News and published articles in 2019 to 2016

  • Two million people for the Hunter?

    Monday, 18 November, 2019

    Newcastle-Ocean-Baths From-Above

    Australia is on track for substantial population growth in the coming decades. How much of that growth will be seen by Greater Newcastle and the Hunter region?

    The country will add 19 million people by 2056, a 75 per cent increase in the population forecast by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Current trends and current policy will turn the major capital cities into megacities, says the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) in their recently released, National Population Plan for Regional Australia.

    There are options, though, according to the RAI’s co-CEO Liz Ritchie. She will be the guest speaker sharing results of RAI’s research at the HRF Centre’s Hunter Economic breakfast on 15 November.

    Under the ‘business as usual’ scenario, the RAI estimates that an additional 270,000 people will call Greater Newcastle home by 2056. This figure is in line with the growth forecast seen in the NSW government’s Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan.

    What is the ideal size for the city and the region? What if Greater Newcastle became home to two-million people - one scenario modelled in the RAI’s report?

    The RAI’s national study examined alternative patterns of population growth in Sydney and NSW in terms of three scenarios:

      1. ‘Business as usual’ – a continuation of current policies and trends;
      2. Growth concentrated not just in Sydney but also in Greater Newcastle, Shoalhaven and Wollongong; and
      3. Growth dispersed across the regional centres of Greater Newcastle, Wollongong, Shoalhaven, Canberra, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Tamworth Regional, and Wagga Wagga.

    Under the RAI’s business-as-usual base case, commute distances in outer Sydney – a proxy measure for urban congestion – will increase by about 60 per cent by 2056.

    Those figures would rise by just 15 per cent under the ‘alternative distributed’ population scenario (option 2 above), where growth was distributed to Greater Newcastle, Wollongong and the Shoalhaven.

    A compelling vision for a single economic powerhouse region – incorporating Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle – is offered in the Committee for Sydney’s 2018 Sandstone Megaregion report. The report recommends a network of rail connections coupled with a coherent strategy that promotes complementary economic roles for each of the centres.

    There is no significant economic penalty for such strategies that distribute population growth, according to the RAI analysis. Only small differences are forecast in the unemployment rate, income and house prices across the two alternative scenarios. However, policies to maximise education and employment opportunities in regions would be needed, the report explains.

    That is due to a chicken-and-egg question in relation to population growth in a city or region. Which comes first, the higher population – which can provide a skilled workforce - or the jobs to attract people? Either way, education and training must assure that employees are suited to future market needs and modes of working.

    Population growth was addressed in the recent Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium, held in Newcastle in October. This second annual symposium was organisedby the HRF Centre with lead partners - the City of Newcastle, Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation, Hunter Water and AECOM.

    Regional development expert, the University of South Australia’s Professor Andrew Beer, shed light on the drivers of economic growth, based on research for the RAI. He found that economic diversification succeeded where it occurred within a region’s general areas of specialisation. For example, underlying strengths in steelmaking have enabled growth in Whyalla, South Australia, he noted. This success in specialisation was also highlighted in examples provided by Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, a specialist in megatrends and Director of CSIRO’s Data61.

    In a symposium keynote, Hajkowicz described megatrends related to health, business, technology, and climate. He related a tale of two US cities – Pittsburgh and Detroit – that had very different outcomes in transitioning their economies from heavy industry bases.

    Pittsburgh made what is recognised as a successful transition. Pittsburgh was supported by government programs and internal initiatives to shift from manufacturing and selling steel to selling steel know-how. Over a 20-year period, the city attracted two academic and eight corporate centres for steel-related research.

    Detroit appeared to have no coherent Plan B beyond car manufacturing. Changing markets and international competition led to huge job losses. The City of Detroit filed for bankruptcy with a $US24 billion debt. Recovery of Detroit’s economy, now beginning, will be based in reinvention, Hajkowicz argued.

