Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

CONSULT | Artist Consultations

Flying Arts’ 2018 program includes artist and artsworker consultations with Harbinger’s John Armstrong. The interactive consultations will occur via Skype (or other online facility), with John providing advice and support remotely from his new location at Mornington Island where he is working as Manager of the Art Centre. The one hour session will provide artists and artworkers with a chance to map out career directions and gain feedback about their portfolio. Consultation sessions are planned for 6 July and 16 November. Think about booking early as sessions are limited and John has a wealth of experience and knowledge across many aspects of creative and cultural industries.

In 2017, Flying Arts partnered John with locally-based artist Bert Smallwood in a mentoring process. John worked with Bert for 6 months on several professional development areas as well as provided guidance on his artistic practice. Over many meetings, email exchanges, visits to galleries, talks with colleagues in the sector and checking out art schools, Bert gained a new appreciation and understanding of what future directions are possible.


POLICY | Northern Australia Development

The development of Northern Australia has long bubbled away on political agendas with renewed policy momentum in the last few years. In 2015, the federal government released a white paper outlining its vision for northern development and the Office of Northern Australia coordinates implementation of the vision through partnerships with government, industry and the non-profit sectors, including peak bodies.

The White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, Our North, Our Future, promises “a $6 billion economic development plan to unlock the full potential of the north”. The map on the front page of the website is very much like the type of resource atlas that children of a particular age referenced in their school years, highlighting all the exploitable resources and opportunities in the region for mining, infrastructure, urban development, tourism and agriculture. Governments can, and often do, talk big about infrastructure and its governance arrangements without much to show for it. Infrastructure is big, expensive and slow, so it is not surprising that there has been little impact on the ground so far. Even then, more consideration for integrated eco-system services and sustainable infrastructure systems could change how infrastructure is developed in tropical and arid environments and, more importantly, lead to redoubled efforts to protect ecologically significant areas. Where, for example, is the agenda on climate sensitivity in human settlements in these regions given the anticipated population growth and the immediate threats of natural disasters, rising sea levels and rising temperatures?

The Northern Development white paper acknowledges the need for economic diversity including Indigenous businesses and economic opportunities. A multi-million dollar Indigenous art and culture sector operates in Queensland’s north with major export and cultural exchange aspirations to generate revenue for the whole communities. While this and other creative industries and cultural exports are not mentioned, Indigenous knowledge is another valuable resource. Much of the agenda is about strengthening trade and exchange with Asia, with the north, particularly Darwin, acting as a gateway. When the white paper was released, Director of Research at the Institute for Environment and Livelihoods at Charles Darwin University, Andrew Campbell, wrote in The Conversation that one of the tensions in the Northern Australia development agenda was “a tension between developing a northern economy based primarily on export commodities, versus one based around distinctive environment, demography, knowledge and services.” This continues to be evident with little acknowledgement of the ecological, cultural and heritage dimensions of the north. Even though there is a nod to tourism, these are dimensions of living and life are not just commodifiable resources to satisfy the demands of transitory visitors.

Like many policy documents, Our North, Our Future is optimistic and effusive, proclaiming the north as an economic powerhouse offering a wealth of opportunity. However, it is selective and ideological in its view of development despite claiming “the north will be an exemplar of sustainable development”. The term ‘climate change’ appears only twice in the document as part of titles rather than as a threat. The resources are to be exploited and growth is to occur at any cost. The government continues to deflect criticisms that the development agenda is failing, particularly in relation to infrastructure. According to James Cook University researchers, Patrick White and Russell McGregor, “Only about 5% of Australians live in the tropics, but it is not a mysterious or unopened land of limitless, untapped potential.”

There are other priorities, not necessarily addressed in the Northern Australia agenda, that warrant attention. The Office of Northern Australia’s publication Northern Australiaemerging opportunities in an advanced economy acknowledges that the region “bears witness to some of the most critical and pressing issues of our time: food insecurity, poor life expectancy outcomes, environmental and ecological challenges, compromised justice and the rule of law, and governance inadequacies”, demanding a response that understands the importance of social impact and innovation.

