Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Problems with "tax reform" - dealing with an ever more complicated palimpsest

Here in Australia, the taxation "debate" rolls on. I have put the word debate in inverted commas only because I am not convinced that it is a real debate. It's certainly a sometimes confusing debate because it mixes questions together. Or perhaps its just that those questions are inextricably mixed anyway.

One question is the desirable size of government, using government in the broadest sense to include the three layers of Government. To the proponents of the small is better school, the real issue is reducing government spending. This school then goes on to argue for reduced company taxation in particular, followed by reduced income tax as well. In doing so, they join two questions, the size of government with a specified tax solution, certain types of tax cuts. Winton Bates is a member of this school, see Was the great tax debate worth having?, as is the Business Council of Australia.

A related issue is the size of the Federal Government deficit. The small is better school also want the deficit removed, so expenditure cuts are needed to remove the deficit and to support lower tax rates, a sort of double whammy effect. By contrast, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) is now focusing on the need for increased taxation revenue to bring the budget back to surplus by 2018-2019. To this end, they propose a number of taxation changes largely at the margin, but also with pain attached.

A third question relates to the nature of Australia's Federation and especially the question of fiscal imbalance.  The current system is out of kilter, I think everyone accepts that, but the solutions are not clear. This was an issue that that Prime Minister Abbott was trying to address, but it has got rather lost in the political static. Mr Turnbull is now apparently re-floating the idea of state income tax as a way of addressing the problem of fiscal imbalance - and making it easier for the Commonwealth by shifting responsibility back to the states. .

Then there is the question of the overall efficiency of the taxation system.Given what government wants to do, what taxes raise money in the most efficient way with minimised negative effects?  This is a linked but quite separate question from the value and impact of individual taxation measures such as the treatment of superannuation intended to achieve specific public policy effects. To propose a variation in specific tax arrangements introduced for particular purposes in the name of general taxation reform brings together two very different sets of issues.

Matters are further complicated by the pattern of winners and losers associated with any particular change. The wider the spread of change, the more issues involved, the greater the spread of protest and degree of difficulty in bringing about any change.

Take my own case as an example. While I generally support the idea of smaller government, or at least government that is of minimum size relative to need, I just don't accept the idea that smaller government is an a priori good thing in all circumstances. I do accept the need to address the deficit because it gives us freedom later on, but want to know about the path. I do not regard this issue as a question of taxation reform as such. On the question of the Federation and fiscal imbalance, I regard this as a problem and have supported the return of income tax powers to the states. However, that is not a question of taxation reform, but of Federation reform. And when it comes to all the individual tax measures, I want to address them as specific questions so that I understand the issues.

In all this, we complicate by joining together unrelated if somewhat connected things. Perhaps it's time to do away with the concept of taxation reform unless we can strictly limit it to tax issues, instead focusing on the underlying issues that complicate the debate. At the moment, the whole discussion is like a palimpsest on which we can still read other words, tracking back though the layers to our ever greater confusion. .

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Forum - has poetry lost its centrality?

In the high  cool country,
Having come down from the clouds,
Down a tilting road
Into a distant valley,
You drive without haste. Your windscreen parts the forest,
Swaying and glancing, and jammed midday brilliance
Crouches in clearings...
Then you come across them,
The sawmill towns, bare hamlets built of boards
With perhaps a store,
And perhaps a bridge beyond, 
And a little sidelong creek alive with pebbles 
Les Murray "Driving Through Sawmill Towns"
My mind was a complete blank this morning thinking of Monday Forum topics. I suppose that we could have another as you will, we do that anyway, but I also like to put up something as a departure point.

This is not necessarily the best of Australian poet Les Murray's poems, although it comes first in a book entitled The best 100 poems of Les Murray  (Black Inc 2014). However, it certainly appeals to me because it is a New England poem. I come from that high cool country, the country immortalised by another New England poet, Judith Wright, in South of My Days.. I knew those sawmill towns, although most have now gone.

In Cultural Amnesia, Clive James argues that a knowledge of poetry is central to good writing. He goes further, asserting that the absorption of poetry, its remembrance, provides part of the glue that gives Western intellectual life its continuity over time and between countries. To both James and Murray, they were at Sydney University at the same time, part of poetry's strength lies in the form and sound of words. Poetry is meant to be sounded, both concepts and lines become stuck in memory.

