Archive for November, 2010

Food labeling

November 30, 2010

Australia’s former Health Minister, Dr. Neal Blewett, is heading a review of food labelling, and the Secretariat is located in the Department of Health. Therein lies the rub – most of the submissions have focussed on health and food safety. So we’re seeking a meeting to highlight how weak food labelling is harming regional Australia.

For example, food labelling usually states that ‘this product is made in Australia from local and imported ingredients.’ This tells us nothing – it’s certainly not consistent with consumers’ growing demand to know exactly what they are eating. A bout of food poisoning from imported product would force the issue.

While on the subject of food, cruising the supermarket aisles one can find many tinned food lines from Italy, Netherlands, UK, USA etc. at very low prices. Now these are relatively high cost countries and there is a good probability that it is dumped i.e. the prices are significantly lower than in the home country.

But strangely there is little evidence of anti-dumping cases being brought forward. We are mulling over an approach to new Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who was a champion for stronger anti-dumping policies when he was in Opposition.

In the meantime, if you support the likes of Beerenberg, Maggie Beer, and Bega Cheese, you support not only local companies, but those creating jobs in regional Australia.

Frank and Fearless

November 30, 2010

I am reminded of wonderful insights offered by Canberra-based academic Dr. Kathy McDermott, in her book titled ‘Whatever Happened to Frank and Fearless? – the impact of new public management on the Australian Public Service.” She rally nails it, and her insights apply to many western democracies:

‘Vying for ministerial attention is not just about being interesting or novel, or even open and contestable…and the competition of ideas is not a simple contest on an even ground, where the best idea wins. In practice it takes place in a highly landscaped playing field in which interests and interdependencies create gently rolling hills, pitfalls, wind tunnels and extensive deserts – and where the goalposts are moved constantly.’

Indeed, many ideas sit in deserts – but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are dumb ideas. They may be just waiting for rain! That’s where collaboration can help you find partners who can provide a reality check, re-jig your ideas, improve the funding mix and help you lobby ministers.

Contestability versus creativity

November 30, 2010

The Cockatoo Network is developing creative local solutions, in line with the mantra of many federal governments – in the USA, Australia and most of the EC.

But gee, but most federal officials aren’t any help. Let me explain. In the bad old days, we were encouraged to actively work with companies to find solutions to their problems. I recall a work colleague in Australia quoting the legendary mandarin, Nugget Coombes, who once said that that ‘the function of a good bureaucrat is to make possible the realisation of other people’s dreams’.

Well we spend a lot of time looking for such bureaucrats, and avoiding the cardigans of which I’ve written about previously. So last week we were mulling over how to integrate a business incubator into a community centre, and I rang my old department to find someone who was full bottle on the subject. The Department used to have an incubator program.

Well to my joy I found the guru, who also knew of our work on clusters, precincts and smart infrastructure. Unfortunately, despite trying a few angles I couldn’t ‘engage’ him. He was straighter than Bill Lawry’s cricket bat, and basically said that the Department assesses funding submissions in a highly competitive environment, and cannot give advantage to one party over another.

So what’s the solution? The best practice option would be to reduce the emphasis on competitive programs, and for Ministers to encourage bureaucrats to collaborate with stakeholders. But I’m dreamin’. Perhaps the next best option is to engage the staff of regional development agencies who, although quasi bureaucrats, are not bound by the orthodoxy of federal governments.

‘The decade of infrastructure’ – quick, write that down!

November 30, 2010

Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, says the next 10 years will be the decade of infrastructure. Nice hype, and it’s a something that local councils should file away for future reference.

Sure she was in a euphoric mood in getting Senators Xenophon and Fielding onside regarding the national broadband network legislation. And she needed a boost to prove she has an agenda. But infrastructure has traditionally been a core part of the Labor philosophy, so we want to see the hype translate into the hard stuff e.g. NSW hospitals, western Sydney rail, disability services, Indigenous health, irrigation systems.

Anyway, our Cockatoo members are getting on with scoping proposals for the federal infrastructure programs in the New Year. We are responding to RDA Minister Crean’s call for cross-council collaboration, and innovative ways of getting infrastructure projects off the ground. We’re finding it hard to get the private sector and state governments to kick the tin – nothing new I guess and the SA government looks like winning our Scrooge Award.

Scientific Hubs

November 19, 2010

AUSTRALIA needs to change the way it invests in science and develop at least five national scientific hubs, each with more than 10,000 researchers, says the chief executive of the CSIRO, Megan Clark.

”Major shifts in how we do science and how we invest nationally are required if we are to remain globally relevant and attract the best and brightest to Australia,” said Dr Clark, who gave the 2010 Lowy lecture at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney on 19 November.

She said Sydney had an opportunity to develop a national precinct in information communication, and Melbourne could build on its strengths to develop one precinct in human life sciences and another in material sciences.

These ”powerhouses of innovation”, bringing together the best researchers from universities and science institutes, would require annual investments of more than $1 billion each and appropriate computing infrastructure. At present, science funding is mainly based on the excellence of individual researchers.

But Australia’s main challenges – climate change, water management and prevention of chronic disease – require multidisciplinary teams, Dr Clark said.

Scientists not only need to understand fundamental aspects of a problem, such as information about temperature, rainfall, wind patterns, ocean currents and ocean acidity, when considering climate change, they also need to understand how all these factors interconnect.

Dr Clark identified Perth as the logical site for a precinct in resource geosciences and space. Canberra could build on its expertise in plant and ecosystem science, and Brisbane on its strengths in environmental science and ecology. ”Adelaide is emerging as a centre for preventative health and nutrition,” she said.

On a world scale, the big problem will be how to do more with less as the population increases.
”Globally we face the challenges of securing our food, water and energy needs in a world of finite resources,” said Dr Clark, whose lecture is entitled Science and Australia’s Place in the World.

