This is the first of two pieces looking at the art of people living in and around the Elliott and Marlinja communities in the centre of the Northern Territory. Here I’ll set out some brief historical information, look at some efforts locals have taken to preserve language and culture and take a brief look at a few artists from the region. In the second piece in this series I’ll look at a set of wholly remarkable painted records of all aspects of traditional life on Mudburra country by two senior law-holders.
Back in 2014 I described Elliott as ‘… the town the Northern Territory forgot’—largely in the context of the appalling state of housing in the two Town Camps—Gurungu & Wilyugu—that bookend the northern and southern edges of town.
Not a lot has changed in the last six years. Services from all levels of government fall between jurisdictional cracks based on the fact that Elliott—Kulumindini in the local Mudburra language—is equidistant from the major Northern Territory service and administrative centres of Darwin and Alice Springs. Elliott falls into an administrative worm hole—bureaucrats in Alice Springs will say that Elliott is Darwin’s responsibility and vice versa ad infinitum.
Notwithstanding this torpid adminosphere—and don’t get me started on what happened during the NT Intervention between 2007 and 2012—it is perhaps surprising that Elliott remains at all and by at least some measures thrives, against overwhelming odds.
For me Kulumindini’s vitality is apparent in the integrity, strength and maintenance of local Aboriginal culture, evidenced most recently by the production of three wonderful books that provide valuable insights into how Aboriginal culture can and will survive despite government neglect and the alienation of dearly-held traditional lands by pastoralism.
The first of three important recent publications showcasing local Aboriginal culture is Jingilu and Mudburra Plants and Animals, published in 2018 and the 49th volume in a long-running—and vitally important—record of Northern Territory ethnobiological knowledge.
The second is Birrka Mudburra – Making Things Mudburra that illustrates some Mudburra ways of preparing bush medicines, how they get different bush tucker and use available resources and some of the country around the Mudburra homeland of Narrwan.
The most recent publication is, like the others a magnificent collaborative effort titled the Mudburra to English Dictionary and was published in late 2019.
Time and space prevent a fuller examination of these works here but together they form a powerful statement of intent to preserve and protect Jingili and Mudburra heritage, knowledge and culture. I cannot recommend them highly enough for anyone interested in the contemporary maintenance of Aboriginal culture and language.
Another means by which cultural knowledge and authority are projected and maintained is through a community’s art practices. Based 250 kilometres south of Kulumindini in Tennant Creek—but operating on a proverbial shoestring budget across the Barkly region—Barkly Regional Arts is the service hub for the arts and does a great job within its constraints.
Local Mudburra and Jingili families continue to produce compelling music grounded in their cultures—see for example the recent album by Rayella that I reviewed in 2015 and the eponymous Kulumindini Band, the latest iteration of which played at the wake of senior Mudburra lawman and knowledge-holder Kumunjayi Dixon two weeks back.
But the visual arts are one area where the residents of the Elliott district unfortunately punch well below their weight. Sure, there is the current iteration of Kulumindi Arts, that started in the mid 1980s and is based in Gurungu town camp at Elliott. Currently Kulumindini Arts concentrates mainly on printing a range of fabric using mainly lino-cut techniques but that centre currently has little market reach, profile or impact.
In terms of contemporary acrylic painting on canvas or similar media, again the available record of Jingili and Mudburra artists is scratchy. and warrants further attention to record what has gone before.
Two early Mudburra artists of note are Lady Dixon Nimarra and Daisy Ngawaia Nalyirri (both deceased). Lady Dixon Nimarra was married to Pharlap Dixon Jalyirri, a truly legendary stockman, political activist and knowledge-holder with whom Lady Dixon signed an unprecedented 1952 petition of “the Newcastle Waters Aboriginals” that requested proper facilities for the men and women working on pastoral stations in the region, and asked that “our tribe not be dispersed”.
The current record of Lady Dixon’s artistic practice is limited and there are unconfirmed anecdotes that Ros Packer—wife of media czar Kerry Packer who owned Newcastle Waters Station that has a pastoral leasehold over vast swathes of Mudburra country—bought many of Lady Dixon’s works to hang on the walls of the lavish Newcastle Waters homestead.
One online account of Lady Dixon’s artistic career records she didn’t start painting until her late 50s and that “soon her art work was highly prized and on one occasion she traveled to Paris for an exhibition of her work.” Lady Dixon Nimarra passed away in late 2005.
Records of Daisy Ngawaia Nalyirri’s artistic career are similarly scant. In 1995 she held her first solo exhibition at Melbourne’s Alcaston Gallery (an Archive Survey exhbition was held in 2019) and a number of her works are held by the National Gallery of Victoria, where her work has appeared in a number of publications and group exhibitions between 1995 and 2006.
… lived for many years on Channel Island in the East Arm Leprosarium [near Darwin] and eventually married Nuggett Collins Japarta, senior law man of the Marlinja area.
Nalyirri, though not prolific, amazed us by her ready use of acrylic and canvas, producing passionate images of great depth and subtlety, exploring the very core of Aboriginal Spirituality – the meaning of her land, free from the more formal constraints of traditional desert work. Her painting with its brilliant colours producing dynamic canvasses splashed with dots and scattered meandering dreaming trails resulting in images, which convey a rich and powerful interpretation of a complex ceremonial life.
Daisy had her first solo exhibition at Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne, in 1995. Her output was very limited due to her leprosy. Two major paintings by Daisy were exhibited in the spectacular BlueScope Steel sponsored exhibition and publication Colour Power – Aboriginal art post 1984, at the National Gallery of Victoria, Federation Square, November 2004 – March 2005.
Part two in this series is available here.
Jingilu and Mudburra Plants and Animals. Biocultural knowledge of the Jingili and Mudburra people of Murranji, Marlinja, Warranganku (Beetaloo) and Kulumundini (Elliott), Northern Territory, Australia. Pompey Dakamajbi Raymond, Pharlap Dilkbarri Dixon† Sue ‘Lady’ Mangkanjangiwarra Dixon†, Kumunjayi Kulngankarri Dixon†, Ray Dimakarri Dixon, Jeffrey Manawurda Dixon, Janey Walanyku Lunjabirni Dixon, Elizabeth Dixon†, Mark Murrulunginji Raymond, Harold Injimadi Dalywaters, Jumbo Kijilikarri Collins†, Robin Yikalamba Woods†, Eileen Minyminyngali Peterson-Cooper†, Felicity Meakins, Rob Pensalfini and Glenn Wightman. January 2018. Publisher: Batchelor Press.
Birrka Marnini. Making Things Mudburra. Kumunjayi Kulngankarri Dixon, Wendy Hughes, Janey Walanyku Lunjabirni Dixon, Raymond Dimakarri Dixon, Maureen Bill, Sarah Bill, Raylene Bill, Susan Kingston, Johnny Devlin, Nangkurrunyungu, Amanda Hamilton-Hollaway, David Osgarby, Rob Pensalfini and Felicity Meakins. 2019. Publisher: Batchelor Press.
Mudburra to English Dictionary. Compilers: Rebeca Green, Jennifer Green, Amanda Hamilton-Hollaway, Felicity Meakins, David Osgarby and Rob Pensalfini. Contributions from: Pharlap Dilkbarri Dixon, Jumbo Kijilikarri Collins, Sue ‘Lady’ Mangkanjangiwarra Dixon, Lucy Hughes, Albert Lalka Crowson, Kumunjayi Kulngankarri Dixon, Janey Walanyku Lunjabirni Dixon, Ray Dimakarri Dixon, Wendy Hughes, Maureen Bill, Susan Kingston, Raylene Bill, Bernie Dixon, Jeffrey Manawurda Dixon and Todman Dixon. With additional Contributions from: Glenn Wightman, Patrick McConvell, David Nash and Mary Laughren. 2019. Publisher: Aboriginal Studies Press.
I’ve spent too many years trawling the road between Darwin and Katherine and beyond in the NT’s Top End and it is all too easy to become complacent and drift into various reveries at 130 klicks in the hour.
The Stuart Highway between Darwin and Katherine is for mine dangerous beyond measure and complacency and driving that road is often fraught, with at least one “Oh, fuck” moment each trip.
At this time of year—between the intermittent heavy (and I mean monsoonal downpour heavy!) rainstorms, the road-trains, piggy-piggys, bullocky, buffalo and worst of all, slow-driving southern tourists in caravans and motorhomes—I find it is always good to have an edge to keep one’s mind’s eye sharp.
Right now we’ve had an early start to the wet season and widespread rain has fallen across the Top End and prompted the spectacular flowering displays of one of my favourite targets along the that stretch of the Stuart Highway, the Xanthostemon paradoxus which, apart from some redundant, too-ordinary-to-share and arcane examples, doesn’t appear to have a common name.
For mine I’ll call X. paradoxus the Top End’s “self-decorating Christmas Tree.” Who needs baubles and bells when you have such glorious inflorescences as these?
John Brock’s magisterial—and invaluable—Native Plants of Northern Australia* (Top End Native Plants in earlier editions) describes X. paradoxus as a member of the family Myrtaceae and as “a small tree, 4-10m high, often scraggly with crooked branches.” Flowering is “sporadic” and flowers are “bright yellow with numerous stamens … [a] profuse showy display of bright yellow flowers.”
It is said to be distributed around the Katherine, Darwin, Victoria River, Arnhem Land and Kimberley regions and into Papua New Guinea.
Indeed X. paradoxus is all of Brock’s understated description and more. Earlier today I drove back from Katherine homewards to Darwin and spotted this small—and yes, straggly— example of X. paradoxus along the road just south of the Edith Falls/Leliyn turnoff on Jawoyn country.
And, while the settlers may have struggled to find a suitable name for X. paradoxus, it is unsurprising that local Aboriginal language groups have no shortage of names—and uses— for this tree.
For the Warray language group* from the NT’s upper Adelaide River and Finniss River areas it is known as “burdu‘ and, according to Warray Plants and Animals, compiled by Glenn Wightman with Warray elders and knowledge holders, is a plant that is useful for:
Sugarbag, native bee-hives that contain honey, pollen and wax are often found in this tree. The hard timber is good firewood.
For the Malakmalak and Matngala language groups* from the Daly River area south-west of Darwin, X. paradoxus is indicative of the seasonal knowledge that contributes a spatio-temporal element familiar to anyone who has spent time working with Aboriginal people and the innate connectedness of all around them. The Matngala language group call this tree kipin.
The bright yellow flowers indicate that freshwater crocodile eggs are ready to be collected and eaten. It also indicates that sugarbag are full of sweet honey. Hollow stems cane be used to make didgeridus, the wood is very hard and it makes good didgeridus.
For the Jawoyn people—on whose country I photographed this specimen earlier today—X. paradoxus is called jumpatmo and, according to the book Jawoyn Plants and Animals:
The dried fruit are sometimes used to make necklaces. The wood is dark brown, heavy and hard. It has large clusters of bright yellow flowers.
For further reading on this plant—and lots more on Top End native plants and animals I recommend the following.
1 – Native Plants of Northern Australia. John Brock, New Holland, 2001
2 – Warray Plants and Animals. Aboriginal flora and fauna knowledge from the upper Adelaide and upper Finniss Rivers, northern Australia. Doris Lidawi White, Elsie Ajibak O’Brien, Dolly Mabul Fejo, Roger Wurdirdi Yates, Ada Ajibak Goodman, Mark Harvey and Glenn Wightman. Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin No. 33. 2009.
3 – Malakmalak and Matngala Plants and Animals. Aboriginal flora and fauna knowledge from the Daly River area, northern Australia. Biddy Yingguny Lindsay, Kitty Waliwararra, Frances Miljat, Helen Kuwarda, Rita Pirak, Albert Myung, Edwin Pambany, Jack Marruridj, patricia Marrfurra and Glenn Wightman. Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin No. 26. 2001.
4 – Jawoyn Plants and Animals. Aboriginal flora and fauna knowledge from Nitmiluk National Park and the Katherine area, northern Australia. Phyllis Wiynjorrotj, Sara Flora, Nipper Daybilama Brown, Peter Jatbula, Judy Galmur, Margaret Katherine, Francesca Merlan and Glenn Wightman. Northern Territory Botanical Bulletin No. 29. 2005.
All of the Northern Territory Botanical Bulletins are available from Batchelor Press at https://batchelorpress.com/
This is part 2 of an examination of the mass poisoning of 17 Aboriginal people at Alice Springs in 1981 that remains unsolved. Seventeen Aboriginal people were affected by a lethal dose of strychnine placed in a bottle of sweet sherry. Two people died. The case remains unsolved. You can read Part One here.
The Coronial Hearings ran over five days between late July and mid-August 1981. A Mr Loorham, solicitor from Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) appeared for the next of kin of the deceased. Coroner Barritt’s Findings were delivered on 16 October 1981 at Alice Springs and ran to a meagre seven pages.
Transcripts of the hearings reveal Loorham’s concerns about the quality of evidence provided to the Court by the witness Dick Bundy Jabarula, who was clearly having difficulty giving his evidence in English.
Loorham told the Court that he had found it:
Very difficult to follow the witness’s evidence. If this inquest is going to seriously examine this important issue, it is my submission that all aboriginal witnesses should be entitled to the same interpreting services as immigrants to this country are entitled to and that proper interpreters should be available to Your Worship and to this court.
Loorham then asked Dick Bundy Jabarula whether he was happier speaking in Luritja or English, to which Dick Bundy Jabarula gave his preference as Luritja.
Then followed this testy exchange between solicitor Loorham and Coroner Barritt.
I think the better course would be for you to question this witness and see how you go. It might well be that he will respond more. The difficulty that I have encountered with interpreters is that very often an interpreter is speaking in a different dialect to the witness and through no fault of that interpreter’s ability, they mess it up as to what the witness is saying. You can have an error made by an interpreter. For example, if this gentleman comes from an outstation of Papunya, particularly the outstations which are out towards the Western Australian border, his dialect can be quite different from a person living in Papunya and mixing with Warlpiri’s and even Aranda’s that changes their dialect … A lot of people who speak Luritja never go within 200 miles of other people who speak it. That is only my experience of using interpreters I am generally loath to do it because I find that there is difficulty in the use of interpreters and from a court point of view, you might put too much emphasis on what an interpreter says a witness has said when, in fact, the witness has not said anything like the interpreter interprets as having been said.
Loorham responded to the effect that this situation is just a reflection on the failure of our society to acknowledge that there is another society in this land many of whom speak another language. Coroner Barritt was not pleased with that response.
I do not know whether it is necessarily right to make statements which are of a political nature in a situation such as this.
I was just addressing myself to the generality of the interpreter situation I appreciate the fact that the interpreter services in this town are not as good as they should be, but that should not excuse the situation and we should not have to make do with half-hearted evidence, your worship.
There is no use in delving in politics in that regard because as far as the white Australian society is concerned, it has made provision to have interpreters and desire that there be interpreters, they have provided the money to train interpreters.
You would not know it from walking into this courthouse your worship.
From my examination of the transcript of proceedings no interpreter was provided for any of the Aboriginal witnesses at the Coronial Hearing other than, on the last day of hearings, for the witness Howard Ross Jabanunga, where interpretation was provided by Alma Ross.
Notwithstanding the lack of interpreters, the accounts from the police witness statements of the Aboriginal victims of the poisoning and their families are chilling.
Sammy Inkamala: Everybody they were drunk they were sitting circle the bottle in the middle … I take some in my mouth just to see what they were drinking. It is not tasty, it taste like strong tea. I went round and round in my head, I was sick and I fall down. I don’t remember one thing then.
Sabin Jagamara: What I have drink I take one mouthful and I give bottle to Douglas Wheeler and Sam Inkamala. Quickly after I finish that drink I get giddy, funny head and legs funny and guts, and I fall down and throw up, I vomit it.
Gilbert Daniel Jungari-Jungala: I just have one drink from that bottle then I give that bottle to Isliam. After I have drink I start shaking all over and I fall down. I see all the other people drinking and falling down too.
Isliam Abbott Nabarula: I just have little bit from that bottle, that rubbish one, no good. I taste him and spit it out because it no good. Then I shake and fall down and nearly finish up. Then I go to hospital.
Joanne Nambajimba, wife of Bronson No. 2: I’ve been see him [Bronson] drink a little bit sweet sherry. Then he been comeback and him fall over from that sweet sherry, and he’d be shaking all the time and he was rolling around on the ground, he wasn’t singing out. Then that ambulance come. And took Bronson away. Then I been see everyone who been drinking was sick.
Bronson No. 2: Dick Bundy gave me a bottle of sherry with the yellow label, I have a taste. It taste all right, then I feel funny and then I fall over. I do not drink much that time before then I was sober. I then see these other people they start falling when they drink this sherry.
Lois Nambajimba: Then I heard people singing out they was crying. Then saw those people shaking. I saw that woman first that one that died. I saw that woman first drop and then shake.
Coroner Barritt’s formal findings were that:
Nabutta Abbott Nabarula then aged about 50 years formerly of Papunya and David Charlie then aged in his late 30s formerly of Indulkana, met their deaths on Sunday, 29 March 1981, at Alice Springs after drinking wine poisoned with strychnine. I find that analysis of blood taken from the deceased ABBOTT disclosed 0.9 mg strychnine/L and that from CHARLIE 3.3 mg strychnine/L. Analysis of the liver of deceased ABBOTT disclosed 4.4 mg strychnine/L and deceased Charlie 14.6 mg strychnine/L4. I find that on the reference “Disposition of toxic drugs and chemicals in man,” by Randall C. Basett, such concentrations constituted fatal blood doses to each of the deceased, and a fatal liver concentration in the deceased CHARLIE. I find that the wine was poisoned by the addition of strychnine and left as a bait in public to lure whoever was attracted to it, and that its contents were intended to kill. I therefore, find that both the deceased were murdered by a person or persons name unknown.
I’ve lived in the Northern Territory since 1984 and first heard of these terrible events while working with a Darwin-based band of ratbags, potheads, no-hopers and dancehall kings called The Swamp Jockeys.
The Swamp Jockeys had a chilling song entitled Strychnine in The Bottle, the first verse of which went something like this:
Somebody put strychnine in the bottle Somebody bought strychnine that day Somebody put strychnine in the bottle And somebody died that day Murder! Murder! Murder!
