02/11/2018 - 10:15

Bold choices required to secure prosperity

02/11/2018 - 10:15

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Opinion: A Committee for Perth report says the WA capital has dropped the ball, and lacks a strategy for its economic future.

The naming rights deal for Perth’s new stadium has removed a branding opportunity for the city. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Opinion: A Committee for Perth report says the WA capital has dropped the ball, and lacks a strategy for its economic future.

State and local government, and the private sector, must provide bold leadership to reposition the Western Australian economy after the biggest boom in the state’s history.

That’s the underlying message from the Committee for Perth’s comprehensive report entitled ‘Perth’s Pathway to Prosperity’.

The report doesn’t mince words in asserting that Perth must move from complacency to prosperity. Noting that other countries, states and cities have been working on capturing economic opportunities – including breakthrough technologies – for the past 20 years, it says WA is being left behind.

“Perth does not have a vision or strategy for its economic future and because of this, action to capitalise on the city’s competitive advantages, stimulate innovation and investment, and respond to new global challenges has been limited and ad hoc,” the report concluded.

The need for action is obvious. Despite optimistic predictions and hints of green shoots in sections of the economy, key measures of confidence such as the property and retail markets are soft.

Leadership is required (from Premier Mark McGowan down) to provide a fresh sense of direction, which is surprising given the impetus from the 1960s iron ore boom and the more recent strength in the resources sector, including the emergence of the liquefied natural gas export market.

But despite pious promises from political leaders over the past 30 years, the economy is nowhere near as diverse as it should be. When the resources sector cools, there’s no adequate alternative.

There are plenty of examples of local ingenuity and drive that have gained invaluable international attention.

Perth’s Manchester-born former lord mayor Harry Howard led the successful bid for the 1962 Commonwealth Games.

Other states thought Perth had over-reached, but everyone pulled together and the games were a great success.

Mr Howard was also in the New York ticker tape parade in recognition for Perth turning on all available lights as American astronaut John Glenn orbited overhead. Perth became known as the ‘City of Light’; it was great exposure.

Alan Bond’s audacious 1983 victory with Australia II in the Americas Cup, resulting in the defence off the coast of Fremantle in 1987, provided an extraordinary injection of confidence (arrogance even) and a great climate for exploiting investment opportunities.

It happened again in 2011 when Perth staged the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting at the new State Reception Centre in Kings Park.

Federal Perth MP Stephen Smith just happened to be the foreign affairs minister at the time, and the showpiece reception centre was the initiative of then premier, Colin Barnett.

Less than a decade later, the message from the Committee for Perth is that WA has dropped the ball.

The committee suggests there is no sense of urgency to make things happen.

Why did the government pass up the opportunity for further international exposure by selling off the naming rights for Perth Stadium, and Perth Arena? No disrespect to the sponsors involved, but the publicity for the city would have been priceless – another example of small town thinking.

WA has an internationally recognised shipbuilding industry at Henderson.

But it was outmanoeuvred in a politically driven decision by the federal government to award the bulk of the latest defence contracts to an inferior South Australian operation.

Meanwhile, cashed-up Chinese tourists are flooding into the east coast, as are giant cruise ships with passengers prepared to spend big on day trips.

Some progress has been made, but WA is really only scratching the surface in exploiting this growing market.

The state has also just announced a strategy to make up ground in another lucrative sector – foreign students.

The Burke government started tapping it in the late 1980s but WA went backwards during the recent boom (high costs didn’t help).

There are now mixed signals in terms of regulations on job opportunities for students and a new tax for foreign buyers, possibly parents of students, in the housing market.

More relaxed shopping hours would help, too.

That’s why all sectors must get serious about exploiting every available opportunity. And the initiative must come from Mr McGowan and his government, with strong support from business leaders.

Boldness Be My Friend was a popular book for schoolboys in the 1950s. Its message needs to be heeded, urgently.


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