Personal Reflections

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Off to the Hunter

I am off to the Hunter Valley tomorrow for Easter, along with camera and note book. It’s partly a wine trip, more an historical excursion bridging present and past. Mine, but also the Valley’s. The two connect.

I will be bringing up more posts before I go on other blogs, but this is the last post here before my return on Monday.

Have a happy Easter. Whether you are a Christian or not, its worth remembering that this part of the Christian story is about hardship, despair and ultimate redemption. I find that a useful thought,   

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Entitlements, budget deficits and facts – Mr Hockey’s challenge

I am having difficulty in uploading at present, at least from some sites. That’s annoying!

One of the current issues is the ending of the Australian age of entitlements, something that Treasurer Hockey is very keen on. A second subtext is the burden of taxation. It helps, I think, to get some facts to do with the discussion.

Today, the Australian Parliamentary Budget Office released its analysis of Trends in Australian Government Receipts over the last thirty years. This was the document that I wanted to reload for analysis. At the same time, Greg Jericho had an interesting piece on The Drum, The land where entitlement runs riot? Hardly. I wanted to join those two. Since I cannot reload the PBO piece, I will have to rely on memory and on you to correct me if I am wrong.

The PBO analysis shows that Commonwealth tax revenue as a percentage of GDP has fluctuated considerably over the last thirty years above and below the thirty year average. At present, tax collections at 24.3% of GDP are below the thirty year average. This compares with the Howard period when mining drove them well above. In addition to Federal taxes, we have state and local government taxes. State taxes are, I think, now about 4 per cent of GDP, local government about one per cent, making total Australian tax collections a bit less than 30 per cent of GDP.

The difference between Commonwealth tax collections at 24.3 per cent of GDP and combined state and local government taxes at 5 per cent is a measure of the fiscal imbalance in the current Australian system. The total percentage, however, does not suggest that Australia is grossly overtaxed in aggregate terms

There have been significant compositional changes within the tax mix, This was the area that I really wanted to look at again, so just a few take-home messages.

The really big growth area has been company tax collections. It’s not that company tax has gone up, it hasn't. Rather, profits as a share of GDP have risen significantly, increasing the company tax take.

This should be a good thing, business has more money to invest, and it probably did help during the mining boom by reducing our need to attract international capital. However, it is not clear that higher profit shares outside mining have encouraged investment to this point. Business has been more concerned to fix balance sheets, reduce debt, build reserves. It is this process that was one element in my positive assessment of the economic outlook last year.  Business had plenty of capacity to invest, so investment was likely to increase as re-balancing came to an end. Assuming, of course, that business saw expansion opportunities. That’s actually not clear, given that there has been something of a capital strike.

Within the remaining tax streams, the relative importance of personal tax collections and GST collections have declined. The decline in the relative importance of personal tax collections is understandable. Lower tax rates plus the increase in the profit share (by implication, the relative importance of income tax declines) have been more than sufficient to offset the continuing impact of fiscal drag. Fiscal drag refers to the way that money wage increases pushes people into higher tax brackets.

The relative decline in GST collections is more interesting, for this was meant to be the state growth tax. I haven’t looked at consumption as a share of GDP, but if the profit share goes up, the wages share down, consumption growth is likely to slow, more so if (as happened) the savings rate goes up. In addition, the growth in consumption spending appears to be concentrated in areas where GST exemptions apply or, alternatively, cannot be collected.

An example of the first is expenditure on private school fees, the second international travel and tourism spend. While I haven’t analysed the numbers, I suspect that international travel is more important than, for example, GST retail leakage.

On the surface, there would appear to be a real case for widening the GST net and perhaps increasing the rate. This would also have the advantage of increasing state revenue and hence decision freedom relative to the Commonwealth.

Turning now to the Jericho piece, this is interesting because he presents evidence suggesting that by global standards Australia simply isn’t an entitlement society. We actually do things efficiently and relatively cheaply as compared to, say, the US or indeed many other countries.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t an entitlement culture in certain areas, I could give you examples here including private education and paid parental leave, as well as a range of specific examples coming from the welfare sector. However, overall, Australia does not appear to be an entitlement society by global standards.

Where, then, does the debate actually rest? It appears to rest not on now what we spend now, but on what we might spend in the future given decisions already taken by Governments. It is in this area that we need to focus. Here we need to scope the real problem, not what government tells us.

