Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Are communities merely collections of highly parochial individuals?

August 29, 2013

We were recently debating collaboration at the regional level. A very interesting contribution was made by Bob Neville, a community consultant from the NSW Northern Tablelands, as follows:

“The challenge we have is that Aussies are generally very independent in their outlook – even to the death. I recall one time during a severe drought, when farmers and businesses were dying like flies. One bright spark had the idea of pulling together, pooling resources and equipment. A great plan was formulated and people were rallied behind it. Just as all of this was about to begin, it rained – and everybody IMMEDIATELY lost interest and went back to their independent ways.”

Bob continues “I tried to encourage them to keep it going, but to no avail…a change of mindset is the first step. The same is true for struggling businesses in regional communities. Many are struggling to survive – how do they find time or clarity of mind to get their position into perspective? The challenge is that communities are merely collections of highly parochial INDIVIDUALS. But the mindset here is that communities rarely work together, except in times of severe disaster. There is no one simple solution, but it’s worthy of serious focus.

Identifying the problem

Well, it’s hard to disagree with Bob, and from our experience part of the answer lies in better identifying the quantum of a problem and then explaining it. For example, the Greens have a patchy track record in this area and lose credibility as a result.

Another example is the social costs of bored youths. There is much anecdotal evidence, but little cost-benefit analysis, of how sports facilities can help kids get healthy, let off steam and develop self-worth. Could be a role for a university to take the lead here? We could even build a case for poker machine profits to flow to such infrastructure, rather than the pockets of investors!

Identifying the solution

The other part of the answer lies with a practical solution.
For example, three years ago the federal government’s High Speed Train consultants arrived at $114 billion as the likely construction costs to link Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane over 30 years. That was never a practical solution. But government advisers are now talking about a staged solution, starting with a Sydney-Canberra leg of $23 billion over 17 years. This could be a very practical solution if the feds, NSW and ACT governments, councils, institutional investors and developers could agree on a funding cocktail.

Another example is the $614 million for light rail between Gungahlin and Civic here in Canberra. While the Greens are leading the charge, most Canberrans are choking on their scotch and sodas. The general consensus is that we simply avoid the 15 minutes of heavy traffic at peak hours. Indeed, Infrastructure Australia doubts whether the territory has enough traffic congestion to warrant federal funding for both light rail or rapid buses!

In any case, the solution has to be a staged approach – the best cost-benefit arguably lies on the Civic – Manuka – Kingston route (5km). The benefits include easy access for Manuka Oval patrons, activity to soften the Stalinist features of the Parliamentary Triangle, and smart transport for the many apartment dwellers in this area.

Getting back to Bob Neville’s point about parochialism, I suspect he is right. We will not collaborate unless someone properly explains the problem and provides a sensible solution. One without the other is not enough.

The ‘best and fairest’ federal politicians in Australia – an insider’s view

August 9, 2013

During the week I had a long chat with a very senior Parliamentary Officer, who spends hours every week at close quarters. I asked for a nomination of the ‘best and fairest’ from each side.

The picks among Labor were
– Tanya Plibersek (‘very good at enunciating policy’)
– Jenny Macklin
– Stephen Smith

Among the conservative up and comers
– Craig Kelly – member for Hughes NSW
– Ewen Jones – member for Herbert Qld
– Wyatt Roy – Longman Qld (old head on young shoulders).

Bronwyn Bishop as next speaker of House of Reps?

August 9, 2013

The word around Parliament House is that Bishop will be the speaker in any Abbott Government – there is a certain logic – she is a lawyer, has an affected gravitas, has years of parliamentary experience, is close to Abbott. Sad if true.

Healthy breakfast strategy for regions?

July 31, 2013

It is sad to see small towns struggling to survive against the onslaught of agglomeration effects and structural changes.

Thankfully regional folk are doing great things to make themselves more interesting to city dwellers by creating an emotional connection to them. And good healthy food in the tummy creates an emotional connection.

