Aid role for Local Government – but needs a push

The Good Oil by Rod Brown *

There is a substantial and timely opportunity for Local Government to flex its muscles in the aid field. AusAID is currently taking advice on the role of Local Government in the tsunami relief effort. Why not broaden the agenda beyond the countries affected by the tsunami, and also widen the supply base of consultancy expertise?

Aid projects need long term commitment if the full benefits are to be realised – parties from both sides must continue to connect the dots over a lengthy period. Aid expertise also needs to be broadly based, to capture all the opportunities. These are rarely maximised if the contractors are mostly private sector and education agencies who need to turn a profit.

The window for Local Government thus lies in providing some ‘patient’ expertise in water and roads infrastructure, environmental/waste management, town and regional planning, industry development, investment attraction, cultural awareness and so forth. Local Government has real expertise in these fields.

Councils also have a similar mindset to the managers of the aid in the recipient country, who are usually Local Government bodies. Councils in Australia can also tap into the expertise of companies in their immediate region. Robust, outcomes driven ‘twinning’ arrangements would build strong foundations for long term cooperation.

We have initiated discussions with AusAID on this subject, but it may take time for traditionalist mindsets to appreciate the opportunity. If you can see it, please email us.

Leveraging your resources – even if it’s a sand trap

My friend John Dean (ex Brisbane City Council) has forwarded this piece from the US based Agurban organisation.

‘The Eyre Highway is an 868 mile road through the Outback’s Nullarbor Plain. It is generally considered one of the most desolate areas in Australia. They’ve got sand, lots of sand! What could you do with all of that sand?

In a classic case of turning lemons into lemonade, the 18 towns and gas stations along the road are going to build a golf course out of all of that sand. And not just a normal golf course, but one that will be 868 miles long! Each town has agreed to use their road grading equipment to create sand fairways and ‘greens’ made of oiled sand. (Real grass is impossible to maintain in such an arid climate.)

Golfers will play one hole per gas station and then drive on to the next hole, as much as 62 miles down the road.

The locals hope to get people to stop at their towns, showcasing some local attraction, after they’ve played a hole of golf. One town features whale watching, another ancient fossil beds.

“It’s never going to be St. Andrews, but it’s an awesome idea for promoting our area and should be a lot of fun,” said Alf Caputo, head of the local tourism association.

It’s another example of towns working together to try to better their lot.’

Canberra hasn’t got a heart

A huge debate has erupted in Canberra about the state of the CBD, known as Civic. As interstate drivers will attest, finding Civic is a job in itself, let alone finding shops, restaurants and people! The debate has been sparked by local businessman Terry Snow, a big property developer and the owner/developer of Canberra Airport. It seems that Snow was a little underwhelmed by a plan released by the ACT Planning Minister last year.

He therefore pulled some town planning experts together and came up with a bold alternative. The Canberra Times has swung in behind Snow’s vision, as has the ACT Chief Minister and his Deputy.

This promises to be a fascinating case study in town planning and economic development. Suggest you track it.

Minchin gets it right

Treasurer Costello, with the backing of his Department, has made the running on the Future Funding. The fine detail has yet to be worked out, leading to the inevitable lobbying for direct funding for major nation building infrastructure works in the regions.

Shock jock, Alan Jones, made an impassioned plea for billions to waterproof our inland farmers. Now Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, has weighed in. He says that the Fund would only invest in commercially viable projects, to ‘ensure a maximised return within a risk parameter that ensures superannuation liabilities can be met’.

This might seem a bummer for Councillors west of the Divide. But, interestingly, Minchin is the first to stress that funding of infrastructure can take place via listed infrastructure vehicles, listed property trusts and the like.

This is the only sensible option. It means that regional stakeholders pleading for water and gas pipelines, inland rail systems an so forth should be helping the leading institutional investors (Macquarie Infrastructure, AMP) work out how to make public private partnerships work.

There are numerous projects around that could happen if we take a more enlightened view of how the three spheres of government can share the public good share of infrastructure projects. This has got to be the nub of the issue.

I doubt the inland rail project will ever stack up. On the subject of making trains pay, my former Minister, John Sharp, was a champion of the Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne fast train. He often lamented the lack of interest in Australia in emulating the local Councils in France, where they made substantial contributions towards local costs along the TGV route, such as railway stations.

But I guess the French system empowers and funds Local Government on a larger scale than here.

Liberal leadership challenge

It’s only a matter of when. Have you noticed that Costello’s well practised gravitas and Menziesque mannerisms? Abbott will be there to offer an alternative for the Howard camp. Downer is flying his kite too. But the hot goss is Brendan Nelson – watch him in coming months.

Chicago in September

The International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) annual conference is being held in Chicago from 25–28 September. Although a US/Canada exercise, but a number of Aussies from Local Government usually attend. If you’re serious about attracting investment into your region, you should be there – the Yanks are very professional in this area. The IEDC is the model on which we’re looking to establish an Australian equivalent. Hit IEDC on google to get the details.

* Rod Brown’s Canberra based consultancy group, Australian Project Developments Pty Ltd, specialises in industry/regional development and government liaison. For further information telephone (02) 6231 7261 or email