Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ethnicity, the European migrant case and the Australian model - Musings on the European experience 2

I had not intended to follow up yesterday's post, Hygge, ethnocentricity and war - Musings on the European experience 1, today, but Mr Abbott's remarks in London yesterday made this post inevitable. You will find a transcript of Mr Abbott's remarks here.

To set a context for this post, the population of the European Union is around 508 million. The population of the Schengen area, the free travel area within the EU, is presently around 420 million. So far in 2015, some 700,000 people have crossed to Europe by boat, mainly from Syria. That's a very large number, but only a tiny percentage of the current EU or Schengen area population. Again to provide perspective, at its peak, boat arrivals in Australia at 50,000 per annum were higher proportionate to the much smaller Australian population.

The migrants who have come have come via two main routes, by sea from North Africa to Italy or, again mainly by sea. from Turkey into Greece. This map from the BBC shows the second route. It also summarises some of the country responses.

The absolute numbers may be small relative to either the EU or Schengen area populations. However, the funneling effect flowing from geography in combination with  individual country responses creates a serious load effect on individual transit countries relative to the size of domestic populations and resources. The political repercussions now threaten the survival of current Schengen arrangements and the free flow of people that has been central to EU economic success over the life of the Union.

Schengen has two major advantages. In doing away with the network of previous border controls, countries achieved significant budgetary savings. More importantly, Schengen made transport, tourism and (more broadly) doing business within Europe faster and easier. To understand this, imagine what it it would be like if  you had to go through border control if you moved between Sydney and Melbourne for the day.  The UK is not a member of Schengen. On our recent trip to the UK we flew in from Copenhagen. It took more than an hour and half to get through UK Border Force controls at Luton.

I will talk about other aspects of the EU migrant problem in other posts. For the moment, I want to focus on Mr Abbott's prescriptions for Europe. I quote from his speech:
Now, while prime minister, I was loath to give public advice to other countries whose situations are different; but because people smuggling is a global problem, and because Australia is the only country that has successfully defeated it – twice, under conservative governments – our experience should be studied. 
In Europe, as with Australia, people claiming asylum – invariably – have crossed not one border but many; and are no longer fleeing in fear but are contracting in hope with people smugglers. However desperate, almost by definition, they are economic migrants because they had already escaped persecution when they decided to move again. 
Our moral obligation is to receive people fleeing for their lives. It’s not to provide permanent residency to anyone and everyone who would rather live in a prosperous Western country than their own. That’s why the countries of Europe, while absolutely obliged to support the countries neighbouring the Syrian conflict, are more-than-entitled to control their borders against those who are no longer fleeing a conflict but seeking a better life. 
This means turning boats around, for people coming by sea. It means denying entry at the border, for people with no legal right to come; and it means establishing camps for people who currently have nowhere to go. 
It will require some force; it will require massive logistics and expense; it will gnaw at our consciences – yet it is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever. 
We are rediscovering the hard way that justice tempered by mercy is an exacting ideal as too much mercy for some necessarily undermines justice for all. 
The Australian experience proves that the only way to dissuade people seeking to come from afar is not to let them in. Working with other countries and with international agencies is important but the only way to stop people trying to gain entry is firmly and unambiguously to deny it – out of the moral duty to protect one’s own people and to stamp out people smuggling. 
So it’s good that Europe has now deployed naval vessels to intercept people smuggling boats in the Mediterranean – but as long as they’re taking passengers aboard rather than turning boats around and sending them back, it’s a facilitator rather than a deterrent.
Australia was dealing with a relatively small number of refugees. We had an intermediate country, Indonesia, that provided a barrier as well as an entry point. This allowed us in a fairly ruthless and costly way to push the problem back on Indonesia. We stopped the boats, but this came at a cost. Part of the cost lay in our relations with Indonesia. Part of the cost was actually pushing the people flow in the direction of Europe. I don't think it a coincidence that Afghans feature heavily in the latest European statistics. Part of the cost lay in the creation of running sores on Manus and Nauru that continue to bedevil Australia today. Part of the cost lay in the diversion of aid funding from its original intent to border protection. And part of the cost lay in a coarsening and dehumanising of the Australian political debate.

These costs may have been acceptable if Australia had been able to create a regional framework that would facilitate cooperative regional action on the problem, but if anything the actions of the Abbott Government impeded such an outcome.

The European position is very different from that facing Australia. There we have an arc of instability that extends through Africa into the Middle East. Libya, once a partial barrier, is a failed state. Syria is in flames and has itself become a source of refugees. We are dealing with large numbers of people and a complex geo-political mess. European nations resumed rescuing people at sea because the human tragedy from drowning had become just too great to be borne.

If Europe is to apply the Australia solution, questions like these need to be answered:
  1. Where are the boats to be pushed back to?
  2. Where are camp equivalents to Manus and Nauru to be established?
  3. Which countries might take refugees if, as happened in the Australian case, the very act of getting on a boat precludes subsequent resettlement in Europe?  .
  4. How will the costs of the program be funded?
Clearly Europe has to take coordinated action. However, the application of simplistic principles will not provide a solution. In the meantime, the Australian case and rhetoric is feeding into the growth of national aurtarchy , the re-emergence of old nationalist and ethnic attitudes that gave us war and that great inhumanity that remains a blot upon Europe. I will look more at this issue in a later past.


Earlier in this post I wrote:  "Part of the cost lay in the creation of running sores on Manus and Nauru that continue to bedevil Australia today. ....And part of the cost lay in a coarsening and dehumanising of the Australian political debate."

One of the very real difficulties in this country is the constant negative effect of the continuing stories about immigration detention. In just the last week, we have had the release of the Amnesty report .By Hook or By Crook: Australia's Abuse of Asylum Seekers at Sea, In response, Minister Dutton stated that Australia would not be bullied, while Prime Minister Turnbull said that he would not comment on security matters, asserting that Australia had taken great care to operate within the law.

We have had the continuing saga of the sad case of Abyan, while doctors have stepped up their campaign against children in detention. Immigration issues have become a running sore in the relationship between Australia and New Zealand, with over 200 New Zealanders now held in immigration detention.

