Jennifer Westacott panel interview with Ross Greenwood, Sky News17 March 2022
Event: Jennifer Westacott panel interview with Ross Greenwood, Sky News
Speakers: Ross Greenwood, host, Afternoon Agenda; The Hon Stuart Ayres MP, Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Tourism and Sport and Western Sydney; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Future Western Sydney 2022, Western Sydney, Strong Australia Network, migration, skills
Ross Greenwood, host, Afternoon Agenda: Welcome to Sky News Strong Australia series, with Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott and Stuart Ayres, New South Wales Minister for Enterprise Investment, Trade, Sport and importantly, Western Sydney, one of the bellwether areas in the coming federal election. Tomorrow, The Daily Telegraph will host a special event, Future Western Sydney to highlight and celebrate the emerging new economy in one of Australia's fastest growing regions. Among the speakers at that event tomorrow, our guests today on Afternoon Agenda, Jennifer, Stuart, many thanks for your time today, for being with us. So, can I just start off by laying the groundwork for the political and economic importance of this region, Western Sydney, that many people around Australia might simply not understand at this stage?
The Hon Stuart Ayres MP, Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Tourism and Sport and Western Sydney: Well, it is the fastest growing area anywhere in the country, so population is going to continue to rise. There’s going to be a big demand for both housing and infrastructure. And as you said, in your opening remarks, it's traditionally been a political bellwether. And as more middle Australians move into that classic middle Australian outer suburban belt, it's going to become more influential when it comes to future political decisions, like elections.
Ross: But one of the things that people miss is the number of migrants that have moved into this area. So, in other words, as Australia's migration has grown, they've moved this area. So, it's been an area which has seen big new housing estates, new suburbs, new infrastructure thrown in there. And of course, that's changed the face of Western Sydney that previously was known as a heavy industrial area, much of which is gone?
Minister Ayres: Yes, absolutely that large, heavy industry manufacturing base is being replaced by smaller and medium enterprises, more highly skilled and stronger demand for talent. But it's also really changed the face, and that concept of a multicultural Australia is most at play in Western Sydney. It's one of the most diverse populations anywhere on the planet, over 150 languages are spoken within about 20 kilometers of each other.
Ross: So, Jennifer, I'll bring you in here and just go to that same question. Because it's the innovation that people are missing. It's actually the new enterprise that are coming out of there, it's the robotics, it's all of those types of businesses that many Australians are simply not seeing, that in many ways, commentators are not even seeing as well?
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Absolutely. Because I think we think manufacturing is over, but in fact, it's just beginning. Gone are the days when you produce something end to end in one place, now you do specialist manufacturing, specialist componentry, you do the integration, you do the design, and that’s what we see in Western Sydney. So, one of those companies are doing the specialist bits of engineering, specialist bits of better manufacturing, and they're going to be absolutely vital to the world's biggest supply chains. But when the minister and I talk to international companies about Western Sydney, they are absolutely fascinated. They want to be here because they can't think of anywhere else in the world, where you’ve got access to a 24/7 airport, or on the doorstep of the world's biggest markets with highly skilled people and a great manufacturing base where they can start to expand what they're doing.
Ross: So, let’s go to the workers, for starters Where are the workers coming from to build these new businesses, to build these new cities that are being created in this region, because obviously, with skills shortages, and with worker shortages across many parts of our economy, this is one of the keys for Western Sydney in particular?
Jennifer: There's a couple of ways. First is obviously we have to skill people up, and so something that the minister and I have worked on is a new way of skilling and training people that will be in Bradfield that will be in the Aerotropolis. So that'll be about people doing short courses, getting them faster, stacking them up. So that's what we've got to break through the old education models to skill people up faster and we will need targeted migration. But we also have this huge potential in Western Sydney and places like Liverpool, in Campbelltown, in Camden, in Penrith with highly skilled people, people graduating at a very high level of academic achievement. And that's all going to, kind of, create an attraction for companies to come and locate in Western Sydney and expand their operation.
