Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Census 2016 A Brighter Future?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) logo statement for its Census is "A Brighter Future" but its controversial proposal to dump the 2016 Census in favour of Censuses every 10 years has rung alarm bells about what this future might mean!

Australia, New Zealand, Canada are amongst those countries that continue to undertake 5 yearly Censuses, providing timely population, household and working data information public and private sector decision making. Naturally, the costs and resources involved in such an undertaking are high. The ABS has cited the $440million costs of the 2011 Census collection as a key consideration in evaluating its options for 2016 and beyond. Moreover, the ABS has indicated that whilst it has actively been preparing to conduct the 2016 Census, it has just as actively been preparing other strategies and approaches to not undertake the Census in 2016. The problem here is, what does this mean for those businesses, planning organisations and government agencies relying on the future release of data from the 2016 Census to assist their own planning decisions?

The implications and impacts are and will be far reaching of any major change to the ABS’s collection and dissemination of data. But why the cloak and dagger games? Why only now, when there is little time for other organisations to plan for their own data interrogation, has the ABS started this discussion?

New Zealand is also considering the future of its data collection and Census programs, but has undertaken consultation and prepared a range of technical papers reviewing the options and implications of Census periods and alternative collection methods. Statistics New Zealand has maintained a clear and transparent strategy in reviewing its Census process, and has a clear mandate to phase in a range of alternative collection tools, recognising that rapid change to collection methods will not only have teething problems when it comes to the rigour and validity of the data, but the needs of the many stakeholders relying on the validity and timeliness of the data must also be considered. Something perhaps the ABS has forgotten in its haste to stave off costs?

This is simply not a change that can be implemented over night, or even within 12months. Let us not forget the labour force statistics farce the ABS has needed to rectify!

Whilst there are alternative methods of collection – eg. increasing mail distribution of the survey and internet response rates, there are a raft of administrative methods that could also be applied, as are increasingly investigated and utilised in countries such as Italy. Collection and collation of administrative data such as electoral role, taxation and Centrelink information would offer a range of population, key demographic and socio-economic variables that can be updated regularly and present a useful snapshot between major Censuses or as alternative collection method. However, these administrative methods certainly take considerable time to adopt, implement, correlate and geographically reference. Extreme Data Mining! Confirming the validity of the collection and collation of these administrative tools should be based on interrogation with Census data before fully relying on these administrative tools. Not something that can be done with little more than 12 months before the next scheduled Census.

And what about understanding our working population – where people work, and the profile of this working community is also critical in local community planning and investment decision activity. Ensuring that there is a collection method to understand our working communities is vital!

It is not only about the costs of collection to the ABS that need to be factored in. What about the costs to government agencies, the not-for-profit and private sector to collect and collate other data? The impacts on decision making without timely, accurate datasets. A halt to both public and private sector investment activity right at the time we need to be stimulating economic activity in Australia.

This is not “a Brighter Future”. More certainty. More clarity. More information needed!

Monday, November 3, 2014


It has been more than 2 years since Urban Excursions last explored the cruising sector, and with the start of the peak cruising season in Australia, the imminent launch of Quantum of the Seas the world’s largest cruise ship, not to mention the ongoing debate about the Gold Coast cruise ship terminal, our attention once again turns wistfully seaward!
Grand Cayman Is Caribbean Cruise

The Australian cruise sector represents approximately 3.6% of the global cruise market, and is the fastest growing cruising market, with considerable capacity for growth in market penetration. During 2013, approximately 760,000 Australian passengers took a cruise, equivalent to a market penetration of some 3.3%. Deloitte estimated that the cruise ship industry in Australia contributed some $828million (value added) to the Australian economy in 2010/11. In Brisbane alone, it is estimated that the contribution of the cruise industry would double between 2010/11 and 2019/20 (Deloitte), although this is very much dependent on the availability of infrastructure to service the cruise industry.

Worldwide, the cruise industry is in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, with companies competing to build ever grander, larger, more experiential ships, exploring an increasingly exotic array of destinations, and attracting a more diverse market of passengers. Launching in less than one month, the Royal Caribbean’s latest offer, Quantum of the Seas, will have a capacity of almost 5,000 passengers, and will debut a range of new features including Jamie’s Italian restaurant by Jamie Oliver. The emphasis is on new products and experiences designed to “wow!” passengers, creating floating urban oases, complete with health and wellbeing centres, theatres and cinema, recreation and leisure activities, choice in restaurants and dining venues, retail, bars and nightclubs, library etc.

But these floating cities are not only targeting cruise tourists, with a number of studies comparing the costs of living on board as a permanent cruise passenger with the costs of living in a retirement complex. Typically these studies have factored in the cost of the accommodation and access to leisure facilities only and exclude meals, entertainment, and the more esoteric values of travel experiences, your meals cooked for you, etc. Factoring both quantitative and qualitative measures, there may be little difference between cruise retirement and independent retirement living, but would you mind the ongoing influx of new, excitable holiday makers heading straight for the bar and the buffet?

