Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Forum - What else might go wrong for the Abbott Government? An exercise in risk analysis.

This rather magnificent shot comes from Above New England .The caption reads:

"Featured on Channel 10's Eye Witness news this image was taken the first and last time my wife came storm chasing with me. As we headed over the hill on the Grafton side of Glen Innes I felt something big was about to happen so as my wife drove I put the camera out the window opened the shutter and a moment after BOOM a crossover CG (cloud to ground) bolt hit not 100m from us........needless to say my wife wanted to go home while I was screaming and fist pumping with excitement in the passenger seat . That moment I thought, "I could never capture another lightning bolt in my life and I'd be a happy man" I'm going to be sharing images over the next few night of lightning so please like our page (link above) and share this post to see more"

The photo sets the scene for today's Forum topic. 

Each week, it seems, another disaster strikes the Abbott Government. Last week it was Operation Fortitude. The fall-out from that will continue this week. Then the Age reports that the Cambodia refugee deal has fallen over. If so, it is likely to get a fair political run. To top it all off, Justice Heydon announces on today whether he will continue as Royal Commissioner. Again, whatever the decision, this will attract controversy.

Now for my question. It seems to me that just about every week in recent weeks something has gone wrong for the Federal Government. What else might go wrong? This is a professional, not political question. I want to tap your views.Think of it as an exercise in risk analysis.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Another morning at the Rugby: TAS V Scots

It was a beautiful day  in Sydney yesterday. It was the last match in this year's GPS thirds competition for my old school  TAS (The Armidale School) who were playing Scots College. I decided to go watch. I also decided to go by bus to Rose Bay and then walk to Scots from there. 

The first part is along the Bay, very pretty in the bright sunlight, before the steep climb up Cranbrook Road to the school. I walked in past the Armidale buses. Every second weekend during the rugby season five buses leave Armidale on Friday evening carrying the various TAS teams, returning to Armidale after the game. On the other weekend, one of the Sydney schools visits Armidale. The logistics involved are considerable.   

Full of hope if uncertainty, I waited for the main game. TAS firsts were in a huddle some distance from the field as the combined TAS teams formed the tunnel. A TAS parent made the comment that this was their last match as a team, and they were trying to hype themselves up. I had forgotten that that the next round was a bye for TAS. The boys cheered their team onto the field with an enthusiasm that brought shiny eyes to this supporter!

TAS started strongly, pressing hard, with Scots fighting back. At the 13th minute, there was an intercept and a runaway TAS try by the TAS number 13. This was converted: TAS 7, Scots 0. Then just before half-time, constant Scots pressure resulted in a Scots converted try. Half time score 7-7.

From the start of the second half, Scots pressed, resulting in an unconverted try six minutes in. TAS fought back scoring an unconverted try to equalise. Scots then had a chance to equalise from a penalty, but missed. TAS counterattacked desperately and came close to scoring. End score 12-12.

It had been an exciting match.Later, one of the Scots' parents put a video on-line, so you can actually watch key elements of the game. TAS is in the blue. It's a very good video, actually, for you can see the detail of the game, including the way the boys organise themselves on the food.

After the game I walked out of the grounds past the assembled buses starting to load the boys. The walk back to Bondi Junction took me through some of Sydney's prestige areas. I had forgotten how big some of those houses were. I wasn't in a hurry, so took the opportunity to flaneur (aka sticky beak) properly.

Back home, I returned to trying to understand the details of the Operation Fortitude fiasco. But it had been a good morning.    

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Border Force and the Operation Fortitude fiasco

I missed the opening salvos in the  Operation Fortitude fiasco. I didn't pick it up until I turned the twitter feed on in the afternoon and then I couldn't quite work out what was happening. Then, as I checked, I couldn't believe what was happening. After that, I became somewhat confused.


The chronology of events on Friday 28 August drawn from the ABC appears to be roughly as follows.

9.52am. The Victoria Police announced Operation Fortitude. The statement appears to be no longer on-line. The public transport system would, the statement said,  "be at its safest ... as a diverse team of transport and enforcement agencies take to the streets as a part of Operation Fortitude". I don't know who dreamed up that name. Fortitude means mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously: Within hours, all the participants were definitely in need of fortitude.

The operation would involve Metro Trains, Yarra Trams, the Sheriff's Office, Taxi Services Commission, Victoria Police and the Australia Border Force (ABF). Transit and Public Safety Command Acting Superintendent Campbell Mill said police would be showing strength in numbers.

"While we are all separate organisations, we all have something in common — a responsibility to keep our community safe," Acting Superintendent Mill said. "In order to do that, we need to ensure that people are behaving appropriately."

A Guardian report issued a little later provides further details. 
“For those of you who choose to break the rules expect to be caught by the Operation Fortitude team,” transit and public safety command acting superintendent, Campbell Mill, said in a statement. 
“There is a lot of truth to the saying that there is strength in numbers,” he said.
“From a policing perspective we will have protective services officers, passive alert detection dogs, police, booze buses and automated number plate recognition vehicles deployed this Friday and Saturday night.” 
It marks the first time border force staff have joined with transport and enforcement agencies to target crime in the CBD.
10:14am. In what was obviously meant to be an orchestrated move, Border Force releases its own parallel statement  This said in part that the ABF would speak "with any individual we cross paths with", warning that officers would be checking people's visa details.

"You need to be aware of the conditions of your visa; if you commit visa fraud you should know it's only a matter of time before you're caught out," ABF regional commander for Victoria and Tasmania Don Smith says.

The Australian Border Force (and here and here) is a new creation coming into effect from 1 July 2015 combining the immigration and customs function. Presented by the Australian Government as a border protection measure, its formation has created considerable disquiet in some sections of the Australian community. 

10.28am. In further evidence of an orchestrated approach, the Victorian Police announced that an afternoon press conference with the relevant agencies would be held on the steps of Flinders Street station at 2pm. Acting Superintendent Campbell Mill, with the Victoria Police dog squad, Protective Services Officers and police would join representatives from the Sheriff's Office, Australian Border Force and the taxi directorate.

By now, twitter in particular was starting to run hot.  Distrust about the ABF, uncertainty about the meaning of the ABF statement, doubts about the very legality of the actions along, with the sheer dislike at the prospect of being bailed up by Border Force officials on a Saturday night out out fed a growing storm. Initially, the twitter feeds were angry, but then turned to ridicule based on various Simpson memes.

12:54pm. As a backlash builds, the ABF back-pedals on its earlier statement.

"To be clear, the ABF does not and will not stop people at random in the streets ... the ABF does not target of the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity," it says in a statement.

It's too little too late. By now demonstrators have started to gather at the press release site. By 2pm, Flinders Street has been effectively closed.