Poetry has been in sad decline. To go into a bookshop as I did Saturday and find a section devoted to poetry is quite unusual. I think that both James and Murray would argue in part that that decline is connected with the way in which poets have lost sight of the importance of sound in their pursuit of new forms. For my part, I would be inclined to argue that all forms of writing are losing their centrality in a world in which the visual has replaced the oral.

I wondered what you thought. Do you still read poetry? Are there particular poets that you really like, particular lines that stand out in your mind?

As always, go in whatever direction you want. I know that you will!    

Sunday, March 27, 2016

And the banners flapped lonely in the wind - licensing laws and Sydney's growing sterility

Back in February (Nanny State notes) I wrote on the NSW liquor licensing laws and especially the Sydney lock-out provisions. Meantime, the discussion has rolled on: this is a recent example.

Unlike the increasing smoking restrictions, the liquor licensing laws are not something that affects me personally to any great extent because I don't go out a lot at night and especially late at night. My visits to central Sydney are also relatively infrequent and then generally during daylight hours.

I have been aware in a general sense of the impact of the restrictions. The other night, for example, I had dinner at my cousin's place at Potts Point. Walking back through Kings Cross to catch my train, I was struck by just how few people there were on the streets in what had once been a vibrant night-life area  and by the number of closed places. Convenience stores seem to have replaced venues.

At Easter lunch I was educated on the sheer complexity of the current licensing regime. I was simply staggered. I had no idea.

By way of general background, most young people have to work to support themselves though university. In this context, hospitality is by far the largest source of part time work. So young people are affected by the laws at two very different levels, as workers and as customers. Amongst the group at lunch, one worked in the casino, a second managed a bottle shop, a third worked in a bar, a fourth had worked in a pub.There was clearly a high degree of angst about the laws.

There were old and new themes in the conversation. The special treatment given to the casino was highlighted, as was the absurdity of measurements that claimed the decline in alcohol related incidents in the Cross as a success for the laws when the people just weren't there any more. The closing of so many bars and venues meant fewer jobs, as well as reduced nightlife options. The Sydney lock-outs had pushed people and business outside the lock-out zone, creating new problems there. Alcohol consumption among the resident young had been falling anyway. People just wanted to enjoy themselves. Here there were the usual unflattering comparisons between Sydney and Melbourne.

These were familiar themes, but there were others: the need now to carry special ID if you were working in bars and the problems that could arise as well as the cost; the perversity and unfairness of the way the the three strikes law was interpreted; new problems of legal liability for staff as well as venues; inconsistencies and over-rigour in the way that police interpreted the regulations.The list went on. I really didn't understand the complexities that had been created.

On Saturday, eldest and I visited Sydney's Domain and then walked on to have lunch at Circular Quay near the Opera House.

There is no doubt that the Harbour and adjoining parklands including the Domain in particular are truly beautiful. This area was crowded with people and especially tourists enjoying themselves.

Once you leave the narrow tourist strip, however, things change. Walking back from the Quay to catch the bus, the streets were almost deserted. All the shops were shut, there were no bars or restaurants, there were no cars or cyclists, few pedestrians. In Martin Place, the Sydney City Council banners proclaiming that Martin Place was now proudly smoke free flapped lonely in the wind; it felt like Melbourne used to feel on a Sunday, closed for the day.


This story from Commercial Real Estate describes some of the venues that have closed..

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - snakes, terrorists and the future of Poland

For some reason, I had always thought the phrase "snake in the grass" to be Australian. Apparently not. According to, this metaphor for treachery, alluding to a poisonous snake concealed in tall grass, was used in 37 b.c. by the Roman poet Virgil ( latet anguis in herba). It was first recorded in English in 1696 as the title of a book by Charles Leslie.

This snake was photographed at Metz east of Armidale by Gordon Smith. Gordon thought that it was probably an eastern brown snake. Reputedly the second most venomous snake in the world, these are truly big snakes with an average size of 1.1–1.8 m (3.6–5.9 ft). The maximum recorded size for the species is 2.4 m (7.9 ft)!

It has been a little while since I mentioned Gordon's blog. Subtitled a pictorial journal of life in rural Australia, lookANDsee is a rather wonderful photo blog. If you haven't visited or haven't visited for a while, you should have a browse.

