New England, Australia

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Importance of Cundletown's new Coptic Church

 The singing of traditional Coptic hymns plays a big part in each mass. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
I am constantly fascinated by the diversity of life across Northern NSW, the broader New England. A case in point is the opening of the St Mary and St Pope Kirolos the 6th Coptic Christian Orthodox Church in Cundletown as reported by Emma Siossian for ABC Mid North Coast.

The Copts are one of the oldest Christian groups in the Middle East and still constitute a significant minority of the Egyptian population.. The Coptic Orthodox Church  is one of  the orthodox churches that formed in what was then the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire during the schisms that marked the early Christian Church. I have read a little of Byzantine history, including the religious disputes, and find the whole thing remarkably complicated!

Photo: The old Cundletown dock yard
Cundletown near Taree in the Manning Valley lies a long way from Egypt. While young by Coptic standards, Cundletown is a historic village in its own right with its colonial remains.

The linkage between the Cundletown and Coptic Egypt is provided by Dr Moheb Ghaly, a long-time Manning Valley surgeon born in Egypt.

Over very many decades, the combination of political instability with religious persecution led to the emigration of many Egyptian Copts, some of whom settled on the North Coast. Like many other Copts, Dr Ghaly used to travel to Sydney for services. Now he worked to establish a church where local Copts could worship.
Local resident: "This will bring more people and families to the area. It's our community, it's us, it's our identity."  Dr Ghaly outside the new church. 
I have no doubt that the new church will assist in attracting new Egyptian Coptic residents. There is now a long history of such chain migration in New England including the Germans and Scots that came to New England from the 1840s-1850s and then, much later, the Indians who came to Woolgoolga

At a time when many parts of New England are struggling to attract people, when it's just so hard to get people to move from the metros, the creation of such community infrastructure, the welcoming of new people, is important in attracting new residents who, in turn, will attract new residents.The North gains from increased population and from added diversity to New England life.   .      

Monday, March 13, 2017

New natural history museum adds to Armidale's attractions and diversity - but can we fix Beardy Street?

The University of New England's new natural history museum is about to open.

Announced back in June 2015, the museum is intended to be a showcase of a new $27 million Integrated Agriculture Education Project precinct. The museum features the skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur, and a diverse collection of animals, plants, and meteorites, building on the collection previously held by the Zoology Museum.

Armidale has two main museum/cultural precincts. The first centres on Kentucky Street in the south of this city and includes the New England Regional Art Museum (photo), the Armidale and Region Aboriginal Centre and Keeping Place and the Heritage Centre. The second covers the museums and displays at UNE to the north-east of the city.

These are not Armidale's only museums and cultural centres. The Armidale Folk Museum in the centre of the city is one of the oldest and best folk museums in the country.

I still live in hope that Armidale Regional Council can revitalise the centre of the business district with its bookshops, cafes and galleries. Poor planning decisions over a long period have fragmented the small CBD, turning it from a vibrant centre to something of a desolate pedestrian absent zone dominated by relatively small shopping malls at each end.

Beardy Street is the heart of the old Victorian city that constitutes one of Armidale's architectural gems. It should be the heart of the city, providing a central point for visitors and locals alike, a starting point for all the other attractions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Grains, Livestock R&D announcements - good news stories but a lost communications opportunity?

It's sometimes difficult to know what Government statements mean, primarily because they contain so little information. Two recent statements, both good news, are cases in point.

The first is a 10 year funding partnership between the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and the NSW government. More than $130 million will be invested into grains research and development in NSW over the next 10 years, "meaning researchers will have more long-term certainty in their projects and jobs, and grain growers will continue to get the latest information for their decisions in the field."

Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and GRDC chairman John Woods announced the bilateral agreement at the Department of Primary Industries’ Sustainable Farming Training Centre at Calala yesterday.

Mr Joyce said the agreement would build on the current research and development partnership between the GRDC and government, and would secure research in Tamworth, Wagga Wagga, Condoblin, Yanco and Trangie. There are 31 full time equivalent positions involved across these sites, about half of which are in Tamworth.

“The research and development will focus on two significant areas: winter crop pathology and winter crop agronomy and physiology,” Mr Blair said.

Reading the reports, this one primarily involves maintenance of existing research activities including presumably aspects of the work of DPI's Tamworth Agricultural Institute (TAI).

The second  announcement by also involving Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce
NSW Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair dealt with the Commonwealth and NSW Government’s five-year co-investment in two research and development programs intended to benefit the sheep and cattle industries The photo shows Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair with UNE Vice-Chancellor Professor Annabelle Duncan and Member for Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall at the launch. .

The first co-investment research and development program will focus on five key areas including improving supply chain efficiency, overcoming the nutritional limits to livestock genetic potential, improving reproductive performance, sustainability of livestock production systems and enhancing the feed base by optimising grazing and soil management.

The NSW Government is investing $17.5 million into the partnership with MLA Donor Company (MDC) – a fully-owned subsidiary of industry service company Meat &
Livestock Australia (MLA). The NSW Department will also invest an additional $5 million in the new National Livestock Genetics Consortium (NLGC) - an initiative among key livestock industry stakeholders seeking to achieve world leading rates of genetic gain to ultimately drive value chain profitability.

Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said the NSW Government is focused on supporting regional NSW and sees the five year commitment as a pivotal investment to grow core research initiatives that will benefit the sheep and cattle industries.