My Hockey is focused on a tough budget now to solve future risks and problems. That may be right. However, I would be more comfortable if he gave me more information about his perception of the longer term. I don’t actually buy the entitlement debate as presently phrased. I don’t buy his prescription of the problem. I need to be convinced. That’s my challenge to you, Mr Hockey!  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Reflections on Clare’s graduation

Clare's graduation

Yesterday, Clare graduated from Macquarie University.

Milestones such as graduations always make me reflective.

It’s hard to remember back to all to all the events in my daughters’ lives.  Graduations in particular make me reflective.

Growing up  as an academic’s child in a university town,  graduations formed part of the warp and weft of my own life. They were part of the seasonal rhythms of the place, events that marked key periods in the yearly pattern.

Of all my friends, I know that Paul Barratt best remembers this pattern. Like mine, his father was an academic. He was also Esquire Bedell, carrying the University mace on formal occasions. Yesterday, the same type of mace was carried at Clare’s graduation. Michael Egan as Chancellor spoke of the traditions of a university.

Later, there came my own graduations, three in all, two at the University of New England, one at the Australian National University.  Then there were the other graduations of family and friends.

This shot shows my father being aDoctor of economics April 1979warded to Doctor of Economics from the University of New England in 1979.

I value these university traditions, more so as I grew older. Young, they were just there and seemed solid, enduring. Now I wonder.

In a corporatised world, the scope for history and tradition is reduced. At best, they become a marketing device, At worst, they are forgotten or ignored.

As I wandered through the grounds of Macquarie, I marvelled at the sheer size of the place, a young university just celebrating fifty years. There was the new private hospital, there the advanced hearing centre. This is big business. 

I accept that I am old fashioned. In the case of my own university, I have long argued that it cannot compete by doing what others do. It’s just not possible in a world where size and proximity to other resources creates competitive barriers to expansion by those less well placed. Better to focus on the university’s key strength, the fact that it is still a university in a world where this is increasingly less true. Stay smaller, redraw the playing field, resist the dictates from Canberra, build for the longer term based on strengths.

Last week in the Australian, now departed Vice Chancellor Jim Barber, was reported in the Australian. Here I have taken the liberty of reporting the story in full:

Barber, having left the University of New England, has come back to small-town central Victoria, where destructive bushfires are still fresh in memory.

Ahead he sees a different kind of threat, a global challenge reaching into every region, and that’s largely why he quit early as vice-chancellor.

“I was increasingly conflicted between what I thought was best for the institution and where I thought higher education was actually going,” he says.

He believes many campuses will simply lose their customers — students and industry — if massive open online courses, or MOOCs, morph into a product that offers engaging online education at a cut price, and credentials accepted by employers.

And he sees Australia’s universities as captives of a risk-averse culture, looking the wrong way, fixated on the recruitment of ­locals for courses that offer little choice, despite the rhetoric of a system driven by student demand.

“This fierce domestic competition is occurring just as the international MOOC industry is taking off,” Barber says.

UNE, with its small-town campus and big online reach, is in a curious position.

Barber says he loved his time there, and feels pride in its rapid progress, but was torn between his duties as vice-chancellor and his revolutionary instincts.

“UNE was terrific, the council and others really tried to support initiatives, but I knew there was a limit to how far I could go,” he says.

“(In theory) you really could jettison UNE’s entire on-campus operation, get rid of enormous cost and run a fairly lucrative (online) operation.

“But the sort of damage that does to the (Armidale) region for the foreseeable future is unconscionable.”

He acknowledges that campus buildings — and the setting they provide for a school-leaver’s coming-of-age — may still be marketing magic for the “premium brand” universities of the Group of Eight, or at least for some of them.

But he believes many institutions may not survive without change to ingrained habits and attitudes, and as yet he sees little sign of a sector rising to the challenge.

“It’s more ‘the rabbit in the headlights’ that we’re seeing,” he says.

“The response tends to be ‘let’s go to (US-based MOOCs provider) Coursera and ask them if they wouldn’t mind including some of our courses on their platform’, but no genuine innovation because the extent that’s required is potentially too profound.”

It’s this state of the sector rather than anything specific to UNE that Barber invokes when explaining why he escaped the chancellery’s confines for the freedom of a digital gadfly.

“I’d like to remain in higher education somehow and I’d even be happy to assist universities meet the challenges ahead, but I want to do so free of the constraints that go with being a vice-chancellor,” he says.