One  can debate the rights and wrong of particular cases. For example, I am suspicious of the objectivity of Amnesty reporting. However, so many stories running at so many levels in the media including the local press has become quite debilitating. We also have a problem in the re-reporting of stories globally, a re-reporting that affects Australia's international reputation.

Part of the government's problem lies not just in what is being done but the rigidity and lack of subtlety in the way it is done.  A measure of the erosion that has occurred is that many Australians simply don't believe what the Government says. To the degree that I am right, I think that's becoming a major long term problem.      . 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hygge, ethnocentricity and war - Musings on the European experience 1

On my first morning in Copenhagen, I left the flat early in the morning just to wander. I wanted to familiarise myself with the immediate area. By accident, I ended up in the Christiansborg Slot precinct. I will describe my full reactions later. For the moment, I want to focus on one things I found, a public art photographic exhibition.

Studying the exhibition in the early morning light, I found that it was an expression of what in Australia would be called progressive views. The first section focused on refugees, the second on families, families of all types and compositions - single. merged, gay couples, a whole pot pouri of relationships.

In the period leading up to my departure, the Australian and European media had been full of the growing European refugee crisis. For that reason, I was very interested in the display. I apologise for the standard of the photos.

The introduction to the refugee component is set out below. You can see the focus on refugees and conflict, on the local experience. You can also sense underlying tensions in the use of first names for the sake of "their own and their families safety."  

By comparison with Sweden, the number of refugees in Denmark appears relatively small both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the Danish population. On the streets of Copenhagen or on public transport, the proportion of those visibly different whether by ethnicity or dress is very small compared to say Sydney.

Australians forget or don't  always realise just how diverse Australia has become especially in the big cities compared to many other parts of the world. In Denmark, difference stands out.

While the values coming from Denmark's Lutheran heritage continue, modern Denmark is a very secular society, more so than Australia measured by the proportion of the population professing religious faith or engaged in religious activities. In these circumstances, it is the evolving values of the secular society that provide the dominating glue that holds the society together.

I discussed hygge in Introducing the Danish concept of hygge. As an Australian and especially one from a country background, I found aspects of hygge instantly familiar. The Australian equivalent is mateship. Like hygee, mateship is a secular phenomenon. Like hygge, mateship can be interpreted in various ways. Like hygge, mateship is incorporated in national dialogue and affects behaviour in different ways.

While hygge and mateship have significant differences, both have a common origin in the need for people to combine in the face of adversity. Hygge with its emphasis on coziness, harmony and cooperation can provide a vehicle for integration, for admission. Indeed, I saw aspects of this on the streets of Copenhagen. However, it can also be a vehicle for exclusion, for a restatement of them and us.

Denmark has experienced war in a way Australia has not. This is true for all European countries. It affects attitudes. This quote from the German Lutheran theologian Martin Niemöller was included in the display.

The Second World War was all about ethnicity. Yes, other elements were present, but ethnicity was central. In saying this, we generally focus on the treatment of the Jews and Gypsies, but this was a result of a deeper ethnic divide.

The concept of lebensraum was central to the Second World War in Europe. Lebensraum involved a desire to bring together a scattered people considered to be superior, the Germans, and give them an expanded homeland. More than 50 million people died as a result, many millions more were forced to relocate during and after the War, The scars exist to today.

The political battles now going on in Europe represent a conflict between those who want to re-assert national or ethnic identity and those who seek a broader vision. There is actually nothing wrong in wishing to preserve identity, although many on the left would deny this. However, it becomes very problematic indeed when the desire to preserve identity becomes wrapped in language that asserts superiority, the special value of difference.  .

I will continue this muse in my next post, looking at further aspects of the European experience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rugby World Cup musings

As you might expect, the New Zealand papers are covering the World Cup Rugby in blanket fashion. I can understand that. This places New Zealand on a world stage.

Helen and I drove into Cardiff past all the crowds. There we discovered the All Blacks bus. Further comments follow the photo.

People, Helen included, were rushing up to have their photos taken by the bus. This was a mild crowd. Later there was a lengthy queue!.

The New Zealanders have just moved into the HQ previously occupied by England. In a Facebook exchange with cousin Anne, part of the NZ Belshaws, she said that she would still love us despite the results. Just as well. As a part Kiwi, I cheer for NZ in many things including the rugby league. But when it comes to rugby union, I'm one eyed.

I guess it's partly an underdog thing. In league, Australia is traditionally stronger. After all, league is very much a minority sport in NZ. Union is different, a national NZ religion. Both England and Australia actually have more registered players than NZ, but passion and focus trumps this.

This makes Australia an underdog so, as a good traditional Aussie, the underdog status adds to my support. I really doubt that Australia can win next weekend. Still, and despite my growing sleep deprivation. I will be there to support the team.

Will I forgive cousin Anne if we lose? Yes. There is always the next round. But will Anne forgive me, especially given that I am likely to rub an Australian win in? Yes, although I am likely going to have to work on that. I may have to discipline myself!

For both of us, and for Helen too, there is now World Cup Japan in 2019. Helen reckons the two of us should go. It will be the first Asian World Cup, a very different experience. It would be nice to go. Maybe some of the NZ Belshaws might come?        


Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday Forum - as you will

I watched the New Zealand versus South Africa World Cup rugby game on Sunday morning and then the Australia v Argentina this morning, This morning's game was gripping throughout, with Australia finally running out the winner 29-15, setting up a final with New Zealand.

The only problem in all this is that I'm quite pooped. For that reason, I'm not going to attempt to dictate a forum topic today, but just leave it to you to comment on what you will.

I know that sometimes this generates discussion, other times not. Still, I leave it to you to wander (or not) as the mood takes you!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Watching Henry V on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt

Six hundred years ago today, Friday 25 October 1415, an English army under Henry V defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt.  Almost six hundred years later, 30 September 2015,  Helen and I attended a performance of Henry V put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon.

We had been staying nearby at Harvington in the Cotswolds and decided to visit Stratford for the day. I will talk about my overall impressions of Stratford in another post. For a moment, I want to focus on Henry V.

Helen has been interested in drama since she was young and has taken part in a number of Shakespearean productions, so we went looking for the Royal Shakespeare Company. There Helen found that a production of Henry V was on that night and that tickets were available. The lure of seeing Shakespeare performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Shakespeare's birthplace was irresistible, and we promptly bought tickets. Since Harvington was so close, we were able to return there, eat and get back for the production.

Employing 700 people, the Royal Shakespeare Company is a very substantial organisation. Its Stratford Complex has recently been refurbished at a cost of £112.8 million. That's a fair bit of money.

The main theatre is built in the form of an open rectangle around the stage, with various seating levels stretching up into the high ceiling.   The kit built into the ceiling including the various lighting boxes is quite phenomenal. This allows for the use of minimal sets, since varying back-drops can be projected onto curtains.

As it turns out, I had neither read nor seen Henry V. I thought I had read it, but as the play proceeded I realised that I could not have. It was completely unfamiliar and the inclusion of large slabs of what was apparently French in the dialogue came as a surprise. I found it an unsatisfying play, in some ways unformed. I really needed the program notes to help guide me through the performance.

The Battle of Agincourt forms a key part of the play.. It is here late in the play that the most famous lines from the play appear.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
To give you another perspective, here is Kenneth Branagh with the same speech, this time in full.

The politics surrounding the original play are confused, as were the events themselves all those years ago. Shakespeare was writing for multiple audiences, including a population weary of the war that had been raging in Ireland. To my mind, this mixture of audiences helps explain what I saw as disconnects within the play. Interestingly, the program notes themselves displayed similar ambivalence, feeling an apparent requirement to deprecate or explain certain things in the pay in a way that reflects current British cultural and political attitudes and uncertainties.

Coming down in the lift afterwards, I listened to a well dressed older group who were clearly regulars. This was, one averred, the best production of Henry V he had ever see, going on to compare it to various productions dating back to the 1944 film staring Laurence Olivier. Not having seen the play before, I couldn't comment. However, while I greatly enjoyed the play, I thought that there were weaknesses from a purely technical viewpoint in the production, including camping up some scenes better played a little straighter.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - reflections on Malcolm Turnbull

In my first Monday Forum post following my return to Australia (Monday Forum - are we seeing the return of the old left and right?) I asked:
Given that I have been out of the country, I haven't yet formed a view on Mr Turnbull's performance to date, although I have noted the public opinion polls. I wonder what you think? What do you see from the early signs about his political style? It seems to me that this piece by the ABC's Barrie Cassidy captures some key elements.
In this case, I didn't get a response, perhaps because so many were just glad to see the end of Mr Abbott and of his particular rhetoric. Neil Whitfield's post Thank God Tony Abbott’s not running the country captures one element of the response. Neil writes from a particular perspective, left of centre if non-party political, but his views were obviously shared by many in the commentariat. Even among those supporting Mr Abbott, there was a degree of recognition of his failings if this later piece by the Australian's Chis Kenny is any guide.

As an aside, the Kenny piece is a revealing insight into the group think that has dominated thought within the Australian camp. We knew that, nor is the Australian group think alone. However, the piece is still interesting with its emphasis on the need to defend the "conservative" legacy. It ends:
The Coalition agenda is being defended, refined and promoted by former Abbott loyalists such as Frydenberg, Peter Dutton, Mathias Cormann and Christian Porter.
Those at the conservative end of Menzies’ broach church should see that Coalition and national success will be served best by ­supporting and shaping the new regime. Because if Turnbull doesn’t build on what Abbott has achieved, it will be squandered — and play an indolent Labor Party back into contention.
Mr Turnbull has begun unveiling elements in his own thinking. In doing so, he is treading a difficult path, praising Mr Abbott and his achievements while emphasising that he (Turnbull) is his own man with a new perspective. Given this, I thought that I should record my own previous perceptions of Mr Turnbull before developments blur them. That way I provide a clear marker for later review.

I have not been nor am I presently a Turnbull supporter  The reasons are part professional, more personal.

To my mind, Mr Turnbull is a representative of his class and place. His class is successful business man, a man who has made money in the world of modern business and is convinced of his own ability and rightness of judgement. His place is Eastern Suburbs Sydney and, more broadly, the business and intellectual elites that dominate the harbour city. There is nothing wrong with either, but they go to the heart of the cautions I have about Mr Turnbull. I accept that those cautions may say as much if not more about me than Mr Turnbull himself.

My cautions are exemplified by the debate over the National Broadband Network, There Mr Turnbull attacked the Labor model. He did so with an almost divine certainty in his own technological understanding and in the rightness of his position developed through business experience.

In doing so, he specified with absolute certainty just what he thought was the speed most Australians would need. In doing so, he displayed an ignorance of the type of struggle many were already facing in getting good service at the level he was mandating as the maximum presently required. In doing so, he ignored the nature of variation across the country, of the way that technology could balance disadvantage, The solutions he proffered were likely to entrench regional disadvantage.

Mr Tunbull is a man of measurement and markets. He understands where money should be placed to make a profit, he understands the nature of commercial and technological risk. These are strengths. However, it is not clear to me that he understands the nature of variance across the country, of the need to balance the purely rational with the requirement to accommodate different visions, to ensure not just that benefits are maximised, but that benefits are spread.

Many in the National Party are suspicious of him. That is due in part to distrust of his perceived "progressive" values. Yes, many regional people are more conservative and have become uncomfortable at the rate of social change. However, it is more than that. The stereotype of conservative country is just that, a stereotype. Of more importance, is a deep suspicion that at the end of the day, Mr Turnbull will reflect the attitudes and approaches of the metro elites, that at the end of the day country people will again be disadvantaged.

Mr Turnbull clearly understands the Westminster system. His comments on ministerial responsibility show that, as does his emphasis on his role as first among equals. I think that's good. What is less clear is his understanding of our Federal system. Mr Abbott got that, although other elements in his approach worked against, were diametrically opposed, to his Federal ethos.

It strikes me that Mr Turnbull is likely to over-ride the Federation because he regards it as a constraint, not as a fundamental element in the Australian system of government. I don't think on his comments to date that Mr Turnbull has a coherent philosophical position in this area. Mr Abbott's plans for reform of the Federation were never likely to go anywhere because of conflicts with other elements of his beliefs, but at least he had a position. Mr Turnbull does not. Or, at least, not one articulated in a way that I can understand.

