New England, Australia

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Impact on New England of the proposed redistribution of Federal seats

In the first decade of the twentieth century when New South Wales had 28 seats in the Federal Parliament, inland New England had two seats. On the latest proposed redistribution of Federal seats, New South Wales will have 47 seats. inland New England will have just one seat. That's a measure of relative decline, but there is more to it than that.


The Australian Constitution (section 24) lays down the basis for the allocation of seats in the House of Representatives. The critical starting point is the number of senators. The number of members in the House of Representatives is to be twice the number of senators. After that, the distribution of seats among the states is based on relative population. The constitution is silent on the seats for territories such as the ACT, but each seat for the territories reduces the number of senators available for the states.

Within the constitution, the process of determining the allocation of seats is set by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 as amended from time to time. There used to be a provision that allowed for a weighting for country seats, but that was replace by what was called "one vote, one value."  This is enshrined in Section 73 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act.  This provides:
  • The allocation of seats between states based on the latest population subject to the absolute number not exceeding that set by the constitution 
  • the calculation of an average divisional (electorate) enrollment for the state or territory as a whole based on the number set by the number of seats in each state or territory
  • the definition of electoral boundaries based on that number taking into account things such as community of interest. 
  • To provide some flexibility,. the actual numbers in each electorate (division) can be in the range 3.5% higher or lower than the average In special circumstance (this is not defined), this variance can be extended to 10%.  
  • In no case, can the total number of seats exceed the number of seats allocated by the constitution.  

The New South Wales population as a proportion of the Australian population has been declining. Within NSW, the New England proportion of the NSW population has been declining. That long term structural decline is one of the drivers for those of us supporting New England self government. We don't accept that decline as inevitable We want to do something about it. The effect is that NSW loses seats and that, within NSW, New England loses seats.

In November 2014, the Electoral Commissioner issued his determination stating that New South Wales would lose a seat for the next election, reduced from 48 to 47 seats, while Western Australia would gain a seat, increasing from 15 to 16 seats. The draft boundaries subsequently released for NSW proposed  the abolition of one seat within the broader New England, the lower Hunter Seat of Charlton. This change was associated with significant boundary shifts summarised in the table below drawn from the ABC.

On the North Coast, all the seat boundaries have had to shift south in order to gain numbers. In the Hunter boundaries have gone all over the place, partly as a consequence of the seat lost, partly because of the boundary shifts in the North Coast seats. Inland, the seat of New England has lost Gunnedah to to the seat of Parkes, gained Gwydir Shire from Parkes plus the Upper Hunter. Parkes has become a mega seat in geographic terms, occupying most of Western NSW and growing from 257 to 402 thousand square kilometres. All of New England's Western Plains plus some of the Western Slopes are now submerged in Parkes.

Responses to the proposed boundaries closed on 13 December with almost 800 responses received. The Commission has to finalise boundaries by February 2013.

Electorate Old Margin % New Margin % Comments
Charlton ALP 9.2 - Abolished, see Hunter.
Cowper NAT 11.7 NAT 13.1 Shifts south, losing areas north of Coffs Harbour to Page while gaining Port Macquarie from Lyne.
Hunter ALP 3.7 ALP 6.2 Gains most of the electorate of Charlton, loses Maitland and Kurri Kurri to Paterson, Kandos and Rylstone to Calare and areas around Scone to New England.
Lyne NAT 14.8 NAT 14.2 Loses Port Macquarie to Cowper and gains Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens from Paterson.
New England NAT 20.7 NAT 20.2 Loses Gunnedah to Parkes while gaining areas around Scone from Hunter and Bingara and Warialda from Parkes.
Newcastle ALP 8.8 ALP 9.4 Loses Beresfield and Woodberry to Paterson, gains areas around Wallsend from Charlton.
Page NAT 2.5 NAT 3.1 Loses Ballina to Richmond in exchange for areas around Nimbin, while also gaining areas between the Clarence River and northern Coffs Harbour from Cowper.
Paterson LIB 9.8 ALP 1.3 Transformed into a notional Labor seat after losing Forster-Tuncurry and everything north of Port Stephens to Lyne while gaining Maitland and Kurri Kurri from Hunter and Beresfield and Woodberry from Newcastle.
Richmond ALP 3.0 ALP 1.8 Loses the area around Nimbin to Page in exchange for Ballina.
Shortland ALP 7.2 ALP 7.1 Gains areas around the northern end of Lake Macquarie from Charlton.


