Personal Reflections

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just an open cut coal mine

This photo shows the Warkworth open cut coal mine. Comments follow the photo.P1010447

When do locals have the right to object to developments like this? It’s a real question.

At one level, of course they do. We live in a democracy, don't we?  But what happens when local protests including legal and political action get to the point that they stall a development, when the Government is forced to change the rules? The issue in this case is the extension of the mine towards the little village of Broke in the Hunter Valley.

Don’t get me wrong. I support development. However, the questions that I have posed a number of time on this blog include who pays, who gains, how do we compensate? If the little village of Broke effectively vanishes as a result of mine extension, how do we compensate? Just a question. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ministers and ministerial advisers – is the fall in the power of the first, the rise in power of the second, causation or simply correlation?

When I was first appointed to a senior executive role in the Commonwealth Public Service all those years ago, I was interviewed by the Department’s Secretary, the Deputy Secretary and my prospective Division Head. At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD as an external student at the University of New England writing a biography of David Drummond. Part of my focus was on his role as an activist minister for Education in NSW. This included his observations on the role of minister, staff and department. For that reason, I read up on changing ministerial and staff roles.

Reflecting on this, I commented in the interview on the way that the rise of Prime Ministerial control had forced an ever increasing volume of water (matters for decision) into that narrow cabinet pipe. “Very dirty water too”, the Deputy Secretary commented.

My point at the time was that the progressive decline in ministerial authority mean that there was less and less time for consideration of particular issues as higher volumes in given space increased velocity. Mr Fraser, an authoritarian PM, was in charge at the time. Ministerial advisers had emerged strongly during the Whitlam period, but were still less powerful than they had become in the UK.

I was reminded of all this by recent events in NSW. The continuing ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) inquiry into Obeid related matters has provided a public circus that has now brought down Premier O’Farrell over a rather expensive bottle of wine and has also extended into the Newman Administration in Queensland.

One recent issue involved a “doctored” NSW Cabinet Minute, I have put doctored in inverted commas because the matter conceals a significant constitutional issue. The story is complicated. However, by all accounts (this is one example), former Labor Minister Kelly was just too busy to read draft cabinet minutes even when they had been altered. A cabinet minute, by the way, is the top expression of advice from a Minister to Cabinet. At Federal level, they are called cabinet submissions.

Looking back at that earlier experience of mine, I wondered just when Ministers became too busy to read cabinet minutes or submissions. Of course, with sometimes high volume Ministers have to pick and choose which items they respond too. But too busy even to read your own?

Australia’s current political systems display a number of common features. These include a continued decline in ministerial power; a growing separation between ministers and the portfolio agencies they are responsible for; and the continued rise of the ministerial adviser.

I am not sure just what ministerial advisers actually do. As a senior public servant I dealt with them all the time. My job was to provide the best advice I could within the frame set by overall Government policy and especially that relating to my areas of interest. Their first job was to check my advice to identify political hooks that the Minister should be aware of. I did in fact try to do this myself, but I was totally comfortable with their double checks, given that my advice had to be objective including advising steps that might be politically damaging. 

I also found the advisers quite useful. Our roles were different, but there was a natural harmony between us because, in the end, we both wanted to get things done. So I involved my staff including junior staff in discussions and gave the advisers access to my own people. This is who you should contact to find out about this and so on. In system terms, I was given trust and freedom and was able to pass that on. This is no longer possible in today’s centralised systems, for the central focus now is on message control, avoiding risk.  

Today, the role of ministerial adviser has, somehow, become subsumed in political and personal games. The separation between Minister’s office and agency has become acute. In some cases, and this was shown clearly during the various ICAC inquiries, advisers and especially senior advisers have become participants in Minister’s personal financial games. In other cases, the advisers are active participants in external political games where the end point is their advancement. In still other cases, advisers have ideals and objectives for the public good but have no way of moving them forward because they don’t know how, don’t have access. Then there are the advisers sucked into the public policy game where presence in the Minister's Office gives them the illusion that they can write a note and something would happen. I call this the West Wing syndrome.  

Just after the Rudd Government was elected, I sat on the plane beside a new staffer on the way to Canberra. We chatted. I tried to emphasise the importance to him of building links at all levels within his new Minister’s agency. What do they think? What might be happening? I gave examples. He looked at me blankly.The Minister was the Minister, the agency did as it was told. He would change the world. 

The fish rots from the head. In the end, the fall in power of ministers has nothing to do with the rise in power of advisers. However, the rise in power of advisers is causally connected  to the fall in power of ministers.        

Monday, April 21, 2014

Stories from a writer’s desk – in search of Jasper

P1010508

I have had many writer’s desks in my travels. This one is at the resort in the Hunter Valley where I stayed over Easter.

I was sitting there browsing a book on the history of the Miner’s Federation locating spots on a tourist map of the Hunter. Yes, I know that I should get a life, but I need to know about the history of coal mining in the Hunter. I also need better maps!

My attention was distracted by a noise a little way away. Looking around, I found a woman in a nearby unit carrying a large Persian cat. You know how pet owners often resemble their pets? Both cat and owner were very attractive in a well-fed sort of way! Mind you, thinking about that: Avenger, am I a somewhat frightened wimp?!

As I watched, she placed the cat on the low brick wall in front of the unit. I was a bit surprised. The resort is pet friendly, but travelling with cats is a little unusual. They are more territorial, less owner focused, more likely to depart quickly in strange climes.

As I watched, the cat looked at his owner (I am sure that it was a he) and promptly jumped into the low hedge fringing the wall. I could see the cat, she could not. Having done his business, the cat set out to explore, moving along the base of the hedge hidden from sight. “Kitty, kitty” she called, ruffling the top of the hedge to attract attention. No success. Worried, she popped back into the unit to get support. Meantime, I watched the  cat jump onto the wall and then jump next door.

The women’s partner came out. “Jasper, Jasper”, he called, rustling the branches and looking around without success. Coming to the quick deduction that Jasper must be the cat, I called out. “Are you looking for your cat?” “Yes”, he replied. “He has gone next door”, I said. The partner jumped over the low dividing wall, the cat jumped back, and the happy family were re-united. “Thanks”, he called.

I went back to my book and map.      

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, it’s worth remembering that this part of the Christian story is about hardship, despair and ultimate redemption. I find that a useful thought,  

Postscript

My constantly helpful if unpaid research assistant kvd pointed me to this link, https://www.youtube.com/user/britishpathe. Have a look. The historical footage is fascinating, and there is a search facility.  Ah, the marvels of the internet!

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

Jim,
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

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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.