Juggling regional priorities in lead-up to elections | OPINION

TALKS: The HRF Centre has been involved in the development of the Committee for the Hunter, which will highlight needs for regional infrastructure. Picture: Marina Neil
TALKS: The HRF Centre has been involved in the development of the Committee for the Hunter, which will highlight needs for regional infrastructure. Picture: Marina Neil

With both state and federal elections in 2019, the Hunter has an opportunity to put forward key initiatives for government support.

A common voice on regional priorities could provide a strong non-partisan appeal as reflecting “the greater good”. Prioritising such a wishlist will take many conversations, given varied economic and political interests and historical divisions. Facilitating such conversations was core to a series of recent events hosted by the Hunter Research Foundation Centre. The centre’s focus reflects regional needs related to infrastructure, innovation, economic development and community well-being.

Our July Hunter economic breakfast featured a discussion on regional transport infrastructure. Professor Roy Green, Port of Newcastle chairman, outlined the economic benefits likely to flow from development of a container terminal in Newcastle. Newcastle Airport’s upgrade to enable greater global connectivity was also highlighted on the day.

Transport infrastructure – fast rail connecting Newcastle, the Central Coast, Sydney and Wollongong – was addressed by breakfast panellist Kyle Loades. His Committee for Sydney report Sandstone Mega Region called for mega-regional planning. Chris Knowles, from manufacturing firm McLanahan Group, revealed insights from exporting to Asian markets since 2010. McLanahan provides “systems solutions” for handling bulk materials, exporting by ship and air freight via Sydney. To compete from the Hunter, Knowles said improved export infrastructure was needed here.

Other Hunter-based companies were invited to present at a roundtable discussion facilitated by the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade for their inquiry into access to free trade agreements (FTAs) by small and medium-sized enterprises. The roundtable was hosted in NeW Space by the HRF Centre on August 1. One participant called on government to take a more holistic approach to negotiating FTAs, including consideration of logistics and supply chains and protection of the intellectual property of Australian exporters.

Needs for the port, airport and other regional infrastructure are a focus of the new Committee for the Hunter. The committee and a joint organisation of local mayors hopes to develop consensus on regional infrastructure needs. Alignment among disparate interests is also essential to development of a national second city policy framework. A campaign was recently initiated by the Committee for Geelong, with the HRF Centre co-ordinating the Newcastle entourage to the launch. Researchers from Newcastle, Deakin and Wollongong universities are eager to provide an evidence base for the framework.  

Second cities are the focus of an upcoming symposium in Newcastle, an outgrowth of Committee for the Hunter discussions offered by Hunter Water CEO Jim Bentley. Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter will be held from October 29-31. The HRF Centre is co-ordinating the forum, showcasing Greater Newcastle’s journey to becoming a global second city.

To be part of this growing series of conversations, contact the HRF Centre.   

Professor Will Rifkin is director of the HRF Centre.