Sunday, September 30, 2007

Arnhem Land and the permit system

I was researching a new post on Arnhem Land for the Regional Australia blog with the aim of encouraging people to visit. Then I came across the permit system.

I had not focused on this issue before, although I had noted it in the context of the discussion about the NT intervention. I must say that the Arnhem land material made me very uncomfortable.

Look, I may be wrong, but I just don't think that such rigid rules are appropriate in a country like Australia. Have a look and tell me what you think. In the meantime, I think that I will put the post aside.

Personal Reflections - 30 September 2007

Sunday morning, a bright day, and I find myself reflecting on the thoughts and activities of the week.

Clare's last week at school leading up to muck-up day formed the core of the week at a family level. Now for the HSC.

As those who read this blog will realise, my daughters have a great influence on me in a whole variety of ways. They keep me in touch, I use them as a sounding board for ideas (they can be amazingly tolerant) and they keep me constantly entertained. There was an interesting example of their influence during the week.

Helen has been talking about Facebook for a while. She persuaded Clare, a trend that started with Bebo and went to MySpace. Now I had also been reading about Facebook on LinkedinBloggers, a group I use to keep me somewhat in touch with blogging developments.

Anyway, a week back a colleague at work showed me her site. I then joined so that I could finally check it out, but with no real intention of doing anything.

Within twenty four hours I received a message from Helen inviting us to become friends. Now how could any father refuse an invitation to become friends with his daughter? Of course I accepted, but then felt obliged to do something with the system. We will see where this takes us.

At some stage I must write a post about this family's Internet involvements.

With Rafe volunteering, the History of Australian and New Zealand Thought blog got going during the week. Rafe has put up two posts so far, one on the Mechanics Institutes, a second on science in Australia. For my part, I have been looking at Professor Condliffe and the WEA in New Zealand.

I am actually thrilled to get this one off the ground because I think that it will meet a gap.

Neil's Friday poem this week was Kenneth Slessor's Five Bells. For the benefit of overseas readers, this is one of Australia's best known poems.

So far I have written a companion post for each of Neil's posts. This one threw me, forcing me to spend a couple of hours researching. Now I think that I know what to say, but on the new blog, not this one. In doing so, I think that I can also make a link to Neil's mum, a small but satisfying thing.

Now I am not going to say any more at this point. I know that Neil reads this blog as I do his, so he will just have to wait!

Still on Neil, he drew my attention to the success that Thomas had had with a post on the US Republican Ron Paul. Thomas is on my regular read list, but because he has not been posting on a regular basis I had not checked. There is a lesson there, Thomas! This is a good post and worth a read.

Since I am on admonishments, where are you Legal Eagle? It is now nine days since your last post, and your friends are missing you!

Largely through Legal Eagle, I have become a regular reader of Club Troppo. There are two series of posts there that I want to become involved in at some point.

The first series is by Nicholas Gruen on policy towards the development of Australian manufacturing. Nick won't remember me, but if my memory is correct I was an SES officer in the Department at the time he joined John Button's staff. I think that my wife who was also a staffer in Minister Button's office overlapped with Nicholas.

I started a series on industry policy some time ago. I think that I should continue it.

A second series on Club Troppo is that by Ken Parish on constitutional issues. Now Mr Howard says that the Australian people are pragmatic, and indeed they are.

Mr Howard also says that the Australian people do not care about constitutional principles.

There is some truth to this, too. But that does not mean that such principles are not important. Ken Parish happens to believe, as do I, that we need to discuss them. Again, if Ken is prepared to discuss issues, I am very happy to join in.

Over at the New England Australia blog I have put up a stock take post on New England demography.

To prepare this, I had to go back through past posts. This reminded me of just how many posts I had written on particular issues. I am a structure person. This has its weaknesses, but it also means that I do build evidence over time.

The point? I think that it is now time to do a review as to just how well the NSW Government has done under its Ten Year Plan.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Clare's Muck-up Day - fourteen years comes to an end

Photo: Clare (policeman's cap) and friends. St Catherine's muck-up Day. 28 September 2007.

I suspected that if I waited until today I could get a photo to go with this story. And yes, one was uploaded just when I needed it!

Yesterday was Clare's muck-up day, the end of formal schooling with only the Higher School Certificate exams themselves to go. And so more than fourteen years' schooling comes to an end, starting from the point that Helen first entered the Montessori kindy in Armidale.

These last weeks have been a series of lasts and of farewells. The last hockey game. The year 12 student-teacher dinner, the year 12 chapel service and parents farewell. Now muck-up day.

The preparations were intense, running on and off for weeks with a special focus in the last week. Scripts had to be written, videos made, stunts planned, judgements made about what could or could not be said, costumes obtained.

In all this, we parents and especially those without younger children, have been gripped by a sadness. Greig Pickhaver commented on it early at a hockey match, and indeed it's true. We will be so thankful that we no longer have to struggle with school fees, but the school routine has been a central feature of life, one that I have enjoyed, for such a long time.

Yesterday I dropped Clare of at school at 6.30 so that she could help with the setting up. I then went to work for a while, before coming back to the school for the assembly run by the year 12's. This meant that I missed the official assembly farewell that had half the girls - and a number of parents! - in tears, but did at least get to see the girls' own production. Denise and Helen also came to see it, along with a number of Helen and Clare's friends with past connections with the school.

At the farewell chapel service, the head commented that this class had established a record for the number of detentions awarded, but had also evolved into one of the most creative group in the school's history. From experience, I think that both points are right.

This creativity was reflected in the assembly.

It was quite slick and funny for those who knew the school, mixing live skits with commentary and lots of short videos. There were a few spots where the assembled girls went into roars of laughter for reasons that escaped me, perhaps just as well. However, I know the school pretty well and so caught most of it, aided by the fact that for several weeks now Clare has been telling me about it or showing me things when I picked her up from school.

Clare produced three of the videos. Thanks to the miracles of modern authoring tools, they appear remarkably easy to produce, although I have yet to master the art. It is in fact easier at school, simply because they have all the software on hand.

And so this phase ends.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Australia's Population - March Quarter 2007 at State Level

This second post in the series on the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics release on Australia's population looks at the aggregate state and territory figures. See the first post for the link to the source data.

The figures are interesting because they show the continuing relative decline of NSW which has now dropped below 33 per cent of the national population. I will comment on this in more detail at the end of this series when I draw together some of the implications.

Given below are the estimated figures (rounded) by state and territory at the end of March 2007.

  • Queensland increased its population by 92,100 (up 2.3 per cent) in the year ended 31 March to reach 4,162,000.
  • Victoria increased its population by 74,400 (up 1.5 per cent) to reach 5,188,100.
  • NSW came third, increasing its population by 67,900 (up 1 per cent) to reach 6,875,700.
  • Western Australia increased its population by 44,500 (up 2.2 per cent) to reach 2,094,500.
  • South Australia increased its population by 16,100 (up 1 per cent) to reach 1,581,400.
  • The Australian Capital Territory increased its population by 4,800 (up 1.5 per cent) to reach 338,200.
  • The Northern Territory increased its population by 4,100 (up 2 per cent) to reach 213,800.
  • Tasmania increased its population by 3,100 (up 0.6 per cent) to reach 492,700.

This population growth came from different sources.

In Tasmania (76.9 per cent), the Northern Territory (66.4 per cent), the Australian Capital Territory (58.3 per cent) and Queensland (35.1 per cent), the largest contribution came from natural increases (births minus deaths).