In saying this, there is a range of emerging resident focused cruise ships that seek to remove the insidious holiday hell-raisers, in creating that idyllic cruise-living lifestyle. The most famous of these, The World, was launched in 2002 offering only 165 residences ranging from studio rooms to three bedroom apartments, and worldwide itineraries. Cruise Retirement is also proposing to launch its first vessel in April 2015, particularly aimed at retirees seeking to live permanently or for long periods on board, an alternative to independent living or assisted living retirement, and has visions for a fleet of these cruise retirement lifestyles.

So back to cruise holidays, I have been lucky to have embarked on cruises from epic ports such as Barcelona and Fort Lauderdale, an experience in themselves, in efficiently dealing with thousands of arriving and departing passengers on any one day, unlike the Sydney traffic bottlenecks and long lines of embarking passengers stretching along Darling Harbour waiting, check-in or the often laughed at docking of larger cruise ships and luxury liners at Luggage Point in Brisbane – what a welcome! Certainly, the terminals themselves at Barcelona and Fort Lauderdale are not inducements to spend, and are essentially check in and waiting facilities only – no wasting money before boarding the ship, but they are significant economic and employment generators for their local and regional economies.

It is an accepted rule of thumb in the industry that on average, passengers will spend $100 per person in a port of call on a cruise holiday, in addition to expenditure by crew and direct expenses by the cruise ship on supplies, port taxes and berthing fees etc.

Infrastructure is fundamentally critical to the future growth of Australia’s cruise industry and the economic benefits and opportunities to be enjoyed by Australian ports. In particular, there are considerable opportunities for Brisbane in its proximity to the South Pacific Islands and emerging markets such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, relative to Sydney and Melbourne, to continue to enjoy strong growth and attract larger ships homeporting out of Brisbane or including Brisbane on their itineraries.

So as I await the arrival of Legend of the Seas, the largest cruise ship to be homeporting out of Brisbane from December 2015, I look forward to Brisbane emerging as a truly worldclass cruise port with infrastructure to match. Maybe. One Day.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forget one for mum, one for dad, one for Country - Japan is hoping for "whooooops, that's one for the country!"

A cheeky official in Japan concerned about the livability of his City, suggested secretly distributing punctured condoms to young married couples within his constituency to arrest the Country's rapidly declining birth rate and declining population. Whilst this official has been reprimanded and I am sure civil libertarians are well and truly up in arms over such ideas, if indeed the Country is to arrest these current trends, radical thinking will need to come into play.

Since 2011, the population of Japan has been declining, and by 2050, will approach a population base not seen in the country since the early 1960's, a decline of 80million people post 2011.

The facts are truly alarming in fostering ongoing economic growth and prosperity in Japan, and do require radical thinking in economic sustainability strategies that are based more around wealth creation than population sustaining. It also raises the typical questions of how the working population will sustain and support an aging non-workforce? What sort of health care system to create with what funding? How policy and economic activity will work in with evolving cultural norms? What is the future of the construction sector?

As evident in many developed nations, the declining marriage rate, the delays in the marriage age, delays in having children, and a population living longer, are contributing to the radical change in the population base of Japan. Whilst the birth rate in Niger was an astonishing 46.84 births per 1,000 population, the rate in Japan in 2013 was only 8.23. Here in Australia it was a modest 12.23 births per 1,000 persons. The rapid pace of this change is perhaps the most telling.

In 1970, the median age of brides on their first marriage was 24.2years, and by 2012, this had increased sharply to 29.2 years. Similarly, the median age of first time mothers had increased from 25.6years to 30.3years over this same period, those that are indeed actually having children. A survey released by a local magazine reported that one third of respondents did not see the point in marriage, with 30-somethings particularly ambivalent towards marriage. Given that very few children in Japan (around 2%) are born outside of wedlock, this ambivalence towards marriage suggests an even sharper declining birth rate is likely unless there are major shifts to influence this cultural phenomenon.

Incentives like paid parental leave, baby bonuses etc that have played a part in influencing birth rates in other developed nations are unlikely to influence such an environment where there is ambivalence to the institution of marriage and an increasingly singular culture in Japan. The withdrawal of its youth from society is a critical cause for concern, even coining its own terms - Hikkamori (essentially meaning withdrawing) and SNEP's - Solitary Non-Employed Persons; an effective means of contraception requiring a national commitment to cultural change and understanding not simply deceptive techniques.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Queensland Plan Ambitious, Bold or Achievable?

