Event: Strong Australia Western Sydney Frontier Economy interview with Kieran Gilbert, host, Afternoon Agenda Sky News
Speakers: Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott AO, Country Leader GE Australia Sam Maresh, Pro Vice-Chancellor University of Western Sydney Professor Andy Marks, Kieran Gilbert, host, Afternoon Agenda Sky News
Topics: Western Sydney; advanced manufacturing; skills; aerotropolis
Kieran Gilbert, host, Afternoon Agenda Sky News: Thanks for joining us at the Strong Australia Western Sydney Frontier Economy Forum. I'm delighted to be joined by some great guests this afternoon. Jennifer Westacott, as our viewers will know very well, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. We have Sam Maresh, country lead, GE Australia, and Professor Andy Marks, pro vice chancellor, Western Sydney University. Thank you all so much for being here. Jennifer, this notion of frontier economy, we're right in the heart of Western Sydney here in Parramatta today. In a way, Western Sydney is already a frontier economy, isn't it?
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott AO: Absolutely, and if you think about the big concept of what is a frontier economy in a frontier society, it's at the cutting edge of things. It's at the cutting edge of creating new value, it's playing to its strengths. It's getting the most out of the skills and capabilities of its people. It's thinking 10, 20 years ahead. That's in simple terms a frontier economy, and what does that mean for people? Higher wages, good jobs, good job prospects, skills. So, if you take Western Sydney, I think Western Sydney is already the frontier economy. The challenge is how do we get it to scale? It's already the third largest economy in Australia. Most people don't know that. It's got some of the most skilled people in Australia. It's got this huge manufacturing base already. It's got fantastic education institutions. It's got some of the biggest companies in the world, GE are already here. It's got huge interest from around the world. It's going to have a 24/7 fully digital airport. It's already at the frontier. The challenge is how we push it further, and in doing so, push Australia to the frontier at the same time.
Kieran: I guess a big part of that is plugging those smaller businesses into organisations like yours, Sam Maresh, at GE. And today, we are looking at this fantastic collaboration you're doing with Romar Engineering. Explain to our viewers a little bit about that.
Sam Maresh country lead, GE Australia: Sure. Well, Romar engineering is a great Western Sydney business. It's an advanced manufacturing business, and what GE is doing is partnering with Romar to help them provide the kind of technology they can then use to make new products that that they couldn't make previously. So our interest is in additive manufacturing, which is 3D printing of metal components. We use them in our jet engines and that technology is being applied by Romar, a Western Sydney business, to actually create new products, new valves to enter into the space industry and to be globally competitive.
Kieran: And they're doing it at a level, at the NASA quality level.
Sam: Oh, absolutely. This is precision high end engineering. It's high end advanced manufacturing, and Romar have got a set of skills, they've got some great engineers, they've got great technicians, they've got great experience, and we are partnering with them to provide the technology that allows them to have the capabilities to actually service those industries, not only here in Australia but globally.
Kieran: It's super exciting, and Professor Andy Marks from Western Sydney University, we've been talking today as well about this having the largest hub of small business in the country, so the potential there is enormous, isn't it?
Andy Marks, pro vice chancellor, Western Sydney University: Look, it is, and it goes to Jennifer's point earlier on. The frontier analogy is really about the excitement that exists in Western Sydney and it's really a case of harnessing that, and I think we've seen a wonderful initiative on the part of GE through the new education and training model that's being run out of the Aerotropolis. It's about industry led demand for skills. It's flipping the paradigm and we're not just producing a pipeline of graduates that are going to go nowhere.
Kieran: So just for our viewers across the country, the Aerotropolis is the new Western Sydney Airport and all of the surrounding infrastructure, including this fantastic initiative that I'd love you to elaborate on where the private sector provides inputs into the education sector and gives our economy what it needs essentially.
Andy: Look, it addresses one of the biggest challenges that Western Sydney has, which is around connectedness and being able to engage in global supply chains. Well, here's our big opportunity. December, 2026 when the airport comes online at Bradfield in Western Sydney, we need to ensure that we are not coming from a cold start. So, all of these initiatives that we're talking about now, the GE training model around additive manufacturing, are all being set up to support the airport in creating those opportunities for us internationally. Don't ever forget, we have a wonderful asset in Western Sydney in the multilingualism as well. Some parts of Western Sydney have 70% of people who speak a language other than English at home. That's a ready made connection into global markets, into Southeast Asia in particular, and here's our moment to push the button. But it's really important, as Jennifer outline and as Sam's spoken about, that we start early and that's why these initiatives like the training model in additives are so important. Government is sending strong signals about the sectors that we should be involved in, semiconductors, defence science technology. Industry respond to those signals. The recipe is all here in Western Sydney and we just can't wait until the thing opens to get started. We're starting early.
