New South Wales Premier Offers a Vision for His Capital
Nick Greiner, the premier of New South Wales, takes an expansive view of his state's capital city, Sydney.
"Sydney is the only world city," Mr. Greiner said, "the only global Australian city not just in terms of being the transport and communications hub but also as the headquarters of the great majority of Australian economic wealth."
This year, Mr. Greiner won a second four-year term of state government; he is passionately committed to Sydney's importance as a business and finance center.
"By any definition, Sydney is where it's at in Australia," said Mr. Greiner. "In terms of service industries, I don't think there's a real question.
"I suppose I could say with normal premier's pride there isn't a real question in terms of life-style and where executives would want to live, either.
"In terms of competition in Australia, I think the race has been run, and it would be a strange international location decision to choose anywhere other than Sydney on either economic, environmental, or any sort of practical or emotional grounds," he said.
However, while Mr. Greiner sees Sydney's position as clearly ahead of those of other main Australian cities, he admitted the question of competition in the region is more difficult.
Easy to Do Business
"I think some of the answers are again obvious in the sense that it is the easiest place in which to do business," Mr. Greiner said, "and easiest in the sense it has the service base, the legal, accounting, and communications base that is second to none."
"There is a very high comfort factor, and in Sydney, it's fair to say, in some ways you wouldn't notice a difference from many parts of the United States.
"The quality of the available local work force and human skill base is very high," Mr. Greiner said, "and it applies not only in the finance area but across a range of services and general management."
He acknowledged that it is "very hard to disguise" the fact that, while geographically part of Asia, Sydney is not as close to the epicenter of Asian business as Singapore or Hong Kong.
Good Transportation Links
"But the truth is, we now have direct, nonstop access to everywhere in the region," Mr. Greiner said. "Sydney is in that sense an easy place and a comfortable place to do business in the region.
"In financial terms, it has a better and more stable stock market than most other centers. It has a very large futures market, and both of those in a sense are undersold in the U.S. I would have thought that Sydney was easier than stock markets anywhere else in Asia, with the exception of Tokyo."
Nevertheless, one of the biggest drawbacks Sydney faces in comparison with the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong is the tax regime. And the apparent inability or unwillingness of the authorities to make Australian taxation rules as attractive to overseas companies as its Asian rivals have done is troublesome.
One such taxation area, relating to banking, makes the establishment of offshore banking units in Sydney impracticable or simply impossible.
This is being addressed by the federal government, but critics said it has been too long coming. It may be too late even to modify taxation regimes such as the 10% withholdings tax on interest that makes offshore banking unviable.
Singapore and Hong Kong are seen as having a stranglehold on the foreign banking marketplace.
However, Mr. Greiner's state government has been active in trying to create incentives for overseas businesses, as far as it can given obstacles to meaningful legislative change under the federal-state system of government.
Mr. Greiner has moved to abolish stamp duty on share transactions, something within his power as stamp duties are state imposts. In addition, reforms to payroll tax are in the pipeline.
"There's no question that anyone doing a locational analysis would obviously look at tax rates, and while we are going to start to get rid of stamp duty on share transactions, the federal government has taken an unreasonable purist view," Mr. Greiner said. "They say they are trying to get rid of special tax treatments, not impose them.
That's a viewpoint I agree with, as far as the domestic economy is concerned, but with respect to offshore banking units, it's ridiculous because it's not a special treatment for anything that's happening. It is simply a question of whether the thing happens here at all or not.
"We are disadvantaged to that extent. I can't understand the government not wanting to match Singapore on offshore banking or transactions that are quarantineable from the rest of the economy," Mr. Greiner said.
One of Mr. Greiner's foremost ambitions is to improve Sydney's physical infrastructure, which, while modern and efficient, requires vision and planning for the city's development into the 21st century.
"You'd have to concede that, if you take ports, roads, rail, and Sydney Airport, the situation as at 1991 is less than perfect," Mr. Greiner conceded. "On the other hand, state and federal governments generally are moving to redress that."
"I don't think the infrastructure in other places in the region, give or take, is any better," Mr. Greiner said, "although you can't, for instance, even compare Sydney Airport with the likes of Changi in Singapore. But it's still better than Narita [Tokyo] in terms of access.
"There will be a third runway; the road and rail system is showing signs of dramatic improvement; and indeed, I think the chances of Sydney's having a decent road and rail system are much better than they've been in any recent relevant time."
With an acumen for business unrivaled by most other state politicians, Mr. Greiner is strongly in favor of strenuous efforts to promote Sydney overseas as a business center.
But he admits there is a lot to be done.
"It always irks me that you can't get the movements of the Sydney Stock Exchange in the" United States, Mr. Greiner commented. "If I sit in my hotel room in New York, I can find out what happened on the Taipei stock market, but I can't find out what happened in Sydney.
Battling for Sydney Stats
"Even if you look at The Wall Street Journal, you're battling to see what happened in the financial markets in Sydney," he said.
Overall, Mr. Greiner takes a balanced view of Sydney's image in other countries. "It's somewhat tainted by prejudices, both positive and negative," he said.
"There are some rose-colored views about how Australia is the last frontier, and that's overdone," Mr. Greiner said, "and there are negative perceptions, which are also overdone, about our productivity, industrial relations, and our attitudes to race.
"The latter case is totally wrong, although in the other cases, I'd have to concede that some of the international perception about our productivity is right. But hopefully, that will change if we get some industrial relations reform this decade."
An Olympics |Convert'
Mr. Greiner is also now dedicated to Sydney's efforts to play host to the Olympic Games in 2000 - a cause to which he is a convert, having spurned the idea a couple of years ago.
"My main ambition for Sydney would be to fix the environment," Mr. Greiner said. "I'd like to win the Olympic Games, which would be a big part of that, as it would really institutionalize Sydney as a global city.
"And if we could fix our waters, which we've made a fair start on, our air, and our physical infrastructure, then that's more than I would reasonably be expected to do in three or four years in government," he said.
"Other than that an Olympic bid doesn't sit easily with the fact we're in a recession, I think it's very exciting, and I think we have an excellent chance," Mr. Greiner said. "It would be a real plus economically, and we've now got tourism infrastructure with excess capacity in many ways, so we are hell-bent on making it the best possible bid.
"Berlin and Beijing are not easy opponents, obviously, but we like to think the Olympic movement would see the benefits of not going back to Europe or, indeed, back to Asia so soon after Korea.
"In economic terms, over the next couple of years, we're going to be putting a lot of money into it.... I'm a convert to the Olympic cause."