Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Regional Soldiers

August 29, 2013

The Herald Sun ran an article earlier this year about Australia’s top 5 soldiers. We did some further research.

Thomas Blamey grew up in Wagga, became Australia’s only ever Field Marshall, and later Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police.

Captain Albert Jacka VC, was born on a dairy farm near Winchelsea before moving to Wedderburn. He fought at Gallipoli and on the western front, and became a champion for the unemployed. Also Mayor of St Kilda.

Colonel Sir ‘Weary’ Dunlop, the surgeon renowned for his leadership in a Japanese POW camp, was born in Wangaratta and schooled in Benalla.

General Sir John Monash, arguably Australia’s greatest soldier, spent his formative years in Jerilderie. He did fantastic work in repatriating Australian troops, and established the Latrobe Valley coal industry.

General Peter Cosgrove grew up in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and attended Waverley College and then Duntroon. He does a huge amount of social service, and is tipped as our next Governor General.

Notice a trend here? Well, except for Cosgrove, they all grew up in northern Victoria or the Riverina. One might say that half the nation came from the regions in those days, but the clustering effect is quite remarkable. Did the rural lifestyle instil some particular characteristics?

Dentists hard to find in regional Australia

July 31, 2013

The Australian Government has a Dental Relocation & Infrastructure Support Scheme (DRISS) to get dentists out into regional areas – big subsidies (up to $370k per dentist).

Alas, the patients need to have private health cover. I explained to the DRISS folk that the people they’re endeavouring to help often can’t afford private health cover!
The reply was that we don’t have much funding ($77.7 million) but we might look at hybrid arrangements.

If you don’t believe me, here is the verbage on the DRISS website – ‘Applicants (i.e. dentists) who intend to operate in both private and public practice may be eligible for the measure, however applicants who intend to operate solely within the public sector are not eligible.’

Industry Statement – opportunity beckons

February 27, 2013

Australia’s long-awaited Industry & Innovation Statement, released in February, provides an intriguing opportunity for local councils.

It stems from the announcement of ten Innovation Precincts, with $500 million funding. As I’ve foreshadowed in recent months, these will be established in areas of current Australian competitive advantage like manufacturing, food, finance and resources and up to five Precincts will support emerging opportunities – their focus will be on industries with strong export potential.

Melbourne is to be a food precinct under the new arrangements, which is very interesting given that most manufacturers have moved out to Cranbourne, Shepparton, Ballarat, Bairnsdale etc. Perhaps the CSIRO and the Australian Research Council, whose influence and/or facilities lie in Melbourne, had a big say in the decision?

The reality is that for certain industries, urban agglomerations of research infrastructure, plant, equipment and workers are important e.g. finance, IT, biotech and pharmaceuticals. However this isn’t the case for the food, timber, metals and engineering industries.

The configuration and location of most of the precincts have yet to be decided.

The opportunity is thus for regional cities and towns to negotiate and lobby their way into these precincts, including the afore-mentioned food precinct, especially since the government would be open to sensible propositions at a time of a hung Parliament. We’re now scheduling meetings with the industry and regional development departments to discuss how regional hubs can be positioned in the new arrangements. If your Council has an interest in this dialogue, please contact us ASAP.

Clusters and supply chains

The Industry Statement actually uses the terms precinct and cluster interchangeably, which is nice after our decade of effort in opening federal policymakers’ eyes to the potential of clusters. We must thank my colleague Professor Roy Green (UTS) for his leadership on this.

To explain, a few years back our Cockatoo members identified some 100 industry clusters around Australia. We have been dropping hints about they could form the basis of a new industry policy, especially given that localised processes are increasingly important.

For example, in South Australia we identified clusters of differing sizes in horticulture (Virginia, Riverland, Hahndorf), seafood (Port Lincoln), automotive and engineering (northern Adelaide), wine (Barossa and Clare Valleys), food (northern Adelaide), minerals and metals Upper Spencer Gulf) The defining features of each of these clusters are the specialisation and critical mass that helps them build supply chains into global markets. I will identify more of these clusters next month.

