Increasing remoteness could threaten the future of the Northern Territory’s small towns, according to a CDU population expert.
Speaking about the demography of the Northern Territory’s small towns, Dr Dean Carson said that mounting work opportunities in the large cities, advances in communication technology and changes in travel were making the Northern Territory more remote.
Dr Carson said that the NT was once a national communication hub because of the Overland Telegraph line, and a stop over for international travel.
“From an economic point of view, we need to think about how the Northern Territory can regain its status as an important state. It is getting harder over time to get skilled workers,” he said.
Dr Carson called for a new vision for the service sector.
“We should turn around the thought that small towns rely on the service sector and think of ways it can stimulate economic development,” he said.
Dr Carson warned against “male ideas” to stimulate small town economies, such as mining or agriculture.
“Many towns have more women than men, so applying male modes of employment or industry may not work,” he said.
He also identified transport as a key to small town survival.
“Transport is designed to get things in and out of Darwin, not to link small towns together and develop internal markets. We need to look at that,” he said.
“When we think about developing the Northern Territory’s small towns, we need to remember they each has different access to resources, and population structures. About their only similarity is that they are small and distant from one another.”
Dr Carson also said that increasing urbanisation was common the world over.
“Internationally, small towns get smaller and big towns get bigger. Even in places where governments are trying to keep people in small towns, people end up leaving,” he said.