Most disadvantaged

NEWLY released data has ranked Morwell and Moe in the top 10 per cent of Australia's most disadvantaged towns.

Australian Bureau of Statistics Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas data, just published, showed the two towns were also the fourth and sixth most disadvantaged towns respectively in Victoria.

The data showed Traralgon, in stark contrast to Moe and Morwell, ranked 100 on the index of towns in the state and 638 nationally, placing it around the 50 percentile mark.

The index draws on census data and assesses the economic and social conditions of people and households in geographic areas.

None of the local government areas surrounding Latrobe, including Baw Baw, Wellington and South Gippsland recorded rankings as low as those allocated to Moe and Morwell, with most scoring similarly to Traralgon or, in the case of Warragul, higher.

Community leaders have now called on governments to pay a "debt of responsibility to the region" to help it overcome "widespread entrenched, intergenerational" disadvantage.

The challenges inherent in entrenched disadvantage are well-known to local service providers and expert observers, several of whom told The Express yesterday the data strengthened the Valley's case for securing intensive government assistance, with one source saying "there is quite a bit of ground to make up".

Berry Street Gippsland regional manager Trish McCluskey said "trying to climb out of entrenched disadvantage as a community" and reversing negative stereotypes was "really, really difficult" but more recent place-based initiatives, supported by governments, indicated "as a community we will no longer tolerate the unacceptable levels of neglect" affecting disadvantaged local children, particularly.

"The pockets of disadvantage are undeniable, but so are the pockets of people trying to do really good things here," she said, using the numbers of Gippslanders willing to provide foster care to children in the region as one example.

"One of the ways (the ABS data) translates is, for example, in the 26 per cent jump in the number of child protection cases in Gippsland going before the courts... and the state's highest rates of adolescents self-harming and the highest numbers in the state of adolescent parenthood," Ms McCluskey said, adding other data also showed 16 per cent of local children in their first year of primary school were "developmentally vulnerable".

"And yes this all paints a picture of intergenerational entrenched disadvantage, but there is nothing in that SEIFA data to balance out the (figures) by talking about the commitment ofpeople in this community that come from a community of disadvantage...we are always struck by people's generosity."

Ms McCluskey welcomed a more recent move away from governments' use of 'equity' funding formulae, adding the decentralising of services in favour of locally-driven approaches - rather than bureaucrats "trying to respond from afar" - was also a step in the right direction.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley said council used SEIFA data to lobby for state and federal programs aimed "at improving social outcomes for the community" including recent neighbourhood renewal programs which had seen gains in employment and community engagement outcomes in the four Latrobe neighbourhoods it targeted.

Agreeing with Ms McCluskey's assertion that 'place-based' approaches were long overdue, Mr Buckley said "certainly we want to see more of this", adding the approach formed the premise of the Moe Activity Centre Plan "and the initiatives within it" as well as Latrobe's Healthy Communities program, "generally only available to areas where there is an identified need".

Mr Buckley acknowledged the challenges in managing a local government area where the disparity between towns' profiles was significant.

"We have to recognise the diversity more broadly, and recognise there are pockets within all towns where there is a huge contrast in the socio-economic

profile of the community."

Citing the pressing need to improve education retention rates in Latrobe, Mr Buckley said "the basic economic/social equation is that education equals employment equals higher social economic outcomes."

"We need to ensure kids from particular socio-economic backgrounds have the same educational opportunities as others...we need to continue to grow our employment base and ensure training institutions understand the workforce requirements of existing and future (industries)," he said.

? Monday's edition of The Express will look at some of the factors behind the change in Moe and Morwell's social and economic profiles over past decades.

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