‘Celebrate’ Newcastle, Baird urges

NEWCASTLE is on the cusp of something great, and NSW Premier Mike Baird is determined that we recognise it.
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On the back of his government’s announcement that it will spend $9.8 million on a Hunter Innovation Project providing free public Wi-Fi and a “digital precinct” in the city centre, Mr Baird gave a speech at the University of Newcastle on Monday night in which he urged the city’s residents to “celebrate” its growth and expressed personal “frustration” that not everyone does.

“I think Newcastle is not just a smart city, it’s not just a beautiful city, I genuinely think Newcastle is a city on the move like no other city in this great country and indeed the Asia Pacific region,” he said on Monday.

“Part of my frustration is I’m not sure everyone in Newcastle believes that and actually sees that.

“Because it is. And in the next couple of days I want to remind everyone that this is an incredible place.

“What is going to happen here in the next 20 to 25 years is unlike many other cities not just here but around the world [and] I think that’s something to celebrate.”

Mr Baird – who will make two major announcements in Newcastle on Tuesday – said the innovation funding, which is a joint $17.8 million project between the government, the University of Newcastle and Newcastle City Council, would help put the city at the centre of one of the fastest growing industries in Australia.

“This is all about believing in one of the major cities in the world,” he said.

“What we can’t forget is the next generation of jobs.”

Mr Baird said the digital economy would grow “exponentially” in the next 25 years, predicted to rise from five per cent of the state’s total economy to 22 per cent.

He said the “massive shift” could create 540,000 jobs in that period, and that while Sydney had become the “start-up city”, with about two-thirds of the nations start-ups based there, “it shouldn’t just be Sydney”.

“Newcastle is our largest regional city so my encouragement is how do we ensure that Newcastle is the centre of this push to the digital economy,” he said.

“How is it going to participate in innovation and the opportunities that come from that?

“So that’s why I think this announcement is so important. Newcastle, I think, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It has so much potential.

“You can talk about beauty and the renewal but at the same time if we push the new jobs through innovation I think we are onto an absolute winner.”

The speech was billed as the Premier’s vision for the Hunter to 2036, and while admitting that the Hunter was not without challenges – he pointed to the region’s youth unemployment, currently stuck at about 19 per cent, or nearly twice the state average – Mr Baird was determined to pitch a positive vision.

He said his government had created 16,000 jobs since its election in 2011, and pointed to investments in health through the John Hunter Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, and a new hospital at Maitland, and infrastructure investments like the Newcastle Light Rail project.

“Bringing people back into the CBD is key [and] obviously obviously boosting economic activity,” he said.

He pointed to Property Council modelling that states the private investment in Newcastle coming alongside the government’s infrastructure commitments is at about $2 billion.

“Particularly the revitalisation project, something that we are quite proud of,” he said.

On Tuesday Mr Baird, together with Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald who are also in Newcastle, will make two funding announcements in Newcastle. One is being billed as “a major regional infrastructure and tourism announcement”, while the second is “a major sporting announcement”.

Mr Baird did not reveal details of the announcements on Monday, other than to say he wanted to “show this city off”.

“There are major events we want to bring here [and] tourists we want to bring here,” he said.

“A walk from the city down to Merewether Beach is one of the great walks in the world … one of the most beautiful coastlines”

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