Thursday 13 December 2018

Harry Potter Shows the Way

As that good old song goes in Annie Get Your Gun, “there’s no business like show business”.
Why? Because with every great thrill, there’s an even greater risk.  It’s risky for everyone involved – actors, writers, musicians and especially the investors and the theatre owners.
About a year ago I was asked by a potential show biz investor if I could speak to Billy Joel on their behalf on my forthcoming regular trip to New York.
“No problem” I said, thinking, how could I do that?
As it turns out Billy Joel plays in New York 8 or 9 times a year with sell out performances at Madison Square Gardens. All these years later, the piano man is still a hit.
I “reached out” as the Americans say, to a good friend Jimmy Nederlander, whose family are big theatre owners in New York. Within 48 hours of arriving, I was talking business with Jimmy and Billy in his dressing room.
People who own theatres take risks. And that’s the way it’s been for centuries.
More than a generation ago, Robert Holmes a Court, the great Australian financier who terrorised a lot of companies and at one point had planned to take over our biggest company BHP, became enchanted with “the smell of the grease paint and the roar of the crowd”. He quickly went on to become the largest single owner of London’s West End Theatres.
The biggest daytime star of Australian television in the ‘70’s and ’80’s was Mike Walsh. Mike is still around and in his gentle retirement he owns and runs Her Majesty’s Theatre in my city of Melbourne and the Hayden Orpheum in Cremorne Sydney.
But this story is about the great theatre owning dynasty of Melbourne – the marvellous Marriners; David and Elaine and their son Jason. They own the giant Regent Theatre, The Forum where I once saw the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Princess Theatre which is about to join a very exclusive theatrical club.
From January next year, the Princess Theatre of Melbourne will join the Palace Theatre in London and the Lyric Theatre in New York in presenting the dazzling awarding winning play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
It's a massive exercise that requires a huge investment in preparing the theatre. This is no ordinary “bump in” as they say in the theatre. It takes months of technical set up for all the mind-boggling wizardry of the books to turn into a magical live theatre experience. This show will run for at least 3 years and it will build the economy of Melbourne, Victoria and Australia as people fly in from all over Australia, South East Asia and the South Pacific to see it.

The show takes up where the final Harry Potter book finished.  I can’t say much more than that because commentators and reviewers are asked not to be spoilers. In the London production front of house staff hand out badges at intervals asking audience members to #KeepTheSecrets.
So, my hat’s off to people like the Marriner’s. They put a lot on the line to bring delight into the lives of thousands and to build an economy that benefits everyone including those few people who have never read a Harry Potter book or seen a film – even those who won’t go to the live performance.
You see, when you start to plan a show like this many years before the opening night, you’ve got a blank sheet of paper and a $30 million hole before anyone turns up. But it’s risk takers like the Nederlanders in New York and the Marriners of Melbourne who know how to make it all work.
Not everyone can do it but we’re grateful for that those that do. And to all the others who start up new ventures at any point. I salute them all.
Harry Potter tells us a lot. It’s all about seeing beyond what many think is possible. Just consider JK Rowling who had the idea of Harry Potter one day on a train and the people like the Marriners who bring a new version of the story to all of us.
Without spoiling the show for any reader, I can tell you that in the first scene of the play, the forty-year-old Harry Potter instructs his son to run straight at a brick wall. He repeats the advice that he had received 20 years earlier - “Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it; that’s very important”.
What more do we need to know about taking the chances that life offers to us all?