“I want Australia to be part of the new digital era, so I’m basically looking around for like-minded individuals, and seeing if we can build something together.

“And if I can’t work it out, I’ve always had a hankering to make Italian sausages and red wine.”

Last week, too, the University of New England was ranked number two nationally after Bond on student satisfaction with the place. If Jim had had his way, UNE might have become a large commercially successful institution in the on-line space, but would it have remained a university, would it still rank high on student satisfaction? Would it still have that intellectual buzz that has marked the place.

In fairness to Jim, towards the end he articulated a strategy that attempted to reconcile the two, using money generated on-line to fund the less economic campus experience, but his focus remained on the new.

As I said, I am old fashioned.

I don’t like what’s happened at the Gang of Eight. I greatly dislike a system that imperils my old university because the performance indicators are defined in such a way that institutions have to deal with a state imposed uniformity that builds in barriers to real initiative outside the bounds dictated by those performance indicators. And, speaking very personally, I really dislike a system where, at the grass roots in academic areas that I love, academics are just so pressured in terms of doing that they no longer have time to think or to explore ideas for the love of those ideas. How do I talk to them?

At Clare’s graduation, I was talking to two former UNE staff members. I think that they met at UNE. Certainly, UNE formed a key part of their relationship. They came to Macquarie for career reasons. There they had a significant impact on students in their chosen discipline. But, and for a whole variety of reasons, they remember their UNE period as a golden time, a time now lost.

Well, perhaps time to finish this muse. There will be more graduations. But, for the moment, an era has ended.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Living in an age of insecurity

I have avoided commenting on some of the discussion about the parameters of Treasurer Hockey’s forthcoming budget because of a feeling that I don’t have a great deal of value to add at this point to the constant media chatter. Better to wait until we see the budget and therefore have something to analyse. However, I am drawn to comment on what I see as the growing disconnect in the discussion and analysis between the concepts used and the human realities of current Australian life.

In assessing events, we all draw from our own experiences. In my case, I am coming towards the end of my formal working life, although I expect (hope?) to continue for some time yet. By contrast, my daughters and their friends are in their twenties. Between these two points, I observe a spectrum that varies in age and position.

I suppose that it’s a function of my age, but I have seen a fair number of people retire over recent years. Some, those on old fashioned super schemes, have retired at 65 or 60 or even 55. They have done so in part because that maximised their financial position, in part because they just got sick of working in the current organisational environment. Why bother? In other cases, you have people retiring well past normal retirement age, able to keep working because their employers have abolished the old mandatory retirement age. 

During that same period, I have also seen people effectively drop out of the workforce because of the difficulty of getting a job. Some weeks ago, I helped interview for a contract position. Some of the well qualified applicants prepared to drop down levels to get work, any work, had been unemployed for over six months.

At the other end of the spectrum among my daughters’ age groups, the job search can be relentless and difficult. With degrees a dime a dozen, just having a degree doesn’t guarantee any form of work. Employers pick and choose in a flooded market. Those who lose out tend to be those who are less focused or have fewer qualifications. The jobs that were once filled by school leavers expect graduates; the entry level positions in retailing or hospitality or even banking that once provided a path are increasingly dominated by part time workers needing to fund their education.

While ageism is alive and well in the private sector, many organisations are actually aging as older workers hang on or return. You see it in government, on the buses and now even in check-out operators. As older workers are employed or retain employment, opportunities open to the young diminish, at least for the present. We have seen this already in Europe where population aging is more advanced, where unemployment among the young exceeds the levels seen during the great depression.

I say for the present, for in places where forty or fifty is the new young, many organisations face a demographic time bomb because of the need to plan for almost total replacement of their workface within decades.

In Australia, the participation rate has been been falling as discouraged workers drop out. This is important, for how do you increase output when you have fewer people to do it with? How do you bring people back into the workforce when the jobs aren’t there, as skills atrophy through lack of use among those who were employed? What do you do with the increasing proportion of the population who haven’t had a chance to acquire real skills?

Australia does need economic reform. But in thinking of this, we shouldn’t underestimate the extent of real fear and insecurity in the workplace. Talking to a work friend this morning, she commented that those aged over fifty who lost their jobs would find it almost impossible to get work. Statistically, she is only partly right, but the fear is there.

