Category Archives: Australia

Tom Uren and the class war

So, to my shame I don’t know enough about people like Tom Uren.  That shall be rectified #afterthethesis.  For now, this, from a speech he gave in 2007, which touches on his time as a POW working on the Burma railway.  Talk about natural experiments…

“There are many people and experiences that have nurtured my life. But my experience serving under Weary Dunlop has had a lifelong and lasting experience on me. We were at a place called Hintock Road Camp or, as Weary called it, Hintock “Mountain” Camp. “Weary” is a name of respect. He would tax our officers and medical orderlies and the men who went out to work would be paid a small wage.

“We would contribute most of it into a central fund. Weary would then send some of our people out into the jungle to trade with the Thai and Chinese traders for food and drugs for our sick and needy. In our camp the strong looked after the weak; the young looked after the old; the fit looked after the sick. We collectivised a great proportion of our income.

“Just as the wet season set in a group of about 400 British camped near us for shelter. They had tents. The officers took the best tents, the NCOs the next best and the ordinary soldiers got the dregs. Within six weeks only about 50 of them marched out—the rest died of dysentery or cholera. In the mornings when we would walk out to work, their corpses would be lying in the mud as we passed them. Only a creek separated our two camps. On the one side the survival of the fittest – the law of the jungle – prevailed, and on the other side the collective spirit under Weary Dunlop. That spirit has always remained with me.”

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Oz at a distance #1; podcasts and Insiders

Minimal biog bit – I am from Adelaide. Just spent a lovely 7 weeks there bludging of my parents and doing research for The Thesis. One ritual we got into, mater and I, was watching ‘The Insiders’, an ABC TV show on a Sunday morning for politics junkies. The format’s the same each time – an intro, a snarky montage with music of some scandal-de-la-semaine. Then a round-up of the Sunday papers with three hacks (never all male or female at least not in my time watching). Then an interview with some political worthy. Then more hack chat, and a spoof-y video with talking heads literally inserted (perhaps the classic recent example is the Monty Python/Theresa May mash-up, thought the Twilight Zone one was pretty good too). Then someone reviewing the best political cartooning of the week, then final comments. If ever there were a show that exemplified the old saw that ‘politics is show-business for ugly people’ then this is it.

It’s variable, of course, depending on whether the hacks hate each other (by far the most fun is to see David Marr and Gerard Henderson having to restrain themselves in each others’ company). So, the plan is to just note down (more for me than anyone else!) the “best” bits. Because, you see, you can watch it on youtube (bless!).

So, 10 September.

Still no Bazza (sad emoticon)

Treasurer Scott Morrison was a fluent performer, almost making the inattentive viewer believe the Coalition has an energy policy (it doesn’t). But can’t get the lump of coal out of my head.

While the show was on air, the Nationals, at their conference, voted down a burqa ban. As one of the hacks said, it’s all so George Christensen can shore up his vote with One Nation waverers…

Michael Stutchbury ,  editor in chief of the Fin talking nonsense on (who is to blame for the catastrophe that is Australian ) energy policy and Katherine Murphy of the Grauniad interrupting repeatedly to correct him (if the gender dynamic were reversed it would have looked awkward, tbf).

The judge video spoof/hacking thing was good, but not a classic.

Meanwhile, a new podcast with Richard Denniss (full disclosure, he’s a friend) of The Australia Institute has begun. It’s called The Lucky Country, after Donald Horne‘s seminal book on Oz. If the first one is anything to go by, it’s going to be compulsory listening, clearly. In this one, the personal highlight was Laura Tingle (writes for the Fin, is generally brilliant) from about 20 mins in (though the whole thing is worth listening to, natch)

She has written on this stuff for Quarterly Essay (esp Political Amnesia). Her she gives the example Canberra Bureau of the Fin. It had 12 journos in 2013. There are 4 now. So therefore all have to become generalists, “jump in with broadest of general knowledge.” This means they don’t have as good contacts/know as many experts. It means they see/report the world through a political prism – is it good/bad for Government, rather than through a policy prism. Generally dumbs down issue, because can’t give history/wide range of views. And thus everything becomes a horse-race. And given that, the death spiral of traditional media risks accelerating… What is to be done??

As time/bandwidth allows, I’ll keep up with these two, and be a bit choosier about watching ABC’s Monday night ego-fest Q and A, which is really just dumbed down and shout-y.  Much more heat than light, sadly.

