Friday, March 30, 2007

Modern Political Myths - a follow up

Yesterday I spoke of the myth that oppositions needed to play the media game, setting out an alternative path.

Oddly, this morning I listened to a radio discussion on Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Australian Labor opposition in the Australian Parliament. I was going to give you the audio, but ABC has the wrong material linked to to the download facility.

Anyway, the presenter (Fran Kelly), commentators (Malcolm Farr from The Daily Telegraph, Mark Reilly from the Seven Network and Michelle Grattan from The Age) and indeed the Government were struggling with Mr Rudd's low target approach. Essentially, Mr Rudd was refusing to make negative comments (this conflicts with the need for an attack dog approach) and was leaving it to his shadow ministers to make comments on issues (this conflicts with the simplified presidential approach).

Dear me, how sad. Fancy not playing the media game. Do you know, if you don't play by the rules, the media has to play by yours. And that was part of my point.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Modern Political Myth - Oppositions and the Media

Listening to the discussions on the wash-up to the NSW elections, I was struck by the constant references to the difficulties that oppositions faced in getting coverage media outside the election campaign period. This, commentators suggested, was a major reason why oppositions were struggling against incumbent governments with their control over information and their press apparatus.

This is true, but it completely misses the point. The core problem is that oppositions have been trapped into playing a political game that they cannot win, a game in which success is measured by column inches or minutes of sound or vision. They must lose here, forced to play the role of political attack dogs in order to get that thirty seconds of ephemeral coverage.

Well, if you cannot win the game, change the rules or, better still, change the game. If you think that this sounds like pie in the sky, consider this.

The election is over and the party has lost. You have just been appointed chief of staff to a new shadow minister. Your task is to help your boss raise his or her profile, to position him/her for the next election. How might you do this?

Well, the first thing you do is to put aside all the conventional wisdom. Then you do just three things.

First, outside electoral matters, you have to stop your boss's natural desire to issue press releases. You should only issue a release if you have something important to say. That way people will be more inclined to listen.

Secondly, stop the attack dog role. Focus not on what the Government is doing wrong, but on what the Government is doing. Avoid negative comments inside Parliament and out. Focus instead on making a positive contribution to debate. That way you get listened too.

Steps one and two are critical to take your boss outside the game, laying the base for step three. This involves building profile below the normal media horizon. How do you do this? Well, it's very simple.

People are conditioned by the game to think, to use modern jargon, in top down terms. Hence the focus on inches of media coverage, of getting to the public as a whole. Well, that public does not care and will not until the next election, and by then its too late. So think bottom up.

Every portfolio area has a variety of stakeholders, both organisations and people of influence. This is your target area, this is where you want to build your boss's credibility.

Start by listening and learning. Both you and the boss should talk too as many people as you can. In simplest terms, you want your boss to be seen as a natural part of the area in question. This does not mean that you simply reflect back to people what they think or feel, although there is a place for this. Rather, you are developing the understanding and ideas that will form the base for future policy approaches.

As your boss builds his his/her confidence and understanding of the area, look for topics on which the boss might make a contribution. Keep them professional, not party political. Test ideas. You are still operating below the main media horizon, but you will now start being picked up by the specialist media, a largely ignored area. Again, keep it low key and professional. In time, this will lead to increased overall media coverage. But again keep it low key and professional unless there is a critical reason to do otherwise.

Now track forward to the election.

If you have done these three simple things, you will have a boss who is in command of the detail of the field and who has an established reputation in the portfolio area. Now when he/she rolls out policy and wants to say something, people including the major media will listen.

The Fourteen Day Meal Challenge

My mother used to complain just how difficult it was to put varied meals on the table that would satisfy the picky eaters in her family. I know just how she feels.

At the weekend I decided to do something new. I announced to my family, daughters in particular, that starting Saturday I was beginning the fourteen day meal challenge.

The challenge is simple enough. For fourteen days I am not allowed to repeat a meal. Each meal - we are talking dinner here - has to be different.

My family was happy with this, recognising that they might get some meals they do not like. There was only one veto from my daughters. I have to continue providing the traditional roast chook on Sunday nights.

Why such an extreme step? Well, partly because I was getting bored. It's very hard to stay motivated when cooking has to be squeezed in at the end of a day. The traditional meat and two vegetables or meat and salad is very easy.

It's especially hard just at present because of added daily travel time associated with changing work location, a move from a home office base to on-site working. While I have worked out the best standard routes down to the best lane change points, in so doing cutting driving time quite a bit, I have still lost an hour a day in additional travel time. So I needed something to keep me motivated.

Last night daughters and I (Denise is away on business) reviewed progress. Helen in particular is very keen on the whole thing because she likes not knowing what the meal will be. We had some difficulty in fact remembering as far back as Saturday, so we agreed that I should blog progress as a way of keeping a record.

Saturday, election day, was lasagna. Here David Anderson of View Italy fame will not be pleased to hear that I bought a large frozen one. But Saturday was crazy. Denise was working on the booths and then scrutineered in the evening. Helen and Clare also had a variety of things on that had to be fitted in.

Sunday roast chook as per tradition. This comes with stuffing and all trimmings. This time I varied it a little by buying a fully organic bird. I usually just buy free range because the price difference - around $10 - is just too much for us to afford fully organic fowls all the time.

It's interesting, my girls can pick the taste difference between corn fed, they don't like and we don't have, the ordinary mass produced fowl, and free range.

Monday I tried chicken breast marinated in lemon, oregano and then rubbed with pepper and salt and olive oil with Mediterranean style baked vegetables (egg plant, zucchini, capsicum in particular) using an idea pinched from Jamie Oliver. This was a great hit with Denise, less so with daughters. I got the taste right, but the girls don't like egg plant. This is actually odd, come to think if it, because they love Lebanese food.

Tuesday T bone stakes were on special, less than $3 each. So that provided the starting point, rubbed with pepper and salt just before cooking Florentine style. Here I reverted to three veg, but tried a variation by using "baby" potatoes - real chats are actually hard to get where I normally shop - with sour cream.

Last night was crazy. I left Ashfield a bit after 4.30 to pick Clare up from school at Waverley. Then to Bondi Junction for quick shopping before picking Helen up a bit after six from SCEGS Darlinghurst where she coaches some of the juniors in gym.

Then to Moore Park for Helen's netball training. They are just switching training days, so we waited to see if training was on that night. It was not, so then home getting here about 6.45, over two hours after leaving work.

At that point I had a beer and quickly checked emails, then started cooking, in this case rack of lamb together with the potato dish the girls really like, sliced potatoes in layers with pepper and salt, Parmesan cheese and cream cooked in the oven.

After eating I sat down with the girls to watch the Chasers War On Everything only to fall asleep in front of the TV. Those who read this blog will know that I get up very early, usually around 4am, because the two hours between then and six are really the only quiet time I have. But if I then have wine in the evening, something I like, I fade very quickly.

Food tonight I don't know. Thursday is the week's craziest day.

Clare has English coaching at Rose Bay. She gets herself there, but I pick her up a bit after five. Home so she can change, then to Little Bay for hockey training at 6.30. Clare is a goalie and has just tried out for the UNSW teams since she does not get all that much hockey at school.

I think that they were a bit sceptical initially at a seventeen year old trying out and certainly Clare found the shots a lot faster. But it appears that she is good enough - and this was one of the reasons she wanted to try out, to test herself - to make one of the senior grades in either the Eastern Suburbs or Metro competition. We will find out tonight. And they also have specialist goalie training, something that Clare really likes.