Under the collaborative partnership model, MDC will match the NSW Governments funding for research projects that address the five key red meat priorities. MDC has also given in-principle support to match the investment in the NLGC.

This is clearly an important initiative and one that will further consolidate and develop the rural research in base in New England. Again, though, I had to dig round to collect information to try to understand what it really meant. .In the end, I think that I have worked it out roughly, although the respective web sites are not especially clear.

.I accept that I am something of an odd person in that I very rarely run press releases without some checking. It used to be the case that press releases came with backgrounders providing factual information. That seems to have dropped out.

In these particular cases, the stories would have definitely have benefited from the supply of additional information, especially for those who wanted to write more reflective pieces later for a broader audience. This is especially a pity at a time when things such as the move of the APVMA to Armidale has led to quite condescending attacks, at a time when the University of New England is struggling to sell its research story.

In this context, I note that UNE itself did not issue a parallel release for reasons that escape me. It is not my job to go through the UNE web site to try to establish linkages, although I did my best. It is UNE's job to sell its own story.

Even though these stories got coverage locally and in the farm press, I think that they were opportunities missed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tingha's Chinese past features on SBS

Held to mark Chinese New Year and to celebrate the town's Chinese past, this year's Tingha's Lantern Festival featured on SBS Television.

New England has a rich Chinese history. The first Chinese came as shepherds in the 1840s, then came an influx with the gold rushes during the 1850s to places like Nundle and Rocky River and then another rush with the tin boom of the 1870s. For a period, the Tablelands were the largest tin province in the world.

To mark the Festival and the SBS coverage, I thought that I should re-publish a History Revisited column, , that first appeared in the Armidale Express on 4 June 2104.

Tingha's Chinatown 

Most of New England’s small settlements have vanished in the great rural depopulation, leaving little behind beyond a few posts. This is especially true of our mining towns, for there the town survived just as long as the rush endured. Once the miners left, the town vanished, the buildings moved or decaying into the landscape. Now the few remains lie forgotten, ignored even by neighbours, their history lost.

This remains true even where the original physical presence was substantial. Tingha’s China Town is an example. Heard of it? I bet not.

China Town ran on the creek bank along Amethyst Street. However, the Chinese population was so big that it overflowed across the town. At the height of the tin boom in the 1870s, Chinese boarding houses, stores, cafes, peanut shops, wine shops, herbalists, opium dens and gambling shops competed for space in Tingha’s overcrowded town centre.

How big was big? That’s difficult to estimate. At the height of the boom, 2,500 people packed into Tingha and its immediate surrounds. The population of the broader Tingha mining district was 7,000 of whom 2,000 were Chinese. My best guess, and it’s only a guess, is that Tingha itself had perhaps 500 Chinese residents, the remaining Chinese visiting as needs demanded.

Chinese celebrations were both noisy and colourful. One year, a huge paper marquee was imported from China and erected in the vicinity of the main joss house. It housed displays of various gods and devils and of humans being punished for their sins.

The display remained open for a week. On the seventh day amidst much ceremony, it was set alight. As it burned, fire crackers exploded; there was much gaiety until the whole structure was reduced to ash.

As the mines declined, people left, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. Yet many Chinese lingered, leaving their imprint. That is why stores in so many towns near the tin belt carried Chinese names, names that linger to this day; Hong Yuen (Inverell), Kwong Sing (Glen Innes and Bundarra), Hong Sing (Stanthorpe) and Wing Hing Long (Tingha).

When Harry Fay died in Inverell in August 2012, the Northern Daily Leader spoke of his connection with Inverell's iconic Hong Yuen department store. After taking over the store in 1970 that his grandfather had run for sixty years, the paper said, Mr Fay had carried on the family tradition of honesty, quality service and community spirit. That’s not a bad epitaph.

In Tingha itself, the Wing Hing Long store survives as a museum,  preserving one aspect of Tingha's colourful Chinese past.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New England representatives in the new NSW Berejiklian-Barilaro Government

Earlier in the month, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced her new ministerial line-up. You will find the full list here. I thought that it might be helpful if I provided you with a list of those selected from the broader New England. They represent key targets if we are to argue for new approaches within New England.

  • Melinda Pavey, National Party, Member for Oxley, Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight
  • Adam Marshall, National Party, Member for the Northern Tablelands, Minister for Tourism and Major Events and Assistant Minister for Skills
  • Sarah Mitchell. National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education
Parliamentary Office Holders
  • Trevor Khan, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Deputy President and Chair of Committees
  • Thomas George, National Party, Member for Lismore, Deputy Speaker
  • Andrew Fraser, National Party, Member for Coffs Harbour, Assistant Speaker
Parliamentary Secretaries
  • Kevin Anderson, National Party, Member for Tamworth, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Roads and Transport
  • Rick Colless, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources and Western NSW
  • Catherine Cusack, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Education and the Hunter
  • Ben Franklin, National Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy and Northern NSW
  • Chris Gulaptis, National Party, Member for Clarence, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Planning
  • Scot MacDonald, Liberal Party, Member of the Legislative Council, Parliamentary Secretary for Planning and the Central Coast
  • Leslie Williams, National party, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The work of New England photographer Joshua Smith

Resuming posting after the new year, New England photographer Joshua (Josh) Smith comes from Narrabri on the Liverpool Plains. He describes his work in this way:
"My goal is to tell the story of Australian farmers, who are the best and most sustainable in the world. Through my photography, showing the scale and beauty of what they do with our land."
As you will see from this example, his work is quite striking.