For some reason I’d always thought the story behind the song was apocryphal until one day I came across the front page of the NT News from Monday 30 March 1981 while researching the history of cannabis plantations in the NT.
But that is another story … or ten.
The deaths of Nabutta Abbott Nabarula and David Charlie remain unsolved.
The neck is stretched out, the head thrown back, the legs straight and stiff. The fits are brought on or made worse by the slightest touch, sound or light. Finally, one dreadful seizure follows another, until they are continuous and death ensues.
That short passage describes the effects of strychnine poisoning on a dog and is an excerpt from an article in the Centralian Advocate, published in Alice Springs in December 1948 during what the local veterinarian described as an ‘epidemic of dog poisoning’ in the town.
Thirty-four years on Alice Springs was still ‘suffering the regular ravages’ of a serial strychnine poisoner (or multiple poisoners) who over the years have been credited with the deaths of ‘dozens, if not hundreds’ of dogs in Alice Springs.
In late March 1981 the target species changed from dogs to humans. The effect of strychnine on a human is no less horrific that that described by the local veterinarian above.
Around sunset on the last Saturday in March 1981 Robin Mervyn Ulapuntu went to the rear of the Uniting Church building in Todd Street in central Alice Springs. There he found an almost full bottle of Yalumba Barossa Cream Sweet Sherry that was soon taken from him by Keith Jennings.
Jennings and his companions Amos Inkamala Jambajimba and Lily Abbott were joined by Howard Ross Jabanunga and some of them apparently drank a little from the bottle.
What none of them knew was that the gifted sweet sherry bottle was laced with at least a spoonful of strychnine. A fatal dose was estimated to be 80mL or around two mouthfuls.
Alice Springs’ locals – and Territorians as a class – have long enjoyed the dubious reputation as the world’s greatest consumers of alcohol by volume. Indeed, we’ve long celebrated a song titled “Oh, we’ve got some bloody good drinkers in the Northern Territory” as a local anthem.
In the early 1980s “plonk” – sickly sweet fortified dessert wine – had the dual attractions of low price and high alcohol content – and was the preferred drink of choice for many Aboriginal drinkers that congregated in Alice Springs from the surrounding pastoral wastelands long alienated from them. You could get well pissed for not much money.
In the 1980s the preferred plonk of Aboriginal drinkers in Alice Springs was the ‘very sweet’ Orlando’s Yellow Label Sweet Sherry. Yalumba’s Autumn Brown Sweet Sherry came in a close second.
The bottle of Yalumba Barossa Cream Sweet Sherry found by Robin Mervyn Ulapuntu did not find much favour with Jennings and his companions and Ross took his bottle for a walk further down Gap Road near to the Traeger Park footy ground.
There he met Dick Bundy Jabarula who, like Ross, was already half-shot. Ross, an epileptic, drank some of the liquor and fell to the ground shaking and was fortunate in gaining the attention of a policeman that lived nearby, who took him to the close handy Alice Springs hospital where he was admitted for observation.
Dick Bundy Jabarula took his bottle of Yalumba Barossa Cream Sweet Sherry for another walk just after sunrise the next morning when they entered the riverbed camp of Aboriginal people near the town casino, and Jaburula offered the bottle around.
What happened next was, as the Coroner D. J. (Dinny) Barritt later observed, ‘immediately horrific.’ Members of the group began to convulse and soon Nabutta Abbott Nabarula was dead.
Police and ambulance officers soon attended and David Charlie was taken to hospital where he also died.
Douglas Wheeler, Isiam Abbott Nabarula, Dick Bundy Jabarula, Bronson No. 2, Sammy Inkamala and Sabin Jagamara were admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, whilst Gilbert Daniel Jungari-Jungala, was admitted to Ward 6. Tilosa Nagamara, Corrie Cooper, Louis Nambijimba, Roy Larry, Johnny Mulla, Lolene Nungari, Jo Anna Nambijimba and Nari No. 2 Ramble were admitted for observation and left.
In all, 17 people were poisoned in the riverbed that day, two fatally. Northern Territory media snapped to their speculative and imaginative worst, hinting that one Aboriginal man the subject of police enquiries and who had left town over the weekend might be responsible for the poisonings and was the target not only of NT Police enquiries but also for retributive traditional “payback” punishment. The NT News reported comments by an unnamed senior police officer of the possibility that a ‘Ku Klux Klan type’ group may have been responsible.
A week later the police were discounting the racial motive, noting that the area where the bottle was first found was frequented more by European ‘derelicts’ – the local term for chronic alcoholics of all colours and alcoholic preferences – than by aboriginal drinkers.
The poisonings soon faded from view in the media but police maintained their investigation. The NT government posted a $20,000 reward for information. Sixteen police officers – including an eight-member task force from Darwin led by Detective Chief Inspector Colin Pope – conducted the investigation that saw police door-knock ‘every house and caravan’ in Alice Springs and travel to remote communities and interstate to interview persons of interest or who may have had information relevant to the investigation. A clairvoyant from Adelaide was interviewed but provided no assistance. More than sixty-four witness statements were taken and those from Aboriginal witnesses were made without the benefit of an interpreter.
One matter that was revealed during the police investigation was the lax regulation of the sale and possession of strychnine in the NT. In his report prepared in mid-April 1981 Detective Chief Inspector Colin Pope noted that the NT’s Animal Industry Branch “currently has in its safe approximately 30 pounds of strychnine that has been handed into them over the years … strychnine is sold commercially in 50g packs for about $25 a pack.” Further investigations found that illegal possession of strychnine was widespread across central Australia.
In his Coronial Findings, Coroner Barritt recorded that:
Some had possessed this poison for up to 25 years. Inquiries also revealed Elders Goldsborough Mort to be the only licit source of such poison. Pastoralists or other station agents purchased their supplies from this one source in Central Australia. Strychnine from this source is sold in 50g (less than 2 ounces) packs. Checking stock, supply and sale records over an 18 month period, the records indicated 5150g for sale, yet the stock in hand and recorded sales indicated 5325g, a discrepancy of 175g … But these poisonings were not an isolated occurrence in Alice Springs. For years the town has been suffering the regular ravages of a dog baiter, using strychnine in his or their baits.
In the next part I will look at the conduct of the Coronial Hearings by Coroner Dinny Barritt and look at the evidence given by the victims of the poisoner to the NT Police.
This article was first published in Overland Magazine 202 in Autumn 2011
It was late November 2010, one of those red-hot days that only the Western Desert can turn on. Over six hundred people travelled for days from far and wide to bury young Jampijinpa at the small town of Nyirripi, a four-and-a-half hour dusty drive west from Alice Springs on rough dirt roads.
They gathered at the modest prefabricated shed that is the local church and joined a queue that snaked out across the shade in the churchyard for six hours and more, lining up to fall weeping onto the coffin. All through the service speeches and eulogies and songs echoed from the small public address system, drowned out, now and then, by the wailing of family that rose and fell like the wind that pushed a hot dust around.
Beside the church, the open grave waited next to eighty-nine other neatly arranged graves – each with its white wooden cross stark against the red dirt. In the distance, Karrku – a large hill and the home of a sacred ochre mine – loomed over us all.
I didn’t know young Jampijinpa, though I’m sure I would have seen him at Yuendumu, either on the street or on the local paddock of dust and rocks that passes for a footy oval. But I knew plenty of his family.
One uncle drove the local council rubbish truck. We’d have a yarn and the occasional cup of tea while leaning on an empty wheelie bin. Another uncle would pull me up and ask for advice on various legal issues he was having. Or invite me out to his outstation at his homelands far to the west of Yuendumu. Or just stop to talk about birds.
Another of the dead man’s uncles has been a friend for almost thirty years. He looked after me for a while when I had a bad motor vehicle accident outside of the small town of Katherine that resulted in the amputation of half of my right leg. He suffered a similar fate – amputation, not a vehicle accident – just a few years ago. We’d make jokes about not being able to front a team for a three-legged race.
And one of the dead boy’s grandmothers is a famous artist that I worked with at the arts centre at Yuendumu.
By all accounts, Jampijinpa was a wholly remarkable young man, a mentor and worker at the Mt Theo substance abuse and youth development centre, who left behind four young children. He was also a champion player for the Yuendumu Magpies and, in this footy-mad part of the country, was most famous for being voted Best on Ground at a warm-up game at the MCG in 2009, an effort that won him a signed number 5 guernsey from the Collingwood football club.
Jampijinpa died from wounds received in a fight on the night of 2 September 2010 at one of the town camps that litter Alice Springs. The police reported that three men had been stabbed in a disturbance involving up to thirty people. Jampijinpa died eight days later, and charges, including murder, were laid against several men.
In mid September, police reported a large disturbance at Yuendumu; apparently Jampijinpa’s relatives were seeking revenge for his wrongful death. According to media reports – and what locals told me – a number of those involved in these incidents were drunk. Five cars were burned and at least five people injured.
Local media picked up police reports that reinforcements, including the local Territory Response Section – aka the riot squad – had been sent to Yuendumu and turned what had been for the police ‘serious disturbances’ into front-page full-blown ‘riots’. But the impressions recorded by long-term Yuendumu resident Frank Jungarrayi Baarda were much less dramatic:
By 6 pm when everything had quietened down, the ‘disturbances’ had metamorphosed on television into full-blown riots. Pictures of smoke palls and large crowds appeared ‘exclusive’ to Channel 9 TV. At first I thought they were photos from Baghdad or Kabul, then I noticed it was from that notoriously dangerous place: Yuendumu … To define what happened yesterday in Yuendumu as a ‘riot’ is simplistic and wrong. It was targeted and specific. Everyone knew who the ‘gang of roaming armed men’ were and whence they’d roam.
Over the next few days, police made further arrests: some charged and bailed to appear, others remanded in custody. But the tensions soon flared up again. Within a few days, a hundred or so members of a family on one side of the dispute left Yuendumu – firstly travelling 300 kilometres to Alice Springs and then a further 1500 kilometres to Adelaide.
That mass evacuation had all manner of repercussions. For a while politicians engaged in an unseemly spat that appeared as much about who spoke for and ‘owned’ the Yuendumu refugees than about resolution of the dispute.
By late September a separate thread in the media analysis had emerged, one that fundamentally skewed the media’s treatment of the Yuendumu refugees and prompted an ill-informed and disingenuous debate about the nature and application of traditional customary law in the NT.
The editorial in The Australian of 30 September 2010 set the tone with its title: ‘When tribal punishment is just an excuse for crime’. The piece betrayed a profound ignorance of the role of traditional law in contemporary Aboriginal communities in the NT, particularly from a paper that proclaims to be the ‘Heart of the Nation’. The editorial pontificated:
It is true that there are remnants of customary law in some indigenous communities, that there are old men who still understand the rules and their application. For a long time, these elders were the custodians of the culture, highly skilled practitioners of an ancient tribal system of justice. … But payback is now more often than not a distorted version of tribal justice, an excuse for random and destructive violence. And worse …
The Yuendumu incident is a reminder of the problems generated when indigenous customs are invoked to disguise illegal behaviour or to undermine the rights of others. While cultural and social context should always inform the work of our courts and police forces, customary law can have no place in our legal system.
That editorial – while wrongheaded – begs the question: ‘What is the true place of customary law in the lives of Aboriginal people in the NT?’
In the mid 1980s, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) conducted an extensive review of the role and potential of traditional law, focusing particularly on the interactions between ‘Western’ and Australian Indigenous systems of law. One area given close attention was the relationships between Aboriginal customary laws and (Western) notions of punishment. The ALRC report quotes anthropologist Dr John Sturmer’s assessment of the gulf between local realities and the assumptions of the ‘general’, that is Western, law:
I am struck by the extent to which western cultural blinkers are imposing a certain view on the nature of law and order in Aboriginal settlements … Discussing Aboriginal customary law in the context of the general criminal law deflects attention from the notion of how disputes arise in Aboriginal societies, the issues and interests which underlie them, and the ways in which they are resolved.
Contradicting the persistent myth that customary law punishment consists solely of spearing or similarly severe corporal punishment, the ALRC report notes that traditional penalties can take a wide variety of forms across a broad spectrum, ranging from death (whether directly or indirectly inflicted by ‘sorcery’), spearing or other modes of corporal punishment, and individual or collective ‘duelling’ to compensation and exclusion from a community or participation in ceremonial activities.
And, notwithstanding the view that traditional law is the purview solely of The Australian’s ‘old men’, Aboriginal customary law in the NT, as in many parts of Queensland and Western and South Australia, is a part of a very different but nonetheless widely accepted local legal fabric.
This is apparent from the most basic research into the topic. Two examples will suffice.
The NT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions issues a number of guidelines that regulate and inform its decision-making. Guideline No. 20 includes the following:
Aboriginal customary law is an everyday part of the lives of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory. It is an important source of the obligations and rights and is the outcome of many historical, social and cultural influences. It is not a code and may vary from one community to another … Aboriginal men and women … may have competing views regarding what should prevail in those particular circumstances.
In 2003, the Northern Territory attorney-general established a Committee of Inquiry into Aboriginal Customary Law. In its report, the committee noted the centrality of customary law for most Aboriginal people in the NT and echoed the observations of the Director of Public Prosecution’s guidelines:
Aboriginal customary law is a fact of life for most Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, not just for those in Aboriginal communities. This is because it defines a person’s rights and responsibilities, it defines who a person is, and it defines that person’s relationships to everyone else in the world.
There is no shortage of similar expressions of the ubiquity and validity of Aboriginal customary law in the NT. But in the last few months of 2010, all acceptance and understanding of the importance of Aboriginal customary law in the NT – particularly by the media – disappeared.
The politicians and police were in a double bind. In the recent past, it was not uncommon for local officers to turn a blind eye to the meting out of traditional sanctions. In a story broadcast on the local NT edition of the ABC’s Stateline program on 1 October 2010, Anna Henderson reported that:
In an example of tribal punishment, an anthropologist told Stateline he witnessed a man being stabbed during the annual Yuendumu sports day in a community sanctioned and organised event. The man was stabbed several times in his leg as family members held on to him and police were told not to interfere.
That in itself is uncontroversial – out of sight and out of mind. But it is different when the eyes of the media are focused on a small town like Yuendumu in the heat of a national controversy. Henderson also spoke to the local police sergeant and the NT Attorney-General:
Acting Sergeant Sean Gill: ‘The police policy is very clear on this and we do not tolerate any form of payback and we can’t condone it.’
Attorney-General Delia Lawrie: ‘Look, there is no place at all for violence. So, our government has been very clear on the issue of payback if it involves violence – the answer is no. There is no place for perpetrating violence.’
The practice and recognition of customary law in the Northern Territory and beyond has been under attack from governments and the media for years. Claire Martin, the NT’s first Labor chief minister, took aim at traditional marriage practices in 2003. Then, in 2007, as part of the NT Intervention, Indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough introduced legislation that struck at the heart of the relationship between judicial independence, the limited acceptance of some aspects of Aboriginal law in sentencing considerations, and the practice of customary law in general across the board in the NT.
Those changes were, according to the second reading speech upon the introduction of the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 into parliament, designed to ensure that:
no customary law or cultural practice excuses, justifies, authorises, requires, or lessens the seriousness of violence or sexual abuse … This bill … will also apply in relation to bail and sentencing discretion in the Northern Territory.
Yet the Little Children Are Sacred report by Rex Wild QC and Patricia Anderson, released earlier that year, had busted the myth – propagated by Brough and his handmaidens in the media – of a causal relationship between Aboriginal law and child sexual abuse in the NT. The inquiry was unable to find any case where Aboriginal law has been used and accepted as a defence for an offence of violence against a woman or a child.
Indeed, a Northern Territory judge who in 2009 considered the effect of the changes to the Emergency Response Act 2007 noted that: ‘the precise mischief that [the section] is intended to remedy is unclear’. He went on to argue that because the legislation precluded consideration of a range of previously acceptable and relevant issues, it ‘distorts [the] well established sentencing principle of proportionality, and may result in … disproportionate sentences’.
A case heard from early January 2011 highlighted the injustice from an unforeseen effect of the legislation. That case – Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority v S & R Building & Construction Pty Ltd – concerned an appeal by the authority against the decision of an NT magistrate to record no conviction and a $500 fine against a company that had entered a guilty plea to carrying out unauthorised work on a sacred site: the construction of a pit toilet at the remote Gulf community of Numbulwar.
Following a finding that, because of the Intervention legislation, evidence of the detrimental effect of the site’s desecration upon its custodians and the community could not be taken into consideration, Northern Land Council Chief Executive Kim Hill spoke of the hurt and disappointment felt by the site’s custodians and traditional owners:
The Intervention was supposed to improve the lives of Aboriginal people living in the Northern Territory. If the desecration had occurred in relation to a Greek Orthodox Church, any Territorian or Australian Court could receive and properly consider evidence about the effect of the desecration on the Greek community … but no such consideration can be given to the level of cultural harm inflicted on Aboriginal people.
And Kim Hill isn’t alone in making the link between the manifest injustices flowing from the Intervention and the various crises in remote Northern Territory Aboriginal townships.
One reason why I attended the funeral at Nyirripi last November was to see if people would talk to me about how they felt. I spoke to two of the uncles of the young man who was being buried that day.
I asked Tommy Jangala Watson – an uncle of the deceased – about the use of the term ‘payback’, what traditional law means for him and his thoughts on the Intervention:
Payback is Kardia’s [whitefella’s] name – we are looking at the mala-mala. That is the Warlpiri traditional name for Aboriginal punishment. When you say payback – you know it is a bit scary. Mala-mala is the right name for that business, you know. That is what we are looking at. The Intervention is getting on top of us Aboriginal people. It has taken our law, we can’t use that law, enforce that law. The Intervention has been really rough. The Intervention is racist. It is not for Yapa [Aboriginal] people – it is for Kardia people – the Intervention is racist. The Intervention is racist, yeah.
