Australia/February 08, 2021/By: The Herald’s View/Source: https://www.smh.com.au/
One of the unexpected side-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many people have decided to leave Sydney and move to regional areas.
Official data this week showed that during the September quarter, 7782 left the Greater Sydney region and 60 per cent of them went to regional NSW.
Some are discovering they can work from home in regional areas just as well as they can in the suburbs of Sydney, with the added bonus of enjoying a better lifestyle. Others moved because their incomes fell because of the COVID-19 recession and they wanted to live somewhere cheaper.
The new wave of tree and sea changers is a welcome break from the long-term fall in the regional population because it could help relieve the pressure on Sydney’s infrastructure and housing.
Yet if the trend is to continue after the pandemic, the past week has shown that NSW faces a formidable challenge providing better education and health services.
Student attendance is more than 92 per cent in major cities, 89 per cent in regional areas and less than 84 per cent in remote and very remote areas.
Regional schools face myriad problems from attracting qualified teachers in specialised subjects to a shortage of physical school buildings in some areas.
A study in 2018 found 78 per cent of students in major cities completed year 12, compared with 43 per cent in very remote areas.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare statistics in 2019 found there were 91 avoidable deaths for every 100,000 people in cities, compared with 248 avoidable deaths in remote areas.
The submissions speak of many cases where people with serious illnesses were misdiagnosed and sent home.
Gunnedah Council surveyed its employees and 91 per cent rated the availability of medical services in the town as “bad” or “terrible”.
While the problems are clear, the solutions are not. Many of the worst apparent failures in health and education concern very remote regions where the population is 47 per cent Indigenous. They require programs carefully tailored to their cultural needs. The internet can resolve some problems but some submissions to the hospital’s inquiry highlight cases where telehealth was an inadequate substitute for the physical presence of a doctor.
The lack of services is only one issue which makes it hard to live in some regional areas. Drought, bushfire and, of course, a lack of jobs also make it a hard slog.
Given budget constraints and the reality of the huge distances in outback NSW it will probably never be possible to give residents the same education and health care as in central Sydney.
But NSW has an obligation to ensure that people in the regions have access to a first world level of basic services.
The pandemic has awakened many people to the possibility of living in a regional area but they will not stay unless governments deliver.
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Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.