Anyway, back to the driving. Having dropped Clare off I then drive to Heffron, fortunately this is on the way home, to pick Helen up from the netball courts where she is coaching one of the junior teams. Then home. Clare then has to be picked up at eight, but Dee usually does this while I am cooking.

It is a crazy life style. Coming home in the car tonight Clare said that she was missing her sister, that she would like some time with Helen. The two are very close.

The problem is that Helen is doing university, coaching gym (paid) and doing her coaching certificate, coaching netball (unpaid), working at the pub just down the road and still pursuing an active social life. Then add in Clare's activities, and the two don't really coincide. The girls agreed that they would set a day aside in the upcoming school holidays to do things together. This has to be done in advance so that Helen can keep the day free.

I think that my working colleagues are a bit surprised at the way I obsess about time and organisation, but it's a natural outcome of the way we live.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I Cried Tonight

I mean this very seriously.

I sat in front of the TV watching the story of Brian Egan on Australian Story and I cried. The family looked at me as I sat there with tears dripping down my face.

Brian Egan is the story of an ordinary bloke who was on his arse end and came back. Brian Egan is the story of a man who took his family to breaking point and came back.

Brian did so by helping others. That was his salvation.

Brian's story is part of the reason why I am so proud to be an Australian. We have our faults, but we also have a lot of ordinary people who do some extraordinary things.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In Praise of William Bowe and Poll Bludger

Tonight I wanted to check the latest NSW election results so went to Poll Bludger.

This is, I think, the best election site in Australia and perhaps the world.

William's own comments are informed, but it is the commentators he attracts that make the site so good. They give me real information that I can use to make judgements. I ignore them at my peril.

NSW Elections 2007 - Government is more than service provision

One thing that I got crankier and crankier about as the NSW election campaign proceeded was the constant repetition of the message - media included - that the NSW Government is or should be all about service delivery as though that was the end of the policy story. To me, this encapsulated the total policy failure on both sides that I have been trying to explain.

This really deserves a long post because it is a symptom of a broader problem, one not limited to NSW. But just to illustrate the point.

Is "law and order", to use a phrase favoured by both sides, simply an issue of service delivery? If so, what services are we talking about?

Is education simply an issue of service delivery? If so, what services are we talking about?

Is economic development, or its absence, simply an issue of service delivery? If so, what services are we talking about?

Are New England's poor towns, or the problems faced by NSW Aboriginal people, simply an issue of service delivery? I don't think so.

I won't go on. My point is that far too many people are caught in an intellectual trap, I almost wrote crap, that prevents them seriously thinking about the problems we face, the things we want to, or should want to, achieve.

NSW Elections 2007 - The Polls Were Right

So the polls were pretty correct. Having stuck my neck out on Friday to forecast either a hung parliament or an opposition win, it was already clear on Saturday morning that that forecast was likely to be wrong. And so it was.

Information Sources

Before going on, you will find the ABC coverage of the election results here. The Poll Bludger analysis and especially the comments on posts continue to be interesting because many of those commenting have individual on-ground information.

Perhaps most importantly, the Electoral Commission's Virtual Talley Room provides Assembly and Council voting details down to individual booth levels for each electorate. This makes it easy to check results in individual seats that you might be interested in.


Labor ran candidates in all 93 lower house seats. As at 11.08 last night, the party had 39.5 per cent of the vote, down 3.2 per cent, giving it 53 projected seats including one still in doubt.

The Liberal Party ran candidates in 73 lower house seats gaining 26.8 per cent of the vote, up 2.1 per cent, giving it 21 projected seats including one still in doubt.

The Nationals ran candidates in 20 lower house seats gaining 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 0.2 per cent, giving it 13 projected seats.

So the coalition in total gathered 36.6 per cent of the vote for a projected 34 seats as compared to Labor's 39.5 per cent with 53 seats.

The Greens ran candidates in 93 lower house seats gaining 8.8 of the vote, up 0.5, for zero projected seats.

There were 70 independent candidates in all, with a number of seats having multiple independent candidates. Independents gained 9 per cent of the vote, an increase of 5.3 per cent, with a projected six seats, including one in doubt.

There were also various other parties including the Christian Democrats (57 candidates, 2.5 per cent of the vote), Australians Against Further Immigration ( 56 candidates, 1.4 per cent of the vote), Unity (30 candidates, 1.1 per cent of the vote) and the Australian Democrats (26 candidates, 0.5 per cent of the vote).

I must say that I was pleased at the very low vote achieved by Australians Against Further Immigration. Conversely, I was saddened by the low Democrat vote, a sign of further decline. However, the Party did better in the Upper House, achieving 1.54 per cent of the vote so far counted.

It looks as though this will not be enough to save Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, the very hard working Democrat member. Here Poll-Bludger concluded at 5.05 am this morning (William, did you sleep at all last night?):

Looks like the Coalition vote continued to build as upper house voting continued into the wee hours, probably putting the final seat beyond the reach of the Democrats, AAFI and Fishing Party. Likely result: Labor 9, Coalition 8, Greens 2, CDP 1, Shooters Party 1.


There were two key factors that I underestimated last night.

The first was the incumbency factor, the way in which people at times of confusion will often go for the local sitting member they know. The second was the optional preference system, leading to considerable variability in outcomes. This combined with the secrecy attached to Party preferences created uncertainty in individual seats.

Overall, the votes last night were all over the place, allowing all parties with the exception of the Liberals to take some comfort from the results.

The Luck of the ALP

The ALP could hardly believe its luck.

There was considerable depression among ministerial staffers in the last days before the poll because, despite the polls, they saw the Party as vulnerable with even Labor stalwarts saying that the Party did not deserve to win. But win they did, even holding off to some degree the independent challenge in the lower Hunter.

In Newcastle Labor candidate Jodi McKay got just 31.2 per cent of the vote but should win because of the preference arrangements. In Maitland Frank Terenzini for the ALP got 39.8 per cent of the vote but should again hold on preferences.

Only in Lake Macquarie does it appear that the ALP has gone down. There ALP candidate Jeff Hunter managed to get 41.8 per cent, the highest ALP vote of the three seats, but still looks likely to lose the seat to independent Greg Piper on preferences.

In the midst of the euphoria, I see two longer term problems for the ALP.

If my analysis is correct, Monaro is now the only seat held by Labor outside Sydney, the Central Coast and its traditional industrial heartland of the Illawarra and lower Hunter. Further, Labor's habit of seat targeting and tactical voting, support for independents in Tamworth and Goulburn are examples, leaves a disheartened and diminishing pool of Labor activists in many parts of NSW.

The second is the rise of the Greens.

The Greens Consolidate

The Greens are happy with the results because they gained a swing plus two upper house seats. I find more interesting the way the Party appears to be consolidating its position as the natural second or third opposition party in certain areas. This poses a threat to the major partes.

I have not done a detailed seat by seat analysis, but let me illustrate by taking a few examples.

Take some of the inner Sydney/Eastern suburbs seats minus Vaucluse itself which somehow seems to be missing from the on-line numbers.

