On Tuesday 31 March 2015, Chief Minister Andrew Barr MLA delivered the ‘State of the Territory’ address. Below is his speech:
I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are meeting, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
It’s always a privilege to be here at one of Australia’s great institutions, the National Press Club.
It’s great to be joined by so many leaders of our community. Can I particularly welcome representatives of our higher education sector, and thank the sponsor, UNSW Canberra.
A thriving higher education sector is vital to our city’s future – something I will talk more about today.
I want to start by emphasising the ‘two strands’ of governing Canberra.
Government leadership is bringing together what we want to do – renewing our city – with what we must do – keeping our city’s economy strong.
If we get this task right, we can combine these ‘two strands’ – urban renewal and economic strength – to form a strong cord for the city’s future.
My Government will energetically pursue this task.
Canberra is confronting very new challenges and new opportunities.
For our city, in 2015, ‘business as usual’ doesn’t cut it. Canberra needs more.
Our urban life is changing, and we must renew our transport, planning and urban services to change with it. Our approach to investment, development, industry and growth must change too.
So the Government I lead is bringing a new approach. We are joining with our community in creating a city with its own distinct lifestyle and identity for the future – and we are very actively joining with our business and university sector in laying new economic foundations for the city as well.
That is why I am bringing a more active approach to attracting investment and renewing our urban centres, and will outline today key examples of how we will are taking control of our future:
First, a light rail system – a city-defining project to make us a city in our own right: designed for Canberra, and benefiting all Canberrans.
Second, a drive to greater economic self-reliance - capitalising on our natural advantages; making us less reliant on, and subservient to, the Federal public sector economy.
And third, making Canberra a true ‘knowledge capital’ by giving our world class local universities structural advantages over their education competitors.
Thriving city campuses create opportunities for development and collaboration, innovation, and business offshoots.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe this city is on a roll.
Some will tell you we shouldn’t be optimists. I occasionally hear them shouting from the political sidelines: that we should retreat into our shell at the first sign of wider economic instability, and not commit to major infrastructure or development projects.
But I can feel the excitement in this city about what we are now, and what we can become.
I share this feeling. That is why we should be optimistic. That is why my government will be bold.
We are no longer a country town that closes down at 8pm.
We are not Sydney and Melbourne’s little brother either; we stand in our own right as the most liveable city in the world.
We love the new precincts, like New Acton, Braddon and the Kingston Foreshore, which have redefined living and socialising in this city.
We don’t have to lose those things that make this city special as we grow up – our community, our inclusiveness, our bush landscapes, our world class educational system, the lifestyle of suburbs like Curtin, Kambah and Aranda, which so many people have grown up with, or moved here for.
In short, Canberra is coming into its own. We are a place of brilliant possibilities.
I share the determination of our business and university sector, and our community at large, to be more economically self-reliant; to stand on our own feet.
We face the toughest external economic environment in the self-government era. We’re facing both a weakening national economy and an unfriendly Federal Government.
The task is large, but the fact is our business leaders, thought leaders, community leaders, advocates, small businesses, and school leavers are stronger than we’ve been before.
We are up to the job of taking an economic challenge and turning it into a city-building opportunity – through renewing our urban fabric, putting Canberra in a stronger and more independent position.
Transport Reform - Capital Metro
So, let’s talk about transport reform – and in particular – Capital Metro.
Simply, it’s the right thing to do for our city, at the right time.
Forward-looking public transport infrastructure is critical to the future growth of this city. Our unique town centre design, along with our projected population growth to 600,000 people by the 2040s, lends itself perfectly to a fast, efficient and reliable light rail system.
It’s not just suitable, but necessary.
It’s the right thing to do for our community. We want everyone, no matter where they live, to be included in the social fabric of our city. We must reduce congestion and make getting around Canberra easier – to unlock productivity and lifestyle benefits.
The benefits of more people living close to great public spaces and places, with excellent public transport, also helps build the innovation economy by reaching a critical mass of thinkers and businesses in the one area.
It is good for drivers, not just for public transport users. If you drive up the Parkway in the morning, do you really want to be turning right and merging with the thousands of extra cars that would be on the road without Light Rail? Each tram takes 200 cars off the road.
It comes at the right price. It is a significant financial undertaking, but when you look at the economic and social benefits light rail will bring, and consider the economics of land use in our city, the decision is clear.
It builds for the future. We must invest now, when Canberra needs it, to yield long-term benefits. That is what good governments do, and it is what my Government will always do.
If you look at current population growth, and planned expansion, it makes sense Gungahlin to the City will comprise the first stage – it will the second largest district in Canberra, running a very close second the Belconnen.
By planning for the future – not stuck in short term opportunism – we will lock in the cost of this project in today’s dollars, but not have to make payments until 2019, and spread over 20 years.
But above all, Capital Metro is a vital project for economic activity in Canberra now – when we need it most.
Over the next 3 years alone 3,500 jobs will be created from the construction phase of this project.
Stage 1 of the Capital Metro light rail project from the city to Gungahlin is expected to deliver $406 million in transport benefits alone.
