Here in Ballarat, Victoria we are having a mini-boom in manufacturing. Yes you read that right. We’re having trouble retaining good people because of the demand. Yes you read that right.
This is because Ballarat has actively invested in providing core capacities like:
We were lucky to get an early NBN rollout in FTTP. Some local pollie likely did the lobbying and work to get us up the front of the queue.
We have a strong education sector, good public and private schools, and two universities.
From the early gold mining days Ballarat had a strong heritage of heavy metal engineering, that while its taken hits in recent times, never completely died either. Now we have at least a dozen companies building high-tech agricultural machinery, mining industry plant, brickmaking machines, railway engineering, fabrication, and the like. A month ago I poked my head in what I thought was a disused old building, and it’s full to bursting with activity.
Attractive new sub-divisions with really nice new homes at around $1000/m2, half the price of New Zealand, are constantly being added every year. So attractive I want to buy one, even if it makes no sense for me to do so.
New land and business zones opened up by the Council, and policy to keep big employers like Heinz, Mars and IBM here in town at scale.
Constant public investment keeping the town safe and attractive. While Australia does have awful crimes, on a day to day basis we feel much safer here than in New Zealand.
The State government has a strong Regional policy to ensure core functions are not just concentrated in Melbourne. Large and important state dept’s are actively located in places like Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.
An immigration policy that deliberately advantages people working for regional employers
Federal govt policy that has identified the industry I’m working for to have strong potential. CSIRO agreements with industry partners that work, real funds for real innovation. Ministers that actually turn up, pay attention to what we are doing and then go away and get things done.
We can cycle most places we want, the roads are wide and safe. I ride 15 min to work along a route around a lakefront, through a wild-life reserve and lagoons and then down some lightly trafficked service lanes that make perfect cycle paths.
People work shorter hours and earn more money. Ordinary people have time to go running, sports like rowing and cycling that are big, mature and attract events nationally and globally. Cafes and bars have live music, or something fun going on. The Council has just thrown a series of four free Friday evening concerts in a historic square, there’s food, really good muso’s dancing and people enjoying themselves without aggro. It’s easy to make friends.
And while the Aussies love to moan about it, the 200km/hr V-Line into Melbourne is bloody magic if you absolutely need a fix of the big smoke. Oh and the trains are designed and built here in Victoria. One of my colleagues right now was part of the design team. That’s how industry clusters work, because they attract and maintain a pool of people who have the skills, energy and experience to get things done.
If I’d stayed at home I would have been happily employed, but the projects I’m working on here are on a global scale, innovative, audacious and challenging. Here I am at the last years of my career and instead of winding down, I’m winding up. I never expected this coming to what I originally imagined might be a quiet little place of 110,000 people a bit in the boondocks. This is the sort of town that should be dying, instead its bloody thriving.
Now of course you don’t have to dig too deep to find some downsides. They exist. But also they get a LOT more attention and social support. Climate change is a thing here. We’ve had to confront an awful legacy of sex abuse crime by the Catholic Church. The specs I’m wearing are not a wholly deep shade of rosiness.
I still love my home. I miss the kiwi mountains and rivers terribly, and my remaining family especially. Eventually we will come home, I’m just too loyal not to. But the longer we stay here, the more I realise how New Zealand is being robbed of so much by a lazy political elite with no vision and less competence. And even when they do encounter a good idea, as Labour is right now with the UBI, we can’t bring ourselves to take a firm grip on it. This is one thing Helen Clark did understand, but was never able to follow through on, that cultural, social and national identity … a pride in ourselves if you like … was the essential pre-cursor to positive change.
It’s why Key’s flag change failed. It had no story, no purpose we could identify with. Ultimately it was a limp tea-towel which meant nothing to us.
New Zealand could do so much more. There is nothing stopping us implementing Labour’s Ten Big Ideas, nothing stopping a UBI, but somewhere along the lines we just stopped believing in our better selves. We settled instead for selfies with Jokey at the shopping mall.