2.26 pm. With the Border Force people due to attend the press conference now effectively blockaded inside the press release venue, the Victorian police tweet :"Please be advised that the Operation Fortitude media opportunity has been cancelled. We apologies for any inconvenience"

2.39pm Victoria Police issue a statement saying the operation has been cancelled.
"Victoria Police has made a decision not to go ahead with this weekend's Operation Fortitude," the statement says. 
"We understand there has been a high level of community interest and concern which has been taken into consideration when making this decision. 
"Victoria Police's priority is the safety and wellbeing of the whole community and we will continue to work with our partner agencies to achieve this."
With saturation media coverage, ABF Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg was forced to face the media on the ABF’s role in Operation Fortitude. I repeat the statement in full:

"Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  I just want to make a quick statement and then I'll take a couple of questions and then I need to head off.

I'd like to clarify the Australian Border Force's misunderstood role in the conduct of a Victoria Police-led operation, Operation Fortitude. Operation Fortitude is an operation that was established by the Victorian Police in order to create a safe city environment within Melbourne.

The Australian Border Force is a secondary but supporting assist to that operation. Our role always was - and still is into the future - a supporting role in terms of immigration compliance. The Australian Border Force will stand by to receive the referrals from the Victorian Police where there are any immigration compliance issues to be enforced or dealt with.

There was never any intent for the Australian Border Force to proactively go out and seek immigration breaches out in Melbourne city. I'm happy to take questions.

Question: That's not what your statement said because of course you said that ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD, speaking with any individual we cross paths with. Now, that sounds rather menacing doesn't it?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  It does. And that was a press release that was cleared at a low level in the organisation. It was, in my description, clumsily worded. It's portrayed a role which was not the agreed role between ourselves and Victorian police. Internal measures have been taken to remediate that issue.
Question: It's not just clumsily worded - it's actually not within the law, is that right?

Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, well, I think it's misunderstood. Taken into context, it makes absolute, perfect, legitimate sense. But read through the layperson's eyes - which I absolutely openly acknowledge - it's clumsily worded and it's been misconstrued and it shouldn't have been worded that way.

Question: Given what you say was the actual intention for Border Force over the weekend, why would it make sense to tell everybody that you were going to be there? Because surely then people who had visa problems wouldn't go out in Melbourne on Saturday night, would they?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, look, these operations are run all the time, all around the country, by the state and territory police jurisdictions. They're intended to create safe environments and if we can market that in advance in terms of the increased police presence and other authorities and that creates a safe environment then that's also part of the agenda.

Question: But you weren't the lead agency on this were you?  Victoria Police were the lead agency?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg: That's absolutely correct.

Question: So why did the ABF feel the need to put out a statement when the Vic Police were [indistinct]?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Well, as I explained to you that was a press release that was released at the lower levels of the organisation. It incorrectly construed what our role was. I've mentioned a couple of times now we are a secondary referral agency with that operation.

Question: Did Mr Smith not see the quotes that were in his name?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Mr Smith did see the quotes that were put in his name.

Question: [Indistinct] that clumsily worded press release you've referred to was sent out a low level of the organisation. Who did it go to, who checked over the wording, and was the Minister's office at any stage involved in issuing press releases from Border Force?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  On the latter point, no, the Minister's office is not involved. The press release was circulated at a regional level in the state of Victoria.

Question: But Mr Smith isn't low level, right? And he saw the quotes that were in his name?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  The level is all relative. It's low level. I didn't see it. It's a low level in the organisation as far as I'm concerned.

Question: Commissioner, did Mr Smith say officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individuals we cross paths with?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg: We've already covered that ground. I said yes, it's clumsily worded. Any other questions?

Question: So did he say that or did he not say that?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  It's in the press release. We've covered that, it's clumsily worded.

Question: Will any action be taken against the person who wrote the press release?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  That's an internal disciplinary matter; I'm not going to intend to canvas that here.

Question: Does Mr Smith still have his job today?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg: Yes, he does.

Question: How embarrassing is it for the Border Force that this has happened?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Oh, look, it's an unfortunate incident, and it shouldn't have occurred. Remediation will be put into place but, you know, it's not a fatal embarrassment.

Question: Have you apologised to the Victorian Police and the Victorian Police Minister because they've had to call off this whole…
Commissioner Quaedvlieg: I've had a conversation today with the Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police Force. We're good colleagues, we have good institutional relationships. That's as far as I'm going to take that conversation.

Question: If Mr Smith is the head of Border Force in Victoria and Tasmania, and he saw those quotes, did he not understand what his own organisation was doing on Saturday night?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  Look, I think we've covered that ground. My point is that…

Question: No, sorry, I don't understand the answer.
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  …no, no we have covered the ground. The point is that Mr Smith cleared that press release, it was released at the level, it was taken out of context, it should have been better explained, it was clumsy.

Question: Well, this raises the question, though, of whether or not Mr Smith understands the Act under which he works, if he would allow something like that to go ahead?
Commissioner Quaedvlieg:  No, look, I can assure you he does. This was an unfortunate misconstruction of wording. It shouldn't have been the case and unfortunately it has been misunderstood.

Thank you."

Finally, after considerable delay Prime Minister Abbott has apparently released a statement reassuring the Australian public that Border Force officials will never stop them randomly in the streets to check their visas.Mr Abbott said that it was to be a "standard law enforcement operation" and anyone suspected of having a visa issue would be referred to ABF officers in "the normal way".


This whole episode makes me extremely uncomfortable. I have had reservations for a long time about the way Australian police forces use the Term "Operation " and indeed the approach itself. However, there are features of this aborted operation that make me particularly uncomfortable.  

The wording used by Acting Superintendent Campbell Mill is quite harsh. “For those of you who choose to break the rules expect to be caught by the Operation Fortitude team,” Again:"While we are all separate organisations, we all have something in common — a responsibility to keep our community safe......In order to do that, we need to ensure that people are behaving appropriately." Note, not break the law, but break the rules. Note not obey the law, but behave appropriately. The range of bodies and kit proposed to be involved was also quite extraordinary.

Whether Melbourne has been in the grip of such a crime wave to justify such an effort is one thing, whether it makes sense to announce it in advance a second. However, there is a third factor.

Excluding Border Force for the moment, the distinctive common feature among the various bodies is that they provide a point at which a person can be stopped for one reason and then checked for others. The Border Force statement may indeed have been badly worded, but there was, I think, a subtle dishonesty or perhaps misdirection in the Commissioner's  responses and indeed in the PM's response.

