Desal not great white knight
CONSTRUCTION of the desalination plant at Wonthaggi hasn’t provided the major economic fillip that was expected.
Neither has the downsizing of its workforce had the marked negative impact predicted by some.
Both can be attributed to the underlying growth that Bass Coast Shire has experienced, even before the plant was announced by the previous Labor government.
For two years, Westpac Bank has commissioned a quarterly economic monitor, the last of which was presented on Thursday.
Conducted by the Western Research Institute, it shows 77 per cent of businesses surveyed for the monitor are confident about the next 12 months.
While that’s the lowest confidence level expressed across the eight quarterly reports, Bass Coast mayor Cr Veronica Dowman commented, “I was expecting worse news than what we’ve got.”
The March 2012 quarter monitor found business performance remained better than satisfactory.
That news prompted Westpac Bank’s Wonthaggi branch manager Dean Herbert to remark, “We’ve got a really strong business community.”
Bank staff visited the plant one day a week, which Mr Herbert believes is a first for a construction site. It provided a welcome service for workers and didn’t do the bank any harm either.
The biggest decline over the past year has been in the services and construction industries. From growth of 5.3 per cent for the 2001 March quarter, construction has declined 7.8 per cent in the September quarter, 3.5 per cent in December and a further 1.4 per cent for this March quarter.
The services sector has plummeted 8.2 per cent for the March quarter, with little indication as to why.
Hospitality, which featured as 13.3 per cent growth for the December 2011 quarter, recorded a 3.2 per cent decline for March.
The only continual growth in the past year has been in basic purchases, although these have dropped from strong growth for the September and December quarters, to just 0.4 per cent for the March 2012 quarter.
Twenty-five per cent of those surveyed reported a fall in sales at an average decline of 18 per cent, contrasting with 35 per cent of businesses experiencing sales growth of an average seven per cent.
Full-time employment actually increased for the quarter by six per cent, although casual jobs dropped 10 per cent.
Top occupations recruited for the 2012 March quarter were labourers, home support or home carer positions and car detailers. Positions difficult to fill were for truck drivers, motor mechanics and administration positions.
Average rents have fallen, but not markedly so – from $450 a week at the end of June 2010 to $419 in January/February this year.
Overall business performance over the two years of the monitors has exhibited regular seasonal peaks and troughs, which the desalination construction doesn’t seem to have had an impact on.
Mr Herbert said the economic monitor “has been a good education”, adding he thought the impact of plant construction might have shown different results.
Cr Dowman said anecdotally, work at the plant had been a life-changer for a number of long-term unemployed people.
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