Monday, December 31, 2007

Gardening - I need your help!

I have been looking for a suitable photo to illustrate this story, but could not find one.

At the end of October I mentioned that I had done some planting in the garden. I have done very little since.

I need your help. I love gardening. It is my main exercise. It refreshes my mind. And I love the taste of fresh vegetables. Yet I do not do it.

I am a creature of habit and deadlines. To do things, I need pressure. Then, once I get going, things get easier.

To place pressure on myself, I am going to do a series of regular gardening reports on this blog. Not gardening in general, gardening that I have done.

How can you help me? If I have not written a report for a little while, remind me. That way you help me!

And so the year ends - 2008 blogging resolutions

  • Photo: Will Owen, Red Desert. From one of the blogs I have really enjoyed this year.

I was going to do a full review across all my blogs of 2007 issues and topics. Then I stopped. It turns out that I have written 762 posts this year, with a few more to go today.

A number of the posts are short. Others are simply entry posts. Some are cross-posts. Even so, I would appear to have written perhaps 500,000 words. That's a lot of words!

I have always had a frustrated desire to research and write. Blogging has provided the vehicle to do this, as well as the discipline - the requirement to actually post.

I made my first ever post on this blog on 19 March 2006. This was followed by New England, Australia (8 April 2006), Managing the Professional Services Firm (3 July 2006), Regional Living Australia (23 July 2006), what is now Management Perspectives ( 7 November 2006), New England's History ( 24 November 2006) and then History of Australian and New Zealand Thought (25 August 2006).

A lot of blogs, all with voracious appetites!

Blogging has been a release, a source of ideas and means of stimulation, of keeping in touch in a personal and professional sense. It has also been unexpectedly fruitful in terms of friendships.

It has, not, however, been a direct source of income. My total direct earnings in 2007 from blogs/web sites was $US210.25, equivalent (as my wife rudely points out) to about 4 cents per hour!

I suppose that many bloggers dream of becoming an A-list blogger, of joining that small select group who do make decent money from blogging. I am not totally immune to this . However, the mixed personal and professional reasons that drive me to blogging are simply not compatible with the approach and discipline required to achieve A-list standing. I do not want to pay the price involved!

That said, I do want to get best value for my time, recognising that I have mixed motives of which sheer enjoyment is a key part. Otherwise I do risk, as happens to so many bloggers, simply burning out. So what are my 2008 blogging resolutions?

The first is to continue to have fun. As part of this, to continue to contribute to discussion of other people's interests and concerns, the civilised discourse of the blogosphere, especially in the world of those I think of as my immediate blogging friends.

I say friends advisedly. You have become people to me with your own quirks. I many not agree with you, but I do think about you. The world would be awfully dull if we were all the same, duller if you did not exist.

I also look forward to making new blogger friends. Like all friendships, blogging friendships evolve through contact. You have to get to understand not just the thoughts, but the feelings.

My second resolution is to do more with the content that I have created. From time to time I write real rubbish. Other posts are ordinary. But some posts have, looking back, good content.

But what do I mean by doing more with the content?

When I look at the better content, I find themes. Some simply deserve re-publishing, and not just in blogging form. Others need extension. So I have a fair bit to do here. This really means spending a little less time blogging, a little more on research and writing off-line.

My third resolution is to try be more disciplined in maintaining the core focus of my individual blogs. Because my interests cross-over, I sometimes just post a story to the blog most in need of a post. Yet each blog or web site is different, serving different purposes and audiences. I need to remember this. Otherwise things get blurred, focus gets lost.

My fourth resolution is to do more with what I have.

To a degree, blogging is individual and private. We sit in front of our computers, composing. Yet blogs are also a window into a broader external world. There is no reason why we should not take advantage of this.

Because this will sound very obscure, let me illustrate by example.

I plan to buy a digital camera as soon as I can afford it. I am also going to print some new business cards. Then, armed with that camera and cards, I am going to allocate some weekends to visit some of the things I write about, to meet some of the people I talk about.

This will be fun in its own right. But it will also generate new stories and content.

My last resolution is to get control of my emails. I am hopeless here. I must do better!

Well, there are my blogging resolutions for 2008. What are yours?


And I thought that I was a busy blogger. I see that Neil managed to put up 1,314 posts during the year! Crikey, that really puts my efforts in the shade!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

NSW Demographic Snapshot as at 30 June 2006 - fastest growing councils 1

Streetscape: Inner Sydney

As at 30 June 2006, NSW as a whole had a population of 6.8 million.

Over the 2001-2006 census period, the state has a whole had an average annual population growth of 0.7%. However, this average concealed major variations at local level.

A list of the ten fastest growing local government areas follows ranked by annual average population growth over 2002-2006. It is a polyglot lot.

  • Sydney 4.9%
  • Palerang 3.5%
  • Auburn 3%
  • Strathfield 2.7%
  • Baulkham Hills 2.6%
  • Yass Valley 2.6%
  • Camden 2.3%
  • Queanbeyan 2.3%
  • Tweed 2.2%
  • Canada Bay 2%

The City of Sydney covers the CBD and immediately surrounding suburbs. In blogging terms, this is where James O'Brien, Neil Whitfield or for that matter I now live, since the last boundary changes added my suburb to the City of Sydney.

This is the Sydney that visitors know best since it includes the city itself with its attractions, as well as the surrounding gallery and restaurant areas.

In the period 2001-2006 the population of the City of Sydney grew from 129,696 to 164,547, marking a continuing and fundamental demographic shift.

This is the oldest area of Sydney, with the city core surrounded by many once working class areas where the workers lived who serviced the city and port, as well as the factories located in the inner city ring. A place of distinct localities. This was also the place where many intellectuals clustered, of bohemian life style.

Sydney has become gentrified and increasingly flatified as the factories closed, the original workers moved out and the middle class moved in. Recently, I have watched as the apartment blocks moved west along the main arteries, getting closer and closer to the street in which we live. Now the factories across the road are for sale.

This is increasingly a city of the younger professionals, of singles or share households attracted by the metro lifestyle. It has the lowest birth rate in NSW (0.91 babies per woman as compared to a state average of 1.79), as well as the lowest proportion of people holding a driving license (61% of those over 16 as compared to a state average of 83%).

For more demographic information on Sydney see Teasing Neil - but with a serious point.

Palerang, the next fastest growing local government area, caused a mental block for the moment. The size of its population, up from 10,876 to 12,913 over the census period, suggested a country location. But I could not remember where. But then, checking, I found I knew it very well indeed, just under its previous name.

Now that I know where it is, I should deal with it, Queanbeyan and Yass together since their growth is all linked.

At time of Federation, no one would agree with either Sydney or Melbourne becoming capital of the new Commonwealth of Australia, so a decision was made to build a new capital. This led to the creation of the Australian Capital Territory and the development of Canberra.

Canberra is one of the elephants in the NSW room, and not just because of the role of the national government.

The ACT's population is now just over 338,000, growing by 1.5% in the twelve months to 30 March 2007. This growth has spread into the adjoining areas of Yass, Queanbeyan and Palerang.

Queanbeyan is just over the ACT border to the south, a bit over 11k from Parliament House. Between 2001 and 2006, its population grew from 33,765 to 37,855, giving an annual average growth rate of 2.3%.

I lived in Queanbeyan, so know the place well. Queanbeyan began as a rural service centre, then grew because it housed the workers building Canberra. Canberra was dry at the time, so this is also where Canberra people went to have a drink.

This was one of the first truly polycultural communities in Australia, drawing workers from many parts of southern and eastern Europe. As they became wealthier and built bigger houses in Queanbeyan and Canberra, they developed styles we described in the early seventies as Italian Modern and Yugoslav Gothic, the start of the huge house on the small block now so common in Sydney.

Campaigning in Queanbeyan as I did was always interesting because of the variety of home produced food and drink offered in hospitality. This was strong, traditional Labor territory, so re-building the Country Party base was an interesting challenge!

Yass on the other side of the ACT was very different. It is further away (61k) and therefore less influenced by Canberra. It was also much much wealthier, the heart of a traditional grazing area. However, now Canberra's growth has spread to Yass.

