15 June, 2005

Speech in Opening the Centenary State Conference of NSW Rural Lands Protection Boards -June 2005

GRIFFITH-JUNE 2005


MR CHAIRMAN, DISTINGUISED GUESTS, LADIES & GENTLEMEN

I AM PARTICULARLY HONOURED TO BE ASKED TO OPEN THIS CONFERENCE, FOR MORE REASONS THAN ONE.

FIRSTLY, OF COURSE, IT IS YOUR CENTENARY CONFERENCE.

SECONDLY, I HAVE ALWAYS REGARDED P P BOARDS, IF I MAY USE THAT TERM, AS QUINTESSENTIAL OF AND INTRINSIC TO RURAL NSW. I HAVE A GREAT FEELING FOR THESE BOARDS. I GUESS IT’S THE CULTURE THEY REPRESENT AND, OF COURSE, THE EXTRAORDINARILY IMPORTANT ROLE THEY PLAY.

I AM TEMPTED TO WONDER “WHY ME”? HERE I AM, AS SOMEBODY ONCE SAID, A BROKEN DOWN STOCK AND STATION AGENT TURNED HUMBLE FARMER, BUT BEYOND FAMILY AND SPORT, MY LIFE HAS BEEN DOMINATED BY VERY STRONG INTERESTS IN AGRICULTURE AND PARTICULARLY IN THE ECONOMICS OF AGRICULTURE - IF YOU LIKE, THE BUSINESS WORLD AS IT RELATES TO THE BUSH.

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FASCINATED BY THE CONNECTION BETWEEN THEORY AND PRACTICE AND AM ALWAYS KEEN TO TEST NEW THEORIES IN THE PRACTICAL WORLD AND, LIKEWISE, TO TRY TO ANALYSE PRACTICAL SUCCESSES - INDUSTRIES, METHODS, WHATEVER - THAT APPEAR TO ME TO BE SUCCESSFUL AND TO TRY TO DETERMINE WHY THAT IS THE CASE.

I GUESS AT THE OUTSET I SHOULD TELL YOU TWO THINGS ABOUT MYSELF.

FIRSTLY, I CANNOT HELP VIEWING ISSUES THROUGH WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL AN “ECONOMIC PRISM”. I SEE THINGS IN TERMS OF THEIR ECONOMICS - IF YOU LIKE, THEIR ABILITY TO MAKE PROFITS, BOTH SHORT AND LONG TERM, AND I’M A GREAT BELIEVER THAT ONE MUST NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE LONGER TERM.

RECENTLY I HAVE BEEN ASKED BY THE DEPUTY P.M. TO CHAIR WHAT WE JOKINGLY CALL THE “NEW STATE”. THE NEW STATE IS THE AREA WHICH REJOICES UNDER THE EXTRAORDINARY NAME OF “THE DARLING MATILDA WAY SUSTAINABLE REGION”. THIS IS PART OF THE DOTARS (DEPT OF TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL SERVICES) METHODS OF ENDEAVOURING TO STIMULATE ECONOMIC ACTIVITY IN WHAT ARE ASSESSED TO BE DEPRESSED AREAS. THIS PARTICULAR REGION, WHICH WAS PROMISED IN THE LAST ELECTION AND HAS ONLY JUST COME INTO BEING, IS ACTUALLY THE SAME SIZE AS SOUTH AUSTRALIA, BORDERED ON THE WEST BY THE N.T. & S.A. BORDER, EXTENDS FROM NORTH OF BOULIA ALMOST TO MT ISA, AS FAR EAST AS JERICHO, TAKING IN ARAMAC, LONGREACH AND THEN SOUTH THROUGH BLACKALL, TAMBO, COMING DOWN THROUGH CHARLEVILLE, CUNNAMULLA, BOURKE, BREWARRINA, COBAR, HILLSTON AND THEN THE WESTERN SIDE OF THE LACHLAN RIVER RIGHT DOWN TO BALRANALD TO WENTWORTH. AS I SAY, AN AREA EQUAL IN SIZE TO SOUTH AUSTRALIAN AND WITH A POPULATION OF ONLY 80,000 PEOPLE, 20,000 OF WHOM ARE IN THE MAJOR CITY IN THE AREA OF BROKEN HILL.

