Friday, September 30, 2011

Understanding the impacts of climate change policy

Wednesday night I went to the annual Walter Westman Lecture on Science, Humanity and the Environment at Sydney University's International House. One of the founding residents of International House in 1967, Professor Westman became an internationally prominent ecologist. He died in 1991 at the young age of 1945.

This year's lecture was delivered by ANU academic Dr Frank Jotzo under the title "Can Australia be a low-carbon country?" Dr Jotzo's view are well known. He is, among other things,  a lead author in the Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I found it interesting, although the nature of the current debate means that things tend to get bogged down. As you might have expected, the opening shot from the audience was fired by a climate change skeptic. Again as you might have expected from this particular audience, most were quite sympathetic to Dr Jotzo's position.

My own interests have moved on. I am no longer interested in debating either climate change or the carbon tax. Rather, I am now trying to increase my understanding of longer term change processes especially associated with Government policy actions.

As I listened to Dr Jotzo, a number of questions arose in my mind that I might have raised had it been appropriate. It wasn't appropriate because the questions were clearly outrunning the time available.

I thought instead that I would simply list them here as a sort of an aide memoire to later thinking.  

Accounting Standards and Rules

Accounting standards and rules are central to the new approaches. If you are to have a carbon tax or price, if you are to allow offsets, you have to have measurement and compliance. This comes with costs and side-effects. One of my concerns is the risk that certain offsets may be ruled out because they are hard to measure or that the measurement is just to difficult.

I would like to know more here.  

Time Horizons & Environmental Conflicts

 20090521-09-03-45-outback2009-innamincka-geothermal-boring Dr Jotzo placed considerable weight on renewable sources of power. He quoted Treasury as suggesting that geothermal could meet a quarter of Australia's power needs.

This photo from Gordon Smith shows a geothermal project under construction just south of Innamincka in Queensland. At present, I think Australia has just one small functioning geothermal power station. So we are looking at quite long lead times before geothermal could achieve the Treasury estimate.

Dr Jotzo also referred to wind farms and coal seam gas as significant clean energy sources, as well as solar concentration. Both wind farms and coal seam gas are subject to major environmental opposition at the present time. Again, we have long lags.

I would like to have a much better understanding of the real time horizons involved in the various processes, taking environmental constraints into account.

Distributional Effects

I have spoken of this one before especially in the context of the costs of the carbon tax. However, it's much broader than that. It's not just a question of the varying costs of one or two cappuccinos, an analogy that dangerously trivialises the debate, but of potentially fundamental changes that I don't properly understand.    


As I said, this post is really an aide memoire to myself. I feel that climate change -  actual and responses - may have more profound effects than any of us realise. 

Assume that the climate skeptics are right. Governments cannot and will not wait because the risks are too great, so we already have significant changes working themselves through the system as a consequence.

Assume that the worst case climate change prognosticators are right. I haven't attempted to assess this yet. However, if this were to happen you are going to find not just the climate change effects, but the effects of extreme government actions.

The middle course, staged climate change with staged responses, is not necessarily the most probable just because it is the middle path. We just don't know.

I will leave this discussion here. I just want to know what it all means.  Every significant economic change creates a pattern of winners and losers. Being mercenary, people are already making money out of climate change. I suspect that this has only just begun.

Climate Change Posts

I have listed these posts just for future reference.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The national importance of the latest Scanlon report

Yesterday Neil Whitfield's Snapshot of a nation losing its faith reported on the latest Scanlon Report into Australian attitudes and perceptions. Much of the reporting has been negative. I quote David Marr who appears to have been sucking on his usual lemon:

WE ARE growing distrustful and gloomy; we doubt government does the right thing by the Australian people; most of us don't trust one another; and though we are generally optimistic about our futures, there has been a sharp rise in the number of us who fear being worse off in two or three years' time.

I spent several hours this morning reading the report. I have a very different take, although I need to reread properly before commenting in detail. Here I want to make some preliminary background comments.

To begin with, I thought that this was a very good report, much much better than the earlier Challenging Australian Racism report. It contains a raft of statistical material that allows some of the nuances in Australian attitudes to be teased out across the dimensions of space, demography and political affiliation.

One of the big issues in interpreting data such as this is just what the data means. You have snapshots of views at a point in time, of changes in attitudes in short periods, hints of changes in attitudes over much longer periods. How do we interpret this and how do we relate it to the complex changing mosaic of Australian life?

In the short term, national views on specific issues fluctuate depending on circumstances such as the economy and the attitudes of key political and media players. In the longer term, those views can be seen to be ephemeral in the overall process of change.

I make this point because, unlike David Marr, I thought that the report provided a highly positive view of Australian attitudes when considered in a historic context. Just as importantly, I thought that the report provided important indicators as to the issues and challenges that we need to manage as we track forward.

We are all biased by our own perceptions. To my mind, the report provided support to many of the things that I have argued on this blog. This may simply be a case of me interpreting the report in my own frame, but I think that it is a little more than that.

My time is limited. However, I do want to look at some elements of the report, main themes if you like, to try to prove my case. At the risk of an odd statement, I was actually quite excited by this report. I offer my congratulations to Professor Andrew Markus and his colleagues on a job well done.   

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lunch at Lindos

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, RhodesP1110503

Continuing the story of our Greek trip from Moni Tsambikas: a very steep hill!, after a drink we headed south to our final destination, Lindos.

Attracting 500,000 visitors annually, Lindos is one of the most popular tourist places on Rhodes.

This photo will give you a feeling why.

On the left is the harbour with its pretty beach, forming one tourist mecca. In the centre is the pretty white painted village with it seventeenth century houses, a second tourist mecca. Then on the top of the hill the acropolis looms over the town, adding a particular historical perspective for those with strong enough legs.

I fear that our party had not come for the history but the beach! We parked the car and walked down the steep road to the hP1110520arbour.

It was very pretty.

Clare and Denise went off for a swim, while I wandered off along the beach to try to find a place where I could find some stuff for a picnic lunch. There were lots of places to eat, but we didn't want to spend a lot of money.

It actually took me some time, but finally I came back carrying cheese, salami, some fruit and a bottle of cheap red wine.

By then, the two girls had had their swim, if with one adventure.

Clare went swimming with her sun-glasses on, I suppose that one must do this in Greece, and lost them in two metres of water. So her mother went back in and actually managed to find them in the very clear water!   P1010989

We had positioned ourselves at the top of the beach in the shade. While Clare and Dee went for another swim, I jotted down a description to try to capture the scene.

"The beach stretches round in a small semi-circle, then there is a small headline and the main Lindos town beach.

From on high, each beach is marked by rows of sun umbrellas beneath which perch sun lounges. The tourists cluster round their lounges; some are stretched out sun-baking; others have towels draped over their heads, exposing the rest of their bodies.

Just to the left of me is the official control desk: a sun-shade, a water container, a book of tickets. There are two controllers.