Between 2001 and 2006, the population of the Yass Valley Council area grew from 12,103 to 13,747 for an annual average increase of 2.6%, direclty reflecting Canberra's growth.

Palerang lies to the east and south of Queanbeyan/Canberra and covers Braidwood, Bungendore and Captains Flat and the outlying villages of Araluen, Majors Creek, Mongarlowe and Nerriga. It also includes the areas of Wamboin, Burra, Bywong, Hoskinstown, and parts of Sutton, Royalla and Carwoola.

Again, its population growth directly reflects the growth of Canberra.

But why does all this make Canberra an elephant in the NSW room?

Quite simply, the city's growth not only affects the surrounding region in population and economic terms, but also in governance terms. Canberra's influence means that the broader capital region as it has become known incorporates increasing slabs of NSW and therefore has to be managed by the NSW and ACT Governments through collaborative arrangements.

Canberra is not the only elephant. We can see this same fragmentation process in the south and north of the state, where the growing influence of Victoria and Queensland creates similar issues.

The Tweed Shire Council, the ninth fastest growing local government area, covers 1,300 square kilometres in the far north east of NSW (and New England) next to the Queensland border, 828k (1o hours 41 minutes driving time) from Sydney. Between 2001 and 2006, Tweed's population grew from 74,577 to 82,955 for an annual average increase of 2.2%.

Tweed Heads lies next door to Queensland's fast growing Gold Coast, one of Australia's best known tourist destinations. Between 1986 and 2005, the Gold Coast grew by 267,000 people, and is expected to grow again by the same ammount in the next twent years.

Tweed's natural beauty (the popular New England tourist destination of Byron Bay - 30,635 people - also lies next door), the climate and the proximity to the Gold Coast have all combined to trigger growth that has transformed Tweed Heads into a major urban centre in a few short decades.

The growth of Tweed Heads and the immediately surrounding region has had quite profound on-ground effects.

The nearby city of Lismore (44,225) on the Richmond River, once New England's second largest city after Newcastle, has struggled to maintain its position in the face of the overwhelming retail power of the Gold Coast.

As with Canberra and the surrounding region, this northern area cannot be governed in isolation from a Queensland to which it increasingly belongs in economic terms. I will look more broadly at some of these governance issues in a later post.

The remaining fast growth areas - Auburn, Strathfield, Baulkham Hills, Camden and Canada Bay - all form part of greater Sydney. I will look at these areas in a different post because they raise different issues.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Australia's Culture Wars - uniquely Australian?

Every so often something happens that forces a change in views. In this case, the trigger was comment by Lexcen on my post on deconstructing the culture wars. The outcome is a feeling that I need to put a line through a fair bit of the post.

I will explain why in a moment, but first a question. Does anyone know when the terms "culture wars" or "culture war" were first used in Australia, by whom and in what context?

I wrote my post on the culture wars to try to disentangle some of the threads as I saw them. In doing so, I suppose I took for granted that there was some logical connection between the US and Australian debates in this area. Here part of my aim was to draw out some of the broader issues.

In his comment, Lexcen pointed to the Wikipedia article on the culture wars. When I looked at this, I noticed that it referred to just two countries, the US and Australia. This led me to a more extensive web search. I would summarise the results as follows:

  1. While the term culture wars is used in several ways, the term "culture wars" in the way I was describing it appears to exist in only Australia and the US.
  2. Measured by frequency of usage, the great bulk of references to "culture wars" are Australian. Fourteen in the first few Google pages as compared to just 4 from US sources.
  3. There appears to be very little similarity between the "culture wars" in the two countries. As an example, the religious element that appears so important in the US is largely missing in Australia.
  4. I am forced to the conclusion that the Australian "culture wars" are just that, Australian "culture wars". I also begin to suspect that the term was first introduced into and popularised in Australia as a handy pejorative device by one side of the debate.

I stand to be corrected, but these are not insignificant conclusions, for they totally change the framework of discussion.

Welcome to Visitor

Welcome to visitor 22,000 who came a few minutes ago. As best I can work out by tracking back, the visit came in some way connected with daughter Helen's now dormant myspace. Blowed if I know how. I must ask her!

NSW Demographic Snapshot as at 30 June 2006 - Introduction

Photo: Gordon Smith, NSW-Queensland Border Gordon's caption reads:

A shot grabbed from the driving seat (bug splats on the windscreen and all) just before entering Queensland at Hungerford. I'd not previously seen a state border entry point where you have to open the gate yourself to get in - or is it to prevent Queenslanders from getting out?

The fence is actually part of a dingo fence intended to protect stock south of the fence from attack by dingoes.

Earlier in December, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released demographic data for NSW as at 30 June 2006, broken up by local government area.

The data provides some interesting insights into continuing change across the state, so I thought that I should provide some analysis. To keep things simple, I thought it best to do a number of posts, including some on my other blogs.

I know that statistical data can be eye glazing stuff, especially for readers with little or no knowledge of NSW. To help you here, I will provide some background information on areas as we go along.

Just to set the broad scene, the state as a whole presently has an area of 809,444 km² (312,528 sq miles), so it's pretty big.

For comparative purposes, the largest US states are Alaska (570,374 sq miles), Texas (261,914 sq miles) and California (155,973 sq miles). For another comparison, NSW at 809,444 km² is far larger than Germany (357,021 sqk), France (547,030 sqk), Italy (301,230 sqk) or the UK (244,820 sqk).

Travelling by road, It would take you more than 15 hours to drive the 1,300 plus kilometres from Tween Heads on the Queensland border to the Victorian border. The road distance east west from coast to border is around 1,100 km. This size explains why most people living in NSW have in fact seen very little of the state, especially outside the narrow coastal strip.

Again to put things in perspective, the area that I write about most on the New England Australia bog, the area that has long sought self-government in its own right, covers around 166,000 sqk in the north-east of the present state of NSW. Again, not small, if far more manageable.

In geographic terms, NSW can be thought of in terms of four north-south zones.

To the east fronting the Pacific Ocean is a long coastal strip in which the great bulk of the NSW population now huddles, looking out to the sea. This strip is generally very narrow, with the exception of the larger Hunter and Northern Rivers areas in New England.

Until quite recently, the major economic activities along the coastal strip outside Sydney were dairying and timber milling, along with holiday activities often servicing the inland marketplace. Wine was important in the Hunter Valley, while great coal deposits provided the base for mining and then heavy industrial development in the lower Hunter and the Illawarra around Wollongong.

To the west, the Great Dividing Range is separated from the coastal strip by major escarpments. The majority of NSW's National Parks are found along the escarpment, extending inland from there.

While we talk about the Great Diving Range as a range, it is really a series of generally east-west sloping tablelands. The New England Tablelands is the largest of these and also Australia's largest tableland, stretching from the Hunter Valley into southern Queensland. The tablelands include and are separated by higher ranges, including the ski fields of the Snowy Mountains in Southern NSW.

The Ranges are the source of both the NSW coastal rivers and most of the inland streams that make up the Murray-Darling River system, Australia's largest. This is traditional sheep and cattle grazing country. This, along with timber and in some parts orcharding formed the core of the rural economy.

The Great Diving Range, along with the western slopes and plains, is mining country. Coal does extend north from the Hunter Valley onto New England's western slopes, but is still mainly coastal.

Mineral deposits - gold, tin, precious stones, lead, zinc etc - provided a base for a series of rushes. This is the world of bushrangers, of wealth created in Sydney, Melbourne and London, of early Chinese immigration.

To the west, the Ranges phase into the next zone, the Western Slopes. Here the west-flowing rivers have created a series of valleys separated by mountain spurs extending out into the plains. The majority of NSW's great storage dams, those that feed irrigation in the Murray-Darling basin, can be found along the Western Slopes.

This is farming country marked by multi-coloured fields and grain silos.

To the west again, the Western Slopes merge imperceptibly into the flat and increasingly arid Western Plains that stretch into the heat-hazed distance.

Always sparsely settled, this was grazing and mining country. However, irrigation has allowed the broader spread of agriculture in particular patches. Today, the western slopes and plains are NSW's food bowl as well as the source of our cotton, something that became problematical during the recent long drought.