Indeed, if you’re travelling in the Bush there’s nothing better than being at the local café for a brekky of local scambled eggs, tomato and toast, washed down with a decent coffee while reading the local paper. The academics call it ‘Slow Travel’ whereby tourists become connected to a place, its people, and the local food and culture. Indeed, Dunkeld, Orange and Hahndorf have managed it.

Well I recently drove for fifteen minutes around a fair-sized regional town (8,000 population) looking for such a café. But I retired hurt to a multinational fast food outlet for a hash brown and a burger the size of a small child’s fist. The establishment was quite busy. It had presumably had run the opposition into the ground.

The next evening I stopped into an iconic café in an iconic town 300 km further on. The fish and chips were terrible – oily NZ hake and crinkle-cut chips. Shudder.

Coincidentally, a few days before, we’d been reflecting on reasons for declining regional tourism traffic – rising petrol prices, the cost of upmarket tourism accommodation, expensive airfares to regional areas, cheap international airfares, and absence of a strong regional food culture.

What is the reason for the average food served at cafes and restaurants in some regions. Is it because the locals aren’t fussy diners? Or haven’t the kitchen staff the caught up with changing consumer preferences? It’s a shame because running a small business in the Bush is tough work. The problem is finding someone willing to tell the mum and dad chefs.

So what if there was a program to deploy expert chefs and dieticians to provide advice on cooking skills, menu development, food sourcing, marketing and signage? After all, Enterprise Connect and AusIndustry have good programs advising small businesses in other sectors – so it’s no big deal to tack on another program.

A constraint is that the issue has four dimensions – health, tourism, small business, regional development. Perhaps a bottom-up approach via a collection of Regional Organisation of Councils could pull something together? If you share our concern, please email us at

Shadow Ministers soon in the sun

June 11, 2013

Interesting to reflect on the Shadow Ministers who will be running Australia in an Abbott Government. Here is a quick take on some.

Malcolm Turnbull (Communications) – will aim for a scaled back NBN wherever possible e.g. a fibre-to-the-node VDSL network, utilising Telstra’s existing copper network. Lots of fireworks.

Julie Bishop (Foreign Affairs & Trade) – this field is her passion. She is capable and will do a good job.

Kevin Andrews (Families and Community Services) – solid background in this field, traditional Catholic and family values. Expect radical changes.

Greg Hunt (Environment) – will oversee a drastic downsizing and reshaping of this portfolio. A rising star.

Joe Hockey (Treasurer) – my bet is he won’t last 18 months. His person skills will be used to better effect elsewhere.

Ian Macfarlane (Resources & Energy) – a seamless transition because he was a very good minister in the Howard Government and knows the issues.

More bang for your buck

June 11, 2013

Our Gippsland correspondent says that a government official should be like a pianist in a house of ill-repute – a facilitator at the lowest and most personal level, not a participant on a grand scale.

He’s right of course, but the problem is that most federal officials at least aren’t even in the same neighbourhood.

Food for thought – less officials will be needed to administer federal programs after post-September. So why not put some of the surplus officials into Action Teams to work on development projects with companies and local/state officials? Some of these federal officials could be very handy on a piano, or a violin or guitar. More bang for your buck.

Australia’s New Anti-Dumping Arrangements

May 14, 2013

Legislation to further strengthen Australia’s anti-dumping regime recently passed through the Parliament and will operate from 1 July 2003.

These changes are consistent with Australia’s WTO and other international trade obligations and will bring the system more into line with the approach taken by the US and Europe.

They include establishing a new Anti-Dumping Commission, a funding boost for the anti-dumping system, improved responsiveness, efficiency and effectiveness and reduced cost and complexity for users.

Dumping – definition

Dumping occurs when export prices are below normal selling prices in the exporting country. Import duties can be imposed when it causes or threatens material injury to the industry producing like goods in the importing country. Likewise subsidies that have a similar effect are actionable by countervailing duties.

The new Commission will be based in Melbourne and the additional resources are expected to lead to improved response times, more rigorous analysis, less red tape, better transparency and improve public confidence in the system.

The law surrounding the application of retroactive duties is to be clarified and simplified while a new review mechanism and increased penalties will deal with circumvention of duty arrangements by importers. Duties will also be leviable at the full dumping margin in many cases rather than at a level just sufficient to offset the injury.

