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Governments are in business

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BY NEIL PRIMROSE
Whether political leaders and public administrators know it or not, they’re all in the business of growing Canberra and the Capital Region. And a business that’s not growing is in decline.
We are in tough competition with innovative and entrepreneurial regional cities, such as Geelong, Newcastle and Wollongong whether we realise it or not..
We’re in competition for people, investment, cultural and sporting fixtures, infrastructure, quality of lifestyle and all the things that go to make one city a location of choice for people and businesses.
And Canberra lags well behind.
Our population base is too small to sustain the amenities and lifestyle to which we’re accustomed. We’ve lost our AFL team. We’ve lost the women’s tennis championship. We’ve lost the Australian Ballet. We’re losing our youth. Our public infrastructure is getting ragged and we can’t afford to maintain it.
Notwithstanding the current commercial building boom and the impressive building program by the Australian Government, we have below average population growth and our municipal services under increasing strain. And we can’t be complacent that the current boom will last for ever. It’s not the norm.
And let’s not get caught up in a barren debate on marginally fluctuating numbers. We have a problem – let’s turn our minds to solving it together.
Canberra, with the Capital Region, needs growth for its long-term health as a vibrant community.
The basis of growth is more people and more jobs. At this point in time it is simply more people to fill the jobs we already have.
Certainly, growth needs to be well managed for our future to be sustainable. But we must have it. And “well managed” doesn’t mean the detailed official control of a centrally planned economy.
It means partnership between governments and the wealth creators, in consultation with a wise community. Which may sound idealistic. But our city is still small enough and smart enough to achieve such partnership and to be a leader in designing a post-modern democracy.
At the moment, the biggest impediment to growth is the increasing contradiction between the old style of detailed government control and the burgeoning private sector economy that is the driver of our export-led economy.
Old mindsets about raising public revenue are forcing up house prices, creating tensions with our neighbours in the Capital Region, restricting our ability to fund public infrastructure and hampering investment in new products and services. Those businesses that succeed in Canberra do so in spite of the prevailing “control mind set”.
Much committed and earnest work is being done by our governments, but we are lagging behind our competitors – our governments’ competitors – because we are stuck in the mindset of the past.
We urgently need a robust public debate among serious people about:
. population growth;
. the role of government in partnership with the private sector;
. a different approach to raising revenue for the ACT; and
. different approach to the funding of government services.
The Canberra Business Council, with its kindred organisations, is preparing a series of position papers and public forums throughout this year to address these issues.
The first of these is on the taxi shambles. This is crippling Canberra’s reputation as a place to do business. It’s a major problem for Canberra residents. The position paper is soon to be published on the Business Council’s website at www.canberrabusinesscouncil.com.au
Dr. Neil Primrose chairs the Action Agenda Co-ordination Group of the Canberra Business Council.

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