Archive for the ‘Local government’ Category

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)

City of Melville – track record on addressing alcohol abuse

May 5, 2011

I am constantly amazed at the amount kids drink these days – a dozen schooners in a sitting is considered quite normal. Add to that the perils of the Ice Age, and no wonder we have mounting social and safety problems.

Well, suburbanCanberrawas downright boring by comparison at Easter. But on came a news item featuring a DVD on teen binge drinking. Gee it was an earthy, quality effort, and it transpired that the City ofMelvillein WA was the producer of the video.

Intrigued at how a council is absolutely on the pace here, I did some googling and located Janet Armarego (Health and Wellbeing Coordinator) who explained that the DVD, called The Gathering, highlights a typical adolescent gathering which spirals out of control due to an over supply of alcohol and the arrival of gatecrashers. The hard hitting themes in the 26 minute video include sexual assault, violence, glassing and alcohol poisoning. The Mayor, Russell Aubrey, says the script was written with the input of 150 teenagers who described the real and dangerous situations in which they find themselves.

Janet explained that the cost was around $130,000, and that it had taken three years to organise the funding. In the end, she found partners in LotteryWest ($48k), Healthwise ($30k), Rockingham Council ($10k) and City ofPerth ($10k). The City ofMelville stumped up the balance.

I was still flummoxed at how a suburban council could pull this off, so Janet explained that there were three success factors:

  • the progressive philosophy of the organisation.
  • strong community need (e.g. eleven high schools) and strong engagement, which led to an accurate reflection of community factors.
  • cost-effective delivery.

 I checked further and her analysis rings true because the council won other awards in the same field, including one in 2008 for a DVD about the consequences for six local lads of drink-driving.. And the funding partnership was certainly cost-effective.

The DVD (with resource material) is being provided free to all senior schools in the council area, and sold to outsiders for $60.

Well I got to thinking. Here is a council that clearly doing best practice work for the public benefit. The issue is big and everywhere. Wouldn’t it be great if the federal government could now swing in and to take it national? We are helping Janet to connect the dots. Her contact details are  or 1300- 635845.


Rudd lauds role of local government…

October 17, 2008


The first meeting of Australian Council of Local Government is to be held on 28 November in Canberra.

The Australian Government says it is an ‘unprecedented gathering of the nation’s 565 local councils…the Rudd Government’s next step in forging a new, nation-building partnership with local communities…the Rudd Government is committed to a new cooperative engagement with that level of the government closest to local communities…this initiative will give local communities a real voice in the future of Australia’s national infrastructure.’

The one-day meeting, for Mayors only, will address issues of national and local significance including:

§          Building national and local infrastructure to boost economic capacity and quality of life in communities.

§          Tackling immediate challenges facing major cities and growth corridors, including urban congestion, urban planning and design.

§          Steps towards constitutional recognition for local government. 

§          Developing Government’s new regional/local community infrastructure fund.  

The press release carries on a bit about how local government is central to the Rudd Government’s nation-building agenda, and that the Rudd Government is ‘reigniting the spirit of cooperative federalism’ and reaching directly to the level of government closest to the community. It also claims that this new partnership is the most significant step forward for local government since the 1970s. The ALGA is surely lapping this up – it provides plenty of ammo for local government to ensure it’s not snubbed in the future. Our thanks to Marilynn Horgan (Perth ACC) for drawing this meeting to our attention.

Blue Mountains (NSW) – leveraging off World Heritage listing

December 23, 2007


The Greater Blue Mountains is one of 690 sites on the World Heritage List.

It is part of Australian romantic folklore – 200 years ago, explorers Blaxland, Wentworth & Lawson fought their way through the impenetrable mountain barrier and attacks by the natives, searching for productive land for free settlers and emancipated convicts from Sydney town. 