THIS TASK HAS LED ME TO THINKING ABOUT WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN TERMS OF PEOPLE’S STANDARD OF LIVING, WELLBEING, ENJOYMENT OF LIFE AND WHAT ARE THE THINGS THAT CAN BE DONE TO IMPROVE THAT. AND AGAIN, MY ECONOMIC PRISM SUGGESTS TO ME THAT IT’S ALL ABOUT JOBS, JOBS, JOBS. AND NOT ONLY FOR ECONOMIC REASONS, BUT IT SEEMS TO ME THAT IF A PERSON CAN GET A JOB, OR PERHAPS IN THE FIRST PLACE, BE ENCOURAGED TO SEEK A JOB, AND THEN CAN GET A JOB, THEN IT LEADS TO ALL SORTS OF SOCIAL BENEFITS, PERSONAL BENEFITS, SELF RESPECT, SELF ESTEEM, PURPOSE AND ALSO THERE’S CONSIDERABLE EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST THAT BEHAVIOR, HEALTH ISSUES ALL IMPROVE WHEN PEOPLE GET A JOB. SO THE CHALLENGE OF THIS COMMITTEE (AND THE OTHER REGIONS) IS WHAT ECONOMIC ACTIVITY CAN YOU ENCOURAGE - AND THAT MAY NOT BE JUST WITH MONEY - IT MAY WELL BE WITH IDEAS - SO THAT JOBS CAN BE CREATED AND SO THAT AREAS CAN RAISE STANDARDS OF LIVING AND BECOME MORE PLEASANT PLACES TO LIVE AND PLACES WHERE PEOPLE WANT TO LIVE.

SO THAT’S THE FIRST THING I SHOULD TELL YOU ABOUT MYSELF - MY ECONOMIC PRISM HANG-UP.

MY SECOND IS, A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM! THAT IS THAT I JUST CANNOT HANDLE NEGATIVITY. I CANNOT STAND PEOPLE CONSTANTLY TELLING ME WHAT CAN’T BE DONE. THAT’S A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM THAT I HAVE TO LIVE WITH.

I WAS GIVEN NO SCRIPT FOR TODAY - I HAVEN’T BEEN TOLD ANYTHING IN TERMS OF WHAT IS EXPECTED OF ME IN THESE OPENING COMMENTS, EXCEPT THERE WAS A COMMENT ABOUT “DON’T BE TOO BORING” SO I’LL TRY NOT TO DO THAT.

SO OF COURSE IT’S A GREAT OPPORTUNITY TO INDULGE ONESELF AND TALK ABOUT SOME FAVOURITE THEMES - THE BEST ADVICE I’D EVER HEARD GIVEN TO SPEECH MAKERS WAS TO STAND UP, SPEAK UP AND SHUT UP! AND FOR SPEECH STRUCTURE YOU SHOULD SAY WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO SAY, SAY IT, AND THEN SAY WHAT YOU SAID.

SO - WHAT AM I GOING TO SAY?

I’D LIKE TO TAKE UP SOME FAVOURITE THEMES AND THEN COMPARE THEM WITH WHAT I WOULD LIKE CALL THE P.P. BOARD MODEL. PROBABLY NO FIRM CONCLUSIONS CAN BE REACHED, BUT AT LEAST IT MAY STIMULATE SOME THINKING AND I’D LIKE TO SHARE A FEW THOUGHTS WITH YOU.

SO THAT’S WHAT I’M GOING TO SAY. NOW I’LL SAY IT.

