Personal Reflections

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Greek crisis - a high stakes game marked by blindness, inexperience and rigidity

Last night, I had ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) News 24 on when the press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker came on. It wasn't appearing in my twitter feed, that was full of tweets relating to the ABC Q&A program, so I started live tweeting the conference. When the ABC suddenly dropped coverage, I managed to follow along on the BBC.

Mr Junker was obviously an annoyed man. This was a pitch to the Greek people.

The BBC coverage is quite good on this one. Before going on, this EC press release will take you to the proposals as they were at the time that the Greek Government walked out having called the referendum.  I think that these are the proposals that Mr Juncker was referring too. They are difficult to interpret properly without more knowledge than I have of the current Greek system. They seem a little clunky, a  little over-prescriptive, to me.

Based on the public presentations from the two sides, it appears that the Greek Prime Minister's position is this. The EU can't afford to let Greece exit the Euro. The costs are too high. I need a no vote (no to accepting the proposals) to strengthen my negotiating hand. On the other side, a no vote means Greece's effective exit from the Euro.

Listening to the continuing feeds last night, I was reminded of two things. The first was the nearest Australian historical equivalent, the fight between the Federal and NSW State Governments during the depression over the Lang Plan. The second was the onset of the GFC where I stayed stuck to the TV in our Shanghai hotel room watching the crisis unfold..

In parallel to the evolving Greek crisis, the Chinese Government has announced measures to try to kick-start the slowing Chinese economy, while on the other side of the world, Puerto Rico is on the point of default on its $US72 billion in public debt. Meantime, stock markets are diving.

Greece has become a very high stakes game. I am not close enough to the political dynamics to understand all the possible permutations. On the surface, the lock-in effects on each side are now such that Greece will continue in economic lock-down mode until the referendum. If the vote is yes, the Tsipras Government has indicated that it will resign. Unless an alternative Government can be formed, that means new elections and further delays. If the vote is no, then everybody is going to be looking at exit strategies.

In Australian commentary, commentators have argued that China is far more important to this country. That's true at one level. But these things are interconnected. A telling sign here is the concerns expressed by the Russian Federation about the crisis. President Putin needs a weakened EU, not an EU in economic and political crisis whose flow-on economic effects affect other economies including Russia.

From a purely domestic Australian perspective, I don't have a clear idea as to what all this might mean. Clearly, it's a matter of concern to Australia's large Greek, Greek descended community. They have a very personal stake in the problem. Money is going back to Greece to support families and prayer vigils have been held. Beyond that, I have been trying to think through the flow-on effects depending on outcomes.

I hadn't expected the Tsipras Government to adopt such a high stakes approach. Looking at the IMF/ECB/EC document from a purely professional perspective and accepting that it has come about after a series of discussions, I don't think that the Tsipras Government really had clear strategic objectives, nor defined negotiating tactics. It finally devolved down to tinkering with detail. We will all suffer as a consequence.

Maybe in the few days before the referendum, Prime Minister Tsipras set out more than what, in the end, comes down to we were robbed. I wouldn't count on it, however.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Monday Forum - as you will

Another as you will forum.

The death of actor Patrick Macnee marked another passing for many of us old enough to remember the Avengers (1961-1969) or the New Avengers (1976-1977). I saw it first in 1967 and became quite addicted. It's still running on pay TV from time to time.

The photo comes from a BBC piece,
Patrick Macnee: The last great bowler hat-wearer. I knew nothing about the history of the bowler hat, so found the BBC piece very interesting. By the time I visited London for the first time, it had largely disappeared from the city. I remember being mildly disappointed. I hadn't realised that the bowler hat had a practical origin.

The Greek end game has become quite chaotic. It appears that the first that anybody knew about the proposed referendum came via a tweet. I don't know what the Greek PM was trying to achieve. He seems to have had a brain snap, something that is a feature of decision making under pressure when one side or the other ends by saying "well, bring it on."   

Well, there are two potential topics. Otherwise, feel free to go in whatever direction you want, including picking up any of the earlier things that we have talked about.


