North Coast employment strategy needs a regional focus for COVID-10 recovery

December 5, 2023

Courtesy of the Port News April 27 2020

THE MID North Coast needs a “robust conversation about employment” – never more so than in the wake of fears that one-in-four Australians could be out of work on the back of the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s the call of Kerry Grace, CEO of Regional Development Australia Mid North Coast (RDAMNC).

That organisation, in tandem with their counterparts from Northern Rivers (RDANR), has launched a discussion paper and survey, and is now calling for submissions to help inform the North Coast Employment Strategy 2020-2025.

The project is a collaboration between the two organisations and aims to be a catalyst for change and the beginnings of a new approach to solving regional employment issues.

Ms Grace is also on the newly formed Port Macquarie-Hastings COVID-19 Recovery Working Group, to help map a way forward post health crisis.

The working group will put recommendations to council for action focusing on economic, business, education, social, cultural and environmental priorities as key areas for recovery and growth.

Chaired by council’s general manager Craig Swift McNair, emerging discussion themes included how bringing forward capital works projects may activate the economy, what role the education sector might play in upskilling and retraining and how retail and hospitality have adapted.

With the ongoing impact of bushfires and now COVID-19, there is a need to work together at a regional level to address the challenges impacting both businesses and job seekers, Ms Grace said.

She said the region needs to look beyond the tourism sugar-hit and plan for long term collaborative strategies to reinvigorate the Mid North Coast economy as it continues to recover from six long months of challenge.

“This is a really good time for our regions to work together,” she said.

“I wonder how long koalas will help the tourism market. It’s a great time for us to look more regionally at promoting things like agricultural trails and art trails for example.”

Mr Swift-McNair said domestic tourism and local employment strategies will play an important role in the recovery process.

“One of the key challenges is that everyone in Australia will be clearly competing for the domestic tourism dollar,” he said.

“Domestic tourism will be a huge focus. The key challenge is how do we identify our point of difference.”

The role of educational institutions such as North Coast TAFE and Charles Sturt University in “pivoting” people who are out of work into areas where there is increased demand, such as the aged care sector for example, will help set a foundation.

So too will a commitment to the delivery of major infrastructure projects – a “build it and they will come” approach to restoring confidence in the region, according to Business Port Macquarie president Michael Mowle.

“There will be a significant economic contraction nationally but we do have some advantages,” Mr Mowle said.

“We’ve got a large number of infrastructure projects that will be important to our local area … that can help local employment and local confidence. We need to give businesses the confidence to hire.”

Those major Port Macquarie-Hastings projects include the duplication of Ocean Drive, the construction of a new aquatic centre and Boundary Street works as a part of the broader airport business precinct plan.

A joint effort to sell the Mid North Coast as a place to visit will become a part of the broader strategy to boost the economy.

The Grattan Institute has recently released modelling that suggests between 14 and 26 per cent of Australian workers could soon be unemployed due to the coronavirus shutdown, and the crisis will have an impact on jobs and the economy for years to come.

While not the initial motivation for the local employment strategy, the timing and need for discussions around how employment programs and initiatives are approached and delivered has reinforced the importance of RDA’s joint project.

“Our intention is to stimulate a robust conversation about employment in the regions and to use this project as a tool to better drive initiatives,” Ms Grace added.

The Grattan Institute research highlights the impact that the current crisis will have on young people, women and those on lower incomes as they are “likely to work in occupations and industries most affected by the shutdowns and spatial distancing measures imposed to slow the spread of the virus”.

“Key organisations, job seekers, long-term unemployed, and carers need to be at the centre of any proposed solutions. Currently initiatives are too often replicated and repeated over time, as funding expires for one focus group and ultimately replaced to be directed towards another,” Ms Grace said.

Rather than writing this strategy for one specific region, RDA Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers are pursuing a team approach to the project and engaging with key stakeholders.

Research and information are being gathered via a discussion paper, online survey and consultation via online submissions.

On completion of this consultation process, information will be compiled to help inform the North Coast Employment Strategy. This document will then be ‘workshopped’ by the two RDAs with key influencing government agencies with the aim of laying the foundations for programs that align with the recommendations of the strategy.

The Regional Australia Institute has also partnered with the program and will contribute to the final document and lobbying.

The online survey is now open for submissions and written feedback is also invited.

Submissions will close on May 12 and the release of the North Coast Employment Strategy is scheduled for June 23.

If you would like to contribute or find out more about the project, visit

Kellon Beard, Business NSW regional manager.

Economic rule book for recovery needs re-writing

Meanwhile, new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on job losses and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for all governments to rewrite the rule book for economic recovery, according to the state’s peak business organisation, Business NSW.

Kellon Beard, Business NSW regional manager said the data, along with in depth Business NSW analysis, indicates that around a quarter of a million jobs have been lost across NSW since the start of the pandemic.

“These figures suggest that governments will need to change the rulebook when we move into recovery mode to turbo charge the economy and get people back into work,” Mr Beard said.

“The best way to jump-start our economy is to take a chainsaw to regulation, red tape and taxes that hamper innovation, investment and job creation.

“It’s also clear that we will need a complete re-think of our Workplace Relations system because pre-COVID-19 rules simply won’t support keeping people in work in the years ahead. If we want job growth to rebound, we will need to jettison the job killing rules that were allowed to build up over the last three decades when times were good, and we became complacent when it came to driving important workplace relations reforms.

“It also highlights the huge task in front of all tiers of government once the pandemic is over – the path to recovery is an incredibly steep one – and whilst it seems clear that the Federal and State governments are up for the challenge of implementing substantial reforms to support business growth and jobs, it is less clear that local government is preparing for such a radical change in its attitude toward supporting business.”