  • Sydney: Independent 41.2, Liberal 20.6, ALP 19.9, Green 15.3
  • Heffron: ALP 58, Liberal 21, Green 19
  • Balmain: ALP 39.6, Green 29.5, Liberal 23.5
  • Marrickville: ALP 47.3, Green 32.5, Liberal 12.1
  • Canterbury: ALP 57.7, Liberal 17.8, Green12.6
  • Coogee ALP 39.1, Liberal 35.7, Green 21.3

Population in the inner Sydney suburbs is growing quite rapidly, creating a Green sympathetic demographic. The Liberal Party appears to have largely given up in some areas - there were no Liberal workers at all at the two booths I visited in Heffron, creating considerable anger among Liberal voters - consolidating the Green position.

The danger for both Liberal and Labor at the next election is that an entrenched Green position may cost both seats at the next election, Labor loosing to Greens, Greens stopping Liberals winning others.

Nationals Consolidate

The elections saw the Nationals consolidate their position.

The Nationals went into the election having lost one seat through redistribution. The Party also faced major threats from high profile independents. They came out winning two seats from Labor (Murray Darling and Tweed) while heading off the independent challenge.

The Party failed to win back Tamworth from the independent and has probably failed to unseat the independent in Dubbo, although this one is still too close to call for the moment. Still, the Party can take considerable satisfaction from the results.

I found the North Coast results especially interesting. If we look at seats here we find:

  • Tweed: National 46.6, ALP 37.8, Green 8.4
  • Ballina: National 46.6, ALP 23.5, Green 19.9
  • Lismore: National 53.7, ALP 23.5, Green 19.9
  • Clarence: National 52.6, ALP 30, Independent 7.8, Green 7.0
  • Coffs Harbour: National 51.8, ALP 20.6, Independent 15.0, Green 7.5
  • Port Macquarie: Independent 67.4, National 19.6, ALP 9.0, Green 2.6
  • Oxley: National 59.6, ALP 24.9, Green 10.5
  • Myall Lakes: National 48.5, ALP 20.7, Independent 19.4, Green 5.9

With the exception of Port Macquarie where the independent Rober Oakeshott increased his vote, the Nationals have strengthened their hold along the coast.

The ALP vote is clearly in trouble, and indeed outside Tweed the ALP really ran dead. In the words of one commentator on Poll Bludger.

There is now virtually no Labor infrastructure on the coast. This is the result of targeting marginal seats in the city and expecting independents to do Labor’s work in the country. For this policy to work Labor must run dead and this is the message we get from Sussex st.

It saddens me to say that this deadness extends to policy concerns as well - failure to restore the Murwillambah railway particularly when Qld is building a railway to the border and the Grafton Bridge are prime examples. Even good actions of the government e.g. rescuing Port Mac Base Hospital from private ownership get attributed to independents. This leaves very little room for Labor.

The demographic changes that Labor should be taking advantage of are being wasted. Where Labor had 3 seats two elections ago (Tweed, Clarence and Port Stephens) - they are in a good position to have none this year.

The point about demographic change is well taken.

The broader New England has always been Country or National Party heartland. After winning Murray Darling, the Party holds just four seats outside the broader New England, five if it wins Dubbo back. This pattern has been replicated at most elections since the Party's original formation.

Within New England, the independents have cut a swath through the centre of the Party's heartland from Tamworth through Northern Tablelands to Port Macquarie. Inland populations have also been stagnant, coastal populations growing, leading to continuing seat losses through redistribution.

This was a make or break election for the Nationals. The Party absolutely had to hold, especially in the North East corner where the higher Green vote is a sign of coastal demographic change. All this makes the Nationals the greatest winner after the ALP's retention of Government.

Liberals and Independents

What can one say about the Liberal Party?

On the plus side, the Party won two seats, Manly and Pittwater, back from independents. It also recaptured Hawkesbury where the sitting member had left the Party. It may yet hold Goulburn where star candidate Pue Goward faced a major challenge from the mayor of Goulburn running as an independent.

Beyond this, the Party got biggish swings in some of its own seats where it did not need it, much smaller swings in those seats where it did need them. The best gloss that the Party can put on the whole thing is that they did get the first swing to them since (I think) 1988 and that the margin now required is much smaller.

This leaves just the independents to look at. As best I can see, the results suggest that the independent movement has peaked.

There is, I think, only one independent member left in Sydney. Outside Sydney, at this stage confirmed independents are all in the broader New England (Lake Macquarie, Northern Tablelands, Port Macquarie and Tamworth.). Elsewhere Dubbo looks as though it will stay independent, while there is a very outside chance that Goulburn may still fall.

At this point, the most likely result is six independents, down one.

As a note, some readers may be surprised to see me include Lake Macquarie in the broader New England. Here I am using the New England boundaries set by the Nicholas Royal Commission into new states since they reflect historical patterns of interest.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

NSW Elections 2007 - a note

Well, like Neil, I have done my civic duty and voted.

My views on the outcome continue to swing. Over on Poll Bludger there was a comment that the independent/minor (non Green) vote in regional NSW was showing up over 20 per cent in the polls. I had not seen this before. This is huge and will have significant affects on the outcome.

Talking further to my daughters today, I find that most of their group - these are Sydney eastern suburbs girls - are voting Labor or Green. Further, most are voting above the line because they do not understand the preference system.

All this does not bode well for my forecast of a collapse in the core Labor vote. I keep on underestimating the Howard factor, the way in which the Federal Government has alienated some of the young on matters like Hicks. This is what has swung my own eldest. Once swung, they cannot bring themselves to vote Liberal.

On Poll Bludger, an enormously popular blog, the following message is running:

I am closing for business temporarily to conserve my dangerously low bandwidth allocation. Service will resume at 5.30pm EST, when my election coverage will begin with results of the Sky News exit poll.

Not surprised.

Friday, March 23, 2007

NSW Elections 2007 - Strangeness continues

Graphic: Results of public opinion poll, Sydney Morning Herald.

In a way the attached graphic from the Sydney Morning Herald says it all.

Fifty two per cent of the electorate believes Labor does not deserve to be elected. Normally this would be the kiss of death for any Government. But in this case 57 per cent of the electorate believes the opposition does not deserve to win. That 5 per cent gap translates to a significant Labor victory as measured by the latest poll.

Neither the pollsters or commentators including myself have ever seen an election like this. Well, I am now going to stick my neck out.

My original forecast on this blog was that neither Government or opposition would get a majority, with independents holding the balance of power. I have changed my position, although there is a chance that this outcome will still happen.

I now forecast this. I believe that the ALP vote will collapse back to the true believers, those who cannot vote any other way. Part of this vote will go to the Greens and certain of the independents, especially independents standing in blue ribbon ALP seats such as the Lower Hunter seats. The rest will flow to the opposition leading either to an opposition win or a hung Parliament.

Now I have no scientific reason for saying this, only straws in the wind.

Straw one was the switch in my youngest daughter's vote. You will remember that she is a Green/ALP supporter.

Straw two is the reaction of the staunch ALP people I know, and I know a fair number of them. Never in my years following politics have I seen a situation where the Party faithful so universally say that their Party does not deserve to win. They will vote ALP, but without enthusiasm. This has to flow through to people less committed.

Straw three is the independent vote as shown by the polls. Now this one is a bit technical, so bear with me.

In very polarised elections such as the national election in1975, smaller parties and independents suffer because voters go the major parties in each electorate.

As I understand it, the polls are showing a state wide independent vote of 8 per cent. This is a good vote, but is also roughly the same as the percentage independents received in the last state election.

This time there are some high profile independents standing such as the Lower Hunter mayors who appear to have a good chance of winning. There is also widespread dissatisfaction with the Government. Yet the independent percentage in the polls does not appear to have not increased.

