“It’s the economy, stupid”. – James Carville, Adviser to then Governor Bill Clinton, 1992.
In the 2016 Federal Election, the governing Liberal Party sold their platform to the electorate under the banner of “jobs and growth”. This campaign sought to outline a future for Australia based on investment in innovation, especially in technology and medical research as well as supporting small business. This vision is based on the changing nature of the economy which is transitioning from mining and manufacturing to more services and knowledge based businesses. The changes in the economy are resulting in less blue collar employment and growth in cities over regional areas.
The electorate responded by nearly voting out the coalition government and handing over control of the Senate to One Nation, the Liberal Democrats and Derryn Hinch.
While Donald Trump campaigned on a platform of economic growth, under the slogan Make America Great Again, his program was backwards looking, focusing on renewing manufacturing, reducing free trade with the world and closing America’s borders (with a 10 metre high wall if needed).
As demonstrated in the Trump election, Brexit and the growing rise of nationalist parties across the globe, the longer term response to the GFC is a renewed focused on sovereign power. Voting trends show people want less immigration, less free trade and government support for existing industries. People are increasingly looking at the world from a viewpoint of ‘me’ instead of ‘we’. This is largely due to growing income inequality and low wages growth. Technology has made the world smaller, and while its disruption has brought great innovations it has also changed the world faster than a proportion of the electorate is comfortable with.
For a city dependent on the world, the rise of insular politics is a concern. We rely on global demand for our commodities (iron ore/LNG), agriculture products (grain and barley), universities and hotels. We rely on the world for affordable electronics, cars, clothing and commercial machinery. As a frontier city, the arrival of goods and people from the port, rail or air has always been welcomed. Population growth in WA has always mirrored resources booms and while historically this may have created some ghost towns in the Goldfields, in 2016 international arrivals have spurred our housing, office and retail property markets as well as infrastructure development such as schools, hospitals and Perth Airport.
For the Perth property market, future prosperity is a simple equation – more people and more jobs. More people and more jobs will drive demand for offices, apartments, retail stores, industrial warehouses, student accommodation, aged care facilities and child care providers. We need from Government a well-articulated employment policy focusing on diversifying the economy and greater marketing of Perth as a tourism, education and lifestyle destination.
Since only four premiers have won three or more elections, electoral history suggests a change in Government. The initial battlelines for the March 2017 election have seen the Barnett Government campaign on its record and the McGowan opposition prosecute them for not doing more during the boom to diversify the economy, as well as previous campaign promises.
It is hard to diversify during a resources boom – the lure of once in a generation profits are nearly impossible to resist. The boom saw WA focus on how can we make money from resources companies. This was true of engineering and construction firms, landlords, coffee store owners, as well as the Federal and State Governments.
New sectors of the economy are growing in WA particularly agriculture, medical, technology, tourism and education but growth in these sectors is below the downsizing of the resources sector. To continue to grow these sectors we need to answer the question – What do we want our city to be in the years ahead?
Whatever the answer, Government funding and direction is crucial to drive innovation. WA faces competition from other Australian states (NSW have committed $1 billion and created a Government Agency Innovation NSW), but also the rest of the world.
Hopefully, the next Government can sell the electorate on a positive vision for the future of WA and not win on the historically popular blame game.
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