Thursday, June 30, 2011

Whigs, law & the concept of progress

Has The Law (caps) lost meaning? generated some interesting comments that I will come back too in later posts.

One issue that I want to address later is clarity in language and the importance of recognising variations in definitions. This is not a comment on the discussion on that post or on LE's The Art of Law, but on my own recognition that I may be using certain words in a different way to others.

I grew up in a world in the which the idea of progress, of advancement, was deeply embedded. To the people of that world, the First and Second World Wars and the Great Depression were part of living memory. I make this point because the idea of progress survived despite personal experiences of cataclysms that demonstrated the frailty and uncertainty of life.

This was also a world in which the now disparaged Whig view of history was still dominant. I say disparaged. Here I quote one commentator from the Adam Smith Institute, a UK Libertarian think tank:

"The Whig view of history" is more often than not now used as a pejorative. When first coined it was to describe a narrative where everything just got better all the time. Whiggish people (almost universally the Great and the Good among white men), Whiggish politicians (this is all for your own good!) and Whiggish activists (we know what is right for you!) enabled civilisation to scale previously unheard of peaks of delightfulness. Certainly it's true that many things done were imporvements, but it always carried the overtone that the next set of Whiggish ideas would enable the scaling of ever yet more ecstatic mountains of joyousness. You can't argue against those ideas, for, see, civilisation is made up of all the ideas that we have previously so righteously proposed.

Just at present, I am reading some material on the work of Dr R B Madgwick in establishing and developing the Australian Army Education Corp during the Second World War, work that flowed on to the establishment of adult education at the New England University College. I will write something on this later, for it provides an interesting context for some current discussion in Australia.

For the moment, I simply want to note that Madgwick held and acted on the Whig view of the capacity for human improvement.

 Law and the court system occupied a particular place within the Whig view of the world. Courts and law could be corrupt; the idea of the venal lawyer has a very long history. However, the courts and common law were also seen as one of the key underpinnings of British freedoms. To those holding the Whig view, the genius of the common law lay in its capacity to evolve.

Growing up, I would not have called myself a Whig. The term was restricted to those of particular political persuasions in, was part of the history of, the UK.

 To those on the left today, the Whig view of the world has been discredited because of linkages with Empire and England. To those on the economic right today, the Whig view of the world has been discredited because it is seen as interventionist, paternalistic.

Despite these changes, I find that I still hold many Whiggish views, including my belief in the possibilities of progress and human advancement.

This explains my personal discomfort at what I see as detrimental changes in the legal system, changes that I am seeking to understand. To my mind, I accept that this is simplistic, the law and legal system have become increasingly complicated and mechanistic.

Now that we as a society have apparently rejected the idea of progress and human advancement, it seems to me that it leaves the law as just another control device.


My friend and colleague Noric Dilanchian has a new post, Is more law a good thing?  Like Noric, I am absolutely staggered at the way in which Australian minister Anthony Albanese apparently wants to use the volume of legislation passed as a measure of Government performance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Has The Law (caps) lost meaning?

I would normally discuss this matter on my main professional blog and I did refer to it there in passing in If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, but I try to avoid exposing my confusions in that environment!

So what's all this about?

In The Art of Law, Legal Eagle followed up an earlier post of mine. Reading that post raised a real confusion in my mind. Simple put, what is The Law?

Now this might sound a bit stupid, so let me illustrate. I am speaking of common law countries.

Many, if not most, discussion on law centre on the courts, litigation and the adversarial process, yet a large proportion of law and legal matters is far more focused on facilitation of normal transactions.

A considerable quantity of law is actually concerned not with the law but with other disciplines. Take competition law. There questions such as the definition of markets are critical. While the law has a force, economists and economics are central.

As I understand it, and I am not a lawyer, common law centered on the role of precedents, on decisions by judges about cases based on general principles as defined through practice. Today, lawyers are more and more involved in simply advising on the meaning of specific laws or regulations.

Legal practice has fragmented into myriard fields determined not so much by law as by subject areas of legislation. Whereas lawyers used to follow decisions of courts, and they still do if to a diminishing extent, now they have to respond to an everchanging melange of discussion papers, laws, regulations, processes and reviews.

When I talk to my my legal friends, they talk about The Law as if it still exists. Yet when I listen to them, they actually talk about the laws all lower case. The Law may still exist, but it seems to me that it is a much dimished creature.

Or am I just confused? 


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Australia, Indonesia & the live cattle imbroglio

On 8 June I wrote Problems in Indonesian live meat exports. This helped lead to another post on the same day, GetUp's mistletoe role.

I wrote these posts against the background of a long-running concern about the way public policy is being set, including a concern about the way that pressure groups affected policy. I have given a number of examples over the last few years about the damage done by badly thought out and reactive policies.

It is going to be very hard for the Federal Government to recover from its knee-jerk reaction to problems in the Indonesian live cattle trade. In reporting over the last few days:
  • Elders, a major Australian pastoral firm, has complained that it can't even send cattle to its own Indonesian abattoir
  • Indonesia has apparently refused permission for Australian vets to inspect Indonesian abattoirs in retaliation to the Australian Government's action
  • A large number of cattle remain in limbo on agistment. The Government has announced compensation to some Australian meatworkers, but fights continue over other compensation issues
  • Landmark, another pastoral firm, has shifted the purchase of diary cattle for China from Australia to New Zealand. These are breeding cattle. Apparently the Chinese buyers have concluded that Australia is too much of a sovereign risk because of policy instability.
This is not a post about the role of the bodies and public responses that pushed the Australian Government to its decision, nor is it about the rights and wrongs of that decision. My focus is on process.

It's hard to see a positive outcome from the current imbroglio from the Government's viewpoint. It's actually become a hostage to Indonesia, for its best chance of an acceptable result depends upon that country's response.

I stand to be corrected, but I don't think that it's practical in political or economic terms to ban the live animal trade, so it can't satisfy the most devout proponents of that position. If Indonesia simply refuses to cooperate and buys elsewhere, then it has dissatisfied producers. Even if Indonesia moves to improve slaughter while buying elsewhere, it will be hard to sell any positives.

The best the Government can hope for is that Indonesia will cooperate in a face saving solution. I am sure that a lot of very bright people are working on this at the present time. I wish them luck.

I think that the key lesson is don't do something for domestic political reasons when you have no real control over the response of others. Or, if you are going to, at least take the responses into account!


This story in today's Sydney Morning Herald indicates the type of problems the the Australian Government is getting into.

Belshaw blog roll

As I have mentioned before, one side-effect of my computer problems has been loss of access to all my bookmarks, including my blog lists. This has proved quite painful!

As a part resolution, I have begun the process of replicating the blog lists on stand-alone pages on all my blogs. This is quite a slow process - if I allow just three minutes to find the blog then enter it onto a page (and that's not a lot of time), then I am looking at at least ten hours input time, a much longer elapsed time. 

I mention it now because I have created a second page on this blog, Belshaw blog roll, that will ultimately provide access to all the blogs I follow either direct or through links to the equivalent pages on my other blogs.