The much criticized statement that sparked the whole furor said in part that the ABF would speak "with any individual we cross paths with", warning that officers would be checking people's visa details. This was interpreted to mean that the ABF would be bailing people up in the street. This was probably a good thing, for without that interpretation and the consequent process Operation Fortitude might have proceeded. The real position was stated quite clearly by the ABF commissioner, although I don't think that it was properly picked up: "The Australian Border Force will stand by to receive the referrals from the Victorian Police where there are any immigration compliance issues to be enforced or dealt with." With so many referral points, the ABF didn't need to be out on the street in order for individuals to cross its path.

I have seen this type of process at work a number of times on the Parramatta train.The transport inspectors or police on the trains check for fair evasion. In several cases, I have observed these checks go to checks of address details and from there to questions about immigration status leading to what appears to be arrests or at least detention pending clarification.

Drawing this analysis together, we have a proposed large scale police operation without a clearly defined policing objective or at least need beyond, quoting the ABF commissioner, creating "a safe city environment within Melbourne" drawing together people and bodies not normally seen as having an integral policing function . We have a Commonwealth body, the ABF, whose mandate has nothing to do with "a safe city environment" directly involved in what appears to be a large scale fishing exercise to the point of press release and participation in the proposed press conference. This was hardly, to use Mr Abbott's words, a standard law enforcement operation.


It appears that Minister Dutton's Office received a copy of the ABF release, but no one read it because it was regarded as a routing matter.

Postscript 2

Interesting tweet from @ozkatz as to the choice of Melbourne for Operation Fortitude, amplifying the general point I made above about the role of other agencies as check points that would then allow ABF staff to act. I used a NSW example to illustrate, but Victorian transit staff would seem to have even more power.

 In a follow up piece today (1 September) in the Canberra Times, Putting the muscle into border enforcement, Peter Hartcher discusses  the militarisation of Border Force.

Mr Hartcher suggests that there are three layers to the Border under the new doctrine:
  • pre-border, where applications are made and scanned and intelligence checks operate to reduce risk.
  • the traditional border, where people arrive at an airport and submit their papers. 
  • "behind the border", a zone that the rest of us know as "in Australia".
It is in this third zone that the new body will be increasingly active, working with state and territory police forces, in ferreting out illegal activity and illegal immigrants. As part of the whole process, up to 6,000 ABF officials will need to meet fitness standards, will be given fire arms training and and will be able to carry fire arms and handcuffs. Noting that the aborted operation was targeting Melbourne taxi drivers, Mr Hartcher points out that Commonwealth official or ministerial responses have focused on the problem of a badly worded press statement. All other aspects of Operation Fortitude have been presented as though they were business as usual.

As indicated in the post, to my mind neither the new ABF nor the aborted operation Fortitude are in any way business as usual. This is further confirmed by the reference in Mr Hartcher's column to official comments that the problem lay in part in the absence of operating protocols to guide this type of operation. That is hardly business as usual.

The transformation of the old immigration and customs functions from a compliance to a policing and even quasi-military function in at least the case of off-shore operations may be consistent with and driven by the Australian Government's policy stance, but it is quite new. It also holds out the possibility for increased jurisdictional conflict with multiple policing and compliance layers now involved. Those operating protocols will be sorely needed.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Tamworth anti-smoking measures: time for a smokers' boycott?

In the context of previous discussions on the Nanny State, it appears that Tamworth Council is considering introducing quit draconian anti-smoking regulations. I quote from the Northern Daily Leader story:
TAMWORTH looks like becoming the first council area to introduce a full-blown cigarette smoking ban in a wide area of public spaces and sports and people places. 
And that blanket ban in many civic places could be in place within two months. Moves to bring in a smoke-free zone in the inner eight blocks of the Tamworth city centre, outside of schools, childcare centres and health facilities, near council-owned buildings, at sporting grounds and parks, and near alfresco restaurants and cafes, look likely to be imposed before the end of the year.
Tamworth Regional Council has endorsed a new wide-ranging smoke-free environment policy – which, while not a groundbreaker in itself, is a first when it comes to an all- inclusive ban which includes the use of the new, contemporary electronic cigarettes as well.

The continuing cascade of anti-smoking regulation from the Federal Government through the states to local government is really starting to become a civil liberties issue. Those advocating the Tamworth ban have the same smug, moral authoritarian tone that we have come to expect. Aren't we good to be doing this for you?

The actual health benefits of the proposed actions are highly suspect. It won't affect passive smoking. It is unlikely to force smokers to stop, although it may bring further changes in smoking habits that are not necessarily good. It will certainly affect the way that smokers respond to Tamworth.

I wonder how they expect to enforce the ban during Country Music Week for example? There seems to be an immediate expectation that Council can rely on persuasion, "education", rather than coercion. However, should "education" fail, coercion will no doubt follow. After all, it is for your own good!

I may smoke, but I do not want to encourage smoking.  However, there has to be a balance in this type of stuff, and I think that balance has been lost. Frankly, the Tamworth proposals are screwy on any objective measure. Perhaps its time for smokers to respond to all these pressures by selective boycotts? Like boycotting Tamworth?


Even the Poms are laughing at our Nanny State now!  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

That Australian Life - in praise of wool and the rise of the wundies

Regular readers will know that I am rather fond of wool. It's partly that I grew up with the stuff. From lamb to lunch or lounge suit.

A gownie/townie, I spent enough time on country properties owned by friends and family to see the process through from lambing to sheering to wool sales to the subsequent reappearance of wool in my suit.

Greasy wool is, well, greasy. So to a young boy, sheep were large, not very intelligent and distinctly greasy. They also gave a word the Australian English, the dag, that was sometimes (too often) applied to me. Now I had seen enough sheep being crutched to rather resent the term when a school fellow said you dag or, worse, Jim Belshaw is a dag, worse if it became a chant. Later it would be applied more affectionately as in Jim (or dear), you really are a bit of a dag.

Despite these various negative connotations, and the huge dislike I acquired of the mutton stew sometimes served for lunch at school, wool was sort of comfortable, familiar.

This shot shows brother David and I all dressed for an Aunt's wedding. Note the wool ties and jackets. Just to the left of this photo was a large open fireplace with sheep skin rugs. When staying with Fa and Gran as young kids, we would lie on the soft wool and watch the fire crackling in the darkened room. All very soothing. Wool, beautiful wool.

Mind you, wool was not all beer and skittles. to use an old fashioned phrase that somehow seems appropriate when we are talking about an old fashioned product. Wool is, well, warm.  That's great in cool weather, but not so hot (so to speak) in warm weather.It was later that new technology would be developed to allow fine light weight wool clothes.

One of wool's supreme advantages is that, unlike synthetics, it doesn't melt, just smoulders. There is something quite off-putting about dropping an ember onto a synthetic garment and seeing the immediate hole form. There is something more off-putting about synthetic garments tendency to ignite if near flames, as many parents have discovered to their distress.

