By Boyd Champness

SYDNEY – A WIDE range of Australian community and business leaders will meet later this year to thrash out solutions to the growing feelings of despair and isolation in rural Australia.

Regional Services Minister Jon Anderson announced the forum, saying Australia was in grave danger of splitting into “two nations” unless something was done to stem the decline of small communities. A date for the summit has not been set as yet.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Mr Anderson underlined the frustrations felt by rural communities as they hopelessly watched their services and populations fritter away.

Reported in the Weekly Times, Mr Anderson said: “The sense of alienation, of being left behind, of no longer being recognised and somehow properly respected for the contribution to the nation being made, is deep and palpable in too many areas of regional and rural Australia today.”

The October Federal election result – in which Pauline Hansons populist and anti-immigration One Nation Party polled almost 9% of the vote – came as a wake-up call to the major political parties and Australians in general.

The growing inequity between the city and the bush has also recently become a human rights issue.

After 12 months of listening to country people, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has confirmed that the bush is losing key services and critical subsidies and many towns are dying.

In a paper released last week and reported in Stock and Land, the HREOC said Australia was failing to meet its international obligations on health, education, and economic, social and cultural rights of country people.

“Many communities in rural Australia are under siege: they have declining populations, declining incomes, declining services and a declining quality of life,” the report said.

Human Rights Commissioner Chris Sidoti held hearings in 26 regional and remote centres across the country last year.

The most significant issue to emerge from his findings was the “inadequate, inaccessible and diminishing” health services in the bush.

The poor state of education, the low retention rates in high school and the lack of country children going on to university were also areas of major concern.

Its no secret that many rural communities struggle to attract professionals such as doctors and teachers to their towns.

Government-funded incentive packages to encourage doctors to relocate to country areas have not been overly successful. Many small communities have offered to build doctors “a dream house” and provide cars just to convince them to move, and yet they still wont go.

Those who do go complain of being overworked, as the need for medical practitioners in country areas hits dire proportions.