DRIVING from Ballina to Grafton on the ramshackle Pacific Hwy was just one example of the State Government's neglect of regional areas, according to Newcastle economics Professor Bill Mitchell.
At the Clarence Valley Community Unions Forum at Grafton District Services Club on Wednesday night, Prof Mitchell presented a report commissioned by the Public Sector Union into the impact of the Government's service reduction and staff cuts.
The Clarence Valley was chosen as the first of many regional areas across the state to hear the findings of the report and a crowd of 100 gathered to listen.
"I was shocked to drive from Ballina to here," Prof Mitchell said.
"I thought it would be divided road and instead we were sitting on 50 and I just said to myself 'In an allegedly sophisticated country like Australia on a main arterial route between our capital cities, it's atrocious, we have the conditions we had 40 years ago."
The thrust of the argument was that the public sector should not be treated like the private sector as it was not there to make money but to provide services.
Prof Mitchell said proponents argued in favour of privatisation because it was more cost-effective and less risky.
"But not when the private sector firm goes broke and it's running the hospital, what happens then..." Prof Mitchell said.
"It's the hospital for goodness sakes, who picks up the pieces?"
He said the impact of job losses in regional areas had multiplier effects.
"When a worker loses their income they stop spending," he said.
"(Businesses) start laying off workers, that's the multiplier effect and that spills over into neighbouring regions.
"As the labour market contracts you get outward migration and the high-skilled people leave the region and you start losing the youth of the region.
"Then you get a decline of essential services."
Prof Mitchell argued the public sector actually needs to, and would, expand in coming years, especially in the areas of health care and environment.
Employment statistics were shared at the forum, which raised some eyebrows, showing the shocking rate of workforce "participation" in the North Coast.
Unemployment has fallen as well as the number of people over 15 years of age willing and able to work.
"We observe when we are going into economic slowdown, unfilled vacancies start to fall and people, to protect their self- esteem drop out of the labour force," Prof Mitchell said.
Some criticism was levelled at the forum via The Daily Examiner website yesterday, with some users arguing it seemed like a recruitment drive for the unions.
Toward the end of Wednesday night's meeting Tony King from Clarence Valley Community Unions said the idea was to have a committee to map out a plan for the whole Valley.
"Unlike governments and politicians, they might not consult, but we will consult," Mr King said.
"This is about getting a plan for the Clarence Valley so we can give it to the politicians.
"We're in this together as a community and it's about us telling them what we want."
- Local unemployment higher than state average
- Employment participation in state and nation is 65%
- Employment participation in the Northern Rivers has gone from 56% to 52%