The state's size makes for considerable variation in climate at macro and micro level.

In broad terms, temperatures fall as we move from the coastal strip onto the Tablelands and then rise progressively as we move out onto the Western Slopes and Plains. They also fall from north to south. Average rainfall falls from east to west and also from north to south.

I think that that is enough to set the broad scene. I will flesh it out as we go along.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Deconstructing the Culture Wars - a personal aide memoire

Note to readers. This post is very much a personal perspective. At the end I have added a short personal note so that my own biases are clear.

I read John Quiggin's post The Culture War - Time to Mop Up and the 91 or so comments it attracted with mild interest, but also with a degree of confusion.

I suppose that one of my problems here is that I have rarely read the commentators on either side of the apparent debate. I just haven't been very interested in what appeared to be almost theological discussions. Where I have become involved in discussions linked to the culture wars, there has usually been some form of direct personal interest in the topics under discussion. Further, my focus has tended to be on what I saw as longer term trends and issues.

The post that follows is an attempt to disentangle some of the threads as I see them in the culture wars and to put them into a context. I am sure that I will get things wrong, so the post should really be read as an aide memoire to myself, things for further thought.

Dr Quiggin's War Fronts

Dr Quiggin suggests that there have been two fronts to the culture wars, US/international and domestic.

On the US side, Dr Quiggin wrote:

The first is the global battle of US Republicans, supported by an international ‘coalition of the willing’, against just about everyone else in the world, on just about every topic. The battle starts with the premise that the values and beliefs of the US ‘heartland’ are superior to all others, and should be imposed upon everyone else. The big battlefronts recently have included climate change, the Iraq war, gay marriage, pro-rich (but not particularly pro-market) economic policies, and creationism (aka intelligent design).

He goes on:

From the end of the Cold War to 9/11 and the early days of the Bush Administration, the Republican culture warriors were convinced that they held the Mandate of Heaven. (For the ideological shock-troops, largely ex-Trotskyists, this was a simple shift from one form of dogmatic historicism to another). But, ever since the wheels came off the Iraq venture, they’ve been losing ground on one front after another. On climate change and a whole range of scientific issues, they’ve fought reality and lost. The alliance of fundamentalist Christianity and pro-Mammon economic policy is fracturing. And the spectacular incompetence of the Bush Administration has undermined faith across the board.

Dr Quiggin clearly has serious reservations about the Republican Party in general and the Bush administration in particular! He goes on:

The second front is domestic and reflects the hangovers from disputes that took place late last century. The biggest source of fuel was Paul Keating’s brief and opportunistic embrace of a range of ‘progressive’ causes between 1993 and 1996, which only succeeded in attaching his immense personal unpopularity, derived from the ‘recession we had to have’, to these causes, including proposals for a republic and for reconciliation with indigenous Australians.

For the real hardcore, this is wrapped up with a range of resentments going back decades. In its final term, the Howard Cabinet put a lot of energy into ‘voluntary student unionism’, which essentially amounted to settling scores its members had racked up as student politicians in the 1970s...

This post is not an attack on Dr Quiggin or his views. However, his two fronts do provide a useful entry point for our discussion because he is, I think, representative of one side of the war.

Changing Views on Government and the Role of Public Administration

In considering Dr Quiggin's comments on the US, I think it helpful to clearly distinguish between two things: the nature of the ideas involved and the very particular approach of the Bush administration. The two are connected, but still very different.

Back in March 2006, I started consolidating my various posts on changing approaches to public administration. I realise that I have still to finish this, but you can find the entry post here.

I mention these posts for a number of reasons.

To begin with, if you look at both sides of the culture wars and especially those on the right, you will see that ideas about the role of the state, about public policy and economics form one key element in the argument. I was going to say discussion, but at times there has been precious little discussion in the midst of the argument. You will also see that there were global changes in thought, of which the US was just an element.

The 1970s were, I think, the critical decade. Faced by international economic turmoil, this was a decade in which previously dominant paradigms (welfare state, Keynsian economics) collapsed to be replaced by others (dominance of neo-classical economics, power of the market, international competition and economic restructuring, limitations on state activism, Thatcherism and the New Zealand model etc).

These were international movements, whose form varied to some degree from country to country. The primary US intellectual influence lay, at least as I see it, in economics, in Friedman, monetarism and, to a lesser degree outside the US, supply side economics.

This US intellectual influence in economics reached Australia during the seventies and found a home, especially in the Commonwealth Treasury. Then, during the second half of the eighties, we had the progressive importation of approaches to new public administration linked to the New Zealand model.

Some of these developments were internalised, becoming for better and worse, the new status quo in Government and politics. Others created a divide, a divide that formed part of the base for the culture wars. Here the Whitlam period (1972-1975) was very important.

I will talk a little later about other elements of the Whitlam period. So far as public policy is concerned, the Whitlam Government was both sometimes chaotic and, to a degree, schizophrenic in that it combined economic reform with old fashioned ideas out of Labor's past. The combination acted to reinforce both distrust about the role of Government and a desire for reform. The subsequent Fraser Government (1975-1983) reinforced this because it was seen by many as old-fashioned, resistant to change.

I do not think that it is a coincidence that many who were to become right wing warriors were involved during this period as economics advisers (John Stone, Des Moore in Treasury, Alan Moran in Trade and then Industry and Commerce), as commentators (Paddy McGuinness) or in student politics (Tony Abbott).

This group had a natural empathy for the new models of public administration. Again, it is no surprise that it should be the Liberal Premiers Griener (NSW) or Kennett (Victoria) who first tried to put the ideas into practice. However, it was industrial relations that provided a key catalyst to the formation and extension of right wing positions.

The new Hawke Government (1983) was a reformist Government that was to make enormous progress in reforming the economy. However, it was also a Government that worked in close liaison with the Trade Union Movement. Progress was simply too slow for those wishing to make radical reform, especially in the industrial relations arena.

I do not want to go through the whole history here. Instead, I will take just one event, the formation of the H R Nicholls Society at the end of 1985 to campaign for changes to the industrial relations system. Those involved were John Stone, former Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury; one Peter Costello, a Melbourne barrister, Barrie Purvis, the Director of the Australian Wool Selling Brokers' Employers' Federation; and Ray Evans, Executive Officer at Western Mining Corporation Limited.

The new society became a key vehicle around which right wing reformers gathered, one attacked by those on the other side of politics.

The 1993 Federal election was the clearest expression of the conflict in ideas in that Liberal Leader John Hewson fought and lost the apparently unloosable contest on a radical reform platform.

The key point I am trying to make in this brief history is that the wars of the Howard period, including the culture wars, were a natural extension of a change process dating back at least to the 1970s, not simply a US importation from the recent past.

The Role of Religion

It is clear from Dr Quiggin's post, and especially the comments on that post, that religion is seen as a key element in the culture wars. I really struggle with this one.

Put aside, for the moment, US developments and look at Australian history since the Second World War. I have debated with Neil Whitfield the question as to whether Australia was ever a Christian country. Put this aside too and look just at the Christian Churches in Australia.

Growing up, I attended Methodist Sunday School and the Methodist Church. I went to an Anglican school and on holidays I stayed with a friend whose Dad was an Anglican minister. At University I was a member of the Student Christian Movement, Methodist Youth Fellowship and also attended Evangelical Union functions.

I make this point only because the issues that the Christian Churches of all types discuss today seem to me to be very similar to those discussed in the past. What has changed is the responses of society. Society has shifted around the Churches. Again, the 1970s appear to be the shift decade.

In all this, I struggle to see a distinctively US influence as compared to local responses to local changes. I feel, I may be wrong, that the real significance of the religious issue so far as the culture wars are concerned is the fact that it has acquired special symbolic importance to one side of the debate.

The Pressures of Change

One thing that I think that Dr Quiggin misses in his comment on the culture wars is the way in which they became a symbolic response to broader economic, social and cultural change. This cannot simply be dismissed as a response to Paul Keating, although he rubbed a raw nerve.

I have written a fair bit about this and will no doubt write more. At this point I would only note that Mr Howard's stated intent to restore stability, his appeal to the past, resonated far more broadly than Dr Quiggin appears to allow. I think that part of the reason that he went down at the end lay in his breach of his own stated intent.