So far I have twenty blogs listed directly, plus links through on a subject or area basis to another twenty six blogs relevant to other sites. Not a lot yet, but it's a start.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Helen returns home

Eldest arrived back from Europe at 5am this morning after her six months away in Copenhagen. Needless to say, her father was very excited!

One of the things we chatted about was her changing perceptions of Australia following her first deep immersion in another culture. As I found myself all those years ago when I first went to Asia, I came back seeing Australia in new ways. We see ourselves best from outside.

I didn't ask her about all this, although it's a topic I am interested in. Rather, the reactions were those of a tired and somewhat jet lagged girl talking about things of interest to her.

She was struck by the positive perceptions about Australia, about the number who really wanted to visit. She just found this nice!

She found Australia and Australian society much more open, more relaxed, less formal than Europe. She was also surprised a little at the lack of ethnic and cultural diversity as compared to Australia. She commented on the migration debate in the English language papers, about the concern to maintain cultural homogeneity.

Her mother wondered if her equivalent living in Australia for a period and reading the Australian papers might not form the same view about Australia.  While H. understood the point, she didn't think that this was quite the same thing.

I think that H. is right.

I will explore this a little more in a later post. But for the moment I am just too tired and still suffering to some degree from the flue that afflicted me last week.

Just at present, I have a lot of basic housekeeping to catch up on, including some blogging backlog. I hope to get my own box back soon with a new motherboard. In the meantime, I am still limited.

Helen's return home also required a major tidy up. When we moved from a big to a smaller house, we used her bedroom as a box storage area. With her pending return, major sorting was required. The study now looks like a disaster area.

All this is a long winded way of saying that for the next week at least my capacity to post here will be limited. You can expect posts, but they will be short report or aide memoire posts.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - education, technology & new delivery modes

Over on skepticslawyer, WittyKnitter's What does ‘online learning’ really mean? provides some interesting insights into issues associated with on-line delivery in one major Australian university. I found the comments interesting as well. This blog's readership has quite a strong academic focus.

I made a brief comment that was in a way peripheral to both WK's point and to the comment stream, but was rather an aide memoire to myself.

By accident of history, I have been on the periphery of the application of new technology in education and training for a very long time. As a university child, I grew up in a world where the majority of students were external students at a time when UNE was the only provider of distance education in Australia. Today, one of my colleagues is working on a new-on line training concept.

In the intervening years I seem to have kept coming back to the application of new approaches. In 1987, my then consulting business put on a display of multimedia in an Armidale pub. In 1994, I helped project manage a demonstration combining Armidale schools to show the educational application of new internet technology. And so it goes on.

This is not a personal reminisce, nor is it an attempted appeal to authority or claim to expertise. I am simply setting a context for this muse.

At a personal level, I am somewhat cynical about the hype attached to new delivery modes. This is not in any way a criticism of of WK or her commenters (they recognised limitations), nor of those pioneering new applications in the school area, for example. Rather, I have lived through, worked through or just seen application after application that failed to deliver on expectation.

In other posts on technology I have discussed some of the reasons for this. In this muse, I want to focus on just two relevant to education: conflict in objective plus failure to recognise practical limitations.

Conflict in objective is best seen in the way that discussion on new technology acquires multiple objectives: it will empower students, improve teaching, increase access, reduce delivery costs and make money. Of itself, these multiple objectives need not conflict. In practice, they can and do.

Beyond the obvious conflict in objectives, there are more subtle ones in that delivery modes affect just what is delivered.

Once you have selected a delivery mode, then things have to be tailored to that delivery mode. The effectiveness of delivery modes vary depending upon purpose - in jargon, we call this fitness for purpose. If you haven't properly identified the purpose, then your delivery mode will be less effective.

I am not saying anything profound. It seems self evident. Yet I keep seeing the problem.

Failure to recognise practical limitations is also a constant issue with the newer technologies.

Let me start with a very simple example.

Back in 1996 I did a study on the development of multimedia in Australia. A key issue in the slower than expected take-up, especially in training, lay in a disconnect between developer and customer. Developers were keen to push the technology to its limits and also used the latest hardware and software. The products didn't sell because the computer systems in companies simply didn't have the grunt required.

Surely things have changed? Well, no. Let me take a very simple example. We have broadband, but our wireless connection won't support certain real time applications. It's just not fast enough. The problem is more acute at present because a choke is in place.

In organisations, a different but related problem arises. Corporate rules about the use of emails and the internet can actually preclude students using work computers to access some on-line education material.

If we move outside the middle class city world that presently dominates much discussion, problems become more acute along an age and location dimension. The often implicit assumption, for example, that everyone has a lap top applies to, what, 30 per cent of the Australian population?  

Now the only point that I am making here is that one starting point in looking at applications has to be the ability of the student or customer to actually participate. In theory, you can acommodate this via multiple delivery modes. However, this can be expensive.
Consider another issue that I have written about a fair bit, the simple question of time. Time - student time, lecturer time - is limited. Modern systems require a time investment to learn how to do things. Time is also required to prepare material in the required forms. Often, the time implications are not properly recognised.

This is a muse, not a full essay. I have barely scratched the surface. So I will finish with the simple model that I apply to test some of the new approaches in education and training.
  1. What is the objective to be achieved?
  2. What is required of the teachers in terms of skills, content preparation, support, marking and time?
  3. What are the expectations about students (attitudes, time, skills, equipment)?
  4. What is the process to be followed in delivering?
  5. How will results be measured?
  6. Will it work and at what cost?
This is really a simple process mapping approach. I find that it works. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Problems with yes, but!

To my great frustration, we have run out of band width again, so a choke has been applied. It appears that youngest has an infinite capacity to download!

Some time ago I began a series on this blog just pointing to examples of failures in public policy and public administration linking this to modern management approaches. My feeling was that if I piled example onto example I might actually get somewhere in convincing people that we needed to look at new approaches.

Finally, the project really foundered on the "yes, but" syndrome. We all do this, of course, me included. Yes means that we understand what you say, but means that I don't agree or that this is an exception.

Sometimes  yes, but is inevitable. My wife gets very angry with me because she wants me to answer a very specific question and I keep on giving a qualified response.

My problem in these cases is often that I don't think the question is especially relevant and may even be misleading. I also can see the logic tree she is trying to build and know where a simple answer is going to lead. We are going to end up in a discussion that, from my perspective, has very little to do with the issues I consider to be important.

Philosophy I including logic has a lot to answer for. It's not just my wife who gets infuriated by this habit of mine of wanting to put arguments. A lot of my friends and work colleagues do as well.

Accepting that I, too, am guilty of "yes, but", one of the big problems with the phrase in both management and especially public policy is that it locks you in to simplistic solutions that don't actually work.

Conversations go like this. Yes, I accept that there are problems with this approach, but we must do something.

The difficulties become especially acute when answers are based on underlying logic structures that are, of themselves, suspect but sit there hidden and unchallenged. People want to deal with the immediate problem and dislike intensely discussions that seem abstract and unrelated. Why are you bothering to talk about this when we should be acting?

The most  acute difficulties of all arise where you have different logic structures. The conversation then appears to deal with resolution of an immediate problem, but there can in fact be no meeting of minds since the underlying questions and assumptions are so different.

