The true scale of the employment crisis in Ballarat has become clearer, with new figures suggesting almost 6,000 jobs have been lost since the COVID-19 crisis began.
The data, released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, puts the unemployment rate in the city and surrounding area at 7.1 per cent - higher than the state average and significantly above Geelong and Bendigo.
The statistics also suggest a steeper decline in employment around Ballarat than in both other regions. In the month of May, Ballarat registered 5,700 jobs fewer than in April, with the total falling to 76,600 down from 82,300 in April. The decline in Geelong and Bendigo appears much more marginal up to now, with Bendigo even noting a 1,400 rise.
The figures come with a significant caveat about accuracy, with the way sampling works suggesting regional figures are subject to a greater degree of error than statistics for the Metropolitan area.
That notwithstanding, the figures are causing significant concern.
Ballarat Mayor, Cr Ben Taylor said the figures were "heart breaking" and called for more consideration for regional economies hit hardest by COVID-19.
He said the City of Ballarat was seeking stimulus funding and looking for ways to help people back into work, and had sought to ease pressure on businesses by fast-tracking permits and foregoing red tape.
"Council has also been mindful of the importance of continuing to roll out its capital works program, to provide jobs for local companies and trades to continue to stimulate the economy," he said.
He also urged residents to shop locally and stay locally to boost businesses in the area.
Federal member for Ballarat Catherine King called the figures "devastating". She said her thoughts were "with all those who have lost jobs, particularly those who relied on that income to support their families."
She highlighted concerns about cuts to both the JobSeeker allowance for those looking for jobs and the JobKeeper fund - used by employers to keep staff - which is due to end in September.
The figures also reinforce previous data that suggested Ballarat had been more vulnerable than other regional areas to the downturn, with more JobKeeper applications coming from the city most other areas in the state - registering the highest level of applications per postcode in regional Australia.
For state opposition treasurer Louise Staley, the figures should act as a catalyst to reopen regions for business.
Describing the statistics as painting a "grim picture", Ms Staley said: "The unemployment rate in Ballarat was rising before the outbreak. Since then more than 6,000 people have lost their jobs."
She accused the Andrews Labor Government of not having a plan for regional employment and called for the lifting of restrictions.
It's more important than ever that restrictions are eased in regional areas like Ballarat so we can get people back in work and back in businessLouise Staley, shadow treasurer
"Ballarat and the surrounding areas have had very few COVID-19 cases, and currently have no active cases.
"It's more important than ever that restrictions are eased in regional areas like Ballarat so we can get people back in work and back in business," she said.
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