From time to time, one collects his tickets and goes out on patrol in case someone is occupying a sun lounge without paying. The first controller leaves, then a mobile rings. The second controller springs to his feet. Perhaps there is a breach, a tourist has not paid.

We are picnicking in the shade, attracting strange glances. In the cafe behind us, the sound system seems stuck on a Caribean version of the Sound of Music. Repetition six of Get Me to the Church on Time has just started. Initially attractive, the beat version has now become unbearable.

It must be the end of the official day. The remaining beach controller has just picked up his water, his tickets and strolled away. We leave too."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Australia, agriculture & infrastructure

Later today or tomorrow I will bring up the next post in the Geek travel series. For the moment, a meander.

Over on Managing the Professional Services Firm, Using part time & contract staff effectively returns to one of my traditional themes, ways of improving management. I feel quite strongly on this one, but also have a personal interest because of my earlier decision to focus on contract work as a flexible way  of earning an income while writing. If you like, a bit like the way actors used to work (and still do!) taking temporary jobs to bridge gaps between parts.

This is not all beer and skittles. It's actually remarkably difficult to maintain anything approaching a stable income unless you have a narrowly defined skill set in immediate demand.

I often talk about the way perceptions affect judgement. My focus on thinking about ways of improving selection and management of casual, part time or contract staff reflects this. Now that a majority of the Australian work force is actually in a similar position, I guess that some of my views may have a greater relevance!

While in New Zealand, cousin Richard asked about our grandfather's approach to rural land management and the environment. Richard had a recollection that he was very involved. As it happened, I had written on this on this blog, and was able to provide information.

One of the points I had made was that real change, the drivers if you like, did not come from Government imposed rules but from the desire of individual farmers and graziers to better manage their own land. This remains true today.

From time to time I have mentioned the blog Ochre Archives. This gentle blog by Philip Diprose focuses on the management of his property in the NSW Central West.

As with so many farmers, Philip is an experimenter; I find his stories interesting and indeed relaxing because, regardless of whether or not the things he tries actually works, he is always doing new things. It's a nice release from the turmoil of current events. I also learn a fair bit. From the viewpoint of overseas readers, his material is accessible and interesting.

Changing directions, Neil Whitfield's Niggling example of political short-sightedness: Maldon-Dombarton rail link really struck a chord. To a reader from outside the Illawarra, this might seem obscure. The question in my mind is whether its actually possible for any Australian Government to really run a decent infrastructure program any more. The barriers now are just too great!

This may sound extreme, so let me explain.  

Say you want to build a new piece of public infrastructure. The following forces come into play:

  • Under current thinking, preferred options are those where you can involved the private sector. We call this public-private partnerships. To do this, you must be able to create some form of market return directly linked to the piece of infrastructure. Projects that cannot meet this criterion that may offer returns via externalities are in trouble.
  • All Government involvement has to pass financial tests, cost-benefit analysis and risk analysis. By their nature, these things are biased towards the measurable, against the new.
  • With the changes to the Australian Federal system, neither local or state levels have either the power nor financial resources to mount significant projects on their own. Projects now have to navigate their way through jurisdictional complexities.
  • All projects now have to meet complex environmental requirements that play out across a variety of political domains before they can proceed.
  • Once a project has been approved and begun, then it is subject to sometimes withering public scrutiny.

Australia is pretty good at building things. Our problem is that it's just so hard to actually start!

Do you know, I doubt that the Australian colonies would have built a single railway line if current approaches had been in place!

Maybe I am just jaundiced.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Moni Tsambikas: a very steep hill!

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, RhodesP1110438

  Continuing the story of our Greek trip from Kalithea Thermi, we finally gathered our group together and sat for a while in part of the shaded garden. Youngest continued her fascination with Greek cats. She took photos throughout Greece. The were a lot of cats to photograph!

We now left the world of Mussolini and the Italian Dodecanese behind, driving south in the mid-morning sun.  Next stop Moni Tsambikas and another part of Greek history and culture.

Just south of Kalithea Thermi, the road passes through Faliraki. This is a big resort area, sort of the Gold Coast of Rhodes. I am not sure why I was surprised to find it, but I was. It all seemed somehow a bit raw. As on Crete, I suspect that part of it was a symptom of the Greek bubble. Curious, I wanted to drive and walk around to have a look, but we were on a schP1010950edule.

  We had been told that we should visit Moni Tsambikas for the views. However, we were also warned that it was a pretty steep climb. That warning was correct!

There is a parking spot half way up, but from there you proceed by steps. We climbed and climbed.

Part of the story about the monastery is that it is a place of pilgrimage for childless women. Apparently on 18 September each year, the monastery's festival day, women climb the steps on their knees and then pray to conceive.


Most of the climb is shaded, but it was still very hot. I began to think longingly of a drink once we reached the monastery. Here I was grievously misled by the word monastery. To my mind, monastery conjures pictures of a substantial building with monks. That's not so here.

Moni Tsambikas is in fact a smallish Greek Orthodox shrine perched right on top of the mountain, with sheer drops on all sides. No drinks there! I was quite surprised, in fact.

As you can see from the following photo, the building is of conventional Greek style with the inevitable add-ons of power line etc.P1010960

We wandered around inside and then clambered around outside. The views were indeed spectacular.P1110490

Fine views are good, but I wish that I knew or could find more of the history on Moni Tsambikas  itself. I know that I am a history nut, but I do like to know just what I am seeing!

We decided to go back to the cafe at the car park half way up the mountain for a drink before moving on. This was an Austrian style place, what else in Greece?, but the beer was nice. There Clare was fascinated by the goats!


Drinks had, goats seen, we drove south through the mid day sun. Next stop Lindos. 

Family, internet, facebook's decline

Helen Puhoi NZ Sept 11 This time last week Helen (eldest) and I were in New Zealand. This morning, I dropped she and some friends at Sydney airport to go the University Games on the Gold Coast. 

Back in July I mentioned the various university Conference games, with eldest playing in the mixed netball in the Eastern University Games. Now this is the big one, with some 5,000 players.

There was a certain symmetry in  that the UNSW team includes a Dane on exchange at UNSW, whereas Helen was playing netball in Copenhagen in the first part of the year while on exchange there!

It's interesting watching the kids.

Yesterday Helen was a bridesmaid at a friend's wedding. Her mother went off along with phone to get photos and a short video of daughter all dressed up at the church!  Both girls now have married friends. There would have been nothing unusual about this in my generation, marriage ages were then just beginning to blow out, but I have the strong impression that marriage age is shortening again from that holding even ten year's ago.

As must be fairly obvious, I rely on my daughters in keeping in a degree of touch! As part of this, I am interested in their reactions to the on-line world. They are, after all, what are now called digital natives!

I hate to say this, but internet enthusiasm is now dominated by the aging, those who discovered it when it was new and often think of it as a solution to all problems. To the young at least in Australia, it and all the new technology is simply a tool.

I mention this because it bears upon something I mentioned in passing a little while ago, Facebook's decline?. Younger usage has really dropped, at least among that group that I have access to. If youngest is any guide, the latest changes haven't helped.

