How badly is QLD (and in particular Regional QLD) doing with regard to jobs?

We should all be aware by now that the labour market picture in QLD is not a happy one; according to the latest ABS data for June the State’s unemployment rate stood at 6.5% (both s.a. and Trend) against that in the nation of 5.8% (s.a) or 5.7% (Trend). The level of Underutilisation (those unemployed and also underemployed) was also slightly higher at 14.5% (s.a) versus 14.2% (s.a.) nationally (figures for May).

Over the past 12 months Trend employment has grown at 1.8% in Australia but only at 0.4% in QLD. Perhaps of more concern, full-time employment is up by 1.1% nationally but has fallen by 1.2% in the State.

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It’s clear that jobs in QLD are simply not keeping up with the growth in the working population. Over the past 2 years the State’s working population has grown by 2.8% while Trend employment is up by just 0.5%. When we look at the split between Greater Brisbane and the Rest of QLD the story gets even worse. At present the Trend unemployment rate in Greater Brisbane is 5.7%; in the Rest of QLD it’s 7.2%.

Over the past 24 months Trend employment in Greater Brisbane has risen by 2.2%; in the Rest of Queensland its fallen by 1.2%. Full time employment in Greater Brisbane is up by 3.1% while in the Rest of QLD it has fallen by 2.1%.

And this isn’t just a recent phenomena. If we consider data from the past 5 years we see QLD’s working population having grown by 3.5%, but Trend employment in the Rest of QLD is up just 1.5% while in Greater Brisbane the increase is 5.5%. Five years ago there were 2.7% more people employed in the Rest of QLD than in Greater Brisbane; today there are 1.3% fewer. At that time the Trend unemployment rate in Greater Brisbane was 4.6%; in the Rest of QLD 6.2%.

What becomes obvious is that, when compared to the nation as a whole, QLD is doing badly but is doing so solely on the back of the weak regional performance. Greater Brisbane is doing at least as well, and in many cases better, than the nation.

Clearly the regions have suffered far more than Greater Brisbane as the mining investment cycle has drawn to a close. For years we have heard politicians at both State and Federal level, and from both sides of the aisle, promising more to address the issues that regional QLD faces. And yet there is no sign of anything concrete having been done. Short term, electorally driven boosts (I’m looking at you Townsville stadium) being committed to without any apparent economic analysis simply won’t cut the mustard. If we really want our regions to succeed (and that in itself is a question we must all answer honestly first) then there needs to be some serious thinking around what are the factors holding back regional economic growth, and what can be done to address them.

For more details about how some of the QLD regions are performing relative to Greater Brisbane see our post from a few days ago or download the Conus Trend QLD Regional Jobs data from the Reports page. The next Labour Force data is due for release on 18th August with the regional data (and the updated Conus Trend) released a week later.

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6 replies
  1. Glen
    Glen says:

    Great post Pete, the question on whether we want our region to succeed is an interesting one. I believe the one key thing that has changed in recent times in the North is we are losing ground as an option in two key demographics, young people 20- 30 and retirees, particularly well funded retirees. We don’t seem to have a hold on these groups to the point where they stay through any sort of downturn unfortunately, they leave for better opportunities and few seem to drift back. After 25 years up here I have concluded that the good old wheather is a big as factor as any, people just don’t want to live in the extremes in this country, whether it is the heat of the North or the cold of Tasmania these places struggle to maintain consistent population growth as people look for more moderate climates. Further to this is the fact that urban planning for the tropics is clearly flawed, we have simply followed the path of urban sprawl from southern cities and applied it up here, the climate doesn’t support that type of planning. Both Cairns and especially Townvsille with its low rainfall should be compact high density cities with half the geographical footprint they currently have for the population, less travelling for people and more services in a confined area. The 600sq block in the burbs is losing its appeal in the capital cities, mainly because those two demographics I mentioned don’t want them, 20-30 yo and retirees want to be close to services and entertainment, they don’t want to be mowing a yard in 35 degrees heat, the lifetsyle people want is changing fast, and the North just hasn’t changed with them.

