NSW is Australia's economic engine room: Mike Baird

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird believes the state will shape the economic future of the country, saying his government is aiming to ensure Sydney is known as the startup city of Australia.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird believes Sydney holds the key to the future of Australia's economy, particularly when it comes to the financial technology sector.

Opening the CeBIT Australia 2016 conference in Sydney on Monday, Baird shared his view of a city that he believes is the fintech hub of Australia, basing his projection on NSW's historic financial sector performance.

When it comes to Australia's economic position, Baird said the country was previously thought of as one centred on mining, saying however that the largest contributor to the nation's economy is the finance and insurance sector, accounting for 9 percent.

"The finance and insurance sector has been a key performer in the economy both in Australia but particularly in NSW, which is the home of the finance sector," he said.

"NSW has been part of that overall story, and I will argue to you that [NSW] is the engine room of growth here in Australia."

With a third of the nation's population and an economy of AU$513 billion, NSW has heavily contributed to the strength of Australia's financial sector, which Baird added has been the critical underpinning in terms of the economy over the long term.

"The economy is moving; the question is how quickly is it moving," he said. "At the moment, the digital economy in Australia is worth about 5 percent of the total economy."

With close to two thirds of Australian startups based in Sydney, Baird admitted it has previously been the result of good luck rather than good management. He said he wants to be strategic with what happens next and build on the startup scene the state already has.

"NSW is the startup state and Sydney is the startup city, and that is something that we're very proud of," he said.

"But we don't just want words and we don't just want slogans, we want to live it, we want to breathe it, and I want to give you this deep sense of understanding that there is strong political will to make this happen."

Baird said his government wants to facilitate innovation by ensuring the state is one with ease of business, access to capital, and access to space, as well as by building partnerships with industry and universities to bring to life what he called a strong ecosystem that is already established.

"There's much more work to do but we can tell you we are very excited about where we are going in this city and state in this particular space," he said.

In order to capitalise on the booming digital economy, Baird said the state government is focusing on fintech, medical technology, and cybersecurity. However, the premier said there needs to be space for such innovation to happen.

Speaking of the AU$6 million Barangaroo project, located on the north-western edge of the Sydney central business district and the southern end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Baird said the site is an emerging financial hub.

"Fintech will also play a role in connection with that space, with a massive new opportunity in terms of space in the city," Baird said.

"Over 100 hectares ... of harbour front, dedicated space for technology, and a technology and innovation campus -- I think it will be something like the Roosevelt Island in New York, with comparisons to similar facilities in Berlin.

"It will be the envy of the world when this is done."

Upon its completion in 2020, Barangaroo will also be the home of James Packer's six-star luxury hotel resort and VIP gambling facility, Crown Sydney Hotel Resort, making it the second casino in Sydney, only five kilometres from the existing The Star in Darling Harbour.

Publicly critical of the way Baird is running the state, Freelancer CEO Matt Barrie said previously that in the middle of a historical boom in technology, Australia is missing out due to education and innovation being tied up in the bureaucratic confusion and absurd policies of state governments.

Barrie said the NSW state government was "so addicted to gambling taxes and gambling revenue that it's shut down most of Sydney's nightlife in order to boost this limelight by funnelling people into the casino or pokies rooms". With gambling and betting taxes driving AU$1.2 billion in revenue for the state, Barrie said shutting down nightlife is paraded to the masses under the guise of health and safety.

"It's a bit hard to build a technology industry when every second 20-year-old wants to leave because you've turned the place into a bumpkin country town," he said. "If you're trying to attract young, smart people back to Australia, it's a bit hard when #nannystate is trending on Twitter."

"I've come to the conclusion it's actually all too hard to fix," he said. "I think we should abolish state governments."

Baird sees things differently, saying he strongly believes there is significant talent in the state, with two of the top 50 universities in the world in NSW providing appropriate tertiary education.

When it comes to the buzzword collaboration, Baird said his government is working with the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, to engage in innovation at both a global and local level.

"There is a number of collaboration partnerships we are undertaking but we want to create a network and understanding that Sydney wants to be key and centre to all that is going on in this space," he said.

"We are doing everything we can to facilitate our businesses and also the partnerships that we have with government as we go about this."

Baird has kept away from the innovation limelight, with Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello taking the lead for the state government.

Following Malcolm Turnbull's AU$1.1 billion innovation initiative, Dominello revealed in February that he had pencilled in May for unveiling the state's first innovation policy.

Although tight-lipped on the content of the agenda, Dominello did say the policy will have a key focus on data analytics and how to utilise it to cut state costs.

"One of the things we're doing is around commercialisation -- how we can invest in the NSW economy in the data age and a lot of that will be around what powerful formulas we have that can include social outcomes where governments are spending more than they need to," he said.

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