Wednesday, March 29, 2017

What drives One Nation Voters - return of the middling class

I have yet to get David Marr's full quarterly essay, but I found this long excerpt (Looking back, and angry: what drives Pauline Hanson's voters) from the Guardian quite fascinating  if also very familiar because it fits with my own experiences.

We have discussed One Nation here from time to time especially in comments. I would like to come back to some of those points later. For the present, the analysis set out provides by far the best snap shot of the attitudes of One Nation voters that we have so far seen. Political scientist Ian McAllister cautions that care must be exercised in interpreting the results because the small number of One Nation voter risks statistical error. That is fair enough, but the results do at least provide a framework, a hypothesis, for future review.

University of New England economic historian R S (Ron) Neale spoke of a middling class. This is an unstable group included in the middle or lower middle class but distinct from them. Ron spoke of them in this way:
... petit bourgeois, aspiring professional men, other literates and artisans. Individuated or privatized like the middle class but collectively less deferential and more concerned to remove the privileges and authority of the upper class in which, without radical changes, they cannot realistically hope to share 
Explaining why he rejected the idea of a two class society, the Country Party politician David Drummond wrote that he refused:
to accept the doctrine that society was divided into 2 classes & 2 only. I knew that in between there was a middle class of decent law abiding people, farmers, graziers, small shopkeepers, & to a certain extent professional men. They were either self employed or small employers but largely consisted of people who valued their independence and sought by hard work to build a secure place in society they could sustain .. To the solid core of the "middle class" the unprincipled exploiting greed of employers was as loathsome as the destructive ill-balanced doctrines of extreme unionism.
Drummond used the term middle class, but the attributes he attached better reflect Neale's idea of a middling class.

The distinctive features of the middling class are, I think, a degree of alienation from existing power and social structures combined with a a feeling of insecurity. Through hard work, they have established a degree of security and prosperity, but they feel that this is insecure, likely to be taken away. The middling class are worriers.

Drummond was writing in 1965 explaining the views that he had formed as a young man so many decades before. Despite the passage of time, I think that the idea of the middling class is still by far the best way of understanding just what drives One Nation.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Copenhagen's Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek presents 150 years of French art

Edward Manet, the Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, 1867 
I have always had a soft spot for Emperor Maximilian 1 of Mexico. If you look at the story of his life in Wikipedia, you will see that he was a fundamentally good man caught up in power politics beyond his control.

I mention this now because the Manet painting of his death is one of the paintings in a new display at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek just down the road from eldest's place in Copenhagen.

artdaily records that the exhibition includes 200 works of French art including pieces by Manet, Degas, Monet, C├ęzanne, van Gogh and Gauguin covering the period from 1850 to 1950. Unusually, the exhibition is presented in reverse chronological order, starting in 1950 and then working back. I would be interested to see just how this works. It should so long as the explanatory material is good.

The Glyptotek  is a lovely gallery, although those parts reliant on natural light are best not seen at dusk on a Copenhagen winter day! You also need to allow time, for I find that these very large exhibitions have a blurring effect if you try to pack the whole into a single visit.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Forum - secret gardens

I am mildly addicted to an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Program Dream Gardens. This will not come as a surprise to regular readers given my past references to gardens and gardening.
Modern suburban Australian native garden. This is an example of a garden I do not like. It's decorative, but fairly useless.  
My thinking about gardens has been affected by my love of and experience with vegetable gardens. It's also been influenced by gardens that break the heat of the Australian summer, places where you can gather or just sit on a hot day.

I do like some of the British country or great house gardens.These are more decorative, focusing on vistas, formal arrangements and sometimes quaint retreats or mazes.

The maze at Scone Palace, Perth where eldest and I wandered. These are places where one visits, but normally not places where (unless you happen to be the owners!) you can treat as a living experience.
As a child, I loved the secret bits in gardens. The hedge along which a path had been burrowed. The secret spot in which you could sit and observe the world. The tree or roof which provided a special observation point.

I was an adult when I first read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, but it instantly appealed to the child in me. It still does!

Then, too, gardens are a place to play or to steal things such as fruit. I still remember collecting raspberries that I then mashed with sugar and cream to create a delicious mess.

This brings me to the topic of today's forum. What do you like/dislike about gardens? What are your favourite memories? If you were designing a garden, what must it include?

As always, feel free to go in whatever directions you want.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Confusions over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975

I hadn't intended to comment on the current debate about the proposed changes to Section 18c of the Australian Racial Discrimination Act 1975, but I got so annoyed listening to some of the interviews with the no-change proponents that I thought that I should at least educate myself.

For those who would like to educate themselves, I recommend reading the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights report "Freedom of speech in Australia - Inquiry into the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) and related procedures under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth)". While there was disagreement within the Committee, the report provides the best overview of the issues, far better than you will get from the reporting or commentary.

Legal Framework

As the report title indicates, there are two Commonwealth Acts involved. 

Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act deals with prohibition of offensive behaviour based on racial hatred. Section 18C states:
18C Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or
ethnic origin
 (1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
 (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to
offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a
group of people; and
 (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or
ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the
people in the group.   
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in
private if it:
 (a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated
to the public; or
 (b) is done in a public place; or
 (c) is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public
(3) In this section: public place includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.  
Four things to note about 18C:
  • It focuses on offensive behaviour. Other forms of racial discrimination relating to property or employment are dealt with in other sections of the Act
  • Unlawful behaviour is not the same as criminal behaviour. No formal penalties are attached. However, in the event of a court ruling that the behaviour is unlawful, other civil action may follow 
  • The scope of "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" because of the "race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group" is broad
  • The scope does not include offensive behaviour on the grounds of religion unless this can be linked in some way to the defined categories.    
Section 18D then provides a defence:
18D Exemptions
 Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done
reasonably and in good faith:
 (a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic
work; or
 (b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or
debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or
scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public
interest; or
 (c) in making or publishing:
 (i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of
public interest; or
 (ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest
if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held
by the person making the comment.  
The second Act, the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 provides for the processes to be followed in handling complaints. These processes are reasonably complex and I'm not sure that I have them exactly right. However, in summary complaints must be in writing, they are reviewed by the Human Rights Commission who may reject them on because they are vexatious or trivial, there is provision for a conciliation process to try to reconcile the process. If agreement cannot be reached, the process is terminated. Where a complaint is rejected or the process terminated because agreement cannot be reached, complainants may then choose to take court action.

The Proposed Changes

The proposed changes announced by the Prime Minister and Commonwealth Attorney Brandis would:

  • Remove the words "offend, insult, humiliate" from section 18C of the RDA and insert the word "harass". It would also introduce the "reasonable member of the Australian community" as the objective standard by which contravention of section 18C should be judged.
  • Amend the AHRC Act to facilitate the disposal of unmeritorious complaints and ensure fairness is accorded to both complainants and respondents. The legislation would raise the threshold for the Commission to accept a complaint, provide additional powers for the Commission to terminate unmeritorious complaints and limit access to the courts for unsuccessful complaints.
  • Also include minor technical amendments, identified by the Commission itself, to improve the Commission's reporting obligations, its conciliation processes, and governance arrangements.
The Arguments

Section 18C has become a hugely symbolic issue to the point that the arguments about the changes tend to get lost in arguments about racism and free speech in a pluralist society.

Those arguing for legislative change fall into a number of groups. There are those who want 18C deleted in total. because it infringes the general principle of free speech. This includes libertarians, as well as some of those on the right of the Liberal Party. Some oppose 18C in principle, others because of the "chilling" effect it has on debate when combined with the dispute processes; some combine the two to justify opposition.  

There are then those who want the scope of 18C narrowed to improve clarity. This includes those who suggested the replacement of the current words with vilify or harass or indeed both. Then there are those who would like to see the scope of 18C widened to include religion with "race, colour or national or
ethnic origin." 

Some of those arguing for legislative change would maintain 18C as is, but wish to see the procedures amended to improve simplicity and clarity and reduce vexatious claims.  

Those arguing against the proposed legislative changes generally make one or a combination of four main points:

  • They believe that the current legislation is in fact working well, although there may be a case for improving procedures
  • The broad wording of the current 18C has in practice been read down by the courts to limiting, thus reducing the case for change. A change of the type proposed would invalidate this case law, creating uncertainties and difficulties of interpretation
  •  The new "reasonable person" test is wrong because it shifts the judgment on the offence from the aggrieved person or group to a broader community who may never have experienced racial abuse and are therefore not in a position to make a judgement on the degree of offence or hurt caused.  
  • The proposed changes send the wrong signals and may encourage racism. Some of those arguing this line support their point with claims about the continuing prevalence of racism in  Australia.  
Among the main protagonists of these views are the Human Rights Commission itself, the Labor and Green Parties and organisations representing particular ethnic groups.


My own views about Section 18C have fluctuated. The main Racial Discrimination Act was introduced by the Whitlam Government in 1975. Section 18C came later, introduced by the Keating Government to Parliament in November 1994. At the time, I thought that it was an infringement on free speech, another of a parcel of symbolic measures so beloved by then Prime Minister Keating that greatly infuriated me at the the time.

That was twelve years ago. With time, the section became embedded. I didn't see it as necessarily doing much good in addressing racism, but until recently I didn't see it as having significant problems either. It was just there. I couldn't quite understand the continuing heat in the issue.

I guess that makes me out of touch. The dispute over Section 18C has now become so enmeshed in conflicts over symbols, values, ideology and perceptions that that it is difficult to disentangle the issues involved that bear specifically on the legislation itself. Indeed, I'm not sure that those specific issues matter anymore in what has become a stark two tone debate where the role of 18C is primarily symbolic.

Based on the evidence presented so far, I don't think there is any doubt that the combination of 18C with the dispute handling procedures has had, to use News Corporation's word, something of a "chilling" effect on public discussion. The problems are that you don't know who will be offended and what action might be taken. Even if a matter does not proceed to court, there are still costs involved in time and legal expenses. If a matter does proceed to court, further expenses are involved. The response is a degree of self-censorship.

It is not clear to me to what degree this problem is due to the current wording of 18C as compared to the procedures to be followed should a complaint be submitted.

A linked problem lies in the present very broad wording of 18C, the use of  "offend, insult, humiliate" if the public expression is based on the grounds of "race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group". I don't know where to draw the boundaries with those words.

During the debate over the proposed changes, Labor spokesman kept asking for examples where the current legislation stopped free speech. Leaving aside the problem that giving such examples might themselves lead to complaints under the Act, here are a few generalised examples::
  • "The Armenian genocide came about because of ethnic, cultural and religious prejudices deeply embedded in Turkish society, prejudices that continue to this day." Alternatively, "the Armenian genocide is a myth perpetrated by Armenian nationalists smearing Turkey and the Turkish people for their own political end." 
  • "Racism is deeply embedded in white society."  Alternatively, "there is something deeply racist in the way Aboriginal  people seek to exclude non-Aboriginal people  from even commenting on Aboriginal issues." 
I am not saying that these are perfect examples, just that each one is likely to offend, insult or even humiliate someone on the grounds of race, colour or national or ethnic origin. I am sure that you could think of other examples.

