Jeremy and Stacey Billett with their one-week-old baby Charlotte Jeanette Billett at their home in Ilarwill.
Jeremy and Stacey Billett with their one-week-old baby Charlotte Jeanette Billett at their home in Ilarwill. Adam Hourigan

FAIR GO: A tale of two babies

THIS is a tale of two babies.

They were born 600km apart, but statistics suggest their prospects are worlds apart.

Data shows Clarence Valley newborn Charlotte Billett, pictured above with parents Stacey and Jeremy, is at risk of dying 4.9 years earlier than Sophia Milosevic, pictured right with her mum Kate.

For both children, their distance from capital cities makes all the difference.

Sophia's home is in the Federal seat of Bennelong in the north of Sydney, a seat long held by former prime minister John Howard.

Charlotte was born in Grafton, 310km from Brisbane and 890km from Canberra.

A special Daily Examiner investigation reveals how regional Australia has been let down, with health, education and infrastructure funding failing to help those who need it most.

In Grafton, the life expectancy for a baby born in 2014 is 80.4 compared to 85.3 where three-month-old Sophia lives in the Sydney suburb of Ryde.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal the median age of death for locals is 80 compared to 84 in the Ryde council area.

The figures shocked Charlotte's father, Jeremy Billett.

"It's a bigger difference than I thought it would be," he said.

"I think health care is the biggest thing. Everyone here is doing something physical, lots of farmers, fishermen - it all adds up when you get older. "And with our son Allan, we've had to be in emergency for half a day or more because it was a weekend and there are no doctors."

Despite this, Jeremy said he and his wife Stacey think the Clarence Valley lifestyle is ideal to bring up their children.

"There's less people, more freedom, more nature and we like it," he said.

"But our kids definitely deserve the same as anywhere."

Meanwhile Ms Milosevic said there was no better place to raise a child than Ryde.

"It is a Liberal seat, so it seems to do very well for itself," she said.

"There are constantly things happening: new playgrounds and projects with new funding.

"It's brought a different demographic of people and the area has become quite affluent."

Public health policy expert Dr Rob Moodie said Grafton's life expectancy rates and median age of death would not improve until the Clarence Valley matched its metropolitan cousins on income, education, employment and access to more top-quality health services.

The University of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health lecturer said rates of smoking and drinking in low socio-economic communities also added to the problem.

"One of the biggest drivers around life expectancy is not whether you get treatment, it's around how wealthy you are, what your education level is and what your income levels are," Dr Moodie said.

"Your risks of chronic diseases from smoking will be greater; the risk from dying from alcohol-related diseases will be greater."

Ms Milosevic said some people were moving to Ryde to enrol their children in public schools in the area.

"You hear about regional areas in trouble all the time and one big thing I think is education and people just don't seem to have the same opportunities," she said. "And other mothers have praised the public health here, too.

"It would be awesome if that sort of opportunity and lifestyle was available everywhere, especially in regional areas where things seem to be tough."



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