Thursday, March 29, 2018

Sydney's growth problems - Eastlakes

Crown Group's Eastlakes Live promo image. 

In  Photo essay - a taste of Eastlakes (22 January 2013) I described the quaint little Sydney suburb and shopping center just down the road (it's about a ten minute walk) from where I have been living. My affection for the suburb will be clear. 

Crown Group has announced its full development plans for Eastlakes. Grandly called Eastlakes Live, the $1 billion development will replace the existing shopping centre with a new shopping centre with 534 high end apartments on top. 
"They all say it it (Pagewood Green)is an over-development...But there must be authority. If the authorities say this is right then its right. People will all the time complain. Not only I but all the people who buy here, they are very happy too. And they pay. Never mind people who talk and don't pay......It (traffic) is not a big problem because as you know there is not much traffic. I don't think there is any problem." Meriton founder Harry Triguboff interviewed by the Southern Courier, reported March 7,  2018.    
In Sydney's growth problems - light rail, Kingsford, Pagewood and Daceyville (29 August 2017)  I reported on the transformations taking place just to the east of my current home including Pagewood Green. In February I reported (Sydney growth problems - Sydney Water's Eastlakes over-kill, 28 February 2018) on the proposed Sydney Water redevelopment just down the road from my place towards Eastlakes that would add 744 apartments.

I am actually not opposed to the principle of the Eastlakes redevelopment, although locals will miss the village feel of the current centre as well as the lower prices. Woolworths Eastlakes is presently the lowest priced supermarket in the area by a considerable margin. It's hard to see that surviving with inevitable higher rents combined with gentrification. However, it does make sense to increase density where an existing and somewhat old and shabby shopping centre is involved.        

The general problem I have is that all these developments place emphasis on their access to existing parklands and leisure facilities as well as access to transport. This may be a valid point for one but not for three at a time when transport is becoming more congested and the parks and sporting fields more crowded. So far as I can see, none of the developments add anything to community infrastructure. 

Mind you, they may not all proceed on the scale envisaged. Real estate prices in this area have finally gone off the boil with some lower prices and longer sales time.     

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Wolfe, Quebec and Benjamin West's iconic painting the Death of General Wolfe

Detail, Benjamin West, The death of General Wolfe, Oil on Canvass, 1770

Back in  2012 (Indian Mutiny 3 - the Company) I referred to the Seven Years' War (1756-1763), in some ways the first truly global war. The North American theatre of that war is often referred to as the French and Indian War.

This map from Wikipedia (link above) shows territorial claims by Britain, France, and Spain, as well as disputed territory before the war. The British victory in North America removed the French from the equation and also gave the British control of Florida.

Mind you, the French could have maintained their  territory, but in the peace negotiations they largely traded off their North American claims

The British had offered France the choice of surrendering either its continental North American possessions east of the Mississippi or the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, which had been occupied by the British. France chose to cede the former because the Caribbean  islands were seen to be of greater economic value! France was able to negotiate the retention of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, two small islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, along with fishing rights in the area.

One of the most critical battles in the North American conflict was the Battle of Quebec, also known as the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.  After a protracted but unsuccessful siege,  the British commander James Wolfe led 4,400 men in small boats on a very bold and risky amphibious landing at the base of the cliffs west of Quebec along the St. Lawrence River.

This group with two small cannons scaled the 200-metre cliff from the river below early in the morning of 13 September 1759. They surprised the French under the command of the Marquis de Montcalm, who thought the cliff would be unclimbable, and had set his defences accordingly. Faced with the possibility that the British would haul more cannons up the cliffs and knock down the city's remaining walls, the French fought the British on the Plains of Abraham. They were defeated after fifteen minutes of battle, but when Wolfe began to move forward, he was shot three times, once in the arm, once in the shoulder, and finally in the chest, dying on the field. Montcalm too was badly wounded, dying shortly afterwards.

Wolfe's death after such a heroic assault and victory made him a British hero.In 1770, painter Benjamin West memorialised the death in a painting, The death of General Wolfe. The painting attracted some controversy because it replaced previous stylised heroic approaches based on classical forms with apparent realism. However, it quickly became one of the most iconic and popular Imperial images.

This Youtube video from the National Gallery of Canada came via Artdaily. It provides more detail on on the painting itself.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sidney Kidman, the Channel Country and the 2018 Davenport Downs Flood

The Davenport Downs homestead perched on the edge of the Diamantina River flood in mid-March 2018. Photos by Ross Myhill. From Queensland Country Life. .

