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Vic bush school closure highlights continuing rural hardship

The Director of the Ballarat Catholic Education Office has blamed a board's decision to close a remote high school on falling enrolments caused by sustained population and economic decline in farming communities resulting from the a number of factors including the drought.

A report in CathNews on Tuesday quoted the comment of the Principal of McAuley College at Dooboobetic, between the centres of Charlton, Donald and St Arnaud, that the closure is the result of the Victorian Government's failure to fully fund bus services.

CEO Director Larry Burn told CathNews yesterday that the State Government had in fact been generous in increasing its partial funding of the bus service, and it was unrealistic to expect the Government to fully fund the buses.

In common with many rural areas of Australia, farming communities in central Victoria have experienced marked decline in population and economic prosperity for many years. He said last year's drought brought about a significant acceleration in this decline.

Confirmed enrolments for 2004 were not enough to ensure continued financial viability of the school, and the Board of Management was forced into the regrettable decision to close the school next month.

The CEO released a statement on Tuesday paying tribute to the "magnificent contribution" the school has made to the communities it has served since its inception in 1976, and its move to its present site in 1986.

"In this period the Parish Priests, the families of the participating parishes, and principals and staff with support from the Catholic Education Office and other diocesan bodies, have worked with exceptional dedication in providing Catholic education in the region."

The statement said the CEO is working closely with local communities in providing possible opportunities and suitable alternatives for families and staff.

The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission in Brisbane said this week that the drought is continuing in many areas, where farmers and communities are facing a prolonged struggle to survive. Executive Officer Peter Arndt said the recent interest rate rise announced by the Reserve Bank will make things even more difficult.

Mr Arndt welcomed the National Drought Review announced by Federal Agriculture Minister Warren Truss.

CEO Ballarat: McAuley College, Dooboobetic (media release)

Bus fees close Central Victorian Catholic school (18/11/03)
Bus fees close school (Bendigo Advertiser 18/11/03)
McAuley College, Dooboobetic
Catholic Education Office, Ballarat | McAuley College, Dooboobetic
Commission appeal for farmers afflicted by ongoing drought (19/11/03)
Appeal for Support for Farming Communities Affected by Drought (Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Brisbane 17/11/03)
Queensland Government: Drought - managing the tough times together
Minister Truss announces drought review panel (Press Release, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 9/11/03)
Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Brisbane

20 Nov 2003