The Qld Plan makes no excuses for being, in the Premier's words "bold, brassy, in your face" with a big vision for Queensland as a strong, sustainable state.

One of the bold visions in this Plan is promoting population growth in Regional Queensland - doubling the population of Regional Queensland over the next 30 years. This is a major shift in both where population growth has focused in the State, and in State policy thinking. Doubling of the population outside South East Queensland, would essentially equate to a population size of three new Gold Coasts.

The draft Plan had identified a vision of 50% of the State's population living outside SEQld. In context, in 1981 just on 60% of the State's population was living in SEQld. By 2013, SEQ housed just over two thirds of the State's population, suggesting that a 50/50 share of the population would be a major shift over the next 30 years. Certainly when setting an agenda to grow, develop and prosper, it is appropriate to set stretch targets, but they need to have a foundation, substance and be achievable. The Final Plan has now identified that such a split would indeed be ambitious and has modified this vision to doubling the population of Regional Qld over the next 30 years.

The State Government released its own population projections earlier this year, anticipating an INCREASE in the share of the population living in SEQld to 69% by 2036, with a growth of some 600,000 persons projected outside of SEQld to 2036. In order to meet the Qld Plan vision of a doubling of the population in Regional Qld over the next 30 years, an additional 1 million people will need to be moving to Regional Queensland in the decade post 2036. These official population projections are based on trends, what has typically happened, and are utilised by both State and local governments in planning for the provision of infrastructure, development, preparation of new planning schemes. Where and when new schools will be built, additional roads, hospital beds, aged care beds etc.

That there is a major divergence between the State's population projections and its vision for the State suggests that there will need to be a major shift in policy thinking at the State level to commit to investment and infrastructure, in targeting and attracting employment opportunities and ensuring our regional places are attractive places to live, work, play and educate.

Commitment from all levels of government and across all policy streams will be critical, at levels of investment that are unprecedented and requiring community and the commercial sector to back regional winners. This is a strategy aimed at growing the economic wealth of regional Queensland, not putting up the full sign in SEQld, but diversifying Qld's economic base, recognising the geographic alignment and opportunities of northern Queensland with Asia and seeking to improve the wealth and wellbeing of regional Queensland.

Doubling the population in Regional Queensland in 30 years?

Ambitious, a stretch, certainly "out-there" but supported by a clear policy direction across all Government can provide confidence to grow our Regions, to create jobs and opportunities in our Regions and to do so sustainably.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Economic Cup: Australia Versus the Group of Death

The World Economic Cup
June 2014
It has been a long wait, but the time is almost here for the kick-off of the World Economic Cup. Australia has been drawn in the same group as the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. Urban Economics takes a look at the teams and their prospects.

World GDP Ranking (2012): 12th

The clear favourite in this group, Australia continues to kick economic goals on the world stage. Since aligning themselves with the Asian economic leagues, the team has dramatically expanded their export volumes, although they tend to be over-reliant on their mining midfield. The foundations of the team remain solid, having stable governance and incremental economic reforms over many years. With the financial sector as safe as a bank at the back and the always underrated education export sector providing variety in attack, Australia should be able to overcome a lack of depth in manufacturing and will be optimistic of finishing on top of this group.

They are not without their concerns though. Questions remain whether their star-studded mining line-up is past their peak and there is the on-going controversy whether some of Australia’s mining players even qualify to represent the nation. Australia’s high currency remains a concern and their new manager, Tony Abbott, has come in for some heavy criticism regarding his new tactics.

World GDP Ranking (2012): 18th

The match-up between the energy sectors of the Netherlands and Australia promises to be one of the highlights of the tournament. The Netherlands has a strong gas sector, both on-shore and from the North Sea and the team is the fifth largest natural gas exporter.
While the Netherlands may be small in size and population, they have a strong track record and punch well above their weight on the world economic stage. They are the sixth largest exporter (by value) in the world, benefitting from being in the EU. The Netherlands is the second largest exporter (by value) of agricultural products behind only the United States by establishing itself as the world’s leader in the high-end cut flower and live plant export markets.
The team is bolstered by very competitive corporate tax rates. Netherlands will field a side including several players that star in the biggest leagues of the world and will be relying on the bankable ING, the fluidity of Heineken and the guidance of TomTom. This team has the work ethic, resilience, economic structure and big names to go far in this tournament.

