Monday, 3 February, 2020

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What will the region be like in 40 years – economically, socially and environmentally? How can we tell from current trends in technology, social and economic changes, and shifts in global markets?

To explore these questions at the national scale, the CSIRO employed data and modelling to produce - Australian National Outlook 2019: Securing our nation’s future prosperity (ANO). Their findings, and how they apply to the Hunter region, will be the focus of the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre's economic breakfast on 28 February. The event features CSIRO's leader for the effort, Dr Peter Mayfield.

Mayfield will describe what the study team found and how they found it. He will also outline what it might take to undertake a similar, collaborative effort for this region, a 'Hunter Outlook'.

The 2019 report builds on the Australian National Outlook 2015. That was CSIRO's first attempt to understand and analyse elements in the economy that would affect Australia decades into the future.

For the Australian National Outlook 2019, over 50 leaders from 22 non-government organisations met over two years. Involved were organisations ranging from the ASX and Australia Post to Lendlease, PwC, Shell and Uniting Care. They discussed the CSIRO’s analysis of scientific and economic data. The data modelling addressed the future of Australia’s natural resources and energy, productivity and services, and cities and infrastructure.

CSIRO’s role in ANO was to provide the underpinning science, through its integrated modelling and research capability, to analyse the issues identified by the industry, not-for-profit and education sector participants.

The resulting report outlines two future scenarios for Australia’s economy, environment and society. The first scenario sees the nation facing a ‘slow decline’ if it takes no action on six key economic, social and environmental challenges. The alternative scenario involves tackling those challenges to achieve a positive ‘Outlook Vision’ - an inclusive, resilient and prosperous Australian economy.

Achieving the Outlook Vision will require significant action and long-term thinking across a range of issues, according to the report. Five core shifts were identified as necessary, and you will hear more about them at the breakfast.

The ANO report was designed to help stimulate a national discussion about Australia’s future, and encourage action towards a more positive future, states Mayfield. It identifies some of the challenges that we face as a nation, including the rise of the Asia-Pacific as a key economic power; technological change and future workforce preparedness; climate change and the environment; population growth and ageing; and declining levels of trust and social cohesion.

The ANO report offers a roadmap to a future of inclusive communities, globally competitive industries, sustainable use of natural resources, a healthy environment and strong social capital.

“ANO does not prescribe a particular policy position but rather aims to trigger a national dialogue on the choices available to secure Australia’s future,” Dr Mayfield said. “As such the ANO aims to guide decision-makers – business, universities and other research institutions, community groups, and government – in developing actions today that will shape a strong and prosperous future for all Australians.”

Informing conversations and facilitating action by stakeholders on the region’s current challenges and future options is central to the HRF Centre’s mission. We are keen to see what appetite there is for development of a ‘Hunter Regional Outlook’ view into the future.

That would be timely given development in 2019 of the Committee for the Hunter, which the HRF Centre helped to facilitate. A future vision would also align with findings of the Smaller and Smarter Cities International Symposium and the impetus for collaboration, inclusion and experimentation in the region.

Such efforts could be aided by the recently announced appointment of Alice Thompson as the first CEO of the Committee for the Hunter. Thompson was a senior policy adviser to the Prime Minister during Malcolm Turnbull’s tenure. She has experience working for both state and federal government on infrastructure and regional development, such as the Western Sydney city deal. She has most recently been with the cities and regions team at KPMG. She takes up her new role in March.

For 2020, the HRF Centre will build on the research, analysis and engagement of the past year on workforce and energy futures, population growth and distribution, business innovation, gender equality and inclusivity.

This focus on the ANO in the first HRF Centre economic breakfast for 2020 is meant to progress discussion on the need to illuminate paths forward for Greater Newcastle and the Hunter region. The Hunter region economic update by Dr Anthea Bill will also be presented at the breakfast. It features recent unique survey data from the Centre’s Hunter Pulse.

The future of the Hunter is the focus of events in February and March, as well. Lake Macquarie’s economic strategy will be outlined at the ‘Hunter Briefing’ of UDIA’s NSW branch on 27 February. RDA Hunter’s 2020 Regional Development Summit on 26 March will examine the Hunter’s industrial landscape as well as national and global trends.

This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin - Director, HRF Centre - was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 1 February 2020

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