The Regional Community
The region has a total population of approximately 155 000 people based on 2004 estimates, 145 800 of which reside in Townsville. Townsville is the major regional hub of the Burdekin and for other areas of North and Western Queensland. General population issues include:
There is an average rural population loss (~1% pa)
There is an increase (~1.8% pa) in the population of Townsville
The median population age for 2001 has increased, indicating an ageing population, and is higher than the Australian average.
There is a decline in the population of persons younger than 15 years
There is a decline in population of people between 20-39 years of age: particularly in the Charters Towers, Dalrymple, Flinders and Burdekin shires (B. Burkett, pers com.).
These findings also reflect the Australia-wide issues of rural exodus of young people, urbanisation and the ageing population (eg. Alston 2002, ABS 2003, Huego 2002).
Individuals and communities need both the motivation and the capacity to adopt sustainable land management practices. Among other things, a "desire to remain" (on the property), may increase the propensity of landholders to adopt sustainable resource management practices; they have a higher motivation than landholders who have little desire to remain. The same applies for the general public. If a high proportion of individuals within an area have little desire to remain, then one would expect to see declining populations. Hence, it is useful to consider changes in population when considering the propensity of communities to adopt sustainable resource management practices (Greiner et al. 2003).
Much of the decline in population across shires in the Burdekin Dry Tropics since 1986 is due to declines in the number of young people. To the extent that declining youth populations reflect lower 'desires to remain', the recent demographic changes within the Burdekin Dry Tropics region may reflect low, or declining, propensities to adopt innovative NRM changes (BRS, 2001).
Like Queensland and Australia as a whole, the median age in all shires within the Burdekin Dry Tropics region has increased steadily over the last five years. This is indicative of an ageing population. In 1991, median age within the Burdekin region was at or below the Australia median of 32 years, with the exception of Bowen, which had a median age of 33 years. By 2001, Bowen, Burdekin and Dalrymple shires had median ages which were greater than the Australian median (Greiner et al. 2003).
Based on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA), most of the Burdekin area is remote, the southern part around Alpha very remote and only areas around Townsville are readily accessible. This indicates potential issues for the implementation, administration and monitoring of natural resource management and for the rural population, who face long distance travel for even the most basic of services (Greiner et al. 2003).
Family and Housing
Based on the 1996 census, two-parent families are the most prevalent in the Burdekin Dry Tropics area with the proportions being above the Queensland average. Single parent families occur more frequently in Townsville, Charters Towers and Bowen, than other rural shires with Charters Towers and Bowen being above the Queensland average (Greiner et al. 2003a).
There is a dichotomy in the proportion of house ownership between the Isaac and other shires in the area. While the Isaac shire have a high proportion of rented dwellings 45% and 65% respectively, fully owned private dwellings exceed the Australian average (45%) for the Burdekin, Barcaldine, Charters Towers and Mackay shires. This almost certainly reflects the transitory nature of communities that are largely reliant upon mining.
There are at least fifteen Traditional Owner groups that have an affiliation with the Burdekin Dry Tropics region. Based on the 2001 census data, Indigenous people represent approximately 5% of the Burdekin area's population with approximately 80% of these living in the Burdekin, Bowen and Charters Towers local government areas. The indigenous population has been increasing at 2.9% pa between 1996 and 2001. Indigenous persons under 18 years comprise approximately 50% of the total indigenous population, which is double that of the total population (approximately 25%) . Indigenous people over 50 years are in markedly lower proportions than for the general populous (Census 2001 data).
Current population estimates suggest that shires in the Burdekin will soon have a significantly increased indigenous proportion. This poses a future challenge, given that the indicators for social wellbeing of the indigenous community are lower than for the general community (B. Burkett, pers. com.) and that Indigenous people currently lack the capacity to engage in sustainable natural resource management, both financially and in terms of access to and ownership of land, albeit having a strong motivation for ensuring sustainable management of their country (Greiner et al. 2003a).