The whole point about the early Facebook is that it was just so easy. As soon as you have to learn how to use something, then time poverty sets in.

Well, I have some writing to do today, including moving forward on my Greek posts. All for now. 


It's interesting that I should have commented about Facebook, for in now checking I find that I group that I belong to has an archive or upgrade message.

From my viewpoint, I have noticed that the progressive tweeks to Facebook have made it less useful from my viewpoint. It's been little things like not getting feeds or finding it harder to find pages, groups or friends. I have to click round now.

This last major change has had broader impacts that I don't fully understand. I am a fairly passive user, but I am now apparently faced with choices that actually require me to do things. I don't mind the unsubscribe requests so that I don't see certain comments, but actually having to learn how to work the new Facebook is a pain.

It's the same type of issue that makes me cautious with Google+. It's not clear to me what personal and professional return I am going to get from the time involved.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday Morning Musings - economic turmoil, education, New Zealand & the Armidale Express

I am feeling a bit moody this morning, not really wanting to concentrate. It's part connected with the Australian papers; depression in talk, depression in mood. Not happy, Jan.

I find the detailed economic reporting difficult to read at the moment. Quite a bit of it is actually dominated by ideological positions of one type or another. I would find it easier if there was some re-weighting between specific analysis and attacks on opposing views.

I am not being especially critical. I just find it hard to read.

National planning for global downturn is the start of an attempt on my part to refresh my own thinking. I suppose that I am trying to define to my own satisfaction an approach that might actually allow Australia to take some advantage of its relatively strong position at a time of continuing economic turmoil.

I have had many goes at what I see as short termism in Australian politics; Belshaw's World - big issues missed in political discourse is a recent example. On 23 September, Opposition Leader Abbott outlined his approach to improved productivity. Outside the ideological stances that affect the varying approaches, I actually see little difference between the two sides in that both have a mechanistic focus on a small number of policy measures; pull this policy lever, push that policy bail and the sun will shine again.

I said that I was feeling moody!

In earlier posts, I discussed the mess that had been created for Australia's export education sector by (among other things) shifting Government visa requirements. During the week the report of the Knight Inquiry into student visa requirements was released. I quote from Bernard Lane's story in the Australian:

UNIVERSITIES will be allowed to entice foreign students with quick visa approvals and the right to two years of work after graduation as part of a reform package to stem further losses of overseas student income.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said yesterday they would act on a remarkably frank report on Australia's education export industry by former NSW politician Michael Knight.

By mid next year, foreign students keen on an Australian university degree will have access to a new, fast-track visa system.

Those who are interested can find the full report plus Government response here. I haven't read it yet, but it's apparently a very readable report. Blind Freddy could see that something would have to be done, if only to counter successful competition from New Zealand's eight state universities!

One issue that I haven't looked at for some time is the relationship between the university and vocational education sectors. The latest changes again favour the university sector.

On New Zealand, I have often tried to point to the importance of that country to Australia. This is not just my Kiwi side coming out, nor am I talking solely about economics. Relative to its size, New Zealand has had a disproportionate influence on Australia. If you doubt this, have a look at this 2006 post of mine, Changes in Public Administration - the New Zealand Model.

As a small, open economy perched on the edge of the world, New Zealand is exposed to change in a way that Australia is not. As an example, consider this quote from a paper by Dr Andrew Butcher of the Asia New Zealand Foundation:

New Zealand, among Western countries actively engaged with the Asian region, has a significant Asian population. At the 2006 census nine percent of New Zealanders identified themselves as ethnically Asian and we can reasonably suppose that had the census been held this year we would see that percentage increase. Based on projections from the 2006 census, 16 percent of New Zealand’s population will be ethnically Asian by the year 2026.

I have said before that the changes taking place in New Zealand and especially in Auckland dwarf those taking place in the larger and more insular Australia.

Border myopia is an interesting thing, Just as most statistical analyses of NSW ignore the presence of the ACT (an absurdity), so analysis of Australia ignores New Zealand. Yet for many practical purposes, Australia and New Zealand form a single entity in social and economic terms. Of course there are differences as there are between WA and the eastern states, yet New Zealand change does flow on to Australia, if with a lag.

Changing directions, I was fascinated by a story on the ABC, Aboriginal DNA dates Australian arrival. I quote:

The finding, published today in the journal Science, rewrites the history of the human species by confirming humans moved out of Africa in waves of migrations rather than in one single out-of-Africa diaspora.

The study is based on a lock of hair donated to British anthropologist Alfred Haddon by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia in the early 20th century.

The genome, shown to have no genetic input from modern European Australians, reveals the ancestors of the Aboriginal man separated from the ancestors of other human populations 64,000 to 75,000 years ago.

Leave aside the rather breathless reporting with its modern attitudinal overlays. The key thing is that it suggests that the Aborigines arrived early and by a southern route. On the surface, the story actually fits with some earlier DNA analysis carried out in India that I reported on back in 2009, An Ancient Australia-Indian connection.

I do love the way that science allows us to lift the veil from aspects of the human past!

Finishing this post with a change in direction, my Armidale Express column Belshaw's World - the online myth discussed aspects of education delivery in the on-line world. A little later, the paper carried some remarks by UNE VC James Barber on on-line education that I thought were remarkably silly. That reaction may be unfair; I will review and write later. 

I have been arguing for some time with my Express editor, Christian Knight, that he has to put more of the paper on-line. I say this now because the Barber story is not on-line.

The Express is a slightly unusual paper because of Armidale's role as an educational centre. It's not just that I write for it, but so do many others. Here I want to quote from Janene Carey, an Express journo who has by-lined national stories from her Armidale base:     

I'm always surprised by how many people discount country journalism and don't bother to buy the local paper. I had lunch with an academic friend recently who seemed bemused that I'd want a part-time postdoctoral fellowship so I could continue working at the Armidale Express. She even asked me if I'd 'ever considered journalism as a profession?' - by which she meant a job on a "real" newspaper, a daily in the city covering serious, important stories.

Although the list of things that I'll be working on today by no means represent a typical day at the Express, tasks like these do come along often enough to keep me hooked:

1. Writing up the speech Walkley-award winning journalist David Marr gave in Armidale on Tuesday about the 'politics of panic' driving Australia's asylum seeker policies
2. Waiting to hear back from federal MP Tony Windsor about his reaction to what Armidale-based environmental activist Carmel Flint said about the bill he's just introduced to Parliament (it's aiming to protect water resources from coal seam gas exploration - something dear to Carmel's own heart - but she's called it 'a toothless trigger')
3. Interviewing former PLC student Fiona Simson, who in July became the first woman to head the NSW Farmers Association (largely on the strength of her campaigning against CSG exploration and its effects on food production) for a profile in our next glossy Seasons magazine

I reckon that sounds like an interesting day's work!

And indeed it does, Janene!