All this suggest polarisation, with a decline in the in the independent vote outside those electorates where they are the natural alternative.

The last straw, so to speak, is the metropolitan newspapers. Today the Sydney papers the Daily Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald came out telling voters that they must vote for the opposition, as did the national daily, The Australian.

The Herald editorial began on the top of the front page under the banner Why New South Wales cannot afford four more years of Labor. All the papers are critical of Mr Debnam, but I have never seen such a concentrated and withering attack on a Government on the day before polling.

I have no idea how all this will play out, other than my gut feel as to the results. I do know that I will be glued to the TV Saturday night while also having the computers on.

NSW Elections 2007 - the art of repackaging

During the week I had cause to look at a new NSW Government election commitment. When I dropped below the headline number I found very little new money. This caused me to go to the NSW Treasury web site to actually check the costing information.

You will find the results in a short post on the New England Australia blog. I knew the NSW Labor Government had developed policy repackaging into an art form, but I had not realised the extent.

I know that I sound like a broken record when I complain about about the current poverty of policy development, but it is another case. Nearly everybody, media included, goes for the headline, none checks the details or the pattern.

I am amazed that no opposition staffer had the sense to check this stuff. I would have thought that there were a number of stories here, like the actual reduction in spend on country water supply and sewerage over the next few years. Mind you, they may have written the stories but found the media unwilling to carry them.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

NSW 2007 - a strange election becomes stranger still

I will be glad when this election is over and I can resume normal posting. My obsession with the election must seem strange to readers outside NSW, but it is really a very odd election.

Both Sydney dailies have been running stories and editorial content with the same theme: the Government deserves to go, but the opposition cannot win. Now I don't know about this. I am just confused.

Yesterday morning youngest, she is seventeen so cannot vote this time, amazed us all by saying that if she could vote she would vote for Mr Debnam. I say amazed because this is a girl who normally leans to Labor or the Greens. She herself prefaced her statement with the words "I never thought that I would say this."

Clare gave two reasons for her view, one not so surprising, one very surprising.

She said first that she was tired of Labor's negative advertising. The opposition is doing this as well, but the Labor Party has just so much more money that their ads swamp everything else. We all feel this, so that's not surprising.

She then said that she thought that the opposition's policies were better. This did come as a surprise. It appears that the constant dumping on opposition leader Debnam has actually caused her to listen (she rarely reads newspapers) to some of what passes for policy debate in this election.

I have no idea as to whether Clare is an isolated example or not. But I have been noticing a change in the commentary over recent days. I cannot pin this down precisely. All commentators are still saying that the opposition cannot win, but you are starting to get comments like "Debnam is not as bad as he is presented."

I also noticed that National Party Leader Andrew Stoner is getting more of a run on at least Sydney radio.

Normally the Nationals as a NSW country based party do not get Sydney air time, certainly not positive air time. Stoner is a much more down to earth person than Debnam, a typical country bloke, and comes across well on radio.

In a talk back segment on ABC local radio a caller, obviously a Labor supporter, said to Stoner that he (Stoner) would be Deputy Premier after the election should the opposition win but that he (the caller) knew nothing about him. The caller's theme was really why should he buy a pig in a poke?

Stoner handled this well, explaining something about himself and then adding that he would have loved to get more Sydney media coverage, but the Sydney media simply did not cover either the National Party or NSW regional issues.

I was especially impressed by the way in which Stoner, the opposition's shadow transport minister, handled the very parochial Sydney concerns. He could have gone down here very badly, but showed that he actually knew the details. He sounded like a minister. So it's a pity they couldn't get him in there sooner.

Mind you, Andrew has his own concerns defending the National's position outside Sydney in the face of the growing challenge from the Richard Torbay led independents. As I said in an earlier post, the independents have become the Party you have when you are not having a Party.

This brings me to a broader point, the way in which this election has split into two completely separate campaigns, Sydney and the rest. And the rest of NSW had better watch out.

The orchestrated campaign by the Sydney media about the city's problems means that regardless of who wins the election a lot of money is going to be spent fixing infrastructure. There is not going to be a lot of money left over for the rest of the state.

Yet More on Australian Electoral Rules and Democracy

In a recent post I explained some of the anti-democratic features that had crept into Australia's electoral systems. Now Poll Bludger has pointed to another specifically NSW feature that I can only describe as bizarre.

Before quoting the post, I should note that Poll Bludger continues to be, I think, the best blog for all those interested in the detail of Australian elections.

Poll Bludger notes that the arrangements that govern public disclosure of how-to-vote cards for New South Wales elections have to be read about in depth to be believed . As ABC election analyst Antony Green explained it on Poll Bludger:

If you are on the electoral roll for a NSW district, you will be allowed to visit your local Returning Officer on Saturday and examine registered material. But you cannot do it beforehand and you cannot look at it unless registered for that district. Parties are currently distributing pre-poll how-to-vote cards, but this does not mean the same preferences will be recommended on how-to-votes on Saturday. As for lower house preferences, you are only allowed to examine how-to-votes for your own district. The law prevents you from looking at how-to-votes in the other 92 districts. And access is only allowed on Saturday during the hours of polling.

Antony Green then amplified his comments on Crikey, also quoted by Poll Bludger.

Remember last November when the Liberal Party directed preferences against inner-Melbourne Green candidates in pre-poll voting, but on polling day recommended preferences to the Greens. Many candidates may play the same trick in NSW. As in Victoria, all how-to-vote material must be registered and approved. Unlike Victoria, there is no public access to the material before election day …

Now let me plead self-interest here. On Saturday, I’d like to know as much as I can about how preferences might flow. In other states that register how-to-vote material, the answer is to visit the Electoral Commission and examine the material. In NSW, that is not allowed. Instead, on Saturday I will visit the Returning Officer for my own electoral district of Marrickville, where I will be allowed to examine material registered for Marrickville, and registered material for the upper house. The law prevents me from examining material for any other electoral district, even if I visit those offices.

The stupidity of the laws may yet create a farce on Saturday. The problem is, how will party workers know that material being distributed by other parties and candidates is correctly registered? The answer is, they can’t. The only legal access to the material is in the office of each Returning Officer. The material cannot be examined in polling places. So if a candidate is handing out dodgy how-to-vote material in Deniliquin this Saturday, the only way anyone can check this material is registered is by checking with the Returning Officer in Broken Hill, several hundred kilometres away.

I am very much with Antony on this one as yet another example of NSW electoral stupidity.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Snake in the Grass

Photo: Gordon Smith, Copperhead snake

I must say that I have very mixed feelings about snakes, reptile or otherwise.

Anybody growing up in or near the Australian bush will have come across snakes. This snake, the copperhead, has relatively mild venom by Australian standards.

Mild is a relative concept. On a per mg basis, the snake is as poisonous as the Indian cobra.

Unlike the human variety, the reptile version of snakes will generally leave you alone unless threatened.

I have no particular humans in mind when I say this, it's just a chain of thought started by Gordon's photo.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Australian Electoral Rules and Democracy

In a post on his political blog Neil (Ninglun) expressed surprise that I would consider voting for the Socialist Equality Party, simply because that party has demonstrated that "the NSW rules are a fundamental abrogation of democracy".

There was in fact a little more to it that this. That said, I thought that I would look at the abrogation question because I suspect that very few Australians actually realise what has been done in all Australian jurisdictions and what it actually means for democracy.