I don't like brown snakes. They frighten me. We had gone out for lunch with some friends of my parents on a property to the east of Armidale. Bored, I decided to go for a walk after lunch. It was a hot, still day. As I walked though the paddock  near  the house, a large brown snake crossed the path in front of me. They really are big. I fear in this case I chose boredom over adventure and returned to the house!

Staying with the snake in the grass theme, detailed forensic investigations are slowly knitting together the details of the Brussels attacks, including the apparent links with the earlier Paris attacks. It seems clear that this was a significant group, attacks some time in the planning.

Thinking of these attacks in military terms, I think that it is helpful to remember that this type of weapon takes time to assemble and once used cannot be used again. As we saw in Bali in 2002, the logistics involved are quite significant.The first Bali bombing was followed in 2004 by the Australian embassy attack in Jakarta and then in 2005 the second Bali bombings. However, the attacks and subsequent police follow up seem, touch wood, to have blunted the capacity to carry out further attacks. I am not saying that they won't occur, but the cells involved had been some time forming  so repetition becomes more difficult each time the weapon is used.

Meantime, the repercussions drag on. In a post, Who is right?, AC reflects rather sadly on the recent political changes in Poland. To my mind, there is a nasty bigoted streak in the Polish governing Law and Justice Party, the use of rhetoric intended to divide, the focus on perceived threats.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło has announced that Poland will not be able to take in asylum seekers from the EU for now following the terrorist attacks in Brussels. The stated position is part of an anti-immigration rhetoric that has been running for some time now.  The Irish Times reports that the Polish shift on migration is in line with public opinion in the country: 64 per cent of Poles want their national borders closed to asylum seekers, according to a poll by the Adam Smith think tank. This type of attitude is widely held across Eastern Europe.

Many Australians and especially on the right would agree with the stated Polish position. Nevertheless, the attitude of the Law and Justice Party that the EU is there to benefit Poland, not Poland to benefit the EU is (as phrased) unsustainable. .During the twentieth century, Europe's conflicts imposed the two bloodiest wars in human history on the world. During the Second World War, an estimated 5.7 million Poles lost their life as a consequence of the German occupation. This was followed by the Soviet occupation.

Ethnicity lay at the heart of the Second World War and its associated horrors, political ideology at the base of the Soviet Occupation, state totalitarianism was common to both. The Poles themselves were not totally innocent victims.

Poland cannot have it both ways, to have its cake and eat it too.  One of the drivers in the formation of the EU was the desire to avoid another European conflict, to resolve the ethnic tensions that had divided the continent. The break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Yugoslav wars showed the continuing power of ethnicity, of old wounds.The language used by the right wing parties and by Eastern European leaders suggests that the lessons have still not been learned.

Two million Poles now live in Germany and the UK. The Polish economy is deeply entwined within the European economy. Poland depends upon European institutions for its very survival. The resurgence of Russia, the memory of a past in which Poland was a victim of external forces and its geographic position, makes many Poles deeply fearful.

There is, I think, a view in Poland that the Atlantic alliance and especially the US provides a shield. That of itself a rather fragile defence. The alliance is deeply linked to NATO and to the European institutions. It's actually very difficult to see the US as such becoming involved in or threatening a war to protect Poland. The Ukraine revealed the limitations of alliance power.

Both the US and the EU have been guilty of external political and diplomatic overreach. Georgia demonstrated that, as did the Ukraine. Brussels itself has been guilty of internal overreach as well..Institution building takes time. Australia has been a Federation for over 100 years and divisions remain. Like Canberra or for that matter Sydney, Brussels seems to believe in standardisation for the sake of standardisation. In doing so, in also pushing EU expansion so hard,the EU has created its own problems.

All that said, the EU needs too, and I think will, muddle through.Certainly the rise of nationalism, a nationalism based on ethnicity and riven by the divisions of the past, complicates matters. The EU is the only barrier against the re-fragmentation of Europe.

For Poland's part, EU membership is just too important in a practical sense for Poland to withdraw or to threaten EU survival. Should push come to shove, and barring an attack of political madness, the Law and Justice Party and the present Polish Government have just too much at stake including the survival of Poland itself. They may posture, and posturing is important and can push people in strange and extreme directions, but their freedom to move on critical issues is limited so long as Poland remains a member of the EU.

Finally, in considering the European political scene and others as well including Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders in the US,  it pays to distinguish between particular manifestations and the underlying causes.