Christian, I will continue my campaign. You are downplaying your own paper, and its contributors!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Samara reports & the Australian political system

In Rebuilding the role of MP as representative, I referred to a report by the Canadian Samara Foundation on the functioning of the Canadian Parliament based on exit interviews with 65 MPs. I really should have said project, for there are in fact four reports in all. You will find all four here.

The reports are really worth reading if you are interested in the functioning of Parliament for they provide an alternative perspective to Australia. After all, it is not so long ago that we had the so-called new paradigm that then dissolved into an increasingly vicious business as usual model.

You will need to be patient in reading. The modern internet layout used is cluncky and slow for those of us actually used to reading. I do wonder what the internet is doing to our ability to read! Still, there is some very interesting material there.

Differences between Australia & Canada

Both Canada and Australia have Westminster systems of government. Yet while this leads to common issues, the two countries are remarkably different.

Part of the difference is constitutional.

I am not talking here just about differences in the powers of the Federal Government in the two countries; in formal terms, the Commonwealth has specified powers, with the states responsible for everything else; in Canada, the provinces have the specified powers. More, there are a whole series of institutional differences that affect the functioning of Parliament. As a simple example, the Australian Senate with its separate but largely equivalent powers as compared to the House of Representatives is very different from the Canadian Upper House. This makes the Canadian Lower House far more important.

Part of the difference is one of scale. It's not just that Canada is a bigger country than Australia. Their House of Commons is more than twice the size of the House of Representatives. This affects operations.

Then there are differences in geography and political culture. The political geography of Canada is more diverse, more divided than Australia, the party political structures more varied, less stable. This also affects the way Parliament operates.

Differences in philosophy

I was really struck by the very basic differences in the articulation of what we might think of as the constitutional or even philosophical role of MPs in the two countries; while there are similarities in problems and issues, Australian thinking struck me as far more articulated, more defined, more thought through.

I have to be a little careful here, because my own experience, views and writings are strongly influenced by my own history. I am not necessarily representative. Yet when I look at both the views of Canadian MPs and of the Samara Foundation itself, I was really struck by the absence of clearly articulated views on the role of MPs and the relationships between MPs and the role of Parliament. Here I quote from Samara:

According to Canada’s Library of Parliament, an MP in the Westminster system of government—the system on which the Canadian Parliament is based—has three traditional roles. The first is to consider, refine and pass legislation. In other words, to establish policy and pass laws.

The second is to hold government accountable for its administration of the laws and to authorize the expenditure of required funds. That is, to ensure that the laws are being carried out properly, and that tax dollars are being spent responsibly.

The third role is to determine the life of the government by providing or withholding support. This means to vote for things you support, and against things you don’t.

Note that there is no reference in this to the MP's role as representative, the focus is on Parliament. Canadian MPs themselves placed the representation role as central, but there is little discussion as to how this might fit in with the definition given above.

MP as outsider

One very striking thing about the Samara analysis is the way that MPs saw themselves as outsiders. To understand this, we need to look at the way MPs entered Parliament.

In Australia, politics has increasingly become what we might think of as a professional career path. Increasingly, our politicians are selected from those who have gone from university though structures and activities linked to party of choice. Specific high flyers or perceived "good candidates" are targeted by the party machines. All this means that Parliamentarians are increasingly seen as less representative. 

Canada seems very different, much more like the Australia of fifty plus years ago. Most interviewed MPs had been active in their local communities; there they were really insiders. Yet they fell into national politics almost be accident, by serendipity, because they were asked to stand. They were also far older than their Australian equivalents with an average age on entry to Parliament of 47. I could find no obvious equivalents among Canadian MPs to either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott.

I wondered if this was simply a timing issue. Samara was interviewing exiting MPs, so to understand their experiences and to equate them to Australia we have to go back to the time that they were preselected. The average length of time in Parliament for exiting MPs was 10.3 years. Accepting that this is an average, professionalisation in Australia is well advanced compared to Canada.

One of the reasons for this is, I think, the relative stability of Australian political parties compared to Canada. In a practical sense, it is a bit hard to plan a professional career when you main vehicle - the party - is unstable.

MPs' likes and dislikes

There was an interesting pattern in MPs' likes and dislikes.

All the MPs felt ill-prepared for Parliament. All struggled to some degree with their conflicting roles. Some, an apparent majority, liked their representation role. To others, this was an interference with their perception that their role was to legislate and debate policy. As in Australia, MPs representing country electorates found their electors more demanding with greater expectations about the local role of MPs than those representing city electorates.

Universally, MPs felt that question time had become a damaging, stylised piece of political theatre, that debates in Parliament had lost meaning. SAM_ItsMyParty_v2-10 copy

As illustrated by the graphic, most MPs thought that  their real work took place away from public Parliamentary activities. Here I had a bit of a problem with the underlying assumption in the Samara analysis.

The real work in the graphic does not include electoral work. The Samara people were in fact surprised at the importance placed on this by MPs since this was outside the Parliamentary model Samara was using. Samara was also concerned about lack of transparency, whereas I thought that Samara was misunderstanding the nature of the parliamentary process.

Most MPs struggled with their relationship with parties, seeing parties, party games and party discipline as a significant problem.

Samara cruelly, but in a way accurately, likened the party system to a franchise model in which the party was the franchiser while the MP was the local franchisee. MPs had certain freedom and were expected to deliver locally, but this took place within a narrowly defined space.

I had a different take here from Samara. None of the reports actually discussed the role of the party within the political system. I thought that this was a weakness. Further, I thought that the Canadian system was in fact less rigid and more fluid than that in Australia. As an illustration, I quote:   

A couple of MPs did cite examples where their party leadership had clearly outlined their expectations. One Liberal MP mentioned being given guidelines for effective dissent. “[The leader] brought in three-tier voting. Tier one was like a confidence matter, such as a budget or throne speech [where MPs were expected to support the party.]. Tier two would be policy matters that are very important, and that MPs would be encouraged to support it. Tier three was free votes. And if we thought that [an issue] was a category one instead of a category two we could thrash that out beforehand,” the MP said.

This approach and others such as the role of abstentions in voting compares to Australia's more rigid party disciplines.

Almost universally, the successes and achievements nominated by former MPs as the things about the things that they felt proudest were not big ticket items that formed the stuff of daily reporting, but smaller individual changes that they had brought about often despite of, not because of, the system.  

Declining prestige of Parliament and politicians

Those interviewed appeared to be all aware of a decline in the prestige of Parliament and politicians. Politicians were now less trustworthy than used car salesman, while both party membership and voluntary voting were at an all time low. Yet when they came to to suggest solutions, their focus was not on things tfour_big_questions hat they could do individually as MPs, but on process and systemic changes.

The four key questions posed by Samara based on the interviews had the same system focus.

I found it remarkable and a little sad that there was so little focus on principles, structural relationships and roles. Question two begins with the term "a job description". How very managerial!

In my last post I used the term vocation. The MP's role is a job, but it's more than that. It's a key and complicated role defined by history that is central to our system of government. I think that we would do well to remember that.     