Kieran: And Jennifer Westacott, this model that Professor Marks talks about, it's almost like a ground up approach, isn't it?
Jennifer: Yeah. So the authority I chair, which is that Western Parkland City Authority is running this new education model. Basically, industry will come to us and they'll say, "We need a blended set of micro credentials or short courses that go to additive manufacturing, go to hypersonics, go to specialised electronics, specialised communications." We'll then go to universities and TAFEs and we'll put that micro-credential together. And then we'll be doing our own sort of analysis that says, well, what are the core capabilities that we'll need to run advanced manufacturing, to run these new industries? And then we'll be going to universities saying, "Well, actually, let's think about how we do the kind of micro credentials that would allow us to skill our people." And I think that the challenge is that the skills are going to change so quickly. Technology's going to drive such rapid change and the current model is just too slow. So, this model seeks to get that interoperability between industry, vocational education and universities blended together around an employer, and then put that into the qualification framework, driven by industry saying, "We need this kind of thing," which may not exist in a kind of established course.
Kieran: And I know GE wants to get in there and is part of this process already.
Sam: That's right.
Kieran: And it's not just about the technologies we know exist already, is it? This is a research opportunity.
Sam: Oh, absolutely. I think there's a whole spectrum of opportunities here presented by our great research organisations, our great training and academic organisations. So, GEs liaising and engaging with all of them, both with the new education training model, providing skills for additive manufacturing and entry level skills. How do we actually ensure the businesses in Western Sydney, the businesses around Australia can actually access this technology? As well to higher research in terms of how do we actually develop new alloys that will be printed on 3d printing machines?
Sam: So, there's a whole spectrum of activity, but to your point, Andy, I think this is a race. The rest of the world is well and truly steaming ahead in trying to get capabilities. We've just gone through a pandemic where we've recognised the need to have sovereign capability, and I think what we've got here with Western Sydney, with a new airport going in, with a commitment at all levels of government, with a commitment with the research and academic institutions, the vocational education institutions, this has all of the elements for success, and not only to succeed in Australia but to ensure our businesses can succeed and we can be a powerhouse for advanced manufacturing for the region.
Kieran: Professor Marks, there are enormously qualified people in this region, but a lot of them have to commute. What's the key to change that?
Andy: I think we look for generational moments in infrastructure development. The airport is the obvious one. It's in excess of $5 billion of Commonwealth funds invested in addressing that very issue, so bringing those job opportunities and those high level job opportunities closer to where people live, and I think Western Sydney is a great place to lead that push nationally. The pandemic to some extent really flipped the accelerator on in that kind of push, but this is a way to do it and back in large scale infrastructure. The other important thing to note is if we look at the university role that we have to play, Jennifer's dead right, we've got to be much more agile. We've got to move faster, we've got to create opportunities to come in and out of different horse streams quickly, but we've also got our untapped Western Sydney's I guess latent strengths. 59% of people that go to universities now are women. That balance is not reflected in the workplace, so measures that you see federally and at the state level through Matt Kean's budget as well in New South Wales, big pushes to get women back into the workforce and unlock that skills deficit, I think that's a great thing to do in concert with these big projects like the Aerotropolis. You've got to do both together, and bringing women back in in a very big way to the economy is so important, and Western Sydney again, can lead.
Kieran: It's a huge missing piece, isn't it?
Jennifer: Yeah. And also, the investment attraction, which obviously is the role I play both in the business council and in running the authority. The big companies in the world are very interested in Western Sydney, so when I do a video conference to Japan, there are like 700 companies on those calls because they can see that Western Sydney, with all the things we've talked about today, offers them access to these huge markets in Southeast Asia with this growing middle class. And so what we've got to do is to get jobs closer to home, high paid jobs, high skilled jobs, but also the full array of jobs. We actually have to do that big investment attraction piece and the advanced manufacturing research facility that will be run out of the Aerotropolis will start to marry small businesses, big business together, identify how you scale up industries in defence, in space, in electronics and semiconductors, the things that the country needs. Suddenly, there is this pipeline of jobs that people don't have to travel 45 kilometres-
Kieran: And that will work in conjunction with the education aspect.
Jennifer: Absolutely. And then the other thing that we've got to do is get into schools, and what I want us to be doing is micro credentials for years 11 and 12, which is that big STEM accelerator. Because we know that a lot of people, particularly young women, did not make good choices about maths and science and got bad career advice. Whatever is the cause, it doesn't matter. It's how we correct, and so what I'd like us to be doing is years, 11 and 12, super micro credentials for advanced mathematics, computational thinking, those sorts of things. So if we get access to skills, we get investment attraction, we get infrastructure, we get all of those things, and as you can see, that's all coming together, we will create this frontier economy.