It was a theme echoed by Tommy’s brother Billy Jangala Watson:
Our mala-mala has been with us all the time here in our communities, but this a new one, they keep on changing. They keep on changing that new law. These old people don’t understand this. That Kardia law should be working side-by-side with our Yapa law and our culture and everything, but they are taking it away. They should come and listen to Yapa people, to make that Intervention really strong and to work properly they have got to listen to Yapa. But that Intervention, they took our culture, that one, they weaken our culture and it made it worse. Everybody’s gone wild because of the Intervention – now there is no law.
A few weeks later I was back at Yuendumu to cover the bush court hearings and caught up with Bruno Wilson, a young Warlpiri man who had just returned from his first year of study of law at the University of New South Wales.
I asked how he felt when he heard politicians, magistrates and the media say that Aboriginal law no longer had a place in his community. Bruno told me:
I just feel disgusted. I feel really angry about it. It is like going to the parliament and just chucking their Constitution into the rubbish bin. Our law is really strong. We had this law before … for hundreds and thousands of years before Kardia came to this country … [the Intervention] has been really bad. They can enter people’s houses without anything. They just make people really angry and pissed off. I mean it is not only at Yuendumu. A lot of people at Ampilatwatcha, at Lajamanu: everywhere people are really upset.
At the end of a long hot day, 600 or so mourners sit in the red dust of the Nyirripi cemetery. Above them hovers a murmur of wails and tears that has a physical force. As Jampijinpa is lowered into the ground, I can hear a mass intake of breath, followed by screams from his family next to the grave. Children cry, are hushed, and, as the first handfuls of dirt thud against his coffin, people rise and shuffle forward into another queue to pay their last respects.
There is no doubt that customary law still has a place out here. For Tommy Jangala Watson, his law – mala-mala – is not so much about punishment or retribution as it is about restoring community harmony.
Mala-mala is only for one day, not for years and years, you know, we don’t carry on for years. It is only for a short time. We can be free after that, after mala-mala we can all be one family again, everybody can be happy. We did it, that is it. They tell that fella to sit down as a family again.
Katherine is a small town in the Northern Territory about 3 hour’s drive south of Darwin that some, particularly if you write for The Australian, would describe as ‘troubled’. Others might just call it a pestilent hell-hole saved only by its beautiful river – that you can’t swim in because of the monster crocs – and access to some close handy wonderful country.
Downtown Katherine is not entirely without its charms and the Katherine Courthouse is always worth a visit if you’ve got a lazy hour or two to kill. Katherine is viewed by many as a bit of a punishment post, no less by judicial officers charged with dispensing law and preserving order. Magistrate David Loadman moved to Australia from South Africa in the late 1970’s and served as an NT Magistrate for seven years until his compulsory age-related retirement in 2007.
Loadman was one of those rare judicial officers who brought an informed, intelligent and interested approach to his duties and, when presented with the opportunity, he showed those attributes and more to his all-too-rare written judgements. What follows is a lightly edited version of his decision in the matter of Nash v Reed, delivered at Katherine in December 2004.
For mine Magistrate Loadman’s decision in this matter is an exemplar of judicial writing. While not always succinct it is legally and factually accurate and spun through with a thread of his dry and ruthless humour all too rare in a profession that takes itself far too seriously.
Mark Nash v William Edgar Reed  NTMC 086
Court of Summary Jurisdiction at Katherine, 9 December 2004
Mr David LOADMAN Stipendiary Magistrate
In the town of Katherine in the Northern Territory there is a den of iniquity posing as a nightclub and until recently bearing the name of Rio’s. It is notorious for spawning, on a regular basis, drunken disturbances and intermittent violence. Recently the owners, perhaps because of the reputation of Rio’s, have changed its name. It is now known as The Base nightclub. Probably the architects of the name change are not aware of the fact that one of the meanings to be attributed to that word is, to quote from the Concise Oxford Dictionary, 6th edition: “Morally low; cowardly, selfish, mean, or despicable; menial.”
In the event, in the antithetical sense to Shakespeare’s rose in his sonnet, change of name or not it is still a den of iniquity. On 6 June 2004, an incident took place at about 4.00 am in the morning, giving rise to charges being laid against William Edgar Reed, a male born 8 October 1985. Those charges in precise terms are as follows:
INFORMATION FOR AN INDICTABLE OFFENCE The Information of Mark NASH Sergeant of Police of KATHERINE taken this 7th June 2004, states that William Edgar REED, on the 6th June 2004 at Katherine in the Northern Territory of Australia unlawfully caused bodily harm to Rosemarie Braun, contrary to Section 186 of the Criminal Code and that on the 6th June 2004 Reed did resist a member of the police force in the execution of his duty: Contrary to Section 158 of the Police Administration Act.
The incident took place at the, or one of the exits, to the south of the Crossways Hotel building in which exists, amongst other facilities, the last Chance Saloon and well it may be … At about 4.00am on 6 June 2004, a number of people having left the nightclub, were between the front door of same and the footpath in front of that door.
In the so called record of interview, to which there will be reference later, the Court believes that the defendant estimated the total number of people present in that area as 6 or 7 at the relevant time. All the witnesses who observed the physical contest which took place between Bradley Bronghur and the defendant, more or less agreed those two were pushing, shoving and hitting one another, although there were divergent observations as to which one of the two commenced the contest.
For the Court’s purposes, resolution of that issue simply does not matter. It is inescapably the case that a blow from the defendant struck Rosemarie Braun in the area of her right eye and not her left as deposed by Damien Hughes. As a consequence of receiving this blow, she fell to the ground and was probably unconscious for a short time before she was taken to hospital and treated. All the witnesses and all the participants were, on their own admission, in an advanced stage of intoxication, with the exception of the security guard, Alan Taylor.
The evidence of those people clearly must be looked at in the light of the fact that they were intoxicated. Damien Hughes asserted that it was he who attempted to prevent the continuation of the contest between the defendant and Bronghur.
It was his evidence that Bronghur was “in toe-to-toe” with the defendant; that he was standing behind him (Bronghur) and that Rosemarie Braun in turn was standing behind him (Damien Hughes). In relation to the blow, which undoubtedly caused the injury to Rosemarie Braun, his evidence was that Bronghur ducked out of the way, that he in turn ducked out of the way and although he didn’t see the blow land, it clearly landed on the right eye area of Rosemarie Braun, who didn’t duck out of the way.
Alan Taylor, the security guard, actually saw Rosemarie Braun receive the blow. Prior to the blow landing, she had been standing against the wall, the Court believes, on the eastern side of the steps referred to and his evidence was, that as the blow was travelling, she moved off the wall and directly into the path of the punch which was clearly aimed by the defendant at Bronghur. He said there was no verbal communication between the defendant and Rosemarie Braun that he observed. In cross examination, he agreed with Mr O’Connell, Counsel for the defendant, that the blow landing was “clearly an accident”.
An off-duty police officer by the name of Kennon was present. This witness had started drinking Bundaberg Rum, presumably with a mixer of some sort, at about 7.30pm and thereafter had attended the nightclub. As is often the case with intoxicated people, he believes that his powers of observation were nevertheless not affected by his intoxication. It was he, and only he, prior to the blow in question landing which he testified was clearly aimed at Bronghur, who said that Rosemarie Braun was trying to break up the fight. In part of his evidence, he placed her between the defendant and Bronghur, which on the evidence of everyone else cannot be correct.
In cross examination he had Rosemarie Braun trying to pull, Damien Hughes, said to be wearing a green shirt, away from the contest between the defendant and Bronghur. His evidence was that the defendant clearly was trying to hit Bronghur when Rosemarie Braun was struck, bearing in mind that nobody else places Braun between the defendant and Bronghur in the fight and that he otherwise gave no evidence about where she was, his evidence must be suspect or his recollection impaired by alcohol.
It is remarkable that this version, which is in isolation and different to all other versions in relation at least to the position of Rosemarie Braun at material times, seems to have inspired not only the police but the prosecutor to pursue a finding of guilt against the defendant with alarming zealotry.
In relation to the second charge, Mr O’Connell conceded there was a case to answer and ventilation of the facts in respect of that charge is not consequently embarked upon. Crisply, it is the prosecution’s contention that the Court must find that Rosemarie Braun was either between the defendant and Bronghur, or trying to pull Hughes away from the immediate area of the contest. Urging the Court to come to that finding the argument then continues, that failure on the defendant’s part to acknowledge that he saw and was aware of the presence of Rosemarie Braun, is indicative of the fact that he is exhibiting wilful blindness and that as a consequence he must have foreseen, at the very least, that a blow aimed at Bronghur would connect with the person of Rosemarie Braun.
That argument is specious. First of all the Court rejects the submission that it must find the position of Rosemarie Braun to accord with the evidence of the off duty police officer, Kennon and prefers the evidence of the security guard, Taylor, who was sober, as to her location immediately before she was struck. Further, and in any event, merely because she was present, to assume the fiction for the purposes of the argument, does not necessarily create the need to make a finding that the landing of the blow was foreseen within the meaning of section 31 (1) of the Criminal Code. Further, and even it was, and even if it should have been foreseen as a possible consequence of the defendant’s conduct, in terms of section 31 (2) if an ordinary person similarly circumstanced would have proceeded with that conduct, he is excused from criminal responsibility.
As the Court remarked to the prosecutor in an exchange, if any person was aiming blows at an ordinary person, he would most likely retaliate and/or defend himself and on the basis of section 31(2), the defendant would escape any finding of guilt. These arguments did not appeal to the prosecutor, who then subjected the Court to having to endure the playing of a so called record of interview conducted by one Jason Bradbury on Sunday 6 June 2004 in company of Julie-Ann Oakes.
In the event, Bradbury undoubtedly acting at least in his perception with the empowerment of section 137 (2) of the Police Administration Act, read section 140 of that Act, then interviewed the defendant who was accompanied by his mother. The Court was obliged to suffer listening to the so called record of interview, but only of course in relation to the assault and the light of the concession made by defence counsel, not in relation to the charge on complaint, of resisting police.
In exercising a statutory power to do something which would otherwise be an infringement of civil liberties at the very least, requires that power be exercised professionally, ethically and within the bounds of commonsense. The relevant interview, or portion of it, endured for approximately an hour and firstly was pathetic in that the lack of control of the defendant’s mother, who constantly indulged in outbursts was lamentable. Generally the atmosphere prevailing, was more indicative of a circus than anything else. That, however, is merely an exemplification of the ineptitude of Bradbury, whose ignorance of the law in relation to intention and section 31 was demonstrably profound.
That incompetence and lack of professionalism however, is not the evil to attach to this so called record of interview. Like a dog with a bone, or like a dog returning to its own vomit, Bradbury returned more than 10 times to the repeated scenario, predicated on the fact that it was an unassailable truth, that Rosemarie Braun was either between the defendant and Bronghur, or in the immediate vicinity and tried to pull Hughes away. The defendant consistently and repeatedly denied that he was ever aware that Rosemarie Braun was there, and certainly denied that at any time he aimed a blow she was within his sight.
Notwithstanding the denial on each occasion, Bradbury returned to the scene and endeavoured to unfairly pressure the defendant to making admissions or make concessions, which in Bradbury’s ignorance he must have thought would suffice for the purposes of securing a finding of guilt. His inexorable persistence in so conducting himself on the multiplicity of occasions amounted, in this Courts view, to harassment and certainly to such conduct as to be objectively regarded as unprofessional, unfair, incompetent and uncalled for. Notwithstanding, the excesses and lack of propriety embarked upon by Bradbury, he extracted no concession from the defendant such as he was endeavouring to extract.
At the conclusion of the ventilation of the so called record of interview in respect of the assault mater, the Court again returned to section 31 of the Criminal Code and posed to the prosecutor, in respect of the no case contention, that the prosecution could not secure a finding of guilt in light of the state of the evidence and the state of the law.
No doubt, and hopefully, instructed thereto, like the drowning man clutching at the straw, faced with the inevitable upholding of the no case submission for reason of a total lack of foreseeability reposing in the defendant as to the blow that struck Rosemarie Braun, the prosecutor reached for the straw said to be available to the prosecution as a consequence of section 318 of the Criminal Code.
The prosecution urged that if a finding of guilt was defeated by the provisions of section 31 of the Criminal Code, the Court ought to proceed to find the defendant guilty of an alternative charge of section 154.
154. Dangerous acts or omissions (1) Any person who does or makes any act or omission that causes serious danger, actual or potential, to the lives, health or safety of the public or to any person (whether or not a member of the public) in circumstances where an ordinary person similarly circumstanced would have clearly foreseen such danger and not have done or made that act or omission is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 5 years. (See back note 2). (2) If he thereby causes grievous harm to any person he is liable to imprisonment for 7 years. (3) If he thereby causes death to any person he is liable to imprisonment for 10 years. (4) If at the time of doing or making such act or omission he is under the influence of an intoxicating substance he is liable to further imprisonment for 4 years. (5) Voluntary intoxication may not be regarded for the purposes of determining whether a person is not guilty of the crime defined by this section.”
In aid of this submission, the prosecution sought to rely upon a decision in Hale v Ah Fat, file number 20319202, delivered 17 May 2004, being a decision of Ms Blokland SM. The argument proceeded further, that in any event further authority for the soundness of the proposition was to be found in the decision of Martin CJ in Kells v Price (the citation is obscured in the photocopy of the report handed up to the Court and the only readable portion is “…438 (FLR) Page 311”).
Historically, in the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, there has not in the Court’s experience been recourse to the provisions of section 318 of the Criminal Code, no doubt because the application of that section on the face of it, is related to a charge “upon an indictment charging a person …”. In the event, it is not necessary for this Court to make a decision as to whether or not in the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, the Court is so empowered. The reason why the Court does not need to make that decision is because of, with respect, the unequivocally correct observations of her Worship, Ms Blokland, set out in paragraphs 23 – 25 of the said decision. Some of her comments, the Court chooses to set out in its decision, namely “… although in my view fairness dictates that the prosecution should open on dangerous act and make the particulars of the alleged dangerous act clear.” That did not occur in this matter.
In this case, not only did the prosecution not open on dangerous act, it did not even mention it until the eleventh hour and in circumstances where the analogy of grasping for the straw by the drowning man is also the appropriate classification of such action. It is entirely inappropriate, and I rule unavailable, as course of action for reason that it would be unfair, was never notified and obviously was not even mentioned until the eleventh hour.
That however is not the end of the matter. Clearly what we are concerned with in this case is the blow by the defendant, a man of small stature and 19 years of age, apparently striking Rosemarie Braun in the area of her right eye. Even if section 154 could have been engaged by the prosecution in this matter, which I have ruled it cannot, the prosecution case would nevertheless inevitably fail.
Section 154 is set out above in this decision. Clearly in subsection 1 the act must be one that “causes serious danger” but further that “an ordinary person … would have clearly foreseen such danger”. It would be an exercise in verbal prodigality to explain why the aiming of a single blow in the circumstances such as these, could not possibly amount to the degree of danger which would invoke and justify the application of Section 154 of the Criminal Code.
That of course is also made clear by the decision of Sandby v R cited by her Worship in paragraph 25 of her decision. The suggestion that it could in the remotest conception of objectivity be lawfully engaged for the purpose of finding the defendant guilty in this case, is beyond risible and the submission is utterly refuted.
It is this Courts unequivocal finding, not that there is an insufficiency of evidence upon which a jury properly instructed might convict, but that there is absolutely none and in the circumstances the Court upholds the submission that the defendant has no case to answer in relation to charge 1 and is consequently found not guilty.
Because of the existence of the convention in respect of prohibiting cost orders, once again this Court finds itself unable to express its opprobrium by making a costs order, which it would but for the convention have made, on a solicitor and own client basis or even de bonis propriis.*
It is a matter of some sadness to the Court to have been involved in a matter which has so many unsatisfactory and unsavoury actions of the police force of the Northern Territory in the Prosecution of this case. It is an exemplification of the sort of the conduct that justifies the police Ombudsman being appointed to deal with matters of this kind.
It may be that the defendant in social terms can be described as a serial pest. He may be provocative and cheeky and a trouble causer. He is 19 years old. He is not Jack the Ripper.
DAVID LOADMAN STIPENDIARY MAGISTRATE
* Constitutional Court in SA Liquor Traders’ Association and others v Chairperson, Gauteng Liquor Board and others 2009 (1) SA 565 (CC) held that:
‘An order of costs de bonis propriis is made against attorneys where a court is satisfied that there has been negligence in a serious degree which warrants an order of costs being made as a mark of the court’s displeasure. An attorney is an officer of the court and owes a court an appropriate level of professionalism and courtesy.’
You can read the whole of Magistrate Loadman’s decision in Mark Nash v William Edgar Reed  NTMC 86 (9 December 2004) here.
As Clare Martin, the first Labor Party Chief Minister of the Northern Territory observed on the ABC News broadcast this evening, Jack Ah Kit came to Northern Territory politics at a ‘really difficult’ time. Current Chief Minister Michael Gunner described Jack as ‘a giant and a fighter.’
Both statements are true but neither catches the fire that burned deep in Jack Ah Kit’s soul, too few glimpses of which I was privileged to catch at close hand early last year when he returned to the Northern Land Council as interim CEO for a few months.
Following is his inaugural speech—somehow ‘maiden’ doesn’t fit the man—made to the NT Legislative Assembly on 10 October 1995 following his election for the seat of Arnhem. There was no shortage of fire in the belly from which these words came. This is truth spoken to power in a way too rarely heard nowadays.
If after reading this speech you need any convincing of the toxicity that ran through NT politics during the 80s and 90s read the debate (I cannot call it ‘parliamentary’) that followed Jack’s speech at the link below.
DEBATES – Tuesday 10 October 1995
Mr AH KIT (Arnhem): Mr Speaker, it is an honour for me to be in this place, standing on Larrakia land. Although I was born in Alice Springs, I spent much of my childhood in Darwin – the traditional land of the Larrakia people. It is with great pleasure that I pay tribute to the traditional owners of this city with the first words that I speak in the Assembly.
The pity of it is, however, that the traditional owners of Darwin have yet to be properly acknowledged by many of the people who now call this place their home. I also place on record my desire that the stolen generations of the Northern Territory, those people wrongfully taken from their families, receive justice. I will do all I can to help the people who have been so badly affected by such misguided government policy.