Influence of the US - and end of the right wing warriors?

To my mind, both sides of the culture wars are fighting past battles, battles whose roots lie back in the sixties and especially the seventies. What, then, is the US influence in the Australian wars?

I think that we can look at this at two levels, the actual transmission of ideas and the local response to those ideas. Again to my mind, the second was far more important than the first. In simple terms, US politics and ideas came to play a domestic role independent of the ideas themselves.

I suspect that, looking back, 9/11 will become the defining event. In saying this, I am not talking about the broader significance of 9/11, but the Australian response.

I think that to Mr Howard 9/11 was not something that happened in another country, even a close friend and ally. It was something that happened to him because he was in Washington at the time.

We will have a better feel for this later when the archives are released. My view is that the events of the time generated a personal response that came to dictate later policy and especially the Howard/Bush relationship. In turn, this fed into the culture wars.

Can the right wing warriors survive as a source of influence now that Mr Rudd has been elected and the debate is moving on?

I would have said no, but now I am not sure. Here I think that the desire of those on the other side to continue, to press home the perceived advantage, to restore old agenda items, is likely to keep things bubbling on quite nicely.

Postscript: my own biases

Just to make my own position clear.

An economist and historian, I am not a right wing warrior, nor do I support the other side. I describe my own political tradition as Country Party or New England populist. This makes me very much a minority in political terms.

I worked in the Commonwealth Treasury until 1980 before moving to the Department of Industry and Commerce as their principal economist. From 1987 to 1996 I managed a consulting practice with a major public policy focus. So I was around for some of the events I have been talking about. However, my view remains partial, incomplete.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ghosts of Christmas past - a great post

Photo: Basillica, Sacre Coeur

Marcellous had a rather nice post on ghosts of Christmas past. I really enjoyed it, partly because I have been reading M. for a while and am interested, but also because of the usual clarity of his English.

I noted that in 1991 Marcel went to midnight mass at Sacre Coeur. Many years later this family went to midnight mass on Christmas at St.Germain des Pres, the oldest church in Paris. The next morning we had breakfast at the Les Deux Magots, one of the most famous cafes in Paris.

Christmas is about families and traditions. Elements may have been invented at different times, but they are all real.

Like M., many of my memories are tied up with Christmas. I hope that it continues.

Generational Change, Cultural Gatekeepers and Loss of the Past

In my last post I talked about the need for an Australian TV channel as a way of giving us better access to our own history and culture.

I know that in talking about some of these issues I sound like a broken record. For that reason, I though that I should set out elements of the simple analytical framework that underlies some of my commentary.

Three to four generations is about the maximum period that the past exists in living memory.

On Dad's side, my grandfather and grandmother were born in working class England in the middle of the industrial revolution. On mum's side, my grandfather was born in Sydney at a time of depression that followed the 1880s building boom, grandmother into a free-selector farming family that had come to Rocky River in New England during the gold rushes. My daughters live in the middle class world of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs.

This simple family history spans some 150 years marked by major change. There is obviously a huge gap between working class Wigan in Victorian England and life in Sydney today, yet my daughters retain some living access to it simply because it is still in my living memory from family stories. This will cease once I die.

Outside this living memory, a society has to rely on other mechanisms to preserve its culture and access to its past. If we look at a traditional Aboriginal community, for example, there was a complex process for maintaining and passing on the knowledge and traditions of the group starting with the education of the young.

This is equally true in Australia today, although the transmission mechanisms are different. When I look at my daughters, for example, their knowledge of Australia's history and culture comes a little from their family, more so from school, more still from exposure to the various forms of media.

All societies change. This was true of Aboriginal Australia and is again equally true today. The pace and pattern of change varies. Sometimes change is imposed from outside, at other times it occurs through evolution.

This change process creates tensions. Central to this is the need to maintain social cohesion.

The dominant groups in the society seek to maintain control in the face of change, to preserve the values that they believe to be right and self-evident. Socrates was convicted of corrupting the young at a time when Athens was struggling to recover from its loss in the Peloponnesian War.

The term "cultural gatekeepers" has come to be applied to those who today control (or try to control) access to a society's culture and past.

Defined in this way, the term is quite broad. It includes those who determine what our young will be taught at school and university. It includes the managers and guardians of major cultural institutions - museums, art galleries etc. It includes the writers and historians who present our culture and past. And the various forms of media.

Defined in this way, the cultural gatekeepers are clearly not a homogeneous lot. Further, the gatekeeping processes themselves are varied and complex, informal as often as formal. Yet in all this, and has always been the case, the gatekeepers maintain control through a process of censorship and coercion.

This may sound extreme. After all, don't we live in a modern pluralist society? Perhaps a few examples to illustrate.

Take the school system. You can teach what you like so long as what you say and how you do it complies with centrally imposed curricula and with an extended set of regulations and controls. Yes, within this there is some degree of flexibility for individual teachers or schools, but the system is still highly controlled.

Take a more obscure example, the availability of Australian history. There is no formal control as to what is written and published, yet real availability is highly selective.

The process starts in school and at university. The history that my daughters studied was determined by a set curriculum. This influences the way they think, the topics that interest them.

Then, when they get to university and should they study history, they have to select from a menu of existing offerings taught by teachers whose own views generally reflect the dominant view at the time they studied. And, I might add, the availability of texts.

The availability of texts is determined by immediate past interests of historians in the area in question modified by, controlled by, what publishers think will sell. And so it goes on.

This post is not a complaint about the current state of Australia.

As a social commentator, I am interested in the processes of social change and control. However, at a personal level I am also affected by and respond to those processes. So the observer and observed are intermingled, affecting the questions I ask and the way I respond to them.

Following from this, the reason that I talk so much about the 1970s as a tip decade is both professional and personal. At a professional level, I am interested in the way in which one apparently dominant paradigm was replaced by another. At a personal level, I am affected because in some ways I lost out in the change.

I do not want to discuss this at any length because this is meant to be a methodological post. But put very simply, I am concerned that the effect is that my daughters and I have been cut off in some ways from Australia's culture and past. Worse, they do not even know that they have been cut off.

Now in all this, I am not saying that my daughters should become clones of their father. Far from it. I just want them to have access so that they can select or reject.

One of the interesting things in the culture change process is the way in which one set of gate-keepers is replaced by another. While the gate-keepers themselves seem dominant at a point, their survival and influence depends upon their role in the maintenance of society.

Just as the tip decade of the 1970s saw the replacement of one set of gate-keepers by another, now the new set are under challenge. This explains the venom of the so-called culture wars.

To some degree at least, the culture wars are a fight between the old and the old. While this war goes on, a new but still very uncertain paradigm appears to be emerging. Both sides struggle with this, attempting to push it into their models. Both have, to my mind, failed.

This has become a very long post. In a later post I will try to articulate, however imperfectly, what I see as the issues.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Australia needs a UK TV equivalent

Graphic: Scene from Bootmen.

My Christmas musings post took me into the world of Australian film, including the box office failure of recent films. Later in the day I followed the post up on a meandering tour through the internet looking at specific films. I found myself interested, but also frustrated.

The trigger was a film called Bootmen, a film I found by accident. I am going to do a proper story on Bootmen on the New England Australia blog because it is a Newcastle film. For the moment, I simply note for the benefit of international readers that it is a tap dancing film set in an Australian industrial city, in this case Newcastle.

Bootmen interested me because of the local connection, as well as the linkage to other cultural activities, including the Sydney Olympic Games opening ceremony. I was frustrated because here was another Australian film that I had never heard of. I asked eldest if she had heard of it, she had in fact seen it, but I had not.

Another film I then checked on was Ten Canoes. Set in the Arafura swamps, this is by all accounts a great movie. Subtitled One hundred and fifty spears, ten canoes, three wives - trouble, the plot begins:

It is longtime ago. It is our time, before you other mob came from cross the ocean...longtime before then. The rains been good and ten of the men go on the swamp, to hunt the eggs of gumang, the magpie goose. One of the men, the young fella, has a wrong love, so the old man tell him a story...a story of the ancient ones, them wild and crazy ancestors who come after the spirit time, after the flood that covered the whole land...

