Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Academic conundrums

Tonight my main post elsewhere is Belshaw’s World – Barratt’s story: can the academic present measure up to its past?. I have a part completed post on MOOC, all these things link, that I will bring up tomorrow.

In reading books such as that of Paul Barratt Snr, I react along several dimensions: one is history, a second my response to current circumstances, Seriously, how can a teaching academic even maintain currency when they don't have time to research and reflect? 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Forum - micro-management, the evils of performance measurement & whatever else you like!

Today's Monday Forum focuses on management. I leave it in your hands as to the direction we go!

Over on Managing the Professional Services Firm, Monday Management - common management problems: the micro-manager, continues the Monday Management series. Have you experienced micro-management? How did you cope?

In a responses to Sunday Essay - economists and the decline of economics, Winton Bates added some background experience on the UNE agricultural economics experience. I wonder what your views are on the decline of the traditional disciplines? Am I just an old fuddy-duddy? I suppose, and this is far worse, that I might be that and still right!

Winton,however, did far more. He sent me a Harvard Business School working paper on the dangers of goal setting. This was a wonderful gift, and one that I will come back to in a later post.

I have often written about the dangers and misuse of goal setting and performance measurement. Consider a simple example,

If each business wants to set stretch targets, to do well above average, then it follows that most will fail. That's fine, but what happens if it's our superannuation funds at stake? Has Australian super become almost a zero-sum game in which most of us must lose?

I leave it in your hands to comment. Just keep a loose focus on management, financial performance or indeed any form of performance!


I had been vaguely aware of the OECD's Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) project. The OECD describes it in these terms:

The OECD is carrying out a Feasibility Study for the Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes. The purpose of this Feasibility Study is to see if it is practically and scientifically feasible to assess what students in higher education know and can do upon graduation.

More than a ranking, the AHELO assessment aims to be direct evaluation of student performance at the global level and valid across diverse cultures, languages and different types of institutions.

A full scale AHELO would be a a “low stakes” voluntary international comparative assessment designed to provide higher education institutions with feedback on the learning outcomes of their students and which they can use to foster improvement in student learning outcomes.

The thing that drew it to my attention were favourable references to the test as a way of forcing competitive standards on universities, citing in favourable terms the widespread and accepted use of standardised testing in schools. That makes it sound a little like a variant of MySchool for universities.

Postscript two

Comments still open. Two follow up questions from the discussion:

  • Is goal setting at personal level fundamentally different from goal setting at organisational level?
  • Well, not really from the questions, but the NSW Government has just released a new Performance Development Framework. Do you understand it? What do you think?

To set a context for the last question, this is the opening blurb:

The Public Service Commission’s task is to drive the most significant reforms the NSW public sector has seen in a generation to build a high-performance culture and enhance the sector’s ability to meet the community’s service needs.

Underpinning a high performance culture is an effective system for managing individual, team and organisational performance.

This framework contains the essential elements and mandatory guidelines for agency performance development systems and sets the approach for managing all aspects of employee performance in the NSW public sector.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Essay - economists and the decline of economics

Today's Sunday Essay was triggered by a loosely connected overlap in my current reading.

My train reading at present is focused on the stories of the various disciplines that occupied central places at the University of New England for much of its earlier history. I am interested because it bears upon the broader history that I am writing (On writing a history of New England), but I also find it interesting because those stories reflect broader changes in the disciplines themselves, in the academy, and in Australian life. The three pieces that have been my focus this week are John Pullen's story of the rise, fall and very partial recovery in the teaching of the history of economic thought; Agricultural Economics in Australia, a collection of essays published to mark the sliver jubilee (1958-1983) of the establishment of agricultural economics at UNE; and Paul Barratt Snr's history of the psychology department.

Coincidentally, there were a number of blog posts that fed into my thinking in different ways: one was Don Aitkin's Higher Education, Lower Morale, an essay looking at changes in the academy; the second Winton Bates'  Should the GFC be viewed as a 'balance sheet' recession of the kind Irving Fisher wrote about in the 1930s?; the third Steve Keen's series on the self destruction of economics (here one, here two, here three).

By way of further background, I know very few economists now whereas they dominated my immediate environment when I first started working. That's partly because of changes in work and my interests. It's more, I think,  because there aren't actually very many economists around outside some narrowly defined spheres. There are fewer still generalist economists of the type that I once was.

It's odd, really. I can't talk economics properly with the few specialist economists I know because I don't understand the models that they are talking about, nor can I talk economics in a day to day work sense with colleagues because the analytical tools I use are simply unknown. There are no economists at all!  I have to try to translate, to fit, my thinking into quite different modes of thinking.

To begin my analysis with a quote from Steve Keen:

Economics has declined from 40 per cent of any business-oriented degree to 4 per cent in 40 years. For a profession obsessed with linear regression, it has suffered a near-perfect linear regression of its own.

In his presentation to the conference held to mark Agricultural Economics Silver Jubilee at UNE in 1983, Geoff Miller wrote:

It would be a mistake to infer that the influence of economists is on the wane. It most definitely is not. What is happening, however, is that proportionately fewer and fewer applied economists are willing to identify themselves as economists. They masquerade under the titles such as business manager. market analyst, administrator, treasurer and even bureaucrat!

Geoff was then Deputy Secretary at the Department of Primary Industries in Canberra. He went on:

This audience will be well aware that just as proportionately fewer applied economists identify themselves as economists, so too is proportionately less applied economics being taught in faculties that identify themselves as economics faculties. We are well into the era of the business school.

To Geoff's mind, the most useful economist was one who had been taught as rigorously to apply theory as the theory itself. He continued:

Good theorists with little training in applications, usually burn up all their energy (and other people's patience) telling policy decision-makers  why the data cannot be usefully employed, why no inferences can be drawn from the results of the analysis, or (at the other extreme) advocating excessively simplistic solutions to complex problems.

Now I don't completely agree with Geoff here for reasons that I will explain in a moment. But it is true that the greatest value to me of economics lies in the way that it helps me to understand and analyse problems, to come to quick judgements. even though I may struggle to express them sometimes in comprehensible form to people who do not have knowledge of the same analytical tools. It is equally true, and this has been an enormous frustration sometimes, that I have struggled with colleagues who demand that I comply with their economic models or ideological frameworks even though I am trying to articulate a new position that might help us to solve an immediate problem.

Economics at UNE was first taught as part of Arts. There were three features to the course.

The focus was on teaching, something that comes through in all the early history disciplines at UNE. It is also something that Don Aitkin feels that has been lost with the current emphasis on research. There were applied elements to the course and especially to the research carried out by staff since this focused especially on problems of development. Finally, the course was solidly grounded in the humanities.

This is where John Pullen's paper is instructive. For those doing honours, the history of economic thought was effectively a compulsory unit. You cannot study the history of economic though without becoming aware of the way in which views on economics, the resulting models, are human constructs grounded in the cultures of the time. UNE also developed a strong economic history school, another declined discipline, for just that reason.