Law and Justice views on abortion, homosexuality and gender roles may be conservative to the point that a woman, for example, cannot get an abortion even if the law allows it. The more extreme manifestations of those views should be challenged, but it should also be recognised that there is a strong thread of social conservatism in Poland such that many feel threatened at the pace of social change. The Soviet occupation and the communist system suppressed  elements of those views, but they remained.

In economic terms, at least by European standards, Poland has done well in recent years. However, growth has been poorly distributed. In some parts of the country, living standards are the lowest in Europe, lower than in Soviet times. This is reflected in the shift within Law and Justice from something approaching a neo-conservative economic policy towards a left wing populist state intervention policy, designed to appeal to disadvantaged people and areas.
Then we have the law and order mantra. This appeals to those who feel threatened and who wish stability and certainty. This also appeals to the authoritarian tendency that appears to exist in Polish history and especially in the inter-war period.

The geographic divides in Polish politics are stark. I do not pretend to properly understand all the elements, but it seems clear enough. A political map shows a country divided. In the west and north the Civic Platform Party dominates. This is the area that seems to have benefited most from growth and is more cosmopolitan. Law and Justice dominates in the more socially conservatively ane economically more depressed east The map shows the votes in the 2010 presidential election,

Sitting in Australia and prognosticating on events in Europe and especially countries such as Poland that I have never visited is, of course, a dangerous occupation. Nevertheless, my view remains that the EU will muddle through, that this is just another part of the process of creating a new political entity. Given this and my assessment of Poland, I think that Poland will stay in the EU and that, consequently, Law and Justice will find its wings clipped on some key issues.

The alternatives are, I fear. too dreadful to comfortably contemplate. One is the break-up of the EU. A second is an EU controlled by the forces of the nationalistic right. A third is Poland's exit and its entry into a grey zone, a marchland between Europe and an expanding Russian sphere of influence.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Brussels, Balance and the things that we fear

Yesterday listening to the ABC's Fran Kelly's rather breathless coverage of the Brussels tragedy, I thought, my God, who would have thought that a group of fanatics could help us inflict so much damage on our own societies? I used the words "us" and "ours" with intent.

When I first wrote on the so-called War on Terror, one of my concerns was the the use of language, the way in which our framing of discussion might create the very things we fear. Brussels was not the London Blitz nor the fire bombing of Dresden nor the Rape of Nanking nor the Bosnian massacres. Yes, the deaths and injuries were tragic, yes, we have to do something about it, but we have to keep a sense of balance.

Now in terms of key performance indicators, let us look at what these groups have achieved. Among other things, they have:
  • Forced an escalation in military spend
  • Forced a reduction in civil liberties among western democracies, one of whose central tenets is the preservation of those civil liberties
  • They have forced divisions in western societies, challenging inclusiveness and leading to the rise of right wing parties focused on exclusion. This includes facilitating the rise of Donald Trump in the US. 
  • They have encouraged sectarian division, setting religious groups against each other
  • They have brought key aspects of a major western institution, the European Union itself created as a consequence of war, injustice and genocide, to the point of collapse.
Congratulations, chaps. You really have done rather well, So long as you can keep the west reacting in the same way, you should be able to keep those KPIs rolling out. Who knows what you might achieve?    

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday Forum - Australia's messy politics

Last week's marathon Senate sitting may finally have passed the Government's proposed changes to the Senate voting laws, but it's left something of a political mess that will take some time to work through. I'm inclined to think that changes were required, but the way in which it was done has left a tarnish on the change's proponents - the Government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon

From a national viewpoint, the way that the Government handled the matter and the associated discussion on election dates has effectively started the election campaign, leaving Australia with what is now in a practical of not formal sense a caretaker Government. Three months is a long time to be without effective Government.

I have no idea who will win the election or indeed what the Senate itself might finally look like. A month ago I would have strongly favoured the Coalition to win, but now all bets are off. As we saw in Canada or indeed in the last UK election, there can be unexpected results.

One of the Government's problems is that it has lost coherence and direction. You can see the effect in the precipitous fall in Prime Minister Turnbull's approval ratings from previous stratospheric levels down to 39% with a first net negative approval. Opposition Leader Shorten may be still be bobbing along below the PM, but Mr Turnbull must be concerned at the trend..

It's actually difficult to see what Mr Turnbull and the Government might do about this in a practical sense, given the Government's loss of authority. It's very messy all round.