Three related questions arise: what is the purpose of the legislation, the problem being addressed; what is the scope of the legislation; and is 18C the best way of addressing the identified problem? 

The intent of the Government's proposed changes is to narrow the scope of the legislation by focusing on harass. Part of the argument against this is that the courts have already narrowed the scope of the legislation to limit it to more serious cases, a second part is that any change would send a signal that racism is okay. A more significant argument is that the meaning of harass itself is unclear. 

A simpler change that might meet objections on both sides would be the deletion of the word offend, thus reflecting what the courts already appear to have decided.  

While there is no agreement on the scope of 18C, there does appear to be at least a measure of agreement that the complaint processes do need reformation. I do not know whether the Government's proposals here are the best result. I haven't seen much discussion on this since attention has been so strongly focused on the change to 18C. 

On the surface, a sensible fall back position for all parties would seem to be changes here. That would then allow changes to 18C itself to be further considered in the light of subsequent case experience.

As things stand at the moment, it seems the the Government's proposed legislation will be defeated in the Senate, so all this discussion is perhaps a little pointless given that maintenance of the status quo seems the most likely outcome. 


Monday, March 20, 2017

Sunday Snippets + Monday Forum

I am again combining the Sunday and Monday Forum posts. The Sunday part just records some of the things that I have noticed, been interested in, but have not found the time to write about. The Monday part is open to any direction whatsoever.

It's been quite wet in parts of Northern NSW. The road between Armidale and the coast is called Waterfall Way. This ABC shot of the road down the Dorrigo mountain suggests why. The road was closed soon after this photo was taken.

For entertainment. This YouTube video attempts to explain some of the intricacies of Brexit - and the UK..

Staying in the UK, both Helen Dale and kvd pointed me to story in the Guardian: 'London Bridge is down': the secret plan for the days after the Queen’s death. It's a long but very interesting piece, drawing out some of the logistic and political complexities involved in responding to the death of such a long serving and respected monarch. Queen Elizabeth the Second became Queen on 6 February 1952.

The first annual meeting of the G20 since the election of President Trump has been held in the German spa town of Baden-Baden. The consensus communique released following the meeting deleted previous references to climate change and free trade. The BBC report states that after the meeting ended, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said he would not read too much into his country's desire to change the language behind the communique, as "what was as in the past" releases was "not relevant".

Mr Mnuchin added he had been "very clear that we do believe in free trade but we believe in balanced trade". .

The Australian Financial Review provides this comparison of the wording between 2016 and 2017.

In the same story, the paper reports claims by the Australian Treasurer that he and his Canadian counterpart worked hard to get some trade reference that was acceptable to both sides, at least keeping a trade reference in. Australia has pushed global freer trade because it is in the country's interests as a smaller relatively open economy.

There has actually been a lot of economic news recently that I am still trying to absorb. However, one point that is worth noting now is the way that first the NAB and then Westpac immediately raised their Australian domestic home loan interest rates in response to the official interest rate increase by the US Federal Reserve.

The reason given was the impact on bank funding costs. The Australian banking system raises around 40% of its funds on the international market. I expect further increases independent of any Australian Reserve Bank action as the slow process of unwinding the responses to the Global Financial Crisis continues.      

The interest rate rises have obvious implications for the apartment building splurge that has been reshaping Australia's biggest cities. There are a number of interconnected issues here that are current hot topics.

One is the supply of affordable housing, especially in the bigger metro cities. I hope to write something on this. My central concern is that there is no such thing as a free lunch or, alternatively, silver bullets. Some of the proposed solutions will introduce their own distortions and inequities

A second issue interconnected with the apartment boom are the planning failures now being revealed in the supply of services including especially education. Forecasting errors are central to those failures, a topic in its own right, as are the nature of decision lags and processes.

Another related issue is the use and abuse of quantitative measures. Here I record for later use (hat tip Legal Eagle) Every attempt to manage academia makes it worse.

The running Australian soap opera called energy policy is another example of planning failures accentuated by the application of ideological models independent of evidence. The problems Australia now has go back
in part to decisions made in the 1990s, compounded by the subsequent inability to bridge ideological and political divides despite all the evidence of emerging problems.

Finally and for something different, for lovers of dark chocolate, the Huffington Post has provided nine reasons why you should it some every day.

I'm not saying the paper is right, but I do like dark chocolate.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Musings - the rise and rise of Donaeld The Unready

At a time when politics seems a little unstable and itself the element of farce to the point that the role of the fuming satirist is reduced to irrelevance by the reality of it all, the rise of Donaeld  The Unready provides a welcome relief.