Agricultural economics was fought for and emerged as a practical applied course bridging the gap between economics and agriculture. Solidly based on what would a little later be called neoclassical economics, it developed a series of analytical techniques that could be applied at farm or industry level. As a non-mathematician, I stood in awe of strange concepts like linear programming or the monte carlo model. So UNE had three streams: a generalist economic course; an applied economics course in agricultural economics; and an economics history course. From my perspective, the wheels then came off.

As an entry point here, I want to take the famous dispute at Sydney University that Steve Keen referred to between Professors Hogan and Simkin and those who saw the teaching of economics and economics as a discipline in different ways. Here I quote from Professor Hogan's obituary:

He was nothing if not a fighter. He believed that ''quantitative rigour'' was the foundation for solving real world problems, rather than sociological and political factors. He wanted to produce economists who would help the corporate world and government. Statistics, spread sheets and mathematics featured prominently in his thinking. In the end, he was not able to resist the overwhelming demands for a change of focus and his economics department was split.

Steve Keen was on the other side of that divide. To my mind, both sides were wrong, but both encapsulated trends holding at the time that are still playing themselves out.

Professors Hogan and Simkin were trying to introduce a rigorous applied content, a quantitative rigour. In so dong, they reduced the generalist stream. Two other professors of economics at the time ( tartly remarked over lunch that Sydney was training bad mathematicians and worse economists. However, those on the other side with their emphasis on political economy were not, in fact, arguing for a generalist course, but a generalist course of a particular type. It became an ideological debate.

  The logical joining of the two positions was to have a core general course with opportunities for specialisation on the generalist, humanities or applied side. This was not possible at Sydney nor. as it turned out, at most other places. The decline of economics as a discipline continued.

I accept that what I have said is partial. I imagine that those of both sides of the Sydney divide would disagree with at least parts of my assessment. Accepting that, if we jump forward, we find the University of Western Sydney retrenching thirteen economics staff including Professor Keen. This passed almost without notice. I am not in a position to judge the eternal dynamics involved. However, I can express my sadness.

Staying in the present, I now want to turn to Winton Bates' post, Should the GFC be viewed as a 'balance sheet' recession of the kind Irving Fisher wrote about in the 1930s?. Winton and I did economics at the same time at UNE. I went on to focus on history, Winton was in the agricultural economics stream, Despite that, we remain friends! 

The first part of the post deals with Mr Rudd's record, the second with Irving Fisher's views of the great depression. I have not been able to check Winton's references in the first part, they are behind firewalls, but both Henry Ergas and John Stone are ideological warriors. That doesn't mean that they are wrong on particular points, but you have to understand where they are coming from. Certainly based on Winton's reporting, I think that they are wrong, imposing a view of what happened on judgements that had to be made at the time.

I will write a proper post on this one not to attack Winton (I have a great respect for his views), but because it is important. I was in Shanghai when the GFC broke. I came back to a traumatised Australia where reactions seemed to me to be at total variance to the economic facts as I knew them. This actually drew me back into writing on macroeconomics, I field that I had left and did not expect to return to. Essentially, I could not match the gloom and doom scenarios to the basics of the Australian economy, so I took a contrary view. However, this did not lead me to oppose the stimulus measures, far from it. My concern at the time was the direction and balance of those measures.

The second part of Winton's post focused on Irving Fisher's views is, if I interpret the argument correctly. very similar to views expressed by Professor Keen. Essentially, a key part of the problem was the combination of levels of private debt with income and price variations.

In finishing today's post, I want to look briefly at economics models. All models are abstractions. This applies to the IS-LM model, to the AD-AS model, to the DSGE model or to Agent Base Models. Models are useful thing, but in each model the critical issue is the specification of relationships that underpin the model's working. If those change, then the model will give invalid results.

This is really why economic forecasters are in so much trouble. This is why so many older theories are being dusted off. The economic world has changed, and we are struggling to understand the changes. We have to look back to the past to develop new ideas for the future.

This is where, I think, the old economics comes in. I actually have no idea how a DSGE or Agent Based Model really works, although I can understand the basic principles. But I don't think that this matters. The foundation economics that I have done in those now ancient days, as well as my past practical experience as a professional economist, gives me the capacity to ask basic questions. That, I think, is what is really important.     

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - economic overview

Today's Saturday Morning Musings has an economics focus. Nothing profound, just jottings on things that attracted my attention.

Globally, and leaving China aside for the moment, there are signs of continued economic strengthening.

In the UK, GDP rose 0.6 per cent in the June quarter following a rise of 0.3 per cent in the March quarter driven by the trade exposed sections of the economy. Not brilliant, but in the right direction. In Germany, the IFO Business Climate Index, a measure of business expectations, rose for the third months in a row to 106.2; a number above 100 suggests economic expansion.  In Japan, the Cabinet Office's July report stated that the Japanese economy was picking up steadily. In the US, the IMF concluded that  growth is slowly accelerating.

I expect European and US growth to continue to strengthen, if slowly, as budget contractionary effects ease and expansive monetary policy continues to support growth, The second is a problem in itself, of course, for the ending of quantitative easing is likely to be quite difficult in economic terms.

Regardless as to arguments about why and what could have been done better, Australia has been remarkably fortunate. In the UK, GDP is still below the pre GFC levels. The loss in national production and expenditure compared to Australia is huge.  

I left China aside for the moment. There Premier Li stated that 7 per cent was the bottom line below which the nation would not allow growth to fall. Mmmm! Leaving aside the miracles of Chinese statistical reporting, China faces a huge economic challenge in re-balancing its economy and moving to productivity and consumption driven growth. It also faces a growing demographic bomb, something that I have written about before.

What China really needs is economic growth in the rest of the world, growing demand for Chinese exports. This will buy time for the Chinese authorities to do the other restructuring that needs to be done. The Chinese economic engine has done its job so far as other places are concerned. It needs to refuel.

One of the interesting topics in Australian newspapers over recent weeks has been what we might call the middle income trap, How do growth countries such as China avoid stalling at middle income levels, failing to break through to higher incomes. Latin America is usually cited as the cautionary tale. For the moment, I just record. 

In Australia, ABS reported on Wednesday that the rise in the Australian all groups CPI for the June quarter was 0.4 per cent, bringing the yearly inflation figure to 2.4 per cent. This was greeted by commentators as providing evidence that inflation was under control, that the Reserve Bank had scope to further reduce the official cash rate. Now market forecasts are overwhelmingly in favour of a further reduction.

I'm not so sure. I don't do forecasts, who can know the minds of either the economy (it doesn't have one) or officials (they do). If I were the Bank. I would leave interest rates on hold. The market consensus appear to be that the Australian dollar will continue to fall. Overseas interest rates are nudging up. The Australian economy is weakening, but has not yet headed into recession territory. The Bank has the option of just letting things run, holding its powder to later.  

Staying In Australia, the end of the week was marked by reports of a ballooning Commonwealth Government deficit with projected revenue shortfalls of more than $A20 billion over the next four years. At the same time, a PWC report suggested that the combined annual deficits of Commonwealth and state/territory government could reach $A213 billion by 2040.

Expect further cuts in Government spending, another reason to reserve monetary policy weapons. We may need them.

Finally, According to newspaper reports during the week, the asset's of Australia's Future Fund passed $A100 billion as the depreciating value of the Australian dollar increased the value of the Fund's international investments. The fund was founded in 2006 to meet future pension liabilities of Commonwealth public servants. Not a bad idea considering what has been happening with Detroit and other US cities.   