    Areas of strength for the Hunter were identified by symposium participants. The list includes the natural environment, infrastructure, energy, technology, medical and health research, education and advanced manufacturing. In these areas, job clusters could stimulate and support the population growth that the RAI says is possible. Steps toward such growth or to pursue alternatives,the experts and international examples suggest, can be realised through collaboration and vision - the HRF Centre’s theme for 2019.

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 9 November, 2019.

    Newcastle-Ocean-Baths From-Above
    Read more PROF. WILL RIFKIN
  • Population growth discussed at Hunter economic breakfast

    Friday, 15 November, 2019

    Hunter-St Wheeler-Pl NewSpace 2-low-res

    Projections modelling the Hunter region’s possible future population, and their economic and social implications, were discussed at the Hunter Economic breakfast on Friday, 15 November.

    Australia's population is set to climb past 40 million by 2056. How many more residents can Newcastle and the Hunter region expect to see?

    Will they be younger, older, working, retired, from Australia's cities or from abroad? What are alternative scenarios? How are the outcomes likely to be affected by policies, markets and international politics?

    Current patterns of immigration and internal migration suggest that the bulk of growth will occur in the already congested capital cities, but the Regional Australia Institute (RAI) sees alternatives. Breakfast guests heard about RAI's forecasts, the options they see, and the government measures that they recommend, from Liz Ritchie, our guest speaker and the RAI's co-CEO.

    Ritchie outlined scenarios for Newcastle and the Hunter. One sees the Hunter reach a population of close to two million by 2050. The implications for regional incomes, house prices and employment would not be profound, the RAI research found.

    Dr Anthea Bill, Lead Economist for the HRF Centre, offered further insights into the Hunter’s population prospects. Dr Bill also presented an update on the current state-of-play for the national, international and local economies.

    Professor Alex Zelinsky, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, discussed the University’s new strategy. He outlined some of the key points conveyed to University planners from more than 4,000 consultation interactions this year. One of these was a desire for an outstanding student experience. Another is a desire to have the University serve its region.

    The breakfast was the final Collaboration and Vision-themed Hunter Economic event for the HRF Centre for 2019.

    Join our mailing list to learn the Centre's new themes for engaged research in 2020.

    Hunter-St Wheeler-Pl NewSpace 2-low-res
  • Can SMEs save small cities?

    Thursday, 3 October, 2019


    Small businesses aren’t just decoration - they’re essential to creating a thriving city.

    What makes a city great? We don’t fully know all the ingredients, and assembling them together in a way that makes the urban environment buzz is an inexact art.

    But we do know some of the things we can’t do without.

    Coffee to start the day. Hairdressers. Pharmacists. That cute little bespoke clothing shop. Quirky new restaurants. Second hand bookshops. Novelties and necessities, made available by people who are prepared to put their own money, their own effort and their own ideas on the line.

    These, and so many more things, are some of the tangible benefits that a vibrant small business sector provides us with.

    It’s something that big corporations aren’t going to do. Ever been into a Coles, a Woolworths, a Bunnings, or any other large-scale retailer and felt that you were just part of an increasingly commoditised business model?

    There are other, less obvious, functions that small firms also perform for a city. Jobs. Wealth creation. A spirit of entrepreneurialism. New ideas. The sense of ’giving it a go’. They even create the next generation of successful big businesses. Without these, small cities have little vibrancy and little hope of a better future.

    Our small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) businesses are an important part of any successful local economy. Newcastle has a long and proud history of great local firms that have gone on to become leading national brands.

    Yet there are many things that most of us don’t realise about SMEs. They may be small, but collectively they carry significant weight. More than 97 per cent of businesses in Australia are small or medium sized. In fact, the most common type of business is one that employs very few, if any, people besides the owner(s).

    A surprisingly large number are also based out of peoples’ homes. Most of them make only modest amounts of money. The typical business turns over less than $200,000 a year, and profits are even smaller again. They have short life spans and only a handful last more than 10-15 years. Success is rarely guaranteed, and failure an ever-present threat.

