Launceston in northern Tasmania has been announced as the home of the Turnbull government’s second ‘City Deal’.
The first, announced before the recent election, was Townsville. Western Sydney has already been promised one, but it has not yet been formally announced.
City Deals are an idea borrowed directly from the UK. In Australia they are agreements between the federal, state and local governments to “develop collective plans for growth and commit to the actions, investments, reforms and governance needed to implement them.”
Launceston needs it. Home to 74,000 people, its economy has been moribund in recent years. The Federal electorate of Bass, centred on the city, had one of the biggest swings against the Government in the recent election, 10.6 percent. It was enough to unseat hard-right Liberal Andrew Nikolic, who had just been appointed chair of Parliament’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Malcolm Turnbull, flanked by Angus Taylor, Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation and Acting Premier of Tasmania Jeremy Rockliff, said the announcement made good an election promise. He announced $150 million to relocate the Launceston campus of the University of Tasmania to a new facility in the suburb of Inveresk, and $7.5 million to spruce up Launceston’s historic but shabby CBD.
Mr Turnbull and Mr Rockliff signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to deliver the City Deal to Launceston. “This will establish shared goals for Launceston and northern Tasmania, and revitalise the region’s economy,” said Mr Turnbull.
“We know that education attainment in Tasmania is less than it should be. We know that wages are lower on average than they should be.
“The key to ensuring that Tasmanians have great jobs in the future is to ensure that we’re investing in education and in the cities that will bring that education, bring the university here in Launceston, into the heart of the city and drive that growth.”
The City Deal builds on an earlier Tasmanian Government’s announcement of a $100 million Northern Economic Stimulus package to boost Tasmania’s economic growth and prosperity through innovation, education, investments and job creation.
The $7.5 million will be injected into Stage One of the City Heart Project to rejuvenate the Launceston CBD. This will include upgrades to Civic Square and the Brisbane Street Mall with the intention of creating a “vibrant hub to attract people into Launceston’s centre.” Full Wi-Fi coverage in the area is designed to encourage students, businesses and the community to make better use of the public space. The City of Launceston is working to deliver the project over the next three years.
Similarly, work on the new university campus is already in progress. When completed, the new University College will a range of courses, including associate degrees in conjunction with local industries, “providing graduates with a clear path to employment.”
It expects to attract some new 12,000 students, but has been criticised by some academics as window dressing and not doing enough to redress the running down of the Launceston arm of the University of Tasmania in recent years. The campus includes the Australian Maritime College.
Mr Turnbull says the MOU will set up the platform for more City Deals across Tasmania, and it will be soon followed by others. “We are backing the promises we made in the election,” he said.
“We’re delivering on an exciting future for Tasmania that is driven by education, innovation, investment, great jobs, better paying jobs, all surrounded by this investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). These are the disciplines that power the modern economy and Tasmania will be leading on that.”
Tasmania has the highest unemployment rate in Australia, with the northern part of the state around Launceston and along the coastline to its west the hardest hit. Launceston, once a thriving centre for northern Tasmania’s agricultural industry, has faded in recent years, though it is now the heart on Tasmania’s growing wine industry.
“Tasmania has some challenges when it comes to our educational attainment – our productivity,” said Acting Premier Rockliff. “But the silver bullet to that is through that focus on education, and the signing of the MOU and the focus on the university also is a demonstration of the very strong good will and collaboration between federal and state government, local government and the University of Tasmania.”