Fears for Gascoyne tourist towns as JobKeeper ends

Sarah Ison & Liam BeattyMidwest Times
Car towing a caravan along the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive.
Camera IconCar towing a caravan along the Shark Bay World Heritage Drive. Credit: Tourism WA/Tourism WA

Two Gascoyne tourist towns are among the most reliant across the country on the JobKeeper wage subsidy, leading to fears the towns will be hit hard when the program ends this month.

While the State recorded a 70 per cent drop in people relying on the JobKeeper payment between September and December, businesses in some regions have struggled to bounce back.

About two-thirds of the businesses in Shark Bay are still using the payment, while 61 per cent of those in Exmouth rely on the program.

The two regions have the third and fourth-highest uptakes of JobKeeper in the country — a payment that is still supporting more than 1.1 million workers nationwide.

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A Exmouth Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman said tour operators had been the hardest hit sector by the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.

Despite record-breaking tourist numbers last year, she said the majority of visitors were not booking tourist activities like international or interstate visitors would.

“We feel our tour operators will be the hardest-hit with the JobKeeper payments ending (this) month,” she said.

Her comments follow data from the WA Tourism Council predicting one in five WA tourism businesses faced closure or major job losses because of bor-der uncertainty once JobKeeper expired at the end of March.

The council has been campaigning for an extension of JobKeeper for the sector until the international border is lifted.

Shadow Federal treasurer Jim Chalmers said the JobKeeper cut risked “leaving too many Western Australians behind”.

“These are extremely anxious and uncertain times for thousands of Western Australians who are increasingly worried about what will happen when JobKeeper is cut,” he said.

“No-one is arguing for JobKeeper to be permanent, but it mustn’t be ripped out of these WA regions prematurely.

“Western Australia’s recovery from the deepest recession in a century risks being prolonged because Scott Morrison is pulling support from the Pilbara and North West Cape too quickly.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed earlier this week 600,000 fewer people were on JobKeeper at the end of January than were on it at the end of December.

He said he expected “the majority” of the 1.1 million on the payment to remain in their existing jobs after the program ended.

“While JobKeeper has been a remarkable program, it is no longer fit for purpose post-March,” he told an Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry conference last week.

However, he hinted support for the hardest-hit sectors would be announced after JobKeeper expired on March 28.

“Over the coming weeks we’ll have more to say on targeted support for various sectors and industries,” he said.

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