Interesting article from Nick Miller on the Greek crisis. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Essay - musings on women's sport

Again sidetracked this morning by the women's world cup. Again frustrated by the difficulty in actually finding the SBS live feed. Whoever designed the SBS web site deserves a good kick!

I got quite emotionally involved in the game to the point of tears when the Australian girls lost. The Japanese were the better side on the day, but our girls did us proud. Go the Matildas!

That got me thinking about women's sport, men's sport and the broader audience.

This is Aunt Kay on winning the Armidale tennis club woman's championship, It's actually a rather nice shot. Later she would go on to try for Wimbledon in the qualifying rounds. Kay argued, correctly to my mind, that women's tennis was more interesting than men's because of the higher skill levels required as compared to the power and physicality of the men's game.

Tennis was, I think, the first sport where the women's game came to rival the men's in popularity.

We are all formed by our own experiences. In  my case, my interest in women's sport came from my daughters. Outside tennis or athletics, I had no knowledge of women's sport beyond references in schholbooks. Then, with daughters, came almost two decades of watching my girls play.

This is Clare in goal, University of New South Wales defending. Emma. is in the middle. For a number of years Emmas's dad and I met at the hockey. I learned a fair bit about hockey (and Emmas's dad)!  He knew more than I, but together we would walk the sidelines and cheer.

A little later when the hockey world championships were on, I watched the women's matches. I knew enough about the rules by then to have a better feel for the technique of the game and to thoroughly enjoy the spectacle. ..

With Helen came netball and water polo, among other sports. As happened with Clare and hockey, after so many years watching netball, I acquired a real understanding for the game, along with some understanding of water polo. The next time that someone says that boys are rougher than girls, refer them to water polo! What goes on under the water is quite remarkable.

Do more women play sport now that in past years? They certainly spend more time in the gym, perhaps more time than men. But the answer is probably yes overall, although I know of no statistics to measure this.

Both girls and boys now have access to many more sports and at a higher level. The increase in standards has been quite substantial across all sports. In  Rugby, the game I now watch most at school level, my old school firsts now play in the GPS (NSW Greater Public Schools) thirds competition.

There are practical reasons for this. The school is simply not big enough in numbers to be able to the top GPS grade. Just because the school competes in the thirds does not mean that the boys do not have access to highly professional coaching nor to the latest sport's science. I could just wish that I had their opportunities when I played. Watching the boys play over the last two years, my feeling is that they would have defeated any of the school firsts at the time I played.

In all my years playing school sport, I don't think that my parents came to a single game or meet. The world of school was isolated. That has changed.

My own involvement in my girls' sport gave me much joy. However, the interest in and rising standard of school sport has its downsides. It has given rise to scandals about professionalism and to some very nasty behaviour by parents and other supporters.The idea that you would need guards at matches or rigid codes of conduct for players and especially spectators would have seemed incomprehensible to my parents or indeed me when I was growing up. The idea of drug testing for young athletes equally so.

Returning to my opening theme, there has been a lot of discussion over the last two decades about the limited audience for women's sport and the differential pay rates for men and women athletes. In the end, pay comes back to audiences. If you choose to play hockey at top grade, man or woman,  you will earn less for an equivalent skill level than if you were playing soccer.

As has already happened in tennis, when the audiences are there, pay tends to equalise.
As has already happened in soccer, as women's skill levels increase and where there is a competitive element that people can identify with, audiences grow. As they do, there is more cash.

Netball  is presently the most fascinating case study, for this is almost exclusively a girls' sport. With the possible exception of soccer, netball has the biggest junior playing base in Australia. It has a Trans-Tasman competition attracting growing attendances, including men. They may have begun as fathers, boyfriends or partners, but they remain attracted to the game.

Whether netball can make the final jump to a mass viewing audience of men as well as women is still an open question. I think that the code has a pretty fair chance of doing that.      .  


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - political and economic ramblings

This morning began, as Saturday mornings so often do, with a media tour looking for anything special that I might write about. I must say I find the electronic media including the BBC unsatisfying. They are useful for quick scan purposes, for perhaps indicating patterns, but they do not give me enough information to properly understand.

