White Bay Power Station in Rozelle, NSW. Photo: James Porteous, CSIRO

News from the front desk, issue 519: As Australia’s “miracle” economy cranks up as close as possible to full speed – barring any repercussions from the end of JobKeeper and its potential to termite-seed the recovery – the young, the restless and every other cohort seems to be shifting places.

Let’s take a look at what this means for the shape of our industry and prospects for this fast moving year.

Waste no more

A high profile move that’s indicative of a rapidly changing world was REMONDIS Australia appointing Lisa McCutchion for a senior role after her long stint of more than 13 years at Frasers Property Australia (and a year’s sabbatical).

Her new outfit globally is huge, with 30,000 employees and about 900 business locations. It’s also hired another senior executive

Helen McCarthy as national environment and sustainability manager, enticing her across from rival Veolia. A former role for McCarthy includes with the Department of Climate Change & Energy Efficiency.

Lisa McCutchion

McCutchion’s new gig as national marketing manager blends marketing and comms in the sustainability sector, which she reports is her “happy place”. 

“There’s no shortage of interesting marcomms challenges in the waste management industry,” she told The Fifth Estate.

“The industry is taking on new roles in the circular economy and embracing the responsibilities and opportunities of a resource-constrained future. We’re seeing a fundamental repositioning from service provider to resource manager, from invisible to prominent – from dowdy to sexy.”

This is clearly a good pick of the zeitgeist by McCutchion and McCarthy. The huge interest and big expectations for the circular economy are starting to bear fruit. There’s billions of dollars sloshing around the industry as giants in the waste management industry compete for buyouts (Veolia, Bingo Industries, Cleanaway) and now the smart influential operators are in the thick of things.

Another heavy hitter in the space is Maria Atkinson, who is on the board of Bingo Industries and is a co-founder of the Green Building Council of Australia.

Watch this space.

NSW government hires and fires

In NSW, the state government seems to be hiring and firing at almost the same rate, if you look the sacking of former PM Malcom Turnbull from its new Net Zero Emissions board just a week after appointing him, (on the say so, it seems, of the Daily Telegraph, which has clearly taken over the job of directing government policy after the departure of shock jock Alan Jones from this role.)

The problem it seems was that Turnbull called for a moratorium on new coal mines as a pretty good way, you’d think, of achieving the goals of his new outfit. But no. Perhaps the tools he was expected to use needed to be restricted to smoke and mirrors.

We feel a bit sympathetic for energy minister Matt Kean (who we’ve praised in the past for his support of clean energy) and who was tasked with the axe. He told ABC’s Radio National this week he was forced to rescind the gig for Turnbull after a backlash from colleagues. We can only imagine the behind the scenes nastiness given the coal lobby’s past performance in politics.

Expect more such pressure on the government now that evil empire’s chief scion Lachlan Murdoch is back in Sydney with family in tow and striding the corridors of Holt Street.

Two investment agencies in NSW for the price of one

On the positive hiring side, a recent government appointment in NSW is the hiring of Eamon Waterford for a new role as chief advisor for Investment NSW, a so-called new “super-agency” designed to attract investment, people and talent generally to NSW. (Not to be confused with Invest NSW, based in Armidale.)

It’s particularly timed to take advantage of Covid and the Australian diaspora that the pandemic has forced back home. Last we looked, there were at least 500,000 returning Aussies that you might expect includes a lot of our best and brightest – the people who typically seek greener pastures off shore and are not afraid to back themselves to do so.

(The outward bound route, by the way, is called the “brain drain”; inbound it’s called the “brain gain”.)

Waterford was previously deputy chief executive of the Committee for Sydney where, over six years, he was involved in policy issues and led research including Unleashing Sydney’s Innovation Economy and The Sandstone Mega-Region.

He told The Fifth Estate he was really looking forward to the challenge of grasping this rare Covid “opportunity”.

The role of the new agency, he says, is really to support the state and bolster what’s already happening, attracting the people looking around the globe for the best precincts, finding the “brightest people, companies and ideas and bringing them to NSW”. Marvel Movies, for one, has already committed to making all its movies in Sydney for at least the next five years.

