Archive for April, 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For (Oz politics)

April 29, 2011

Bogong, our resident political analyst, has been overseas. But he has been tracking events, and has returned with a vengeance.

 Bogong migrated to the northern hemisphere to escape the crowds on the surf beaches and to reflect on the sickness of the democratic polity. Reflect too on how much Labor Party members, federal officials and yes, Bogong as well, were collectively looking forward to the coming of Julia as some sort of saviour from the political paralysis of Ruddism.

Coming back to Oz after three months the malaise continues and nothing of substance has happened. As the Budget looms and expunges all lateral thinking, only the NBN gives us some idea of a country with big ideas. Lots of talk but in the end good programs and policies are stifled by factions, polls and an Opposition that has more traction than substance.

 Why is it so hard to push through the most logical and sensible policies at a time of exceptional economic good fortune?

 Here is a dismal example of ineptitude –Australia is living off its mineral wealth and whatever we say about other sectors of the economy, they too are piggybacking on what comes out of the ground. But minerals and energy are finite resources, they are located inAustraliaand one day there will just be holes in the ground.

 Our large miners are currently reaping the benefits of global resource prices that have doubled and tripled their profits and this has nothing to do with capital investments or expertise or business acumen. These are windfall profits and a share of those windfall profits should go to all Australians not just shareholders. Ideally they should be going into a future fund as a hedge against the day when resources are running low or prices have gone through the floor – or both. A future fund too that could invest in the long term – in skills, in universities, in medical research and all the other programs that our children will need. Unfortunately they are also programs that become the first casualties of a phony budget war.

The Government would naturally like to get its hands on a ‘fair’ share of this wealth and will do so but this mob would like to spend it tomorrow but not on investment in infrastructure or skills. No they want to prop up the budget, prop up and continue to outlay tens of billions of dollars in middle class welfare in senseless vote buying exercises like Family Benefit Part B.

For the Opposition, it is worse. The Opposition calls this and any other new revenue raising ‘a great big new tax’ but of course they don’t tell us how they will continue the middle class welfare that John Howard invented because they don’t know – and as long as they are in Opposition they don’t care. Their ‘ideas’ reek of opportunism.

 Ultimately a watered down resources tax will go through but only so that this Government can deliver a second dividend to shareholders. Add to this a carbon tax that subsidises polluters.

 How have we got ourselves into this situation? Back in the ‘80s big important changes went through Parliament with some kind of bipartisanship. Now it doesn’t happen. Governments are gutless and poll every issue before they run with it just in case the voters of western Sydneydon’t like it.

Once upon a time, a Labor Government phased out a century of protectionism and put the TCF and motor vehicle industries on their heels and forced people out of old jobs and into retraining for new jobs. The Hawke Government did this because they knew and believed in free trade as a long term benefit to this country. And Ministers went out and sold it to the folks without the benefit of a poll to tell them it would be unpopular. Imagine what it would be like today if the Government had to sell a floating exchange rate! It wouldn’t happen.

 There are some on both sides in the Federal Parliament who are genuinely uncomfortable with the ‘oppose all’ or ‘poll all’ attitudes of their leaders but they don’t speak up for various reasons. Some of them just can’t hack the hypocrisy in their personal situations any longer and resign. Lindsay Tanner would be an eminent example.

Of course the rumblings of leadership change have started as disappointment in Julia’s performance spreads and already Bogong is hearing of possible replacements but none of the current candidates have ‘the right stuff’ as Tom Wolfe would put it and if they doubt this they should test it with a poll! The Treasurer for a start although factionally well connected has little public image.

His colleague, baby faced Bill also of the AWU/Right faction is another who has done too little where and when it counts. Tanner was a real force but has gone.

Looking outside any current contenders there is a creeping conviction that Combet may get the tap on the shoulder but it is more likely to come when Labor is back in Opposition. After that you have to look outside the parliamentary party to Paul Howes the erudite leader of the AWU itself.

 As for peripatetic, budgie smuggling Tony, he has taken to adversarial politics like a rat up a drainpipe or like Lance Armstrong on benzedrine. But as some of his colleagues have reminded me, he is only representing a relatively small percentage of the Liberal establishment – the ‘very’ right wing. He’s there because he’s done better than anyone expected. No one is rocking the boat while he is winning support although there are many in the party of Bob Menzies that would be mightily uncomfortable with Tony as PM.

One of the really interesting pieces of theatre left to play out before the next election is whether he can keep the leadership.