At 1,500,000 hectares (15,000 square  kilometers), the Davenport Downs aggregation is Queensland's largest cattle station.  It lies 350km south west of Winton in the Channel Country. The Channel Country features a a flat arid landscape with a series of ancient flood plains from rivers including the Diamantina which only flow intermittently towards Lake Eyre. in the south west.

In the generally flat terrain, the Diamantina does not have a single course but rather flows through a series of rivulets that progressively fill as the river rises.When the rains reach the catchments especially in the north, the Diamantina and other rivers can flood sending water to the south west. In wet years, the waters can reach as far as Lake Eyre.

There has always been a certain romance attached to the Channel Country. Growing up one of my favourite books was Ion Idriess's The Cattle King (1936), a significant best seller. This tells the story of Sidney Kidman.

Born in 1857, Kidman built a huge pastoral empire. Central to this was the concept of chains of cattle stations that would allow Kidman to move stock across Australia from property to property as climatic conditions changed. By the time of World War I he controlled station country considerably greater in area than England or Tasmania and nearly as great as Victoria.

The Channel Country was central to Kidman's plans. In Kidman's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry (link above), Russel Ward describes Kidman's concept in this way:
Long before his thirtieth birthday he had conceived the idea of buying a chain, later two chains, of stations stretching in nearly continuous lines from the well-watered tropical country round the Gulf of Carpentaria, south through western Queensland to Broken Hill, and across the border into South Australia within easy droving distance of Adelaide. Many stations on this 'main chain' were watered by Cooper's Creek and the Georgina and Diamantina rivers which sometimes brought northern tropical rain-waters to the centre even during droughts. By the 1890s he had begun to acquire his second chain of stations strung along the Overland Telegraph line from the Fitzroy River and Victoria River Downs in the north to Wilpena station in the Flinders Ranges near Adelaide. Thus, by moving stock from drought-stricken areas to others, by selling in markets where the price was highest, by his detailed knowledge of the country, and by his energy and bushcraft he withstood the depression of the 1890s and the great drought of 1902. 
I was reminded about the Channel Country and Sydney Kidman by an interesting piece by Sally Cripps in Queensland Country Life, Queensland's largest cattle station benefiting from Channel Country flood (25 Mar 2018). This describes the effects of the latest Channel Country flood on Davenport Downs. It's an interesting piece not just in its description of the floods but because of the insights it provides to managing a property the size of a small European country. Some of the approaches would seem familiar to Sidney Kidman. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Niko Ghika, John Craxton, and Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and the allure of Greece - British Museum exhibition

John Craxton, Still life with three sailors 1980-1985 (detail) Tempera on canvass
I am still bogged down with other writing. Hopefully that is easing.

Interesting piece in Artdaily 21 March 2018, Exhibition explores the influence of Greece on the lives and work of three artists on a new exhibition at the British Museum this European spring. ,
Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor explores the influence of modern Greece on the lives and work of three influential artists, the Greek painter Niko Ghika, British painter John Craxton, and British writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. The three met at the end of the Second World War and became enduring friends who all made their homes in Greece. The show brings together their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions in the UK for the first time.

It sounds like an interesting show about interesting subjects. I have given you the links to the Artdaily piece above and then the Wikipedia links to each of the three. If you are interested, I suggest you start with Artdaily and then go to the Wikipedia entries. From there, you can easily sidetrack into multiple directions!

 I have wondered before about the enduring love for Greece and the Greek Islands especially for writers and artists. In popular fiction, for example, Mary Stewart's thrillers The Moon-Spinners and My Brother Michael. The last includes a description of a hostel at Delphi occupied by archaeologists, artists and writers. The Australian writers George Johnson and Charmian Clift lived on the Greek island of Hydra for several years attracted by the low prices and other writers and artists. Johnson's Clean Straw for Nothing tells the story of a journalist (David Meredith) who relocates to a Greek island, but fails to find the answers he seeks after even 13 years.  

From my own trip, cheap wine, cheap cigarettes, cheap food, cheap rent, nice views and weather all provide  a possible answer. It's more than that, of course, for the romantic ideal of Greece is deeply entrenched in Western thinking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Canberra Times, ACT Chief Minister Barr and freedom of the press

Real flutter in the Canberra dovecotes this week as the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and the Canberra Times exchanged blows.

