News and published articles in 2018 to 2016

  • Understanding the effects of mining in regional economies

    Thursday, 29 November, 2018


    The HRF Centre partnered with Singleton Shire Council to host a Parliamentary hearing in Singleton in November.

    The Centre helped to organise the testimony of 18 Hunter people from 14 organisations to the inquiry into how the mining sector can support businesses in regional economies.

    Professor Will Rifkin, Director of the HRF Centre, and Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist, addressed members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Innovation, Science and Resources about the effects of boom-and-bust cycles on the Hunter and other regional communities.

    Dr Bill described the marked difference in economic trends in the Hunter when compared to New South Wales, as a whole. She said that a decline in global coal prices to around US$56 a tonne saw a 15 per cent decline in employment in the Hunter region between September 2013 and March 2015. This decline compared to a 1.1 per cent increase in employment across the state.

    This bust phase was followed by a recovery phase. From March 2015 to July 2018, there was 20 per cent growth in employment in the Hunter balance versus 10 per cent in the state overall.

    Professor Rifkin and Dr Katherine Witt, from the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Centre for Coal Seam Gas, presented findings from research on Queensland’s Darling Downs during its natural gas boom. The research developed the UQ Boomtown Indicators.Their approach has gained international recognition as a benchmark for assessing rural and regional change.

    The HRF Centre, in collaboration with other regional universities, is proposing to employ the UQ Boomtown Indicators approach nationally, at the behest of Parliamentarians addressed at a hearing in Newcastle last year. The idea is to do fine-grained profiling of a set of economic and social indicators for 50 bellwether communities across Australia.

    “Australia’s regions are facing significant challenges from the roller coaster ride of economic cycles in the mining sector, shifts in agricultural prices and changes in exchange value of the Australian dollar,” Professor Rifkin said. “This approach can raise the capabilities of businesses, local government and community providers around the country.It would build on successes of the pilot in Queensland.”

    Other organisations represented at the Singleton hearing on 5 November included: Singleton and Cessnock Councils; the Hunter, Muswellbrook and Singleton Business Chambers; The Bloomfield Group, Glencore, Hedweld, the Australian Industry Group, Hunternet and Forsythes Recruitment.

    Read the Hansard transcript.

  • Second cities symposium proposes way forward

    Thursday, 29 November, 2018


    The HRF Centre led a collaborative effort to stage the Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter Symposium in October.

    The Centre, Hunter Water, the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation and AECOM were Lead Partners in the Symposium. The event cultivated understanding among delegates of the economic and social drivers for cities such as Greater Newcastle, Wollongong and Geelong. It also showcased Newcastle as an emerging global city.

    Forty-five expert speakers and panellists addressed the three key themes of innovation, infrastructure and liveability over the two-day symposium. A total of 187 participants represented 80 organisations.

    Symposium host, Kyle Loades, stated that the event helped to build insight, dialogue, and trust among leaders in Greater Newcastle’s government, academic and business sectors.

    Loades led a final session to explore: where to next? The participants were from state and local government, the private sector, industry groups, the community sector and the university. They worked in groups to brainstorm their insights and bolster the development of Greater Newcastle.

    Across the groups came a consistent call for greater collaboration and transparent governance within and between tiers of government and with the private and public sectors.

    Each group nominated two priorities that they considered critical to Greater Newcastle. There was significant overlap among the groups, with the following key areas of focus:

    • A compelling vision
      • delivers a sense of ownership for the community
      • requires collaboration
      • longer time frames for looking forward: 20 to 50 year
    • A clear brand and identity
      • for the city and its people
      • many believe the identity exists but is not captured and articulated clearly
      • embracing a progressive agenda
      • attract and develop hero experiences
    • Progress of key infrastructure
      • airport upgrade
      • create health and innovation precinct
      • true coordination around a major project
    • Enhanced liveability (including inclusivity)
      • a decent cultural space: museum or art gallery
      • investment in creative industries to enhance social fabric
    • Economic and cultural diversification
      • job opportunities
      • a stronger role for the university
      • better support for small business
      • resilience
      • build on core strengths: engineering, health, education
    • Measurement and benchmarking (nationally and internationally)
      • seek international funding schemes

    The HRF Centre will explore these areas in its upcoming research and engagement, including a possible Second Cities Symposium 2019. Along these lines, the Centre’s Hunter economic breakfast series will have an over-arching theme of Collaboration and Vision.