Let's start with electoral funding. Introduced to reduce funding rorts and dependence on big donors, clearly a successful ploy, candidates and parties who get a certain proportion of the vote receive funding. This is paid after the election, providing a funding base for the next campaign. Now whatever the arguments for this, it clearly disadvantages new entrants to the political scene.

The rules state that a political party must have so many members or be deregistered. Surely that's fair enough? Well, it creates certain problems.

When you are new or in decline, getting the minimum numbers can be a problem.

At the time the Democrats were deregistered in Tasmania they were still supported by one in fifty Tasmanians. The critical issue became not the actual or potential support of the electorate, but the capacity of Party people to go out and recruit members, a very different issue.

This does not matter for bigger parties who if push comes to shove have the people and money capacity to sort the problem one way or another. It matters enormously if you are depending on a few volunteers.

Now we come to real kicker in NSW, the rule that parties must be registered one year before the election.This rule, supported for some reason by Greens, Liberals, Nationals and Labor, makes life very difficult. It means, for example, that the new environmental group led by Patrice Newell cannot run as a Party.

If you look at the history of Australian politics, you will see that most new political movements really came together in the twelve months before the election. This is no longer possible in NSW because the rules preclude it. And no one has really complained!

So if you are about to set up as a new political movement in NSW you need to do the following.

First, you must complete all the political conditions required for registration as a Party a minimum of twelve months before the election. Better allow more time since you will have to deal with objections from existing Parties.

Secondly, you have to get the minimum numbers of Party members. It does not matter how you do this, although you do not want to breach formal rules. Still, there is lots of scope for creative recruiting.

Thirdly, in cash management terms you have to budget to get through the first election with the minimum required vote in each seat or the council because then you will have a war chest. So focus your efforts to maximise the funding payback.

People wonder about the rise of the independents. There have always been independent movements, but it is only in the last decade that they have become a real alternative to a new Party or political movement.

This is not surprising, for the independents have become the Party that you have when you are not having a Party. So long as you do not breach the rules regarding independence, and their seem to be a number of these, you have lots of scope for cooperation and joint fund raising.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sydney's Bridge

History really is written by the victors. I was reminded of this a few days ago by a comment on Sydney radio by a "historian" that the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opposed only by a few "winging country politicians."

Today the Harbour Bridge has achieved iconic status because of its design. Yet the reality is that its building was so strongly opposed by country politicians who believed, correctly, that it was another diversion of cash to the city that the then Government was forced to make the vote a non-party one.

The Legislative Assembly then divided on Sydney-country lines. Among the few Sydney politicians who voted against the Bridge was Jack Lang, later famous as the NSW Premier who presided over its opening!

If you want to find the facts on the vote, see my post on the New England Australia blog.

Nothing like an actual check of the records to correct perceptions.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

NSW 2007 - a very strange election: postscript

If you want to get a feel for the confusion created in Sydney people's minds by the current NSW election campaign, have a look at the Sydney Morning Herald's blog on transport chaos and voting intentions.

Unlike country people who generally have access to clear information about local candidates, Sydney's size means that information at electoral level is hard to come by. Beyond the sitting Labor member who I have met, I have no idea who the candidates are in the seat in which I live.

When I go to the Electoral Commission of NSW site I get the names and parties of the candidates but nothing more other than a PDF declaration that each is not a child molester.

This is, of itself, an interesting commentary on the current state if NSW politics. When did a statement that x is not a child molester become so important that it must be included as the sole piece of information about a candidate?

Digging down, I found that that the ABC election site had only very general information about Heffron. Since I already knew that it was one of the safest Labor seats in NSW, I moved on.

I then looked at James Cogan because he has no party name and I am inclined to vote independent. Here I found when I did a web search that he is in fact a member of the Socialist Equality Party Australia. I also found something that I was already aware of, the way in which the electoral rules are being twisted to prevent the emergence of new political groups.

To quote from the Socialist Equality Party web site:

The suppression of information and genuine debate extends to the very conduct of elections themselves.

In 1999 the NSW parliament passed deeply anti-democratic ballot access laws, with the backing of all the parliamentary parties—Labor, Liberal, Democrats and Greens. These laws were expressly designed to block any genuine challenge to the two-party system and to prevent dissenting political views from being publicly aired in election campaigns.

Now, to win the “privilege” of having one’s party affiliation printed on the ballot, parties without parliamentary representation must submit signed membership forms from 750 people in NSW, 12 months in advance of an election. That is why the Socialist Equality Party’s candidates will appear on the ballot paper without their party affiliation listed alongside their names.

I am no particular supporter of the Socialist Equality Party, but the NSW rules are a fundamental abrogation of democracy.

Moving on from the Socialist Equality Party, I did a web search on Scott Nash, the Liberal Party candidate. This suggested that he was a Randwick City Council alderman, but not much more. So I looked at the Liberal Party site. This had absolutely no information about him. And I am not going to vote for someone just because they are a Liberal.

The Green candidate is Ben Spies-Butcher. I am not a Green supporter. In fact, the Party is on my no vote list. However, whether I agree with him or not, Ben is clearly a person of some substance based on general web search, while the Green web site has information about him.

All this determines my lower house vote. I am going to vote Socialist Equality Party one, Green two, Liberal three. This has to be one of the strangest voting patterns in history.

I will look at the upper house in a later post.

NSW 2007 - a very strange election

Photo: Stranded Sydney rail passengers walk along a tunnel on their way out.

This - the current NSW election - has to be the strangest election I have ever seen.

We have a Government that everybody agrees is on the nose.

We have an election where just a week before the poll major failures in service delivery including a meltdown in Sydney public transport - Sydney is 70 per cent of the electorate - that left thousands of commuters stranded on trains brought both Sydney daily newspapers out against the Government. And yet Opposition Leader Peter Debnam admits that he is staring electoral failure in the face.

Photo: Sydney rail commuters walk up the track to Milson's Point railway station.

As I see it, the core of the problem is captured in Mr Debnam's statement to the media. Here Mr Debnam said he had laid out a clear agenda to the electorate. He went on:

"There is no Opposition that has laid out more policy than this Opposition."

"We have laid out a platform for NSW, it will turn this state around, it will fix the problems, that includes transport."

I am sure that Mr Debnam believes this. Therein lies the problem.

As I argued in my post Politics, the Media and the Immiseration of Public Policy, this election has really been a policy free zone with both parties confusing costed promises and activity statements - the supermarket or Key Performance Indicator approach to politics - with real policy.

Unlike other countries, Australia has compulsory voting. This makes the public opinion polls a more accurate reflector of outcomes than elsewhere. Yet I find it hard to believe that in fact the Government will be returned in the way the poll indicates. If so, it will be one of the most undeserved outcomes in Australian history, with the Opposition plucking defeat from the jaws of victory.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Marriage

Photo: youngest (Clare) with wife Denise, Europe

At the moment, I work in a female team. I am both the token male and the token older person. And I like it.

Today my wife and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. I mentioned this at work. I came in this morning to find hearts all over my work space celebrating the event.

Marriage is not an easy thing. We males are very different from the female half. But the wonder of marriage is that we create a new thing - a family - that grows with time. Some of us are unlucky and do not have children. Even so, the sense of sharing grows. When children are added in, it becomes wonderful.

Being married has had personal costs. But would I exchange my Denise, my Helen, my Clare? No, I would not. Each time I am disatisified, I remember this.

Frustrations - blogger and statistical

Yesterday I came home to put up some posts and found blogger was down. It was still down when I got up early this morning. Frustration.

