Summary

Rural and remote Australia encompasses many diverse locations and communities and people living in these areas face unique challenges due to their geographic isolation. Those living outside metropolitan areas often have poorer health outcomes compared with those living in metropolitan areas. For example, data show that people living in rural and remote areas have higher rates of hospitalisations, mortality, injury and poorer access to, and use of, primary health care services, compared with those living in metropolitan areas.

Health inequalities in rural and remote areas may be due to factors, including:

  • challenges in accessing health care or health professionals, such as specialists
  • social determinants such as income, education and employment opportunities
  • higher rates of risky behaviours such as tobacco smoking and alcohol use
  • higher rates of occupational and physical risk, for example from farming or mining work and transport-related accidents.

Despite poorer health outcomes for some, the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey found that Australians living in small towns (fewer than 1,000 people) and non-urban areas generally experienced higher levels of life satisfaction compared with those in urban areas (Wilkins 2015). Rural and remote Australians also report increased community interconnectedness and social cohesion, as well as higher levels of community participation, volunteering and informal support from their communities (Ziersch et al. 2009).

How is remoteness area classified?

This report uses the Australian Statistical Geography Standard Remoteness Structure, 2016, which defines remoteness areas into 5 classes of relative remoteness across Australia:

  • Major cities
  • Inner regional
  • Outer regional
  • Remote
  • Very remote.

These remoteness areas are centred on the Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia which is based on the road distances people have to travel for services (ABS 2018a).

In this report, the term ‘rural and remote’ covers all areas outside Australia’s Major cities. Due to small population sizes, data for Outer regional, Remote and Very remote as well as Remote and Very remote areas are sometimes combined for reporting (ABS 2018b). Based on available data, these results have been presented as low level as possible.

What is missing from the picture?

Gaps exist in the availability and coverage of health data in rural and remote areas, and in information available at local level. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Health Survey, which provides information on the prevalence of long-term health conditions and health risk factors but, does not include Very remote areas of Australia.

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018a. Australian Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 5 – Remoteness structure, July 2016. ABS cat. no. 1270.0.55.005. Canberra: ABS.

ABS 2018b. Remoteness structure. Canberra: ABS. Viewed 14 May 2019.

Wilkins R 2015. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: selected findings from waves 1 to 12. Melbourne: Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research.

Ziersch A, Baum F, Darmawan I, Kavanagh A & Bentley, R 2009. Social capital and health in rural and urban communities South Australia. Australian and New Zealand journal of public health 33:7–16. Adelaide: Flinders University.