I mention this now because it appears that Australia's armed forces are now wearing wundies, undergarments made from wool. Good to see!

I am flying shortly. While I normally don't bother on short trips, I wear a fair bit of wool anyway, on long trips I check to make sure that I'm not wearing synthetic clothing. The thought of trying to get off a plane while flames melt my clothes into my skin is not appealing. Silly or not, I regard it as a small safety measure.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Miscellany - Australian foreign policy, Ashley Madison and the economic outlook

This is another piece, Bill Henson's untitled (2009-10) from the current Luminous World exhibition at the New England Regional Art Museum.

On 20 August 2015, the Secretary of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peter Varghese, gave a big-picture address to the Lowy Institute on Australia's place in a changing global and regional order. John Garnuat, the Asia Pacific editor for Fairfax Media and one of Australia's better reporters on foreign policy matters, provides a useful summary. However, the speech is worth reading since it sets out quite clearly the nature of the challenges facing Australia in evolving world.

The Ashley Madison Affair drags on and on. This is an interactive map of users world wide. The main lesson, of course, is the now oft repeated warning not to assume that data you provide or the conversations you can have on-line will be safe. We all do it, of course. Well, only 30 million or so were registered with Ashley Madison, but we all unconsciously trust the internet. It's just so bloody convenient that we ignore the risks. Reminder to self!

Earlier in August (Updating the Australian political and economic outlook) I reported on the latest economic views put forward by the Australian Reserve Bank in its Statement on Monetary Policy. In a way, the message was steady as she goes. Now today's media is full of reports on the global share crash. Should we all be worried? Well, yes and no.

On the yes side, I have felt for some time that equities were over-valued. I had no really rational reason for that view, just experience. Price Earnings ratios used to be based on the current price to previous earnings. Now they seem to be increasingly based on current prices to expected earnings. I actually have no idea what that means. I can take past earnings and adjust for projected changes, but I struggle with the idea of adjusting future earnings. I may just be out of touch of course, but it seemed to me that future earnings projections are inherently unstable. Just ask Treasurer Joe Hockey!

If equities were over-priced adjusted for risk, and risk margins have narrowed, then it made sense to expect some correction. That then flows through into the real economy via the wealth effects.People owning shares are worth less and have to adjust their spend accordingly. So a share crash affects both expectations and spend. What we don't know is the scale of the correction.

On the no side, and I am thinking especially of Australia, the crash in the value of the Australian dollar provides a certain protection. I note a certain irony here. After all the fears about the future of the Euro, the Euro has strengthened against many other currencies because it is seen as a safe currency! At least for the moment.

The Australian economy has been going through an adjustment phase. Unusually, and I know of no previous example, the country has missed (at least to this point) the bust side associated with previous resource booms. However, adjustment had to occur as resources attracted to mining were redeployed. This process takes time. The Australian dollar was unusually strong for an unusually long period. This led to a degree of contraction in non-mining trade exposed sectors. This takes time to turn around.

Assume, for the moment, that the worst case scenarios for commodity prices come about. There will be some further contraction in mining. However, cost cutting in mining has been underway for some time. Buffered by a lower dollar and with new production still coming on stream, Australia can survive the lower prices. Indeed, the collapse in oil prices means that the price effects on the non-mining sectors that might have flowed from a depreciated currency will be much muted.

The Sydney/Melbourne housing boom will end, bringing some pain. Again, that's a necessary correction, one that is already underway.

And what happens if the rest of the world collapses in economic terms, entering depression? Worst case, all bets are off. However, at the moment I can't see that happening. We are more likely to see stagnant growth while the economic imbalances work themselves out.   Perhaps not nice, but not disastrous either.          


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pause in posting: wrestling with the nanny state

Sorry to be off-line.

I made a silly promise to Helen Dale to provide a submission to Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm's Australian nanny state inquiry. Even with your help, I bit of more than I can manage.

A promise is a promise. I will try. The deadline is tomorrow. Please bear with me.

In the meantime, this image (Bill Hewson's untitled) is from the latest New England Regional Art Museum Exhibition Luminous World.

I wish that I could just pop down the road as I once could and simply sit there. In the meantime, enjoy.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Introducing lawfare

I'm not sure where this came from originally, the Republican Party?, but I had to laugh. It's really quite clever.

When Prime Minister Abbott used the term "lawfare" to describe the reasons for proposed changes to the Commonwealth Environment Protection and  Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999,  my first reaction was to think that he had defined a new term following his usual desire for simple slogans. The last may be true, but lawfare (while a recent term) has a considerable history.

I like the term. I first came across lawfare in commercial law and especially in the intellectual property arena where big companies were able to use legal processes to steamroller smaller competitors who could not afford to fight the cases. The legal grounds used were often spurious or at least dubious. That did not matter. All that was required was an apparent case with the aim of out-lasting the smaller company. As often happens, processes created for one purpose had unforeseen side effects, as in the rise of patent trolling.

 If you look at the Wikipedia article on lawfare, link above, you can see how the use of the term has, to a degree at least, become entrapped in varying ideological and political stances. While we can all think of examples of lawfare, the term is actually quite difficult to define. Simplifying, lawfare involves the deliberate use and manipulation of the law and legal processes by individuals, organisations and indeed governments to achieve objectives that are independent of the intent of the law or legislation.

 In this sense, I find lawfare a useful and indeed interesting term.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Great Silk Road - first eastbound Polish train leaves Lodz for Chengdu

In Sunday Essay - is this the Eurasian century?, I mused about the attempts by China to rebuild the old great silk road, recreating Eurasia.

This photo shows the first Polish train leaving Lodz in Poland for Chengdu.The line has mainly been used by Chinese exporters since it opened in 2013.  Now the Poles have cleared various regulatory hurdles for Polish products, leading to the launch of a twice weekly east-bound service. Polish products on the inaugural outbound service included beer, juices, mineral water and confectionery.

I have no idea what the cost parameters are for the service as compared to, say, shipping from Australia or indeed from Poland. However, once the infrastructure is there, traders will use it, and that was one of my points.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Failures in process imperil Abbott Government

The troubles with Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon (here, here, for example) marks another week in which events have effectively over-taken Australia's Abbott Government. I for one find it hard to focus on policy issues in the midst of the political turmoil. I don't want to comment on the political turmoil. Instead, this short post focuses on what I see as the growing evidence of systemic process failure at Federal level.

 A Guardian piece, Abbott's small government: cabinet meets without single formal submission to debate, reports:
Federal cabinet met on Monday night without a single formal cabinet submission to consider. 
Amid concerns about the bypassing or breakdown of normal cabinet processes and growing mistrust within the Abbott government, the formal business before cabinet on Monday night comprised a minute relating to infrastructure, a letter on a social services issue, a general political discussion and reports from the chairs of backbench committees.
The Guardian reports from a left of centre perspective. For that reason, care needs to be exercised in considering its reports. Still, I found the report quite staggering.

