Outback Queensland economy suffers another hit

The coronavirus pandemic is hurting a Queensland region already struggling after years of drought.

Just weeks from what should be the start of its peak tourism period, outback Queensland has been devastated by the impact of shutdowns and cancellations caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Remote Area Planning and Development Board (RAPAD), an economic development body in central west Queensland, has released the CWQ Data Collection and Analysis report which found the tourism sector injects $527.4 million into the region each year.  

Government restrictions have seen the closure of all major attractions and the cancellation of major events ahead of the outback tourism season, which usually runs from April until September, while some communities have gone into self-imposed lockdowns and are discouraging visits from outsiders.

RAPAD CEO David Arnold said the closures and travel restrictions following the sustained impact of drought was a tough blow to the region.

“This new report proves without a doubt, the tourism industry has supported our economies during years of drought, to be dealt this crippling blow now is completely devastating,” Mr Arnold said.

Outback Queensland

Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach closed its doors on 24 March in line with Federal Government advice, standing down its casual workforce.

“We pay out over a million dollars in wages every year – that’s 1.4 million spent in our local community just on wages, not to mention the other local products and services we purchase,” said Qantas Founders Museum CEO Tony Martin.

“While the report’s figures are impressive, they only show visitor spend they don’t take into account the local contribution, the value of tourism to central western Queensland is more than half a billion.

“We need to keep our head above water now to meet our ongoing non-operational costs and retain a skilled workforce.

“This couldn’t have come at a worse time; we have come out of seven months of no revenue. 

“Unlike the coastal tourism strips, we are going into our peak season and once the pandemic is over, we are likely to be in our off season. So, we need stimulus to see us through to the next peak season.”

Winton township

The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in Winton employs 24 staff and has also had to stand down two-thirds of its workforce.

Executive Chairman David Elliott said the loss of this year’s winter tourist season meant it could be 12  months before the museum could re-employ its staff on a full-time basis. 

“The COVID-19 situation will have a major impact on Winton and its surrounding regions,” he said. 

The CWQ Data Collection and Analysis report found the average domestic overnight visitor spent $880 per trip in Longreach and $740 in Boulia.

It also found tourists injected $68.8 million into the Winton economy and 306,200 people visited Longreach per year with 80% of those being domestic visitors who stay overnight.

RAPAD Employment Services Queensland (RESQ) delivers the Federal Governments employment programs and Centrelink agent services CEO Chris Hamilton said they were bracing for a surge in demand.

“We expect to see a significant increase in unemployed seeking our support and assistance over the next two to three weeks as people register with Centrelink and start to think about what they will do next,” Mr Hamilton said.

“What’s hard for us is that some of these people had been through the RESQ process before and found stable jobs so it’s sad to see them back, but they have the experience, faith and confidence that RESQ is a great way to get back to work.”

What does RESQ offer:

  • RESQ helps people who are work-ready to find employment by linking them with potential employers and supporting both through the first 26 weeks of employment. 
  • RESQ also offers opportunities for training and upskilling for those who require it so that when the job becomes available, the individual is ready to go.
  • For those who feel they need to do something to safeguard their physical and mental health, RESQ conducts community-based projects that keeps the jobseeker engaged and a contributing member of their local community.