Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lunch in Armidale

Back from Armidale a little earlier tonight and catching up. This is a photo from lunch. Note the mud bricks. Further comments follow the photo.

NEWC board workshop lunch, 30 Nov 14

I drove to Armidale yesterday, back this evening, for a Board workshop of the New England Writers’ Centre. For the benefit of those who do not know Australian geography, that’s six plus hours north from Sydney. overnight Armidale, six plus hours back, all for a hour workshop. It was worth it. The workshop was good, lunch prepared by Sophie Masson and partner David magnificent.

I will write a proper post later in the week.    


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday morning musings - Heather Ewart and the Country Party, Mr Abbott and problems with what to do and how to do

The first part of Heather Ewart's A Country Road: the Nationals (ABC TV) really took me back as it did for others.. In a Facebook comment Paul Barratt, one of Doug's Deputy Secretaries during the Fraser year's,  recollected: 
Heather's Episode 1 really brought back some memories, memories like ringing the general store at New Brighton via Billinudgel (aka the Summer Capital) and leaving a message for Doug to ring me back. Some time later a call from a public phone in the store, with that familiar voice yelling "Paul? You wanted to talk to me?" etc. Another: Curly Nixon's steadfast refusal to have a phone installed at his beach house. Those were the days!
I had the same reaction to the same incidents. It may seem odd to focus on the refusal of senior ministers to interrupt their holidays, to reject 24/7 unless it was really necessary, but there was a certain balance to it. Doug ran the country from his caravan, and the country was no worse for that. I will write a proper interpretative memoir once the series has finished.

As an aside, I wandered across to Don Aitkin's place to see what his reactions might be to the program. He wrote a number of perceptive books on the Country Party and knew the players. Sadly, or at least I think it so, climate change has come to dominate Don's world. When he first started writing on climate change I was interested and found it a useful corrective to some of the almost theological writing that was and still is around on climate change. Theology goes two ways. I find now that I tune out unless there is something new.

 The negative reporting of the Abbott Government drags on after a somewhat chaotic week. Mark Kenny's  
Tony Abbott steers ship into storm of uncertainty is an example.Apparently "conservative" commentators are upset. I had to put conservative in inverted commas. It is far from clear to me that either Andrew Bolt or Janet Albrechtsen, for example, are conservative in the normal sense that word is used.

I seem to have been dragged into commenting into Australian political events as they proceed. Here I want to come back to the last sentence in my last post, How to make a mess: Mr Abbott’s confusion with objectives, strategy and tactics. There I ended: Meantime, things that are really important get lost in the confusion.

I write about both the what to do and the how to do. On the first, in the lead-up to the last Federal election I suggested that the campaign had become a policy free zone. We almost seem to be in that position now, despite the volume of reporting. And yet, a lot is happening.

Staying with politics, the Victorian elections are this weekend. The latest opinion polls show a small swing back to the Napthine Coalition government, with the most likely result a narrow Labor win. Blowed if I know, however. It all depends on individual seat results.

In Melbourne as in Canberra, we have the prospect of a one term government. In Melbourne as in Canberra, there is no sign that the opposition has regrouped, developed new ideas. The Victorian election has been marked by what one might variously call retail or supermarket politics. There is little new, just long lists of promised activities.

Regardless of whether I agree with Mr Abbott or not, there is a strong case for governments to have at least two terms. I am not talking mandated terms, just that governments need enough time to evolve, oppositions enough time to develop alternative positions in response. Because both sides get locked into stylized positions set within existing frames, we also need circuit breakers,. movements that will capture and force recognition and response to new needs. The Labor and Country Parties played this role,  as indeed (dare I say it?) did One Nation!

One Nation lanced a boil by giving recognition to feelings that existed but had become suppressed within the Australian electorate. By venting those feelings, One Nation allowed the country to move on.

I said that I was concerned with the how as well as the why. Just at the moment, I am probably more concerned with the how.

Interesting interview on ABC Radio National this morning. The link is not yet up. I will add it if I can.

I suppose the fist key point was that engineering studies taught engineering science. The question of engineering practice had been placed aside, something you learned on the job. That was fine when you had Government public works departments that provided a conservative but deep exposure to engineering practice. But now with outsourcing, nobody is providing access to engineering practice, The private sector in Australian and many other countries is effectively free-loading off previous practice knowledge. One outcome is a rise in cost over-runs.

Now there are all sorts of issues here. I am just recording it now for later analysis.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to make a mess: Mr Abbott’s confusion with objectives, strategy and tactics

There is a lot to be said for getting a title just right. On 15 October, I put up a short post simply called Defining shirtfronting. As of today, that post has had 4,768 page views (!) making it the third most popular post in this blog’s history, 319 in the last week long after the original event.

Now that Mr Abbott has indicated a need to clear the binnacles of the ship of Government, this is a euphemism for accepting defeat on some things, commentators are stepping in with suggestions.

One of the things that I really didn’t understand about the timing of the ABC cuts was why do it now? It just opened up a new front, another wound, for a Government already struggling. Sitting on the train this morning and trying to understand just what had happened to this Government when it should have been riding comfortably, I got out a piece of paper and started jotting down some of the Government’s stated objectives. I did so because I found that I was getting confused, I just didn’t understand quite what was happening.

Sitting there with my sheet of paper ordering and re-ordering things, drawing circles and lines between circles, I came to a fairly simple confusion. The Government’s problem is that it has too many objectives, confuses tactics with strategy  and does not properly recognise the inherent conflicts and choices built into its objectives. It takes an objective, say restoring the budget to surplus, and then turns the selected means to achieving that into objectives in their own right.

If you take the budget surplus one as an example, it might achieve this by lower spend, higher taxes or some combination of the two. While the Government is actually doing this, it has increased fuel taxes as an example, its associated objective of lowering taxes does not allow it to say that.