It is a great honour to be here today representing the people of the electorate of Arnhem. Moving around the electorate over the last 2 months, meeting and talking with old friends as well as making new friends, has brought home to me the need for members of parliament to represent all the people in their electorates, and not only those who vote for them or those in positions of power or influence. That is what parliamentary democracy is about, and it is what all of us in the Legislative Assembly should be dedicated to.
I also thank the people who worked on my campaign. The Labor Party has a great and enthusiastic network of members and supporters. It is a pity that members opposite, in this sorry excuse for a government, do not understand this simple truth about parliamentary democracy.
The by-election campaign over the last month saw a sad demonstration of the utter contempt that the Country Liberal Party has for the constituents of Arnhem and indeed for people generally in the Northern Territory. On becoming Chief Minister, the member for Port Darwin made much of wanting to change the way the rest of Australia looked at the Territory.
However, his actions and those of his ministers and his backbench during this campaign have served only to reinforce their redneck image. All members opposite shamelessly damage the reputation of the Territory.
I am aware that it is not normal in a maiden parliamentary speech to raise contentious issues, but these are not normal times. Let us talk about traditions. Let us look at the traditions of the Country Liberal Party and the people who run it. These people know their traditions well and the most hallowed of them is to raise issues of race at every possible opportunity, and there is no better opportunity than at election time.
It does not seem to matter to the CLP that the rest of Australia is talking about reconciliation between the first Australians and those who have migrated to these shores over the last couple of hundred years.
It does not seem to matter that the rest of this nation has embraced multiculturalism. No! The troglodytes of the Country Liberal Party consistently fall back on their decades-old tradition of promoting racial division and fears as actively as they can.
They have done so in different ways for different audiences. In general elections, it has been an ‘us and them’ campaign of provoking fears about Aboriginal people in the wider electorate – fears about land rights, fears about sacred sites and fears about our religions and cultures. CLP politicians talk in code.
There are ‘true’ Territorians whose future is under threat from the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory who are, one can only presume, non-Territorians.
In the last 2 by-elections, for largely Aboriginal seats – Arafura and Arnhem – they introduced a new twist to feeding the cesspools of prejudice. This was the use of the disgusting tactic of creating the idea of ‘real’ Aboriginals. By this, they mean that the only real Aboriginals are the so-called full-bloods who live in the bush. The rest are not ‘real’ Aboriginal people. They are half-castes and yellafellas.
In the campaign for Arafura, we were treated to the idea that people had to have a ‘ceremony man’ in parliament and not one of the yellafellas that the CLP asked Territorians to hate and despise. In the recent by-election in Arnhem, the dirty tricks brigade advising the CLP decided that, this time, people should vote for a ‘traditional man’ and again reject the half-castes, the yellafellas, the ‘un-real’ Aboriginals.
At least one of the members opposite, the member for Millner, is proud about it. He openly admits to using terms of racial abuse as an electoral tactic. I wonder how his relations feel about that. Do his children enjoy being called ‘yellafellas’? Do they and their relations like the fact that the member for Millner is publicly urging and promoting the line that yellafellas should not be able to enter politics? He cannot even get his terms of racial abuse right.
For better or worse, ‘yellafella’ refers to skin colour, not whether you are this thing called a ‘traditional man’. How do you think those men and women of mixed descent from throughout the Territory, who are full and active participants in traditional ceremonies, feel about the member opposite and his terms of abuse?
The member for Port Darwin, no doubt with a caution born of his legal training, has been a little smarter. When tackled on the issue of the CLP’s use of race in the election, he played the innocent, weaseling out of it by saying that the CLP raised the issue because, and I quote him, ‘that is what we are being told out in the electorate’.
Does this mean that, if a particular electorate was saying that it did not want a Catholic, he would run an anti-Catholic campaign or, if the electorate was saying it did not want a Vietnamese, or Chinese or Greek or Cypriot as its representative, he would mount campaigns against those ethnic groups? O f course not.
That would be immoral, shameful and contemptible. However, that is precisely what the parliamentary leader of the Country Liberal Party has condoned, promoted and sanctioned.
Despite his words earlier in the year, that his leadership would mark the beginning a new era in dealings with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, he could not help himself. He crawled back to the morally bankrupt traditions of his party. In returning to those traditions, he has given a new meaning to the words ‘traditional man’. No wonder the electorates of
Arafura and Arnhem rejected this despicable tactic. I will not go into the bizarre methods by which the Country Liberal Party preselected its candidates for the recent by-election except to say that a number of senior Aboriginal people who were approached to stand for the Country Liberal Party rejected those advances. They would not participate in an election with a party that promotes racial division.
These racist tactics have affected another part of my electorate. Did the Country Liberal Party ask the many non-Aboriginal people on Groote Eylandt and elsewhere whether they wanted a ‘traditional man’? Of course not.
If they had bothered to talk to the electors on Groote at all, they might have been told that they wanted to have someone who would represent them in parliament, who would fight for the diverse needs and interests of the whole electorate, not the invented constituency of the ‘traditional man’.
No other government leader in the nation uses race as an electoral tactic yet the Northern Territory government is run by such a party. The world is approaching a new millennium. The Northern Territory government appears to want to dwell in the past and promote racial taunts and abuse.
If we are to reach the new millennium with any hope at all of having a cohesive, stable society, which respects and celebrates difference, there must be a stop to the use of race as a way of promoting the kinds of fears that we have, all of us, suffered from for so long.
This is not to say that we should be responding out of some sense of guilt. Guilt is the worst possible motivation for action. What all Territorians should be doing is responding with their hearts and minds and eliminating racism from our society.
The Chief Minister deserves the censure of this House because he was ultimately responsible for the conduct of his party’s campaign. I ask the Chief Minister to respond to this question: when he allows his party to actively attempt to exploit racial division, does that do anything to advance the cause of the Northern Territory?
Last week, I lost my eldest daughter, and she left behind a daughter of her own. When I look at my other kids, I am reminded of the future that has been taken away in such an untimely fashion. I look at my little son and I am reminded that the Chief Minister also has a little boy, and I understand his wife should be congratulated on another child on the way.
All of us treasure our families and, on both sides of this House, we are united in wanting to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. Let all of us here today commit ourselves to a future where issues of race can be an expression of unity and not division.
Let us not have the racist sins of the fathers visited on our children.
The Northern Myth crew loves the NT News and its sister publication The Sunday Territorian – after all, they are the only (broadsheet) news sources in town so we don’t have much choice.
For most of us in the deep north the first thing we check when we open the Terror is to read Bushranger, a weekly column of local scuttlebutt, snide intra-media commentary (most often at the expense of the comrades and luvvies at the ABC’s Darwin outpost) and any other weird shit that has cropped up during the week.
We also need to ensure that we didn’t get a name-check for something stupid we got caught out for or to see if that choice piece of gossip we dropped during the week made the cut.
The folks at the NT News & Sunday Terror aren’t immune from their own snafu’s and they are also prone to tripping over their own tales from time to time, no less in today’s Bushranger, from which the grab above was taken.
The “Berrimah Line” is defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as “The imaginary line separating Darwin from the rest of Territory” a bald and all-too-brief description that requires a little unpacking for our friends in the south.
In 2018 The ABC’s Emilie Gramenz had a longer and very useful look at the Berrimah Line, that she described as:
… the conceptual divide between the ‘haves’ in Darwin where Parliament sits, in the city half the NT’s population call home — and the ‘have-nots’, who live anywhere south of the southern Darwin suburb of Berrimah, on the city’s outskirts. The phrase, which when used, varies between the mildly bemused, the seriously aggrieved and everyone with an opinion in between, is unique to the Territory
Today’s Bushranger all-too-clever-by-half reference to the “Marion Dam” at Tennant Creek is the latest example of the Berrimah Line writ large by ignorance as much as failure by the writer and whoever passes as sub-editors at the NT News & Sunday Terror these days.
To set the record straight – there is no “Marion Dam” at Tennant Creek. There is however, a “Mary Ann Dam” (known as Tingkkarli to the Warumungu traditional owners and native title custodians) situated just through the gap north of the town. Construction commenced in 1979 and Mary Ann Dam was opened by local MLA (and later NT Chief Minister) Ian Tuxworth in 1981.
Maybe next time Bushranger name-checks a well-known landmark—even if it is 1,000 klicks south of the Berrimah Line—he or she might just do a quick factcheck before going to press.
And yes, you can spend a few hours getting in some great birdwatching at the Mary Ann Dam and some good coffee in Tennant Creek at the Top of The Town cafe.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today at the launch of Australia’s celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous People.
It will be a year of great significance for Australia. It comes at a time when we have committed ourselves to succeeding in the test which so far we have always failed.
Because, in truth, we cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people.
This is a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be – truly the land of the fair go and the better chance.
There is no more basic test of how seriously we mean these things. It is a test of our self-knowledge. Of how well we know the land we live in. How well we know our history. How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. How well we know what Aboriginal Australians know about Australia.
Redfern is a good place to contemplate these things. Just a mile or two from the place where the first European settlers landed, in too many ways it tells us that their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia continues to be our failure.
More I think than most Australians recognise, the plight of Aboriginal Australians affects us all. In Redfern it might be tempting to think that the reality Aboriginal Australians face is somehow contained here, and that the rest of us are insulated from it. But of course, while all the dilemmas may exist here, they are far from contained. We know the same dilemmas and more are faced all over Australia.
That is perhaps the point of this Year of the World’s Indigenous People: to bring the dispossessed out of the shadows, to recognise that they are part of us, and that we cannot give indigenous Australians up without giving up many of our own most deeply held values, much of our own identity – and our own humanity. Nowhere in the world, I would venture, is the message more stark than it is in Australia.
We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not.
There should be no mistake about this – our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world. However intractable the problems seem, we cannot resign ourselves to failure – any more than we can hide behind the contemporary version of Social Darwinism which says that to reach back for the poor and dispossessed is to risk being dragged down. That seems to me not only morally indefensible, but bad history.
We non-Aboriginal Australians should perhaps remind ourselves that Australia once reached out for us. Didn’t Australia provide opportunity and care for the dispossessed Irish? The poor of Britain? The refugees from war and famine and persecution in the countries of Europe and Asia?
Isn’t it reasonable to say that if we can build a prosperous and remarkably harmonious multicultural society in Australia, surely we can find just solutions to the problems which beset the first Australians – the people to whom the most injustice has been done. And, as I say, the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians.
It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us.
With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me? As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
If we needed a reminder of this, we received it this year. The Report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody showed with devastating clarity that the past lives on in inequality, racism and injustice. In the prejudice and ignorance of non-Aboriginal Australians, and in the demoralisation and desperation, the fractured identity, of so many Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. For all this, I do not believe that the Report should fill us with guilt. Down the years, there has been no shortage of guilt, but it has not produced the responses we need.
Guilt is not a very constructive emotion. I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit. All of us. Perhaps when we recognise what we have in common we will see the things which must be done – the practical things. There is something of this in the creation of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The Council’s mission is to forge a new partnership built on justice and equity and an appreciation of the heritage of Australia’s indigenous people.
In the abstract those terms are meaningless. We have to give meaning to “justice” and “equity” – and, as I have said several times this year, we will only give them meaning when we commit ourselves to achieving concrete results. If we improve the living conditions in one town, they will improve in another. And another. If we raise the standard of health by twenty per cent one year, it will be raised more the next.
If we open one door others will follow. When we see improvement, when we see more dignity, more confidence, more happiness – we will know we are going to win. We need these practical building blocks of change.
The Mabo Judgement should be seen as one of these. By doing away with the bizarre conceit that this continent had no owners prior to the settlement of Europeans, Mabo establishes a fundamental truth and lays the basis for justice. It will be much easier to work from that basis than has ever been the case in the past. For that reason alone we should ignore the isolated outbreaks of hysteria and hostility of the past few months.
Mabo is an historic decision – we can make it an historic turning point, the basis of a new relationship between indigenous and non-Aboriginal Australians. The message should be that there is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include indigenous Australians. There is everything to gain.
Even the unhappy past speaks for this.
Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions. Economic contributions, particularly in the pastoral and agricultural industry. They are there in the frontier and exploration history of Australia. They are there in the wars. In sport to an extraordinary degree. In literature and art and music. In all these things they have shaped our knowledge of this continent and of ourselves. They have shaped our identity. They are there in the Australian legend.
We should never forget – they have helped build this nation. And if we have a sense of justice, as well as common sense, we will forge a new partnership.
As I said, it might help us if we non-Aboriginal Australians imagined ourselves dispossessed of land we had lived on for fifty thousand years – and then imagined ourselves told that it had never been ours.
Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless. Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight. Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books. Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice. Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed. Imagine if we had suffered the injustice and then were blamed for it. It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice we can imagine its opposite.
And we can have justice. I say that for two reasons: I say it because I believe that the great things about Australian social democracy reflect a fundamental belief in justice. And I say it because in so many other areas we have proved our capacity over the years to go on extending the realms of participation, opportunity and care. Just as Australians living in the relatively narrow and insular Australia of the 1960s imagined a culturally diverse, worldly and open Australia, and in a generation turned the idea into reality, so we can turn the goals of reconciliation into reality.
There are very good signs that the process has begun. The creation of the Reconciliation Council is evidence itself. The establishment of the ATSIC – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission – is also evidence. The Council is the product of imagination and good will. ATSIC emerges from the vision of indigenous self-determination and self-management. The vision has already become the reality of almost 800 elected Aboriginal Regional Councillors and Commissioners determining priorities and developing their own programs.
All over Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are taking charge of their own lives. And assistance with the problems which chronically beset them is at last being made available in ways developed by the communities themselves. If these things offer hope, so does the fact that this generation of Australians is better informed about Aboriginal culture and achievement, and about the injustice that has been done, than any generation before.
We are beginning to more generally appreciate the depth and the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. From their music and art and dance we are beginning to recognise how much richer our national life and identity will be for the participation of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. We are beginning to learn what the indigenous people have known for many thousands of years – how to live with our physical environment.
Ever so gradually we are learning how to see Australia through Aboriginal eyes, beginning to recognise the wisdom contained in their epic story. I think we are beginning to see how much we owe the indigenous Australians and how much we have lost by living so apart. I said we non-indigenous Australians should try to imagine the Aboriginal view. It can’t be too hard. Someone imagined this event today, and it is now a marvellous reality and a great reason for hope.
There is one thing today we cannot imagine.
We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through fifty thousand years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation. We cannot imagine that. We cannot imagine that we will fail.
And with the spirit that is here today I am confident that we won’t. I am confident that we will succeed in this decade.
Yesterday’s Inq pieces at Crikey by David Hardaker and Michael Bradley ripped more than a few ugly scabs off the class action carcass in Australia. Bradley characterised that industry as a series of David v Goliath clashes—poor plaintiffs taking on the big end of town.
Hardaker outlined the curious role of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform as a “peddler of influence par excellence” in class action litigation policy reform in this country and a body that apparently took some pleasure in the following words from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last week talking to new regulatory conditions for third party litigation funders, i.e. those who in large part fund the plaintiffs in class action proceedings in Australia.
Now more than ever we want Australian businesses staying in business focused on keeping people in jobs rather than fending off class action funded by unregulated and unaccountable parties.
Bradley’s David v Goliath struggle had a party-political cast, the Labor Party as David with deep connections to a small but powerful group of plaintiff-friendly law firms and a natural inclination to support the indigent battlers presented as, in legend if not in fact, the ‘typical’ plaintiffs. Third party funding is the grease to the class action axle: poor plaintiffs get to ‘have a crack’ and their lawyers get paid whether they win or lose.
The Coalition as Goliath adopts the advice of an unregistered external peddler of influence and predictably plays to its base by siding with a mob of very cranky corporates – including many of those most frequently the target of the class actions and with the most to lose.
There are few class action proceedings in Australian courts that do not follow this broad “plaintiff/applicant = good = supported by Labor & lefty lawyers”; “defendant/respondent = bad = supported by an evil government backed by big money” model.
Of the 67 current class actions in the Federal Court of Australia all but twelve are classic David v Goliath challenges against non-government respondents – banks, insurance companies, car makers, superannuation trustees, etcetera, etcetera.
Taking away the four matters that do not involve the Commonwealth—a single case in the Federal Court’s Victorian registry against the state government and three NT government matters in the Northern Territory registry—leaves eight matters where the Commonwealth government is listed as respondent.
Three of those are the all-but-settled PFAS cases in the NSW registry involving Defence department use of fire-fighting foam. The Victorian registry has three matters—a single ‘Robodebt’ matter and two Migration Act cases.
That leaves Brett Cattle Company v The Commonwealth.
Sarah Ferguson’s ‘A bloody business’ expose on the ABC’s Four Corners dropped a literal shower of shit on the Top End’s live cattle industry on 30 May 2011.
The Federal government immediately suspended live exports to the eleven Indonesian abattoirs under investigation and just over a week later suspended trade with all Indonesian abattoirs until new safeguards for the trade were in place. Five weeks after the initial decision the government lifted the Indonesian suspension and the first post-ban consignment of cattle left Australia for Indonesia in early August 2011.
An initial claim for losses was rejected by the Commonwealth government in May 2012 as were negotiations for an out-of-court settlement. In late October 2014 proceedings were filed in the Federal Court, claiming ‘malfeasance in public office’ by (then) Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig; that his decision to halt the trade was invalid; and seeking compensation then estimated in the ‘hundreds of millions.’
The lead applicant was the Brett Cattle Company of Waterloo Station near to the NT/WA border. The Brett Cattle Company was operated by Emily and Dougal Brett.
By late 2014 the National Farmers’ Federation (the NFF) confirmed that its Australian Farmer’s Fighting Fund (the AFFF)—a third-party litigation funder since the Mudginberri abattoir IR battle in the mid-1980s—had already tipped $750,000 into the Brett Cattle Company’s hat in support of the action.
By late 2017 the AFFF’s contribution had grown to a tad over $4 million.
Tracey Hayes, then chief executive of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association (the NTCA, a member of the NFF) since 2014 and the NTCA’s ‘facilitator’ of the Brett Cattle Company’s case and at the time in her last few weeks as NTCA CEO, told The Australian’s Sue Neale in September 2017 that Ludwig’s first temporary ban on live exports had been proper but that his:
… sudden ban that shut the whole industry down at a time when 700,000 cattle a year were going to Indonesia, 70 per cent from the Northern Territory, and only a few abattoirs in the Indonesian supply chain were suspect was outrageous … It was clearly a knee-jerk decision taken without due consideration, due process or industry consultation, and with no regard to its financial consequences and ramifications for thousands of cattle families.