    Read more
  • Are we winning the innovation game?

    Wednesday, 28 November, 2018


    Are we winning or losing the innovation game in the Hunter? This question was posed at the Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle on 16 November.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for the HRF Centre, told the 230-strong audience why innovation is essential to Australia’s economic success. She cited ABS data that shows that firms who innovate are more likely to report increases in sales, profitability, productivity and growth than firms that do not innovate.

    Hunter business innovation has been measured by the HRF Centre since 2009. The latest data show that 46 per cent of Hunter firms introduced new or improved products or services in 2017. That is the highest proportion since the HRF began collecting data.

    Sydney is the State’s innovation powerhouse. It benefits from global connectivity as well as access to infrastructure and a deep pool of talent. Developing scale to deliver impact is more difficult in regional Australia. Yet, regions face the same pressure to innovate.

    Dr Bill cited evidence that shows that the creation of a viable local innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem may be the first step toward enhancing the benefits of innovation in the region. Innovation ecosystems result in more than just a direct increase in the number of startups, scale-ups and employment. They can unlock wider business potential and generate high-value jobs, with multiplier effects into the broader economy.

    Dr Bill also discussed the Hunter iF Project. This collaborative effort aims to unite, scale and champion the Hunter’s growing innovation ecosystem.

    Keynote speaker at the breakfast, the ABC's James O’Loghlin stated that anyone can innovate. He examined barriers preventing people from innovating and strategies to overcome those barriers.

    Although most people recognise the need to innovate, motivation fails without method, he explained.

    “Motivation is the key that starts the car, but method - having a plan - is the engine that drives it.”

    People should not ask whether innovation is hard but whether it is worthwhile, O’Loghlin suggested. They also need to overcome the fear of failure, as failure is an integral part of innovation.

    “If you want to start being more innovative in your business, recalibrate your relationship with failure. Accept failure. It is a numbers game. If you have enough ideas, you will have a good idea.”

    O’Loghlin has worked with thousands of individuals and organisations to support change and innovation.Based on his experience, he offered tips on how to introduce innovation culture and systems within a business.

    “Good leaders know that good ideas can come from anyone in the business, particularly those down the line dealing with customers, processes and systems.”

    To create an innovative culture, companies should make innovation a KPI for everyone in the business, he stated.

    O’Loghlin is local incubator Eighteen04's Expert in Residence this year. This position is part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda Entrepreneurial Support Program.

    He joined local entrepreneur, Heath Raftery from Newie Ventures, and Siobhan Curran, Manager of the University of Newcastle’s Integrated Innovation Network, for a question and answer session.

    Read edited excerpts of the panel Q& A.

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
  • Skills shortages and connectivity in the Upper Hunter

    Wednesday, 26 September, 2018


    Skills shortages, connectivity and patterns of travel, economic diversity and planning were all raised in a wide-ranging panel discussion at the Upper Hunter economic breakfast in September. Following are edited excerpts of our experts comments.

    Jobs – skills, education and training
    A growing proportion of Upper Hunter businesses cited finding suitable labour as a key constraint on their business. That is according to a survey by the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre in June 2018.

    Skills shortages were a key issue discussed by the panel. The SEEK website advertised 230 positions available in the Upper Hunter on the date of the breakfast. That is according to panellist Geoff Crews, Managing Director of Forsythes Recruitment.

    “One-third of those vacancies are for operators, and another third are in trades,” he said. “These very real skills shortages in trades and non-trade positions are partly caused by changing aspirations of young people.”

    Fewer are interested in getting into those areas now, he explained. A short-term solution is difficult to see, as many positions require years of preparation.

    Cam Halfpenny, Bengalla Mining Company’s CEO, agreed.