The table below summarises the political impact of the changes based on votes at the last election. Not unexpectedly, the Liberal Party wishes to see changes, To get the results they desire. they propose transferring Glen Innes and Tenterfield into the coastal seat of Page. This then allows restructuring of the proposed boundaries on the Coast and in the Hunter. The effect would be, I think, a reduction of one ALP seat in return for a Liberal seat.

Party Previous New
ALP 5 5
National 4 4
Liberal 1 0
Total 10 9

Not unexpectedly, the sheer increase in the size of the seat of Parkes has drawn opposition. The intent of the one vote one value changes was to get rid of the previous bias towards country seats. The effect of one vote one value has been to reduce the effectiveness of country representation. How one responds to that depends on the weighting placed on the local role of the MP.

The sheer scale of the changes on the North Coast and in the Hunter has drawn widespread criticism because of the ways in which the boundaries split local government areas and all the ancillary things such as tourism promotion bodies.Instead of working with one MP, people will have to work with two whose territories include competing interests.

Inland, the main objection has come from Gwydir Shire who wish to be in Parkes on the grounds of community of interest especially with Moree.

There are no easy answers. Further, the position is only going to get worse with current population trends. At either the next redistribution or the one after that, I haven't fully crunched the numbers, NSW will lose another seat and again that will come from New England. Getting half way decent local representation is becoming an increasing problem.   

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Armidale's a day on the green

By all accounts, today's  a day on the green held at Petersen's Wines on the outskirts of Armidale was a great success. It's a beautiful venue.

Mind you, it was hot. Armidale may be known as Balmydale for several reasons, but one is definitely the normal summer climate. But this time! Not as hot as its been elsewhere during the current heatwave, mind you, but at 33c still very hot. You would definitely have needed a hat.

Promoted by Roundhouse Entertainment, a day on the green began in Victoria with a first show on Australia Day 2001. Now a day on the green runs in the summer months from October – March with around 30 concerts per season in major wine-growing regions around Australia.

Before going on, local State MP Adam Marshall was clearly enjoying himself!

In addition to the Petersen's Armidale wine gig, there are two other vineyards with New England connections, Bimbadgen Wines at Pokolbin, Sirromet Wines in the Queensland Granite Belt.

It's remarkable how few people realise that Queensland's Granite Belt is actually the most northern part of the New England Tablelands. That border really creates a very peculiar myopia!

Both Bimbadgen Wines and Sirromet Wines host more events than Petersen's for a very simple reason.

Pokolbin is about two hours from Sydney, attracting visitors from there as well as Newcastle and the Lower Hunter. Stanthorpe is about two and a half hours from Brisbane.and attracts visitors from there as well as the Darling Downs. Unlike Pokolbin which competes with Orange and Mudgee as well as Canberra area vineyards, Stanthorpe has the South East Queensland market to itself.

While smaller, the Armidale event is now drawing people from across Northern New South Wales, making for a considerable crowd.  


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Regional development: Austarm success story

Rather a nice story on Queensland Country Life about New England woolgrower turned Rob Ward.

Mr Ward's Austarm Machinery sources hardy Australian-built tillage, seeding and spray equipment and ground engaging tools for buyers in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

From his base at Armidale, Mr Ward identifies and sources gear across eastern Australia to meet orders from customers as diverse as land barons in Kazakhstan, to mixed croppers in Botswana and agricultural aid initiatives with African villages. Australia's minimum- and zero-till revolution of the past three decades has contributed significantly to his export success.
I will leave you to read the full story. I found it interesting as someone who tried to establish an international business from an Armidale base and knows how hard it is. After initial success, the business finally went down in the recession of the early 1990s. We were one of a number of Armidale start-ups at the time that centred on high technology or professional services and that, for a period, seemed likely to give Armidale a new economic base. In the end, most closed or moved, in part because of the cost effects of very high air fares for businesses that depended on constant domestic travel. In our case, air fares were our second biggest expenditure item after salaries. 
I must try to write up the story of those days for they have lessons for development discussions today. . For the moment, Austarm seems to have a business model that is location independent but firmly based on Australian technical advantage.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New England and the cloying effects of imposed uniformity

In UK and the local benefits of devolution, I looked at the way in which devolution had benefited areas of the UK though greater local freedom and power. In this, the second of my posts reflecting on the lessons for New England from the experience gained on my European trip, I look at the cloying effects of the uniformity imposed on New England by current Governmental structures and practices, focusing especially on tourism.