    Many of these businesses are surprisingly fragile. It takes clever policy to encourage them, and only a few thoughtless government decisions to destroy many entrepreneurial ventures.

    What do we need to do to make this work?

    First of all, we need to avoid over-relying on the ’white knight syndrome‘ - where bringing in one or two large companies is seen as the solution to all of a region’s economic uncertainties. Cities can’t base themselves, or be anchored, on just a handful of big corporations. Such enterprises are important, but these solutions make us dangerously over-reliant on introducing big businesses whose primary loyalties are rarely to the local town, and who will leave once the cost-benefit equation shifts against the local community.

    We also need to regulate our local businesses carefully and cleverly. Many local governments, for example, have encouraged a thriving micro-business and self-employment culture by making it easy to operate a business from home. They’ve made sure that their zoning and planning rules are easy to understand, reliable and stable, backed up by decision-making processes that are prompt and predictable.

    Policy makers in smart cities also recognise that new innovative businesses aren’t just found in the technology sector. Whilst the latest app-based business may grab the most media profile, they know that most small businesses are found in much less glamorous, but equally important, fields. They also ensure that there are advisory support services available to all of these SMEs.

    We need to constantly look at the latest tools being used elsewhere to encourage SMEs, and be prepared to adopt them quickly if they have shown their worth. Business incubators, shared workstations, free access to business start-up advice, mentoring and help to grow are all innovative tools local regions around the world have used.

    In short, there’s a world of difference between communities that regard local businesses as something to be nurtured and valued, and those cities that treat SMEs as a nuisance that must be tolerated at best, regulated at all times, and charged the highest possible fees.

    Finally, there’s the invisible but crucially important issue of attitudes towards entrepreneurs. Do our community and government leaders celebrate our local small businesses in their words and actions? Do we foster a conducive climate that encourages people to take the risks and try their hand at being their own boss?

    Building a successful, vibrant city that provides plenty of jobs, great retail and customer experiences, and creates a new generation of entrepreneurs isn’t easy. But if we don’t try, we’re all going to be much poorer.

    Dr Michael Schaper is CEO of the Canberra Business Chamber and former deputy chairman of the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. He is hosting a panel discussion - Can SMEs save small cities? - at the Smaller & Smarter Cities International Symposium in Newcastle on 10 October. This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 5 October 2019

    Read more
  • Designing inclusive cities

    Wednesday, 25 September, 2019


    Cities around the world, including Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in the Hunter, are embracing ‘smart city’ technologies. The City of Newcastle’s multi award-winning Smart City Program, for instance, envisions a connected, digitally-enabled, and sustainable future for Novocastrians. The City has successfully received significant funding from both State and Federal governments in support of Newcastle’s smart city transition.

    Newcastle is increasingly part of a global economy, created by smart cities, that is predicted to amount to $US507 billion by 2020. Investment in this burgeoning economy by local businesses and governments can benefit with guidance from a practical framework developed by Dr Ellie Cosgrave, keynote speaker at this year's Smaller & Smarter Cities: international symposium.The Symposium will be held in Newcastle from 9 to 11 October.

    Dr Cosgrave is a leading civil engineer, director of the Urban Innovation and Policy Lab, and lecturer in Urban Innovation at University College London. Her work explores how smart infrastructure impacts social, political and economic processes.

    It is not all plain sailing creating a ‘perfect’ city, she warns. Advances in technology-orientated urban design and policy have the capacity to magnify existing inequalities in our cities. This risk is particularly prevalent in a political context where private interests are more protected than public interests, Dr Cosgrave says. In other words, smart city technologies have the potential to create an urban landscape that results in increasing social divisions according to wealth, gender and race.

    That can occur just through the process of gathering and presenting data, according to publications of Professor Rob Kitchin, an international expert on city indicators based at the National University of Ireland. The selection of key indicators of urban mobility or rental prices, for example, has integral to it the politics of power groups aiming for particular investments or outcomes.