I’D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT CENTRALISATION VERSUS DECENTRALISATION - AND AS A NATURAL EXTENSION, EFFECTIVENESS VERSUS DUPLICATION. AS AN EXAMPLE, LET’S TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT SHIRE COUNCILS - ANOTHER LOCAL GOVERNMENT BODY. AS YOU KNOW, THERE HAS RECENTLY BEEN A PUSH TO MERGE SHIRE COUNCILS AND, OF COURSE IT’S HAPPENED QUITE EXTENSIVELY IN VICTORIA. I HAVE VERY SERIOUS DOUBTS ABOUT THAT. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT A LOCAL SHIRE, WITH EMPHASIS ON THE WORD “LOCAL” IS LOCALLY ACCOUNTABLE TO THE PEOPLE WHO ELECT IT, IS VERY CLOSELY IN TOUCH WITH THE ISSUES BECAUSE IT’S LOCAL, AND THUS, CAN BE VERY RESPONSIVE. I WOULD SUGGEST THAT A LOCAL BODY IS GENERALLY HIGHLY EFFECTIVE, AND NEEDS TO BE IN THE EYES OF STAKEHOLDERS WHO, OF COURSE, ARE CLOSE BY. YOU CAN ARGUE AND IT’S VERY EASY DEMONSTRATE, THAT IF YOU PUT TWO OR THREE SHIRES TOGETHER, THEN YOU ONLY HAVE ONE LEVEL OF MANAGEMENT - YOU AVOID DUPLICATION. YOU HAVE ONE SHIRE CLERK, YOU HAVE ONE SHIRE ENGINEER - AND THE DUPLICATION COSTS ARE VERY OBVIOUS, VERY MEASURABLE AND VERY EASY TO ARGUE. WHAT IS FAR HARDER TO ARGUE AND FAR HARDER TO DEMONSTRATE BUT, IN MY OPINION, VERY REAL, IS THAT THOSE PEOPLE ARE ESSENTIALLY LESS EFFECTIVE. THEY ARE FURTHER FROM THE ACTION. THEY ARE NOT AS IN TOUCH WITH THE LOCAL WISHES IN EACH OF THE AREAS AND TO SOME EXTENT, THEY DON’T HAVE THE SAME PRESSURES TO CONTAIN THE RATES WITHIN THEIR AREA BECAUSE THEY ARE SPREAD MORE WIDELY.

SO, MY BOTTOM LINE IS THAT ONE NEEDS TO LOOK VERY HARD AT THE EFFECTIVENESS COSTS THAT ARE VERY OFTEN INCURRED WHEN THE DUPLICATION SAVINGS ARE ARGUED, AND OFTEN ACHIEVED.

ANOTHER EXAMPLE I WOULD LIKE TO GIVE YOU IS THE DEMISE OF HOSPITAL BOARDS. I THINK THAT HAS BEEN A VERY, VERY BAD MISTAKE IN TERMS OF ADMINISTRATION, FOR THE SAME REASONS THAT IT’S REMOVED LOCAL OWNERSHIP, LOCAL IDENTIFICATION. DEMOCRACY WORKS, HOSPITAL BOARDS WERE ELECTED, AS YOU ARE, AND YOU HAVE TO BE ACCOUNTABLE, AND YOU HAVE TO BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR YOUR EFFECTIVENESS, AND FOR YOUR COSTS. WHAT I OBSERVE IN THE HEALTH AREA IS A LOSS OF OWNERSHIP, DETACHMENT, AND I THINK I OBSERVE MASSIVE BUREAUCRATIC COSTS THAT ARE GENERALLY HIDDEN FROM THE LOCAL PUBLIC.

TECHNOLOGY, OF COURSE, IMPACTS UPON THIS DEBATE ABOUT WHAT SHOULD BE CENTRALISED AND WHAT SHOULD BE DECENTRALISED. I MUST SAY, WITH ALL HUMILITY, THAT MY COMPANY HAS PRACTICED WHAT WE PREACH IN THIS AREA. AS SOME OF YOU WILL KNOW THE CLYDE BUSINESS STRETCHES FROM LONGREACH ON THE TROPIC OF CAPRICORN ALMOST TO DUBBO IN THE SOUTH, AND FROM WEST OF BOURKE TO WALCHA IN THE EAST - THE ‘D’ DIVISION OF THE ARMIDALE P.P. BOARD IF YOU LIKE - AND YET WE RUN THAT BUSINESS OUT OF BOURKE. OUR ACCOUNTANT IS IN BOURKE, OUR NEWLY APPOINTED GENERAL MANAGER - PASTORAL WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE STATIONS, IS NOW BASED IN BOURKE, OUR COTTON OPERATION, WHICH IS THE LARGEST PART OF OUR BUSINESS, OR WAS, DEPENDING ON WHETHER WE CAN KEEP ACCESS TO A REASONABLE AMOUNT WATER - IS BASED ALONG THE DARLING RIVER FROM BREWARRINA DOWN TOWARDS LOUTH. AND WE ARE RUNNING THAT BUSINESS OUT OF BOURKE - I HAVE SAID TO OUR PEOPLE THAT I BELIEVE THEY MUST HAVE, AND WE WILL ENSURE THEY ARE PROVIDED TO THE EXTENT THAT SERVICES ALLOW, WITH EVERY AID THAT THEY WOULD HAVE IF THEY WERE IN THE CITY. AND THAT, OF COURSE, IS VERY MUCH IN THE AREA OF TECHNOLOGY AND I THINK I CAN SAY (THOSE OPPOSED TO THE SALE OF TELSTRA MIGHT BE INTERESTED) THAT IN FACT THEY HAVE THAT - WITH TWO-WAY SATELLITE CONNECTIONS THROUGH THE INTERNET. I’M ENCOURAGED BY THE EXTENT THAT WE’VE BEEN ABLE TO ATTRACT SPECIALIST PEOPLE - I.T. SPECIALISTS, ACCOUNTANTS, AGRONOMISTS - AND I THINK IT WORKS. I GET GREAT COMFORT FROM THE FACT THAT I KNOW WHEN I RING UP THE ACCOUNTANT AND ASK HIM WHERE WE ARE UP TO WITH OUR COTTON DELIVERIES, HE CAN ACTUALLY LOOK OUT THE WINDOW AND AT LEAST SEE THE PRODUCT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, RATHER THAN HAVING PEOPLE WORKING IN A REMOTE OFFICE, SAY IN SYDNEY.