To set a broad context for the discussions that follows, Scotland has an area of 73,387 square k, Wales 20,761 square k, England 130,395 square k. By contrast, NSW is 809,444 square k. So very much bigger.

England and especially Scotland and Wales glory in their differences. Difference from each other, but also differences within. These are matters to promote, to glory in, sometimes to fight over.

This is Jedburgh in the Scottish border country. Each part of the border country - the boundaries have varied over time - has its own character. This is expressed in tourism material, in books and other cultural material.

Centrally imposed variations in boundaries do affect local identity and complicate promotion, just as they do in Australia. However, UK areas seem better able to withstand these external pressures in retaining and presenting their heritage.

This is a scene from the English Lake District. In Australian drive time terms, it's quite close to the border country. The printed tourism material on the Lake District runs to hundreds of pages. Individual destinations promote themselves, but the focus is on the totality, on using a particular place as a base, but then moving around.

Further south, you find the same pattern in the Cotswolds, a stretch of hill country roughly 25 miles (40 km) across and 90 miles (145 km) long, stretching south-west from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath. The picture postcard villages are a major attraction, with the attraction lying not just in the individual locality but in the totality of nearby attractions.This is important because no centre has enough attractions on its own to justify a longish stay.

This applies even in the nearby town of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace.  Stratford is about the same size as Armidale in population terms.

Mind you, Stratford is HQ of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Employing 700 people whose theatre has just undergone a £112.8 million upgrade. I wrote on our visit to Stratford in Watching Henry V on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

Armidale, by contrast, struggles to build a new library and theatre complex even though it is a major cultural centre. But then, neither the NSW or Australian Governments would even consider supporting something of the scale of Stratford's theatre extension in a regional centre.

Regional areas in the UK have certain advantages. Both populations and visitor numbers are higher. I haven't checked the number, but I suspect that Stratford gets more visitors in total than all of Northern NSW. I
suspect that the little village of Grasmere  in the Cotswolds gets more visitors than any New England centre.

That said, we are left with a number of questions.

Why aren't local and regional differences properly recognized and promoted within the broader New England? Why don't people know about them? Why are all of the NSW "great cultural institutions" in Sydney? To put this last in perspective, the British Museum, truly one of the world's great cultural institutions, is actually a bit player in UK cultural and tourism promotion. There are no tourism promotions that focus on the capital cities as such unless, of course, they are funded by those cities.  

I have really struggled with this, especially when I was actively involved in tourism promotion. I think that three factors are in play.

The first is the factional system of politics that evolved during the nineteenth century and which played local area against local area with benefits for votes. This translated into intense local parochialism only partially overcome by broader movements such as the new state movements. Each local area wanted to promote its own thing, even though this would be self defeating in the end. This continues today.

The second was the actual denial of regional difference. This worked its way through the school system with its emphasis, on uniformity but extended beyond that into various forms of official expression. Difference was recognised, but this was generally expressed in narrow geographic terms. The idea of historical or cultural difference was rejected.

The third was the differential in population terms between Sydney and individual centres elsewhere in NSW. Until quite recently, aggregate populations were not so dwarfed by Sydney. This was concealed by emphasis on locality as opposed to broader areas. More importantly, there were constant variations in regional boundaries and regional approaches dictated by central needs that made it impossible to create consistent approaches, especially in visitor promotion.

In all, the effect was the outcome I described in the heading, the imposition of a cloying uniformity. This still exists, nor is immediate change likely. Until change happens, improved regional performance is unlikely.    
. .

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

UK and the local benefits of devolution

I have just come back from a trip to Denmark and the UK, This is the first of several posts reflecting on the lessons for New England from the experience. The photo shows one view of the Welsh capital, Cardiff, from the castle.

When I was first in the UK for an extended period, devolution had yet to occur.The arguments used against self-government for Scotland and Wales were very similar to those previously used against self-government for New England. Scotland and Wales were too small, they had nothing to gain. Further, those who had opposed New England self-government on the grounds that Australia needed fewer, not more states, constantly pointed to the UK to support their case.

Scotland has a population of around 5.3 million, capital city Edinburgh (Scotland's second city) has a population around 493,000, 1.33 million in the greater Edinburgh region.Wales has a population of 3.09 million, Cardiff 346,000. Northern Ireland a population of 1.81 million. To put these numbers in context, England has a population of 53 million, of which 12-14 million live in Greater London depending on the definition used.

