Regional development

Queensland’s Surat Basin shows how the coal seam gas industry can enhance regional development.

This region includes the Toowoomba, Western Downs and Maranoa local government areas. Queensland’s gasfields are mostly in the Western Downs and Maranoa regions, centred on the towns of Chinchilla and Roma, while Toowoomba has become a major CSG industry service hub.

By bringing infrastructure and investment to several rural and regional districts, the industry is generating new jobs and strengthening and diversifying regional economies.

A 2013 KPMG study shows that resources developments are not only making regions more prosperous, but also making their communities more stable and socially sustainable.

The study compiles key standard-of-living measures and basic demographic profiles of Australia’s nine main resources regions. It was undertaken for APPEA and the Minerals Council of Australia.

It is clear that resources developments are driving these regions’ economies. KPMG found that in the five years to 2011, the number of people employed in the resources sector across the sampled regions grew by 13,810 – or 50%. The number employed in all industries – including resources – grew by just 14%.

In that same period, the population of Australia’s resources regions had grown at 1.5% per year. This was the same as the national average but greater than the 0.8%  for regional Australia more generally.

This shows that while some employees are flying in and flying out, others are relocating to the resources regions.

The Surat Basin, Queensland

Queensland’s Surat Basin is the region with the most onshore gas industry activity.

In the Surat between 2006 and 2011:

  • the population increased by 3.2%
  • the total number of dwellings increased by 8%
  • students finishing Year 12 increased by 4.3%
  • residents with tertiary degrees increased by 2%.

The Surat Basin stretches just under 500km east to west and is located south of the Bowen Basin. The major township of Toowoomba is located about 100km west of Brisbane. The economic base in the Surat Basin is quite diverse and includes a growing coal seam gas sector. CLICK TO ENLARGE THE IMAGE BELOW.

Surat Basin demographics

Demographic indicator 2011 Percentage point
change from 2006
Total population (ERP1) 200,750 3.2%2
 Total occupied private dwellings3  70,495  8.0%
 Working age population (15-64) 63%  -0.9
 Male 49% 0.1
 Indigenous  4%  0.5
 Australian born  90%  – 1.5
 Average household size3  2.52  -0.044
 Year 12  43%  4.3
 High income  4%  2.1
 Couple family with children3  31% – 1.4
 Separate dwelling3  87%  0.4
 Own their home3  67%  – 1.9
 Bachelor degree or higher  14%  2.0
 Unemployment Rate5  4.0%  0.1
 Participation Rate  62%  – 0.2
Same address five years ago  46%  3.3
 Largest industry of employment  Health Care & Social Assistance Retail Trade

Despite the rise in population, the unemployment rate remained stable at about 4% – well below the Australian and Queensland averages.

The number of residents at the same address that they were living in five years previously increased by 3.3%. So despite an influx of new workers, there are strong indications that locals no longer have to leave the region to find work.

In addition, in the last five years the retail trade sector has overtaken healthcare and social assistance as the region’s largest industry of employment. This rebuts claims that money being made in the region is not being spent there.

Unemployment rate remains low

In January 2018, Toowoomba’s unemployment rate was 5.4%, while the Darling Downs/Maranoa region was 4.8%. The Queensland rate was 5.5% and the national rates was 5.5%. So the unemployment rates for these gas-producing regions were lower than both the state and national rates, which is unusual for regional areas.

These figures indicate that the resources sector – which in this case is mostly the gas industry – has made the Surat region more prosperous, stable and economically sustainable.