Key news and published articles

  • 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.

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  • 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
  • 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.

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  • Employers pay premium for right skills among youth

    Tuesday, 15 August, 2017


    Youth employment was the focus at the August Hunter Economic breakfast of the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre. Maggie Hill from the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) described the skills sets required by young people to gain a job in one of range of job clusters.

    Insights into the patterns of skills that young people are being asked to exhibit came from analysis of 2.7 million job advertisements. The analysis revealed that young people need to acquire enterprise skills, including digital and financial literacy. They also need communication, creativity and problem solving abilities.

    Employers will pay more for those skills. The FYA jobs analysis showed that presentation skills earned a salary premium of $8,853, digital literacy meant another $8,648, and problem-solving added $7,745.

    These abilities are talked about as ‘soft’ skills that young people should pick up for themselves. The FYA advocates for them to be deliberately taught these skills. They want to stress their importance and show young people how to communicate to prospective employers that they have these skills.

    The FYA study compared how often enterprise skills were called for in early career job advertisements, comparing 2012 with 2015. During this period, there was a 212 per cent increase in the call for digital literacy, 181 per cent increase for bilingual skills, 158 per cent for critical thinking, and a 65 per cent increase for creativity.

    These insights are particularly relevant in regions like the Hunter, where the youth unemployment rate for June was 10.8 per cent, double our overall rate of 5.1 per cent. This higher rate illustrates how young people are often ‘on the margin’ - in part-time or casual employment, where they are easier to let go.

    Relative to more experienced labour market participants, young people tend to lack skills, qualifications and an employment history. That makes them particularly vulnerable during periods of employment contraction.

    To respond to this regional challenge, the HRF Centre’s breakfast included a panel discussion that explored solutions to help young people to navigate their path to employment.

    Geoff Crews from Forsythes Recruitment, speaking on the panel, said that leadership was important in ensuring meaningful work opportunities for young people.

    Another area of emerging opportunity for young people is in the changing nature of marketing and business technology, Crews said.

    “Modern leaders and businesses will now neither completely outsource or insource these functions. They will lean on the knowledge and lateral thinking of a young employee. They will, innately, be able to achieve a range of marketing and technology outcomes by using more agile and cost effective cloud and digital platforms.”

    Maggie Hill said that the era of a ‘job for life’ is over. Young Australians entering the workforce today might have as many as five different careers and make 17 job changes over their working lives.

    “It is commonly viewed that moving from one occupation to another would entail high switching and retraining costs. However, our study found that jobs are more related than we might think.”

    The FYH study found that, on average, a person training or working in one job acquires skills for 13 other jobs. By understanding that jobs are more related and that skills can be portable, young people can be more strategic in navigating dynamic working lives.

    “Rather than approaching learning as a one-off process before their first job, or as a radical retraining to change careers, young people can build a portfolio of skills. They can target key learning areas to open up related job and career opportunities throughout their life.”

    Employers also need to think differently when recruiting. They could consider potential candidates from different occupations with similar skills.

    Is your business ready to provide opportunities for the Hunter’s young people? If so, the HRF Centre would like to hear from you.

    Dr Anthea Bill,
    Lead Economist, HRF Centre

    Access the research and breakfast presentations at

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Sunday on 13 August

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL Download pdf (152.91 KB)
  • Hunter population - opportunities for growth revealed

    Monday, 25 November, 2019

    Breakfast Room Nov-2019 2

    Greater Sydney lost nearly 100,000 residents in 2017-18, with 12,000 coming to Newcastle and the Hunter. Trends and scenarios for population movement and growth were the focus of the HRF Centre’s Hunter Economic breakfast in Newcastle on 15 November.

    Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre’s lead economist, shared her analysis for a report on ‘gateway cities’ – Newcastle, Geelong, and Wollongong – which was launched on Monday, 25 November, in Canberra. The report represents a collaboration among the three cities and their respective universities.

    The initiative is timely, with increased attention to regional population and government investment being called for by several national bodies. The Regional Australia Institute, for example, sent its co-CEO to present at the economic breakfast on regional population scenarios. Infrastructure Australia refers to, in its recent infrastructure audit, ‘satellite cities’. The Business Council of Australia’s Jennifer Westacott in an address this week at the Press Club in Sydney called for attention to Australia’s ten largest ‘regional towns’.

    These national bodies acknowledge that, for Australia, immigration and population growth have enabled consistent economic growth, a point underlined by Dr Bill in her breakfast presentation. Treasury have highlighted the economic and fiscal benefits migrants have brought to Australia, undoubtedly playing a part in the country's now 28 years of positive GDP growth.

    There were 97,000 out-migrants from Greater Sydney in 2017-18, as noted above. Nearly 7,000 came to Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, the biggest share of regional NSW. A further 5,000 went to the rest of the Hunter.

    “The number of people moving to the Hunter from Greater Sydney jumped last year,” Dr Bill stated. “There were 2,500 more people moving to the Hunter from Greater Sydney in 2017-18 than in 2016-17.”

    Greater Geelong and other Victorian regions have benefited from out-migration from metropolitan Melbourne. Of the 76,600 out-migrants from Greater Melbourne, half went to regional Victoria. Eleven per cent, or 8,500, landed in Geelong, which is now one of Australia’s fastest growing cities.

    Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show a 2.7 per cent rise in population in Geelong from 2017 to 2018, mostly from internal migration. Greater Melbourne grew less, 2.5 per cent, and it is considered one of the fastest growing cities in the developed world.

    “A number of government agencies have re-located to Geelong in recent years,” Dr Bill noted. “It has also developed transport infrastructure to improve its links to Melbourne and further. It has an active Committee for Geelong and secured a City Deal from the federal government in March of this year. That virtuous cycle of investment and advocacy seems to be paying off for Geelong.”

    Dr Bill questioned whether there was potential to use mechanisms, such as a faster rail connection to Sydney, to accelerate growth in the Hunter region’s population and economy.

    “Further policy interventions may build the region’s capacity to attract people,” she said. “Public investment in the development of infrastructure can enhance the attraction of the Hunter region and draw population from the capitals.”

    Greater Newcastle has an opportunity to trade on its position to attract population, she said. It has advantages of a capital city, including its size, population density, high-performing industry clusters, anchor institutions and lifestyle. It lacks some of the negative impacts of congestion, housing unaffordability and crowded infrastructure. 

    Download Dr Bill’s presentation.

    Breakfast Room Nov-2019 2
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  • Changing the narrative on regions

    Monday, 25 November, 2019


    Changing the narrative on Australia’s regions - in terms of jobs, the ability to absorb population growth and the affordability of housing - is the aim of new research from Regional Australia Institute (RAI), a Newcastle audience heard from Liz Ritchie. 

    Ritchie, co-CEO of RAI, was guest speaker at the HRF Centre’s Hunter Economic breakfast on 15 November. She said that the RAI are moving from a focus on research to greater regional engagement and ‘activation’, that is, stimulating action as a result of the research findings.

    Part of the new focus is the Future of Jobs research released by RAI in August this year. Ritchie says this study aims to ‘bust myths’ about a lack of opportunities in regions. RAI have started a jobs campaign to highlight opportunities for employment in regions, highlighting the 48,000 current job vacancies. That figure should be doubled to give a more realistic assessment of jobs, Ritchie said.

    “The dominant narrative had been that there are no regional opportunities,” Ritchie stated. “That is not the case. There is immense opportunity.”

    The RAI has also examined the rapidly changing nature of work. Knowledge sector jobs in health and education are by far the fastest growing segments around Australia. Of the 13,000 jobs vacant in NSW, the highest number is in professions. This story is emulated across the country, Ritchie explained. 

    RAI has created a Regional Jobs Vacancy Map, an interactive online tool using publicly available data. The RAI tool shows nearly 3,700 jobs available in Newcastle and the Hunter region. The job numbers broadly correlate with population growth figures, Ritchie said. The impact of population changes on job vacancies have been more pronounced in inland and other regions than in the Hunter.

    “The Hunter is ahead of curve,” Ritchie told the 260-strong breakfast audience. “You are quite unique in that the Hunter’s trend shift, from technical and trades to professional, occurred 10 years ago. This shift has put you in a better position, as you were able to pivot earlier and plan for some of the changes befalling the region.”

    Other regions, for example Riverina/Murray, had seen the shift from labouring to professional employment occurring only in the last five years. It has been more difficult for them to transition their workforce capabilities and fill those jobs. Some regions are experiencing 10 to 20 per cent growth in vacancies while unemployment continues to rise. So, there is a mismatch between capabilities in the workforce and the skills required. Many regional localities are also experiencing population loss.

    “Regional job vacancies are growing faster than metropolitan vacancies,” Ritchie stated. “There are distinct challenges in regional Australia that are not well understood. It is RAI’s role to help people understand those issues.”

    Ritchie also discussed the RAI’s recently released report, Regional population growth, are we ready?

    The report addresses predictions by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) that Australia’s population could increase by 75 per cent by 2056. The RAI had modelled different scenarios of settlement. Under their business as usual case – the ABS predictions currently relied upon by NSW Government and other planners – the majority of growth will occur in the outer suburbs of capital cities. Congestion in Sydney would increase by 60 per cent, Ritchie said. She invited the audience to consider the implications for liveability in Australia’s cities.

    The RAI report offers alternative scenarios for population growth, with settlement distributed to regional Australia. They explored where the five-million people predicted to flood into Sydney’s west could reside in future if a significant percentage were dispersed to the regions. One scenario would see the Hunter’s population swell to 1.9 million.

    The research modelled the impact on incomes, house prices, unemployment, and commute distances. House prices and commute distances would be better in Sydney using the distributed population model. For the regions, incomes would be slightly higher, and there would be a slight increase in house prices. This outcome scenario would retain regional advantage over the cities in terms of the ratio of house price to income.

    “All in all, the economic impacts [of dispersal] are not too damaging,” Ritchie said. “From an economic perspective, the outer suburbs of our capital cities resemble regional centres. There are many similarities, and those similarities are not well understood.”

    Average income levels are comparable, with a difference of less than 10 per cent between outer Sydney and the Hunter region, the research shows. Employment rates are identical, and there is only a small differential in productivity.

    Employment is a compelling reason for people to move to regions, Ritchie stated. The reasons they stay, however, are quality of life and the cultural identity of regional Australia.

    “There has never been a national campaign to promote the opportunities that exist in regional Australia,” she explained. “At the RAI, we want to create one. Think about that national campaign and the opportunity to change the narrative on regional Australia and why it is so important.” 

    Download Liz Ritchie’s presentation.

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