    However, it is possible for digital technologies to transform cities for the better if designers are cognisant of these sorts of social impacts, Dr Cosgrave says. She explores how, and where, more conscious design is possible as co-presenter with renowned urbanist, Professor Greg Clark, of the BBC podcast, My Perfect City.

    The podcast opens with the greeting, “If you’re listening to this while battling against city life on a packed commuter train, headphones on to block out the noise of outside, running in a park while breathing in the fumes, well perhaps you would like to join us in imagining what a perfect city would be like to live in.”

    The podcast highlights examples from global cities with solutions to modern urban issues. For example, Seoul is increasing employment opportunities in health, education and caring industries to compensate for jobs lost to technology. Paris has introduced participatory budgeting, where citizens can democratically vote on funding to improve their city. Glasgow has more than halved its homicide rate through a public health intervention that tackles crime as a product of inequality and disenfranchisement in urban life.

    Central to these successful innovations in city life is the design paradigm that posits that inequality reflects a choice, Dr Cosgrave proposes. She says that public space and infrastructure professionals design for their own experience. The majority of these professionals are men. They imagine possibilities and places based on their own understanding of what is good, what works for men like them. That can mean neglect for considerations of women, children, the aged, disabled, and those from other cultural backgrounds.

    Examples of exclusion in public spaces abound, she explains. Globally, women make up fewer than 30 per cent of cyclists in cities. Within that cohort, older women and those of Asian and Latin descent were disproportionately under-represented. However, women cyclists are over-represented in the Netherlands and Denmark. In those countries, more inclusive cycling infrastructure has resulted from public planning that takes seriously the safety concerns of women.

    To support more inclusive design, Dr Cosgrave co-founded ScienceGrrl, an organisation to attract and retain women and girls in STEM fields.

    Dr Cosgrave’s work tells us that the success of any city is contingent on its ability to serve all of its people, making that a central focus of design rather than an afterthought.

    Dr Ellie Cosgrave’s keynote address, Designing inclusive cities, is on Thursday, 10 October. Register your place now at

    This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin, Director, HRF Centre, was published in the Newcastle Herald on Wednesday, 25 September 2019

    Read more PROF. WILL RIFKIN
  • Megatrends shaping our future topic at Smaller & Smarter Cities Symposium

    Tuesday, 24 September, 2019


    What can we see today that suggests what the future will look like? How might new technologies change the way that we live, work and play? How can we prepare for this future? These questions have been investigated in a multi-year study, with the findings to be shared in Newcastle early next month.

    Lead researcher in this effort, Dr Stefan Hajkowicz is director of CSIRO's Data61 Insight Team and author of Global Megatrends: Seven patterns of change shaping our future. He will deliver a keynote address at this year's Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium hosted in Newcastle by the HRF Centre.

    Returning for its second year, the Smaller & Smarter Cities: International Symposium will take place from October 10 to 11. Delegates will join a range of expert speakers to debate and analyse what it means to achieve sustainable development in major non-capital cities here and abroad.

    The concept of a 'megatrend' was introduced in 1982 by academic John Naisbitt. It is intended to suggest a narrative about the future addressing environmental, economic and social conditions. In this domain of strategic foresight, Dr Hajkowicz is a leading scholar and a valuable addition to the symposium program.

    Dr Hajkowicz's CSIRO's Data61 Insights Team has completed numerous research consultancies and hundreds of briefings, seminars and workshops on megatrends. Their report, Our Future World, launched in June of this year, identifies eight megatrends reshaping the global business landscape. They are:

    • More from less - increasing demand for limited natural resources
    • Planetary pushback - from global to microbial scales, we face a range of challenges from superbugs to climate change
    • The Silk Highway - rapid economic growth and urbanisation in Asia and the developing world
    • On the move - more mobility than ever before - now is a good time to think about transport and logistics
    • Forever young - an ageing population, new patterns of chronic illness and rising healthcare expenditure
    • Digital immersion - technology reshaping retail and office precincts, city design and function, and labour markets
    • Intelligent machines - artificial intelligence is on the rise as we move to a world of autonomous machines, and
    • Keeping it real - in a virtual world, the marginal value of the 'real' world will grow - keep sight of the human dimension.