For the benefit of international readers who do not understand the Australian system, cabinet is the peak policy making body of Australia's Executive government. It has no formal constitutional position, but has evolved over time as part of the evolution of the Westminster system. Both the role and operating processes of cabinet have varied depending on the prime minister and party in power, but it provides a structured process for considering issues for later submission to party rooms and parliament. This imposes discipline on decision making.

Over time, the main complaints about the cabinet process have focused on two issues: the first is the excessive power attached to cabinet, the way in which it excludes other bodies such as the back-bench from decision making; the second is the way cabinet can constipate the decision making process, centralising decisions that should actually be made at ministerial or departmental level. There is truth in both complaints. However, in the present case, we seem to have a basic break-down in the cabinet process itself.

Australia does not have a presidential system. Mr Abbott is not president. He is simply first among equals. Prime Minister Menzies, a Liberal Party hero, explicitly recognised this. He was punctilious in recognising cabinet authority and indeed the authority of his ministers in general.He also had to accommodate a powerful coalition partner, the Country Party, that had brought him down once before.

The phrase coined by Mr Abbott to describe his unilateral decisions, the captain's pick, would (I think) have been anathema to Mr Menzies. He would have regarded it as quite out of court (pun intended!). This does not mean that Mr Menzies did not have an authoritarian streak, he did, simply that it was constrained by custom and process.

Prime Minister Menzies also had great respect for Parliament. Indeed, he revered the institution and was generally punctilious in his approaches to it.

Mr Menzies was not a supporter of transparency for transparency's sake. In the case of Confrontation, the conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia, the scale of Australia's involvement was kept secret for a period in ways that would not be possible today. This Australian War Memorial photo is captioned "Sarawak, British North Borneo, 1965: soldiers of 3 RAR board a Belvedere helicopter to search for Indonesian infiltrators."

Nor was the Menzies Government immune from the tendency to monitor its citizens, while individual cases of injustice did occur. We know this from the now released records of the period. However, I doubt that either Mr Menzies or his ministers would have countenanced some of the travesties associated with Border Force and the restriction of information on "operational grounds." Refugees are not the same as Confrontation. The Menzies Government had more important things to worry about, including the Cold War.
I think that Mr Abbott prides himself on his can do mentality, cutting through the crap. We say, we do. However, things are not quite as easy as that. It's not just what you do, but how you do it. There have been too many mistakes, too many process failures.

The Abbott Government now bears a distressing resemblance to that benighted and now departed Labor administration in NSW. It has aged before our eyes to the point that I don't know what is stands for anymore. I only know, more or less, what it is against.

In finishing, I note a certain irony in this post. I am hardly a traditional supporter of Robert Menzies. I come from a different political tradition and was always conscious of his imperfections. Who would have thought that I would now be putting him forward as something of a role model!


The Abbott Government is not having a lot of luck: Up to his ankles in bulldust: Tony Abbott hoofs it, leak follows. The leaked document is widely circulated, but it is another distraction.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Forum - art, ideology and politics

On Friday, I went to see the Archibald Exhibition at the Sydney Art Gallery. This is one of three linked prizes. The others are the Wynne and Sulman Prizes.  The links will carry you through to the finalists for each prize. That way you can study them without visiting the Gallery, although for those in Sydney a visit would be worthwhile.

This one of the finalists in the Archibald Prize, Sophia Hewson's Delivered.
This self-portrait was based on a performance that we did in Melbourne. It was intentionally public, fast and cheaply documented, to reference the methods of pornography,’ says Sophia Hewson. 
‘I was using my body in this work to try to open up a dialogue on female self-objectification (when a woman intentionally sexually objectifies herself). Sometimes I think self-objectification can be constructive. It can be used to claim back ownership of the body or to assert: “I can exhibit my sexuality without it amounting to my sexual availability”. 
‘Other times I think it can reflect the way the patriarchal value system has been internalised. But I don’t feel you can expect a woman, who has unconsciously internalised “male” values, to see herself as a space where something has been lost. A new identity needs to be forged. 
‘I’m interested in this because I’m struggling with it myself. I have difficulty navigating the contradictions and differentiating between internal and external influences, but I see self-portraiture as a potent site for negotiating identity.’

I selected the painting because it was one of a number of entries where the artist described her or his work in explicitly  ideological terms. In this context, the main themes were feminism, followed about equally by Aboriginal dispossession and the environment. In some cases such as Sophie's the expression was personal, in others more generalised.

This is Louis Pratt's King Coal. The description reads:
This work is anthropomorphised coal. The title King Coal is from a novel by Upton Sinclair that describes the abysmal working conditions in the coal mining industry in the western United States during the early 20th century. 
Coal is an important issue for Australia. It has helped us enjoy the quality of life we have today and will continue to do so for some time. But a future with coal will lead to environmental disaster. The overwhelming majority of scientists agree we are at a tipping point for the use of fossil fuels. To continue will irreparably poison our atmosphere. 
My work depicts an arrogant character unwilling to change and unaware of his impending doom.

I have no problems with any of this, but it also created a funny reaction in my mind. When I read the descriptions, I found myself asking the question did the work achieve the artist's objective? This is a very different question from do I like it or is it a good piece of art? In Sophie's case I felt no, in Louis' case probably yes. In all, I would have been better off forming my views of the piece and then and only then reading the artist's description.

This leads me to today's forum topic.How do you judge art? What is or should be the relationship between art, ideology and politics?  As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you like!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - a note on vegemite

Vegemite is an Australian staple, although even not all Australians like it. The photo shows both vegemite and its rival marmite.

It appears that vegemite got its start when supplies of marmite were disrupted after World War I, digging its way into the Australian psyche. Marmite was on sale when I was a child, but I saw it as a very inferior product.

While I knew that vegemite was a solution to almost everything, I had no idea that it might be used to make alcohol,  it is a yeast based product, until Commonwealth Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion suggested that its availability might need to be restricted in Aboriginal communities to stop it being turned into sly grog. Sadly, it appears that vegemite is not well suited for this purpose. That doesn't surprise me in fact, even though vegemite is a miracle food!

Now for the benefit of my international readers who might like to try this miracle food, exercise care! It's not that you will suddenly turn into kangaroo or a goanna. That could happen I suppose, but it's unlikely. Rather, vegemite has a very strong taste. So don't, as many novices do, just ladle it out. You will hate it!

