Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Deloitte Access Economics. Yes, we are drowning in red tape. This is the reason

 kvd pointed me to this story with this comment: Hope it doesn't spoil your day to have such a complete affirmation of what you've been banging on about for years :)

I have not been able to find on-line the original Deloitte Access report on which this story is based on-line. However, this quote from the linked story will explain why the report has attracted so much coverage:
 Australian companies are drowning in their own red tape, wasting valuable hours of employee time and costing the economy billions of dollars.
In what it believes is the first assessment of red tape in both Australia's public and private sectors Deloitte Access says government regulations cost about $27 billion a year to administer and cost businesses $67 billion a year to comply with.
But it says red tape imposed by businesses themselves costs $155 billion a year - $21 billion to develop and administer and $134 billion a year to comply with.

he suggestion that businesses own red tape costs more than Government red tape has been the attention attracter, with a stated one staff member in eleven is now employed in compliance of all types. The data actually needs to be treated with some care, that's the reason I wanted to check the original, but it's still interesting. This Deloitte graph actually captures part of the picture I have been trying to paint to explain why, in my opinion, current business practices have so reduced management efficiency with consequent direct and indirect costs.

The reduction in back office workers has saved direct costs because of the sheer grunt of the computer systems that have replaced them. But there have been indirect costs created as well through cost shifting, This comes about because the costs saved tend to be measurable, that's why the changes were introduced in the first place, but the costs incurred are not.

As a simple example, consider the changes that have taken place in HR systems.

The processing functions once carried out by support staff have been computerised, leading to savings in processing staff. At the same time,  responsibility for certain activities have been passed to line staff. They have to enter the details for themselves and do the processing, reducing the work time that they had available, Their managers are in a similar position for they have to do checking and approval functions that once did not exist, were informal or were carried out by some-one else, Then there are the compliance staff who have to do the checking and pick up the mistakes that need to be corrected.

So the cost equation that I am talking about are the costs savings of the new system in terms of reduced HR staff costs that are directly measurable minus the extra staff costs created that are not. In this mix, the remaining HR staff move from a support and compliance role to a compliance role, ensuring as best they can that the new systems work. Since the focus is on directly measurable costs, an imbalance occurs.

The rise of compliance workers in organisations to the point that they now exceed the proportion of the workforce that was once occupied by back office workers is indeed part connected with the rise of Government regulation. However, and this is where the Deloitte Access study is helpful, it is more connected with management and organisational changes within organisations including changes in decision rules.. Here there is a chicken and egg problem in that the cultural, technological and organisational changes that facilitated Government regulation making do exactly the same outside Government. You can't blame Government in total.

I spoke of decision rules, something I have written about a fair bit. Every step in a decision chain adds time and costs. We have more decision points now, more things on which decisions have to be made. It should not surprise that costs have gone up, effectiveness down. That is how we do things now.    

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Living in a post-modern government world

I was going to add this material as a footnote to Monday Forum - reforming the Australian Federation but decided instead to bring it up as a new post.

I have been working my through the first Reform of the Federation issues paper, A Federation for Our Future. Perhaps it's because I'm tired, but it is a most eye-glazing document, a sort of post modern government period piece.

Is that fair? I said I was tired. But consider this. It takes the existing constitution as a given. It's dominated by questions of economics and economic efficiency, focusing on questions of service delivery. It confuses issues, throwing in constraints on spend and what Governments can do. As a consequence of all these things, the immediate debate generated is on the GST.

Can the existing Federal system be made to work more better? Of course it can. To ask how to do that is a fair question. However, the discussion paper points to the central problem here. All the discussion on this topic and the various initiatives that have been proposed such as cooperative federalism fail because the Commonwealth controls and the states respond.

The Abbott Government is no different here. If you look at it's track record, it is much into control, some would say more so, than its predecessors. To the degree that the problem lies with the Commonwealth, then the solution rests with the Commonwealth. It can change its behaviour.

On the state side, the states can control their responses. All a state has to do is to say we are not going to accept this level of control. We will go without. We will plot our own course.

The paper is quite good at charting the political dynamics that make either path difficult. It doesn't offer real solutions.

In his responses to the discussion, Mr Abbott has said that he is now a pragmatist on the Federation. By this, he means simply that he no longer has a philosophical position at other than the most generalist level. Perhaps I am misquoting him. I stand to be corrected.

It is worthwhile having a conversation on the Australian Federation. Our system has actually proved reasonably flexible, but it can be improved. A conversation dominated by posturing around the GST is not, actually, a conversation. Everybody is trading set pieces, set positions. That is boring and not especially useful. So let us actually talk.        

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Forum - reforming the Australian Federation

On 12 September 2014, Australian Prime Minister Abbott released the first issues paper addressing the future of the Australian Federation. On 25 October, the PM delivered a speech in Tenterfield on his vision of the Federation. I wonder whether it will have the same impact as Sir Henry Parkes' famous speech?

I have written a fair bit on constitutional issues. Rather than repeating those views, I thought that I would ask you. How would you restructure the Australian Federation? How would you make our system work better? Is it in fact possible?


The first comments received focused on the GST. Anons one and two focused on the political aspects of the GST. Winton Bates wrote
I think the starting point should be to establish an allocation of GST as close as possible to what it would be if it was a state tax. That would make fiscal equalisation a separate issue and help state premiers to consider whether the base of GST should be broadened, rate raised, more reliance placed on property taxes, spending reduced etc.
I am inclined to agree with Winton.

Postscript 2

The debate really does seem to be bogged down at present on GST.

Postscript 3 

Ross Gittin's take: GST out of the box, but states won't budge

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Personal musings on the death of Gough Whitlam

We all see people in different ways shaped by our experiences, views and indeed deep reactions to personality and indeed appearance. I was twenty when I met Gough Whitlam for the first time. He had come to Armidale for my grandfather’s funeral. Later I was a junior Treasury official during the days of the Whitlam Government. During that time I was also active in the Country Party as a policy person as well as  machine official.

Speaking in 1975, Margaret Whitlam is reported to have said:  "Bugger the Whitlams... I'm a bit tired of all the adulation. He's almost reached the beatification stage. I suppose canonisation will come, with the obituaries." Perhaps it has, reading some of the responses to his death. My views are a little different. This brief  memoir provides a simple personal perspective, recognising Mr Whitlam’s strengths and weaknesses as I saw them, placing them in the context within which I moved. I will leave it to others to do the detailed evaluations. I think that only with time will an objective assessment become truly possible.