Despite early indications that the case might proceed expeditiously, it wasn’t until June and December 2018 that hearings were held before Justice Steven Rares. By this time the Brett Cattle Company had been joined by around 300 cattle producers and representatives of other sectors in the live cattle supply chain who were claiming upwards of $600 million in compensation. Plus their costs (of course).
A conservative estimate of the AFFFs total bill in support of the Brett Cattle Company following the hearing would be somewhere north of $6 million.
In December 2019 The Australian reported that Minister Ludwig’s legal costs since 2011 were around $2.6 million.
That figure would likely not include the costs of the Commonwealth as respondent, which, considering that it would take the role of lead solicitor and counsel for the respondents (work that almost certainly would have been out-sourced to the big-end-of-town-law-firms in the Commonwealth’s legal pool) and the Commonwealth’s legal bill could well exceed Minister Ludwig’s bill by a fair whack.
Assuming my assumptions are correct – and I stand to be corrected – all up the bill for lawyers alone in the Brett Cattle Company matter might be $12 million plus loose change and walking around money.
In March 2015 Joe Ludwig announced he would not contest the next Senate election and his Senate term ended at the double dissolution in May 2016.
Dougal Brett died in a helicopter crash in June 2015, later found to be caused by contaminated fuel.
Tracey Hayes is a Country Liberal Party (CLP) candidate for the Darwin seat of Fannie Bay currently held by NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner in the NT general election to be held on 22 August 2020. The CLP has nominated her as the next Treasurer of the NT should it win the election. In 2016 Tracey Hayes was chosen by the NT News as the Territory’s Most Powerful individual.
18 months on Justice Steven Rares has yet to hand down his decision.
The AFFF remains active as a third-party litigation funder, though the value of the fund has been described as a ‘tightly-guarded secret.’ From June 2017 until its dismissal by the Full Court of the Federal Court in August 2019 the AFFF provided funding support in proceedings bought by the Fair Work Ombudsman – see the Full Court of the Federal Court on appeal in Fair Work Ombudsman v Tao Hu & Ors (also referred to as Marland Mushrooms). The AFFF says it is “a charitable organisation that exists to assist farmers fighting significant legal battles.” The AFFF arose out of the Mudginberri dispute in 1985, funded in part by farmers and in part by non-farming businesses and is governed by a board of trustees but administered by the National Farmers’ Federation, the peak industry body for Australian agriculture.
Earlier today some wag posted a picture on the socials of an Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus that had somehow found its way to the small centralian community of Ltyentye Apurte (also known as Santa Teresa), south-east of Alice Springs.
Now, most people would associate pelicans with the country that they see them at and, because most Australians live along the south-eastern seaboard, the common assumption is that Pelicans are denizens of coastal, salt-water habitats.
That was also the apparent assumption of those who spotted the bird in very dry country not all that far away from the geographic centre of the country and of a local ABC journo with not much in the way of local bird knowledge. Anyway, the tale got a run on this evening’s PM program, which is a good thing in itself.
Santa Teresa – and Alice Springs – are both close the south-western fringe of the Pelican’s range in Centralia but from my own experience Pelicans aren’t necessarily uncommon throughout the inland. Pelicans are marvellous long-distance travellers and for mine there are few things more thrilling than spotting long lines of pelicans gliding at great height over the desert heading who knows where.
Renowned biologist Julian Reid described the contrary nature of the movement of pelicans in an exquisite essay in Boom and Bust: Bird Stories for a Dry Country, published by CSIRO Books in 2009.
One cannot imagine a more arid, harsh and unproductive ecosystem than the salt crust surface of Lake Eyre South in most years, yet in the first six months of 1990 following its flooding from local rains a year earlier, 100,000 pelicans successfully fledged as many as 90,000 chicks.
The same species forms small breeding colonies of tens to hundreds, rarely a few thousand, on an annual basis on many small islands in coastal and sub-coastal Australia. This is not the hallmark of a boom-bust species. It displays characteristics of both boom-bust and ‘regular-annual’ reproductive strategies. Behavioural flexibility and adaptability to new environments and resources (reservoirs, other unnatural impoundments, artificial islands, human garbage, exotic fish as prey) would seem to be defining features of the Australian pelican.
Biologists aren’t the only ones that have documented the pelican’s occasional passage through inland Australia. A quick look through some Aboriginal language dictionaries in my home library reveals some interesting insights and records across Centralia.
For the Warlpiri language speakers of the Tanami Desert north-west of Alice Springs the Australian Pelican is called walanypirri. The same name is used by the Warumungu to the east of Warlpiri country and the Mudburra & Djingulu language groups far to the north-east.
For the Pintupi/Luritja people far to the west of Alice Springs the Pelican is known by the adopted creolised term pilikin.
The Anmatyerr language group north of Alice Springs has adopted a morphological approach, using the noun arrakert, meaning mouth or beak and adding the suffix angerr to form the term arrakert angerr, literally “big mouth”.
Further north in Kaytetye country the Pelican is known as walaymperre, as in Walaymperre thangkerne alkenhe arntwe arenye, repe ware elpalhapenye kape arltere. Thangkerne nyartelepe aynenke aylperre kape pwele-pwele. The pelican is a big waterbird which is grey and white. This bird eats fish and tadpoles. That excerpt comes from the Kaytetye to English Dictionary, IAD Press, 2012, compiled by Myfany Turpin and Alison Ross.
I’ve not been able to find an Eastern and Central Arrernte language (the main language spoken at Ltyentye Apurte) name for this magnificent creature – it isn’t in my 1994 edition of the dictionary – but have reached out to a few colleagues and will keep you posted.
Oh, and one reason why the Pelican might be uncommon around Ltyentye Apurte is that there is little standing water – even in wet season flood times – that would be attractive as a feeding and/or breeding ground.
Ltyentye Apurte is one of the friendliest towns I know in Centralia and if you want to learn a bit more about what folks there get up to there (my take on the annual horse races at this post from 2016 will give you a few clues) you should take a squiz at the Facebook page for the Atyenhenge Atherre Aboriginal Corporation to see how folks out that way are getting on with their lives.
This is a guest post by one of my cousins, David Hawkes. As the only brother of four sisters I was always drawn to the Hawkes family and my four male (and one female) cousins. David and his family live on a wonderful bush block at Wedderburn, south-west of Sydney that I could as gladly feel at home at as they do.
When I was 16 I had a friend called Mark. Unlike my home his was warm, friendly, conversational with lots of fruit cake and tea made by his lovely mum Pat.
One weekend night sleeping over at Mark’s, with a surfing trip planned for the following morning we went up to visit Debra, a school friend and neighbour. Debra’s brother John was half way through art school at Kogarah.
Wandering through their house I found John’s room. In it was an easel and canvas, with palette, paints and a still life set up being painted all in green.
Poking my fingers into his palette, with the creamy texture of the oil paint, I thought it was the most beautiful and beguiling thing I had ever seen and felt.
Our home was bereft of art, a violent Dad and a loving Mum doing it tough.I didn’t know that art existed or that there were things called ‘paintings’ and that you could make something up from nothing.
I hid fingers smeared with oil paint, and we went surfing the next day.
Monday afternoon, after John had told me where you could buy this art stuff, my bedroom was soon resurrected with easel, canvas, paint and a still life I painted all green.
I found art and art had found me.
In my mind suddenly I saw that your reality wasn’t shaped by circumstance but by your imagination.
You could make a reality from an idea, and it was beautiful.
David Hawkes has shown widely in Sydney since 1979: at Mori Gallery, EMR, Sylvester Studios, Syme Dodson amongst others until joining Legge Gallery in 1992, then Watters Gallery in 2009 and at the Campbelltown Arts Centre among many others.. His work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria.
Lonsdale House was a lovely art deco building, pictured here just before demolition. At the time it was thought an Apple Store might be built in its place – it ended up being the Top Man/Top Shop section of the Emporium shopping centre.
At Southern Cross, V/Line was getting ready for Myki. It had started on trains in Zones 1 and 2 in December 2009 (including V/Line within those zones) but wouldn’t be enabled to other V/Line zones until 2013. The rollout beyond the commuter zones was cancelled in 2011, along with short term tickets and tram ticket machines.
At Flinders Street they had posters trying to explain to people how to use the Myki readers.
The fare gates were the 1990s era Metcard gates with Myki readers retrofitted, so they could use both tickets during the transition. Here you can also see Metcard vending machines, but Myki machines were also dotted around the place.
Myki wasn’t yet running officially on trams, but they were preparing. Even W-class trams had readers fitted – these days the only Ws still in service are on the free City Circle. Back in 2010, Ws still ran on routes 78 and 30 – the latter route is now completely within the Free Tram Zone – except for a single stop.
A pair of W-class trams on Latrobe Street. Often there was space on the paid 30 while the free 35/City Circle was packed.
A Comeng train at Flinders Street, sporting temporary Metro stickers to cover up the Connex logos.
Looking south from a Latrobe Street/Little Lonsdale Street building, over the City skyline. I’m not sure this view has changed a huge amount, as many of the newer buildings are further west (to the right of shot).
Skybus has recently taken over a lot of suburban airport bus routes – probably a strategy to diversify before airport rail eventually arrives. Before Skybus dubbed it the Peninsula Express, it was the Frankston And Peninsula Airport Shuttle (FAPAS for short).
For a few years PTUA ran a stall at the annual Sustainable Living Festival. Here it is in 2010, sharing space with the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Victoria Walks. Note the fake bus stop sign.
They got him! It cost millions of dollars in legal fees, and involved multiple trials, settlements, and dismissal of the worst charges, but they convicted Harvey Weinstein. A bit like a buck who is taken down by a pack of wolves might receive the killing bite from a different wolf to the one who started the chase or who had the strongest bite, so too has the chase of Weinstein ended in a kill by just 2 of the dozens of allegations made along the way. The long chase and the kill has been reminiscent of the effort it took to bring down Bill Cosby.
For the #Metoo movement, this is a win, a vindication. The heart of the accusations leveled against Weinstein was always that he used his position of influence to get sex with unwilling partners. And the accusations always went beyond the notion that he was ‘merely’ soliciting prostitution, which by the way is unlawful in California. Weinstein is now proven to have overstepped the law and forced himself upon others. Whether one can prove 2 counts of that or 50 counts is somewhat immaterial in this regard: if 2 are deemed proven, the other 48 accusations that didnt make it to court are bolstered in that the public will believe there was a pattern of someone trying their luck within the law if possible, but outside of it if necessary. The conviction convinced me he was in the habit of forcefully and illegally demanding sex of those he could. His life is effectively over.
Time to look around and see the broader effects of the #Metoo phenomenon that began with the actresses of Hollywood rebelling against Weinstein.
The novelty of the #Metoo phenomenon was the possibility of crowd-sourced accusations of sexual impropriety, where patterns of misbehaviour could be found from initial accusations finding multiple co-accusers. Crowd-sourcing made it possible to find a pattern one would not see or be convinced off if one had an isolated accusation.
Not all initial accusations unearthed a pattern and thus a clear abuser. Like Weinstein, Kevin Spacey was brought down by an initial accusation that was affirmed by many follow-on accusations. As a counter-example, Michael Douglas was basically vindicated by a lack of any affirmation when an initial accusation came against him, leaving the initial accusation isolated, showing that making an accusation is not without risks to the accuser.
By construction though, finding a pattern via crowd-sourcing accusations only works with famous people because otherwise the initial accusation is not widely reported and hence will not alert potential co-accusers. So by its nature, the possibility of running into a crowd-accusation changes the costs and benefits of being famous, but changes little for anyone else. The abusive beggar on the street is not going to be unmasked by a crowd-sourced accusation.
So, one clear effect has been to raise the risks to men (and to a lesser extent women) of becoming famous or very rich: their sexual behaviour is under the potential microscope following a crowd accusations, and that microscope extends back to when they were not yet famous or rich.
This increased cost of fame will have long-run consequences, one of them being that ambitious young men are going to be much more careful about their sexual activities with people who know their names or who get a good look at them and could hence recognise them later. One might see this as the within-men leveling effect of the #Metoo movement. Famous, rich, and highly ambitious men have all been taken down a peg relative to less rich, less famous, and less ambitious men.
Note this does not mean that average behaviour has changed much, only that the behaviour of the very ambitious and famous will have changed.
Another long-run consequence is that the rich and famous men will come up with counter-measures to do what they want to do. They will abuse anonymously, visit prostitutes more often, make more extensive use of “permission contracts”, go abroad for their kicks, etc. Essentially, they will pick on weaker women and formalise their arrangements, which is of course not good news.
Important to note in this regard is that the #Metoo movement has not challenged the underlying cause of abuses of power, which is the high inequality in power. Power always corrupts and the point of chasing power is usually to exercise it towards one’s desires, so if you want to end abuse of power, you must thus end great imbalances in power. The French revolution taught us this: the sexual abuse of the French female peasants by the French male aristocracy (which went on for centuries) only stopped when the power of the aristocracy was broken. When the aristocratic women gained more power and thus started fending off the male aristocracy, the maidens in the villages were no better off.
So has life changed for not-so-famous victims?
In the immediate aftermath of the #Metoo wave, the number of sexual complaints brought to the police and hot-lines increased in many countries. In the UK, for instance, there was about a 20% increase in the number of reported rapes, which the Office for National Statistics blamed on better recording and more willingness to report, but not due to more offenses taking place. In the US, reported rates of rape almost doubled in a year, and hotlines in many countries were overwhelmed. This indicates that #MeToo raised expectations by women that finally there would be punishment for illegal behaviour they previously didn’t think would be punished.
Politicians characteristically promised that all victims would be heard, and all perpetrators would be brought to justice. Yet only very few reported rapes ever resulted in a court case, and conviction rates of the few cases going to court remained stubbornly low given the high evidence bar of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. No more than 3% of reported rapes end in a conviction in England and Wales. Worse, rape conviction trends are down in the UK.
Indeed, the UK experience has in this regard been highly instructive: reported cases of sexual offenses went up a lot after the end of 2017, with an awful lot of police time taken up by floods of complaints, particularly after the then prime-minister promised justice for abused women. The policing and prosecuting service got overwhelmed with cases and of course tried to make the best of it. So they tried to prosecute the most promising high-profile cases, probably in the hope that big profile wins would urge many men to confess quickly, boosting the numbers of convictions. Yet, often in the courts the crown prosecutors would lose, just as the initial case against Weinstein was lost.
One key reason was the inherently murky nature of most sexual abuse cases, where both consent and interpretations of what happened are often on a knife-edge, with no external witnesses. In particular, some cases were lost because the courts insisted that the defense should have access to the mobile phone of the accuser, which then showed text exchanges with the accused that would involve ‘teasing’, ‘coercion fantasies’, and other flows of messages from her to him that the defense would portray as giving consent.
So, what did the police services in the UK do to stem the tide of both accusations and all the call-outs to the police services? The police in 2019 publicly announced – I recall via the most senior woman they could find – that they were going to insist on examining the mobile phones of any accuser before going to court. This worked. It greatly reduced the number of complaints that lead to a whole investigation and any public allegation made against someone, which of course was exactly the point of the public announcement. In typical Brit style though, the police insisted this new requirement should in no way dissuade people from coming forward with valid accusations. Whilst their case-loads were dropping, the new rule (access to mobile phones) became a hated object itself, a target for lots of campaigning and research.
This illustrates the quiet death of the promise of #Metoo for ordinary women: the legal and the police system was asked for something it can only do very sporadically when there are huge resources and lots of attention, as in the Weinstein case. Yet, by channeling the #Metoo movement towards the legal system, that system was asked to repeat the Weinstein effort for the masses, which it can’t do. It responds initially by trying to rise to the challenge and when failing due to the inherent murkiness of the issues and the inherent costs involved, the system finds a way of basically ignoring the impossible request.
The initial pre-#Metoo situation is now effectively restored because everyone remains in their theatrical trenches: the #Metoo crowd keeps insisting on justice via the courts; the courts keep saying they are indeed the way to justice and look forward to dispensing it; the police keep pretending any injustice that is found to have occurred will of course be brought to court; the politicians keep pretending everyone will get justice; and meanwhile the reality is that courts are far too expensive to ever deal with more than a trickle. So courtly justice is not a realistic promise and everyone lies about that bit because it flies against the story of what courts and its brand of justice can do. So the tension is not solved by owning up to the issue and looking at it in a totally different way, such as by non-court mechanisms. The status quo gets re-established whilst the #Metoo movement expends its energy on an additional bureaucratic rule designed to keep the tide at bay. It all ends in theater and no action.
One might think that changing definitions and reducing the evidence bar is the way to go, which is course amongst the many things being advocated, but I am skeptical that either is going to happen, or would have much effect if it does happen because it is still fixated on this idea of ‘justice in court’. Court cases with evidence and cross-examinations are going to remain a high hurdle between accusations and convictions. Also, the courts remain an incredibly inefficient system, simply not up to high case loads.
Funnily enough, Germaine Greer predicted pretty much exactly all this at the start, and was hounded for it by the #Metoo enthousiasts. Her solution was saying that we should see the problem as one of bad sex rather than good versus evil; that we should educate men to be better and more respectful lovers; and to reduce the ‘penalty’ for most sexual offenses so as to make it acceptable to talk about it and have simpler punishment mechanisms. Her suggestions have gone nowhere, as you might imagine.
So one would expect the glut in reporting to subside as the population is learning that nothing has really changed for the vast majority: whilst crowd-sourcing allegations means a famous multiple offender is indeed more likely to be hunted down by a pack because they eventually find a case that sticks and there is enough attention to justify the resources involved, for all other cases the reality remains that sexual offenses seldom result in convictions.
The main longer-term change that remains is the increased power of middle and upper class women in their interactions with rich and famous men. They now have recourse to a crowd-accusation to see if there has been a pattern of abuse, combining as a pack to bring someone down. That increased power has an effect on rich and famous men, dragging them down relative to other men. For poor women though, this route is closed and the expectations raised are being dashed.
