ACT News


Confident vision of growth

Bringing forward big-ticket items such as the Australia Forum and direct international flights and the resurgence of the property sector will help the territory's transition under the incoming Coalition government, says Canberra Airport's managing director Stephen Byron.

In the wake of warnings that the Coalition's public sector cuts will trigger a recession, Mr Byron believes the ACT economy can withstand deeper efficiency drives. ''I think the challenge for us is not to talk down the ACT economy,'' he said.

''From my point of view we've got a strong and robust local government that's running an economy that is in better shape. That's not to say there are not pressures, particularly in the retail sector, it is very tough.

''The whole town has been on hold since January when Ms Gillard called a general election. There's been this sort of weary, make-no-decision status in government and the private sector.''

A government with a majority, regardless of its persuasion, with an agenda to get on and do things would be good for Canberra.

''Particularly the private sector will see growth. I think you will see activity in the market. You will see houses being bought and sold again. No one wanted to buy a house for the last six weeks,'' Mr Byron said.


Airline passenger numbers had fallen for 30 months since the former Labor government's efficiency dividend, a heavier impact than that of the Howard government's public sector cuts in 1996, he said.

Back then passenger numbers dipped 0.2 per cent. But in 2011 and 2012, since the efficiency dividend, passenger numbers had fallen by 7.8 per cent.

The Coalition has pledged to increase the efficiency dividend, but Mr Byron did not think more could be squeezed from the public sector. ''It might be all right in an election campaign to help fill out a list of costings savings, but I think there's been so many brutal efficiency dividends for so many years, I don't believe there is a lot of simple waste left like that.

''Canberra's house prices were in free-fall from a huge over-supply of land in 1996, whereas the current ACT government was using its land to meet the market, to grow the city and diversify the economy.

''If the public sector is under pressure, then we need to see what can be done to grow the private sector, whether it is the city-to-the-lake project, the Australia Forum [meeting complex] or indeed it is the opportunity to deliver international flights to New Zealand and Asia.''

Mr Byron said that in the dying days of the Rudd government the timing of a report and inflated costings for the proposed high-speed rail had damaged the project. ''In my mind, part of the strategy was to crank the capital cost of the train up so that it could never be delivered.''

Tunnelling and gold-plating made it seem unattainable, although 25 per cent public and 75 per cent private funding could make the high-speed train viable.


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