The Industry Statement touches on the importance of supply chains. We believe there is real scope for companies to now engage with the federal government to think about how high-value global supply chains can be nurtured in association with these clusters and precincts. Once again, please forward your ideas!

Defensive measures

As mentioned above, the Statement had a defensive component, presumably crafted by the manufacturing unions. It involves increased vigilance on cheap imports via anti-dumping action. The reality is that many foreign companies are selling their goods into our market at cost just to keep their operations going. But an anti-dumping program will not prevent these practices, and anti-dumping cases are excruciating slow.

A beefed-up Australian Participation Program, to seek higher levels of Australian content in major resource and engineering projects, will also be sought. However our signing of Free Trade Agreements means that we can no longer mandate particular levels of local content for these projects.

Innovation grants

The third leg of the Statement involves $350 million in a new round of the Innovation Investment Fund program to stimulate private investment in Australian start-ups. There is also a new competitive Industry Collaboration Fund (up to $50 million a year). This is all a little murky because the offset savings are linked to reducing the eligibility of the resource companies to R&D grants.

In any event, Shadow Minister Sophie Mirabella is the one to watch. She has not yet ruled anything in or out.


Smart Specialisation and Precincts

December 16, 2012

The European Commission is much involved in urban and regional development thinking, and it has been promoting the Smart Specialisation concept. It basically involves EC regions specialising in activities that align with their competitive advantages. And the Commission offers financial inducements to this end.

Now the churlish might argue that this policy shift has come a bit late to help Greece, Spain and Portugal. But the truth is that ‘regions’ hold a lot of sway in Europe – they are a fundamental part of its social and industrial fabric.

What about north America, Asia, Australia and elsewhere?

Well they’ve just scraped the surface to date. Various federal and state governments have established loose policy frameworks for things ‘spatial’, and they provide a springboard for Smart Specialisation policies. Indeed, there are three reasons why a Smart Specialisation agenda would be timely.

First, Smart Specialisation themes will appeal to Treasury/Finance economists, and thereby help get support for better regional funding programs.

Secondly, smart specialisation concepts can provide a vehicle for federal/state departments dealing with regional development to swing other departments into collaborating on projects.

Thirdly, advancing a locality’s competitive advantage wins respect from cynical voters. Politicians are forever being accused of using regional grants to pork barrel – but by concentrating on specialised areas, the scope to politicise grant making is reduced.

Precincts – a vehicle for specialisation

Precincts and hubs are a means of capturing locational synergies and nurturing regional specialisation.

Alfred Marshall (Principles of Economics, 1890) was espousing this stuff more than a century ago. He talked about particular locations having types of specialisation. Indeed he anticipated later discussion of the role of place as a point of information exchanges, and of innovation developing through that “something in the air” that arises when people mingle and exchange ideas.

Marshall identified four particular features of precincts – knowledge spillovers as a result of informal networking; access to a common pool of factors of production such as labour or R&D facilities; specialisation of production within supply chains; and the facilitation of ‘comparison shopping’ for buyers.

Precincts are, by the way, virtually synonymous with clusters, and my colleagues and I are quick to highlight this to government officials who still think clusters are about picking winners and that companies are so ‘wired to competition’ that they cannot collaborate. Rubbish of course.

Five tips for facilitating specialisations and precincts

Anyway, getting back to the subject, it makes good sense for councils and regional champions to use local specialisation and precinct concepts in their lobbying efforts to federal and state agencies. Below are some suggested initiatives that could complement your lobbying effort.

1. Map your specialised assets and the linkages between them. This is a natural start point, and a great marketing tool. Examples – The Napa Valley (US) and Food Barossa (Australia) have done a good job of identifying and explaining its specialty food producers.

2. Get international agencies to study or talk about your area of specialisation. Depending on where you are, you might use the OECD, UN agencies or the World Bank to raise international awareness, and the agendas then filtered back to your state. We can connect you to these agencies.