Then we come to the mechanisms to be used to lower spending. Here the Government has chosen policy initiatives that fit its ideological stance. There is nothing wrong with that, However, it has then turned the detail of those initiatives into major objectives into their own right. This puts it on a hiding to nowhere by widening the battlefield. Meantime, the economy has worsened, making it harder to achieve the original objective.

I could go on by working through objective after objective. The same pattern appears. This confusion will persist until the Government achieves a small number of primary objectives that link in some way and can be explained.  Can they do this? I wonder.

Meantime, things that are really important get lost in the confusion.   

NEWC response to the NSW Government’s discussion paper on a NSW cultural policy now on-line.

Some time ago, I referred to the response from the New England Writers’ Centre to the NSW Government’s discussion paper on the development of a cultural policy for NSW. I promised Evan who wanted to read it that I would place it on-line and then let him know. I have now posted it to Scribd.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

ABC cuts and the progressive reduction in the capacity of the Australian media to reflect us back to ourselves

The cuts to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) budget had been well foreshadowed. And, yes, whichever way you cut it, it is another broken promise. The reactions on both sides have been very stereotyped.  In this short post, I want to come at the issue another way, one that reflects my own biases


This is the web site for Australia's Channel Nine news, this for Channel 7, this for Channel 10. Now compare it with ABC TV or, for the sake of completeness, SBS news.

This is the web site for NBN TV news, this for Prime TV. I have deliberately selected these TV stations because they still have local and regional news.

Prime local news has declined as the network spread, while its regional news has always been fairly narrow. The third Northern NSW TV network, Northern Rivers TV, also had local news, but this vanished after it became absorbed into the Ten network.

Regional TV is an area where the commercial networks were, still are, much better than the ABC. You see, ABC is state/metro based and has no local or regional TV coverage at all except, I suppose, where the state or territory entity is is so small that the coverage is by definition local.

ABC radio is quite different. This is the ABC Kimberley site, this the New England North West site. ABC radio is the main source of news and events at regional level outside the still very important if struggling local newspapers. Those papers themselves have an increasingly localised focus.

This is the web site of the Fairfax owned Armidale Express; I write the Express's history column. The site format is the same for all Fairfax regional papers. The regional referred to there is not regional in the old sense, but regional in the sense of feed from other Fairfax papers in regional (ie non-metro) Australia.  

If we now turn to special interest broadcasting, ABC radio is the medium par excellence when it comes to country or regional Australia with programs like the now to be closed Bush Telegraph.


We all have our own biases and perceptions. I would argue, for example, that the earlier decision to close the ABC's international service was an own goal of monumental  proportions. In similar vein, faced with cuts the ABC is choosing what to cut with varying responses depending on your perceptions of the value of those things being cut or, alternatively, being saved or even extended. The Australian Financial Review, for example, mounted a swinging attack on the ABC's decision to extend digital coverage.

In all the changes that have taken place in the media, the ABC cuts and consequent re-orientation are just the latest, the things that I have most noticed are a gradual impoverishment at two levels.

One is simply access to news and information. Yes, I am a news junkey, but I think that it's still true. The second and the one that I am most interested in, is the progressive reduction in the capacity of the Australian media to reflect us back to ourselves in all our local diversity.

 The Financial Review argued that the proliferation of on-line sites meant that there was no justification for the ABC to move further into the digital space. That may be true, depending on the way that the arguments are phrased. But I operate in the digital space the paper is talking about.

I created two regional specific New England blogs in part because I was interested in the area in question, in part because there was very little coordinated coverage of the broader area I was interested in. Then I realised that my blogs had become in part journals of record because there was no longer any, I mean any, media source that you might go to for this stuff.

Now here there is a problem. I am a single person with broad interests. How do I find the time for my self-identified journal of record role?  Clearly there is demand; the stats show that, but I struggle to maintain the blogs.

This brings me to the simple take-home message from this post. The decision by the Government to cut funding, the subsequent response by ABC management, further reduces coverage in areas (geographic and subject) that I am interested in. There is no point me arguing about the cuts, for or against, because that won't actually affect what has become a firmly established trend.

If I want to do anything, I am going to have to do it myself, using the platforms I have. Whether that makes sense I leave it to others to judge. For the moment, I'm just thinking about responses.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Forum – exploring stereotypes about Australia and Australians

I was browsing the Geocurrents recent series on the Brazilian elections (Preliminary Observations on Brazil’s 2014 Presidential Election, Regional Stereotypes in Brazil, Brazil’s Soy Empire: Mato Grosso in the 2014 Election). There I came across a link to this site, National Stereotypes. It’s quite fun. On Australia: Australian Stereotypes or 25 Pictures That Prove Australia Is The Craziest. Or you can combine stereotypes:
“ In heaven, the cops are British, the lovers are French, the food is Italian, the cars are German, and the whole thing is run by the Swiss.
In hell, the cops are German, the lovers are Swiss, the food is British, the cars are French, and the whole thing is run by the Italians.”
Or in the case of Brazil, Brazilian women!
Obviously stereotypes and stereotyping has its negative side. A prejudice is a stereotype writ large. The SBS series  First Contact deals with this, if in a way that I rather dislike.

Still, I thought that I might devote this Monday forum to collecting a few stereotypes about Australia. They might be Australian’s perspectives of themselves, others’ perspectives of Australians, or Australians’ perspectives of other parts of Australia, cities or regions.

Feel free to wander in any direction you like.

In North Queensland, for example, people wear big hats and talk like Bob Katter; do the chardonnay drinking socialists of Bungendore still exist?; is Adelaide in a constant state of rebellion against its puritan past?; are drop bears parse?; what do you think of the latest Bundaberg rum ad?. This, by the way, is the ad. It seems to me that Bundaberg has moved away from the Australian stereotype of its past to try to capture another set of stereotypes!

