News and published articles in 2018 to 2016

  • Jobs, infrastructure and liveability in Upper Hunter examined

    Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

    UH-Gary-1-09 2018


    The Singleton and Muswellbrook local government areas (LGAs) are centres for employment in the Upper Hunter. However, many of their workers live elsewhere, according to new analysis to be released at the Upper Hunter economic breakfast at Muswellbrook RSL on Wednesday, 19 September.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for Hunter Research Foundation Centre, says that journey-to-work data from the 2016 Australian Census shows that, in the Upper Hunter, Singleton has the highest proportion of commuters arriving there to work.

    “A range of factors, including jobs, infrastructure and liveability, influence where people work and live,” Dr Bill said. “We examine the economic and demographic data to unpack how some of the key factors interact, and how they play out in the Upper Hunter.”

    Dr Bill explained that the Centre’s Upper Hunter Pulse surveys show that business and household confidence in the Upper Hunter economy remained optimistic in the June 2018 quarter. The figures are above long-term averages.

    “Likely drivers of this regional buoyancy are the continued rally in global coal prices and sustained improvements in labour and housing markets. There is also a strong international economic context,” she stated.

    Gary White, Chief Planner for NSW, will speak at the breakfast on regional planning. He will also join an expert panel to discuss jobs, regional skill sets, commuting and liveability. The panel comprises:

    • Geoff Crews, Managing Director, Forsythes Recruitment
    • Cam Halfpenny, CEO, Bengalla Mining Company
    • Elizabeth Bate, Principal, Muswellbrook High School

    This event and the Upper Hunter Region Economic Indicators research program are supported by Bengalla Mining Company.

    UH-Gary-1-09 2018
    Read more Dr Anthea Bill
  • Symposium to showcase Newcastle as a global 'second city'

    Wednesday, 8 August, 2018


    Planning is underway for an international symposium focusing on ‘second cities’, to be held in Newcastle from 29-31 October. The Second Cities: smaller and smarter forum will bring together national and international expertise. It is being organised by the HRF Centre and is supported by a range of key regional stakeholders in the business and government sectors.

    What is a second city?

    Where Newcastle might recognise itself as a ‘major regional centre’, internationally it would be seen as a ‘second city’. Second cities represent a significant proportion of the world’s people, economy and activities.

    Second cities generally house between 50,000 and 1 million people. They have frequently undergone a planned economic transformation and are contributing significantly to the national economy. As well as easing pressure on their capital city counterparts, second cities are often recognised for providing strategic gateways to regional economies.

    Newcastle offers a compelling example of an emerging second city. Strategic investment across key sectors is earning Greater Newcastle a reputation as one of Australia’s more dynamic metropolitan areas. For example, more $1.5 billion in development applications have been approved in the past year in the Newcastle local government area.

    Since the closure of BHP’s steelmaking facility in 1999, Greater Newcastle has reshaped itself economically and socially. Cranes on the horizon are evidence that it may be undergoing another renaissance, driven by public and private infrastructure investment. The city is also a gateway to the Hunter – Australia’s most economically productive region.

    These features make Newcastle ideally positioned to host an event focusing on the reality and opportunities of a transitioning second city.

    Symposium topics and structure

    The Second Cities Symposium: smaller and smarter will provide an international platform for airing and contesting leading contemporary thought in urban and regional planning and development. It will offer the opportunity to explore aspects of the important city-region nexus of economic flows and travel for work and recreation.

    Drawing on local, national and global expertise, the symposium will provide a forum for analysing, debating and informing thinking on the evolution of second cities. It will feature internationally recognised experts, panel sessions, walking workshops, and ‘clinics’ to address ‘wicked problems’.

    Sessions are designed to explore innovation in urban design, city and regional planning, economic development, technology development, infrastructure, innovation, liveability and wellbeing.

    Timely – campaign for second cities policies

    July marked the launch of a campaign for national ‘second cities’ policies, headed by the Committee for Geelong (CfG). CfG commissioned research into examples of good practice in the development of second cities in Australia and overseas. Their Winning from Second report highlights the opportunity for Geelong (with partners) to advocate at the state and national levels for second city policy frameworks.

    The University of Newcastle has accepted an invitation from the Committee for Geelong to collaborate. Researchers will work with counterparts at Deakin and Wollongong universities to further develop the evidence base for the development of the policy framework. Newcastle City Council is supporting the framework development, pledging $25,000 toward the research report in a mayoral minute.

    Advancing the conversation – paired forums

    Greater Newcastle can also contribute to raising the profile of second cities at a state and national level through advocacy, and by facilitating national and international discussion. The symposium, Second Cities: smaller and smarter, being organised by the HRF Centre, is one example of work in this area.

    The Centre is engaging with the Committee for Geelong and key local organisations, such as Hunter Water, AECOM, and Hunter Development Corporation, on the development of the symposium.

    The symposium will lead into a related international conference, the Affordable Living in Sustainable Cities International Congress. The HRF Centre is cooperating with Congress organisers, Compass Housing, to co-promote these important and complementary events.

    Make a difference

    There are still sponsorship opportunities available for the Second Cities Symposium. To align your organisation with this strategic event, click on the link below to contact Kim Britton.

    Stay tuned for more on the Second Cities symposium and the international congress. 

    Read more KIM BRITTON
  • Partnership to help create thriving Upper Hunter communities

    Wednesday, 8 August, 2018

    Bengalla Blue-on-White JPG

    The Upper Hunter economic breakfasts will now be offered as a free event again thanks to a new partnership between Bengalla Mining Company and the HRF Centre at the University of Newcastle.

    A gift from Bengalla each year over the next five years will support the Centre’s Upper Hunter economic indicators research program. The program includes the twice-yearly surveys of businesses and households, analysis of trends in key economic indicators, an array of engagement activities and the breakfast presentations and panel sessions.

    The Upper Hunter economic breakfasts have been held twice a year in Muswellbrook since 2002. The series aims to build capacity in Upper Hunter businesses, social services, community organisations and schools. Offering the event free of charge is expected to make the breakfasts accessible to a wider audience, including small businesses, community groups, and secondary and tertiary students.

    Thanking Bengalla for their contribution to the Upper Hunter region, Professor Will Rifkin, HRF Centre Director said:

    “We welcome you as long-term partners in research and engagement on the Upper Hunter economy. Bengalla and the HRF Centre can now build the knowledge, connections, capacity and resilience of small businesses, households and community organisations in the region.”

    “This program partnership enables Bengalla to boost its contribution to the community’s knowledge base and professional networks. Strengthening of the region’s ‘social capital’ will contribute to jobs, new businesses and a better future for the region’s young people.”

    The HRF Centre reports on the results of its unique Upper Hunter Pulse surveys at the economic breakfast events. The surveys of 300 households and 300 businesses are conducted every six months in the Singleton, Muswellbrook and Upper Hunter Shires. The survey captures a range of economic and social data. The HRF Centre also analyses data from government and private sources to provide an overview of how families and businesses in the region are travelling.

    Cam Halfpenny, CEO of Bengalla Mining Company, will join a panel discussion at the September Upper Hunter economic breakfast. The panel will discuss liveability, infrastructure and jobs in the Upper Hunter.

    The HRF Centre looks forward to working with the Bengalla team, and their community partners, over the next five years, to help Upper Hunter communities to thrive. 

    Bengalla Blue-on-White JPG
    Read more
  • Hunter businesses heard in Parliamentary hearing

    Tuesday, 7 August, 2018

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    Are Australia’s free trade agreements sufficiently accessible and useful to Hunter small to medium enterprises?

    Hunter-based business, government and industry group representatives shared their experiences in a roundtable discussion in Newcastle on 1 August.

    The discussion was recorded for Hansard. It will help to inform the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into Access to free trade agreements (FTAs) by small and medium sized enterprises.

    The HRF Centre facilitated the event. Professor Will Rifkin, HRF Centre Director, and Dr Anthea Bill, Lead Economist, set the scene for visiting members of the Trade Sub-Committee*. They provided a presentation on the Hunter regional economy and insights on local businesses.

    Dr Bill said that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are prevalent in the Hunter. Two-thirds of local businesses employ fewer than four people.

    “The wind back in mining investment had a greater impact on the regional economy than the 1999 closure of BHP’s steel making facility,” Dr Bill revealed. “It resulted in a five per cent fall in employment in the region in 2013. While employment has since recovered, it demonstrates the Hunter economy’s vulnerability to the boom-and-bust cycles of mining.”

    Professor Rifkin explained that the development of foreign trade for Hunter businesses depends on key transport infrastructure projects.

    “We have heard about potential advantages of a very fast train link to Sydney, a container terminal in the Port of Newcastle and direct international air connections. The potential for such developments were discussed at the Hunter Economic breakfast last week,” he said. “There are innovative SMEs taking advantage of opportunities presented by free trade agreements. They could benefit from improved connectivity to major global markets.”

    Participants in the roundtable sessions represented a cross-section of industry sectors. They included the Port of Newcastle, Hunternet, Hunter Business Chamber and Australian Industry Group. Executives from 10 local businesses added insights from their experiences.