I hadn't seen any of his work until Canon Australia ran a special feature on it. The colour and composition struck an immediate chord, further illustrating the colours of New England.  This second photo is called Inbound to Wee Waa. I'm sure that you will see why I like him.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas in New England

Every New England family has its own Christmas rituals.

To most young, at least those lucky enough to live in stable middle class families, these seem unchanging. It is only looking back that we can see how quickly things change.

As children, brother David and I had a fixed and very satisfying Christmas ritual.

Christmas Eve was open house at our place for mum and dads' friends and their children.

Planning began days in advance. A suitable pine tree branch was obtained, put in an old iron pot and surrounded by packed down dirt. Mum got out the Christmas decorations from the top cupboard of the linen closet to decorate the tree and the house.

On Christmas Eve, sometimes the day before, dad went out to Ryan's Cordials, the Armidale soft drink maker, to get the soft drinks and mixers. Supplies of beer and spirits were obtained. The ice was broken up and put in the laundry tub or, later, eskies.

Mum got out the special punch jug and supporting glasses, pretty glassware only used at this time of the year. She then made her special and famous punch and then the sandwiches, especially cucumber and tomato.
People started arriving about 7pm. The Buzos, the Halpins, the Harrises, the Foxes and so on. We were allowed to help and played with the other kids. Then after people left, we tidied up and finished off the last of the cucumber sandwiches.

Christmas morning David and I woke early to see what Santa had brought us. In our case, Santa filled a pillow case (none of those small stockings!) that was left on the end of our bed. There were lollies, books and loads and loads of small toys. Even today, my own children insist on the pillow case, although this year for the first time they are actually Christmas stockings.
Once or parents woke - usually with a bit of prodding - it was time for present exchange. Then David and I settled down to play and read.

Mid morning it was off to Fah and Gran's.

Mann Street - we always called it Mann Street to distinguish it from Marsh Street, our house - was a children's paradise.

The house was a large one, located on a very large block. Originally built to face the north, the front of the house with its front steps dropping to the garden was in fact the back, the back the front.

Tall pine trees ran along the front and back fences, creating a paradise for children who liked to climb. I still remember the excitement when heavy snow caused branches on the trees at the front (always the better climbing trees) to crash to the street.
Looking at the house from the street the more formal gardens faced the street. There were small single car garages to the left and the right whose rooves could be reached by nearby trees, creating vantage points for kids playing hide and seek; home was always one of the big cement pedestals marking the end of the stairs at the other end of the house.

Facing from the street, gardens ran to the left and right of the house.

On the left, the flatter side, there was a gravel path near the house then a row of shrubs and gardens, a stretch of grass then a hedge. This was the side of the house we could break into as kids because the house was lower to the ground, allowing us to climb up the foundations.
On the left, a lawn sloped down to a gravel path (we loved rolling head over heels down this lawn) and then the garden shed. This provided another vantage point for our games of hide and seek.

At the front (back), the house was high from the ground with a veranda facing the north. There were in fact verandas on the south, east and north of the house. The verandas on the west of the house had been closed in.

On the high veranda at the front there were chairs for people to sit and watch the rest of the garden including especially the tennis court. It was here sometimes that I used to sit with Fah in the morning eating my porridge in the weak morning sun. Proud of his Scottish ancestry, he ate porridge with cream and salt, not sugar. I did the same.

From the veranda there was a short stretch of down sloping land, mainly lawn, to another hedge and then a fence marking the dividing line to the back garden. On the left was the kitchen garden, then the tennis court and a stretch of rough grass where the cow grazed when we were very young. At the back of the tennis court was a small byre for the cow, more rough grass.

Back to Christmas. Upon arrival at Mann Street we exchanged presents with Fah and Gran and my aunts. This was followed by open house for my grandparent's friends and campaign workers. At the time I was born, Fah had already been a local Member of Parliament for twenty five years, so there was a constant stream of people.

Then lunch, usually a chicken from the birds my grandparent's kept, with all the trimmings. The Mackellars, Mr Mackellar managed Fah's property outside Armidale, always came in for Christmas with the family. At lunch we kids always ate separately from the adults in a small sun room off the dining room, separate but still in seeing and hearing distance.

We played in the afternoon while the adults talked. I remember one year a piper came in (Fah was very proud of his Scottish ancestry) and we all gathered on the veranda while the piper strode the lawns below.

Then back home for a rest. In the late afternoon we always went up to the Halpins for a drink. Vee and Bruce had been very long standing friends of Mum and Dad, while brother David and I were close friends with the Halpin twins.

Finally, home for a meal of left overs.

Time passes, things change.

Fah sells the property and the Mackellars move. Our aunts get married. Then Gran is killed in a car accident. My parents think about buying Mann Street but hold off because we cannot get a good enough price for our house. Then Fah marries Aimie, subdivides Mann Street into two falts, retiring from politics soon after. Then Fah dies.

These are big changes. Yet they happen in a time horizon that allows for adjustment. Our Christmas evening Marsh Street opening houses continue. Kay and Margaret bring their children back to Armidale. I form the habit of dropping into Mann Street for a drink with Fah and Aimie. No longer a child, I listen to Fah's stories about his dreams, experiences and achievements.

