News items before 2016

  • Enacting positive change in the Hunter

    Friday, 18 December, 2015

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    The Hunter is an incredibly special place. We have the ability to change and adapt, provided we keep control in our own grasp.

    My first experience of change came in 1983 when Dr John Paterson introduced user-pays to Hunter Water. It was thought to be revolutionary and the Hunter led the way. We changed the way people used water by saying you had to pay for it. The doom-sayers predicted it wouldn’t work but average demand fell by 30 per cent, peak demand fell by 50 per cent.

    Don’t think that the Hunter hasn’t led change. The Hunter Valley coal chain is the most efficient in the world. We’ve been successful but we’ve also had a few stuff-ups. We imploded in recent years over the railway line. We lost sight of where we could be, and allowed others from outside the Region to treat us somewhat disrespectfully in the things that they’ve brought to us.

    At the Hunter Development Corporation (HDC), I came in eight years ago with a dream. Our dream combined three key factors. Firstly, we think that the western side of Lake Macquarie is the ideal spot to become the Silicon Valley of this nation. You need lots of broadband width, you need a talented workforce, you need amenity; you couldn’t think of a better place than Lake Macquarie. It is a dream to create an industry that will employ the next generation.

    Secondly, we thought about connecting communities from the west to the east for an ageing population. Older people are drawn to flatter landscapes to walk and recreate. They should be able to do this right along the growth corridor from Glendale to Nobby’s Beach.

    The third thing that we thought about was a connected world up the Valley. We are still about mining and manufacturing and will be for the next 30 years. One of the real risks we have is that most of the mines survive on water that is not secure. We need a connected grid to protect our Valley in times of drought and to use our water resources in a sustainable way.

    At HDC we’ve tried to dream big, so that the next generation can see and understand the connectedness we were trying to create. Once we get that right, start to dream and paint those pictures, then we establish the future for the generations to come.

    But we need to retain control over the decisions that affect us. We’re losing control in lots of little ways. The prime example is the loss of the public voice of the Hunter. The Newcastle Herald and ABC radio are wonderful institutions and we’re lucky to have them. The powers of a community rely on the ability to be exposed publicly for their actions. It is something that we should protect. Don’t let our kids have to reinvent the ultimate force for information and debate in our modern society. Social media will never be able to bring forth one view, which might form the cornerstone of growth.

    We’ve never feared change, we’ve been more than happy to lead change and our success is driven by the fact that we don’t rely on hand-outs from others to make us successful.

    Paul Broad was one of three speakers addressing the theme of change at the Hunter Research Foundation’s 20th anniversary Lecture Series event at Newcastle City Hall on 16 November. This is an excerpt of his speech.

    READ the full transcript of his talk or Marcus Westbury or Genevieve Clay-Smith

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  • Lights, camera, action!

    Thursday, 19 November, 2015

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    Continuing our delving in HRF’s vault, we’ve discovered yet another ground-breaking initiative from Hunter Valley Research Foundation (HVRF), in the early use of high-quality documentary film-making to communicate the need for research into the Hunter.

    Dark Rain was a 20-minute documentary film on the effects of droughts and floods on the Hunter Valley, made by HVRF in 1958. Written by founding HVRF CEO Professor Cyril Renwick and directed by award-winning film-maker John Kingsford-Smith, Dark Rain, was shot in 16mm Kodachrome and is a wonderful historical record of the Hunter in the mid-1950s.

    A review of Dark Rain in HVRF’s 1958 Journal says, “mixed with beauty goes a straight-forward portrayal of tragedy and scientific endeavor”.The film included an original score by Australian composer John Antill and original footage of the 1955 Maitland flood and its aftermath.

    HVRF made another documentary, The Sands of Yellow Rock, in 1959, highlighting the decline of the Wollombi valley. Both films were funded by the Milk Board of NSW and donated to the HVRF.

    View historical HRF footage, including segments of Dark Rain.

    Contact Kim Britton on 4041 5516 or email Kim.Britton@hrf.com.au

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  • What’s stopping us from competing globally?

    By Dr Brent Jenkins
    Tuesday, 17 November, 2015

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    As the Hunter economy continues its transition to a more diverse industry base, it’s important that we do what we can to seek new opportunities for Hunter businesses, particularly in the employment sectors with the greatest propensity to add value to the economy.

