Committee Communiqué

A new PM

The election of Malcolm Turnbull as Australia’s new Prime Minister has largely been well received by the business sector. Business leaders indicated they saw the change as a genuine opportunity for economic reform via strong policies that will promote business confidence, which in turn, will generate more jobs and stimulate growth. Prime Minister Turnbull’s commitment to establish a more collegiate and collaborative cabinet and his reiteration that leadership involves explaining the challenges facing the country as well as how to seize the available opportunities, were also seen as positives. Among the key calls for change are the need for tax reforms to make business more competitive and the development of key policies to encourage innovation and reward entrepreneurship. From a Victorian perspective, the State Government will be hopeful the $3 billion of federal funding originally earmarked for the East West Link can now be secured for the Metro Train project given Prime Minister Turnbull’s strong support for public transport. This will however require a decisive move away from the ‘old’ federal Liberal position of not providing funding for urban rail projects.

A city for older Melburnians

On Wednesday, the Committee and Arup cohosted Shaping our City – A City for Older Melburnians, a discussion that focused on the issues that affect the liveability of our city for older residents. One of the key themes that ran through the entire discussion was the lack of diversity in terms of housing options within suburbs, which makes it difficult for people to remain within their community as they transition through life. This is particularly relevant for older residents who are looking to downsize from the family home to smaller  accommodation options, yet find that the lack of opportunities in their local area means their choices are often limited to relocation away from their established support network. The need to keep older citizens engaged in the workforce was also raised, however with a current youth unemployment rate of 14.6 per cent, it was acknowledged that jobs creation in general needs to underpin this conversation. Overall, the conversation around valuing our older citizens and providing them with better ‘liveability’ was enlightening in raising some very real issues we will need to face going forward, and challenging in acknowledging that we have a lot of work to do in this space.

Australia still a good place to do business

According to the recently released Global Dynamism Index, (Grant Thornton’s biennial rating of the relative strengths of the world’s 60 biggest economies), Australia has lost the number one ranking as the most attractive place to expand a business to our neighbour, Singapore. Singapore’s jump to the top spot was largely due to its robust financial regulatory system and 17 per cent company tax rate, almost half of Australia’s 30 per cent rate. Israel climbed to second spot in the rankings primarily off the back of their strong hitech innovation sector. Israel now has the highest concentration of hitech companies outside of Silicon Valley, and this was a key factor in pushing Australia down to third on the list. Overall, the report notes that Australia’s comparatively low unemployment rate and solid track record on education still makes the country a very appealing place to do business. However, the changes in the top positions do highlight a need to reform taxation and encourage more investment in technological advancements in Australia.

Technology startup venture capital fund launched

Australia’s largest ever technology startup venture capital fund has been launched with over $200 million being made available to back fledgling companies. Managed by Blackbird Ventures, the fund is backed by 96 technology entrepreneurs and two major superannuation funds, First State and Hostplus Super. The new Blackbird fund is more than twice the size of Australia’s second largest fund, and while it is good news there is a new fund with some significant dollars attached to it, it is a concern for the technology ecosystem in Australia that there is not more startup funding being made available. In recent years, Australia has lost promising companies to well established startup communities in New York, the Silicon Valley, London and Tel Aviv, where cheques of $5 million or more are the norm rather than the exception. Although slow out of the blocks, the fact that Blackbird took four months to raise current funds, while three years ago it would have taken nearly two years and 500 meetings to raise a smaller funding pool, shows the appetite for tech investment in Australia is growing.

Peak body industry roundtable

On Tuesday, the Committee hosted a regular meeting of industry peak groups to discuss issues of collective relevance. Representatives from Engineers Australia, the Property Council, UDIA and Consult Australia among others, collectively agreed that one of the key issues we need to address is planning. Concerns were raised over the lack of coordinated planning for the growth of the city, with infrastructure planning, zoning reforms, urban growth and urban infill continuing to be discussed and/or developed in isolation. This creates confusion and limits our capacity to develop a genuine long-term vision for growth. One of the key points discussed was the question of urban infill and the negative perception that has been created by the misconception that densification equals highrise development. There is great capacity in our inner city areas to densify sensibly, however to achieve this goal there will need to be a strong collective effort to change the rhetoric around densification to encourage a much more positive understanding of the community benefits of urban infill.

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