While our cities remain in recession, a record 54,000 new job vacancy advertisements in regional Australia has the bush eyeing off a long-awaited economic and population turnaround.
- New data from the Regional Australia Institute reveals there are 54,000 jobs available in the regions
- The institute says there are opportunities for engineers, accountants, lawyers and doctors
- But as rural towns grow, there are concerns infrastructure may not be keeping up
Using an analysis of job vacancy data comparing October last year to October this year, Regional Australia Institute chief executive Liz Ritchie has found “silver linings” in the COVID-19 crisis for regional Australia.
“There’s 54,000 jobs available in the October figures that we’ve just released. This is a 13 per cent increase on 2019 figures at the same time,” Ms Ritchie told 7.30.
“These are indeed record numbers that we’re seeing right now.
“We know that it’s engineers. We know it’s accountants. We know it’s lawyers. We know it’s doctors. These are the opportunities there that are currently available.
“They’re well paid employment opportunities that enable city dwellers to rethink their lifestyle.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development, Michael McCormack, said regional towns were “big enough to get a good cup of coffee … small enough to still care”.
“COVID-19 has taught us that we can, in fact, live in regional areas to get the side benefits of city living,” he said.
‘We thought we were crazy’
Mudgee, three and half hours north-west of Sydney, is one town capitalising on the boom. Its median house price jumped 8 per cent this year.
Mudgee Deputy Mayor Sam Paine, 36, has done there what would be considered unthinkable in the city right now — he opened a new book shop, something the town had been missing for some years.
“We thought we were crazy,” Mr Paine told 7.30.
“Mudgee did shut down for a while and things were quiet. Now things have just bounced back.
“Every business is full and doing the best business they’ve ever done. It’s really booming. It’s crazy that it’s in the middle of a pandemic.”
‘You’re booked up for months’
Part of Mudgee’s success is undoubtedly due to an increase in tourists frustrated at a lack of international options.
It has sparked an Airbnb boom for property owners and for renovation builders such as Ben Kubowicz.
“We’ve seen an increase of about 40 per cent in just overall leads and inquiries, and a number of that is actually tree changes and people looking to convert into short-stay accommodation locations,” Mr Kubowicz said.
“The construction sector in Mudgee is really booming. It really is new-home construction that is out of control.
“If you’re a new-home project builder, you’re booked up for months in advance. If you’re a specialist renovator, then yeah, you’ve got waiting times well into next year to even think about doing a project.”
Unleashing the potential of the regions
Local real estate agent Adam Woods says it is not just short-stay accommodation in limited supply.
He said first home buyer incentives were spurring on buyers in a new master-planned estate called Carleon on the edge of town.
“We’ve got 2,000 lots in total out here. And in the last eight weeks, we’ve actually seen 48 lots secured by new homeowners moving up this way,” Mr Woods said.
“We’re probably running in the high 90 per cent occupancy right across the board in Mudgee right now, which is just incredible when usually you’re running somewhere in that 50 to 60 per cent.”
Although, there is now concern over how the town of 12,000 people will keep up with the growth.
“There is that concern that infrastructure may not keep up,” Mr Woods said.
“An example of that is one of the schools for the kindergarten next year had 120 applicants for 90 slots.”
Department of Regional NSW secretary Gary Barnes said $1.7 billion had been spent over the past four years to “unleash the potential of the regions”.
“The very clever and innovative businesses in regional New South Wales have adopted the mantra of ‘don’t waste a good crisis and pandemic’. And they are undertaking a lot of clever and innovative onshoring,” Mr Barnes said.
“We’ve had companies that previously might have taken plastic recycling offshore. Now we’re setting up in a very big and meaningful way to do that sort of work in our regions.”
A looming undersupply of labour
Not all regional employers are confident they can get the labour they need at the right time. They include Shepparton orchardist Peter Hall, who has relied on a mix of backpackers, Pacific Islander workers and locals.
“You’ve probably got a two or three-day window to harvest varieties of stone fruit,” he said.
“If you don’t have pickers for that, then the fruit will go soft. So there’s a there’s a real time imperative when it comes to the harvest of stone fruit.”
He said it was not clear yet if federal and state measures, such as arrangements with Pacific Islander workers, were working to meet his looming harvest labour shortfall.
“This year, it’s looking very concerning,” Mr Hall said.
“There needs to be a bit of recognition [of the fact] that we can get to the point where we find we’re short of workers … there won’t be any people in the country.
“It’ll be months before we can organise ourselves to get workers from another source.”
Where are the jobs?
New South Wales
According to year-on-year job ad analysis by the Regional Australia Institute, Dubbo and Western NSW are NSW’s regional job hotspot, with ads there up 92.6 per cent, as compared to Sydney’s job market which has shrunk by 24.7 per cent.
The Southern highlands and the Snowys have 55.9 per cent, and Tamworth and Northern NSW has 45.2 per cent more jobs than this time last year.
In Queensland, Toowoomba/South West Queensland have 35.7 per cent more job ads, while Brisbane is down almost 8.7 per cent.
The Sunshine Coast has 24.5 per cent more ads and the Gold Coast 18.8 per cent more.
In country NT, there are 18.2 per cent more job vacancies, while in Darwin only 7.6 per cent.
South West WA has 51.6 per cent more job ads than this time last year. In Perth, the figure is just 14.5 per cent.
Ads in the Goldfields and Southern WA are up 24.5 per cent and the Pilbara and Kimberley up 17.6 per cent.
Ads in South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, Murray and Mallee are up 35.9 per cent compared to Adelaide’s 11.4 per cent.
Ads in Port Augusta and the Eyre Peninsula are up 23.7 per cent and the Yorke Peninsula and Clare Valley 17.9 per cent.
North West Tasmania’s job ads are up 26.3 per cent versus a 4.9 per cent drop in Hobart.
In Victoria, Bendigo and the High Country are up 5.1 per cent versus Melbourne’s job vacancies shrinking by 38.3 per cent due to the strict lockdown — in stark contrast to the rest of Australia.
Could this be the great decentraliser?
The Federal Government’s former policies to push skilled migrants and workers from the overpopulated CBDs to the regions is now happening almost as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wouldn’t call it a side effect,” Mr McCormack told 7.30.
“I know that when we got back into Government in 2013, we certainly encouraged decentralisation indeed.
“1,700 public service and other jobs have come via decentralisation policies.”