St. John’s and Perth, Australia find common ground

Daniel
Daniel MacEachern
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Lisa Scaffidi, the mayor of Perth, Australia, speaks Wednesday at NOIA’s luncheon. Scaffidi passed on lessons her city has learned from dealing with an offshore oil industry very similar to the one off Newfoundland’s coast. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

Lisa Scaffidi could have been talking about St. John’s.

The mayor of Perth, Australia, speaking Wednesday at a luncheon for the annual general meeting of the World Energy Cities Partnership, touched on resistance to development in the face of sharp economic growth.

“The fact is, with this growth, and the movement of people from the regions into the cities, there is this change resistance, as we call it. And in Australia, we call those that are very change resistant the ‘naysayers,’” she told the audience at the Delta Hotel, using a word often dropped in Newfoundland and Labrador, either as criticism from premiers or as a badge of honour by their political opponents.

But terminology isn’t the only similarity between St. John’s and the Western Australia city of Perth, noted Scaffidi.

“On the back of such industry growth, there is importation of a lot of skilled workers, population growth, as people also move in from regions to the cities, and just having your city in a state where they can deal with such quick growth is very critical,” she said.

“The availability and affordability of good housing, the amenities, good cultural opportunities for people to enjoy, good education facilities, health care — all of that, they’re very pressing issues for cities that are growing fast.”

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said the city is facing the same capacity issues Scaffidi spoke about.

“We are only now getting into the whole area of having a shortage of skilled labour, having a shortage of engineers,” he said. “The other issues that we have are issues that they have in Perth, when it comes to procurement of supplies.”

“I really liked what Lisa had to say about how Western Australia has actually enshrined the fact that the benefits from the oil and gas industry have to be shared by people,” said O’Keefe.

“And the benefits have to be made available to those who are in the supply industry and the procure industry and so on, because we have to build for the next generation. We have to build for the future. So we have to do things the right way at the present time in order to reach that step in the future.”

A good working relationship with the other levels of government is crucial to facing challenges, said Scaffidi.

“We are really battling to cope with the growth. We are now the third-largest city in Australia, and we still have to compete on the federal level to get money for our city and our state. And that can be complicated, because we only represent 10 per cent of the national population of Australia, so therefore the majority of votes when it comes to federal elections are on the east coast, and so it doesn’t always mean that we get the money we want for projects.

So it’s not all smooth sailing, and we have to be very strong and robust in working out our strategy and achieving what we want to achieve.”

O’Keefe said Scaffidi’s remarks on educating “naysayers” on the importance of business development resonated with him, as did her lessons on diversification, development and even smaller feel-good projects like a $1-million Perth initiative that saw coloured lights installed on several public sites to add brightness and colour to the city after dark.

“The key lesson is to listen to the approach that Perth has taken towards the problems that they have, and the problems that we have,” he said.

“That approach comes back to embracing change, learning to embrace change, dealing head-on with the problems that exist, and having an approach that isn’t, ‘Well, what can I find out that is wrong with this development?’ But rather an approach that first looks at what is good about a particular development. … To me, the key message coming today from Lisa is that we have similar jurisdictions, and we have similar historical backgrounds when you look at the settlement of Newfoundland and Labrador and the settlement of Australia. We now have similar industries, and we’re encountering similar — not problems, but challenges, and the right approach will always enable you to deal with the challenge and deal with it successfully.”

The World Energy Cities Partnership is a non-profit association of international energy capitals — including Calgary, Aberdeen and Stavanger — formed in 1995 to provide a network of support and knowledge among members. This year marks the first time St. John’s has hosted the organization’s annual general meeting, which continues today.

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramDaniel

Organizations: World Energy Cities Partnership, Delta Hotel

Geographic location: Australia, Perth, Newfoundland and Labrador Calgary

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  • Linda J.
    October 25, 2012 - 06:49

    If something could drag St. John's out of the dark ages, it would be MORE THAN welcome.