I have a reasonably good track record in forecasting what won't work. My track record in suggesting what might work is not as good, but is still not bad. My track record in making some of my suggestions stick for long enough to get results is much worse.

Back at the end of the last century and the first part of this century, my then consulting group developed what we called new ways of working.

The basic logic structure was simple enough. The relationship between employer and employee had changed. We spelt those changes out. We then suggested that organisations had to change the way they managed people to get best results. Again, we spelt this out. We also trialed the new approach in my own work and in our broader consulting in practical areas like statements of HR policy, training, employment contracts. This seemed to work.

Yet our ability to get the message accross proved quite difficult because organisations simply wouldn't accept the logic structures that flowed from their own new approaches and from the response of people to those approaches.

Let me take a simple example to illustrate.

We all know that the concept of permanent employment is dead for the majority of the Australian workforce. We have told people that they must take personal responsibility for themselves, that they must be flexible and prepared to move in new directions. This requires fundamental changes in the way work is organised. Yet organisations, public and private, are in fact still organised around the idea of a permanent workforce even though the reality is different.

I am, by nature, something of a reformer. I am also, and this may not be apparent from my writing, someone who has spent a fair bit of time dealing with the practical and apparently mundane - charts of accounts, information systems, recruitment strategies, marketing strategies, HR policies.

When I was younger I would accept a fair degree of crap because that was simply part of the price paid as you moved forward. Now, and this is part of the fundamental change that we called new ways of working, I am less and less able to accept crap when I know it's not going to work.

As an older worker, I have to judge my performance in terms of what I achieve now. The contribution that my patience might make to my longer term career plans ceases to be relevant when those plans don't actually exist!

In all the abstract arguments about older workers and the need to keep them in the workplace, no-one really talks about just what this actually means.

It's not just older workers, of course. I talked about my daughters' generation in Saturday Morning Musings - kids, jobs & education. Maybe another campaign?  


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Reunions, new media and comparative social analysis

Just a meander this morning.

Before going on, I should perhaps add a note for the benefit of people who come to this post via search engine and have no background.

Armidale is a relatively small university and education city on Australia's New England Tablelands.  The pattern of its life has been formed by education, by the surrounding pastoral industry and its role as a political centre within the broader New England, that area of Northern New South Wales that has sought self-government over 150 years first as a new colony and then as a new state within the Australian Federation.

Its varying roles make it an unusual place by Australian standards.

Returning to my original intent, I have now posted the first of my two Armidale Express columns on the Armidale Demonstration (City Public) School 150 year celebration -  Belshaw's World - the Dem school: memory of a living entity.

I obviously enjoyed it, as did the others who went back. Thinking about this, I think that one of the reasons is that a number of us had been in email contact before hand. For some, it was fifty years since we last met. That's a long time. In a way, the email contact made it all easier for us by re-establishing links.

I think that there is an important issue here warranting a fuller post at some point, and that is the best way of using the new media including social networking to support re-unions and othe community activities. Just a note to myself at the moment, for I don't think that people properly understand either the power or limitations of the technology now available.

Back in 2003, Don Aitkin went back to Armidale to the fifty year reunion of the Armidale High Leaving Certificate class of 1953. The result was a very good book, What was it all for? The Reshaping of Australia. (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2005), looking at social change in Australia through the eyes of Don's class. I wrote about this book back in 2009 in:
I found this book invaluable in writing about social change in New England over the second half of the twentieth century, but the book is more than that. It's actually a major national piece of work.

To come from Armidale or to study in Armidale is necessarily to leave the place. Now there is something odd here.

No one would expect a graduate from Oxford or Cambridge or Harvard to automatically stay there, yet in Australia and as evidenced by the recent Grattan report, there is an apparent expectation that the success of an education institution is measured by local graduate retention. By global standards, we Australians are a stay-at-home lot in a way that is close to unique!

Leaving that issue aside, the fact that so many people have to leave Armidale to go elsewhere does make the place an interesting microcosm of broader trends. Now here I was wondering if all the reunions now going on might provide an opportunity to update Don's analysis.

There are only eight years between Don's LC class and the LC classes of 1961 holding their reunions this year. That's not a long time. Further, the 1961 classes still entered into a world of real full employment. However, the processes of social change that culminated in the 1970s were well underway by 1961.

For that reason, it might be interesting to do a simple comparative update because we are essentially speaking about the same control population.

I don't have the time to do a full study, but a partial analysis might be interesting.           

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011

    Distribute.IT and modern systemic vulnerability

    The disaster that befell Australian firm Distribute.IT and its customers as a consequence of a hacker attack is another reminder of the vulnerabilities of modern IT systems. For those feeling morbid, you can read about the unfolding events on the Whirlpool forum. 

    As I read the 73 or so pages of comments and updates, I thought of the Distribute.IT folks desperately trying to get their systems back on line.

    The Distribute.IT case is just one of a recent set of examples in Australia and overseas that actually threaten the very reliability of the internet based systems on which we now depend.

    The collapse in my own system, while personally annoying, is but a small personal example. My thanks to those who have sent me practical advice.

    I did try to do a full back up to my external hard drive just before the system went down. That failed, although I think that another back-up of just my documents may have been successful. I should know this later today.

    Looking at the vulnerabilities, and I am only speaking as a small personal user, I start with my emails. It's actually quite hard to back up emails. At least, I have yet to work out how! Yet so much of what I do is linked to emails that their loss is a major problem.

    A second vulnerability lies in my dependence on the free systems such as Google. While these are quite wonderful, no one can guarantee their longer term survival.

    My own technical competence is a specific issue in trying to manage.. I actually know IT and the internet very well, but I am a technical incompetent when it comes to specific computer operations. Sure, I know how to use a dozen different programs, I have created and managed web sites and blogs, I can do ordinary housekeeping, but I am still a technical ignoramus at the purely practical level.

    Let me give a simple example.

    A week back I discovered a corruption in the heading of some of my history posts, the transformation in the heading of part of the text to some form of skype ad. This is an example. I went in to the post and checked, redoing the heading, but without success. So this is some form of corruption beyond my control. 

    This brings me a second problem, the combination of time and money. Some of the back-up and redundancy solutions involve a fair bit of time and cash, two things in short supply just at present. Even at the simplest level, I need help from Google to resolve the skype example, and that takes time.

    In all this, I have come to the view that our present internet systems are actually unsustainable. What can go wrong, will go wrong.

    When the National Australia Bank system collapsed recently, a large number of customers were left without cash or access to cash. Last night when I went into the local supermarket, their EFTPOS system was down. I had no cash on me, so left without buying stuff for tea.

    Now in terms of our just in time world, we have all become so used to internet based systems and the capacity to get what we want when we want it, that we are not set up to cope when things inevitably go wrong.

    Normally, this is just an inconvenience. But for some people including the Distribute.IT customers, some of these outages can be absolutely destructive.

    Still musing. let me take another example, the growing multiplicity of passwords. To simplify, most of us actually use just a small number of passwords, often storing them on our computers for ease of reference. Yes, both are dangerous, but they do make for ease of use. But beyond this, what happens if you are incapacitated in hospital for some reason and nobody has access to your passwords?