I wondered what you thought about the whole affair, what you think might happen and why?


I hadn't expected that this Forum would coincide with today's announcement. I quote the PM:
Today, I called upon His Excellency the Governor General to advise him to recall both Houses of Parliament on April 18 to consider and pass the Australian Building and Construction Commission Bills and the Registered Organisations Bill and he has made a proclamation to that effect. 
I make no apology for interrupting Senators’ seven week break to bring them back to deal with this legislation. 
This is an opportunity for the Senate to do its job of legislating rather than filibustering – the go-slows and obstruction by Labor and the Greens on this key legislation must end. 
The Senate will have an additional three sitting weeks to deal with the ABCC and Registered Organisations legislation – plenty of time to pass these important laws. 
If the Senate fails to pass these laws, I will advise the Governor General to dissolve both Houses of Parliament and issue writs for an election. 
Because such a double dissolution must be done on or before the 11th of May, the Government will be bringing the Budget forward to Tuesday 3rd of May so that Mr Shorten will be able to deliver his reply on the Thursday in the usual way.
.The election would be held on 2 July.

The announcement has been brewing for some time. The delay was partly connected with the need to resolves constitutional issues. You will get some feel for those from these letters to the Governor General and his response.The delay was also connected with the desire to get through the changes to the Senate electoral legislation. But to say, as some commentators have, that it came a surprise was simply odd. After all, we have been debating the issues and mechanisms for months, while the Government has actually been signalling it, if not always intentionally, for some while. However, the exact form of the announcement was interesting, playing to the constitution and politics.

Prorogue means to dissolve. By persuading the Governor General to formally end the old Senate session, and then call a new one, the Government has stopped certain blocking possibilities within the Senate. The Government wants to fight the next election on industrial relations since this is about the only weapon left in its armory that has not become discredited or tarnished to some degree. If the Senate again blocks the Australian Building and Construction Commission.legislation, the Government will fight (or try too) on its chosen industrial field. If the Senate lets it through, then the Government will claim a victory.

The commentors have pointed to the new decisive Malcolm - here, here and here, for example. I quote Mark Kenny:: "Have no illusion, this is less bluff, more statement of intent. And it represents strong leadership of the kind some had worried might have abandoned the Prime Minister." 

The Government is playing hard ball politics, there is no doubt of that. I think that it will also unite a fracturing Liberal Party, at least for the immediate future. But there is a little more to it than that, 

It is just over three months to the first election date. That's a long time. If, as the Government does not want, the Senate passes the legislation, then the election date is moved into the second half of the year. More time. There will be much political theatre in the meantime, but three to five months is a very long time to have the country run by what is effectively a caretaker Government in election mode. The Government was already suffering to a degree from election induced paralysis created in large part by itself. Now this will just drag on. 

I don't know what will happen. I wouldn't assume, for example, that Opposition Leader Shorten will survive the process. The dynamics now are different. I can see a very bitter and divisive election process fought on negatives.   .

. .

Saturday, March 19, 2016

In Memoriam - Don Fraser

Slowly surfacing after recent pressures, I find that the world has gone on without me. I will come back to active duty, but for the present I just wanted to record a piece of sad news.

JCW advised me that Don Fraser died on 17 March. This will mean nothing to most of my readers, but it will to some.The funeral notice reads:
DONALD JOHN FRASER 6 September 1934 Glasgow, Scotland to 17 March 2016 Canberra, Australia 
Suddenly, while working on his companion computer. 
Dear, dear husband of Corille. 
Beloved father and father-in-law of Helen, Douglas, Kenneth, Meryl and Liz.
Fond and inspiring grandfather of Lizzy, Cassie, Harley and Yssa. 
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne. 
The funeral service for Don will be held in
the Chapel of Norwood Park Crematorium,
Sandford Street, Mitchell on Tuesday, 22 March 2016. 
Don was my Division Head in the Australian Department of Industry and Commerce, then Industry Technology and Commerce, from around mid 1983 to some time in 1985. This was a golden period in my memories of my own life, for we had a window to bring positive change about. And we did, if no where near as much as we hoped.

We failed in our primary dream of creating a global sustainable future for Australia in the high technology industries, of a major Australian base in the global electronics, aerospace and information industries. It is hard to sell a dream, an aspiration, within our institutional structures, harder now than it was then. But we did achieve smaller tangible results. One was the removal of tariffs on computer products. This did not mean that Australians could buy computers at global prices, market imperfections made that difficult, but it did mean that Australian Government tariffs were removed.