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On beer, rugby & the patterns of change

979326-fosters The acceptance by Australian brewer Fosters of a takeover bid from UK based SABMiller marks the end of an era. I quote:   

... former Foster's chief John Elliott, whose dream in the 1980s was to "Fosterise the world" by expanding into overseas markets, was aghast that the company was set to fall into foreign hands.

"They made a real mess of the whole thing and have done a dreadful job," he told The Australian last night.

"It is a disaster. One of the great Australian icons is now gone because of exceptionally bad management and an exceptionally bad board.

I have always thought that Fosters' troubles actually began with Mr Elliott, but he is right about both management and the loss of an icon. In memoriam.

Part of the research I have been doing on my history of New England looked at the process of industrial and structural change from 1950 and especially from the 1970s and 1980s. This is actually a subset of the change processes that affected Fosters clearly seen because of the way it worked out at local level.   

 Before the game Both the Australian and New Zealand media have been carrying stories about the abuse of Australian Rugby spectators by some Kiwis before and after the Ireland game. There is a bit of that, although it needs to be kept in perspective.

Again, we are dealing with a change process. The relationship between the two countries and its peoples has always been complicated.

As Australia got bigger relative to New Zealand, a degree of arrogance crept into Australian attitudes towards the smaller country, matched by resentment on the other side. The shift in Kiwi attitudes was quite sudden.

For a period in the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, I visited New Zealand every year to stay with family. I still remember my sense of shock when I experienced anti-Australian attitudes for the first time. One year they were absent, the next quite pronounced, indeed hard edged. This was during the Whitlam Government's nationalistic little Australian period when the Government tried (among other things) to introduce controls on the flow of people between the two countries, arguing that New Zealand should not receive special treatment.

I was in the Australian Treasury's Foreign Investment Division at the time and it made me very uncomfortable at a personal level to be writing material arguing that New Zealand investment should not receive special treatment on the grounds of non-discrimination. I didn't like this denial of the importance of shared history and culture. It roused the New Zealand nationalist side of my own family history.

As I write, the Australian Government is bringing forward debate on its new refugee legislation. I see that Andrew Metcalfe, the head of the Immigration Department, is briefing cross-benchers.

My instinctive reaction when the Government first announced the Malaysian deal was positive (When perfection's not possible: Gillard & refugees provides an entry point to my then thoughts), in part because I saw it as an element in a broader regional approach. This was very much a minority view. Since then things have unwound to the point that I wonder whether any form of sensible solution is possible.

In my Armidale Express column of 9 September (Belshaw's World - big issues missed in political discourse) I expressed disquiet about what I saw as the hijacking of political debate by a small number of issues. I remain of that view. However, there is a further issue, one that I didn't comment on at the time.

In earlier September briefings, Immigration Department head Metcalfe is reported as saying, among other things that London and Paris-style social unrest would break out in Australian cities if 600 boat people arrived a month!

Beyond wondering just which country Mr Metcalfe lives in, it's clearly not my Australia, I was actually struck by the political nature of the intervention. In briefing, the role of the official is to provide information on policy. Ministers are meant to deal with politics. To my mind, Mr Metcalfe's reported remarks were actually  a breach of the Westminster Conventions. But then, I suppose that I am an old fogie!

Finally, Global economic gloom marks another stage in my renewed musings on the economic outlook. I am really struggling with some of the current economic reporting. I find the cacophony of daily reporting just plain confusing.

As anybody who reads this blog will know, I am by nature a framework person. I like structures that will help me understand. I read the economics stuff and keep saying to myself, I don't think that's right, it feels wrong. If I can't explain why I think that it's wrong, it becomes an itch that has to be scratched.

A lot of the stuff I write is represents my attempt to understand. Some of this can be pretty boring. But is does help me to understand.    

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rebuilding the role of MP as representative

This post links together two apparently disconnected stories, both concerned with the effective operation of parliaments.

On 16 September, Annabel Crab's UnQuestion Time: the Speaker makes a point dealt with question time in the Australian Parliament. The story points to a conflict between standing orders and the way question time works in practice.

On 19 September, Christopher Moore's Samara on parliamentary disfunction discussed a report by the Canadian Samara Foundation on the functioning of the Canadian Parliament based on exit interviews with retiring MPs. The MPs fulminated about the uselessness, impotence, and frustration they felt.

Both pieces are interesting. However, they also go to a common problem, the actual roles of an MP.

MPs in the Westminster System have multiple roles, roles that can conflict. They are first elected to represent electorates. Then, once elected, they acquire a role in Parliament in contributing to governance. Beyond that in a party system, they have obligations to their parties. Then ministers acquire obligations as members of the executive.

We live in a professionalised world in which the focus is on party and government. You see this in the argument that people vote for parties, that parties must select people who can ultimately best contribute to the business of power and government. You can see this in the focus on professional campaigning, on machine politics, on the leader, on the need to maintain a common front, to stick to message.

To my mind, this professionalised world misses a fundamental point, the role of the member in representing his or her electorate. It also misses a second fundamental point, the role of the member in and responsibilities to Parliament itself.

In voting, I vote for a person. I may or may not be influenced by the party that person stands for, but I am still voting for a person. In doing so, I am not voting for someone because they might become minister or even PM. I am not voting for a person because they are a good manager or might be intellectually bright. I am voting for someone who might represent me.

I grew up in a political world. For the first eighteen years of my life my grandfather was a local MP. Later, I became actively involved in party politics and even tried for pre-selection. I saw good and bad politicians. But I never doubted that politics was a vocation.

My deep distrust of the Liberal Party and its predecessors, the coalition partner of the party I supported, lay in the simple fact that (at least as I saw it) the Party was too dominated by people seeking power and career for its own sake. You could not trust them. Then Labor, by contrast, may have been the natural political enemy, may have played dirty politics from time to time, may have used class arguments that I denied, but you knew where the Party was coming from.

The original role of question time was to allow MPs to find out information about Government activities that interested them. These might deal with specific policies. More often, it dealt with specific electoral matters. Questions also allowed MPs to flag issues that were important to them.

This is no longer true. Question time has become another part of the general party political process. Who can ask a question, what will be asked, is determined by the Party leadership. There is actually no place for the ordinary MP to do his or her job. They have been emasculated.

I think that this links to the type of disillusionment recorded in the Samara report: MPs who want to fulfil their representation role and to make an individual contribution find their task increasingly constrained and difficult.

Just as bad, in attempting to focus in party selection on the roles of MPs as potential ministers or party leaders we build in seeds of future disillusionment. The statistical reality is that most MPs cannot become ministers. If that is the primary reason for entering parliament, then failure is inevitable for most. Further, many of those who come in for this type of career reason are actually impatient with the electoral grind that is an inevitable part of the representation process.

To my mind, the current approach to question time is actually a fundamental denial of the role and power of Parliament. If we really want question time to work, then one of the most practical things that might be done would be to limit the number of questions that might be asked by any single MP in any parliamentary sitting. This may sound extreme, but it would destroy current political games.