3. Commission university research studies on national issues at your local level. These can be good copy for the daily newspapers, which in turn educate external audiences about your local specialisation.
4. Leverage your champions. Example – Americans are great at this. Now Wellington and NZ is on the global film and technology map thanks to Peter Jackson and his insistence on filming the Hobbit trilogy and Lord of the Rings. Prime Minister Keys supported him. And Hobart is more than Errol Flynn’s birthplace – it has reinvented itself thanks to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) created by eccentric gaming mogul David Walsh.
5. Do something bold and innovative. Towns, cities and suburbs often have specialisations, but they’re hidden to the outside world. A bold project can lift the specialisation profile.
The Cockatoo Network, based in Canberra, wants regions anywhere to share their ideas on Smart Specialisation. We are also linking clusters across international borders to facilitate trade and investment. Please contact us at or visit our blog at investmentinnovation.wordpress.

Live beef and sheep exports – enough is enough

November 27, 2012

Let’s face it, shipping live animals in cramped pens for long distances across tropical seas is inherently cruel. And a good number of these beasts then face further suffering on arrival.

Around 50% of Australia’s sheep and 7% of its beef are exported live. This is a clear failure of our agriculture and industry policy, and it’s heartening to see the number of farmers now joining the swelling ranks of activists for export bans on live shipments.

You must have sympathy for Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig, who brought in a temporary export ban but was soon overruled because of the huge political storm it created.

The reason of course is the fact that live exports have been the lifeline of the northern beef farmers and many sheep farmers through some very difficult times, and they simply will not countenance unions or anyone else threatening their commercial lifeline into Asia. As a result, it’s one of the most political of all industries and very resistant to change – the key reason for our inability to turn beef and sheep commodities into high-value foods.

So we’ve been kicking around some ideas here in Canberra about an Action Plan to value add beef and sheep through greater local processing. We figure it is both commonsense and totally consistent with the values of a Labor Government. Accordingly, we are proposing to build a collaborative joint venture ‘model’ for Minister Ludwig’s consideration.

I can’t go into detail here but it would basically apply this model to certain abattoirs in Australia. They would need to have progressive management that is amenable to working with unions, farmers and extension agencies to significantly lower costs at critical points along the supply chain. We figure that co-investment with enlightened foreign investors would also be smart in order to address some of the overseas market constraints. This is not rocket science – a group of us here in Canberra worked on the Button industry plans for steel, passenger motor vehicles, building and construction and textiles, footwear and clothing. The issues are not that different.

If your council is interested in being involved, please contact me ASAP.

This article appears in the December 2012 issue of LG Focus

Hubs and Precincts – Australian Government develops a sense of place

October 26, 2012

The PM’s Manufacturing Taskforce tabled its ‘Smarter Manufacturing’ report in August 2012, and the Government will reply in an Industry & Innovation Statement around November.

The Taskforce report is an excellent document in that it walks the reader through the realities of a high dollar, high cost economy. It provides some good pointers for other ‘resource boom’ economies such as Canada/

The report includes some intriguing overseas examples such as the UK’s Catapult Centres and Singapore’s Biopolis and Fusionopolis. One can see the deft hand of Professor Roy Green (University Technology Sydney) in the report’s thinking.

The recommendations include a call for a more effective Enterprise Connect program, and increased investment in transport infrastructure, skills, smarter workplaces etc. Nothing revolutionary there

BUT there is new-age thinking as follows:

“As part of a broader overhaul, the non-government members of the Taskforce propose the development of globally-oriented innovation precincts that build critical mass around our comparative advantages and opportunities. And a new Smarter Australia Network linking businesses, research organisations and others is proposed to address systemic barriers to more widespread collaboration.

Recommendation 21:

The non-government members of the Taskforce recommend the establishment of a limited number of Smarter Australia Precincts. These would involve large-scale facilities that bring together a critical mass of capabilities and industries – across businesses, researchers, end users, students and government – to share resources, support knowledge spillovers and diffusion, and strengthen networks.