In 1955, the Menzies’ Government announced the planned formation of a joint parliamentary committee to inquire into the Australian constitution. It was a high powered affair with a wide ambit. Gough Whitlam was the most junior member of the committee. In her biography of Mr Whitlam, Jenny Hocking talks about the influence the committee had on Mr Whitlam’s constitutional views, as well as giving him exposure to the workings of the Parliament. She quotes John Menadue who became Mr Whitlam’s private secretary in 1960: the Constitutional Review Committee was, Mr Menadue suggested, ‘the central breakthrough intellectually’ in  Whitam’s intellectual evolution and consequently in the Labor Party’s policy evolution, over this time.

The Country Party’s David Drummond was one of the other members of the Committee. Drummond had been pushing for action on the constitution for some time, partly driven by his desire to see New England gain self-government. This was not his only issue, but it was a a key one.

On the surface, the two men would seem to have little in common. Drummond was Country Party, Whitlam Labor. Drummond was 65, Whitlam 38. Drummond had been a member of the NSW Parliament from 1920, the Federal since 1949, Whitlam a member of the Federal Parliament for three years. Whitlam was well educated, Drummond an autodidact who had left school at twelve. Despite these differences, the two men established a friendship and working relationship that was due in part to personality, in part to Drummond’s now deep understanding of constitutional issues and willingness to focus on principles. He and Mr Whitlam might not agree, but they understood differences and the reasons for them.

I knew about the friendship and respect because my grandfather told me, as  he did with other Labor figures whom he liked and respected  such as Kim Beazley Snr. Towards the end of his life, I would sit there playing with the dog and drinking dry ginger while he talked. After his death, Mr Whitlam came to the funeral. Later on his irregular trips to Armidale, he would always ring my parents to find out how they were. It’s not hard to like a man who does that.

In 1972 down in Canberra and with pre-selection in mind, I again became actively involved in the Country Party. recreating the organisation in the ACT and Eden-Monaro. I lost pre-selection, but our candidate (Bega mayor Roy Howard) achieved a swing against Labor of 2.7% and was a bit over 500 votes short of actually winning at a time when the national trend was running (if narrowly) to “it’s time.”  I knew Bob Whan, the new Labor  member, quite well; we had worked closely together if with different hats on wool marketing proposals. I had a high personal opinion of him, but thought he was beatable.

Mr Whitlam’s “It’s time” campaign did present a new view, one that had appeal even to many died in the wool Liberal or Country Party supporters.  That was still there when Mr Whitlam went back to the electorate in the double dissolution election of May 1974. Again I was involved in campaigning. Our candidate was Ron Brewer, the popular state member for Goulburn. This time we came 146 votes short. Labor retained its majority in the House of Representatives with the loss of one seat. 

The dismissal election held on 13 December 1975 was very different. The National Country Party candidate was the well known Canberra TV newsreader John Moore. The mood in the electorate was clearly such that Bob Whan was beatable, but there was a problem, for the electorate had polarised. The sharpest indication of the depth of feeling was at a Bega Branch meeting where Peter Nixon spoke. In talking about Canberra, Peter mentioned in passing the friendships formed across parties. The room exploded.

The difficulty with polarised elections is that the stark black and white drives people back to traditional allegiances. The National Country Party had clearly beaten the Liberals at the last two elections. Further, if Labor lost there would be a coalition. The electorate was having none of this. I was scrutineering at one of the Queanbeyan booths. There our vote halved. Walking back to the previously expected victory party, I found an air of gloom. In the end, our vote dropped from 30.1% to 19.6%. Murray Sainsbury won the seat for the Liberals.        

I have told this story to set a context.

The first Whitlam Government was a little frenetic and confused. It was a very new Government in the sense that Labor had had not been in office since 1949. There was no experience to draw from. The Government also had many older-style Labor members who had strong views and entrenched plans. The initial short Whitlam-Barnard ministry while caucus selected the members of the ministry may have been good theatre, it was certainly very active, but it was also a sign of things to come. Mr Whitlam was not especially attuned to the grind of Government, to the need to provide a measure of control, to manage egos.

I was working in the newly created Foreign Investment Division of Treasury at the time. There everything was chaos. Controls had been introduced. However, it is remarkably difficult to write advice when you don’t know what to say and are trying to articulate principles on the spot that, at best, represent guesses as to ministerial wishes.

Despite this type of difficulty, things settled down. Now here I want to mention two things that would become important,

The first was the nature of the attacks on the Government’s economic policies. I am not talking about macro economic policy, but the allegation that the Government was in some way socialist because it wished to do things like create the National Pipeline Authority.  At the time, I didn’t quite understand the arguments used against the Government. I could understand the arguments against Government intervention, but I couldn’t understand the theoretical constructs being used because I hadn’t been exposed to them. It seemed to me to be a strange melange of issues.

Later, I would come to see that this was the Australian start of a mind set that today is very familiar. It was also the start of of a  political obstructionalism in opposition that has, again, become very familiar. All this was still relatively ineffective by the time of the double dissolution election. However, as economic conditions deteriorated, as the budget blew out, it would become important. More, it was at this time that the Australian obsession with the Government budget emerged, creating a meme that would later come to occupy central stage.

The second important issue was Mr Whitlam’s sometimes strident Australianism. It is clear from some of the commentary  on Mr Whitlam’s death that many welcomed this. They saw it as a release, even a liberation, from their perceptions of the limitations of the past. I did not share that view. I saw it as old-fashioned, harking back to previous long-running threads in Labor thought. Worse, I saw it as little Australia, a narrowing of the breadth of Australian thought.

I recognise that many will disagree. I am simply reporting my perceptions at the time,

Of all the decisions of the Whitlam Government, there was one that I profoundly disagreed with, and that was the refusal to assist the escape of the South Vietnamese now threatened by the North's advance. I had opposed the war, I had been a conscientious objector, but I could not stomach the refusal to help those to whom, as I saw it, Australia had an obligation. I did not feel the same way about East Timor, but then I did not know what we know now.

Whatever Mr Whitlam’s weaknesses may have been, it was an exciting time to be in Canberra. It was a small city, we all mixed together, we exchanged gossip and information. When the Fraser Government came in, I found it pedestrian and, dare I say it, boring. Mr Fraser’s actions on Vietnamese refugees was principled and indeed bold. Still, by the time of the March 1983 election, I and many like me were looking forward to a change of Government.  It was time to move on.