The largest contribution from net overseas migration came from South Australia (78.5 per cent), New South Wales (71.8 per cent), Victoria (57.6 per cent) and Western Australia (53.2 per cent). In terms of numbers:

  • New South Wales gained 48,800
  • Victorian gained 42,900
  • Western Australia gained 23,700.

I haven't checked past numbers, but NSW's position as a centre for net overseas migration appears in decline.

The last component in state and territory population growth is net internal migration, the movement of people between Australian jurisdictions. Here the numbers are equally interesting:

  • New South Wales minus 26,000
  • South Australia minus 3,500
  • Victoria minus 1,800
  • Tasmania minus 520
  • Northern Territory minus 180
  • ACT plus 1,300
  • Western Australia plus 4,100
  • Queensland plus 26,700

Looking at these numbers, NSW is clearly the loser, Queensland the gainer.

Introductory post. Next post.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

History of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Back in August I said that in a fit of absent mindedness I had created a new blog called History of Australian (or and New Zealand) Thought. My thinking was that it was important, but could not proceed without multiple contributors.

Then Rafe Champion volunteered. Neil will be interested to know that he is a son-in-law of Ruth Park and D'Arcy Niland. Rafe's friend and partner is a successful Australian artist. Her web site is well worth a visit.

Now that Rafe has joined, I have put up a first substantive post. I would still like more people to join us. As an example, I think that Geoff Robinson - Geoff is just an example -would be superb.

We would really like this to be an open, pluralist, blog expressing many different viewpoints. We are trying to fill a gap. The only requirements are civilised conversation, a focus on explaining or discussing the way we think as we do.

So if you would like to contribute, please let me know.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A few pleasing things on the blog side

There were two pleasing blog related developments during the week.

Visitor 5,000 arrived over at the Regional Living Australia blog. Then the New England Australia blog was featured as the daily blog on The Australian Index. I picked this up because I suddenly saw referrals. I must say that find The Australian Index useful, and not just because it featured one of my blogs!

I see from Google that page impressions on my collective blogs - Google records this data as a side result of the Google ads on the blogs, something that I find useful - have now reached 5,397 for September.

This is already the highest monthly total on record. The APEC stories were a major contributor to this increase, they created a real traffic burst, so numbers will no doubt drop back next month. Still, I am pleased.

Australia's Population - March Quarter 2007 Introductory Note

During the week, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its Australian population estimates for the March quarter 2007. You will find full release here.

I am working my way through the full data, but in the meantime thought that I might make a preliminary comment. The release was fully reported in the Australian press. My aim is to record key data and then look at it in terms of its demographic implications.

The first point to note is that the ABS has changed some of its previous estimates in light of new information, including census data. This is inevitable, but means that care must be taken in making past comparisons. It also means that some numbers - the estimated indigenous population is an example - have changed again.

Macro Picture

The preliminary estimated resident population (ERP) of Australia at 31 March 2007 was 20,948,900, an increase of 307,100 or 1.5 per cent since 31 March 2007.

Note that the figures are based on resident population. This means that the numbers exclude all those living in Australia not counted as residents.

This total population increase is the highest ever recorded for a twelve month period because of increases in both natural increase and net migration.

The natural increase for the twelve months ended 31 March 2007 was 138,100, an increase of 5.3 per cent as compared to the previous period.

This is a striking increase. A quick scan of the note suggests that there may have been a statistical problem in Queensland - I will check this. Even so, as has been been widely reported, the Australian birth rate is up.

The total fertility rate (TFR) for the year ended 30 June 2006 was 1.804. This is still below the replacement rate, but was the highest TFR since 1995 and well above the rate found in many other developed countries.

Net overseas migration was estimated at 162,600 people, 54 per cent of total growth, a significant increase on the previous period.

In my next note in this series, I will look at the changing distribution of population within Australia.

Next post.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On the enduring power of good teachers

I see that Neil has started a new blog! This one focuses on teachers and teaching.

A little while ago I saw a rather wonderful post on the Blonde Canadian's blog about her teaching. This led me to write a heart felt comment and then write a post on the power of passion.

I think that teaching is a wonderful but badly underrated profession. The power of my best teachers has followed me down through my life. Many are now dead, but they endure in my memory.

Now that I am older and more reflective, I have started to record some of them to try to carry their memory on. I know that this will have limited effect, but it is my personal tribute.

Teachers like Mr Fittler who gave me room to grow in third and fourth class at Armidale Demonstration. Or George Crossle at TAS who helped instil in me a love of history and whose treatment of an essay on the White Australia Policy forced me to question my own unthinking acceptance of the status quo.

Brian Mattingley, the teacher who so influenced Alex Buzo and who gave me a love of English. Peter Brownie who challenged me intellectually by giving me university level geography work to read.

At University level, Isabel McBryde who not only created so much fun but gave me an interest in the Aborigines that holds to this day. Or Ted Tapp whose reflective views on history provided an enduring foundation for my own thinking.

Not all great teachers are to be found at school or university. Here I think of Chris Sharah in the Commonwealth Treasury.

Chris was killed in tragic circumstances, an enormous loss. He not only saved my public service bacon at one point, that's another story, but he was absolutely punctilious in improving my English.

He used to take and red pen my writing, spending long periods explaining to me what he had done and, more importantly, why. The clarity and brevity of my minutes to the Treasurer improved greatly as a consequence.

In this current age, it is hard to imagine a Government Department that prided itself on the standard of its writing. Yet that is what Treasury then did, and may still do for all I know, seeking to present complex ideas in simple and sometimes elegant form.

At least in Chris's case I was able to provide some payback.

After his death his brother came to work for me and then accepted a job in the private sector. John Stone as acting head of the Department directed that James be essentially put into isolation.

I thought that this was wrong, and fought it, refusing to comply. Finally Sir Frederick Wheeler, upon his return to duty, ruled in my favour. It was not easy as a section head to stand against the acting Departmental Secretary, but I thought it an important issue of principle. I also had the personal satisfaction that I was doing something for Chris.

I suppose that throughout my working life I have been a frustrated teacher. Certainly I believe that I have an obligation to pass my skills on, to encourage my people to think and question. In doing so, I would like to think that I am carrying on the influence of my key teachers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Imperial cities, global cities - a postscript

A week back I ran a post, Imperial cities, global cities at a time of change, discussing demographic change within Europe. This post triggered some comments, including a very thoughtful contribution from Lenny drawing out some of the complexities in population flows.

This post discusses two follow up issues: the varying composition of the flows and the emergence of the modern equivalent of the city state.

Start with the EU.

One of the points that James Button made in the opinion piece that triggered my last post is that migration to to the UK is now, relative to population, greater than that to Australia. I was surprised at this. However, beneath that simple statistic lies a position of great complexity.

The existence of the EU itself facilitates people movement within the expanding community. Some of these movements are relatively short term - students, young people broadening their professional experience, guest workers - in that people intend to return home. Others represent long term migration, like the increasing number of UK people living in France or Spain.

Then we have movement into the EU from around the world, including young Australians seeking broader professional fields. Here patterns vary between countries. To quote Lenny:

The *long-term* foreign-born British workforce therefore, is chiefly drawn from South Asia, the Caribbean and African countries within the Commonwealth.Whereas Germany's long-term foreign-born workforce is chiefly European origin itself. This is both from massive Italian/Greek immigration in earlier decades and due to the carry-over from the Eastern bloc system, which led to enormous long-term Polish/Czech/Slovak/Hungarian settlement in eastern Germany which continues today ...

