On COLLABORATION writ LARGE and the urgent need to get it right with our most valuable assets, cities

5 December 2013 – There’s been a lot of criticism of the Greens lately: they don’t negotiate; they are anti-development; they don’t care about the economy or business.

Well, whatever her reasons, Christine Milne must be one shrewd, Machiavellian operator is all we can say.

In this week’s deal with PM Tony Abbott, Milne has shown exactly how she can negotiate. And exactly how she can co-operate with business (Nicolo would approve).

It’s earned her brownie points (instead of the greenie variety) and should set things up nicely for the next bout.

And what might that be?

See the rather excellent defence of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation by Senator Scott Ludlam who points out that the government gets into a hot and lathery sweat about getting rid of red tape and green tape and meanwhile cobbles up more brown tape.

For goodness’ sake, why would a federal government get rid of something that makes it money? To replace it with stupid programs that don’t? Remember the insulation fiasco?

Even the conservative side of the leadership is getting upset.

Some common sense came this week from Senator John Madigan from the Democratic Labour Party, who supports getting rid of the carbon tax, but said the clean energy legislation introduced in the last parliament did have “useful and important initiatives”, and the CEFC was one of these.

“I suggest that abolishing the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is ideologically driven,” he told the Senate. “You do not solve practical problems by ideology.”

How embarrassed the more reasonable conservatives must feel.

But here’s a thought. We need to put all these false starts aside. We are after all on the same side and it’s clear this government needs all our help.

The important message that comes soaring through is COLLABORATION. Writ large.

We need to get on with the job of saving this government before it sends us all down the gurgler.

People talk tough in opposition (we’re looking at you Bill… and waiting) but get them into government and it’s all a little bit scarier.

So let’s be just a bit collegiate and collaborative and help these fellas out. (Well, we can see one woman but she’s perennially out on call to patch things up with the growing list of nations angry with Australia. This week it’s poor East Timor’s turn to be grossly insulted.)

Now about the carbon tax… The US is starting to grapple with it and some of the folk switching sides from the über conservative Heartland Institute which spawned the Tea Party and the world’s climate sceptics, say the US can get one by 2015.

But in Oz? Yawn. Does anyone really care?

Okay, it would make things so much easier. But we’ve moved on. We get it. Don’t care.

Solar for households reached 3GW this week and Melbourne City Council and other local councils have identified 14 hectares of nice sunny roofspace that could boost that number again.

We’re like the Kiwis of the world. Out there crazy-radical and deadly serious.

We have moved on.

As John Matthews said in The Conversation (republished by us here), railways did not succeed because of a tax on canals and computers didn’t take off because of a tax on typewriters.

Our webinar series told the same story. Because it’s live and interactive you get immediate feedback on how the topics are being received.

On this week’s session about generating your own energy, largely on solar, the cyber wires ran hot with questions.

And the poll on what the key drivers to distributed generation was equally interesting: price was the main driver, but the need to cut carbon emissions was a very close second.

We can say we are proud of this industry.

The webinar also demonstrated the need for collaboration and the results that in our case added up to far more than the sum of the parts.

Coming together to present the expert content were three companies that sometimes do compete: Energetics, AGL and Envizi.

But the fact they we’re working together is a signal to the market that the information presented is passing the tests of peer filters.

The Abbott/Milne coalition will not be dancing alone.

From the US based Politico comes an inkling of the future in collaboration. Note these items:

In Appalachia, greens are banding together with the Tennessee Conservative Union to oppose mountaintop mining.

In Georgia, the Sierra Club and Atlanta’s tea party have formed a Green Tea Coalition that is demanding a bigger role for solar power in the state’s energy market.

Elsewhere, veterans of the George W Bush administration are working with the Environmental Defense Fund on market-based ideas for protecting endangered species.

It’s not yet a broad national trend, and may not be enough to begin dampening Washington’s bitter left–right split over President Barack Obama’s environmental policies.

But some activists – particularly outside the Beltway – see potential for the kinds of coalitions that used to get big things done, back in the days when Theodore Roosevelt was creating national parks and George HW Bush’s administration was taking on acid rain.

“I do think there’s a big schism there, but there are some things we can all agree on,” said Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union.

Daugherty’s group – and its roughly 15,000 members – joined an effort with environmentalists last spring against mountaintop mining. While Daugherty and his organisation had long privately objected to the mining because of its effect on property rights, hunting and fishing, he decided to fight publicly after a Chinese company bought mineral rights in Tennessee.