I think that’s part of the measure of Mr Whitlam. His place in Australian history will not be determined by the dismissal, although the sheer colour of events means that it will have  place in the history books. His place will not be determined by the success or failure of individual policies, for many drew from past actions and (in any case) time erodes what is seen as distinctive. Rather, his place will be determined by his personal characteristics, by the way he strode the stage and tried to bring about change, and by the reactions of his later followers who have, indeed, beatified him.                                  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


At the entrance to Sydney’s Central Station, an older bloke from the Citizens Electoral Council was handing out pamphlets. I stopped and took one. Fingering my lapel, he remarked: “You are the first suit who has taken one. Why is this so?” “I can’t answer that question”, I replied. We both laughed.

I browsed the pamphlet as I walked to my train. The world according to the CEC had not changed. “British SIS/ASIO planning a terrorist attack on Australia?” blared the main headline.

The Wikipedia article on the CEC suggests that it began as a spin-off of the League of Rights in Queensland in the 1980s that was then taken over by the LaRouche Movement.  It’s older than that, for if my memory serves me correctly, the CEC was around in Northern New South Wales in the 1970s. The modern CEC is a strange melange of views, old and new, unified by a central conspiracy theory.

I put the pamphlet away, my momentary curiosity satisfied. Time to move on.     

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Forum – cooperatives and the disruptive power of crowd funding and its like

Today’s Monday Forum wanders.

Cooperatives and Management Style

I didn’t get any response to my post Friday management note - Coles, Fonterra and the behavioural impact of cooperative structures, There were several elements in that post. Here I want to focus on one, cooperatives. I like cooperatives, but in Australia at least they are a much diminished breed. The lure of bigger immediate dollars from privatisation were just too great.

Is there  role for cooperatives? If so, how do we make them work? What problems have to be overcome?

How people in Muslim countries prefer women to dress in public

This one came from a Thomas retweet (@thomasee). It’s a Pew Research Report  on attitudes towards women’s headgear in certain predominantly Muslim countries. Meantime, the new rules re women visitors wearing burkas in the Australian Parliament have been relaxed. It’s actuallyLunch Astrolabe Road 24 June 2012 a rather strange story.

Crowd funding and other disruptive devices.

Back on Sunday 24 June  2012 I reported on a lunch at Astrolabe Road.   From left to right Noric Dilanchian, Clare Belshaw, Neil Whitfield and Dennis Sligar.

One of the things that we talked about at that lunch was the emergence of crowd funding. In simplest terms, these are platforms that put people who have projects in touch with people who might want to fund them. Kickstart is an example.

Since then, this type of platform has proliferated entering a range of arenas. Peer to peer lending is another example, bypassing the banks as middlemen. Trybooking is a third, a platfom that allows community organisations and others to sell and deliver tickets on-line without having their own system.

I have been watching all this for a while. I wondered if any readers had their own experiences and comments that they might like to share. This stuff is quite powerful.


Commenting that there had been some legal changes since July but the broad thrust was still right, Noric pointed me to this from July written by with Anton Joseph - Tax and valuation of crowdfunding initiatives.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

On being awesome

Amazing today

This poster came via Facebook. Going from the reaction at the office where a number of people asked for copies that are now pinned up, it has considerable appeal. 

I am not sure that I was so freaking awesome on Saturday, although I did go to the movies to see Still Life with a friend.

The movie slowly drew me in through its use of silence, its detective and human elements. The ending left me cold. Of course it had an audience impact, but it was totally unsatisfying. It took a movie that was shaping as a must see multiple times, and turned it into a must see once. Ah well

Whether I was freaking awesome on Saturday, I certainly wasn’t on Sunday. For that reason, I leave you with this poster.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

Friday management note - Coles, Fonterra and the behavioural impact of cooperative structures

There was extensive coverage in this morning's Australian media of the action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission against Coles alleging that the retail giant engaged in unconscionable conduct against five suppliers, including cleaning products company Oates, Benny’s Confectionery and Bayview Seafoods.

The alleged events surrounding a "perfect profit day" took place several years ago, but fit within a pattern of complaints asserting that Coles and Woolworths have used their overwhelming buyer power to squeeze suppliers in a situation of two primary buyers, multiple suppliers. 

Fonterra  (and here) is New Zealand's largest company.responsible for around 30% of the global trade in dairy products, It is also a cooperative owned by over 10,000 New Zealand dairy farmers. There are other shareholders now, but they have no voting rights, only an economic interest.

 The relationship between Fonterra and its dairy farmer shareholders is a complex one. Like Coles and Woolworths, Fonterra is effectively a single purchaser for a large number of smaller suppliers. It has to make a profit and has an incentive to lower farm gate prices to maximise returns on sales. It also operates in a global marketplace where milk prices fluctuate. Milk prices have dropped quite sharply and Fonterra needs to adjust. However, it also needs to maintain stable supply, recognising too that it is the main income source for its growers who are also its primary owners. 

  This complex relationship leads to quite different behavioural characteristics as compared to Coles and Woolworths. Here my attention was caught, among other things, by the new Farm Source program.The company describes it in this way:
Fonterra has signalled a significant step-up in its relationship with farmers, rolling out Farm Source which will support farmers and their farming businesses and bolster the Co-operative’s connection with rural communities in New Zealand. 
Farm Source combines service, support, rewards, digital technology and financial options for farmers together with local Farm Source hubs to support the major dairying regions throughout the country.
 Speaking at today’s launch in Methven, Fonterra Chairman John Wilson said Farm Source’s seed was discussions with farmers and the “together as one” principle behind co-operatives.
If this were a Government policy announcement, my reaction would be ho-hum, here we go again. I have lost count of the number of Government hub announcements I have seen. However, Fonterra is a highly commercial operation.

In the discussion that surrounded Farm Source, I caught an interesting side reference to the financial options discussion. Family farmers in New Zealand and in Australia have long experienced some difficulty in attracting capital, as well as servicing that capital during down turns. If I interpret the discussion correctly, Fonterra appears to be considering the creation of some form of vehicle that will attract longer term funds for farm investment for its members. 

This is just a note at this point  Fonterra has attracted my curiosity given its size, commercial success and different ownership structure.     


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Australia: are there positive economic threads in the current global gloom?

I was going to write something on the Australian Government’s new industry and innovation statement, setting in an historical context. However, to do that I need to access some of my previous writing, so that will have to go onto hold at least until the weekend.