Because Ten Canoes was different, well made and well received in critical terms, I wondered how much money it had made. To this point, just $3.3 million world wide. I think that it will probably make a lot more in the longer term, but not so far.

Now I had wanted to see Ten Canoes when it first came out, but did not because there was little interest among my family. I think that the problem here is that the film was caught in a trap set by the culture wars, so that it was seen not as a major and interesting film but in some ways an indigenous film. You will get a feel for the discussion created from this post on Transient Languages.

To my mind, this damaged the film in commercial terms. Instead of being an interesting and fascinating experiment, an insight into a different world, the film became something that one should see or, for that matter not see, depending on one's position. Either is the kiss of death.

For a relatively brief period in the mid eighties I was in charge of an area that included responsibility for some of the industry development aspects of the Australian film industry.

In a minute to John Button, my then minister, I complained that the Australian film industry had become a game park for cultural lions. This limited its chance of longer term commercial viability.

This remains my view. However, I now have an added resentment, the way in which (as I see it) the cultural gate-keepers have cut me and also my kids off from elements of our culture and past. As an example, see my post on the current treatment of the Australian film They're a Weird Mob (1966).

Even my wife who comes from a different tradition to me (Irish, Labor, Catholic) complains about the unwillingness of our children to watch Australian films including classic films on TV. Why should they? They have had little exposure to Australia's past or our culture other than that forced down their necks in compulsory doses. Further, outside the current glorification of our military tradition, that which they have had exposure to has often been negative.

This post is not about the culture wars as such. My view here at the moment is simply a pox on both their houses. Rather, my concern is what might be done to give Australians better access to Australian material, while also benefiting the local cultural industries, especially film and television production.

Some time ago, John Singleton floated the idea of an Australian pay TV channel. He put the idea forward in a particular context, and it was dumped on quite heavily. I think that the idea is worth revisiting, using UK TV as something of a model.

We watch UK TV as much as any other channel. This began in part because of the crime elements. My wife and youngest daughter especially love the UK detective shows. The British have carved out a real niche here. From this, watching extended to other shows, and especially the classic comedies. Monty Python has become something of a cult classic among Clare's group.

To TV, add British film. The English in particular went through a period in the seventies and eighties when, in part because of a response to decline of Empire, the industry became very inward looking. In recent years, English film and TV has been able to break out to the point that, in this household at least, we watch pretty much as much UK made film and TV as we do US.

How might Australian TV work?

The first point is that I think that it needs to be a straight commercial operation, so that content over time is determined by viewer response, not by the views of gatekeepers as to what they think that people should watch. I also think in business model terms that after sales - books, dvds, CDs etc - should be a key element from the beginning. I think that there would also be a niche international marketplace.

The next point is that the channel needs to take into account the fragmented nature of the viewing audience. If you look at existing rating patterns, they are split not just by age and education, but also geographically. Just as with UK TV, the channel should provide a smorgasbord of offerings from which people select as compared to a conventional free to air channel that aims to attract a core constant viewing audience.

Is there sufficient content to support a 24/7 operation? I think that there is, although existing copyright ownership and distribution arrangements create a real difficulty. If we put this aside for the moment, we might consider some of the following elements.

To start with what may seem as a paradoxical point for something called Australian TV, there is absolutely no reason why such a channel should limit itself to Australian material narrowly defined. Just as UK TV includes Australian soaps because the BBC has broadcast rights, so the new channel could include overseas material with some Australian connection. This might include, for example, New Zealand or Candian material or British war films. It might include films such as the matrix series made or partially made in Australia.

I make this point because too often any discussion in this area goes straight to what I would call the "little Australia" focus. We want a channel that works in commercial terms, not one that is obsessively and narrowly domestic to the exclusion of all else. It must make money if it is to provide a market for Australian future Australian content.

The second point is that past Australian soaps provide a major source of potential content so long as the film still exists and copyright restrictions can be overcome. There are thousands of hours of past soaps. I gave no idea how some - No 96, Bellbird, Homicide are some examples - would appear today. Some might attract only small niche nostalgia viewing elements, but I suspect that some at least would prove popular to a new audience.

Then we have all the historical and documentary material, including past documentaries. This could be re-presented in a variety of ways.

Then we have all the films and mini-series. These can be packaged in a variety of ways. We may not have enough past films to run a golden oldies Holywood channel. We certainly do have enough to present a weekly golden oldies film. We can also package around a director such as Ken Hall or Charles Chauvel or Peter Weir. We can package around an actor - Errol Flyn, Chips Rafferty, Nicole Kidman, Jack Thompson etc.

Then, too, we have all the modern Australian films, many of which have had far too little exposure. And our singers, theatre companies etc. And travel and lifestyle.

My point in all this is that we have a wealth of existing content to work with if we can but access it. We also have many Australians, expatriat and otherwise, who I think would love to support this type of inititiative.

Once established, the channel could provide an important vehicle for the distribution and creation of new content.

All this will work if and only if the channel makes money. I think that it can, although this depends on detailed modelling and subsequent business planning.

I am not in a position at the moment to try to do something myself. But if there is someone out there who would would like to run with it, I would love to help!


As often happens when I am mulling over an idea, I start testing it with other people, in this case asking what they would like to see on an Australian TV channel. I do not pretend that the results to this point are in any way representative, but I still found them interesting.

Two points were of particular interest.

First, people struggled to say what they would like to see. I was not surprised at this. I was surprised, however, at the scale.

We live in a crowded world in which things come and go quite quickly, so its hard to remember. Further, you cannot make a judgement about something if you have never seen it or, in some cases, never even heard of it. In the absence of some form of re-access or reminder, three to four years is about the maximum span before things vanish into the mists of the past.

Second, Australian films have a bad reputation. They are things that people feel that they should, perhaps, go and see but do not really want to.

In Australia, and with some exceptions, to call a film an Australian film is the kiss of death. This contrasts with Australian made TV programs. Measured by ratings, we want to watch Australian TV, but yet do not want to see Australian movies.

None of this means that an Australian TV channel won't work. However, it does mean that time would be needed just to test viewer reaction to past material, to allow viewers to build familiarity with format and content. I also think, and this was a point that I made earlier, that it cannot be too narrow or nationalistic.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Australian Christmas Musings - 2007

Good morning all. It's Christmas morning and I am waiting for the family to wake up! So I am sitting here musing about Christmas past and present.

First a happy Christmas to all, and especially to those away from family. Christmas is a family time, so that it can be hard if you are on your own.

Released in 1947 and starring Chips Rafferty among others, Bush Christmas has become an Australian children's classic. I see also that it has apparently just been re-released in New York.

A modern reaction (in fact 22 December 2007) to the film from a kid in Kentucky on IMDb user comments:

Don't be scared away by the title, "Bush Christmas" (1947) has nothing to do with George W. or his father. They are referring to the Australian "Bush" and this is a children's film that no doubt was a heavy influence on Nicholas Roeg"s "Walkabout" (1971); as well as its source novel by James Vance Marshall. In both a small band of children find themselves in the bush country and out of their element, getting survival tips from a native boy. "A Far Off Place" (1993) and "Alaska" (1996)also appropriated many elements of the story. "Bush Christmas" is the least gritty of the four films but the most believable and the least manipulative.

It should remind the viewer in some ways of the modern Australian television show "Saddle Club" as the kids are around horses all the time; even riding them to and from school. And the plot involves Grinch-inspired horse thieves who almost ruin Christmas for the family when they steal their prize mare, leaving her young colt behind. So the five children head into the bush to track down the horse thieves, while their parents and the police attempt to rescue them. There is even a Ghost Town (also found in "Walkabout") although you have to suspend disbelief as the (until then) very perceptive children inexplicably take far too long to recognize that the horse thieves are its only residents.

Worth noting is that Helen Grieve plays the only girl in this group of adventurous children but there is no condescension to her, she rides better than the boys and takes on a kind of "Wendy" from "Peter Pan" role in the group. Christmas in the southern hemisphere is a summer event but the holiday is still celebrated with winter wonderland decorations, presents, and a tree.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The film was remade in 1983 under the same title with a cast including John Howard and Peter Sumner, as well as a young Nicole Kidman in her first starring role. I remember the original, but do not think that I saw the remake.