    Key points made by participants at the roundtable included:

    • establishing a one-stop-shop for information and training for Hunter SMEs on the advantages and opportunities presented by FTEs;
    • taking a more holistic approach when negotiating FTAs, that includes logistics and supply chains, to maximise opportunities for SMEs to take advantage of agreements;
    • make it more difficult to import finished products into Australia to prevent the erosion of intellectual property;
    • ensure that FTAs include bilateral trade agreements to enable Australian importers, as well as exporters, to benefit from them;
    • improve publicity about the opportunities presented by Australia’s FTAs; 
    • SMEs negotiating foreign trade encounter more substantial hurdles than tariffs, which are often not covered by FTAs; and
    • provide more business advisers to assist SMEs to negotiate FTAs, such as those provided as part of the Government’s Entrepeneurs’ Programme.

    Dr Greg Whiteley, Managing Director of Whiteley Corporation, complimented the committee members for coming to Newcastle.

    “I thoroughly endorse this initiative of the Joint Standing Committee, to enable businesses to be heard,” he said. “The value of direct consultation should never be understated.”

    The HRF Centre will continue to facilitate inquiries and forums that enable Hunter voices to be heard on issues of regional and national significance.

    Caption: Dr Anthea Bill and Prof. Will Rifkin present at the inquiry to (L-R) Bert van Manen MP, Ted O’Brien MP (Chair), Andrew Dawson (Inquiry Secretary) and Graham Perrett MP (Deputy Chair)

    A briefing paper on FTEs, prepared for the roundtable participants by University of Newcastle finance student Logan O’Halloran during his internship with HRF Centre, can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.

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  • Transport infrastructure for the Hunter's future

    Tuesday, 7 August, 2018


    Transport infrastructure was the focus of an expert panel discussion facilitated at the recent Economic breakfast by Professor Will Rifkin, Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre Director. The panel covered recent plans and visions, industry needs and pivotal projects, including a container terminal for the Port of Newcastle. Highlights of the discussion follow.

    Professor Emeritus Roy Green is the Chairman of the Port of Newcastle. Professor Green has worked in universities, business and government in Australia and overseas.

    Q: What are the key projects in the Port of Newcastle’s diversification and growth strategy? What opportunities do they present for Newcastle and the Hunter region?
    What challenges/constraints does the Port of Newcastle face in delivering them?

    A: There is renewed interest by the Port in developing a container terminal. Plans for a terminal go back to the transition period after the closure of BHP’s steel production. There was a commitment then, by all levels of Government and BHP, to remediate the site and develop a container terminal.

    There were various reasons why it did not proceed. The election of a new state government saw the privatisation of the ports, including Botany, Kembla and Newcastle. The negotiation of the sale of each port with NSW Ports resulted in anti-competitive restrictions being placed on the Port of Newcastle. An investigation of the policy is being undertaken by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

    The Port will be a coal-exporting port for a long time. But beyond 10 years, or 15 years, we are going to have to diversify. The state policy placing a levy on container shipments from Newcastle is the reason that a container terminal has not gone ahead, even though it is viable, competitive and would contribute to greater diversity of the regional economy.

    Kyle Loades was Chairman of NRMA until December 2017. He chaired a year-long investigation by the Committee for Sydney that generated the recently released the Sandstone Mega Region Report. That report captures a vision uniting Sydney with Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle. The report recommends the development of a plan for fast connectivity throughout the proposed Sandstone Mega-region.

    Q: You have been involved in developing the ‘Sandstone Mega-Region’ report. What motivated the Committee to develop this report?

    A: The Committee studied international models of successful ‘mega-regions’, including the Randstad region in the Netherlands. They applied what they learned to their thinking about Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle.

    Every capital city needs to think beyond its boundaries. Achieving one-hour transit times between major centres, normally using fast rail, has proven beneficial worldwide. Having a coherent strategic plan that balances out the strengths and weaknesses of the satellite cities and the capital is also essential.

    Inputs to the study demonstrate the benefits to the satellites and to Sydney of planning for the Sandstone Mega-Region. These benefits include economic growth and diversification.

    Businesses and industries will move to the Hunter, and we will lose the brain drain of talented people leaving the region, if we get the planning right. People will have a greater choice of where they want to live and work, which will also bring people to the region.

    Funding the infrastructure development to put the plan into action should not be an issue. There are many successful examples around the world of models to fund major infrastructure, including the land-capture model that has attracted private investment to partially fund rail development in London.

    I encourage you to get behind the plan. It has already been endorsed by (the Honourable) Paul Fletcher (Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities).

    Chris Knowles is the Director of Sales and Marketing, Asia Pacific for McLanahan Corporation. He is responsible for the diversification of the business across China and South East Asia.

    Q: McLanahan is a global manufacturer of custom-engineered process solutions for handling bulk solids, such as from mining or solid waste streams. Tell us briefly about your manufacturing base and where you do business?

    A: McLanahan is a 35-person organisation headquartered at Cameron Park. We specialise in locally-engineered processing equipment, customising solutions for our mining and agricultural customers. We sub-contract components in the Hunter. We also do some manufacturing in Perth and in Shanghai.