And yes, Germany's population is ageing, but then so is the UK's. If you separate out the foreign-born components, the native English and German fertility rates are both very below replacement, so both depend heavily on outsiders coming in-- just from very different sources.

Now pretty obviously, if you have natural population growth well below replacement levels and depend upon migration to make up the gap, then the proportion of migrants in the population is likely to rise. Again pretty obviously, to the degree that countries draw migrants from different sources, the ethnic composition of populations is likely to vary over time within countries and between countries.

While I have focused on the EU, we can see the same pattern elsewhere.

The US attracts a varied mix of skilled migrants from around the world. However, the dominant migration issue in the United States is the continuing influx of hispanic people, especially from Mexico. This has begun to change the ethnic mix of the US population.

If we move to a different part of the world, New Zealand's links to the Pacific are clearly changing the ethnic mix of the New Zealand population.

Note that I am not making any comment here as to whether or not this overall process is a good thing, although I think that it is an inevitable thing. I am simply observing.

Now link this to my point on cities.

Cities have always attracted migrants, indeed depended upon them, because until very recently cities were unhealthy places in which to live. This attraction effect continues. One result is a growing divergence between the ethnic and cultural mixes in certain cities and the broader country population.

Auckland is clearly part of New Zealand, yet Auckland's population mix is now very different from that holding in the rest of New Zealand. The same is true of London and, increasingly, Sydney. Here I want to quote Lenny again:

As far as what makes a global city, seems that's mostly a matter of turning the city into an attractive place for talented people (business starters and artistic types) from elsewhere in the world. Paris, Rome, Berlin and other cities do this as much as London does, and there's no reason why smaller-ish cities like Sydney or Frankfurt in Germany couldn't do the same. It's a matter of putting one's own house in order first.

I think that Lenny is right, but only partially right.

All cities draw migrants from particular catchment areas. Auckland , for example, draws from the rest of New Zealand, the Pacific and Asia, Sydney increasingly from Asia. But then cities also draw more broadly, attracting people with particular interests and skills from around the world.

Success in this second class is determined by the city's global reach. Yes, the pull of individual cities does depend upon cultural and life style factors drawing what have been called the creative classes. But it depends even more on global reach.

To illustrate, look at Australia.

Each state capital grew because it was the governing centre and entrepot for its particular territory. Melbourne used to top the Australian city hierarchy and did so for many years because of its control over manufacturing, finance, mining.

In those days there were two Australian economies. There was the domestic economy sheltering behind its tariff walls and exchange control restictions and then there was the export sector based on primary production. Melbourne's focus was always domestic, based on its control over the sheltered domestic economy.

As the economy opened up, Sydney gained at the expense of Melbourne and indeed all the other capital cities. The reasons for this were both cultural and locational. For a period, the trend to Sydney dominance seemed irreversible.

Now things have changed again. Melbourne has been through an adjustment process, in so doing reinventing itself in life style terms. Both Brisbane and Perth have grown significantly because of natural resources, in so doing attracting people from Sydney. If you look at the latest salary data for lawyers, for example, you can see that Sydney still leads, but the gap has been narrowing.

One thing that I find intensely interesting in all this is just what it means for the future of Sydney, for of all the Australian cities Sydney is the one whose future is most dependent upon its global reach. If this fails, Sydney as a city is likely to decline.

Sydney still draws part of its wealth from its control of NSW, part from its influence over the broader Australian economy. Both have been in relative decline. Increasingly, Sydney's wealth depends upon global services, trade and finance. Sydney is Australia's economic city state.

Because Australia has done far better in economic terms than once might have been expected, so Sydney has been able to grow, leveraging from the growing domestic economic base. In particular, our currency and financial markets have increased in global importance in ways many of us, including me, did not forsee.

Can this continue? I simply do not know. My best guess at the moment would be that city state Sydney - global Sydney as it is often called - is in a degree of trouble.

Sydney is caught in a three way squeeze. Its domestical rivals - Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne - are nibbling away at its position. The city's costs have been rising, it's life style in some ways in decline. Globally, the city faces increasing competition.

To me, and I accept that I am biased because I do not like living in Sydney, there is a degree of complacency in the city. The city has been a big fish in a small pool for decades and behaves like that.

Does this matter? After all, given my biases I would hardly weep tears over any decline in Sydney.

Despite this, I think that it does matter. In a world of global economic city states, we actually need Sydney to maintain its position to compliment the other things that we have.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Regional Living Australia web site

While I rarely talk about them, I maintain two web sites in addition to my blogs. I mention this because I have begun the process of updating the Regional Living Australia web site.

This site is dedicated to the promotion of Regional Australia as a place for life, work and play. Looking at the site, there is some good material on it even if I have not been able to achieve quite the things I originally wanted.

Do visit and let me know what you think.

Henry Lawson's "Faces in the Street" - setting a context

Rereading Neil's Friday poem post on Henry Lawson's Faces in the Street and especially the poem itself as well as my initial response, I have changed my mind on approach.

I said that I might disagree with Neil's interpretation. I am not sure that's true. Rather, I thought that I might try my hand at putting the poem in a broader context.

For the benefit of international readers, Henry Lawson is one of Australia's most famous writers. His poems and especially his short stories - I think that his short stories are far better than his poems - were staple fare for generations of Australians. His turbulent life including his battles with alcohol also helped, making him a figure of legend.

According to the entry by Brian Mathews in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Henry Lawson was born in 1867 at Grenfell in NSW, the son of Neils (Peter) Larsen and his wife Louisa.

Norwegian born, Larsen had jumped ship in Melbourne in 1855 to join the gold rushes. There he met and married Louisa Albury in 1866. Louisa was a remarkable women, one who occupies her own place in Australian history.

Henry was a frail, moody and somewhat introverted child, cut off from others, distressed by the growing troubles in his parent's marriage. Already slightly deaf, at fourteen he suffered a sharp deterioration in his hearing that left him further cut off from the world.

Henry's schooling was limited and interrupted. In 1880 he left school, working initially with his father on local contract building jobs. Then in 1883 he moved to Sydney to join his mother where he was apprenticed as a coach painter and studied at night towards his matriculation.

His troubles moved with him. He was no happier and failed his exams. However, he had also begun to write. His first poem was published in the Bulletin in October 1887.

Now I want to go back to Faces in the Street. This poem was published in July 1888. Henry was twenty one. I make this point because while I pointed out to Neil in my initial response that 1888 was still boom time, something that Neil himself recognised as his comment on my post makes clear, I myself misread the poem through a frame set by my knowledge of later developments.

This is in fact a somewhat raw young man's poem. I like it better for that reason. It is also a poem of revolution.

But not until a city feels Red Revolution’s feet

Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street —

The dreadful everlasting strife

For scarcely clothes and meat

In that pent track of living death — the city’s cruel street.

The nineteenth century was a time of great political and intellectual turmoil. This was the century that saw the emergence of the various socialist movements, the publication in 1848 of the Communist Manifesto, the foundation of the communist movement.

These ideas spread around the world, taking various forms in various countries, including the Australasian colonies.

There is not room here, nor do I have the knowledge, to trace all the details of this spread. Very broadly, within the British Empire (then the world's leading political and economic power) the outcomes were more pluralist, more gradualist, less ideological and hard edged than in continental Europe.