The area has spectacular landscapes and there are significant environmental protection measures in place to protect it. With the assistance of the GROW Employment Council and Blue Mountains City Council, a potentially very significant development agenda was launched in 2002 by the federal MP, Mr. Kerry Bartlett. The brainchild of Council’s Paul Heath, and Jane Pretty (of JP Sustainable Solutions), it had a four-pronged approach:

§          The Blue Mountains Connection – a framework for stimulating economic activity – allowing businesses to link vertically down the supply chain, and horizontally with complementary products/services and infrastructure

§          The Blue Mountains Advantage – involves environmental benchmarking, certification etc.

§          Development of a Blue Mountains brand and marketing strategy

§          Development of agendas to realise a World Heritage Research Institute – to provide a focus for strategic partnerships and research and teaching capacity etc.

The agenda is smart because it leverages off the region’s competitive advantages – the industry emphasis is on horticulture, hospitality, cultural tourism, nature tourism, creative industries. There are synergies with places like Daylesford (Vic.), Cairns (Daintree Forest), Wellington NZ, Peterborough UK and countless other localities world-wide.

In the intervening five years, there has been a massive convergence of environmental agendas and concepts – environmental footprints, climate change, wastewater management, water conservation, weeds management etc. etc. There are also a myriad of agencies running these agendas with varying degrees of success. Their resources are usually sparse, usually a mix of voluntary effort and a small grant from time to time. This is the norm with environmental initiatives.

But the Blue Mountains Advantage was remarkable for its breadth and vision. We figure it’s a platform for some serious collaboration between the three levels of government and companies in the environmental and creative industries field. We were in Katoomba recently, a small town in the midst of the Blue Mountains – it struck us that in the last 15 years it has blossomed into a very pretty and confident place with a myriad of small businesses. The questions are how did Katoomba kick on, and what is its place in the wider Blue Mountains agenda? 

We therefore propose to delve more deeply. If you have an equivalent to the Blue Mountains Advantage – anywhere in the world – we want to hear from you!

Thinkers in Residence – for small towns!!

December 10, 2007

Charles Landry, the UK planning expert, made a real impact in Adelaide a couple of years back with his suggestions on urban land form, industry development, governance systems etc.

He basically told the local folk to loosen up and get a bit WILD. He was a breathe of fresh air.

The drawback of being a first-mover like the Adelaide folk is that someone will pinch your ideas.

So, here we are with a proposal to extend the Thinker in Residence concept to small towns.

Why small towns? Well, I think they get a raw deal.

I never warmed to the views expounded by an academic friend in Warrnambool (western Victoria) that small towns should be allowed to wither. You certainly can’t prop up places with no competitive advantage (e.g. old mining towns), but the ‘sense of place’ gets buried in the present rationalist economic climate.   

Small towns can deliver great lifestyles and a sense of community, and their residents are more environmentally aware than their city cousins. But small towns don’t have much clout. They don’t have huge numbers of advocates, at least in an organised sense. Local government has to scrounge around for grants towards water infrastructure, roads funding, arts and community events. 

So our proposal is for a group of 10 local councils or development agencies to form a loose network, chip in $10k each and leverage at least the same amount from a certain federal program. We then employ  a team of international experts to split up and work in small towns as Thinkers in Residence.

Each participating council or development agency would identify its priority issue. The Thinkers would then workshop and debate with council staff, councillors and townsfolk the key issue e.g. investment attraction, infrastructure alignment, education, entrepreneurship, environmental management, water technology, social welfare, re-invention strategies, local government finance etc.

We might be able to have some of the Thinkers deliver their findings, ideas etc. at the annual conferences of ALGA or SEGRA.

We recently put this proposal out to Cockatoo members for consideration – the feedback suggests that trying to coordinate 10 councils in one submission could be difficult. The alternative option is for agencies in Australia to make funding submissions on an individual basis. 

If you are interested, please email us ASAP at

We are THE experts in international networking
– for more information, contact us at or ring 61-2-62317261

Regional investment … the Narooma mullet effect

November 7, 2007


Fellow economic developer, Mark Woods, and I were on the south coast of NSW recently inspecting tourism infrastructure, and we spot a grizzled old bloke paddling in the shallows.

He tells us he’s from Wollongong and his name is Bob, and he’s getting some poddy mullet to use as live bait, to nail the big kingfish and jewfish that make Narooma famous.