When Treasurer Hockey says that all must bear the pain, when he puts everything on the table for review, he should remember the effects of the insecurity created in peoples’ minds. If you can’t count on your employer, if you can’t count on Government at the most basic level, if you can’t plan because everything changes, you take what you can, when you can. You protect yourself as best you can.

Perhaps the most erosive effect is the loss of basic loyalty, of faith in the system. We demand greater performance, but destroy the motivation necessary if that is to be achieved. It becomes just all too hard.  People cease to care. They drop out.

I think that’s a problem. I think that we need to find new approaches. But how? There’s the rub! Still, I would argue that policy is too important to be left to slogans or simple mechanical equations or performance measures, especially when so few of the equations or performance measures seem to work. Politics is about people and persuasion.

Take changes to GST as an example. GST could be changed. It would make sense. It could be sold. But it won’t be, at least for the present. In the meantime, we get promises that become mandates that become fixed in stone. Except, you see, no one believes that anything is fixed in stone. Nothing is fixed. Everything is changeable. Its only a matter of time and timing.

Household budgets are made, but are then thrown out. How can you budget when nothing is certain, when everything changes? It doesn’t work. Perhaps time to pause there. I have made my point.      

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Towards a new approach to economic and community development 2 - Man proposes, governments and markets dispose

It will be clear that I am having a little trouble posting at the moment. Just three posts last week. This led Winton Bates to write in a comments on Towards a new approach to economic and community development 1 Introduction

I have been looking forward to the follow up articles.
Is this just a story of exceptional individuals who happen to live in particular regions? Or is there a story about particular regions being supportive of the efforts of innovators?

In apology to Winton, it’s partly that I have been busy overall, more that I have been focused on some elements in my main history project, including especially the rise and fall of civil aviation in New England. EastWestAirlinesDC3PortMacquarie

This photo shows an East-West Airlines DC3 landing at Port Macquarie on the inaugural flight to that town. Note the crowd and the rather rough landing ground.

The rise of New England’s aviation sector including New England Airways (Lismore 1931), East-West Airlines (Tamworth 1947), Tamworth Air Taxis later Eastern Australia Airlines (Tamworth 1949), Aeropelican (Newcastle 1971), Oxley Airlines (Port Macquarie 1974) and Impulse Airlines (Sydney and then Newcastle 1992) is partly due to individual entrepreneurs.  However, the particular and continuing concentration of aviation activities in Tamworth is due to a supportive local climate, Winton’s second question.

The collapse of the New England aviation sector as a distinct entity reflects another set of factors, the way governments and markets dispose. At national level in Australia, the Menzie’s Government passed the Civil Aviation Agreement Act in 1952 establishing the two airline policy. The aim was to created a stable operating environment that would ensure services. In 1957, this policy was further strengthened. The aim, the Government said, was to ensure that there were two and not more than two operators on trunk line services.

To East-West,  Australia’s third largest carrier by the 1970s, the two airline policy was a commercial impediment. After fighting off a Government directed takeover from Ansett in 1961, the airline maintained a campaign that would finally break the policy in the 1980s. That success came at a cost.

East-West’s attempts to expand by, among other things, growing the Northern Territory leisure market, came at a cost. The board became worried at the losses, opening the door in 1982 for Duke Minks and Brian Grey to acquire the airline with the assistance of a $7.5 million loan from the Nauru Phosphate Trust. Minks Under Minks and Grey, the airline continued its campaign Three years later, East-West was sold for between $20 and $30 million to Rick Stowe’s Skywest who also continued the campaign. Meantime, the profits from the sale helped fund the creation of Compass Airlines, the first and ultimately unsuccessful large scale attempt to create a new national carrier to challenge the incumbent two.

From a national or broader state perspective, Governments actually work the percentages, although they never express it in those terms. Free markets and restructuring bring losses. Those losses are expected to be offset by new commercial activities. At a national level, this may be true, but the loses are always localised. Winners and losers differ.

By the nature of my work, I have a local or regional focus.

In July 1987, East-West was sold for a reported $150 million to a company controlled by Peter Abeles' TNT and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, the owners of Ansett. The $7.5 million from Nauru had gown twenty-fold in just five years. Four years later, on 18 September 1991, the Ansett controlled East-West announced that it was closing its Tamworth maintenance facility with the loss of 220 jobs and terminating all connections with Tamworth and the North. Two years later, the name East-West vanished from the skies, removed as a consequence of further corporate change. An era had finally ended.