Well, I leave this discussion in your hands.   

And for kvd, this is a drop bear ad:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How to browse the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) collection

The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) has one of the best collections in Australia. This painting is by Joshua Smith.  

NERAM has now started to put its collection on-line. So far, 985 works of art have been digitised. More will be added as necessary copyright approvals are obtained. You can search via the artists name or by tags.

I spent several enjoyable hours random browsing. If you would like to do the same, you will find the collection here.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Train reading: the Corner Country 2 - camels and cameleers

Camels have acquired a very bad reputation. They are smelly (horses hate the smell), are claimed to be bad tempered, uncomfortable to ride and like to spit. Variously attributed to Vogue magazine, July 1958, to Sir Alec Issigonis and also to University of Wisconsin philosophy professor Lester Hunt, the phrase “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” reflects this reputation.

In fact, camels are very useful and indeed fascinating beasts. Superbly designed for hot climates, they provide transport; their milk is a high quality food resource; the hair can be woven, while the average camel carcass can provide a large quantity of meat. Perhaps design by committee is not so bad after-all!
I mention this now because camels are central to the next part of my Corner Country story that began with Train reading: Australian life - the Corner Country 1 drawn from John Gerrison's Tibooburra - Corner Country (Tibooburra Press, Tibooburra, 1981.

Gold was discovered in the Corner Country in 1880. Within a short, while the population of the Albert gold fields had swelled to perhaps 2,000. Temperatures were high, water and wood scarce. That water that was available could be quickly polluted, leading to disease such as typhoid fever.

In 1882, continuing drought became so bad that horse and bullock teams were stopped by lack of food and water. Near starvation conditions emerged on the gold fields. At the request of the NSW Government, a camel team laden with supplies left Sir Thomas Elder’s Beltana Station in South Australia arriving at Milparinka in April 1882.

The photo from Gordon Smith is of the Albert Hotel, Milparinka, first opened in 1882.

The first reference I have seen to camels in Australia was one apparently imported from the Canary Islands in 1840. Then camels were especially imported in 1860 for the ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition. Between 1860 and 1907, an estimated 10-12,000 camels were imported into Australia.

Sir Thomas Elder had a particular interest in the possible use of camels to open up arid Australia. In 1866, he and a partner imported 109 Afghan cameleers along with 124 carefully selected camels, setting up a stud at Beltana Station as well as providing transport services. The camels quickly became indispensable across arid Australia including far western NSW and the Corner Country.

While motor lorries started to appear from 1918, it would take some time for them to have an impact. The peak year for camel transport came in 1924 when several thousand camels based on Bourke and Broken Hill alone handled the trade of the Corner and south West Queensland runs. The photo shows a team carrying beer from Broken Hill’s Waverly Brewery.

Some teams were owned by individual Afghans, but most were owned by various carrying companies set up to break the earlier monopoly of the horse and bullock teamsters.

John Gerrison records that the biggest and one of the oldest was the Bourke Carrying Company. Founded by Abdul Wade and grazier G W Tull, they imported camels direct, set up a breeding station at Wangamanna where they ran 350 head and had over 400 camels working on the road as well.

From 1924, camels declined quickly in importance. An era had ended. If you want to find out more about the cameleers, this is not a bad site.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Train reading: Australian life - the Corner Country 1

My train reading today has been John Gerrison's Tibooburra - Corner Country (Tibooburra Press, Tibooburra, 1981. Before going on, this is a photo of Tibooburra from Gordon Smiths's lookANDsee photo blog..

For those who don't know, the corner country lies in the far north western corner of NSW near the border of South Australia, NSW and Queensland. Tibooburra is the main settlement in the the corner country.

To help you orient yourself, this is a map of NSW. Tibooburra is up in the far left hand corner, just about as far from Sydney as its possibe to get, almost 1,200 kilometres, over 16 hours driving time.

If you want to come from the coast of Northern NSW  such as from Coffs Harbour, the drive time is over eighteen hours!  This distance means that while Tibooburra is technically in Northern NSW, it has very little connection with other parts of Northern NSW. Its focus has been south to Broken Hill, south east to  Bourke or Wilcannia, north into Queensland or west or south west into South Australia. It belongs to NSW by accident of history and the rigid lines of the cartographer.

.This is dry, dry country, marked by recurrent droughts. The Aborigines who knew the country well trained their young men in the land and all possible sources of water. The expansion of the European population was due especially to the discovery of gold combined with pastoral activity. They struggled with lack of water and with drought. It was so dry that horses or bullocks could not cope in dry spells. For that reason, this became camel country.

Today, fewer people live here than existed in Aboriginal times. In later posts, I will look at some of the special features of this inland part of Australia.  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mr Modi and the complexities of Australia's current position

This wasn't quite the way I intended to go in this post. So much has been happening that I have had several goes at posts. This is part of Parramatta's Indian community waiting for Indian Prime Minister's Modi visit.

The events of the last few days in Australia deserve serious analysis, but it's hard not to be sidetracked by it all. The financial press in particular has gone absolutely crazy, attracted not so much by the theater as the smell of cash. That's one area where a corrective is required.

Australia's Indian population is around 400,000. Around 16,000 gathered to hear the Indian PM speak to the local Indian population. This shot is part of the 5,000 or so who gathered outside the stadium, they could not fit in.

I wondered how Mr Modi's visit would be covered in India. Quite well, if these stories are any guide - here, here, here.Perhaps Ramana can give us a guide from an Indian perspective.

One of the interesting but complicated things to my mind was just how Australia fits in strategic terms to the geopolitical issues surrounding the G20 and the associated summits.

I am not sure that I can put this clearly, but just at present the country seems to be in a useful but very complicated sweet spot. Not big enough to be a military threat to anyone, but big enough to be a potentially useful ally in a remarkably complex Asia-Pacific strategic mix.

