Regional support example of 80/20 rule

The Good Oil * by Rod Brown

Last month, the Department of Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FACSIA) announced 78 grants under its Local Answers program. The grants are to basically do good things to help rural communities cope with the social stresses of the drought. An excellent aim, so we analysed the winners. Most came from New South Wales, with a smattering in Victoria and Queensland. Some of those that caught our eye were:

  • Bringing Namoi Rural Communities Together for Support and Capacity Building ($271k)
  • The Virtual Shed ($114k) – high profile raconteurs and professional welfare workers
  • Country Mateship ($167k x 3) – train and supervise volunteers around Forbes and Narromine
  • Nurturing Relationships, Developing Communities, Delegate Style ($150k)
  • Talk Out Loud ­– Youth Mental Health Community Education Program ($175k x 2) for Condobolin and Bourke districts
  • Arts in the Dust – Cobar and Nyngan ($182k)
  • Y’ise Living ($170k x 4) – community support programs in Tamworth, Orange, Dubbo and Goulburn regions
  • GOLD Water is the New Gold ($300k) – to strengthen community capacity in the Griffith and Condobolin regions.

While following up with FACSIA for some erstwhile clients, my contact there indicated that there were 388 applications. According to my arithmetic, 78 grants divided by 388 applicants is a success rate of 20 per cent.

“What about the poor 80 per cent of applicants, sitting out there in the mulga?” asked yours truly. I was referred to the FACSIA website, where the answers were spelled out at great length.

In summary, the main reasons why applicants missed out were:

  • the projects were the responsibility of another Department such as health, childcare, disability, education. (How are the applicants supposed to know this?)
  • failed to identify target groups, primary participants and secondary beneficiaries
  • failed to attach their most recent audited financial statements and/or financial plans
  • failed to provide clear, concise, well focused responses to demonstrate how the project fits the program objectives, and how outcomes will be achieved
  • lack of references to published reports and literature, performance reports, web references and long term benefits
  • lack of description of skills gained by participants and longer term impacts on them and the community, networks established between participants and inter agency networks established across the community.

Now let’s be clear. FACSIA is a good Department, populated by competent officials who are there to ensure public funds are accounted for. But rural Australia is hurting – farmers, business owners and families are at their tether. An 80 per cent rejection rate is too high. The solution must lie in sensible risk management, and some arrangements that quickly move the money out to strong organisations who then manage the process.

Feds focus on supply chains in industry statement

On 1 May, Federal Industry Minister, Ian Macfarlane, announced the future policy direction for Australian industry. The theme of the package is ‘global opportunities’, based on the reality, stressed ad nauseam in this column, that our companies must get into global supply chains.

Minister Macfarlane says there are about 50,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which have grown beyond servicing just a regional market and stand on the cusp of significant national and international growth. Accordingly, he has committed $352 million over ten years for five Australian Industry Productivity Centres – one per mainland capital by the sounds of it. This involves a free diagnostic service to help businesses assess their performance against world best practice and identify opportunities for improvement.

The Productivity Centres will meet up to 50 per cent of the cost of tailored advice on business planning, process improvement and lean manufacturing. They will also connect businesses with leading technology and business experts in the universities, CSIRO and the private sector.

What is more interesting is the Government’s Global Opportunities Program ($254m), which will target more than 30 large international projects each year, using consortiums of Australian businesses. While the industry statement eschews picking winners, clearly the aim is to get industry to favour some high quality deal flows.

Where does Local Government fit into this?

First, you might track the Global Opportunities Program. No details are yet available, but economic development managers should think about international projects that could be enhanced at the local level, especially by groups of Councils. Examples might be value added metals around Mackay or Gladstone, solar power in Alice Springs or Adelaide, biotechnology in Parkville, gas fired chemical plants in Western Australia and so on.

Secondly, Local Government might also think about whether it is doing enough in terms of bedding down multinationals in their midst, and linking them to the Aussie battlers.

Diplomats in your region?

The Australian reports that Foreign Minister Downer has organised a three day familiarisation tour to South Australia for 50 Canberra diplomats and their spouses. It includes a visit to the Adelaide Central Markets, Olympic Dam, the obligatory vineyards, and a working lunch with Premier Rann. This is excellent stuff, and he’s been doing it for some years. The costs are partly taxpayer funded on the basis of his portfolio interests.

This got me thinking. Could Councils chip in for other Ministers to replicate Downer’s initiative, albeit on a smaller scale? For example, the Agriculture Minister might be interested in hosting a delegation to his home region of Gippsland. Similarly, the Industry and Resources Minister could facilitate a tour to some industrial and tourism centres, while the Minister for Education might facilitate a tour of certain universities.

Departments other than foreign affairs may not have funding – hence Councils would need to foot the bill, perhaps with some company sponsorships.

Ministers may not have the time to participate for three days, but something could surely be worked out.

P.S. We are a member of the Cockatoo network, which works with Councils to advance all sorts of ideas. Please contact us, and we will connect you.

*Articles in the Good Oil column are provided by members of the Cockatoo network – an international group of individuals and organisations that collaborate on industry and regional issues. Contact for membership details.