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Interview

Lisa Scaffidi – Lord Mayor of Perth, Australia

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With a series of exciting new civil projects, including the Elizabeth Quay, the Foreshore, and the Link Project, Perth has come into itself, maturing into a vibrant, 21st century city. Ms. Lisa Scaffidi, the first female mayor of Perth, shares what characteristics account for the very high quality of life in her city.

Where does Perth, and more broadly speaking Western Australia, fall in terms of growth and social welfare?

Rather than looking eastward, as had been the traditional view of the market in the past, the perspective of the region now looks northbound, where there are potential markets with billions of people.

In terms of population, the state of Western Australia makes up approximately ten percent of the national population, and is the largest state in the country. That said, much of the state is uninhabitable, due to the harshness of the vast terrain, resulting in most of the population to be congregated in a select few regions. Despite this, the state renders as much as 30 to 40 percent of the total national output, positioning it as a very important economic hub for the country. This is reflected in the growth of Perth, which has been able to prosper in part thanks to the oil and gas sector, as seen with the influx of various global companies establishing their southern hemisphere headquarters in the city. The city has constantly ranked very highly on The Economist magazine’s Livability Index, recently ranking in the top ten out of 200 major cities globally. We do realize that housing availability, and the affordability of housing is a present issue for the city, but Government is working on this. We are proud of our world-class recognized livability standards as well as our climate.

As a capital city Lord Mayor, my personal role has been to focus on less talk, with a more action oriented approach, and we believe that we have been able to perform and meet demands to foster a “refreshed” capital city. We have undertaken extensive capital expenditure in recent years, including a recently opened new public lending library, as well as a revamped treasury building within our civic plaza which was undertaken as a PPP. The city also provided the land for our recent waterfront project, which has been a joint venture project with our state government. There have been many capital improvements conducted in the public realm, and we are very pleased with the progress made and vitality created.

How has the oil and gas sector helped shape Perth into the thriving city that it is today?

With oil and gas serving as a predominant sector throughout the state, it has brought a lot of opportunity to the region, which has resulted in new employment and construction activity. The ability to host global conventions, much like the LNG 18 conference held in April 2016, showcased our strength as a southern hemisphere oil and gas hub

What is the appeal of basing a company headquarters or research facility here in Perth?

The primary appeal is proximity, time zone wise, to nearly 60 percent of the world’s population. Rather than looking eastward, as had been the traditional view of the market in the past, the perspective of the region now looks northbound, where there are potential markets with billions of people.

Following the recent slumps of oil prices, has the region felt a reciprocal slowdown in activity?

Recently, we have definitely felt the effects of a slowdown in employment, and we anticipate for future investment to decrease, as well as to even encounter a curtailment of large projects in the region, such as Chevron’s Gorgon. These have been the identifiable negatives, but the positives have been that there are still enough commitments to other developments following an attempt of the government to help diversify the economy. These initiatives include a stronger focus on medical research, scientific innovation, including the international Square Kilometer Array project, which is a worldwide next generation radio telescope project being conducted here in Australia. Perth, along with South Africa, is one of two regions in the world where these initiatives are being developed. We are keen to continue attracting major players in this field to establish a hub in Perth. The project is connected to a supercomputer, known as PAWSEY, dedicated to the search for answers to many questions about our universe. We are a sister-city to Houston, which hosts facilities associated with NASA, and in this capacity, Perth is excited to be developing itself as a unique scientific hub as well.

How has the government helped to support and stimulate growth despite these recent setbacks?

At the moment there are some office vacancies occurring throughout the city, so we are seeking to invite particular industry sectors back that may have been pushed out during the height of the oil and gas boom. Within our strategic vision, we are focusing on continuing to develop our diversification efforts that are underway, while not disregarding the oil and gas sector. Despite oil prices being down, considering the prominent service and knowledge capabilities present in the city, the industry has not come to a halt, and is still alive and thriving.

You are in the process of releasing a strategic vision for the city, known as the 2029 plan. What major initiatives are part of this plan?

The title of this strategic plan, 2029, has a particular significance for Perth, as it focuses on our bicentennial anniversary of the city since it was founded in 1829. Considering how far the city has come in less than 200 years is quite astonishing to think about. The proposal overviews what we have learned, and what we still wish to achieve, so it lists several initiatives still to be done throughout the region. The opening of our new riverfront park, Elizabeth Quay, has been a major milestone for us, but this is only the beginning of a series of new projects underway. To foster this growth throughout the city, we are striving to instill a visionary picture so that citizens of Perth instill a sense of pride as to the direction the city is going.

The fundamental pillars of this vision include more urban infill, as well as a realization that with the Elizabeth Quay project, and the Link project – an urban redevelopment effort near our downtown stadium – that there is a very promising cross axes of development taking place in the city. This will be an exciting prospect for the coming decades, as the city continues to mature, to see how people respond to the growth and expansion of this cross point, which in part is highlighting the importance of our CBD. Many government initiatives today are collaborative, requiring many different tiers of government working together, and committing funding for initiatives jointly, along with additional assistance from private enterprise, in the form of public-private partnerships. Thanks to low debt levels of the city, we have been able to take on a number of exciting projects, and now we are in the stages of evaluating which should be the next project in which we should participate. The city now is very proud of its accomplishments over the past eight years, and I believe that this has set the city onto a new trajectory to be braver when addressing future decisions.

What areas do you see pose the most opportunities for industry and the government to collaborate?

For industry, it would be public transport and infrastructure provision. In the past few years, we have had many exciting initiatives, including the opening of our arena, our state theatre, as well as our extensive riverside park along the Swan River, the Foreshore. We are in talks at present in regards to an indigenous art gallery, as well as a cable car ride up to King’s Park. There is also discussion about a much talked about public art gift to the city for the 2029 bicentennial birthday. These are all initiatives that have been accomplished or are still pending, all of which will play a role in continuing to make the quality of life in Perth exceedingly high and attractive. The sense of pride in our local population is one of appreciation for how much we have achieved in 200 years.

On a personal note, you are noted for having a background in the private sector before your work as a public servant. What in particular motivated you to become a public government official?

Being able to undertake this role has provided many unique ways to connect with people. As a governing figure, there is actually quite a lot of limitation on what one person can actually accomplish individually, and it is necessary to inspire and assist people in realizing a vision while connecting people and opportunities. This facilitation of being able to network people brings me immense satisfaction. Whereas the private sector may allow for greater ability for influence, there is still an element of being able to influence as Lord Mayor that was a particular motivation for me to aspire to the position.

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