Hewson's View | Can we develop a vision for the Highlands?

Probably the greatest weakness of today’s short-term politics is a lack of vision. Governments bounce along from one day to the next, one issue to the next, almost in a strategic vacuum. There is very little overarching, strategic thinking or planning. Key policy challenges are mostly left to drift, problems remain unresolved and, if addressed, policies are rarely integrated, being left within their departmental silos. 

This is an issue at all three levels of government, but it seems a particular issue at the local government level. For example, in terms of our own council, it is hard to find much evidence of longer-term strategic thinking. As an example, you can see large-scale housing estate developments being finally approved, as with the housing development to adjoin the Moss Vale Golf Club, without adequate consideration of the transport impact in town that is already a nightmare, let alone the need for other additional economic and social infrastructure.

Moreover, there is very little attempt to identify and eliminate major “roadblocks”, or to coordinate the activities and plans of various regional and government bodies and civil society groups.

In the vacuum that such failures create, old alliances and thinking prevail, as, might I suggest, is evident with the proposed Station Street upgrade in Bowral. 

FUTURE SHOCK: The Station Street upgrade proposed for Bowral is perhaps a result of a lack of long-term, systemic planning from Wingecarribee Shire Council. Photo: supplied.

FUTURE SHOCK: The Station Street upgrade proposed for Bowral is perhaps a result of a lack of long-term, systemic planning from Wingecarribee Shire Council. Photo: supplied.

Recently, I spoke at an event organized by Camden Council, which was part of a process that has resulted in the formation of the Camden Region Economic Taskforce (CRET).  The event was run very professionally, with a range of heavy weight and relevant speakers and participants, with a particular focus on having “skin in the game” as Sydney grows.

The CRET was established “to guide and facilitate economic growth for the area, while working with local business leaders to leverage and enhance existing business and tourism opportunities”.

The obvious question is why aren’t we establishing a similar taskforce in the Highlands? Our community is rich with ideas – including an economic development zone, an Equine Centre, an enterprise hub, social media and internet based activities, community energy projects, a rail-side trail, food processing plants, a range of inbound tourism attractions, a convention centre, and a host of other ideas for improved traffic and transport, events and activities.

To be successful, such a taskforce would need two key features. First, governance would be most important. It would need to have a genuinely representative board, drawing members from across government, business and the wider communities. Each board member would need to bring with them key skills, expertise, and experience to contribute effectively to the development of local businesses, tourism, and to meet other community aspirations. 

While council could have a couple of designated board members, and would need to work closely with the taskforce, the taskforce should operate independently of council.

Second, its mandate would need to be wider than business and tourism to embrace the broader civil community, and include a focus on key social, environmental, and community, as well as business and tourism, issues and challenges.

Such a taskforce could work to develop an overarching, broad-based, longer-term vision and strategy for the Highlands, and oversee its implementation, with the aim of keeping opportunistic, populist, short-term politics at bay.

 – John Hewson

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