Governments may be able to play the percentages at national level, but at local level the capacity to respond is far more limited. I think of this in terms of resilience. A resilient community can respond to losses because it already has things in place that it can turn too. However, strip too much and the capacity to respond vanishes. Strip too much across a broader area such as a region and its resilience vanishes. Strip too much from a nation and the same thing happens.  

In my next post in this series I will look a little more at the way that changing government policies play out on the ground to set the broader scene.  

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Yes darling

This cartoon came from Dan Piraro Bizarro Comics. What does one say except yes dear?! I guess that it’s a new theory of evolution!what does one say

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A classic Australian camping bus

This shot came from Lynne Sanders-Braithwaite. It really took me back. It’s not just that I remember Mr Doughan, but it’s a classic shot of Australian life styles past.

Aren’t they all dressed up for the photo? Wouldn’t you like to wander around the country in this bus, especially if you were a kid?! Think of the fun. Further comments follow the photo. The Doughan's bus

My family wasn’t into camping or caravanning. I was always a bit envious of those who went off and did such things. I find myself totally envious of that bus! 

Monday, April 07, 2014

A day at the Scots’ Rugby Sevens


I spent most of Saturday watching the Scots School Boys Invitation Rugby Sevens competition.   It was quite fun. This shot shows the Armidale School (TAS) in attack against Canberra Grammar.

Rugby sevens is a spin-off from the main fifteen a side game. While still part of rugby, rugby sevens has a become a game in its own right with greater international penetration than the main game because its rules make it easier for smaller rugby nations to participate successfully. Reflecting this greater mass reach, the game is a Commonwealth and now Olympic Games sport.P1010310

While played on a full size rugby field, each side has seven instead of the usual fifteen players. This requires a modified game.  For example, because there are only three forwards as compared to eight in the main game, scrums, rucks and mauls are necessarily simplified.

For non-rugby players, when a player is tackled carrying the ball, you need a process for releasing the ball to one side or the other. In League, this is the play the ball, in Union a ruck. 

This photo shows a ruck in the Canberra Grammar vs  TAS game. The player who has been tackled, the TAS number 4, has placed the ball on the TAS side. He is allowed to do this, but he cannot protect the ball beyond that without incurring a penalty. The forwards have formed a protective shield to allow them to get the ball back to the backs.

I often write about the importance of, and impact of, rules. Rules and the breaking of rules determines how activities flow and form specific cultures. My frequent concern lies in the in the way that over-prescription of rules, regulations and penalties can affect what we do in often very perverse ways.

P1010308 In rugby sevens, the smaller number of players on a full size field makes for a very fast game. The rules are designed to support this.

A smaller number of players playing a big game across a large area makes for exhaustion. To accommodate this, games are broken into two short halves. seven minutes with a one minute half time break. The final’s time is increased to ten minute, with a two minutes break. At Scots with school boys playing, the games had six minute halves, increased to seven for the finals.

A tournament in which a side came to play for just twelve minutes and then got knocked out would, from a player perspective, be a very dull game. Even with pools before quarter or semi finals allowing more games, it would still be dull for the losers. To accommodate this, many sevens tournaments have a competition for a cup, a plate, a bowl, and a shield. As a team is knocked out, they can continue playing for a trophy at a specific level. This allows many teams of different standards to avoid leaving empty handed. TAS won the bowl this year.

One of the reasons why sevens is so entertaining beyond the speed and spectator elements is that the action is continuous. As one game finishes, the teams for the next are ready to run onto the field. The Scots’ program had five ten minute breaks when nothing was happening, but beyond that action was continuous from 9am to about 5pm.

This allows a largish number of teams to participate. At Scots, there were twelve teams from four countries and four Australian states/territories participating. Because each team played a number of times, you got to know each team just a little adding to the interest.

In all, it was a fun if very tiring day.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

The Baaa-Studs present "Extreme Shepherding"

This is one of those extremely clever advertising videos, in this case for Samsung LED television sets,that has gone viral. At first I thought that it must be digitally altered. Director James Rouse denies this.

Regardless, its very clever and really fun.   

Bogie or Bogey in Australian English


The Bogey Hole is popular swimming spot at Sydney’s Bronte Beach. In Newcastle, the convict built Bogey Hole is a heritage listed local landmark.

