TAS EPO: Investment in growth needed to forge new economy in Tasmania

Tasmania needs to forge a new economy, change and adapt, and continue to invest in growth, Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins has told a CEDA EPO audience in Hobart.

Tasmania needs to forge a new economy, change and adapt, and continue to invest in growth, Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins has told a CEDA EPO audience in Hobart.

She said the Commonwealth will share benefits to help Tasmania take the steps to develop and invest in jobs.

"It will take short term stimulus and long term restructure for Tasmania to grow and become a more prosperous state with sustainable jobs and financial support," she said.

"In Tasmania we have the lowest school retention rates in the country, highest unemployment rate and the largest number of people on government support payments.

"This financial year we are committing $314 million in financial assistance to Tasmania for education alone and $38.5 million for skills and workforce development."

Tasmania needs to build a new economy based on state assets, by developing areas such as agriculture, aquaculture, wine, dairy, tourism and clean energy, Ms Collins said.

As Tasmania is the largest producer of seafood, Ms Collins acknowledged it is critical we continue to invest in industry and drive research and innovation in aquaculture and forestry.

To help the State's industries advance and diversify, she said a $5 million grant for two new research facilities has been provided at the University of Tasmania and $400,000 to the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research.

In regards to the arts sector, $37 million was contributed in December 2012 by the Federal Government to upgrade the University of Tasmania's teaching facilities meaning more students will get the opportunity to study in creative industries.

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Jan Davis
Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association

John Gilbert
Managing Director
MyState Limited

David O'Bryne
Tasmanian Minister for Workplace Relations

Will Hodgman
Liberal member for Franklin and Liberal Leader

Ivan Colhoun
Head of Australian Economics and Property Research

John Bergin
Director of Social Media and Digital News
Sky News

Tim Nelson
Head of Economics, Policy and Sustainability
AGL Energy

The University of Tasmania will also receive $55 million under the National Rental Affordability Scheme to build 770 apartments, where students will have a rental rate that is at least 20 per cent below the market value to ease pressure on local rental markets and boost the domestic construction industry, she said.

To improve access to markets and productivity the Australian Government has invested $810 million over the past five years to upgrading rail, roads and ports infrastructure, she said.

Ms Collins also said Tasmania is leading the way in the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

"The completion of the NBN is six years ahead of the rest of Australia and will give Tasmania an edge in the battle for a new technology economy," she said.

Like technology, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, CEO, Jan Davis said Tasmania's agricultural sector has huge potential to grow and underpin the strength of the State's economy.

"Agriculture is about one third of the productivity economy in Tasmania and that figure continues to grow," she said.

"Our farmers do business better than most farmers in the world - better food, quality of produce, choice, and are dedicated to innovation and creativity."

However she said prospects in agriculture are becoming more uncompetitive because of the higher cost burdens being placed on industry largely through regulatory decisions, the Australian dollar and issues with freight.

Ms Davis said Tasmanian farmers are the State's biggest investors, investing in irrigation, machinery, people and new capital in the dairy industry.

"We are so focused on attracting investment from interstate, it is at the expense of recognising people that we have here who are already investing," she said.

As a future vision for Tasmania she said the State needs to achieve balance across society and the economy, and be recognised not only Australia wide but worldwide for being thought leaders and innovators with a strong resilient economy.

MyState Limited, Managing Director, John Gilbert warned Tasmania must not get lulled into a false sense of security about the long term prospects and there is a need to fix the short term concerns first.

"We need to give more support to new agendas in business and other parts of the community so everyone has a voice to embrace change, and growth," he said.

"We need to get behind political leaders and give them a hand to embrace a reform agenda."

He said loan growth is at historic low levels yet deposit growth is at historic high levels.

Loan growth is a positive indicator of how the economy is performing as a whole in not only Tasmania but Australia wide, and new home loan sales are down two per cent year on year in Tasmania, he said.

"We are suffering from slow growth in our population, Tasmania has been at about 0.7 per cent - half of what we are seeing nationally," he said.