BUT TECHNOLOGY DOES HAVE AN IMPACT. SOME OF THE TECHNOLOGY DOES NEED VOLUME, DOES REQUIRE SOME CENTRALISATION TO JUSTIFY THAT VOLUME. BUT ONCE AGAIN, ONE HAS TO BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T CREATE A SPECIALIST JOB WHEN PREVIOUSLY IT WAS SPREAD LIGHTLY ACROSS MANY PEOPLE BECAUSE THE SPECIALIST APPOINTMENT ONLY LEADS TO INCREASED OVERHEADS.

AUSTRALIA HAS MADE GREAT PROGRESS IN THE LAST TWO DECADES. MUCH OF IT, I MUST SAY, INITIATED BY THE LABOR PARTY BUT CARRIED ON IN THESE VERY SUCCESSFUL TEN YEARS OF HOWARD GOVERNMENT. BUT WE STILL HAVE SOME LARGE, WASTEFUL, BLOATED BUREAUCRACIES. MY FORMER BOSS, EDWARD SCOTT, WHO HAD THE GREATEST HATRED OF BUREAUCRACY OF ANYONE I’VE EVER KNOWN, AND WENT TO ENORMOUS LENGTHS IN THE SWIRE BUSINESS IN AUSTRALIA TO AVOID PEOPLE PLAYING THE BUSINESS GAME - PEOPLE, IF YOU LIKE, MORE FOCUSSED ON PROCESS THAN ON OUTCOMES - AND I OBSERVE THAT VERY CONSIDERABLY WITHIN GOVERNMENT. WE HAVE AN INSURANCE BROKER WHO HAS A VERY INTERESTING WAY OF GOING ABOUT THEIR BUSINESS. OF COURSE, TO GET INTO A COMPANY, TO WIN THEIR INSURANCE BROKERAGE BUSINESS, THEY HAVE TO CONVINCE THE PEOPLE AT THE TOP THAT THEY’RE THE ONES TO DO IT. ONCE THEY’RE GIVEN A JOB - ONCE THEY’VE GO THE BUSINESS - THEIR MODUS OPERANDI IS THEN TO TAKE NOT TOO MUCH NOTICE OF WHAT THE PEOPLE AT THE TOP OF THE COMPANY HAVE TOLD THEM ABOUT WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS, AND GET INTO THE BOWELS OF THE COMPANY, GET ONTO THE SHOP FLOOR, AND FIND OUT WHAT REALLY HAPPENS. THEY FREQUENTLY TELLS ME HOW OFTEN THEY FIND THAT WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING ON THE SHOP FLOOR, IF YOU LIKE, THE FRONT LINE OF ACTIVITY, IS VERY, VERY DIFFERENT TO WHAT THE TOP MANAGEMENT THINK IS HAPPENING. SO ONCE, AGAIN THE NEED FOR DECENTRALISATION, THE NEED TO AVOID BUREAUCRACY, THE NEED TO GET INTO THE HEART OF THINGS TO KNOW WHAT REALLY HAPPENS.