More time passes, more things change. I join the New England diaspora taking a job in Canberra.

New England has been draining its young for a hundred years.

In the absence of self-government, it lacks the public service positions that would allow people like me to serve local interests, as well the the state branch positions found in other states. We also have few major locally headquartered businesses.

All this means that New England's most ambitious young leave. As a rough order of scale, I suspect that if we take those born in New England plus their immediate children, the number of New Englanders outside New England is as great as those living in New England.

Now there is a new pattern. At Christmas time from Newcastle in the south to Lismore in the north, from Kempsey in the east through Armidale to Moree, thousands of New England's young return home to family for Christmas. Initially they travelled by train and especially the night mail trains, meeting friends on the train, later by car and plane.  
In my case I would leave Canberra by car as soon as work finished. If there was time, I would go through Sydney to see Aunt Margaret and Uncle Jim, a new ritual, arriving where possible at Armidale in time for mum and dad's Christmas eve open house. However, sometimes I did not arrive in Armidale until 5am on Christmas morning.
Christmas now was a time for catching up with old friends, including especialy those living elsewhere. We talked, played tennis or sometimes golf, visited the pub. Then it was over for another year.

More time, still more changes. My parents die, then Uncle Ron, destroying part of the old rituals. There is a short gap and then I return to live in Armidale with my own family, recreating the old pattern although we do spend some Christmases in Sydney with my wife's family.

As with David and I, Santa leaves presents in a pillow case on the end of the bed. There is then the excitement as the kids wake up early to see what Santa has brought them. Over breakfast we open presents to each other. Then at either lunch or dinner time it is usually off to Aunt Kay's for the main Christmas meal.

Merinda Place, Kay's home, now plays the role that used to be played by Mann Street as the aunts and often their children gather. There are now far fewer returning expatriats of my generation as their parents retire away from Armidale or die, but it is still all reassuringly familiar.

Still more time passes, still more changes.

Time periods are shortening now. After eight years in Armidale we move to Sydney so that my wife can pursue a new career, but still we mainly return to Armidale for Christmas with Kay and my other aunts. My daughters are older, but there is still all the excitement of going back, of seeing Kay and the other family.

Then one by one my aunts die including Kay. With no immediate family left in Armidale, with no family home, Christmas is now largely spent in Sydney with my wife's family. There is still the excitement especially for Helen and Clare, some things are still the same, but I do miss the old rituals and the people that formed such an important part of my life for so long.

I hope that all this does not sound too morbid. It's just that Christmas itself is a time for looking back, for remembering blessings granted. As we used to say in a Christmas toast, to absent friends.

I hope that you and yours have a very happy Christmas and a great new year.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Evaluating the evaluation - EY, APVMA and the move to Armidale part one

Note to readers. This is the first of two posts examining the proposed shift of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority from Canberra to Armidale. I had intended to do a single post, but length dictated two. 
This first post reviews the Ernst and Young cost benefit analysis on the proposed transfer. The second will compare the dynamic elements in the transfer as they relate to the ACT and the broader Capital Territory and Northern NSW.    
The decision by the Commonwealth Government to shift the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale has attracted widespread criticism. You will find examples here, here, here, here. Reflecting ownership concentration in the Australian media, the same stories are repeated multiple times across mast heads.

Central to the criticism is a cost benefit and risk analysis of the potential relocation of APVMA carried out by Ernst and Young (EY). Much of the commentary has taken headline numbers from the EY report. There has not been an evaluation of the report itself, nor of what that report might tell us about broader issues beyond this particular move. These posts attempts to fill that gap.

Headline Points

Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, three questions needed to be addressed:
  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move?
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective?
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
The EY analysis concentrates on the first question.

The cost benefit analysis focuses on the financial costs of the move and is especially influenced by property and staff redundancy and replacement costs. It specifically excludes a range of benefits, including secondary benefits linked to the regional development objective. Depending on the assumption used, the analysis suggests a NPV cost over a twenty year period in the range of a bit over $9 million to $23.19 million.

 The risk analysis does highlight transition risks and options that may lead to higher costs. However, the assumptions used to generate the headline numbers are such that the numbers involved have little meaning.

The analysis of comparative economic impacts on the ACT and Armidale says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the original Armidale.Dumaresq LGA  


Established in 1993, APVMA is an Australian Government statutory authority created to centralise the registration of all agricultural and veterinary chemical products entering the Australian marketplace. Currently located in the Canberra suburb of Symonston,  APVMA regulates these products up to and including the point of retail sale.

The National Party has long had a policy of relocating agencies from capital cities to regional areas as a way of encouraging decentralisation. On 15 May 2015, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources (Barnaby Joyce) reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to increasing the regional presence of three Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) by establishing offices and/or relocating core operations from Canberra to regional Australia.

On 10 February 2016, the Minister announced that three RDCs were to establish regional offices outside Canberra (with the Rural Industries RDC relocating core operations to Wagga Wagga, the Fisheries RDC to establish a regional office in Adelaide and the Grains RDC to establish several regional offices outside Canberra) and that the proposed relocation of the APVMA to Armidale would go through the process of an independent cost benefit risk analysis.

