Committee Communiqué

US preparing to compete for international students

The international student sector is the biggest contributor to the Victorian economy, and the good news is that after a sustained period of decline since 2009, enrolment numbers are on the rise again. However, aggressive competition from overseas should have us sitting up and taking note of just how important – and volatile – this sector is. We are used to seeing stiff competition from the UK, Canada and New Zealand, but after opening up their borders again post 9/11, the US are looking to aggressively join the race. If approved, a recent proposal to provide six-year work permits to international students graduating from Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) degrees would have significant ramifications for many competing countries. Allowing internationals to work for three years after finishing an undergraduate program, and potentially another three years after a graduate program, (a big change from the current allowance to work for 12 months post graduation), would make the US an incredibly attractive destination. This proposal is still some way from being passed in the US but it clearly shows they are seriously looking at ways to increase their international student pool.

Manufacturing index down

According to the Australian Industry (Ai) Group the nation’s manufacturing sector is continuing to contract despite the recent – yet fleeting – boost provided by the Federal Government budget stimulus effort and the drop in interest rates. The Performance of Manufacturing Index for June was 44.1, a drop of more than 8 points. A rating below 50 indicates a contraction in the sector - above 50, expansion. A rating of 44.1 is the lowest the rating has been since July 2013. According to the Ai Group, an overall decline in activity, sales and production as well as employment have been noted over the past month as low domestic confidence, global factors, and the closure of the car manufacturing sector hit home. The Ai Group indicate that manufacturing works with the multiplier of four to five jobs for every one in manufacturing, so a continued decline in the sector will have direct knock-on effects for other areas like transport and logistics as well as services. The services and construction performance indices are due out in coming days. We will wait to see just how widespread contraction across sectors seems to be.

Brownfield sites get the development tick of approval

The development of brownfield sites has become a key target as we look for sensible ways to densify to provide appropriate and affordable housing options for our growing population. These underutilised urban locations, particularly those that sit in developed areas, are primary targets because of their location near established infrastructure. Recently, concept plans for two former industrial sites in Melbourne’s south-east, the former WH Wills Virginia Park cigarette factory in East Bentleigh and a 19 hectare sand quarry in Oakleigh South, were submitted for the development of mixed use precincts including housing options, shopping centres and office space. In Fishermans Bend, nearly $18 million was paid for a 2640 m2 block on Normanby Road, even though the site is unlikely to be available for development for ten years if the existing lessee extends his or her option rights. Clearly there is no lack of demand for development options, and looking to brownfield sites for sensible urban infill is a good move forward. That we ensure appropriate plans are made to provide the public open spaces, access to infrastructure and amenities required to appropriately support densification - is a must.

Opera’s Ring Cycle adds to Melbourne’s major events

Melbourne has secured the world renowned ‘Ring Cycle’ for 2016 following a hugely successful 2013 debut season in Melbourne. The Ring Cycle is a group of four Wagner operas intended to be played in series. With the shortest of the operas lasting 2.5 hours, and the longest around five hours (excluding intervals), it is not for the faint-hearted. For those who love the opera, the Ring Cycle is the ultimate highlight, and the good news for Melbourne is that opera fanatics from both interstate and overseas follow these productions across the globe. This week, figures released for the 2015 World Cup Cricket tournament showed that 79,000 interstate and 75,000 international visitors came to Melbourne for the tournament and collectively spent $305 million in Victoria. In addition, Melbourne gained more global exposure via the 156 million viewers tuned in across the world. We are quite used to the huge international success of our sporting events, but not so much for our arts events. The Ring Cycle is a genuinely international arts event. Let’s hope we realise Opera Australia’s ambition of making Melbourne a regular Ring Cycle destination.

‘Palcohol’ is wrong on all levels

Speaking on ABC News Breakfast on Wednesday morning, CEO Kate Roffey encouraged all Australian state and territories to follow the excellent lead set by Jane Garrett, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, to ban powdered alcohol in Victoria. Manufactured in the US, 'Palcohol' is a powdered form of alcohol which creates an alcoholic beverage when mixed with water. According to promotional material, it is an option for hikers for example, wanting to enjoy an adult beverage post hike, but not willing to carry bottles of alcohol. Carrying the powdered sachet instead allows them to simply mix the powder with water to create their ‘cosmopolitan’ on the run – or walk in this case. While ‘Palcohol’ may have a practical use for hikers, the obvious implications of trying to stop patrons from taking powdered forms of alcohol into sporting events or music festivals for instance, would only start to scratch the surface of the problems this idea creates. Victoria was right to issue a ban which came into effect on July 1. Hopefully all jurisdictions across Australia will follow suit.

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