What would a genuinely “empowering” #OpenState look like? @JayWeatherill

On Wednesday morning Jay Weatherill and 200 or so of Adelaide’s soi-disant cognoscenti gathered at Adelaide Oval, scene of triumphdisaster and foreigners hurling dangerous things at locals.

Everyone was there for the launch of the programme of the second ‘Open State’ festival, which will chart the potential triumphs and disasters of our species as it careens into the 21st century, with no brakes and a wonky satnav.  At the Open State festival – a series of talks running from 28 September to 10 October, some foreigners will hurl some possibly dangerous ideas.

Jay’s speech was everything you’d expect (and sadly not the alternative one I had suggested).  The words and themes were all there – innovation, inward investment, challenges of ageing, putting Adelaide on the map.   He extolled the use of citizens’ juries (without mentioning that the last one hadn’t gone the way he would have liked). He bigged up the attendance of international luminaries such as Richard Watson, Tia Kansara and Beth Simone Noveck.

He was followed by two presentations by entrepreneurs who had been given a boost during last year’s inaugural Open Event. The first, Daniels Langeburg arrived at the stage in one his Eco-caddy vehicles.  He explained his own heritage (ineligible at present for Federal parliament, thanks to Swedish and African heritage) who has been building up momentum for a couple of years

Eco-caddy has been transporting people and goods, and at the launch Langeburg announced the latest custom-built vehicle, which has a capacity of 350kg, and is designed for hauling things around the CBD.  (There is, of course, an app for people to order pickups and pay for them at the touch of a screen.)

He also referred to a recent foray into Melbourne to provide passenger transport at a local festival, at which his vehicles collected real time data on the travels and attitudes of attendees (anyone who saw Wednesday’s episode of Utopia, with Tony’s car survey difficulties will shudder at this).

There are, of course, reasons to be cautious.  Firstly, since so far eco-caddy has been replacing short journeys that would have been conducted on foot, the amount of carbon dioxide saved so far – and it is only early days – is, well, small (6.5 tonnes).  More seriously,  you can see them doing all the hard ‘proof of concept’ work and then being pushed aside by a fleet of electric vans with autonomous machine drivers with bigger capacity, longer range and deeper pockets to loss lead competitors into oblivion.

A bug not a feature

Second up was the founders of Post Dining.  Hannah and Stephanie.  With verve and humour, they took the audience through some of their work, in which they  “merge food with music, art and performance to create immersive and interactive eating experience” and  “meet the palate with an environment of possibility, through creativity.”  This then segued into a brief practical demonstration of Conversations around food entomophagy– eating bugs.  The attendees were treated to rocky road sprinkled with… crickets.

It was all tasty enough, but in the back of my mind was an excellent book by an American anthropologist, the late Marvin Harris. In his book Cannibals and Kings he argues that you can construct a story of humans eating all the easy to get protein, exhausting the supplies and then having to hunt up-and-down the food chain, developing new techniques of hunting and management.  And this is where – in a world groaning under the weight of Western excess and global overpopulation, we seem to have come to.  Earlier this year a shortage of lettuce in the UKwas treated as one of those jokey end-of-bulletin stories, a relief from tales of bombs, fires and elections.  But should it not have been seen as something sinister and full of foreboding. Next step Soylent Green?

The real problem with the launch though, was the programme.  And I don’t mean the glossiness of the impressively thick booklet that was handed out to all the well-heeled attendees.  I mean instead the superficiality of the ‘radicalism’.  It strikes me as a giant series of TED talk, where those with university educations, leisure time and the confidence to come along to listen to various actually-not-as-system-challenging-as-they-sound ideas without ever being able to connect in useful ways with the other attendees.  It’s the hub-and-spoke model, where the speakers are the stars and the audience is, well, ego-fodder.

This is not surprising, given who is sponsoring the event, and how it fits into the wider marketing of South Australia as a ‘happening place.’  If you think I’m being excessively undergraduate and self-proclaimed ‘radical’, well, maybe you’re right.  But incremental changes, which repair or recalibrate the existing patterns of behaviour and ‘governance’, are not going to get us out of the messes we’re in.

There’s nothing on the need for a post-growth economy, for example –that is still the topic that dare not be mentioned, even as we accelerate past 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide, as the Arctic melts and the reefs die.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the sessions on ‘new foundations for social change’ and ‘effective advocacy – what does it take’ will address the issues, but wouldn’t it be great if we had sessions which explored topics like, oh….

Citizens as Mushrooms – how bureaucrats and politicians use corporate public relations techniques and their own obfuscation techniques to prevent citizen oversight: and what to do about it.