    “It is one thing to train an operator – you can do that in two or three weeks. But training a fitter or an electrician takes years,” he said. “Those skills underpin a lot of our industries, not only mining.”

    Bengalla has been offering scholarships and apprenticeships to encourage young people to take up mining jobs. They also support school programs that provide opportunities to learn about different career paths.

    “It is important for employers to invite students onto sites to have a look at what a surveyor or a farmer does,” Halfpenny said. “We have a diversity of roles and job sets available in the region. We need to plan a way to connect our kids with them, so that they can see what they might be interested in.”

    The mining and agricultural industries are cyclical by nature, Halfpenny explained. Effective business planning ensures they can continue to operate through the cycle.

    “We are blessed here in the Upper Hunter. A lot of our mineral resources sit at the bottom of the global cost curve. These coal mines should be the last ones in the world to close provided they are managed effectively. It is a matter of deciding, that is what we are going to do. If we need to upgrade the technology in order to achieve it, whatever we need to do, we do it with a strategic mind-set.”

    Developments in digital technology and increasing automation in agriculture and mining are likely to attract young people to the Upper Hunter to work, rather than deter them, according to Crews.

    “Young people love digitisation and automation. While it may eliminate some of the traditional jobs, it is not going to be feared by young people. I think it is quite exciting and key to attracting young people to the area.”

    Another Upper Hunter skills shortage was identified by panellist Elizabeth Bate, Principal of Muswellbrook High School. Her school was having difficulty attracting skilled staff to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects in an innovative and productive way.

    “We are future focussed,” she said. “Most recently we have worked with the University of Newcastle in a Hunter-wide program. It has raised awareness, amongst girls in particular, about how to pursue, and persist at, acquiring STEM skills.”

    The program has produced great results for the school. They had previously been unable to sustain a Chemistry class and were lagging in Physics outcomes. They have now boosted numbers in their Chemistry class. They are also offering two STEM electives in Year 9 next year.

    “The tide is shifting,” Bate said. “People are aware that education has changed, and that it is about getting some real resources and skills here in the Upper Hunter.”

    Infrastructure - connectivity
    How new infrastructure can enhance connectivity was discussed at the breakfast. Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre’s Lead Economist, presented travel-to-work data from the 2016 Census. The data show whether a local government area (LGA) is a net ‘importer’ or ‘exporter’ of workers.

    Singleton has the highest share of in-commuters, followed by Muswellbrook. These figures tend to reflect the availability of jobs in these LGAs. It may also be influenced by the increased connectivity provided by the Hunter Expressway. It allows Singleton and Muswellbrook workers to have residential options outside these LGAs. The Upper Hunter LGA has a substantially lower rate of in-commuting, reflecting its relatively small pool of jobs.

    Singleton’s share of in-commuters is higher than in Newcastle or Maitland LGAs. In contrast, over half of Maitland’s employed population work outside the LGA. This rate is higher than for the Newcastle LGA (31%). Dr Bill said that Maitland’s liveability, relative affordability and geographical position have likely contributed.

    “The opening of the Hunter Expressway in 2014 helped to reduce travel times and increase connectivity between the Upper Hunter, Newcastle and Sydney.”

    The Expressway also opened up opportunities for young people to return to the Upper Hunter, according to Bate.

    “A lot of young people are coming back into our area. That is a positive note for the Upper Hunter. They are often very loyal to their families and to the region they have grown up in. If the jobs are here, I have seen that they will come back.”

    Innovation, change and planning
    Dr Bill stated that long-term business expectations of the regional economy have stayed steady at an elevated level since June 2016. This level of confidence coincides with improvements in the price of thermal coal. Short-term business expectations of the economy jumped in the six months to December to the highest value on record.

    “The greater improvement in confidence in the short-term regional outlook, compared to the long-term, reflects a degree of uncertainty around whether movements in global coal prices will be sustained,” she said. “The region’s success in capitalising on the resources boom means that business-as-usual stays as a winning formula.”