All this got me musing as to why Australians have given up watching Australian movies, yet love watching Australian made TV shows.

According to David Dale on Tribal Mind, a very good blog for those interested in Australian popular culture, in the past 50 weeks Australians have spent more than last year's total of $867 million on cinema tickets. But most of those takings flowed across the Pacific to Los Angeles, with smaller chunks to Britain, France, Sweden and Germany. Less than three per cent of ticket spending was on Australian films, even though (In David's view) the standard of local releases was high. He went on:

It's not as if we expect much. Australian films have performed so poorly in recent years that we've fallen into the habit of using the term "hit" for anything that makes more than $3 million. By this criterion, Australia produced four hits last year: Kenny, with $7.6 million, Ten Canoes ($3.3m), Kokoda ($3.1m) and Boy Town ($3.1m). This year we need to lower the threshold to $2.5 million to be able to claim even one hit: Romulus My Father, which made $2.5 million.

We can't even rationalise the miserable results by saying that Australia now focuses its energies on making art films shown to connoisseurs in a few discerning cinemas. In 2007, that audience preferred the work of Swedes, Gauls and Germans.

Some of the commentators on the post suggested that the dreaded Political Correctness was the cause, something that made David very uncomfortable indeed. I actually think that there is something to this, but I also think that the Australian movie audience is now much more fragmented.

If we take this family as an example, there is a very wide spread of tastes. My wife and I enjoyed Clubland, but could not get the kids to go. My wife raved about Lantana. I went, but did not enjoy it.

There are some Australian made films we have all enjoyed - Crocodile Dundee, Strictly Ball Room, Moulin Rouge, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Babe, Looking for Alibrandi, The Castle, the Man who Sued God and The Dish come to mind. But we have not been to see an Australian movie at the movies as such in twelve months.

If we look at the pattern, the films have either broader appeal (Babe, Moulin Rouge) or have some very Australian often quirky element. I also find that in many cases it is later TV or video exposure that determines attraction.

To what degree are we typical? Here in another post David Dale had a fascinating list of the most popular films in Australia measured by box office takings adjusted for inflation. The top ten movies were:

  1. The Sound of Music (1965)
  2. Crocodile Dundee (1986)
  3. Star Wars (1977/97)
  4. Gone With The Wind (1939)
  5. E.T (1982)
  6. Titanic (1997)
  7. The Sting (1973)
  8. Grease (1978)
  9. Shrek 2 (2004)
  10. Jaws (1975)

Certainly the family has seen every film in this top group. If we now look at the top Australian films on the list we find 11 of the top 60 are Australian:

  • 2 Crocodile Dundee (1986)
  • 18 Babe (1995)
  • 19 The Man From Snowy River (1982)
  • 23 Crocodile Dundee II (1988)
  • 27 Finding Nemo (2003)
  • 49 Gallipoli (1981)
  • 53 Alvin Purple (1973)
  • 54 Mad Max II (1981)
  • 59 Moulin Rouge (2001)
  • 60 Strictly Ballroom (1992)
  • 64 Happy Feet (2006)

I am not sure what conclusion that I draw from all this except to say that TV (and advertising) has to be "popular" in a way that film does not. I also think that there is a particular problem with distribution

Australian made TV goes straight into the mass market. Films, by contrast, have to struggle to get any exposure. This reduces immediate box-office, but also later video/DVD sales as well as TV replay.


Family up, presents exchanged, breakfast cooked. In a little while we are going to Dee's sister's place for a family lunch. All this means that I have to get ready, so will sign off here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Another Party!

Back in November I wrote a post while Clare was having a party to celebrate the end of the HSC.

Now there is another party, this time Helen and Clare combined. Again I cannot concentrate with the speaker just behind my chair blaring out music. So in retaliation I have been touring facebook looking for photos.

This is in fact a very productive operation because people keep on loading new ones, and I do not have a camera! So I thought that I would share a few with you.

Clare's eighteenth. Here's a photo of this part of the family - Helen, Denise, me, Clare. The tux actually belonged to my Dad. He bought it in Bangkok while working with UN.

Then we have this one of Helen. This is one of a series of black and white ones taken at Toppers.

Clare should not be spared.

This one is of Clare with her partner Couts at the year 12 formal. Many of Clare's friends are seriously bright. The average HSC mark of the boys tonight was over 99. One was first in the state in maths, 4th in geography. They are clearly holding up the male side in the competition with the female species.

I wonder why Clare is chasing a boy round the yard attempting to kick him? Clearly a serious offence!

The last photo is Helen with Raj. Like Couts with Clare he is, I think, just a friend. But he is an awfully nice bloke.

I am going to have to go to bed. Talk to you all tomorrow.

Dr Haneef's Visa Reinstated

While I was away at South West Rocks, the full bench of the Australian Federal Court dismissed the appeal launched by former Immigration Minister Andrews against a previous court decision reinstating Dr Haneef's visa. Now the new Government has sensibly decided not to take the matter any further.

Neil has already written about this. You will find some of the media coverage here and here. I put my own position here very clearly back at the end of July.

As I see it, the Haneef case was first and foremost a failure in process. I am not referring just to the evolving fiasco of the charge itself, but to what I see as a more fundamental failure of compassion, common sense and plain good manners.

This remains my position.

Two things and two things only protect us as citizens against the unfair use of asymmetrical and coercive state power.

The first are our traditions and ethical codes, a belief in process, in individual rights. The second is our legal system. This comes into play when, as in the Haneef case, the first fails.

The freedoms we presently enjoy did not just appear. They had to be fought for over a long period, sometimes against the majority weight of public opinion itself. To my mind, this remains true today.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Advice Sought

South West Rocks

Thinking about blogging directions this year and my small group of regular readers, I wondered what you would like me to post on more? What is the stuff you most value or find most interesting?

This blog is often all over the place simply because I am. While this will continue, I cannot help myself, reader feedback would be very welcome.

Back in Sydney

My thanks to those who have commented so far. I thought that I would respond in the main post, leaving it to readers to look at the detail of the comments.

Lexcen, I had not heard of FEEDJIT. Just how does it work?

More broadly, Lexcen made the point that it all depends upon the purpose of the blog. That's true, indeed.

Now here this blog is just my personal musings. However, I find that I have two very different audiences.

The first and largest group is those who come by search engines. The second is those who through their own arguable insanity actually read what I write as a matter of conscious choice! This is my target group.

Now Lexcen suggested that we had readers that we do not even know are regular.

For some reason, this computer keeps on freezing. I am going to exit and see if that helps.

Continuing, Lexcen is right. One of my great pleasures over recent weeks has been the discovery of some of those readers.

Take Winton Bates as the most recent example. Winton and I were co-editors of the UNE student newspaper all those years ago. Then we were in Canberra at the same time, although our paths were different. Now he has just become a fellow blogger!

When I look at the comments from Mike (Happy Xmas to you too), Ninglun, David ( and here), and Thomas, variety seems to be a key attraction. Let the thousand flowers bloom, so to speak. So I will continue on this line.

Mind you, David, if something is obscure, please force clarification.

Letting the thousand flowers bloom is easy at one level because there is so much to write about for someone like me who is both insatiably curious and interested in so many things. My problem is one of selection.

Just before I left South West Rocks I wrote down a list of more than thirty possible posts for this blog. And that was just a holiday week.

Should I write about evolving problems with volunteers in a world in which we have become just to busy to volunteer? What about the growing number of grandparents forced back into primary child care roles because of marriage break-ups? Or my eldest's response to The History Boys and what it says about current moral codes?

Then, too, what might I say about the response of my neighbour on the adjoining machine in the internet cafe when I was reading Marcellous's post on the latest child pornography matter, something that involved South West Rocks? Why did I stop looking at the post?

So much, so little time!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Clare - a solid set of HSC results

From South West Rocks

Through the miracle of modern communications, Clare received her HSC results via SMS at 6am this morning. I was up, I nearly always am by then, so was able to share the initial excitement. Mind you, it took her mum just a few minutes to join us, followed a few minutes later by Helen.

