Saturday, June 04, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings on a changing Australia

I am going away today for a birthday party on the NSW Southern Highlands. For those who don't know Australia, the Southern Highlands is a Tablelands' area midway between Sydney and Canberra. Depending on where you live in Sydney or Canberra, it's about a ninety minute drive.

The Southern Highlands' closeness to Sydney and the direct rail connection made it a popular place to escape Sydney heat. Many big homes, mansions, were built. Then time passed it by. Forty years ago it it was a sleepy area, but has now been reinvigorated as a week end holiday destination for people from Sydney or Canberra. Most of the big old homes have been turned into accommodation or resorts, with a large conference or meeting component.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald carried a story on Treasury modelling projecting likely changes in the Australian economy over the rest of the decade. While I have a degree of scepticism about some of the hype surrounding the mining boom (Australia's golden egg?), no one doubts that Australia is changing.

It's not just economic change, but also the demographic changes that I have written about before. Both the structure and distribution of the Australian population are shifting. You see this best when you drop below the gross numbers too look at the effects in particular areas or localities.

I know that I have often written about this, but I find it endlessly fascinating. There is a world of difference between Sydney's melting pot suburbs and the Southern Highlands, between both areas and, say, the Pilbara region of Western Australia.     

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.

  Also as I write, insurance company AAMI has announced that it is closing its branch structure and will in future rely just on the Internet and on call centres.

  I must leave. I will continue this post tomorrow.


Just back from the Southern Highlands.

We stayed last night at Berrima (and here), one of the oldest towns in NSW. After settling in and getting changed, we set out to find Southern Highland Wines where the birthday party was being held. This proved to be more difficult than expected in the dark. We kept on driving past mansions on acreage with large gates and hedges. Finally we ended up on a dirt road that effectively finished in a creek.  We turned round and finally found the winery after getting new instructions. There was no light at the front gate, and the winery  proved to be some distance from the road.  Still, we finally got there!

It was a mixed group of family and friends at the party from multiple places but with a strong a strong country connection. Fuelled by nice wine and food, conversation ranged widely from real estate to wool prices all linked by past shared experiences.  

This morning we had some coffee at Berrima before starting out. Little Berrima was quite crowded. While there were young couples and family groups, the average age was quite a bit older than you would see in Sydney. It was almost exclusively an Anglo group, dressed in much the same way you might see in Canberra on a Sunday morning at Manuka. Tweeds, scarves, designer jeans with boots, wool pullovers 

Coffee finished, we drove down to have lunch at our friends' house at Burradoo just outside Bowral. I will do a post later on the Southern Highlands for it's an interesting area, but for the moment I am just continuing my apparently disconnected muse. Burradoo is apparently one of the two most expensive areas on the Southern Highlands with many big houses and a very English feel.

From Burradoo we drove back to Sydney. Checking news on my arrival, the Sydney GetUp rally for action on climate change had apparently attracted 8,000 people, while independent North Queensland MP Bob Katter has launched a new political party to represent country interests.

To cook tea, I went down to Anzac Parade at Kingsford to get some additional vegetables. Walking along the street, the people there were around seventy per cent Asian. Some were clearly students at the nearby University of New South Wales, but others were first generation Australian if not more from their accents.

On arrival home, my wife was on the phone trying to help her mother download the new Sydney Morning Herald Ipad App. She, my mother-in-law,  was struggling, and we couldn't help her because the SMH web site really didn't provide proper guidance.


I now want to pull these apparently disconnected things together.

To say that Australia is changing is a truism. The Treasury modelling is an example of that change, for Treasury is projecting fundamental shifts in the power structures within the Australian economy. Our present migration statistics are leading to fundamental demographic change. The difference between the Southern Highlands and Anzac Parade is an example of that change.

Different people with different histories, backgrounds and linkages value and interpret things in different ways. You can only really see this working itself out at the local level. If you go from parts of Sydney to the Southern Highlands or the Pilbara, you could be living in different countries. People neither talk nor think in quite the same way.  

On top of these changes, we have technological change as evidenced by the AAMI or Ipad examples. We can think of these changes along two dimensions.

The first dimension is the economic and structural effects of the technological changes.

As the internet gathers steam, no one can be sure of just how the change effects will work through. Take, as an example, the impact on retailing. Assume that one third of retail sales are carried out on-line in twenty years' time. Assume that as a consequence one third of retail jobs vanish. What then will happen to things like the big shopping centres? What will happen to the communities such as the NSW North Coast where retailing is a disproportionate employer?

The second dimension is the social and political effects.

Take GetUp as an example GetUp draws from a particular demographic. This demographic is a majority in some areas. In other areas, GetUp provides a vehicle for uniting people with common views across space even where they may be a small minority.

I am struggling to articulate ideas because my thinking is cloudy. But pity the poor political parties.

They have to find a way of reaching a population organised into electorates that are becoming more diverse. They also have to manage special interest movements sitting on top of an increasingly diverse electorate that combine views on particular interests. Favour one position and you lose support elsewhere. Oppose it, and the same thing happens.

I will pause here simply because my thinking is so cloudy.    


Anonymous said...

Sitting at Mittagong Tourist Centre reading this - a small world! Hope this day goes fine; presently quite warm

kvd by iPhone fat fingers

Jim Belshaw said...

Wahat a coincidence. The day did go well, KVD. Then today was bright too.