The kerfuffle began with the leaking to the Canberra Times of a recording of remarks made by Mr Barr to communication companies attending a "meet the buyer" event held at the ACT parliament. This led to a story from the Canberra Times' Kirsten Lawson 'I hate journalists and I'm over the mainstream media': ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Mr Barr's reported opening remarks set the tone:
Mr Barr began .... with some "frank statements that may or not shock some people in the room". "I hate journalists. I'm over dealing with the mainstream media as a form of communication with the people of Canberra. What passes for a daily newspaper in this city is a joke and it will be only a matter of years before it closes down," he said.
He then went on to outline his objective:.
The government wanted to hear directly from Canberrans and communicate directly back to them, "not through the filter of journalists, and particularly through the filter of print journalists, which is a dying industry",  
Noting that the circulation of the print edition of the Canberra Times had dropped below 15,000, Mr Barr suggested that most Canberrans did not consume traditional media, in part because half of Canberra's population was under 34.
"We need to completely overhaul the way we communicate as a government and that's exactly what we're doing," he told the communications specialists. "My challenge to everyone in this room is to be at the cutting edge of communication, to put up contentious, risky and interesting ideas about how we can communicate ...
Mr Barr told the group he had been "blunt and frank" in delivering the same message to "everyone within the communications area of government".
The Canberra Times was not impressed, editorialising Barr's hatred of media is driving a dangerous message. This view was picked up by other papers. For his part, the Chief Minister subsequently issued a statement reiterating his views. As reported by the Guardian:
Barr later issued a statement, saying the traditional media no longer engages with the diverse community in Canberra, and that his government was exploring new ways to reach the public directly. 
He said he cancelled his subscription to the Canberra Times because it was too conservative. Barr subscribes to two non-Canberran news sources, Crikey and the Saturday Paper. 
“In relation to other print media available in Canberra, I find the Australian to be very right wing and favour the conservative side of politics,” Barr said. “The same can be said for commercial talk back radio. I would not be alone in reaching that conclusion.”
I have not always been a fan of Canberra Times reporting cf  Canberra Times sleazes over Armidale and APVMA. However, I think that the paper generally does a pretty fair job (the editorial linked above contains some examples), resulting in a sometimes tetchy relationship with the Chief Minister. However, the whole matter raises some broader issues worthy of comment.

It seems to me that Mr Barr is confused about the differences in role between Government communications and that of the media.

Government communications is concerned with gaining information from the public and with informing the public about policies and procedures. Traditionally, a distinction has been made between official and political communications, although I accept that this has become increasingly blurred.

The media's role is to investigate and report freely and fairly independent of Government. This role too has has become been blurred to some extent by the greater weight placed on opinion and commentary mixed together in the news columns, breaching the separation that previously existed between reporting and editorial,. but it remains important.Governments understandably find this sometimes uncomfortable. The rise of PR and the proliferation of Government communications people is an attempt to manage the reporting cycle and to find new ways of getting messages out, of influencing as compared to informing.

I don't have a problem with Governments seeking to find new ways to communicate, although I do not like the way that political communication has become so embedded in official communication. However, I do have a problem with the idea that the media should be effectively replaced, supplanted, by Government communications. That strikes me as profoundly undemocratic, a point picked up in reporting on Mr Barr's remarks.

The argument that a diminishing number of people are reached by the main stream media is an important one in considering official communications strategies, although I'm not convinced by the specific argument that younger people do not consume main stream media or, perhaps more precisely, that a diminishing proportion do. Yes, the media environment has become more complex in our internet social media focused world, but if you sit on a train and watch what people are scrolling through you will see younger people checking their news feeds. It's the form of consumption that has changed.

At a purely personal level, my daughters actually actually consume a greater variety of main stream media and in more countries than would have been the case in the past, but spend less time on single outlets than previously. Therein lies the rub for both news companies who want advertising and Governments.who wish to communicate. In all this, the mainstream media in its varying forms remains the best way of reaching a broader audience and will do so for the immediate future. In the longer term, none of us can know what the landscape will look like.

As a final comment, and as Mr Trump has found, attempts to by-pass the main stream media imposes its own costs in terms of greater scrutiny by the excluded outlets. That would certainly be the end result here if Mr Barr proceeded with his apparent desire to exclude the Canberra Times or other main stream media outlets. Love them or hate them, Mr Barr has to live with them.  

Update 17 March 2018

In comments, we have been discussing what the readership figures actually mean. I wonder if there is an expert out there who can tell us.

