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Chancellor of The University of Western Australia, Dr Michael Chaney AO, discusses the significance of Australia's western seaboard in the new world order.
If geography drives strategy, Western Australia offers a unique perspective. More than 4000km separate the western and eastern coasts of Australia. The west coast enjoys different oceans, different neighbours and a different timezone shared by 60 per cent of the world's population.
Over the next 20 to 30 years, the city of Perth will grow in importance as a civil centre in the region, with a population close to three million people. It will increasingly be the nerve centre of a global resource and minerals supply economy powering the growth which has seen global economic power shift inexorably to the Indo-Pacific area.
The landscape in which Australian business leaders and policy makers make decisions is changing faster than ever before. Success in such a dynamic environment relies on an ability to frame the options and to explain their consequences. It also depends upon strong relationships, built on the foundations of transparency, understanding and shared endeavour.
"In the Zone" responds to these needs. Working with the State Government, the business community and the national and local media, The University of Western Australia has invited our principal economic partners and closest neighbours to join us to explore the challenges that will define the times and the new world order, and to learn from one another's viewpoints.
US Historian and commentator, Robert Kagan has argued that the Indian Ocean is taking "centre stage for the 21st century". Far from having to choose between our geography and our history, in this the Asian century, our heritage bolsters our position. Our strong institutions, well respected legal framework, shared values and depth of social capital will enable us to play a leadership role and to be an important cultural and civil centre. Our Indian Ocean coast, multi-cultural city with its fine universities, vibrant arts and cultural offerings including the annual Perth International Arts Festival, excellent medical care and relaxed way of life will allow us to make a unique cultural, scientific and intellectual contribution to Asia.
Australia and our neighbours will need to navigate complex decisions as the new world order unfolds.
These include energy policy and sources of supply and food security. As we factor in the price of carbon in our economies we must manage potential shock waves in our economic and financial systems. Demographic changes will challenge the provision of health care and social safety nets. Strategies are required to encourage a move to domestic strength rather than export reliance. We will all experience the impact of fast changing media options bringing new participants into the knowledge economy as the ground rules of international finance and capital markets are negotiated. The intersection of all of these forces will make the world more complex, more interconnected and less predictable than ever before.
The intellectual capital of all of our societies will be stretched in response to these rigours. The endeavour of research universities, which underpins informed decision making, will be increasingly important. Richer collaborations between researchers and their colleagues in the more applied world will be the order of the day. The resourcefulness of human capital, enriched by investment in education, will be central.
The fast growing economies of Asia and their people are investing in education as never before. To remain competitive, Australia needs to match this commitment. We have strong institutions but, with some notable exceptions, we are not keeping pace with either the family, private or public levels of investment in education seen elsewhere. In this area, we have much to learn from our neighbours.
Similarly, the combination of our private and public investment in research and in technology needs to meet that of our peers. Technology investment in the high tech mining, energy and resources industries in the State is a significant contributor to the productive capacity and our shared wealth.
But our potential is much greater than that. An example is the collaboration on Western Australia's bid to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope between the State and Federal governments, The University of Western Australia and Curtin University of Technology. This project has the potential to transform the science, research and innovation profile of the State and in turn the country. The computational capacity represents a game changing investment in the future. In the first week of its life, the Pathfinder super-computer, hosted by the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research, will be capable of generating more information than is currently contained in the entire World Wide Web. If the bid is successful (the choice is between Western Australia and the countries of Southern Africa) the SKA project will result in profound economic benefits that will flow from increased super computing, data transmission and hardware capability. The SKA could be Western Australia's Silicon Valley.
Engaging the productive capacity of businesses, researchers, public servants and citizens is key to maximising the opportunities facing any community. In framing era defining challenges from our unique Indian Ocean perspective, and creating the forum for engagement with our neighbours in the region, "In the Zone" offers an opportunity to facilitate that process.
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