IT’S BECOME VERY UNFASHIONABLE IN RECENT YEARS, TO HAVE A DIVERSIFIED BUSINESS. MORE AND MORE BUSINESSES TODAY ARE SPECIALISTS, AND THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT THE TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS LEAD TO THE NEED FOR INCREASED SPECIALISATION. THERE IS SO MUCH TO UNDERSTAND. AND I MUST SAY I USE THE WORD “FOCUS” (CONCENTRATION IF YOU LIKE) A GREAT DEAL IN MY EVERYDAY ACTIVITIES. WITHIN CLYDE, THE PEOPLE IN OUR COTTON BUSINESS DO NOTHING ELSE BUT COTTON. AND LET ME TELL YOU IN THIS GREAT AUSTRALIAN INDUSTRY, AN INDUSTRY I’VE GROWN TO LOVE IN MY RECENT CONNECTION WITH IT, BECAUSE OF THE GREAT SCIENCE, THE GREAT SHARING OF KNOWLEDGE, THE FREEDOM FROM GOVERNMENT CONTROL OR GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT EVEN - EXCEPT ON THE VERY BROADER ISSUES - I HAVE THE GREATEST RESPECT AND GREAT LOVE FOR THIS INDUSTRY WHICH IS QUITE A NEW THING IN MY SECOND CAREER. BUT IF OUR PEOPLE ARE SUCCESSFUL WITH COTTON, THEY’LL BE DOING WELL, AND THERE WILL BE QUITE ENOUGH TO CHALLENGE THEM, FOR THEM TO HANDLE, WITHOUT THEM HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT LIVESTOCK OR GRAIN PRODUCTION OR SOME OTHER PART OF THE BUSINESS.

I THINK IN ALL OF THESE ISSUES, SURPRISE AS IT MAY COME TO YOU TO HEAR ME SAY IT, YOU CANNOT BE DOGMATIC. THERE IS NO SINGLE RIGHT WAY. I THINK THE MOST IMPORTANT WORD IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IS BALANCE, AND IT’S A MATTER OF GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT. ALTHOUGH ONE ALSO NEEDS TO REMEMBER THAT WHAT MIGHT BE RIGHT TODAY MAY NOT BE RIGHT TOMORROW, OR NEXT YEAR, OR IN 10 YEARS TIME. I LIKE THE WORD ”DYNAMIC”. THINGS ARE CONSTANTLY CHANGING AND THEREFORE WHEN WE THINK WE’VE GOT IT ALL WORKED OUT AND WE’VE GOT IT ALL SET UP THE WAY IT OUGHT TO BE - LOOK OUT! - BECAUSE THINGS DO CHANGE.

NOW WHAT HAS ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH RLPB’s? WELL I THINK IT’S GOT QUITE A LOT TO DO WITH THEM - BECAUSE I THINK YOU HAVE A MODEL THAT WORKS AND I HAVE THE GREATEST RESPECT FOR IT. YOU ARE COOPERATING, AS I HAVE OBSERVED, TO DO CENTRALLY THOSE FEW THINGS THAT NEED TO BE DONE CENTRALLY - TECHNOLOGY, I.T. SYSTEMS, BUSINESS PRACTICES - BUT YOU ARE A DECENTRALISED ORGANISATION, LOCALLY ACCOUNTABLE, DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED AND FOCUSSED ON A RELATIVELY NARROW RANGE OF RESPONSIBILITIES. I JUST ASK YOU TO FIGHT TO PRESERVE IT. WATCH THE GROWTH OF CENTRALISED BUREAUCRACY. BUT I DON’T SEE ANY DANGER SIGNS. PERHAPS, AS GOVERNMENTS WIND BACK (AS I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD), THERE ARE ADDITIONAL THINGS THAT YOU COULD TAKE ON. BUT JUST BE VERY CAREFUL OF THE RISK OF LOSING FOCUS.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THANK YOU FOR LETTING ME INDULGE MYSELF WITH THOSE FEW THOUGHTS. I HOPE I HAVE SUCCEEDED IN STIMULATING ONE OR TWO IN YOUR MINDS. THANK YOU FOR THE HONOUR OF ASKING ME TO OPEN THIS, YOUR CENTENARY CONFERENCE, AND I HAVE I GREAT PLEASURE IN DECLARING IT OFFICIALLY OPEN.

(JDOB - 15.6.05)
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