Staying with Mr Modi, these are some of the 200 Indians who came up by train from Melbourne to attend his speech.

I said the strategic mix was complex. It really is,

We have to balance the US and China. Japan and Korea are major trading partners with their own strategic concerns. India has its own complicated relations with China. Indonesia and ASEAN are critical to Australia's immediate interests.

I will write up some of my thoughts on key issues, if only to clarify my thinking. For the moment, it's just interesting watching developments and trying to work out how the bits might fit together,


In this post I said:
I am not sure that I can put this clearly, but just at present the country seems to be in a useful but very complicated sweet spot. Not big enough to be a military threat to anyone, but big enough to be a potentially useful ally in a remarkably complex Asia-Pacific strategic mix.
Today's Australian Financial Review mirrors this point.

  • Rory Metcalf (Lowy Institute): For better or worse, the region has finally found us
  • Editorial: Australia takes on a new standing
  • Kerry Brown (Professor, University of Sydney): Hard objectives come wrapped up in flattery
And so it goes on.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings - rules and injustice

Today's Saturday Morning Musings reflects on threads in my own thinking.

There has been a fair bit of coverage in the Australian media on the internal troubles at WA's Murdoch University. This a recent latest example. The internal staff divisions look a complete mess. Meantime, a major cheating row  has broken out, one that seems especially focused on international students.

Neither imbroglio is new. Problems in university administration have occurred with increasing frequency in recent years, while the latest cheating row is but one in a number of such scandals. Neither will be the last. There is simply too much money and power - personal, institutional and professional - at stake now.

My personal biases here are well known. I grew up in an academic family in a university town. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that I have a particular feeling for what some might now call that previous ancien regime, overthrown by the need - real as well as perceived -  for change. Still, Australia's universities are an interesting case study for they sit at the intersection of multiple overlapping circles, each with its own features.that interact and sometimes conflict.

Responses to fear of failure

In the case of the MyMaster web site cheating scandal, the current reaction is to call in the regulator, in this case the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). Technically, I'm not sure that TESQA as a quality assurance body should be called a regulator, but that appears to be the way that it is being treated in this case.

All this is very current. In wishing to withdraw from direct control or indeed direct action, in wishing to create actual or proxy market forces, Governments then face a simple question: what do we do if something goes wrong? How do we stop that? Further, we actually still want to be in control, to ensure that our policy objectives are being met. How do we ensure this? Imposition of standards and regulation has become the answer.

There is something deeply inconsistent in all this. Business failure is central to competitive models. The argument, one that I accept, is that in the cut and thrust of competition, some businesses must fail.How else do you achieve improvement? People make decisions, some are wrong, some good. Business failure is the culmination of wrong decisions, business growth the culmination of successful decisions. Government can't accept that when it comes to its own activities..

Consider, for example, the desire to out source a range of Government activities to private and not for profit organisations. I have no problem with this. Yet logic says that some of those entities must fail as organisations compete against each other and strive to develop new approaches. Government can't accept this because of the political repercussions. They want the gains from competition, but without the price. It just won't work.

Rules, corruption and fear of breach

In NSW, the Police Integrity Commission has launched a probe into allegations of improper conduct by two of the State's top police, Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and one of his deputies Nick Kaldas,  In Western Australia, the troubles at Murdoch University are directly connected with allegations being investigated by Western Australia's Corruption and Crime Commission. At the University of New England, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) brought down adverse findings against former Chancellor John Cassidy over a hotel deal, but did not recommend action because they involved disciplinary matters rather than a criminal offence.

I have listed just a few. The point I want to make is that the proliferation of rules and enforcing bodies has created a very particular (and peculiar) climate that is being used by people for their own ends.We constantly create new classes of corrupt conduct, new enforcement bodies and ten wonder at the results.

The purely human cost

Once you have rules and rigid computer based enforcement of those rules, you have a problem.I have written about this in the context of rivers licenses and birth certificates. Recently, I cam across a very sad example.

The person in question needed an identity and police check to get a government job. Out of the workforce for some time, she really needed the job she had been given, But there was a problem.

Her parents were born in Eastern Europe. They escaped across the Green line. She was born in a refugee camp in Italy. There are no records of her birth.

She came to Australia with her parents. Here she studied, gained qualifications, married, had children, even had a passport at one point. Now she needs an identity check.But, it now appears, she no longer exists. The rules state that she must show certain documentation. There is apparently no official or even ministerial discretion. Rules are rules. Thy must be enforced.

She clearly exists. She has clearly been in Australia since a child.And yet, the key documents that she requires to meet to identity check have either been lost or never existed. She is stuck in limbo.

Obviously, I am angry at this result. Yet what can I do? I understand that legal advice is being obtained on court actions that might be taken. But again, this must be bound by rules.Rules are rules.

I may seem to have come a fair distance from my starting point.I don't think so. While I am a supporter of pro-active Government, I do wish that Government would get out of our lives. Most, I wish that they would work out what they should actually do, ensuring clarity of principle before action,


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wandering through the news

Back in October, I made a brief comment on Mr Abbott's rhetoric in regard to Russian President Putin (Defining shirtfronting).Mr Abbott has been has been in a somewhat more conciliatory mood  since arriving in Beijing, given his desire to speak to the Russian President (here, here, here and here). 

If you are going to talk tough, it helps to have some form of stick. Or at least know why you are doing it. The reports in this morning's paper suggests that Mr Abbott wished to deliver a message. The audience is unclear. I would, however, be careful about interpreting Russian naval movements as a response!

Meantime, both the rouble and the Russian economy continue to weaken. Sanctions haven't helped, but the decline in global oil prices is probably more important. With additional Russian support reportedly rolling into the Ukraine, I can't help the uncomfortable feeling that external adventures are often seen as an anodyne for domestic troubles. I note here reports that Russia appears to be gearing up for a propaganda war.  

