Jobs and the Port

Port of Townsville
The Port of Townsville – highly mechanised and not very busy.

Like many ports around the world, Townsville Port is very highly automated. Gone are the days of stevedores manhandling cargoes on and off ships in port. As at 30 June 2016, the Port of Townsville employed just 111 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) staff.

Of course, the Port claims that it also contributes ‘indirect’ jobs – those created in other industries as a result of the jobs at the Port.

But the thing is, every job contributes to other jobs. If a shop owner puts on another staff member, it contributes to jobs in all those industries where the new staff member spends their money. If a person builds a house, they contribute to jobs in steelmaking, tile making, utility providers, paint suppliers, painters etc etc. The Port is no different in this. (See this article for a great explanation of this from economist Ross Gittins in relation to the coal industry.)

The reality of this doesn’t stop industries and corporations claiming that their project will create very significantly more jobs than it will. Adani’s Carmichael mine is a case in point. Adani told the world that its mine and rail project would create 10,000 jobs. This number was eagerly picked up and repeated by the mining industry and its supporters in the government and the media. The truth is very different. Adani’s expert witness said under oath in court that the mine and rail would create just 1464 direct and indirect jobs Australia-wide. This has not stopped the same politicians and media continuing to spruik the 10,000 figure.

In short, the Port is not a great provider of jobs, and as it gets more and more automated, employment will dwindle further.

On the other hand, the proposed port expansion would risk the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (e.g. increased shipping with increased risk of accidents, potential for introduced pests and underwater noise) and threaten the 68,978 tourism jobs created by the Great Barrier Reef identified by Deloitte Access Economics, in its March 2013 Report for government, Economic Contribution of the Great Barrier Reef.