President Obama has had rather a good week. There was the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, the legislation on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and now the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.

I looked briefly at Obamacare in the context of the 2013 US debt ceiling impasse. I found it quite complex with major roll-out problems at the time, but couldn't quite understand the venom of the debate. While Republicans are still opposed, my feeling is that with the Supreme Court Decision, sufficient time has passed that the core will survive, if with modifications to improve performance.

The TPP is more problematic. There is a lot of debate in Australia especially on the left of politics about the value of the PTT, a view apparently shared by the Australian Productivity Commission, if on different grounds. I do understand the economics of "free trade" agreements including trade diversion versus trade creation.  However, when I first wrote on this some time back in the context of the strategic objectives of Australian trade policy,  I concluded that they were overall a good thing.

I'm not so sure now. The thing that has made me pause is the sheer complexity of the recent agreements for industry and others. FTAs are meant to simplify, not make trade and investment more complex.

One of the difficulties is discussed in the Productivity Commission report, the importance of global value chains. Both trade statistics and trade analysis have been based on a simple model. I sell something to you, you buy something from me. But what happens when the things I sell to you or you buy from me have inputs from other places? More complex still, what happens when the the things that you buy from me actually have less Australian content than the things that you buy from others?

 We re still coming to grips with these issues in both statistical and policy terms. However, it is already clear that trade statistics based on value chain analysis give very different results as compared to conventional models.

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia has released a report on the Future of Australia's Work Force. One conclusion is that 40% of Australia's work force could be replaced by automation over the next ten to twenty years. While I did receive advance notice of the release of the report, I simply haven't had time to read it. However, it bears upon a conversation that has been going on over at Winton Bate's place: Will robots replace human labour and reduce real wage levels?

I don't have a clear view on this. I don't know that there is one. Robots are installed because the price of labour is higher than that of capital involved. The freed labour bids labour costs (wages) down. This increased demand for labour. The lower costs associated with the robots allows for price reductions, increasing demand. Higher demand means more production, requiring capital and labour. So where does it end?

I am out of time now. Talk to you later.


Relevant to the discussion on this post, ABC business editor Ian Verrender on Australia's Free Trade Agreements. The central point, I think, is that the FTAs are complicating, not simplifying, trade and investment.

Postscript 2

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has released a defence of the PTT.  


Friday, June 26, 2015

Zaky Mallah, the ABC and patterns in Abbott (and Rudd Gillard) Government behaviour

The brouhaha over the appearance of  on the ABC's Q&A program continues. Neil Whitfield's From omnishambles to pizza…, while written from a particular viewpoint, provides factual background.

As you might expect from my use of the word brouhaha, this is another of those examples where I find myself on the opposite side of the fence to the Government.  I actually don't understand the angst involved, but the Government's response simply reinforces that sense of  fear that I referred to in my post
Saturday Morning Musings - Triggs, terrorism and the decline of freedom. There I said in part:
My problem is a simple one. I am frightened. I am not especially frightened by the risk of terrorism in this country. I accept that it's real, but in proportional terms it's far less than my chances of being bitten by a snake. I don't argue that we should wipe out every snake in the country to reduce that risk. It's my Government that frightens me. 
I have no faith that these growing powers won't be misused by this or future governments of any persuasion. I have no faith that there won't be victims, people who may have to fight sometimes vainly for justice against the law. How could I have faith? History including recent history is not encouraging.
There is little I can say that will persuade people either way, although on the Zaky Mallah case I would reproduce John Howard's words when asked a question by David Hicks. The graphic comes from A Rational Fear.

 The Australian electorate seems highly polarised. To a substantial degree, there are two threads polarised around the Abbott Government that basically talk to themselves. On particular issues there is enough middle ground to force compromises; on other issues and especially economic ones, the Government has over-reached itself sufficiently to create electoral kick-back, forcing not always sensible changes; but on many issues and especially those to which the nationalism or security tags can be attached, polarisation is quite acute.

