulay

The study, based on a 9,000-people survey conducted across Australia for the first time last year, sheds light on the wellbeing of people living in rural and regional Australia. 

The University of Canberra researchers presented the results of this first Regional Wellbeing Survey, a comprehensive annual survey of quality of life in Australia's rural and regional communities today.

The survey's report was officially launched at the University by Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Fiona Nash, University of Canberra's acting Deputy-Vice Chancellor (Research) David Choquenot and Murray-Darling Basin Futures (MDBFutures) director, Peter O'Brien. 

The report also found that wellbeing of communities was not strongly linked to hotly-debated issues such as the environment, water reform and coal-seam gas, despite these being controversial topics.

Instead, "rural and regional communities with the greatest wellbeing have certain characteristics that help them adapt successfully to change, no matter what type of challenges they face," University of Canberra senior research fellow and project leader, Dr Jacki Schirmer, said.

"These include strong leadership and collaboration within the community, social connectedness and effective local institutions.

"There's a lot of discussion about what makes a rural community a good place to live and what helps communities deal with difficult times. The survey shows that rural communities have important insights on how changes affect them, with recent examples including coal-seam gas, water reform, and changes in markets for agricultural products," Dr Schirmer said. 

"However, changes of this type are not usually linked on their own to large differences in wellbeing. If we want to better support wellbeing in rural and regional areas, we need to understand all the different things going on in a community, or in a person's life, rather than focusing on only one or two of them.

"In many cases, what matters is not so much the type of change you face but whether you have the resources to adapt successfully to that change," she said.

Professor Helen Berry, associate dean of research at the University's Faculty of Health and leader of the People and Place research program which hosts the survey explained: "Wellbeing is an elusive concept. We need to understand it better to make sure rural and regional communities get the support they need – it's critical to Australia's future.

"Wellbeing is the outcome of many factors happening in a community, or in a person's life, at any time. Generally speaking, a single factor does not influence wellbeing much. Wellbeing tends to falter when problems mount up or last a long time, something we'll be looking at closely in future waves of the survey."

These are some of the findings: 

  • Communities with strong leadership, plentiful social connectedness and well-functioning local organisations have the greatest wellbeing.
  • People living in rural and regional areas of Queensland report poorer wellbeing and are more likely to be considering shifting to a new community than people living in other parts of rural and regional Australia. 
  • New South Wales rural residents report the greatest wellbeing and the most satisfaction with their local economy, government and community leadership. However, even within NSW, there are regions, like the south coast, where residents report lower than average confidence in their community's future.
  • Younger people are less satisfied with living in rural and regional areas than are older adults, with 16.5 per cent saying they are "very likely" to shift to a new community in the next year (compared to 10.9 per cent of all rural and regional Australia), and 70.4 per cent saying they want to relocate to cities.
  • Farmers stand out as especially involved in their local communities, with 41 per cent regularly participating in local community activities compared to 20 per cent of non-farmers. Farmers like the landscapes they live in better than do non-farmers. But they are less satisfied with their access to infrastructure and services and with their local institutions.

The survey is an initiative of the University of Canberra-led MDBFutures collaborative research network. 

A summary report and detailed technical report on the survey are available at The website also provides summary results for all local regions from which more than 100 survey responses were received.