Then, today, I was looking at demographic statistics because I thought that it might be interesting to pen picture of the demographic changes that have been taking place across New South Wales and, more broadly, Australia. More frustration.

Governments change things all the time for their own convenience. So they change local Government boundaries because bigger local councils are meant to be more efficient. That's fine, but these changing boundaries then destroy the continuity of key statistical data, making analysis of trends very hard.

I remember when I was foundation chair of Tourism Armidale. I worked out that in the twenty years before I became chair there had been some five state sponsored tourism organisations, each with different boundaries and themes. Is it any wonder that public recognition of the New England Tablelands collapsed? I was appalled when I saw the survey data.

I was also frustrated that the state based tourism data collections meant that while Canberra had details of overseas visitors to Cockington Green, a model tourism village, the broader New England (population many times greater than the ACT) had data only for Coffs Harbour and the Lower Hunter, making it very hard to develop any form of integrated tourism strategy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ninglun on Australia's Aborigines

Neil, Ninglun, has continued our on-line dialogue about Australia's indigenous people.

While Neil and I often end up at the same point, there are differences in perspective between us that mean that the starting point, the question posed, and the subsequent thought paths are sometimes different.

I will respond properly to Neil's post, continuing to draw out some of the conclusions I have reached, the questions posed, the thought path. Part of my argument remains that official policy often implemented with the best will in the world has failed and that we need to stand outside the box to find new ways.

In the meantime, I commend Neil's continuing posts even where I disagree with them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Australia's CWA

Back last August I carried a story on the New England Australia blog on the history of the Country Women's Association (CWA) in NSW. I was reminded of this by a rather wonderful story tonight on on ABC.

I meant to write a story and will do so on International Women's Day. But in the meantime, the CWA is by far the largest sisterhood in Australia.

Country people have been doing it tough. Part of this is due to structural change in the rural sector, part to the drought.

In all this, men do not talk. They internalise their problems. More young country Australian men killed themselves last year than were killed on the roads. Yet we worry about the road toll.

Country women just manage.

A number of years ago cousin Jamie was working as assistant manager at the Banjo Patterson Motel on the outskirts of Canberra. His mum, Aunt Kay, was staying with him.

The husband of a couple staying at the motel died of a heart attack. Kay just moved in. She sorted out all the details, let people know, stayed with the women. When I asked her about this, she just said someone had to do it.

This is why I am proud to be Australia.

A few days ago eldest daughter - 19 - was out in town. A friend in the group was taken ill. Eldest and friend organised ambulance, let parents know and stayed at the hospital until the girl's parents arrived.

This is why I am proud to be an Australian.

But the food on the CWA program! I love aspects of traditional Australian country cooking. Watching the CWA program we all sat salivating at the cakes. In this time poor modern world, few have the time to cook the traditional recipes passed on down through the generations. And we are all the poorer for it.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Country Music and Australian Popular Culture - a note

One of the things that I find interesting is the resilience of Australian popular culture.

I was again reminded of this by two stories that I have put on the New England Australia blog, the first on the returns to Tamworth from this year's country music festival ($A113 million), the second on Slim Dusty and the attempt to establish a Slim Dusty Centre in Kempsey.

From the seventies there was a growing divergence between what I suppose we can call "official" cultural activities as presented by our cultural elites and key elements of our past. We were meant to put aside these past childish things as no longer relevant to our modern multicultural Australia with its international outlook, its diverse ethnicity, its ballet, orchestras etc.

The problem in all this is that the "official" cultural activities ceased to reflect Australia back to us. Here I suggested that one of the reasons for the decline in interest in Alex Buzo's plays, a writer who loved the Australian idiom and specialised in presenting us to ourselves, was that he had somehow become unfashionable among the elites. I also said:

At the first level, pluralism and multiculturalism may be important aspirations, even attributes of our culture, but they are not core descriptors of the culture. The abolition of the idea of an Australian culture, of the idea of a distinct Australia, effectively invalidated our past, creating a cultural void.

Just so I do not get caught in semantic traps in saying all this, I am very comfortable with the idea of Australia as a nation of ethnic and cultural diversity. Just as I am proud of my English, Scottish and New Zealand heritage while also being Australian, so I expect other Australians to be proud of their ancestry.

My own daughters add the Irish Catholic tradition to the mix from their mother. Should they marry a Lebanese, a Chinese, an Indian, an Aborigine or whatever, then I would expect their children, my grand children, to be proud of this added stream.

I also take pride in what I see as the growth in those things covered by "official" culture. I, too, can take pride in the increase in standards in those European cultural pecking order things such as opera, ballet or classical music.

Where I part company with at least some of our cultural elites is that I am very comfortable with being Australian and see no need to cringe or apologise for our past. In fact, I am proud of it.

I do see the need to redress past wrongs, but that's a different issue.

In a funny way, this - Australia today - is one of the the most morally sensitive societies in history measured by the way public discussion is so dominated by questions of morality. It is also a risk averse and censorious society, one that seems to think that the solution to problems is to make a new law or regulation.

In some ways this is not new. Australia has always been a remarkably law abiding country, one inclined to follow the lead of Government. We practice a democracy of manners, yet in a personal sense will go along with quite undemocratic approaches if a Government says that they are necessary. As an example, the use of migration rules to exclude perceived undesirables has a long history, and I am not just talking about White Australia and the dictation test.

Yet in all this. the Australian popular culture has always provided a balance against the dictates of the power elites. Central to this is the concept of a fair go.

Take David Hicks as an example.

I am sure that the bulk of Australians initially accepted the Government's position on Hicks, as did Mr Beazley and the Opposition. Then as time passed and it became clear that Hicks was not getting a fair go, public opinion swung. This took time. But after a certain point the momentum became such that even the hard liners in the Federal Government were forced to shift position.

Hicks is not an isolated example.

Take Tamworth and refugees. I have no doubt that initial public opinion in Tamworth was against the refugee resettlement program. In that sense, the first council decision reflected Tamworth opinion as expressed through the consultation process. When council changed its mind, that also reflected changing public opinion.

Some might argue that Tamworth changed its position because of external pressure. There is some truth in this, although my fear was that external views would cause locals to dig in. But when you look at the process that Tamworth went through, it really was growing local opposition to the decision that forced the change.

From the beginning, and immediately after the initial council decision, locals and local groups organised. Yes, the local paper, The Northern Daily Leader, played a role through editorial and news coverage. However, this was only effective because of popular on-ground action. Further, change was aided because most of those opposed to the program focused their opposition in terms of weaknesses in the program itself, not the race card.

There is no doubt that the whole imbroglio did us damage internationally because of the way it was picked up by the metro media. But it is also something that I think that we can take considerable pride in because of the way a community worked the issues through in the face of massive media scrutiny.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Australia's Regional Universities and Indigenous Advancement

My next good news story on the advancement of Australia's indigenous people was going to be on the role that Australia's regional universities are playing, a quite remarkable yet totally unreported story.

In the meantime, and as reported in my last post, I have been looking at various aspects of university rankings in Australia. Here I thought that it might be interesting if I gave you the Good Universities Australia 2007 university rankings on indigenous participation.