    Reply
    • Pete Faulkner
      Pete Faulkner says:

      Glen,
      Thanks for the comment. Your point about the weather is, I suspect, a very valid one; certainly mowing a yard up here is rarely pleasant! I also think you make a very good point about urban design and how our tropical cities need top be re-imagined.
      Given that there’s nothing we can do about the weather (although certainly better city design could make it more “liveable”) are there things we should be doing to make it more appealing for people to settle and, importantly, stay? That will inevitably require jobs but jobs can be a result, rather than a cause, if other factors can incentivise people to relocate. Better health provision? More cultural opportunities? Improved communications and transport? Better education? All of these, I suspect, are reasons that many don’t come (or stay) to the regions. Is it realistic to consider rectifying those issues or do we simply accept that the regions can never compete?

      Reply
  2. Glen
    Glen says:

    Pete I think the North as a whole can compete and that would,take a consensus on what’s best for the region, it has to be remembered that we are only approx 600,000 people between Mackay and Cairns, the population of the Gold Coast, at the moment the constant parochial ” what about me” from all the different regions is negating any gains, all the regions are competing for the same money and all that happens is its divided up and its impact deminished greatly, we are just sinking ourselves.

    My key project for the North I have proposed for years is a dedicated Nth Qld train service. Two trains running daily services between Cairns and Mackay, put your luggage in a rack at the end of a carriage and take your seat, it would only stop at about 8- 10 stations along the way, it would be a metro style train jump on and jump off when you get to your destination, the service has the ability to move twice the number of people QantasLink and Rex combined fly each day between Cairns and Townsville, centres along the coast can run bus services to meet the trains and get passengers and tourists to their towns, Mission Beach, AIirlie Beach would be obvious examples. The service would enhance our tourism access across the whole of the North and also allow redidents to move more freely between towns for weekends etc. But what we do in the North is convince the govt to spend $20 million over 3 years subsidising customs services at Townvsille airport, now we have Whitsunday airport and Mackay airport also at the govt to subsidise customs services in those centres as well. Why hasn’t anyone looked at the best way of getting people to where services currently exist, would this money be better spent in other ways to increase access to current air services in Cairns, if a family of four @ $20 a head can travel on the train from Townvsille and step off at Cairns airport, I am sure it would be well utilised.

    Reply
    • Pete Faulkner
      Pete Faulkner says:

      Interesting idea Glen. I’m from the UK originally and one of the things that has always amazed me about FNQ (and Australia in general) has been the lack of a quality rail network. Obviously population densities are nothing like what we see in most of Europe but I agree with you that there would probably be good demand for a reliable, cheap and relatively speedy linkage along the North coast. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  3. NSSfT
    NSSfT says:

    Hi Pete & Glen,

    It’s grim news that keeps getting grimmer for the North. Glen, I think you are are on the right track with the weather, its just too hot for modern ‘people’ – so is Darwin. And guess what, its only going to get hotter. And hotter. I think you are also correct in your demographic assessment – the 20-44 year olds are leaving in droves (like me), the big reason is there is simply no jobs and no prospect of jobs. The north is simply running out of reasons to ‘be’ as automation and tech disintermediation start to play out. Fewer people are needed to do the work, and when you don’t have a job the North, particularly Townsville, it’s just an unpleasant place. The far north culture is becoming more and more seperate from the major southern centres and we are just not going to attract the more urbane and ‘sophisticated’ demographic up here anymore. Moreover, when you leave, you change, and the much vaunted ‘lifestyle’ seems more like a bogan mining camp – at least that’s what my friends and colleges find – they never return.

    I don’t think the modern ‘apartment’ lifestyle is the answer. In the hideous heat up here they are just air-conditioned, isolated and isolating boxes. Lets face it, there is a not currently an overwhelming demand for new apartments. If you want that lifestyle go south and get the real thing, including genuine hipsters, better, cheaper coffee and as an extra bonus a wide choice of high paying jobs! Better that than a balcony filled with washing, roasting terraces, empty and depressing streets, low-grade shopping, tropical diseases and casual racism.

    If the North wants to succeed it needs to grow up fast, understand it cannot turn its back on the rest of the world, embrace change and new industries. Personally my life is a lot better in Brisbane than in Townsville. I now visit a lot but really I wonder why I took so long to leave.

    Reply
    • Pete Faulkner
      Pete Faulkner says:

      Thanks for your fascinating comments and insight.. While I’m not sure I agree with your dystopian depiction of life in the North (but then I don’t live in Townsville!), I certainly agree with your conclusion about the need to grow up and embrace change and the new industries. I’m currently doing some work looking at the industry make-up of employment in the north over the past decade and will be posting the results later today. Cheers, Pete

      Reply

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