Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Snippets - drop bears and other phenomena

The current troubles in Egypt  are one of those things that I watch with interest, but don't write about because I have little of value to add. I simply don't know enough!

The Government's attempts to control the flow of communication via mobiles and the internet were interesting because they were another example of the use of the new media on one-side, Government responses on the other.

I have had a reasonably good record as a technology forecaster. However, I completely underestimated the way in which combinations of communications technology might be used for things such as political purposes.

I was also interested in just what the troubles might mean for the complex world of Middle Eastern politics. The view one gets from Australia tends to be one dimensional, dominated by the Israel/Palestine issue, Iraq or Iran. However, it strikes me that the changes are far more interesting and complex than that because of the way national and regional trends interact. 

  In a piece on the Lowy Institute blog, Good news about Papua New Guinea, Graeme Dobell argues that PNG is doing far better than most people allow. That's good news, although Graeme's analysis has its detractors.

I have argued for some time that PNG is a far more significant issue for Australia than most people would allow. This view is based on nothing more significant than populations maths. If you combine rapid population growth with poor economic, social and political performance, add PNG's closeness, then you can see that Australia is likely to face problems.

One feature of discussion on the flood levy lay in the interaction between it and the resources boom. An example is the discussion on skills shortages. To my mind, something of a cargo cult mentality has developed in Australia on the resources boom, one that reminds me a little of 1980.

I have quite large question marks in my mind.

The first links to China's continued growth. Michael Pettis, among others, has been arguing for some time that the imbalances in the Chinese economy pose a substantial threat to longer term Chinese growth. There is a real risk that Chinese growth might stall, even hit a wall.

The second question lies in the way that that shortages bring forth new supply. Here there was some interesting analysis in Saturday's Australian - I can't give you a link - suggesting that Australia was unlikely to benefit as much as expected from the current boom in natural gas. Higher local development costs and lags meant that new supply would come on stream more slowly and at lower levels than expected. Meantime, projects elsewhere meant that there would be a natural gas surplus by 2017.

The reason I mention 1980 is that that was the year I entered the Commonwealth Public Service Senior Executive Service. As a young SES officer, I found myself thrust into debate over the resources boom.

My branch was responsible for the major projects projections whose numbers appeared in political debate. I also found myself a member of the Economic Strategy Interdepartmental Committee, the peak official economic advisory body, as well as an IDC (interdepartmental committee) formed to address immediate skill needs.

I will deal with the detail of some of the discussions in a later post because the issues and responses are very relevant today. For the moment, I just note that the boom collapsed far sooner than expected. Worse, the Government accepted budget parameters based on boom conditions that then helped push the economy into recession.

A central problem in all this lay in the failure to properly differentiate between short term and long term issues.

Neil Whitfield has continued his discussion on multicultural Australia. I find that my hackles rise quickly on this one. Just mention Paul Keating and multiculturalism in one breath and past resentments arise. I cannot help it.

The extent to which Mr Keating and his policies, especially the way he expressed those policies, contributed to the rise of One Nation and a popular resentment that actually seemed to threaten a multi-ethnic Australia should now be left to the historians. Neil's broader point, current Australia is at it is, is more important.

James O'Brien's pleasant and gentle post on Australia Day, More Than Thongs, was a helpful reminder to a natural pontificator like me. He wrote:

Unfortunately, one of the great dilemmas of Australia Day is the way in which people on the fringe have appropriated the day in the media and in a very public way.

Most of us aren’t on the extremes. We are comfortable in our notion of national identity. I’m pleased that, as a nation, we’ve gone down the path of quiet national pride compared with the more outspoken elements of American nationalism, for example. Most of us simply enjoy the holiday, enjoy catching up with friends and family and do something vaguely nationalistic which generally amounts to little more than wishing someone else “Happy Australia Day”. And that’s how I spent Australia Day: a walk around the portrait gallery, a trip back from Canberra to Sydney on the bus, and a catch-up with friends at a pub on New Canterbury Road.

I think that's pretty right.

Among younger Australians, my daughters and her friends are the group I know best. Before Helen left for Copenhagen, one big issue was just what strange and fictitious elements of Australia might be put on show to the hopeful confusion of fellow residents at the Copenhagen Business School. Drop bears were one candidate, although Helen kind of destroyed this one in Copenhagen by breaking into laughter at the wrong moment!

Now this is no different from Brother David and I when we went to Asia for the first time all those years ago. Drop bears, of course, didn't exist then. After all, they are in fact mainly an advertising created concept. Yet the principle was the same.

Just so long as Australians don't take themselves too seriously, the country will get by.        


james said...

Thanks Jim for your kind comment. It's a post I agonised over for several days in draft form.

Jim Belshaw said...

Yes, we tend to do that James, agonise over some posts. As I said in my post, it was just a nice post to read, onr that reflected the care you put into it.

Neil said...

Thanks, Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

A pleasure, Neil. I saw your post.