Mayor Jack Dempsey says diversification into new and emerging industries is the key to creating jobs and opportunities in the Bundaberg Region.
Mayor Dempsey has called for assistance with economic transition and structural adjustment in a submission to the Senate Committee inquiry into Jobs for the Future in Regional Areas.
The inquiry is looking at potential new industries and support arrangements.
The Bundaberg Regional Council submission identifies potential in agribusiness, defence, biofuels and environmental tourism.
Mayor Dempsey said Council recognises the need for new industries to be established to create jobs and tackle high unemployment.
“We believe Bundaberg is the perfect place to trial any initiatives given our size (being not too big, but not too small) and diversity of industries, making our region less susceptible to downturns that may occur in other ‘single industry’ regional areas,” he said.
“Our region is also endowed with strengths such as a good climate, low cost of living, and growing social infrastructure – where initiatives will have the great chance of success and generating jobs in our regional area.”
Agriculture and food
The Council submission says to encourage employment in agriculture there needs to be new infrastructure and other initiatives to support growth and diversification including:
- Agricultural airfreight infrastructure at Bundaberg Airport;
- Listing many of the region’s crops on Australian Allowable Import List for major Asian trading partners;
- Road to Rail intermodal facilities to support the movement of agricultural produce from the region to other markets;
- Funding for innovative programs that help farmers deploy new technology that boost productivity.
Mayor Dempsey said with an abundance of agricultural produce, the Bundaberg Region is perfectly positioned to diversify into high-value food processing and manufacturing.
“Already, many local companies are creating new food and ingredients for national and international supply chains and markets,” he said.
“For example, local business Farm Fresh Fine Foods Pty Ltd supplies locally grown food ingredients into global restaurant chains from Bundaberg.
“Many more farmers and producers have the potential to expand over time into successful exporters. Supporting this potential in places such as Bundaberg is one way jobs in regional areas could be created.
“Bundaberg should be prioritised as a special food zone where assistance programs are offered.”
Regarding defence, the Council submission notes the Port of Bundaberg adjoins a 5000ha State Development Area.
“The Bundaberg Port currently operates at less than 10 per cent of capacity with its owner, Gladstone Ports Corporation, holding no identified plan for its growth into the foreseeable future,” Mayor Dempsey said.
“Bundaberg Council has called for the Department of Defence to consider establishing a naval base at the Port of Bundaberg, particularly given the port is located outside the cyclone disaster zone and the Great Barrier Reef.
“Our workforce and cost of living also make Bundaberg a good choice for the location of a naval base, or other defence investment.
“Council has also commissioned a ‘Defence Industry Pathways’ report that provides direction on how we will attract defence expenditure, along with expanding our industrial capability to service defence industries.”
Mayor Dempsey said the sugar industry needs to diversify and add value if it's to remain a mainstay of the economy.
“As one example, Council has been working with Bundaberg Sugar to look at ways it can reinvent itself by looking at other new sectors such as bio products and renewable energy production,” he said.
“Sugarcane has been found to be capable of being a suitable feedstock for the production of ethanol and biomass power generation.
“As an iconic Australian industry, Australia’s sugarcane industry should be assisted to explore its transition into other sectors such as renewable energy production.
“Bundaberg is the perfect location where such assistance could be provided.”
Mayor Dempsey said Council has recently asked the Queensland Government to introduce a Sugarcane Structural Transition (or structural adjustment) Package to secure a long-term future for the region’s sugarcane industry.
The call seeks help to enable a move from primary production to more knowledge-intensive sectors, such as bio products and advanced manufacturing.
“We seek Federal Government support for this structural adjustment package in the Bundaberg Region,” the submission says.
“Without this support, it's believed many regional jobs will continue to be lost.
“Moreover, new job generating, economic opportunities will be lost that could diversify our region’s economy into higher value-add products which have strong global demand.
“In support of this call for a structural adjustment package, specific labour market strategies are also required to assist workforces become skilled in the occupations required to enable structural adjustment.
“For example, while our region is one of the largest agricultural regions in Australia, our TAFE and Central Queensland University have very low numbers of students enrolled in agricultural programs, such as certificates, diplomas, degrees or higher.
“Strategies are required to deliver industry relevant agricultural training, particularly as the sector becomes more advanced and technology-driven.
“In addition to industry-specific labour market strategies, initiatives are required to engage regional populations with local labour markets.
“For example, in Bundaberg, there are over 10,000 estimated residents disengaged from the labour market.
“New regional-specific employment programs are required to ensure this cohort is engaged with the labour market.”
Help needed with new industries
Mayor Dempsey said a new regional transition authority could be a good way to ensure regional economies are reshaped in ways that align with local economic trends and opportunities.
“Alternatively, the Australian Government funded Industry Growth Centres program is an excellent way to expand jobs in Australia’s key industries of comparative advantage,” he said.
“However this program could be enhanced by having a ‘regional lens’ that supports regions such as Bundaberg who have a natural advantage in agriculture.”
Currently our region has little contact with Australia’s food and agribusiness growth centre, which is located 1900km away from Bundaberg in the Melbourne CBD.
“Bundaberg is perfectly placed to become a leader in clean energy exports to Asia or other markets.
“However, tailored, region-specific support is required to ensure this opportunity for regional Australia is secured.
“For example, for bio-ethanol production to be more viable in Australia, consideration should be given to policy changes that require higher ethanol content in Australian vehicles.”
The committee is to present its final report on or before 4 December 2019.
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