    Where am I going in all this? 

    Well, I have come to the view that I need multiple redundancies, including the reinstatement of basic paper based systems for system critical stuff. In some cases I am just going to have to take risks because the internet is just so important and convenient. In other cases, I need to be able to operate without either internet or computer.

    This actually involves quite profound changes in the way I work.

    I am reinstating my cheque book, for example, because this allows me to pay for some things even when systems are down. I plan to carry more cash, income willing, to avoid EFTPOS delays and crashes. I need to put more time into system maintenance. I am actually using pen and paper a lot more.

     I don't know whether or not I am alone in thinking this way, just a troglodyte in a modern world, but I know that I will feel a lot more in control if I do change the way I do things.   


    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Death of the Country Party's Bill Ford

    On 13 June, the Sydney Morning Herald carried Tim Ford's obituary on his father Bill, Man of action wore many hats. Bill became general secretary of the NSW Country Party in 1967, holding the position for the next nine years. He was also secretary of the Federal Party.

    I first heard of and met Bill Ford soon after he became general secretary. However, I really came to know him in 1972.

    Michael Boyd, his Dad was elected to the NSW Parliament the following year as member for Byron, had organised a Canberra Young Country Party reception for the members of the Party's Federal Executive meeting in Canberra.

    There had been newspaper reports that the Party was thinking of running a candidate for the federal seat of Eden Monaro. Chatting casually to Bill, I asked how one might start running for pre-selection? You just did, he replied in his somewhat dry way!

    Shortly, I found myself with the Party membership lists charged with rebuilding the Party in Queanbeyan and, more broadly, Eden Monaro.

     This was a different world, one on the cusp between the old and the new professionalisation of politics.

    The Country Party was a membership based party, with some 33,000 members in NSW alone. The Party actually depended on membership subscriptions to fund operations. The bank order system was central. Get a person to sign a bank order for membership and they rarely cancelled it.

    The Party itself believed that to win an electorate it needed a high membership base. Get one third of adults signed up as members in an electorate and you were home. To manage all this, the Party had organisers whose core job was to recruit new members and to persuade existing members to upgrade their subscriptions.

    When I looked at the membership lists, I found that the Queanbeyan Canberra branch had 33 financial members. It was years since the branch had met. Some of those members were still paying membership subscriptions at rates set thirty years before!

    I set about rebuilding the Party membership. Again, that was part of the Party approach. Each election campaign provided an opportunity, indeed depended upon, people like me going out and recruiting new members. Those members then provided future cash flow through bank orders.

    Just to put this in context, the NSW Country Party had more financial members in 1972 than all the current NSW political parties combined. It really was a membership based organisation. Within two years, we had well over 600 members in Eden Monaro and the adjoining Canberra seats.

    I could tell a number of stories about Bill, but I just want too tell one that bears upon the professionalisation of politics.

    Country Party candidates were selected by the Electorate Council from candidates nominated by the branches. To be considered, you must have a branch nomination. However, just because a branch nominated you did not mean that you had the votes from that branch's delegates. Every delegate was free to vote for the best candidate on the day. Still, the more nominations you got, the better the chance you had of locking in votes.

    This meant that all the candidates formed a convoy going around the branch nomination meetings. With so many members, there were a lot of branches. I can't remember the exact numbers, but for the first Eden Monaro campaign there were something like seven candidates competing for nominations for over twenty branches.

    Again, this was part of the Party process, generating interest and members. In 1972, I got a Christmas card signed by all the ABC Canberra local radio reporters. You see, in my role I generated the biggest set of stories on ABC of any source by a substantial margin!

     About half way through the campaign, Bill Ford said to me something that has stuck in my mind ever since.

    Bill was an old fashioned bloke. He believed that the role of the local member was to represent the electorate, to put forward a platform of ideas for the electorate and Party
    "You know", he said, "you are all behaving as though you are applying for a job!"

    He was right, of course. We focused on explaining why people should vote for us because we had the best chance of getting elected, why we would be good Party people.

    To this day, I regret that I didn't campaign on what I believed in, what I wanted to do. Some of that was there, but my focus was on trying to explain why I could do the job best. I was trying to present as a professional politicians setting out why I should be elected because I could best represent the Party.

    I wasn't alone.

    To my mind now, the question as to whether one will best represent the Party is really a second order question in a real democracy. Preselection is not a job application, but a chance to outline things that you believe in so that people can make a real choice.

    Bill was right.

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Clunky editing

    Some readers may have noticed that layout on this blog has deteriorated in things like paragraph spacing.

    My computer collapse means that I am using the Google blogger editing system. This is remarkably cluncky! I don't seem to be able to get things right.

    Sunday Essay - technology, time and modern life

    With my own computer still out of action, I am really missing my bookmarks. I had well over 200 blogs bookmarked, broken up by various categories. They were old friends and a constant source of ideas.
    I haven't had a links section on this blog because of the sheer numbers involved. There was also an issue involved in just keeping the list current given the attrition rate among blogs. However, I now face an obvious problem.
    My practice of running regular reviews of other people's blogs means that I can recreate the list to a substantial degree even if my current box cannot be fixed. However, I do need to have the list in a form independent of my own equipment. The logical thing would be to create a links page, although I do shudder at the work involved.

    As a first step, I have started a links page, New England Australia blogs, on my New England blog. I am just listing blogs alphabetically, along with a brief description. If I do this for all my special interest blogs, then I can add links to those lists to the equivalent page on this blog.
    With my own computer out of action, I have also taken the forced opportunity to do some tidying up. As part of this, I collected all my computer disks in one place from floppies to CDs to drives. There are hundreds, most now unusable.

    Now all this in fact links to an earlier post, Living in a just in time world. I have become technology dependent.

    There is no doubt that the new technologies are efficient. I can do more things and do them faster. Information is at my finger tips.  I can edit and re-edit. The days of typing and white-out are long past. Yet what to we do when things go wrong? What do we do when a simple change in technology effectively destroys past material? And how is the technology affecting the way we think?

    I can already hear someone muttering about the need for back-ups as a necessary protection, and that's true. Yet back-ups on their own are not enough, as evidenced by all my dead disks. Software itself decays or is made redundant. Hardware changes. Remember the big old floppies?

    Since I started using computers, I must have used more than a dozen word processing programs, counting the variants of Word as different programs. Ever heard of Olitext? No, I didn't think so. We used that for our first major reports.

    One of my big problems is that I get so busy doing that I forget to do some of the most basic housekeeping. I am not alone.

    Take most organisations. You have all these people preparing documents, sending and receiving emails. They do so without any attention to the most basic information architecture. The focus is on do now, not what will we need later? Document variants proliferate, basic information is recorded in emails left disconnected from the supporting documents, centralised files are replaced by individual folders used for working purposes.

    All this is fine, but we have actually substituted immediate efficiency for longer term inefficiency. But then, who actually thinks of the longer term anyway? After all, we almost certainly won't be there, having moved on. Further, we actually penalise proper record keeping in that time spent on that activity is generally not seen as productive, is not measured and assessed as part of the proliferation of targets, indicators and activities.

