THE exodus of people from the NSW Riverina is continuing.
The township of Hay has been highlighted as the second-least desirable place in Australia in terms of population loss.
According to Census data released this week by the ABS, Hay Shire lost 421 people in the past five years, down to a population of 2958.
Only South Australia's crayfish capital at Robe near Mt Gambier fared worse, losing 3.9 per cent of its population.
Hay's mayor Bill Sheaffe (pictured) blames a long drought and a "bungled" implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the town's woes.
"Most say the drought was five or six years long but really we had 15 or 16 years of low rain here," Cr Sheaffe said.
Hay's population loss of 2.6 per cent was closely followed by neighbouring shires at Murrumbidgee (2 per cent), Wakool (1.9 per cent) and Jerilderie (1.9 per cent).
All four southern NSW shires were in the nation's top 10 worst performers, according to census data calculated from 2006 to 2011.
Balranald just missed out on the top 10 with a population loss of 1.3 per cent and Deniliquin has lost 0.9 per cent.
In Victoria, the biggest population loss of 1.7 per cent was recorded at Gannawarra (Kerang, Cohuna), while the Mallee municipalities of Buloke (1.4 per cent) and Yarriambiack (1.2 per cent) are regulars on the list.
The ABS this week published comparisons from the past two official counts of rural populations.
The general drop in population across rural Australia will impact on the new statistical definition of a town, now calculated to be above 200 people.
The ABS will continue to apply its new "geographical standard" on the status of rural towns to provide a remoteness index later this month.
Riverina MP Michael McCormack said he had written to the Federal Government to ensure the new definition would not impact on government services.