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.    

No comments: