IS it reasonable for Lake Macquarie City Council to spend an estimated $35,000 to send the mayor, the deputy mayor and a senior executive on a three-week international Smart Cities study trip, with a side trip for the mayor?
That’s the question that Boolaroo Action Group spokesperson Jim Sullivan is posing on behalf of Lake ratepayers, who are midway through a seven-year rate increase of almost 60 per cent. Indeed, the question should be asked even if the council hadn’t jacked up rates as dramatically as it has, because public money should never be squandered.
In this instance, there is no doubt that the Smart Cities brand is one of the concepts of the age as far as planners are concerned. Everyone has their own definition but the essence of the Smart City concept is that extension of digital technology branded as the Internet of Things, or IoT.
Earlier this month, Lake council signed a significant long-term IoT contract with a commercial operator, the National Narrowband Company – a move the federal Minister for Urban Infrastructure and Cities, Paul Fletcher, described as reality “catching up with the rhetoric” when it came to Smart Cities innovation.
The reality for Australia is that many cities around the world have far more advanced digital technologies than we do. In this light, travelling internationally is the only way to appreciate what these changes can and will mean, close up. It’s true, as Mr Sullivan says, that a wealth of smart cities information is at our fingertips if need it, but reading about something – or watching a video – can only ever present part of the picture. Hence the logic in sending people abroad to experience technology first-hand, and to hear from other communities how they are grappling with the same problems and opportunities that we must inevitably confront or grab.
In the end, however, it’s largely up to the participants of this study tour as to how much Lake Macquarie ends up benefiting from their travels. Putting aside Cr Kay Fraser’s stay in Jerusalem to support Lake athletes at the International Children’s Games – an exercise in civic goodwill paid for by games organisers – if the rest of the itinerary is meaningfully made up of meetings and demonstrations, then there is a lot the trio can bring back to the region.
The rest of the council will be no doubt eager to pick their brains on their return.