The West Australian Newspaper.
July 1, 2024
James Curtis
Case Study
Rockingham poised to become an economic powerhouse with AUKUS investment

Rockingham, once noted, perhaps unfairly, as the bogan capital of WA, and as the home of former “State Daddy” Premier Mark McGowan is now finding fame for its beachfront boulevard, and relaxed coastal lifestyle. And it’s set to be a major player in the Western Australian economy with more than $8billion to be invested in HMAS Stirling over the next decade to rapidly grow our defence capability as part of the AUKUS security partnership.

However, with more than 3,000 direct jobs to be injected into the local economy, the challenge or opportunity for Rockingham and the broader region is to build sustainable communities that integrate our defence personnel and their families as well as new businesses, whilst not driving a wedge between the existing community that may already be feeling the economic and social pinch. The investment into Rockingham also provides a unique opportunity for Defence to be innovative and forward thinking in how it attracts and supports their workforce given the significant shortfall of skilled workers.

The investment into the sector at a state level is a welcome stimulant for the broader economy that has battled to diversify at real economic levels compared with our mining and energy sectors. More broadly than defence, Rockingham sits in a strategic melting pot of investment growth with advanced manufacturing, tourism, aged care and residential development opportunities being accelerated by its location to critical infrastructure of road, rail and importantly the proposed Westport Harbour.

Rockingham’s uniqueness is unparalleled. It boasts Australia’s largest industrial estate in the 1,150ha Rockingham Industry Zone, which is a beacon for sustainable industry development, whilst also being home to 37km of pristine beachfront and the Shoal water Islands Marine Park frequented by international and domestic tourists, as well as the local community.

Balancing building Australia’s sovereign defence capabilities within an ecological, economic and social landscape at a local level in Rockingham provides a unique urban development opportunity that collectively we can get in front of, offsetting the traditional public view of defence being walled barracks secured and obscured from the community eye.

With an estimated 40,000 people looking to live in Rockingham over the next decade in addition to the defence stimulus, housing the community and supporting with essential and human services is the focus. This will need to consider the housing and commercial mix, recognising that the community demographics will change from the ageing population within Rockingham looking to positively age in place, to the influx of young families supporting industry development.

This is where the opportunities are ripe with a range of public and private vacant land set to be developed to support mixed-used high density commercial and residential development, particularly aged care opportunities and short-stay accommodation, whilst also enabling greater sub-division of aging housing assets enabling population transition.

Supporting the residential density opportunities is the strong level of investment in supporting education and training amenities, including South Metropolitan TAFE, Murdoch UniversityRockingham Campus which are adjacent to the Transit Orientated Development village.

As with other areas of the economy, the timing of these developments run in parallel with other major infrastructure and industry developments in Western Australia, put a pressure on delivering housing and supporting infrastructure to support the workforce, let alone the broader community.

The built form challenges around this significant defence spend is a short-term challenge when we consider the long-term nature of defence spending, however the greater challenge will be the social infrastructure and services that inform the liveability and culture of thec ommunity.

This is where the opportunity truly lies for the defence industry. To reset the perceived historic model of defence communities in Australia, to integrate successfully, and to retain a local and engaged workforce they must consult widely now with local community stakeholders including sport and recreation to cultural groups, volunteer organisations, small business and local government.

This investment in the defence industry and within the strategic location of Rockingham is a welcomed step in the development of WA on the global stage and will put Rockingham front and centre as a powerhouse in a diversifying economy.