One thing that I do think is a plus for Mr Turnbull is that, unlike Mr Rudd, he has learned from experience. Both men were defeated. Whereas Mr Rudd was totally focused on getting back into power, Mr Turnbull has had time to reflect. We don't yet know all the results from that reflection, but the Turnbull now is not quite the same as the defeated Opposition Leader Turnbull.

I think that the unfolding of the new Turnbull will be one of the interesting things to watch. I don't have firm views here. I am waiting to see!      


Interesting response to Mr Turnbull from Peter Munro in the Sydney Morning Herald courtesy of kvd. Quite funny!


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Introducing the Danish concept of hygge

As you arrive at Copenhagen Airport you are welcomed by a sign "Welcome to the happiest country in the world". Whether that's actually true or not is open to debate. I think that the Danes themselves are a little befuddled by the classification, but are happy to go along with it!

Cultures (and countries) are sometimes ranked along an individual v collective scale. Individualist cultures place weight upon individual freedom, collective cultures place weight upon the group. 

In global rankings, the US is on the far individualist side while Asian countries are collectivist. The UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia are classified as individualist, but with collective elements. Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries are ranked on the collective side. 

Part of the Danish experience is explained by the word hygge. I first came across it when I arrived because the people I met initially (all non-Danes) referred to it. It was both an attraction of and barrier too Danish life. But what is hygge?

In simple terms, 'hygge' (pronounced 'hooga') translates roughly to 'cosiness'. Before going on, this Danish tourism video provides a somewhat idealised introduction to the the concept:

There are, I think, three primary elements to the concept of hygge. One is sharing, the second enjoyment of what you have, the third acceptance. The third is more problematic. Hygge aids coherence, but it can also mean exclusion and acceptance of the status quo. As an aside, perhaps only the Danes can could turn porridge into a cultural experience. Eat you heart out Scotland!

Hygge links, I think, to several elements in Danish culture. One is the defeats and losses associated with Danish history over recent centuries that caused the Danes to turn in, to focus on what they had. A second is what I would call the country aspect of Danish life, life in a small interlinked community placing weight on social harmony. A third, the Danish winter.

By all accounts, the Danish winter is cold and miserable. It encourages cooperative support, as well as social interaction designed to break the pervading gloom. You can understand the desire for cosiness when the world outside is just so bleak!  .  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Musings on the Rugby World Cup 2015

Australians and New Zealanders are, to put it mildly, sports mad. The photo shows the All Blacks' haka at Cardiff prior to their game against Georgia at Cardiff watched by (among 72,000 others), eldest and myself. I fear I share that addiction.

I thought of this as Helen and I moved across Copenhagen and the UK watching Rugby World Cup games as we went in pubs and clubs, some live. Of course, we had to take selfies as we went. Helen's caption reads: "Final game live - not so secretly hoping to see the All Blacks run amuck
😉 — Tsk. That girl! Never catch me saying things like that!

One side effect of all this is that Australians and New Zealanders support their national teams regardless of sport. They also tend to cheer for each other except when playing the other. Mind you, as a half Kiwi I split my loyalties. I cheer for Australia in the Rugby Union, but support New Zealand in the Rugby League! 

Sports obsession means that both turn out in droves to cheer their national teams in any sport regardless of the sport. This provides a base that supports a remarkable number of sports at top level. Australia's population is about 24 million. That's quite small for a country that supports globally competitive teams in rugby union, rugby league, soccer, cricket, netball and hockey, to name just a few, in both men's and women's sport. Then you have Australian Rules. Relative to the size of its population, New Zealand arguably does even better.  

When you drop below this, however, tribalism rules. Australian support particular sports and oppose others, unless of course the national team is playing. Australians in particular areas support particular sports. Soccer, the use of which term immediately reveals my affiliations, has national appeal, but no dominance in any particular geographic area. By contrast, Rugby League is strongest in NSW and Queensland, Australian Rules in the southern states. Rugby Union is strongest in NSW and Queensland, but is generally a minority sport - the leather arm patches. Cricket or netball are equally spread.  

The varied sporting landscape combined with the sums of money involved and the competition between codes makes for a very competitive business environment. Each code seeks to extend its dominance across the nation. For its part, women's sport in general attempts to establish its own position, one in which men and women will receive equal reward. There have been big changes here and I expect more to come.  

Of all the sporting codes present in Australia, soccer is the truly global code in terms of reach (and money). This is followed by rugby union. The global rankings for Australian rules lists some 20 playing countries, the global rankings for rugby league lists 36 playing countries, the global rankings for rugby union lists 102 countries. Importantly, the top union group has more countries with more coming though the ranks than either league or Aussie rules. Union is evolving into a truly global game.

The atmosphere at this World Cup was truly remarkable. It was simply fun.There are two rounds to go, and then it's time to switch to Japan and the next World Cup. In the meantime, go the Wallabies!  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Operation Fortitude update - an even bigger fiasco than first thought

Earlier, I covered the ill-conceived Australian Border Force Operation Fortitude fiasco in two posts:
Now, based on information obtained under Freedom of Information, it appears that it was even a greater fiasco than I realised at the time.

Do read the emails included at the end of the ABC story. I know there are a lot, but its quite fascinating. My two posts above and especially the first will give you a feel for events as they unfolded from an external perspective.


