‘Collaboration’ emphasised at Regional Futures Summit

Published 18 February 2011

panelpic“Collaboration and partnerships are the way forward,” said the Chancellor of the University of New England, Dr Richard Torbay, in summing up a discussion on regional development by a panel of experts at UNE yesterday.

The panel discussion, involving the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean MP, formed part of yesterday’s Regional Futures Summit at UNE. A panel session later in the day, on the National Broadband Network and the digital future for regional Australia, involved the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy.

“Regional development can’t be about Government handouts,” Mr Crean said. “It’s about plugging a market gap.”

“Local people should invest locally, and be creative in identifying the market gap,” he added.

In answer to a question from the audience about local government council amalgamations, Mr Crean said that the “forced” model had “shown its deficiencies”. “The answer has to be driven from the local perspective,” he said. “There has to be local belief that it makes sense to merge.”

Mr Crean, like the other members of the panel, emphasised the importance of greater cooperation between councils. The panel – introduced by Dr Torbay – also included the Member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor MP, Mr Barry Buffier, Deputy Director-General, NSW Industry & Investment, Dr Peter Brain, Executive Director of National Economics, Mr Peter Bailey from the Foundation for Regional Development, Mr Kevin Dupé, CEO of New England Community Mutual, and Mr Hugh Eastwood, Managing Director of Eastmon Group.

Mr Eastwood spoke about the success of his online photo manufacturing company Photo Create, based in Glen Innes, which now employs between 700 and 800 people at various times during the year. “We haven’t experienced any disadvantage in working in a country area,” he said.

Another successful country-based businessman, Mr Scott Williams, was a member of the panel for the discussion on the NBN. Mr Williams is the CEO of the Petals worldwide florist delivery network, based in Armidale. “Our business works locally and sells globally,” he said. “Now, with 60 per cent of our business on the Internet, we need access to competitive bandwidth.”

The other members of the panel included Senator Conroy, Mr Jim Hassell, Head of Product Development and Sales for NBNCo, Professor Mary O’Kane, NSW Chief Scientist and Scientific Engineer, Dr Alex Zelinsky, Group Executive, CSIRO Information Sciences, Professor Annabelle Duncan, UNE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), and Mr Sean Casey from NBNCo.

Mr Crean and Senator Conroy were the keynote speakers at the Summit. Mr Crean urged his regional audience to “take ownership of the future”. “Localism produces not only efficiency, but an agenda that no government can afford to ignore,” he said.

Senator Conroy said that spending money on the National Broadband Network was, effectively, spending money on health and education, and that “the NBN will fundamentally change the way health care is delivered in Australia”. “It’s what we do with the NBN that’s the most important thing,” he said.

In introducing yesterday’s Summit, the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, said: “We want to start a fresh debate on these issues across the entire regional community, and the University can lead this debate.”

THE  PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows (from left) Dr Richard Torbay, Mr Kevin Dupé, and Mr Tony Windsor MP taking part in the first of yesterday’s panel sessions. It expands to include the Hon. Simon Crean MP.