This may seem hard to believe if you read some of the writing of the time from the radical left on one side, the very conservative right on the other. Or if you look at the detail of the political and industrial strife of the 1890's. Yet, at least as I see it, in this varying mix of ideas and idealism there was a melding of thought in the Australasian colonies that formed one core component of Australian political and social thought during much of the twentieth century.

In Henry's case, his move to Sydney where his mother had purchased the Republican brought him in contact with his mother's radical friends and inspired him with radical and republican ideas. His first published poem was called A Song of the Republic. This was also the world of Dame Mary Gilmore who featured in Neil's previous poem.

Two years older than Henry, Mary Gilmore came from a very similar country, small farming, background. They became friends and indeed may have been unofficially engaged at one point.

I find it interesting that both became such iconic figures, even among those who disagreed with them in political terms. Henry Lawson himself was very lucky in his friends and supporters, including such unlikely figures as the governor of NSW Earl Beauchamp who helped pay for his trip to England.

In all, I am glad that Neil selected him for his Friday Poet. I wonder who he will select next?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Henry Lawson - Neil's latest Friday poet

It's late, and I must to bed. But I could not resist a short post.

I see that Neil (Ninglun) Whitfield has selected a poem by Henry Lawson for his latest Friday poetry post. Now, as with every Friday poet, I face a challenge as to how to add something that will amplify, compliment the post.

At first, I thought that this poem was part of the controversy generated by the Bulletin school and especially Lawson and Banjo Patterson However, in fact I see that this happened four years later. So I need to address the post and poem in another way.

In my last post in response to Neil's introduction of a poem by Mary Gilmore, I came back with another Gilmore poem, The Saturday Tub, and a family link.

Now on this poem I think that I might attack some of Neil's interpretation.

Look at the tone of the poem.

Neil linked this to the depression of the 1890s. But the poem was written in 1888 when the 1880's boom was still raging. To European migrants, this land was still a land of milk and honey. More precisely, loads of cheap meat in a world in which meat eating was uncommon because of price.

This does not detract from the poem. Do read it out loud. It is wonderfully evocative of the misery that can attach to the human condition.

As Neil says, real poverty and homelessness is alive in Sydney today. Indeed it's worse, not just because of the comparison with surrounding wealth, but because those caught in the homelessness and poverty trap have fewer places to go in our more crowded and homogenised world.

But the poem should not be read as a historic document. The distress of depression, and that depression was not in fact universal but focused in particular places, and of the associated industrial disputes was still to come.

More tomorrow.

Measures of Good and Evil

This site is certified 32% EVIL by the Gematriculator

It appears that I, too, am a sucker for trivia.

My thanks to Legal Eagle who appears to be gooder than me, so to speak! Now, Bruce, that was naughty to retest Neil! I note that I appear to be the only one to focus on my evil rating.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Internet and the Triumph of the Print Media

This may seem a funny title. The decline of the print media in this increasingly competitive and visual world has been long forecast. Yet I have been watching the media for a long time, and I see the opposite happening.

Now before I go on, could you do something for me please.

Go first to the ninemsn site. Until very recently, this was the most popular site in Australia on raw visitor numbers, in part because of the link with Microsoft. Now go the Sydney Morning Herald site. This is now reported to have more visitors than ninemsn. If you dig in a bit, you will see why. The SMH site just has far more content, is far more interesting.

There is an old saying that content is king, and it's true. And in this context, newspapers generate far more content than TV networks.

All media outlets depend on sale of advertising for their primary revenue. To maintain this, you must maintain control of your viewing or reading audience.

Newspapers have been pinched in two directions. Their primary readership has been in decline in face of increasing competition for scarce reader time. Then, too, they have faced on-line competition in classifieds in areas such as job ads.

But their competitors have had their own problems. Free to air TV's viewing audience has been eroded by competition not just from pay TV, but also from an increasing variety of on-line options. So long as free to air remained the only way of reaching a mass audience, they were able to maintain advertising revenue. Now even this is under threat.

In the midst of all this turmoil, newspapers have emerged as key assets. Newspaper readership has been in slow decline, but papers like the SMH have developed content rich web sites that now attract huge readership. So losses and gains.

Now before going on, I would like you to visit a post on the New England Australia blog, Newcastle's Information Black Hole. Then, once you have read the post, click through to the Newcastle Herald web site.

This is, without a doubt, one of the worst newspaper web sites I have seen. It is a symptom of a business problem that has posed real problems for the Fairfax group. To understand this, we need to consider on-line business models.

How to make money out of an on-line presence is the core issue. Fairfax concluded that selling news and information was the way to go. After all, we have content, let's sell it. Wrong!

The real market value of a newspaper story is very low. Put a price on it and you will get a few people to buy. But you will chase away people like me, sending me to other sites. This then leads to falls in visitors that in turn reduces your capacity to sell ads.

The only thing that has saved the SMH is the fact that lots of free content has been put up despite the overall group policy.

We have recently seen my point in action, demonstrated by one of the world's canniest business people, Rupert Murdoch. Mr Murdoch brought the Wall Street Journal for content and brand reasons. Now it is reported that he is going to abolish charges for accessing Journal content.

This makes perfect sense. Mr Murdoch wants to use content and brand across all his platforms. This is best achieved by making core content free.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Australia's good economic management

Photo: Customers queue outside a Northern Rock(UK) branch to get their money out.

As I write, Australian radio is reporting that queues have again appeared outside Northern Rock Branches in the UK. Who would have thought that a US problem would spread so far?

There has been criticism about the UK Government's decision to guarantee Northern Rock depositors, but in practical terms I suspect that the Government had no real choice. We haven't seen seen something like this for many years.

Troubled economic times have emerged again. I think that they will get worse before they get better, but Australia has a better chance than most in riding them through.

I see from David Anderson's After the Vote that Alan Greenspan (ex Chair of the US Federal Reserve) has been promoting his new book. That explains a story in the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that Australia and New Zealand were countries that Greenspan watched.

We all select things that suit our own local perspective. So David focused on Greenspan's view of the Iraq War, while the SMH looked at the Australian references.

I think that Greenspan is right. Australian and New Zealand are literate in economic terms in a way few other countries are - just look at the economists from the two countries - and have both gone through fundamental economic reforms. I may disagree with elements of those reforms, but there is no doubt that both countries are stronger as a consequence.

I think that three things are critical here.

The first is the floating exchange rate. This provides a buffer between global forces and local interactions.

The second is the independence of the Reserve Banks. This takes monetary policy outside the political arena and allows the respective banks to focus on their core responsibilities.

The third is the nature of Government budgets. Our budgets, now, are in surplus or balance. At national level, Australia has no net Government debt. I am not opposed to Government borrowings. Far from it. However, there is no doubt that a budget surplus plus no debt provides a strong base for managing fluctuations. This holds especially for smaller countries.

I am not close enough to the data now to really venture a forecast. My best guess is that Australia faces troubled economic times. I also think that we are in a remarkably good position to ride through this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Neil's English/ESL blog recognised - my congratulations

I tried to post a congrats comment on Neil's (Ninglun's) personal blog but met with a system failure that stopped me posting. Still, I think that it deserves a full post in its own right.

In an earlier post I spoke of the University of Blogging, comparing the world of blogging to the type of stimulation that I got at university before the days of the mass sausage machine. One element of this were blogs of a very high standard, blogs that both challenged and provided a resource.