When you include the wider economic impacts associated with land use changes and increasing the density of activity along the proposed light rail corridor, all up there are expected to be $1 billion in economic benefits associated with stage one alone.
These are benefits we must unlock as soon as possible – and I am determined they flow to local sub-contractors and allied businesses.
I’ve been asked how the first phase of Light Rail will benefit those living in areas not directly serviced by that first stage.
That is a fair question.
The Capital Metro investment, as part of an integrated transport network, will benefit all users of our roads, parking and buses.
If you work in Civic, do you really want to be competing for a fixed number of parking spots with thousands of additional cars coming in from the North? Or be facing the increased congestion on our roads?
At the heart of the debate is this: picture Canberra in twenty years time WITHOUT light rail.
What does that city look like?
Without it, in 15 years everyone in Gungahlin travelling to the city will spend an hour in their car in the morning.
Everyone else will see their travel times blow out as they compete for lane space and car parks with the new residents.
For these reasons, I am unapologetic about moving quickly on this city building project.
We have just shortlisted two high-quality proponents and aim to settle on a final provider and have contract close in the first half of next year, and begin construction – begin hiring Canberrans – soon after.
In this respect, I am concerned, just as many in the Australia business and infrastructure community are, by the reported threats to rip up a signed and commenced Capital Metro contract.
Large scale investors and developers have started to use the term ‘sovereign risk’, which sends shivers down the spine of any responsible Treasurer around the country.
Every business person here knows that the system only works if we honour contractual commitments.
We are simply not big enough and attractive enough an investment destination to walk away from one major contract and expect private investors to bid for the next – for a start you could kiss goodbye to investment in a new convention centre.
That is what national and international investors are saying to me.
I trust cooler heads will prevail, because the city’s reputation is too important to use in political gamesmanship.
The wider transport network
Of course, light rail is but one important component of Canberra’s transport system.
Roads are a key part of how people move around the city, and that won’t change in our lifetime. That is why we’re improving every aspect of the driving experience, including strategic investments in our road network, to reduce congestion from your driveway to your car park.
We are starting the roll out of new smart parking technologies to assist people find parks more easily and reduce travel times – particularly during peak times.
In January, I announced the Innovation Review of Canberra’s Taxi Industry to best utilise new companies, like Uber, providing technology based transport solutions.
We welcome new market entrants, but must ensure the taxi industry remains viable, and that all players meet the necessary regulatory and safety requirements our community expects.
And we are beginning the process reform of our bus network. No one who lives in Canberra thinks our bus service is everything it could be. No one.
I won’t embarrass all of us (myself included) by asking how many people came to work by public transport today, but we all know the answer is ‘not many’.
This won’t be fixed overnight, and I am committed to change through conversation, not confrontation – but to be clear, our goal is service improvement, efficiency and rising patronage.
Spending more on buses without reform will not deliver the public transport improvements our city needs.
My urban renewal focus goes hand in hand with transport reform.
Canberra’s structure is well-suited to intensification that is focused on centres and public transport routes.
Urban renewal along Canberra’s rapid public transit ways is being implemented progressively to minimise conflicts that occur between established areas and redevelopment.
Opportunities for businesses to locate in more affordable commercial accommodation are part of mixed-use developments along the rapid public transit corridors and in group centres.
A key element of this approach is the goal of a 50:50 mix of urban renewal and Greenfield development in our land release.
The mix provides housing choice, sustainable development within existing suburbs, and the best value use of land as a resource for the people as a whole.
Economic strategy, fiscal consequences
The Government’s active approach to strengthening Canberra’s economy will again be reflected in our 2015 Budget.
External actions, such as the Federal Government’s ongoing cuts and current policy paralysis – and internal requirements, such as delivering a comprehensive response to deal with Mr Fluffy once and for all – have made framing this year’s Budget more complex.
But the principles upon which I base the Budget, and the proposals my Government are working through now, remain the same: supporting a greater economic self-reliance through a more diverse industry base, and fostering our natural advantages, while ensuring all Canberrans are lifted by our successes.
Slashing and burning to meet short-term, politically-derived fiscal targets is no way to support an economy.
We will pursue a progressive economic strategy with prudent fiscal consequences, not a regressive short-term fiscal strategy that would have significant economic and social consequences for years to come.
Yes we do face some significant short-term pressures but our fundamentals remain strong: our unemployment rate of 4.5 per cent remains low relative to the national average of 6.3 per cent.
Economic growth, measured by gross-state product, has slowed recently as a result of the federal cut backs, but is still expected to increase 1.5 per cent in the year to June 2015.
This data reflects the ongoing resilience and diversification of our jobs market. I am proud that we have not repeated the outcomes of 1996.
The strength of this position is reflected in Standard & Poor’s confirmation of the ACT’s AAA stable credit rating. Of all the state and territory jurisdictions in the world, the ACT is only one of 27 to hold this rating – meaning we have one of the strongest balance sheets in the world.
Our clear Budgetary strategy in the face of these factors has been to support local business through tough times, foster new enterprises, and reform our tax base.
Self reliance: tax reform and business development
A key part of strengthening our economy and managing our budget is a taxation system that accurately reflects economic activity, while encouraging turnover, investment and expenditure.