    We all know that our activities have physical effects on our bodies.

    Farmers, for example, often have bad backs from lifting. In my case, I have hearing loss in both ears that can be directly traced to a time when I spent hours on the phone with the phone held to the ear by my shoulder so that I could write. After a while my ear would begin to hurt, so I would shift the phone to the other ear. Normally this hearing deficiency doesn't worry me, although I am finding it increasingly difficult to cope in restaurants with bare floors and lots of background din. I don't think that I'm alone here, mind you!

    But what about the mental effects of the way we do things?

    Taking farmers again. Country people are believed to be more slow spoken and indeed they often are. There is just not the same pressure to chatter. In similar vein, when I first went to New York I was struck by the faster language. They talked just like the sitcoms!

    The new technologies are clearly having an affect on human thinking, one that I have spoken about. It's also one that I find quite difficult to manage at a purely personal level.

    Let me start with a simple practical example.

    I use the technology quite intensively. I blog, I facebook, I tweet. I am quite expert at the use of the web to gather information, aided by my own general knowledge. If you look at some of the posts I have written, they are equivalent in length and indeed depth to an academic essay. I am not being pretentious when I say this, just reasonably accurate. Yet they take me less than ten per cent of the time to write as compared to my student past.

    In a week now, I can actually produce the equivalent in output of an entire university unit. That's good in a way, but there is a real downside.

    As I write now, I have email, facebook and twitter open. I see from twitter that Denis Wright appears to have had an alien experience. Attention caught, I look. While writing, two emails have arrived; I look.

    On Facebook, Neil Whitfield continues his fulminations against smoking. In doing so, he appears to quote what is, on the surface, an especially egregious piece of special pleading on plain paper packaging. Checking, it deals with the US. It may still be egregious, but I don't have time to properly read and respond. I also note that Neil has added an anti-smoking logo to his Facebook entries; I find myself distracted and annoyed.

    I am not an exponent of smoking, by the way. I am just a smoker who might have given up a long time where I not so annoyed by what I perceive to be the anti-smoking Nazis. I accept that's irrational, but it (the way the anti-smoking campaigns work) seem to me to be part of an overall pattern of behaviour that I dislike.

    Now that's a sidetrack, but it's one that exactly illustrates my point. I feel that I need to keep in touch, but am constantly being distracted. This adversely affects my real work output.

    I am not alone. The disease of email responsiveness is deeply embedded. I see people whose life is absolutely ruled by email. A blackberry has moved from something that's nice to eat to a feral menace. Still, that's a bit like what happened to the original blackberry in the Australian bush!

    I am not alone in feeling this. Just as I am trying to change my own approach, so many firms are altering their approach to the management of email traffic. Some of those responses are purely reactive, part of the modern concern with risk. Others are more fundamental - specific campaigns against email dependence, including email free periods.

    However, the problems go deeper than this. One major side-effect is an inability to focus for extended periods, to simply think. We are all so busy just doing.

    Another problem is the substitution of the visual, the short, the power point, the spread sheet, for real thought.

    We have government policy statements where the visual wall paper totally out-weighs the content. We have spread sheets where people simply accept the results without challenging the assumptions on which the analysis is based. We have pretty powerpoints with special features all designed to sell and explain something that no-one has really thought out. But you just try asking basic questions: the discomfort and dislike is quite palpable!

    As I finish, I am surrounded by noise. My wife is watching a Sunday TV political program. The dishwasher is going. The Australian's Piers Akerman has just finished a question with "so forth". The ABC's Fran Bailey is muttering about leadership or the lack there-of. My wife has just called Mr Akerman a dickhead.

    Three tweets have arrived; one suggests that the TV program my wife is watching has become unwatchable. I have to agree. Piers is accusing Fran of having a green aversional view.

    I can no longer concentrate. Anyway, I have to cook lunch!

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Saturday Morning Musings - kids, jobs & education

    Last night saw a year 17 dinner of parents from eldest's class. We have been meeting together every so often for dinner since Helen finished school. I always enjoy it. However, this dinner crystallised something that had been at the back of my mind when I found myself asking what use a degree was.
    Let me explain as best I can.

    I am towards the end of my working career at a point where I have been trying to change the way I work to allow more time for writing while still earning money. A fair number of my friends and colleagues have retired, others like me need or want to keep working. All this means that I have a pretty fair knowledge of working conditions, difficulties and expectations at this end of the working age spectrum.

    My  daughters are at the other end, finishing university. Some of their friends have already graduated and have been looking for work. It is this area I find especially confusing. In simple terms, with all my experience I find it hard to understand just what work my girls might do or how they might find that job.

    Talking around the group last night, some of our kids have faced considerable difficulty in finding work. These are well educated kids with generally good academic results as well as extra curricular activities.

    Other kids have changed direction. One, for example, is now adding a qualification to allow her to become a para-medic. In her case, she will have two degrees and five years of study before she becomes an ambo.

    Listening to the discussion with people talking as parents but also as employers, led to a shift in my thinking. I had thought of part time work as a necessary evil to help kids get through university. In fact, in a world awash with degrees that part time work has become a distinguishing feature, a requirement, to getting a job.

    In some cases, the part time work actually becomes the career. In more cases, the part time work provides experience and, importantly, evidence of the people and organisational skills employers are looking for. In a perhaps ironic way, the education we so emphasise has become a second order thing simply because it is so widely available. Employers cannot make judgements on education, but rely instead on work experience.

    One of youngest friend's chose not to go to university. Instead, he worked in retail and has now accepted a position as a bank teller. He is quite ambitious. I suspect that he might actually study later on, but only if it seems relevant. Compared with youngest, he now has four years earnings plus a present salary roughly equivalent to that he might have got had he gone to university and started work now.

    Looking just at the young, I have come to the conclusion that our workforce has become more rigid.
    One element is growing credentialism. We require extended formal qualifications for what were once lower to mid level jobs. In relative salary terms, they still are. This credentialism makes the workforce less flexible because it makes it harder for people to move.

    A second element is the way the workforce between my kids and my generation has become constipated. There has been a very big increase in the number of contract and part time work, but the core workforce fortunate enough to still have something close to permanent employment sits like a block in the middle.

    A year or so back I did some contract work for NSW Government agencies. The thing that struck me was the absence of young people. The youngest people in the core workforce were twenty seven, and there were very few of them. Effectively, we had an aging core workforce surrounded by temps and contractors.

    I don't think that this case is unique.

    I am not saying that organisations should shake out their core work forces, although I think that the absence of renewal recruitment strategies is a problem. I am just musing on the symptoms of what I believe to be a problem.

    As a dad, I am not too worried about my own girls.

    Eldest will go into the full time workforce with good people skills, five years working with one employer on a part time basis, experience as a netball coach, almost six months work experience with the Australian Embassy in Copenhagen, lots of referees.

    Youngest will face more problems because she is more variable, more eccentric, interested in art and writing, in doing new things. Still, she can also be very focused when she sets her mind to it.

