Digital divide hurts economic growth

Councillor Jeff Whitton.

Councillor Jeff Whitton.

A LACK of infrastructure spending and a political focus on Sydney are to blame for poor growth in the central west, according to one of Orange’s economic leaders.

Economic growth in Sydney averaged 2.2 per cent between 2012 and 2015, research by SGS Economics and Planning has revealed.

Regional areas of NSW contracted by 0.3 per cent in that period, while the central west economy grew just 0.2 per cent.

SCG national leader of economic and social analysis Terry Rawnsley said there was a political dimension to the stagnation.

“The Brexit result and election of President Trump was on the back on voters in communities who have not experienced the benefits of globalisation,” he said.

“We have seen the same process in Australia with strong support for One Nation in recession-hit parts of Queensland and Western Australia.”

He expected the 2016 economic growth data would reveal an even worst result for regional areas as the economy shifted towards larger cities.

Orange City Council employment and economic development police committee chairman Jeff Whitton believed both sides of politics had failed regional areas.

“The 0.2 per cent figure doesn’t surprise me, it worries me,” he said.

“We seem to be 20 years behind everyone else, especially places like India and China – a couple of decades ago, they were almost third-world countries but they went into regional areas where there was a lot of land available and high unemployment and created technology hubs similar to what America did with Silicon Valley, rather than trying to get everything into the major cities.”

Cr Whitton said the state government had given up a key opportunity to decentralise after Emergency Services Minister David Elliott announced the relocated Rural Fire Service headquarters would be established 40 minutes from the Sydney CBD despite Orange expressing an interest.

“All the infrastructure projects in NSW are in Sydney,” Cr Whitton said.

He believed the National Broadband Network would not adequately meet business needs until it was fibre-to-the-premises and while there was a steady stream of people moving to Orange, there were also people leaving.

“We can speak about all the beautiful things we have, but but if you can’t find work, you have to move away.”