Education, Workforce and Employment
n 1996, education levels in the remote-rural area (Barcaldine, Burdekin, Charters Towers, Etheridge, Flinders, Isaac, Mackay, Tablelands and Whitsunday shires) were considerably lower than for Queensland and Australia, and the proportion of school leavers aged 15 years or younger was also considerably higher. While 50% of Queensland's and 54% of Australia's over 15 year-olds (excluding those still at school) had completed Year 11 or higher at secondary school, only just over one in three (37%) of the Burdekin catchment's over 15 year olds had done so. In addition to this, regional university graduate numbers were lower than the national average (except for Townsville city). The lower education levels indicate a potential for vocational training in the future. With the exception of Bowen, Charters Towers, Townsville, employment in the region was generally higher than the average for Queensland. (Greiner et al. 2003a).
Indigenous employment is generally lower than the average as is the labour force participation rate. Most of this employment is higher than average in government jobs; with some employed in the private sector, particularly in agriculture.
Welfare Dependency, Income and Socio-Economic Disadvantage
In 1996, there was a high variability in welfare dependency between the shires ranging from 3.4% to 21.4%. Shires with the highest welfare dependency above the Queensland average were Charters Towers and Bowen (now Whitsunday Shire).
Income distribution did not vary markedly from the Queensland average. The exception to this is in the Isaac Regional shires, where incomes are higher due to the presence of mining. However, based on ABS socio- economic indices most shires are at a disadvantage compared to Australia (Greiner et al. 2003a).
Landholders Involvement in Natural Resource Management
Landholders are the key to on-ground sustainable land management in the region especially in the rural/remote areas. Farming in the region is still mainly a family affair, with almost half the staff on farms being family members. Most of the rangeland farms are on owner operated leasehold and 55% of the farmers are under 50 years of age. Engagement in sustainable NRM through Landcare is around 50% in terms of membership, though Landcare activity varies across the region with Belyando having the lowest involvement of Landcare groups. Landholders predominantly identify with NRM activities that can improve their environmental and financial performance, but also recognise the importance of the natural resource condition for farm profitability. However, the adoption of specific NRM practices is variable. For example, broad acre farmers adopt profitable sustainable farming practices associated with pasture management and cattle grazing, but do not engage significantly in native vegetation conservation and management (Greiner et al. 2003).
The adoption of sustainable farming practices in the region is related to increased levels of training, both formal and informal, and financial capacity, with the driver for adoption being profitability and perception/knowledge. Tax incentives are also seen as a means for supporting the adoption of sustainable NRM practices (Greiner et al. 2003b, Herr et al. 2003, Herr et al. submitted). Therefore, policies aiming to increase conservation practices for example need to enhance financial attract- iveness and appeal to attitudes of farmers or show profitability though changed manage- ment. Impediments to adoption of sustainable outcomes are associated with uncertainty and risk in the climate and labour market.
Family members have been identified as the most important source of information for decisions on farm management including sustainable farming practices. Business advisors, school education and additional training are also seen as providing a high level of credible advice. This has implications for communicating NRM issues and policies to landholders. A number of potential communication strategies will be needed to move to more sustainable outcomes including: • Utlilising Financial/Tax advisors to provide a means to communicate tax/incentive based policies to landholders
Incorporation of sustainable NRM practices into school curriculum and education programs to ensure (generational) continuity of sustainable farming
Provision of vocational training and adult learning to assist on-farm decision making and sustainable NRM adoption
Burkett, B. Department of Communities
Alston, M. 2002 Inland rural towns: Are they sustainable? Paper presented at the Academy of the Social Sciences Session on Rural Communities at the Outlook 2002 Conference. Canberra 5-7 March 2002.
Greiner, R., Stoeckl, N., Stokes, C., Herr, A., and Bachmaier, J. 2003a Natural resource management in the Burdekin Dry Tropics: social and economic issues. Report for the Burdekin Dry Tropics NRM Board. CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Bureau of Rural Sciences Social Sciences Centre. 2001. Compilation of a Database of Socio-economic Indicators for the Rangelands, Report for National Land and Water Audit Theme 4 Project 4.2.3, BRS Australia
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