Revitalisation plans must attract business

Premier Gladys Berejiklian answering questions at the Wickham Interchange on Tuesday.IT’S an unwritten law of politics in regional areas that no leader worth their salt turns up without having a funding announcement of some sort to make.
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After all, it’s not that often that premiers find their way into tiger country, and so they usually try to make it worth their while.

With Premier Gladys Berejiklian in town, Tuesday did turn out to be jackpot day for the Hunter,with the Newcastle Knights securing $10 million to go towards their rugby league centre of excellence to be built at Broadmeadow.

But the funny thing was, it wasn’t the premier who announced it. That job was left to Sport Minister Stuart Ayres, with the$10 million doled out to the Knights being the biggest amount received by the five clubs who shared in the spoils.Unofficially, the Newcastle Herald was told that the centre of excellence details weren’t finalised until mid-afternoon, making it too late for the premier to unveil the Knights’ good fortune. We realise there is controversy over sports funding at the moment, thanks to the government’s $2.5-billion stadium building plan, but it seems something of a missedopportunity for the premier to come all the way to Newcastle on the day her government is giving $10 million to the Knights, and to notsay anything about it either at her interchange press conference or at the lunch.

Regardless, however, sports fans will thank the government for its vote of support in the Knights, as will the club itself.

As it happens, the premier did have one funding announcement to make, but it was not until she had departed Newcastle for Williamtown that we learned about it: a $50,000 extension of the “STEMship” pre-employment program –STEM being science, technology, engineering and maths –that was launched in the Hunter in August 2016. Ms Berejiklian said the funding would ensureensure “a continued pipeline of skilled workers” for the defence industry.

Of course the the Herald acknowledges that the Coalition state government is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Newcastle at the moment. On that, Ms Berejiklian says she “couldn’t be more pleased” with the revitalisation plans, which meant that “businesses are champing at the bit to have their offices to set up space here”.

And that, in the end, will be the test. Apartment blocks are one thing, but the inner cityneedsto be a central business district, and not justa central residential district, if Newcastleis to properly thrive.

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How this humble home became one of Australia’s most iconic

Ask most design addicts to name Australia’s most iconic holiday home and they might mention something by Glenn Murcutt, or even Richard Leplastrier. However, if ubiquity is any measure, the humble Beachcomber might just take the award.
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You might not recognise the name, but there’s little doubt you’ll recognise the house. The Beachcomber, designed in 1961 by modernist architect Nino Sydney, can be found up and down the entire eastern seaboard of Australia, along with numerous inferior copies.

It was one of five display homes created for Lend Lease’s Kingsdene Estate in Carlingford (now Westminster Avenue) which opened in October 1961. The estate was a demonstration village covering some 46.5 hectares. Think of it as a less vulgar and more diffident precursor of today’s Homeworld.

Clarke, Gazzard and Yeomans worked on the village masterplan, under the auspices of Sydney. Rex Hazelwood was enlisted to take charge of the landscaping, utilising native plants. The northern edge of the estate was to remain a eucalypt forest (it didn’t).

All five homes in the display village were created by architects from the design department of Civil and Civic, which had recently been acquired by Lend Lease. But it was Sydney’s Beachcomber that was to prove the most popular by far, with around 200 of them built from 1961 to 1970.

The Beachcomber was a flat-roof pavilion raised on slim steel columns; a Villa Savoye for the middle class. Its elevated design meant it could be easily adapted to sloping bush blocks, as well as accommodate a laundry and carport beneath. The Lend Lease advertising brochure touted the Beachcomber as “An architectural triumph! Cantilevered, wide and sunny ??? a home designed to stay young for a lifetime!”

The home was rectangular in plan, with a living area and two of its three bedrooms opening out on to a full-length sun deck. It was light-filled and open, eons ahead of the dark and dingy suburban homes people were accustomed to. It’s area (including the deck) was 127 square metres, reflecting the more modest aspirations of the time. To put that in perspective, the average Australian project home these days is around 240 square metres. Related: Australia’s most unique beach propertyRelated: See this beach house’s beautiful transformationRelated: Most impressive beach houses around Australia

Generously appointed for its time, the Beachcomber also included floor to ceiling built-in robes in the bedrooms, and a separate toilet (at a time when many homes still had an outdoor dunny). It must have seemed impossibly modern with its Formica benchtops and splashbacks, and built-in automatic wall oven.

Sydney followed up the original Beachcomber, with a Mark II, Mark III, and Mark IV (1966). Although all have the same distinctive form, the latter versions had aluminium windows, a kitchen servery and improved cladding.