How to make social movements effective –  how can social movement organisations overcome spin, secrecy, burnout and betrayal to be effective creators of good public policy that actually gets implemented.

Or something on how academics end up not being quite as useful to social movement organisations as they could be, and what is to be done about that.

Tell me I’m dreaming.

Turnbull’s Judgement – of Keating, Katter and Crabb #auspol

Annabel Crabb, in her book ‘Stop at Nothing’ about current Prime Minister (correct at time of publication) Malcolm Turnbull, recounts a phone call from ex Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating to then PM Kevin Rudd. The story originally comes from Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald (27 June) and here’s the grab-

When Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership of the Liberal Party, Paul Keating decided he had some useful insights into the man. He decided to offer them to Kevin Rudd.

The previous Labor prime minister told the incumbent Labor Prime Minister on the phone that he had studied Turnbull over the years. Rudd had to understand three key things about Turnbull.

First, he should know that Turnbull was brilliant. Second, that Turnbull was utterly fearless.

At this point Rudd, an irritated Rudd, demanded to know, ‘Is there any good news here?’ Keating replied with his third point: Turnbull has no judgment

Well, Turnbull famously came unstuck in late 2009.  He couldn’t get his party – nor the Nationals – to back his backing for Rudd’s monstrous ‘Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.’  Already having kicked himself hard in the credibilities (over ”Utegate”) Turnbull was turfed.

Apparently, after being convinced not to quit politics, he spent some time worked on his arrogance and his peremptory nature and somehow convinced enough of his colleagues that he was the only alternative to Tony ‘People Skills’ Abbott in September 2015.

But judgement is, it seems, not something you can work on so easily.  Because his response to Barnaby Joyce’s dual citizenship foul up has taken a crisis and turned it into a catastrophe.  He and others tried to accuse Labor of treason for having had some minor discussions/info-seeking with New Zealand’s Labour Party.

To see the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, gamely but disastrously trying to hammer this home was uncomfortable viewing in the extreme.  But presumably she was following the agreed script to the hilt (one of her strengths). But then you have to ask yourself, what was Turnbull thinking in signing off on the batshit crazy script.  Because he is surely the one who dreamt it up, or signed off on Operation Tinfoil Hat.

Meanwhile, his tolerance of fools does not seem to have improved all that much.  This from today’s Saturday paper article by Paul Bongiorno

Katter’s immediate beef was with Turnbull’s treatment of himself as a potential kingmaker on the crossbench. Promised regular meetings, there has only been one. “It was scheduled for one hour and lasted 20 minutes,” according to Katter, who says the prime minister got quickly bored, frequently checked his watch, and called the meeting to an abrupt halt. “I mean, to do that to a person whose vote you might need to survive?”

So, not quite as much change as everyone pretended to believe, then….

(For more on Bob Katter and the skills needed for dealing with him, have a read of Rob Oakeshott’s memoir ‘The Independent Member for Lyne’ – especially on Katter vs Oakeshott/Windsor and his ability to drive even Treasury officials to distraction.)

Weatherill lets fly at right wing attack against renewables

WHOOP!  My second stand-alone article on the excellent reneweconomy site

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was in a pugnacious mood at the launch of Climate Wars, the new book by Labor’s shadow climate minister Mark Butler, and let fly at the ‘rightwing f***wits’ (his words) that were keen to use any event to attack renewables.

weatherill frydenberg

Butler’s book (reviewed here and the subject of our podcast here) starts with an anecdote about a concert in Adelaide earlier this year, when the lights suddenly went out, and that is where Weatherill started as well. The English singer Adele announced a ‘blackout’ had occurred.

Weatherill admitted that his heart was in his mouth, and joked that treasurer and energy minister Tom Koutsantonis had “fainted in the corporate box” until Adele quickly explained that a roadie had unplugged the wrong cord. The lights were soon back on.

That didn’t stop ‘right-wing f***wits” from seeking to take advantage of the situation. He took particular aim at The Austraian commentator Chris Kenny, who had been sending tweets proclaiming another blackout.

September 2016 – five hours that changed Australian Energy Policy

Weatherill also talked in detail about the September 2016 “system black” that has kick-started an extraordinary process in policy-making, including the Finkel Review, the Musk tweets and South Australia’s energy plan.

Weatherill explained that since State Parliament had its own generator, he had only found out about the system black after being alerted by Koutsantonis telling him ‘we’re black’.

Weatherill took particular aim at Senator Nick Xenophon for spreading fear that “people will die” and that the “lights might be out for five days.”