Recommendation 22:

That smaller scale innovation hubs, based on niche specialisations, could be based in major regional centres, and based on existing strengths of these regional centres.”


We expect that the Australian Government will endorse these recommendations and that they will be the centrepiece of the PM’s statement.

The significance of the proposed ‘precincts-hubs’ approach in three-fold

– this is the first time that a nation-wide network of precincts and hubs has been considered i.e. centres of excellence have been commonplace, but nothing on a strategic, all-encompassing scale.

– it brings a positive and regional perspective to industry policy i.e. regional efforts to date have been rescue packages for Wollongong, Adelaide, northern Tasmania etc.

– there is scope is to connect up not just manufacturing players, but others along the supply chain i.e. services, mining, government. This is NOT just about manufacturing.

Bottom Line

Local councils, RDA Committees, analysts and universities (both city and rural) should read the report ASAP – just google it. And overseas players might note this trend, because these precincts and hubs provide a great vehicle for international engagement.

PS – the report’s recommendations by non-government members is rather quaint. It seems to be an attempt by the Industry Department to be arms length from the business leaders and academics on the Task Force. The ‘government’ members made no recommendations!

Regional museums and galleries – from liabilities to assets

October 11, 2012

There are 1,000 museums and 500 commercial art galleries across Australia. And I’d hazard a guess that 50% would benefit hugely from professional support.

The good news is that as a result of interviews with the national museums and galleries in Canberra in recent months, I’m predicting a new federal program to rejuvenate these facilities. There are two main triggers – the government’s current overhaul of the arts programs, and Minister Crean’s desire to leverage the arts on behalf of regional Australia.

Background – There is a bit of a story, and I’d like to walk you through it.

Rural and urban communities alike often don’t appreciate their cultural points of difference. This point was brought home recently in talks with Museums Australia, the Canberra-based industry association. The MA’s head, Ms. Bernice Murphy, is adamant that regional museums and galleries are under-appreciated sources of community identity and pride, but we agree that the issue is how to unlock the potential.

As flagged previously, there is considerable scope to get more of the collections of the Big 7 national institutions out of Canberra and into the regions. The reason is that they have a large proportion of their collections in storage – for example, the National Museum, sitting proudly on Lake Burley Griffin, has 96% of its collection out of sight in the industrial suburbs of Canberra. Similarly the War Memorial, Sound and Film Archive, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Library etc. have a good proportion of their collection in storage.

However accessing these collections isn’t a simple process. These institutions are essentially the keepers of the national estate – so there are strict loan procedures. As Bernice explained ‘Art museums are geared up and ethically charged to take highest care of all works owned, and not to let works out of their care (even though a huge number of works may be in storage) except under strictest controls and regular checking.’

But when I broached the possibility of getting more of these collections out of Canberra, the response from most staff was positive. This seems to be because many of the staff seem to have come from interstate museums and galleries and thus understand their problems. They are also aware that Minister Crean has been dropping hints about more collaboration between the arts and regional development agencies within his portfolio.

The opportunity – There are three broad industry segments:

– The state museums and galleries, which are relatively well-resourced.
– The facilities in the bigger regional cities (Newcastle, Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Freo etc.) which are growing in stature, but face continual financial worries.
– Hundreds of mostly marginal facilities in the smaller cities and towns.

The last category provides the opportunity. The norm is a collection of furniture, kitchenware, farming equipment and artworks cobbled together by local volunteers. These facilities are open only for short periods during the week and/or year, and get by with a council grant to cover electricity bills and so on. They don’t generate much tourism traffic or revenue, which is a great shame because when local museums and galleries ‘click’ they are powerful attractors of tourists, business investment and jobs. The great examples of Bungendore, Yarragon and Clunes are on our blog (

Based on discussions with the experts, there is an exciting opportunity looming for the small museums and galleries. It lies in accessing outside curatorial and marketing expertise, marrying items from the national institutions with the local collections to create stand-out displays, and creating hubs to attract and hold tourists.

