Newcastle Herald, May 12 2020
What interests have guided your career?
Growing up in Canberra, public service is in my DNA. So is a love for nature. This led me to study environmental science and my first job was in the ABS in the environment team. It was this background in data and evidence that landed me a job in Infrastructure Australia, where I helped establish the project prioritisation framework and a national urban policy. This work called for better cooperation between three levels of government to drive productivity, liveability and sustainability. I then sought out jobs that put me in the centre of governments, working on complex issues and designing joined-up solutions. This included in the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Office of the Prime Minister and then KPMG where I had responsibility for infrastructure and transport, regional and urban policy and planning, and local government. I’m now excited to be an independent advocate for the Hunter, supporting the region to grasp the opportunities from the new approaches to economic and regional development I’ve influenced from inside of government, and learn from the successes and failures so we get there a bit quicker.
How has COVID-19 changed the Committee’s actions?
With businesses and government facing the immediate crisis, we are focused on what longer term recovery looks like. It’s important that shorter term initiatives, including infrastructure stimulus, are building our capacity to address longer term challenges around economic diversification.
What is on the drawing board?
In addition to supporting the region’s recovery, we are focused on supporting the longer-term diversification of the economy. While much of the narrative concentrates on the resource sector in the Upper Hunter, COVID-19 has revealed inherent vulnerabilities when jobs are concentrated in sectors like retail, tourism and accommodation, or in a limited number of large organisations like the University of Newcastle. Diversification into the high value jobs and opportunities that we want our kids to access will not happen naturally – it needs a plan that leverages the Hunter’s comparative advantages, while building the infrastructure and skilled workforce that these industries need. Investment attraction is important.
How much government support is required for these projects?
There is a lot of government support and expenditure in the Hunter. Coordination across portfolios, levels of government and sectors is what drives better outcomes and value for money from this significant investment. It will be especially important that this money works harder when budgets tighten as we pay the bill from COVID-19. I helped establish City Deals in Australia. City Deals work because councils, the state and Australian governments identify a shared vision for a region. It’s not just about more funding for infrastructure. Policy, land use planning, regulatory reform and governance all combine to support a local plan for growth. We don’t need to wait for a City Deal to show this leadership.
Has the Committee got the government’s ‘ear’ on priorities for our region?
The Hunter’s priorities are set out in existing plans that outline its vision and priorities and have been formed through exhaustive public consultation. The challenge is implementation and mobilising our collective resources to get things done. The Committee is able to lock the collective resources of our Board and membership behind these visions and address barriers to progress. There is an urgency for action now, and COVID-19 has shown us we can be nimble. I don’t intend to apply a transactional approach to the leadership of the Committee or our negotiations with governments. A binary winner-takes-all approach to complex issues will get us nowhere. I’m focused on building trust and credibility, to provide advice and help build government capacity to make better decisions. I’m also focused on nurturing innovative partnerships between the public, private and community sectors.
What does the Committee believe are economic green shoots for the economy?
It’s unclear now what they will be when we are still trying to understand and are yet to see the full impacts of COVID-19. What we do know is that people are our most important resource. Supporting access to jobs, services and opportunity, to education and training, creating liveable, connected communities will provide the right environment for our people to create the green shoots that emerge from this disaster.
Why is the Committee needed, and why did the CEO role appeal to you?
For the first time, the Hunter has a dedicated cross-sector advocacy body whose mission is to work with public and private partners to promote inclusive growth and development across boundaries and silos. I’m lucky to step into an organisation that while young, already has more than 40 members and growing thanks to the efforts of our Chair and foundation partners. I bring a considerable policy toolkit, national and local networks, deep relations with decision-makers and an ability to get things done in complex, multi-stakeholder environments.