If this is too extreme, then another option would be to provide that a proportion of question time be limited to back bench questions on matters of direct concern to them.

In this, improving the capacity of MPs to actually represent might go some way to addressing the disillusionment experienced by many.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Random musings on family & New Zealand

Somewhat tired yesterday and still today. Not surprising, really. We got up to go to the airport yesterday at 4am NZ time, 2am Australian. Then for booking reasons we came via Melbourne, only to be caught in the security scare at Sydney airport, forcing the plane to sit on the tarmac at Sydney airport for an hour and a half. In the end, we didn't get back to home until around 4pm Australian time, making for a fourteen hour trip.

While in New Zealand I read Frank Walker's The Tiger Man of Vietnam. It's a good yarn, although I have some reservations about some of the analysis from an historical perspective.ghost platoon

Upon return, an excited youngest daughter showed me her autographed copy of Frank's new book, Ghost Platoon. Why excited?

It's not just the autograph, but there in the book is a map that Frank got Clare to draw as an illustration. There, too, in small print is an acknowledgement of Clare as the artist!

Frank was a senior journalist at the Sun-Herald in Sydney who took retrenchment and then decided to become a full time writer. He is now working on his first novel.

I was thinking this morning as I was writing this week's Armidale Express column, this one on the Rugby, that I really must get Clare to do some illustrations for me. I can't afford to pay her at the moment, so will have to rely on charm!

I was thinking the other day that my three girls, while all very different, are frighteningly competent modern women.

Apart from her other activities, Dee has just facilitated her first course for the Australian Institute of Company Directors, was interviewed as one of the talking heads on insolvency for the George Negus Show and is the official speaker this year at one of the Sydney University graduation ceremonies.

Helen took me to New Zealand for the Rugby, displaying her practical organisation skills. I really didn't have to do a thing. Helen is very like her Aunt Kay with a high degree of emotional intelligence, a calm demeanour in a crisis and a very, very, practical approach. I do stand a bit in awe of her and her gift for friendship.

Clare is different again, far more mercurial and over the place. Still firming up in some ways, she has quite high artistic talent, can be all over the place, but also has very high level organisational skills when she wishes to apply them. Like Helen, she is a natural leader.

All this may sound a bit like boasting, and perhaps it is. But I was also thinking of broader aspects.

One element is the need for me to change as my family changes, and that is not always easy. It's part of the challenge today when relationships are based less on traditional roles, more on individual negotiation.

A second element that has always interested me is the way in which varying personalities are formed through the combination of genetics, experience and personal interaction. This includes the way that gender works itself out, for boys and girls remain very different.

I listen to the sometimes very funny interaction between Helen and Clare and continue to be amazed at their memories for dialogue, for situation and for mimicry. Boys can do this too, but I think that the way that the girls do it is very much a girl thing.

In New Zealand we stayed with cousin Richard. Looking at Richard and his two boys, I was again struck by the variations in personality as well as the commonalities.

Vic Fisher Monteray In Auckland, we visited the Auckland museum because I wanted to show Helen and Dylan, Richard's youngest, the big Maori war canoe that brother David and I sat in when we were kids. You can't do this now, but Uncle Vic Fisher was curator of ethnography at the museum and took us there one day when the museum was closed.

The photo from the Museum collection shows Uncle Vic on the Monteray. 

I have written before of the way that attitudes, interests and approaches flow down through the generations. This is partly due to family contacts and traditions, but it also seems to occur independent of that.

On the Belshaw side, the interest in history, economics and anthropology is certainly due to proximity and family connection. But the way that this played out across countries and time also seems to reflect a little more, perhaps something in the blood, for people with common interests tend to marry.

My girls are generally patient with me when I get into didactic, introspective mode. I guess that they need to be, for they live in the present whereas I want to show them something about the depth and complexity of the Belshaw and Drummond past.

Introspection is crowding in as I write, as memories of the past come back.

As a child, Vic was simply someone married to my aunt, not an historical figure. He was someone whom I met many times on my visits to New Zealand, less often in Australia. A gentle somewhat gaunt man, he taught brother David and I to play chess. I remember on that museum visit how he showed us how the Maori lit fires, We experimented on the floor of his office at the museum.

Over the years that followed, I listened to his stories. On my last trips to New Zealand before his death he was fascinated by the similarities between the Maori and Elizabethan England. Travelling through the South Island, he yarned about the way that both societies as wood using societies had similar phrases. Tough as old oak had a direct Maori equivalent.

Walking through the Auckland Museum, I remembered those conversations and other family connections. It wasn't just that Vic helped build the Maori and Pacific Island collections. The collections also referred to trade in the pre-historic Pacific, to the ceremonial exchange cycle, something that cousin Cyril Belshaw had written on. Many years later I drew from Cyril's work in my own honours thesis.

Then there was the broader material on the Maori. Here Uncle Horace Belshaw played an early role in Maori advancement. As part of this, Horace organised a Maori Young Leaders Conference in 1939. More than seventy years later and in my own limited way, I campaign for Aboriginal advancement. In the meantime, cousin Cyril created a museum display at the University of British Columbia on the Canadian Indians.

As I write, my train reading is Cyril's book Choosing our Destiny: creating the utopian world in the 21st century, an attempt to apply the lessons from his studies of anthropology to create a better society. This type of approach has carried through several generations.

 BarPopuP026 I will write about Cyril's book later. For the moment, I just wanted to note that the views common among the Belshaws  means that as a family we have generally had a left of centre focus relative to the societies that we have lived in. This photo from Rachel Barrowman's A popular vision: the arts and the left in New Zealand 1930-1950 shows a gathering at Piha. Horace Belshaw is second on the left.

Looking across the family as a whole, we are not left wing in the conventional sense. However, we do have a social concern that carries through to today that does mark us a left of centre in conventional terms. However, formalised ideology has always played a secondary role to the simple objective of human improvement. 

As so often happens, this muse has taken me away from my original starting point. Here I want to finish with a comment I made to Helen as we drove into Auckland from the airport.

In the 1920s, Helen's great grandfather David Drummond visited New Zealand. He was then a backbencher in the NSW parliament. Coming from Northern NSW, New England, he was struck by the number of bigger urban centres with their own universities and other facilities. He contrasted this with New England. Why, he asked, is this so? Why can't New England do likewise?

As we drove into Auckland,I remarked that a country with a total population about the same as Sydney had five airports with international flights, more universities than NSW, sporting venues that took the Rugby World Cup across the country in a way unachievable in Australia.

I think that David Drummond's question remains valid. Still that's another post.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ireland celebrates in the Rugby

Just back from New Zealand. This photo says it all:

Ireland celebrates

I will write some travel posts on the trip, but Eden Park on Saturday night was simply depressing!