Friday, July 26, 2013

Marshall Rudd & drummer boy Burke vs Admiral Abbott in new G&S show

This photo comes one of the refugee groups via Paul Barratt. The caption reads:

Another Australian Government anti-boat campaign billboard (see the circled sign) over Hazara massacre, Quetta 2011:"Don't come by boat; it's too dangerous"

Further comments follow the the photo. 

Anti boat ad Quetta

I have no idea whether this photo is accurate. But in those circumstances, the billboard would actually seem like an advertisement for people smugglers.

As I write, Mr Abbott has unveiled his military solution. Admiral Abbott read one headline. Meantime, Minister Burke has rushed off to Manus island for an on-ground investigation and to defend the Rudd solution.

This is all silly stuff, like something out of Gilbert & Sullivan. How have we let the debate get to this point?

There are no easy solutions on the refugee question. Our options really involve picking between the least bad solutions. The political refugee arms race is costing us a fortune, is twisting our foreign policy and is actually damaging our society. There is no rational debate anymore, just responses.

Refugees and the people smuggler subset is a global problem that has domestic implications. It is one of those hard problems that cannot be solved at domestic level. The only thing thing that we can control is our response.

I have this dream where one of our political leaders gets up and says we can't solve this problem, we can only respond as best we can. Here are the issues as we see them. This is what we are going to do. I know its not perfect, we will listen to arguments, we will change our approach as new evidence emerges, but that's where we stand.

In the meantime, we are driven back to Gilbert and Sullivan and H. M. S. Pinafore.    

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!

Marshall Rudd and Admiral Abbott should bear that in mind. In the end on something like this, ridicule is the only answer.


The debate rolls on. The Lowy Institute blog has useful coverage from the PNG side: What the PNG asylum seeker deal really means for Australia's aid program provides an entry point. The story has received a degree of international coverage. This is the Wall Street Journal take. The UNHRCR has expressed concern.

Quickly reading across what coverage I could, the Australian popular response measured by comments is, as you might expect, very polarised. A key issue is will it work?

Update Two

This is the Economist's take on recent developments.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Useful guide to the rise of the extreme right in Europe

From time to time I have mentioned the GeoCurrents blog as a very useful reference source. This post by James Mayfield, Explaining the Rapid Rise of the Xenophobic Right in Contemporary Europe, is a very good if somewhat depressing example.

I drew a few take-messages from the analysis.

  1. The variety and need to avoid stereotyping. I note this in part because of the tendency of some of my more ideological left colleagues to classify people and causes that I have supported as extreme right really just because they are different from prevailing left views
  2. The need to avoid being complacent in an Australian context
  3. The importance of economic factors, although this is clearly not universal.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Daniel Petre and the homogenisation of Fairfax

Tonight's short piece was triggered by a story in the Australian Financial Review suggesting that Daniel Petre may cease his connection with Fairfax over internal strategic disputes in the digital arena. For those who don't know him, Petrie is one of the most experienced people in Australia's digital sector.

One of the key disagreements cited was the decision to roll the regional mastheads into a combined Australian publishing operation. This, Petrie apparently argued, was a competitive error. I argued just the same thing at the time it happened. Those involved didn't understand market segmentation.

We are down track now and we can begin to see some of the effects.

One side effect, minor but annoying to me, is that I now have no single source for following through the various former Rural Press papers across Northern New South Wales. I have to spend more time. A more important effect is homogenisation. If you look at each regional site in isolation, they offer more. When you look at them together. you can see the commonalities.

At this level, they have lost something. Their use of Facebook, by contrast, is much better and has a local content.

Homogenisation is moat apparent with the metros. Fairfax has just introduced pay, so you only get so many page views before being locked out. Because I use the SMH so much, that happened to me. So I went searching. Then I found with certain key mastheads that I could get the same stories because they were all the same! The only thing that I couldn't find somehow were the very specific Sydney metro stories.

What we are talking about is actually brand destruction, the replacement of multiple mastheads appealing to different audiences by an increasingly common product. I don't think that's very sensible in commercial terms, nor is it necessary. Still, I suppose that it's easier to run.     

A note to regular readers

Over the next week or so you will begin to notice more purely professional posts. As part of another restructure in my writing, I have begun to migrate my irregular professional posts to this blog. I hope that this will add to the depth here, while helping me gain better focus.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Monday Management - introducing Common Management Problems

Some years ago I began a series of blog posts on the theme common management problems – and what to do about them. The posts drew from my practical experience as a manager and a consultant. I wrote them because I had found that many people who had acquired some form of management role actually didn’t know what to do in a practical sense.

The problem is especially acute in professional services because so much of the work is individual: individual in the way work is structured, individual in relation to clients, individual in the way performance is measured. There is limited scope to learn how to manage by actually doing. Problems exist even in those areas of professional services where projects and project management are the norm.

Project management is not the same as management, although many project management techniques are also management techniques. A professional discipline in its own right, project management centres on individual projects. These may be simple or complex. They may involve a single person or a much larger team of full and part time people. However, they do not necessarily provide you with the skills required to manage a team with functional responsibilities involving multiple activities with varying time horizons, where the focus is on the achievement of broader results rather than individual project outcomes.

Lack of management skills and experience may be an especial problem in professional services, but it is not limited to that sector. Management is a craft, not a science. It has to be learned through practice. Across sectors, the thinning of management structures has reduced the opportunities for people to grow into management through progressive learning by doing. The problem is compounded by the growing role of specialists in senior management roles and by modern management command and control structures that have reduced the authority and scope of responsibility of individual managers.

Interestingly, the widespread adoption of project based approaches within organisations has further compounded the problem. This may sound counter-intuitive. Surely these approaches play an important role in improving organisational effectiveness? Well yes, but many areas that have moved to project based approaches end by displaying many of the cultural features to be found in professional services. There is the same emphasis on individual matters or assignments; performance assessment becomes narrower; it becomes more difficult to attract attention too, or resources for, issues that fall outside current assignments.

Staff have always complained about managers and management. However, the volume of complaints seems to have risen significantly over the last two decades. Importantly, managers themselves complain about the difficulties they experience in managing properly, in simply coping with the demands placed upon them. A surprising number of those in apparently managerial roles express actual dislike for the management process. Their focus is on their personal performance, on the things that they have to do themselves. The need to deal with people, to be responsible for others with varying needs and personalities, is seen as an impediment to their own performance.

If project management is not the same as management, nor is administration. All managerial roles involve a degree of administration, another thing that many professionals complain about, but that is only part of the manager’s role. Administration focuses on rules and systems, while management focuses on the organisation of resources and especially people to set and achieve objectives and to undertake specific activities.

Finally, management is not the same as leadership, although a measure of leadership is a necessary part of management. A leader may or may not be a manager. Indeed, many of those who see themselves as leaders are in fact extremely bad managers! There is a certain irony in the parallel rise in emphasis on leadership and governance at a time when management as such has been in decline. These trends are connected, for governance is a control on leadership that has become more important as management has declined.