Looking back over the many posts I have written on Mr Abbott or the Abbott Government, I can see patterns in both Abbott/Abbott Government statements and proposals and in my responses..I can also see the continuities with the previous Rudd/Gillard Governments. Neither should be surprising, of course. However, the patterns started to interest me.

It is actually quite difficult to draw out common threads since we generally respond on particular issues. We also inevitably get caught up in the group think that often goes with communicating primarily with those who agree with us in general or on particular issues. It's only when we stand back that other patterns become clear to the point that we can ask new questions, challenge those patterns or indeed our perceptions of those patterns.  

I'm not quite sure where I am going with this reflection. I suppose that having written so much over time, it gives me a base from which to reflect on at least my own reflections!    

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shared identity, land rights and proposed changes to the Australian constitution to recognise Aboriginal occupation

Tuesday's piece was entitled What might be the Australian equivalent of the Haka? Because there was some risk that what I wrote I might be misunderstood, I want to repeat here a clarification I made in a comment.
Hi kvd. I absolutely agree with you on attachment to country. I would also agree that there are elements in Aboriginal culture and lore that could/should be incorporated into broader Australian culture. You have identified some of them.

Just re-summarising my concern, there is a bifurcation in Australia that goes back a long time, has increased in recent years, that essentially places Aboriginal culture in a ghetto. Both sides bear responsibility. 
Take art an an example. I was early attracted to Aboriginal art, saw it as Aboriginal but also part of my own heritage as an Australian. It became part of my own visual imagery. And then came a movement that said that Aboriginal art was uniquely and specially attached to the Aborigines. That is obviously true at one level. But the way that it was phrased seemed, at least to me, to say that you, Jim, as a non-Aboriginal person do not have a right to claim that art as part of your own heritage. That is appropriation. You mustn't do it. That places Aboriginal art in a ghetto.
Welcome to country or smoking ceremonies are important, a link between Australia now and the Aboriginal past, but they have become ritualised. Of itself, there is nothing wrong with ritual. The Haka is a ritual. There are equivalent Māori welcomes. But the meaning always isn't clear, despite the efforts of Aboriginal elders to explain it. 
In my own way, I have tried to address the issue by making elements of Aboriginal history more accessible to Aboriginal an non-Aboriginal people alike, but I do despair at the constant emphasis on distinction between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal space.
Recently I had to write a short piece on the importance of the 1967 referendum to following generations for inclusion in a poster. I wrote that the campaign came after an extended period of Aboriginal agitation, that it was successful for it combined Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. It then helped lay the base for further Aboriginal activism, including the now iconic Aboriginal tent embassy.

As I write, the Barkandji people, have received limited native title recognition over a large part of Western NSW. At both state and national levels, the native total process is complicated and legalistic, something captured in the graphic from  @jwwr.

On Monday, the Australian Law Reform Commission is releasing its report into native title legislation.'Connection to Country: Review of the Native Title Act'. I suspect that will highlight some serious issues. For the moment I just note that whatever the imperfections, we have native title legislation because of Aboriginal campaigning that drew support from the broader community.

Again as I write, the Commonwealth special Parliamentary Committee inquiring into recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution is due to report. I support constitutional recognition, although the best form is far from clear to me.

On 18 May 2015, Recognise released survey results suggesting that if the RECOGNISE referendum were held today, 75 percent of all Australians and 87 percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people say they would vote Yes. This was attacked by Indigenous X.who reported their own on-line survey suggesting that a majority of Aboriginal people would actually vote no. On 24 June, Recognise responded on their blog, suggesting that the on-line results were unrepresentative, that the methodology and promotion of the survey actually attracted those who were opposed. I suspect that's right.

This is an Aboriginal passport issued by the Aboriginal Provisional Government that some activists have been trying to use for travel purposes. And yes, as so often happens, there is a new England connection!  Callum Clayton-Dixon  has Anaiwan connections. I actually made a small donation to help fund his and  Boe Spearim's 2014 trip to Canada. It's not that I agree with him, simply that I wanted the voices heard. It also seemed rather fun.