Bob explains that he cuts a rectangular hole, about 15 cm x 4 cm, in the side of a two litre soft drink bottle, curves the plastic edges inwards, fills it with a handful of Woolworths breadcrumbs, puts in a decent sized sinker, leaves the screw cap on, and then submerges it.

After 15 minutes he wanders back out and returns with the bottle jam packed with 15 cm long mullet. But some days it takes Bob a couple of hours waiting to catch his bait, because mullet are pretty fickle. He says that it needs one mullet to pluck up the courage and dive in, then the others immediately follow. And do they cram in – absolutely amazing!

This got me thinking about the investment buoyancy of lifestyle towns and regions, such as Narooma on the Eurobodalla Coast, and noted in the ALGA’s State of the Regions reports.

As we’ve reported previously, lifestyle regions have different economic drivers and infrastructure requirements from urban or manufacturing regions.

In most cases, lifestyle regions have higher than average unemployment, bleaker employment prospects for school leavers, more social welfare recipients, mostly micro businesses and environmental issues that can easily polarise the community.

As local Councillors are acutely aware, the broadening of the economies of these lifestyle regions is easier said than done. The challenge is to find that first mullet with courage.

This is why the three spheres of government must get into forward looking development agendas to facilitate investment in these regions that is both economically sustainable, that is creating long term rather than transient jobs and environmentally sustainable.

Quality infrastructure – mobile phone coverage, Internet speed, university campuses, electricity and water supply, health care, good transport links – is the bait.

But you cannot buy it from Woolworths.

Contact us at for further information

Time to move on investment hubs

November 6, 2007

A US colleague recently asked me where the main investment hubs were in Australia. She said she knew about Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, but after cruising the various websites she was more confused than never. A week later a chap from Switzerland asked roughly the same question.

I replied that there’s no consensus or considered view on this. However it got me thinking – investment is the key to economic development. So could we develop a framework of investment hubs that could be marketed to local and foreign investors, both large and small? In coming months, I will address all states and territories.

 Here are my initial impressions of the competitive advantages held by the main hot spots, and the themes around which investment hubs could be positioned. First up is Queensland. The key point here is that the state government is pretty aggressive about its ED agendas, and is one of the more ‘regional thinking’ states.

Let’s start at the Top End and work south. I figure there are 10 latent investment hubs there.

Cairnswhere the competitive advantage lies in co-location of tropical reef and rainforests; international airport; proximity to Asia and the Pacific Islands.

  • Hub angles – sustainable tourism; tropical health & medicine; aviation (including Outback); marine industries; international aid.

Townsville – access to Barrier Reef; Defence bases; Mt. Isa connection; international airport.   

  • Hub angles – minerals processing; defence technology; tropical health & medicine; aviation.

 Mackay – proximity to coal and mineral resources; access to Barrier Reef.   

  • Hub angles – minerals processing; mining technology; export of containerised food and agricultural product.

 Gladstone – minerals processing & energy facilities; port infrastructure; civic buildings.  

  • Hub angles – as for Mackay, but with additional energy aspect.

 Sunshine Coast – natural beauty; environmental icons; educated, well-heeled population; lifestyle image.  

  • Hub angles – education; environmental management; creative industries; smart Internet-based companies; new age technology (food, construction etc.)

 Brisbane – Australia’s third city; climate; competitive cost of living; excellent airport and adjacent precinct.

  • Hub angles – financial services; aviation; ICT; biotechnology and wider life sciences; education; logistics; construction.

 Ipswich Road corridor – engineering capability; competitively-priced land; access to Brisbane port and airport. 

  • Hub angles – heavy engineering; building and construction; logistics.

 Toowoomba – service centre for Darling Downs; climate; rural lifestyle.   

  • Hub angles – food processing; agricultural and water equipment & services; environmental management; light engineering.

 Logan Corridor – access to airport & port; manufacturing capability.

  • Hub angles – light engineering; food processing; logistics.

 Gold Coast – natural beauty; tourism icons; lifestyle and entertainment.

  • Hub angles – as for Sunshine Coast, but wider-scale e.g. marine engineering, medical services.