Can management be learned? Yes. Like any other craft, management skills can be learned, although management abilities (the final capacity to do) will vary between people. The keys are knowledge and practice. For that reason, I am drawing together and updating my previous posts to provide practical guidance to all those who wish to improve their management skills.


I was asked about the current fad for activity based working and the associated idea of bossless teams. How do these fit with the type of argument I am mounting?

Later I will write something on both. However, for the present, activity based working is popular in certain larger professional services or certain financial firms where work is predominantly individual, or involves small variable teams. The term really relates to office design as much as it does to the organisation of work, although the first affects the second. It can be a productive approach.

Bossless teams rely on particular group dynamics and types of work and on the surrounding culture to be effective. I think that they actually first appeared in certain manufacturing activities, although I stand to be corrected there. Again they can work in particular circumstances, although in the end there is always a boss! 

In terms of the fit with my argument, the best way of organising work will always depend on the type of work. I don't think that either detract from my focus on the importance of management.

I would be interested in reactions from readers in terms of their own experience with these different forms.   

Melbourne, Sydney & Chinese residential investment


Interesting piece by Stephen Nicholls in the Age (Chinese prefer Melbourne to Sydney) that illustrates two aspects of Australian life, Chinese investment in Australian residential property playing out in the traditional rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney.

A survey of Chinese interest in investment in international property ranks Australia as number two after the US. That's actually remarkable in its own right. However, what attracted special interest was the apparent ranking of Melbourne in front of Sydney as favoured investment location. The photo from the Age shows a Toorak house purchased by a Chinese investor for $14 million.

Sydney people were not impressed. I quote from the story:

Sydney property agents expressed shock, then disbelief that Chinese buyers appeared to be more interested in Melbourne than Sydney.

"Melbourne's a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there and I think the Chinese feel the same way, said Richardson & Wrench Mosman principal Stephen Patrick. "Most of the Chinese want a water view and Sydney obviously wins there."

I am not in a position to comment on the relative attractiveness of the two cities beyond a wry smile. I can comment on Chinese interest in the area in which I currently live in Sydney. It's high and has been so for a long time. The driver here is the presence of the University of New South Wales with its large Chinese student cohort. This creates both rental and home purchase demand, for many parents buy a place for their children and as a longer term investment.

We are not talking top tier demand prepared to pay multi-millions for specific locations, rather mid tier demand in a price range from $A750,000 to $A1,500,000. The effects are quite noticeable. This is not a complaint, simply an observation.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday Essay - more on Rudd and refugees

Reaction to yesterday's post, Mr Rudd's shame, provides the entry point for this post. One of the difficulties of this type of debate lies in the way that different things get mixed together. Debate takes place at multiple levels, with apparent responses at one level actually triggered by other levels. It becomes very difficult to untangle it it all.

A Personal Perspective

Back in May 2011, I supported Julia Gillard's Malaysian solution (When perfection's not possible: Gillard & refugees) as possibly the best result from a difficult situation. There I tried to outline a few basic principles that guided my reaction. In November 2011, I wrote in a round-up post:

I haven't commented on the latest race to the bottom on Australian refugee policy. Back in May 2011, I supported the proposed "Malaysian solution" (When perfection's not possible: Gillard & refugees) as a possible path. Now Opposition, Greens and Government between them have delivered the worst possible outcome.

I know from conversations just how polarising this issue has become. My friend and fellow New Englander Paul Barratt has been blogging on the broader issue. The insanity of Australia excluding itself from its own migration zone makes me wish for Monty Python.

I am repeating this background now so you know my position. I have, I think, been consistent.

Life is riven with contradictions. One principle of the the political school I grew up in, I have called it New England populism, was that any government action involved some restriction on the freedom of some. We called it the oppression of the minority by the majority. For that reason, all Government actions must be subject to scrutiny. But that school also saw a strong role for Government in reducing oppression and in achieving the common good. This built an inherent tension into the political philosophy, a tension that could only be overcome by careful analysis to delineate the issues.

This view was in part captured by a commenter attempting to put the pro-restriction side.    

However, the flow of this debate is so predetermined-lest we step out of line on this, one sided - only the intelligentsia get a say and littered with preconceived ideals that I felt someone should show the other side of the coin.

Pardon me if I don't go with the flow on this but maybe a more rational policy could be formulated if all sides of the argument were heard rather than badging views that differ to yours as worthy of "nonsense more usually heard on talkback radio?"

My commenter stated, accurately enough, that he (she?: I think that it was a he) represented a very popular stream of opinion. Now without getting caught too much in the detail, I want to devote this short Sunday Essay to a delineation of some of the issues.

The Right of the Group

In a comment, kvd wrote:

But if you are willing, I'd like you to expand upon your I believe that any nation or group actually has a right to determine who should belong comment?

To my mind, all groups have the right to determine membership. However, this is not an unqualified right, for groups sit in a hierarchy that forces qualification on that right. Let me illustrate by example.

I was a member of a male club that was forced by law to admit female members. I objected. I was also resentful that certain female social organisations were allowed to remain gender based simply because they were female. I did not object to Rotary Clubs, for example, admitting female members. That struck me as very sensible. But it was a decision of the clubs in question, whereas in the case of the club I was talking about the change was imposed by force. Hence my resentment.

Australia is a bit like that club. We have the right to determine who should be admitted to the country, as does Japan. We have chosen by majority, although some still disagree, to be an open multi-ethnic society. Japan chose a different route. Both choices involve costs and risks.

Those choices were not made in isolation. All groups face external pressures. In Australia's case, the White Australia Policy was abolished in part because of the costs it imposed on the country via external reaction. Japan was able to maintain what is in effect ethnic exclusivity because that approach was not subject to effective external challenge.

In setting our group entry approach, Australian chose to join the refugee convention. Here we qualified the group's right to determine entry by accepting an externally created obligation. We did so in a very particular context, but the principle remains. Now we chafe at the constraints imposed. We seek to work our way around, to modify or even abrogate the convention.

That is our right as as a group, but it places us in a difficult position. Logically, if we disagree with the convention, we should withdraw. But we can't actually do that because of the costs and risks involved. So we temporise and try to fiddle. 

 Internal vs External Dynamics

All groups have their own internal dynamics. Those in positions of authority play upon those dynamics to maintain authority. In doing so, they appeal to group norms. The internal debates can be heated, for they involve questions of comfort and power. As indicated, all groups have to deal with external reactions. The interaction between the two determine what will happen.

I accept that I am restating things said earlier, but I have in mind a slightly different point.

To group members and those in power, the internal reactions are critical up to that point where external responses impose their own dictates. Many times on this blog I have cautioned about the way that Australia ignores external responses. By the time that external responses start to dominate, the group has actually lost its power to control its own destiny. That is an opinion, although I think that it is based on evidence.

In the current case, this is another opinion, my perception is that in the heat of the internal debate an internal issue has become so important that all sight has been lost of external considerations.

The Importance of Facts

To introduce this segment, let's look at just what Australia is paying for the PNG deal over and beyond direct costs. We have agreed to, and I quote from Mr Rudd:

We've agreed that Australia will now help with the redevelopment of the major referral hospital in Lae and its long term management needs.