I knew these names, but had never thought of their meaning. They are, in fact, very Australian. The Australian National Dictionary Centre describes the word in this way:

“Bogey (also spelt bogie) is a borrowing into Australian English from Dharuk, the Aboriginal language of the Sydney region, where it meant 'to bathe or swim'.

The earliest records show the term being used in the pidgin English of Aborigines:

1788 Historical Records of New South Wales II: I have bathed, or have been bathing... Bogie d'oway. These were Colby's words on coming out of the water.

1830 R. Dawson, Present State of Australia: 'Top bit, massa, bogy,' (bathe) and he threw himself into the water.

By the 1840s it was naturalised in Australian English:

1841 Historical Records of Australia: I suppose you want your Boat, Sir; Yes, said Mr Dixon; well, said Crabb I suppose we must bogey for it. Yes, said Mr Dixon, any two of ye that can swim.

In Australian English a noun meaning 'a swim or bathe; a bath' was formed from the verb:

1847 A. Harris, Settlers and Convicts: In the cool of the evening had a 'bogie' (bathe) in the river.

1869 W.M. Howell, Diggings and Bush: Florence was much amused the other evening by her enquiring if she (Flory) was going down to the water to have a 'bogey'. Flory was much puzzled till she found out that a 'bogey', in colonial phraseology, meant a bath.

1924 Bulletin: A boar was discovered by two of us having a bogey in a 16,000-yard tank about five miles from the river.

1981 G. Mackenzie, Aurukun Diary: A bogey is the Queensland outback word for a bath or bathe.

A bogey-hole is a 'swimming or bathing hole'.”

Why should I suddenly discover this now? I have been reading Ian Hoskins’ Coast: A history of the New South Wales Edge (NewSouth Publishing, Sydney 2013).  One of the themes in the last part of my history of New England is the rise of the coastal strip, the fall of the inland. This actually happened quite suddenly and especially from 1980. So I was interested in if depressed by the phenomenon.

The social and economic changes that I had identified and Hoskins mapped are interesting in their own right; they add texture to my story. However, in writing, Hoskins refers to to bogie as the word that came to be adopted for sea bathing.

The early British settlers did not swim as such for sport. Swimming described a physical activity, but most bathed. They went into the sea and especially the still waters for that purpose. The sea was, I suppose, the equivalent of the Roman baths.

The Australian coast with its surf was rough and dangerous for those, and this was most, who could not swim. Worried about deaths from drowning at the Newcastle convict settlement, Governor Macquarie directed that people should avoid the surf and bath only in the sheltered waters. Quite quickly, bogie became a word for sea bathing, bogey hole a place where it was safe to bath.   

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Towards a new approach to economic and community development 1 Introduction

a town like Alice

I have been interested in economic and community development activities for as long as I can remember. Part of that was family, but it was also strongly influenced at primary school when I read Neville Schute’s A Town Like Alice. It’s a good yarn, if a little dated in some of its attitudes.

Just at the moment, my History Revisited Column in the Armidale Express features a little of the story of civil aviation in New England. I have yet to bring the columns on-line, that will happen later in the week, but the link will give you access once I have them posted,

Its an interesting story that centres on the role of individuals in love with flying who create new economic activities that have great spin-off benefits for the area. It is also a story of progressive take-over of activities by bigger players that remove many of the local benefits, set against a background of Government policy decisions that force constant changes. We begin with a regulated sector, end with a regulated sector, but the pattern of change in regulation has profound local effects.

These airlines are not without Australian national significance; New England Airways (Lismore) established the Sydney-Brisbane run and formed the core of a new national carrier; East-West Airlines (Tamworth) was a familiar name in civil aviation until it vanished in the burn-out of Ansett; Eastern Airlines (Tamworth) forms the core of what is now called QANTAS Link; while the rise and fall of Impulse (Newcastle) featured in the civil aviation and commercial battles of the 1990s, with Impulse forming the core of what is now known as Jetstar. Other names in New England civil aviation include Oxley Airlines (Port Macquarie), Tamair (Tamworth) and Aeropelican (Newcastle).

The frequency of Tamworth (East-West, Eastern and Tamiar) reflects the entrepreneurial culture of that city, including the presence of locals prepared to invest on a risk sharing basis. Even today when Tamworth's aviation role has shrunk in relative terms as a consequence of constant change, it remains an important aviation centre; the Australian Airforce’s basic training is based there.