The fall in global oil prices is interesting. Remember the concept of peak oil? Nobody forecast that increased supplies of unconventional oil would have such a dramatic impact on oil supply, creating a new pattern of economic winners and losers. 

The decision by China and the US to strike a deal on capping green house gas emissions has understandably been greeted with some joy in Australia by the Labor Party and Greens.I have the perhaps unworthy suspicion that the joy is due more to the politics of it than to any emission cuts as such.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Aboriginal division and the failure of Aboriginal policies in Australia

Over at Club Troppo, Ken Parish has written a long two part series triggered by Aboriginal responses to Noel Pearson's eulogy at Mr Whitlam's funeral. I have only skimmed them at this point, but they seem worth reading. To help you here, they are in order:
The posts were triggered by Jack Waterford's piece in the Canberra Times: Noel Pearson is a great orator but he's essentially a leader without followers in Aboriginal world

For personal and professional reasons, I follow the stories and feeds on Aboriginal life and policy. This includes the black nationalist threads. I think that Jack is right. 

In this short post, I don't want to revisit the detail of my past writing. However, I would repeat three points that I have made:

  • We need to recognise the diversity in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. A one size fits all approach makes no sense. 
  • We need to clearly distinguish between problems that are specific to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and those that are in fact subsets of broader problems.Attempting to address Aboriginal disadvantage that are in fact linked to the second will generally fail because they address symptoms, not causes.
  • In attempting to address one poorly defined problem we create new problems in part because of the constructs we create in trying to solve the problem that then force reactions. The history of black-white relations is littered with examples of this.
Yesterday's post on New England Australia is a small example: The North's growing disadvantage - increasing poverty, lower life expectencies

Many of the communities with lower life expectencies have higher Aboriginal populations. There is a statistical connection in that Aboriginal populations have lower life expectencies. But so does the non-Aboriginal population compared to the rest of the country. If you want to increase Aboriginal life expectencies, you actually have to address the reasons for lower life expectencies in the population as a whole. Otherwise, you are going to fail.  

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sunday Snippets – death of Peter Cullen, more on the investment strike, the new security legislation and does New Zealand do things better?

This post also acts as the Monday Forum post. Feel free to go in whatever direction you like.

Nice piece in the Canberra Times by Jack Waterford on the death of Canberra lobbyist Peter Cullen. Quite took me back. Peter Cullen was a thoughtful lobbyist who relied on rational persuasion. When he started free-lancing in 1968, there were very few lobbyists outside the industry and professional associations. The proliferation of special interest groups that we see today still lay well in the future, the word stakeholder had not yet come into use. It was, I think, easier to have an influence then. Today, the sometimes rancorous clamour of competing special pleading looking for attention can crowd out rational analysis.

The Australian Reserve Bank has released its latest Statement on Monetary Policy. The Bank expects continued subdued Australian growth, even though growth in Australia’s major trading partners may be slightly above trend. The big question mark here, of course, is China. The Bank also commented:

Domestically, an important source of uncertainty continues to be the speed and timing of the anticipated recovery in non-mining business investment. While the recent data suggest that a substantial pick-up in non-mining investment is still some way off, the fundamental factors supporting investment remain in place, including low interest rates, strong population growth, gradually rising capacity utilisation and a period of weak investment over the past few years. If the appetite for businesses to take on risk improves, growth in non-mining business investment could eventually be stronger than forecast.

When I did my annual economic update twelve months ago, I expected non-mining business investment to be stronger over 2014 for many of the same reasons outlined by the Bank now. The continuing weakness in investment in this country and elsewhere led me to pose this question last Monday: Monday Forum - why is there an investment strike? There weren’t a lot of comments, for I think that everybody is struggling with this one.

At a purely micro level in regional Australia, part of the answer is simple enough. It is harder and more expensive now to establish and grow businesses, while the local capital pools that once funded business starts and allowed risks to be spread are much reduced.    

I had also expected the Australian dollar to weaken more than it has. I still expect the dollar to weaken. A lower dollar encourages greater economic activity, although it also reduces living standards in that Australians can buy less for any given income. In this context, Canberra is interesting at the moment with continuing fights over prospective pay increases that are less than the expected inflation rate, representing a cut in real wages.

This is proving something of a poisonous chalice for the Federal Government. Having lectured the private sector on the need for wage restraint, Minister Eric Abetz is finding it remarkably difficult to put his words into practice: Does it look easy now, Eric Abetz? Meantime, Senator Jacqui Lambie’s fury over the Defence Force pay increase has created a problem for both the Government and the Palmer United Party.

In purely practical terms, and this is something that I have written about before, the combination of resource cuts with the pay disputes and other structural changes is, I think, degrading the capacity of the Commonwealth Public Service to either provide ideas or to deliver Government policies.

At lunch with Clare Saturday, she wanted to know why I hadn’t written on the Australian Government’s latest anti-terror security legislation and the threat posed to Australian civil liberties. These pieces - What Brandis won't tell us about S35P, The AFP's worrying foray into politics – will give you a feel for the discussion. It’s a major issue among Clare’s group because they see it as a mechanism for controlling the freedom of the internet, one that can and will be misused.

I haven’t written on it because I am, in simple terms, quite disheartened. I also haven’t had the time or indeed the spirit required to do a detailed forensic analysis of the legislation. We have turned terrorism and the threat posed by IS into our own existential threat that far out weighs the reality. To deal with that existential threat, we create legislation that can and indeed will be used for other purposes. And we are expected to bow down and accept all this because it will in some way make us safer. I don’t accept that.