A list of the top rankings follow. As always, M = metro, R = regional and refers to the main campus.
  • Five Stars: Australian Catholic University (M), Batchellor (R), Charles Darwin University (R), Curtin (M), Edith Cowan University (M), James Cook University (R), NIDA (M), Southern Cross (R), University of New England (R)
  • Four Stars: Australian Defence Force Academy (R), Central Queensland University (R), Deakin (M), Griffith (M), Murdoch (M), Newcastle (R), Queensland University of Technology (M), University of Tasmania (R), UTS (M)
  • Three Stars: Australian Maritime College (R), University of Canberra (R), Charles Sturt University (R), Flinders (M), Notre Dame (M), Sunshine Coast (R), University of South Australia (M), University of Southern Queensland (R), University of Western Australia (M)

There are 27 higher educational institutions on this list, 14 regional, 13 metro. Only one (UWA) of the Group of Eight of leading metro universities appears.

Ranking Australia's Universities

I have been concerned for some time in my writings on Australian higher education about what I see as a growing gap between the way that University pecking orders are presented and the realities of the student experience.

Take the so called Gang of Eight as an example. Faced with growing competition for funds and students, this group of leading Australian universities is attempting to argue for structural change that will reinforce their position. Part of this involves limiting the role of other universities. Yet the reality, at least as I see it, is that these universities do not necessarily offer leading edge undergraduate education as measured by student experiences.

I thought that it might be interesting to test this by building a student centric index based on undergraduate student experience. I have done so on the Regional Living Australia blog using ranking tables created by the Good Universities Guide 2007. Based on this, Australia's top eleven universities follow. The R and M simply refer to location, m for metro, r for regional.
  • 1 University of Wollongong 40 points (R)
  • 2= University of Queensland 35 points (M)
  • 2= University of New England 35 points (R)
  • 4 = Australian National University 33 points (R)
  • 4= University of the Sunshine Coast 33 (R)
  • 6 = University of Melbourne 32 points (M)
  • 6= University of Sydney 32 points (M)
  • 6= University of Southern Queensland 32 points (R)
  • 6= University of Western Australia 32 points (M)
  • 10= Charles Sturt University 31 points (R)
  • 10= Murdoch University 31 points (M)

This pecking order is rather different from that given by conventional measurements.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Australia's Aborigines - another demographic note

In my last post I referred to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report into the Aboriginal Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP). An appendix in the report provides some basis statistical data by state drawn from the 2001 census. I have repeated this below.

There may be some problems with the data. The indigenous population figure given for NSW, 119,835, is much lower than the NSW Government estimate - 134,888 - also based on 2001 census data. I will have to check the data against the original ABS figures. That said, the state figures reveal some interesting variations.

I have summarised this in the following lists. The full source data is at the end of the post.

Total Numbers

Total indigenous numbers by state are:

  • NSW 119,835
  • Queensland 112,777
  • WA 58,496
  • NT 50,790
  • Victoria 25,090
  • SA 23,410
  • Tasmania 15,780

I have already commented on the discrepancy in NSW numbers. Even given the lower NSW numbers, NSW and Queensland have around 57 per cent of Australia's total indigenous population.

As an aside, total indigenous numbers living within the traditional New England New State boundaries were probably of the order of 50,000 in 2001, equivalent to the NT number.

Aborigines Living in Remote Areas

Another way of looking at the numbers is by remoteness, since this is important in determining service needs. Here a different picture emerges:

Indigenous people classified as living in remote areas by state:

  • NT 41,204
  • Queensland 26,397
  • WA 26,210
  • NSW 7,311
  • SA 5,172
  • Tasmania 537
  • Victoria 57

Looking at these numbers, I was surprised at the PWC recommendation that all of NSW should be excluded from the proposed new housing and infrastructure program targeting remote Aborigines.

Home Ownership

The statistics paint an interesting picture of the variations in Aboriginal home ownership - a traditional Australian measure of wealth - across Australia. To calculate this, I have expressed home ownership - outright and with mortgage - as a percentage of Aboriginal households.

  • Tasmania 59 per cent
  • Victoria 42 per cent
  • NSW 36 per cent
  • SA 29 per cent
  • Queensland 28 per cent
  • WA 27 per cent
  • NT 14 per cent

While even Tasmania is below the national average, I think that this is around 70 per cent, these numbers were actually more than I had expected for the top ownership states. There is a clear negative correlation between rates of home ownership and the proportion of indigenous people living on communal lands.

Private Rental and Private Ownership

Another interesting measure is the proportion of households living in private rental accommodation since this is another proxy for integration into the broader community. Here we find:

  • Queensland 31 per cent
  • NSW 26 per cent
  • Victoria 25 per cent
  • Tasmania 21 per cent
  • South Australia 18 per cent
  • WA 17 per cent
  • NT 2 per cent

What we need to do now is to combine home ownership with private rental since this gives us a better proxy still for integration. The remainder of the population live in both public (generally available social housing) and Aboriginal specific social housing.

Here we find:

  • Tasmania 80 per cent
  • Victoria 67 per cent
  • NSW 62 per cent
  • Queensland 59 per cent
  • SA 47 per cent
  • WA 44 per cent
  • NT 16 per cent

Now I would be the first to agree that these figures are far from perfect, but what we can say is that a clear majority of Australia's indigenous people live in homes that they either own or are renting privately. This is not the picture as normally presented.

Indigenous People living in Indigenous Housing

The last statistic I want to present is the proportion of indigenous households living in indigenous community housing, ranked from highest to lowest:

  • NT 46 per cent
  • Queensland 14 per cent
  • WA 14 per cent
  • NSW 7 per cent
  • Victoria 3 per cent
  • Tasmania 1 per cent

This is the proportion of the indigenous population that attracts the greatest attention and really drives the policy debate.

Source Data


  • Total indigenous population 119,835
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 7,311
  • Total indigenous households 37,598
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 2,725
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 6,021
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 7,490
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 9,828
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 8,146


  • Total indigenous population 112,777
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 26,397
  • Total indigenous households 31,336
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 4,271
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 3,434
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 5,464
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 9,638
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 5,058

Western Australia

  • Total indigenous population 58,496
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 26,210
  • Total indigenous households 14,471
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 2,069
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 1,091
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 2,752
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 2,445
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 4,288

Northern Territory

  • Total indigenous population 50,790
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 41,204
  • Total indigenous households 9,748
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 4,434
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 380
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 953
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 847
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 1,414


  • Total indigenous population 25,090
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 57
    Total indigenous households 8,359
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 276
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 1,407
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 2,142
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 2,068
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 1,665

South Australia

  • Total indigenous population 23,410
  • Indigenous people in remote areas 5,172
  • Total indigenous households 6,698
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 738
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 684
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 1,261
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 1,178
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 2,156


  • Total indigenous population 15,780
    Indigenous people in remote areas 537
  • Total indigenous households 5,879
  • Indigenous dwellings in community housing 43
  • Indigenous dwellings owned outright 1,365
  • Mortgaged indigenous dwellings 1,973
  • Privately rented indigenous dwellings 1,209
  • Publicly rented indigenous dwellings 921

Australia's Aborigines and the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP)

The Federal Government has released the PriceWaterhouseCooper's report into the Community Housing and Infrastructure Program (CHIP). You will find the full report here.

CHIP, a $A380 million per year program, is the main vehicle for the delivery of housing and infrastructure support to Australia's indigenous peoples.

The PWC report is quite scathing and recommends the Program's abolition, replacing it with a new more targeted approach. In releasing the report, the Commonwealth's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough stated: "While billions of dollars have been invested in indigenous housing, there is too little to show for it".