Kieran: It's certainly very exciting, there's no doubt about it. And Sam, from a multinational perspective like GE, is it fair to say that the market here is one thing, but the region is entirely different. That's where the sky's the limit.
Sam: Absolutely. We live in the most interesting part of the world really. We live in a part of the world that will see dramatic change over the coming decades. That is a huge pipeline of economic growth, and I think the opportunity we have here is to be the anchor for the region. So I see the massive investment, the reason GEs been part of this story, part of this journey with the Aerotropolis, with the Western Sydney Parkland Authorities, because it has scale. This is a world class development. It's a development that has all the elements to it, and I hope one day, what we'll see is GE will have customers in the region. We will have someone who purchases a 3d printer, maybe in Asia, they fly to Western Sydney, they get trained at the University of Western Sydney on how to use that equipment. They go out and meet some of the businesses and collaborate with some of the businesses here, so this airport is more than just servicing Sydney and Australia. It will be an anchor for the region.
Kieran: Professor Marks, I'm intrigued with something you said to me earlier about the need not just to focus on things like STEM and those sorts of skills. We have to be a bit creative as well. Can you talk us through that?
Andy: You're going to force me to reveal Western Sydney's best kept secret. It's actually a really fun place to be, to live. And I think actually the cultural attractors that we have, the diversity and language, the diversity in religion I think in Western Sydney's a massive asset for us. It's an exciting place to be for the arts sector as well. We have some wonderful underground arts ventures in Western Sydney, Bankstown Poetry Slam, wonderful galleries. I think it's got to be a nice place for people to work and live, and I think that also goes to the environment. We need to be doing things in Western Sydney that are frontier-like. In terms of sustainability, that means world's best blue and green grid, measures to reduce heat load, all of those things can happen in an economy like Western Sydney because we're not afraid to try new things. But in the STEM push, and this is a critical thing for STEM, just to close on this one, we've got to make sure that we actually bring in the artists as well with the creative industries, because they're the wild cards. And I'm going to probably offend Sam. There's nothing more boring than a room full of engineers.
Sam: I agree with you.
Andy: But if you bring an artist into that space, an artist in residence, or you bring in some left field thinking, that's when you can really bust it open and that's when that capacity becomes wonderful and engineering becomes something exciting for everybody. That's also how you draw more women into that field as well, to Jennifer's point too, and we've got to start early. We've got to get into schools, and we can do it here.
Kieran: This is something that you talk about a lot and that is location specific, to have hubs. And Western Sydney in a way is already a frontier economy, so while there's wonderful scope and very exciting scope, there are actually lessons to be learned already from the success of this region for other regions around our nation.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. And there's a couple of things. The first is that you've got to have purpose and focus. You've got to say there are so many things you could do but you've got to build out adjacencies. So why have we picked advanced manufacturing? Well, because there's already a huge manufacturing sector here. 75,000 manufacturers operate in Western Sydney. The issue is that about 80% of them don't export, so how do we get that scale going so that we can start to get those export opportunities? But the lesson is focus, build out adjacencies, build the skill system behind them, build the investment attraction, give a clear message to investors about what this is about. But the crucial thing is you can't have 40 of these in Australia. You've got to have, like the UK has these Catapults, the Germans have these Fraunhofers. They all focus on particular things and the job is to scale it up rather than to disperse it.
Kieran: So there'd be three cities in Sydney essentially.
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. And once you start doing that, then that internationally, people say well, to Andy's point, one of the things we want to do at Bradfield is not just the advanced manufacturing stuff, not just the industry development. We want to make the city a place that people say, "That is the city that is the most carbon efficient, sustainable, connected to country city in the world." So if you want to go to a place where you see a hydrogen enabled city, you go to Bradfield. If you want to go to a place where you see the world's best building materials being used, you go to Bradfield. And that also builds out new industries because people say, "Well actually, how do we learn from that?" Well, we might actually set up a manufacturing facility here for advanced materials production for building development or for glass manufacturing or for waste recycling. That's the sort of focus you need to have, and that brings with it stories that get around the world. So when I was in India a couple of weeks ago, people knew about Western Sydney and they were like, "Well, how can we collaborate with you? Because we can do this and you can do that in Australia." That's the exciting bit, but if you've got a hundred of them, it's very hard to tell that story internationally.
Kieran Gilbert: Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. Sam Maresh, country lead, GE Australia, and Professor Andy Marks, pro vice chancellor, Western Sydney University. It's been great to chat. Exciting times for this region and our nation. Thank you all.
Jennifer: Thanks very much.
Andy: Thanks, Kieran.