Independent infrastructure prioritisation
This morning, 30 Committee for Melbourne members gathered for a roundtable discussion to finalise our position paper on Independent Prioritisation of Infrastructure. The focus of this paper, which will be released in the near future, is to identify the basic principles we will have to include if we are to realise a process of prioritising on a genuine capacity- building basis. It will require a robust governance model that ensures recommendations are made independent of political bias, a broader model on which cost-benefit assessments are made that include social and economic measures, and transparency to ensure the process itself cannot be simply circumvented or ignored. While independent prioritisation is only one component of the solution to our infrastructure issues, it is crucial cornerstone, and one we must get right.
Infrastructure Australia Statement of Expectations
As part of the Committee's discussion on infrastructure prioritisation, we referred to the Federal Government's November 2014 first statement regarding IA's change in governance. Under the new IA regime, the first major undertaking was to complete a full audit of Australia's infrastructure asset base to determine the adequacy, capacity and condition of nationally significant infrastructure, taking into account forecast growth, and economic, social and environmental sustainability. Originally due in 2014, this audit is expected to be released in coming months. While this will provide a good assessment of our current state of affairs, the real work must be done in developing a long-term infrastructure plan that delivers strategic and truly significant infrastructure to people and businesses. This plan will also be of little relevance if it is not developed in close consultation with the States around what their needs and priorities are. If we fall back into the trap of only considering those projects already announced or on the drawing board, or fail to consider the full range of infrastructure needs, for example road and rail, we cannot hope to maximise the benefits of making a full and independent assessment of where our infrastructure investments will return the best value for money.
Agriculture - the golden egg of the future?
The 2014 Australia-China Trade Report commissioned by the Australia China Business Council has shown that demand for high quality Australian food products has risen dramatically in the last five years. China is now the largest market for Australian agriculture and food products. Beef exports have increased nearly fourfold, while dairy exports increased by 40 per cent. This increased demand from China offers an enormous economic opportunity for Victoria. While much of the current discussion is around the purchase of land, the real value-add for Victoria lies in our capacity to leverage our research and processing strengths. Cutting edge research in Victoria is seeing us develop initiatives that are driving greater productivity returns from our existing bases, and our processing capability means we have the opportunity to process more in Victoria rather than sending raw materials offshore, which creates jobs and boosts the economy. We have always had a strong agricultural tradition. Now we have the perfect opportunity to leverage our value-add strengths in this sector.
We need to get a grip on the digital economy
On Wednesday, Committee for Melbourne members gathered to discuss Melbourne’s capacity to attract global talent. Dr Richard Hu from the University of Canberra joined us to provide an overview of his research into how Melbourne currently rates in attracting global talent. Interestingly, while Sydney was found to rate slightly ahead of Melbourne as a first stop for international talent, the results were reversed when looking at the movements of knowledge workers domestically. The group also discussed those sectors they felt would play a significant role in Melbourne’s international economic competitiveness going forward. Well established sectors such as health and medical research, finance, higher education and agriculture were all noted. One of the emerging sectors considered to have significant future capacity was the digital economy. Given a recent report by Deloitte Access Economics showed that if the digital economy was an industry, it would be larger than Australia's agriculture, transport or retail industries and estimated that it will continue to grow rapidly, hitting $139 billion or 7.3 per cent of GDP by 2020, this is very good news.
Committees for Cities
This week, Committee for Melbourne hosted a gathering of Australian and New Zealand Committee’s for Cities and Regions organisations. These organisations, which have all grown from the Committee for Melbourne model, share the same ethos of making their respective cities and regions stronger. While each city and region has particular focal points, it was interesting to note that over the course of the three days, there were three issues of significance that were continually raised as having a major impact on growth both in Australia and New Zealand. Not surprisingly these were jobs, infrastructure capacity, and long-term, visionary planning. No matter who you talk to, these are the three issues that continually come to the fore as either being inhibitors of, or levers for, growth. The questions always follows, who is responsible. While groups like the Committees do not hold the power to solve these problems, these entities, which leverage the knowledge and intellect of members to develop strategies for change, do have a very important role to play.