Reflecting on the material now revealed, I'm not sure how much additional it tells us, but it does add nuance and texture. A few key points as I saw them:

  1. The original idea came from VicPol and was really something of a media stunt. The focus was being seen to act, to get brownie points - this pervades much of the stuff, including the emphasis on communications and on photo opportunities. I have expressed my dislike before about this aspect of "modern policing." It distorts policing and the role of police forces.
  2. VicPol saw this as an opportunity for collaborative action and invited other bodies to a meeting. The ABF was represented at mid-level. It seemed like a useful opportunity from an ABF perspective and ABF agreed to participate. At no stage in these initial discussions do the ABF representatives seem to have considered the appropriateness of involvement, the legal issues issues that might be involved, nor the protocols that might need to be followed. The focus seems to have been operational, a chance to to be seen to do something. The focus seems to have been on mechanics and on relations with VicPol.
  3. This applied even though Operation Fortitude seemed  to be turning into a major media event. The talking points and associated PR stuff wending its way through the clearance systems blurred ABF roles and powers. I am not sure whether the limits on ABF powers were simply taken for granted or ignored in the desire to do something. This included a we are coming to get you component.
  4. There were several potential red flag moments. In the end, the most important was the final failure to recognise centrally and in the Minister's office that this was a potentially significant political issue. It is clear from the papers that Immigration an Border Affairs has a highly centralised communications system. The papers that went up were misleadingly headed, but that's not a sufficient explanation for the failure to recognise. My feeling is that a communications system in which "operational" matters on or beyond the borders are placed beyond the communications pale was blinded by the use of the "operational" tag on a within borders matter. Even so, I would have thought that even a quick scan within the Minister's Office should have raised some flags. 
  5. It is clear that ABF Victoria was taken totally by surprise by the scale and speed of the reaction on the day. It should not have been. The ABF is a controversial initiative whose public reputation had been tarnished among many by the rhetoric and actions associated with the Abbott Government's refugee policies. There is actually something a little sad at the surprise in the papers.
  6. From the beginning, the "public safety" argument was not going to wash. This was a compliance operation involving ABF compliance staff that had no direct connection with public safety in the Melbourne CBD. Bluntly, it was a fishing expedition. I have also argued that it was a case of mission creep.
  7. There was clearly frantic activity over the weekend as chronologies were prepared and processes reviewed. By now everybody was involved!
 There is a lot in the papers that will pay future study. For the moment, my feeling remains that the operation's very failure was its greatest success from a public policy viewpoint in highlighting weaknesses in process and attitude and in the way it has focused discussion on aspects of the domestic role of ABF.        

Monday, October 19, 2015

Michaelia Cash and Productivity in Wonderland

As you might expect, the Canberra Times is by far the best newspaper on things happening in Australia's Commonwealth Public Service.

On 16 October, the Canberra Times headlined a story Public servants are not living 'in the real world': public service minister Michaelia Cash.On 19 October, the paper reported that Rejected pay deal likely to result in more job losses at Australian Border Force. These two stories are examples of stories that have been running and running for several years now on pay and other disputes within the Commonwealth Public Service . In this post I want to briefly reflect on those stories, for to my mind they are examples of the mess created by the blind application of particular approaches.

The old Commonwealth Public Service was marked by four key features:
  • It was non-party political and existed to serve the Government of the day. Objectives were set by the Government. The Public Service provided advice, but was then responsible for for implementing Government decisions, including the management of on-going programs. Particular agencies were responsible for particular activities, but did not have formal objectives outside the framework set by administrative and policy responsibilities.     
  • Reflecting this approach, the overall focus was the ministerial portfolio.As portfolio responsibilities changed within Governments and between Governments, agencies were subject to relatively constant change as new functions were added, existing functions moved within portfolios or between portfolios. 
  • It was a career service in which officers moved between agencies. To assist movement and also avoid the risk of nepotism, there was a common position hierarchy that applied to all agencies with jobs advertised within the Public Service. Variation was accommodated by some variations in position level between agencies, but always within the common structure.
  • Terms and conditions of employment including pay were set centrally and were uniform across the Public Service. Again, variation was accommodated by variations in position structure between agencies.  
Perceived problems with the old system led to a number of changes. Of particular relevance to current disputes:
  • Agencies acquired lives of their own through the adoption of corporatist approaches with their own plans, mission statements, goals and performance indicators. Technically, if not always in practice, these were meant to be subordinate to, to fall within, parameters set by Government policies.
  • Government became more centralised and to a degree rigid. More control was concentrated at the centre, reducing the power of ministers. Within agencies, new decision structures were created that had the effect of centralising decision making, focusing advice and decisions within the frame set by corporate mission, objectives and performance indicators. One side effect was a reduction in the range of advice available to the Minister. 
  • Certain HR and payroll functions were delegated to agencies in the name of flexibility and better management, leading to the creation of agency specific enterprise agreements whose terms and conditions could vary between agencies.
  • Agencies placed greater weight on uniformity and consistency within the agency. Common and sometimes expensive communication and branding strategies emerged to reinforce the framework set by mission, values. plans and KPIs. Risk assessment and management became more important partly because of increased size, more because centralisation of authority focused the risk on a smaller number of individuals.
  •  The new processes were computer dependent and were associated with investment in various IT systems used for management within agencies and in communication processes between agencies and the central coordination and decision processes. IT systems linked to agency structures, management and purpose became more divergent. .       
On coming to power, the Abbott Government made major changes to administrative arrangements, in so doing highlighting problems with the current  system as well as in some elements of Government thinking. .

To begin with, agency mergers brought together staff under varying enterprise agreements with different features, requiring complex negotiations to create new enterprise agreements. As the same time, a number of existing agreements were expiring, requiring the negotiation of new agreements. To manage the process, the Government attempted to establish common principles that would govern all negotiations. Central to these was a requirement that any pay increase be offset by savings elsewhere. To further complicate matters, agency budgets were being cut at the same time.

Under the old approach, the Government would simply have stated that pay increases could not be justified at this time and provided reasons. There would have been industrial trouble, but the process would have been relatively clear cut. Now its far more complicated.

The process is further complicated by the Government's mindset. This combines cost reduction with a desire to improved productivity. To this end, the offsetting savings required are encapsulated under a productivity improvement rhetoric. The confusions inherent in this approach are captured rather well in the views expressed by public service minister Michaelia Cash.