These reforms will be introduced in consultation with the International Trade Remedies Forum, a stakeholder body established to provide strategic advice and feedback to government on the operation of the system.

These reforms complement the changes implemented in June 2011 that improved the timeliness of investigations, increased resources, improved decision making and provided greater access to the system to small and medium sized enterprises.

The government says it remains committed to an open trade environment and remains a strong defender of the rules governing international trade. As there is no international agreement on anti-competitive practices, an anti-dumping system is the only means of countering unfair market behaviour globally.

The message is clear for those exporting goods to Australia and for importers alike – follow the rules or be prepared to accept substantially stiffer penalties for non-compliance.

Contributed by Peter Kittler (Canberra) –

The world’s future – a must read

January 31, 2013

Russ Fletcher (Montana Roundtable, USA) has forwarded the link to a very, very good analysis by the US National Intelligence Council – provides a framework for thinking about the future. You will note some bias, but that is understandable. Below is a sample – the identification of four megatrends:

1. Individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, growth of the global middle class, educational attainments, ICT and manufacturing technologies, and health-care advances.

2. Diffusion of Power – there will not be any hegemonic power. Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.

3. The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might decline in “aging” countries – 60% of world’s population will live in urban areas and migration will increase.

4. Food, Water, Energy nexus – demand for these will grow substantially due to population growth. Tackling one problem will be linked to supply and demand for the others.

The report covers population, health, technology, global threats, sectoral performance etc. An interesting example is the analysis of hot spots, as follows.

“Democratic deficits are said to exist when a country’s developmental level is more advanced than its level of governance. Democratic deficits are tinder that might be ignited by various sparks. Our modeling – based on the International Futures model – highlights many of the Gulf, Middle East and Central Asia countries – Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan – and Asian countries such as China and Vietnam. This set of countries is very different from the “usual suspects” lists provided by indices of state fragility or failure.”

Go to Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds

Off-shoring has peaked?

January 31, 2013

Professor Brian Roberts (Cockatoo member) recently forwarded a timely article ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’ (The Economist, 21 April 2012)

The gist of the article is that off-shoring has peaked i.e. the shift of manufacturing to low-wage countries has slowed because labour costs are becoming less important. For example, a $499 first-generation iPad has only $33 of manufacturing labour, of which final assembly in China accounts for just $8.

The article makes the claim, echoed elsewhere in international circles, that companies want to be closer to their customers so that they can respond more quickly to changes in demand. A related factor is that with sophisticated products, it helps to have the people who design them and the people who make them in the same place. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that in areas such as transport, computers, fabricated metals and machinery, 10-30% of the goods that America now imports from China could be made back home by 2020.

Well this makes intuitive sense. Let’s certainly hope so. The importance of proximity to customers, designers, suppliers etc. bodes well for the precinct agendas described above.

Smart Specialisation and Precincts – ways of advancing your community

January 31, 2013

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.

Alfred Marshall (Principles of Economics, 1890) was espousing this stuff more than a century ago. He talked about particular locations having types of specialization. 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. He 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, akin in some ways to clusters, and the Cockatoo Network is quick to highlight this to government officials who still think clusters are about picking winners. Rubbish of course.

Five tips for facilitating specialisations and precincts

It makes good sense for councils and regional stakeholders to use local specialisation and precinct concepts in their lobbying efforts to government agencies. Below are some suggested initiatives that could complement your lobbying effort. Contact us for support (naturally!).

1. Map your specialised assets and their linkages – a natural start point, and great marketing tool.

2. Get international agencies to study or talk about your area of specialisation – Cockatoo members regularly work with the OECD or UN agencies to raise awareness of their regions.

3. Commission university studies on national issues at your local level – these can be good copy for national newspapers, which then educate external audiences about your local specialisation.
4. Leverage your champions – they are in your midst.
5. Do something bold and innovative – all towns, cities and suburbs have specialisations, but they’re hidden to the outside world. A bold project can lift the specialisation profile.