Author and architecture critic Charles Pickett is a huge fan of the Beachcomber and wrote about them in his book Designer Suburbs: Architects and Affordable Homes in Australia (2012).

“I think it’s probably the best project home ever,” Pickett says. “Nowadays they have become a cult object and people are seeking them out to restore.”

Fans of the home even flock to a dedicated website that tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the Beachcomber, but were too afraid to ask. The website was established by writer Helen Thurlow in 2012 and picked up a National Trust Heritage Award this year.

Since 1995, Thurlow has owned a Mark II Beachcomber in Avalon, an area that once boasted around 11 examples, due to their suitability on the hilly coastal terrain. “When we purchased it, my husband and I had a young family,” she says. “It’s been lovely, but it was a bit small when the kids were teenagers all wanting to use the bathroom. The underneath had already been enclosed, so that provided some much-needed overflow space.”

Thurlow’s Beachcomber is not a museum piece, but has been sympathetically renovated to cater for a modern lifestyle. “It’s contemporary but with a 1960s vibe,” she says. “I love my home. It’s a well-proportioned design, and made from quality materials. And there’s just so much light flooding through, it makes me feel like I’m always on holiday.”

She says her aim with the website is to build a community around the Beachcomber, and encourage people to preserve them. “They are such a wonderful example of Australian design, and I hate that we are losing at least one each year, particularly in areas such as Clontarf and Bronte, only to be replaced with a brick or concrete box.”

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BHP to stay a member of the Minerals Council – at least for now

BHP will remain a member of the Minerals Council of Australia – at least for now – but has reached a “preliminary view” that it intends to leave the World Coal Association, a move described by one observer as “a seismic shift”.
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The world’s biggest miner also revealed it would consider its “future membership” of the US Chamber of Commerce, after identifying four “material differences” between itself and the group on climate and energy policies.

BHP’s review of its membership of industry associations that it said hold an active position on climate and energy policy was released on Tuesday, with BHP acknowledging it receives a “high level of benefit” from its membership of the MCA, the mining industry lobby group. But BHP has been concerned that the MCA’s position on climate and energy policy did not align with its own.

BHP also revealed publicly for the first time how much it contributes to the MCA, with the “Big Australian” paying a subscription fee of $1.86 million in 2016, equal to 17 per cent of the lobby group’s subscription revenue.

BHP said it had identified two material differences between itself and the MCA on climate and energy policy, signalling its ongoing membership of the MCA would depend on how the council responded to its concerns on these two points. The miner set a timeframe for the MCA to modify its advocacy or policy activity of no longer than a year.

“BHP will formally communicate the identified material differences to the board of the MCA, request that the MCA refrain from policy activity or advocacy in these areas, maintain a register of material differences, and will review its membership of the MCA if it has not refrained from such policy activity or advocacy within a reasonable period (being not more than 12 months),” BHP said.

BHP expressed concern over stances adopted by the MCA, saying that the MCA had “at times argued that energy policy should prioritise reliability and affordability over ‘other policy goals’. When discussing emissions reduction in the energy sector, the MCA has highlighted the costs associated with meeting Australia’s international commitments at the expense of addressing the importance of reducing emissions.”

BHP said it believed that “climate policy and energy policy are inextricably linked, and that energy reliability, energy affordability and emissions reduction should be considered on an integrated basis”.

It also expressed concern that the MCA had called for policy changes that were “technology specific and interventionist in relation to High Efficiency Low Emissions (HELE) coal”.

But BHP said its view was that “energy markets should be both fuel and technology neutral, and should not artificially favour one type of technology over another”.

BHP’s chief external affairs officer, Geoff Healy, said industry associations were important for developing policy and technical standards, sharing best practice and bringing together technical expertise and experience.

“This review makes clear the principles for our ongoing participation in industry bodies. While we won’t always agree with our industry associations, we will continue to call out material differences where they exist and we will take action where necessary,” Mr Healy said.

On its World Coal Association membership, the BHP report said that the WCA had “supported abandoning the proposed Australian Clean Energy Target”, and that there was a “narrower” benefit to BHP in being a member. BHP will make a final decision on this membership by the end of March 2018.

In response to the BHP report an MCA spokesman said: “BHP has been a valued member of the Minerals Council for many years, and we look forward to that relationship continuing in the future.”

Executive director of the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, Brynn O’Brien, said she welcomed BHP’s review of positions taken by the MCA, US Chamber of Commerce and the World Coal Association. The ACCR recently called on BHP to reconsider its membership of the MCA.

