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Northern Tasmania needs more people, and businesses want government help to get them

In northern Tasmania natural wonders make tourism a big employer.

“These rocks represent our sentinels, the guardians of Cataract Gorge because it is such an important area for our people,” said Greg Murray, proud Trawlwoolway man and owner of Kooparoona niara tours.

But the recovery of the state’s tourism industry has been mixed since its border was reopened in December.

About one-third of the sector is struggling, according to the Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania.

Greg is worried things will get worse when inflation bites and people cut back on discretionary spending.

“I haven’t had a booking in six weeks,” Mr Murray said.

Getting people and products to the island state cheaply are key federal election priorities for the business community.

Launceston, where Greg runs most of his tours, is in Bass, which is the most marginal Liberal seat in the country after Bridget Archer was elected there in 2019 with a margin of just 0.4 per cent.

The Coalition is also fighting to hold on to the neighboring electorate of Braddon, which is held by Gavin Pearce with a margin of 3.1 per cent.

Bass Strait transport costs a barrier

The Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry wants an extension of free car travel on the passenger ferry and guaranteed funding to reduce freight costs.

“Bass Strait is one of the most expensive bodies of water in the world, because it’s such a short run,” Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI) chief executive Michael Bailey said.

Michael Bailey is the chief executive of the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.(ABC News: John Gunn)

TCCI’s first election priority is for $3.5 billion to pay for a second undersea electricity transmission line connecting Tasmania to the mainland.

But, as far as the majority of the business community is concerned, Mr Bailey said the number main issue facing employers is access to skilled staff.

Tasmania’s jobless rate sits at 4.5 per cent, which is slightly higher than the national average, while the state has the nation’s lowest participation rate at 60.9 per cent.

In the area around Braddon, the average unemployment rate for the last 12 months of ABS data was 5.3 per cent, while in the area around Bass it was 4.5 per cent.

“We have large groups of Tasmanians who just aren’t participating at all in seeking work, and that’s where we see the great opportunity of working more closely with training in particular to unlock that workforce that’s really sitting waiting,” Mr Bailey said.

For Launceston they publish Grace Robbins, finding staff and support for the arts industry are top of mind.

Grace Robbins publish
Posted at the Royal Oak in Launceston Grace Robbins says the election campaign has not focused enough on the arts and the environment.(ABC News: John Gunn)

“The arts sector was really left behind with support, and we have really seen the effects of this as a live music venue,” she said.

She also said climate change had been pushed to the side in the election.

“Tourism in Tasmania is vital to businesses like this,” she said.

Help to find and train staff

Local manufacturing is thriving but businesses represented by the Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone (BBAMZ) agreed the major parties could do more to help them find and train staff.

“Every business we represent now employs more people than they did two, three years ago, which is great for the region,” said Leigh Darcy, chairman of the BBAMZ, which is where 59 per cent of the state’s exports are produced.

Leigh Darcy is the chairman of the Bell Bay Advanced Manufacturing Zone.(ABC News: John Gunn)

BBAMZ represents members as big as smelter operators Rio Tinto and GFG Alliance, as well as local start-ups like Temtrol.

Leigh Darcy said improving training options for locals, lifting the skilled migration cap and boosting international student numbers were needed to lift productivity.

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