New figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics have revealed that the Mid North Coast registered more job losses in the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic than any other region across the country.
The data, which measured changes in payroll jobs between March 14 and April 18, showed the Mid North Coast suffered an 11.8 per cent drop in employment over the 36-day period.
The next hardest hit region was the adjacent Coffs Harbour - Grafton area, which measured an 11.2 per cent drop, while elsewhere in NSW and beyond job losses stayed below 10 per cent, with the exception of Queensland's Sunshine Coast where employment fell by 10.2 per cent.
Given the accommodation and food services industry saw the biggest job losses both locally and at a national level, Business NSW Mid North Coast regional manager, Kellon Beard, said the figures were concerning but not surprising.
"A lot of the businesses in the Mid North Coast area are based on tourism," Mr Beard said.
"It's one of the biggest employers in the area."
Business Taree president, John Stevens, agreed it wasn't necessarily surprising to find the region high on the list, but it was nonetheless a matter of deep concern given the already high rates of unemployment across the Mid Coast local government area prior to COVID-19.
"We were nearly double the rest of the country," he said.
"While it's a crisis for the whole country, it's a particular crisis for our already under stress economy, with bushfires and typical run-of-the-mill regional disadvantage."
Mr Stevens called on local parliamentary members to step up and ensure Taree wasn't left behind as a regional centre.
"I think we need to see a consistent delivery of projects that are going to contribute to our local economy," he said, mentioning the Taree Universities Campus as a prime example of a project that would bring both short and long-term growth to the area.
"If we look at the way regional centres like Bathurst and Orange have gone ahead, if we look at Port Macquarie - that's gone ahead. It's not just a region dependent on tourism anymore."
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Federal member for Lyne, Dr David Gillespie, agreed the pandemic had had a devastating impact on jobs across the region, but said the government was doing plenty to ensure the region continued to grow.
He pointed to the Fig Trees on Manning precinct development, the Forster Civic Centre and the Pacific Cape extension as just three examples of major projects in development across the electorate.
He also believed the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes the government had introduced had been vital in ensuring Australians were a lot better placed than others around the world.
At a local level, Mr Stevens said there was a lot of uncertainty and frustration among business-owners, with many having chosen to shut their doors for the time being rather than burn up their cash reserves.
"There certainly isn't yet a buoyant sense of recovery among local business owners," he said.
"We'll see what June 1 brings."
Mr Beard said Business NSW had been doing a lot of lobbying behind the scenes to get restrictions lifted and ensure there were measures in place to help businesses survive, and he believed the lifting of intra-state travel restrictions next month would bring an influx of tourist dollars to the region.
But he was concerned for businesses in the months beyond this initial period.
"I think we'll get a rush, a little sugar hit, and then things will slow again as they pan out and JobKeeper drops off and there won't be as much money in the economy," he said.
Mr Stevens agreed.
"Our biggest concern is what's going to come for the December quarter," he said.
"Potentially it's a time in our area when things start to improve but if the payments are due on the loans you've been deferring ... we need the government to say we're not going to just make you face the fiscal cliff in December."
Dr Gillespie believed as restrictions eased the region's economy would begin to recover.
"We'll see I'm sure a huge lift in activity on the North Coast," he said.
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