Donaeld 's twitter feed describes himself in this way:
The best medieval King out there. I'm the bretwalda. The bestwalda. I've got great swords, everyone says so. Make Mercia Great Again. Great thoughts, all my own
His website provides a little more detail.
Much of the early history of England is lost to the Ages, destroyed by flown time and vindictive monarchs. So many early Kings are only known because of the “trusted” Chronicles of historically minded monastery dwellers such as Bede and Gildas. History is of course written by the powerful winners and their monkish scribes. But what of the losers? What of those deliberately scraped from the precious vellum of Lindisfarne and Jarrow by jealous ink-stained pen-pitted hands? 
My research in the archives of Lichfield Cathedral has uncovered a priceless document, a true chronicle from the pen of a great leader of Mercia. A document which history has forgotten and those biased gatekeepers at the Elite East Coast scriptoria have done their best to suppress. The personal, raw and at times close to the bone musings of the Greatest of all Mercian Kings. Never before seen by historians, and covering many events that Gildas, Bede and others chose not to record, this manuscripts are truly without parallel. Illustrated by the greatest artist in Mercia, a certain Mike (@WulfgarTheBard), weaver of dreams, illustrator of scenes, painter of... paintings..
Wulfgar the Bard has his own twitter feed and also a Facebook Page and indeed a web site. . Wulfgar provides illustrations that draw out the extent of Donaeld 's problems along with his own captions. The caption to this illustration reads: "King a month and Donaeld's boared already."

Bretwalda Donaeld  faces many problems in making Mercia great again. There are not just the nasty monks or twisted scribes, but also the sneaky Danes who from their capital in Jorvik (Scandinavian York) who post a constant threat with their mouthpiece the Jorvik Times. Then there are the people even in Mercia who just do not understand as well as the rival kingdoms..

Sometimes irascible, Bretwalda Donaeld  perseveres, pointing out the issues in his stream of tweets.
Viking raids start 789. Alfraid the Worst only takes responsibility in 871! Too late lazy Alfraid! I would have stopped this far faster! 
Persistence is required.  "MAKE MERCIA GREAT AGAIN! End the Wessex hegemony! Time to take our kingdom back. #buildtheshieldwall."

Or on the Danes: "Viking attacks on monasteries during services proves they have weapons of Mass destruction. Only one option. Invade Vikania, wherever it is". Or again: "Northumbria behaving very badly. They've been playing Mercia for years. Rheged not helping! Need a new clear response. #buildtheshieldwall"

From time to time, there does seem to a degree of confusion in his thinking, but he is quick to point out confusions in others:
" Bad Monk Bede says I'm in Consistent. And in Competent. And in Decisive. Can't be in 3 places at once Bede! And I'm in MERCIA actually! SAD"

It will be clear that the Bretwalda sometimes has difficulties with official visitors:
Lotta haters wondering why Queen Hedwiga of Saxons said nothing at moot. Simple! So awestruck by me she was speechless! A mute moot!
This type of thing can become a bit heavy, of course.  So far I think the Bretwalda and Bard have largely avoided this, in part because the placement in that past world allows for interaction with others linked to the time that are not necessarily linked to current events. It becomes a world in its own right.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Celebrate the Official Grand Opening of Eveleigh Works – Sydney, Sunday April 2 2017

2017 marks 130 years of blacksmithing at Sydney's Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops.  Once the hub of steam train building in Australia, the cathedral-like Redfern workshop ran from 1887 until 1989.  Now, it’s open to the public as a blacksmithing and traditional craft school and they're throwing a party to celebrate.

In September 2016 Eveleigh Works moved in and started turning the heritage listed Locomotive blacksmith’s workshops into a fully fledged blacksmithing school. Fast forward 6 months, and they have welcomed makers from far and wide into the shop to learn heritage craft skills in the beautiful industrial cathedral of the Eveleigh Locomotive Workshops.

See the magic of forging red-hot steel with forging, traditional tool making and glass blowing demonstrations. Starting at 1pm you’ll get to see our blacksmith instructors forge things by hand and furnace and see the incredible equipment and facilities of this workshop.

A party isn't a party without some boot stomping. The day will feature a line-up of local bands, featuring The Sweet Jelly Rolls, Indigo Rising and more. Booze is by local brewers Young Henrys and FBI SMAC 'Best Eats' award winners Rising Sun Workshop will be serving Japanese nom noms.

Founded by a team of three young creatives, the newly invigorated Eveleigh Works now runs weekly short courses in metal sculpture, hand forging, knife-making and traditional tool-making.  They’re part of a broader resurgence of ‘makers’ – people from all walks of life wanting to reconnect with traditional ways of designing and creating.

The Eveleigh Works opening party will kick off at 1pm and end at 5pm on Sunday, 2 April.  Entry is free, and the event is all-ages.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sculpture, Oysters, Beardy Street and Aboriginal DNA

I was sitting upstairs in a restaurant overlooking Armidale's Beardy Street. We had been down to a BBQ lunch near Walcha, now New England's sculpture capital. This is a piece by Alec Gill from the Walcha Gallery of Art.  

We had come back a little early to go to the first film in the Armidale International Film Festival. Drinking champagne and eating oysters before the next film, I thought I would like to have establish a business in Armidale with our offices overlooking the Mall. It was just so civilised. I was to do that, if not quite with the results I hoped.

I mention this now because Monday's post on New England Australia, New natural history museum adds to Armidale's attractions and diversity - but can we fix Beardy Street?, ended with a somewhat plaintive Beardy Street call.

While Armidale is constantly adding to its attractions, the decline in Beardy Street and especially the central mall leaves a real hole. I know that this is a parochial post, but I still have this vision of Beardy Street as a cafe/bookshop/small shop strip, the main entertainment hub for locals and tourists alike. .

Staying with my somewhat parochial theme, yesterday's post on New England's History, Musings on the latest Aboriginal DNA studies from Professor Cooper and his team, issues for New England studies, discusses what the latest DNA research tells us about Aboriginal history. They are interesting results that I hope will extend my analysis of the Aboriginal history of Northern NSW.


