House debates

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Constituency Statements

Regional Australia

10:44 am

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker, Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government) Share this | | Hansard source

It is vogue to talk of disaster and desperation to grab headlines and gain attention in the hallowed halls here in Canberra, but this approach masks what's happening in regional Australia and undermines the goal of those seeking to highlight the importance of our regions. Regional Australia has done well to avoid community transmission of COVID-19, and outbreaks that have been there have been brought under control very swiftly.

As we emerge from COVID-19, it is becoming clear that regional Australia will be an engine room for the nation's economic recovery, the foundations of which have always been there. The performance was already strong, and in the context of COVID-19 the cities were turning their attention to go west of the divide. I'm not calling it the land of milk and honey; I'm saying that the regions are full of enterprise and full of opportunity backed by great resources and poised to get back in business. The challenges of floods, fires and drought have served to nurture the resilience and grit for which regional Australia is renowned.

From his humble beginnings, Roger Fletcher has grown a business that exports to dozens of overseas markets. He is one of the largest employers in my electorate and indirectly supports many more. We cannot afford to be standing in the way of economic activity generated by businesses like Fletcher's. Industrial action at the ports has been ongoing and is far from a resolution. Protected stoppages and go-slows at our ports pose a real threat to the connections of Australian businesses to their customers and, more importantly, the security of jobs of Australians through supply chains. Ultimately, it puts at risk the COVID recovery.

Just like we want our ports to operate efficiently, the coalition wants to keep out of the way of business. We know that when businesses are left to get on with business, then job opportunities will follow. Jobs in regional areas are plentiful. The urgency to find seasonal workers to help with harvest has been well documented, but this downplays the diversity and complexity of our economies in regional Australia. We need people in health, supermarket managers, council jobs, civil engineers—the list goes on and on. The Regional Australia Institute estimates that over 45,000 job vacancies in the regions are available now. Between July and August, vacancies are thought to have risen by 14 per cent. Unemployment in parts of central New South Wales in my electorate is said to be below two per cent. Kerrieanne Nichols is an example for all of us. She owns a hotel, restaurant and cafe, and operates other venues under license in Dubbo. She employs a staff of around 50, but needs more. She needs chefs, baristas and floor staff. Before COVID-19, many of these jobs could be filled by temporary visa holders and migrants. It's more difficult to do that now. David Hayes of Dubbo City Toyota cannot find local mechanics to fill his vacancies, with applicants only coming from overseas. Not being able to fill vacancies not only affects his business but affects those relying on equipment being serviced quickly. (Time expired)