 It would be good to end on a positive note and here is a thought – maybe sensible, middle and working class Australians are open to an intelligent discussion on what is in this country’s best long term interests, in other words the interests of their children.

 In a recent US poll, the future of the next generation came up as the biggest single area of concern – over 70%. There is an odds on chance it would be the same here. Perhaps someone should go out and talk to the folks with some real ideas, have a real discussion and explain that some belt tightening is part of creating a better future. It would be a radical change to the current model which is to first find out what they think they think and then tell them that your party has exactly what they wished for.

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Jumps racing – time for council leadership!

April 27, 2011

We need to be mindful of people’s democratic freedom, but surely jumps racing has to go. The case in point this time was the Oakbank Easter carnival, with the sad death of Java Star at the last hurdle in front of a capacity crowd.

 Thoroughbred Racing SA chairwoman Frances Nelson, QC, said the death of Java Star was a “tragic incident” but her authority’s support for jumps racing was unaffected. She claims it’s an integral part of the racing industry, and that because Oakbank is one of the state’s great icons, her organisation will continue to give the carnival every support. The TV clip included a quote inferring that the large crowd justified the practice.  

Well, I beg to differ. Sure Oakbank is a marvellous experience, and it may miss something if jumps racing disappears, but this is the 21st century and it is simply cruel.  

Local councils are now prominent in banning circuses. So how about it, Adelaide Hills Council? You have been progressive in nurturing the region’s natural assets and an unsurpassed lifestyle – the unnecessary slaughter of horses simply does not fit your image.DittoWarrnamboolCityCouncil.

Innovation – overused buzzword

April 6, 2011

James Woudhuysen* reports (via Alan Kohler) that the UK government’s 131-page The Plan for Growth, published with Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget speech last week, speaks of innovation no fewer than 86 times. Clearly the Coalition has become more exercised about innovation than New Labour ever was.

Yet for all the rhetoric about innovation in the Budget, both the official concept of it and the sums of money made available for it are very modest. Accountants wrote more of the Plan than did innovators: everywhere one can detect the dead hand of penny-pinchers in the Treasury.

The narrative on innovation as it currently exists is a low-carbon one (58 mentions), drawn up by Vince Cable’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Theirs is a low-investment narrative, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that, in the 2000s, UK business investment as a share of GDP was one of the lowest in advanced economies (p21). 

*James Woudhuysen is author, with Joe Kaplinsky, of Energise! A Future for Energy Innovation, published by Beautiful Books. – go to Amazon(UK).) He’s also a contributor to BIG POTATOES: The London Manifesto for Innovation.

Collaborator Profile – Brendan Dyson (your China man)

April 6, 2011

Who and where are you?

I work for the Australia/China Technical Experts Network, based in Canberra. Always been interested in Trade and Exports and the vital role networking and collaboration plays.  

What’s your job? 

On the Australian side, I work with over 3,000 Australian collaborators from Commonwealth & State agencies – business, professional/industry associations, research institutes & companies in the areas of education, tourism, engineering, minerals & energy, agriculture, manufacturing, advanced materials & biotechnology.

On the Chinese side, each year I work with around 1400 middle to senior level Beijing and Provincial Chinese officials and business managers to arrange:

  • Short term studies (2-5 days) at Universities to learn about economic, social, cultural or political developments of Chinese interest in Australia.
  • Longer term studies (4-12 weeks) mainly at Universities (but not always) to undertake detailed studies of specific interest to the group.
  • Technical on site meetings with companies, research institutes, professional and industry associations.
  • Discussions with companies & agencies covering everything from iron ore to E- Government. 
  • Seminars, trade displays, promotions, introductions and site visits for Australian companies interested in developing co-operative relationships in China.

 What’s exciting you at present?

Watching the growth of the China juggernaut and trying to anticipate some of the economic and geostrategic implications for Australia.  

 What are your top 3 tips on how to collaborate?  

1. Listen to everyone – What’s happening at one level has implications at other levels. Before my China epiphany (2003) I’d be at work telling Hong Kong contacts that no iron ore was available. Then I’d go home, have dinner and ask my wife what shares we should buy for our superannuation fund. Wake up Brendan!! Get your head out of the trenches and think about the other persons’ world. Everything is interconnected, get in the helicopter and look for the common threads.

2. Never Burn Bridges. Keep collaborations alive until the timing is right. A large Chinese iron ore investment fell over in 2004 because the Chinese were unsure about how good a deal they were getting.  No one then understood the strength of the China boom. A couple of iron ore price rises and six months later the Chinese group would have jumped at the deal.  But by then it was too late. They had burned their bridges with the Australian supplier and would never get the same offer again.