This time last year I was preparing my annual economic outlook. I am not a super forecaster. I got some things more or less right, right some things more or less wrong. The best think that can be said is that I was broadly right. Australia’s economic performance was better than many forecast at the time, not quite as good as I had expected.

This year, I’m finding the same process far harder. The global strategic situation is far more complex. Ukraine, the Islamic State and Ebola really complicate things. The potential economic costs of Ebola should not be underestimated. It’s not just the West African countries most directly affected. The ripples are spreading far and wide.

The late Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders featured a terrorist attack on the United States using an aerosol version of Ebola, thus combining two current fears. I am not being alarmist. Unlike plague ridden Europe when  perhaps half the population was wiped out, we have the infrastructure and skills to ultimately control the spread of the disease. But you can see from the ripple effects as the disease reaches the US and Europe just how it may affect and slow the patterns of life.

Then, too, we have issues associated with the wind back of quantitative easing. In an earlier post, I wondered because I couldn’t see a clear path here. As QE comes to an end in the US, the value of the US dollar relative to other currencies has risen, placing pressure on the US economy. That was always going to happen. That was part of the reason why I saw the Ozzie falling. But I’m not sure that people realised that QE in Europe and Japan would, inevitably, depress the value of the euro and yen. At the same time, inflation in those areas has remained stubbornly low, economic activity has not picked up.

Here in Australia, Reserve Bank Deputy Governor Guy Debelle is warning that markets may be heading for a "violent sell-off".  The Australian financial press has flicked, as it so often does, to fundamentally negative reporting. We all risk ruin. So lets look at some basics.

House and share prices arguably got out of control in the soft money era. They are likely to come back and affect individual Australian wealth. With global slowdown, there will be (are) softer prices for Australia’s main commodities. Economic activity is likely to slow.  The Feds and states will experience revenue short falls, rising payments. So what?

As I said, I haven't worked through the issues. but I don’t share the gloom. Australia is remarkably well positioned to ride through another economic downturn so long as we can get rid of the presently negative present. I will pursue the reasons for that view in another post.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Defining shirtfronting

I must admit that I did not know what shirtfronting meant when Mr Abbott used it in the context of Mr Putin. I am obliged to the ABC for this definition:

For the Shirtfront (Australian Rules) noun, "A fierce tackle, usually delivered by the shoulder to the chest of an opponent." verb, "The act of delivering such a tackle." - Oxford Australian Dictionary.

The ABC story linked above has some video clips of the now banned shirtfronting in practice. The Russian local diplomatic response can be found here. Mr Abbott has not repeated the term, referring instead to possible robust discussions. PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie takes a dim view of the whole thing, praising Mr Putin’s “great values”.

There is an air of unreality about the Australian discussion. This includes Opposition leader Shorten who wishes that the Government could have done more to prevent Mr Putin attending the Brisbane G20 summit. Yes, Australia’s political leaders need to reflect local concerns, but that also needs to be tempered with a degree of reality.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Pyne curriculum review - results

Back in January in The Pyne curriculum review - Dr Donnelly's challenge I wrote of the establishment of the Australian national curriculum review. It attracted quite a strong comment stream.

The results of the review have now been released. These are two reactions: National curriculum review: experts respond; Education review reveals what we already knew

I suppose that my reaction is a little along the lines of the second story. I admit my biases. I thought the the curriculum had become too crowded; I disliked the way the unifying themes were used; I did feel that there was a tendency to cut us off from our past.

All that said, the review actually struck me as a moderately useful discussion to future directions in Australian education. I wondered what people think of it now?  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Monday Forum – the creeping cancer of social regulation

In an exchange on Carmen, cant and the State Opera of Western Australia, John Stitch wrote:

“So now its art according to what Ms Chard sees as appropriate? Let's hope she doesn't get to wield the censor's scissors on a national scale. The "I know what's best for you" mentality seems to be thriving in the arts as we lurch further to the right in this country. Just ask Paul Yore or Bill Henson.

In response, DG observed:

"...lurch further to the right". Hardly. The public health hierarchy is a creature of the left. The government knows what's best for you.

On the same day DG was writing, Kirsty Needham had this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Child protection checks evict grandfathers, foster fathers pointing to the difficulties being created in NSW by the tough new child protection laws introduced by the Liberal-National Coalition Government. The article begins:

Foster fathers and grandfathers are being barred from living with children for whom they are the primary carers after undergoing tough new child protection checks.

The Administrative Tribunal has been flooded with appeals against bans issued by the Office of the Children's Guardian under strict laws introduced last year.

Six out of 10 cases decided by the tribunal in the past six weeks were found in favour of men who had been forced out of the family home or prevented from working after failing a check.

On the surface, this would seem to be another example of the mess created in NSW under Governments of both political persuasions through over-zealous child protection laws. Consider the earlier example where the introduction of mandatory reporting brought an over-stretched NSW child protection system to its knees.

It seems to me that in every aspect of life we have created a social cancer that in the name of protection, standards, risk minimisation or harm reduction controls and limits what people can do to the point that no-one can actually properly understand all the applicable rules and regulations. Just as bad, there seems to be little evidence that the approach delivers real benefits relative to the direct and indirect costs involved.

There is a broad consensus that economic regulation should be reduced, although here too we introduce new controls as fast as we reduce existing controls. However, there is no consensus so far as social regulation is concerned. 

So, for this Monday Forum, a few questions. Am I right in my interpretation of all this as a social cancer? If so, how did it arise and what do we do about it? 


This ACT example, Canberra cat containment could be extended city-wide, is another example of the process that I have been taking about. We have a problem, the damage done by feral cats, and a response, more costs and controls on cat owners.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings – more on cant & Carmen, Wassim Doureihi and a belated recognition of the death of Harry Evans

Today’s Saturday Morning Musings is a bit of a round-up of things that have caught my eye, as well as updates on some of my posts.

Wassim Doureihi, Emma Alberichi and the need for Mr Abbott to actually lead

Neil Whitfield commented:

Since I am sure I am the only one in your circle of blog friends who has actually met Wassim Doureihi -- who certainly stuffed up this interview -- I am a bit surprised you didn't reference my recent post, which our friend Ramana "liked" twice on Facebook. Whatever he may be, Wassim is not the devil incarnate.

