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Go west, young man: Jobs bonanza luring city workers to Queensland outback

Statewide

Unemployment fell in western Queensland during the early months of COVID-19, prompting the launch of a new website to fill more vacancies in our regional towns.

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The hunt is on to match more jobseekers with vacant positions that are going begging in an arc from Cloncurry to Cunnamulla.

As economies the world over took a hit during the march of coronavirus infections, and lockdowns and restrictions earlier this year, western Queensland bucked the trend with unemployment dropping two percentage points to 9 per cent from January to June.

Local employment service boss Chris Hamilton said the drop was because western Queensland avoided the stricter COVID-19 limitations imposed on other Australians based in urban areas.

The late start to the outback tourist season in winter, delayed by coronavirus lockdowns, also produced a surge of vacancies in the health, hospitality, trades, rural industries and government sectors.

“It was quite amazing. Unlike city locations, the unemployment rate in western Queensland actually dropped during COVID-19, but statistics can be misleading,” Hamilton said.

“There are still plenty of great jobs available and many really good employers desperate for workers.”

The regional worker shortage is being mirrored in the farm sector, with primary producers still woefully adrift of normal seasonal worker numbers to harvest crops.

A combination of border closures, people movement restrictions and a ban on international travel, all but extinguishing the availability of overseas backpackers for the nation’s traditional harvest trail, means some crops may be left to rot in the fields this season.

That prospect has serious implications for farmer incomes, already hard-hit by drought and food security.

Amid concerns from primary producer groups that farms shouldn’t be used as a dumping ground for the nation’s long-term unemployed, campaigns and incentives by various state governments and the Commonwealth to attract more city-based jobseekers to farm work have so far proved fruitless.

As Agriculture Minister David Littleproud indicated on ABC Radio last week, all options to provide more incentives that would build an Australian harvesting workforce were “on the table”.

“And I think this is a pressing issue that we are going to have to address very quickly and make some announcements in the coming weeks,” Littleproud said.

“Because, as we get into the warmer months, the pressures are going to mount, and that’s why we’re working up a range of solutions as we speak now.”

The gaps in the regional employment market, coinciding with mass lay-offs in industries devastated by the pandemic, means recruitment specialists like Chris Hamilton are thinking more broadly to bring the city-country divide closer together.

He’s launched a new website called the Outback Queensland Jobs Board (www.outbackqueenslandjobs.com.au).

The website started this week with 100 part-time, casual and full-time positions advertised.

Some of the positions currently available on the website include occupational therapist, teacher, carpenter, environmental advisor and tourism trainee.

Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD) chair and Longreach Mayor, Tony Rayner, is encouraging local businesses to post job vacancies on the site.

“Initiatives like this need to build momentum before they can deliver,” Rayner said.

“We know job security and high levels of employment drive a strong local economy.

“A focused regional jobs board will help speed up the awareness and recruitment process, so we get people back into jobs as quickly as possible.”

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