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Essay - deaths of cartoonists Murray Ball and Bill Leak, the WA election results

I was saddened to hear of the death of New Zealand cartoonist Murray Ball, the creator of Footrot Flats. I really enjoyed Footrot Flats. As a part Kiwi with New Zealand farm connections I knew enough to understand the local allusions, More importantly, the characters were just fun.

I spent Saturday night watching the West Australian election count. That made for a very late night given the three hour time difference. Since it seemed pretty clear that the Barnett Government would lose the election, the three things that I focused on were the likely scale of the defeat, the size of the One Nation vote and the fate of the WA National Party.

It quickly became clear that a swing, a big one, was on, so my focus shifted to the other two.

Much has been written about the decline in the One Nation vote. If you exclude the lower house seats where One Nation did not contest, the One Nation vote would appear to be around the number suggested by the polls, a bit over 8%, with a higher vote in regional areas, lower in Perth Metropolitan. So well down on the peak poll forecasts, but around the final average poll numbers.

The Liberal decision to preference One Nation in the Upper House in return for One Nation preferences in the lower house clearly backfired. The scale of the backfire is subject to debate, but when you have both Liberals and Ms Hanson herself saying that it was a mistake that cost votes, I'm inclined to go with the professionals.

In practical terms, it looks to have delivered One Nation 1-2 upper house seats, reducing the Nationals by four seats.  In the lower house, it looks as though it may transfer the previously National held seat of Kalgoorlie to the Liberals, although results here are still uncertain.

The results in National Leader Brendon Grylls's seat of Pilbara are too close to call, although it looks as though he will lose the seat to Labor  Here a special factor was in play, Gryll's proposals to increase mining royalties on Rio Tinto and BHP.

In this Footrot Flat cartoon, Dog plays the role of Grylls while you need to dress the two farmers in high vis clothing.

BHP and Rio Tinto are reported to have spent more than $2 million in anti-National advertising, while BHP reportedly tried to encourage its staff in the Pilbara to vote against Grylls. From their viewpoint, it was a relatively small (and successful) investment to avoid a bigger impost.

Listening to election night commentary from both Liberal and Labor spokesmen, they were both men, on the royalty issue, both said that Gryll's proposal was essentially silly because all it would do is to reduce WA's share of the GST. If you think about it, and its correct, that's a dreadful commentary on current fiscal arrangements within the federation, something that Premier Barnett rightly campaigned on. What's the point on taking fiscal action at state level if all that happens is a consequent fiscal hit at another level?  

The sudden death of another cartoonist, Australian Bill Leak, bookends this short post.

Leak was always idiosyncratic, attracting controversy and invective.Towards the end of his life, this seems to have weighed  on him.

Even at the end, he was still campaigning against what he saw as the dead hand of political correctness.

Both Australia and New Zealand have been very lucky in their political cartoonists over a very long period. Often controversial, they have presented political and social issues back to us in ways that make us pause. The pictures they present are something like those distorting mirrors that used to be popular at sideshows and amusement arcades, but they encourage us to look in new ways and, sometimes, just to share the fun.

This Sunday post will also act as tomorrow's Monday Forum. As always, go in whatever direction you like.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

In praise of a well-cut wool suit

Those people who have a suit for every day of the week and even, one is reluctantly led to believe, more expansive wardrobes, are parvenus of the worst sort. A gentleman generally has two suits. There is one for formal occasions like funerals and another for less formal occasions like going up to London. They are made by one of a select band of exclusive tailors and last him many years until his wife judges they are too threadbare. Then they are either handed down to the gardener or given to a good cause like the Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association.
I have always had very old-fashioned views on suits. They should be made of wool, they should be comfortable and well cut, and they should last and last. This generally means that I have eschewed the most modern fashions.

The more modern the fashion, the more likely it is that the suit will date. To my mind, it is better to look slightly old fashioned than to be wearing a suit that clearly belongs to last year's fashion.

For the life of me, and I accept this dates me dreadfully, I cannot warm to a suit that starts with a crumpled look, looks too tight around the shoulders and has trousers designed to fit matchsticks. It's just not me.

I mention this now because the Parisian Gentleman  has just published an excerpt from “The English Gentleman”, a satire written by Douglas Sutherland and published in 1978. It's quite entertaining, although the advice on where to place your hankie does not seem quite right.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

One Nation and the Nationals - threat and opportunity

The recent  resignation of George Christensen as the Australian Federal National's chief whip came as no surprise. He couldn't be both a rebel and an enforcer of party discipline.

Faced with a challenge in his seat where he and One National are on level pegging in the polls as well as specifically local problems connected (among other things) with the sugar industry, he does need to be able to speak out in ways incompatible with the whip role.

I can see his point. There has been some discussion suggesting that he might join One Nation. That has always struck me as pretty silly, although anything is possible. Mr Christensen has always seemed to me as solidly National. It will be no secret that I do not support some of his views, but I do accept his focus on understanding and looking after his electorate. That is what National Party members are meant to do.  

In Queensland, the Liberal National Party has been under some strain. This is the third Liberal-National amalgamation. Previous mergers were 1925-1936 and 1941-1944. The latest amalgam took place in 2008. While the Queensland LNP is affiliated with the Liberal Party, members can under certain conditions choose to join federally with either the Liberal or National Parties.