She said these challenges would create opportunities for Australia, as a result of its expertise in advanced minerals and energy projects, and in plant and animal science.

Australia leads the world in understanding the genetics of wheat and contributed to the recent completion of the genetic sequence of cattle.

This country also has strengths in astronomy and space science, which could lead to more advances in communication, data handling and computing, particularly if Australia wins the bid to host the gigantic Square Kilometre Array radiotelescope in Western Australia.

In other areas, such as some green technologies and water and environmental services, however, Australia has no special advantages, she said.

The nation would have to compete fiercely, particularly when low-income markets in China and India are driving ”reverse innovation”, with products such as Tata’s $2000 car and cheap, high-quality medical services.

The Cockatoo Network has been arguing for some time about the need for a concerted spatial research framework built around the competitive advantage of regions and stronger collaboration via clustering and networking techniques. We are currently working with David Dodd (DADCONSULT) and other US agencies to link clusters as a means of driving hubs and clusters as alluded to by Dr. Clark.

If you would like more information on how your region can participate, please contact us at

Source: SMH and Cockatoo resources.

Collaborator Profile – Andrew McCredie

November 15, 2010

Who and where are you?

I’m Andrew McCredie (MEnvSci, MBA) Executive Director of the Australian Services Roundtable based in Canberra.

What’s your job?

Managing the common interests of services businesses across the services spectrum. The Australian Services Roundtable is the peak business body for the services industries in Australia. Sectors represented include financial services (banking, insurance, securities, fund management), professional services (accounting, legal, engineering, architecture), health services, education services, environmental services, energy services, logistics, tourism, IT, telecommunications, transport, distribution, standards and conformance, audio-visual, media, entertainment, cultural and other business services.

The Australian Services Roundtable aims to stimulate informed policy oriented networking by industry participants both within and across the various services sectors, with federal and state government, with the research community and international industry and government counterparts. ASR is a member of the Global Services Coalition – a network of a dozen similar services trade-oriented bodies from North America, Europe and Australasia. ASR’s key objective is to secure Australia’s place in the global services economy.

What’s exciting you at present?

ASR recently released a major new report – New Economic Challenge – Responding to the Rise of Services in the Australian Economy that was launched by the Minister for Trade, the Hon Dr Craig Emerson, MP. We are currently running workshops in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra to road-test the report with services businesses, and are planning a Services Symposium with the ANU’s Crawford School for 16 March 2011.

I am also following up recommendations in the report about improving the measurement of services productivity in the National Accounts and elsewhere, development of service standards and the development of health tourism.

What are your top 3 tips on how to collaborate?

1. Have a clear shared objective of what you would like to achieve that motivates people to help.

2. Share success lavishly…everyone, no matter how small their contribution, always thinks it was their
contribution that made it happen (who knows they may be right)

3. Be persistent.

What collaborative projects would interest Cockatoo readers?

There may be interest in our work on service standards, health tourism and measuring services productivity.

Contact details or 02 6270 1330

Travels broadens your creativity

November 10, 2010

People who live abroad are more creative; and the more time they spend away from home, the more creative they become – says William Maddux, assistant professor at INSEAD, France.

However certain conditions apply, says Maddux. For example, creativity is unlikely to spark for people travelling abroad for a short holiday. “We don’t find a positive correlation with travel abroad and creativity.”

Maddux says it has to be at least a short stint abroad, but adds that the quality of the experience matters.

“Not only does time matter – which can explain why living abroad matters and not travelling abroad – it’s also the psychological transformation that you go through while you’re abroad e.g. your creative levels can spike if you fully immerse yourself in local experiences…there’s a very strong, robust association between foreign language aptitude and creativity…So a person who goes to live abroad for a year, but hangs out mostly with expatriates isn’t going to derive the same creative benefit as those who try to adapt themselves to a new culture, learn the language, learn the customs…”

Maddux’s advice is to look for people who have these enriching experiences abroad. Conversely, don’t skimp on offering international assignments.

Contributed by INSEAD.

Brumby’s pitch re regional events

November 10, 2010

VICTORIAN premier John Brumby has committed $12 million to a regional major events fund for country Victoria – to support events like the motorcycle grand prix on Phillip Island and the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.

Voters in Victoria go to the polls on November 27. If re-elected, the funding would also be used to back more major events in the regions such as Ballarat’s bid to host the 2014 world rowing masters regatta on Lake Wendouree.

“The new $12 million fund will be a dedicated fund for regional Victoria to support new major events that will put our regions on the world map and lure interstate and international visitors,” he said.

Silverhawk’s crystal ball on regional funding

November 10, 2010

Silverhawk met with the new Department recently. The spokeswoman was as helpful as possible, but the message was it’s early days, forward program funding is being resolved with Department of Finance, and staff recruitment continues. Some guesswork generates the following scenario.

 The key program is the Regional Infrastructure Fund ($6 billion), of which $573 million is for local projects identified by RDA Committees.

 The balance of the $6 billion still undecided. One tranche will be for election promises (the independents’ wish lists). A second tranche is likely for projects in Queensland and WA in line with the ‘infrastructure for high growth regions’ promise made to Qld-WA voters. Political pressure from government backbenchers in the other states should result in a third ‘rest of Australia’ tranche i.e. the $573 million figure will expand.

 Other announcements will take time. Department of Finance is identifying savings across numerous portfolios to pay for the election commitment of $10 billion for regional Australia.

 Priority Regional Infrastructure Program ($800 million) – not clear how this sits with the above, but it will probably be modeled on the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, which was very competitive (success rate around 20%).

 RDA Committees not likely to have own budgets to fund small projects quickly and effectively. Many of the Departmental staff will be assessing and processing grants.