Even with a thin spread, many don't like it. Australians take a strange pride in that. Collectively, we form a campaign to stop others acquiring a liking for this spread. Just spread it thickly, we say with a malicious smile, waiting for the look of horror to appear at the first bite. "How can you eat this stuff!" is the response. We just beam.    

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Exploring History Revisited

Regular readers will know that I write a weekly history column, History Revisited, for the Armidale Express.The columns are not included in the on-line version of the paper, so I try to post them in my history blog.

The columns are all short, around 500 words, and by the nature of the audience need to have at least some tenuous linkage to Armidale! Still, that gives me a lot of scope.

Writing 500 words a week may not sound a lot, but its actually a considerable ask when each column requires at least some research. I also try to create variety, if sometimes with series on particular topics. I know that the columns are reasonably popular because of feedback from the paper and also readers.

Anyway, I got behind in posting the columns and have now, with a rush, managed to bring the 2015 series up to date. From this point, I can once again post on a weekly basis. I am reasonably proud of the columns. I think that they are a reasonable read within their limits. So if you want to browse them, you will find the 2015 columns here.   .

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Travel entitlements, cheating and gay marriage

Today's post provides an update on some of the matters I have covered earlier.

The dispute over Federal Parliamentary  travel entitlements (Monday Forum - Bronwyn Bishop and Parliamentary Entitlements) drags on. Now at local level it has embroiled Member For New England and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce - Barnaby's $75,000 spend on charter flights. Mr Joyce needs this like a hole in the head when he is facing conflict over mining on the Liverpool Plains and the prospective return of former member Tony Windsor as challenger.

The problem of cheating at Australian school or university has been around for a while. I think I first wrote on it back in 2007. Now it's surfaced again in this piece by Alexandra Smith, The lengths university students will go to cheat. I had a wry grin at the the way that those involved in assisting students to cheat were then dobbing the students in for non-payment, I would have thought that if you were going to pay someone to assist you to cheat, you really should pay them!

Looking back at the 2007 posts (Banner Headline: ICAC exposes corruption risks in HCS take-home assessments and then ICAC and the NSW HSC - the Legalisation of Australian Life). one of my concerns lay in the way that I thought that the NSW Independent Commission was going outside its mandate. Then I wrote:
Am I wrong in finding it strange that the State's peak anti-corruption body should carry as the lead story in its house paper a matter that involves no official corruption at all - there is no suggestion that there were bribes to officials - and is is any event a matter first for the education system to correct?
In talking to people at the time, I found to my surprise that I was very much in a minority in that the first reaction of many when I talked about the issue was simply so-what. They could not see a problem. Now as it happened, there was a problem in ICAC attitudes that led to the Margaret Cunneen case where the High Court ruled that ICAC had exceeded its powers, leading to a review of the body. The subsequent NSW Government decision on the review reinstated some of those powers, but also ring-fenced ICAC to more serious cases.

In July, in I support gay marriage: let's push I came off the fence on this issue. My sympathies were pretty clear earlier, but I had wanted a cautious approach to allow for time to change. Then, after the Ireland vote and Australian reactions, I thought that it was time to change my position. I underestimated the continuing strength of the opposition. That's actually easy to do since most of the people I mix with are in favour. I'm normally very conscious of this type of bias. 

 I don't fully understand Mr Abbott's tactics on this matter. It's created another distraction. However, my feeling is that in the end he just felt that he had no choice but to bring the matter forward given the dynamics involved inside and outside the Party. For those outside Australia, this report will give you a feel for the complexities involved.  

I had intended to also comment today on the Australian Government's emission reduction targets plus provide s further update on economic dynamics, but I fear that I am out of time.   

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Updating the Australian political and economic outlook

Today's post is just a round-up.

The latest opinion poll results suggest that the Abbott Government is still struggling to gain any political traction. The latest possible date for the next Federal election is 14 January 2017. That's actually not very long.

This graph from Wikipedia shows the rolling average pattern of two party preferred votes derived from the polls. It's quite hard to come back from this type of position.

One of the Government's difficulties, and this is an analytical rather than political comment, is that it's overall policy position has become so blurred that it's largely lost control of the policy and political agenda. I for one struggle to work out what might happen in policy terms because everything has become so messy.

On 7 August 2015, the Australian Reserve Bank released its latest statement on monetary policy. I rely quite heavily on the RBA analysis.I don't always agree, but it provides a starting point for my own thought. For those outside Australia, the RBA's international analysis is worth reading. It is, as you might expect, cautious and qualified, but always informative.

The first take home message is that global economic growth, while not brilliant, is actually not bad. Interestingly, the Eurozone is growing if slowly, with some of the peripheral states such as Spain and Ireland
making gains. Poor Greece. The actions of the Syriza government took Greece from incipient growth back into contraction. That's a JB, not RBA comment.. The BBC coverage is interesting, by the way. It's very English and London centric, far more than I had realised.  Economics editor Robert Preston is a case in point. This is his latest piece.

In the international analysis, I remain more cautious on China than the Reserve Bank. However, the passage of time means that potential Chinese contagion is less important than it was even twelve months ago. My feeling is that we will all muddle through.

A second take home message, and again this is my interpretation, is that the global economy has adapted better to the end of US quantitative easing than I had expected. I'm still unclear as to how all that cash sloshing around the global system will unwind. I think that the appreciation of the US dollar actually limits the freedom to raise interest official interest rates, but I have also come to the view that rises in global interest rates are closer than people realise. That will give the US Fed more freedom to move.

At Australian domestic level, the Australian dollar has depreciated against both the US dollar and the Trade Weighted Index. The TWI is a trade weighted basked made up of  the currencies of Australia's key trading partners. I think the RBA is quite comfortable here, with the lower Australian dollar now feeding though into increased economic activity. The inflation effects of higher import prices are starting to feed through, but are so far well contained.

Again at Australian domestic level, there were a number of other interesting features.

The first was the continuation of a two speed economy. Previously we had the mining areas versus the rest. Now we have the city states of Melbourne and especially Sydney versus the rest. The property boom is unsustainable. The end signals are already there. Population growth is down, we have over-building in apartments, while rents are lagging. Walking around the big apartment growth areas such as Sydney's Green Square with the cranes everywhere, I can only see future pain.

The second is that while the economy is effectively jogging along, there has been almost no increase in wages. Reduction in at least the growth in real wages is a normal outcome at the end of a boom. That is how the economy re-balances. However, the stagnation in real wages that we have now is a little unusual. This has political impacts.

Interest rates is the variable that I am watching most carefully at present. Chancing my arm, I expect Australian interest rates to rise over the next eighteen months. That is inevitable if my view of the economic outlook is correct.