“BHP’s decision to cut ties with the world’s peak coal lobby, the World Coal Association is a seismic shift in the world of anti-climate lobbying,” she said.

“This is a message that even organisations like BHP, with large coal assets, do not value aggressive anti-climate lobbying,” she said.

“However, BHP’s equivocation in relation to membership of the MCA, in giving the MCA another 12 months to change its tune on coal, points to the highly-charged environment in which climate policy is made in Australia,” she said.

BHP acknowledged that industry associations were an “important forum for debate”, but added that having a range of members could make it difficult for a group to reach a consensus view on issues.

“We believe that in areas where no broad industry consensus exists, associations should generally refrain from advocacy in those areas, with individual members being best placed to outline their views independently,” BHP said.

BHP said it accepted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) assessment of climate change science, which it said found that warming of the climate is unequivocal and that the influence of humans is clear.

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ANZ has ‘a great deal’ to do in regaining trust: David Gonski

ANZ Banking Group chairman David Gonski says the lender still has “a great deal to do” as it tries to regain public trust, and concedes the industry had been too slow to respond to community criticism.
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In a speech to shareholders in Sydney, Mr Gonski addressed the erosion in public trust in banks and the looming royal commission, arguing that businesses including ANZ needed to do more than simply focus on shareholder interests.

Mr Gonski, one of the most respected business people in the country, also said he did not underestimate how challenging the royal commission, to be led by Kenneth Hayne, would be for the banks.

ANZ would engage with the judicial inquiry transparently and constructively, he pledged, while still running the business efficiently.

Mr Gonski’s speech to shareholders said the erosion of trust in banks was part of a broader change that had also seen confidence in institutions including the media, government and non-government organisations fall to “troubling lows”.

Businesses needed to respond by listening to community concerns, he said, and could not be “solely shareholder-focused organisations”.

“It is clear that in order to rebuild trust, business has to step outside our traditional role as solely shareholder-focused organisations, and work in new ways that also put our customers and our communities at the centre of everything we do,” Mr Gonski said.

ANZ had this year cut interest rates on some credit cards, clamped down on conflicted remuneration for frontline staff, and matched other banks in removing ATM fees for non-customers, Mr Gonski noted.

It has also established a responsible business committee led by chief executive Shayne Elliott, and put a greater focus on environmental concerns.

“Clearly though, we still have a great deal to do,” he said.

Responding to the government’s decision to launch a royal commission, Mr Gonski observed that some believed bank-bashing was caused by “arrogance” by banks. He did not endorse or reject this view, but argued businesses should listen to community concerns.

“While criticism of banks is not new, in the rapidly changing environment that I have described, we acknowledge our industry has been slower than it should to be more transparent, to listen more to the views of the community and to consistently treat its customers fairly and responsibly,” Mr Gonski said.

“Some go further and say it is the arrogance of banks that has been the underlying cause of bank bashing in the Australian community. Whether this is true or not, sometimes it is an easy option for business to pitch itself against the community and to lecture people about why they are wrong,” he said.

“It is often more difficult to listen, to face up to issues and use that insight to make decisions for the long term.”

Shareholders questioned Mr Gonski and Mr Elliott over a range of issues including climate change and executive pay, but all resolutions passed with support from 97 per cent or shareholders or more.

ANZ this year settled with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over long-running allegations of misconduct in the bank bill swap rate market.

As well as the $50 million settlement, Mr Gonski said the people who ran the BBSW trading and its markets area at the time were no longer with the bank, others had been sacked for breaching its code of conduct, and bonuses had been clawed back.

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Gladys hails Hunter’s ‘double-digit’ jobs growth

Gladys hails Hunter’s ‘double-digit’ jobs growth Gladys Berejiklian talks to the media at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason Hubers
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Gladys Berejiklian at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Gladys Berejiklian at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Gladys Berejiklian at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Gladys Berejiklian at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday with Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

Gladys Berejiklian at the Wickham transport interchange on Tuesday with Hunter Development Corporation boss Michael Cassel and Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald. Picture: Max Mason Hubers

TweetFacebookI remember every time I came up to Newcastle I’d have the same band of protesters following me, harassing me, but that didn’t deter us.

Gladys BerejiklianNewcastle Herald last week that the Hunter’s employment growth was due largely to gains inhealth care, social assistance, construction, education and training.

She said on Tuesday that the Hunter had a “really strong recovery period from early 2015 to the start of this year … and then it stayed relatively kind of flat”.