That was a fair cop. I had seen Neil’s post (How I wish we had wise leadership!) but failed to reference it. In fact, blush, I totally forgot it! So I have added Neil’s comment plus the link to the story on his blog to my post.

Al Jazeera had an interesting if depressing story linked to the theme of this post and the comments: Austrian youth flocking to ISIL.

To begin with, the heading doesn’t properly reflect the story. The actual story was about the increase in Islamophobia in Austria and the problems that creates. Linked to that was the use of anti Musim rhetoric. However, even though the estimated number of Austrian ISIL recruits (some 140 plus) is by European standards apparently high in proportion to population, it’s hardly a flood. There is a disconnect between the headline and the story, with the headline actually displaying just that rhetorical tendency that the story is attacking.

We have to be careful not to create our own devils. In Australia, the recent “terror” raids received massive news coverage and provided a part justification for amended terror laws. So far, and we await further information, there seems to be very little in it.

My post  If a equals b – testing the proposed Australian terrorism legislation and indeed any public policy dealt in part with the application of logic. In his post, Neil referred to that logical proposition known as ‘Fallacies of False Cause’. The most famous of these, Neil noted, is post hoc ergo propter hoc: after it, therefore because of it: A occurred before B, therefore A.

Well, another variant is the need to do A to avoid B. If B then occurs, it supports the decision, look at what happened, we were right to be worried. Too often, in fact, A actually becomes the cause of B. 

Carmen, cant and the State Opera of Western Australia

I have added some more links to this post to give you access to fuller media reporting. As always, the actual story is a little more nuanced than a single report, but this doesn’t affect the main thrust of the post. It was a nanny state set of actions.

Death of Harry Evans

Former Senate clerk Harry Evans died on 7 September 2014. The present Clerk of the Senate, Rosemary Laing, spoke of his work in this way:

Harry was known – notorious even in some circles – as a defender of the Senate and the rights of individual senators as he worked tirelessly to assist them to perform their constitutional duties. He was fearless in emphasising the necessary distinction between the parliament and the executive, even though that made him unpopular with various governments over the years.

Parliament is a place where words matter and Harry will long be remembered as a master wordsmith. In his numerous published and unpublished writings, he explained complex constitutional and procedural matters with clarity, logic and style. A selection of these vintage pieces (as well as retirement tributes) were collected and published in Papers on Parliament number 52 – Selected Writings of Harry Evans in 2009.

Harry began his career in the Parliamentary Library in 1967 and was first employed by the Senate Department in 1969. Since then, he has been particularly remembered for his contribution to Odgers' Australian Senate Practice. This has also become Harry's legacy as he edited the 7th to 12th editions of this important work. The 13th edition continues this tradition as the detailed authority on all aspects of Senate practice and procedure. It is consulted and cited every day as the Senate and its committees go about their work.

I never met Mr Evans, but I had a huge respect for him. He was a doughty defender of the Senate and played a major role in its evolution as a house of review, not just a party house. He had a clear view of the Senate set within a long framework of history and precedent.

In a way, Australia and Australians have lost their view of the conceptual, constitutional and historical underpinnings of the Australian system of Government. Those underpinnings became engraved in Mr Evans’ mind. He was quite passionate about them. I honour him for that.

I fear that I have run out of time today and must finish here.    

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wassim Doureihi, Emma Alberichi and the need for Mr Abbott to actually lead

Just back from a funeral in Tahmoor, the mother of a work colleague, There is actually something re-affirming of the value of life in the funerals I have been to in recent years. Learning of people and their contributions reminds me at least of the reason why it’s important to continue to strive.

In a strange way it was also a nostalgia trip.  I was back on roads that I used to know well before the expressways, knowledge gained on those long, grinding, trips between Sydney and Canberra on the old Hume Highway. Of course the towns and villages have changed. There are more people, newer buildings, old buildings tarted up. And yet, every so often, there would be a surviving vista or landmark that marked a connection between present and past.

On 8 October, Emma Alberichi interviewed Wassim Doureihi, presented as the spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir. This is the transcript of that interview. Do watch the piece, but read the transcript first. Words are much easier to analyse. Despite Mr Abbott’s  later praise for Ms Alberichi, this is a very bad interview. Mr Doureihi arguably handled it very badly, but it was still a bad interview. Reading the transcript, I actually have no idea what Mr Doureihi  believes beyond a desire to set a context. 

On a Sydney train Thursday, a Muslim man was quietly reading his prayers. People began to move away from him, physically shifting seats. Australians are uncomfortable with religion. Some time ago, a friend was doing Religious Studies. Getting into a lift carrying a basic text, the bible, she found people shifting away from her! But in the case I am talking about. the shift wasn’t just due to Australian's dislike of overt religious expression; there was a fear element as well.

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald carried an editorial on the matter.  While it is to some degree a conflicted and confused it argues fro speech. It also quotes the organisation Mr Doureihi represents. I quote:

But on August 13 this year Hizb ut-Tahrir in Australia issued a statement that included key information missing from Lateline.

"Children holding severed heads, oppression of Christians, random killings and the like are wrong," the August 13 statement said.

On July 2 this year, the director of Hizb ut-Tahrir's central media office in Lebanon, Osman Bakhach, said: "Resurrecting the caliphate [an Islamic state operating under Sharia law] should not be accomplished through blood, charges of apostasy and explosions … We (call) for a state that opens its arms to all people, Muslims and others, including Christians and Jews … Establishing the Islamic state is not accomplished by considering every dissenter an apostate whose killing is deemed lawful. In this way, (Islamic State) proclaims itself both adversary and arbiter."

That’s pretty clear-cut.

Mr Abbot , as our Prime Minister we expect  you to be, well, Prime Ministerial.  On sensitive issues that affect the nation’s future, we expect you to set out the facts and value so that we, the people,can form our our own views. We actually expect you to lead even if we dislike you.

So please, please, Mr Abbott , can you improve. Specifically, if you actually believe in Team Australia as an aspiration  as opposed to a useful slogan, then don’t use language that divides. You didn't need to comment on  Ms Alberichi’s piece in the way you did. You didn’t need to comment at all. Still, you did.


Neil Whitfield wrote in a comment:

Since I am sure I am the only one in you circle of blog friends who has actually met Wassim Doureihi -- who certainly stuffed up this interview -- I am a bit surprised you didn't reference my recent post, which our friend Ramana "liked" twice on Facebook. Whatever he may be. Wassim is not the devil incarnate. I despair of the "leadership" of Tony Abbott. God we really do need to do a hell of a lot better. We need something better than Daily Telegraph and shock-jock leadership. And we need an Opposition with rather more intellect and integrity. These are bad days, Jim.