New CEO of the agency, announced in late March, is Amy Brown, who seems tailor made for the job. She comes from a background as deputy secretary in the Department of Premier and Cabinet and has a string of other high profile positions to her name including partner with PwC, director of structure finance unit with NSW government and with MinterEllison and Barclays in London where she was legal counsel.

Amy Brown

Brown told The Fifth Estate she’s genuinely excited about creating opportunities for jobs, attracting investment from overseas and welcoming corporates that want to set up headquarters here for the Asia Pacific region or globally.

There will be a concierge on a “what do you need from NSW?” kind of approach. Payroll exemptions, streamlined planning or finding how to invest in skills and technology, anything at all will be part of the service.

In addition, there’s also the promise of help for domestic businesses such as how to commercialise innovations and export to other countries.

“NSW is really well placed for advanced manufacturing technology,” she says, and more broadly bio tech, clean tech, renewables, green sustainable jobs and the uplift in skills to go with them.

Encouragingly, Brown noted universities were a “hot bed of entrepreneurism” with ideas and that needed commercialising.

She pointed to the report by NSW Parliamentary Secretary Gabrielle Upton on how to accelerate NSW business by bringing together the “brightest minds in universities and industry and how to translate that to useable products”. 

There’s no hiring spree about to take place, though, rather a realignment of people from other agencies in a more strategic way. One trick will be to use the existing tourism agency networks and their links in various corners of the globe to latch onto more business-oriented connections.

Waterford says that precinct wise, there is a “really interesting story to be told about Bays West”, the area around the White Bay Power Station in Balmain.

“It’s a microcosm of challenges we face here and with Sydney Harbour more broadly with so many competing uses that need to co exist with current uses,” he says, mentioning the appeal of the area to tech companies, the working harbour, the cruise ship terminal (and of course, he doesn’t say, but we do, the massive, scorched-earth legacy left by the West Connex).

Would this precinct compete with the Central Station area increasingly identified with Atlassian? If it did, Central would win, Waterford says. With Melbourne? Not so much, he says. The real competition is the rest of the world. So, Australia working together.

[All good if we can get our antediluvian policies on women and climate sorted, because you can expect the truly talented – males and females – alike to high tail it out of this country, as soon as it’s halfway safe to travel, given our exposure to heating, flooding, fire and sexism.]

And all good if we can get our land use policies into some kind of rational alignment with the economic objectives of the state and if the residential development lobby doesn’t usurp all useable space for apartments and townhouses. Because that’s what produces the easy squillions.

We need to remember what happened the last time the government looked at redeveloping the White Bay precinct when chief executive officer of UrbanGrowth NSW David Pitchford rejected all proposals because they were uniformly residential, in the process disappointing 13 major developers and wasting millions of dollars. The result? He didn’t last long in the job and in the end the entire agency was disassembled. See our coverage of this at the time.

Let’s hope the new improved NSW government has more stamina than in previous years and protects our employment lands.

What the public – and government through its treasuries and productivity commissions, state and federal – often fails to get about zoning is that we need good quality space in the right locations if you hope to attract the bright young things that can create our new industries in high tech, bio tech, med tech and so on: they don’t want to work in Blacktown (apologies Blacktown) and there might be good reason to be located close to supply routes.

But resi developers can blow the capacity for these employment zones out of the water by offering sometimes twice the value of land if it can be rezoned from industrial or commercial to residential.

NSW planning minister Rob Stokes, who promised there would be no spot rezoning when he started in current role, seems to have now left the door open for challenges to that (and the above). Pressure again.

When employment lands are swallowed up, the resi industry can make squillions but the people who provide real economic value and jobs are sidelined to marginal areas. 

Check out our recent two-part look at this issue:

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  1. Its really incredible that so much effort needs to be made, and capital and human resources put into the ‘circular economy’ [and waste management] to offset the ghastly ongoing moral and actual impact of the coal industry that still has this country by the jugular. I just cannot understand how the populace puts up with it? What is wrong with Australia?

  2. The waste industry is going through a renaissance and completely reinventing its image, and approach to the impact it can have on society. So super smart move by Remondis. I can’t imagine a more intelligent placement than Lisa McCutchion. Her marketing, comms and sustainability knowledge is unmatched in this country.