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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2555

Ms GEORGE (4:30 PM) —The Illawarra community has recently been rocked by the devastating news about the loss of 281 jobs at two local Pacific Brands plants, at Bellambi and Unanderra. The Prime Minister described the news as distressing and devastating, and one can only imagine the gut-wrenching impact on the workers and their families. I had previously met with the workers at the Unanderra plant, who, after many decades of loyal service and experience, now find themselves redundant through no fault of their own. Tomorrow evening, at the initiative of my colleague the member for Cunningham, we will have a local forum with the workers from these two plants, prospective employers, Job Network agency providers and other service providers in the region. We will meet with them and hopefully go through the process of trying to match employment opportunities with those redundancies.

Of course, we are all concerned that, as a consequence of the global recession, unemployment projections are continuing to rise, most recently with a projection of about seven per cent unemployment at a national level in June 2010. That is why the Rudd government has committed $42 billion to the Nation Building and Jobs Plan stimulus package. We need to stimulate demand in the economy and we need to bring forward major infrastructure investment to help generate employment opportunities. Of course, it is exactly that stimulus package that was opposed by the opposition and, more recently, has been the subject of the derisive comments about the so-called cash splash. I want to say that the cash splash has, in fact, had some positive and beneficial outcomes in the Illawarra region. I believe the government’s actions to date, which have led to greater disposable income, particularly for those struggling in a difficult financial climate, have encouraged positive developments in our local tourism, hospitality and accommodation sectors, all of which reported increased patronage over the Christmas-January period.

The state government’s investment in the new Sea Cliff Bridge and the associated marketing and promotion of the Grand Pacific Drive have been a focal point in generating renewed and increasing tourist interest in our region. I want to acknowledge, in particular, the efforts of Tourism Wollongong and the unfailing dedication of Greg Binskin, Jim Eddy and their staff. They have had the vision and are now seeing positive outcomes in the tourism sector. As I said earlier, our major local attractions are recording positive and record numbers of visits. For example, the Jamberoo Action Park saw 150,000 visitors in January, and daily attendances exceeded 9,000 over the Australia Day long weekend. Minnamurra Rainforest saw five per cent growth in January, and Symbio Wildlife Park had record attendances as well. Our local Wollongong Science Centre and Planetarium reported a 15 per cent increase in visitors. The popular Skydive the Beach had a 40 per cent increase in skydives in January. Very interestingly, 35 per cent of them were by international travellers. Our famous latest attraction, the Illawarra Fly Treetop Walk, takes visitors along the picturesque Illawarra Escarpment and offers panoramic views combined with the beauty of our local rainforest.

Investment in 600 new hotel rooms over the past decade has added diversity, with the local icon the Novotel Northbeach Hotel being a popular drawcard for international visitors. In 1999 accommodation takings were $42.7 million. By 2008 that had grown by 70 per cent, to $73.3 million. About half of all visitors to Wollongong eat out at the area’s restaurants, some of which, as we know, have won prestigious awards. In all, our region now boasts more than 4,000 tourism related businesses, and they are an important element of job opportunities in our community. More than 2½ million people now visit the Illawarra each year, which adds more than $400 million to the city’s economy on an annual basis. Tourism locally has been a positive success story during these difficult economic times. Years of hard work by Tourism Wollongong, combined with the impact of the stimulus package and the greater recourse to disposable income for many people, have been taken advantage of, in that many more people are now travelling to see the beauty of the Illawarra region.