I had seen Neil’s post, but forgot to reference it in my post. This is the piece Neil refers to  -  How I wish we had wise leadership!. My apologies, Neil.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Carmen, cant and the State Opera of Western Australia

A short post tonight. I found this a quite remarkable story. I quote:

A planned production of Bizet’s Carmen at the State Opera of West Australia has been pulled by the management because it conflicts with a two-year $400,000 partnership withCarmen the State Government health promotion agency, Healthway. Carmen is set around a cigarette factory.

Carolyn Chard, West Australian Opera general manager said the decision was “not difficult”.

She added: ‘“We care about the health and wellbeing of our staff, stage performers and all the opera lovers throughout WA, which means promoting health messages and not portraying any activities that could be seen to promote unhealthy behaviour.”

Well, dear me. Assuming the reporting is correct, where do we go from here? The word bowdlerise named  after Thomas Bowdler was coined to describe this attitude. To stay within recent themes, it’s really very public service speak. Ms Chard must fit in well in that modern Government environment where cant substitutes for thought.


This is some of the other media coverage on this matter:

The story has gone global. As one example, this is from Bloomberg -  Australian opera company bans 'Carmen' for smoking

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Threads in Australian life and history

While this doesn’t always happen, I think of Wednesday as my Australiana day. It’s sort of a chance to stand back, to unwind.

In a comment on Sunday Essay – the niqab, Cory Benardi and questions of feminism, Evan commented in part: ”I think part of the story of recent history is the increasing role of money in our private lives and the outsourcing of the private (eating in cafes, buying fast food, domestic gardening and cleaning) - the 'woman's world'.”

In my own short history of the genesis of the women’s revolution compressed into two columns each of 500 words (History revisited – bobbed hair & the start of a revolution, History revisited – the women’s revolution) I concluded:

I doubt that the women’s revolution could have happened without these two things, labour saving devices plus improvements in health care. Labour saving devices gave women extra time while still maintaining family responsibilities. Improvements in health care meant that women had to spend less time in child rearing. The combination led to a social revolution.

In a way, Evan’s comment captures another element of Australian life. Now with two careers plus family responsibilities, we have to outsource what we can. We are all just so very, very busy.

If you look at Under the Tuscan Sun or, more recently, The Hundred Foot Journey, they feature food and family dining, if in different ways. Watching the audience reaction to both movies, there is a sort of nostalgic hunger for more leisurely days when people could take the time to eat together. In Australia, it is the migrant groups including the Italians and Chinese who have maintained this tradition. Most of us are just too damn busy to eat together.

My most recent Armidale Express History Revisited column was given the headline by the sub-editor Belshaw’s brief history of measuring the time.  That’s pretty accurate, for I was tracing the emergence of the modern tyranny of time. This is very recent indeed, for you couldn’t have the tyranny of time without time measuring devices at personal and work level, without the segmentation of the day into discrete time blocks. Once you have this, then you can focus on getting maximum results from any block or blocks of time. Then you can make yourself an expert in (victim of) time management.

In his history of Australian food, One Continuous Picnic, Michael Symons argues that Australian food owes less to "Englishness" and even to immigration than to the early industrialisation of our food supply. Symons appears to have fallen in love with Tuscany in the 1970s, the Tuscany of the rustic idyll and long lunch, the Tuscany that so many Australians are in love with today. That colours his view.

Unlike Tuscany, Symons states, Australia has been bereft of a peasant culture. We have almost exclusively nourished ourselves with a "mechanised, chemicalised and rationalised" version of factory food, far removed from the point of its origin. To Symons’ mind, the creation of a unique Australian national cuisine is an opportunity missed. Between the late 1800s and early 20th century, before the processing and industrialisation of food took full hold, Australia had city farms and markets and a host of keen, cosmopolitan gourmets.

There is at least some truth in that view. In Black Kettle and Full Moon, an examination of daily life in a now vanished Australia, Geoffrey Blainey heads one chapter “Feed the man meat”. Unlike Europe, meat was cheap and plentiful in the Australian colonies. In a day when meat was plentiful but spoiled easily, butchers and butcher shops were everywhere. By contrast, vegetables were harder to find unless you grew them yourself. Flour, meat and tea formed the heart of diet. Yet, and this comes through in Blainey’s book, Australians then ate a greater variety of foods across the colonies than would be the case later.

I don’t fully understand the changing pattern of Australian food. Like other aspects of Australian domestic life, our documentation of the past is actually quite recent. There are many stories to be discovered and told. But then, that’s part of the fun of history.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Paul Kelly, political stability, special interest groups and the need for change

It is a while since I have written a companion post addressed to one of my fellow bloggers. In this case, the inspiration is Winton Bates’ Is Australia's political system broken?. But first some other matters.

Sunday night was the grand final of the Australian National Rugby League competition. I rarely watch league now. I stopped watching a few years back when the rules were changed in a way I didn’t like. Still, and like my friend and fellow blogger Neil Whitfield, I followed on Sunday night to see if South Sydney could complete its fairy tale journey by winning. They did, and it bought tears to my eyes. The story is well known in Australia. Perhaps I should write a short post at some point for the benefit of my non-Australian readers. It really is a good news story.

On a less positive note, it appears that the changes that have been made to the Australian VET (Vocational Education and Training) system may be emerging as the latest administrative mess associated with current Australian approaches to public policy and administration. My attention was drawn rather forcibly to these changes when a VET college recruiter (they have recently proliferated in Westfield Parramatta) tried to enrol me in a VET course in return for a free lap top! I don’t understand the detail of the changes; as always with our modern “simplified” systems they are complex, but they do appear to be having perverse results.

Turning now to my main theme,Winton’s post begins with a quote from Paul Kelly’s new book, Triumph and Demise, The broken promise of a Labor Generation:       

“The process of debate, competition and elections leading to national progress has broken down. The business of politics is too de-coupled from the interests of Australia and its citizens. This de-coupling constitutes the Australian crisis”.

I am not going report or comment on Winton’s arguments in full. You should read the post for that. Rather, I want to comment on just three things that interest me.

Political Stability

According to Winton, Paul Kelly writes of “volatility and fragmentation” as being “the new driving forces” of Australian politics. Mmm. How does that fit with the historical record?