Ms Cash is a former industrial relations lawyer from the big end of town (Freehills) and it shows. I quote:
Federal public servants are not living in the "real world" of Australian workplace relations, according to public service minister Michaelia Cash. 
Senator Cash says the idea of a worker getting a pay rise without offering a productivity offset is "frankly unacceptable" in the "real world" where "Australians live".
The comments, in Senate question time on Thursday, indicate the government is digging in, with most of its 150,000 public servants well into the second year of a wages stalemate. 
Tens of thousands of public servants at key departments have rejected pay offers containing "productivity offsets", but Senator Cash told the Senate that was not how things were done "out there in voter-land". 
Answering a question from ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, the newly minted minister said wage negotiations "in the real world" were conducted differently to the Australian Public Service. 
A combative Senator Cash said the government had been upfront about what it wanted in the wage negotiations. 
"It has required some wage moderation in this bargaining round," she said. 
"The government's offer has been on the table: it is a 1.5 per cent pay increase over three years.
"But what we have asked in return for the 1.5 per cent pay rise is productivity gains. 
"In the real world, where Australians live, where people open businesses and risk their own money, in the real world, you don't actually get a pay rise if you don't give a productivity gain. 
"I think out in voter-land, out when you're having a coffee in a cafe, when you're having a beer at a pub, when you're having a sandwich at a local sandwich shop, the idea that you would get a pay rise and not have to offset that pay rise with a productivity gain, quite frankly, is unacceptable."
There are a number of problems with Ms Cash's analysis. 

First, I doubt that most Australians would accept the idea that all individual rises must be offset by individual productivity gains, although they might accept that across the economy as a whole, the capacity to pay more  might be linked to productivity improvement broadly defined. I very much doubt that Ms Cash herself would have argued when she was a Senior Associate at Freehills that her pay increases should be limited to improved personal productivity on her part. I suspect that she would have been more inclined to point to changing market rates, although her charge performance would certainly have come into play.

It is correct, I think, that in large organisations pay rises are often linked to productivity improvements, especially during times of increased financial stress. However, and as we saw during the mining boom, when times are good competition for resources bids up wage costs. Wages increased at a time when measurable productivity seems to have been in decline because profits were there to support the wage increases. 

Looking specifically at the Commonwealth Public Service, the Service has already been subject to (and remains subject to) progressive efficiency dividends extending over considerable periods. It may well be that these have had limited effects on productivity, I have suggested that they may in fact have had negative effects. However if (as Governments have argued) the cuts have improved productivity, then that provides a base for a pay rise on Ms Cash's own arguments.

 More importantly, perhaps, productivity is quite hard to measure. For that reason, all the proposals placed on the table involve some increase in working hours combined with some reduction in costs through changed entitlements, things that can be valued. Now this is where a degree of unreality enters the debate. A 1.5% pre-tax pay increase over three years is so small in post tax terms that most public servants are likely to be worse off as a consequence of the required trade-offs. Why bother?

In the way of the world, disputes will drag on. In the end, market forces are likely to sort things out. As has happened a number of times in the past, a period of pay suppression will be followed by pay expansion as the Service finds difficulty in recruiting the staff it needs. .


It seems from the Canberra Times that some form of break-through has been achieved on the pay dispute. The problem with the previous doctrinaire approach was summarised in this way:
Senior executives negotiating on behalf of agencies had complained privately about a lack of flexibility in the rules, which required that any proposed pay rises be funded through administrative savings or "cashing out" benefits, such as asking staff to work longer hours. 
Senator Cash said the revised framework would give agency heads more flexibility to strike deals, though the costs of any wage rises would still need to be met within existing budgets.
By increasing the maximum annual pay increase from 1.5% to 2% per annum while relaxing the obligatory offset conditions, the Government has created a better base for negotiation. Real public service salaries will still drop based on expected inflation rates and are likely to be below rates of increase in the private sector, while agency budget caps mean that pay increases automatically flow to lower head count in the absence of other savings. I don't have a problem with this, although there are some longer term issues.

On a related matter, the brief discussion in comments on productivity in professional services including law highlighted in my mind the way I am still struggling to come to grips with the concept of productivity improvement as applied to services.The confusion in my mind lies not so much in the concept of productivity improvement at firm level, but in the relationship between that and productivity improvement as measured by economists and expressed in statistical indicators. Quite simply, I am still confused!    .   

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - Big ships, Carmichael and environmental processes

A week ago I had just got home. This morning's post is a simple wander.

To begin with, what do you think of this cruise ship? My reaction was negative, I must say. I didn't want to sail on her! I guess because its so big, so garish, so cumbersome.

On reading this story in the New York Times, my first reaction was that the US had become ungovernable. My second reaction was a feeling of relief that I did not live there.

Meantime, the BBC has joined in on the debate over US Democratic Presidential Bernie Sander's praise of Denmark. This is a debate I plan to join!  However, as an opening salvo, were it not for my perception that Australia had become more socially conformist than the Scandinavian countries but without the benefits, I would have argued that I found the Scandinavian pressures towards conformity personally cloying.

The Canadian elections are Monday. In the UK, Mr Cameron's win was unexpected, given the polling. The Canadian polls have been all over the place, showing a three way tie for much of the time. Now the Liberals are in front, the NDP down. Given the UK results, people are asking whether or not the UK experience might be replicated in Canada, giving Conservative leader Stephen Harper an unexpected electoral victory.

In Canada as in the UK, a first past the post system operates in the lower house. This makes the geographic distribution of party support very important. The NDP has moved from front runner to third because of the sudden decline in its support in Quebec.I won't weep tears of blood if Mr Harper loses. He is to much like Tony Abbott for my liking. Interestingly, Australian electoral strategist Lynton Crosby  is reported to have ditched Mr Harper.

Yesterday's announcement that Queensland's Carmichael coal mine had received environmental approval is likely to generate another round of legal challenges, It's been interesting watching this one, for it draws out the confusions that abound in this area, the way that those involved in the dispute mix together whatever will support their case at a point.

Mine promoter Ardani may or may not be in financial trouble, the mine may or may not be uneconomic. My feeling is that both are problematic.However, these are commercial questions. I suspect that regardless of commercial uncertainties, Ardani has to push ahead through the approval phases despite the cost to the company. Otherwise, it has no asset and will have to crystalise all costs as losses. Hardly an attractive prospect. In the meantime, those opposed to the mine use the commercial uncertainties to attack the projected benefits used to justify the project.

In the end, arguments here can only be resolved here through practice. If the project is uneconomic, it will fall over. However, to those who want it blocked full stop, this is simply an unacceptable risk. This leads to my next point.