Returning to my point, While I think that Recognise is right in their assessment of the on-line survey, the feeds that come constantly across my screen show that there is considerable diversity in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander views. That's hardly surprising.

In my writing, I have made the point many times about diversity in Aboriginal Australia. While the smaller Torres Strait Islander group gets annoyed about their sometimes non-recognition in discussion, they have an identified home that belongs to them all. That is not true of Aboriginal Australians beyond the total continent. You have many different groups with differing cultures and connections to country, groups that have been affected in many different ways by European invasion across space and time. Now we want to deal with them as a single unit based on varying current perceptions. They try to respond in kind. It's actually very hard.

 Trying, in conclusion, to bring this discussion together.

We need better integration of non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal Australians, not integration in the way that word has often been used, but integration in the sense that gives me permission as a non-Aboriginal Australian, permission to share, to identify, to adopt. On a very personal note, working as a non-Aboriginal person in an Aboriginal space, I have sometimes felt very excluded.

We have to recognise diversity and allow time for views to evolve.The current discussion on Aboriginal recognition in the constitution is actually a top-down discussion.  You can see that in the wording used. It's locked in to current perceptions.

On the constitution, that's Australia's supreme law. If we are going to get anything through, it has to be minimalist. This is where I agree with Noel Pearson. Use the constitution as a minimum base, then get further changes through in declarations and legislation based on that base. Then, if necessary, look to further changes to the constitution.


You can find  the Parliamentary Committee report here. Meantime, the Yaegl people from the Lower Clarence have had their native title claim recognised

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Musings on the Killing Season 3 - Mr Abbott's collateral damage

I see that Neil has already posted on the final episode of The Killing Season. With my TV still on the blink, I watched on Iview this morning. We are in periods that I was writing on on almost a daily basis.

Looking at it, it is clear that there were a series of misjudgments. However, that wasn't my primary reaction. My primary reaction was how can governments make sensible judgments of any type in that environment. The program captured so well the pressure cooker atmosphere of Canberra, that strange bubble that generates its own reality.

In some of my writing, I said that to survive, Julia Gillard had to find that quite space in the midst of turmoil that would allow her to break away, to think. I'm sure that that was good advice, but how the bloody hell do you do it?!  With a crammed appointment book, with constant information on polls and focus groups flowing in, with the demand to react now, any form of rational thought becomes very, very difficult.

I have been involved in or on the periphery of politics for much of my life.I was trying to work out how I would have responded if I were a Gillard or Rudd adviser to some of those events. A classic case is the failure to mention Mr Rudd at that speech, coming on top of the previous decision to distance the new Gillard Government from the previous Rudd-Gillard administration.The implications weren't even seen.

It's easy to be wise in hindsight, but watching Mr Rudd's face I thought damn, how would I have felt? Still, I'm not sure that I would have done any better as an adviser in those circumstances. Maybe I would have, for common kindness should have dictated a different response What happened wasn't fair. It was also unnecessary.

Ah well. Those who sow the wind reap the whirlwind, as Mr Abbott is finding now. That was not a party political statement, simply a judgement, one that may well be wrong. The next federal election is likely to be dirtiest on record. There are just so many visuals, I'm now speaking professionally, that both sides will use the media to wreak havoc.

If I was a Labor strategist, and I'm sure that this is happening, I would be working through image after image to put them into possible combinations. It doesn't have to be mass advertising although that will occur, simply very targeted stuff that will discredit Mr Abbott with particular groups.

I can see the slogans now. "Do you still trust this man to run the country?."  You don't have to shift a lot of votes, simply votes in the right places.Of course Labor (and our political system) has suffered from this series. However, the damage to Labor is now. The roll-on effects will be far greater than that.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What might be the Australian equivalent of the Haka?

Haka is used throughout New Zealand by many, not only Māori, to demonstrate their collective thoughts. There is a haka for each of the Services, as well as the Defence Force. Units with the NZ Army have their own haka. This video shows the soldiers of 2/1 RNZIR Battalion performing their Unit haka, powerfully.

Now this is a video clip of Prince Harry visiting New Zealand. Further comments follow the clip.

