Archive for February, 2011

King Island – the truth according to Kismeticians

February 7, 2011

The Cockatoo Network intersects with lots of other networks, and one of the liveliest involves the Kismeticians.

It’s a group of former ANU Aussie Rules players, mostly from the 1970s, who meet regularly at the Kismet restaurant (actually a sidewalk in Manuka ACT). Membership includes federal officials, consultants, lawyers, industry association executives, retirees, a catholic priest, a former ambassador, a Gippsland farmer etc.

Contrary to perceptions, Canberra is a very egalitarian community and the Kismeticians reflect this – no one stands on ceremony, and our views on most matters are pretty consistent if not libellous.

In between meetings, scores of emails fly between Kismeticians about the health of the Collingwood FC, Essendon FC and the SANFL, the value of certain politicians, the lifestyle of regional France etc. This month, two of our members provided insights on King Island, in the middle of Bass Strait.

ONE MEMBER provided a very good travelog (much better than the rosy stuff of travel writers)
“Surprisingly flat, though with attractive grass-covered sandhills to the west and impressive rocky cliffs to the south. Reasonable roads, limited facilities, no real restaurants. There is a club at Grassy which is the main seaport though smaller than Currie, which is the main commercial town, and has a newsagent, ATM, butcher, baker, 2 small supermarkets, pub and is near the KI airport and the wind/solar power station, some mid range accommodation and 2 expensive hire car outlets. There is a small hospital and school.”

“The two main industrial operators are the abattoirs and the cheese factory, the products of which are available at very good prices on KI, and the possibility that a mine will be re-opened near Grassy. It was suggested that anyone wanting to work on KI would find work, one way or another. There is some construction of holiday houses and tourism accommodation – it was suggested that constructing a house on KI is about 30% more expensive than the equivalent on the mainland.”

“Flights connect with Tullamarine, Moorabbin and Burnie. Landing in the constant prevailing south-westerlies is interesting. Mobile phone connection is non-existent unless Telstra Next G, and internet is slow. A good place for a relaxed few days, there is some more upper end tourism accommodation being built. Try to find someone who has access to cray pots – seafood is very good.”

ANOTHER MEMBER cast his keen mind back to years past.

“As a former Tasmanian resident, I have visited the fair isle of King on several occasions. There are many memorable moments but two stand out.”

“The island is devoid of any hills but has a good network of pretty much identical roads, and on my first visit the Department of Main Roads had removed all the road signs for refurbishment. Navigation consisted of driving until you hit water and then checking the sun!”

“More recently, a Currie resident – an interesting and obviously diplomatic fellow who was also the footy umpire on the Island (two teams Currie and Grassy) – provided me with one of the more enigmatic descriptions of a former notable businessman on the island – “He would always take his wife on his business trips to the mainland, as he couldn’t bear to kiss her good bye.”

Moral of this story – KI has several points of difference, and networks are a rich source of experience.

Floods and cyclones have a silver lining

February 4, 2011

Our sincere condolences to those affected by the floods and Cyclone Yasi in Australia.

The silver lining is that it’s causing a rethink of disaster relief programs, and a reassessment of national priorities. As I write, the flood levy looks like a fait accompli. One advantage is that it avoids big cuts to the promised regional development programs. I suspect however that the NBN could get wound back to places of a certain minimum population.

The national rethink will also include a reassessment of options to reduce the impact of catastrophic events in the future and who pays – some plain-speak insurance policies for starters, and some tighter criteria to determine the federal-state split of infrastructure recovery costs. It’s incumbent on the federal government to crank up decent objective analysis.

As we’ve pleaded in the past, we need a Department of National Development as a permanent bastion of knowledge about ‘things spatial’ and the interrelationships between climate, population, immigration, housing, land settlement, agricultural land use, water-transport-telecoms infrastructure etc. These issues hit the ground differently in different places, and policymakers need to embrace localised infrastructure and development programs. The assistance programs for Adelaide (post-Mitsubishi) and northern Tasmania (retrenchments) are precedents.

In this context, it’s time the federal government ran Better Cities Program – this was a highly successful program in the 1990s that spent $800m making strategic plays once state and local government commitments were made about the real local priorities. It made a real difference in places like Newcastle, Brisbane, East Perth and Launceston. If we’re looking at a levy to fund the rebuilding of parts of Brisbane, Toowoomba etc. it makes sense to do it properly – so why not apply the Better Cities model? Please contact me if you’d like to make representations.

This article appears in the February 2011 edition of LG Focus

Regional development funding (Australia)

February 4, 2011

PM Gillard’s recently announced cuts (January 2011) of $350m to the $800m Priority Regional Infrastructure program will be re-routed towards flood-affected infrastructure. The balance of $450m will go to regions not affected by floods. Guidelines will be out late February. You need to think best practice and to leverage state government and industry funding where possible.

There’s another $600m for RDA regional infrastructure coming via the resources tax, subject to passage of legislation. The bulk of the $5 billion from the resource tax will go to the Department of Infrastructure for roads, rail, aviation infrastructure etc. The axed environment programs are no loss – Gillard and Co. were glad for the excuse.

Councils interested in accessing funding or pushing ideas with the feds need to get organised – by running brainstorming sessions, scoping projects, building in best practice, identifying support from state agencies and the private sector, and writing submissions. You need to be bold and persistent. Please contact us to learn how we can assist.