Overseas work and play?

In my experience, the best outcomes in regional and business development result from people clicking with other people. They find others with the same passion and view of the world, and agendas develop from there.

When these relationships develop across international borders, the results can be particularly rewarding. Accordingly over the last decade, the Cockatoo Network has put lots of economic development professionals into face-to-face contact with their international counterparts.

However local councils rarely fund their economic development professionals to undertake overseas trips as part of such networking because of likely criticism about taxpayer funded junkets.

Similarly, a lot of Federal and State programs specifically exclude expenditure on international foreign travel.

Well I had a light bulb moment recently, so I spoke to a nice lady at the Australian Tax Office and bounced some ideas around.

I described the work we do in identifying leading edge industry innovation and that we'd uncovered the Copenhagen Cleantech Cluster, which is doing good things in this new field.

After explaining the junket perception problem as above, I suggested that a solution would be to claim such collaboration as a personal income tax deduction.

There was deadly silence.

So I explained further that most people find it difficult to separate work from leisure, and it's no different while on holiday.

You could therefore be in Copenhagen on holiday and the next day comparing notes with the local cleantech experts and inspecting wind turbines. Or perhaps getting a guided tour by a local council staffer of the artists' colony in Saint Paul (near Nice), and taking notes for the Creative Arts Committee back home. I said you might indeed finish up spending 50 per cent of your trip inspecting facilities, advancing your thinking and finding people with a collaborative bent.

I then argued that, under this scenario, you should be able to claim 50 per cent of your travel and accommodation expenses as a tax deduction.

To my delight, she agreed - subject to evidence that the work had been planned and there was proper recording of the work undertaken. Bon voyage!

International conferences

The more formal vehicles for collaboration are of course conferences, workshops, expos and the like, where tax deductibility is standard practice. Since we are keen to promote collaboration with our overseas partners, beginning next month, we'll feature examples of upcoming events for your consideration.

In the meantime, you might check the LEED group's conference schedule at www.oecd.org – a number of Aussie councils are members.

Lobbying federal politicians

In a meeting with a staffer of a senior federal minister last month, he was relating a couple of anecdotes about the persistence of some councils in pushing their agendas. I had to try very hard to keep a straight face because I firmly believe that the meek shall inherit nothing!

Here's a few tips if you're in lobbying mode.

Involve your local federal member

This might seem self evident, but I see a lot of cases where the local member is kept out of the loop – they can help you get the meeting you are seeking!

Even if he/she is not Labor, it doesn't matter because most seats are marginal these days.

Make it clear that you expect their support.

Don't just copy your local MP into correspondence and hope that he/she gets motivated.

Conviction not paperwork

The need is to have conviction and to tailor the issue to the Minister (or parliamentary secretary). A clear way forward – or at least some options for discussion – is important.

Get the Minister to endorse or at least note what you are proposing. A good technique is to engage the Minister in solving your problem. In other words, trying to sell a convoluted proposal can be hard – so sometimes it is appropriate to explain the problem and its importance, and get the Minister injecting his/her views and possible solutions. And if they make sense, bounce them back at the Minister is a more developed form.

I have developed a one-page briefing format – it works a treat. But you have to hire me first.

Invite other councils to join on wider issues

This is about providing a show of force. An example would be the NBN roll-out, where Minister Conroy has surely been involved in determining which locations get priority. Now if 3-4 councils got together and agreed on the order of things and backed it up with a solid business case, this would certainly up the ante.

Beware Mr. Nice Guy

Politicians like to be loved. They aim to please. They therefore say nice things even if they think it's a dead duck. My only advice is have your BS detector turned right up, and get a reality check from your local member, who ideally would have been sitting in on the meeting.

*Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction, clusters and accessing Federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network. He can be contacted at [email protected] or phone (02) 6231 7261.

Go to the blog at www.investmentinnovation.wordpress.com for 550+ articles on issues relevant to Local Government.