THE central west’s agricultural workforce may have dropped in the past 15 years, but the State of the Regions report has identified the industry as the potential answer to cope with declines in manufacturing.
The report, unveiled at the Australian Local Government Association conference earlier this week, confirmed the central west workforce’s shift away from manufacturing and agriculture towards health services and retail.
Co-author Peter Hyland said retail employment was slowly rising and was now the biggest employer in the central west, at almost 9000 people, and health was close behind at more than 8000.
Agricultural employment has dipped sharply since 1999 when 13,500 worked in the sector.
Now less than 8000 remain.
Manufacturing has also suffered, with 8000 employed in the sector in 1994, down to 5000 today.
“It’s taken a pretty hefty hit, the issue is, how you replace them?” Mr Hyland said.
“Education, health and retail have done some of the heavy lifting.”
Mr Hyland said industries needed to become more knowledge-based to remain viable and decentralisation was needed.
“One of the problems in Australia is that the knowledge economy tends to stick to the centre of Sydney,” he said.
“We’d like to see some of those government departments remain in the regions because that adds to the knowledge economy base.”
He said keeping the Department of Primary Industries in Orange was particularly important for farmers.
Mr Hyland said Orange had benefited from the mining industry, but mining investment had put pressure on the Australian dollar and affected domestic manufacturing.
His chapter on New Zealand’s efforts to recover from a drop in European demand identified agriculture as the country’s solution for growing exports - primary production now accounts for 55 per cent of the sector.
“As for Australian agriculture, there is a general sense ... that opportunities for the agricultural sector and its exports have been crowded out by the mining boom,” the report said.
“With the boom subsiding, and with limited opportunities for a quick recovery in manufacturing, it is likely that there will be a return to the established Australian emphasis on agricultural exports, especially in the light of market opportunities likely to arise in Asia.”