Global interest rates are likely to shift up. If that happens, Australian interest rates will rise simply because of the country's dependence on overseas funding. Exports are likely to continue to grow in part because of the flow-on effects of mining investment, in part because of the impact of a lower Australian dollar. That will put upward pressure on the exchange rate, potentially easing the pressure on local interest rates. However, I do not expect that to totally offset the impact of the shifts in global rates.

 Timing is everything in these things. However, for those with Australian mortgages, I would run a sensitivity test to see where you might stand with a one or two percent increase in interest rates.        


Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Forum - Bronwyn Bishop and Parliamentary Entitlements

So Tony Smith has been elected as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.He has said that he will not attend Liberal Party room meetings while Speaker.

Just in case you hadn't already worked it out, I am a bit of a traditionalist. The Westminster System depends to a degree on custom and tradition if it is to work effectively.

I had two problems with former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop's use of travel allowances.  The first and most important one was the way in which the spend in going to that now infamous Liberal Party fundraiser fell outside the Speaker's traditional role. The second was the waste of money involved.

I have very mixed views over what are now called entitlements. I think that we have made things just too complicated for our parliamentarians. If you think about it, the suggestion that we need a special office just to advise MPs whether or not a specific spend is acceptable says it all. It indicates too many rules, too much complexity, too few basic principles.When we set a speed limit, we encourage people to drive to that limit. When we set spend limits and attach rules to govern that spend, then we encourage spend and the management of rules to support that spend.

As a general principle, you set a budget and then give people discretion within that budget, supported by simple principles to guide spend. You can then create simple audit and acquittal processes. If Bronwyn Bishop's travel was in her Speaker role, then that spend should have come from the Speaker's budget. If it was part of her role as MP, it should have come from that budget.

I don't think that it's rocket science.What do you think?  


Sunday, August 09, 2015

Sunday Snippets - yet more sport: cricket, netball, rugby union

Much sport around at the moment. Probably least said, soonest mended the better about Australia's performance against England in the Ashes. Definitely not a happy camper on this one.

The Netball World Cup is on in Sydney with sixteen national teams competing. The photo shows the Malawi Queens, an Australian crowd favourite,  playing Sri Lanka. Malawi won 101-18. It's a rags to riches story, with the team's performance featured back home in the Nyasa Times.  

Like rugby, netball is trying to spread as a global games. Like rugby, there is a huge difference in performance between top and bottom national teams. Like rugby, netball provides an opportunity to play what is effectively a niche sport in many parts of the world.

This is lower level international netball, the 2011 Brussels semis, Copenhagen (black) v Switzerland, eldest in centre stage.

On rugby, last night Australia played New Zealand. It was the last game in the Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere competition between Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. It was also the first Bledisloe Cup match, the Cup awarded for competition between New Zealand and Australia. 

I really was nervous going into the match. Given my part Kiwi ancestry, I'm quite happy to cheer for New Zealand against Australia in the rugby league; that's an underdog thing, but union is different. New Zealand is such a rugby union powerhouse while the Australian team, the Wallabies, is also known as the Wobblies for very good reason.

Nervously I carted the heater into the lounge room and turned the TV on, quite ready to go to bed if a rout occurred. There was a large crowd (over 74,000) in the stadium to watch the match. 

As always, the match began with the national anthems. The New Zealand anthem is slightly complicated, with differing Māori and English versions. Public presentations usually involve the first verse of both language versions, beginning with the Māori.  I have often heard it, but didn't know the Māori version. This is it in Māori. 
E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai
And this is the English translation:
O Lord, God,
of all people
Listen to us,
Cherish us
May good flourish,
May your blessings flow.
I guess that's probably more than you want to know, but I was curious! 

From the beginning, it was clear that both sides were a little nervous, with the All Blacks making some unexpected errors. 

At half time, the All Blacks were 6-3 in front. The game see-sawed until, finally, the Wallabies were able to establish a winning position, running out winners 29-19. 

The photo comes from the ABC summary of the match. Happy, I turned the heater off and went to bed. 

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Armidale soap maker George Mallaby and the Great Paris Exhibition of 1900

I have been enjoying my buckets series, but have put it aside today for another topic.

Next week's Armidale Express History Revisited column is on the Armidale soap maker George Mallaby. By happenstance, Mallaby visited the 1900 Great Exhibition in Paris where he also seems to have won a gold medal for his soap. The image shows the Exhibition site.

This Exhibition was quite something. Visited by nearly 50 million people, it was a celebration of industry, science and art, with the majority of pavilions built in the Art Nouveau style.

How the Paris World's Fair brought Art Nouveau to the Masses in 1900 from io9 contains some rather good images of the Exhibition. There is also a link in the story to other European Art Nouveau buildings. Have a browse. It's quite fun.

This was, it seems, the last of the great world fairs, at least for a period. Despite the huge crowds, It was a financial disaster, costing all those involved dearly. It was just so grand. This photo is of the Russian pavilion.

Equally importantly, the Great War would soon tear the whole structure down. I suppose that we can think of it as hubris, a belief in progress and power. The US was challenging, but the European empires were at their peak.  

I have always liked this period because of the optimism and belief in progress, the joy of new discoveries. 

The Australian art historian Robert Hughes coined the phrase The Shock of the New largely to describe the period. 

The Great War did not just destroy the dynasties, it cast a darkening shadow over the human spirit. 

In all this, I wonder what George Mallaby thought of the Exhibition? He and his wife, both working in mill, married young and left for Australia soon after. By 1900, Mallaby had established a substantial business in Armidale with considerable real estate holdings providing comfort and security for his wife and now seven children. The Mallabies were Methodists, strictly observing the Sabbath and suspicious of ostentation. 

There is a big gap between Armidale of the 1890s, between the rhythms of local industry and church and family life, and Europe's gilded age. I am sure that he found it interesting, but George was probably a pragmatic man. Having won his medal, marketing was always important, he moved on to the more important business of visiting  his old home in Yorkshire. His parents had died, and he wanted to pay for their funeral plot.        

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Developing Belshaw's bucket list 3 - filling the buckets: gardening, introducing food

I began this series with a post ( Developing Belshaw's bucket list 1 - introduction) suggesting that various events had crystallized a sense of dissatisfaction based on my own inability to take advantage of the so many opportunities open to me. Very specifically, I worried about big things when the smaller things offered so many possibilities.

In my second post (Developing Belshaw's bucket list 2 - what is a bucket list?)  I discussed the history and concept of a bucket list. Often, this focuses on big things, whereas my focus was on the small. I suggested that the routines of, or sometimes the absence of routine in, daily life had a swamping effect.There are many things that we like to do or might enjoy that just get crowded out. In this post, I want to discuss some of those things.

Before going on, this is a picture of the Astrolabe Rd garden at an early stage in August 2012. kvd's chair stands guard. Later I had to add a chair for Legal Eagle as well. 