Take the Liberal Party. In 1909 we had the Commonwealth Liberal Party formed by a merger of the Protectionist and Anti-Socialist Parties. In 1917, this morphed into the Nationalist Party of Australia. This lasted until 1931 when it became the United Australia Party. In turn, this lasted until 1945 when it became the Liberal Party. These weren’t just brand changes, but political changes. 

One of constant features of Australian politics is the way that the changes in the major political parties create disenfranchised groups on the edge of the party that combine with others to form new political groupings that merge and coalesce over time in the kaleidoscope of Australian politics.

Leave aside the Country now National Party, since the Liberal Party was formed in 1945, the political spin-offs that drew from the Liberal Party support base include the Australia Party,  the Liberal Movement,, the Australian Democrats and, most recently, the Liberal Democrats and Palmer United Party.

Volatility and fragmentation are hardly new.

The Power of Special Interest Groups

Paul Kelly apparently argues that the political system has evolved in ways that have given sectional interests more power than ever before. He mentions technology and campaign techniques in this context, and brings fragmentation of the traditional media and the rise of social media into the discussion. He also makes the point that it has become more difficult for leaders to talk honestly to the community as they have become subjected to greater media pressure to rule out any action that might disadvantage any powerful interest group.

Have special interest groups become more powerful, distorting political activity? Well, yes, but not (I think)in quite the same way that Mr Kelly argues.

Special interest groups have always been important. The biggest change, and its happened over the last forty years, is the proliferation to the point that there is a special interest group or groups covering every aspect of human life or experience. A second related change is that they have become far more professional.

Government itself has played a major role in their emergence because of its varying policy approaches and need to consult the “stakeholders”.

To illustrate, take technical, further and higher education. So long as this sector was Government owned, there was no role for special interest groups beyond the then conventional bodies such as the institutions themselves, unions who expressed the interests of their members or local bodies arguing particular causes. Now there are dozens of bodies that need to be consulted and who argue a special case.

The rise of the NGO sector in general is another example and one that deserves a post in its own right. Promoted and supported by Government, the NGOs argue for a variety of controls and measures that will advance their particular causes and then, success achieved, oppose anything that affects their particular interests.

Winton focuses on economic issues. But how do you reduce Government controls, free parts of the system up, reduce spend, when you have created an entire system whose very existence depends upon the maintenance and extension of Government controls and programs that meet their particular needs across the spectrum of human activity?  

Convergence and the emergence of Lib-Lab

The idea of party convergence, the disappearance of real difference between the main political parties, actually first emerged back in the seventies. Then, and this is just from my perspective, it became an issue in finding the best way for the Country Party to re-establish and maintain its separate identity based on its traditional roots.

When parties converge, the challenge is to find a point of differentiation that will achieve success in a competitive environment. If there is no real difference in basic product, then you have to try to sell the sizzle in combination with price and features that appeal to particular voting groups. I have called this the supermarket approach to politics.

In reality, life is not as simple as this. Politics is about values and ideas as well as staying in power. When the contest becomes one between well oiled machines fighting over what is in fact a standardised product, people drop off. This, I think, is where Mr Kelly misses the point.

The New England independents or, for that matter, PUP are not weaknesses in the political system, but recurring symbols of change and the need for change. Parliament and especially the Senate temper the desire of those in control to do what they will, they articulate new needs, reinstate old needs and views. To my mind, that’s not bad, although the results in particular cases may be. It’s part of the process of reinvention that is critical to the health of our democratic system.  

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sunday Essay – the niqab, Cory Benardi and questions of feminism

The on again off again ban on wearing a burqa in Australia’s Parliament House has, rightly, drawn a degree of ridicule. It wasn’t quite a ban in the end, more a placement of such wearers who had passed the normal security checks on entry to a glassed in portion overlooking the chambers more normally occupied by school children.

I actually have a degree of sympathy with Mr Abbott’s earlier comment where he expressed discomfort with the outfit on the basis that he found it fairly confronting. While the niqab is more commonly worn in areas in which I live and work, the effect is the same. I don’t know where to look! I want to stare, but know that I shouldn’t. However, that has nothing to do with security, simply curiosity and a degree of embarrassment. If someone has passed security to enter Parliament, that should be the end of the matter.

For those who haven’t heard of him, Senator Cory Bernardi is a Liberal Senator from South Australia. In a tweet after the recent terrorism raids, Senator Bernadi wrote: Note burqa wearers in some of the houses raided this morning? This shroud of oppression and flag of fundamentalism is not right in Aust. To Senator Bernadi, the Burqa is reportedly a "symbol of female oppression and Islamic culture", carries security and identification risks and is "un-Australian".

I am no longer a feminist, something I had been (if not under that title) since at least my early twenties. This included reading and understanding Betty Friedan’s Femine Mystique a few years after its publication. I grew up in a world of strong women, if usually still in within traditional roles. To a degree I both struggled with and welcomed the changing perceptions of women’s roles over the first decades of my working life. Then came fundamental disillusionment,

That change is another story. For the present, I find myself in agreement with my feminist friends that Senator Benardi’s comments on the burqa as a symbol of female oppression is deeply hypocritical. I am sure that Senator Bernadi does not see it that way. He strikes me as an honest man with deeply held views. But his other views strike, or seem to strike, at the questions of women’s choice. How can you say that the burqa is a symbol of oppression when you wish women to adopt particular views or conform to particular standards?

I may be wrong in all this. For example, Senator Bernadi might, perhaps would, argue that he is applying general views and rules that apply to all. Yet the application of those rules would seem to have gender specific applications. How, then, is he different from Muslim fundamentalists beyond a question of degree?

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings - Art, nostalgia & memories of time past

In a comment on Train reading – Vivien Gaston, Julia Griffin & Rain on the Uralla Road, kvd wrote:
Scarecrow on a wooden cross Blackbird in the barn
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
I grew up like my daddy did My grandpa cleared this land
When I was five I walked the fence while grandpa held my hand

Rain on the scarecrow Blood on the plow
This land fed a nation This land made me proud
And Son I'm just sorry there's no legacy for you now
Rain on the scarecrow Blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow Blood on the plow
Dunno why, but 'Rain On The Uralla Road' reminded me of that song.
This is the song as recorded.:

During the week I received this message on Facebook from an Aboriginal artist::
I'm researching my cultural heritage and would like to have a conversation about Armidale peoples if you have the time I look forward to hearing from u soon.
Still on Facebook, old friend and colleague Noric Dilanchian writes on aspects connected with the Armenian past as he tries to discover his roots and present the remarkable stories of the Armenian people. 