More wider cultural changes due to the female empowerment aspect of #Metoo might be the subject of a future post, though I should flag that there too, the effect seems to have been far less than initially promised or feared. If anything, the initial data suggests men are gaining from female empowerment…..
My friend Andrew put me onto the game Mini Metro – it’s a rather addictive (at least to me) game where you design and run a metro (or tram) system. The game provides station locations, and travel demand patterns, and you have to work out how the lines should connect them.
Gradually more and more locations and people are added. The game finishes when the system gets overloaded and the stations get too crowded.
The game is available on numerous platforms – I play it on iPad, which seems very well suited to it.
The game is really more like buses than metros. Why? Because you can easily change the routes, and if nobody is waiting or needing to alight at a station, the vehicles don’t stop. And vehicles can overtake each other anywhere.
The more difficult “Extreme” mode is more restrictive – you can’t change routes. You can’t even move vehicles from one line to another.
The game has various scenarios based in different cities – including Melbourne.
Meanwhile in the real world
I was pondering what the game can teach us about real life public transport.
Frequency is good. In the game, passengers may have to change from line to line to reach their destination. If trains come through frequently, they’re not waiting for long, so crowds don’t grow too large.
Bunching is bad. In the real world it’s important to maintain even frequencies, and not let services bunch. This causes problems in the game too.
Diversity of destinations is good. The game creates different shapes, and may force you to have sections of line with the same shapes. This is analogous to lots of commuter stations which are a source of passengers, but rarely a destination. It means trains quickly become crowded in those sections.
A winning strategy in the game is to try and build your lines to have a mix of the station shapes – avoid the same shape multiple times in a row. This increases the chances of using your train capacity efficiently.
This is also true in real life – Melbourne’s CBD dominates train travel demand, but lines that serve intermediate destinations (for example Caulfield or Glenferrie which have university campuses, or Southland with its shopping centre) can mean some seats on the trains serve multiple passengers during one trip, making the system more efficient.
Passenger trips can be unpredictable. Sometimes the simulated passengers take unexpected routes to their destinations. So too in real life.
Lines with very busy and very quiet sections are difficult to manage. Capacity is wasted in the quiet section. You see this on Melbourne’s tram system – the CBD is very busy (in part due to the Free Tram Zone), but the suburban ends are relatively quiet (for the capacity provided), in part because many of them terminate in the middle of nowhere rather than making a logical connection to a railway station or other traffic generator.
Interchanges are useful, but challenging. If you can’t efficiently provide passengers with a one seat ride, then separate lines serving different destinations can help. But if something goes wrong, then queues of interchanging passengers can grow, overcrowding stations. If you want to see this in Melbourne, check the Federation Square tram stop in peak hour.
Station precincts develop over time. Part of the game has stations changing shape, such as from a common-or-garden circle to one of the rarer shapes. In real life, this happens – rail transport in particular often prompts development in the area immediately surrounding the station. It helps in the game because it adds diversity into a line – same in real life.
Crowding can develop very suddenly. Not to excuse government planning, but patronage growth can be unexpectedly fast, quickly overwhelming services. If the only fix is major infrastructure, this can take some time to resolve.
In Mini Metro, if stations get too crowded, the game ends. In real life, the government can get voted out.
The game is quite abstract, but good fun. Worth a look if you’re interested in such things.
I do think that in normal times a lot of good female thinking is wasted because it simply doesn’t get heard.
I’ve written about the blokey intellectual authoritarianism of economics on numerous occasions, for instance writing here about how it has become:
a discipline more or less ruined by a relentless cult of stupid cleverness, and its crude abstraction from historical, social and economic context, a discipline in which ideas that are absurd on their face – like the idea that the Great Depression was a spontaneous holiday taken by tens of millions of people – are made respectable by cleverness.
It can’t be anywhere near as bad in the natural sciences because science is much more falsifiable in practice than the social sciences and that makes intellectual authoritarianism there harder to get away with – except where it works which is as it should be. Even so, there are plenty of stories of sciences going off on misguided adventures and staying on them long after it would seem there was good reason to reassess. And the more speculative they are – the more they relate to the ‘architecture’ of a set of ideas rather than the ideas themselves and the hypotheses that can be cashed out of them – the more intellectual authoritarianism for its own sake can thrive.1
As I documented here, neo-Darwinism generated a powerful intellectual authoritarianism based around a particularly compelling and simple aesthetic quite similar to those driving neoclassical economics. As Denis Noble put it:
What went wrong was that the Modern Synthesis became hardened into dogmatism. Starting from the theory that this is the way in which evolution could have happened, it became transformed into the conviction that this was the only way in which evolution must have happened.
Noble proceeds to quote the transcript of a debate he chaired between Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis. At issue is the possibility of symbiogenesis in which certain organisms evolved not through the gradual accretion of random mutations as Neo-Darwinism would have it, but by some more direct process by which one organism acquires the characteristics of another – for instance by physically absorbing it:
Dawkins: It [Neo-Darwinism] is highly plausible, it’s economical, it’s parsimonious, why on earth would you want to drag in symbiogenesis when it’s such an unparsimonious, uneconomical [theory]?
It’s notable how often women pop up at the transgressive margins of such disciplines. Lyn Margoulis in evolutionary biology and Elinor Ostrom in economics – whose Nobel Lecture I quoted at the head of a recent essay about competition and cooperation in economic and political thinking.
Designing institutions to force (or nudge) entirely self-interested individuals to achieve better outcomes has been the major goal posited by policy analysts for governments to accomplish for much of the past half century. Extensive empirical research leads me to argue that instead, a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.
I’ve always had the same kind of disappointment at much of the blokey logic chopping in philosophy. Academia makes all this much worse by institutionalising these values. I’m interested in philosophical questions like those tackled in John Searle’s “What is an institution” and because Academia.edu has noticed this about me, I get endless notifications of journal articles in this tradition. And almost all of them take some term or concept and show how there’s a way it can be misunderstood (if you’re trying) or how it doesn’t cover all cases (no kidding?). The articles then invariably proceed to some qualification or new term and if we’re lucky we never hear of it again.
(I think there are very similar problems of what I’ll call a ‘masculine’ perspective in the culture of both the effective altruism and the Radical Xchange movements, but I won’t defend that proposition here, only foreshadow that I’d like to return to it.)
Be that as it may, I was aware of a generation of women philosophers from Oxford who were at the height of their fame in the late 50s and 60s, and when I saw this podcast which gives you the lowdown. Here’s another podcast I tracked down which I highly recommend on the same material in two parts.
The basic story is that A. J. Ayer had published Language, Truth and Logic in 1936 (I think) which arrived at the redictio ad absurdum that the Nazi’s preference for Jewish pogroms can’t be said to be wrong in any objective sense but rather reflects different moral preferences and intuitions. As Adolf Eichman said to Anne Frank, “You do you”. The men then went off to war and Oxford seminars were smaller, much more gender-balanced and those men who did attend were disproportionately older or given to conscientious objection than your standard cohort. And out of this four female philosophers who made large and distinctively different contributions from the men blossomed. If you’re interested in a transcript of the show, it should be up on the ABC, but it’s not. So I’ve loaded the program into YouTube and it has generated a transcript here.
I’m a bit taken aback in hindsight at the pussyfooting around about whether or not they are a ‘school’ of philosophy. They’re said to have practised in different areas. But every one was interested in moral philosophy and most were decidedly unhappy with the dominant style of philosophy at the time, particularly moral philosophy. Anscombe blew up the contemporary field with her 1958 essay Modern Moral Philosophy and was very influential in the emergence of modern virtue ethics in the spirit of Aristotle – since championed by Alisdair MacIntyre. Philippa Foot is an important virtue ethicist of whom I know no more. 2
Iris Murdoch is similar in her concerns seeking to ground ethics in the texture of our lives, rather than in answers to trolley problems and in blackboard diagrams. In her famous “Sovereignty of Good”, one of her central and often quoted stories is of a woman slowly coming to a truer (and it turns out more generous, less solipsistic) understanding of her daughter-in-law’s true qualities. This is not unlike R.G. Collingwood’s story of trying to understand the Albert Memorial in his Autobiography, leading me to wonder how involved Collingwood was. (He died at 53 in 1943 and his chair was taken up by the reductive, brilliant Gilbert Ryle who proceeded to distance English philosophy from continental philosophy, especially that of the Hun.) Murdoch is arguing that this is moral work deploying the virtues of self-awareness, self-criticism, and genuine curiosity towards others all infused with generosity and the search to unify truth and love. A. J. Ayer, eat your heart out.
And here’s Midgley’s of whom I’ve become fond having only looked her up after hearing the podcasts from her The myths we live by which you can download for free:
In this book, we will consider several very potent ideas that have moved … from ordinary thought to affect the course of science and have then returned to outside usage reshaped by scientific use. Right away, one might name the concept of a machine, of a self-interested individual, and of competition between such individuals. Metaphorical concepts like these are quite properly used by scientists, but they are not just passive pieces of apparatus like thermostats. They have their own influence. They are living parts of powerful myths – imaginative patterns that we all take for granted – ongoing dramas inside which we live our lives. These patterns shape the mental maps that we refer to when we want to place something. Such ideas are not just a distraction from real thought, as positivists have suggested. Nor are they a disease. They are the matrix of thought, the background that shapes our mental habits. They decide what we think important and what we ignore. They provide the tools with which we organise the mass of incoming data. When they are bad they can do a great deal of harm by distorting our selection and slanting our thinking. That is why we need to watch them so carefully.
I find this whole approach so much more interesting and helpful in my own thinking than most articles in academic philosophy. (I guess I’ll be sorry if I’m walking along the road one day and I see a trolley with 15 low IQ quadriplegics hurtling towards a Nobel Prize winner who might discover a technology for cold fusion and I can’t work out which way to pull the lever, which – I have every confidence –will be accessible to me.)
I may continue this if time and inclination permit. If I did I’d argue as I’ve suggested previously, that preoccupation with greater representation of women in the academy has eclipsed what I regard as the more fundamental issue of the quality of the discourse itself. The most urgent thing for me is making these disciplines philosophy, evolutionary biology and economics (I expect there are plenty of others) less stupidly masculine in their Cartesian obsession with building from axiomatic foundations, their hostility to ambiguity and ‘probable’ as opposed to indubitable reasoning and the accompanying aggressiveness towards those who don’t value that kind of approach.
Getting more women into these disciplines would be great to see. But it may be possible to do this whilst having minimal impact on the problem. There are plenty of women (like this one) who seem preoccupied with showing that they’re just as good as any man in the terms that the men have set. Of course, they should do if that’s what takes their fancy. I think affirmative action programs can be useful. But they’ll be more useful if they’re run with a clear objective of tackling the fundamental problem of the way the discipline operates. And affirmative action will often be run by the powers that be which by definition come with the risk that the ‘masculinist’ instincts of the discipline will be left minimally disturbed as the discipline recruits the ‘best’ women according to its own lights. In their engineering of the academy, the Henry Higgins of the world won’t have to ask “why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Because the ones they choose will be.
I was listening to this excellent edition of The Jolly Swagman interviewing Eric Weinstein which raised a similar point regarding string theory – though with no connection to the gender issue. Here’s Weinstein when the compare Joseph Walker tells him of his conversation with a leader of string theory who’s now disappointed at the progress it made:
The string community has a particular crime that it has to deal with. No one feels comfortable levelling the charge but I do because I’m outside of it. The string community when it became very animated around 1984 with something called the anomaly cancellation, which was an interesting development. … When orcas decide that they’re going to kill a whale very often what they do is interfere with that whale’s ability to get to the surface and they’ll plug its blowhole or they’ll invert it so that it can’t breathe. … Now that’s what the string community did to every other branch they said look we’re the only smart people we’ve got this.
Let’s go back and read all those articles in which you said … this is the only game in town blah blah this is a terribly behaved community that’s absolutely brilliant. … And so I think the next time you have a conversation with anybody in that community Consider asking the question what responsibility to strengthen yours have when they claim to have once been overzealous and very optimistic. Because a lot of us said you’re not you’re not even close to an answer, you’re deluded. And I think that a lot of us are tired of being called cranks and being pushed around by a bunch of aging baby boomers who don’t seem to be able to deliver on the many promises they made through the press through the funding agencies that explained their right to take the resources of the community.
You took the most important intellectual community that academics has ever produced. And you threw our legacy which belongs to everybody in this area into the toilet to promote a theory that did not deserve the hype of the resources and the reduction in vitality and diversity that we’re intellectually present in that field beforehand. So I think it’s really time for those of us who have been talking since 1984 about the excesses of that community to getting much clearer and better description of how badly this part of the community fucked up.
I made precisely the same claim about the monoculture of neoclassical economics in its assault on the summit of imperfect competition in ‘new trade theory’ in my debate with Krugman. I was amazed that, though Krugman had learned of what I’d said through Mark Thoma’s otherwise excellent blog of links to economic articles – Economists View, Thoma wouldn’t post my own response to Krugman or otherwise respond to tell me why. Was it really unworthy of the site? ↩
I also know nothing of Mary Warnock who’s mentioned among these women. ↩
I haven’t managed to get to all the newly opened stations, but I did stop past Carrum for a little while on Wednesday night.
Carrum opened on Monday, with some hiccups – late completion of testing (apparently due to a police operation) and sign-off of new signalling equipment resulted in a delay to the first Monday morning train services, and ongoing issues through the morning peak.
But rewind a bit: Carrum originally opened in 1882. There seems to be a lack of information around, but the art deco signal box and station buildings used until recently might date from the 1940s, when interlocked crossing gates were installed.
The level crossing removal was promised by Labor in 2014, and includes a (somewhat controversial) skyrail design over Station Street, also allowing Macleod Road to cross the railway line for the first time, instead of Eel Race Road – the latter crossing has closed in favour of a walking/cycling-only underpass.
The nearby Mascot Avenue crossing has also been closed, so three crossings have been removed in this one project.
During construction last year, a temporary track was put in place alongside the existing rail alignment to allow the skyrail and station to be built while trains kept running. The recent two week occupation allowed the new section to be connected, and the temporary tracks removed.
The new elevated station opened on Monday, but works are continuing. The southern end is open, with some temporary buildings in place. Lift and stair access is available.
Screens at the station entrance show train departures and bus departures. Bravo! I remember asking for real-time bus information when Bentleigh/McKinnon/Ormond were being rebuilt. We didn’t get it (though a Smartbus sign was eventually reinstated), but it’d be great to see it as standard in new builds. It’s particularly important given many bus routes are so infrequent. (Note the mix of 12-hour time for the trains, 24-hour time for the buses.)
Up on the platform you get the sea view. Pretty good!
While it wasn’t particularly cold, it was a windy when I was up there. I was glad to have a coat.
Perhaps unique (so far) to Carrum are these pods which provide a level of protection from the sea breeze and rain.
Passenger Information Displays on the platform
Each end of the platform has a quite substantial shelter, with seating. The middle section is largely uncovered. Whether this is sufficient remains to be seen – I’d be interested to know how it fared during the storm on Tuesday night, particularly for those passengers alighting from the middle of an arriving train.
Regardless of the design, it’s good to see more of these projects nearing completion, though even once all pledged projects are done, there will still be plenty of level crossings on the Frankston line, and well over 100 around Melbourne.
These are expensive projects, but given the benefits, and the wide public support for level crossing removals, hopefully future governments will keep funding them.
I was sending this column to an ABC journo regarding the auto industry. It makes for sad reading today. From January 12, 2012
Herewith – somewhat late owing to my being out of the country – is my second column for the Age and the SMH in Ross Gittins’ place while he goes on hols. It seems there is further news – that we’re disgorging some more money to the mendicant car companies. I am not close enough to things to know all the details, but it certainly looks like it conforms to the kinds of things we did with Mitsubishi – which was to chase them with money while they slowly withdrew from production.
Next week governments with an interest in Australia’s auto industry – from Victoria, South Australia and Canberra close in on Detroit, cap in hand, wallets open begging Ford and GM to keep manufacturing in Australia.
They should look around. Having once housed nearly 2 million souls, Detroit is now down to about 700,000. Large parts of Detroit remain like Mad Max sets come to life. Criminal homicides are down to just 300 a year, a big improvement on the past, but still over 3 times America’s average levels and 20 times Australia’s!
Just as Rome’s invaders and then its inhabitants feasted on the eternal city – scavenging marble and bronze from its buildings, smashing statues for souvenir cameos – today Detroit’s gangs squat in long deserted buildings scavenging the very materials from which they’re built. Barring a fatal fall, or knife fight over the spoils, a day’s work stripping copper from a tenth-floor roof gable might reward its new owner with a few hundred dollars on the scrap markets.
Custodians of the industry that built Detroit’s great wealth and transformed our world have been feasting on that industry’s body – now carcase – for generations. Top executives got huge salaries, private jets and internal promotion over outsiders despite continuously disastrous results.
Having bid their workers’ wages and conditions to uncompetitive levels, the aristocracy of the American labour movement, the United Auto Workers (UAW) used their industrial muscle to ameliorate the niggardly American safety net – at least for their own workers. And so their great automotive benefactors remain weighed down with crippling pension obligations.
As surging Japanese imports illustrated their new-found uncompetitiveness in the early 1980s, Detroit’s ‘leaders’ got Washington to pass their costs onto American consumers by capping Japanese imports. So the Japanese continued their onslaught from new plants in America. Having once copied Ford, they’d taken Henry Ford’s ideas about mass production and eliminating of waste much further.
They’d fashioned a production system which endlessly optimised the vast complexity of car manufacture by cultivating high morale, high skill and highly co-operative relationships among everyone in the process. Rather than bark orders at isolated and insecure workers who were under surveillance to prevent shirking, they arranged workers into teams, gave them more autonomy, security and (literally) ten times the training the Americans provided and helped them measure and so optimise their own collective performance.
Likewise with their suppliers. Where American firms immediately sought lower prices from suppliers to reflect any cost reductions they’d achieved, the Japanese involved their suppliers more intimately in new product design – encouraging their unique expertise – and helped them improve quality and cut costs and let them keep their gains for several years until the next major price negotiation. This encouraged trust and co-operation and strengthened their incentives to keep investing and improving.