By December (Another simple meal at Astrolabe Road) I was consuming the produce on a regular basis. I had forgotten, by the way, that kvd introduced the concept of a bucket list in a comment on this post, but then it was something to use when throwing up after his mum served the wrong food! 

I had also forgotten how much gardening and cooking material there had been in posts and comments, including all sorts of meal suggestions.    

That garden grew and then collapsed. Why? I wasn't sure that I was staying in the house and I also ran out of time and, to a degree, enthusiasm. I was just worrying about other things at the time. At the time? Well, I seem to have been worrying about other things ever since! And isn't that true for most of us? 

Now in a comment on the second post in this series, kvd suggested that I should forget the whole bucket thing, fill the pots with soil and plant. This actually struck a chord. You don't need a big garden nor, in fact, a lot of time, to enjoy the benefits. You can always use pots and, if you have to move, take them with you. 

There is a certain irony here, for at a time when my own garden was in great disarray,  I encouraged a friend to do just this with herbs. It was a great success and I enjoyed the results. So I have put at least limited gardening into the bucket. One of the best simple Australian gardening sites is called Gardenate. This is what can be planted right now in Sydney. Quite a lot, isn't it? Is this for you? If you are doing it in pots, it takes a few hours to set up and then damn all time after that. 

Now for some reason, gardening takes me to food. Mmmm. This is a sad area, at least for me, because it is another of the areas that I haven't really responded too. An increasing number of Australians live alone as I do at present. It takes roughly the same time to prepare a meal for one as it does for a number. Then, if alone, you always end up eating left-overs. We are all busy, so food preparation suffers. 

Even going out is more complex for a single person. You don't go out when you might because you don't want to go alone then, sometimes, you just grab a meal at a familiar place. Too often, it's just easier to order takeaway. Then, of course, you suffer from a problem because a single person may incur delivery charges or end up buying more than they can eat.

Looking back over the last few years, I seem to have wasted a lot of money on restaurants both on my own and in groups with food that was not very good. So what can be done about all this? Well, I can only answer for myself. 

I, and this is a sad admission, live just a few blocks from one of Sydney's growing restaurant strips, Anzac Parade, Kingsford. A student area, the University of New South Wales is nearby, there are an enormous variety at generally lower price points. 

Taking advantage of this variety would greatly add to the texture of my life, yet I have not done so.Why? Well. it's complicated.

I have restaurant going fixed in my mind as a social activity. When I'm travelling, I have no problem in eating on my own. While working, I have no problem in going out to a restaurant for an alone lunch. Indeed, I often welcome it because I can sit there with food and my glass of wine while I write notes and plan next steps. But in the evening? Then the social mode seems to kick in. If I am alone I should go home and cook, even if it costs me more than eating out. Eating out must be done in company. 

I know that this sounds very silly, but it's a reality. Some time ago, I said that what I should do is come from work stop at Kingsford, eat while reading a book and take notes. Then I could wander home and get on with other things. I didn't do it. So now I have added exploration of the Kingsford restaurant strip to my bucket. It will also give me post copy. 

I will continue in my next post.


I noted that in a comment on the second post in this series, kvd suggested that I should forget the whole bucket thing, fill the pots with soil and plant. Now I wonder if this is what kvd had in mind? - Bucket crops: Mississippi man takes container gardening to another level

Meantime, 2 tanners has provided further guidance on a vexed question for those of us living alone that I thought I would bring up from comments to the main post.

2 tanners wrote:

"I suggest curries and slow cooked meals with cheap cuts of meat (because they work better) and lots of veg (and you get your favourites). Two options here - you can cook forever at night, for not very much money, and as the room slowly fills with the smells of home, read and make notes. My favoured option though, is to leave the slow cooker on all day, walk into the house already redolent of your own cooking (i.e. a small amount of food preparation the previous night) and immediately sit down to a glass of wine, a book and dinner the moment you walk in the door."

I responded:

"Very nicely written, 2t. I do use the slow cooker and it is indeed good. But what I haven't quite worked out what to do with the left-overs. For example, say I cook corned beef, something I love. Then at the end I have lots of beef left. Or I roast a chook and then slow cook the remains next day with veg to form a soup. I seem to end up just recooking the remains with some additional things added until I have to throw the whole lot out.

I accept that this displays lack of imagination and this links to the theme of this series. I need some professional guidance here!"

2 tanners wrote:

"I rather like a challenge. If you are going to a weekend roast, and it's wonderful sitting around as everything cooks while you read your book and drink a glass, then you have to buy too much meat for one, in my view. You are definitely going to have leftovers. Let's leave that aside for the moment.

If you are going to slow cook a lamb shank, though, that's one shank, one onion, one carrot, a bit of bok choy or other greens that utterly vanish when you throw them in at the last moment plus herbs and of course wine from the bottle red. (strange, but I didn't notice you writing about the wine you had to waste). A bit of rice to soak up the yummy sauce and there ain't much left over. What there is turns overnight in your fridge to a really strong, almost irresistable taste. This can be heated in a trice in the office microwave to drive coworkers to a drooling frenzy. Applies to curries etc as well.

OK, so you wanted roast chook and you could only get a 2 kilo chook and there were the roast potatoes. And a roast onion. Oh and carrot, parsnip, and beetroot. And snow peas and red wine and onion gravy. Half your veg and two thirds of the chook are left over.

Step 1. first, wipe the roasting pan clean of the lard etc. With a slice of bread. Eat immediately, you know you want to.

Real Step 1: Decide how many meals worth of chook meat you have. i strip the chook first because I like bones with my roast, but not so much in other things. Let's say you have two meals left. Divide the remaining chicken into 2 and put one serve in the fridge.

Step 2: You've got at least one meal's worth of veg, maybe more. Decide how much you need, add the rest to the chook in the fridge. No cooked greens go in the fridge.

Step 3: So here we have chook, lots of root veg and a few sad looking snow peas. Mash the root veg roughly, keeping lots of colour mixed around, chop the snow peas and the chook roughly, stir in, and add some seasoning. The root veg will absorb the lot, but be careful since they're going to stand and hot things will get stronger. Like a crushed garlic clove and a single birdseye chili. stir in 2 eggs and pop in the fridge.

Step 4: you get home the following day and empty the mash mixture into a frypan preferably shaped into 2 easily turned patties. turn them each five minutes as you drift around with your glass of wine and the book. In about 10 minutes you have frittata. Mmmm.

Step 5. Get out the slow cooker, throw in your curry ingredients including the remaining roast chook and veg and tomorrow is sorted. kvd, don't forget both chili and ginger act to increase your core temperature, which must be good for you, so heap them in."

I must say that all sounds very nice!