3. Small population/large countries like Australia have to collaborate to survive. We must get better at it.
Australia’s 22 million people can’t do it all on their own in a world of almost 7 billion. In finance, in trade, in government, we’ve borrowed and benefited from others. Australian researchers know that our spending on R&D, even if doubled, could never produce some of the breakthroughs and some of the productivity enhancing technologies coming from overseas. The more we work with others the better off for everyone.

 What collaborative projects would interest Cockatoo readers?

The priorities in the past have been agriculture, education, minerals and energy, although collaborations in other areas have also been successful. I deal with literally every area and every level of Chinese business and government so there are always opportunities for collaboration. Some will move quickly, some will move slowly. Collaborations in the area of education are generally successful and easy to stay abreast of.  Non education collaborations are harder to follow. My main role is to arrange the initial introduction, organise the initial site visit etc.  Often I don’t know for years afterwards if the collaborations succeeded or not.  But if Cockatoo readers are willing to take a punt, I’ve always got a Chinese audience for you.

Weather radar too late to help

April 6, 2011

In 2005, Cockatoo had a whinge about the lack of weather radar coverage across central west and north west NSW, two of Australia’s key agricultural regions. Farmers were desperate to anticipate upcoming rain belts in order to time their crop sowings and harvests. The problem was that the radars at Moree and Wagga were too distant. The National Farmers Fedration shared our concern.

Anyway we’d received the Ted Whitten flick-pass from the Bureau of Meteorology until an email arrived later in 2005 indicating that the BOM had received special funding in 2003 for a new radar at Gunnedah, and the expected completion date was in 2007.

Well, the weather radar was finally commissioned at Gunnedah in September 2010! The once-in-a-generation benefits have been missed because the drought has come and gone, but the fact remains that eight years from decision to commissioning is a long time. Cockatoo has since been advised by a BOM spokeswoman that Gunnedah was 20th on the list of 21 radars for upgrading or commissioning.

Clearly BOM management never made the connection between their radar roll-out and its role in addressing the impact of the drought. This is one small example of the lack of integrated planning across regional Australia i.e. between agriculture, climate, transport, health, education, housing, community services. 

As we keep saying, we need a Department of National Development.

 

 

Furniture Cluster – Letterfrack, Ireland

April 5, 2011

Established just over two decades ago with 20 students, the  Furniture College at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) in Letterfrack, Ireland now provides 280 students with an internationally renowned education in furniture design, technology, manufacture, restoration and conservation.

 Located in a small village in County Galway, GMIT Letterfrack enjoys a 95-97% completion rate. The college began as a partnership between Connemara West, a community and rural development organization, and a Regional Technical College. It was a development strategy for a community with an unemployment rate of 50% and, with assistance from the Danish Technological Institute, helped rescue a lagging furniture cluster.

The college has since extended its partnerships to include universities and programs throughout the world.

 GMIT Letterfrack’s strong reputation and relationships with employers in and outside Ireland offer its students the chance to apply their education through internships and postgraduate careers. A majority of students are ffrom Ireland and enroll in the college directly from secondary school. About 10-20 percent of students, however, are over 23 years of age. The college has a small number of full-time international students in addition to the six exchange students the college hosted this year.

 Many internships are in training and education, offering technical support for lecturers or trainers. Others include design and product development, project management, production software, and equipment design. Approximately one third of student placements are to positions outside of Ireland, including Canada, Australia, Finland, Germany, England, United States, Zambia and Morocco.

 Instructors of GMIT Letterfrack include lecturers and technicians. Lecturers are in charge of each training module and delivery of the program. Technicians offer technical support through demonstrations in the workshop. Many of the staff members are hired as graduates of the college. Currently, eight of 25 members are GMIT Letterfrack graduates.

 The town of Letterfrack has greatly benefited from the college. Economic conditions have improved enormously via staff relocating to the area, traveling staff members, and 280 students. GMIT Letterfrack has extended its outreach efforts by working with the village of Maamba, Zambia to develop the Woodworking Training Centre. Four students and their lecturer traveled to Africa to set up equipment necessary to teach a class of 18 students. The first classes were held in July 2009, and the first group of students passed their trade exams in the summer of 2010. The Letterfrack students then led an initiative to develop a market for locally produced furniture and began taking commercial orders.