I have so far only skim read the report. I was struck by CHIP's complexity as new initiatives have sort of accreted to it over time, making for a complex and sometimes inconsistent mosaic.

The report draws out clearly one of the points I have been trying to make in my own analysis of Government policy towards the Aborigines, the need to take regional variation into account. One stakeholder said:

"It's too bureaucratic, too top down, there's no plans to advance the community, 9 out of 10 houses that get built are unsuitable because of a one size fits all approach - but the current approach means that it's just easier to spend the money than to set objectives and monitor outcomes." Stakeholder feed back May 2006.

People are also suffering from consultation overload, a complaint that I first heard back in 1998.

"In one Western Desert Community we had 132 consultation meetings in three months ... it's a red tape nightmare". Stakeholder interview June 2006.

The report's core recommendation as I read it is that Aboriginal housing needs in metro and regional Australia should be dealt with as part of mainstream housing policy including public and community housing, focusing Aboriginal specific spend in remote and very remote areas where alternatives do not exist. The report also recommends a number of corrective measures to overcome identified weaknesses in service delivery.

In recommending a new approach, I am not sure that that the report does not itself fall into the trap of failing to recognise regional variation. For example, it recommends that all Aboriginal housing needs in NSW be dealt with through mainstream programs. In modern policy jargon, this is called mainstreaming.

The material that I have already written points to some of the variations in Aboriginal conditions across NSW. Here I noted that the report has been forced to use, as I have, 2001 census data. There is also a fear in NSW that the effect will be to reduce available funds, thus throwing a greater load on an already over-burdened public and community housing system.

I will look at some of these issues a little later when I have had time to read the report properly. In the meantime, the report contains a lot of interesting material of relevance to anybody interested in Aboriginal conditions.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Aborigines and the Development of Public Policy - a Methodological Note

Neil, Ninglun, has had some interesting posts on his blog. I am struggling with time at present and have not contributed to Neil's dialogue in the way I should.

In one post, Neil said in part "I also think the sterile impasse between our two brands of denialist, left and right, has to be broken if we are to move forward on indigenous issues."

This quote captures what I am trying to do in my current series on the Aborigines. It's not easy.

At the moment I am bogged down in what statistics there are about Aboriginal conditions in NSW, trying to look at patterns across the state.

Part of my argument in this series has been that we need to recognise and understand variations in Aboriginal conditions across space, not just talk in averages, state or national. I am also concerned about the way in which particular issues come to twist and dominate the debate.

I am absolutely confident from my own experience that both these positions are correct. However, to show this to others I have to have evidence, not rely on assertion.

I think that the available evidence, while not good in statistical terms, does support my position. However, we then have to drill down further. Okay, so there are local and regional variations, what does this mean? To try to illustrate by example.

If we look at the regions in NSW as defined by the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs, we find some common patterns but also significant variations. Why, for example, is the pattern of pre-natal visits, one indicator of child care, higher in New England-North West than in many other parts of NSW, why does the incidence of imprisonment appear lower when on some other measures the Aborigines in New England North West are some of the worst off in the state?

What do all these differences mean? The regional stats such as they are are themselves averages. Has the Aboriginal experience in Armidale been the same as in Moree? Based on qualitative evidence I don't think so. Yes, there are commonalities, but there also appear to be considerable differences.

The problems associated with data imperfections increase as we drill down.

Consider measures of Aboriginal unemployment. The NSW Department is forced to rely on 2001 census data. This is too old to be a reliable indicator of today's conditions. What has happened since? Why? What does it all mean?

Again taking Armidale as an example.

Based on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that the 2006 census will show a major increase in Armidale's Aboriginal population because of in-migration. I also suspect that the data will show an increase in the rate of Aboriginal unemployment in Armidale because, and this is another assumption, the new arrivals have less education and less access to existing networks than those already there.

If all this is correct, then indicators drawn from the 2006 census may show a deterioration in the social condition of Armidale's Aborigines, but one due to in-migration.

In policy terms, these types of problems are usually handled by what I call point and counterpoint, constant switches between the general and the particular.

The aggregate data suggests x. Test this by looking at specific examples. Look at specific examples, what does this suggest about broader issues? How do we test this against the stats.

In all this, one of the core needs is to properly define the problem to be addressed. In my view, misspecification of problems is the single most common cause of policy failure.

Here one question that I constantly ask is is the issue in question an Aboriginal problem or a problem for our Aborigines?

By this I simply mean is the problem unique in some way to Aborigines (an Aboriginal problem) or one shared in some ways with other groups in the Australian community (a problem for our Aborigines)? If the second, are there aspects to the problem that are specific to the Aboriginal community?

Take the point that I have been making constantly about the failure to properly address economic development issues in New England.

This is a problem shared by all, so it is a problem for New England's Aborigines, but has to be addressed by broader policy measures. On the other hand, there are aspects to the problem such as poor Aboriginal education that may need specific corrective measures as well.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

NSW's Aboriginal Population

This short post looks at the distribution of our Aboriginal people across NSW, drawing from a set of regional studies published in November 2006 by the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

In this context, while I am very critical of current approaches to the development of public policy in Australia, I do want to make two positive points.

First, no one can doubt the commitment of the public servants in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to the cause of the advancement of the Aboriginal peoples of NSW. You will see this if you browse the Department's web site or the Aboriginal infonet .

Secondly, whatever its other weaknesses, the current approach to public policy with its strategies and plans does allow for a cascade effect in which higher level objectives can flow down through an organisation to individual policy or program units.

In 2001, the date of the last published census, there were an estimated 134,888 Aboriginal people living in NSW, comprising just over 2 per cent of the total NSW population and approximately 29 per cent of the total Aboriginal population in Australia.

We can expect the 2006 census to show a significant increase in total Aboriginal numbers in NSW.

The Aboriginal population has been growing quite rapidly, up by 16 per cent in the period between the 1996 and 2001 Censuses.

Three-quarters of this intercensal increase is a 'natural' increase which can be explained by demographic factors (births, deaths and migration) and especially the younger age pyramid and higher birth rate among Aborigines as compared to the broader population.

The remaining quarter or 'unexplained' growth is attributable to other factors such as the improvements in the Census collection methods and increased self identification of people as Aboriginal.

We can also expect the census to show shifts in the distribution of Aboriginal people across NSW as a consequence of internal migration.

Accepting this, the following data shows the distribution of Aboriginal people across NSW at the time of the 2001 census by regions as defined by the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

I have ranked the list by the proportion of the Aboriginal population in the total population to drive home my point about the need to recognise regional variation. Remember, too, that there are significant variations within regions.

Murdi Paaki (Far West). Aboriginal population 7,542 or 14 per cent of the total population.

New England North West. Aboriginal population 12,047 or 7.28 per cent of the total population.

Mid West. Aboriginal population 13,619 or 6 per cent of the total population.

North Coast. Aboriginal population 16,402 or 3.5 per cent of the total population.

Riverina Murray. Aboriginal population 7,291 or 2.74 per cent of the total population.

Hunter. Aboriginal population 11,605 or 2.2 per cent of the total population.

Illawarra/South East. Aboriginal population 13,100 or 2.2 per cent of the total population.

Central Coast. Aboriginal population 4,748 or 1.7 per cent of the total population.

West and South Western Sydney. Aboriginal population 23,282 (Western 15,276, South West 8,006). I do not have total population numbers, but the Aboriginal proportion would appear to be around 1 per cent.

Coast Sydney. Aboriginal population 11,931 or 0.54 per cent of the total population.