Meantime, Barrie Cassidy’s Politics in a different key is just the latest in a continuing series of pieces pointing to the differences in policy making in Australia and New Zealand. Prime Minister Abbott gives us sound bites, Prime Minister Keys wishes to engage in discussion. Prime Minister Abbott wants instant results, Prime Minister Keys accepts that change takes time. Prime Minister Abbott hectors, Prime Minister Key discusses.

These are not insignificant differences.


Saturday, November 08, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings - just a point in time

Think of this morning’s Saturday Morning Musings as a moment stuck in time. Nothing profound. A simple record of a point in history. 

Spreading Wings

Youngest’s latest piece on Media Hype 101 is out:  Late to the Party – Sleepy Hollow recap S1E1. It begins:

It’s always a little awkward being late to the party, or late to a TV show.  So join me as I hurriedly try to jump on bandwagons before they pull away.

It’s a good read. Clare is also now writing for The Australia Times as part of the games team. This gives her press accreditation to gaming conventions. Her bio reads:

My name is Clare Belshaw, I'm 25 and I've been a gamer for most of my life, spending endless hours on my dad's PC playing Age of Empires, then promptly getting frustrated when every kingdom ganged up against me, forcing me to spawn a bunch of big daddies to sort out the problem. I've sunk more hours than I would care to admit playing Minecraft and Planetside 2 (Because jetpack), and I have a Bachelor in Ancient History. Currently I'm working towards becoming a novelist because I have an allergic reaction to the idea of being financially successful. Aside from video games I love comic books, movies and trashy genre television.

I had forgotten big daddies. I, too, spent hours playing Age of Empires before I got bored. I regarded big daddies as cheating! But hey Clare, I’m not sure that you actually have an allergic reaction to being financially successful. I suspect a desire for that best seller may lurk. Besides, you have a father to support in his old age (ahem!). One of us has to make some money!business class

On Facebook, eldest wrote: “Omg omg omg first time in business. Wait, play it cool.”  Helen is coming back to Australia from what has become one of her regular business trips to Copenhagen.

I laughed. I, too, remember those firsts. First class is out of my reach now as is business class, but I remember.

I was on a business trip. It had been tiring. At the end of the trip I flew from Edinburgh to London to Munich, arriving late. Early next morning I was picked up early, spent the day touring an aerospace plant and was then rushed to the airport to catch the plane to London so that I could catch the plane back to Australia.

I was absolutely wrecked upon my arrival at Heathrow. I could barely stand up, let alone think. At the QANTAS counter they told me that I had been upgraded to first class. I staggered onto the plane, turned left to be met by a steward who took my bags and showed me to my seat.

“Champagne, Sir?” I sat drinking a good French champagne, eating hot snacks and listening to the Australian accents. Suddenly, the fugue dropped away. I could think because I was comfortable and already at home. And that while still sitting on the tarmac!

New England Writers’ Centre

Regular readers will know that I am on the Board of the New England Writers’ Centre. It’s been an interesting if sometimes difficult experience.  Interesting because I am mixing with people such as Sophie Masson (our chair) who actually make a living from writing. Difficult because of funding and structural change issues.

I suspect that NEWC has more writers in its membership than most other equivalent bodies. It’s just a factor of location. But that location has its own acute disadvantages in terms of remoteness when it comes to getting grants. Last year we got a reduced grant at the last moment, this year none on the grounds that we were not competitive in terms of the criteria set.

I could see the point of those making the assessment. They worked within rules. My own view is that the Centre has to stand outside the official system. It distorts too much.

Earlier this year, I spent the equivalent of a week full time writing the NEWC response to the ARTS NSW call for submissions on the development of a cultural policy for NSW. I did so knowing that nothing we said would have impact. It could not, for we were actually challenging the assumptions set for the development of that policy.

Why bother if you can have no influence?  I suppose, partly, it’s because of intellectual interest. There is an intellectual challenge in trying to work out how things might be done better. There is also a discipline in it, for it forces you to think about your own organisation and it’s role. In this context, I was consciously trying to put the NEWC in a broader frame. Then it provides a base for later work and argument.

This is where the need to combat the distortion imposed by official systems comes in. That distortion comes in many subtle ways. If you are going to stand outside, you have to have a base to work from.

Our submission is not on line. I had hoped that Arts NSW would put all the submissions on public record, but its probably beyond the budget and indeed the physical capacity of a cash strapped agency to do so. I  will look at ways of putting the submission up. I didn’t spend all that time to have the submission just vanish.

Broader Issues in Government Policy Making                    

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time on the policy making process inside and outside of government.  Increasingly, government policy making seems driven by two dominant influences. One is getting more for less, a second the need to achieve integration across the mega agencies that now dominate the official scene.

Sometimes with the first, it’s necessary to say that you can’t get more with less. You have to accept that you get less with less. All Australian governments operate in an environment that says that spend must be reduced. Yet, in reality, neither politicians nor the public are prepared to accept the results that must flow.

You can see this clearly across every aspect of policy making. A child dies, that’s a failure of the child welfare system. A terrorist attack may loom, therefore we  must spend more on national security. A homeless man is killed; we must spend more on a homelessness strategy. Our education results fall by OECD standards, we must address this. Boats come, we need a border force and spend a fortune on life boats to force people back.

It’s not rocket science, actually.

The next time the Australian Government, for example, attempts to cost shift onto the states, a state government might do this. Release a green paper. This cut requires us to cut so much from spend in this area.

We can increase taxes by so much to compensate while maintaining spend. Here are some indicative increases for you to consider. Alternatively, we can cut spend on other activities. Here are some cuts for you to consider. I am not talking here about cuts designed to maximise political impact. Rather, cuts that reflect the priorities of the government  in power. This is what we recommend.  Then let the discussion run.