World GDP Ranking (2012): 13th

While ranked only one place behind Australia, Spain is a team in turmoil. Repeatedly smashed by Global FC in 2008 and 2009, Spain fell into a deep recession and has yet to substantially recover. Unemployment is rampant, the economy has collapsed and the government’s debt is massive.
Worryingly, this team is notorious for having no energy meaning it must import all its fuel requirements, making it vulnerable to shocks in this sector. Further adding to the nation’s woes, Spain’s youth team has barely gotten onto the economic playing field, with youth unemployment at a staggering 57.7%.
While major troubles continue to plague the team, the sheer volume of their economy, their experience and the backing of the EU mean that this team may well yet be a threat. Spain will be relying on manufacturing and tourism to overcome the resource-based strengths of the other countries in the group. Spain has a large car and car parts manufacturing sector, with major European brands having sizeable plants in Spain. In 2012, Spain was ranked fourth in the world in the number of international visitors, attracting some 57.7 million visitors, almost 10 times that of Australia.

World GDP Ranking (2012): 37th

Don’t let the GDP ranking fool you, this nation is on the rise and is a South American powerhouse. Another team that is dominated by miners, it produces one third of the world’s copper output. A leader in the South American conference, Chile has the highest standard of living and per capita GDP in Latin America.
Even more reliant on their miners than Australia, Chile has been criticised for being too one dimensional in attack. However, with a growing and increasingly influential middle class and bolstered by agricultural exports, particularly wine and fish products, the Chileans will be confident of causing some upsets in this group. Santiago is a thriving city with a growing reputation for innovation.


We predict that Australia will finish on top of this group, with the Netherlands just holding out Chile for second. Spain is unlikely to get a point and will finish last. This, unfortunately, is the exact inverse of our tip for how the group will fare in the football World Cup. Prove us wrong Socceroos!!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Urban Excursions explores New York's Highline

The Highline – New York

With the Federal Budget released this month and the various interest groups still picking their way through the detail *yawn*, Josh takes a detour to New York and guides us down The High Line; an urban reproject that has had economic benefits that nobody budgeted for.

Nowhere in New York is ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ more apparent than the Meatpacking District where fashion, industry, nightlife and culture collide to epitomise New York style. Steeped in history the Meatpacking District as its name suggests was once a hub for trade and included hundreds of slaughterhouses and meatworks which sent and received product via a raised railway now known as ‘The High Line’.

Land on New York’s Manhattan Island is rare and expensive attracting development and investment from the biggest and boldest in the industry. It is of no surprise then, that the area occupied by some 3km of disused and dilapidated railway line dissecting one of its most recognisable areas was under pressure from developers to be torn down, a sentiment shared by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over a decade ago. Come my visit in 2013, The Highline was far from being removed and touted by outgoing Mayor Bloomberg as an ‘economic dynamo’.

So what changed?

Following the end of the High Line’s life as a rail track in the 1980’s, community and activist pressure saved a significant proportion of the structure from being demolished and subsequently formed a group, ‘Friends of the High Line’ which initiated planning and design for the raised track to become a public open space in the essence of Paris’s Promenade Plantée (tree-lined walkway). With construction on the third and final stage of the project underway when I arrived at the High Line via the 30th St entrance, it was already possible to recognise the economic activity which had been spurred by the some 4 million visitors per annum that it was attracting.
New apartment buildings were rising alongside historic meatworks and public housing, restaurants and artisans were squeezing into shop-fronts nearest the High Line entrances and mobile vendors patrolled the green course with the typical New York vigour. Some $2 billion worth of new investment has been attributed to the rejuvenation of the High Line, not including the $450 million Whitney Museum of Modern Art.

Residential real estate prices have also jumped (which is no surprise given how close trains used to come to the back of these apartments). On average, home prices in the Chelsea/Meatpacking District are around $1,600 per square foot, or over $1 million for a modest 60m2 apartment.

So, High Lines, Promenade Plantées, coulée vertes and green spines as tools for economic development? Apparently it’s a thing and the High Line has been attributed with inspiring numerous copy cats around the globe. Even Sydney has got in on the act, planning for ‘The Goods Line’ which will link Railway Square through Ultimo to Darling Harbour.

What economic potential could Brisbane’s mooted ‘Green Spine’ deliver? Maybe Brisbane’s BaT Tunnel (overlooked in Budget funding) will one day be more attractive as ‘The Low Line’?

A few World Cup Stats to get you in the mood as the Socceroos hit the road to #Brazil

World Cup-onomics

World Cup Brazil by Numbers:

$35 million - First Prize
$4 billion - FIFA's commercial revenue
$16 billion - Cost to Brazil
200 million - Population of Brazil
$514 million - Estimated value of the 23-man Brazilian squad
$79 million - Amount Christiano Ronaldo will earn this year
$12,000 - Amount an average Brazilian worker will earn in a year
3,140km - Distance between the Arena Amazonia and Estadio Beira-Rio venues
74,698 - Seating capacity of Estadio Do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro
6 million - Tickets available to matches
64 - World Cup Finals matches
$553 - Average resale price for a group match ticket
$180,000 - Approximate melt value of the gold in the World Cup trophy
750/1 - Odds being placed on Australia to be the outright tournament winner