Normally specialised industrial cities just keep growing as competitor cities can’t match their scale and expertise. But those feasting on the body of the Great Wealth Making Machine of Detroit had so gorged themselves that the new Japanese auto plants headed elsewhere, particularly to the South where ‘right to work’ anti-strike legislation broke union power.
Detroit declined apace. It eventually had some success copying Japanese production methods. As an iconic American advisor to the Japanese, Edwards Deming, put it, the Americans kept trying to copy the Japanese, but they didn’t know what to copy. They’d imitate tokens of the system, but not the whole system or its ethos – the relentless elimination of waste and respect for all those in the production system, workers and suppliers, as collaborators.
Our own industry has often resembled the American one, though mostly without the extremes of abuse. And it’s had particular Australian characteristics. Since the 1940s it’s housed strong pockets of competitive strength in large car design and manufacture, but foreign owners never cultivated those strengths as integral to their global strategy.
A tenacious industrial cringe arose from a coalescence of three very different ideologies and interests. Manufacturers and unions’ lobbied to continue their comfortable life behind import protection. Then they battled each other in wage negotiations that determined how they shared the spoils. And even when economists belled the cat on this racket from the ‘70s on, they focused on smoothing the pillow of the most uncompetitive activities (like assembling others’ vehicles) rather than playing to our strengths.
In fact, we were the perfect complement to Japan’s car industry during its rise. But only one prominent local economist – Peter Drysdale – turned his mind to crafting trade policy options to permit our respective industries to specialise with Japan exporting smaller cars to us whilst importing our larger cars and limousines. And in the absence of the requisite intellectual leadership, we retreated into blocking imports and encouraging local assembly at sub-economic scale.
Today we have one more – probably our last – chance to get this right. Ford or GM’s Australian assets would strongly bolster the design and engineering capability of China or India’s emerging auto giants. So if such firms had a stake in our auto assets they’d have the incentive to invest and find a valued place for them in their global supply chain as VW has invested in Skoda – that is as an integral and valued part of its global footprint. Right now the emerging firms of Asia are cranking up their export of small and medium-sized cars for global markets, making Australia hard to beat as a source of larger cars to fill out their global offering.
Our automotive assets can never aspire to more than back-office status whilst owned by the American auto companies. Personally I’d rather the industry closed than limp along devouring billions of our dollars in assistance, with our politicians begging and bribing the clapped out, cash strapped, bailed out auto manufacturers of a once-great – indeed still great – power now bent on its own decline for a stay of execution.
Instead, we could have a ‘beauty contest’ in which access to those billions would only be available to those that could demonstrate an investment plan and ownership structure that gave Australia a worthwhile place in their global division of automotive labour. That wouldn’t be possible for the American firms without joint venturing with, or selling out to, the rising Asian giants. At least that way our billions just might buy us a seat at the grown-ups’ table.
Postscript: Here the extended interview of the column (mp3).
The relevant rule provides exclusions to the usual parking limitations if the driver’s vehicle is a motor cycle and the driver stops in a place where the motor cycle does not inconvenience, obstruct, hinder or prevent the free passage of any pedestrian or other vehicle.
The point about free passage can theoretically prevent disruptive parking, but in practice is virtually unenforceable.
This is all unique to Victoria, and has been like this since the 1980s. No other state allows motorcyclists to park on footpaths.
What’s the result of motorcyclists on footpaths?
It’s messy, particularly in Melbourne’s CBD, which is getting more and more busy.
City of Melbourne data indicates about 1200 motorcyclists ride and park in the CBD.
With virtually no guidelines or enforcement these are often parked in such a way that reduces footpath capacity in the places it’s needed most, affecting hundreds of thousands of people – including public transport users.
It causes crowding, it prompts people to walk along the roadway (yes, motor vehicles on the footpath, pedestrians on the road – talk about backwards – and causes serious issues for those with mobility aids and prams.
(The total daily population of the City of Melbourne is around 1 million on a weekday. Note that’s the total council area, not just the CBD/Hoddle Grid.)
Isn’t this all caused by delivery riders?
They’ve arguably made it worse. But this has been a problem brewing for many years.
In these blog posts from 2008 and 2013, before the delivery rider craze took off, I pointed out the issues with motorcyclists parking all over footpaths.
Aren’t bicycles just as bad?
Not really. They’re less bulky, and usually need to be secured to a fixed object, which limits where they can be parked.
If they’re not secured, just left somewhere (as the oBikes often were, and some delivery bikes are) then they can be physically moved.
Many seem to have accepted that providing unlimited free footpath space to motorcyclists isn’t actually a priority.
“Melbourne City Council has done its homework and counted how many bikes will be affected… At the moment it seems a straight swap of footpath places for on-road places. As long as riders arenâ€™t disadvantaged, as they donâ€™t seem to be, we are quite ok with it.”
Professor Richard Huggins, immediate past chair of the Victorian Motorcycle Council in The Age
This seems like a pretty fair appraisal, as it appears the number of street spaces will be roughly right for the number of motorcycles currently parked on footpaths in the affected blocks.
And it’s not like motorcycle riders can’t find another street to park in and walk a few metres to their destination.
“In spite of a serious lack of rider education on and enforcement of riding-on-footpath and pedestrian obstruction rules, the system has worked very well for 40 years”
Motorcycle Ridersâ€™ Association spokesman Damien Codognotto in the Herald Sun
The lack of rider education is a very fair point.
It actually makes me wonder if motorcycle groups made any effort to help educate riders. They must have known the current unregulated mess wasn’t sustainable.
But as for working very well for 40 years – no. Not at all. If it had, there wouldn’t be any need for change.
Giving footpaths back to pedestrians is a good thing
Walking needs to be encouraged. The health benefits are numerous, and itâ€™s the most space efficient travel mode – bar none. But often, pedestrian issues are ignored. The one place walkers should absolutely be prioritised is on footpaths.
Some motorcyclists are grumpy about these changes, because they’ve become used to parking wherever they want, for free.
We all want stuff for free. We can’t all have it. There’s no automatic right to be able to park outside your building. Space in the city centre is scarce, and motorcycle riders are not more important than everyone else.
More spaces for motorcyclists on the street, so footpaths can be freed up for increasing numbers of pedestrians is definitely a good thing.
Update 9pm: The City of Melbourne motion passed unanimously.
Well as economists and physicists have been known to say, something that cannot go on forever eventually ceases to go on. I learned last night that Erwin Fabian who was a good friend of my father in the camps from 1940 to 1944 (I think) when they were released into the 8th Employment Company (which they called the 8th Enjoyment Company) to work on the docks and at Albury moving freight from one train to another at the change in gauge and in various other places. After the war Erwin became an exotic inspiration to a group of Australian artists who were destined for fame – Arthur Boyd, John Perceval definitely – and I think Tucker and Nolan.
I believe he was 103 and had an opening of his work in Tatura late(ish) last year – launched by Jana Wendt who’d taken a particular interest in him and gave a fine speech. An earlier profile she did of him is here. There are some wonderful pictures. Erwin also did a marvellous portrait of my father about six months after they arrived in Australia.
Links to other posts I’ve done on Erwin are here. And below the fold is one of the first I did – impressed as I then was with his being 91!
Erwin Fabian was a friend of my father’s from the time he came to Australia on the same refugee boat as Dad. He was a few years older than most of the younger ones. They were in their late teens. He was 25. He painted a fantastic portrait of Dad when he was in the camp which has only recently come to light. He was a contemporary and friend of artists that you would have heard of during one of the great periods of Australian art such as Arthur Boyd, Sydney Nolan, Danila Vassilieff and Josl Bergner. He was also in London when Boyd was there and a good friend. He is good to talk to on that stuff, and I reckon the National Library should high tail their oral history unit down to his studio and make some recordings.
He’s a charming man with a very soft raspy voice. It’s not his age. He’s sounded like this for as long as I can remember. According Mum he was looked up to by Australian artists with some awe. He was European which presumably added cache for artists in Melbourne in the 1940s and his father also was an artist of some stature in Berlin at the turn of the twentieth century – though he died when Erwin was quite young. Just two or three years ago, there was a retrospective of Erwin’s and his fathers work in Berlin.
He’s now 91 and spends most of his time in a blowy tin warehouse off Errol Street in North Melbourne surrounded in industrial offcuts which he manoeuvres around (if necessary with cranes running from the roof of the warehouse which used to be some panel beater’s I think). He never caught on in the market like Nolan and Boyd, so he’s not famous. But he’s nevertheless kept sculpting and selling his work (at hefty prices!) for a living.
He has a pretty bad hip, but is putting off his hip operation for as long as possible because at his age there’s quite a reasonable chance that the general anaesthetic will do your brain serious harm. But he limps around the studio and beavers away. In the last ten days I’ve been to two openings of his sculpture! The first was a retrospective of sorts – though it was only about twenty pieces of sculpture and some etchings from internment in the 1940s. It was at McClelland Sculpture Park. I’d not been there before and it’s lovely. It’s in Langwarren just before Frankston as you drive down the bay from Melbourne. It looks like a fair bit of the money comes from the Murdoch family who live down the road at Cruden farm and have their names on half the sculpture. Anyway there’s lots of space to walk amongst, lots of sculptures (including a concrete Holden Kingswood stationwagon. And last night there was an opening of an exhibition of Erwin’s scupture at a commercial gallery (Australian Galleries in Collingwood). You may wish to go and see them. You can check out some of the sculptures here and here.
Remember back in the early days of Myki when the rumour spread that if you didn’t use your card for 90 days, your credit would vanish?
It wasn’t true. A number of people including me tried to hose it down (not very successfully) but eventually people found via experience that it wasn’t the case.
Fast forward to 2020. PTV’s “bible” the Fares And Ticketing Manual was revised this year, splitting the weighty tome into two separate documents:
Victorian Fares and Ticketing Conditions 2020 – the legalese and fine detail that almost nobody except me wants to read
Public Transport Ticketing Customer Guide 2020 – a (slightly) more readable document that humans can interpret
I took a skim through these, and was equal parts amused and aghast to find this section of text in the Customer Guide:
myki not used for 90 days
If a myki is not used within 90 days, any value loaded on it will be sent to archive.
To retrieve funds from archive, the customer must: • for a myki Smartcard, touch on or top up at a myki machine, retailer or myki enabled railway station. • for a Mobile myki, touch on.
Archived funds will take 24 hours to be reallocated to the myki.
Argh. This is completely wrong.
Whoever re-wrote this section clearly had no idea how the system works, and it appears copy/pasted some of the old text in such a way that it resurrects the old myth.
I mean really.
I flagged it with PTV. They accepted it was in error, and quickly had that section reworded. They also replaced the term “archived” with possibly clearer term “dormancy”.
myki not used for 90 days
If a myki is not used within 90 days of topping up online or via the call centre, the top up will be removed from the myki equipment and placed into dormancy.
To retrieve the top up from dormancy, the customer must: • for a myki Smartcard, touch on or top up at a myki machine, retailer or myki enabled railway station. • for a Mobile myki, touch on.
Top ups in dormancy will take 24 hours to be available on the myki equipment again.
(Bold/italics added to emphasise the important context.)
I suspect the heading is still problematic.
But in any case, thankfully it’s now corrected, and hopefully nobody actually read the incorrect version and got the wrong idea.
Update: This still seems to be causing confusion, so let me summarise it from a different perspective, and trying to avoid jargon:
If you top-up online or by phone, you need to use the Myki card within 90 days, otherwise that top-up may not be completed.
It doesn’t affect top-ups at machines or railway stations. It doesn’t affect your card or your existing balance.
Media reported over the weekend that there’s up to $80 million in funds on unused Myki cards. Solutions could include enabling travel by paying directly with contactless credit/debit cards (similar to Sydney and London and others), and better ticket and refund options for tourists.
I wrote a piece on Australia’s Honours system for Australia Day last year and decided this year to make it an annual event. So here’s this year’s column, which had a couple of hundred words edited out of it to meet the Conversation’s arbitrary limit of 900 words. (How can you run a self-respecting corporate operation without arbitrary policies? Or KPIs on the monthly ‘performance’ of your contribution.)
In any event, here’s the article in the full glory of its 1,071 word and 6061 character glory.
We think of Gough Whitlam’s government as the most radical in our post-war history, dedicated to its leader’s “crash through or crash” style. (In the end, it crashed.) But Whitlam’s approach to Australian honours was bold only on the surface.
Imperial Honours were scrapped. Today it’s rare for Australia’s worthies to run round town being called “Sir Bruce and Lady So and So” or “Dame Raylene” by every Tom, Dick and Harry in the street (or Sir Tom, Sir Dick and Sir Harry at the club). But when you look closer, it’s clear that Whitlam didn’t really refurbish imperial honours so much as rebrand them.
Back then there was a hierarchy of awards and though there was some correlation between your achievement and the level of honour you received for it, where you already stood in the social hierarchy counted for much more.
If you were out there selflessly contributing to your local community, you might eventually get an MBE (that’s a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). If you got luckier and had made more of a splash, you might get an OBE. That made you an “Officer” of the very same order of most excellent British things. Above that was the CBE which made you a “Commander” of exceedingly excellent entities.
At the very serious end of this spectrum were two awards. A prominent departmental secretary or businessperson might be made a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, or a Dame Commander if she were a woman. They could call themselves Sir Bruce or Dame Raylene. (I know of no transitions from Knight to Dame of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, but for all I know they’re all over this back in the Home Country alongside the official coins and tea towels honouring Brexit.)
If you were really special – say you were a governor-general or ex-prime minister or perhaps an internationally recognised scientist or a top business figure, you might become Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire or Dame Grand Cross. Still, in everyday life, you only got called “Sir Bruce” or “Dame Raylene”, so mostly only Sir Tom, Sir Dick and Sir Harry down at the club would know that you were a cut above them.
There were all manner of gongs to be won even above that for the very, very special, at which point the fancy dress came out and the fun really got going. Prime Minister
Menzies couldn’t get enough of them and, on the death of the incumbent in the position (Sir Winston Churchill) the Queen invested him Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle, which included an official residence at Walmer Castle for his annual visits to Britain.
Under the new Australian honours system with which the Whitlam Government replaced this system , there is no more Sir Bruce and Lady So and So or Dame Raylene. But virtually everything else has been left intact. The new Australian Honours were described as “orders of chivalry” which is quaint. And chivalrous I guess. They were formally instituted not by the Whitlam Government, but by Her Majesty (on Prime Minister Whitlam’s advice) and her crown sits atop all the Australian Honours medals. As previously, there’s a civilian and a military division.
Letters appear after people’s name if they want to use them, just as in the old days. But there’s a new twist. No, I’m not talking about all the people who now write “AM” on their Twitter profile. If you’re awarded an honour, in addition to the medal placed around your neck at the ceremony, you get a lapel pin.
Because all the honours get one and most seem to wear them around town and not just at official functions or in Anzac Day marches where those who won medals are celebrated for them, in some ways, the new awards are more rather than less conspicuous than the occasional Sir Bruce or Dame Raylene for the very special ones in the old days.
And the values that drove them are much the same. The rank or status of the reward you receive depends mostly on your social status rather than your achievement.
As I noted last year, the level of gratitude among recipients seems to follow an equal and opposite arc. Those at the bottom seem the most thrilled for being recognised the least. As Anne Summers lamented in 2013:
Seven years ago I nominated a woman I admire for an Australian honour. It took two years but it came through and she was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for a lifetime of work with victims of domestic violence. I was disappointed she had not been given a higher award – I had hoped for an AM (Member of the Order of Australia) at the very least – but she was thrilled and so was her family.
In the run-up to commenting on these honours last year, Lateral Economics sampled about half of them from 2018 back to 2013. We’ve now looked at both the Australia Day and Queen’s birthday lists from 2019 and the 2020 Australia Day list. I can report that the features I was most critical of last year are alive and well, though in one respect they’re improving (slowly).
The under-representation of women seems to be improving, if very slowly. And it’s unclear how secure the gains are, given that women’s under-representation increased quite sharply in 2014 and reached its recent zenith in 2017. (I note it surged after the election of Coalition in 2013, but have insufficient data to be confident of any trends.)
Last year I reported that, with the exception of the highest award – the AC, of which there are very few (generating a very volatile series) – women become substantially better represented in the ‘lower’ awards. This was a weak effect and has since faded to insignificance.
We also looked at how many honours went to those whose online biographies released with the honours include work done without personal gain. Here, as you can see from the figure below, (again with the exception of the volatile AC results), the more selfless you are, the lower in the hierarchy your award is likely to be. There is no sign of change.
The Griffith Review has just published a substantial essay of mine that I’ve been working on for some time. I reproduce the introductory section below after which you’ll have to hightail it to their website to finish. But it would be good to see you back here for comments which aren’t provided for on the Griffith Review website.
Designing institutions to force (or nudge) entirely self-interested individuals to achieve better outcomes has been the major goal posited by policy analysts for governments to accomplish for much of the past half century. Extensive empirical research leads me to argue that instead, a core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.
Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Lecture, 2009
SINCE ADAM SMITH, economists have marvelled at competition’s capacity to improve our world – not by fostering virtue, but by harnessing the opposing self-interest of buyer and seller in a market. As Smith himself famously suggested, instead of trusting his wellbeing as a consumer to the benevolence of the butcher, baker or brewer, he’d rather rely on their regard for their own interests in competing for his custom.
There’s a lively debate today about how to inject greater competition into Australia’s notoriously oligopolistic industries – like finance, supermarkets, fuel, energy and telecommunications – not to mention our new global digital overlords like Facebook and Google. And there’s a more ideologically charged debate about whether competition will drive better or worse outcomes in sectors where non-market values are important – like health, education and social services.
Having offered some thoughts on those issues elsewhere, in this essay I discuss something more fundamental and, because of that, widely overlooked. We’re falling for the ‘competition delusion’ by which I mean this: In our embrace of private competition as a goal, we mostly pass over a prior issue – which is the terms on which that competition takes place. That’s undermining trust in a remarkably wide range of institutions in our economic and public life.
