$80m a week, 25k jobs: JobKeeper’s end a massive hit to Qld
The end of the JobKeeper welfare program is set to cost Queensland more than $80 million a week as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk prepares a last-ditch plea to the Prime Minister to save an estimated 25,000 jobs in the Sunshine State.
Almost a quarter of Queensland's 40,000 tourism operators are predicted to go to the wall in the months following the removal of the JobKeeper lifeline, which could have dire consequences for the Queenslanders employed by businesses starved of visitors from overseas and interstate.
Cairns has become ground zero in the battle for JobKeeper, with hundreds of tourism operations already shut or in hibernation while empty shops and "for lease" signs dominate the once-vibrant CBD.
Some of the region's most iconic tourist attractions have either shut or slashed opening hours while the bulk of the mighty fleet which usually ferries thousands of visitors to the Great Barrier Reef or islands bobs forlornly in the marina.
Of more than 1250 tourism "experiences" offered in Cairns pre-COVID, only about 700 are now operating.
According to figures from the Australian Taxation Office, more than 172,000 Queenslanders will lose their JobKeeper payment on March 28, in a move which will see about $83 million a week cut from the Queensland economy.
In the electorate of Leichhardt, which includes Cairns and Port Douglas, more than 8000 workers are set to lose the federal government subsidy.
Tourism accounts for one in nine jobs across Queensland, but the figure is closer to one in six in the far north.
The industry has been decimated in the region, which does not have the large drive market propelling a revival for destinations close to the major population centres of Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Before COVID-19, Cairns received more than twice as many visitors from overseas as from within Queensland, with estimations of a 66 per cent drop in the region's $3.5bn tourism juggernaut last year.
Announcements by the federal government of 800,000 half-price flights to spark a tourism revival, following the move by the state government to offer 15,000 travel vouchers worth up to $200 for Cairns and the reef, has given hope to tourism operators in the region, but many feel the measures don't go far enough and an extension of JobKeeper, or a substitute, is needed.
Ms Palaszczuk said she would personally lobby Prime Minister Scott Morrison to extend JobKeeper as operators warn of "standing at a cliff face" when the scheme is wound up.
"Without more targeted support for our tourism industry, we'll see thousands of jobs lost in Cairns, the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast," she said.
"The support the federal government announced last week was good, but it's not enough and it won't go to those who are most in need.
"It won't help the small, mum and dad businesses that are some of our biggest employers here in Queensland.
"The message is clear and simple. It's not too late - extend JobKeeper now."
Federal opposition treasury spokesman and Queensland MP Jim Chalmers said JobKeeper or a similar policy targeting high-risk industries was the only answer to the crisis.
"What I've heard loud and clear from workers and small businesses during my five visits to Cairns is that while any extra support is welcome, there's no substitute for a responsible, temporary and targeted extension of JobKeeper," he said. "Instead of a proper plan to support the Cairns economy … cuts to JobKeeper will make a difficult situation worse and leave too many parts of regional Queensland behind."
Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said he would encourage an extension or variation of a wage subsidy.
"We're not asking for a hand-out, we're asking for a hand up," he said. "Operators have been holding their breath for two months and there has been a high level of anxiousness and a bit of disappointment."
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said the airfare sale would not see money flow to some of the businesses that needed it most.
Originally published as $80m a week, 25k jobs: JobKeeper's end a massive hit to Qld