We've agreed to fund 50:50 the reform of the Papua New Guinea university sector including next year by implementing the recommendations of the Australia-PNG education review.

We've also agreed to help PNG with the support they have sought in professional management teams in the health, education and law and order portfolios.

And Australia, Prime Minister, stands ready to assist PNG further with other development needs in the future.

So apart from the direct costs, we have agreed to what appears to be some very major funding commitments. Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to those funding commitments in the context of our relations with PNG, just questioning the price that we are paying for our refugee solutions.

I have never seen a proper objective analysis of the price we are now paying for current refugee approaches, nor have I seen any benefit maximisation analysis. Now that we are spending so much. surely we are entitled to ask the question are we getting best value for money? I would have thought with the sums now involved, that that that was a reasonable question.

Will it all Work?

This is actually a very slippery question, for it depends upon the meaning attached to the word work. What is our objective?

If the aim is just to stop the boats, the most cost effective way is simply to destroy them. An alternative view was expressed by anon:

Finally here's a thought. Some may see this as cruel and inhuman but I bet it would stop the boats. Why not make it that the only way to be granted residency in this country is to arrive through the proper channels. If you arrive by boat or overstay your visa you will not be granted residency ever. Increase the intake if that's what you want but send out the message that nobody gets to stay unless they apply like many thousands of others have.

Now this may seem inhumane and would certainly have considerable costs in human and probably financial terms, but if absolutely and rigorously enforced without exception, could well be reasonably effective in terms of stopping the boats,

By contrast, the latest Rudd approach poses considerable risks.

A Question of Balance

I struggle a bit to understand why this matter has become just so important in political terms. I have listened to some really heated arguments. It's become another of those touchstone issues relating to divisions in Australian society.

To my mind, its a practical problem. We accept the refugee convention, We have a problem to which there is no perfect solution. What are our most cost-effective options taking our values into account?  How do we preserve our own values in the response? Can anyone tell me that?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Mr Rudd's shame

No posts Thursday, Friday because I was in Broken Hill. Came back to Mr Rudd's PNG refugee solution. We have entered uncharted territory here.

At a policy level, it's a very Ruddian solution, expensive and (I think) only partially thought through. I have no idea how its going work in practice. There are just too many variables involved. I think that it's possible to identify the risks in the policy.

I may be wrong, I don't know enough about PNG politics, but I would have thought that it was a highly unstable solution. It may just create a festering sore on our immediate borders. If I was in the people smuggling business, I guess that my new message would be we will get you to PNG and then it will be easier for you to get into Australia. We can do that too.

At a political level, I find it equally confusing.

Intuitively, its a a bit of a godsend to the Greens who were in diabolical trouble. They now have a new cause. The Green's don't need mass votes, they just need  a few percentage points to hold their Senate numbers. So the big voting mass being targeted by the majors was never a real Green concern. All they need is to attract three people in a hundred who feel wedged by the issue.

So far as the opposition is concerned, I do not share the view that Mr Rudd has neutralised this issue. All the opposition has to do is to argue that this is another example of a half-baked Rudd, another example of a Rudd swinging in the political wind. This policy, they could say, won't work. They don't even need a convincing case. They only need to be vaguely credible while hammering the costs and risks of the Rudd solution.

At a purely personal level, I feel deeply shamed. I know that many of my friends disagree with my views on refugee issue issues. I accept that. I believe that any nation or group actually has a right to determine who should belong. I have been attacked for that view on the other side. I accept that. But this is just inhumane and shameful.

This is modern New South Walesism, politics without principle whose sole role, the only judgment, is to to stay in power now. I feel deeply shamed.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

1970s Eden Monaro & the lessons for current politics

I continue to be fascinated by the gyrations of Australian politics just at present and, beyond the theatre, the way that this is affecting public policy.

Over on Poll Bludger, William Bowie has a very useful analysis (BludgerTrack: 50.1-49.9 to Coalition) on the meaning of current poll patterns. I was especially interested in his views on minority party votes, including especially the Greens. I have felt for a while that the Green vote had peaked, and I also felt that in polarised electoral climate minority parties nearly always struggle.

In looking at the votes of minority parties and especially the Greens, I am strongly influenced by my knowledge of the history of the Country/National Party.

Like the Greens, it had a varying but strong regional base. The Country Party's was stronger in the lower house, for it established itself as the natural majority party in certain limited geographic areas in a way that that the Greens have yet to achieve. Outside those base areas, the Party had a chance across other parts of country Australia, but its electoral hold was unstable. Like the Greens recently, the Party has had to struggle with questions of cooperation with a larger party to achieve its objectives while yet retaining independence.

Starting almost from scratch in Eden Monaro in 1972, the Party almost won the seat, achieving a two party preferred swing against Labor - this was the It's Time election - of 2.7%. It had a well known and popular local candidate in Roy Howard, the Party's national leadership was well known and popular, while the Liberal Party under William McMahon was a little on the nose, but not enough to really polarise. So the Country Party attracted its small base vote plus a little of the Labor vote and a bit more of the Liberal vote.

In 1974, the Party ran another very well known candidate in Ron Brewer who had been the popular Country Party member for Goulburn. Again the Party came within an inch of winning. It attracted more Liberal votes, the Liberal vote fell to 19.9%, but Labor had a very good candidate in Bob Whan who was able to regain Labor votes.

The following year, the Country Party again ran a very well known candidate in weather broadcaster John Moore. But this time, the Country Party vote fell from 30.1% to 19.6%, the Labor vote fell by 5.3%, while the Liberal vote surged by 15.4% collecting both Labor and Country Party voters, This collapse mirrored a polarised electorate in which the dominant question had become whether or not you were in favour of Labor and Gough Whitlam. If you were against, most went Liberal. There was little room for alternative voices. Liberal Murray Sainsbury was elected.

In a way, 2013 is a mirror image of 1975. We have a polarised electorate centered on personalities. There is little room here for alternative views. The problem is compounded by the Green's own tactical errors.

It will be reasonably clear from my writings that I am not a Green supporter. But I think it a pity from a national perspective that Greens and others are being crowded out of the debate. Still, for an analyst like me it remains fascinating, nevertheless.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

It's the economy, stupid

It's interesting how the Australian political dynamics change. The latest opinion polls have really given Labor a boost. Mr Rudd is busily changing things, although the more they change, the more some things stay the same. Mr Abbott is struggling to respond and as a consequence has done a few silly things. With their standard writing parameters upset, the media is struggling to work out how to deal with it all.

In the midst of all the turmoil, watch the economy. This will finally lay down the parameters of the policy debate, and the Australian economy has entered a very interesting phase. My feeling is that Mr Rudd is in no haste to rush to an election. The longer he delays, the longer current economic trends have to work themselves out.

Monday, July 15, 2013

First Footprints and constitutional recognition for Australia's First Peoples

Tonight a short ramble.

First Footprints

Neil liked the ABC's First Footprints, First Footprints delivered!, as did I. The series traces the long Aboriginal occupation of this continent. There were things that annoyed me in that first episode, but my reaction was in part that they did a pretty good job, in part wondering at just how far our knowledge had come since I was a member of Australia's first Australian prehistory honours class all those years ago.

