Decentralisation done on the hop - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

Last month’s federal Budget explained that six more federal agencies are on the move as part of the push towards decentralisation.

This follows the troubled move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale.
The authority had 198 staff in mid 2016, but some 110 of these have reportedly since left its employ.

The six agencies involved are:

  • Inland Rail Unit - from Canberra to Toowoomba, Dubbo and Wodonga;
  • Indian Ocean Territories Unit – from Canberra to Perth;
  • Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations – from Canberra to Darwin;
  • Unique Student Identifier Registrar - from Canberra to Adelaide;
  • Indigenous Affairs Group Regional Network - from Sydney/Melbourne to Parramatta/Shepparton respectively;
  • A new Office of the National Rural Health Commissioner in Adelaide.

Unfortunately the APVMA’s shift to Armidale has got things off to a bad start. It was signed off against the advice of consultants by ex-deputy PM Joyce, and it was in his own electorate for God’s sake.

But the core of the problem was the haste and lack of strategic thinking. To explain, Armidale is an impressive city and arguably a very good place for the APVMA. Indeed word inside the Department is that the consultants should have been recommending a second option of mutually-reinforcing measures to create further competitive advantages for Armidale over the medium term. And this option should now be pursued in my opinion.

My take-home message for local councils looking to lure federal/state agencies is to undertake a rigorous SWOT analysis on your proposal, commission some cluster mapping and gap analysis, identify your champions and energise collaborating companies and support agencies.
And investment attraction initiatives are critical because private sector investment is the main game!

Live sheep exports
Sussan Ley, the former Liberal minister, did a great job last month when introducing a private member’s bill to halt live sheep exports.
She said she’d lost all confidence in the regulatory regime and can no longer support an industry with ‘an operating model built on the suffering of animals’.

he says the rules don’t work, because if they were enforced the trade would not be economically viable.

Three years ago Kelvin Thompson, then Labor member for Wills, was calling for action. So I met with him to suggest a meat value adding strategy, based around export abattoirs, global supply chains, market development etc. The aim would be not to close down live exports overnight (an idea that brought Labor Minister Ludwig unstuck) but to improve the economics of meat processing in places like Albany, Perth, Adelaide, Mount Gambier etc. to a point where it makes no sense to export live cattle and sheep.

I’d raised this possibility with a Department of Agriculture official and industry players but the usual excuses surfaced about lack of refrigeration in the overseas markets and the longstanding consumer preference for fresh meat.

I said to give them some soft aid to buy community freezers and as part of a trial, but that went down like a lead balloon. And I couldn’t win over Kelvin Thomson either - perhaps he was tired, because he exited shortly after.    

PM Turnbull is probably not happy about Ley’s private member’s bill and the Party will head off her impudence. But she is a capable, committed lady and has lots of supporters. So watch this space because everyone has a camera these days, and the next animal obscenity will force Turnbull’s hand.  

Smart Cities and Suburbs Program
Round Two is now open.

This is a competitive grants program to support local government to deliver innovative solutions to urban problems, using smart technology, data-driven decision-making and people focussed design.
 Around $22 million is available for grants between $250,000 and $5 million. Grants cover up to 50 percent of project costs.

The first round funded $27.5 million to 49 projects. Some interesting smaller towns succeeded - like Collie, Mullumbimby, Temora and Kapunda - plus regional cities like Morwell and Bathurst.
The Department of Infrastructure says there were 176 applications, a success rate of 28 percent which isn’t too bad.

Applications close 2 July. Go to business.gov.au/smart-cities-and-suburbs  
 
Export hubs
The 2018 Budget included a $20 million Export Hubs Initiative, to help business networks to export.

There is little detail available, but the concept appears to have been developed by Ausindustry and Austrade and modelled on the Irish export hubs.

If so, the hubs will not involve ports, cranes, transport and logistics. Instead they’re about people and networks to provide practical help to exporters.

According to my Departmental contact, this initiative will provide competitive grants of up to $1.5 million, which equates to 12 - 14 export hubs. Expressions of interest close in October, with funding to roll from February 2019.

The twist is that the funding is restricted to the government’s Growth Centre sectors, namely food, mineral products/services, oil/gas/energy, medical technology, advanced manufacturing and cyber-security.

This is puzzling because sectors like the performing arts and TV/film, building products and services, and environmental technologies would surely fit the bill.

These hubs could have a regional flair. For example, Wollongong, Cairns and Port Macquarie have claims in medical technologies.

Building Better Regions
The May Budget provided $45 million for tourism-related infrastructure via Round Three of the Building Better Regions Fund.
The aim is to shift tourists beyond the major cities.

This makes sense because tourism is arguably the No. 2 economic driver in regional Australia, and the federal tourism cupboard has been empty since they abolished its tourism program three years back.

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]iprimus.com.au