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Jay flags construction and food to save northern jobs

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The Weatherill Government will target construction industry employment and the burgeoning food, health and wellbeing sectors when it unveils a blueprint to salvage jobs in Adelaide’s north in coming weeks.

Labor’s Northern Economic Plan is still under discussion behind closed doors, but the Premier has revealed it will focus on the building industry, along with two of his much-hyped economic priority areas – premium food and health and ageing.

“Within a very short period of time we’ll be releasing the Northern Economic Plan … focused on food, construction and health and wellbeing,” Jay Weatherill told a recent LGA President’s Lunch.

But stakeholders have warned the plan must involve a dramatic escalation of public investment in the troubled region. The state’s contribution will come from a $60 million package announced in the wake of Holden’s closure announcement, but John Spoehr – Executive Director of the Australian Workplace Innovation and Social Research Centre – says that amount “is not going to solve the problem”.

Rather, he argues the plan needs the backing of “a major package of assistance from the Commonwealth”, restating his view that between $700 million and $1 billion is needed to offset the employment shock of Holden’s closure.

Spoehr says record low interest rates, which the Reserve Bank board reinforced today with another cut to the official rate, mean “this is probably one of the best times in history to borrow”.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity to use public sector borrowing to bring forward some infrastructure investment,” he said.

“My advice to both state and federal governments is to look very carefully at that opportunity because it won’t be around forever (and) the private sector can’t borrow at such favourable rates.”

Salisbury Mayor Gillian Aldridge agreed the plan would require significant investment, including a commitment to finally progress the oft-stalled electrification of the Gawler rail line.

“We’ve talked about (a northern economic plan) for years … I think we’ve talked the talk enough,” Aldridge told InDaily.

“We need to put that into action, and that means immediately – it can’t be 12 months off.

“We have to get on top of the problem of jobs for the north.”

She said the electrification of the northern line was “really, really important” and residents were “absolutely frustrated” at continued inaction. The project has been green-lit and then abandoned several times over successive budgets, most recently in 2013 when the fledgling Abbott Government withdrew funding approval.

Aldridge welcomed Weatherill’s priority areas, saying construction would help revitalise Adelaide’s northern suburbs and kickstart employment.

“One of the most important things is redevelopment of those places in Salisbury, it’s essential to our old cities to help bring more people to live, work and play,” she said.

She said in Edinburgh Parks there was “the best service road in Australia, shovel ready for development”, and expected local councils to be consulted on investment opportunities.

“They’re special people in the north,” she said.

“We’ll not go down —  we will have jobs, but the Government needs to help us.

“I’m not going to pull any punches: we need investment, and we’ll be looking to government and other forms of investors to get that development happening … we can’t do it alone.”

Spoehr said of the priority areas identified by Weatherill, construction was “crucially important in the short-term”, and urged Labor to “fast-track a range of different construction projects”.

“It’s one of the few areas that can generate short-term jobs on the scale that would be necessary to soak up a lot of the job losses associated with GMH and the automotive supply chain,” Spoehr said.

“No other area of focus is capable of doing that in my view in the short-term.”

He said the food industry had “some significant prospects for growth over the next five years, if it grows at a similar trend to the past”, while health, community services and ageing was a “very rapidly growing sector”.

“In the past 10 to 20 years it’s Australia’s fastest growing sector…but the real secret there is to look at how we might acquire the growth of some high-tech manufacturing around that,” he said, urging investment in “medical devices and assisted technologies”.

“We’re catching up but we haven’t really bitten the bullet on trying to grow that sector as fast as we can,” he said.

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