    The forces that create megatrends develop over decades. When they do come to fruition, however, they can hit with explosive force. Consider the disruption of the taxi industry by the ride-sharing app phenomenon, an example pointed to by Dr Hajkowicz. Preparing for such dramatic changes before they hit is incumbent on businesses and government, Dr Hajkowicz argues.

    "The change heralded by megatrends lies beyond our direct control but not beyond our influence," he says. "By getting a picture of how the world is changing and what these megatrends are, we can alter our destiny."

    What global megatrends are we facing in the Hunter?

    Regional cities are moving away from the traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries that powered their growth over the 20th century toward more professional and service-based economies. For example, the largest employment sector in this region is health and social services. The likely effects of these global megatrends on non-capital cities, like ours, will be explored by symposium delegates.

    Today's era of increasingly-rapid change in the digital world sees "opportunity and threat coming together," according to Dr Hajkowicz. CSIRO's Data61's initiative is seeking to equip Australian industry and society with the most advanced technologies in artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive analytics and informatics that can power our industrial productivity and competitiveness over the next decade.

    The output of Data61 is wide ranging and with some potentially significant developments. The effort includes soil mapping for farmers to better understand potential profitability; a solution for detecting and monitoring black lung disease; flood modelling systems; and Hovermap technology, which achieved the first autonomous out-of-sight and underground drone flight. On the environmental front, they have developed habitat-protecting robots in the Amazon and collected data on nitrogen levels in the Great Barrier Reef.

    Dr Hajkowicz develops decision models - designed to help government, business and communities to make smarter decisions about the future. These models have guided investments worth hundreds of millions of dollars, for example, informing federal and state governments on critical policy choices.

    Dr Hajkowicz will deliver his keynote address, Global megatrends reshaping the way we live, work and play, on Thursday October 10. He will also host a clinic at the symposium:Strategic imperatives for the Hunter from megatrends to practical solutions.Register now.

    This opinion piece by Professor Will Rifkin was published in the Newcastle Herald on Saturday, 21 September 2019

    Read more PROF. WILL RIFKIN
  • Confidence in Upper Hunter economy softens

    Monday, 23 September, 2019


    Confidence in the regional economy fell in the wake of declining performance in Upper Hunter businesses in the first half of 2019. That is according to survey data of the HRF Centre. The data were released at the Centre’s Upper Hunter Economic breakfast in Muswellbrook on 11 September.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for HRF Centre, explained that Upper Hunter businesses reported that, on average, last quarter’s forward orders had declined.

    “Significantly fewer Upper Hunter businesses are now reporting that their performance, on balance, is improving compared to a year ago,” Dr Bill stated. “Business performance deteriorated over 2018 following a December 2017 high, when performance was back at pre-GFC levels.”

    Both business and household confidence in the local economy over the next 12 months fell sharply in the first half of 2019, the survey figures show. Likely drivers of this uncertainty are a softening in global growth projections and a declining trend in thermal coal prices during 2019. This dampening of confidence is shared with the Hunter region and the nation more broadly.

    On the positive side, Dr Bill says that the region continues to exhibit low rates of unemployment, employment growth has been strong, and the housing approval pipeline remains robust, particularly in Singleton and Muswellbrook.

    The Upper Hunter economic breakfast also focused on women in business. Encouraging data on the proportion of female-led businesses in the Upper Hunter and how they perform against their male-run counterparts was presented by Dr Bill. This HRF Centre data is included in the Upper Hunter Region Economic Indicators publication, which was released at the breakfast.

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
Load more articles