For those who are interested, you can watch the first episode free on download for the next few days -

Constitutional Recognition of Australia's First Peoples

As it happened, almost straight after watching First Footprints on download, I listened to a an ABC Radio National program on the Australian constitution, including a discussion on recognition of Aboriginal peoples in the document. As it happens, this is something that I agree with, but as I listened I thought how hard it all was, 

One problem is that exponents feel the need to convince, rather than explain. A second problem is that if you wish to bring about change on an issue, discuss the issue. If you mix it in with other causes, and "popular" causes tend to run in teams, then you will fail.

A third problem is that people fail to recognise that our apparently pedestrian constitution is simply legal wrapping surrounding Australia's parliamentary system of Government.

I have absolutely no doubt that there will be some form of recognition of Australia's first peoples inserted in the constitution. However, I also suspect that it will take between three and ten years because time is required for issues to be argued through and for a community consensus to form.

Setting the Boundaries for Change

One of the really big problems with constitutional change is simply setting the boundaries of change, That is why there is really very little chance of a republic attracting a yes vote. There is no agreement on the bounds, on the definition of just what a republic might mean.

Aboriginal recognition in a preamble is really a different issue. People can agree to that. If, however, the intent were to alter some of the substantive provisions, then I think that any referendum is likely to fail.

Role of Parliament

In any case, I don't think that substantive provisions are required. In our system, Parliaments have the power within the defines set by the constitution. Most of the real demands for recognition of Aboriginal rights can be achieved through Parliament. If they can't get through there, they are highly unlikely to get through via constitutional change.

This doesn't make a new preamble just a piece of window dressing. Insertion in the constitution actually places a pressure on Parliament. It increases the chances of other things happening.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hockey, two Clares & coincidence in a far city


It was already getting cold as Clare and I arrived at Moorebank for the hockey. I stood there with a pink champagne (a charity fund raiser was on at the same time) watching the girls get ready. By the time the game got underway, it was dark and quite cold.

I chatted to a dad from the other team, for I had overheard him mention Armidale.

"Where does your daughter play", I asked? "Goalie", he said. "So does mine," I responded. "Yes", he said, "Clare was born in Armidale when we were up there. I was teaching at Dem and completing my honours at the University of New England."  "Good lord", I said, "My Clare was born in Armidale too. How do you spell Clare?" "C L A R E" he said. "Same spelling," I said. "What did you do honours in?" "History", he said. "So did I", I replied.

We chatted on, two dads with the same degrees from the same place, watching two daughters with the same names born in the same city play against each other in the same positions in a city far distant. There was a certain symmetry to it all.       

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The significance of the death of Lucy Donoghoe

I used to listen or watch cricket and especially the Ashes, but this seems to have been crowded out in a time poor world. Still, the current Ashes series and especially Ashton Agar's huge knock at number eleven has certainly caught my attention!

I was trying to think how to explain the game to a friend who knows little about it. Difficult, actually!

News yesterday of the death of Lucy Donoghoe nee Johnstone. Lucy was the last surviving member of thepresentation of first mace, Paul Barratt Snr to Earle Page class of 1938, the first student intake at the newly established New England University College and, consequently, the first university student intake in Northern NSW, the broader New England that I write about so often.

More, she was the last surviving member of the first university student intake anyway in Australia outside the then six capital city universities. It would be a number of years before university education became available elsewhere across the broad mass of the Australian continent.

This photo from Paul Barratt shows Paul Barratt Snr presenting UNE Chancellor Sir Earle Page with the University's first mace.

Margot Watkins, a friend of Lucy's, contacted me via the Armidale Express (thanks Cindy and Lydia) because she thought that I would want to know and might write something about it. I did want to know and am already doing so. I have also contacted the University of New England via its Facebook page to see if I can get something done there,

One of the difficulties with modern organisation structures with their constant pattern of change is that they lose their history. This has practical management implications, the folk memory of what we do and why we do it, is actually very important to effective functioning. More broadly, the very history of organisations and areas becomes attenuated.

Many areas of Australia have had to fight for education. Lucy's death is significant not just for New England or for UNE. It is also a small memorial of the first success of a broader change, the movement to make university education available to all Australians no matter where they live. I think that's kind of important.        

Thursday, July 11, 2013

No pre-selection or pledge & the Rudd factor 2

This post follow's up yesterday's No pre-selection or pledge & the Rudd factor. The no pre-selection or pledge is in fact the first political slogan adopted by the NSW Progressive, later Country, Party. I will come back to this in a moment. Immediately, where do political parties fit into the Australian constitution?

The short answer is that they don't in any formal sense. They are essentially an enabling device, a way of organising votes for elections to gain seats and then organise MPs on the floor of Parliament so as to gain or influence power. As such, they sit outside the formal constitution.

Are they an efficient device? It depends on what is meant by efficient. Measured by the capacity to organise groups and to gain power, they have been efficient so far as the Australian system is concerned. Have they been a good thing in marshalling and focusing opinion, in presenting alternative ideas? This one is more arguable, although I think that most Australian historians would probably answer yes.

An effective party system requires an degree of discipline, a willingness to adhere to a party line. Where party lines are more fluid as in the US or PNG, a degree of governmental paralysis can result. On the other hand, too rigid a party system totally focused on winning and power can lead to dominance of one view, a crowding out of alternatives, the atrophy of Parliament itself in the face of executive power. So where do you draw the line?

The two elements in the Progressive Party electoral slogan bear upon this question.

The Party was formed in part in opposition to what was perceived at the time as the rigidities and evils of machine politics. The no pre-selection element meant that the Party could not discriminate between candidates. Any member in good standing should be able to run in the Party name. leaving it to the electors to decide, to choose between them. This one fell away for practical reasons, although the habit of endorsing multiple candidates for a single seat would last for decades.

The second component, no pledge, reflect a similar constitutional ethos. It was a reaction to the signed pledge that, with varying wording over time, demanded of Labor candidates that  if elected they would always vote in Parliament in accordance with the platform and decisions made by a vote of the Caucus. This was seen as un-Parliamentary and undemocratic.   A Parliamentarian acquired a greater loyalty to constituents and Parliament. This view was not universal even in the Country Party. The more politically radical small farmer based Victorian Country Party, for example, did initially demand a pledge.

So we have a spectrum of views from loyalty to the Party as dominant on one end of the spectrum, with loyalty to Parliament and the freedom of Parliamentarians to follow their conscience at the other end. Mind you, loyalty is always a relative concept as evidenced by the size and venom of the Labor splits during the First World War, the Great Depression and then the mid Fifties.

In similar vein, at the other end of the spectrum you can see the tensions that can arise in areas such as refugee policy where members do exercise their conscience against the wishes of the Party. You can also see it in some of the more venomous attacks on Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott over their perceived disloyalty.

If we now look again at Mr Rudd's proposed changes to the election of the Labor leader, this is really an extra-constitutional matter since it is concerned with the way Labor governs itself, and that is not an constitutional issue as such, although it may have implications for the power of Parliamentarians. In Canada, for example, historian Christopher Moore has long argued that the Canadian system of electing leaders has actually emasculated the power of Parliament and of Parliamentarians by taking away the power of Parliamentarians to chose their own leader.

