The panel of experts at The West s World Powerhouse Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency yesterday. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian.
The panel of experts at The West's World Powerhouse Luncheon at the Hyatt Regency yesterday. Picture: Ian Munro/The West Australian.

The next phase of WA's economic growth needs to come through the military expansion of the State's North West to protect WA's multi-billion-dollar resources, leading Australian demographer Bernard Salt says.

He was speaking during a panel discussion at The West Australian's World Power House lunch yesterday, held in conjunction with Curtin Business School, to analyse WA's potential to become a top 20 international economy. Mr Salt said the 21st century in Australia would be all about the North West.

Along with expansion in logistics, aviation and transport - rather than resources - in WA over the next 20 years, he said a military base along the lines of Australia's biggest, the Lavarack barracks in Townsville, at either Karratha or Port Hedland would encourage population expansion as well as protect the exposed assets.

Mr Salt's policy idea was one of a number of talking points explored by the panel, which included CommSec chief economist Craig James, CCI chief economist John Nicolaou and Resource Development Group director Chris Ryan.

Speaking on the drivers needed to push WA to top 20 status, Mr Salt said a State population of five million was the key.

Mr Salt said rather than the east coast, migrants were more likely to come from countries such as Britain as it was nearly impossible to convince Australians living in the east to jump the "Berlin Wall" of the Nullarbor and move to WA.

Mr Nicolaou described the top 20 tag as more of an aspirational goal. On a more positive note for WA homeowners, Mr Nicolaou said, using long-term averages, Perth would have a median house price of $2 million by 2030. This was disputed by CommSec's chief economist, with Mr James saying the public perception of house price growth had to change.

Mr James raised tax reform, saying a 15 per cent broad-based GST, and a top taxation rate of 25 per cent, made people's eyes light up.

Former WA treasurer turned Federal Liberal candidate Christian Porter, also part of the panel, gave the keynote speech, addressing productivity issues facing the local economy as the State continued to deliver the same products at a greater cost. He described the "staggering" loss of the Browse LNG project as the biggest canary in the history of the Australian economic coalmine.

Human resources expert Chris Ryan said the current cost issues facing WA were a major obstacle and companies would need "wage restraint" to remain accountable.

The West Australian

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