I was going to to use the word nostalgia in connection with Noric, but it is more a connection with the past in an uncertain world, a desire to maintain continuity and links. It is also a memory of things past.

The underlying theme in the Mellencamp song, the loss or threat of loss of the family farm, the destruction of things worked for, of personal continuity, is a theme in Australian history. It was a familiar theme once, something that resonated even in the city because so many city people still had country connections.

In the Victorian melodramas, we hissed the villain who was about to seize the heroine's assets using the forces of law. Today we objectify this, we call it economic forces, structural change, the operations of the market economy. We then wonder why people oppose change; we have in fact taken the emotion out of the equation and therefore fail to recognise its importance. .

Looking back over the historical changes that have taken place over the last three hundred years, major change periods are normally followed by periods of nostalgia for things lost. The continuity has been broken. Nostalgia can drive resistance to further change. Equally often it acts as a trigger for further change, for it plays out in new ideas and cultural and political movements who draw their power in part from the desire to recover and re-present. Here art and literature become powerful allies, crystallizing feelings and requiring response.

Individual human memories may be short indeed, but cultural and societal memories are long. We saw this over the the last part of the twentieth century and the first part of this century. To my mind, the most distinctive feature of this period has been the resurgence of the past, the desire to reach back, to re-establish.

This has come as a nasty shock to those in Western society embedded in current orthodoxy and ideas such the dominance of the national state, the irrelevance and indeed dangers of religious belief, the liberal democratic paradigm. 

Mind you, we have to be careful in talking about the liberal democratic paradigm. Many of those who expose the liberal democratic paradigm are in fact statists, believing in the need for the state to protect itself first and then safety and rights (this last is very much a second order thing) of its citizens.They use the language of liberal democracy to support attacks on the very things they apparently espouse. The current Australian security legislation is a case in point.

By its nature, liberal democracy is messy and inconsistent, riven with tensions. Consider a basic premise of that democracy. I will defend you right to disagree even when I think that you are profoundly wrong, your views repugnant. How, on earth, do you maintain that position in face of certain of the views expressed? The most liberal person will suddenly demand controls even though those controls are a fundamental breech of other views he or she espouses. 

There is no answer, only constant vigilance and a willingness to adopt and support unpopular positions in the face of the possible use of preemptive state power.  

Friday, October 03, 2014

Train reading – Vivien Gaston, Julia Griffin & Rain on the Uralla Road

I have let Monday’s Forum (Monday Forum – the changing face of work) run. I will update it to include responses to comments, but it has already given me the base for several new posts. In the meantime, feel free to add further comments.Rain on the Uralla Road Julia Griffin

I have featured this painting by Walcha artist Julia Griffin, Rain on the Uralla Road, several times, most recently in Musings on a visit to Armidale – art and all that stuff. There I complained that I lacked the visual language and indeed context to explain certain paintings properly.

  Since writing that, my train reading has been Vivien Gaston’s The Naked Face self-portraits (National Gallery of Victoria). Its a very good book examining ways in which self portraits illustrate key if evolving ideas about the human persona. Vivien’s focus may be on self-portraits, but the technical challenges she faces in writing are very similar to the problems I experienced in trying to explain Julia’s painting.

One challenge lies in drawing out the elements in the painting itself. If you look at Julia's painting, you can see that it centres on the road.  This dominates the bottom of the painting, stretching from the right back across two thirds of the canvas. The road then narrows with distance, drawing the eye to the centre of the piece. 

If you keep focused on the bottom of the canvas, you can see how Julia has used layering, marking and smoothing to indicate the surface of the road, still shiny with the rain, You can see the puddles. As the road draws the eye forward, you can see how the hills set the middle distance Then above them are the clouds. They dominate the top of the painting, with lighter sky creating a separation between hills and cloud. It’s a visually successful composition.

But why did Julia paint this scene? What does it mean? I don’t think that we need to be too precious here. I suspect, I don’t know, that the scene just caught the artist’s eye, that it was recreated in the studio. I am not an artist, but I have a reasonably good visual eye and know how specific scenes, ephemeral images, just catch. However, while that’s true, the painting still has a context.

In the case of Vivien’s self portraits, context includes the artist’s life, the period in which they lived, their location and their place in broad changes in artistic and intellectual perceptions. This broad context reflects the National Gallery of Victoria’s large collection, the longish time sweep involved and the prominence of some of the painters. Vivien is also drawing from a large body of previous writing on the history of art and its relationship to the world around.

The context for Julia’s painting is much narrower. She has her own story, her own body of work. You will get a feel for that if you click through on the link in her name above. Her Kunderang pieces, for example, are very different from her earlier work such as Rain on the Uralla Road.

Do I like them as much? I’m not sure. Rain on the Uralla Road appeals to me in part because it captures something that I know so well, creating an instant emotional response. That is a second part of context, the geographic location. I know where Kunderang is, but I don’t have quite the same response to the Kunderang paintings for they are more abstract. I have to establish a relationship in my mind between the paintings and the possible scenes.

Landscape is an evolving form. As with self-portraits, it changes over time.  It would be probably be possible to place Rain on the Uralla Road in that flow, although I haven’t attempted it. My own focus, the context I use, is actually far narrower. Beyond my appreciation of the art itself, I am interested in Julia as a New England painter, in what her painting says about the life, history and culture of Northern New South Wales.

In thinking this way, I am trying to determine patterns, to establish differences in patterns, to examine interactions between art and life. In its way, this is just as complex a task as that faced by Vivien.

Vivien had to synthesise a vast body of previous work and thought, to place the art works in that context. In my case, there is very little previous writing.  I am trying to establish the context, writing on an almost blank canvas. I do so not knowing what the results will be. To what degree can we in fact speak of the art of Northern NSW in pattern terms? Is there such a thing as the art of Northern New South Wales as compared to artists who happened to live in or paint Northern NSW?

In writing, I also do so as a player, not just observer. The observer affects the observed. The fact that I create patterns, models that seem to fit, then feeds into later work and thinking.

I don’t want to sound too pretentious. I am not suggesting grand things, But if you have read to this point, if you have clicked through on the link to Julia, you will know a little of one New England painter, you will be able to identify one New England painting. That’s a start.