If development is to occur in Northern Australia then sustainable transitions need to reframe the discussion about resources and their use. What could that look like given that the state government has committed to a transitions strategy to combat climate change? This commitment includes zero net emissions in land use and transport sectors, as well as greater involvement of communities, increased Indigenous business opportunities through carbon capture and storage and other place-based initiatives. The regionalism and regionalisation of Northern Australia can provide space for innovation and experiment for long term change. Different kinds of regionalisms come into play when addressing a territory like Northern Australia: it is not just one big administrative territory or ‘special economic zone’, but a complex mix of regionalisms. For sustainability at the regional scale, a more experimental kind of regionalism is warranted for reinventing and restructuring relations, governance and discourse, particularly the boosterism of economic development rhetoric and proponents.


PUBLISH | Sustainable Cities in Asia


At the end of last year, we received our contributor’s copy of Sustainable Cities in Asia, edited by Federico Caprotti and Li Yu and published by Routledge. The contributed chapter is titled A Changing Cultural Narrative of Citizenship, Urbanism and Cycling in Indian Cities and co-written by QUT’s Dr Mirko Guaralda and Linda Carroli.

In this paper we recognise cities critical sites for addressing sustainability and imprinting sustainable development trajectories. For more than a decade of urban policy reform in India, there has been significant restructuring in urban environments with emphasis placed on urban renewal and infrastructure at a massive scale. In examining the experience of cycling, this chapter seeks to understand the relationship between cycling and the provision, use and meaning of public spaces and infrastructures, particularly streets and roads. The discussion traces public acceptance of cycling as a mode of mobility and as revealed through media reportage and commentary. Through a critical content analysis of media reports, this chapter examines the representation and perception of cycling in urban India, through which urban and civic visions like “cycle city” and “cycle friendly” gain salience and acceptance.  Media reports indicate ‘rights to the city’ as a critical strategy for alternative planning epistemologies that engage urban citizenship and politics.

In particular, we note a nuanced grassroots and informal response and claim to public space and access to public space as foundational for cycling-based mobility. While much of the reportage we studied focused on infrastructure, such as bicycle share schemes and cycling tracks, there is more going on than an infrastructural response. The media coverage addressing citizen actions reveals rethinking and reframing of urban space stemming from an urban politics involving networks or coalitions of intermediaries and citizens.  In following from Ananya Roy’s ideas of planning epistemologies, the article proposes that the actions of intermediaries and the relational spaces they shape comprise an alternative form of planning, offering urban critiques, practices and collaboration that change both urban spaces and their publics. In this, we emphasise everyday lived mobility experiences and practices, as both just constitutive of and resultant from urban citizenship and politics.

2018 | New Year Greetings!


New Year greetings! It’s been hot and sticky until this week when a cool change and sea breezes brought reminders that the year has begun. We are still adjusting to the changes to our living and working lives with John having relocated to Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria to take up the role of Art Centre Manager. John and I remain partners in life and work and this new trajectory provides a means to stitch through and enact some deeply held beliefs, values and commitments. It enables us to redirect and reinvent the work of Harbinger to address more tactile and tensile issues and thoughts in collaboration with partners and clients.

The great benefits of running a small consultancy are the flexibility and responsiveness it permits. With so many cries and calls for justice and equality echoing throughout the world, we can see a great urgency to embed complex and innovative sustainability thinking in every community and every system on this planet. Cultural change is at the core of this process and we continue to direct ourselves to seek out roles where we can have an impact or make a meaningful contribution to social change. Sustainability is central to everything we do and we mean Sustainability (with a capital “S”). This is in keeping with the Pathways Approach through which we understand sustainability as linked “both to overarching goals of poverty reduction and social justice, and to the specific ways that different groups define and refine these goals in particular settings”. The learnings from the STEPS Summer School in 2017 are continuing to infuse our aspirations and mission for sustainable transitions. We apply this to our own circumstance as well, endeavouring to maintain our own operation in a sustainable and adaptive way. Like most small businesses we endure cycles of high and low work volume – it can be demoralising at times and we often need to consider whether the dips are becoming the norm.

mornington island beach

John’s new role will address these questions every day in the context of art-making and cultural expression in tandem with traditional knowledge and cultural maintenance. The Indigenous Art Centres Alliance, the Queensland-based network of art centres, describes Art Centres as “places of artistic and cultural expression, provide economic, employment and training opportunities, support the maintenance and transference of culture and create wellbeing and community pride”. You can expect us to continue to promote the work of Indigenous art centres, particularly Mornington Island, while also highlighting the importance of Indigenous economic development predicated on self-determination and fair trade.