 Contributed by Corinne Cain – go to http://rtsinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Sketches3_11.pdf

(This item was provided by CraftNet Sketches, a network run by Stu Rosenfeld et al in USA. It does a great job in disseminating best practice. We get a huge amount of enquiries on its behalf from African students. The Letterfrack College seems ideally placed to figure in international aid collaboration – Editor)

 

Investment attraction – Barcelona

April 5, 2011

 

A Cockatoo member recently sought the help of the Cockatoo Network to learn of any studies that have been done on early stage “innovative” company migration. We got some very helpful replies – thank you all. One of them was from Emeritus Professor David Charles (Newcastle UK).

“I recall being in Barcelona a couple of years ago and being given a presentation on how they were looking to attract such mobile firms looking for a foothold in Europe. They had a specific scheme for them, the landing program – http://www.landingbarcelona.com/

 (It does indeed look interesting – it is a program to accelerate the growth of the select knowledge-intensive companies through globally linked co-incubation programs – Editor)

RDA Fund – angles for consideration

April 5, 2011

The big topic of interest at present is the Regional Development Australia Fund.

The guidelines were released last month for this $1 billion five-year program. Federal Minister Crean says this is a new approach to unlocking the potential of Australia’s regions via locally driven, creative solutions to regional needs. And he wants strong, well-researched, strategic applications for projects that stack up.

Well a new approach was certainly needed. Our advice to local councils is to take this very seriously. Why? First, Crean’s mantra about wanting creative, locally-driven solutions gives local stakeholders every right to seek a solid dialogue with him and his department. And much of this should be face-to-face, not via written submissions. So don’t be shy.

Secondly, there are 55 RDA Committees competing for the $1 billion. It won’t be divvied up exactly, but each region might expect roughly $40 million in grants on the basis that a notional $20m from the feds has to be matched by state, industry and perhaps council contributions. This formula and processes could become a permanent feature of the landscape – so best to get used to them!

Thirdly, the crying need – in rural Australia at least – is to find better ways of progressing good ideas. The stumbling block is the connectivity problem due to distance, cultural differences, federal-state competition, personal rivalries, lack of familiarity with the issues, forgetfulness and stuff-ups. So when Crean et al talk about joined up agendas, tearing down silos, reducing red tape and fostering collaboration, it makes sense for local folk to sign on to these ideals. Indeed, you might think about making some of your RDA Fund projects a best practice collaboration model that delivers benefits far greater than the federal grant.

Angles for RDA Fund projects

Putting the above ideals into context, Minister Crean says the RDA Fund will commit between $500,000 and $25 million per project. We forecast that very few projects will approach anywhere near $25 million due to demands on the program and associated equity reasons. 

Crean says the funding will be directed towards lifting work skills and productivity, maximizing the opportunity of broadband, sustaining our environment, promoting social inclusion and improving water and energy efficiency. Note too that they must also align with the RDA Plan for the region. What sort of projects might really win favour? We think projects with the following angles will be well regarded:

  • Creation of sustainable jobs in small towns, especially in eco-tourism.
  • Public infrastructure that facilitates globally-connected, value-added industries in rural regions e.g. cool stores.
  • Reduction of obesity and alcohol abuse e.g. health and sports hubs.
  • Better integration of migrants into communities.
  • Indigenous projects that have a realistic chance of creating sustainable jobs.
  • Youth mentoring e.g. buddy systems involving mature age workers and pensioners.
  • Vehicles for improved community cohesion e.g. community centres, youth centres.
  • Water and waste management e.g. pipelines, aquifer storage.
  • Revenue streams for the National Broadband Network.

Be wary of seeking funding for the following: 

  • Roads and bridges – hard to make this innovative, and could be seen as cost shifting.
  • Local airports – upgrades are critical in some regions to get bigger aircraft and lower airfares, but costs are usually high and it could reduce your prospects for other projects.
  • Regional transport hubs – regions should NOT get suckered into these when there is a separate Department of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure Australia agenda.
  • Education infrastructure – surely BER was enough – if not, go to DEEWR.
  • Health infrastructure – don’t get suckered here either.
  • manufacturing and further processing – the days of subsidies to single firms are gone.
  • Climate Change – even the PM has given this the cold shoulder.

 Crean and the independents should be applauded for this program. But there will be a deluge of submissions and many will be go nowhere because $1 billion isn’t much at a national level. Councils should nevertheless work up their ideas, because I’ve got a hunch that the RDA Fund is going to evolve into an ongoing program. We are here to help. (This article appears in the April edition of LG Focus).