Victoria’s Alpine clusters - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

The economic performance of Australia’s regions is a mixed bag – so it’s good to find one ticking along nicely.

Victoria has three main snow resorts – Falls Creek, Mount Hotham and Mt. Buller. The first two are close together (five minutes by helicopter) and they appear outwardly to be high-performing clusters.

Falls Creek is my favourite because it’s nestled in a wooded valley and I spent a memorable week there four decades ago with some other callow youths. The place now has classy pubs, bars, restaurants and ski lodges (4,500 beds) and they’re all in competition to lighten the fat wallets of the skiers and their families. They do however collaborate on the big issues. The infrastructure – roads, ski runs, chairlifts, metal walkways – is top-notch, and the resort is now part of an international network due to its recent purchase by United States-based Vail Resorts. This could have some interesting benefits.   

The resort works hard to attract international skiers and snowboarders, as well as cyclists outside the snow season. The cycling agenda – which includes high-altitude training for elite cyclists – complements the pitch to bushwalkers to use Falls Creek as a base to explore the surrounding national park. I’m informed that the Victorian Government’s tourism and sports agencies have been strongly supportive. As a result, occupancy rates in the lodges are reportedly good year-round.

Mt. Hotham is a different beast. It sits atop a mountain range and is more spread out. A standout feature is the village of Dinner Plain, 7-8 km to the south. The name derives from the old days of Cobb & Co. coaches when they’d stop for dinner between Omeo and Bright. I suggest you town planners pay a visit – the developers mandated a suite of building designs, and colour schemes that mirrored the surrounding environment. The township is now about 25 years old, and looks very classy.  

Another intriguing aspect of this Alpine region are the Kiewa and Ovens River valleys that feed down from the two resorts. Well-grassed farms, rows of European trees, neat stacks of firewood, nice houses. Apparently after the Kiewa Valley Hydro Scheme was completed in the 1950s, Europeans workers took up farming along their traditional lines.

There are some very nice towns like Bright, Beechworth and Mt. Beauty, and the rainfall is reasonably reliable. They don’t seem to have ‘for sale’ signs in every second shop window. The contrast with the towns leading to the New South Wales ski resorts is quite noticeable. But the Snowy 2.0 hydro project with an estimated $5.1 billion expenditure will hopefully breathe some life into the New South Wales Alpine region.   

Monaro Highway – danger awaits
Last month I drove the Cooma-Canberra leg of the Monaro Highway, sticking to 100km/hour because I thought that was the speed limit. Silly me – I was passed by every vehicle on the road, including a truck doing at least 120km/hour.

The next morning, Kochie (Sunrise TV program) was banging on about AAMI’s research on the most dangerous roads in the country, and up comes the Monaro Highway (Cooma to Canberra).
It was somewhat reassuring to know that its winding bends, uneven surfaces and converging lanes are now nationally-recognised. So I rang my old friend Cr John Rooney at Snowy Monaro Council and he confirmed that it was a 100km/hour limit, and that Council had been lobbying for years for a dual carriage-way. Well I figure that’s a long way off.

But an interim solution must surely be the erection of speed signs – I didn’t see ONE! I suspect that a root cause of the carnage on the Monaro Highway is the lack of knowledge by newcomers (snow-trippers, city folk, overseas tourists) of the lower speed limit. Add that to night driving and tiredness after driving from Sydney or skiing all day and ‘bang’.

I’d love to see some ‘secret’ speed cameras all along the route, as well as 100km/hour signage. This would rein in the carnage almost immediately as motorists begin receiving hefty speed tickets. But I’m dreamin’ because I’m informed that secret speed cameras are considered predatory at the current time. Could we just settle for the soft option in the meantime?

All-out trade war is not a bad dream
There are murmurings around Canberra about the impact on Australia’s standard of living should a real trade war break out, rather than the current tit-for-tat stuff.

Former Trade officials are saying privately that Australia has a lot to lose because Australia and Canada took the lead in the 1970s by dismantling tariffs and supporting multilateral free-trade forums. There is a real prospect that Trump’s deal-making approach to trade could blow up in his face. The concern seems to be matched by our Ambassador to the United States, Joe Hockey, who strongly – and uncharacteristically – criticised United States trade policy in a speech last month. 

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Email: apdcockatoo[@]iprimus.com.au