Neil's English/ESL - and more is one such blog. Now I see that this blog is achieving recognition within the profession.

Blogs like this one do not just arise. They require work, thought and passion.

Not all of us want our blogs to become core reference points. The blogosphere is vast, with many niches. But for independents like Neil who want their blogs to matter, the way is long and hard.

I am not quite sure when Neil established the blog that has become English/ESL - and more. 2002? Since then there has been post after post.

Those of us who blog on a regular basis know just how hard it is to maintain regular content. It requires focus. It also requires a willingness to go on, even when you are not sure that your material is being read or is even of the right standard.

I am not sure how the blogosphere will evolve. I do believe, however, that there will be a small number of high quality blogs that will become benchmarks in particular areas. I also believe that blogs and blogging will become a central element in intellectual debate in ways that we can still perceive but dimly.

So congratulations, Neil. You set a hard benchmark for those of us who want to follow your route.

A problem with doors

I see from IT Wire that NASA is having problems with doors. Now as it happens, so am I. The laundry door is coming off its hinges. But my problems are somewhat dwarfed by those facing NASA.

The problem itself is simple enough. These are garage doors whose mechanisms have rusted in the sea air. Like so many of us, NASA seems to have been too busy to get things fixed.

The difficulty is that these doors are 45 stories tall. Now that's what I call a door! The problem now for NASA is that the rusted mechanisms means that it can only repair one shuttle at a time, slowing an already slowed space program.

Someone will have to speak sternly to the maintenance department!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Welcome Visitor 17,000

Welcome to visitor 17,000. He/she came direct from a Victorian bigpond address and checked a number of pages. Lexcen, my brother, or one of my other Victorian visitors? I know that whoever it is has been here before. I recognise the IP address.

Even as I write I can see that it was almost certainly Lexcen since he has just posted comments. Lexcen - and Neil who has also just posted a comment - I will respond, but I have to cook the traditional Sunday chook as soon as I finish this brief post.

Visitor 15,000 came on 31 July, visitor 16,000 on 2 September, so there has been a real increase in traffic. This was largely due to my APEC pages. I was surprised at the number of hits here.

It's a bit like a newspaper, I guess. Topical gains attention. I do not write this blog to gain attention. However, a bit of attention is nice.

Clare's Eighteenth

Last night was Clare's (youngest's) eighteenth birthday party. I do not have photos yet. If any turn out well, I might put a few up.

It was nice.

It was a James Bond Casino Royale evening. Helen (eldest) arranged for some of her friends to act as croupiers. They all dressed up. We had a proper poker table, black jack and roulette.

On arrival, along the red carpet - my wife who has a genius for small touches arranged this - each guest was given a packet of imitation money to exchange for chips. Then Helen with Jenny, a friend, gave them a cocktail.

We had to watch this a bit. One guest was allergic to pineapple juice. So she had to be looked after separately. Then some did not drink. This is Sydney, so we had to take into account both religious and family prohibitions. Then, too, we did not want anybody drunk.

Again, this is Sydney where getting smashed is a right of passage among some. Eldest, who works as a barmaid just up the road, handled this very well. People could get as many drinks as they wanted. But she used half shots, thus spacing the drinking out. Some girls brought in their own, but there were no problems.

I wore a white tux to fit in. The first part of the evening was spent in taking as many photos as possible. The second part in playing black jack.

At various times I wandered outside for a smoke, taking to the two security guys. This is another feature of modern Sydney. You really do need security - and it costs - because if you get 2-3 people SMSing party details it build like a chain letter.

I enjoyed my chats. The chief security bloke was a Malaysian Chinese from Ipoh, a town that I knew. The second a Lebanese of Muslim faith who, while now a pharmacist, still helped his friend out from time to time. I fear that that I was a bit inquisitive with the second, since I am presently trying to find out things about the the Lebanese community in Australia since the lunch at Fatima's.

Towards the end, and this will please Neil (Ninglun), I watched the second half of Australia-Wales in the Rugby with a group.

Why will this please Neil? Well, Neil taught at Sydney Boys High and wrote a post on Sydney Boy's High and Rugby.

Neil, three of the group including Clare's current friend play Rugby with Sydney Boy's High, none in the first, so there you are. The fact that I played for TAS (The Armidale School) against High provided an immediate link. There are some YouTube videos on matches this year between the two schools: I should post them.

And, Neil, you are clearly remembered!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Imperial cities, global cities at a time of change

Monday this week (16 September 2007) there was a very interesting article by James Button in the Sydney Morning Herald, Winds of change create a very different Britain, that created a focus for a number of things that I have been thinking about.

James's opening paragraph reads:

A huge experiment is under way in Britain, one not all the locals like, though it seems to be doing many of them good. It is the transformation of the country into one of the most open, globalised nations in the world.

Now I do not think that James is necessarily right here for reasons that I will explain in a moment. But first his analysis.

Migration and Demographic Change

James begins by pointing to British migration statistics, statistics that I found quite fascinating because of the scale.

Last year, a record 574,000 people moved to Britain, nearly 1 per cent of the population. Australia, by contrast, took a bit over 130,000 migrants - 0.65 per cent of its population. These numbers do not count the 600,000 workers from Eastern Europe who have arrived since 2004.

This immigration is offset to a degree by record emigration. Last year, a reported 385,000 people left the country for good. One in ten Britons now lives abroad, a figure twice as large proportionally as the Australian equivalent. Nearly 700,000 Britons live in France, 800,000 in Spain, 1.3 million in Australia.

Migration and emigration together suggest a net gain of 189,000. Then there are the many short term workers entering the country adding to the population movements. To put these figures in full perspective, in 2005-2006 there were 131,593 migrants to Australia, 63,740 Australians migrated, for a net gain of 63,740. I do not have figures for those on working visas.

If we dig below the raw data for the UK, we find a number of interesting trends.

The British economy has been growing rapidly. In 1997, British per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was the lowest in the G7, now G8. Today it is second. This growth makes it a magnet for migrants, especially from Eastern Europe.

But, and as evidenced by the posts on the demography matters blog, Europe in general, Eastern Europe in particular, has an aging population. This has led to competition for workers.

In Poland, somewhere between one and two million mainly young, well educated workers have left the country in the recent past. To meet resulting labour shortages - the Ministry of Labor estimates that the country needs 500,000 foreign workers annually to meet labor demand gaps - the Polish government is facilitating entry in the country for immigrant workers from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. But these countries have their own problems.

The population of the Ukraine has been in decline since 1992. The Ukranian economy has been growing quite rapidly, so there are labor shortages. Russia, too, is experiencing population decline and is targeting worked from both the CIS and former communist states.

Without going into a full demographic analysis, underlying James Button's story is a complex pattern of mass migration with winners and losers. The UK is a winner. Poland and Ukraine are losers, as is Germany which faces population decline marked by migration of the educated young, part offset by major intake of guest workers.

The Rise of London

James Button talks about winds of change brought about by economic liberalisation creating a very different Britain, an open globalised nation. This is deceptive. We should really be talking about the rise of London for, as James also notes, London is becoming a kind of city state. Sydney is the Australian equivalent.

London, like Rome before it, has long been an imperial city drawing wealth not just from the Brittish Isles, but also from what was a vast empire. When I was born, London's population was greater than all of Australia.

London retains it's imperial position. But now the city is morphing into something more akin to Venice, a city that draws its wealth from commerce independent of the ruled hinterland. In some ways, there are now two UK's, London and the rest.