Don played an important role in the process. Very early in my reign as newly established branch head in a newly established branch, my senior director Michael Blake sat me down to explain Don to me. Michael was a key figure in the evolution of our ideas and the person who crafted the strategy for removing tariffs on computer products. Don was, he said, into time management. Be organised, present your ideas and recommendations. Don't waste his time. I adopted this approach and it worked well.

Don was very busy, working with Bob Samarcq and his team on the Button Car plan. 2tanners, who worked with me at the time, argued several years ago that the obsession with cars sucked the life out of our plans, that we were not able to get the funding that we needed to start and build new things because of the obsession with the past. There is a fair bit of truth in that. But that is not Don's fault.

In retrospect, the freedom that Don (and the Department) gave us was quite remarkable. A graduate clerk could come to me or a Director on the Monday with an idea or a problem that they considered to be important, and we could have it on the Minster's desk by the Friday. Obviously questions of trust were important, we were trusted, but there were no decision layers. I was the final decision point and bore the responsibility. Everything I did was transparent, documented, could be challenged or reviewed, but it was my decision.

I had no idea that any of this was remarkable until, after a long break, I moved back into the public sector as a contractor within the NSW system. I found the decision reporting systems incredibly complex. By the time I jumped in June last year, there were seven reporting/decision layers between me and the minister within the new mega department. It was quite hard to get new ideas up the chain, especially those that didn't quite fit in with existing plans or KPIs.

In private life, Don was a stalwart supporter of Canberra Repertory Company for over thirty years. This is, I think, how JCW met him. His wake is to be held at the Rep's Theatre 3.

My commiserations to Corille and his family and also to all Don's friends.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

That Australian Life - Windsor, Joyce and the New England imbroglio

The decision by Tony Windsor to re-contest the New England electorate has created a real frisson among the politerati.

In a piece on this blog on 12 February on Barnaby Joyce's election as National Party Leader (Placing Barnaby Joyce in his Northern NSW context) I mentioned the push to get Mr Windsor to run. Then in a 29 February post on my still neglected New England blog, Joyce v Windsor - a first poll, I provided the first poll results

There I noted that According to the Guardian, a Reachtel poll of 712 residents in the seat of New England conducted on 11 January found 32.2% would vote for Windsor as their first preference if he returned – compared with 39.5% for Joyce.

The poll also found 11.2% would vote for Labor and 4.6% would vote for the Greens with 6.2% nominating others including other independents with 5.1% undecided. Labor and the Greens would likely preference Mr Windsor.

The poll was conducted before Mr Windsor decided to stand. Now we have a Newspoll conducted after the announcement that shows a polarising electorate.

The poll of 518 voters shows Mr Joyce with a primary vote of 46 per cent, down eight points from the 54 per cent he polled at the 2013 election. Mr Windsor sits on 44 per cent. The poll suggests the remaining 10 per cent of the vote is shared by Labor, the Greens and others. Preference allocations give Mr Windsor a two-candidate lead of 52 to 48 per cent..

There are a few things to note about this result. I mentioned polarisation. Since Mr Windsor announced his decision, the Labor vote is down sharply, the Green vote is down too. Prominent Green politician and NSW upper-house MP Jeremy Buckingham who was apparently close to announcing a dramatic switch to the federal sphere to contest the seat.will be forced to reconsider. This is a Windsor-Joyce contest. Nobody else has a show.

Spare a thought for Rod Taber. In a piece headed Federal frenemy, Express Editor Lydia Roberts reports on the falling out between the two men.The photo shows them in happier days.

Mr Taber, owner of New England Solar Power, was part of the New England independent group and picked up the banner at the last election, scoring 13.7% of the vote. Having twice asked Mr Windsor whether or not he would run and having received  categorical no, Mr Taber had his campaign this time already geared up. He now feels betrayed.

In a discussion on Late Night Live (hat tip Evan) between Philip Adams and Frank Bongiorno, New England was described as an angry electorate. If you listen to the discussion (I'm not sure that its available internationally but try), you will understand. Regular readers of this or the New England blog will find the arguments instantly familiar.

This is going to be a very nasty and bitter campaign. It's also one where you are going to get a lot of misreporting. I will try to report on the different issues, for its going to be a fascinating contest.     