Many of those opposed are opposed to any coal project on what we might call global grounds, the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere. This is a perfectly legitimate position, but  it also leads to attacks on projects that actually have little to do with the project itself, that will take and press any point that might defeat or at least delay the project. We can debate the end of coal mining as a major issue, but when this global view is in play one should beware of the project specific arguments used.

Beyond these arguments, we have a variety of more specific and local arguments of varying degrees of validity that are used by and play into debates triggered by the major protagonists. Most of us have no chance of understanding these beyond recognising that all are at risk of special pleading.

 The Carmichael case raises a variety of issues that I have tried to address previously about the nature of decision processes, the questions of what things require decisions, how those decisions are made. For the moment, I note that Carmichael is an example of the rise of what is called issues politics, the replacement of decisions guided by general principles with an issue by issue approach.

Finally, and just for reference purposes and later discussion, I thought that you might find this Australian story on the sadness of true believers interesting.

      .   .    

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Russia's strategic adventures

Flying to and from Europe this time, I was very conscious of just where the plane was flying and wondered about missile risk. That came back when I watched the release last night of the Dutch Safety Board Report into the downing of MH17.

I don't think many in Western countries believe the apparent official Russian Federation line that it wasn't a Russian made missile that brought the plane down. In fact, I don't think that many people believe much that President Putin says full stop.

These things have a habit of working themselves out with time. It's actually quite difficult to make a position stick in the longer term where that position is based on a fundamental untruth. Ultimately, the position unravels. Of course, a lot may happen in the meantime.

The MH17 report made me look back at the small number of posts that I have written linked in some way to Russian foreign policy and strategic objectives. Since I first wrote after the start of the Ukrainian crisis, Russia has consolidated its hold over Crimea. The war in Eastern Ukraine has entered an uneasy stasis in large part, I think, because Mr Putin and his colleagues have achieved their immediate objectives, have other fish to fry, and so need to let things rest.

The importance that Russia places on the Eurasian dream has become clearer, linked to President Putin's vision of the re-assertion of what he sees as Russia's traditional place in Eurasia. The Russian involvement in Syria is, to my mind, a coldly calculated strategic decision that serves several objectives. It protects existing Russian bases; it tells Russian allies we will protect you; it further complicates life for the West; and it provides Russia with new bargaining chips and allies. And, by the way, it helps sell a variety of military kit! It's win-win all round.

The model that the West including Australia has been using with its focus on terrorism and existential threat seems to me to be flawed, flaws further exposed by Mr Putin's Syrian adventure. Sometimes there is something to be said for asking the most basic question, what's in it for me? That, I think, is Mr Putin's sole rule-stick.

So far as Syria is concerned there are obvious risks, but is still looks like win-win at this point regardless of the particular outcome.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015 - soaking up the atmosphere in Cardiff

We had driven down that morning from the Cotswolds to watch two of the Rugby Union World Cup pool matches, Wales playing Fiji, followed next day by the All Blacks playing Georgia.

We found a distinct party atmosphere on our arrival in Cardiff. Rugby is something of a national religion in Wales, and the streets were thronged with both Welsh supporters and those drawn to the event from other countries. We were wearing our Wallaby jersey's and people kept patting us on the back!

We wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere before heading to the Millennium Stadium to watch the game. On the way, we stopped to get a sausage roll. Overpriced and they had run out of onions and were even low on sausages, but we needed the food.

The Welsh team were doing pre-match warm-ups as we entered. Wales normally wear red. This is there alternative stripe. We had watched the previous Wales match (they were playing England) at the Evesham Rugby Club. Somewhat unexpectedly, Wales had won 28-25 to the distress of our English hosts for the win knocked host nation England out of the finals. However, in winning Wales had added further to its injury woes and it was not clear how the team would cope against the big Fijians with their open running rugby.  

The atmosphere in the Millennium Stadium is world famous, and it was humming as it filled.In all, over 71,000 people packed in. Listening to 60,000 Welsh voices singing the national anthem in harmony was quite something.

It was a good natured crowd throughout the match who thoroughly enjoyed the match.

In the end, Wales were too strong, winning 21-13. After the match we took the long work to our car (parking was very difficult) and then went to find our motel  outside Cardiff. Tomorrow would be another day.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Monday Forum - are we seeing the return of the old left and right?

This first Monday Forum since my return addresses two issues.

In my pre-departure post Saturday Morning Musings - Naledi Man, continued troubles in the Abbey, ministerial offices, I said in part:
The by-election next Saturday for the Western Australian seat of Canning was being seen a litmus test on Mr Abbott's leadership. Now I don't think that it matters. Even if the Liberal Party holds the seat without the expected swing, the present Australian government is probably just too accident prone for Mr Abbott to survive.
Even as I  was flying out, the moves against Mr Abbott began. I hadn't expected such a quick response! 

Given that I have been out of the country, I haven't yet formed a view on Mr Turnbull's performance to date, although I have noted the public opinion polls. I wonder what you think? What do you see from the early signs about his political style? It seems to me that this piece by the ABC's Barrie Cassidy captures some key elements. 

More broadly, it seems to me that we are presently witnessing the return of the old left and right in many countries. I need to define my terms here.

The old left stretched through marxism to doctrinaire socialism to Fabian socialism. While there were many threads in the old left, there was a common belief in state action as a means of remedying poverty and inequality and in the importance of collective action. In time, it was overtaken by the new left, itself a sometimes uneasy amalgam of left political theorists with popular social causes and then by social democrats as exemplified by the rise of the Blairites in the UK.

The old right was still more mixed. It included conservative parties that placed more weight on individual as opposed to collective responsibilities, contrasting equality of opportunity with equality, but extended to a variety of more extreme groups that merged into fascism. Like the old left, the more extreme right placed weight on state action but for different purposes. To the left, the state existed to serve the people, to the extreme right, the people existed to serve the state.

The political and economic shocks of the 1970s were associated with shifts in beliefs that affected both left and right, beliefs that focused on the limitations of state action.and the importance of market forces, This led to policy convergence among main stream parties of left and right, in effect breaking the old social contract that had existed in may countries, including Australia.  While the rhetoric differed to some degree, policy convergence was clear. Difference lay in the weighting placed on objectives and in the setting of priorities. Convergence was further reinforced by the rise of managerialism, a process that affected parties of left and right with weighting placed on activities and process.

