John Strano

Interviewed by
Chris Salisbury
Mar 31 2011
John Strano
Time Summary Keywords
00:00:09 John Strano summarises his early years of schooling which lead to university and then a job in the Commonwealth public service. He describes his early career in the Department of Trade and his experience of the shift to a global trade market and the emergence of Asia as a major trading partner. Commonwealth Public Service
00:04:32 John Strano describes his move, after sixteen years, into the Queensland public service to work in the trade and investment area in the Premier's Department. He goes on to note how this new trade and investment area came into being and subsequently when it was disbanded by Mike Ahern. Mike Ahern, Sydney Schubert, Trade
00:09:35 John Strano lists the departments he worked in. He notes the implications of having the same industry focused role in each case but being pushed into different departments. Coordinator General, development, Industry Development, Premier's Department, State Development Department
00:13:59 John Strano discusses the mood in the Queensland public service when he commenced his role in 1984, in particular the development ethos of those in trade. He notes the financial situation in Queensland and the other states at the time. Bjelke-Petersen Government 1968-87, development, Goss Government 1989-96
00:17:33 John Strano discusses the growing emphasis on process not outcomes. He notes the difficulty of dealing with advisors and many of the cumbersome processes required to get legislation through. He recalls the difficult legislative processes from when he ran the manufactoring group in the DEEDI. He discusses content free middle managers in departments. He notes that this emphasis on process was very different to when he commenced in the public service. Cabinet, Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, ministerial advisers, Premier's Department
00:20:29 John Strano notes that with less focus on process there were less people employed in the public service. He remembers a time when the DPI had experts in specific areas, such as seeds.
00:22:32 John Strano notes his experience from within the public service as the major political changes occurred in Queensland in the late 1980s. He notes his employment function after the abolishment of the trade and investment group in 1987. Goss Government 1989-96
00:25:09 John Strano describes the plans of the Goss Government and its effects on the public service. He notes the way the Goss Government positioned trade policy in relation to Asian markets. He notes that even for the Goss Government economic development was largely about agriculture and mining. He notes the negative attitude towards the public service at the time. Asia, Goss Government 1989-96, Trade
00:28:24 John Strano discusses the relationship between the public service and the government during the Goss era. He notes the feelings in the Premier's Department when he joined. He describes his role in the investment branch during this period and some the achievements of the section over the next five years. Goss Government 1989-96, Gulag, policy development
00:32:03 John Strano recalls working with the Hong Kong Jockey Club on IT development in the Goss era. Bond University, David Barbagallo, Goss Government 1989-96, IT
00:36:54 John Strano describes Motorola investment into Queensland in the early 1990s. He notes the incapacity of Queensland government to encourage many projects like this one. He notes how the situation changed when investment and development became part of Premier's Department and the director general had the power to make case-by-case decisions. investment, Ross Rolfe
00:40:09 John Strano describes the issues surrounding the Berry fruit juice investment project. Beattie Government 1998-2007, investment
00:42:55 John Strano describes his experience in the public service when the Borbidge Government came to power. He notes the hit list at this time. He goes on to describe his ambivalence about working in the trade role, and generally about the approach of state governments pursuing trade. Under the Borbidge Government he notes that he was in charge of running an investment team where he had greater access to senior bureaucrats to facilitate investment. He describes the initial talks between Boeing and the government. aviation, Borbidge Government 1996-98, Doug McTaggart, exports, Hit List, Trade
00:48:06 John Strano notes that Borbidge and Beattie had a very good relationship. He notes examples in the transition to the Beattie Government when investment deals still went ahead. He describes the importance of early investment projects, such as with Boeing, that led to Queensland being the Smart State before being labeled thus. aviation, Beattie Government 1998-2007, investment, Jim Elder, Peter Beattie, Rob Borbidge, Smart State
00:51:21 John Strano details the push to investment attraction in Queensland prior to the Beattie Government. He notes the situation in Sydney in the 1990s that encouraged Queensland to do the same. He describes some of the things that attracted investors, for example low rates of staff turnover. aviation, investment, John Kenny
00:55:10 John Strano notes the investment situation prior to the Smart State strategy and the investment possibilities in Queensland. He notes that some significant investments had occurred prior to Beattie coming to office. investment, Smart State
00:57:36 John Strano discusses the Smart State by noting that a lot of the thinking and push for the branding came from the university sector. He details the influence of universities upon the encouragement for biotechnology. He goes on to detail the outcomes of this policy that many strategists did not consider, largely that biotech had very different flow on effects for the economy compared to IT. Beattie Government 1998-2007, Queensland University of Technology, Smart State, universities, University of Queensland
