THE DISTILLERY: Ballieu bonanza

Jotters highlight the importance of the Geelong growth corridor as Ted Ballieu prepares to deliver an infrastructure splurge.

It’s often forgotten that the city of Geelong came very close to being the capital of Victoria over Melbourne. The morning, the importance of the City of Literature’s eastern neighbour is reflected in some way in two pieces by commentators from The Australian Financial Review. Also this morning, another business writer clears up some myths about the ease with which the economic reforms of the 1980s and 90s were achieved, while another previews a potential game changer for the superannuation industry.

The Australian Financial Review’s Chanticleer columnist Tony Boyd has a preview on a landmark speech from Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu that could provide a much needed fillip to the perception that he’s done, well, just about nothing in the almost two years in office. The speech, says Boyd, lays out the premier’s vision for Victoria’s infrastructure needs.

"There is strong speculation this will include the delivery model for the $10 billion East-West Link road project. Sources close to the Premier say Baillieu has been working for months on tonight’s speech to 650 people at the Enterprise 500 annual Liberal Party fund raiser at Crown Casino. The speech will draw on input from various cabinet ministers. Tonight’s dinner will showcase the symbiotic relationship between Baillieu and his greatest private passion, the Geelong Football Club. The club’s former president, Frank Costa, who is chairman of the Costa Group of companies and named in the BRW Rich List as being worth $300 million, will chair tonight’s dinner. Geelong deserves a place at the head table given its capacity to help Victoria handle population growth. According to demographer Bernard Salt, the residential corridor from Melbourne to Geelong is the fastest growing in Australia, surpassing the Gold Coast.”

The Australian Financial Review’s Matthew Stevens also has his eyes on Geelong, with an industrial dispute frustrating Lion Nathan’s plans for a $60 million new brewery shaping up as a test case for what constitutes and illegal union dispute.

"Early last week the Victorian Supreme Court issued orders restraining officials of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union from engagement with a picket that has, on and off, prevented access to the Little Creatures building site in Geelong since October. The orders, issued on November 15, threaten imprisonment of individual officials or sequestration of union property should it be found that they have been disobeyed. But until yesterday at least the gates of the building site remained blocked by what the unions describe as a community protest. No, seriously! The two unions targeted for legal restraint say they have not been involved in organising the picket action.”

Meanwhile, The Australian’s economics editor David Uren makes the astute observation that the history of economic reform in the 1980s and 90s of government, unions and business coming together towards a common purpose is largely a work of fiction.

"Business strenuously resisted the efforts of the Hawke government to lure it into a corporatist embrace with the unions. It rejected the Accord, which traded wage restraint for compulsory superannuation, and government demands that it implement restraint on executive salaries, and it shot down Paul Keating’s proposed GST at the 1985 tax summit. The one big reform achieved with business and union backing was the shift to enterprise bargaining. This was a reaction against the real wage cuts enforced by the Accord, more than a product of it, and relied on the unique partnership of treasurer Keating and ACTU secretary Bill Kelty. Many other reforms of that time, including tariff cuts, privatisations and financial deregulation, had to overcome opposition from unions and, in some instances, parts of the business community. The essence of economic reform is that it is difficult, often imposing short-term and highly visible costs in return for theorised long-term gains.”

And Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson believes that the NSW government is just a few days from revealing what the future of its FuturePlus Financial Services and the Energy Industries Super Scheme (EISS).

"It is part of a wider push in the $1.4 trillion super industry by federal and state governments to force consolidation of smaller super funds to cut administration costs and lift member returns. The NSW government has spent the past year looking closely at what to do with EISS and FuturePlus and is believed to be looking at the merits of breaking up EISS and transferring its defined benefit scheme, which has almost 5000 members, to State Super (NSW), and its accumulation fund, which has 18,500 members, to First State Super.”

Fairfax’s Michael Pascoe reminds his readers not to mistake the results of Myer and David Jones for an accurate reflection of the health of the Australian economy.

In mining news, The Australian’s Barry Fitzgerald says Alcoa Australia chairman and chief executive Alan Cransberg has a pertinent question for the sector: "what other industry has had to cope with a 45 per cent price plunge for their product from the 10-year average up to 2008?”

The Australian’s Robin Bromby reports a positive outlook for nickel prices emanating from Citigroup.

Meanwhile, The Australian’s John Durie says the appointment of former Macquarie bank boss Richard Sheppard to the board of Echo Entertainment is "a big coup” for chairman John O’Neill.

And finally, The Australian’s Asia Pacific editor Rowan Callick says one of the surprises from last week’s five-yearly National Congress of China’s Communist Party was the exclusion of Commerce Minister Chen Deming.

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