Thursday 6 December 2018

Booming Growth in South Soulawesi

This week began with a fascinating visit to South Sulawesi and its principal city of Makassar with a population of 1.6 million.
As part of Indonesia, South Sulawesi hardly comes on the radar of Australians and that’s a great mistake. Indonesia, which was a Dutch dependency until 1945, has recently had an incredible change in its fortunes. South Sulawesi is no different.
A major reason for these remarkable changes is the emphasis that it’s central and provincial governments place on education, including tertiary education.
In fact, much of my recent trip centred around the central role that universities can play in the creation and distribution of wealth.
On Monday I signed an MOU on behalf of the Australia Indonesia Centre with the incredibly impressive Governor of South Sulawesi, Nurdin Abdullah. We signed it at the Hassanudin University with Rektor Dwia Professor Doctor Aries Tina Pulubuhu witnessing the MOU.
Here is a story that Australia could well learn from. Hasannudin University and its Rektor Dwia, which roughly translates as Vice Chancellor, is a star amongst the 100 plus universities in Indonesia. She has just signed a second 5-year term and has been elected as head of the Rektors Association of Indonesia. Senior female academics are welcome in this majority Muslim part of the world. It’s a sign of an outward looking and progressive society. Not the repressive stereo type that too many of us accept without question.
South Sulawesi has a growth rate of 9% and its university is at the centre of it. This is where the story really starts.
The Governor’s mansion in South Sulawesi is an impressive Dutch colonial building located in Makassar. It’s not quite on the scale of the White House but it makes the Lodge and Kirribilli House look like a couple of country cottages. So, the Governor of South Sulawesi could choose to live in most ornate circumstances.
Most of our new Prime Ministers move the family straight into Kirribilli, although one recent former Prime Minister thought it wasn’t quite up to the standard of his usual harbourside abode. 
But the new South Sulawesi Governor, is a man set apart from the long line of governors going back through colonial times.  In fact, he graduated from Hassanuddin University where he is a Professor. Not for him, the move into the palatial residence set aside for the Governor. This highly trained agricultural scientist has chosen to stay at his home at the university - a clear sign to the people that he is one of them.
In taking up reins of government in challenging and changing times, he immediately assembled his personal staff. However he didn’t take them from the normal lot of political minders and apparatchiks.
“You mean hacks!” says Louise. 
Correct. He took the finest minds from the universities with him and I saw them in action last Monday as they presented their plan for South Sulawesi for the next 5 years.
They were very direct about the challenges they face which they set out as inequality, disproportionate development and construction, poor irrigation, road upgrading and the emergence of the developed world problem of illegal narcotics usage.
The Governor’s team of highly educated university leaders laid out a blueprint to address each of these problems by maximizing their agricultural potential and then they went on to address new industrial developments in energy and mineral resources.
But as they say: Wait! There is more!
This group then outlined how the benefits of this planned economic improvement would be returned to their community through upgrades to education, healthcare and a range of social programmes.
As I sat listening to the Governor, I thought, I haven’t seen such an honest all-encompassing program like this anywhere amongst our western governments and certainly not in Australia.
With Australia’s growth rate at our own chest thumping sub 3%, (and falling), here was one of the regions of Indonesia continuing to leap along at 9%. Indonesia is headed towards being one of the great economies of the 21st century. If they keep up this pace, they will charge past Australia to be the fourth biggest economy in the world by 2050.
This world is changing dramatically and Indonesia, our nearest and biggest neighbour, will be a massive part of it. The US is currently trying to come to grips with China. As Lawrence Summers, former US Treasury Secretary once asked, “can the US imagine a global system in 2050 in which the US is half the size of the world’s largest economy which will be China”.
I wonder if Australia properly understand that by the same year, our nearest neighbour which is now about the same size as our economy, will also be a global economic giant?
At the moment both government and business are ignoring opportunities. We are also not nearly sensitive enough to the complexities and the challenges of our great neighbour. The thought bubble about the location of our embassy in Israel, another of our great friends, is an example of our lack of understanding and sophistication.
We have to do better at being an independent, self-confident country which embraces the diversity of world views in order that wealth, not only increases, but is spread more widely amongst our people and the people around the world with whom we trade.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, expanding wealth is the key to greater security for all of us in this rapidly changing world.

Thursday 29 November 2018

Crime and Bewilderment

My dear old dad died on is 96th birthday two years ago. Like many a proud man, his “home was his castle” and I knew that needed to be there to the end if his final years were to be happy ones. And being proud and independent we needed to call his carers, housekeepers.
One day, when my dad was around 94, I got a call at the office from a very anxious housekeeper. “He’s got a gun under the bed and he won’t let me get it!”.
I could just imagine my dad standing in front of the bed with his arms crossed. “No, you’re not taking it. I might need it!”.
As it later turned out, it was only an air gun and he didn’t have any pellets anyway. But he wasn’t giving it up. I understood that he felt the need to protect his person and his property, so I needed to help him.
The next weekend I visited him in his country cottage with a present.
“I’ve got something for you dad”.
“What’s that son?”
“It’s a baseball bat. Give me the gun”.
And so, we swapped. He put the baseball bat under the bed and I wrapped the gun in a blanket, and feeling like a criminal, I put it in the boot of the car. I delivered the gun to the local police station where the coppers accepted it gratefully but laughed their heads off at the story.
Many people like my Dad worry about violence and the media is full of stories about street crime, home invasions and violence generally. It sparks fears that our communities are becoming more dangerous. We hear exploitative politicians saying, “it’s out of control”.
The other day, my researcher Charlie showed me an alarming press report with the headline “200 Youths In City Brawl”.  It went on “Police broke up 77 brawls among roving gangs in the city and 48 suburbs of Melbourne over the weekend”.
I was shocked and then I looked at the date of the report. It was Monday October 3, 1966.
So, we’ve had the problem of violence for a long time. We think it’s getting worse but a UN report by its specialist drug and crime agency, concludes that the worldwide long-term trend is for decreasing crime, primarily in developed high income countries.
And a report by the Victorian Crime Statistics Unit says that crime in my home city of Melbourne is actually dropping when allowance is made for population growth. In the last 5 years, the “victimisation rate” as they call it, dropped by 4.4%.
The biggest problem is the perceptions of crime. Headline chasing newspapers and internet sites worldwide, search out any story which makes us think it’s worse than it is. A mass killing, particularly in America, echoes around the world.
We should never relax about crime, but it’s not as bad as we are encouraged to think.
I reckon that every government in the world should show the guts that Australian Prime Minister John Howard did in 1996 and ban guns.
And regarding other forms of crime, we should look beyond the daily headlines to find the real facts and then just get on with job of contributing to the wealth and well-being of our family and friends. The richer the country or suburb, the safer you are.
After all, as Franklin D Roosevelt said in his inaugural address, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

Harry Potter Shows the Way

As that good old song goes in Annie Get Your Gun , “there’s no business like show business”. Why? Because with every great ...