About Far West NSW
The digital economy strategy must both reflect and enable the overall regional development plan. As such, key parts of the Far West NSW Regional Development plan 2010-2011 report are restated here as a reference:
About the Far West NSW and Current State
- The Far West is the most sparsely populated region in New South Wales, accounting for 18.4% of the land mass, but only 0.4% of the population. Almost nine in every ten people (86%) live in the city of Broken Hill, with the remainder living mostly in the Central Darling Shire towns of Wilcannia, Menindee, White Cliffs, Tilpa, and Ivanhoe; or Tibooburra in the surrounding Unincorporated Area.
- Dramatic population declines over the past four decades have been directly linked to a significantly restructured mining industry. In recent times this decline has stabilised and as this report will show there is potential for growth.
- Broken Hill and Menindee have an older demographic than NSW, while Wilcannia’s younger demographic is linked to a high Indigenous population with associated shortened life expectancies.
- Individual and family incomes are well below the national average – with Wilcannia’s almost half the national average
- Unemployment is about double the national average in Wilcannia and Broken Hill, and three times the national average in Menindee.
- The region is well served by transport infrastructure and water.
- With regard to health, Broken Hill has a range of primary health care services and an 88-bed hospital supported by visiting surgeons and specialists, while Central Darling Shire relies on a combination of limited on-site resources supported by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and outreach services from Broken Hill and Dubbo.
- Broken Hill has two secondary schools and seven primary schools, while ‘combined’ schools in each of the outlying centres access government programs to address specific issues. There is opportunity for tertiary education to broaden.
- The climate and environment are conducive to the region’s developing tourism and creative industries. Extensive conservation occurs through a series of national parks and the region is conducive to renewable energy projects.
- Known mineral resources retain mining as a key employer and the region is also considered highly prospective, with a number of smaller projects in various stages of development. However, the traditional mining/pastoral dependence is moving through a diversification process.
- Alongside tourism, there are emerging industries in goat and meat sheep production and horticulture is diversifying into cotton, malting grains, grapes and stone fruits.
- Education is a significant employer in each of the three main population centres alongside healthcare and social assistance, while retail is the largest employment sector in Broken Hill.
- There are a number of major projects in various stages of development, including non-mining infrastructure such as a wind farm, trade centre, events centre, film studio, aquatic centre, stormwater detention, water supply and heritage conservation – in addition to school infrastructure and a sustained interest in developing resort accommodation.
- As a backdrop to creating a digital economy strategy and realising the key regional goals in the next sector it should be acknowledged that the Far West Region, including large sections of Broken Hill has some of the worst internet access in Australia. Many of the business owners and residents, whom we interviewed separately for this document, reported that their service has steadily worsened in the past 3 years. It appears that the current main ISP in the area provides minimal support when internet services fail and has no plans to improve or upgrade its services in the future. In short the current infrastructure in place is in a state of disrepair and services are over-subscribed leading to abysmal performance. This is severely curtailing efforts to attain the goals in the next section.