Well done Ireland. Your team deserved the win.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

No posts

There will be no more posts here until I am back from New Zealand. I have run out of time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Short termism in current Australian political discourse

I hope to bring the next post in my Greek series up later today. I am enjoying revisiting that trip, as well as my exploration of the surrounding history. I know that at least some readers are too. For now, a brief comment on some current events.

When we were in Greece last year there were constant demonstrations against the Government's proposed austerity measures. Now, almost twelve months later, Greece's problems roll on.

I am not close enough to the numbers to have a proper feel for just what is happening or likely to happen. However, there are some things that do confuse me.

The first is the tendency to conflate Greece's membership of the Euro zone with its membership of the EU as evidenced by this piece in today's Australian. I would have thought that they were two different questions, that Greece could reintroduce its own currency without affecting its EU membership.

The second is an apparent confusion, or at least confusion in my mind, between the survival of the Euro and any bail out of Greece of other countries. I would have thought that so long as the European Central Bank itself is sound, and that may be threatened if it has purchased too much bad Government debt, the Euro can survive as a currency regardless of Greece.

Australia has not been immune to the Lemming Bros (the pun is intentional) behaviour of the global financial markets. The Australian economy would probably have softened in any case since the country is sitting uncomfortably at a gap point. The signs continue to point to rapid mining expansion, but in the meantime the rest of the economy, the bulk of the economy, is being affected by the high Australian dollar and by global uncertainty.

Australian politics continues to be quite volatile, sufficiently volatile that reporters and especially commentators have become a lagged variable, always a little bit behind the moving political front. It's interesting, actually, because it's a symptom of current obsessions with the immediate present.

Take the boat people debate as an example and leaving aside discussion on substantive issues. After the High Court decision on the legality of the Government's Malaysian "solution", the commentariat focused on this as another blow to the Gillard Government, fuelling further debate about the PM's survival. The Government was apparently wedged between the left of its own party and the Greens on one side, the Opposition on the other. In fact, and thanks to some clumsy politics on his part, Opposition leader Abbott seems to have wedged himself. The debate has moved on.

The introduction of the Carbon Tax legislation into the Federal Parliament creates a new element in the political dynamics, another piece of political theatre. Of course everybody knew that it was coming, but now that it's actually here people are going to talk about it, taking attention away from other issues including refugees. Then, when that legislation is passed as seems likely, debate will move on again.

I was trying to think of an analogy to illustrate the continuing strange disconnect between the immediate dominant themes in discussion and reporting and the actual business of Government. The best I can come up with is that the Australian Government is like a large ship whose momentum drives it through the water, whereas so much discussion focuses on the immediate bow wave. The Government may or may not survive the next election, but in the meantime things continue.

If I were asked to nominate the single most important issue that will affect the Government over the next two years I would say the economy and associated structural change. At individual policy level, both the Carbon Tax and proposed Resource Rent Tax are based on certain assumptions about economic activity. At a broader level, both community attitudes and the Government's ability to do things actually depend upon economic performance.

If the economy goes reasonably well, the Government has a chance of long term survival independent of decisions on specific issues. If the economy goes sour, then all bets are off.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Enjoying the Rugby World Cup

To the detriment of just about everything else, I have been completely distracted by the Rugby World Cup. This is presently underway in New Zealand, featuring twenty national teams.

  Fifteen a side Rugby is a strange game played by people who you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. It's not that the players are bad, simply large!

Ninety three countries are listed on the world Rugby rankings, with Finland at 93 scoring a 27.7 ranking. This compares to New Zealand as present number one on 90.55 points. Needless to say, you won't hear much about Finnish Rugby!

Traditionally, the World Cup has been dominated by a small number of top teams. The so-called minnows who make it to the tournament through the qualifying process played in zones around the world - the top teams are automatically included - usually get demolished by the fully professional top group.

I have always enjoyed watching the minnows play. Even when defeated by huge margins, they often play entertaining Rugby. Playing each other, you get some fun Rugby as compared to the sometimes gritty and dour top performances.

This year, the performance so far by the minnows has been remarkably good. They haven't won against the top teams, but they have played some very good and entertaining Rugby.

Unlike League, the rival Rugby code, Union is a genuine international game. Underpinned by professional competitions in Europe and the Southern hemisphere, the IRB has been investing in spreading the game. This seems to be working.

Like so many international sports, Rugby began in England and then spread throughout the Empire and beyond. As an international sport, too, players originally from one country end up playing for another.

It's interesting with sport how genes dictate performance. Just as those of African or Caribbean ancestry dominate certain track events, so big boned Pacific Islanders are spreading throughout world rugby.

I have left the best to last. Eldest is taking me to New Zealand to watch Australia playing Ireland! We leave Thursday, back early Monday morning. I am really looking forward to it.              

Monday, September 12, 2011

Kalithea Thermi

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, Rhodes

Continuing the story from Rhodes and the sad failure of the Dodecanese campaign, our hire car was P1010860 delivered to the hotel. All we had to do was to find our way out of the old town and then to the main road down the East Coast. Sounds simple? Well, consider this photo.

We bumped around on the narrow streets for a while and then, with a bit of help, found our way out. Lost again, we drove around in the new town for a little until we got our bearings.

Finally, we got onto the main road and headed south. First stop, Kalithea Thermi.

Our hosts at the hotel had told us a little bit about this place and recommended that we visit.

Attracted by the sea and the then hot springs, the Italians built a spa there for the particular use of King Victor Emmanuel III and Mussolini.

I had to refresh my memory of King Victor Emmanuel III for he is quite overshadowed in my mind by Mussolini. Born on 11 November 1869, he ascended to the Italian throne on  29 July 1900 following the assassination of his father King Umberto. He was then thirty, not all that much older than the country itself; Italy had only come into existence in 1861.  

220px-Victor_Emmanuel_III This illustration from 1902 presents Victor Emmanuel as a small peacock. Peacock he may have been, small he certainly was, a little over five feet.  He inherited a country that was still poorly developed. At the time the Kingdom was established the great bulk of the population was illiterate lacking a common language. What we now know as Italian was really spoken only in Tuscany.

Victor Emmanuel's Italy was a constitutional monarchy, although the King retained residual powers including the right to appoint the Prime Minister. Politics was unstable. Between 1900 and 1922 the King was forced to intervene ten times to resolve parliamentary crises, something that he found personally difficult because he was apparently shy and somewhat withdrawn and hated the day to day stresses of politics.

As in many new states, there was a strongly nationalist thread to politics covering three main threads: a desire to extend the country's boundaries to include all Italians; a desire the build Italy into a modern industrial state; and a desire to re-create an Italian Empire. As with Greece and the Byzantine Empire, the ideal of the Roman Empire exercised a powerful allure.

Benito Mussolini was one of the nationalist figures. Initially a member of the Socialist Party, he came to the view that socialism had failed. Placing weight upon nationalism, he built a new political movement, the Fascists.

Fascist violence had been growing in intensity throughout the summer and autumn of 1922, climaxing with the rumours of a possible coup. In October 1922, Mussolini led a force of his Fascist supporters on a March on Rome. Prime Minister Luigi Facta and his cabinet drafted a decree of martial law.