The problem of the mega-agencies is more complex, for the results here are largely unseen. Each of the mega agencies attempts to create integration, bringing together all the different bits into a seamless whole. But the mega agencies weren’t created following rational analysis. In forcing all their sub agencies into a common fit, they lose that variety, that sense of purpose, that previously existed. Everything becomes bound to a single mission formed by the dominant thread within the mega agency.

Difficulties become still more acute when, as in NSW, you get multiple conflicting threads. In NSW, for example, the new mega agencies are trying to create their central theme while also cutting costs and dealing with changes in people management imposed by the GSE Act. The ordinary worker bee tries to keep things going in the midst of increasingly constipated and ever changing decision chains.

No doubt things will settle down. Still, it pays to remember an old rule of organisational change. Change imposes immediate costs, the gains take time. If you impose another change before the gains start flowing, you start the process again. In the end, you get maximised costs with mistella bowennimised gains.

 The importance of the visual

“I love being with someone …….who lived through his eyes in the same way I did”, Stella Bowen wrote. “We took such perceptual and unanimous pleasure in the look of everything.’

I was running round the Dangarsleigh War Memorial pointing out features of interest when a friend commented on just how visual I was. I knew that I was visual, but hadn’t really realised just how much that was true until then. It’s a physical as much as visual thing. The scent of the different types of rosemary, the hard lines of the monument, the sound of the bees in that quietness otherwise  only broken by the distant sound of the crows. All these things were real and important.

I am a writer, not a painter. I would love to be able to paint, but was put off early by art classes in primary school. Now my tool is words. That is what I have.

I do wonder, though. Could I still learn to paint?        

Friday, November 07, 2014

In passing

I haven’t posted since Tuesday, in part because of work pressures, in part because I have been making a determined effort to reinstate writing on my New England Travels book. I lost all momentum here.

Looking back at comments over the last few weeks, I don’t get a lot of comments compared to some blogs, but they are regular and they add value.  I don't promise to do this, its actually quite a lot of work, but I thought that I would turn my next Sunday Essay over to a report and analysis of the remarks made by you, my commenters.

A part trigger for this was a radio interview I was listening to on the way that media organisations use (or sometimes don’t) their comment streams to capture value. I am hardly a media organisation, but the point is still germane.  In my case, the value is what you say.   

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

What's so wrong with direct action?

I've been a little bemused with the strength of the reaction to the Australian Government's Direct Action Plan. This piece by Ian Verrender is an example.

I don't mean this to be a tendentious piece, more a simplification of the issues involved.

You can consider the Direct Action Plan in the context of climate change.If you consider the arguments against human induced climate change to be persuasive, then you are likely to oppose direct action as a waste of money. If you consider human induced climate change to be happening, then you may argue that the initiative is totally inadequate as compared to alternatives.

If you consider that human induced climate change is happening but believe in market based approaches, then you may, as Ian does, oppose direct action on market distortion grounds.

All this misses a key point. To explain this, I need to explain my interpretation of direct action. Here there seem to be two key features.

The first is an auction. Organisations are invited to submit bids for funding. The winning bids will be those that offer the lowest per unit cost for green house reduction. There are a whole lot of subsidiary rules here, but that's the crux. The second is that there is some form of apparent penalty on higher polluters.

I must admit that I don't understand the second. Perhaps you can explain. If we focus on the first, the success or failure of the policy would seem to be directly measurable, capable of external audit. That is why I don't have a problem. Both antagonists and protagonists are actually on trial.

Perhaps I haven't properly understood. If so, explain, Otherwise, let us wait and see what happens.    

Monday, November 03, 2014

Monday Forum - why is there an investment strike?

On the 29 October, the US Federal Reserve announced the end of Quantitative Easing in the US. More precisely, I guess, it announced the end of additional QE.
The Committee judges that there has been a substantial improvement in the outlook for the labor market since the inception of its current asset purchase program. Moreover, the Committee continues to see sufficient underlying strength in the broader economy to support ongoing progress toward maximum employment in a context of price stability. Accordingly, the Committee decided to conclude its asset purchase program this month. The Committee is maintaining its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its holdings of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities in agency mortgage-backed securities and of rolling over maturing Treasury securities at auction. This policy, by keeping the Committee's holdings of longer-term securities at sizable levels, should help maintain accommodative financial conditions.
The Fed also indicated that it intended to keep interest rates low for the present. Again, I quote:
 To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee today reaffirmed its view that the current 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate remains appropriate. In determining how long to maintain this target range, the Committee will assess progress--both realized and expected--toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2 percent inflation. This assessment will take into account a wide range of information, including measures of labor market conditions, indicators of inflation pressures and inflation expectations, and readings on financial developments. The Committee anticipates, based on its current assessment, that it likely will be appropriate to maintain the 0 to 1/4 percent target range for the federal funds rate for a considerable time following the end of its asset purchase program this month, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the Committee's 2 percent longer-run goal, and provided that longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored. However, if incoming information indicates faster progress toward the Committee's employment and inflation objectives than the Committee now expects, then increases in the target range for the federal funds rate are likely to occur sooner than currently anticipated. Conversely, if progress proves slower than expected, then increases in the target range are likely to occur later than currently anticipated.
Sorry for the long quotes. I thought it worth quoting at length to give you a feel for Fed thinking.

Meantime here in Australia, on Thursday 30 October, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest price indices for Australia's exports and imports. The overall export price index for the September quarter fell by 3.9%, down 9.5% from the September quarter last year. Import prices were down too, but only by 1.1% as compared to a year before.

This deterioration in the Australian terms of trade would normally be associated with a fall in the value of the Australian dollar. The dollar has fallen, but by less than many expected. Part of the reason for this is, I think, that the world remains awash with money. The US monetary expansion may have come to an immediate end, but both the European and Japanese central banks still have their own versions of QE in place. That money has to go somewhere. The fact that Australia still has positive interest rates is still attracting funds even though the risks of currency decline are perceived as significant.