On 25 November 2016 Barnaby Joyce, now Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, announced  (link above) that APVMA would move to Armidale  The day before, Mathias Cormann as Minister for Finance issued an administrative order: This stated:
3 Authority
This instrument is made under subsection 22(1) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013.
4 Location of corporate Commonwealth entities
(1) It is a policy of the Australian Government that a corporate Commonwealth entity with agricultural policy or regulatory responsibilities is to be located:
(a) in a regional community; and
(b) within 10 kilometres by road of the main campus of a regional university that is recognised for research and teaching in the field of agricultural science.
(2) In this section:
regional community means a community that is not within 150 kilometres by road of Canberra or the capital city of a State.
5 Application
The policy of the Australian Government mentioned in section 4 is applied to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
In announcing the move, Minister Joyce also released the EY cost benefit and risk analysis on the Armidale move.

Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, three questions need to be addressed:

  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move?
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective?
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
Overview of the EY Evaluation

EY considered two options:
  • Status quo. APVMA as is 
  • APVMA moves to Armidale.
In the final decision stages before the 10 February  announcement, Towoomba appears to have been included in the mix, but was then dropped out. The wording of the administrative order would preclude Toowoomba since it is only 125k west of Brisbane. However, from the EY report, questions about Toowoomba do appear to have been included in staff surveys. For reasons I will outline later, the methodology applied by EY would have given broadly similar results for a move to any regional centre including Toowoomba.

In considering the two options, EY:
  1. Assessed the economic costs and benefits of relocating APVMA to Armidale
  2. Examined the key risks associated with relocation
  3. Analysed the economic impacts on Canberra and Armidale.
 EY estimated an NPV (net present value) cost of the move to Armidale of $23.19 million over twenty years driven largely by the cost of a new building plus redundancy associated costs.  These were concentrated in the first five years and only partially offset by subsequent property savings. The discount rate used was 7%.

EY's risk assessment focused on the impact of the loss of technical assessment staff (regulatory scientists) on APVMA processes. It concluded that the costs a poorly executed move could be far higher than the economic costs identified via the cost benefit analysis. For example, the estimated cost of a one year delay in approvals for new agricultural products could be between $64 million and $193 million in reduced crop production..

On the relative economic impacts of the move on Canberra and Armidale, EY concluded that the move would cost the ACT economy around $108.88 million per annum gross equivalent to an economic hit of 0.2%, while Armidale would benefit by $77.54 million after the construction phase for a gain of 3.7%. The difference between the gross numbers represents leakages because of Armidale' smaller economy; more money would be spent outside Armidale.

I have given you the bald numbers since these form the basis of much of the discussion, especially in Canberra. I will now look at the numbers in detail. As we shall see, things are not always what they seem.

 Staff Attitudes and Costs

I am treating this item first because it is central to both the cost and risk analysis.

The percentage of staff who said they might relocate to Armidale was 15.2%. The cost side of the EY report therefore assumes that 84.8% of total staff will opt for redundancy with consequent redundancy, recruitment and training costs. The projected redundancy level also feeds into the risk analysis.

The reasons staff gave for unwillingness to relocate are instructive for everybody interested in effective decentralisation. Ranked by size, the reasons were:
  • My partner will/may have difficulty in finding equivalent work - 123 staff members. 
  • Limited opportunities for future employment progression   - 113 staff
  • I have strong ties to the Canberra region - 108 staff 
  • I have extended family responsibilities or receive assistance from family friends in this area - 84 staff
  • I don't want to move children/dependents out of current or intended school - 72 staff
  • I have concerns about the availability of suitably priced real estate (rent or buy) - 65 staff
  • I have concerns about living in a regional area -  60 staff
  • The proposed region does not support my cultural/community requirements - 39 staff
  • I rely on specialist medical or other support services not available in the proposed region - 34 staff
  • My family requires a special needs school/programs - 17 staff
  • I know nothing about Armidale - 17 staff    
The importance of the partner issue is quite clear. In this context, 73% of partners were employed full time, a further 7% part time. If you add to this the numbers connected with disrupting schooling or other family or community relationships, you get a feel for just how hard it is to move existing activities.

I will return to this point in discussion. For the moment, I note that the sensitivity analysis conducted by EY indicated that a 20% increase in staff retention from the 15.2% base would reduce the NPV cost of the transfer by around two million dollars.

Cost Benefit Analysis

EY ruled out the following matters put forward by Armidale stakeholders from consideration :
  • Co-location with UNE:  Given the nature of APVMA work, there were no identifiable benefits from co-location with UNE
  • Enhanced proximity to end users: Given the nature of APVMA work, there were no identifiable benefits from proximity with end users. In any case, APVMA had access to the rural sector in Southern NSW
  • NBN leverage: There were no or minimal leverage benefits from Armidale's NBN connection. To the degree that there were, Canberra would have the NBN by the time the move took place
  • UNE offering courses in regulatory science: There were no obvious benefits here and in any case the costs of introducing such courses would need to be offset against the benefits. 
EY also noted the claims made about particular types of economic benefits claimed for Armidale, simply pointing to the later comparative analysis that concluded that Canberra lost more than Armidale gained. For reasons outlined later, this is a misuse of data.

Finally, EY explicitly stated in its assumptions that where a policy's primary objective is regional development, secondary benefits are listed only and not included in the net benefit calculations.

The practical effect of these restrictions limited the cost benefit analysis to the NPV of the relative financial costs associated with the transfer, including the estimated costs to industry, as compared to the status quo.