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Essay - Trump, Sanders and fascism in the US

Yesterday's post, Saturday Morning Musings - in praise of Squatters' daughters, was triggered in part by an exchange between kvd and AC on my last Monday Forum. I had been largely absent from discussion  on the last two Monday Forums, although discussion had gone on regardless. This led AC to comment that she now felt like a squatter on Jim's unattended blog! kvd responded
Anna, I don't think Jim minds the occasional 'squatter' - provided we tidy up the chip packets and dishes and don't rearrange the furniture - and I'm sure he's busy being gainfully employed, so probably welcomes the chance of other contributions.
kvd is right, of course. A little while back, I learned that it was not necessary for me to respond to every comment when discussion was flowing. I read and enjoy the discussion, but am not a controller. The blog is a platform for open discussion. Most recently when pressures have limited my posting, that discussion has kept the blog alive. I feel really blessed in this regard.

This post reviews one element in the discussion that took place in my absence. I will pick up others in later posts. I thought it best to respond by post rather than comment since that better presents the issues raised. But first, another piece from Art Daily.

This is Peter Paul Rubens’s work Lot and his Daughters (circa 1613-1614). It will be sold by Christie’s as the centerpiece of a curated week of sales, Classic Week, in London this July. I include it because it bears upon our discussion about the changing presentation of the female form.

In a comment, my old friend Sue wrote: " I just read an article by Chris Hedges (5 March 2016) on one of my favourite blogs: Three quarks daily.I would be very interested in reading your views on this article. I also wonder what KVD would make of it. I'm still trying to sort out my thoughts". kvd responded:
"Hi Sue. I read that article but I think I'll let Jim rise to your bait first :) But a couple of things to throw into the pot: 1) fascism seems more achievable in an homogeneous society, which the US is not. Hard to see how the disparate immigrant/racial groups would all align as one. (This assumes the writer is not just throwing it out as an insult/epithet), and 2) I used to think it would be a Biden/Rubio matchup; now I think it will be Biden/Cruz - and to me Cruz is way more scary than Trump.
The Hedges piece, The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism, quotes approvingly from Richard Rorty's 1998 book, “Achieving Our Country”.He concludes:
Fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements.  
There appear to be three threads in the arguments that Hedges and others are putting forward.

The first is that the process of economic and social change that has taken place in the US and other Western countries over the last part of the twentieth century and the first part of this century has created a growing group who feel left behind, disadvantaged. The resulting angst is felt most strongly among working and middle class people who had previously shared in the benefits of economic growth during the 1950s and 1960s, who had seen advancement as possible, but who now find themselves sliding down the economic and social totem pole in circumstances of ever growing insecurity.

Arguments about overall advancement in national wealth, the argument that economic restructuring has increased aggregate wealth, do not wash with this group. In previous eras including that of the US robber barons, the great disparities between the wealthy extravagant few and the rest of the population could be more easily accepted because, after all, you might achieve wealth yourself or, if not, your children might. Even then, there was a virulence, a violence, in US industrial and class relations lacking in countries such as Australia where the social contract focused more on the collective rather than the individual.

The second thread in the arguments of Hedges and others is that this growing dis-empowered group will look to the leader, the person who promises to make things better. The argument that the leader cannot deliver is neither here nor there. If I feel helpless, if I feel threatened, if the existing order cannot offer at least some hope of solution, then I will go for the person who can. Hope is a powerful weapon, as is the promise of empowerment.

The third thread in the arguments is the way that prospective leaders find enemies that will unite their followers, the threat beyond, while comforting those followers that their values and views are right. The appeal to traditional values is comforting because it affirms the self-worth of those who perceive themselves to be disadvantaged or under threat, while the external enemy unites.

You will find these elements in many movements, including the labour movements. The distinctive feature about twentieth century fascism is that it captured the fears of large groups who had previously been dominant. The labour movements captured the fears and aspirations of groups who were marginalised at the start. The fascist movements captured the fears and aspirations of those who previously had had positions.

But does all this mean that fascism is on the rise in the US? I'm not convinced. It' a very mixed picture, with both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders drawing from the same bedrock, the disillusionment with the current. Both groups reject the previous status quo, both are seeking something new. Further, the arguments about fascism generally come for the left because of the threats posed to their colelctive views.  