The traditional argument for merger has been the need to maximise the non-Labor or conservative vote. The idea of a "conservative" vote is, I think, relatively new in Australia. The early Country Parties did not use the term, nor indeed did Robert Menzies when he formed the Liberal Party. He was quite careful to say that the Liberal Party was not a conservative party. Regardless of the wording, from the very early days of the Country Parties they were under pressure to greater or lesser extent to join with the Liberals or their predecessors in opposition to the Labor Party to maximise the non-Labor vote.        

The traditional argument against merger challenges the validity of this vote maximisation case. It says that if there is a merger and consequent loss of Country or National Party identity and focus, then new political movements will emerge because the conditions that led to the emergence of the Country Party in the first place still exist. The more radical go further, arguing that the Country or National Party was never a "conservative" party at all, but one concerned with social justice, the preservation of society, protection of the small man and country advancement,  This required it to adopt more radical positions that inevitably conflicted with the conservatism within the Liberal Party.

One can argue with these positions. Certainly, many in the National Party in recent years have embraced the "conservative" tag.  However, and as we saw with the New England Independents, trouble follows if the Party moves too far away from its base, is seen to be submerged as just the rural wing of the Coalition. To Tony Windsor, the New England Independent who perhaps most clearly articulated the independent position, the National Party had failed because it had become just a branch of the Liberal Party.

I commented previously that I was a little bemused by the rise of One Nation. It's not that I don't understand the causes. I have written about some of these at length. My bemusement comes from the way in which the Party has been able to build strength despite its internal inconsistencies, despite its internal problems such as the disarray among its Western Australian candidates.. More, I am bemused at the political response to One Nation including the attempt on the Liberal side to say that Ms Hanson has changed, that she is now in the mainstream, so to speak.

Ms Hanson has indeed changed in the sense that she has become a highly effective retail politician. You can see this if you watch clips of her working at street level  Her longevity, the feeling that she was mistreated before,  that she has just kept plugging away, has given her a special place among many. She has also had something of a dream run in the media in terms of coverage.

Ms Hanson is attempting to build a new populist party on the right wrapped in the flag and US style rhetoric:. If you look at the One Nation  website you will see:
One Nation is committed to Australian sovereignty, the Constitution and Government of the people by the people for the people.
A considerable effort has been made to tone down some of the language, to link policy back to the overriding principles, although you only have to look at the "Islam Policy" or her recent ABC radio interview to see the underlying ratbaggery.

 Ms Hanson's immediate objectives are, I think, reasonably clear. She wants to place One Nation in at least the same position on the right that the Greens occupy on the left, one in which the Liberal Party will have to deal with her to stay in Government.

One Nation's present strength appears to lie in some of the outer suburbs and some regional areas that have been most disadvantaged by structural change over recent decades. In this sense, she offers a potential threat to both Liberal and Labor seats, although One Nation's Senate voting record and her recent statements on penalty rates will reduce One Nation's attraction for Labor voters. While One Nation may damage the Liberals and to a lesser extent Labor, both parties hold seats that One Nation is unlikely to be able to penetrate.

The Nationals are in a different position. They have a smaller number of seats, many with a significant One Nation presence.

To achieve her objectives, Ms Hanson needs to supplant the Nationals, to reduce them to the point that the Liberals will be forced to deal with her. We have seen this already in Western Australia where to try to save power the Liberal Party entered into a preference deal with One Nation that disadvantaged the National Party. This caused some dissension within One Nation itself, its vote appears to have dropped a little in the opinion polls, while the latest opinion poll suggests strongly that the Barnett Liberal Government is heading for a significant defeat at the 11 March elections. Regardless of the immediate result in Government terms, it is likely that the election will give One Nation upper house seats while damaging the National Party.

 The State elections in Queensland are expected to be held late this year or early next year. The public opinion polling over time is summarised in this Wikipedia article. One Nation is now polling over 20% of the vote drawn pretty equally from both the LNP and Labor. The final two party preferred vote, the projected vote after distribution of preferences, has fluctuated between LNP and Labor.

 This creates a problem for the LNP. Do they preference One Nation to win Government, recognising that if they do it is likely to give One Nation seats at the expense of the LNP, especially in those areas whose Federal Members sit in the Federal National Party room? It is too early to call this one. because of the number of variables involved.

At Federal level, the challenge to the Nationals posed by One Nation is in many ways similar to the challenges posed by the Labor and especially Liberal Parties.

The political equation is quite complex. The Liberals may be allies, but are also the National Party's biggest traditional threat because of the way the Liberal Party appeals to some voters who classify themselves as conservatives or anti-Labor first.The various coalition arrangements have tempered this threat, but you can map it over time by looking at the shift in seats between the Liberal and national Parties.

Labor poses a specific challenge in some areas with larger working class populations. You can see this in parts of Queensland and Northern NSW, for example. The Greens also pose a threat in the Northern River seats. There the Labor/Green combination has created an un-stable position for the National Party. One Nation adds to the complex mix by further nibbling at the vote on the right.The National Party also has to deal with the constant possibility of independent candidates seeking to attract dissatisfied voters.

Labor, Liberal, Greens and One Nation all claim to be parties for all Australians, although in practice their support is regionally concentrated, a concentration reflected in the particular policies they adopt. You can see this in practice in the so-called marginal seats approach where the parties seek to hold their existing seats but also tailor their approaches to gain support in individual seats that they believe that they can win.