    Not all jobs are worth the same in terms of the value they generate in the regional economy. For example the services sector has grown substantially over the past 20 or 30 years with it now employing 76 per cent of the region’s workforce.However, the sector generates just 57 per cent of economic value-add.

    If the Region is to replicate the strong growth in living standards experienced during the mining investment boom of the 2000s, we need our services sector to grow strongly, particularly in the high value-add professional services.This sector includes financial, legal, and real-estate services as well as professional scientific and technical services. The professional services sector currently employs one-in-eleven Hunter workers – but the sector is under-performing in relation to share and growth compared to the rest of NSW and the nation.

    Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) recently released the results of the Future of Hunter Professional Services project as part of our Regional Competitiveness research program conducted in partnership with local professional services firms.

    Our professional services firms will need to look towards markets beyond the Hunter for growth opportunities. This will be facilitated by the recently-negotiated Free Trade Agreements (FTA). However, exporting their services was a relatively low priority for Hunter firms. The FTA is a double-edged sword as it brings with it the threat of enhanced competition from outside the region. This threat is largely being ignored.

    Professional services firms suggested ways in which they believe they could grow and be more competitive in the future. More than half of them (58%) cited increased networking through industry bodies and business chambers as important. Improved infrastructure including transport links, telecommunications and accommodation, was suggested as critical to supporting growth in the Hunter, both directly for professional services firms and indirectly, by improving business in other industries.

    More than half of the firms we talked to want a coordinated regional approach to promoting the Hunter-based professional services sector, and individual firms, as viable alternatives to capital cities. Greater collaboration and coordination was called for between, and within, industries in the Hunter to achieve shared regional goals. This needs to involve all levels of government, research organisations and the University of Newcastle.

    What’s stopping the sector from pursuing these opportunities? Many of the key challenges confronting the industry are common to other sectors. While technological advances offer new opportunities for growth, they also bring the threat of international competition. Regional firms face challenges in attracting and retaining quality staff and see a need for cultural change in their organisations to enable disruptive innovation. Constantly changing client needs and expectations, and changing regulation and compliance requirements were also challenging local firms, as are cost and prices squeezes, as the state of the economy and increased competition drives prices down.

    So what can we do? Firstly, Hunter companies need to invest in skills, education and training and be willing to invest in their workers to develop and retain skilled staff with a positive organisational culture. Secondly, they need to strengthen their domestic and international professional networks beyond the Hunter to develop globally-connected suppliers, contractors and clients. And finally, invest in information and communication technology to achieve more efficient, timely processes, meet changing client needs and reach new non-local markets.

    The question: “What’s stopping us from competing globally?” could be asked of the entire country as well as the region. The answer is “nothing really” if we build our capacity to become more competitive and innovative, with a view to creating high value jobs now and into the future.

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  • Confidence hard to find in Hunter economy

    Friday, 6 November, 2015

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    A substantial upswing in Hunter householders’ confidence in the June quarter this year has not been sustained, with confidence dropping back in the September quarter, according to Hunter Research Foundation’s (HRF) latest Hunter Economic Indicators.

    HRF economist and author of the Indicators, Anthea Bill, said that on balance, Hunter households expectations regarding their personal finances remained positive in the HRF’s September HUNTERPulse survey.

    “However, the share of households who expect their financial circumstances to deteriorate has risen,” Anthea said. “Short-term and long-term measures of consumer confidence also fell in the last quarter.”

    Long-term business confidence in the regional economy also dropped, which may be partly due to global economic factors, including the slowdown in the Chinese economy. The cooling local housing market and disappointing national economic growth rates may also be contributing.

    HRF will release the full Hunter Economic Indicators at its Hunter Economic Breakfast at Wests New Lambton tomorrow morning, as well as the results of its Future of Hunter Professional Services research project, which explored the barriers to growth in our important professional services sector.

    St George Chief Economist Hans Kunnen will also speak at the breakfast to report on the likely effects of current global economic storms on the national and regional economies.

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  • Professional Services sector key to economic success

    Friday, 6 November, 2015

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    Increased competition, skills shortages and constantly changing client needs are some of the challenges constraining the Hunter’s important Professional Services sector, according to research released by the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) today.

    HRF CEO Dr Brent Jenkins said the sector was critical to the Hunter’s economic future as it continues to navigate from a manufacturing base to a more diversified industry base.