01:01:04 John Strano discusses the Smart State strategy. He notes the developments in other 'smart' countries since the late 1990s. Smart State
01:03:10 John Strano discusses the relationship of corporate philanthropy and the Smart State strategy. He notes that as part of the investment unit that he worked in he set up the venture capital team. He recalls Peter Beattie taking part in the Australian venture capital conference. He notes that the Bligh Government has now abandoned the venture capital team along with the Smart State branding. Bligh Government 2007-12, Chuck Feeney, Peter Beattie, Smart State
01:08:54 John Strano discusses the role that Treasury played in funding many of the Smart State strategies. He details the policy where two million dollars was offered to investors, as well as the policy on concessions on payroll tax to big projects, which did not have to go through Treasury. The importance of strong political leadership is important, he believes, in getting projects through Treasury. Ross Rolfe, Smart State, Treasury
01:13:27 John Strano discusses the influence of ministers in the process of encouraging government investment. He describes this from Bjelke-Petersen Government through to the Beattie Government, he details the ministers through this period and then the staff where problems sometimes occured. He notes that from about 1995-96 he needed to justify some of the investment projects his section proposed. He notes that he had to educate governments to invest in the private sector but also let companies go about their business. investment, Jim Elder, Tom Barton, Tony McGrady
01:17:35 John Strano discusses government investment into the private sector, specifically its benefit to the community. investment
01:19:05 John Strano lists some of the companies that had deals with the government and moved to Queensland. He describes the reasons they moved to Queensland and the snowball effect. He uses the example of airport land and a CSR factory to describe some of the ways government facilitated investment in the early 2000s. aviation, Beattie Government 1998-2007, leadership
01:22:51 John Strano discusses the deal that brought Virgin Blue airlines to Queensland. He notes that the offer incentive was similar to the Victorians but Queensland had a better value proposition because they could underwrite seats through the state owned travel agency. He notes that the offer incentive was betwen $12-14 million. It was a deal struck with the help of leaders in government including the Premier and Deputy Premier. investment, Virgin Airlines
01:26:52 John Strano describes aviation as a key aspect of the Smart State strategy. He notes the collaboration between QUT, the CSIRO and Smart State funding on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). He describes the aviation companies that were attracted to Queensland but also the work of the government in setting up training facilities and organisations like Aviation Australia. He discusses call centres as an example of a cluster of economic development. aviation, Beattie Government 1998-2007, Brian Anker, Smart State
01:32:51 John Strano discusses the aviation industry with a focus on how Queensland attracted such a large share of the industry in the early 2000s. aviation, Smart State
01:36:36 John Strano considers some of the companies that Queensland did not attract and the reasons for this. He describes the case of winning Fisher & Paykel and later their exit from Queensland. He recalls the South Australian government selling off IT assets. Jim Elder
01:42:30 John Strano discusses his perceptions of both the One Nation phenomena and the Asian economic crisis and its influence over investment politics in the late 1990s. He describes the Korea zinc project in Townsville and some of the Asian investments into Queensland. Asia, Doug Slack, One Nation
01:46:18 John Strano discusses the history of Queensland privatisation. He notes that little of his role in investment was directed towards attracting Asian investors. Asia, investment, privatisation
01:49:24 John Strano describes his work in the investment division and the different incarnations of the division with the change of governments. investment
01:52:46 John Strano discusses the Smart State by describing what he thought the Smart State was and that it was more than a rocks and crops economy. He also discusses the part he played in making the strategy happen, largely in facilitating investment. He goes on to note the cumbersome processes that crept into his job near the end of his time and the issue of briefing notes. relationship with ministers, Smart State, Virgin Airlines
01:58:18 John Strano discusses the approaches of different governments in encouraging economic development. He notes the importance of Queensland changing its reputation in the early 2000s. He also discusses the importance of listening to what the market wants in working with investors.
02:02:26 John Strano notes that he achieved the most in his career in the field of investment attraction between 1997 and 2004. He notes the archaic system of some thinking in government regarding chasing investment.
02:06:55 John Strano reflects on his time in the public service and discusses his current aspirations. He notes his interest in Queensland's future and believes that Queensland still needs to refine its focus on specific areas of pursuit in economic development.
02:08:56 Interview ends.