He also was at pains to explain that while he had contacted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull the same evening, Turnbull didn’t reply for two weeks, but instead lectured South Australia on its ‘irresponsible’ renewables policy.

Almost a year later, Weatherill is still clearly angered by this – he pointed to the fact that Turnbull had an Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report on his desk that clearly explained that the blackout was not due to renewables, but because the transmission towers had been blown over by high winds.

Turnbull not a fit Prime Minister

Weatherill then turned to hatred of renewables, the love of coal and the vested interest that sit behind that.

He lamented what he called Turnbull’s “Pauline conversion”, an ‘extraordinary change’ from a man who had said he would not lead a party that was not as committed to climate action as he was to one ‘completely capitulated to the rightwing of his party’.

Weatherill said that for this reason alone, let alone others, Turnbull had disqualified himself as being a fit prime minister, and had played politics while South Australians were stuck in lifts, and stuck in the dark.

Weatherill, to cheers, said he would remind Turnbull of this ‘the next time I’m stood next to him’ (a reference to the infamous Weatherill/Frydenburg stoush in Adelaide earlier this year).

Weatherill said that after the blackout the government could have capitulated, but instead decided to pursue what he knew to the right policy both environmental and economic reasons, and that he was proud South Australia had.

He then turned to the events of February 8th 2017, arguing that opponents of renewables were poised to strike. Although South Australia had the newest gas-fired power station, its owners had chosen ‘for financial reasons to stay shut’.

On the following day, New South Wales had had a load-shedding event, which thwarted the efforts at ridiculing South Australia.

‘The most extraordinary political period’

What happened next was what Weatherill called the most extraordinary period in his political life. ‘We got up and said’ we’ll take charge, not knowing quite what that meant.

“We went from laughing stock to leader in six weeks, with support in the state, nationally and internationally.’

In March the State announced its six point energy plan, and earlier in the month Elon Musk arrived, post-tweet, to announce the 129MWh lithium battery farm.

‘There could not be a more important issue, at the state, national or planetary level,” Weatherill said.

Weatherill is, of, course talking his own book, and faces a stiff election challenge next March. If the letters page of the only daily newspaper, the Murdoch-owned Advertiser, is anything to go by, it will be an uphill battle.

Marc Hudson is a PhD candidate at University of Manchester

Climate change? Eh? 1998 Labor Essays…

So, by 1995/6 the whole idea that you might be able to ‘green’ the Australian Labor Party had kinda fallen apart.  The 1993 election had ignored the issues (with Keating particularly aggressive, blah blah true believers blah blah), and despite Environment Minister John Faulkner’s best efforts, the proposed carbon tax/levy in 1994/95 died an ignominious death (there’s a quote from Cheryl Kernot’s memoir coming up, btw).  And how best to demonstrate this, beyond mere assertion?  Well, this book –

1998 labor essays

 

has 17 chapters.  Not a one of them on environment, or climate change.  And here are the relevant pages of the index. Nowt on carbon dioxide, climate change, greenhouse effect or global warming.  Two tiny mentions of ‘environment‘.

1998 labor essays index 1

1998 labor essays index2

The media, the environment – lessons from South #Australian history…

Right-winger sometimes try to ‘catch out’ Noam Chomsky by saying ‘well, you critique the mainstream media saying it helps manufacture consent, but you at the same time rely on journalistic accounts to put together your arguments.  Are you a hypocrite or what?’ (I paraphrase).

Chomsky replies that there are many hard-working and diligent journalists who are what the young people used to call ‘woke’ (I think the term is jumping the shark, fwiw). That is, journos who know how the control -via ownership, advertising, editors – works. And they know that there is sometimes a certain amount of wiggle room, if they are clever and lucky and get the timing right.  They can be stainless steel rats in the wainscoting.  Chomsky, from memory, points to Charles Glass as an example of this.  (yep, memory not yet destroyed).

All this came to mind today while I was doing some research (yes, at the end of my third year of my PhD) at the Adelaide University Library.  One of those silly coincidences that happens, I saw the name of the same journo pop up twice in two different places.  Firstly, in 1982, in a newsletter of the SA Conservation Council  (and these people were, well, ‘woke’).

1982 08 13 sa conservation council p1

The second was from a speech given by Don Hopgood, a former South Australian Environment Minister, published in Xanthopus, the newsletter of the Nature Conservation Society of SA (Vol 12, 6, December 1994) (A xanthopus, as well as being a fantastic scrabble word, is a yellow-footed wallaby).

1994 12 hopgood on kym tilbrook