Since I became Treasurer in 2011, I have been progressively bringing forward reforms to make our tax system fairer, simpler and more efficient, and to create greater fiscal and economic self-reliance over the long term.
This drove the major changes I announced in the 2012 Budget, such as the phased abolition of inefficient conveyance and insurance duties and their replacement with a broad based taxation regime.
Conveyance duty, for example, adds to the cost of buying a property, falls on a small number of people each year, and is difficult to predict.
Our reforms provide a more stable and sustainable revenue base.
They lower cost and regulatory burdens on business as well.
This is critical, because as you all know, local enterprise will play the major role in Canberra’s fortunes over coming years.
That’s why I am taking immediate, practical steps to make it as easy as possible to do business here, whether you are a small, medium or large company:
First, I established Access Canberra to create a single point of contact with ACT Government regulators for local business people and event organisers – Access Canberra will work with you to make your proposal happen.
Second, we are establishing a Local Industry Advocate. My view is that if work can be done by local businesses, we should be taking steps to ensure that we build that capability and economic activity in our city. It’s really important that we don’t have over-engineered procurement processes which reward big players ahead of small players for no practical reason.
Third, I have prioritised cutting red tape across all areas of government.
There are obviously things that our bureaucracy can do better. That’s why my Government continues to bring forward Red Tape Reduction Bills to cut costs for business, and make our public sector focus on what really matters.
Fourth, I am implementing our business development strategy in full.
I recently reported to the Assembly that all 26 Business Development targets we set ourselves in 2013 have been achieved. This has included measures to attract foreign investment, and skilled and business migrants; grow our export capabilities; partner with our Universities to commercialise research; and maximise the value of the visitor economy.
But now is not the time to sit back. Building on this success, work is well underway on stage two of this strategy and I am pleased to announce today that it will include a new small business innovation research program.
This will see agencies across the ACT Government commit a portion of their budgets to working with small business on research partnerships.
Small, smart businesses will help government solve a problem and then use that solution to sell their talents to other clients, so they get new business not once, but potentially with numerous customers.
These have worked well in the US. I am confident this kind of smart procurement by the government can stimulate small businesses here.
Finally, I am personally making the case for direct international flights from Singapore and New Zealand.
I advocate this so strongly because I know it isn’t just about tourism opportunities, as important as that is.
The economic impact for the region is estimated to be $88 million and 690 jobs for landing direct Singapore flights, and $51 million and 395 jobs for Auckland.
You just have to look at the rapid increase in international exports of services from the ACT in the last ten years – topping $1.2 billion in 2013-14 – to see that international flights will make Canberra a truly global city.
The Knowledge Capital
I also want to outline the Government’s higher education policies, and what they mean for Canberra’s future industries and workforce.
When Kim Beazley was Chancellor of the ANU he would speak with great passion about the university’s mission as ‘nation building of the mind, in a city of the mind’.
This city needs to support industries that create wealth and attract new money into our economy – and there are few better ways to do that than commercialising local research, innovation and development.
Today, we must enable our universities to build on their strengths and attract the best prospective students, researchers, staff and investors.
I am working in a co-operative partnership to grow Canberra’s higher education sector – in particular, doing everything we can to create thriving campuses that attract employment and collaboration.
At least one in nine of our residents either work or study at a University in the ACT – the highest proportion of any city in Australia.
We have more than forty-four thousand students across ANU, UC, UNSW, ACU, Charles Sturt and CIT.
If you include the broader research sector, it adds 16 000 full time equivalent jobs, and contributes $2.6 billion a year to the ACT economy.
In the face of widespread uncertainty about where the sector is headed over the next decade, allowing our Universities to unlock revenue streams is more important than ever.
That’s why I have recently signed a Statement of Strategic Intent with the University of Canberra outlining our shared commitment to development and growth of the University’s Bruce campus.
Last week the Assembly passed the first of a suite of legislative reforms that will enable $1 billion in investment, development, expansion and job creation on the UC campus and in the surrounding community.
Those changes were accompanied by some wider debate about our local universities in the Assembly in recent weeks.
Speaking as Chief Minister of the ACT, and a graduate of our local schools and institutions, I’m proud of our universities, and proud of their leaders, never more so than when they are voices on the national stage.
Our city, our time
Today I have spoken mainly about the economy, but social inclusion is critical to building the best possible Canberra - a vibrant, multicultural, cohesive and supportive place to live.
I have appointed a new minister assisting on social inclusion and equality, Yvette Berry, and we will have more to say on this in the future.
I leave you today with the message that I am leading a new Government, with a new focus: one that assertively promotes and supports business in these challenging times, and one that has a clear vision for Canberra’s future.
Canberra is changing, and it takes leadership to make that change work for the benefit of all Canberrans.
My Government will be different from those that have come before. Our economic circumstances demand a different approach.
I share the confidence and optimism of our community for the future – we know our city is truly coming into its own. Together, we’ll renew our city and strengthen our economy.
We’ll do this the Canberra way: creative and clever, innovating and investing, building for the future and sharing as a community.
Our values and strengths will ensure that this is Canberra’s century.