It seems to me that Mr Abbott's comments about the people electing the PM is quite a different matter. They don't. That is anti-constitutional, Even leaving aside the constitutional position, if the public opinion polls are any guide,the majority of the people don't want Mr Abbott as PM, they won't be electing him. Rather, if the Coalition wins, people will be voting for a Coalition Government of which Mr Abbott happens to be the head.

You can see this even more clearly, perhaps, if you look at the National Party. Clearly people aren't voting for Warren Truss as National Leader and Deputy PM, but for the local member and/or party. Mr Truss has been a loyal deputy in the Coalition, but should he become Deputy PM, nobody could really say that he had been elected by the people, just his Party colleagues. And that, to my mind, is as it should be.          

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

No pre-selection or pledge & the Rudd factor

I have been slow to post because I am bogged down in writing.

In my last post (Saturday Morning Musings - the Rudd electoral factor) I wondered about the benefits of incumbency in the rather unusual Rudd context. Now that seems to be flowing through - see Abbott under pressure as the game changes as an example.

Meantime, the recent post I wrote on representative democracy, The importance of representative democracy, retains relevance. The importance of Parliament was central to that post.

At one level, Mr Rudd's proposal that the Labor leader should be elected by a mixture of Parliamentarians and the Party membership seems democratic. But is it? How does it fit with the ideal of Parliamentary democracy and the power of Parliament? Equally, and as the Australian Democrats found, election of party leaders by party members can be very messy.

Mr Abbot's response that Mr Rudd is wrong, that the people elect the PM, is worse for it is a clear breach of representative democracy. The people don't elect the PM, nor can or should they in our system. That's not their role.

And the heading in this post? It's a political slogan from the past. I will explain tomorrow.  

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Saturday Morning Musings - the Rudd electoral factor

Today's Saturday Morning Musings is a round-up of some of the things that attracted my attention over the last week, things that I could have written about but didn't because of time.

The Rudd Incumbency Factor

One of the things that I completely underestimated with newly returned Australian PM Rudd is what I have come to think of as the Rudd incumbency factor. In normal circumstances, the sudden replacement of a Prime Minister on the eve of election by a Government in desperate trouble would leave that Government struggling to regain legitimacy. But these are not normal times.

Mr Rudd was a PM who was deposed. Now that he is back as PM the reaction from most, and I include the media, is to think of the new Rudd Government not as a new Government but as a continuation of the previous Rudd administration. Has he changed? Will he be more inclusive? What will he do now?  That's a very powerful weapon, for it gives Mr Rudd something of the benefit of legitimacy and incumbency. He is taken seriously in a way that an alternative Labor leader such as Mr Shorten would not have been. In collective Australian mental mud maps, he is PM Rudd.

There is another variable, one that I struggle to explain. Australians like a fighter. They like a fighter who wins or, sometimes, fails. Mr Rudd draws from that.

The Political Landscape

Mr Rudd has changed the political dynamics. Here I am especially interested in the minority parties and in the Senate.

The New England independents and the independents movement were casualties of the Gillard period. By the end of the Gillard period, the Greens were in desperate trouble, with their Senate campaign in disarray. In a polarised electorate with support for environmental issues in decline, their support for the Gillard Government threatened their position in the Senate. By contrast, new political movements were gathering support from non-Labor voters who did not want to vote for Mr Abbott. There were a lot of them, including the parties established by Messrs Palmer and Katter.

The world has changed. It's become more fluid.

Accepting that views will change between now and the election, a slab of votes appear to have moved back to Labor. Some of those votes would have gone to the Greens, a few to the new parties, but most to the Liberals. With a more clearly demarcated contest and a more popular Labor leader, non-Labor votes that would have gone to the new parties will drift back to the coalition. And for those Labor people who absolutely detest Mr Rudd but who can in no way vote for Mr Abbott, they are likely to go to the Greens.  

What happens between now and the election will be important in determining the final mix.

The Regionality of Australian Politics 

All the Australian political parties are regional parties in that their greatest strength is concentrated in specific geographic areas. This is usually presented in socio-economic terms, but it is a little more than that. Local members argue for their local causes, what is seen as important for their electors and especially those who vote for them. This feeds back. 

Of all the main parties, only the Nationals are explicitly regional and then it is presented in terms of regional Australia as compared to specific regions. Yet regional bias remains true for all parties. I make this point now because it is often ignored. The current media focus on the importance of Western Sydney to the national election is expressed in marginal seat terms, but it is still a very explicitly regional focus.

Policy Fluidity

Earlier I commented on the real policy vacuum that had emerged with an Opposition that was not required to really focus on policy at this point and a Government that was failing to present an effective new policy direction, but instead focused on a few elements in the status quo.

This is no longer true. Everything is now up for grabs. Nothing is fixed, although in some ways nothing has changed. Still, people are actually talking policy.

The Biggest Party Winner?   

Based on earlier discussion in this post, I clearly think that the Greens have gained. But the biggest winner in relative terms is the National Party. If my analysis is correct, they may have contained the challenges posed by Messrs Palmer and Katter. More importantly, they have regained the two seats held by the New England independents, restoring their control over the New England or Northern heartland that has formed the Party's core base since its formation. P1000288(1)

With population shifts, New England is less important now in relative terms. But it remains the only large geographical area of Australia where the Party is seen as the natural party and has been since 1920,


After finishing this post, I wandered up to Kingsford to do some shopping. The Liberals were out in force, campaigning for Dr Michael Feneley. This is somewhat new, for Kingsford Smith is a traditional Labor seat. Previously held by Peter Garrett who has decided not to contest the election, it is now on the front line.

I worked my way through the Liberal Party workers, taking a few snaps. Sadly, I had to delete the best shot. "Did you take our photo", I was asked. It was pretty clear that this wasn't welcome, so I asked "Would you like me to delete the shot?" "Yes", was the firm reply. I did so, and chatted to the couple and a Liberal Party worker.

Like the first party worker I had spoken to, an extremely enthusiastic Chinese lady, this was one a patient of Dr Feneley, but also a long term Liberal activist. I explained to the couple that I was a free lance writer and analyst. On the spot, they searched for and found this blog.

We talked about current politics and a few other things. Both were clearly inclined to the Liberal Party. "You must join the Young Liberals", said the friendly campaign worker. It would be unfair to give the detail of the conversation, it was a private conversation, but it actually was fun.

It all reminded me of a very important thing about Australian  politics. This rests on a volunteer bedrock who try to persuade others. It doesn't matter whether or not you agree, but you must respect their views for they care.

And for my friendly couple in case they come back to this blog? Do enjoy your three honeymoons! I wish you every happiness and success for your life together. I think that you will make a great go of it.      

Friday, July 05, 2013

Down with school - Latin lost or, in my case, never found!

In my post on on Denis Wright (Denis Wright's ten life rules) I mentioned the Latin phrase Carpe Diem. This led to a response from a friend, JC, that I brought up as a postscript and now quote again in full:

A friend advised me that the phrase comes from Horace Odes Bk 1;No. 11 -The Latin reads: dum loquimur fugerit invida aetas/ carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Now for those like me who have either done no Latin or forgotten whatever they learned, she also supplied an English translation:  "While we speak, envious time will have fled. Suck everything out of today, don't waste your belief in the time to come."