After some hesitation the King refused to sign it, citing doubts about the ability of the Army to contain the uprising. The King had really lost his nerve. The monarchy was generally popular and the Army loyal, but I think the King was simply unwilling to risk civil war. Instead, he appointed Mussolini as Prime Minister. Mussolini then used this position to cement his power.P1110391

    Kalithea Thermi was opened in July 1929, just under seven years after Mussolini became PM. It was, I think, one of a number of building projects intended to put an Italian stamp on the Dodecanese.

I had no idea what to expect as we came up to the gates, and indeed it took me a little while to work out the layout. It's not until you get right inside that and walk around that you start to get a feel.

The complex is located on a small peninsular, with small bays/beaches on each side. It's a pretty location, although like many parts of the Greek Islands the surrounds are rocky and treeless.

The main building is built in a series of concentric circles and is designed to be light and airy to counterbalance the summer heat.

Even though many of the Mussolini period constructions were monumental imperial, the complex displays a lighter Italian design touch. You can take the Italian out of Italy, but not the Italian out of design!

In a way, the fate of Kalithea Thermi mirrored that of King Victor Emmanuel. In supping with the devil, the King doomed his own mP1110406onarchy. As Italian ambitions expanded, the King became Emperor of Abyssinia (1936) and then King of the Albanians (1939). The King retained his own popularity long after that of Mussolini had fallen. You can actually see this in the somewhat ironic popular ditty quoted in Wikipedia:

"When our Vittorio was plain King,
Coffee was a common thing.
When an Emperor he was made,
Coffee to a smell did fade.
Since he got Albania's throne,
Coffee's very smell has flown.
And if we have another victory
We're also going to lose our chicory.

On 24 July 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini. Then, on 8 September 1943, he announced an armistice with the Allies without first notifying the armed forces. Confusion reigned, allowing  the Germans, who had been expecting this move for some time to quickly disarm and intern many Italian forces.

New military forces loyal to the King and Government were formed who fought on the allied side. To try to preserve the monarchy, the King first transferred increasing power to his son, and then, on  9 May 1946, abdicated. P1010921

It was too late. Less than a month later, Italy voted to establish a republic. However, the country split down the middle. A clear majority in the north voted no, in the south yes.

Kalithea Thermi was damaged in the fighting during the last stages of the war. Even so, enough remained to make it a popular movie site. However, the Greek Government with limited funds and its own problems had little interest in maintaining or restoring a site of Italian power.

Deterioration was progressive and cumulative. Finally, the site became a ruin.

As with so many things connected with Greek history, it was the EU that funded the restoration of Kalithea Thermi. Today, you can once again see Kalithea Thermi as it was when the Italians strutted the Dodecanese stage.

Not, mind you, that you will get a full picture.  A bit like current Australian history, the past has to fit present perceptions. In some ways, the Italian period is brushed out in current descriptions.

Next stop, south to another part of Greek history and culture.          



Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rhodes and the sad failure of the Dodecanese campaign

Greek Trip, Day 16, Sunday 3 October 2010, Rhodes

P1010910 Continuing our trip story from A visit to the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes, Sunday 3 October dawned bright and warm. We gathered on the roof garden breakfast area to plan our day.

According to the hotel, San Nikolis', the main hotel buildings date from 1300AD. There is a minor date problem here that I haven't had time to resolve, because this is a little before the final surrender of the Island to the Knights. 

The hotel buildings were constructed on part of the remains of the 2,000 year old agora of Ancient Rhodes. You will find agora in all the older Greek settlements. They were centres for public gatherings that also became markets. Apparently, the Greek words for I shop and I speak in public are both derived from agora, as is the English word agoraphobia. The Roman equivalent is forum.

We liked this hotel because it was comfortable if a bit kitsch, combining in a strangely satisfying way the  combination that is modP1110269ern Greece.

The hotel bills itself as honeymoon/wedding location. The decorations were an eclectic mix of modern, mediaeval and classical.

From the roof garden, you looked over the preserved excavated remains of the agora to the wall built by the Knights. In another direction, the view was of the harbour with it's cruise ships. P1110270

"We don't like the cruise ships", our hostess explained. "Their passengers crowd the streets but don't spend any money. They interfere with our visitors."

Our host had played roles in many films made in Rhodes. The Island's varied history and built infrastructure provides filmic base from the early period to the Second World War.

One of the best know films filmed largely on Rhodes was the 1961 military epic, The Guns of Navarone. I enjoyed both the original book and the film. 

220px-GunsofNavarone The events in the film are based around the events of the 1943  Dodecanese campaign.

With the defeat of the Germans in Africa in the spring of 1943, Winston Churchill turned his attention to the Dodecanese Islands, then Italian Territory. To his mind, their occupation would place pressure on neutral Turkey to join the Allies while opening up a new supply route to Russia.

British planning for what was called "Operation Accolade" began on 27 January 1943.  The Americans, who wanted to concentrate on a landing on Sicily and who where suspicious of British post war plans, told Churchill that they would not support the plan.

One of the things that I find interesting and that is little covered in the teaching of Australian history is the nature of the continuing conflict over a very long period between the US and Empire and Commonwealth strategic interests. I think that it's hard to cover simply because the perceptual models underlying research and teaching of Australian history reject the validity of the very idea of an Imperial and Commonwealth interest in the desire to pursue and present the ideal of the growth of Australian nationhood.

As the possibility of an Italian surrender became stronger, the British began planning for a more limited version of Operation Accolade. Again, the US said that it would not support it. Barely a week before the Italian surrender on 8 September 1943, the military resources intended to support the scaled down version of Operation Accolade were dispersed.

With the Italian surrender, Italian forces in the Dodecanese wanted to surrender or join the Allies. There was a scrabble to try to help them. The far better organised Germans had not been blind to Allied plans. The result was the last great German victory of World War II, a humiliating defeat for the mainly British forces attempting to take the Dodecanese. The Islands remained under German control to the end of the war.

The biggest losers were the Jews of Rhodes. In my first post on Rhodes, Breakfast in Rhodes, I mentioned the Jewish Quarter in Rhodes old town. The ancient Jewish community had survived through multiple changes and by the 1920s represented a significant proportion of the population of the City of Rhodes. This seems then to have dropped, but there were still some 2,000 Jews in Rhodes in in 1943.   

The Italians had never fully shared the Nazi's preoccupation with the Jews. Now that the Germans had full control, German policy applied. On 19 July 1944, the Gestapo rounded up the island's Jewish inhabitants to send them to extermination camps. Few survived.    

Today, the guests of the San Nikolis' include a strong German contingent. The European ethnic wars of the twentieth century have been put aside, at least so far as major groups are concerned. German tourism is critical to Greece, German money to the preservation of Greece's past. I think that that's rather good, even if I do not like German breakfasts!

Well, breakfast is over. Now we have to get our car and head out. First stop one of Mussolini's pleasure palaces.