Defining Remote and Rural Context

The way remoteness and ruralilty are defined and understood is important. Defined remoteness or rurality is used to assess health and workforce needs, and the resources allocated to meet these needs, include staff and physical resourcing, and other funding.

Several different classification systems have been developed to define remoteness and rurality in Australia. These tend to define in terms of the size of a community, distance from population centres, and access to services.  The three systems most commonly used include:

  • Rural Remote and Metropolitan Areas classification (RRMA). The RRMA uses population size and direct distance from the nearest service centre to determine seven categories: capital cities, other metropolitan centres, large rural centres, small rural centres, other rural areas, remote centres and other remote areas.
  • Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA). ARIA uses a geographical information system (GIS) to define road distance to service centres to produce a sliding scale of remoteness. ARIA includes five categories: highly accessible, accessible, moderately accessible, remote, and very remote.
  • Australian Standard Geographical Classification (ASGC-RA). The ASGC defines remoteness by Census Collection Districts on the basis on the average ARIA score within the district. The remoteness of local areas is then assessed and classified by the ARIA categories: major cities, inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote.
  • Click here to access more information on the different official geographical classifications in use in Australia.

In 2009, the Australian Government made the decision to replace the RRMA system with that of the ASGC for administering programs targeting rurala and remote regions.

Click here for information about the ASGC-RA .


Defining Remote & Rural & You

Take the time to find out where your community lies within these classifications and the implications this has in terms of access to resources and the ways services are delivered. To find the classification for your community search here.

Below are links to some resources that will help to develop your understanding of the ways remoteness and ruralilty are defined and the diversity within these categories.


Useful Resources

  • Wakerman J. Defining Remote Health. Australian Journal of Rural Health, vol 12, pp. 210–214; 2004.
  • Rural, Regional and Remote Health: a guide to remoteness classifications (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
  • Couper ID. Rural hospital focus: defining rural. Rural and Remote Health 3 (online), 2003: 205. Available at:
  • Measuring Remoteness: Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia (ARIA) Revised Edition. (Commonwealth of Australia; 2001).