By Paul Hemsley and Julian Bajkowski
The rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast could provide a vital economic shot in the arm and help revive subdued growth in the region a key development group has said.
Chairman of the Central Coast branch of Regional Development Australia, Dave Abrahams, expects the new infrastructure will provide a restorative fix to the area that will help both attract and keep businesses that would otherwise be forced to operate closer to Sydney to remain viable.
Although picturesque and affordable, the Central Coast region – like many Australian areas nearby capital cities – has endured sluggish economic growth thanks to the combination of infrastructure pressures, demographic changes and generally challenging business conditions.
A persistent challenge for community leaders has been stemming the outflow of jobs and people that in turn results in skills shortages for the key services needed by those who remain.
“There’s only two GPs at the moment in the whole region that technically have their books open for new clients and that’s a real concern – you’d think it would be easy to attract people here,” Mr Abrahams said.
The nexus between the availability of healthcare services and a stable or growing population is a common theme in regional Australia that supporters of the NBN say helps justify the case for the massive government rollout.
The provision of digitally enhanced or delivered healthcare services, such as being able to use high resolution video combined with data-heavy medical imagery using broadband is seen by many doctors as one way of extending the availability of health services for a lower cost.
Mr Abrahams told Government News that the Medicare Local, which used to be called the Division of General Practitioners managed to pull some GPs living in Sydney to commute to the Central Coast and run their businesses there – however it has been difficult to relocate specialists.
“We’re hoping this infrastructure is going to allow a service to be delivered but not necessarily locally, it will be delivered locally but it will be connected maybe in Sydney or some of the bigger hospitals or practices in the metropolis,” Mr Abrahams said.
Mr Abrahams said he believes NBN availability will help attract more doctors and mid-level specialists to the Central Coast region and the Medicare Local unit has used the NBN as part of its case for the relocation of doctors in their “attraction campaign”.
Getting those who live on the Central Coast to work there is also on the regional agenda.
“[The region] struggles with maintaining its own growth and the growth is very much driven out of Sydney and the Hunter, so we have 40,000 or so people that leave every day, which is a large proportion of our workforce,” Mr Abrahams said.
He said this had consequences for service industries on the coast which remained only “marginally profitable” and also hampered the local economy.
Gosford’s NBN rollout comes as other locations in NSW receive the NBN, including the coastal communities of Minnamurra and Kiama Downs, which are south of Wollongong.
As a result of the NBN rollout, the Central Coast will also be receiving two “Digital Hubs” – one in the north and one in the south.
Digital Hubs are a $23.8 million federal government program to create 40 national training facilities to teach disconnected community member, often the elderly and disadvantaged, essential internet skills such as setting up an e-mail account, using internet search engines, accessing government services and shopping online.
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