    “The HRF continues to seek insight into boosting the creation of high-value jobs that will drive our economic success. In our latest regional research project, HRF have consulted representatives from the Hunter’s professional services sector to identify opportunities for the future and potential enabling strategies.”

    The professional services sector is a growing employer across NSW and Australia. However, the Hunter has not experienced the same level of growth as elsewhere, with only one-in-eleven Hunter workers employed in the sector compared to one-in-seven nationally. This employment share has fallen across the Hunter since 2011, while rising in the State and nation.

    HRF will release the results of its two-stage Future of Hunter Professional Services research project, which explored the challenges in-depth and recommends possible enabling strategies for Hunter firms increasing their global competitiveness. These include: investing in skills, education and training; strengthening domestic and international professional networks; and investing in technology.

    The Future of Hunter Professional Services project was supported by sponsorship from organisations operating locally, including infrastructure services firm AECOM. Hunter Area Manager Ian Richardson said AECOM had supported the HRF project to contribute to strengthening the sector in the region.

    “We have certainly experienced some of the challenges for the Hunter identified in the report within our own business, despite benefiting from being part of a global network,” Ian said.

    “We felt it important to take part in the research and support Stage 2, which provides deeper insight into those challenges, Regional collaboration is one of the key opportunities emerging for future growth and we will endeavour to act on HRF’s recommendations to build a stronger economy for the Hunter into the future.”

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  • Housing cycle is on the upswing

    By Anthea Bill
    Wednesday, 14 October, 2015

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    The housing market in the Hunter Region in recent years has been impacted by the once-in-a-century resources investment boom – and by the rapid downturn in that investment cycle as global coal prices slumped.

    From the late 2000s, there was significant investment in new mining activities in the Upper Hunter Valley, and adjunct infrastructure investment by government and private enterprise in road, rail and port facilities. These activities exhausted the local Upper Hunter labour market, resulting in extraordinarily low levels of unemployment, and drew new people and skills to the Region.

    The region’s housing market responded to this population influx, and the associated lack of short- and long-term accommodation. Construction of new dwellings, which had been sluggish, started to surge at a time when numbers were still declining in the rest of NSW. The Global Financial Crisis resulted in only a brief ‘blip’, which was offset by Federal Government investment in affordable housing, particularly medium and high density.

    At the same time, the Region’s real estate market started to heat up, particularly in the Upper Hunter areas close to coal mining activity, with house price growth surging ahead of that in Sydney – until the resource investment downturn.

    During the Hunter’s mini-housing boom, new greenfield developments on the urban fringes were predominant, taking advantage of proximity to the newly constructed Hunter Expressway. These developments were characterised by inclusion of community facilities in the design to offset a lack of public transport in these areas. The largest, Huntlee near Branxton, is expected to provide housing for 20,000 residents over the next 10 years.

    Since the downturn, housing approvals in the Hunter Region have sagged, particularly in the Upper Hunter, while the rest of the State (primarily Sydney) has been experiencing a residential building boom in response to record low interest rates.

    Hunter Research Foundation’s June surveys recorded a rise in buying intentions for Hunter properties in the first half of 2015, after they had been falling throughout 2013 and 2014. Buyer confidence was boosted by an improving labour market and falling interest rates. This has seen a small growth in dwelling approvals, the leading indicator of residential investment, after steady falls since 2014.

    The weaker construction sector in the Hunter Region overall has been partially offset in the Lower Hunter (Newcastle and the contiguous areas of northern Lake Macquarie) by the efforts of local and State authorities to ‘Renew Newcastle’. The CBD is undergoing a transformation, with much of the recent medium to high density construction activity concentrated in this area.

    Newcastle’s revitalisation has prompted a demand for residential apartment buildings, with those under construction reportedly quickly selling off the plan. Sydney investors and self-managed superannuation funds are reported to be the main buyers.

    And while house prices in Sydney have soared over the last two years, with the median price reportedly tipping $1million recently, they have declined in much of the Hunter Region outside the Newcastle/Lake Macquarie metropolitan areas. In the latter, house price growth has been moderate, resulting in the affordability of housing in Newcastle increasing relative to Sydney (median house prices in mid-2015 were 50% of Sydney’s, compared with 60% in mid-2013). Rental properties are commensurately more affordable – and available – in the Hunter Region.

    This article appear in The Australian – Hunter Supplement October 2015

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