“There’s another conversation about regional Australia and that’s the conversation about big and small businesses working together, about in...
May 2, 2019
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott
Communities in NSW’s Central West should begin planning now to take advantage of the enormous opportunities landing on their doorstep when the new Western Sydney Airport takes off and reshapes the entire region west of the city.
The international airport, which will be the biggest in Australia and operate around the clock, represents a colossal opportunity for the Central West, the chief executive of the Business Council Jennifer Westacott told locals in Bathurst during a Strong Australia community event in May.
“What I am hoping with the aerotropolis is that we orientate its focus to west, not back to the CBD of Sydney and we think about Western Sydney and the Central West of NSW, rather than how do we just keep that focus on the CBD,’’ said Ms Westacott, who also chairs the Western City & Aerotropolis Authority.
The one-time gold rush city of Bathurst in the heart of NSW’s Central West is a thriving regional community. It has diversified its economy beyond the strength of its agricultural and food manufacturing sectors and a world-famous motor racing circuit at Mount Panorama.
Describing himself as a “regional Australia tragic’’, Vice-Chancellor and president of Charles Sturt University Professor Andy Vann said there is “extraordinary invention and entrepreneurial activities in these communities’’.
“We are trying to help people partner well, play well together and help make the case on behalf of our communities for investment,’’ he said.
Ms Westacott told the Strong Australia lunch that Bathurst had all the right ingredients, but the challenge was to keep building on their success.
The Central West has more than 20,000 businesses, an unemployment rate around 3.4 per cent, below the current national rate of 5 per cent, and 9,000 additional jobs were created in the region in the 12 months to March.
The aim of Strong Australia, where chief executives travel to regional centres to meet with local businesses and communities, is to tell the story of what is happening outside Australia’s major capitals. It is designed to encourage businesses to come to regional Australia and invest in its success.
As Ms Westacott told Kerry Peck on 2BS Bathurst ahead of the lunch, “there’s another conversation about regional Australia and that’s the conversation about big and small businesses working together, about ingenuity in local communities’’.
And, she said the Business Council wanted to listen to what the community believed were the priorities to make regional areas more successful.
One of the opportunities on the Central West’s doorstep is the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport at Badgerys Creek.
Now under construction, the airport will be surrounded by an aerotropolis of high-tech innovation, technology, education and business activity. It will be an economic game changer.
And, it is not just commercial passengers who will benefit. An agribusiness precinct and an agribusiness port will enable farmers and food manufacturers – including those from the Central West – to directly transport produce straight into international markets.
Greencross chief executive Simon Hickey
Simon Hickey, the former head of Qantas International and Freight, echoed the opportunities on offer for the Central West of NSW with the construction of the new airport and aerotropolis.
Mr Hickey, who is now the chief executive of Australia’s largest vet clinic and pet storeowner Greencross operating under the Petbarn brand in Australia, said the airport would fundamentally change supply chains.
“The capability for us to get to Asia quickly changes,’’ he said.
“The development of smart hubs that are generated around that airport will spill over into all the close neighbours, including Bathurst.’’
And, he reminded the audience that the first aircraft lands in 2026.
“There’s a lot of time to think about getting the planning right about how you take advantage of such a big opportunity landing so close to where we are here,’’ Mr Hickey said.
“It’s not about size. It’s about grasping that opportunity and running with it.’’
Locals told the forum that one of the biggest challenges in Bathurst is crossing the Blue Mountains and action was needed on building a faster route to Sydney.
Juliet Duffy, the chair of the Western Research Institute and the 2018 Regional Woman of the Year, said planning was needed to get big projects off the ground, such as punching a hole through “that sandstone curtain’’.
To ensure there is a road link into the Western Sydney Airport, Ms Duffy said the community needed to break down the infrastructure into stages, firstly by examining a possible route and then buying corridors.
Echoing the comments, Ms Westcott urged communities in the Central West to put their arguments up for projects to leverage off the Western Sydney Airport and get their feasibility work done.
