Congratulations to Malcolm Turnbull and his new team.
It is fantastic to hear that the new PM talks about a new vision. These are reassuring sentiments, for with the demise of the commodity sector and the rust belt that was once the Victoria manufacturing industry, a new vision needs to illustrate what the “new economy” will be.
But for the heavy lifting being done by the building industry, Australia would be in recession. Unlike the early 90s, there is no spare tire, such is the decline of the manufacturing sector. If the building industry goes belly up, the recession could be more painful than that of 25 years ago, so it is vitally important that the building industry “keeps on trucking.” There is no time to rest on laurels; the continuation of a robust building industry will require “thinking outside the circle” as well as innovation and preparedness to see things through a different set of lenses. Above all, government needs to engage, so here are some ideas for consideration:
A Ministry for Construction
The Australian building industry is a huge contributor to the Australian GDP, accounting for 7.8 per cent of GDP. Put another way, it ranks number three in terms of industry sector contribution to GDP. Australian governments can ill afford to be disconnected from this vital sector and may well look to the model of Singapore, where government performs a pivotal role in the built environment space.
It follows that there would be mileage in establishing a dedicated Ministry for Construction. The Ministry would be empowered with a passion to identify and support better ways to develop world’s best practice construction technology and world’s best practice design. The Ministry would also through cooperative federalism develop a more harmonised approach to planning and building control and key as built objectives. It would back and strengthen the role of the Australian Building Code board.
The Ministry should be willing to develop a vision for the future with respect to shaping Australia as a world leader with regard to construct and design innovation.
An Australian Silicon Valley
The Honourbale Malcolm Turnbull loves the IT and communication space, so maybe its time for Australia to “turbo charge” the IT sector with a new vision, top down. The establishment of an IT regional hub, an Australian Silicon Valley as it were, would be a giant step forward. With the disappearing car industry, Geelong needs a new regional economy and the establishment of an IT hub is just the ticket. A best practice smart building “green-high tech hood” would have plenty going for it. The Feds could get in behind it with infrastructure funding and tax concessions for research and development for those who wish to participate.
Of course this would still stimulate regional building activity, jobs and an eye to the future economy rather the rear view mirror.
VFT – Very Fast Trains
One of the best infrastructure investments could be the construction of VFTs between cities and regional hubs. Melbourne to Geelong is a classic opportunity. A VFT would effectively make Geelong an outer Melbourne suburb, which would boost the regional economy of Geelong and its hinterland and take pressure off stressed arterial roads and infrastructure resources of Melbourne.
Equally, there would be merit in building a VFT line between Sydney and Canberra. A Sydney to Canberra VFT would increase people and goods and services traffic between the two cities, and there is little doubt that there would be an ACT population growth dividend. Canberra would also become less isolated, less Canberra-centric and better connected to the pulse of major metropolis.
More Iconic Buildings – Take a Leaf out of Singapore’s Book
Singapore bears testimony to the adage “if you build it they will come,” and by God are they building. Singapore showcases some of the most extraordinary examples of modern day architecture. Ask yourself, “is Australia showcasing as of late that which can be construed as modern day architectural statements of international iconic persuasion?”
The current design debate is about height controls, winds and amenity impacts. These are laudable and necessary discussions, but there is no debate on how we get the “wow” factor. Where are the new Sydney Opera Houses? Whilst the emerging tigers pride themselves on building extraordinary modern day architectural titans, Australia keeps its finger frozen on the pause button. What, you may ask, has this go to do with the new economy? Well, architectural monuments attract tourists and they create a buzz. Paris, like Melbourne, is flat with a dirty brown river running through its centre, but it is the architecture and its exquisite as-built beauty that defines the city and makes it one of the greatest tourist hubs in the world. The federal government may well consider having an interest in leading a new conversation about how Australia can embrace architectural “wow” factor.
Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in 99-year lease apartments built by a government concern called the Housing and Development Board (HDB). It’s an extraordinary achievement when you think about it. The UN Scroll of Honour benchmarked Singapore as “providing one of Asia’s and the world’s greenest, cleanest and most socially conscious housing programs.” The HDB also sells apartments well below market rate to first home buyers and provides housing loans to those whom fulfil the eligibility requirements, so it is a financier, builder and developer.
Some have argued the Singapore model cannot be emulated here, though I don’t see why. Lee Kuan Yew said that by the time he finished office, no Singaporean would have mud on his feet. Singapore, devoid of Australia’s abundance of natural agricultural and mineral resources, has undergone an astonishing built environment transformation in a few decades. The leadership comprised visionaries who refused to fence themselves in by thinking that the way we have done things in the past will be the road map for the future. They also were of the view that part of the social contract was home and amenity.
There is nothing to prevent the Federal government from exploring offshore models like those of Singapore. Nor is there anything to suggest that the federal government can’t through the medium of cooperative federalism venture into the affordable housing area both as developer and funder. It would be compatible with boosting an infrastructure agenda and were the Crown to adopt a leasehold method of ownership, with ownership ultimately reverting back to the Crown the government is future proofing. Predictably, the naysayers will say this can’t work here, to which I will say thank God for the citizens of Singapore the founding fathers of the new economy weren’t of like mind.