As a party representing Regional Australia, perhaps more accurately a party of the regions of Australia, the Country or National Party message has for much of its life been that it stands against city domination, against the domination by metropolitan voters who do not understand country or regional needs. This gives the Party a spread across the political spectrum that does not quite match the conventional left-right divides. Perhaps the most striking case is Victoria's Dunstan Country Party Government (1935-1942, 1943-1945) which remained in power with Labor support.

The variations between regions across Australia are at least as great as the variations between those regions and their city equivalents. The approaches adopted by the various state branches of the Country or National Party reflect the varying political cultures and histories of the states, the regional variations within the states and the overall and changing demographic structures of the states including the size of the non-metro vote. .

The first Federal leader of the Country Party, William McWilliams, came from Tasmania. There the relatively more even spread of population led to the Party's disappearance. The Party has struggled in South Australia because of the small size of the non-metro vote, vanishing for periods. The decision by Party leader and sole parliamentary representative Karlene Maywald to support the Rann Labor Government following the 2002 election was greeted with fury by the Liberal Party.

In Western Australia, the WA Country/National Party has struggled to maintain its position given the relatively small share of the state's regional population compared to Perth, as well as continuing re-distributions that have reduced the number of regional seats. The Party no longer holds any Federal seats in either House of Representatives or Senate, but has maintained representation in the WA Parliament.

To maintain its WA position, the Party has (depending on your perspective) either reinvented itself or returned to its roots by emphasizing its role as an independent third force representing regional interests. One outcome was the Royalties for the Regions Program, something that has been held up in the Eastern States as a model by Tony Windsor as well as the Nationals. While Premier Colin Barnett has held up Royalties for the Regions as one of the great political successes for his Government, the political bruising and Liberal Party resentment flowing from the National Party's independent role is one of the factors influencing the Liberal-One Nation Preference swap.

In the eastern states where National Party Federal Parliamentary representation is now concentrated, (Northern Territory Senator Country Liberal Nigel Scullion also sits with Federal National Party) there is a distinct gradient from South to North, again reflecting varying demography and political cultures.

In Victoria, the National Party presently has 3 members in the House of Representatives, just one in the Senate. Reflecting its small farm origins, the Victorian Party was arguably the most radical of the various Country Parties. The Party has struggled in recent years because the continued growth of Melbourne has reduced the number of non-metro seats, while the Liberal Party has progressively intruded into traditional Country/National party seats.

As evidenced in Victoria and indeed Western Australia, the National Party has particular difficulties in the Senate in the absence of joint tickets given its focus and geographic concentration of vote.In simple terms, the Liberal Party takes more Senate votes from the Nats in the country than the Nats can gain in the city.

In NSW, the National Party presently has seven members in the House of  Representatives, two in the Senate. Again note the discrepancy between the two.

NSW has been the most stable of the various Country/National Parties, has provided eight of thirteen Federal leaders (the others came from Tasmania (one), South Australia (one), Victoria (one), Queensland (two)) and has provided the clearest articulation of Country Party/National Party constitutional and political ideology (constitutional populism). Whereas the Victorian Country Party began as a centre-left populist party, the NSW Party was more centre, if with both populist radical and conservative overtones.

The differing balance between the two reflects in part the varying balance between radical small farm and more conservative pastoral/grazing interests. Victoria was a small farmer Party, the grazier interests were effectively captured by the Liberal Party equivalents, while in NSW the grazier interests generally became part of the Country Party. In NSW, too, other country movements and especially the New England New State Movement  were central to consolidating Country Party influence in the towns. Northern NSW became and to an extent remains National Party heartland.

Like Victoria, NSW has gone through, is going through, structural and demographic change. This includes the growing population dominance of Sydney, the emergence of a Sydney-Canberra conurbation that has shifted the regional population balance towards the south of the state, the urbanisation of the North Coast flowing from sea-change shifts in the 1980s and the flow-on effects of the rise of the South East Queensland conurbation. Progressive electoral redistributions have reduced the number of inland seats to the point that inland New England now has one Federal seat, two if the giant Western-Northern electorate of Parkes is included. The changing electoral map was further complicated by the rise of the New England independents who cut a swathe through the Party's Northern seats.  

The NSW Nationals have struggled to adjust to these changes, balancing increasingly divergent regional interests, as well as tensions and problems associated with coalition . While the Party fought back, its apparent submergence in the Baird led NSW coalition government created problems for it in the bush over (among other things) council mergers and the ban on greyhound racing, culminating in the 2016 loss of its Orange seat to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. One outcome was the replacement of previous leader Troy Grant by Monaro MP Giovanni Domenic "John" Barilaro. Grant was seen as a loyal deputy to Premier Baird, but also one allowed that loyalty to submerge the the interests of the National Party and its voters. Barilaro immediately asserted the Party's separate identity, an assertion made easier by the resignation of Premier Baird.

Queensland is different again. If the Victorian Country Party began, to use my typology, as radical populist, NSW as constitutional populist, Queensland can be classified as conservative populist. Queensland is, quite simply, different. It is the most decentralised state. It only in recent decades that the Sunshine Coast-Brisbane-Gold Coast urban conurbation has really begun to establish a population dominance. Like NSW with Riverina and especially New England, Central and North Queensland have distinct regional identities.

In the decades after its creation as a separate colony in 1859, Queensland politics was dominated by conservative pastoral and merchantile interests. In this context and unlike NSW which adopted universal sufferage, Queensland initially retained a property qualification for voting purposes.