 These are indicative only, and we welcome any additions or comment. Contact us at for further information

Understanding investment incentives

October 25, 2007

The IEDC Conference in Montreal in 2003 highlighted the central role of investment incentives in economic and regional development in North America. The messages are still as relevant in 2007.

Jean Matuszewski, President of E&B Data, argued that incentives are still very important to firms like GM, Honda, AOL, IBM etc and that states like Michigan, Illinois, New York have used substantial incentives to secure major investments.

Alberta in Canada has, on the other hand, secured investments of $US23 billion over 2000-2002 with only limited incentives (presumably due to oil, gas, petrochemicals where incentives are not so critical). Mr. Matuszewski went on to explain that high profile mistakes occur in incentives packages (unfunded rises in public expenditures, firm closures without adequate clawbacks) and that it was right for criticism to come from watchdogs like the Business Incentives Reform Clearinghouse, Good Jobs First (promoting accountable development) etc. 

I visited one of the websites ( and found a useful overview of the issues, entitled ‘Bidding for Economic Development: The Role of Site Location Consultants’. A summary:
§          As the gatekeepers to new businesses and jobs, site location consultants have become very powerful players in the business of economic development, courted and wooed by ED officials. As one put it ‘Having a good relationship with one site location consultant is like having a good relationship with 50 or 100 companies.’
§          The surging demand for site selection services is due to downsizing i.e. many corporations once handled the task in-house.
§          Many companies often have a clear idea of what they want from a location, but are unsure about where they want to locate. This is especially true as companies have become more global.
§          The site selection process usually starts with the client ranking what it wants from a location – skilled labor, cheap labor, a good transportation hub, low taxes etc. Most site consultants then run those preferences against databases until the field is narrowed down to 12-15 sites. It is usually at this point that the consultant will start working his contacts in the cities that qualify as potential sites. Confidentiality is maintained, even when down to 3-4 sites.
§          The consultant then visits the final contenders and interviews local leaders to assess the business climate’, particularly the willingness of each community to pony up tax breaks for a company whose identity is still unknown.
§          As the consultant reports back to clients, some companies may press for more incentives, which is when the bidding war begins.

The Wadley-Donovan Group advises site consultants to  ‘spend the most time negotiating in the preferred location. Use offers from the alternate areas for leverage’. 

(Editor’s note: A few take-home messages:
1.       There’s a whole incentives industry out there that is ‘underground’ and unnoticed. 2.       One school sees it as a shock-horror scenario. Another school argues that bidding wars are OK. They are the means by which a market economy reconciles private and public benefits. This theory assumes all parties have perfect knowledge, and equal intelligence, in knowing exactly what they are bidding for.
3.       The sad truth is that many rural regions do not have the data or contacts to match the city regions).    

‘Social cohesion’ measured

October 18, 2007

From our archives, we have identified some very relevant research at a time when the rich-poor divide is getting a lot of airplay.

John Thwaites, the Minister for Victorian Communities in 2004, flagged the work initially. It  emanates from the University of NSW (Professor Tony Vinson) where social cohesion factors have been analysed in two postcodes, one in each of NSW and Victoria. Three factors were measured:
§          Community engagement, including levels of volunteering. Volunteering is seen as important because the initial establishment of ‘social bridges’ may engender other sources of cohesion, such as trust, and further establishment of support networks.
§          Social and support networks e.g. how many people have someone to turn to in a crisis?
§          Social participation e.g. how many are actively involved in sport, recreation and community groups?  

Professor Vinson then matched an overall level of social cohesion against a number of outcomes like unemployment and imprisonment.

He found that in postcodes where there was low social cohesion, there was a strong correlation with imprisonment. There were also strong correlations with unemployment and with young people leaving school early.  

These might not seem earth-shattering findings. But things would really come into focus if social cohesion indicators were measured across many communities. Agencies would then have the hard data to REALLY address social disadvantage. This is a ripe field for local government to take a leadership role.

The federal Department of Family, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs (Australia) is open to ideas in this area, so if you’re working in this field and would like some leads, send us an email.