I had been a little worried about the results. Clare tried to do so much this year, not just the HSC but also sport, social life and her role as sometimes organiser among her friends and colleagues. This affected her continuing assessment results.

I need not have worried. She got all band fives ranked by mark order from bottom to top:

  • Drama 80%
  • English Advanced 84%
  • Visual Arts 85%
  • English Extension 43, band e3. A half unit. As I understand it, this equates to 86%, band 5
  • Design & Technology 86%
  • Ancient History 87%

All this should be good enough to give here the UAI she wants, so much excitement. In terms of the friendly sibling rivalry between Helen and Clare, Clare was about a 1/4% behind Helen on the aggregate average, about a 1/4% in front on the best subjects, so a remarkably close draw!

The sense of relief was great for all of us. Then the phones started to run hot as Clare followed up her friends. Now we wait for the top lists to see how the school as a whole, and other schools that we are interested in, did.


UAIs yesterday. Whereas Helen's UAI went up as compared to her average exam results, Clare's went down. Apparently the exam results this year were unusually strong. As Helen says, bloody bell curve!

We should still be okay in terms of her uni choices, but it is now more line ball. The overall number of applicants is up this year, so we simply don't know how the whole thing will pan out in terms of the entry requirements for particular courses.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Calling Paul Somerville - and all those in the Armidale High Leaving Class of 1961

Elizabeth Morse (nee Storm) is trying to organise a reunion in Sydney in June of the Armidale High Leaving Certificate Class of 1961. Bruce Hoy asked me if I had an address for Paul Somerville.

I do not. I wish I did. So, Paul, or anyone else out there who was in that year, leave a comment and I will pass your details onto Bruce for on-passage to Elizabeth.


Through the miracles of the internet, Bruce has already found Paul! Whom else might we find?

Postscript 2

Oigle wrote in a comment:

We are also trying to locate the following: Joan Roberts, Sandra Robertson, Helen Stokes, Gloria Burgess, Val Edmonds, Susan Seaward, Laurel Clark, Anne Heagney, Margaret Evershed, Pat Richardson, Peter Brown, Phillip Brown, Terry Henderson, John Parsons, Tony Rustin, Richard Bedford, Rex Jones, Robert WicksJohn Mozeley, Ray Freeman, Richard Kenny, Ian Armstrong, Laurence Placing, John Cook, and Alan Norton. Can anyone help???

South West Rocks

Fishing boats, Macleay River near South West Rocks.

This will be my last post here for a little over a week. We are going to South West Rocks tomorrow for a short break. I really am looking forward to it.

We get back on the 22nd and then I have another ten days or so before I have to start back at work. I have set this time aside to catch up on emails, do some reading, catch up on some blogging backlog and, importantly, do some consolidation of my writing over the last twelve months.

While away I will be checking my emails and responding to any comments, but otherwise talk among yourselves!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Corporate Speak in Politics

Listening to Liberal Party front bencher Andrew Robb I hear that the Liberal's task is to be competitive by the next election. Mr Robb's continued in corporate speak mode as he went on to describe the nature of the restructuring the Party had to do.

As he spoke, I had this vision of the Liberal party as a failed corporation, the Coles of the political world. The solution was to improve organisational efficiency, improve staff recruitment (pre-selection), define some new product to roll out. This will fail.

Despite the power of supermarket politics, politics is still about ideas, about vision, about the future.

Mr Rudd did not win because he was conservative, although he may well turn out to be a great Liberal PM! Mr Rudd did not win because people thought that his Government would be better at service delivery.

As I see it, Mr Rudd won because the Australian people wanted new approaches, felt that the Howard Government had become tired and stale.

During the election campaign. Mr Howard said that the Australian people were pragmatic, interested in results, not philosophy. That's partially true, but it missed a key point.

Once Mr Rudd convinced the Australian people that the ALP and Coalition were really pretty much the same in service delivery and management terms, then ideas and vision started to come into play. And here Labor won hands down.

No matter how many corporatist ideas prevail in politics, politics is not the same as selling soap. If you cannot match it in ideas, you will fail.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Clare Belshaw's Blog

Graphic: Clare Belshaw

I suppose that it was inevitable, but my youngest daughter now has her own blog.

A blog is different from Facebook. A blog actually requires you to write!

So far Clare only has three posts up, but they are (I think!) good posts.

Do have a look. I hope that Clare will keep on writing because I think that she has something to say. There are actually very few bloggers of her age.

Bali, Climate Change and the Australian Economy 2

Continuing my musings on climate change and the Australian economy, if you look at many discussions they argue that the costs to Australia of our share of action to prevent climate change can be accommodated within increased economic growth. That is, our incomes will still go up, just at a lower rate.

But is this so? In my last post I pondered a little about a process that might lead to a permanent fall in Australia's real standard of living. I concluded:
In this scenario, the value of the Australian dollar has to fall to the point at which imports are reduced to the level that we can afford in the longer term. The effect could be a major, long term, fall in Australia's standard of living.
I see this as a very real possibility based upon the combination of the projected effects of climate change with the current structure of the Australian economy. If I am right, then we need to start thinking about our responses.
Now how might this happen? I am not trying to argue a case here, simply point to issues.

Back in October 2006, I put up a post called Water, Drought and the Environment - working from facts. As part of the preparation for this post, I looked at our export stats. What I found worried me.

I found that between 99-00 and 04-05 our exports of manufactured products had barely if at all grown in real terms.

Our exports of services had grown from $A28.6 to $A35 million, substantial, but hardly huge.
By contrast to both manufactures and services, our exports of primary products including mineral products grew from $A54.8 billion to $A77.7 billion.

So we can say that export growth in manufactures and services has lagged. I will check later developments at some point, but I doubt that the pattern has changed.

So what has this to do with climate change?

Coal at $A17.1 billion in 04-05 is the greatest primary products' export. The total would be higher today. Our exports here will obviously decline in a climate change world.

If we look at mineral products, a number are in decline (oil) or are threatened by climate change decline decline (alumina).

I do not have total numbers for agricultural exports.

At present, Australia feeds some 70 million people. If the worst case projections are to be believed, then our exports here are likely to decline very sharply.

Where will the replacement export income come from?

One possibility is uranium. On worst case climate change projections, our exports of uranium are likely to go through the ceiling in volume terms, more so in dollar terms.

Beyond that, I do not know. I suggest that we should start thinking about it.


This post is far too superficial, reflecting the fact that I wrote it in haste. While I am trying to pose questions rather than argue a case, it needs more evidence. I will try to add this later.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Bali, Climate Change and the Australian Economy 1

I am not sure why some people should be so surprised that the Rudd Government is presently reserving its position at Bali on short term mandatory targets.

How could it do otherwise? It is a new Government forming its position. It has set in place a process - the Garnaut Inquiry - that will not report until June next year. The position may change now that Mr Rudd has arrived in Bali, but I really would expect the new Government to reserve its position until it has worked through all the issues.

In the meantime, we need to be thinking about what climate change and the expected responses to climate change mean for the Australian economy, how we might respond.

Australia is presently two very different economies.

One is part of the global economy. This generates the international income we need to buy all those things that we import. The second is a domestic, non-internationally traded economy. This consumes most of our imports and makes its living from servicing other parts of the domestic economy plus the internationally traded sector.

We have a floating currency. Excluding the effects of capital flows, if our exports fall then the value of the currency falls. Imports rise in price, we buy less of them, and so the value of the currency stabilises.

In the medium to longer term, a lower value for the dollar encourages more exports. Exports rise. The value of the currency increases, allowing us to buy more from overseas and at a lower price.

But what happens if this rise in exports does not happen, if we are dealing with international structural changes the effect of which is to lower exports, permanently or at least for the very long term? Then we have a very real problem.

In this scenario, the value of the Australian dollar has to fall to the point at which imports are reduced to the level that we can afford in the longer term. The effect could be a major, long term, fall in Australia's standard of living.

I see this as a very real possibility based upon the combination of the projected effects of climate change with the current structure of the Australian economy. If I am right, then we need to start thinking about our responses.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A very nice email

I mentioned in my last post that I had taken a post off-line because of a comment from anon that I thought was fair. The anon in question, Australian David to distinguish him from the other David, emailed me because he was worried that he had been too harsh.

