More local government reform and infrastructure spending are needed.
MELBOURNE and Victoria are great places to live and work. We have enjoyed a long stretch of economic growth and prosperity. But since the GFC, there have been signs that this is under threat. Victorian families, investors, businesses and communities are feeling insecure, with almost daily announcements of redundancies and business closures. Confidence is low, the mood gloomy.
The last survey by the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) found that only 9 per cent of the more than 300 employers surveyed believe growth will be stronger in 2012-13, while 61 per cent expect it to weaken.
At about the same time, Deloitte Access Economics predicted that Victoria (together with the rest of the south-east of Australia) will grow at only half the pace of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Population growth, for a long time a driver of economic activity in housing and infrastructure, has slowed. Manufacturing jobs are in decline, the growth in educational services for international students has slowed and retailers are despairing.
So, short of moving west or north, what needs to be done? Infrastructure Australia has provided a blueprint for Melbourne and our regional cities. Decisions on turning these into reality are overdue. In the end, we all need to pay for infrastructure, either through our taxes or through a user-pays system. Let's see some leadership governments, business and communities so that we can build on the great heritage more far-sighted people bequeathed us.
We still have too much duplication in our three levels of government. As one who has worked in all three, I know there is still capacity to reduce the bureaucracy and free up money to invest in front-line services, to fund infrastructure or to reduce taxes. There are too many bureaucrats in areas such as health and education and at the same time much unmet demand for nurses and teachers.
If we were writing the federal constitution today, we probably would not include the three levels of government, but the chances of radical change are non-existent. This means we should demand that governments are alert to the ever-inventive ways of bureaucracies in adding to their layers, not focusing on front-line services.
In the early '90s, then premier Jeff Kennett introduced long overdue reforms to local government in Victoria, amalgamating councils and reducing rates. This brought us into the early part of the 20th century. It is now time to build on this by bringing local government into the 21st century. We need look no further than Brisbane for the model for Melbourne.
Currently more than 30 councils cover Melbourne this means 30 sets of planners, 30 management teams etc. Done properly, you can still balance local needs with city-wide planning. Much was achieved for the city and state in the early '90's with local government reform, at a time when Melbourne was in recession. It took leadership and hard work there was a great deal of nimby reaction, but today the reforms seem sensible, even timid. Time for the next step?
Melbourne still has great strengths: medical research, quality healthcare, educational services, tourism, events and our focus on sports superannuation and related financial services, mining services, value-added manufacturing.
Melbourne has been built on good partnerships, civilised dialogue and leadership. It is now time for these to be much more in evidence as we face up to the challenges of making this an even better place to live, work and invest.