Ross: And this creates wealth for Australia, the important part about this is to create wealth for Australia by building bigger cities. But not having everybody centralised, everybody coming to Sydney CBD, for example. So, Stuart one of the things me and Jennifer spoke about, was the Aerotropolis, so they have the city of Bradfield. Again, people will not realize there are two new CBDs effectively being built in Western Sydney right now. One which is phenomenal in Parramatta, but the other one, the new city of Bradfield, which is going to be at the very edge of the new airport in Western Sydney?
Minister Ayres: As you said, cities can’t continue to evolve being entirely centralised. We can't be a city where all of the jobs are located on one half of the city, and all of the population is located on the other half, that will just create social and economic dislocation, that's no good for anyone. So, a way of achieving this is to create a more polycentric city, more locations diversified around the geography that is Sydney as we know it, where economic activity can happen. But what we want to do is really supercharge that with the massive investment that's come from the taxpayer, new airports, new rail lines, new roads, freight, and logistics connections across the entire east coast, and that's where Bradfield comes from. And this is really built on the idea of someone like JJ Bradfield, who wanted to have that infrastructure to create economic opportunity for citizens. We’re really living out his dream in Western Sydney.
Ross: Okay, so this is about also creating a city that can cope with six million people or more as it might eventually have, that's the way it goes because population growth is giving critical mass to cities. But it also means that there are stresses, people have got to have a place to live, you have got to have enough power, water, all the infrastructure, that those populations need in the future?
Minister Ayres: Absolutely and Western Sydney by its own nature is polycentric. It's got places like Rouse Hill, it's got Penrith, it’s got Liverpool, it's got Campbelltown, it's got Camden, putting Bradfield at a new international gateway at the centre of that really gives it greater structure. And that's where the government, both state and federal, is investing in connections across Western Sydney. Because ultimately, these investments are making sure we deliver a higher performing Western Sydney, not just relocating all of the economic activity back to the east.
Ross: And this goes beyond one parliamentary term, two parliamentary terms, it goes way up for the future?
Minister Ayres: This is absolutely intergenerational investment. If Western Sydney was a standalone city of its own, right, anywhere in the Western world, it'd be the largest city without an International Airport.
Ross: It's now going to have one.
Minister Ayres: Of course. And you look back on and think, jeez, it took us a long time to make that decision. But it's not just a decision to build an airport, it's now a decision to connect that airport to the other communities across Western Sydney. And this is about delivering an economic dividend to Western Sydney. But it also takes a lot of pressure off the eastern half of the city, creates new opportunities for international investment to come in with a particular focus around emerging economies, like advanced manufacturing, we want to be able to leverage our strong agricultural base, freight and logistics opportunities that exist through Western Sydney and linking the entire eastern seaboard, not to mention substantial growth markets in ASEAN, North Asia and the Subcontinent.
Ross: So, Jennifer, few things here, is this almost the model in some ways for other cities of Australia, I mean, you've got Brisbane is growing very rapidly, you've got Melbourne the same way, is this the model to be able to cope with large numbers of people in our cities where they go from, say, 4 million people to 6 million people, over the next sort of few decades.
Jennifer: Yeah I think it's a bit unique based on what's already there, based on the fact that you've got this kind of, you've got this big greenfield site, so companies that want to manufacture, they've got this unencumbered side, which is huge, where they can sort of think I'm going to be next to a new 24/7 curfew free airport, I've got these incredible freight logistics systems being built around me, about this new network of roads, I've got this new university system, I've got all these skilled people. So it is slightly different in that respect. But I think more and more cities are going to be less about the kind of retail centres, not that they will be unimportant, and more about where are the jobs, where are the people with the high-tech jobs, what are the industries? One of the things that the minister has tried to do with the government is to make sure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past in Western Sydney, where the housing has come first, and then the jobs and the infrastructure have come sometimes way too late. We want to make sure that the first thing we do is create the industry, spread the jobs, put the infrastructure in place before people get there, so that they start enjoying a very high standard of living and they don't have to travel 30, 40, 50, 60 kilometers to get to work.
