"We all stand, in my view, to benefit from the huge growth of the middle-class in Asia. High quality food products will be increasingly in demand from that part of the world. The challenge is how we are going to satisfy and service them,” Mr Hockridge said at CEDA’s 10th Annual Newcastle and Hunter Region Economic Development Forum.
Mr Hockridge said many of these opportunities would arise from agreements such as the recent China Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFT) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement
, adding that Australians should hope for a similar agreement with India in the not too distant future.
Due to the threats posed to the coal industry, Mr Hockridge emphasised the importance of other avenues for growth during this regional economic transformation, and for forward-planning to safeguard the stability of regional ports, logistics and transportation networks. This, he said, was not only for the benefit of regional communities, but due to the scale of contribution that ports – such as the Newcastle Port – make to Australia’s economy.
In securing the future for Australia’s logistics sector, Mr Hockridge proposed five steps that would make a meaningful difference to both the logistics sector and the industries it serves:
- “Implementing a national freight strategy – one that delivers more tangible results than the 1995 strategy, which “gathers dust on bookshelves around the nation”. Mr Hockridge urged the Commonwealth to develop a strategy with “teeth and meaning”.
- Making changes regarding road freight charging reform. Mr Hockridge said, “It’s been more than a decade since the need for this kind of reform was recognised – yet we see the portion of freight on road continue to erode.”
- Decisive action to reduce the regulatory burden that imposes unnecessary costs.
- A goal of 25 per cent freight on rail by 2025 (compared to the current level of 15 per cent).
- Continued debate on the privatisation of Australian Rail Track Corporation, which he described as a massive productivity opportunity but requiring “the clearest thought” about the correct structural model.
Mr Hockridge said that through a “single-minded” effort to maximise Newcastle coal on global markets, through driving reform at a macro level, and from leveraging trade agreements, the logistics industry and regional communities could continue to prosper.
Mr Hockridge concluded that he had great faith in the Newcastle and Hunter Region, which has demonstrated throughout the industrial town’s history its ability to evolve and transform to changing market demands.