Stop and Smell the ‘Toolips’

Who’d have thought you could have so much good, clean fun in Canberra? I’ve been there two weekends in a row working on a project – on your behalf I hasten to add – called Securing Australia’s Future. I’d been invited onto an EWG (an Expert Working Group, in the vernacular of the day) to look at how this country can translate university expertise into economic benefit. It’s not looking so good for Oz – we’re below Chile by a long drop, and only just doing better than Spitsbergen, the Isle of Wight, and those disputed rocks off the China coast. Not even winning the Rugby World Cup will be enough to improve our standing.

The new government is greatly challenged by the task of improving Australia’s ranking in the OECD tables. In fact, they are bloody mad, as mad as a dozen wasps stuck in a tent. Our EWG report will of course sort all this out. It’s been impeccably compiled, expertly sourced and (to my deep pleasure) has a two-page list of simple recommendations, chief of which are: stop chopping and changing, take a long-term view, and learn from other countries’ business innovation schemes that are clearly working.

In the UK and US, some of the most successful academy-to-business projects have been in place for 25 years, and their gearing is formidable. In one of the comparator countries, they have three-way partnerships between the graduate, their academic institution, and business. These partnerships generated a net A$8b in new sales, A$3b gross value added and created around 6,000 jobs between 2001-02 to 2007-08. It’ll all be in the report – lots of graphs and tables and some fine case studies. It was even worth going to Canberra for. And there was of course the annual Canberra Floriade to enjoy: thousands of flowers, heaving hectares of them, aroma aplenty. Though the taxi driver who drove past muttered a tad grumpily, ‘you seen one toolip, you seen ‘em all.’ You could of course say the same about bulky reports on translating university expertise into economic benefit, but the flowers smell much better.

The Meaning of AFL*

I must go away more often. I’m gone for 11 days and when I come back, the country has a new Prime Minister and the UK Labour Party has a brand ‘new’ leader. NT News reported Mr Turnbull’s triumph as ‘Rich Dude Becomes PM’. The UK press has been less generous. Jeremy Corbyn’s hobbies are listed in the Financial Times as ‘a non-drinker, he likes to tend his allotment, make jam, eat cheese, and read about railways. He does not drive, rides a bicycle and is a keen photographer of manhole covers.’ You couldn’t make it up. And he has a full beard. The last Labour leader with facial hair was Clement Atlee, and he only had a (rather fine) moustache.

As a pleasant diversion from such fripperies, I proudly wore the silver-embroidered ‘onesie’ and the floppy hat in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur last week to celebrate a suite of offshore graduation ceremonies for RMIT. These were truly spectacular occasions, in vast ballrooms, with glittering chandeliers lit up like the Starship Enterprise. The parents oozed pride, the graduands beamed radiantly, and I looked, well, like a trainee ambassador from a Hans Holbein group portrait, circa 1530. After the expertly planned and carefully choreographed ceremony, the Engineering graduates were a tad boisterous, which I’m told is unusual for engineers, but it was a joy to behold and a pleasure to be a part of.

So, back to city campus. 10th floor office and wall-to-wall one-to-ones (not one-to-onesies). Grappling with the August forecast, weather forecast, and an ABC broadcast of me rattling on about camouflage, of all things. Meanwhile, the 2020 Strategy is almost there. We’re getting near the pointy end and the scaffolding is going up. You can sense that things are intensifying here in Melbourne, as the VC exudes extraordinary energy, setting a terrific pace. We’re all getting swept along in this new dawn of new leaders, manhole covers and the new beat of a bountiful spring.

*And finally, a thank you to the reader who took me by the arm and veritably (nice word) gushed about the stories on this blog. ‘Is there anything you’d like me to write about?’ I asked innocently. ‘Oh, anything, just make sure you mention the AFL.’ So, still being new to this fine country, I checked the acronym, but all I could find was ‘Alcohol-Free Lager’. Surely not?