There you have it, adult education care of JC. I must tell you about my final failed attempt at Elementary Latin some time.

This led Evan to comment that he did one term of Latin in high school. The one phrase that
he could remember from from the period was "the elephant doesn't catch the mouse".

Now I note that Evan did not provide the Latin, just the English. Mmmm, as another friend might say, but I'm in no position to talk. The Latin that I failed to learn far exceeds the Latin that I have forgotten! Mind you, I do remember if only one set of sentences that I had to translate into Latin while doing Elementary Latin. "The sailors landed on the shore. The sailors followed the girls into the caves. The farmers chased the sailors from the cave." In those more chaste days, we were never asked to translate what might have happened in the middle.

kvd took a different track:

Well, to be sure, I had thought that JC spoke Aramaic - if not Hebrew - but if you say Latin, then who am I, etc.

My Latin was learned over four years whilst drearily trudging around Britain, in company with JC (the other one); as he subjugated, I conjugated. And I continue my interest via Blackadder's lackey, as he digs up various bits of olde England with shovel and 'geo-phys'.

But the end result was good, or at least ok: I scored an A as one of six in the SC, but was left wondering to this day why a word such as posterity (something about the future) can in any way be associated with one's bottom (posterior). Can your personal JC ellucidate?

All of which is to ignore the main point of your post about a fellow whose continuing sang-froid I much admire. Except I think that's actually french, so I guess you'd better consult another JC - Jacques Cousteau.

(There's an awful lot of these JC's floating around - no?)

I had no choice but to study Latin, It was compulsory for the first three years of secondary school. Oh dear, conjugation. Do I still remember what it means? Not sure. By the third year, or 5A as it was called in the nomenclature of the time, I was meant to be able to translate Latin. Unlike kvd who trudged around Britain with that other JC, I was at least in warmer climes. But I fear that my attempts to make sense of Caesar's The Alexandrian Wars were, at best, imperfect. Sad but true and to the frustration of my teachers, Messrs Mattingly, Rupp and Kitley.

Now one of the phrases from the period that had a certain resonance was "Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres". All right, I take mercy. It means "All Gaul is divided into three parts" and comes from Caesar's Gallic Wars.  In this case I'm being a bit naughty in giving you a link to the original. Busy man, that Caesar.

Why should this have a certain resonance. Well, one of my favourite books from the period was Ronald Searle's Down with Skool!, a book that sometimes had a striking resemblance to an institution with which I was familiar. The book includes a series of cartoons showing an increasingly battered pair - a Roman and a Gaul - trudging past each other in, I think, the Alps.

Years later in second year university. friend Brian persuaded me to enrol in Elementary Latin as an extra. Although I got my marks up to (from memory) the low thirties, this was not one of my academic successes. It remains the only university course that I ever failed. By contrast, it proved a considerable vocational success for Brian, needless to say he passed well, for years later he would go on to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Still, it wasn't all wasted from my viewpoint. There were only two of us in the class. the classes were quite fun, and our tutor (Peter T) proved to be a pretty good cook.


Neil drew my attention to this post, 1957 or MCMLVII. It starts with Caesar's Gallic Wars. Apparently, Latin was Neil's third teaching subject.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Denis Wright's ten life rules

Denis & Tracey's wedding

Last week, our fellow blogger and in my case fellow New Englander Denis Wright's ten lessons of life featured in a story, Life lessons from terminal cancer patient Denis Wright. Now it appears that the ten lessons have gone global, especially in South America.

I often refer to Denis's blog.  He and I met when I was a posgrad back at the University of New England. He writes with humour and a gentle philosophical flavour.

One of the posts that I enjoyed was the story of his and Tracey's somewhat belated wedding, The wedding advice I wish we'd had. I chose this photo from that post (News used another) because of the laughter.

One of Denis's favourite phases is the Latin Carpe Diem. literally seize or enjoy the day. I have to be reminded or remind myself of that from time to time.

I don't know about you, but I find that daily concerns and pressures tend to crowd out the moment. Something to remember.

Goals are important, I have too many of them, but sometimes just to live is no bad thing. 


A friend advised me that the phrase comes from Horace Odes Bk 1;No. 11 -The Latin reads: dum loquimur fugerit invida aetas/ carpe diem quam minimum credula postero. Now for those like me who have either done no Latin or forgotten whatever they learned, she also supplied an English translation:  "While we speak, envious time will have fled. Suck everything out of today, don't waste your belief in the time to come."

There you have it, adult education care of JC. I must tell you about my final failed attempt at Elementary Latin some time. 

Monday, July 01, 2013

The importance of representative democracy

Tonight I listened to Tony Abbott saying that the Australian people elect the Prime Minister. They don't, nor should they if you want to maintain our current system of Government.

Maybe you don't so, so present your alternative.

In our system, Parliament is the supreme being. Parliament appoints the Prime Minister by awarding confidence. It is Parliament that stands between us and the overbearing coercive power of Executive Government.

In a comment, kvd provided this quote from Edmund Burke:

"Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion" - 

This pretty well captures my own position. I come from a particular populist tradition, New England populism, but it's a tradition that combines populism with a powerful belief in Parliament.

When I come to vote at the next election, I will not be voting for either Messrs Abbott or Rudd. Indeed, if I could I would be highly unlikely to do so! I am voting for my local member of the House of Representatives and my possible representatives in the Senate. I may take Party issues into account in that vote, but I am not voting for a Party nor, heaven forbid, for a leader. I don't actually need a leader. Sorry about that.

What do I expect from my local member? I expect them to represent their electorate, to try to meet the needs of their constituents in the most basic sense. I expect them to respect Parliament, to be prepared to act honestly and to explain to me what they have done and why. If I don't like their position and regard that as very important, then I can vote against them next time,

I accept that they are probably a member of a Party and wish to advance the interests of that Party. I accept that this requires compromises, that on many issue things are not black and white, that compromises have to be made.

I do not expect my MP to be an intellectual genius, nor do I judge him as a future leader or manager. That's not his first role, although he may be both leader and manager. I accept that Party structures are a useful practical device in terms of the practical working of Parliament, the articulation of alternative ideals, the specification of alternative views on policy.

I do not accept that people should be selected just on the grounds of their potential contribution to the future of the party or to Executive Government. I want them because they are human, understanding, sometimes confused, can help set value frameworks. I don't expect them to be intellectual giants, I am happy to accept that they have personal failings.

The Prime Minister's role is not to run the country. He or she can't. It's too complicated. The PM's core role is to help articulate a framework. We have lots of good public servants who can develop and implement policies once the frame is set. 

Governments cannot be trusted. Sorry, but it's true. They form a view of what is right, it's called the national or public interest, and then try to drive that through. But that national or public interest is a very slippery concept. Over history, it has been used to justify many rather nasty things.

In all this, we rely on Parliament as our bulwark, the thing that tempers. That's why I support representative democracy.


Winton Bates  put up a companion post to this one, Do Australians elect the prime minister?. I actually disagree most profoundly. Can you see why?