Feb 22, 2017

Infrastructure investment will boost regional jobs – Opinion – The Newcastle Herald

One issue over which there is bipartisan agreement in Australia is the need to find new drivers of jobs growth in the wake of the decline in mining investment.

Australia can no longer rely on mining to drive growth, so we must invest in innovation to build new industries, while also boosting growth in existing sectors like agriculture.

While that is a huge economic challenge, it also offers magnificent opportunities, particularly for regional centres like the Hunter – if we get the policy settings right. This means investing in the railways, roads and communications technology that businesses need to thrive.

Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe has urged the Federal Government to invest in transport infrastructure to reduce traffic congestion and drive economic growth. Mr Lowe is correct. Strategic investments now will boost the economy by generating jobs and economic activity in the short term, while also lifting productivity and capacity in the long-term.

However, in the Turnbull Government’s first two years in office, total public sector infrastructure investment fell by 20 per cent. Bureau of Statistics data released last month show the value of work conducted for the public sector has been lower in each of the 12 quarters presided over by the Coalition Government than in any of the 21 quarters under the Labor Government after its first budget in 2008. That’s lower in every single quarter. The cuts have slowed the progress of key road projects, including the Pacific Highway upgrade, important for increased productivity as well as road safety. A forward-looking government would take the hand-brake off that project and get behind other infrastructure projects.

It should start in the Hunter, where completing the Glendale Interchange would unlock huge economic potential of the Cardiff Industrial Estate and the Glendale shopping precinct. Independent economic analysis has found this project would create about 10,000 long-term jobs. This is why Hunter Councils describes the Glendale Interchange as the region’s most-significant infrastructure project.

We should also expedite progress on the proposed High Speed Rail link from Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. High Speed Rail would turbo-charge travel between capital cities on the east coast, while offering new opportunities for regional centres along its path including Newcastle. It would provide real opportunities for companies to base their operations in Newcastle, as well as shortening commuting times to Sydney.

In 2013 the former Labor Government allocated $50 million to create a High Speed Rail authority to start securing the corridor for the line. The incoming Coalition Government scrapped that funding and, almost four years later, has done nothing to advance the project.

The regions also need fibre-to-the-premises broadband, not the copper-based fraudband at twice the price and offering half the internet speeds that were promised. High speed broadband should be an economic enabler for the regions. But in the past four years, Australian internet speeds have tumbled from 30th in the world to 60th.

When governments take a short-term, hands-off approach to nation building, they miss opportunities to build the foundations for waves of future economic growth.

But it takes political vision.

This piece was published in The Newcastle Herald today.