Port of Newcastle chair Roy Green slips in a few home truths in a speech to a ‘med-tech and pharma’ function at HMRI

Ian Kirkwood

Local News

MESSENGER: Economist Roy Green is a long-term advocate of industry clusters as a way of modernising and diversifying economies, including those in regional areas such as the Hunter.

ECONOMIST and Port of Newcastle chairman Roy Green has questioned Australia’s overall economic direction in a speech that said the nation needed to “think beyond the consumption boom and selling each other residential housing”.

Dr Green, who is also an emeritus professor at University of Technology Sydney and a conjoint professor at University of Newcastle, was speaking at the launch of a “Medical technologies and pharmaceuticals” prospectus for the Hunter and Central Coast region, prepared by a partnership between the federally backed RDA Hunter and the employer body, AI Group.

A Hunter RDA spokesperson said the partnership, known as MedTeCCH, was formed last year to help strengthen the region’s “med-tech and pharma” (MTP) industry and research, and had about 50 members.

The prospectus – one of a number done over the years by RDA Hunter – outlined the region’s MTP capabilities, and could be used to help attract investment and business to the region.

READ the prospectus here

Dr Green, who has been promoting “industry clusters” as economic drivers since his pre-UTS days at Newcastle University in the 1990s, told Friday’s launch at the Hunter Medical Research Institute that Australia was “going backwards” as far as innovation was concerned.

He said Australian spending on research and development had fallen to 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product, compared with an OECD average of 2.4 per cent, and lead countries including Japan, Switzerland, Korea and Germany spending more than 4 per cent.

(ABS figures show government R&D spending falling from $4.2 billion in 2008-9 to $3.3 billion in 2018-19.)

Dr Green said Australia was also going backwards on the Harvard University economic complexity rankings, falling from 55th of 130 countries in 1995 to 87th in 2018.

“In post-COVID recovery we have to think beyond the consumption boom and selling each other residential housing towards the changes in our industrial structure that will ensure a more diverse, high-value export mix,” Dr Green said.

He said the region’s MTP sector could grow beyond its existing 9000 jobs.

“The Hunter and Central Coast are well placed as a world competitive, high value medical technology and pharmaceutical industry cluster, which has already created almost 9000 jobs in the region,” Dr Green said.

GLOBAL MEASURE: The authors of the Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity say ‘economic development requires the accumulation of productive knowledge and its use in both more and more complex industries’. Their thesis is not helpful to Australia, which in 2018 was ranked #87 of 133 countries. This is a marked relative decline from its initial ranking, when the atlas began in 1995 at #55. This map goes from highly ‘complex’ economies in dark blue, to least complex in dark red.

“There is huge potential for further growth as the region diversifies its skills base in collaboration with the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

“Australia’s post-COVID recovery will remain precarious unless we take the opportunity to increase our investment in research and innovation, which will drive ‘industries of the future’ in global markets and value chains.”

Dr Green told Friday’s gathering the Hunter economy would benefit from diversifying.

“Clearly, as well as our important energy transition, we have to accelerate the transition from large scale vertically integrated manufacturing to smaller scale research intensive products and services in global markets and value chains,” Dr Green said.

“With a focus on medtech and pharma to extent we have the capability to build a world competitive ecosystem through industry clustering and university/HMRI engagement.”

Gabrielle Upton, MP Vaucluse and Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, commended all involved in MedTeCCH for “drawing on their strengths to contribute as a hub for research commercialisation.