“Get the corridors, get the planning, get the focus,’’ she said. “What is happening in Western Sydney will create the economic case for projects that might now stack up, to start stacking up.’’
Bathurst Business Chamber president Angus Edwards said the hurdles preventing the construction of a better road link between Bathurst and Sydney were political will and an economic case.
“If we can build on the economic case this will really persuade the politicians that this really needs to happen,’’ he said.
“Let’s not wait until Sydney is full.’’
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott
Mr Edwards said it was also imperative that the nearby Parkes terminal for the inland railway was linked to Bathurst and Sydney.
While businesses in Bathurst are using e-commerce, Mr Edwards reminded the community that “unless it is a short travel time, we’re simply forgotten about by those in Sydney and the big cities’’.
Research for the Bathurst Regional Council has pinpointed “the lack of or insufficient Internet connection’’ as the number one barrier for businesses expanding their online presence or maximising the digital economy.
Ms Duffy said regional centres were still lagging behind the major cities when it comes to digital connections.
“A lot of the businesses here in regional Australia are already dealing with global economies, we are already exporting produce and things like that. We actually need fast connectivity to those markets,’’ she said.
The to do list for the regions includes:
- Provide incentives to employers, such as fast tracking planning approvals, to encourage regional development
- Ensure regional centres with the potential to grow have good transport links to other cities.
- Ensure regional centres have good connection to telecommunications, including the National Broadband Network.
- Encourage migrants to settle in regional growth areas by fast-tracking permanent residency.
Professor Vann said the NSW Regional Development Strategy identified the CSU’s campus towns “are all growth hotspots over the next 20 years’’.
He said communities needed to get investment right, and it was up to locals to map out a vision.
Endorsing the comments, Ms Westacott said “we have to make sure there is real vision and purpose in the planning that state and federal governments do around regional centres’’.
“This is not going to happen by accident. This is going to happen because we create hubs, we support the spokes, we create the infrastructure, and we prioritise these areas.’’
“We support universities like Andy’s, we support the TAFEs and that’s got to be the kind of vigilance that it won’t just kind of happen organically, it will happen because people do the right sets of things to make it happen,’’ Ms Westacott said.
The Bathurst Strong Australia event also heard about the importance of ensuring lifelong learning for Australians so they can transition to new jobs and new opportunities.
As regional centres prepare for new and changing industries and jobs, access to learning is critical.
Through the Future-Proof reforms, the Business Council is proposing that every Australian be given a Lifelong Skills Account to cover their training and education needs through their working lives, allowing them to choose where, what and when they study.
The account would be funded in the same way as courses are now – through a mix of government subsidies and student loans that only have to be paid back once income reaches a certain level.
Australians would use the account to pay for their first qualification, and then choose modules or short courses to keep their skills up-to-date.
Ms Westacott told the audience business also needed to be much more specific about the skills set people need.
One clear example of this was the feedback Professor Vann received from local mayors and employers in regional Australia about the lack of local engineers and urging CSU to establish an engineering program.
“So, we’ve established one, but it is a different sort of program. It is 18 months on campus, three and a half years in industry deliberately designed to deliver entrepreneurial engineers who will stay in the regions,’’ he said.
“When MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) went looking for global exemplars of best practice in engineering education, ours was one of four that was selected. We are doing genuinely world-leading innovation here.’’
And finally, Matthew Irvine, who described himself as a “proud and parochial local championing Bathurst’’, said his small business operated across the Central West region and he wanted to switch the conversation from local parochialism to a more regional focus.
“Let’s start realising we’re not fighting against each other. Bathurst and Orange have a great rivalry but sometimes that might get in the way of projects that might benefit the whole region, and our competitors are really other regions, not other towns.’’
Ms Westacott agreed, saying the communities across Australia that are thriving have taken a regional perspective and her advice was to “coordinate, coordinate, coordinate’’.