I don't agree with kvd on the homogeneity point. I think that US society is  more homogeneous than he allows. We are dealing here with the influence of labels. Just because one is Hispanic, for example, does not mean that he or she does not share similar concerns to non-Hispanic voters. Nor is it necessary to capture a majority to bring about fascism,

In Germany. the Nazis did not have a majority when they came to power. They were able to build sufficient numbers in the face of a strong minority opposition group, the communists, with a fragmented and disillusioned majority to gain control of the constitutional levers. They then manipulated these to gain power. In so doing, they also delivered enough immediate benefits to the majority to consolidate power. That process of consolidation is something that pays study.

I think that the biggest barrier to the rise of fascism in the United States actually lies in the division of powers within the constitution.Whoever comes to power in this round, will be constrained by that. I also think that both Sanders and Trump are delivering the message that the US requires a new political contract between governors and governed. I think that it will be interesting if sometimes uncomfortable to see how that evolves.  .      


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Morning Musings - in praise of Squatters' daughters

I'm rather fond of squatters and indeed of their daughters. This still comes from the 1933 film The Squatter's Daughter starring  Jocelyn Howarth and Grant Lyndsay.

I thoroughly enjoyed that movie. Not, mind you, when it was first released! Hang on, I'm not that old! But it was a fun movie with a superb bushfire scene.

Much of the film was shot at  Goonoo Goonoo station on the Liverpool Plains near Tamworth. Goonoo Goonoo, pronounced Gunna Ganoo, was the centre piece of the Australian Agricultural Company empire. The station homestead complex includes an historical mini-village, comprising the original 1830s chapel, post office and store.

The bushfire finale was filmed near Wallacia, west of Sydney. To accelerate the fire, the crew placed old nitrate film among the trees. Wooof! Wooof? Well, wooof in two senses. Wooof describes my first reaction
on learning the story of the fire - how bloody dangerous. Wooof also describes the fire. It exploded.

The singed cast and crew, and I do mean singed, kept filming. A bushfire is not something you can stage every day. The result was a superb piece of cinematography. If you go to the Wikipedia page and follow the various links through you can go on a quick cook's tour of aspects of Australian cultural life during the period, including the remarkable story of photographer and cinematographer Frank Hurley. He was quite some man.

I said that I was fond of squatters' daughters. I was/am, but they used to scare the living daylights out of me in my teenage years. They seemed so with it, even sophisticated, elegant. It was several years before I realised that they were as much of a hormonal mess as I was, even that I was a bit scary in my own right coming from a different if somewhat overlapping world.  

I have wandered a little, something that I am prone too do.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I have some contract work, once again back in Parramatta. The first two weeks have been very busy. I am also re-adjusting too long travel times. Posting has been a little difficult. It's good that my commenters can carry on a dialogue without me! This is, after all, their site as well as mine.

In the midst of this, I have made some progress on other projects. Last year, I consolidated all my Belshaw World Armidale Express columns into a single working draft as a base for a new book. I have been using the train and bus time to do some editing. I have also been in contact with Janene Cary, a friend and colleague from the New England Writers' Centre who specialises in editing and publishing within an e-environment, about the steps involved in the publication process. July is the target date for release of the book. 

So progress on some fronts, not on others.   


Monday, March 07, 2016

Monday Forum - another as you will

A week since my last post. I apologise. Tuesday I started another contract, again in Parramatta if with a different organisation. So back to travel and it's also been very busy. This one is actually a writing job - tenders and proposals - and it's in the not for profit sector. The combination takes me back into my past.

Being out of the Government sector is a pleasant relief. I still remember the shock I got going back into the sector on a contract basis after a long break. It now seemed all just so constipated! That started some of my writing seeking reforms to public administration.Very difficult to get the message across when people are so acculturated to what is.

This is detail from A Complete Map of the World , 1674, by Ferdinand Verbiest (Flemish, 1623–1688) now on display in a US exhibition. The map combines European and Chinese knowledge.

Our views are deeply influenced by the societies in which we live. For example, when I first studied history I actually has little idea just how Western European centric my view of the world was. Have you had one of those lightbulb moments that made you realise your won blinkers?

Finally, this story from - Real housewives of Gen Y: Rise of the millennial homemaker - suggests that the young are reverting to more traditional role views. I think that's right. However, to my mind its not the same as when gender roles were fixed. It's rather more a matter of choice, not a socially enforced role. What do you think?

As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.