Regular readers will know that I am part Kiwi. I take great pride in that part. My New Zealand family has been involved in Māori studies and Māori advancement for almost one hundred years. I take pride in that. It has influenced me for much of my life and does so now.

One of the difficulties we have in Australia is that we have no equivalent of the Haka. In New Zealand, if you are a Pākehā, you can and should take part in the Haka because you are a Kiwi. You are not excluded. It is a national thing. An affirmation of common identity dating back to New Zealand's Māori past. In Australia, we treat Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal as separate domains. If you are non-Aboriginal, you do not belong in the Aboriginal domain except, sometimes, as an invited guest or, more often, as an observer of something like a smoking ceremony.

Australia and New Zealand are, of course, very different. They are now and were prior to European settlement. In New Zealand, I think that we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Māori connection will be an integral element of New Zealand life in one hundred years time. We cannot say the same thing in Australia for the Aboriginal connection. We just don't share enough, we have no common ceremonies, there is no way of admitting non-Aboriginal Australians into elements of Aboriginal life that might create shared ceremonial bonds.

I accept that this is a sweeping statement yet, when I look at the Haka, I feel that it is true.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Monday Forum - end of fossil fuels?

I must say at the outset that I rather like coal mines. Without coal, there would have been no industrial revolution. Without coal, the area I come from would have been a lot poorer.

All that said, for this Monday Forum I pose four questions:
  • are fossil fuels finished?
  • if so, in what time horizon?
  • if so, what will take their place?
  • and which parts of Australia might win or lose?
I have made my own biases clear with my opening comment. I now hand it over to you.


Interesting discussion on this post that I would like to come back too later. In the meantime, the Australian Energy Market Operator has release a discussion paper: 2015 Emerging Technologies Information Paper.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday Essay - the RBA on the reasons why lower interest rates don't presently lead to more investment

I do like the Reserve Bank of Australia. The Bank has come to fill the role that the Commonwealth Treasury once filled, the provision of relevant economic analysis that one can read without worrying about the political overlay. I mention this now because the June Quarter RBA Bulletin carried a very useful research report by Kevin Lane and Tom Rosewall simply entitled Firms’ Investment Decisions and Interest Rates.

One of the issues that I and others have been concerned about is the apparent investment strike that has been underway for a number of years. We have businesses with cash, we have very low interest rates, and yet business investment is at relatively low levels. We also have businesses that have been paying out an increasing proportion of profits in dividend, again implying that the investment options aren't there. Kevin Lane and Tom Rosewell examine these conundrums by examining the way that firms make investment decisions.

 The summary reads:
Firms typically evaluate investment opportunities by calculating expected rates of return and the payback period (the time taken to recoup the capital outlay). Liaison and survey evidence indicate that Australian firms tend to require expected returns on capital expenditure to exceed high ‘hurdle rates’ of return that are often well above the cost of capital and do not change very often. In addition, many firms require the investment outlay to be recouped within a few years, requiring even greater implied rates of return. As a consequence, the capital expenditure decisions of many Australian firms are not directly sensitive to changes in interest rates. Furthermore, although both the hurdle rate of return and the payback period offer an objective decision rule on which to base expenditure decisions, the overall decision process is often highly subjective, so that ‘animal spirits’ can play a significant role. 
I will leave you to read the piece in full, it's not complicated, but just a short head's up.

Firms look at the expected rate of return to determine the expected value of an investment. This is an absolute number that has nothing to do with the weighted cost of capital as such. The hurdle rate is is the percentage return that must be achieved before a firm will invest. The expected yield is the difference between the projected return and the weighted average cost of capital.

You would expect a rise in yield to increase investment. In other words, if interest rates or indeed tax rates go down and yield rises, you would expect investment to increase. However, if the hurdle rate is fixed or adjusts very slowly, if that rate is calculated independently of funding costs or indeed taxation impacts, rises in yields may have no investment impacts.

The use of pay-back periods in combination with hurdle rates compounds the problem. The pay-back period, the time required to recover costs, is a risk measure. When times are uncertain, you want your cash back more quickly. So investments have to pass two tests: will I get the rate of return I want; will I get my cash back in the time I want? The practical effect is to increase the required rate of return beyond the hurdle rate.