“It’s moved up and down. Our unemployment rate was below the state at the start of the year, and we’re sitting just above at the moment.”

She said much of the growth was not in“knowledge economy” industries, such as professional, technical and science jobs.

But she said transport and digital connections were the “bedrock” of urban growth and the government could legitimately claim its Revitalising Newcastle program had helped stimulate economic activity.

The city’s new light rail line is still more than a year away and Newcastle City Council’s Smart City collaboration is in itsinfancy, however, Dr Bill said developers were“always forward-thinking” and would be anticipating such changes when making investment decisions.

Ms Berejiklian said the government had“supported diversity in the economy, a growth in areas like construction, housing”.

But Dr Bill sounded a warning over house prices helping to drive the economy forward.

“Certainly some of the impetus that might be coming off the back of house price movements in the region, and whether that growth’s sustainable, and how much that ties into a revitalisation agenda as welland the development that’s been happening in the city, that’s something we can maybe put a little bit of a note of caution around,” she said.

“Certainly, if you own a house, it’s a good thing.”


The Premier said extending Newcastle’s 2.7km light rail to other parts of the city was “definitely”on the government’s agenda but gave no commitments on when it could happen.

“We’re buildingthe spine of a future network. We always said that was the case.

“Our state’s doing incredibly well. If we have opportunities to bring things forward, we will.”

She describedthe light rail, which is costing almost twice as much per metre to build as a tram line in Canberra, as good value for money. The build costs have grown $35 million this year, an increase the government has ascribed to removing the trams’ overhead wires.

“All the advice I have is we’re completely on budget, on time, and we’re looking forward to it.

“It’s always important that you look at the end result.

“During the project there are sometimes when you’re a little bit ahead, sometimes when you slip, but the thing is at the end of the project to make sure you’ve delivered on time and on budget.”


Light rail at twice the price

Rent relief on cards for Newcastle traders

Analysis: Time for debate on regional growth

Comment: Government must do more

Gripping double bill

ROCKY COAST: Carl Young is in Sea Wall, which will be staged by Stooged Theatre with another short play, Dead Centre, in January. WHEN the double bill of short plays, Dead Centre and Sea Wall, premiered in Melbourne in 2015, the staging company, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, was nervous about how reviewers and audiences would react.
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Each of the plays has just one actor on stage for 35 minutes and the performers – one a woman, the other a man – have to keep watchers gripped.

However, the company’s initiative was rewarded, when the show, which toured to Darwin, Brisbane and Sydney after its Melbourne run, won raves from all who saw it.

Andrew McInnes, a Newcastle-raised actor and director who is now based in Sydney, saw the double bill there and recommended it to Newcastle company Stooged Theatre, which focuses on strong plays that might not otherwise be seen in the Hunter.

Stooged is staging Dead Centre and Sea Wall at Newcastle West’s Catapult Dance Studios from January 13 to 21, with Claire See in Dead Centre and Carl Young in Sea Wall, and Andrew McInnes directing.

Claire See, who went through Merewether High School with Andrew McInnes, is now a London-based actress who has been on stage in venues including Shakespeare’s Globe and has appeared in BBC television series and films made in Britain.

When she heard that Stooged was staging the double bill, she recorded an audition and forwarded it to the company. She usually returns to Newcastle to spend Christmas with her family, but put the visit off until late December-early January so she could appear in Dead Centre.

The double bill had an interesting origin. Red Stitch was keen to stage Sea Wall, written by English playwright Simon Stephens in 2008, and asked Australian playwright Tom Holloway if he would write a similar length work that would include references to people and situations mentioned in that play. Holloway, who was friends with Stephens, won his approval.

The woman in Holloway’s Dead Centre, Helen, has migrated to Australia to escape a troubled background in England. But when she takes a trip to Uluru, in Australia’s Red Centre, people and issues she has tried to forget return to her mind.

Alex, the man in Sea Wall, had a long and initially enjoyable relationship with Helen, but problems they encountered in coastal areas, especially when visiting a relative in France, created difficulties.

The double bill, staged at Catapult’s spaceat 880 Hunter Street, can be seen on Saturdays, January 13 and 20, at 7.30pm, on Sundays, January 14 and 21, at 5pm, and on Friday, January 19, at 7.30pm.

Tickets: $25. Bookings: trybooking南京夜网/3319917.

