Waking up to a glorious Gold Coast sunrise is a stark contrast to the gloomy conditions forecast for the building industry in the region.

Key points:

  • The $17 billion overseas and interstate tourism markets have almost been wiped out
  • The Gold Coast construction industry is worried it may soon fall off the cliff
  • The state’s agricultural and mining sectors are faring better during the pandemic

“The construction industry is still ticking over, but the warning signs are there,” Gold Coast developer Greg Rix said.

“We are not going to get through this without scars.”

It’s a sentiment shared across much of the state.

Even those sectors not directly affected by COVID-19 are bracing themselves for tougher economic times ahead, with Australia officially going into recession this week, and Queensland recording the highest unemployment rate in the country.

John Duncalfe from the Master Builders Association said the re-closing of the New South Wales border last month put further pressure on many Gold Coast builders who usually work in both states.

“A lot of builders will actually struggle to meet the financial requirements to hold their licences,” he said.

John Duncalfe, from the Master Builders Association, predicts some builders will struggle to keep their licences before the pandemic is over.(ABC: Jen Huxley)

Mr Duncalfe is also worried there will be a drop off in home-loan approvals over the next couple of months.

Builder and renovations specialist Ben Nelson considers himself one of the lucky ones.

He has been able to keep people employed throughout the pandemic, with some help from the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program.

Builder Ben Nelson says he has been able to keep his staff employed on the Gold Coast during the pandemic.(ABC: Jen Huxley)

“There are a lot of people out there that aren’t working — being lucky the industry we’re in, and keeping people employed, that’s our main priority,” he said.

In the north of the state, the pandemic is definitely taking its toll.

The closure of the international borders has devastated the region’s tourism industry, which relied heavily on the overseas market.

“For about three months, we hardly did any trips … in fact we didn’t do any trips, we just stopped,” Great Barrier Reef charter operator Mike Sutcliffe explained.

Queensland tourism, including whale watching near Townsville, is suffering from fewer out-of-state visitors.(ABC: Lily Nothling)

Dive operator Paul Crocombe said the past few months had been the darkest days of his 30 years in business.

“Mentally, it was a pretty big toll there earlier,” Mr Crocombe said.

JobKeeper payments kept some of his employees in work, but with COVID-19 limits on the number of passengers per trip, Mr Crocombe said he has barely been breaking even.

“I was looking at retiring, though don’t think I’ll ever retire now, I’ll be paying off debts until I die,” he said.

Paul Crocombe says COVID-19 limits on the numbers of passengers have hit his Townsville dive business hard.(ABC: Lily Nothling)

Queensland’s tourism industry is worth an estimated $27 billion a year, but Daniel Gschwind from the Queensland Tourism Industry Council said its value to the state economy in 2020 would be considerably lower.

“The interstate market — which is about $10 billion of that — has pretty much stalled as well.”

In Queensland’s inland regions, COVID-19 adds another layer of stress to rural communities already battling years of drought.

The small town of Taroom on the fringe of the Western Downs was hoping to tap into new markets in order to make the local economy more sustainable.

Despite some recent rain, Taroom in Queensland’s central west is still officially drought declared.(ABC: Nathan Miles)

“We’re trying to build up our tourism market, so we can drought-proof our shops in town,” Banana Shire councillor Terri Boyce explained.

Fortunately for the Taroom district, the pandemic hit just after decent summer rain, leading to a good winter crop.

Grazier Doug Stuart is also the local stock inspector — and he’s been busy.

After years of destocking due to the drought, a cattle shortage has forced graziers to source stock from areas outside the Taroom region, which is far enough west to be inside the state’s cattle tick-free zone.

“[It’s] probably the busiest we’ve had in a six-month period since we’ve been in business privately for the last 15, 16 years,” Mr Stuart said.

Taroom grazier Doug Stuart says the last six months have been the busiest in memory.(ABC: Nathan Miles)

Although there are promising signs, Ms Boyce warned the district was still officially drought-declared, as the rest of the economy battled through the pandemic.

“We are travelling a lot better, but we’re definitely not out of the woods yet,” Ms Boyce said.

As the day comes to an end, workers in central Queensland’s mining sector are reflecting on how lucky they are.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to keep working,” Gregory Mine tyre fitter Adrian Jones admitted.

“[To] still be able to support my family with the income I can get, it makes a big difference.

“I’m the only person who gets the money coming into the house, so it is a very hard time.”

Tyre fitter Adrian Jones says he is grateful for having a job at the Gregor Mine in central Queensland during tough economic times.(ABC: Rachel McGhee)

Unlike tourism and construction, Queensland’s mining sector has largely escaped the direct economic impact of the pandemic, but the industry still faces longer-term challenges.

A looming global recession means decreased demand for coking coal use in steel-making, and falling prices.

“So, as a result, the demand for coking coal basically dropped exponentially.”

Central Queensland University regional development expert John Rolfe said this had serious implications for the 60,000 people employed in the state’s mining industry.

“At this stage, it’s unclear what impacts that will have on the industry, but it will no doubt reduce profits a little and industry will be a bit more cautious about investing in the long term,” Professor Rolfe said.

The global situation is grim, with around 25 million COVID-19 cases and more than 800,000 deaths.

Jamie Hodda, who also works in the Gregory Mine, is simply thankful he has a job — one he took on just last month.

“It was good this came up at the right time,” he said.


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