With the exception of one week in 1899, Labor first came to power in 1915, holding power until until 1925. During this period, the Legislative Council was abolished (1922), making the Assembly the only source of electoral power.. Labor returned to office in 1932, holding power until 1957.Then a split in the ALP allowed the Country Party under Francis Nicklin to assume power. With the assistance of a rural gerrymander, the Country/National Party would be in power until 1989, initially in coalition with the Liberal Party and then in its own right.  .

This short chronology explains one of the distinguishing features of Queensland politics. There the population distribution made the Country Party the main non-Labor Party, with the Liberals or equivalents largely reduced to Brisbane. With the continued population growth in Brisbane and Queensland's south east corner, the Queensland Country Party under the leadership of Robert Sparkes and Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen sought to become the dominant non-Labor Party by moving into urban areas. As part of this process, the Party's name was changed to the National party. In 1983, the Liberal Party was reduced to just eight seats.

While there was an obvious conflict between the renamed National Party's traditional role and the Queensland push, it was also very attractive to many in the Party (me included) who saw it as a way of overcoming the demographic challenge facing the Party while also extending Country or National Party values and ethos. But what, in fact, were those unique values in a party that straddled so many divides? How should they be articulated? How could they be reconciled with the practical realities of politics including the coalition?

In any event, the Queensland move failed as a consequence of hubris such as the Joh for Canberra campaign and the progressively revealed corruption within the  Bjelke-Petersen Government. The end result was a Labor Government, a decline in the National  Party vote and the formation of the Liberal National Party. Today, there are no National Party parliamentary members at state level in Queensland, while six members in the House of Representatives, two in the Senate, sit with the National Party. In Queensland itself, the Party's decline has opened the way for increased Labor representation, Bob Katter and now One Nation.

The choices facing the National Party at both state and federal level are difficult. The base National Party vote in their seats is difficult to estimate, but is perhaps 5 to 33 per cent. I say it's difficult to estimate because it fluctuates so much over time depending on circumstances and the candidate.There was no Country Party vote in Monaro when we reformed the Party in 1972. Now John Barilaro is leader of the NSW Nationals. But what proportion of his vote is personal, what proportion non-Labor, what proportion truly National?  If John were to leave tomorrow with the Liberals contesting, how much base vote would the new National candidate have?

Now linking all this back to my starting point, the One Nation challenge. In considering this, I said that the challenge was, in a sense, no different from that posed by other national parties who seek to achieve power by appealing to slices of voters independent of geography while tailoring their messages to particular seats that they believe that they might win.

For the Nationals, the Party's survival in the face of the challenge depends upon two things. First, the capacity of individual members to service their electorates. That has always been part of the Party's strength. Secondly, the capacity to re-articulate the message about the Party's distinguishing features that contrasts the Party with One Nation or the Liberals for that matter. This second became much attenuated during the leadership of Warren Truss.Warren Truss was a loyal deputy Prime Minister who contributed to the stability of Government, but also submerged the identity of his own party.      .

You can see that the Federal Party is trying to do this as evidenced by the recent flurry of announcements refocusing on decentralisation and regional development. I would argue, however, that the Party needs to go further than this by capturing and re-interpreting the successes, lessons and principles of its own past. A focus on "conservatism" and "traditional values" as such won't cut the mustard, for then the Party is trying to sell a version of nostrums already peddled by the Liberal Party.and, to a degree, One Nation.

If the Party does focus in this way then it can ride through the One Nation challenge even if One Nation wins some seats. In the end, One Nation has little to offer Regional Australia because it lacks the intellectual coherence and area focus to provide tangible results of the types provided by the Country/National Parties over time. To my mind, One nation is as much an opportunity as a threat.

In saying this, I accept that there is a particular problem in Queensland because of the Liberal and National Party merger, one that I cannot resolve. I have never accepted the maximisation of the "conservative' vote as an end in itself, for it's what you do with the vote you have or can earn that is important. The more the National Party redefines and re-articulates its separate role, the greater the difficulties for the Queensland LNP. In the end, I suspect (I may prove to be very wrong) that the major result of One Nation may be to force a de-merger.          .    


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Grand Designs - Ricardo Bofill's La Fabrica

I have always been interested in design. It's not something I have a particular skill at, just something that I find very interesting. When the girls were young, one of the games that I used to entertain them was to get them to describe their perfect house and grounds. I remember that Clare's always had  a secret laboratory.

I mention this now because of a fascinating story in the Domain about the way that Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill turned a disused cement factory into combination office, workshop and luxurious home.

Wikipedia describes the project in this way:
"The conversion of the abandoned cement factory from the late 19th century into RBTA’s studios and Ricardo Bofill’s personal residence began with a process of destruction, demolishing pieces of the structures to reveal hidden forms. The factory lies directly next to Walden 7, in Sant Just Desvern, Spain. 
The remaining eight silos were transformed into offices, a model-making laboratory, archives, a library, a gigantic space known as "The Cathedral", used for meetings, exhibitions, concerts, and professional activities of the architect. Above the Cathedral lie Ricardo’s residence, green roofs and terraces. The entire complex was planted with lush gardens to create the effect of an oasis within the industrial area. 
The renovation project, which began in 1973, incorporates various architectural languages; Catalan Civic Gothic style and Surrealist elements and is an early example of European Post Modernism."
I am a bit of a sucker for programs like Kevin McCloud's Grand Designs TV show or George Clarke's Restoration Man. This sounds like one of those programs on a grand scale.

.You will find more details plus multiple photos in the Domain piece. Its worth a browse.  .