I am maintaining my involvements with the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand Social Impact Task Force and the Dementia Friendly Communities Advisory Group with Dementia Australia. I will continue to research my PhD on sustainable transitions and regions while also participating in research projects at QUT. John and I are delivering Flying Arts’ Where to Next? program for mid-career artists, building on the work developed by John and Flying Arts last year.

Our Commitments and Purpose

We have sought to refine our sense of purpose. Our ongoing work will pivot on three interrelated potentials to enhance social impact and sustainable futures:

Culture because our shared values, mental models and perceptions of sustainability and human rights shape our perspectives about possibilities.
Complexity because sustainability and transitions require relational thinking and approaches
Change because emergent dynamics can catalyse learning for alternative futures and pathways

We will continue to provide a range of services and supports to communities and organisations, such as facilitation for workshops and strategic planning. We will explore these potentials in writing, in collaboration, in research and in consulting. By introducing these framings into our work, Harbinger aims to strengthen our impact in the breadth of services we provide at different scales from the individual to the global.

SAFETY| Business name renewal scam

This week we received a scam letter purporting to be from ASIC about renewing the business name. It was a hardcopy letter delivered to our registered address from a company called Business Name Renewal. A Mackay based law firm has provided more information and advice on their website.

There’s been no shortage of scam emails lately – claiming to be correspondence from the tax office, Ebay, Paypal, Optus, Telstra and others. Often such messages contain a threat, like the cessation of service or imposition of fines. So please be alert to all kinds of scams and don’t click on or visit weblinks in these emails or letters.

INQUIRY | Sustainable Development Goals


We’ve observed that the Global Goals for Sustainable Development are not a burning topic in Australia – not in our experience of academia, consulting, community organisations, or cultural contexts. In most of the contexts in which we work or are otherwise engaged there seems to be little intellectual, professional or practical engagement with SDGs unless dealing directly with international development agendas.

Earlier this month, the Federal Government announced a Senate Inquiry into Australian implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The inquiry will be led by the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. What as a nation do we hope to achieve through this Inquiry? The terms of reference for the inquiry refer in particular to:

  1. The current level of understanding and awareness of the SDGs in the Australian community
  2. The potential costs and opportunities for Australia in implementing the SDGs
  3. Which governance structures and measures are required to drive meaningful and tangible SDG-related outcomes
  4. Examples of best practice implementation from abroad, which can be adapted and utilised in Australia
  5. Which of the SDGs can be achieved through Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme and which SDGs are currently being addressed by ODA
  6. How countries in the Indo-Pacific are responding to implementing the SDGs, which of the SDGs have been prioritised in these countries and how can these priorities be incorporated into Australia’s ODA program


As an intergovernmental process, the introduction of the SDGs in 2012 was an incredible moment and achievement. The SDGs followed the Millennium Development Goals whose horizon ended in 2015. The SDGs, together with the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development (a global plan for financing the Goals) form the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Even though Australia is committed to the SDGs, we’re still not really addressing these in our Australian context in a public way. Yet, the 17 SDGs form a roadmap for global development efforts to 2030 and beyond. There are 169 targets within the Sustainable Development Goals with a set of indicators for measuring progress on each goal. The SDGs also relate to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, New Urban Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

The terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry indicate how the country is struggling to grasp and act on the SDGs. It might also be useful to consider the costs of not implementing the SDGs and the opportunities we have for developing and innovating for our own impactful practices and policy learning.

Australia will deliver its first Voluntary National Review on the 2030 Agenda at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York in 2018, prior to the completion of the Senate Inquiry report. This provides an important deadline, and one well worth watching as the Inquiry proceeds – recent reports already indicate that Australia will not make its climate commitments with our emissions increasing yet again. The SDGs are not the only or the best way of thinking about sustainable development or sustainable futuring – there are obvious problems and contradictions with the framing and ideology of sustainable development at a time when only radical transformation can deliver on the goals, the Paris Agreement and the New Urban Agenda. However, these agendas make the stakes explicit and provide timelines for change, innovation and strategy.

