Mackay cartoonist Harry Bruce's take on today's news.
Mackay cartoonist Harry Bruce's take on today's news. Harry Bruce

1800 jobs: Reef conservation plan to save our economy

A NEW study argues a $300 million funding injection into Great Barrier Reef conservation could deliver 1800 jobs over four years to Queensland regions suffering a jobs dearth from COVID-19.

It comes on the back of jobs data showing a 13 per cent drop in the Whitsundays, a 9 per cent drop in Isaac and a predicted 9 per cent drop in Mackay.

Ernst and Young's report, released today, examines the economic impacts of an economic stimulus proposal from a coalition of more than 70 conservation, farming and land management groups.

The proposed program, which could be rolled out during the economic recovery period, would include activities like tree planting, weed control and restoration of rivers, wetlands and coastal habitats.

Tree planting could be part of a program for economic recovery.
Tree planting could be part of a program for economic recovery.

"These communities have been hard hit by COVID-19 restrictions and are likely to experience lasting economic impacts due to continuing restrictions on international travel, with young workers likely to be most highly impacted," the Great Barrier Reef catchments part of the plan reads.

But the 1800 full-time equivalent positions for the reef program require $150 million investment from the Federal Government, $100 million from the Queensland Government and $50 million from the proposal's coalition partners.

An EY analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data found COVID-19 had severely impacted jobs in the Isaac and Whitsunday local government areas.

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The report details a 9 per cent drop in Isaac jobs from 20,419 FTE jobs before COVID-19 and a 13 per cent drop in the Whitsundays which recorded 14,054 FTE jobs pre-COVID.

A proposal has been put forward to bolster jobs in the Whitsundays during the COVID-19 economic recovery. Picture: TEQ
A proposal has been put forward to bolster jobs in the Whitsundays during the COVID-19 economic recovery. Picture: TEQ

EY suggests that would result in lost economic output for each region of 10 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively.

The report also predicts a 9 per cent employment loss and a predicted total employment loss of 16 per cent for Mackay.

EY prepared the report for the Conservation Council of South Australia which asked for an economic impact assessment of a conservation and land management program to support Australia's response to the coronavirus crisis.

Pew Charitable Trusts was one of the organisations who co-authored the proposal examined in the EY report titled 'Delivering economic stimulus through the conservation and land management sector'.

Deputy director Pepe Clarke said the analysis found COVID-19 generally hit tourism-dependent economies hardest.

 

The Whitsundays is suffering with so few tourists during the COVID-19 lockdown. Picture: TEQ
The Whitsundays is suffering with so few tourists during the COVID-19 lockdown. Picture: TEQ

"There is strong evidence that investment in a national conservation and land management jobs program would deliver timely and targeted economic stimulus as well as long-term economic and environmental benefits for regional communities," he said.

"For regional areas, the ability to provide temporary employment for workers displaced from other industries can reduce the loss of workers to cities and keep young people connected to the workforce during the period of economic downturn."

The report found Port Douglas and the Whitsundays were among the worst affected.

 

Snorkelling with a turtle on the Great Barrier Reef Picture: supplied
Snorkelling with a turtle on the Great Barrier Reef Picture: supplied

 

"Dependence on the tourism industry acts as a multiplier for the economic loss caused by the pandemic," the report reads.

"While many of the proposed activities require a low baseline skill level, there is potential for participants to upskill and retrain in conservation and land management roles.

"Participants are likely to gain important technical skills such as surveying, fencing and occupational health and safety training.

"The ability to transfer workers from other industries is an attractive program feature, especially for rural areas.

"Without this option, some communities may suffer from a displacement of workers to areas with higher demand.

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"This phenomenon, which is often referred to as 'brain drain', has the potential to leave vulnerable and remote communities at risk."

Natural Resource Management CEO Kate Andrews said this program could deliver meaningful gains in agricultural productivity, by reducing costs, improving soil condition, water and native vegetation and enhancing resilience to natural disaster.

"Right now tens of thousands of people are unemployed and unsure when they will get their jobs back," she said.

"By scaling up existing conservation and land management work we can give these people jobs right away while the economy recovers."

 

Great Barrier Reef aerial. Photo: TTNQ
Great Barrier Reef aerial. Photo: TTNQ

 

The report says investment in conservation and land management stimulus during the economic recovery period would deliver tangible outcomes across five strategic priority areas:

1. Improving the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef

Scale up and accelerate efforts to restore riparian vegetation, reduce pollutant run-off, enhance farm sustainability, improve reef water quality and restore coastal marine habitats.

2. Protecting, managing and restoring rainforests in the Wet Tropics

Work with private landholders, public land managers and traditional owners to restore and expand rainforest habitats and manage key threats to rainforest habitats and species in the Wet Tropics.

3. Supporting improved management of protected areas

Deliver a surge in management effort across national parks, private protected areas and indigenous Protected Areas to tackle long-term conservation threats like fire, weeds and feral animals.

4. Tackling invasive species and supporting threatened species recovery

Implement strategic management interventions for invasive and threatened species that will leave a lasting legacy (e.g. invasive species control on coastal islands).

5. Indigenous land and sea management

Building on existing capacity in the region, work with indigenous partners to support long-term conservation outcomes and capacity development.

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