Two further threads linked left and right. One was populism, the second cooperative action. Both left and right used populist jargon, while cooperative action could appeal to left and right depending on the exact situation and on the formulation.

The political convergence that joined parties of the centre left and right over recent decades appears to have broken. The perceived failures of ideas that evolved with Friedman and others has led to growing rejection of those ideas. Exactly the same thing happened in the seventies: the then dominant ideologies were replaced because they seem to have failed. One side effect of the perceived failure has been growing political fragmentation associated with disillusionment in the political process. New political forces have emerged on left and right. At the same time, the rhetoric and policy positions adopted have also begun to carry messages that are hauntingly similar to those of the old left and right, including the restatement of some of the old delusions.

Policy and political positions always reflect the times..The past never repeats itself in exactly the same way.And, yet, some of the popular arguments that have emerged are very familiar. The obvious cases are the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, the popularity of Bernie Sanders in the United States.Both use rhetoric and propose actions that are clearly old left.

The responses of the right and centre right are also familiar. Perhaps most classically, in the UK the recent Conservative Party Conference was a mix of populism with an attempt to co-opt key Labour messages while also retaining elements of the recently dominant orthodoxy. We are, Conservative leaders proclaimed, the real guardians of the National Health Service! Here we can see convergence at work once again. The political centre has shifted to the left, and the centre/centre right parties have, to a degree, moved with that shift.    

With the US as an out-rider, the Tea Party is a very strange beast with its mix of socially conservative rhetoric, populism and somewhat distorted libertariansim, the new right parties that have gained dominance in Europe are all expressing views that combine social conservatism, populism and statist action (a key differentiatior from the Tea Party stream) The mix is a very familiar re-assertion of a significant stream in the old right.

 So am I right in thinking that we are experiencing something of a return to the past? Does Mr Abbott and the first period of his Government represent the last gasp of a previously dominant orthodoxy, with Mr Turnbull moving towards the new apparent consensus? Has "progressive" become the new left code? What do you think the new political landscape will look like?

As always, feel free to go in any direction you want, posing your own questions.        .


Sunday, October 11, 2015

And so the trip of a life time ends - jet-lagged but home

Back yesterday morning and very jet-lagged. Flying east is always harder and the airlines don't help. To minimise jet lag you need to shift to the end point, whereas the airlines focus on the start point. And the need to keep passengers sedated to minimise nuisance! Flying in bright day light with the cabin darkened and all shades shut because that fits with night at the time you left is a case in point.

I used to be able to read and write on the plane, but that is no longer possible. It's partly that that I feel that I shouldn't put the reading light on, more that space is now so cramped that real reading or real work is very hard. Business class let alone first class is out of my reach. In cattle class, if you drop something you almost have to get the entire row to move so that you can recover lost object.

The jet lag wasn't helped by my decision to stay up to see Australia play Wales in the Rugby World Cup. At one level that was crazy stuff, but I'm glad that I did.

Wales threw everything at the Australians. For ten minutes Australia, reduced to 13 men because of infringements, held the line in the face of the Welsh barrage. A try seemed inevitable, but Wales could just not get through. In the end, that defence plus the accurate kicking of Bernard Foley gave Australia a 15-6 victory.

Helen and I watched a lot of rugby this trip. We went to three games - one in Birmingham, two in Cardiff - watched more at pubs and clubs. I will share some memories of all this later. The finals are yet to come, but in a way, last night's match provided a satisfactory book mark to end the trip. Helen watched the game at the Irish pub in Copenhagen where we had seen the opening game of the World Cup, exchanging messages with me as the game went on. So the trip ended as it had begun, with shared experiences.

I feel very lucky. This whole trip was a birthday present organised by Helen before she went to Copenhagen. A number of people contributed. I could not have gone, otherwise. Apart from the pleasure of eldest's company, the trip has been something of an energising circuit breaker.

I think that we all get stale from time to time. That was certainly true of me. So now, while still jet-lagged and with my luggage stranded in Germany, while needing to clean and sort, my thoughts have begun to turn to ways to maximise and consolidate my experiences from the trip. I say begun to turn advisedly. I'm still too bloody tired to focus properly!  

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Freedom and flourishing - the Nordic model

Flying out of London Luton this morning for Copenhagen, the papers were full of UK Home Secretary Theresa May's speech on immigration. My heart sank as I read the reports and indeed some of the other reports on the Conservative Party conference. In fairness, the UK Conservative Party appears to be a broader church than the Australian Liberal Party equivalent, but there are still some depressing equivalences.

Over at his place, Winton Bates continues his pursuit of the factors determining human happiness. I thought of Winton as I walked down Edinburgh's Royal Mile past the statue of Adam Smith. I thought of him too because I have been reading Michael Booth's The Almost Perfect People: the truth about the Nordic Miracle.

I started reading the book as an introduction to the culture of the Nordic countries. The reference came from the young expatriates I have met who are working in Denmark. Then, as I read, I saw the linkages to Winton's thoughts. You see, the Nordic countries constantly score high on the happiness and fulfilment measures Winton presents, and yet they seem to have few of the attributes Winton really likes - they are communitarian, equalitarian, have high taxes, welfare state structures. They do have strong legal frameworks (Winton likes that), but I think that Winton might find some of the analysis as presented by Booth a little challenging. Then again, there is evidence there that he could use!

Personally, I like a little bit of chaos, of disorder. That may not make for maximum happiness now, but it does tend to make for longer term advancement.

One of the interesting features in Booth's work is his analysis of the famed Finnish education system. I found this very interesting because it has been so featured in the Australian press and I knew little about it. I will look at this further in a later post.   

Sunday, October 04, 2015

For those so inclined

For those so inclined, now would be a good time to donate to the keep belshaw writing fund. I have lots of new things to write about when I get back to Oz next weekend, but also need some cash to fund that writing!


I hadn't realised until now that paypal allows people to donate smaller amounts on a regular basis, say  monthly, thus creating a regular cash flow for me with less immediate pain for the donor. Like the concept!