These agendas won’t be easy, so you need to be persistent and think long-term about four necessary steps.

First, your community must decide whether it wants to be seriously in this game, and that it has sufficient people with the energy and commitment to make it happen.

Secondly, you need to ensure you have a building that can meet the standards required for the national collection. This doesn’t mean you need a new multi-million dollar facility e.g. there are precedents of old scout halls and commercial buildings being renovated to the required standard.

Thirdly you need to identify the cultural product that would underpin your museum or gallery. Is it an agricultural, maritime, industrial, mining, environmental, forestry, sports and leisure or social theme? If it’s not apparent, then cultural mapping is generally advised. This can be done by local historical groups or universities, but expert consultants also undertake this work.

Fourthly, thought needs to go into what businesses could be clustered in order to build complementary revenue streams and share business expenses e.g. marketing, electricity, staffing. Restaurants, bakeries, antique shops, coffee shops, wine bars and newsagencies spring to mind.

Getting started – The suggested start point is a dialogue with the professional groups. Museums Australia fits the bill. There are also numerous workshops and conferences run by them and its partner organisations where you can make the right connections. We can also help with the steps outlined above.

Contributed by LG Focus – October 2012 edition.

Kentucky perspective on Australia

October 7, 2012

Professor David Freshwater (University of Kentucky) was recently in Victoria discussing regional development issues, and then presented at a Regional Australia Institute conference in Canberra.

His translation of OECD and US policy experience into the Australian context was useful at a number of levels.

His first point was that local government in Australia is highly dependent on transfers from the federal and state governments. He’s dead right. We figure that an eventual referendum recognising local government in the Constitution is one thing, but getting better balance in federal-state-local revenues is still problematical. It’s a difficult road because every time the defence, welfare and education lobbies scream blue murder at likely funding cutbacks, the chances of the feds agreeing to local government’s needs become more remote.

Freshrwater’s second point was that our planning processes are reactive to federal/state settings, rather than being bottom-up, and that there’s an absence of business and volunteer input to planning processes. Well this is correct too, because the feds’ revenue powers provide no incentive for local stakeholders to get involved. The hypocrisy is that federal ministers and officials continue with devolution rhetoric while entrenching top-down program delivery systems.

His third observation was that efficiency-based cuts in service delivery to rural areas, in Australia or anywhere, have detrimental effects on economic opportunity. He suggested that service delivery to the regions requires different mechanisms. according to the regional circumstances.

(This is so true, and local stakeholders might usefully reflect on whether you have the energy and commitment to lobby for a new mechanism for your region. As I’ve indicated in this column before, the delivery of federal programs is patchy and expensive.

The better solution is to wind back the competitive bidding by junking half the existing programs, and transferring those funds to Regional Development Commissions, similar to the WA model. This would give meaning to bottom up processes, deliver respect and attention to local stakeholders, and enable federal officials to get out of program administration into problem fixing.

This approach won’t be possible in all regions, but where there are a group of councils with a collaborative spirit it should be possible. Opposition will come from those who fear the rise of super councils. But the alternative is to suffer ongoing under-funding and centralised decisionmaking. – Editor)

Lobbying – an imperfect business

July 2, 2012

Very good roll-out at the ALGA National Assembly in Canberra last month. Attendees appreciated the opportunity to better understand the Mad House and its occupants.

Indeed, local councils arguably need to sharpen their lobbying efforts because it’s really about helping politicians and officials make the correct decisions. The days of Arthur Daley lookalikes are long gone. There are some 280 consultants registered with the federal government, and we work in widely different areas.

My company specialises in progressing R&D, investment and infrastructure proposals, as well as anything with an industry or regional development flavour. We also draw on Cockatoo Network members’ professional expertise.

In my experience, successful lobbying by local councils revolves around three steps.