You can see that in demographic terms, Wales and Scotland are totally dwarfed by England. Both were effectively swamped, lacking in influence within a then rigid party system.   .  .

The wheel turns.As a consequence of constant agitation especially in Scotland that threatened to tear the Union apart, power was progressively devolved from Westminster.This could never have happened without that constant agitation. Now as I walked the streets, I could see some of the results.

This  is the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, capacity over 72,000. The nearest Newcastle equivalent is in Newcastle, an open air stadium with a capacity of 33,000 thousand.

It wasn't just the new or rebuilt institutions, but the focus on local character and interests, the buzz in the streets, the presence of young people. .

Now that the benefits of devolution have become clearer, North England (population 14.5 million) too is starting to demand some measure of devolution as a way of reducing London dominance. 

All this means that that the UK has moved from an argument against new states to a case study of the way that local benefits can flow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spring Soiree at NERAM (New England Regional Art Museum) 11 September 2015

NERAM has invited all those who would like to attend to come to a Spring Soiree at NERAM
11 September 2015 - 5:30pm.

The Spring Celebration is intended to welcome NERAM's new Director, a new Café and a new Season ahead!
  • Meet Robert Heather, incoming Director at NERAM.
  • Enjoy finger food from the new café, Studio 52. 
  • Buy wine by the glass from the Friends of NERAM.
  • Complimentary non-alcoholic drinks available.
If you want to come you must let NERAM know. Just to tempt you this is a piece from the permanent collection

About Robert:

Robert Heather comes to NERAM from the State Library of Victoria where he was manager of events and exhibitions, and before that, director of Artspace in Mackay, and executive director of the Regional Galleries Association of Queensland. He has also worked at Cairns Regional Gallery and the Queensland Art Gallery.

About Studio 52:

David Thomas and Phil Tutt come to NERAM from Trina's in Uralla, where they established a reputation for great food and service. They are looking forward to providing the same quality service and varied menu at NERAM. Studio 52 will be open during NERAM's opening hours, 10am-4pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Newcastle eLearning company launches online platform to help teachers build their own courses

New product launch that I found interesting. The story draws from the press release, but I'm interested in both prmoting New England businesses and in the application of new technology in education. 

Newcastle based edtech company Futura Group, today launched eCoach BETA, a cloud-based platform providing high school teachers with simple tools to build and design their own engaging online courses.

The eCoach allows teachers to transform their own materials into online courses attractive to students. 

According to Jude Novak (eCoach Product Manager), “courses made with the eCoach can be used to promote discovery, problem solving, and decision making in a fun and engaging way. The builder includes over 20 easy to use drag-and-drop eLearning templates to ensure that students have a great educational experience online”.

The company argues that with escalating professional demands such as reporting, compliance and benchmarking, teachers are increasingly time-poor; to stay ahead of the technology curve and deliver tech-savvy students with interactive course content would normally mean developing design skills or learning complex authoring software.

“Some teachers simply don’t have the time or design knowledge to create high-quality eLearning. The eCoach gives them everything they need to build interactive resources, without the headache of learning how to use complicated software”.

The eCoach is a cloud-based solution and courses are smartphone compatible and BYOD ready, meaning that students will be able to access courses at home, ‘on the go’, or in the classroom. This ‘build once and use anywhere’ approach means that the eCoach can be easily paired with popular tools like Google Classroom to transform teaching and learning in high schools.  
Google’s Education tools are widely used by teachers (both here and abroad) to foster collaboration and creativity. “Using the eCoach in tandem with such tools will help students have fun while they discover information and interact with new ideas”.    

“It looks great!” said Rachel McCann, PDHPE Teacher at Mudgee High School. “It’s not only highly engaging, but it provides a kind of consistent shape and form to lesson resources. I also love the fact that I can easily share courses I’ve made with my students using Google Classroom for safe and secure access.”

There are currently 175 teachers registered for eCoach BETA. Anyone interested in the eCoach can request access via the website:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Enova and Sydney's 1995 electricity heist

Back in November 2014 I provided a brief report on Northern Rivers plans to launch a community owned clean energy generator. Now the proposals have got to the launch stage, with the new venture to be called Enova.

I'm sorry, but I can't help feeling angry. Not, I hasten to add, with Enova, just with Sydney's great big electricity heist. You see, we used to have New England power distributors, many with their own generation capacity.They were profitable, with the profits ploughed back into local activities.