Within those costs, property costs including the time remaining on the existing lease on the Symonston facility dominated. This comes about because the cost benefit analysis is dominated by the front-end costs of a new building in Armidale. If an existing building is rented or a new one constructed and leased, the NPV cost falls from $23.19 million to $11.54 million on the EY assumptions.

Staff related costs are the next major element. On the basis of 84.8% redundancies, EY estimated the following costs:
  • redundancy costs $1.83 million
  • recruitment costs $2.62 million
  • training costs $569,600
  • additional oversight costs during the transition $200,00  
Because these various costs are concentrated in the first five and especially the first two years, they have considerable impact in NPV terms.  The effect of an increase in staff retention rates in reducing NPV costs has already been noted.

Other identified costs include:
  • increased travel for APVMA staff $112,800 per annum subsequently indexed at the rate of inflation
  • cost of secure internet connection $80,000 per annum subsequently indexed
  • moving costs $516,000
  • additional travel costs to industry starting at a base cost of just over $163,000 per annum subsequently indexed. 
In calculating costs to industry, EY excluded any additional time or accommodation costs that might be involved. To that degree, the estimates understate costs. In addition, in a comment stream on a post on my my personal blog, Monday Forum - George Brandis, drop bears, yowies and other Australian fauna, 2 tanners suggested that the move would reduce APVMA's advisory effectiveness. I am not convinced, although 2 tanners has worked in this space.

Finally, and as noted by EY in its risk analysis, action required to maintain effectiveness and to mitigate risks may lead to some increase in costs as well as in the timing of variations and costs. This is discussed further below under risk

Risk Assessment

In carrying out its risk analysis, EY classified risks into four groups:
  • Risk 1. The APVMA is unable to effectively relocate or recruit and replace key APVMA executive, management and technical assessment staff within the first two years Likelihood high, impact high
  • Risk 2. During transition and in the short term, the APVMA is unable to sustain its rate of effort for registration of new agricultural and veterinary chemical products. Likelihood possible, impact high
  • Risk 3. The APVMA is unable to maintain and grow its capability in the medium term. Likelihood possible, impact high
  • Risk 4. The APVMA has reduced access to stakeholders. Likelihood possible, impact low. 
EY then attempted to calculate potential costs, concluding that a one year lag in approval of new chemical products would result in a reduction of from $64 million to $193 million in agricultural crop value per annum. The assumptions here can be best described as heroic. As I understand them, I haven't tried to replicate the underlying spreadsheets, they appear to include:
  1. Average national sales of new chemical products based on APVMA data are $59.938 million in year 1 rising to $213.043 million in year 2
  2. Many new chemical products substitute for existing products. EY assumes that 5% (option 1) or 15% (option 2) represent new uses. The value of sales not substituting for existing uses is calculated by multiplying the numbers given in 1 for average national sales of new products by 5% and 15% respectively 
  3. By expressing the amount calculated under 2 as a percentage of total product sales, EY generates a percentage representing the contribution of new products used in new ways to total product sales. 
  4. Drawing on Deloitte Access Economics work, EY suggests that 68% of the total value of  crop production can be attributed to crop protection products. If you take the value of crop production and multiply it by .68, you get the estimated chemical contribution to crop value.
  5.  EY then generates a figure for the contribution of new chemicals to new uses and expanded crop production by taking the percentage generated under 3 and applying it to the estimated value of the chemical contribution to crop production calculated at 6.  
  6. EY then calculates the value of lost crop production as a consequence of deferral of regulatory approvals by applying lags to the numbers generated at 5.       
I imagine that your eyes have glazed. However, you can see the range of assumptions required to generate the numbers that grabbed the headlines. I also have a problem, perhaps I'm just tired, with EY's treatment of lags. In calculating the potential risk loss for a one year regulatory lag, they add together the estimated production totals for the first two years to calculate the loss. I can't see the rationale for that approach.

In the end, the most that can be said for the EY numbers is that the modelling provides an indicative base setting out some issues.

EY then goes on to consider various options for risk amelioration. In this context, the APVMA has released its initial transition plan setting out its own response to service maintenance while complying with the Government's policy wishes. This says in part.
2.2 Virtual network of regulatory scientists 
Suitably qualified regulatory scientists are in short supply and it takes time to train them to be fully functional. Continued access to these regulatory specialists is one of the highest risks associated with the relocation. The priority, therefore, is to implement a new way of working through a ‘virtual science network’ to maintain access to the skills needed. With such a network, regulatory scientists would work remotely from anywhere in Australia, but still be connected to the Armidale office through a new digital strategy. This means the APVMA will not be constrained by availability of scientists in Armidale.
2.3 Regulatory hub in Armidale 
The APVMA handles over 5000 applications every year. The office in Armidale will embody the flexible teambased approach taken by the APVMA to handle so many applications with around 200 staff. There will be a call centre and case management hub to service clients; collaborative space to enable people to come together to work on applications – even if people are working remotely; and technology enabled facilities with virtual meeting rooms. This infrastructure will also make it easier to work with our regulatory counterparts in other countries. The facility will be modern and provide a quality employee experience – acting as an inducement for staff to move to Armidale. The CEO, executive, key management roles and staff from case management, call centre, application administration, corporate, legal, licensing and compliance will be based in Armidale, along with those regulatory scientists wishing to be located in Armidale. While many regulatory scientists will be operating remotely, the scientific leadership will be based in Armidale. Over time, the APVMA will build networks with universities to bring through the next wave of regulatory specialists through the system. The initial target will be 100 people operating out of Armidale, building up to 150 over time. 
2.4 Client service in a digital world 
The APVMA will enhance its online client experience by making it easier for applicants to submit data underpinning an application. This will be done by implementing internationally agreed standards for electronic submission of data (where possible), expanding the functionality of the client portal to enable full tracking of applications and improving on-line communication and correspondence with the APVMA. The APVMA will enhance its capability to conduct web conferencing with clients, regardless of where they are in the world. The APVMA also recognises that some clients still want to discuss their applications face to face – to save client travel expenses, the APVMA will trial ‘surgeries’ in Sydney and Melbourne.
On the surface, this seems a sensible approach. The move to Armidale is, I suspect,  accelerating changes in service delivery that were already under way. At this point I have not attempted to estimate the effect of the APVMA approach on the analysis beyond noting that the employment shifts will be smaller and somewhat longer term than the numbers used in the modelling, the risk profile reduced.  