    Yet as a dad with girls in their early twenties I do worry about all the kids I know. As a social analyst, I also worry about the overall pattern.

    In all this, I wondered about the experiences of other parents who might read this blog. Am I alone in being a bit confused? What was your experience with your kids? What are your and their expectations?

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    TAS 2011 Rugby Union Games

    A few days ago I received a message from Rob Busby as Chair of the Sydney Branch of the TAS (The Armidale School) Old Boys Union. This said in part:

    This Saturday twelve TAS (The Armidale School) rugby teams will be in Sydney to play Newington College at Stanmore. Junior teams will play from 10 am, followed by the Second XV at 1 pm, and the Firsts at 3.15 pm, on the Johnson Oval.

    After the matches all OBs are invited to gather at the Nag's Head Hotel, 162 St John's Road Glebe, from 4.30 pm. Finger Food - $10 at the door'

    I hope to go, but the email also caused me to cast my mind back.

    For the benefit of overseas readers, TAS has long been a member of the NSW GPS or Greater Public Schools. When I played rugby at TAS we used to play against all the Sydney GPS schools, although distance precluded participation in the formal competition. Then, right at the end of my period at school, TAS sought and gained formal participation in the rugby competition, so brother David actually played in the formal GPS competition.

    TAS was a much smaller school, so had difficulty in competing. However, TAS's presence introduced a random element in the competition because no one could be absolutely sure of the outcome of particular games. There were also complaints about the travel to Armidale and the hard nature of the TAS fields. In the end, GPS politics saw the exit of TAS stage left from the competition.

    In the years that followed, the once automatic games against the Sydney GPS schools diminished, with TAS rugby going in new directions. There were also many more sports at the school, so the number of boys playing rugby declined.

    The world changes.

    Rugby itself changed, with a greater emphasis on size and speed. Coaching even at school level became more professional. As size and speed became more important, the ethnic mix of players became a factor. You can see this if you look at  the growing role of big boned Pacific Islanders in international rugby.

    In Sydney, the growing presence of students of Asian ancestry at Sydney High and to a lesser extent Sydney Grammar started creating problems on the sporting field. Sydney High started losing matches very heavily, the Sydney GPS competition became unbalanced.

    Meantime, a revolution had been brewing in the quiet New England countryside. To those that have shall be given. Armidale's plethora of sporting fields attracted rugby camps and competitions. TAS itself started a primary school rugby carnival that grew and grew. TAS boys now received a higher degree of professional coaching and were able to play competitive rugby from primary school up in a way simply not available in my day.

    TAS teams started playing more GPS football, although I found it odd given my background that they played lower level Sydney teams. Back in 2007 A Very Sporting Day - interesting but also odd records my reaction on this point. I thought that TAS Seconds (my old team) playing Shore Fourths was a tad unbalanced.

    There have  been close relations between Sydney High and TAS for many years. A few weeks ago, no less than 200 Sydney High boys visited TAS for the annual sporting competition between the two schools. I suspect that these visits are quite important beyond the sporting field because they bring Sydney High boys into contact with a somewhat different world.

    Now the relationship has brought TAS back into the GPS rugby competition in a way I don't fully understand beyond the fact that TAS is, in some complicated way, taking SBH's place at the top level, with the SBH home games now being played at TAS.

    How will TAS go? Blowed if I know in this new world. I do know that the TAS XV beat Sydney High 81-0 and then beat Sydney Grammar the following week 45-26. Sydney High, by the way, beat TAS in the soccer and basketball. This offset TAS wins in the rugby, tennis and shooting.

    I know that most of my readers are not interested in the arcane details of GPS sport, but for those that are the TAS rugby program this year after Saturday is:

    • 23 Jul: King's at TAS
    • 24 Jul: Sir Thomas Rich's School (UK) at TAS
    • 30 Jul: Shore at Shore
    • 1 Aug: Royal Grammar School at (UK) at TAS
    • 6 Aug: St Joseph's at TAS
    • 13 Aug: Scots at Scots
    • 20 Aug: St Ignatius at TAS
    • 26 Aug: Farrer at TAS

    Maybe it's a sign of my increasing nostalgia as I grow older, but I really am looking forward to seeing some of these matches.

    When I was in my final years at TAS, our then head was trying to stamp out the traditional school haka. Now I am trying to find the words again!


    One of my commenters provided the following results. It's complicated because you have to find out both levels played as well as results. I emailed the school asking them to publish the official results in some way. There is a fair bit of interest just measured by the number of visits to this post. 

    • Newington. TAS Firsts vs Newington Thirds. TAS won 24-20. TAS played well with six players out with rep commitments. TAS Seconds played Newington Fourths. TAS won. Score unknown
    • Kings. TAS Firsts played King's Seconds. TAS lost 19-12, apparently bombing a few tries that could have won them the game. TAS Seconds played Newington Fourths, played well and won. Score not known.

    For the next round in Armidale against St Josephs, the TAS Rugby Club advises:  

    Dear Friends of Rugby

    On Saturday 6 August TAS is delighted to be hosting St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill (Joeys) in a full range of fixtures supporting our involvement with the 2011 GPS rugby season.

    The opportunity to host visiting schools has meant that we have been able to join together as a community to renew acquaintances, enjoy the a day of rugby and give valued support to our rugby players.

    This will again apply when St Joseph’s visit TAS and a great day of hard-fought rugby is on the cards.

    From 1:30pm onwards the TAS Rugby Club invites you, and all interested members of the school community from TAS, Joey’s and beyond, to come together to relive past exploits, from both on and off the rugby field, and to make new friends from the wider schools’ community.

    “Back to Backfield’ will be held at the Hoskins Centre at TAS from 1:30pm to 5pm. Drinks and light snacks will be provided with a cash bar for any alcoholic drinks.

    Please mark Saturday 6 August in your diary and be sure to spread the word to anyone who may be interested to attend. An invitation with these details is attached for your convenience.

    We look forward to seeing you on the sidelines at any time during the season but especially joining with us as we go ‘Back to Backfield’ on 6 August.

    Warm regards

    TAS Rugby Club

    I will add any further updates as I get them.

    Postscript two

    The School is now posting results on the web site.

    TAS Rugby Results (to August)

    TAS 1sts

    v High 1sts 81-0
    v Grammar 1sts 45-24
    v Newington 3rds 22-7
    v King's 2nds 12-15
    v Shore 3rds 8-0

    TAS 2nds

    v High 2nds 72-0
    v Grammar 2nds 15-7
    v Newington 4ths 22-20
    v King's 4th 25-23
    v Shore 5ths 44-0


    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Living in a just in time world

    Working as a management consultant, I became very interested in Japanese management approaches that were then very popular, a popularity due to the apparently continuing success of the Japanese industrial miracle.

    Just in time was one of those approaches. This made perfect sense to me at the time. Why carry cash in stock if you can organise your supply chain to provide what you need when you need it?

    What I really hadn't expected but perhaps should have, is the way the just in time ethos spread throughout society.

    I am still a supporter of the Japanese just in time approach as I saw it, although I am now more conscious of the problems and risks involved in the process. However, the Japanese approach is not the same as that we apply today.

