Employment and economic prosperity

Employment prosperity

Traditionally, Canberra’s economy has had a very different structure to the national economy, with the public sector its main base for much of the 20th Century. The Commonwealth will continue to be the cornerstone of the ACT economy. There is still the capacity to attract other Commonwealth agencies to the ACT and strengthen Canberra’s role as the seat of Federal Government. However, it is expected that the share of office space occupied by the Federal Government (currently 83 per cent of office space in the ACT) will decline over the next 25-30 years. The ACT’s economy is diversifying, particularly into information communication technology (ICT) and knowledge based industries. One of the Territory’s key objectives is to continue to support and nurture this diversification to reduce the ACT’s dependence on the Commonwealth for its future prosperity.

Today, small business is vital to the future strengthening of the economy. There are now 20,000 small businesses in the ACT, comprising more than 96 per cent of all private sector businesses. Four out of five of these are home-based.

A major employment and economic issue facing the ACT concerns the ageing of the population. Without population growth, it is predicted that Canberra faces a significant shortfall in employable aged people within 10 years, as the proportion of people aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from about 8 per cent of the population to over 20 per cent by 2032.

Economic competitiveness is increasingly dependant on the creation, commercialisation and use of new knowledge and high level skills, learning, creativity and adaptation. Canberra has many of the attributes required to ensure success in this new environment.

The Economic White Paper addresses employment and economic growth for the ACT, outlining an economic and industry policy framework to achieve sustainable growth and development. The Spatial Plan will complement The Economic White Paper by facilitating the development of a city environment that supports the achievement of the community’s economic objectives.

Some of the characteristics of Canberra that will, if managed appropriately, assist in supporting economic growth, especially in the new knowledge based economy, include:

  • its highly skilled community (in 2001 26 per cent of the population aged 15 to 24 had a university bachelor degree or higher compared to the national average of 6 per cent);
  • its proximity to national government;
  • its role as the national capital — access to government and national institutions – the National Museum of Australia has consolidated the role by complementing the other national attractions such as the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian War Memorial and Parliament House;
  • its higher education and research facilities — three major universities (Australian National University, Australian Defence Force Academy and the University of Canberra), the CSIRO; 22 cooperative research centres; the Canberra Institute of Technology;
  • the urban amenity — the short journeys to work, the clean air, the low pollution, safety, the high quality health and educational services, the recreational services including proximity to the coast, the snow and the bush;
  • its international reputation as a well planned city;
  • the ability to quickly respond to major opportunities by having efficient administrative structures (two tiers of government rather than three) and a supply of vacant sites under Territory government control that can be made available at relatively short notice; and
  • access to domestic and international markets — the improvement of transport infrastructure - highway upgrading (making Canberra accessible to Sydney, Australia’s global city, and the larger consumer market) and the international airport providing better access to Australia and the world for business, tourism and freight.

The Economic White Paper has identified education as one of the largest exports of the ACT, providing some $100 million per annum. It has identified the retention of recent graduates as a factor in the long term economic prosperity of the city — without the injection or retention of greater numbers of young people, Canberra will find it more difficult to sustainable human services for its ageing population and sustainable funding to maintain its ageing infrastructure. Spatial factors that contribute to the retention and attraction of young people include lifestyle (access to recreation and cultural activities, night life and restaurants) and housing choice (affordability and accessibility to employment, education and centres of activity).

Employment location

The corridor from Belconnen to Civic and south Canberra through to Fyshwick, Canberra International Airport and Queanbeyan accommodates 70 per cent of current jobs. At July 2003, 29 per cent of the office stock in Canberra was in Civic. The office market vacancy rate in Civic was 4.7 per cent, the lowest recorded CBD vacancy in office space in Australia. The available office stock within Civic is not attractive to a wide range of tenants, with limited A and B-grade space. With no space to move existing tenants to in the city centre while current office space is being refurbished, tenants at times have little option other than to go elsewhere, such as to Barton and the Canberra International Airport (Brindabella Business Park). The vacancy rates, however, support the industry’s view that there is substantial unmet demand for additional office space in Civic and indeed in Canberra generally.