It's been a busy period. Today's post focuses on things that I have noticed or that have been swirling around in that stew that counts as my brain. It's actually a sort of note to myself to jot things down before I forget them.
Retreat from Lone Pyne
It's been quite funny really, if a bit sad also. First we had Gonski, then retreat from Gonski and now its Gonski reborn. Or is it? I don't feel able yo comment on the education policy issues involved for I don't yet actually know what the policy is.
I tend not to write on foreign policy because of my own lack of knowledge of the immediate context, but its been an interesting period. We have the continuing standoff between Australia and Indonesia triggered in part by the spy row. Then there was the imbroglio over the Chinese declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea where the Australian position resulted in a Chinese rebuke. Then there was something that I hadn't actually heard of, the first meeting a month back of MIKTA.
Ever heard of MIKTA? I hadn't. Alex Oliver on the Lowy Institute Blog speaks of it this way.
A month or so ago, with little fanfare, Australia participated in the first meeting of MIKTA, an informal grouping of five nations — Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia — described in press releases by Turkey and South Korea as an informal and non-exclusive group of 'middle powers', cooperating to address some of the diverse challenges of an increasingly complex international environment.
Leave aside the question of whether Australia is a middle power or a pivotal power, I find both terms misleading, the meeting was an interesting response to the complexity faced by countries who are big enough to have some importance, but not big enough to be real players.
Names, Language and Territory in Modern Aboriginal Society
Turning to my traditional country, a story in the Armidale Express begins:
ABORIGINAL tribes have gone to war over a planned Welcome to Country sign at Armidale’s gateways.
The Anaiwan tribe want to be solely recognised in the sign.
But members of the Gumbaynggirr tribe claim the city is also part of their traditional land.
They want wording on the sign to reflect all Aboriginal tribes in the area.
Leaving aside the use of the word "tribes", there were no such things, the story is an example of disputes running across Northern NSW and beyond over boundaries inspired by the European obsession with hard lines on a map. Europe wasn't like that for nearly all its history, nor was Aboriginal Australia.
Armidale Express editor Lydia Roberts has given me the okay to write on this in my next History revisited column, and also suggested that I put forward my suggested solutions in a letter to the editor. I will do so, having consulted some of my Aboriginal friends.
It's interesting and also important to me that feedback informs. Two example,
The first was a comment from a work friend that many of the big New England Aboriginal ceremonial sites appear to lie at the junctions of multiple traditional Aboriginal languages. They were gathering points for the nations, to use a modern phrase that would not have been recognised by traditional Aborigines. While i more or less knew it, I hadn't focused on it at local level.
The second is the concept of the elders. Like many modern Australians I have equated this with age. That's not true. It equates to knowledge and respect, so that a younger person might be an elder, an older person not. Here we have a problem that I might write about later.
Staying briefly with New England, Ursh Tunks is focusing on the history of South Grafton (Facebook page). One of the joys of my writing, including my writing as a regional historian, is the way it leads me to connections that then feed my thoughts. This is an example. Because of Ursh's interest, I have focused on South Grafton as an example. It's a fascinating place, at least to me.
The economic outlook and the associated policy discussions continue to fascinate me. Writing in a long piece on the outlook for 2014 prepared a month ago for another publication, I commented:
Doubts linger, casting a continuing cloud as we move towards 2014. Uncertainty over the ending of quantitative easing and the impact that this might have on markets adds to doubt, as do continuing uncertainties over the Chinese economy. Despite these doubts, I think that 2014 is likely to be a better year in economic terms, far better than some analysts allow.
That remains my view, although pessimism continues to abound. Here the discussion on the budget deficit continues to exercise a distorting effect, pushing policy discussion towards mechanical solutions. Now Canberra based economics consultants Macroeconomics have released a new report arguing for drastic cuts budget cuts to restore fiscal balance. Now in the arguments they put forward was one point that genuinely puzzled me. If we cut spending, they apparently suggested, the value of the Australian dollar will fall. Huh?
For the life of me, I cannot understand just how this might happen. Perhaps someone can explain to me the arguments involved,
Graincorp and the FIRB
The Treasurer's decision to block the proposed acquisition by Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) of 100 per cent of the shareholding in GrainCorp Limited (GrainCorp) has been greeted with outrage in many quarters, as has the role of the National Party in arguing for rejection. This is, it is argued, a case of special pleading, of the National's sectional interests over-riding the national good.
This argument misses a key feature. Wheat growers are concerned about the impact on their international sales activities, nor do they have any special trust for corporate promises. The National Party is reflecting those concerns. Leaving aside emotional arguments about foreign ownership of Australian land, arguments that I do not support, the grower arguments about the impact are at least arguable. Further, they are the ones that will suffer if their concerns are correct, while any benefits will go elsewhere.
Interestingly, Treasurer Hockey appears to be having a two way bet on this one. At the end of his statement he says:
ADM has advised me that it wishes to be involved in the Australian market place for the long term.
ADM currently owns 19.85 per cent of GrainCorp. It was open to me, under the Act, to continue to cap ADM’s shareholding in GrainCorp at its current level. I have decided not to do so.
In fact, to encourage ADM to demonstrate its commitment to the Australian grains industry through its continued investment in GrainCorp, I am inclined, based on current circumstances, to approve any proposals from ADM to increase its shareholding in GrainCorp up to an interest of 24.9 per cent. This would also provide a platform for ADM to build stakeholder support for potentially greater participation in the Australian industry as it develops.
The Australian Government recognises that our nation needs foreign investment so that we continue to grow and prosper.
That's very definitely two bob each way! Now come on chaps, he appears to be telling ADM, increase your share. That will give you greater influence, a chance to refine your proposals and gather support. Do this, and we will have a further chat.