Last week the Committee for Geelong was in Canberra with the Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge, who launched a new report “Australia’s Gateway Cities.”
With the seemingly unstoppable growth of Australia’s metropolitan capital cities becoming an issue of national concern, there has been a renewed interest in identifying ways by which the current and prospective economic and social impact of Australia’s major regional cities can be better leveraged.
The concept of a ‘Gateway City’ possessing size, scale and a sufficiently diverse economic base capable of maximising returns on financial, infrastructure and other forms of investment provides the opportunity to identify cities and linked regions that will afford the best return for government investment and, by extension, the national economy.
By adopting for the first time a holistic suite of analytical criteria, ‘’Australia’s Gateway Cities” report identifies examples of three such cities in Australia – Newcastle, Geelong and Wollongong.
The Committee for Geelong, in partnership with the Councils of Newcastle, Greater Geelong and Wollongong commissioned Deakin University, together with the Universities of Newcastle and Wollongong to undertake the research.
From a Commonwealth policy perspective, the Prime Minister launched ‘Planning for Australia’s Future Population’ document in early 2019 which recognises the need for a more comprehensive population and investment strategy. This includes initiatives in regional investment, infrastructure support and improved transport networks.
The Gateway Cities report extends regional modelling to identify the factors that lead to some regional cities offering greater impact and benefits for investment. These factors include:
• Market interconnectivity: ‘Gateway Cities’ need to be able to demonstrate a deep connection to broader markets – with metropolitan capitals, the national economy and internationally into a global economy.
• Economic Pull and Retention: these cities need to have not only the strong economic ‘pull’ factors to draw in capital, private investment and skilled labour but also the attributes and ability to retain them.
• Economic Resilience and Transformative Capacity: these cities can demonstrate a genuine economic and community resilience over a prolonged period and a capacity to adapt to exogenous shocks that challenge their economic and industrial base and long-term viability, whether those shocks be structural economic changes, technological change or natural disasters. These cities have a demonstrated record of adapting to change, including the loss of long-established wealth generating industries.
• Demonstrated Long Term Regional and National Economic Integration: such cities need to be able to demonstrate their historical and their ongoing importance to the economic and social development of the regions that they support, as well as facilitating overall integration into state and national economies.
• Strength of the Revenue base: a key feature of the Australian Federation is the commitment by the Commonwealth Government to Horizontal Fiscal Equalisation (HFE), essentially distributing funding to allow for the similar provision of services to the Australian people irrespective of the jurisdiction in which they choose to live. This fundamental characteristic of our national economy is relevant to ‘Gateway Cities’ in two ways. Firstly, due to their size and level of economic activity, they are net contributors to GDP, unlike most regional centres and hence help underpin HFE. Secondly, they are located in states that are, and historically have been, net ‘donors’ to HFE. This is not an argument for changing HFE arrangements. Rather, it points to the strength of the jurisdictional revenue base of the states that host ‘Gateway Cities’ and their capacity to support them. This would ensure that funding for future regional development programs can be directed to initiatives that do the most to lift productivity rather than potentially being redirected to support the basic provision of social services that HFE is otherwise designed to sustain.
As a consequence of the Australia’s Gateway Cities report, the three cities which are the focus of the report are in the process of establishing the ‘Gateway Cities Alliance’ between the Committee for Geelong, the City of Newcastle, Wollongong City Council and the City of Greater Geelong to pursue its recommendations. Other cities are welcome to engage with the Alliance and be considered for membership with the Committee for Geelong at the helm.
Australia’s Gateway Cities report is available to download from www.committeeforgeelong.com.au/current-initatives