Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Blogs of interest - Australian politics with a dash of history

This morning there was little that I wanted to write about. Instead, I spent some time blog browsing.

In On the trail of Jock McDiarmid, Paul Barratt continues his investigation of the remarkable SAS war time experiences of our old school sergeant. Paul also continues to be underwhelmed by some of the goings on at Federal level. Rudd was no “bureaucrat” attacks the commonly held notion that Mr Rudd was a consummate bureaucrat. An earlier post, Reflections on the leadership change, contains some interesting reflections on Mr Rudd's downfall.

Reflecting our different experiences, both Paul and I talk a fair bit about process. In this context, Paul wrote:  

Among the many things that Kevin Rudd did not understand was the value of an effective Cabinet process.  Clear evidence of how central the Cabinet process is to a Westminster system of government is the fact that it has endured for centuries, without ever being mentioned in legislation or, in Australia’s case, the constitution.  The central principal of Cabinet government in our system is that, while Ministers are each commissioned by the Governor-General to administer certain enactments as defined in the Administrative Arrangements Order, there are some things that an individual Minister could do that would have the potential to bring the Government down.  Accordingly, for these strategic issues, it is a matter of basic survival to ensure that these strategically significant issues are discussed by the whole leadership team, with a collective decision being made as to whether any given proposal is or is not a good idea.

Beyond that core issue, there is the question of ensuring, in relation to any idea that the Government wishes to proceed with, that all of the downsides and risk factors have been considered, and the requirements for successful implementation have been thought through.  The standard model for achieving that in Australian Federal Cabinet practice is to require any Minister seeking significant policy change to place a submission before Cabinet.  Cabinet submissions are required to be succinct (usually not more than seven pages), with clear recommendations, and costings agreed by the Department of Finance.  The proposing Minister’s department is required, in the course of drafting a submission, to consult all other departments upon whose responsibilities the proposal could have an impact, and to include in the submission a succinct statement of each department’s “coordination comments”. The submissions are then supposed to be lodged with the Cabinet Secretariat in time to be circulated to all members of Cabinet ten clear business days ahead of the meeting at which they are to be considered.

It doesn’t always work like that (I have known times when the ten day rule has been more honoured in the breach than the observance) but at least this standard model provides for the orderly conduct of government business, and for Ministers to take informed decisions based on thorough briefing from all relevant departments and agencies.

I have quoted this at length because it's a quite succinct description of practice at a Federal level. One of the things that I found interesting looking at NSW, and one of the reasons I think that there have been so many problems there, is that there is actually no real equivalent to the structured Federal process.

In Is Julia Gillard the new Maurice Iemma? political scientist and historian Geoff Robinson takes a severe look at our new PM.

Julia Gillard may be the most insubstantial leader of a major Australian political party since Andrew Peacock. She is a person created by circumstances. She incarnates the accommodation of Australian social democracy with the contemporary social movements of globalised capitalism, and the struggle for gender equality, secularism and multiculturalism.

I often find Geoff's views interesting. He consciously writes from a left of centre perspective, but we sometimes end up at the same point because both of us are interested in history and look at the same topics.

Enough Australian politics, I think.

As usual, Ramana's Musings has had some very good posts. See, as an example,The Lungi. Like this post, many posts provide an interesting entry point to aspects of Indian life, past and present.  Guest Post – Defilements provides a picture of life in a Braham family.

I guess that it wouldn't be a post without some reference to history.

Very few Australians know much, I suspect, about the East India Company even though it is part of Australian as well as Indian and British history. Founded in 1600, the company dominated the India trade and came to rule large parts of that country. The North American equivalent was the Hudson's Bay Company, founded in 1670 and by far the oldest corporate entity in North America.

I had not known until I read Ramana's The East India Company that an Indian entrepreneur had acquired the rights to the name and crest and had re-launched the company. I can understand Ramana's personal satisfaction at this Indianisation. 

I have said before that it is a pity that Australians learn so little about the British Empire. It's not just that the Empire was the world global power of the 19th century, but the way we do learn it now as subsets of other things such as decolonisation means that the things that are taught lack context.

Australia is much younger country than either India or Canada. Perhaps the oldest Australian comparisons are the Australian Agricultural Company formed by an act of the British Parliament in 1827 and the Van Dieman's Land Company created by Royal Charter in 1825. Both companies still exist today. The AAco is especially important from my perspective because of its impact on New England history.

Staying with companies and history, in Sucrogen and White Australia, Geoff provides his perspective on the sale of its sugar interests by CSR to the Singapore based Wilmar International, after an unsuccessful bid for the division by the Chinese Bright Foods.

CSR stands for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Founded in Sydney in 1855, CSR played a major role in the development of the Australian sugar industry, growing to be Australia's second largest company. In his post, Geoff focuses on the inter-relationship between CSR and the white Australia policy, concluding that the sale was a mark of the transformation that had occurred in Australia.

Both points are correct. They also link to the discussion in my previous posts about Indian attitudes towards Australia.

Part of the difficulties that Australia presently faces with Indian prejudices about this country goes back to the white Australia policy. But it's not just the policy. Those attitudes were also formed because of the tri-partite interaction between the Australian colonies, India and Empire. I don't think that it's a coincidence that the most deeply entrenched attitudes about Australians as racists are to be found in Commonwealth countries. In a sense, they saw us as we were more directly because of the family connection.

Beyond the white Australia policy, the Sucrogen takeover marks another end. At a purely local level, CSR played a major role in the development of the New England sugar industry. More broadly, CSR was part of the Australian push into the Pacific, something that I talked about a little in Pacific Perspective - Australia in the Pacific. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company (Fiji) had a significant impact on that country's history.

Well, time to do some other things.     


Rummuser said...

I am flattered. If we ever meet, I shall gift you a few lungis and teach you how to tie them. Thank you.

Jim Belshaw said...

I look forward to meeting and learning!