A-League: Jets sign young gun but his arrival delayed by ‘nothing’tournament

DONE DEAL: Teenage whiz kid Riley McGree (centre) will join the Jets on-loan from Club Brugge for the remainder of the A-League campaign. Picture: AAP ImagesNEWCASTLE have secured midfiedler Riley McGree on loan from ClubBrugge but the teenage whiz kid will not play for his new club until late January because ofcommitments with the Australian under-23’s in a tournament that Jets coach Ernie Merrick believes serves no purpose.
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Asreported by The Herald on Monday, McGree will join the Jets for the remainder of their A-League campaign as an injury replacement for Jake Adelson.

The 19-year-old returned to Adelaide from Belgium on Monday and will be in Newcastle next week for testing.

However, he and new teammate Nick Cowburn will head to China on January 3 with the Australianside to contest the under-23 Asian Football Confederation Championships.

The Jets duo are among 15 A-League players in the squad. Joe Champness, Ivan Vujica and Lachlan Jackson are on standby.

The final of the tournament, which is being held outside a FIFA international window, is on January 27. If Australia progress to the top four, the players will miss five A-League games.

The tournament is not a part of the qualifying cycle for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Merrick questioned its value.

“For me it is a tournament that means nothing,” Merrick said. “I coached a Hong Kong side at this tournament and it is a very average tournament. It doesn’t seem sensible to take players away for as much as five A-League games. To me it would have made more sense to take good quality players who are on the fringes of the first team, but not getting a game. They would have benefited andwe would have benefited.

“If it was a qualifying tournamentor crucial to preparing for the next Olympics, I would understand, this is neither.”

Australian under-23 coach Ante Milicic, who did not select more than three players from any club,said the tournament would provide experience at a significant international competition.

Merrick disagreed.

“It is time we respected FIFA windows and it’s time we respected A-League clubs, given the amount of money the owners are investing,” he said. “Weare continually being compromised by tournaments that aren’t that worthwhile.”

Merrick is looking forward to McGree’s contribution to the second-placed Jets when he returns from China.

“Riley is an exciting young player who will offer a lot to our side,” Merrick said. “He likes to getforward, he can play wide but he can also play in a holding role – he gives us plentyof options.What I particularly like about him is that he is very good one-on-one in tight areas in the middle of the ground.”

“He’s at one of the biggest clubs in the Belgian First Division and I think just beingaround that sort of environment after his last season (in the A-League) will only be ofbenefit.”

The Buzz

PICTURE PERFECT: William Crighton will return to the Tamworth Regional Art Gallery on January 25. Picture: Paul DearHIGH PRAISE The last time William Crighton performed at the Tamworth Regional Art Gallery inJanuary, the late greatmusic journalist Iain Shedden rated the performance within his “all-time top-10.”
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“Once in a lifetime a gig surpasses all expectations, slapping you in the face with its grace, majestic singing, the quality of the material,” Shedden wrote. Crighton returnsto the venue on January 25 forthe Tamworth Country Music Festival, this time joined by award-winningAboriginal artistGawurra.

KERBSIDE STOMPAnother Newcastle musicianamong the local contingent heading up the New England Highway for the Tamworth Country Music Festival will be James Bennett. The country troubadourwill perform at The Pub and The Welders Dog (January 22) and The Southgate Inn (January 23) plus at a series of busking shows in Peel Street from January 21 to 26.

HATS OFFLet’s give amassive round of applause to Kim Churchill and the Grand Junction (Junkyard)Hotel forhelping out six-year-old leukaemia-sufferer Kane Ransom. On November 22 it was discovered Kane hadrelapsed after being in remission for18 months. Tentickets to Churchill’s January 11 show at the Junkyard and a $600 bar tab were auctioned off on Thursdayto assist with Kane’s medical expenses.

HAPPY DAYS The summer party vibes will be pumping at Mayfield’s Stag and Hunter Hotel on January 5 when Sydney’s The Kava Kings drop by.The Kava Kings recentlybegan work on their third album with producer and Eskimo Joe guitaristJoel Quartermain and are expected to previewseveral new tracks at The Stag.

Don’t forget your pets this summer, NSW vet warns

SUMMER HEAT: Make sure you keep your pets safe, hydrated and cool over the hot festivae season.Summer is heating up, and most people are turning to the beach, pools, ice blocks and air conditioning.
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It’s important to remember that when you are getting hot you can grab a frozen Zooper Dooper out of the fridge to alleviate some of the sweat, but your loyal friends covered in fur don’t have exactly the same luxuries.

In a study run by PetSafe Australia, it was found that 39% of Australian’s are unaware of the signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration in their pets.