According to James Button, over the next ten years, 80 per cent of immigrants to the UK are expected to go to London, where a third of the population is already non-white. By contrast, the figure in the rest of the country is only about 8 per cent, about the same as the Australian average.

Just as has already happened in to some degree in New Zealand with Auckland, London will become a very different entity from the rest of the country. I suppose that you could say that that has always been the case at one level. However, there has always been a cultural and historical continuity that is likely to survive, at best, in an attenuated form.

Lessons for Australia

Those who read this blog will know that I am not worried at a personal level by ethnic diversity. Far from it.

But I am fascinated by what the change process means for our future.

At present, and to a degree by luck, Australia is still in the same position as the UK in its immediate region.

In an aging world of increasing mobility and competition for the best people, Australia can still attract people. But that attraction is, I think, declining.

Further, and as is happening in many countries in Europe, the proportion of young, bright, Australians leaving continues to increase. While, as James Button says, the proportion of Australians living abroad is lower than the UK, it is increasing at a fast rate.

Again as is happening in Europe, we are increasingly dependent upon migrant workers to fill gaps. I think that this will continue to increase.

But while I can plot things on straight statistical trends, I cannot say what the actual outcome will be. I suppose my best guess at present would be this.

In a world of global cities, I think that Sydney is our one chance of a global city. Sydney is already different from the rest of the country, and will become more so. This will happen anyway.

But what I don't know is whether that city can be more than a regional centre, an Auckland to Australia, but small in importance on a global scale.

In a world of global people movements, we know that the Pacific, Chinese, Indian and ASEAN influence will increase. We do not know whether Australia can retain sufficient drawing power to get its share of the best people in the global village. My best guess would be yes, but that is as much a hope as a rational aspiration.

So in all this, I do not know. But my thanks to James Button for extending my thinking.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Poetry of Mary Gilmore - The Saturday Tub

Each Friday Neil (Ninglun) writes about an Australian poem or poems. I have fallen into the habit of writing a companion piece where I know something about the poet.

This Friday Neil featured two poems by Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962), a writer I know a little about. As always, please read Neil's post first.

As Neil noted, Mary Gilmore occupies a special post in Australian history, general as well as literary. You can find out more about her life from the short Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

Neil notes that she was a Utopian then a Communist just about all her life, but paradoxically became a Dame of the British Empire (1937) and has her face on our currency. As part of the paradox, her friendships extended well beyond the notional left. One was my grandfather, David Drummond.

I do not know when they met. I do know that Mary Gilmore was an inveterate letter writer who was always looking for support for her causes and who, understandably, wanted to promote her writing. I think that they first met when David Drummond became NSW Minister for Public Instruction (Education), a role he was to hold throughout most of the 1930s.

They wrote often. I remember one of my Aunts talking about a visit to see Mary Gilmore in the little flat she had in Kings Cross.

In 1948 Angus & Robertson published Mary Gilmore's Selected Verses. Drummond wrote to her to say how much one poem, The Saturday Tub, had 'hit him'.

The poem is a nostalgic look at childhood. The writer, dreaming back by the fire, is thrown

... back where I used to be,

in eighteen hundred and something three,

Still in my place for the old bath tub,

Flannel and soap, a rub-a-dub-dub!

Standing in a line by the fire, the children take their turn

To stand in tub the size of a churn,

It was, 'where's the flannel?" and, "Mind the soap!"

Slither and slide, and scuffle and grope

Then, bath finished,

When each little shirt went over each head,

"Gentle Jesus" and "Our Father" said

It was "quick with a kiss!" and "Now they run!

And off into bed with you, everyone!"

The warmth, happiness and security in the poem is unmistakable.

For Mary Gilmore, the poem probably related to her early childhood on the farm. For David Drummond whose later childhood was neither happy nor secure, I think that the poem 'hit him' because it reminded him of the early days on the little farm at Liverpool outside Sydney.

In September 1895 (Drummond was then five), his mother's aunt wrote to his father:

.. we were so delighted to hear that you and your darling boys are well ... and oh we were so pleased to get a letter each from them ... and to hear that they help their father on the farm - and little David will have to look over you all ... tell David that he is to let us know what is the name of his kitten in your next letter.

So, to return to Neil's theme, here we have a woman who in many ways encapsulated what was called the old left position in Australian thought, but whose friendships could reach across the divides to a Country Party politician from the New England populist tradition, the tradition from I still write.

If I had to chose a single word to summarise the common element that united them, that word would be the word I used in the title of my post on David Drummond's early life, David Henry Drummond and the Importance of Compassion.

A sense of compassion was central to both.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Need for Personal Reassurance

When I was young and often miserable, I thought that I was the only one in the world who experienced such feelings of insecurity, of confusion, of self-doubt. Even now when I know better I can still drop into the slough, looking at other people as though they are secure, certain.

The reality is that we are all insecure and uncertain to some degree. That is why the personal attack can hurt so much because it damages our sense of self-esteem.

In some ways, there are two Jims.

The personal Jim is still introverted and sometimes shy and uncertain. The professional outward Jim has learned to present as somewhat extroverted, can clearly separate personal from the professional, is not phased by criticism or alternative views expressed within a professional frame.

Sometimes the barriers between the two Jims fray under pressure. When that happens, the old personal Jim can suddenly become dominant, making it hard to cope.

Blogging is a funny mixture because this blog is the personal Jim, but still able to apply the professional frame so that I do not get upset by criticism or by alternative views.

I was reminded of the difference between the two Jims this week by a simple thing. On the one day, I got two compliments for work well done. I just blossomed.

In turn, this got me thinking. We all need reassurance, re-affirmation that we are valuable as individuals. This holds for even the most apparently certain person. So I reminded myself of the need to provide this.

This does not mean bull-shitting. Most people can recognise insincerity. As I see it, it simply means being interested, treating the views and concerns of others as important.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

APEC Washup - a failure in manners leads to a lost opportunity

Andrew Scipione, the new Chief Commissioner, said tactics were clearly defined and practised. "That's the way that we do business in NSW now."

No comments Jim??... interesting when the truth comes out hey... He was a twit and deserved everything he got.... not news worthy the truth is it????

These two quotes encapsulate one of the problems (as I see it) presently facing Australia.

The first quote is a response by the NSW Police Commissioner to criticism of APEC security. So far as he is concerned, we can lump it or like it. Yes, Mr Scipione, that is the way we do business in NSW now.

The second is quote is a response to the story I put up on the arrest of Mr McLeay. This led to a comment from an apparent eye-witness. Do read it because it provides a different perspective. When I did not respond properly - I could not because my internet was down - it lead to the second comment.

Now when you have read you eye witness account, ask yourself this.

Assume that everything in the account was right, and we cannot assume that. Did this warrant the treatment, including a longish period in jail without being able to contact a lawyer? Did he deserve everything he got? I find this hard to believe.

In the heading to this post I said in summary that a failure in manners had led to a lost opportunity.

Before going on, let me make my own position clear.

First, I was very glad that Australia got to host APEC. This gave us a chance to showcase the country.

Secondly, I fully accepted that there were security issues at two levels. The first lay in the need to protect the meeting from the nut-case fringe of the anti-globalisation protesters. The second lay in the terrorist threat to some at least of the global leaders.

Thirdly, I accept that the police had a difficult job.

All this said, to my mind APEC was an failure because it failed to deliver the expected benefits. The vision of Australia that was beamed around the world was that of police, of control, of trouble.