Meantime, the University of New England has now introduced a suite of options in regulatory science from Graduate Certificate to PhD. While this possibility was dismissed by EY as irrelevant to the cost benefit analysis, it does affect the risk profile associated with the move.

Economic Impacts

The last part of the EY report compares the economic impacts on the ACT and the former Armidale Dumaresq LGA.  To the degree that the EY approach addresses follow on benefits, they are meant to be dealt with in this section.

In assessing relative economic impacts, EY uses the REMPLAN input-output model. As noted earlier, the analysis concluded that while the economic impact on Armidale would be relatively far greater than the loss in economic activity to the ACT, the total gain to Armidale would be less than the total loss experienced by the ACT.

The outcome here was pre-determined determined by the structure of the model. Because the ACT (population 357, 278 in 2011) is far larger than the previous Armidale Dumaresq LGA (population 24,105), more spend leaks from Armidale than the ACT. The analysis says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the Armidale.Dumaresq LGA. A dollar not spent in those boundaries is not a lost dollar.


Given the stated regional development policy objective behind the move, I suggested that three questions needed to be addressed:
  • What are the costs and risks associated with the move? 
  • What are the gains from a regional development perspective? 
  • Do those gains outweigh the identified costs and risks?
The EY analysis concentrates on the first question.

The cost benefit analysis focuses on the financial costs of the move and is especially influenced by property and staff redundancy and replacement costs. It specifically excludes a range of benefits including secondary benefits linked to the regional development objective. Depending on the assumption used, the analysis suggests a NPV cost over a twenty year period in the range of a bit over $9 million to $23.19 million.

 The risk analysis does highlight transition risks and options that may lead to higher costs. However, the assumptions used to generate the headline numbers are such that the numbers involved have little meaning.

The analysis of comparative economic impacts on the ACT and Armidale says little more than the move will have negligible economic impact on the ACT, substantial economic impact on Armidale. It does not properly capture the economic dynamics involved, nor the flow-on benefits beyond the narrow boundaries of the original Armidale.Dumaresq LGA  

In my nextpost  I will look at the dynamic aspects comparing the ACT and broader Capital Territory region and Northern NSW to try to tease out some of the broader questions involved from a regional development perspective.  

Sunday, November 27, 2016

New England Travels - A visit to Dalwood part one

Some time ago, I started writing New England Travels, subtitled journeys through space and time. Part history, part travel, part personal reminiscences,  the book gave me an opportunity to write beyond the usual confines set by the need to record sources, to sit within boundaries. Like so many of my projects, it is only part written, but I thought that I might share some of it with you. 
Dalwood House lies on the Hunter River near Branxton.  
Dalwood House stands on a rise. From the side verandah, mown grass runs down to the old vineyard. The Hunter River lies beyond, hidden within its high banks. It was hot and still, the silence broken only by the distant sound of a crow. Even the working properties on the hills on the other side of the River were still, remote in the faint heat haze.

This was only my second visit to Dalwood House. Many years before I had read Australian writer and poet Judith Wright’s Generations of Men, the story of her grandparents and the establishment of the Wyndham and then Wright pastoral dynasties; the book gripped me. I was especially caught by the almost lyrical descriptions of Dalwood House as seen through the eyes of Charlotte May Wright nee Mackenzie, Judith’s grandmother.

By chance, I had just finished the book when I went out to dinner in Canberra. Talking about the book over dinner, my hostess, herself a member of the Wright family, said “The house is still there, you know, although it’s a ruin now.” I got directions and visited it with a friend on my next trip to Armidale.

Many parts of Australia now claim Judith Wright as their own. Up in Queensland, the State Government has expropriated her for a performing arts centre. Her New England connection is dismissed in just a few words: “Judith Wright was a Queensland resident for over thirty years. She was born in New England, in regional New South Wales, and came to Brisbane as a young woman”. Later, Canberra and Braidwood would claim her too.

In all this, Judith remained a quintessentially New England writer. That was where her views were first formed, although her later experiences and especially her relationship with the older novelist and philosopher Jack McKinney would exercise a powerful influence over her. Judith met Jack McKinney when she moved to Brisbane. He was a much older man, some twenty four years her senior, only two years younger than her father. They fell in love, moving to Mount Tamborine in 1950; daughter Meredith was born in that year. In 1962, Jack and Judith finally married. Four years later Jack died, leaving a hole in Judith’s life.