    Proper analysis and planning were central to Japanese just in time. Nobody would bet the business on an instant decision. The process was controlled.

    I would be the first to accept that the Japanese reality was always a little different from the theory. TEPCO's problems did not just arise. Still, today things are very different because not only do people expect just in time, but they also expect other people to take responsibility that should be theirs.

    The client who believes that a simple email instruction to a lawyer will suffice and who resents the lawyer asking basic questions that the client should have covered is guilty of failure to control and even of bet the transaction decisions. The lawyer who simply accepts knowing that the client will have to pay fees later on because of failure to properly identify possible problems is just as guilty.

    The manager who rushes out of the office and says do this now without thought is making the same mistake, as is the staff member who accepts. But who would blame the staff member when the power is so different?

    Now I accept that I am now boringly old fashioned. But I know that other people share my concerns.
    I wondered if readers could give me examples of this problem from their own experiences?


    Still mulling over this one, one of the things that I have watching is the relationship between working styles and the new computing and communications technologies. There is now plenty of at least anecdotal evidence to suggest that the technology does affect us.

    I have the advantage of having worked in an earlier age as well as the current one. So in surmising about impacts, I can take my own experience as a base to generate hypothesis. Here I am also conscious that my own working efficiency and effectiveness has actually dropped notwithstanding a reasonable degree of knowledge as to the advantages of the technology. Now maybe I just don't have the drive I once had, but it's more than that.

    In this type of writing, I am interested in the impact of changing process and the relationship between process and culture. I also find that I understand best if I have actual examples that I can generalise and then test.

    So please help my thinking.

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Can blogging replace the main stream media?

    On Club Troppo, Don Arthur has been debating the question as to whether blogs can replace newspapers as a source of reporting. Don thinks not. For your information, the posts in date ordre to this point are:
    As with the issues I covered in Facebook's decline?, I have written a lot on this issue over the last few years because the topic interests me.

    Let me cut straight to the chase. Blogging cannot replace newspaper reporting. That's not its role.

    As a regular blogger, I think of myself as an analyst and commentator. I also reserve the right to follow the purely personal. I do report sometimes, but only when I think that there is a gap that should be filled. When I do report, I try to be factual, not merely opiniated.

    I spend a lot of time on some of my stories, often more than a reporter can working to rigid deadlines. As much as possible, I try to give links to original source material. I also generally, perhaps too often, give links back to past posts so that people can check what I said before. Yet I cannot replace the normal working journalist for a purely practical reason.

    Within time, I can only do so much. Even if there were hundreds of bloggers like me, and there are not, we simply cannot replicate the daily reporting grind.

    What we can do, and this is something I tried to explore a little recently in The political rise of the bloggertariat, is to act as a review mechanism in a way the normal press cannot. The plurality of the bloggosphere helps here.

    I think that's a useful role.     

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Facebook's decline?

    Over the last year or so I have written a number of posts on the future of blogging. As part of that discussion I looked at the relationship between blogging, facebook and twitter. I suggested in part that just as first facebook and then twitter had affected blogging, so twitter was affecting facebook. To my mind, facebook had in fact peaked and now faced potential decline.

    Against this background, I found Murad Ahmed's story in the Australian, Advertising statistics show social networking platform Facebook is starting to lose friends interesting as an early sign of the process I was talking about. 


    Denis Wright put up a companion post to this one - The decline of FaceBook?

    Postscript 2

    My thanks  to a tweet from Maximos62 for this related story -Facebook Continues To Gobble Up Worldwide Competition [Infographic].

    Computer collapses

    My poor old box has been struggling for a little while and finally gave up the ghost last week. I hope that the computer people can get it going again, but in the meantime I am going to struggle to maintain normal operations.

    Sadly, the full back-up that I did just prior to this did not work properly. So for the present I am also coping with material loss and especially past emails.


    Thursday, June 09, 2011

    Migration to Australia by country

    Michael Jeremy pointed me to some new material being released by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship providing country profiles on Australia's migrant groups. So far, ten countries are covered.

    I mention this because the profiles provide interesting comparative insights into the varying patterns of migration that are steadily changing this country.

    As an example, at the end of June 2009 the Australian Chinese born population totaled 350,960 or 1.6 per cent of the total population. Over half this group lived in NSW. By contrast, the Indian born population totaled 305,840 of which the NSW share was around 40 per cent, with Victorian increasing in popularity.

    I won't comment further at this point. I just thought that you might find the profiles interesting.      

    The political rise of the bloggertariat

    I have just added quite a long postscript to GetUp's mistletoe role. I don't have time for a full post today, but I did want to foreshadow a post.

    Recent posts have been very Australian and have focused on political and policy processes in this country. As part of this, I was concerned about the role that GetUp played.

    GetUp's role centres on the application of the internet as an organising device. However, there is another issue here that adds to the complications faced by Governments at all levels in developing effective policy.

    At the top or headline level, Governments respond to the media and to special interest groups. This is public and clear. But just a little way down is another stream whose effects are less obvious.

    Take the debate over the export of live cattle to Indonesia as an example. At the top level, we have Government, the media and the campaigners such as GetUp. Then, just below, we have the bloggers and commenters who use blog posts, but combine this with Twitter.

    Here following the various threads, I was surprised at just how fast the issues were analysed. The Government's position effectively dissolved in real time before my eyes. The lower stream drew from the public stream, but followed a different course. Now, as with my writing, it feeds back.

    The people who write and comment reflect different positions. To illustrate what I mean, look at this post and comments on the left of centre blog Larvatus Prodeo. You don't have to agree with the comments, but you quickly get a feel for some of the issues.

    Now the thing that I find interesting and want to explore in more detail is the nature of the interactions.

    To illustrate what I mean, consider Jim Belshaw and Paul Barratt.

    Paul and I have known each other since childhood. Both of us have had senior public service experience at Commonwealth level, although Paul's career was far more stellar than mine. We share some common views, but also have major differences; Paul is far more left than I. He also uses different media, with a much greater focus now on Twitter. Despite these differences, we have a common concern with the effectiveness of public policy and administration. Further, we can both lay claim to a degree of expertise.

    Now within hours of the Government's decision on live cattle exports to you had tweets and posts. I posted, Paul tweeted. Those tweets were picked up. A view emerged.

    Now my point in all this, and the one I want to explore in a later post, is not that people agree or disagree in an overall sense, but that commonalities on particular issues can emerge quite quickly among people who are reasonably well informed.

    This is a new world. On Club Troppo, Nick Gruen has often written of web 2.0. This is web 2.0 at work.

    In the past, Government announced a view that was then addressed by the main stream media. Governments respond to the top view. They tailor and attempt to manage, using a variety of techniques including focus groups to develop their approach.

    But what does Government do when people with expertise outside the system apply that expertise to the analysis of Government responses? What does Government do when the combination of blog posts and tweets can quickly reach a largish audience?

    A Jim Belshaw or a Paul Barratt or a Nick Gruen doesn't matter in the broad scheme of things. Our individual audiences, our particular expertise, is neither here nor there. It's the combination that counts.