I leave it to you to read the paper. My thanks to Kevin Lane and Tom Rosewell for their work.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

A note on the Northern Australia White Paper

The Australian Government's White Paper on Northern Australia is quite complex. It has the usual weaknesses of modern Government policy papers such as the use of the word "will" when "should" would have been more appropriate, as well as that constant tendency to repackage existing initiatives that seem vaguely relevant. All that said, it has a fair bit of substance, enough to allow me to actually engage with it.

Geographical Diversity

Northern Australia is very diverse. It is not an entity, simply a territory created by a line drawn on the map. While the White Paper does recognise that diversity, I'm not sure that it properly understand that it is dealing with an artificial entity. To my mind, the Paper suffers to a degree from a failure to recognise geography.

Indigenous Issues

A significant proportion of the paper focuses on Aboriginal land rights issues. Bob Gosford provides a comment on this. While I have been working in the NSW Aboriginal policy space, I lack the on-ground knowledge to be able to comment properly

I note that the Paper appears to make no reference to the Torres Strait, to Torres Strait Islanders nor, indeed, to Papua New Guinea. There is an apparent myopia here.


So far as North Queensland is concerned,
PNG is the closest country. What happens in PNG will affect North Queensland in ways that we cannot see yet. Inevitably, there will be greater flows of trade, of people, and possibly of disease between the two areas.

Just to put a number on this, PNG's population is projected to exceed 13 million by 2050.That's small in the global sweep, but quite large relative to North Queensland. Cairns is only an hour an a half flight from Port Moresby.

Irrigation and Agribusiness

The level of hype often associated with develop the North is largely missing from this Paper.Pest, soils and transport costs have always been the killer here. What we can say with a degree of certainty is that there is scope for expanding irrigation, but that it's likely to be quite slow. Not sure how water trading will help. This comes into its own when a market is there.

I am unable to make a judgment on how the proposals will help the live meat trade, beyond noting that improved infrastructure will help. Ditto, I think, so far as aquaculture is concerned. Here, intuitively, there is scope if the markets are there.

With agriculture, it comes back to markets. The local markets will grow, the southern markets will grow, while access to Indonesia will improve and the market there grow as incomes rise.However, this brings in another point.

Relations with Neighboring Countries.

There is a certain tension in the White Paper on relations with surrounding countries and especially relations with Indonesia. Access to close markets is played up as a positive, but this is somewhat disconnected with current policies. No doubt that will pass.

Roads, Rail and Other Infrastructure

Investment in transport and communications infrastructure will clearly help. Here I would make two points. It is not clear to me how the concessional loan fund will work at this point. I'm not saying it won't work, just that I don't know how.The second is the impact of improved intra-Northern Australia links. I'm not saying anything profound here, just curious.

My feeling is that as intra-Northern communications improves, Darwin's economic reach will spread. Connected, I also think that it will encourage flows of goods and especially people in ways we cannot see now.


I would expect external tourism to grow regardless of the White paper. This is likely to benefit Darwin most of all as an entry point. If we look at Jakarta as a destination, there are (I think) presently no direct flights from Broome, Cairns or Townsville. Actually, I'm not sure there are any from Darwin! I thought that there were.

I selected Jakarta because it is a major port in a large population country adjacent to much of Northern Australia. I had not expected the connections to be so sparse. Still, I don't think that it affects my point.

Education and Science

I would expect some gains here flowing from higher investment in research and in education promotion. I'm not sure, however, how much this will pay back in real gains. I can see, for example, Charles Darwin gaining from student numbers simply because it is close to parts of Indonesia. I t is harder to see James Cook gaining.


Then White Paper does deal with certain migration issues including tourist and short term work arrangements. However, there is no reference to broader migration issues such as PNG migration into North Queensland or Indonesian migration into the Northern territory. I would have thought that this would follow from closer links and especially Indonesia and the Northern Territory.

