Originally published on The Australian

Billionaire Maha Sinnathamby says business needs to work closely with the federal government to attract the best and brightest minds from Hong Kong, and he has called on authorities to focus more spending on technology and health to help position Australia as an ideal destination for the world’s best researchers and technology entrepreneurs.

Mr Sinnathamby, who is developing the $88bn Springfield master-planned city on Brisbane‘s fringe, said he was alarmed by recent announcements about job cuts in some of Australia’s biggest universities, arguing COVID-19 provided an opportunity for a dramatic “rethink” of the role technology needed to play in the research and health sectors in the coming decades.

He said Springfield would boost spending on its 52ha health precinct and planned to build schools that focused on nanotechnology, robotics and high-level technology research and development.

He welcomed Scott Morrison’s announcement this week of a big spending package on training and reskilling for workers, but said governments needed to put even more money into cutting-edge technology education and research facilities to bring skilled workers to Australia and to attract highly qualified Australians living overseas back to the country during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is time for corporate Australia to join with the federal government and say ‘let’s get the country moving’,” Mr Sinnathamby told The Weekend Australian. “I’m talking about more training and retraining of our unskilled workforce. We have to train people up. We have dropped our bundle on this for a long time, this is a good time to re-look what the future for this country is. The world is going to change dramatically and this COVID-19 is going to speed that up.”

Mr Sinnathamby’s Springfield Land Corporation, which he runs with business partner Bob Sharpless, is building the giant Springfield development where 43,000 people with an average age of 29 live, with 11 schools already operating and a huge mixed-use medical precinct including a 1200-bed private hospital and aged-care facilities already built.

SLC is also developing a large technology-focused precinct called IDEA City, to which Mr Sinnathamby wants to attract innova­tive companies to commercial research projects in collaboration with government and business sectors.

He said business and government needed to work together to reverse the “brain drain” out of Australia, and he welcomed a particular focus on convincing Hong Kong residents and business to move to Australia by prioritising them in immigration programs such as the Global Talent Scheme visa and other business investment programs.

“We are going to try to join the federal government in trying to get the thinkers and institutions from Hong Kong to move here. We are going to work very hard on that,” Mr Sinnathamby said.

“It is very important as there is such an amount of know-how and money from Hong Kong that can come here. I welcome the Prime Minister talking about making Sydney the financial centre of Asia, for example, but I think there is also an opportunity in things like health and education.”

There are at least another 15 schools planned for Springfield, which Mr Sinnathamby and Mr Sharpless have estimated there to be another three decades of construction left before the entire 2832ha project is finished.

The pair also aims eventually to create more than 50,000 jobs — one for every three residents — in Springfield, which Mr Sinnathamby says now operates in its own economy, such is its size.

Mr Sinnathamby wants more focus to be given to emerging technologies in education and the health industry. He said the Prime Minister’s announcement this week of a $2.5bn package to save apprentices, re-skill those who have lost their jobs in the pandemic and create a post-COVID workforce was a step in the right direction. But he said the “time was right” to focus on education that pro­duced more jobs and, as a graduate of University of NSW, he was disappointed about job cuts across higher education.

“What are we doing? These people are disappearing. We need to do more to attract the top talent here and keep them. I’m talking about rethinking education,” Mr Sinnathamby said. “I definitely feel that technology is going to outstrip a whole lot of thinking. In that way, the thinking we are doing now is having schools and training in robotics, nanotechnology and these sorts of things. We have to do this to keep up.”

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