He had not. A comment from Lexcen on the same post confirmed that I had the post wrong. Lexcen simply wasn't sure just what to say.

I knew that Lexcen was a reader. I did not know that David was. He is one of small number of regular unknown readers that surface from time to time.

The fact that David wrote the comment in the first place, the fact that he was sufficiently worried that I had taken the post down to find my email address and email me, both are rather nice.

I often speak of our small blogging community. I think of it rather like the country life that I still miss, a community. Like all communities, we have our fights. But we also have friendship and support.

So thank you, David, and also Lexen.

My thanks to Anon

Anon, I have taken that post off-line. I think that you are right: too much introspection and it delivers the wrong messages. It will obviously continue to exist in various feeds and caches, but at least it will be off-line here.

I still think that the broader issues are worth addressing, but this can be done in other ways independent of my own experiences.

Once again, my thanks. It's nice to know that there are readers out there.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

World Demographics

I have gone into another demographic phase.

Over on the Management Perspectives blog I have begun putting up a series on global demographic trends. You will find the introductory post here. I find this a fascinating topic and have begun to pull some data together. Nothing too profound, I just want to understand.

On a different matter. Do have a look at the post I put up on The Regional Living Australia blog on the Dorrigo Show. I really loved Gordon's photo of the cattle judge.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Saturday Morning Musings - endings, beginning and the role of the tribal elder

Gordon Smith's photo blog is an old and familiar friend, one that constantly refreshes me.

At present, Gordon is back at the Dorrigo Show. This photo shows a handler in one of the cattle classes during judging probably, as Gordon surmises, a school category. Living in the city as I now do, I still miss the rhythms of country life.

I see that Neil put up Patterson's The Geebung Polo Club as his Friday poem. I really enjoyed this poem as a kid, and it was nice to read it again.

I see that Neil is putting up lists of his best posts for 2007 on Old Lines. I think that this is a good idea and will certainly have a browse. I am less sure about Neil's latest restructuring, although no doubt I will get used to it. This time I have left all my bookmarks in place, using what is now Old Lines as an entry point. Just in case there is another round of changes!

This week marked the end of this family's school period. At least until, and this is an odd thought, there are any grandchildren! I will miss school, although we will not miss the fees. Now we move forward to a new period.

Also during the week, Helen got through her uni exams. We were all a bit worried about this. She was sick during the exams, and had also struggled a bit during the year to find proper study time given work and other commitments.

So few "full time" students now actually have the luxury of studying full time. I wish we could have afforded to give the kids the opportunity I had to study full time in a genuine university environment, but we could not. I fear that those days have gone for ever. The institutions themselves have changed, while society itself is no longer prepared to pay the price involved.

At the moment I am struggling with an odd problem, that of becoming in some strange and peculiar way a tribal elder. This is a difficult issue.

We live in an ageist society, something that I must write on at some point. It is not in my personal or professional interest for people to recognise my age. If they do, all sorts of subtle discounts come in in the way I am treated. So it's in my interest to present as a very modern person. Yet I cannot help myself.

Part of the problem is a formal one. The nature of current systems requires the provision of information such as date of birth or full career record. So on one side society says discrimination on the basis of age is wrong, on the other it forces revelation of information that brings ageism into play.

Beyond the formal problem, there is a far more complex, subtle and difficult problem.

In many ways I have been blessed, lucky in ways that I am only now coming to recognise.

At dinner the other night we were talking about Australian Prime Minsters. I have actually met seven Australian Prime Ministers - Page, Fadden, McEwen, Fraser, Whitlam, Hawke, Howard. The meetings may have been fleeting, but I have met them.

Then look at work. In the public service slice of my career, just over half of my working life, I have worked under the Holt, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke Governments. Now I am doing some work under the Iemma Government in NSW.

I remember the public service impacts when Mr Holt vanished at the start of my working career. I remember the sometimes chaos of the start of the Whitlam Government, of the dismissal with the scenes on the steps of Parliament House just across from where I was working in Treasury. I remember the enthusiasm that greeted the start of the Hawke Government. Now I am wrestling with the complex Government procedures in NSW, measuring it against my own writings on the NSW system.

I first read Australian history in the 1950s. I did Australian History and pre-history at UNE in the mid sixties, including participation in Isabel McBryde's pioneering work in Australian pre-history. Then I was back at UNE full time in 1981 and 1982 doing my PhD thesis, again in Australian history. Now in 2007 I am still writing on similar topics.

I had a grandfather who was one of the founders of the Country Party (Progressive Party) in 1919-1920 and who remained in Parliament until 1963. I handed out CP how to vote cards in the fifties, I listened to budget speeches and read the papers so that I could argue with him.

With a cousin, I went with him on his last election campaign in 1961. I was there when the news of Earle Page's illness came through, when Fah ditched his own campaign to try to save Cowper and my cousin and I hitched back to Armidale.

Then there was Ian Sinclair's pre-selection campaign when Uncle Jim decided to run. He did not inform or ask advice from his father in law, something that created a problem. I was there as a delegate from the Young Country Party.

Jumping forward, in 1972 I ran for pre-selection for Eden-Monaro. To do this, I played a role in re-building the Country Party in Eden Monaro. I remember a meeting at which I was asked a question on the White Australia policy. I carefully explained that the policy had had a place, but was no longer tenable because of Australia's evolving engagement with Asia. After the meeting Ian Sinclair, who was present, congratulated me.

Losing this preselection campaign, I then ran for Armidale where my views on the Vietnam War became a central issue. I lost. I remained active in the Country Party as a reformist, arguing for change. I became a member of the McEwen House Group, a newly established Party think tank. With others, I used to gather in Doug Anthony's office each budget night to write his reply.

South Vietnam collapsed during this period. Despite my views on the war, I was outraged at what I saw as the Whitlam Government's betrayal of those who had supported Australia. With others, I used my links to Ian Sinclair to try to place pressure on the Government to admit people as refugees.

Time passes. Now, in 2007 in a different world, I am arguing the need for the National Party to renew itself.

Accepting that each Australian is unique, my personal life has been a little outside the norm. I grew up outside the metros in an academic family in Australia's only university city. I grew up in a world that combined an international academic perspective with a country and regional focus.

In this world I talked about the evils of Sydney domination while discussing agricultural development programs in Northern Thailand or conflicts in international economics or anthropology. Oxford, Cambridge or LSE were more relevant than Sydney or Melbourne U.

In professional terms, I have probably written most about my public sector experience. Yet as a consultant I have also completed or managed over 300 assignments for some 100 clients.

In all aspects of my working life I have been exposed to, often arguing for, new development in policy or management. This is in fact one of the hardest areas, because it is here that I have seen the greatest failures and have changed my own position. See, for example, Australia's Universities - a personal Mea Culpa.

All this has become pretty long-winded and may sound very self-indulgent. Returning to my point, at personal and professional level it is very hard for me to isolate all this experience and history from my day to day activities.

To avoid the problem of ageism, I really need to do so. Twenty years is about the maximum before agest responses kick in. The more I remind people of my past, the greater the problem. Yet I cannot help myself.

This links to my point about becoming in some ways a tribal elder, part mentor, part custodian of the past.

As an example, I was talking to younger female colleague. In my view, she is both interesting and very competent. I also think that she under rates herself, in part because she has limited benchmarks against which to measure her performance or capacity. So I told her that I thought that she was very good, that I would love to have had her working for me in some of my past roles. She blushed, but I think took the message.

In all this, there is one group that is most interested in Australia's past, and that is our new arrivals.

Those who have come to Australia quite recently see Australian differences in a way that most of us born here do not. They are also interested in and indeed fascinated by our past and the variations in the Australian experience in ways that those educated here ignore.

Take people from Hong Kong who have only lived in a city environment and who have come to Sydney, another city. They are very interested in the history of the Chinese in Australia, but often know nothing about it. But they can also be fascinated by our language, our broader history and especially non metro life.

Maybe I just have to accept that whether I like it or not I have become an elder, and focus instead on that role.