The Dynamics of it all

The dynamics of this type of initiative interests me. Now here I'm simply not sure.Assume that the White Paper delivers on its objectives. We are going to have a bigger North, but it won't be a single North despite the growing inter-connections. My feeling is that we are, in fact, going to have three Norths reflecting current boundaries and differing geographies - a Kimberley North, a Darwin and southern NT North and a Far North Queensland North, each very different. And the winner is? - Darwin. What do you think? .      



Friday, June 19, 2015

Musings on left and right: does it matter?

Its been quite cold and wet in Sydney. Technically, Sydney has a sub-tropical climate, so we are not geared to the combination of cold and wet. I wish the rain would go inland where it's really wanted!

Looking at my stats, the most visited post this month by a country mile is Mixed income/rental models in social housing. That's actually good to see.

Today's post is triggered by a piece Tim Dunlop on the Drum: A good political 'narrative' is no substitute for actions. Here I want to focus not on the general points made by Mr Dunlop but on one point summarised in the following quote:
For a start, it (the argument) overlooks the fact that mainstream discourse is dominated by right wing voices - a case I have made time and time again.
I don't think that statement is true.

Like many of us, I struggle to make meaning of the distinction between right and left. Personally, I just don't fit in with the conventional definitions. The pop quizzes place me just to the left of center on the range of criteria used in judgement. However, on particular issues I span from far left to well on the right. It depends on the issue.

Accepting definitional ambiguities, it is hard to see that mainstream discourse is dominated by the right. The usual argument is to point to the dominance of the Murdoch press or the influence of certain talk back radio hosts. They are important in slices of the market, but they are not dominant. If you move beyond the media to include the totality of mainstream discourse, the case is a little stronger, especially in the public policy sphere.

Now here we have to come back to definitions again.What do we mean by right wing voices? There is, I think, a dominant thread that argues for a reduced role for government, for lower taxes, for deficit reduction. I think that its also true that this thread gained its dominance from right voices and intellectuals dating back many generations and from conditions at that time. But this thread, this way of thinking, is not totally dominant.

For every right wing think tank, there is an opposing one. For every newspaper such as the Australian Financial Review, by far the most important of the right wing voices on economic matters, you have an opposing one. You only have to look at the rise of the Guardian in Australia to see the size of the center left market.

Most importantly, and to the despair of elements of the right, they have actually been losing the battle for public opinion. You only have to look at the response to the 2014 Australian budget to see that.

One of the real difficulties for the right is actually trying to define what it really is. The right has always been riven by internal tensions, for there are many different rights.

There is the libertarian right, that group that focuses on individual rights and freedoms and takes pride in a long intellectual tradition. This is the right of Hayek, of Adam Smith.or David Hume, of Friedman or Thatcher. It is also the right that came to establish a now challenged dominant position in economic and public policy more broadly.

This right contrasts with the statist right. Central to the statist right is either the preservation of the existing order (the state) or, conversely, its replacement by a new order that will better promote the state. Mr Abbott arguably belongs to first, Adolf Hitler the second. Both groups overlap with other political definitions such as conservatism or populism. In Germany, conservative forces supported Adolf Hitler because they saw him (wrongly) as protecting or re-establishing an existing order threatened by Bolshevism.

In all this, the real problem for the left is that the intellectual framework that guided the left over the last two hundred years has simply collapsed. In turn, this has created a problem for the right, for over that time the right has partly defined itself in opposition to the left. Both are confused.

I first became really aware of these tensions when I was researching the Country Party, for this was a party that initially defined itself in terms of opposing the nostrums of left and right, seeking to distinguish itself from both, How do you do that when the left-right world view is just so dominant? What language do you use when you are challenging the established order, rejecting some things, accepting others?

I'm not sure that I ever came up with an answer. I could point to the Party's successes during that tension period when it was opposing both views, but in the end it got sucked in to the existing structure.

I have sometimes compared the Country Part to the Greens because they faced similar electoral challenges in a day to day sense. Unlike the Country Party, the Greens are a left party. Like the old Country Party, their challenge is to determine to what extent they will compromise their views to achieve power. .      .       .        .