Tamworth’s entrepreneurial activity is not limited to flying. There was no logical reason why Tamworth should become country musical capital of Australia. It did so because of a small number of activists backed by the Higginbotham owned New England Radio Network and especially 2TM Tamworth. Reading the Broadcast Amalgamated board papers, there is constant discussion of the diseconomies created by regional scale versus the market, institutional and scale economies controlled by the big city broadcasters. There was a constant search for new markets, for way of overcoming the disadvantages. Tamworth country music was one outcome, Agquip (the big farm expo) another.

In reading the papers, the importance of individuals able to marshal support and resources comes through all the time. Neither Tamworth country music nor Agquip would exist without Max Ellis. Max Ellis could not have succeeded without Broadcast Amalgamated. And Max himself would not not be in Tamworth if his father Ulrich had not come to Armidale as campaign director for the New England New State Movement, the most long-running economic and political reform movement in the North.

But what makes for an entrepreneurial culture at local level? What creates the chains and connections that allows things to succeed despite all the odds? Why does one place or region succeed, another fail? Why is one project a success that feeds into further successes?

Over the next week or so, I am going to explore these questions, drawing from my personal experience and historical research, consolidating my previous writing.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Abbott, ideology and student politics

Back on 19 March, Alan Barcan, the Sydney Old Left and threads in New England’s history set out some initial thoughts triggered by reading Alan’s book Radical Students: the Old Left at Sydney University (Melbourne University Press, Carlton South 2002). I was interested in the book partly because I had read some of Alan’s work on the history of education in Australia, partly because I was trying to flesh out certain aspects of the development of Australian thought from the perspective of the history of New England that I am trying to write.

I followed this book by reading Judith Armstrong’s The Christensen Romance (Melbourne University Press, Carlton South 1996). This is the story of Clem and Nina Christensen. Clem was the founder of Meanjin, one of Australia’s literary magazines, while Nina founded Slavic Studies at the University of Melbourne. The book is partly the story of their respective life and careers, more the story of their relationship. Here you will get a feel from the title.

To a substantial degree, both books are dominated by life in two universities, Melbourne and Sydney. Alan focuses on Sydney, but refers often to Melbourne. Judith’s book focuses on Melbourne and the institutional battles that Clem and Nina faced; there is little about the broader impact of Meanjin. Both books are set against a backdrop of the political and ideological changes that took place in Australia and beyond during the twentieth century. Not unexpectedly, the names and events overlap.

As I indicated in my post, I grew up in a different academic world. However, I know the names referred to in both books. in some cases and especially in the case of the Barcan book, I knew the people; a number ended up at the University of New England or were connected through academic interests. They were part of the life I knew.

Obviously all this is of interest to me in a personal and professional sense. Unexpectedly, what caught my attention were the resonances between student politics at Sydney and current political events in Australia. PM Abbott at uni The role of current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in student politics at Sydney have been well documented, as has the influence of those battles on the PM’s thinking. This is an example from 2013: Shadow boxing: Abbott's battle against 'Marxists' at the University of Sydney. The story is introduced this way:

In the '70s and '80s, the University of Sydney was split in a fierce battle over attempts to teach students a new kind of neo-classical economic theory. At the heart of the battle were Tony Abbott, Anthony Albanese and Malcolm Turnbull—and their actions explain much about our current politics.

All this is true enough.However, what is less well recognised is that the conflict at Sydney University did not just emerge, but had its roots in past battles. Mr Abbott’s views were not formed by the ideological battles of the 70s, but by fights that began thirty years earlier and where then institutionalised in student thought.

That’s actually a bit frightening. Just as I coming from a different cultural and political background to Mr Abbott seek to pursue older agendas, to conserve things that I consider to be important, so Mr Abbott is working from old agendas. Neither he nor I are new men, but people inextricably involved in the past.

Mr Abbott would argue, as I do so often, that our views are tempered, reformed, by current experiences. We are both new men, changing to meet needs. Mmmm!

The original intellectual frame at Sydney was set by the left. The right responded during the ideological battles of the 1940s. For a long time, the Andersonian libertarians were the main opposition to the left, although both sides had many common views. It seems to me that the right response that finally emerged was a funny mixture of social conservatism, Catholic Action, anti-communism and libertarianism. Each contributed its own if sometimes conflicting thread to the political and social response.

Now, in 2014, those past battles within the Sydney University student body are playing out on the national stage. Who would have thought it?!