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Why pollies could learn from a future, inspirational vision

And so it begins … As this issue hits desks, another federal budget will be handed down, followed by a snap election campaign – likely to last a month for a poll date in May. Politicians of all persuasions will hit the hustings – some may even visit your site in high vis gear!

What you can safely bet on is that as much as there are stark policy differences this time between the contenders – on taxation, wages, industrial relations, energy and climate – there isn’t likely to be an inspirational vision, particularly for long-term infrastructure planning.

That’s why Warwick Lorenz’s opinion piece is a breath of fresh air. It advocates a vision of an Australia that in 50 years will have invested in water infrastructure to develop its primary industries, and decentralised and grown its population to make its inland regions more liveable and prosperous, and therefore more attractive to city dwellers and skilled migrants.

It’s an ambitious vision, it isn’t confined to a short-term window (ie the electoral cycle) and it encourages Australia to invest in skilled labour from around the nation and globally. Further it provides leverage for growth of the extractive industries, particularly as quarrying becomes more prominent in the regions.

{{quote-A:R-W:250-Q:"Warwick Lorenz’s vision isn’t confined to a short-term window and it provides leverage for growth of the extractive industries."}}Lorenz’s article is pertinent given the Federal Government recently announced its population policy – to lower the annual migration intake of permanent migrants from 190,000 to 160,000 in the 2019-20 financial year – while devising new regional visas for skilled migrants. Unfortunately these measures – designed to appease disgruntled urban voters in state and federal elections – could cancel each other out.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) chief executive James Pearson described the policy as an “economic own goal”. He argued an influx of “younger skilled migrants … delivers economic benefits [and lowers] our average working age”. He added the reduction makes it “more challenging [for business], particularly in regional Australia where it is hard to find people with the right skills when and where they are needed”.

Lorenz’s concept of decentralisation is similar to the ACCI’s position. He contends we could be a population of up to 70 million people by 2070, “spread across the country, with a revived manufacturing sector”, servicing a global market of “11 billion”.

The challenge will be tapping into the resources that create new water infrastructure, rebuild manufacturing and generate regional employment. There’s concern in the eastern states now that infrastructure demand is outstripping aggregate supply.

Where will the construction materials come from? State governments will need to identify and protect new tracts of land rich with aggregate reserves for future supply, improve the speed and timing of approvals processes for new quarries, and encourage and foster the use and growth of recycled aggregates to maintain road, rail and building infrastructure. Businesses need incentives to invest in the regions and to recruit locally and from abroad.

With better planning from governments, and with a full buy-in from stakeholders (the extractive, agricultural, transport, water and energy industries), there is no doubt Lorenz’s vision could become reality. However, it’s a question of political will. Do politicians today have the “ticker” to follow through? Or will we have to wait another generation before the vision is realised?

Good luck in engaging – or politely side-stepping pollies – in high vis gear this month!

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