Sister cities or business brothers?

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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DDCE8D;”] A [/dropcap]mid all the arguing about whether Warrnambool City Council should send a delegation to Miura, Japan, for Sister City celebrations, a simple question is yet to be answered: what do we gain from our two Sister City connections?

And, more importantly, what do we expect?

Trying to answer the first question is harder than you think, as there is no single, easily accessible reporting mechanism that documents the achievements of the Miura link that dates back more than 20 years (our Sister City link with Changchun, China, began last year).

Instead, you have to trawl through two decades of council minutes and newspaper archives to discover that our Sister City relationship with Miura has pretty much done what it set out to do, which was to build “friendship, cooperation and understanding” between two very different cultures.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DDCE8D;”] I [/dropcap]n a pre-Internet world, it was considered money well spent to invest ratepayer dollars in building harmonious relationships with cultures so unlike our own as to be exotic. School kids have a chance to visit another country, and to host international students in return. We have a lovely, if hidden, Japanese friendship garden, and Miura has some Norfolk pine seedlings. Funds have been used to host and attend civic functions, both here and in Miura.

That’s what a Sister City relationship used to be about and what ratepayers’ money has been spent on, although whether – in the wired, highly mobile world of 2013 – it is still money well spent, is open to debate.

Which brings us to the second question: what do we expect?

This is where things have shifted.

c2c july


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DDCE8D;”] T [/dropcap]he July edition of the Council’s newsletter, C2C, was almost breathless in its description of our newest Sister City, Changchun, as a place of 7.5 million people, spread across 20,571sq/km, and pumping out 2.8 million and 2500 train carriages a year. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that action?

Indeed, the newsletter cover gave a tantalising taste of what we might look forward to, with a mock image of a Chinese bullet train speeding into Warrnambool railway station. Wow, this would be so much better than the current V-Line service that is one of the poorest performing in the state because of its breakdowns and delays.

This new Sister City relationship is not only about friendship and goodwill, but promoting “common prosperity and development” – in other words, business – and this takes a lot of time, and we can expect, a lot more money before we see any concrete results.

The council minutes of September 9 make this clear:

“If the Council and the Great South Coast elect to use the relationship with Changchun to leverage business opportunities, further costs will accrue in hosting visits to Warrnambool from Changchun and staff resources in preparing and supporting business and projects to the benefit of the region, matching funding with state government grants etc. These are unknown at this stage.”



[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #DDCE8D;”] W [/dropcap]hile we might be flattered by the intentions of a major city, we certainly don’t have Changchun all to ourselves. Changchun has 19 other Sister Cities: Warrnambool is number 20. In this regard, it is a bit like being married to a polygamist – you have a seat at the table, but the love is being shared around.

Still, the recent business delegation to Changchun, led by Mayor Michael Neoh and CEO Bruce Anson, reported that they found the trip invaluable as an entrée to potential new markets.

No doubt their efforts to build on this introduction will dovetail with the work of the Great South Coast Exporters Group, and similar state and federal bodies that work to build international trade relations.

But is this what our Sister City relationships should be about?

And should ratepayers’ money be directed to this purpose, or could it be better used to fund, for example, more tangible and immediate projects such as improving the restaurant end of Liebig St, installing more public art, or buying more books for the library?

The little sister has grown up: now is the time for an open discussion on where she fits into the family.

newsletter People Stones

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