Ross: So that's about productivity isn’t it, it is one of the things that business is about improving productivity. And so, if you can have a person having a smaller commute, or being closer to their place of work, or being able to work from home or whatever it is that happens, that improves productivity, that actually helps Australia as a nation?
Jennifer: Absolutely, and that's how we get higher wages. I mean if we get people being more productive, that means companies invest, people will expand, they pay people more. That's actually how we get long term wage growth, that productivity you just talked about. And sure, I mean, getting people not just traveling less, but also traveling to different jobs. These are, these are going to be very high skilled, highly paid jobs. They create a whole system of other jobs that support it, and I think that's what we're trying to do in Bradfield, create those high tech, high paying jobs that then bring a whole lot of other jobs. That means people can get those high tech high, paid jobs closer to home, no need to travel 50 kilometers to get to one.
Ross: So, the University of Western Sydney is there. It puts enormous pressure on it to produce enough of the highly skilled graduates that can take up those job, so that there is not the labour shortages, the skill shortages which requires us to import enormous amounts of labor. It would be nice if more of that was homegrown?
Jennifer: Yes, well of course and we've got a kind of unique thing happening in Bradfield, and the Parkland City. We've got four of the universities that come together under a new alliance, University of New South Wales, Western Sydney University, the University of Wollongong, and University of Newcastle. They've come together to pool their resources along with UTS and Sydney University so that we can actually bring all the universities and TAFEs together. Then we'll be working with the companies to get courses up and running. So, our first course that the Minister ordered last week as a course in 3D printing, with GE, a short course, that we build that capability in Australia. Because that's how tools and a lot of things are going to get produced. But we need to think about the whole system of education, not just one university. This will also create huge opportunities for universities as well.
Ross: So, do you get the sense that this is really across political divide, that this is a bipartisan approach, that is not something that can derail that in the future if there's any change to government?
Minister Ayres: I think we’ve seen over the last five to 10 years is both sides of politics really buying into the future of Western Sydney. I think economically it's absolutely critical, both from a state government and federal government perspective. One in 10 Australians live in this part of Australia. If they're more productive, the entire nation is more productive. If they're smarter, the entire nation is smarter. If they're more employed, we're all wealthier. So, we really want to be able to make sure that we utilise the exceptional value that's created by those universities, the research and development that comes out of them, commercialise that, drive more business investment and that creates more jobs. And if those jobs are closer to where people live, then the secondary activities that are happening in our economies, visitor economy, retail services, hospitality, they're stronger markets, everyone wins.
Ross: Okay, so you've got certainly the skills that come out of universities, but you need those with the tertiary skills as well. Those people are going to go and become the trades people in those areas. They can build it. They can maintain it. All of that. Is there enough of those people coming out of the existing TAFE style systems in Western Sydney to manage this population growth?
Minister Ayres: Probably not enough, but we also know that we've got to keep changing the way we think about what we do with vocational training. So, things like the Institute of Applied Technology, which is an enhancement of what we've done in TAFE practice us here in New South Wales. First one of those is at Kingswood in the Penrith area focused on construction. Single largest employer of any sector that exists in Western Sydney. So being able to stack those credentials, make sure that those younger people that are coming out of vocational training or that traditional skill base, can have skills that can continue to adapt to the changing nature of technology. It could be 3D printing, it could be the way you use construction materials, the change in materials, and seeing where those skills can be used across different sectors is going to be really important as well.
Ross: So, Jennifer, in order to attract the companies and the capital to go to these areas, it's pretty obvious if you've got a growth area that business will be attracted, people will be attracted, property investors will be attracted. Does government need to do any more in trying to attract those businesses to these areas? Yes, it’s built an airport. Yes, it's building the infrastructure, is there anything more needed?