Localising the SDGs is an important part of the discussion, one I don’t see happening in Australia to the extent that it perhaps should. In 2016, Australia ranked 20th on progress towards the SDGs with particularly low scores on environmental management including per capita carbon emissions, waste management, land clearing and biodiversity loss. Despite relatively low levels of poverty and generally good health, inequality is increasing. Consequently, good socio-economic and human development rankings cannot be taken for granted especially where policy change comes at the expense of low income earning individuals and communities.

Poor outcomes and governance in this country justify trade-offs as the economy and growth continue to dominate and undermine social, cultural and ecological commitments and needs. One of the enduring lessons from the STEPS Pathways to Sustainable Summer School in 2017 involved acknowledging the normative stance that links sustainability “both to overarching goals of poverty reduction and social justice, and to the specific ways that different groups define and refine these goals in particular settings. As such, Sustainability firmly enters the realm of the political.”

There are many gaps and the discussion in this country barely seems bouyant or timely, especially with the Senate Inquiry underway. Australia generally is still of the view that mitigating climate change and taking action to protect socio-ecological systems will devastate the economy. Brisbane, as I have noted elsewhere, does not participate in many international forums, not even the Creative Cities Network, although other Australian cities do make global cultural, social and environmental commitments. The States do not seem to be purposively engaged in SDGs discussions through federal-state agreements. For example, the language of some Queensland policies can be tempered by qualifications like ‘doing our fair share’ in relation to climate change mitigation and transition. Only two Queensland universities have signed the University Commitment to the SDGs, while the UN Global Compact Network in Australia seems to have a broader reach, although with only a handful of universities signed up.

Governance is essential for leadership and engagement – and sadly we have significant governance vacuums in this country, particularly in terms of multi-level governance, although some sectors seem to do it better than others. As a country, as cities, as organisations and as communities, there is a pressing need to reconsider what sustainable development means to us and how we can not only make the SDGs and human rights meaningful but also shape them for transformative systemic and structural change and learning.

HORIZON | Season’s Greetings

christmas card_space sleigh

The new year heralds new horizons for Harbinger. The news of John’s appointment as Manager of Mornington Island Art Centre was shared earlier this month. We are excited about this change and what it means in terms of working with Indigenous cultural infrastructure and networks aiming to address economic, cultural and enterprise development as well as protecting material and intangible cultural heritage. John has been welcomed by the Indigenous Art Centre Alliance and others in the Mornington Island community.

What does this mean for Harbinger?

At this point, we continue to reflect on opportunities to do something different with our commitment to creative sustainability. John’s work with Flying Arts Alliance as the facilitator of Where To Next? will continue remotely in collaboration with Linda, and John will be involved in other Flying Arts projects. Where to Next? was very well received and the program is continuing to be refined in collaboration with NAVA and Flying Arts.

Linda’s PhD research into sustainable transitions continues for most of 2018 with the intention of capitalising on new services and capabilities in policy and research. The research to date has revealed that regional level planning is highly constrained in its ability to address sustainable transitions of infrastructure systems, indicating that alternative planning methods and approaches are needed.

Linda is also working on QUT research projects including as researcher on a project examining planning students’ perceptions of employability and on another examining the economic impact of the light rail on the Gold Coast. Interestingly, Linda’s master’s research examined infrastructure narratives emerging from public debate about major projects including the Gold Coast light rail as a case study. Sessional teaching will also continue in the School of Design.

Other community commitments in 2018 include ongoing participation in the Dementia Friendly Communities Advisory Group and Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand Social Impact Task Force.

Many small consultancies, like ours, are working in ever more flexible ways – teaming up, taking on short term employment, delivering workshops, teaching, writing and more – and adapting to changing community and market demands.

Looking ahead, we anticipate that we will continue to mix it up, though expect more commentary about Indigenous arts and culture, especially Mornington Island art and artists, extending our horizons in the longer term into the Asia Pacific region in relation to both culture and sustainable transitions.

As the research on transitions culminates, these methods and tools will be applicable to diverse contexts and communities. If anyone is interested to talk more about transitions and the implications for planning, policy and engagement, we are only too happy to share our knowledge and introduce transition concepts to project teams. Transitions methods help communities and other stakeholders take steps into the unknown and steer towards a more just and sustainable future.

We thank you for your support, friendship and contact this year. We hope you all have a joyous festive season with many new horizons in the new year.