    Since 2010, we have been able to export to Mongolia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and China. Scale and cost are important to maintain competitiveness. Economies of scale and certainty of supply require efficient export arrangements. At the moment, we are shipping and air freighting out of Sydney. In order to continue to compete from the Hunter, we need improved infrastructure.

    Matt Coetzee is the Global Client Director for Cities at Aurecon, and he is a career planner. He has managed major infrastructure projects in the Hunter and Western Sydney.

    Q: Sydney has its Greater Sydney Region Plan and Newcastle its Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan. Are these long-term plans just “wish lists”, or can they provide useful road maps for development? What shared learning or insights can be gleaned from the two plans?

    A: The plans are really important, especially for smaller firms, to provide clarity on where to invest. However, large-scale, urban strategic planning solutions should not be developed in isolation. The Sandstone Mega Region report is a good example of a plan that considers the interaction between Sydney and its surrounding regions.

    Planners need to understand that there is movement of both people and dollars between cities and their regions.

    We should get away from thinking that Sydney is just the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. There are other parts of Sydney, particularly Western Sydney, that are growing rapidly. Think about what opportunities are opened up by improved connectivity between Newcastle and Parramatta or the new airport in the West.

    Infrastructure can play a driving role in economic development. The Sandstone Mega Region report offers some insight into that. However, you need to be clear about who and what you are connecting to. You can view Sydney as a monster that is consuming your best and brightest. Or you can see opportunities to connect with other parts of Sydney that are developing in similar ways to Newcastle.

    The HRF Centre facilitated a roundtable discussion with the panelists and other key stakeholders, immediately following the breakfast. That event was Chatham House rules: so, sorry, no summary available. 

    The Centre will continue to facilitate discussions and monitor and report on developments relevant to the region's critical transport infrastructure.

    Read more
  • Assessing what's fair for the Hunter at budget time

    Tuesday, 19 June, 2018


    The NSW budget will raise once again the question of whether the Hunter is receiving its ‘fair share’ of state government investment. How fair is it to have multi-billion dollar investments in roads, tunnels, stadiums, and the like in the Sydney metropolitan area without similar investment here? That question ties into multi-layered historical and political arguments as well as economic assessments. These factors all point to the important question about what constitutes an appropriate amount to invest to see long-term benefits in the Hunter region, and in the state.

    To take part in this debate, it is useful to assess the economic horsepower of the Hunter. The region is touted as having the largest regional economy in Australia, ‘regional’ meaning – outside a capital city’s metropolitan area. A common measure of the economy of a region is the year’s gross regional product (GRP). That is an estimated market value of all ‘final’ goods and services. The GRP does not count the value of goods that are being produced for resale. So, a finished railroad car counts, but not the wheels for that rail car, if they are produced here. The GRP figures employed here are public, estimated from government statistics by the commercial firm, REMPLAN.

    The Hunter’s GRP is estimated to be $48 billion, more than three times the size of Wollongong’s $13 billion. However, it is only 35 per cent of the GRP of Greater Western Sydney, which is $139 billion.

    The Hunter’s GRP is less than half of the City of Sydney’s $116 billion. The Hunter GRP constitutes less than 10 per cent of the NSW gross state product (GSP), estimated at $560 billion.

    So, with 10 per cent of the state’s economy, should we expect 10 per cent of the state’s infrastructure investment? Should the Hunter receive one-third of the amount invested in Greater Western Sydney? Should the Hunter also land 10 per cent of the state’s social welfare spending and 10 per cent of its drought support for agriculture? Clearly, no.

    Economic output is not the only statistic that needs to be considered. An area with a relatively small economic output per person may be ideal for retirees. An area with a high economic output per person may have localities facing entrenched economic disadvantage, such as long-term unemployment. Such localities could be seen as more worthy of government investment.

    That leads to a question about what is meant by ‘fair’? Is ‘fair’ assessed in terms of need, the opportunity to avoid future costs, or the potential for economic growth? That is, to what extent is government investment stimulating benefits for portions of the population or economy identified as being a high priority in the near-term and long-term future? The identification of such priorities can be seen to be a question of values and aspirations, about opportunities and intergenerational wellbeing. It is not an issue of mere dollar figures of economic output.

    Do we agree on what criteria to employ in setting such priorities? Do we know what criteria have been considered elsewhere, particularly in settings where strategic long term aims have been pursued effectively?

    In assessing the NSW budget, let us avoid saying that it is not ‘fair’. Let us, instead, agree on criteria for prioritising long-term economic and social aspirations, which government investment could stimulate in the region.

    In this way, we can pursue economic and social wellbeing here, and support its growth across the state.


    Read more Prof. Will Rifkin
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