    Dr Bill explained that this attitude creates a risk that opportunities for regional economic diversification might be missed. One such opportunity is Ethtec’s collaboration with Muswellbrook Shire Council, which could lead to a national bio-renewables hub.

    “We need to ensure that opportunities to build and enhance the region’s sustainable competitive advantage are not missed.”

    Data presented last quarter show that dependence on mining within the region had not greatly changed from 2013 to 2016, Dr Bill stated. Greater economic diversification would increase the Upper Hunter’s resilience and provide a buffer to the cyclical nature of the resources cycle.

    “The lower Australian dollar favours the development of regional tourism and agriculture,” she said.

    Dr Gary White, NSW Chief Planner, agreed that the Upper Hunter is well positioned to diversify its economy. Speaking on the breakfast panel, he identified tourism, agriculture, engineering, agricultural technology, and education and training as areas of opportunity to build on. He also warned against ‘legacy bias’.

    “A business-as-usual approach could limit the opportunities presented by change and innovation,” he said. “We need to stop looking through the rear-vision mirror for solutions based in the past. Look through the windscreen at what is in front of us, and make your decisions based on those opportunities.”

    He explained that people continue to talk about the Hunter as several stories of different parts.

    “It is one story about the whole and not a lot of stories competing against each other,” he said. “The recent release of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan should be leveraged by the Upper Hunter.”

    “Newcastle is the only Australian city, outside the capitals, to have a metropolitan plan. Connectivity improvements and the changing metropolitan fabric will provide opportunities to the surrounding region.”

    View breakfast presentations by Dr Bill and Dr White

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
  • Smarter look at second cities

    Monday, 24 September, 2018


    Next month I will host a timely international forum in Newcastle focused on ‘second cities’.

    The Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter Symposium comes as Australia’s population reaches 25 million people, with 10 million living in either Sydney or Melbourne. While these metropolitan areas continue to thrive economically, residents and businesses face congestion, challenging access to jobs and services, and reduced housing affordability.

    Outside the major state capitals, 31 Australian cities have a population greater than 50,000, according to the Regional Australia Institute (RAI). RAI states that such regional cities are free of many of the challenges facing the major capitals. They cite lower rates of crime, less congestion and reduced inequality as factors that make smaller cities highly productive and great places to live.

    The Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter Symposium is part of a growing call for acknowledgement by government, industry and the community of the role of Australia’s smaller cities in contributing to the nation’s prosperity.

    As a passionate Novocastrian, I am committed to better planning for our city’s future. I recently chaired an inquiry by the Committee for Sydney that resulted in the ‘Sandstone Mega-region’ report. Looking at international best practice, the report envisions treating Sydney, Wollongong, the Central Coast and Newcastle as elements of a single ‘megalopolis’ in terms of planning, infrastructure, and connectivity.

    A leader in Australia in promoting the second cities agenda is the Committee for Geelong. They have delivered the Winning From Second report, which reveals the characteristics, challenges and opportunities of comparable cities in Europe and the USA. This research underscores the need for greater policy and planning for second cities in Australia at the state and national levels. A national campaign for a Second City Policy Framework was launched by the Committee for Geelong in July, with a Newcastle delegation attending and a vote of support from the City of Newcastle.

    The Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter symposium builds on this new initiative. The symposium is being coordinated by the Hunter Research Foundation Centre in partnership with Hunter Water, AECOM and the Hunter Development Corporation.

    The symposium will bring together experts and leading practitioners on themes of innovation, infrastructure and liveability. Futurist and business adviser, Bernard Salt, is the keynote speaker at the symposium dinner.

    Set in and around the University’s landmark NeW Space city campus, the symposium will showcase Newcastle as an emerging global second city. The symposium will conclude with participants summarising insights and outcomes to create an action plan.

    Kyle Loades
    Host, Second Cities Symposium

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 18 September 2018

    Read more FIND OUT MORE
  • 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 analysis 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, spoke at the breakfast on regional planning. He was joined by an expert panel to discuss jobs, regional skill sets, commuting and liveability. The panel comprised:

    • 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
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