Meanwhile, the Canberra Times Jack Waterford has responded to the whole kerfuffle (All media critical to effective government, whether Andrew Barr likes it or not) while the Chief Minister has sought to clarify his position ( 'Wasn't a nice thing to say': Andrew Barr apologises for saying he hates journalists).  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Belatedly seeing Black Panther - a real romp

This post is also the Monday Forum post

Eldest has been back in Australia on a short visit so we went to the pictures Wednesday afternoon. She wanted to see The Post. I was happy with that, but made the mistake of saying that I had seen it before. That was a no-no. It had to be a film I hadn't seen before, so I nominated Black Panther.

As an aside, she had seen it but didn't tell me. Maybe just as well, because otherwise it would have been The Post.   That wouldn't have been bad, I really liked the movie, but I did enjoy Black Panther.

I knew it was a Marvell film. I could hardly not given youngest's interests! This meant that I broadly knew what to expect. I knew that it had been very successful at the box office, adding to Disney's now overflowing coffers. I did not know about all the hype surrounding the movie as a somehow significant "black" film.

I'm glad I didn't because I came to the film without preconceptions, treating it just as a spectacle and story. Had I known, I might have watched it differently; the message significance would have stood between me and the story.

As you might expect, the visual effects in the film are spectacular, the pace fast, sufficiently fast to conceal the inevitable plot weaknesses. The film also plays to various tropes

The idea of a hidden African kingdom dates back to the days of  European exploration when Africa was still an unknown continent to European eyes. King Solomon's Mines is an example. The broader idea of hidden kingdom or organisation that people search for is exemplified by the mysterious Second Foundation in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series.

The meld between traditional African images and those modified by the Kingdom's history is instantly familiar in visual terms, while the good v evil battles are part of the Marvell trope as well as familiar to anyone who reads fantasy and especially young adult fantasy  Then, too, the film incorporates (pinches?) specific tropes/memes/images that will be instantly recognisable from car chases to Q in the James Bond series. Here I found myself musing on just how much fun the production team must have had in thinking about this.

This is not a serious film, but it is fun. If you haven't seen it, I suggest that you do so!  

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Reflections on the process problems in the Barnaby Joyce sexual harassment complaint

This brief post reflects my own uncertainties on the handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. I note that the post has nothing to do with Mr Joyce's behaviour nor with the complaint itself. However, I need to provide some basic facts to set a context:

I am reasonably familiar with sexual harassment policies and procedures in a work place context, although they are quite complex. The Australian Human Rights Commission has a useful introduction to the Australian position in general including work place issues.

In this case, a WA woman made a sexual harassment complaint to the WA branch of the National Party about Mr Joyce. The complaint was meant to be dealt with in private, but became very public. The complainant feels that the way she has been treated since making that allegation has denied her natural justice and shows why people in her situation do not come forward.

On his side, Mr Joyce apparently learned of the complaint just before it became public when he was visited by the Party's national president and lawyer.Given the general situation at the time, he then felt that he had no choice but to resign as Party Leader and Deputy PM as the matter became public.

In organisational terms, the National Party is a Federal structure with a relatively weak national organisation. Mr Joyce is not an employee of the National Party, He is a Member of Parliament representing the seat of New England. .He was pre-selected by the New England Electorate Council and is part of the NSW Branch. The parliamentary wings are independent of and cannot be directed by the Party organisation. The only formal sanction available to the Party is to withdraw endorsement of the member. I am not familiar enough with the current constitution to know how this might be done and under what circumstances.

To the best of my my knowledge, this is the first formal complaint lodged with an Australian political party about suggested sexual harassment by one of its parliamentary members. This is new territory in a way so the process questions become important.

The complaint appears to have been lodged with the WA branch of the Party and been the subject of considerable discussion within the Parliamentary party there. Here we have two apparent process breaches.

The first is that the WA branch had no jurisdiction. It should have been referred to the Federal organisation at once. The second is the involvement of the WA Parliamentary party. This was a breach of due process that ultimately destroyed confidentiality, breached natural justice and precluded a fair outcome.

The confidentiality issue is both important and complex. If, as appears to be so in the Geoffrey Rush case, the complainant wanted the matter kept confidential even from the subject of the, then it really becomes complicated. I know of no evidence that this was so in this case. I think that while the complainant  wanted general confidentiality to be maintained, she would have every expectation that the matter would be discussed with Mr Joyce as part of the process. For completeness, I note that confidentiality becomes very complex if the process reveals a possible breach of the law.

