FIVE Wimmera shires experienced a population decline in the 2011-2012 financial year.
New Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates show Hindmarsh Shire’s population decreased by 64 people, or 1.1 per cent; Yarriambiack decreased by 71 people or one per cent; West Wimmera decreased by 72 people or 1.7 per cent; Northern Grampians decreased by 91 people or 0.8 per cent; and Buloke decreased by 104 people or 1.6 per cent.
The Wimmera’s two rural cities – Horsham and Ararat – increased in population.
Horsham increased by 127 people, or 0.6 per cent, and Ararat’s population increased by 24 people, 0.2 per cent.
As an electorate, Lowan’s population decreased by 219 people or 0.4 per cent.
Among the fastest declining areas in Victoria were West Wimmera and Stawell.
West Wimmera chief executive Mark Crouch said the ongoing population decline was an issue facing many rural municipalities.
“There are no easy and obvious answers,” he said.
“We feel our small rural areas have much to offer around lifestyle and services, but recognise difficulties in persons securing employment in these areas is a major impediment.
“West Wimmera Shire is significantly rural in nature, and farming practices and employment are altering and having a severe impact.
“Reducing populations makes the task harder to attract people or reverse the trend.
“This is a major issue facing our country and something that should be of concern for all levels of government.
“How to entice a movement of population to rural areas will be an ongoing battle despite larger centres getting bogged down in traffic congestion and over population.”
Hindmarsh chief executive Dean Miller said there had been a trend of population decline in the past 10 years.
“The main cause of population decline is young people leaving the shire for education or employment opportunities in regional or metropolitan cities,” he said.
“Another reason is that farms are becoming more efficient and this requires less farm labour.”
He said council was doing a number of things to address the population decline.
Strategies included using rate increases to encourage development of vacant land, hosting open days and working with the State Government to secure important infrastructure funding so the towns remained attractive places to live.
Yarriambiack Mayor Kylie Zanker said council was also trying to attract people to relocate to the area.