Tasmanian Minister for Workplace Relations, David O'Bryne said government shouldn't be looking to implement a silver bullet when it comes to the economy but can play a role to facilitate and lead strategy across the State to support the Tasmanian economy.

"The Tasmanian economy needs to diversify. It is an export oriented economy with 50 per cent of economic activity through our exports going to the domestic market," he said.

Mr Bryne said the State Government's recently launched Economic Development Strategy is about playing to the State's strengths and understanding each industry and their value proposition.

"The role of government is not to provide the value proposition; the role is to provide support in maximising that value proposition," he said.

Mr Bryne said the strategy will work with the salmon industry, agricultural industry, tourism and IT sectors to explore their individual opportunities to innovate, do things better, smarter and more efficiently.

Liberal member for Franklin and Liberal Leader, Will Hodgman also said he believes politicians shouldn't have to be constantly looking for the next big thing for the economy.

He said government and politicians should be:

  • Creating the right environment for the private sector to flourish;
  • Delivering the essential services of government and making provision for all Tasmanians especially those in need; and
  • When it comes to business lay the right environment to make sure business can grow and prosper with confidence.

"We can make Tasmania more competitive for business and make our planning system better, by making it cheap, simpler, faster and developing a culture not just in government and business but also in the community of Tasmania being a place where things get done," he said.

Mr Hogdman said government can also play a role in investing in infrastructure and the debate about re-establishing an international shipping link should be opened to not lose connections with markets.

ANZ, Head of Australian Economics and Property Research, Ivan Colhoun said challenges for the State's economy have been the high terms of trade driving the mining boom and the high Australian dollar, which hasn't benefited many key Tasmania industries such as manufacturing and domestic tourism.

He said a dominant force in the Australian economy is the jump in the savings rate which is being maintained at 10 per cent.

Mr Colhoun said low consumer spending and a weak housing market is an issue for the slow speed part of the economy, and this can also be seen in the Tasmanian economy.

After the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) held interest rates too high and were too focused on mining being strong, he said.

"A challenge for Australia from a policy perspective is as mining conditions deteriorate and mining investment slows, can we get other sectors of the economy to begin to improve," he said.

"The RBA is trying to engineer that, by getting inflation under control. If there is a need to reduce interest rates more they will, and they want the housing construction market and broader investment market to recover."

Mr Colhoun said consumer confidence and business confidence is increasing, with the housing market picking up.

However, he warned not to expect the Australian dollar to come down too much but things are improving.

Sky News, Director of Social Media and Digital News, John Bergin said the Rudd leadership speculation has come to characterise this Federal Labor Government, despite significant evidence that they have been able to get on with the job.

He said the Labor Government's narrative can't be heard because of the constant leadership speculation.

With Labor polling going south, Mr Bergin said Rudd is back in the frame and enjoying a bit of momentum again.

As the Rudd issue remains, it is hard for Labor to cut through with policy announcements and difficult to gain traction on issues they claim to stand for, he said.

"Labor has a limited window of opportunity this year to get good policies out in the media to report on before the budget is discussed (again)," he said.

To retain government, Labor needs to pick up seats to win, yet this is impossible as they are in a defence position, he said.

Mr Bergin said the Greens are able to position themselves in this year's election and are likely to target Labor seats more than Liberal seats, with a concern they will be able to capture votes from the left and cause serious damage.

He said he hoped the 2013 election would see greater debate across social media and expects to see the political role and influence of social media increase.

AGL Energy, Head of Economics, Policy and Sustainability, Tim Nelson said he expects electricity prices to fall in real terms to 2020.

He said policymakers have an opportunity to reduce electricity price pressures by improving capital utilisation through demand-side reform.

Mr Nelson said we need to move to a contestable market for metering and metering services, and deregulate prices to drive competition and innovation in retail energy markets and introduce time-of-use pricing.

If these demand-side reforms are adopted prices may decrease by 10 per cent, he said.