Jennifer: There's a couple of things. We'd like to see co-investment in some of the specialist equipment. The New South Wales Government has put money in to do that. Because you’ve got to de-risk projects, particularly for small and medium enterprises. They want to be able to use that equipment, prototype or test ideas and see if they can expand them. So the first thing is equipment. Obviously, what the New South Wales Government has done through its Jobs Plus program, the BCA has been massively supportive of. Because we regard payroll taxes like a tax on jobs. That scheme is about giving people payroll tax relief for a long period of time if, they come and invest in New South Wales. So that's something. Then there is helping them with their planning approvals, fast tracking things for them, helping them find sites, all that conscientious stuff. The skills bit, when I talk to those big companies and they say we want to get the skilled people, we want to get those sites, we want to get access to that airport, but we want to get those skilled people. So that's why we put such a big focus on how we skill and train people in Western Sydney. So that we can actually make that a real draw card for big companies that we're talking to, to come and locate, not just put a few things there, put a whole manufacturing facility there. Don't underestimate how people see Western Sydney and how they see the opportunity because they know that if they operate in their own backyard, there aren't many places where they can do what they'll be able to do in Western Sydney.
Ross: And that's interesting because our perception of Western Sydney, many people would still have around Australia, even within Sydney itself, would be the old school Western Sydney, heavy industry, probably dirty industry, you know, people in overalls, all that sort of stuff. It's not the way it is even now. And once all of this infrastructure goes in, it becomes even less the way it is in the future?
Minister Ayres: Absolutely, everything has got smaller, right? The idea of the factory is no longer the big fossil fuel burning something out of The Simpsons type image, but it doesn't exist anymore. These are now smaller, more targeted workshops with highly skilled employees, computer engineers, programming machines, and working on the latest amount of technology to create highly complex componentry to exist in an international supply chain. That's what advanced manufacturing in Western Sydney looks like. We need to be more internationally engaged than we've ever been before. We've also got to make sure that if we want to be right at the forefront of attraction of capital, my sense is that where once talent followed capital, I think capital is now following talent. So, we've really got to make sure that as we put our, ‘we're open for business’ sign up for Western Sydney, not just around the country, but around the world. We're saying to businesses that over the length of your investment, which might be 20, 30, 40, 50 years, that we're going to be able to create a workforce that's going to sustain the growth of your business.
Ross: One thing is housing. Housing affordability is a key thing for workers coming into these areas. And of course, we know that Sydney house prices are now less affordable whereas prices have risen. Is that something that is easily addressed in this new emerging area of Sydney?
Jennifer: Yes, because you're not dealing with legacy issues, you're dealing with greenfield sites. So, you can actually put in a mix of housing types, that you can get the supply going at the same time as you get the infrastructure and the jobs going. And there is a lot more coordination of that across government at the moment. That allows you to do things faster. So, a lot of the things that really cause housing affordability are supply and demand lags, we take too long to re-zone land, we take too long to get the planning approvals, too long to do the construction. We're hoping to really address some of that in Western Sydney by getting that done at the same time. But crucially and importantly, you’ve got to get jobs and infrastructure in first. Because the history of Sydney's housing is that those decisions were often not made at all or they were made 30 years late and by that time, people are traveling 60kms to get to work every day.
Ross: Which is crazy.
Jennifer: Which is crazy.
Ross: So just to sum up, I’ve only got less than a minute. But people have really got to go out and see this for themselves if they haven't and I have seen it over a long period of time, the growth, the change, it’s quite phenomenal and people have almost got to go and have a look?
Minister Ayres: Absolutely, go to the Eat Streets in Liverpool. Drive up the Northern Road to Penrith and see what's happening around in the Nepean River. Go and have an office meeting in the middle of Parramatta Square. This is a completely changed environment. They are no longer following what's happening around the country, I think they are leading the nation.
Ross: Stuart Ayres, Jennifer Westacott, many thanks for your time today on this special Strong Australia segment with the Business Council of Australia.