And none of this was necessary. To my mind, the failure here comes back to one of manners and tolerance.

I said in a recent post that I was perhaps old fashioned, a tag that I was beginning to wear with some pride. Thinking about it since, old fashioned is a tag that I actually wear with great pride. I do not think that I am alone here. Recently I have noticed a growing re-emphasis on manners, on rules for interaction between people.

Manners does not mean being insincere. It does not mean bull shitting. It does mean recognising that civilised life requires courtesy, respect, the willingness to accept minor inconveniences for the benefit of others.

My objections to the universal contemptuous use of the word punter is an example of my growing objection to lack of manners, as is my increasing inclusion of the word "Mr" as compared to the universal final or family name.

I have been testing some of this. I have deliberately adopted old fashioned manners at work. Holding the door open. Asking people how they feel, and then following up if they give a an answer that suggests that they have nor been well, have a problem. Letting people into traffic.

The results have been fantastic. People brighten up, respond.

How does all this relate to APEC? Simply, I feel that in our obsession with security and control we forgot about manners.

In my my post following the Chaser's stunt I suggested that the authorities had adopted the wrong approach.

My starting point was that they should have focused on our role as hosts in making people welcome to our country. We should all have been encouraged to welcome the APEC delegates. I concluded that because they put everything into a security frame, they destroyed the chance to make APEC a public celebration in the way the Olympics were.

That post was written as the main meeting was about to get underway. I think that subsequent events reinforced my argument.

To head off the obvious response, of course the Olympics were different. This was a very different event with different problems. But I think that it remains true that the way in which we did things was flawed.

One simple example. The heavy handed and authoritarian approach created the climate for the Chaser's stunt. As a result, I suspect that the lasting memory of this APEC will be the security precautions on one side, the Chaser stunt on the other.

Video on the stunt is now up on the Chaser's site.

Delay in Posting

My computer system has been down for the last 48 hours. Very frustrating.

I had a major part completed post on Judith Wright. I will bring this up later. Now I want to respond to some other things in new posts.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

APEC Security in Action

Photo: Police arrest Greg McLeay

Popping out of the office to have yum cha can be a dangerous business in APEC Sydney. In the words of Mrs McLeay:

"The children are traumatised. We spent the night sleeping together on the sofa. How does walking to yum cha with your 11-year-old son end up with 22-hours in jail and no access to a lawyer?"

You will find the story here. I begin to think that I was very lucky not to get arrested when I approached the police to find out what the reason for delay was, how to get home.

It appears that Mr McLeay was not the only one to strike trouble with APEC security.

According to Laurie Oakes, Opposition Leader Rudd almost did not make it to the Opera House lunch for Russian president Vladimir Putin at which he was to support Mr Howard’s speech of welcome.

Mr Oakes reports that Mr Rudd's Commonwealth car was turned back at three entry points to the secure zone, even though he and all members of his party — including the driver — had appropriate passes.

The Labor leader was told his car could not get past the checkpoints because it was not part of a motorcade!

Eventually Mr Rudd got out, walked through a check point, and set off on foot along Macquarie Street. Realising that he had no hope of getting to the lunch on time that way, Mr Rudd finally got a lift from friendly Sydney cop.

I cannot comment on the detail of these cases because I do not know all the facts. I in response to a ninemsn on-line question "Are police being too harsh on APEC protestors?", the no vote is presently 25,982 to a yes vote of 14,481.

I wonder what the response would be to an alternative question, "Are the APEC security precautions over the top?" I would like to think that the majority of Australians would answer yes. If not, we have a problem in that we are accepting what has happened as a new benchmark for appropriate security enforcement action.


Never let it be said that Australians lack a sense of humour. Cartoonists and photographers both have been having a field day.

I goggled at one photo and then roared with laughter. As youngest said, only the Chasers would go into enough detail in their stunt to have a car with the number plate MUFTI!

Postscript two

I see that Neil has put up a post on this issue. Now I know that Neil does not like Miranda, and I also find some of her comments objectionable, but the fact that this (the arrest of Greg McLeay) happened to one of her close friends means that the matter will get continuing coverage.

This may be unfair in regard to others who do not have the same linkages, the German tourist who had his film siezed comes to mind, but it is important in providing protection for the rest of us. And we do need this.

Postscript three

I had not intended to add such a fast third postscript, but I was struck by the traffic patterns on this blog. Of the last twenty search engine referrals, 14 have been searches on Greg McLeay. I haven't seen this before with quite this intensity. This topic is hot!

Postscript four

This unbelievable. While the blogosphere has yet to really pick the matter up, I have been refreshing the vistor page every few minutes. Hit after hit on Greg McLeay. Today's traffic is already the highest this week. I am trying to cook lunch. I will check again in a little while.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Blog Traffic as at 8 September

I am waiting for the free to air rugby to come on, Australia v Japan. During the week traffic on one blog sneaked past 10,000 vistors without me noticing. So I thought that I would record core traffic figures for benchmark purposes. So visits by blog:

Poor old New England's History. This is meant to be a consolidation blog, drawing together historical material from other posts for further review. But I never get time to consolidate!

Australia won 91-3.

Friday, September 07, 2007

End of the broken years - Is Australia at the next change point?

My last post expressed my confusion in struggling with some of my daughters' studies. That post and the discussion it created have crystallised a key issue in my mind - is Australia at the next change point?

Legal Eagle wrote an interesting post on the increasing tendency of women to use their husband's name, a trend causing acute distress among high water mark feminists. They interpret it as a rise in conservatism, a return to outmoded values. I see it in a different way, a symbol of something new.

Here I must state two qualifications up front. The remarks that follow are based on a narrow sample. Further, they are not an argument for or against changes, simply observations about changes.

Australia has been through a fundamental social revolution. Today's young people are the outcome of that revolution. They have accepted, internalised, some elements of that revolution, rejected others.

Today's young are the most educated generation in Australia's history. The proportion going to year twelve, to university, is the highest on record. Whatever the weaknesses of our education system, this is the most educated and articulate generation Australia has ever known.

This is also a generation that has internalised three key social changes.

The first is gender equality. The battle fought by the feminists and by their Australian bodies such as the Women's Electoral Lobby has been won, even if the outcomes have been not quite what was expected.

The second is sexual tolerance. This generation does not suffer the angst about sex and sexual proclivities that marked previous generations. The battle fought by those seeking tolerance for different sexual orientations has been won.

The third is the end of sectarian divides. This generation has little time for the religious divides that used to mark Australian life.

But while these social changes have been internalised, these are also the children of what I call the broken years.

Broken, first, because of the rise in the Australian divorce rate after the introduction of the Family Law Act. Everyone in this generation has either experienced or knows someone who has experienced the turmoil of family break-up. Experienced not as individuals fighting with their partners, but as the victims of family collapse.

Broken, second, because of the changes in the Australian workplace. This generation has seen parents, or parents of friends, go through all the changes associated with workplace change.

This experience with the broken years has had a number of effects.

The first is that this group has absolutely no expectation that their relationship with any employer will be long term. Jobs are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The second is the creation of an intensely tribal or group culture. If you cannot rely on your employer, your family, you have to rely on your friends. Perhaps paradoxically, where functioning families exist, these kids are very pro-family, wishing to retain close links long after previous generations would have gone their own ways.

The third is that this group has very little respect for authority. Respect has to be earned and re-earned on an individual basis, not awarded because of position.

