This week’s editorial might be considered pretty blunt but it needs to be to get through to the powers that be that things are definitely not tickety boo in the South East. So here is a message to any visiting politician, any head of department or anybody who will bother listening. Welcome to the Eurobodalla region. Hope you bought your esky full of supplies and dunny paper because we have bugger all to offer while the madness of panic buying continues.
In case you were wondering why we have so many oldies it is because, as per the last census, Eurobodalla Shire has a lower proportion of children (under 18) and the highest proportion of persons aged 60 or older in NSW.
With a population of just 37,000 we have 15,000 who are older than 60 and we have 6,500 children.
That leaves 13,000 people employed and 48% of them part-time. In the 2019 September quarter our unemployment rate was 8.1% compared to a Regional NSW rate of 4.7%.
Unemployment was recorded at 1,320. What isn’t recorded is the numbers of residents under-employed, unable to find 38 hours per week, being most of the 48% part time workers. The statistics for residents on the pension, disability allowance and Newstart in the South East clearly reiterate that ours is a social security boosted community. As such there is little disposable income but just enough to hopefully keep local businesses afloat.
Irrespective of these figures everyone in September 2019 was reasonably positive. Summer was on the way and the annual influx of visitors would help lift the region out of its fourth quarter of local recession.
Shopping, buying, gifts, food, services. Everyone ready with supplies ordered and premises prepared. 13.8% of our workforce are in retail, a sector which has taken a nose dive locally in the order of $20m over the last five years. Fortunately to offset that downturn was the increase of $52m to the growing Health Care and Social Assistance that out performs the rest of NSW.
In a nutshell we have a predominantly older demographic who have low incomes and are serviced by a small workforce that is under-employed on lower than average incomes. Outside of Aged Care our economy depends on tourism. These come in short, sharp, peak periods. Hopefully they spend enough to put away a few acorns for winter.
Our tourism industry needed a good summer. Then came the fires. Not just one, but two. Major, unprecedented, deadly and devastating fires. The impact to our local economy was massive. Tourists were turned away, then invited back, only to be turned away again as the fires continued around them.
While there has been recovery monies on offer to those businesses who were physically affected by flame this criteria for eligibility meant that many of our 2900 businesses who were ‘only’ financially impacted received nothing other than an invitation to take out a loan to buy themselves out of the pit of having zero income.
Social security options were offered, vouchers, cash handouts for families of businesses but nothing by way of any contribution towards loss of earnings. Rents were still required, loan payments were still due, suppliers still needed to be paid, electricity, phone, water and overheads continued and then there was staff.
The firestorm created a chaos like we could never have imagined
Time lingered on. The recovery process had halted. Burnt material was not being removed. No block clearing meant no moving forward for 500 home sites. Paperwork, more paperwork and red tape wrapped it all up so tight that very little has been done…. Moving forward in baby steps….
But everyone had hopes. It would just be a matter of time. Patience. Visitors were invited back. The national media put a spotlight on the region. Bring your Eskys, LoveNSW, came and visit, stay a while, buy stuff. The Canberra long-weekend was a bumper. And then…. The Virus.
What took the fires a month to destroy by way of tourism has taken the Covid-19 virus just a few days after announcements of closing down large gatherings. The announcement dominoed across the region with one cancellation after another of major and minor events.
Easter is just around the corner and the cancellations for holiday accommodation in the South East are accelerating. News drifts out of the shire that events have closed and that we have the same panic buying as elsewhere … so you’d best bring your own toilet paper.
As the coronavirus takes Australia into its first recession in 30 years, people across the country will lose their jobs and unemployment will shoot up from its current National rate 5.3% to levels not seen in decades.
And here we are in Eurobodalla already recording 8.1% at the last census, long before the fires, the four quarters of local recession, the closures, the empty shops and the impact of the internet on retail. And now we have the virus to confront.
The triple whammy of fires, floods and now pestilence have affected each and all of us with more impact to come. While there are recovery packages for some most will receive nothing. We approach winter with streets already empty and long months ahead. It will take an effort from all of us to get through this. Collectively we might have a chance. So long as our leaders truly recognise the enormity of the task ahead for the South East so that we are not forgotten or overlooked. Take care. Lei