Imagine this. By 2030, Wollongong has a one-hour rail connection to Sydney, and rapid freight linkages to Greater Sydney. Our whole region benefits from a vastly improved road network, a thriving advanced manufacturing sector around Port Kembla, 2000 new public sector jobs and a Wollongong City Deal - a partnership between all levels of government to align the planning, investment and governance necessary to accelerate growth, jobs creation, and drive economic reform.
The Illawarra becomes more successful and inherently more liveable, as more people relocate and work here and 25,000 of our family and friends currently commuting to Sydney are able to work locally instead, due to an increase in new employment opportunities. This should not be unobtainable. We should be working with all levels of government towards this aim, because this is what is occurring in other parts of the country. State and federal governments have a role to play in stimulating the economic growth of regions like ours and helping them realise their potential.
For instance, by delivering vital infrastructure investment, supporting the growth of industry through a can-do approach to planning, and decentralising government agencies; sending jobs to where they can pump more life into another economy. Look at the success of Geelong. In September 2016, the last Ford Falcon was manufactured in Australia, signalling the closure of the iconic Ford factory in Geelong and the loss of several hundred jobs.
Over preceding years, the workforce at Ford had been whittled back - similar to what happened in Wollongong during BHP's decline at Port Kembla some 10 years ago.
In fact, over the last decade Wollongong has lost 6000 full time and high-paying jobs in manufacturing and mining, and this is essentially what occurred in Geelong. The similarities are startling. Geelong has a population of around 233,000, many of whom commute to Melbourne which is 75 kilometers away, and is home to both a deep-water port and a regional airport. Geelong has been very successful in achieving similar aspirations to ours.
It is a remarkable coincidence that Geelong sits in the federal electorate of Corangamite, which is held by a margin of three percent by the Liberal Party. Recently Geelong has secured a $373 million City Deal; the centrepiece of which is the new 1000-seat Geelong Convention Centre. The City Deal also includes funding to revitalise many of Geelong's tired public spaces and its harbour, and investments in an array of tourist attractions along the surrounding coastline. In the recent federal budget, Geelong received $2 billion for a faster rail connection to Melbourne, and is the only project fully funded among a group of cities which include Wollongong earmarked for a business case. Over a number of years, Geelong has been targeted for significant government agency relocations, benefitting from a combined new 2000 jobs from federal and state public service decentralisation - a targeted stimulus to assist the community transition away from manufacturing.
The case for investing in the Illawarra stacks up and our time is now.
This includes the relocation of the Transport Accident Commission in 2009 with 650 jobs, Worksafe Victoria in 2018 with 700 jobs and the establishment of the National Disability Insurance Agency with 500 jobs. By contrast, Wollongong has no City Deal, minimal investment from state and federal governments in its infrastructure, and no major public sector relocations. So while Wollongong's residents are increasingly commuting outside of the region, Geelong now benefits from a higher growth rate in local jobs - arguably due to the stimulus effect of the relocation of these stable and high-paying public sector jobs. This is why we unashamedly support any proposals for faster rail, to benefit our commuting population. It is why we agreed with the state opposition's policy to move the Office Liquor and Gaming to Wollongong.
It is why we continue to develop the business case for the South West Illawarra Rail Link, to connect our economy to that of South Western Sydney's so that we can share and support its success. It is why we assessed the need for the major upgrade of our road corridors to the north, being Mount Ousley and Picton Road. And it is why we champion Port Kembla, an underutilised asset that will become a major bulwark of the NSW economy.
It is critical that we participate in a dialogue with governments at all levels, of any stripe, to progress our ambitions, and back proposals that may give the region what it deserves with strong evidence and relentless advocacy. Illawarra First is a 22-member strong group of local CEOs who back us to drive this agenda on behalf of the region and to put our region's case to government and other stakeholders. The case for investing in the Illawarra stacks up and our time is now.
Adam Zarth is the Executive Director of the Illawarra Business Chamber and Illawarra First