Small, rural business is the lifeblood of the Agricultural region – not only its 6,000 mixed farmers and pastoralists but thousands of supporting businesses throughout the region that collectively provide the social capital for vibrant regional communities.
With a city-centric Government, rural WA has been forgotten, and rural business is suffering. The downward cycle is inevitable. Farms consolidate. Supporting business closes. Families leave towns. Education and health services fall, and then the labour force disappear, and so the cycle continues.
‘It is a travesty that such a resource-rich state can’t even provide essential medical, emergency and medical services to Western Australians. Unless they travel to the metropolitan region’
The issues are profound:
- Failing health services, with patients for basic health care, mental health and obstetrics having to travel up to 200 km for access.
- Falling school numbers, and forcing the closure of schools and the rationalism of teacher resources. Many farmers are forced to send their children to boarding schools, which ultimately adds to the farm debt, and this is one of the catalysts for farm rationalisation, to enable surviving farm businesses to service up to $1m per family in education costs.
- Basic business services such as chemists, tyre services, fuel stations and hardware supplies are now a day trip to the city or regional centre, further robbing small towns of other business. In the central Wheatbelt region, drivers now have up to 300 km trip at night without a fuel station open.
- Once educated, those youths do not return to the agricultural region. Youth unemployment in some country towns is as high as 85%. This vicious cycle then widens to alcohol and drug abuse.