Then, the good folks in the NSW Treasury decided that this wasn't right. Those local county councils did not have the economies of scale to survive. Further, they were capital lazy, not required to earn a sufficient return on capital. So what those bright sparks in Sydney did was to take over the lot, centralise them, then borrow against the assets, all this in the name of economic rationalism and efficiency. That money was effectively pissed away without gain to the areas that lost their assets and associated cash flow. The world has changed and now we are trying to recreate.

Okay, I may be wrong and prejudiced, but this 2010 post (Sydney's 1995 electricity heist) provides the background, footnotes and all. Am I wrong to be angry?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Save New England - how do we manage our environmental wars?

I have mixed views about New England's environmental wars, although I have tried to report on them objectively.

I have two of these sloppy joes. On the back it reads, no Big Guns on New England. They date back many years to a time when there was a proposal to take a large part of the New England Tablelands and turn it into a military firing range,

I was happy to join that protest because it struck me as a crazy idea. So I am not averse to personal participation in protests. Indeed, so far as New England is concerned, I seem to have been protesting much of my life!

One of my central concerns has been the structural decline in the area that I love, the rise of both relative and indeed absolute poverty. I have seen skills and jobs stripped away through economic change combined with Government policy and regulation. I became a supporter of the environmental movement many years ago and then moved away because its proponents could not answer a basic question: you say that this is a good thing, that it will have environmental benefits, but who will compensate us for the economic costs that we must bear?

I was in Grafton when I was handed a flier opposing the logging of old growth forests. I broadly supported that, if not with the passion of the exponents. I looked at the flier. On jobs, it said don't worry, new jobs will be created in Oberon through plantation tree farming. I looked at them  Leaving aside any issues that might be involved in the expansion of plantation farming, they were trying to tell me that a job created in Oberon was an equivalent offset to a job lost in Grafton. Tell that to the people losing their jobs.

In many of these battles we are dealing with absolutes that cannot be reconciled. The proponents, both sides, will use whatever arguments they can to support their case.Both are passionate. Neither are objective.

In trying to steer a personal path through this maze, I have tried to argue two things: the first is the need for objective assessment, the second for compensation and benefit sharing.

This is an environmental video on the the current environmental battles affecting the Liverpool Plains. Here the battle is over a proposed coal mine. I have included it for two reasons. The first is that it is an example of the sophistication of the current environmental campaigns. The second is that it shows a little of the beauty of the area, the colours that I have written about in speaking of both paintings and film. Further comments follow the video.

I have known the Plains all my life. It is a beautiful, fertile area with the best ground water in New England. For that reason, as well as my dislike at the way external bodies and especially governments can simply come in and strip away local rights in the name of progress, I am instinctively inclined to support the protests at personal level. And then I remember the way that Gunnedah was on its beam ends because of the combination of rural decline with decline in coal mining. So how do we balance this?

As late as the 1960, new state New England had a population and economic base greater than WA or SA. Now we are are behind SA. We also have some of the poorest areas in Australia as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.So I don't think that it is sufficient to oppose particular developments,. I would argue that we have to do more than that. I think that we need to explain the positives, not just present the negatives.      .

Monday, August 17, 2015

Still time to visit Lismore Gallery's Rennie Ellis exhibition

I have been meaning to mention this one for a while. The Lismore Regional Art Gallery has an exhibition on at present showcasing the work of photographer Rennie Ellis (1940–2003). This is one of the photographs on display, Mr Muscleman, Albert Park Beach.

 Ellis is a key figure in Australian visual culture, best remembered for his effervescent observations of Australian life exemplified in his iconic book Life is a beach. Although invariably infused with his own personality and wit, the thousands of social documentary photographs taken by Ellis now form an important historical record.

The Rennie Ellis Show highlights some of the defining images of Australian life from the 1970s and ‘80s. This is the period of Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser; Paul Keating and Bob Hawke; AC/DC and punk rock; cheap petrol and coconut oil; Hari Krishnas and Hookers and Deviant balls.

This exhibition of 100 photographs provides a personal account of what Ellis termed ‘a great period of change’. The photographs explore the cultures and subcultures of the period, and provide a strong sense of a place that now seems a world away; a world free of risk, of affordable inner city housing, of social protest, of disco and pub rock, of youth and exuberance.

The travelling exhibition is presented by the Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive and Monash Gallery of Art with support from the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria.

The exhibition will be open until 5 September.