    A final personal point. I may reject the personal biases of a Paul Barratt or a Neil Whitfield  or a Maximos 62, but I never doubt their sincerity or professional expertise. And that's the real point.

    I am probably going to be off-line for the next few days. I will return to this issue once I am back.     

    Wednesday, June 08, 2011

    GetUp's mistletoe role

    A third post in one day!

    In the post that began my current thread on politics and public policy, Saturday Morning Musings on a changing Australia, I said in part:

    As I write, the left of centre advocacy group GetUp has launched a national TV campaign trying to force the banning of the export of live animals for overseas slaughter. The campaign features images of mistreated cattle and sheep exported from Australia to Indonesia and the Middle East and will air on free-to-air and pay TV.

    GetUp is an interesting phenomenon and itself a sign of change.

    Internet based, it draws from very particular demographics and has provided a vehicle for organising opinion in those demographics. To survive, GetUp has to identify those issues popular within its support base to the point that people will contribute money. No money, no campaigns, no GetUp. It's really as simple as that.

    I am on the GetUp mailing list because I supported a campaign on mental health. As a consequence, today I received the following email from them. Comments follow at the end.

    -- A "people-power victory on live exports" read The Age homepage this morning. Congratulations! --
    Dear Jim,
    This morning Prime Minister Gillard announced an immediate suspension of live exports to Indonesia. To every single one of the 236,000 Australians who have been part of this campaign: congratulations!
    Last week, many of us across the nation were shocked to see footage recorded by the courageous team at Animals Australia in Indonesian abattoirs. So when Animals Australia and the RSPCA invited GetUp members to join the campaign, together we responded with the fastest growing campaign in GetUp history.
    Over 230,000 of us joined the petition to Julia Gillard and the Agriculture Minister in just one week. Not only that, but together we chipped in over $300,000 for rapid response TV and radio ads calling on the Prime Minister to end the cruel practice!
    Our friends at Animals Australia and the RSPCA have poured their hearts into this campaign. They have stood witness first hand to animal cruelty that most of us can barely stand to watch on a TV screen. The credit for today's sucess belongs very much to them. But it also belongs to every single person who made this people-powered campaign such a force over the last week.
    Today's announcement marks a radical improvement on the Government's stance from just days ago. There can be no doubt that by creating a huge, hard-hitting advertising campaign and one of the largest petitions in Australian history, every single person involved in this campaign helped shift the Government from a quick political fix to a serious response.
    Sadly, there is no guarantee that there isn't horrific animal cruelty happening right now in other countries because of the live export trade. That's why it's important to forward this email to your friends and family and ask them to sign the petition to end live exports too.
    This isn't the end of our efforts to stop the cruel practice of live exports to Indonesia. Over the coming months we'll continue to work closely with Animals Australia and the RSPCA to carefully scrutinise the Government's commitment, and ensure that never again are Australian taxes allowed to fund such callous animal cruelty in these slaughterhouses.
    Campaigns like this are what GetUp is all about: hundreds of thousands of Australians joining together to hold politicians to account. It's people power that works - and not just on this issue.
    Congratulations and thanks for being part of this,
    the GetUp team
    PS - All of GetUp's campaigns rely on donations. Over 50,000 Australians have chipped in - and our small team and volunteers ensure your donation goes a long way to creating change. If you'd like to make a secure contribution, please

    GetUp is an example of the issues based morality politics that I referred to in The rise of issues based morality politics. I discussed the live cattle export question in Problems in Indonesian live meat exports.

    As GetUp notes, campaigns like this one are just what GetUp is about. It needs popular issues and donations to survive. As I said in my earlier post, no money, no campaigns, no GetUp. It's really as simple as that.

    Most people's reactions to GetUp depend, I think, on whether or not they agree with the issues GetUp espouses. My reaction is a little different.

    To my mind, GetUp has become mistletoe on the gum tree that is the Australian political system. It looks for particular popular issues and then feeds upon them. It does not contribute to debate, it cannot, because it has to win to keep the money flowing. Further, it is effectively locked in to issues that appeal to its support base.  

    GetUp does not hold politicians to account. Its role is to try to force them to do particular things packaged in simple terms. Stop the sheep or cattle is equivalent to stop the boats, packaged pap.

    In saying this, I am not in any way decrying or devaluing the views of GetUp supporters. I am simply saying that GetUp has become yet another hurdle in the way of sensible discussion on the issues facing this country. It is part of the problem when we need a solution.  


    In a comment, Marcellous wrote:

    I'm not sure that you are right that GetUp always has to be on the winning side. It hasn't always managed to be.

    Personally, I concurred with this letter in this morning's SMH:
    Cattle sent to Indonesia to be treated according to Australian law. People sent to Malaysia won't be. This is confusing.
    Michael Charlton Blaxland

    From recollection, GetUp!'s advocacy is at least more consistent than the governments. Democracy at work?

    Marcellous is, of course, right in saying that GetUp hasn't always been on the winning side. However, it does need to be able to present wins or apparent wins often enough to survive.

    I thought that Michael Blaxland's letter as quoted by M. captured moral confusion rather neatly. One difficulty with issue by issue responses lies in the way that it actually encourages inconsistency.

    Marcellous is also correct in saying that GetUp's advocacy is more consistent than the Government's. It could hardly be otherwise, for GetUp operates in a zone set by its supporter's interests and beliefs. Those with different views get squeezed out. I am not suggesting some form of GetUp censorship, simply the natural winnowing process that flows from the way GetUp operates. 

    Take my own case as an example. I was interested when GetUp first started because I saw it as a possible vehicle for participatory democracy. As I said in the post, I supported the mental health campaign. However, as I read the subsequent flow of emails from GetUp, I realised that I didn't actually agree with most of the GetUp campaigns. Now I had a problem. If I supported one GetUp campaign that I agreed with, then I was de facto supporting other campaigns that I did not agree with. And that was the majority.      

       The concern that I have with GetUp that I tried to express in the post lies in the way that it's advocacy role affects the political and policy process. Now here I accept that there are differences between GetUp campaigns.

    Take, as an example, GetUp's support for and organisation of demonstrations to support action on climate change. Here we have a sensitive issue that has been well argued where the Government has a generally defined position. We also have organised opposition that uses the internet in combination with direct action to try to defeat the Government's position. Who could argue with GetUp's advocacy role? It doesn't add to knowledge, but it is a legitimate part of the political process. 

    The position becomes more difficult when you are dealing with single issue campaigns like live animal exports. Again, GetUp's advocacy role is a legitimate part of the political process. However, my concern lies in the way that GetUp interacts with other elements in the political process to deliver (as I see it) negative results.

    GetUp has become a structured way of using new technology to orchestrate and organise certain sets of political views so as to increase immediate impact. In doing so, it's very success makes it self-defeating.

    I increasingly doubt that the Gillard Government can survive. The Indonesian live animal imbroglio is just the latest mess created by Government responses to pressures from its ideological friends.

    I am not a natural Labor supporter. However, at a purely personal level, I really wanted the Labor Government to be a success because I thought that it would offset what I saw as the accreting errors of the Howard period. I don't think that this can happen now.