The next question is what the complainant hoped to achieve from the process. This is unclear to me but is important because it affects the process. If she wanted the Party to formally sanction Mr Joyce within the powers that it has, then a very formal process would have been required. If her objective was to bring about behavioral change, to make an in principle point, then a more collaborative, consultative process would have been appropriate. This would have been quite difficult in the pressure cooker at the time, but became even more so with the breach of confidentiality.

I think one of the difficulties is that the National Party had no processes in place for handling all this. I suspect it is not alone. If, and it is not clear that this should be the case, the party machines are going to become a vehicle for lodging such complaints against MPs, then all parties need to define specific ways to manage those complaints.

As in so much of the Joyce affair, there are no immediate winners in this particular case, just losers.

Important correction

In writing, I had forgotten one important complication, the relationship between the WA National Party and the national National Party. The WA Party is an independent party but some way with the Federal Party.

I don't think that this fundamentally affects my argument. The WA Party had no power to accept or investigate a formal sexual harassment complaint against Mr Joyce on its own account since it had no jurisdiction over Mr Joyce. The only way to handle this was by referral to the Federal Party.organisation.

This might not stop the Party carrying out its own investigation for its own reasons. We have seen quite a bit of that from many quarters. However, that would not have met the apparent wishes of the complainant for a formal investigation following the rules of due process.          

Monday, March 05, 2018

Monday forum - Australia's housing affordability problem

This is the Monday Forum post. As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.

On 4 March 2018, the Grattan Institute released its latest report, Housing affordability: re-imagining the Australian dream. The ABC provides a useful summary. That same day, the Australian and NSW Governments, together with eight local governments of Western Sydney, signed the Western Sydney City Deal.  "The City Deal," states the web site, " is a 20 year agreement between the three levels of government to deliver a once-in-a-generation transformation of Sydney’s outer west – creating the ‘Western Parkland City’"  This is planned to be Sydney's third metropolitan city after the harbourside city (the current metro) and Parramatta.

On 12 February, the NSW Federation of Housing Associations released its NSW Community Housing Industry Development Snapshot. Between 2012 and 2020, 18 of the largest community housing providers will have delivered $1 billion in new projects in 34 local government areas. Between 2012 and 2017 the community housing industry provided 1296 new social and affordable homes in NSW communities, valued at $438 million. The industry is committed to delivering another 1404 more homes by 2020, bringing total
investment to $963 million.

The new homes will largely (98%) concentrated in greater Sydney with a focus on one and two bedroom properties and an increasing shift to high density living. The numbers do not include homes developed via the NSW Government's Community Plus and Social and Affordable Housing fund programs.

Returning to 4 March,  the Sydney Morning Herald's Helen Pitt had an interesting piece, Tale of two Sydneys, comparing two similar families living in quite different parts of the city.

Against this background, the question is what, if anything, can be done to solve the affordable housing problem, recognising how many things are involved? .

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Playing with the Pew Research numbers on global migration

Fascinating interactive from the Pew Research Centre on global migration. It allows you to search by country on the number of overseas born people living in that country, the number born in that country living elsewhere in the years 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2017. In each year, it lists numbers for both source and destination countries.

To illustrate with New Zealand:
  • in 1990, there were 520,00 overseas born people in New Zealand. The three top source countries were the UK, 230,000, Australia 50,000 followed by Samoa on 40,000. In that year, there were 390,000 Kiwis living abroad. The top three destination countries were Australia 300,000, the UK 40,000 and the US 20,000.
  • In 2017, the number of overseas born people in New Zealand had increased to 1,070,000 people. The top three source countries were the UK, 270,000, China 100,000 and India/Australia each on 70,000. In that year, the number of Kiwis living abroad had increased to 830,000. The top three destination countries were Australia, 670,000, the UK 60,000 and the US 30,000.
It's interesting just playing around with the interactive looking at different country patterns. However, it also allows you to compare countries or groups of countries, taking relative population sizes into account. Here the wikipedia list of country populations is useful.

Some of the types of questions that arise include:
  • Are Canada, New Zealand and Australia in fact exceptional when it comes to the relative size of immigration? How do the three compare? 
  • What do the stats tell us about relative migration patterns in Europe and the UK? 
  • Which countries have the lowest immigration patterns measured by the number of foreign born?
At this point, I haven't attempted to answer questions such as this, just pointing to possibilities. .