COOL OFF: Make sure you keep your pets in the shade over the hot months of the year.

Doctor Claire Jones, a NSW veterinarian, has warned that this summer will be “one of the worst on record for Australia”, and that being smart about pet hydration is crucial over Christmas and the New Year period.

“Dehydration can indicate a serious underlying problem,” Dr Stevens said. “Often, however, the signs of dehydration are not obvious, so I suggest getting to the vet as soon as you can.”

“You can prevent dehydration by providing clean water at all times, and change it frequently to ensure freshness. Also, don’t forget to wash your pet’s water bowl every day to prevent bacteria from forming. I tend to put a few bowls down to be sure they have enough.”

Dr Stevens also suggested investing in shade clothes, umbrellas or canopies, as many backyards do not have adequate shade during the hottest parts of the day.

“People might not realize but there is possibly long periods during the day your backyard might simply not provide anywhere cool and shady,” she said. “Avoid chaining a dog outside or keeping them in a hot back yard as this can preventing him from accessing his water bowl.”

“Just remember, make sure you monitor your dog’s water intake every day. If your dog is not drinking an adequate amount of water, seek veterinary advice.”

Information can also be found on thePetSafe website, in a Hydration Awareness Campaign

Steps to ensure your pet remains safe and hydrated during summer:

Public service caps ‘a blunt instrument’: Parkinson

Martin Parkinson, secretary of the department of prime minister and cabinet speaking in support of White Ribbon Day. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Dr Martin Parkinson greets Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as he arrives to address the Australian Public Service in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 20 April 2016. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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Dr Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, during the Close the Gap 10th Anniversary Parliamentary Breakfast at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 10 February 2016. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Martin Parkinson, secretary of the department of prime minister and cabinet speaking in support of White Ribbon Day.

Prime Minister and Cabinet boss Martin Parkinson has labelled federal government mandated caps on public service employment a “blunt instrument” for management, calling for new thinking on workforce capability and headcounts in Canberra.

The nation’s most senior public servant also said implementing the National Party-led plan for forced relocation of government agencies to the regions would be based on detailed business cases, and defended careful spending of taxpayer funds for external consultants in the bureaucracy.

Two years after being appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to head the 152,000-strong federal workforce, Dr Parkinson said in an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media that public servants needed to better know the needs and expectations of Australians, describing planning for 2045 and beyond remained as a key challenge in 2018. Latest public service news

On public service staffing, he said consideration of fluctuations of a few hundred people at any time was not sensible.

“I don’t think headcount is the right measure,” he said. “The question is really does the APS have the capability set it needs to deliver for the challenges Australia faces in the next quarter century?

“If it does, that’s great. If if doesn’t, what capabilities is it missing or is it short of? Are those things you can buy in or do you have to breed them yourself?

“If you look at the service and say data analytics is really going to be central to improving outcomes, do we have sufficient capability? Answer: absolutely not.

“Do I fix that by increasing headcount by 500 people? Actually, if I’ve got to find more data analysts and I’ve got 152,000 people, is going to 152,500 going to make any difference? It’s actually about prioritising what skill sets you need.”

This month a national auditor-general’s report showed the Coalition’s moves to cut 15,000 public service jobs coincided with a doubling in spending on private consultants with specialist skills.

Consultancy contracts established because of “need for specialised or professional skills” grew to more than $500 million last financial year.

Dr Parkinson said departments shouldn’t need to call in consultants for “core business” but effective use of external talent was justified, including for specialist work in irregularly timeframes.

“Where there’s a situation where I just need a fresh pair of eyes to have a look at this and just do a robustness test, just check that we’re on track, I think that’s totally legitimate, [a] traditional role of consultants.

“If I have a concern, it’s about some parts of the service relying on consultants to do what should be their core business because ultimately we deal in ideas, and that can be a policy idea, it can be the delivery of that through a program… or it can be the regulation of it through oversight arrangements.

Dr Parkinson attracted headlines this month over comments critical of former prime minister Tony Abbott’s management of the APS, but has described 2017 as a year of significant achievement for government agencies, including on Indigenous affairs, the national marriage survey and advice on the dual citizenship saga.

As federal cabinet considers plans for forced relocations of government departments and agencies away from Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, Dr Parkinson said Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Treasurer Scott Morrison were carefully focused on business cases for the moves.

“The question is how much of the public service should be optimally outside of Canberra? You can’t make that decision at a meta level.

“You’ve got a range of places that have already moved because the business case makes sense for them. That’s the critical issue here. We have to make sure there are robust reasons for doing it.”

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