STATE and federal ministers on visits to the Hunter can often be heard to describe the area in general – and Maitland in particular – as one of the fastest growing regions of NSW.
You’re doing very well, they’ll say.
And they will be correct, up to a point. The Hunter has had a better economic track record than many other parts of regional NSW. But the thing they rarely if ever mention is that regional NSW, by definition, excludes the state capital, Sydney: and as a new regional breakdown of the Australian economy has shown, Sydney and the other capital cities leave their respective state regions far behind when it comes to economic growth.
The study, by Melbourne economist Terry Rawnsley from consulting firm SGS Economics and Planning, has made national headlines for its finding that some 6.6 million Australians, or 28 per cent of the population, are living in conditions that can be technically described as a recession.
What Mr Rawnsley described to a Sydney population conference on Wednesday is another manifestation of the “two-speed economy” that was the phrase on every politician’s lips at the height of the mining boom. Or, to use the traditional vernacular, it’s “Sydney or the bush” as far as the economy is concerned.
In an interview with the Newcastle Herald, Mr Rawnsley acknowledged that much of Sydney’s economic growth was driven by an increasing population. With capital city population growth – much of it from migration – dramatically outstripping regional population growth, the economies of Sydney and Melbourne, especially, will continue to grow strongly. These large populations in turn attract more and more large employers – creating more and more high-paying knowledge industry jobs – adding further to capital-city economic growth and making it even harder for regional cities such as Newcastle to maintain their outputs.
It is this concentration of wealth in the super-city to our south that makes the revitalisation of the Newcastle CBD such an important project. While it will not do the job by itself, a modernised and attractive CBD stands as a mark of confidence in a region that must substantially increase its non-mining output if it is to avoid going backwards.
We don’t want to be Sydney, but we need the economic firepower to retain control over our own destiny, wherever it may lie.