Looking around the world, low interest rates and freely available funds have, so far at least, failed the break the investment drought that has been infecting the private sector for some considerable time now.

This earlier chart shows the decline in global investment, with the fall most pronounced in the developed world. While I don't have later stats, business investment has not strengthened.

In Australia, both the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the heads of some of the banks have almost been pleading for business investment, while investment analysts have been warning that high dividend payments and capital management through things such as share buy-backs are effectively mortgaging future growth for immediate return,

 This brings me to the point of today's forum. Why is business investment so low? Is it just that we have reached the point in developed countries that savings have out-run local investment opportunities? Structurally we have seen this before. The British Empire comes to mind. But surely it can't be just that?

 What do you think?


A purely local perspective - The need for a New England investment bank.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings – Thomas and the privileges of the on-line world

I am feeling reflective this morning. Its partly triggered by the nature of the topic, Saturday Morning Musings, more by events during the week combined with the end of another month.

Somebody once asked me are your on-line friends real friends? By that they meant, I think, that I was spending too much time enmeshed in on-line interaction. Was this real interaction? It was meant as a criticism, I should be doing real things, but I also found it very difficult to explain. How do you explain village life to them when they don’t know the village even exists?

During the week Thomas Elley was awarded the Student Edge Teacher of the Year 2014. Further comments follow the video.

Thomas’s first post on Deus Lo Vult was on 2 May 2006. His last post was on 26 December 2012. By then his blogging had become irregular because of other pressures. He started another blog intended to be more reflective, but by now his teaching was absorbing him.

Thomas became an integral member of our little blogging village. During his blogging time and later via Facebook, we followed Thomas. Neil Whitfield's Thomas – 2014 teacher of the year records our pleasure at the award. In a response, Thomas wrote:

Thanks, kvd, for the comment. There were smiles all-round, as you could see!

And Neil, thanks for the comments here, on Facebook, and the trip down memory lane! I know it’s been a long time since I was a regular blogger, but my downfall in blogging coincided directly with my immersion into teaching. I distinctly remember my first practicum being at the same time as Obama’s election, and the dissatisfaction that came with not being able to come to the natural resolution after following the campaign for a year!

In churning up these throwbacks, it’s somewhat amusing to me how pivotal and important blogging was to me ‘back in the day’. Indeed, my (all of us?) world and life is quite different from those days. I’ve watched on as you and Jim (being the two main bloggers I interacted with) have continued on, albeit traveling newer, somewhat different paths to when we all used to be in regular communication.

It does seem as though we have met! Mind you, I was very envious of the recent photo Jim had on his blog of you getting tea with him and his ‘group’ – it had always been a want to at least (in passing) meet you both at some point!

And, in a reference to another remark above: I tend not to think of our earlier interactions, nor our firsts. One of us was young, stupid, and attempting to be funny (or perhaps relevant?)!

Instead, I like to remember that time (and frequently!) where we were all part of an e-community, doing our own, separate things, but strung together out of random interests and musings. I have always flirted with trying to come back in some way – firstly when I was doing honours and trying to merge blogging with my research, then later keeping one of the cliche (and, in my opinion, over-hyped) teacher-blogs-cum-reflections. I have tried my hand at reflecting on my reading – though, as anyone who follows on my blog knows, the time I even get for reading is quite limited!

Alas, I fear that my glory days of blogging have fallen away, not to be resurrected lest I get to your stage in life – retired!

Just one bit on the comment you have left here: I am so fortunate to be in a profession like this, and I am sure I feel the same level of pride, responsibility, and joy that you had over your career. It’s been said a few times in the last few days that my school is lucky to have me. I disagree: I am lucky to be at that school. It is a place where – hopefully – we see the future of Australian society, with acceptance, tolerance, and an eye for commonality (instead of differences) is what unites the vast majority of the students. Academics aside, I get to see a microcosm of the Australian society that, hopefully, will be reflective of the macro when this generation comes to lord over us!

Again, thanks for your comments Neil. They (still) mean a lot.

At the risk of being a bit ponderous, Thomas’s words are worth reflecting on.

Katy Barnett, Legal Eagle, was another early member of the village. She began with The Legal Soapbox. On 8 May 2008, she stopped posting there to join the inimitable scepticlawyer, Helen Dale, to create a new blog,  Skepticlawyer, now with an s in the title.

As with Thomas, life pressures took Katy in new directions that lead to cessation of her blogging. However, through blogs and then later Facebook, we followed Katy through her personal and professional journey from work in a legal firm with its pressures and uncertainties to the jump to academe and the problems of contract work and then permanency. We experienced the joy of the kids and family life and the health issues. Today, Katy is an Associate Professor with publications to her credit.

Helen Dale’s journey began in dramatic fashion. Then first through Cattalaxy Files and later skepticslawyers she established herself in the blogosphere. Now she is a senior adviser to  David Leyonhjelm, a Liberal Democrat member of the Australian Senate. I am not in a position to comment on the role of blogging in the changes in Helen’s life, although my personal view is that it has been very important. I can say, however, that in following Helen’s life through blogs and and later Facebook I have gained both personal and professional understanding of her changing role and life.

Going back to an earlier point in this post, I don’t understand why people should deny the validity of the on-line experience. After all, the exchange of letters among people is central to our understanding of cultural and social history. Many of those people had never met or met just on irregular occasions.

The on-line world is no different, just perhaps more immediate and (maybe) intense. I actually feel privileged to belong to my own village and the broader community beyond. Yes, I am a fairly intellectual person, but it’s the personal as well as the professional that is important.

Anyway, I am out of time this morning. I remain just glad, so glad, of the privilege that I have been given in getting to know people like Thomas.  


I see that AC has written a companion post to this one, Musings on belonging, written from her personal perspective.