1. Decide your pitch

Canberra is a madhouse of paper and scraps of information. Write to the Minister rather than the Department because it confers more status, and there are timelines required for Ministerial responses.

With respect, councils tend to write to Ministers in convoluted, quasi-legal terms, without making a compelling case. In return, you get non-committal replies about three months later.

My advice is to adopt the KISS principle – cast your thoughts simply in terms of what, why, where, who, how much, and expected outcomes! We specialise in this stuff.

2. Identify who needs lobbying

It’s important to address your message to the right people. A formal letter to Ministers might be the first step, but in 90% of cases he/she won’t be reading it until signing the reply – the staffer or SES officer will be signing it off. A briefing to these folks is often advisable.

Finding the right Minister and Department isn’t so easy. For example, say you’re an inner-urban council grappling with air traffic noise, road congestion and loss of lifestyle and amenity. You might start by considering the following groupings:

Industry/infrastructure focus – Industry & Innovation; Resources and Tourism; Agriculture; Communications (BCDE); Infrastructure & Transport; Regional Development & Local Government.

Social/environment focus – Health; Families and Community Services (FAHCSIA); Vets Affairs; Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population & Communities (SEWPC); Climate Change; Education; Employment.

Unaligned – Treasury; Finance; PM&C; Defence; Attorney-General’s; Immigration; Foreign Affairs & Trade.

As you can see, it’s a bit tricky. In this example, Department of Infrastructure & Transport seems the most relevant, but they might bat like Bill Lawry. The alternative is thus to begin a dialogue with SEWPC, failing that it would be Regional Development & Local Government or possibly FAHCSIA.

3. Tapping the self interest

Using the same example, you might get a warmer reception from a social planner in SEWPC than an engineer in the Department of Transport. But you need to research SEWPC’s website to confirm things.

And lastly, don’t drop your confidence – buzzwords and acronyms are hallmarks of Canberra-speak. But those spouting jargon about ‘moving forward in a post GFC environment’ etc. are no smarter than you!

Next month – the importance of maiden speeches – engaging your local member – the Red Wine Strategy.

This article appears in the July 2012 edition of Local Government Focus (Good Oil column)

Sydney’s new entrepreneurial hub

May 30, 2012

The City of Sydney opened a creative and cultural hub for entrepreneurs at 66 Oxford Street in February 2012.

Sixteen tenants including tech start-up AroundYou moved in and the co-working space has been such a success that Moore is converting two other buildings on William Street to create more space for start-ups.

“People started collaborating almost as soon as they moved in, it was quite remarkable to walk around the building and hear their stories,” said Mayor Clover Moore, adding she was taking expressions of interest for the William Street property.

She said start-ups needed affordable space, advice, encouragement and support, but the biggest challenge was finance. A lack of venture capital is forcing Australian talent to go offshore.

To that end Moore said she had asked her staff to “look at ways the city could act as a broker or blind date some of these venture capitalists with start-ups”.

City of Sydney is following the lead of other co-working spaces such as Fishburners, which opened in April last year in a building in Ultimo and filled up with 60 entrepreneurs within six weeks.

“There’s a real groundswell of start-up activity in the tech sector at the moment and that’s attributed partly to just how cheap it is to start a tech business these days,” said Fishburners director David Vandenberg.

Cockatoo’s view is that there’s nothing new here – it is a business incubator pure and simple. Indeed Sydney entrepreneur Peter Fritz AO established a similar facility two decades ago in a former warehouse in Chippendale, an inner Sydney suburb. He wrote a book about it, called the Honey Pot or similar. His best known book is The Possible Dream. Peter is a true collaborator and visionary, and chairs an OECD group promoting SME development.

However we applaud Sydney City Council for its vision. The CBD is a natural place for such incubators, and we trust it works. The critical factor could well be finding a venture capitalist, or some outfit with patient capital, to join the collaborative effort.

This article draws on material supplied by the Sydney Morning Herald