Again paradoxically, this can be a conservative generation. Conservative does not mean voting for Mr Howard. This generation does not fit easily into traditional moulds. Rather, conservative means building stability into your own world. In this sense, I suspect that this is the most conservative generation in Australia's history.

This is also a technology generation. However, technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself, something to be used.

Technology is the underpinning of everything this group does. Mobile technology in particular is central. It links the tribal group across time and space.

This group actually thinks in terms of friends for life, something very alien to their parents, but far closer to the village life of the past. Now, however, you can remain in touch no matter how far you move. The village is an electronic village.

I do not know how these things will play out. I do know that it will be interesting to watch.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A State of Intellectual Confusion

I am confused. Very confused. I cannot help my daughters in their studies.

I first found this problem while they were at school.

Maths was different. So were English and Art. And other subjects. A core problem was that the frames - the intellectual structures - used to define the subjects had changed. So what I knew was meaningless so far as my daughters were concerned unless I could relate it to the frames. And I could not because I did not know them.

Now I have a new problem. And this relates to university studies.

Eldest asked me to look at her essay in development studies. I think that it is okay, certainly better in some ways than I could have written at her age. Yet it is also - at least as I see it - deficient.

During the week I talked to one of my colleagues who is doing development studies at Sydney. The unit she is doing at the moment appears full of values, poorly taught, with little intellectual rigour. Helen's course at the University of New South Wales is better measured simply by the degree to which it can engage her in an intellectual sense. Yet I struggle with both.

I did development economics, not development studies. But my studies were informed by my study of history and prehistory. Later there was my work as a professional economist and public servant where I was directly concerned with development issues.

When I did development economics the core question was to how to raise standards of living. Without this, nothing else had meaning. There were whole schools of thought discussing this issue. Today the position appears very different with a focus on social issues. Raising standards of living appears a sideline issue.

So when I read Helen's essay tonight, I did not know what to say. The essay focused on the import substitution school in development. There was some good stuff in it. But there was limited recognition of the historical debate in economics that has raged around this topic, little about the conceptual underpinnings developed in the past, nor (for that matter) much about the actual experiences of countries including Australia that have gone the import substitution path . Essentially we had an essay that addressed an economics topic without, in some ways, reference to economics.

Helen wanted me to give an assessment as to how well she might do. Depending on the structure of the course, the content, and the attitudes of examiners, her potential mark would appear to range all the way from very high to a bare pass. I suspect that were I to write on the same topic in the same course I might well fail, because my arguments would be just too far outside what appears to be the accepted frame.

There is a bigger issue in all this, one that links to my musings on the history of Australian and New Zealand thought. What are the current intellectual structures? How did they develop?

I can follow this in public administration, for example, because I have been in contact with the system, have studied it and written about it. So I can trace changes over time.

But when I come up against something like development studies I cannot. There is an apparent discontinuity. All very confusing.

The Chasers - 'For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!'"

A little while ago I ran a story starting with Australia's most famous cartoon and its caption. Dear me, this really does apply to the Chasers APEC stunt. This arguably is serious, but I could not help laughing.

The blogosphere is already running strong on the stunt. But I thought that I might make a brief comment for the benefit of international readers.

The Chaser is a satirical program on ABC TV that has achieved something approaching cult status. If you follow the link you will get a feel for it. The program is in the long irreverent Australian tradition going back to Norman Gunston and well before.

In this case, the program organised a fake motorcade and penetrated the secure area almost to the hotel where President Bush was staying before they were all stopped and arrested. Maybe they should not have done this, but thousands of Australians are laughing.

The piece that I wrote expressing my anger at the inconvenience created by the police in one case has been far more widely reported than I would have expected, including a reference on Club Troppo. For that reason, let me outline the basic mistakes that I think the authorities have made in regard to APEC.

The core mistake lay in treating APEC as first and foremost a security exercise. Yes, it is a security exercise, but this emphasis was fundamentally wrong. Instead, the authorities should have done three things.

First, they should have focused on our role as hosts in making people welcome to our country. We should all have been encouraged to welcome the APEC delegates.

Secondly, they should have explained far more about the practical problems. Note I say practical, not security. By the end of today, there will have been some 120 motorcades in Sydney. Australians are not dumb. Obviously this creates problems. So they should have spent far more time asking for public help, giving us practical information.

Then they should have focused on security. But only as a last issue. Because they (and especially the NSW Government) put everything into a security frame, they destroyed the chance to make APEC a public celebration in the way the Olympics were.

The more I think about it, the more I am astonished at just how badly the authorities stuffed up. We did not have to have this outcome.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Australia's remarkable economic performance - the need to avoid hubris

Unexpectedly, the GDP figures for the June quarter suggested that Australian economic growth has accelerated again, with June quarter on June quarter growth (seasonally adjusted) of 4.3 per cent. I say unexpectedly because many of us expected weaker figures.

This is a remarkable performance, with sixteen years of sustained growth since the bottom of the last recession in 1991. The nearest twentieth century equivalent was the period after the second world war, although this included some significant downturns. Further, the average percentage growth this time is, I think, higher that it was in that earlier period.

A few numbers to put the whole thing in context.

In 1991-1992, Australia's GDP was around $A417 billion. Commonwealth Government receipts were $A92,966 billion, 0r 22.3 per cent of GDP.

In 2005-2006, GDP reached $A960 billion. It has now passed a trillion dollars. Commonwealth Government receipts were $A221,834 billion, or 23.1 per cent of GDP.

These simple numbers show two things.

First, even adjusting for inflation (I have not done this), Australia's GDP has more than doubled during the period. Our growth has not been as fast as, say, China's, but it has still been very substantial.

Secondly, Commonwealth Government revenues have grown even faster, taking a bigger share of a bigger GDP. Quite simply, the Feds have had money coming out of their ears.

I don't want to comment on the economics in all this. Instead, I thought that I would make a few broader comments.

First, we need to avoid hubris.

Few Australians remember that twenty years ago Australia was seen by many in Asia as the sick man of Asia. Fat, wealthy, slow and in decline. This is, I think, no longer true. But we have been very lucky in many ways.

A very large number of Australians - all those who have entered the workforce since 1991 - have never experienced an economic downturn. I have, and it's not pleasant.

In 1990 the consulting marketplace collapsed, down 30 per cent in one year, the first major decline the sector had ever experienced. We had been on a strong growth path. Over the first three months of 1990 our monthly fees dropped by seventy per cent. We bled and bled.

My point in all this is the need to avoid arrogance, to recognise that we have had a degree of luck, that there will be hard times again.

This leads to my second point, the need to help more people share in the prosperity so that the benefits are more widely spread. During this growth phase, the proportion of Australian wealth held by the top 5 per cent of the population has grown far faster than GDP. The gap between rich and poor has widened, then widened again.

This links to the arrogance point.

Talking to people and listening to politicians and the media I get the strong impression that many Australians have become more censorious, less tolerant, of those not as well off as they. I can do it, why can't they?

A little humility might help here. It is actually relatively easy to make money in boom times if you have assets and/or particular skills. It remains very hard to break out of the poverty trap if you have no assets, few skills or simply experience bad luck. One of my worries is that economic downturn will lead to an explosion in the numbers of the disadvantaged.

I have not written a lot on social policy. However, I have been doing some work in this area so perhaps should share some of my thoughts. As in a number of other policy areas that I have written about, my feeling is that social policy needs new approaches if we are to to make real progress.