Glenn Hurowitz, a senior member of Catapult and a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, says the divide between conservatives and eco-activists has spawned a “newer generation of Republicans who have allowed a drive for limited government to overshadow everything else”.

“Most of them now are influenced by talk shows,” said Daugherty, a radio talk show host himself and former Southern field director for Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign.

“It’s become too easy for conservatives to label anybody who cares about conservation as tree huggers.”

Read more: https://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/activists-conservatives-green-effort-100509.html#ixzz2mLxYjblP

Collaboration to avoid

The kind of collaboration we don’t want, is the kind that comes from huddles behind closed doors and is really a cabal of nefarious intent.

Such as whoever is advising the PM for instance. Smart man that he is, it must hurt when he is prodded by those lobbyists’ muzzles to face the media and say something he palpably knows is dumb and short sighted.

Cities: Follow the money trail, you can’t go wrong, Mr Abbott

Last month, UK-based Prospect Magazine published an excellent analysis of the big city dilemmas by John McDermott.

McDermott starts with a JP Morgan advice to investors in 2012 in the wake of Cyclone GFC, to see real capital as the best investment in the foreseeable future.

“Heavy on faux profundity and light on verbs, The Realization argued that when it comes to asset management, we are entering ‘A new world. A new normal. A tectonic shift.’”

The McDermott article said:

“Investment portfolios typically hold only a mix of stocks and bonds. However, the former is too volatile and the latter yields too little, a result of quantitative easing (injecting money into the economy) in the West, and capital flows from the East, according to JPMorgan. It is time to get real, the bank suggested.

“The real assets category offers investors ‘optionality’ in a world of uncertainty.”

Everyone in property knows what “real assets” means: property. Extended to ports, toll roads, anything that doesn’t move. In some European languages real estate is literally translated as “immobile”.

Rich global investors seem to have taken the advice to heart, bought up big in the dress circles of the biggest cities. In ?Melbourne and Sydney too, we hear

And they’re pushing up prices by massive leaps so that much property, especially new apartments, are out of reach of ordinary Londoners in McDermott’s case and “ordinary Australians” here.

Sometimes these properties remain empty. For long-term investment purposes.

McDermott say the foreigners are investing as much in the inefficient property taxes of the UK as in the physical asset. And that’s possibly the case in Australia as well.


But maybe the physical asset is itself irresistible even if the tax regime stopped being so skewed.

The investors may be so wealthy they don’t care about the tax structure.

They may also be paying more than locals because they see something that Londoners and Australians possibly don’t see.

If they come from Russia, the Middle East or China, they may be responding to the most desirable asset of all: place.

They might see the threats to the natural environment in their home towns and see a relatively stable physical, social and economic environment, just right to park their squillions.

It makes sense.

With the planet under threat the value of the best places will only increase.

Capitalism after all is based on scarcity: demand and supply. The higher the demand and the lower the supply, the higher the price.

And after food and clothing, it’s housing we all desire.

The clever analysts who work at JP Morgan are paid to be purely rational, mathematical scientific creatures.

After all they can’t afford to play politics or favouritism with money, And they’ve come up with the same ultimate asset that the majority of people most value as well.

And yet the Australia federal government has turned its back on cities by dumping the Major Cities Unit.

It’s hard to see any economic or rational reason to do so.

Cities are the engine of the economy. And of our sanity and happiness.

McDermott cites Richard Florida and Ed Glaeser to illustrate the value of density and diversity. And to attract diversity, cities need to be affordable.

The Major Cities Unit was starting to get a conversation going on how to connect the dots and get the huge machinery that cities are to work together.

The first two State of Australian Cities reports notched up a massive million downloads each (We haven’t checked numbers for the third, this year).

Lucy Turnbull who was a member of a cities advisory panel to the Council of Australian Governments endorsed this agenda and it’s clear she is sorry to see it go.

These issues are complex, they pit greens against environmentalist who want to protect our urban growth boundaries and agricultural land.

As Turnbull pointed out, there are generational conflicts emerging, with many of those opposing greater densities tending to be older people.

There are plenty of opposing views to this of course, but the point is that we need to work this out together; bringing the opposite sides together, collaboratively.

Why wreck the one structure that was starting to get real traction?

McDermott said:

Density is the currency of urban economics. Bring people – especially creative, industrious, high-skilled people – closer together and productivity increases.

Glaeser’s rough estimate is that a 10 per cent increase in density leads to a 0.6 per cent productivity gain. The bigger the share of the gain that goes to the person rather than her boss or more pertinently her landlord, the better that will be for everyone.

How to make London bigger and denser yet cheaper to live in should be the crucial aim of policy.