Regional development

Regional Australians feeling the pinch

People in Australia’s regions feel like they’re standing still or going backwards, and that they’ve got less money in their pockets today than they did 10 years ago, the Hon. Jason Clare has told a CEDA audience in Townsville.

At the Economic and Political Overview (EPO) event in Townsville, Federal Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia and Federal Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon. Jason Clare highlighted unemployment, job security and housing as key issues for citizens in regional areas.

“Housing prices are going down and unemployment is going up,” Mr Clare said.

“If (regional Australians) do have a job, they’re probably being paid less than they were five or 10 years ago, and they’re worried about whether they’re going to have a job tomorrow.”

Mr Clare said the threat of unemployment facing Townsville hasn’t been “this bad since well before World War II”, and that it wasn’t just unemployment in Townville, but unemployment throughout regional Queensland and other remote areas of Australia.

“When the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) hit Australia in 2009–2010, it hit places like Townsville hard, and unemployment went up – you saw that along parts of Central and Northern Queensland, but it’s worse today. Unemployment is higher in Townsville today than it was then,” Mr Clare said.

One of the issues Mr Clare highlighted regarding unemployment numbers was that new job creation overwhelmingly was occurring in big cities, stating that over the last 12 months, 13,500 new jobs had been created in Brisbane while over the same period, the remainder of Queensland lost 43,300 jobs.

“One in every two Queenslanders live in Brisbane. Just like other big cities, Brisbane has a gravitational pulling sucking people in from the regions – and that’s because of jobs,” Mr Clare said.

“Big cities are where most of the jobs are being created. In last 10 years, half of the jobs created in Australia have been created within a 2km radius of the CBD of Sydney and Melbourne.”

Mr Clare said unemployment in Townsville was 8.7 per cent before the GFC, and today is 11.2 per cent. In addition to the threat of unemployment, he said that the lack of wages growth was contributing to the financial stress felt by those in these remote regions. 

“In all of the places highlighted, not only will you see unemployment going up, you also see wages in those regions lower than they were five years ago,” he said.

“Not just people who can’t find a job, but a lot pf people feeling the pinch as money in their pocket is less today that it was five years ago. And the same thing isn’t happening in Sydney and Melbourne.

“In Brisbane you see the opposite, you see unemployment going up during the GFC and now lower than it was. Growth in household, average income has gone up progressively during this time scale.”

Mr Clare discussed how house prices we stagnating and declining.

“In some suburbs in Sydney, house prices are going up $2000 a day. Brisbane house prices have risen about 12.5 per cent in the last 12 years,” he said.

“In Gladstone and Mackay, prices have fallen about 20 per cent. In Rockhampton they’ve fallen by 10 per cent. In Townsville, by eight per cent.”

 “This I think is what helps to explain the emergence of One Nation and some of the extreme right parties saying ‘there’s got to be a better way’.

“There’s also a lot of people working part time that want to be working full time. They want more hours and they can’t get them.
“That’s why there are a lot of people that are stressed, and angry and anxious and suspicious. The whole system seems to be rigged against them, and in desperation they’re voting for something else, someone else, hoping that things will change.”

Mr Clare said Australia was part of a wider global phenomenon of the “hollowing-out” of the middle classes, referring to Brexit in the UK, where regional cities voted leave while London voted stay.

“In London, wages are higher, whereas in regional places wages have stagnated and unemployment is higher. Coalmines have shut down. Coal and steel manufacturers have closed,” he said.

While in the US, he said the election of US President Donald Trump was also part of this wider global trend.

“Unemployment is lower today in the US than it was during the GFC. But most Americans are still earning less than they were when Lehman Brothers closed eight years ago. Once again, the pain of all this is not being felt evenly,” he said.

“We are not one nation where everyone has the same opportunities. Everyone has different opportunities depending on where they live, and politicians ignore this at their peril.”

Senior Economist, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Michael Workman also spoke at the event, providing an economic forecast for the year ahead. After both presentations the speakers took questions from the audience on topics ranging from unemployment to drawing and keeping citizens in remote regions.