A new national conservation and land management employment program worth $4 billion could deliver more than 50,000 jobs in regional communities hit hard by COVID-19 if it gets the green light from the Morrison government.
According to a report released today by professional services firm Ernst & Young, the large scale investment would create 53,000 jobs, reduce welfare costs by around $620 million and raise economic output by $5.7 billion over the next four years, with economic gains rising to $9.3 billion over the next 20 years.
A coalition of more than 70 conservation, farming and land management organisations, including Landcare, National Farmers Federation, NRM Regions Australia, Australian Land Conservation Alliance, Australian Conservation Foundation and Pew Charitable Trusts, commissioned EY to prepare the report which examines the economic impacts of an economic stimulus proposal.
The proposed program aims to provide safe, meaningful and socially beneficial work during the period of economic recovery, while leaving enduring benefits for the environment through practical activities like tree planting, weed control and restoration of rivers, wetlands and coastal habitats.
The report highlights the value of the proposed program for hard-hit regional and rural areas, and identifies five regional Local Government Areas most significantly affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19 for each state and territory.
"The analysis found that the areas hardest hit by COVID-19 across the country were generally those with tourism-dependent economies," said Pepe Clarke, Deputy Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts, one of the 70 plus organisations who co-authored the proposal examined in the report.
"For regional areas, the ability to provide temporary employment for workers displaced from other industries can reduce the loss of workers to cities and keep young people connected to the workforce during the period of economic downturn," said Mr Clarke.
National Landcare Network CEO Jim Adams welcomed the report findings and said the hands on conservation and land management work will leave a lasting legacy for the environment, while also supporting recovery of landscapes damaged by recent bushfires and drought.
"The labour intensive nature of the work, combined with low capital costs, results in a high proportion of investment flowing to the employees and contractors delivering the work and, in turn, to their families and businesses in their local community," said Jim Adams, CEO, National Landcare Network.
NRM Regions Australia CEO Kate Andrews said the program could also deliver meaningful gains in agricultural productivity, by reducing costs, improving the condition of soil, water and native vegetation and enhancing resilience to natural disasters.
"Right now tens of thousands of people are unemployed and unsure when they will get their jobs back. By scaling up existing conservation and land management work we can give these people jobs right away while the economy recovers," said Ms Andrews.
The program would also create opportunities for young people, women and unskilled workers, who have been particularly hard hit by the current economic crisis, and can be rolled out fast, to provide work when and where it is needed most, according to Nerida Bradley, CEO, Australian Land Conservation Alliance.
"We encourage federal and state policy-makers to consider the important benefits that this program would deliver for hard-hit regional communities, farm businesses and the natural environment," said Ms Bradley.