Op ed: By Alice Thompson February 25 2023

The Hunter is a $65 billion economy entering transition. Despite the challenges, the region’s future is one of growth and optimism. Population growth has surpassed projections. Investment demand is booming across a diverse range of sectors. It’s at fever pitch for clean energy and technology.

There is a New Energy in the Hunter, the most exciting growth frontier in the nation, rising from our coal and industrial foundations.

The past decade has seen stronger investment in the region by the NSW Government. However the level of focus and funding has not reflected the Hunter’s size, strategic significance or economic contribution to the State.

This comes at great opportunity cost to NSW. We are a partner of significant scale and capacity in delivering State priorities. These include clean energy and Net Zero, economy and jobs, improving health and education, cost of living and housing affordability.

This region is not asking for a handout. With our size, assets and competitive advantages, there is natural momentum in our growth and capacity for much, much more.

We are inviting the next NSW Government to partner with the region to scale and accelerate this growth to achieve the Hunter’s potential, providing more to the State economy and communities at a time of considerable disruption and tight budgets.

One dollar spent in the Hunter will deliver more benefits, quicker and at scale than any other place in NSW. That’s why it makes no sense there is not more attention to the development of the Hunter, unless viewed through the prism of politics.

The Committee today presents a set of advocacy priorities to an incoming State Government for focus over the next term. These initiatives have been identified through consultation, evidence and expert advice.

Our priorities cross housing, transport, education, infrastructure, clean energy and innovation. These are the things that will drive the outcomes we want for our region. Secure jobs and a diverse regional economy. High living standards and quality of life for all. And to position the Hunter as the global leader in clean energy and technology that we know is within grasp.

Consistent themes emerged through the identification of these regionally significant priorities.

Most importantly, the need for continuity between terms of government. Regional stakeholders are significantly aligned on what needs to be done and the right foundations are in place. It’s about making it happen while providing certainty for business and councils to coordinate their resources and multiply the impact of government policy and seed funding. Change the label on the tin if you must, but not the direction.

There are few new projects or priorities on the agenda. We need government now focused on delivery of commitments and for funding and benefits to hit the ground, especially where projects have stalled. Complementary initiatives that leverage and extend the benefits from existing commitments have instead been proposed.

The Committee has not prepared a wish list of ad hoc projects. There is significant overlap between opportunities and across themes – that’s what makes the recommended actions priorities.

We know we get better outcomes when public investment is coordinated across departments, levels of government and sectors in a long-term plan for the Hunter’s future. If actioned as an integrated program, the prize for NSW and Australia is substantial. These priorities could form the pillars of a New Partnership between governments and the region, with the diversification of the Hunter at the centre of this deal.

The Hunter has the burning platform to galvanise stakeholders into a coherent, urgent plan of action. The calls to arms are clear as our large economy enters structural adjustment, and energy security and a safe climate depend on what happens in the Hunter.

The communities and the businesses of the Hunter are ready to work with whichever party wins in 2023.

This is an unmissable opportunity for leadership for an incoming NSW Government. The chance to be part of the most important industrial transformation of our generation right here in the Hunter and build a bright legacy to be remembered for.

But current and future voters will never forget if that government lets the opportunity that was in our hands slip through our fingers.