Dempsey: We 'suffer neglect from federal and state govts'
THE Wide Bay area needs greater investment from the federal and state governments to address decades of chronic social and economic disadvantage, according to Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey.
Cr Dempsey spoke with the NewsMail this week after demographer Bernard Salt used Census data to identify Bundaberg among the country's most disadvantaged communities on jobs and wages criteria.
The mayor said Salt's findings echoed a "state of the regions" report, which showed the Wide Bay Burnett has had Australia's highest unemployment rate since at least 2002.
"Nothing has changed," he said.
"We have so much potential in the Bundaberg region through our climate, natural beauty, agricultural diversity and strategic location, but we continue to suffer neglect from Federal and State Governments."
Cr Dempsey said of the Bundaberg region's 44,500 ratepayers, 22 per cent were on some form of pension.
He said for most other council areas this figure was under 10 per cent.
Bundaberg also has one of the nation's highest percentages of full-time workers earning less than the minimum wage.
"This limits the capacity of council to raise revenue and we're reluctant to add to cost-of-living pressures," he said.
"We need other levels of government to invest in infrastructure that creates jobs so our local economy can realise its untapped potential and create more jobs."
Cr Dempsey identified two federal programs where the Wide Bay region was excluded - City Deals and the Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).
He said City Deals had successfully invigorated other disadvantaged communities in northern Tasmania and Townsville.
"We don't begrudge those places receiving support, he said, but the Wide Bay is equally worthy and should be included."
The NAIF offers up to $5 billion over five years in concessional finance to encourage and complement private sector investment in infrastructure that benefits northern Australia. This can include developments in airports, communications, energy, ports, rail and water.
Gladstone is included in the definition of northern Australia but Bundaberg isn't.
"A simple shift of the boundary would make us eligible for funds to develop the Port of Bundaberg," Cr Dempsey said.
"It's hard, I feel a little bit like Oliver, but I need to keep asking for more."
He said support for other crucial projects on the region's horizon would address the unemployment challenges and help tackle some of the associated core social issues.
The council introduced the Bundaberg Open for Development initiative to improve the business climate two years ago, providing jobs for nearly 3000 local residents and helping inject $350 million into the economy.
"The Queensland Government also needs to step up and fast track development of a level five hospital in Bundaberg," he said.
"We don't want to have our hand out all the time; we just want a hand up."
The NewsMail contacted the office of State Deputy Premier and Treasurer Jackie Trad seeking comment about Cr Dempsey's claims.
No response was given before the deadline.
The State Government replies:
The Palaszczuk Government is investing in infrastructure for Bundaberg, like the Mon Repos Turtle Centre redevelopment and new ambulance and fire stations which are supporting the economic development of the region.
Through programs like Back to Work, we have supported more than 2,200 employees into work and more than 1100 employers to bring on more staff across the Wide Bay region, contributing to a 0.8% reduction in the unemployment rate over the past year.
We have also directly supported Bundaberg Council to deliver $22 million of infrastructure through the Works for Queensland program.
However, we know wage growth is a serious problem for many communities in our state. While we're delivering projects that support secure jobs for Bundaberg, the Turnbull Government has been busy slashing penalty rates and advocating for a $65 billion big business tax cut.
That's not how you grow jobs and wages. The Federal Government needs to lift the minimum wage and reinstate penalty rates for some of the lowest paid workers, instead of giving a massive handout to corporate Australia.