LISMORE MP Janelle Saffin has said that it is now time for the NSW Berejiklian-Barilaro Government to work with the community to develop a Regional Jobs Plan, to combat record job losses.
Australian company Remplan's report to Regional Development Australia Northern Rivers estimated that 15,471 jobs had vanished from the Northern Rivers regional economy, between February and May this year, with accommodation and food services hardest hit (3567 jobs lost). No sector of the economy had been spared with retail trade close behind hospitality (3281 jobs lost), and health care/social assistance (1893 jobs) and education/training (1418 jobs) badly affected.
Ms Saffin said similar job losses in the Northern Tablelands can be projected.
Added to this scenario are the census figures in the lead up to the 2019 election that showed 17,000 jobs had gone across the regions, whilst Sydney had a growth of over 300,000 jobs.
She said a Regional Jobs Plan could include a 'locals first' policy for all state government-funded programs.
"If all levels of government put locals first it would really support our local tradies and local suppliers."
A Regional Jobs Plan could identify where to grow job opportunities in our regions, where general and youth unemployment levels are at record highs.
It could also help protect existing local jobs and help local small business and entrepreneurs create new local jobs over the next few critical years as regional economies recover from the impacts of the initial COVID-19 'lockdown' from March to May this year.
Ms Saffin said the newly created NSW Department of Regional Development could co-ordinate the development of a plan, marshalling all local resources and talent including Business NSW regional managers Jane Laverty (Northern Rivers) and Joe Townsend (New England North West), local chambers of commerce and industry representatives, union leaders, TAFE and local councils and some stand out successful business operators. Local MPs at all levels would need to be involved.
"For starters there is some $1.7 billion of unspent Restart NSW funds that are legislatively earmarked for regional NSW. I have raised this in the NSW Parliament and I note that Business NSW includes it in its NSW Budget Priorities March 2020 submission.
"We in the regions need to feel that government is doing all that it can to keep jobs and a Regional Jobs Plan would mean people could see it in action.
"The Regional Jobs Plan could involve taking on resourced apprentices and interns, as it is predicted that they will be out of work for a lengthy time due to COVID disruption. The Productivity Commission's latest research showed the coronavirus recession could prove even worse for young people and their chances of securing a well-paying job, even a job, over the next decade.
"There is a now an embrace to shift from an over-reliance on cheaper offshore manufacturing of products back towards encouraging a reboot of Australian manufacturing, including in regional and rural areas. The manufacture of sanitiser and personal protection equipment (PPE) has led the way.
"We could ensure that regional bus operators can purchase all Australian-made products to make and repair buses and not have to go to European or Chinese-made ones only.
"We could create and fast track housing development of which we have a dire shortage.
"TAFE would be a big player in this as well, and it needs to be our primary provider of vocational education and training."
Ms Saffin said the Federal Government's JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs, together with State Government support grants, have kept many eligible small businesses afloat but as Centrelink payments are wound back from October, other practical support must be provided in a more structured way.
"Some of the state money remains unspent and it can be repurposed for a Regional Jobs Plan."
While RDA-NR's geographic footprint covers Tweed Shire, Byron Shire, Ballina Shire, Clarence Valley, Richmond Valley, Lismore City and Kyogle local government areas she said Tenterfield Shire, which is part of the Lismore electorate, and the Northern Tablelands would benefit from a Regional Jobs Plan.