By: Tim Jarrett
Published in The Daily Examiner (Paywall): 6 June 2020
Note: this piece was cross-published in 36 NewsCorp Regional publications around Australia.
AS AUSTRALIA plots a path out from a coronavirus-induced recession, could regions such as the Clarence Valley lead the recovery?
Recent polling has shown an overwhelming number of Australians – 88 per cent – identify regional economic development as a priority for the country post-Covid-19.
New think-tank The Blueprint Institute surveyed 1000 people after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement the National Cabinet would become a permanent fixture focusing on job creation.
The research found 83 per cent of people believed developing manufacturing in regioanppalreAnutsictreaslia should be one of the top three actions for the government in creating jobs and economic growth.
Along with more than two thirds identifying increasing Australian manufacturing using new technologies as a means to economic recovery, it showed a strong desire for Governments to invest in industry.
Managing director of boat building firm Yamba Welding and Engineering, Bill Collingburn, has been vocal in his support of this, particularly in the Clarence Valley.
Mr Collingburn agreed the impact of coronavirus had shone a light on our reliance on global imports and offshore manufacturing, and the current economic crisis was something the country should “insulate ourselves against” in the future.
“It shows how vulnerable we are when we order everything from overseas,” he said.
“We have let our main industry run down and it is absolutely terrible, we can’t just keep sending our resources overseas, we have to turn them into something.”
Many people are still wary of the economic cost of investing in industries such as manufacturing, given the price disadvantage Australia has against its regional neighbours.
However, Mr Collingburn emphasised the positive impact investment in these industries had on job creation and regional economies.
“You have that multiplier effect: for every dollar you spend in the area it multiplies by seven,” he said.
“It goes around and we train people, we don’t have them on the dole, we have them working. We can’t train apprentices when you build vessels overseas.
“We are in a crisis and we have to get out of it, our kids will be paying for this for many, many years so let’s give them jobs so they can.”
The Blueprint Institute research paper painted a picture of regional development at a crossroads.
It said there is potential for the economic crisis to “widen the economic divide between our cities and regions”, while also presenting “one of the best opportunities for regional economic development in a generation”.
“Politicians and the public have realised that we are, perhaps, too reliant on others for important supplies,” the report said.
“Both businesses and governments have expressed interest in bringing supply chains onshore, and there is a real opportunity to produce essential items such as pharmaceuticals and medical equipment in Australia."
“Development of these industries could bring capital and jobs to the regions, where labour and rent is cheaper than in cities.”
Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis was on the same page and said the key to regional growth was to “build to our strengths” and develop high-end products.
For the Clarence Valley this meant capitalising on those industries which already had a strong foothold in the region.
“There is no doubt about it, people are looking for Australian made products and not just for food but other items,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“We are not going to be making iPhones, but what we can do is work to our strengths and we have the basis of marine manufacturing already in place.
“Harwood Marine and Yamba Welding and Engineering make high-end competitive marine vessels and there is an incredible opportunity for this to expand and become a significant industry in the Clarence.”