Jack McKinney was the second of three powerful men in Judith Wright’s life. The first was her father, Phillip Arundell Wright, with whom she shared a middle name. The third was H C “Nugget” Coombs, a noted Australian economist and public servant, with whom she had a twenty five year love affair. Coombs was again an older man, in this case by nine years. Both were major public figures. Judith was a widow, Coombs long separated from his wife. Both shared common interests, including Aboriginal advancement and the environment. Judith moved to Braidwood to be closer to the Canberra based Coombs, but the affair was kept secret, if open to their friends and the Canberra network within which they moved.

Each man had a powerful impact on Judith, but I think that it was the father that formed her core views. It was he that gave her that love of the environment and of the country. It was he that gave her that love, affection and unstinting support that seems to shine through in the letters between them.

I knew her father as a much older man. PA, we all spoke of him as PA, was my grandfather’s friend; my grandfather was godfather to his son who bore the same first name; my copy of Generations of Men carries my grandfather’s signature, bought in the year the book first came out. To me, PA was a somewhat remote figure. I saw him at events and at the New England New State Movement Executive meetings that he sometimes chaired. I and my fellow students at the University of New England where he was chancellor poked gentle fun at him for his sometimes mangled English. It would be a number of years before I came to properly understand his contribution to Northern life and the causes he supported.

Judith loved her father, she loved the Falls country in which she grew up, she loved the life on the family properties. Her earlier works reflect that love, and then the joy she found in her relationship with Jack McKinney. Later, there would come a darkening of spirit, an erosion in optimism, a rejection of elements of her past. “You ask me to read those poems I wrote in my thirties?” she wrote in Skins. “They dropped off several incarnations back.”

Judith had the misfortune to be born a girl in an age when men inherited. Especially after the death of PA, she became separated from the properties and life she had loved, although the family ties remained close. Towards the end of her life, she saw the end of the Wright family empire that had been carefully built by her grandparents and especially grandmother May Wright. The ABC TV Dynasties program recorded the event in this rather dramatic way:
By December 2000, he (brother David) had lost it all – his properties, his cattle and his wife to cancer. His sister, the poet Judith Wright, watched in despair and died soon after.
That’s dramatic, but the loss was a profound one. Generations of Men is dedicated to the children of May and Albert, to her father and his brothers and sisters. The phrase generations of men comes from Blake’s Milton; the verse is quoted on the book’s title page:
The generations of men run on in the tide of time
But their destn’d lineaments permanent for ever and ever.
If you look at those words, you can get a feel for Judith’s sense of loss.

Six years after Judith’s death, David, my grandfather’s namesake, died suddenly. On his death, University of New England Professor Bernie Bindon described David as one of the pioneers of the scientific research underpinning today's Australian beef industry. "I can't think of a beef industry person” Professor Bindon said, “who's made a bigger contribution to not only the growth of the beef industry but the science that underpins the beef business," The Herefords .that formed the base of the V1V and V2V Wright brands began their life at Dalwood. It was Judith’s grandparents, the core characters in Generations of Men, who began the breeding program that created the Wright cattle.

Not long before David’s. death, Aunt Helen and I revisited my grandfather’s old property, Foreglen, for the first time for many years. It was Christmas, and the family had gathered together in Armidale for what would prove to be one of our last family Christmases. I was perhaps four or five when the property was sold. My last visit had been the clearance sale. That’s a long time ago, yet I had very clear memories of the place. I remember the clearance sale in particular because I still felt that the place belonged to us. I remember playing with other kids, clambering over the machinery and playing on the ancient Model T Ford, telling my companions about the place. I don’t think that I properly realised what had happened.

After that Christmas lunch, I said let’s go out to Foreglen. Everybody groaned, too full of food and wine to want to move. However, Aunt Helen finally agreed to come with me and also acted as pilot. I couldn’t quite remember how to get there!

Foreglen was now owned by David Wright. The old homestead had been vacant, we thought that it still was, but we found it occupied by a nice Chinese couple with two young kids. They agreed to let us look round. Our host was an accountant employed by David to work on ways of restructuring the pastoral business. Both he and his wife had grown up in the crowded world of Hong Kong. This was their first exposure to the Australian countryside. At first, they found it difficult to cope with the quiet and absence of people. Now with a vegetable garden, their own chooks and with the kids settled in school, they were trying to encourage their Chinese friends in Brisbane to go bush.

David lost Foreglen with his other assets. I have always wondered about that Chinese couple. Did they go back to Brisbane? I will probably never know.

In 1959 when Generations of Men was first published, all these events lay in the distant future. They still were when I first visited Dalwood House. Then I wandered around trying to fit the now decrepit reality into the vivid images created in my mind by the book. Now I looked again with the knowledge of what was to happen fresh in my mind.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Three romantic New England restaurants

Back in October, Travel In magazine listed 5 Romantic Restaurants of Regional NSW. Three of the five are New England.

Moving north to south, we start with Tenterfield's Commercial Boutique Hotel. The renovated pub maintains its art deco features, serves craft beers as well as local ones and looks very nice indeed.

Further south, we come to Uralla's Merilba Estate.  Developed by the Cassidy family, this offers good dining again combined with cool country wines. an enchanting establishment that ticks all the right boxes when it comes to the ultimate romantic restaurant.

Further south still at Tamworth, The Pig and Tinder Box offers a more urban feel.

Three restaurants, each different, but showcasing some elements of modern New England life.