The analogy with sport is illuminating. Australian Rules football is the crucible of some of the most intense competition you can imagine. But unlike some thinkers about our economy and society, its administrators understand that competition won’t amount to a hill of beans unless the rules of the game make it the game we want to follow. Seeing things this way, it’s an obvious mistake to ask whether football should be competitive or cooperative. Competition and cooperation are inextricably entangled in the game, each defining the other.
The competition delusion sees competition and cooperation as two ends of an ideological spectrum. And it presumes that, where one has to choose, competition should be presumed preferable to cooperation. The perspective I’m sketching here suggests a new take on JK Galbraith’s argument about private affluence amidst public squalor. As he put it in 1958:
Cars are important, roads are not… Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses boost our standard of living, street cleaners are an unfortunate expense. Thus we end up with clean houses and filthy streets.
Whatever the validity of this critique of America’s real economy of the 1950s, it’s a remarkably and increasingly apt picture of the knowledge and ideas that govern our economy and society in the age of the competition delusion.
If you know anything about the latest State of the Union Address, you know that after Donald Trump had handed Nancy Pelosi his speech as if she were his secretary when she held out her hand to him to shake hands, Pelosi tore up his speech. Didn’t look particularly well-judged politically to do that to me but there you go. What would I know?
Trump operatives have now released the video (above) of Pelosi tearing up his speech spliced interleaved with Trump’s comments praising heroes like aged soldiers. Facebook have agreed to take down the video as obviously misleading.
(Only kidding. Facebook wasn’t interested in getting in the way of its profits). On the other hand, Twitter has said that the Tweet violates policy that will be enforced when they’re ready to do so on March 2.
I can imagine it’s a scary call for Twitter to say so to the Gangster in chief. Rage will ensue and Donald Trump has a lot of power including the power of his mob. In those circumstances if I were Twitter, I’d be wanting to distance myself from this process, whilst having a decent approach.
I’d do it with a standing citizens’ assembly. If I were Twitter I’d recruit a demonstrably objective selection of ordinary American citizens using the same kinds of methods we use to recruit juries (in which I’d include random selection and representative random selection of various kinds.)
I’d then pay them to meet and deliberate on the question of what policies Twitter should adopt to be consistent with Twitter enhancing democratic deliberation whilst minimising the extent to which it harmed it. Then Twitter would have something to say to the various sides of politics who would inevitably accuse it of bias. It isn’t being biased – it has a process of integrity for determining the considered opinion of the public on this matter.
That process consists of
the consideration of specific cases
the deduction of policies and rules from those cases
the application of those policies and rules by Twitter
constant rinsing and repeating.
I expect the citizens’ assembly should be turned over relatively frequently, say every six months. But I’d also like to see the development of a cadre of the best of past citizens’ assemblies chosen in a non-competitive way, to help develop the ‘culture’ of the body as ‘elders’. The greater autonomy the body acquired through this mechanism, the more successful it would be in achieving its objectives of protecting the public – and protecting Twitter from accusations of bias.
I think this kind of thing may offer the last best hope for independence to be nurtured and protected in many other circumstances – for instance in public agencies. Existing mechanisms for nurturing independence (say of the public service from their political masters) or for ensuring ethical behaviour (as with ethics committees) are demonstrably failing. But I’ll defend that proposition on another occasion.
We need to break the cycle of dependence on cars to get around this city and we need to solve the operational issues that are holding our public transport network back.
The problem is he seems to have assumed that fares are the biggest barrier to getting people out of their cars:
We needed to … do more to encourage people onto public transport. … If price will get them there, then we should drop the prices. Our city needs this and our environment needs it.
I don’t think that’s right.
The biggest barrier is lack of good services – public transport that actually presents a viable, time-competitive alternative to driving.
It’s not such a big issue in the CBD and inner suburbs, where the trams (including in the Free Tram Zone) complement the trains and buses, and provide a pretty dense, pretty frequent, connecting network, at least during daytime. In these areas, public transport competes strongly. Only a minority of people come into the CBD by car, for instance.
It’s the middle and outer suburbs where the only option might be buses every 30-60 minutes, and if you’re lucky there are trains, but only every 30 minutes after dark. Most people won’t use these at any cost if they have a car.
Still, given the Free Tram Zone has been around for five years now, the effects of its introduction should be visible…
And the current debate got a few myths flying.
Did the FTZ get more people onto trams?
Yes it did. Budget Papers show patronage rose sharply, from 176.4 million in 2013-14 to 204 million in 2015-16, an increase of 16% in just two years — the highest growth in at least 20 years.
In fact in the data going back to 1947, the only higher jump I could find was following the patronage dip from the 1990 tram strike that knocked the trams out of action for over a month.
Did the FTZ discourage driving?
No it didn’t, and this is the real problem.
In January 2015 there were two major fare changes:
Zone 1+2 fares were capped at zone 1 prices;
and the FTZ was introduced.
Analysis of VISTA data (which surveys tens of thousands of people and their travel) shows that the first change, capping Zone 1+2 fares, resulted in a reduction in car travel. Some people who previously drove to Zone 1 stations now board trains closer to home. Despite it also introducing some issues to the fares, the effect on reducing driving has undoubtedly been a good thing.
But the VISTA data also showed that within Zone 1 (where there was no price change apart from the FTZ) more people are now driving to the area included in the FTZ. Conclusion: The FTZ has encouraged more driving.
This is in line with car parks promoting their location within the FTZ.
The other thing the data showed was similar to the anecdotal evidence: many people hopping onto trams had previously made their short CBD journeys by walking or cycling (including using the blue hire bikes, partly killed off thanks to the FTZ). This is not a positive change.
Doesn’t everybody benefit from the FTZ?
No they don’t. The people who benefit are those who did not reach the zone by public transport.
If you do catch public transport to the CBD/FTZ, you get trams included in your daily fare (unless you used the Early Bird train fare).
This means that for most paying public transport users the FTZ makes no monetary difference.
Some of the confusion around this might be because in some other cities in Australia, there is no daily fare cap, or it is very high, so you would pay extra for a lunchtime tram trip to the shops. Not so in Melbourne.
Wouldn’t scrapping the FTZ would hurt the poor?
The main beneficiaries are people drive into the FTZ – who as the Grattan Institute says, are more than twice as likely to earn a six-figure salary as other workers.
Some international and interstate tourists also benefit by not having to buy a Myki card, but only if the entirety of their travel is within the CBD and Docklands. It seems unlikely that those people are unable to afford the cost of public transport fares – though better sales and distribution of Myki cards, for instance through hotels, would be a good idea.
There are some students on low incomes who live in or close to the FTZ. Most of them can already get substantial discounts on fares. But I’ll wager most people living in the FTZ are not hard up for cash.
Melbourne’s “battlers” are more likely to be found in outer suburbs with no efficient frequent usable public transport, struggling to afford the running costs of the cars they need to get where they need to go – or struggling to reach education and work opportunities.
Those people should be the priority for assistance.
Crowding? Can’t they just run more trams?
Crowding has long been an issue on CBD trams, but has got markedly worse with the FTZ.
It’s particularly an issue in evening peak hour, when paying passengers who want to head outbound are squeezed off the trams by free passengers riding a short distance. The above video shows route 19 outbound at 5:45pm.
Indeed, overcrowding exists across the entire public transport network. However, this is not by any means an insurmountable problem. This is an operational issue that could be solved by adding increased services or shorter shuttle routes that take passengers to the perimeter of the zone.
Running more trams is the logical answer in principle, but problem is that right now, there are no more trams to run.
Could they buy more? Yes. But in the context of them struggling to even provide upgrades to ensure a fully accessible, or indeed fully air-conditioned fleet, where does this money come from?
Nobody expects transport systems (road or rail) to completely pay for all their costs, but at least if patronage is growing on fare paid routes, then revenue is increasing to cover some of this investment.
Funding for expensive upgrades to free services with no financial return is a hard ask when there are so many other demands on public money.
Even accounting for the huge cost of running the Myki system (about $100m/year — all those upgrades like new faster readers don’t come for free) that’s still a lot of foregone revenue that would have to be covered if there were no fares.
The beneficiaries would be wider than the FTZ of course — but mostly it would be those people who have a service that is good enough to use.
Those in the outer burbs with their hopeless buses would not start using public transport just because it was free. They’d still drive.
To draw an analogy: Free outer-suburban public transport is like free payphone calls. Few people make use of it, because frankly the experience of payphones is just nowhere near as convenient as mobile phones, which most people own already – even though they are not free.
Ultimately even if government had that money to spend, upgrading services would do far more to get people out of their cars and using public transport.
As Chris Hale notes: In wealthy cities like Melbourne, potential public transport passengers are indifferent to fare changes or discounts, but respond robustly to enhanced service.
It’s almost as if the politicians who designed it back in 2014 just drew a line around the Hoddle Grid, plus Docklands and the Vic Market, and didn’t consider the tourist hotspots… or indeed where the boundary tram stops were located.
The Free Tram Zone was the classic politicians’ “let’s draw a line on a map without thinking about it too much”. The original boundary as announced in March 2014 didn’t even consider the location of *tram stops* (eg Fed Square, Batman Park). https://t.co/ZbUxkgU71rpic.twitter.com/qt9gBIqL9X
Did the FTZ speed up trams? Few people now need to touch their tickets. But timetable and performance data shows no overall speed benefit, and the tram operator has raised concerns about delays, with CBD trams now averaging just 11 kilometres per hour. Crowding appears to have more than countered any boarding/alighting time saving for individuals.
Was the FTZ to cover for the City Saver Zone, not catered for under Myki? The City Saver Zone was catered for under Myki. It worked on trains and buses provided the user touched on and off.
Unofficially it worked on trams too, but was removed in mid-2010 when touch-off was made optional on trams. This was thanks largely to slow Myki Reader response times, though dodgy GPS may have also been a factor.
Have fare cuts like the FTZ and the nearly flat fares added to upwards pressure on fares generally? Yes. Around the same time the Coalition introduced those changes, they also flagged CPI+2.5% rises from 2015 to 2018, which were subsequently implemented by Labor. A short trip in Melbourne’s Zone 1 now costs about double that of Sydney.
What happens with the FTZ now?
We’ll see. The Inquiry will go ahead obviously, but the government has already said they don’t want to expand the zone – in fact their response to the Herald Sun sounds awfully like “we know it causes all sorts of problems, but expanding it will make it even worse”:
The state government has rejected a call to extend free CBD tram services, saying it would increase crowding and make trams run slower across the network.
If the robust debate seen last week proves nothing else, it’s that it’s a politically vexed issue, and it’s probably easier just to ignore the problem.
I’d love to think the government would be brave enough to get rid of the Free Tram Zone – to claw back some revenue, relieve crowding and stop encouraging CBD motorists – but unfortunately for paying passengers, we’re probably stuck with it.
Previous work has documented that speaking one’s native language with an accent distinct from the mainstream is associated with lower wages. In this study, we seek to estimate the causal effect of speaking with a distinctive regional accent, disentangling the effect of the accent from that of omitted variables. We collected data on workers’ speech in Germany, a country with wide variation in regional dialects. We use a variety of strategies in estimation, including an instrumental variables strategy in which the instruments are based on research findings from the linguistics of accent acquisition. All of our estimators show that speaking with a distinctive regional accent reduces wages by an amount that is comparable to the gender wage gap. We also find that workers with distinctive regional accents tend to sort away from occupations that demand high levels of face-to-face contact, consistent with various occupational sorting models.
I have little economic insight to add to the various projections made by other economists in Britain about the Brexit scenario that follow under various outcomes of the negotiations with the EU. Like all of them, I think severing trade ties will not work out well in the short run for the economy of the UK, though I am less convinced than others that it will necessarily all work out badly in the longer run.
Most importantly, Britain can always come back to the EU in the future, so if it doesn’t work out as you thought, you Brits can change your mind again.
Yet, I think economics is a distraction, even though all kinds of economic interest groups are tugging in various directions. Break-ups are nearly always bad for the purse, but the immediate reason is seldom money but emotions and identity.
I thus want to talk about the feelings and identity of the Brexiteers, which I think is the heart of the matter.
A large number of you were persuaded you did not belong with the rest of Europe. You were seduced by over 30 years of negative media stories that the rest of Europe looked down on you and was looking for ways to get one over you. You were constantly told and encouraged to believe that you were different, better in fact, than the rest of us Europeans. That mentality is perhaps best illustrated by the ‘Football is coming home’ anthem so popular in the UK at the time of the World Cup. That smug entitlement mentality stings us ‘other’ Europeans but we will try and keep our disdain to a minimum because you remain family. In my case, with an English mum and a Dutch dad, you are literally family.
What I want to mention is the political perspective from one of your main friends in Europe: the Netherlands, perhaps your strongest and oldest ally, sharing royal families since William and Mary, and being very close language and culture wise too. We are close cousins in the Germanic language tree, with old English very close to Frisian (a language and people in the North of the Netherlands and along that coastline into Denmark). There were also several waves of immigrants to Britain via what is now the Netherlands. And of course, we have been on the same side in the second World War when our government and Queen was seated in London.
In truth, English culture is largely a blend of the Dutch and the French. The structure of your language is largely Dutch, with massive French influences. Whilst your words for some of the animals you eat are hence the same as in Dutch (‘Cow’ is ‘Koe’, ‘Sheep’ is ‘Schaap’, and ‘Goat’ is ‘Geit’), what you call them when they are cooked is French (‘Beef’ is ‘boeuf’, ‘veal’ is ‘veal’, and ‘Pork’ is ‘porc’).
So too English culture. The class structure, with elite schools and an upper layer that has owned most of the country for centuries is quintessentially French. They got rid of their nobility in the Napoleontic Wars and in the two World Wars, whereas you were (un)lucky enough not to have yours swept out by an invader. Your nobility, which of course is largely French or other-European in origin, headed by the House of Hannover (!), never left. You have elite private schools and Oxbridge, the French have ‘Grand Ecoles’ and ‘Lycea’. Like your language is old-Dutch, your class system is old-French.
The organisation of your civil service is similarly French, with smatterings of German. You have a meritocratic civil service answering to a public code of service to the country. Very French. Your large welfare and health services followed the examples of the German welfare systems introduced generations before Beveridge (though, typically English, you tend not to want to know such things, preferring to believe you were first, something your European family has to forgive you for).
On the other hand, your underlying egalitarianism is very Dutch. You demand of your police, your National Health Service, and your roads that everyone is treated equally, forever suspicious of being short-changed. Your newspapers are full of the fear that the elites are encroaching such equal entitlements. That underlying idea of equality is very Dutch. Similar egalitarian ideas are embedded in your system of having a criminal trial judged by ‘a jury of your peers’, the one-man-one-vote principle, the notion of the village commons, and the notion of a right to walk everywhere in Britain. You are far more Dutch than you know, not merely in that genetic and linguistic sense.
Many of your biggest companies are Anglo-Dutch ventures, such as Unilever and Shell. The combination of Dutch bluntness and English politesse (a French word!) works remarkably well in the international economy and governmental environment, something I have experienced in my own job many times. Of course the whole notion of a stock exchange and the limited liability company on which the financial centre of London floats, are direct copy-cats of what was set up in Amsterdam previously. We had the East India company, so you had the British East India Company and ‘took over’ quite a few of the assets of the Dutch, including of course New York.
So we share a long history and we Dutch see you as close family in terms of language, culture, and economic interests. Your Brexit will affect the cousins across the North Sea.
Simply put, we will miss you Brits. We will miss your diplomatic and military muscle. We will miss your support on trade and expansion politics within the European Union. We will miss your humour and use of language. We wont miss your belief that you are better than the rest of us, but we will miss your take-downs of the other big egos in Europe, like the French. We are sad that this will probably spell a difficult economic period for you and that this might work out badly for the poorest amongst you, so we hope that is not the case.
But Brexit is not farewell. You will remain less than an hour away by plane, a tunnel-trip by car, a day ferry. We will keep trading, keep sharing tourism and joint visits. Your island is not going anywhere and we will need each other when pressures come from the truly large countries in this world: China, the US, and eventually India. Compared to them, all the European countries are small, you included. Only as a family will we have any real say. We will need each other when it comes to the internet, to banking, to our joint trade interests, and, who knows, to defending our joint continent.
We share a long history with flows of people and ideas in both directions. You are part of us and we hope you will come back soon to the family table. We are not giving up on you.
Back in 2010, Bentleigh station still had its level crossing. Metro had been running the trains for only a couple of months, but the Connex signage from the station sign was already gone. Note the generic branding on the train.
Some other branding was still in transition. This Connex-era poster had Metro stickers on it to cover up the old web address and logo.
Flinders Street station (in its current incarnation) was celebrating its 100th birthday, and in the display cabinets in the Degraves Street Subway (often used to exhibit art), was a display – including a familiar logo.
Effects of the minimum wage on labor market outcomes have been extensively debated and analyzed. Less studied, however, are other consequences of the minimum wage that stem from changes in a household’s income and labor supply. We examine the effects of the minimum wage on child health. We employ data from the National Survey of Children’s Health in conjunction with a difference-in-differences research design. We estimate effects of changes in minimum wage throughout childhood. We find evidence that an increase in the minimum wage throughout childhood is associated with a large improvement in child health. A particularly interesting finding is that much of the benefits of a higher minimum wage are associated with the period between birth and aged 5.
Because the line is closed for maintenance works, not project works.
Likewise the Big Build web site doesn’t show the closure of the Werribee and Williamstown lines next weekend… but it does show the closure of the Stony Point and part of the Frankston line for two weeks in February.
It’s a similar story with staffing at the rail replacement bus stops. When it’s project works there are plenty of staff. Turns out they can be thin on the ground when it’s maintenance works.
It’s ridiculous. Passengers don’t care who is running a rail closure. They just want accurate, consistent and complete information.
The Big Build calendar format is excellent, and very readable, but if it’s only got half the information, if you can’t actually depend on it to show you when a rail line is closed, then what’s the point?
Despite the big merger last year of PTV and Vicroads and numerous other bodies into the Department of Transport, the claims of an integrated transport system clearly haven’t come to fruition just yet.
On the bright side, I’m told they’re working on changes so we don’t see a sea of orange notices at central stations in future. Apparently this picture has been doing the rounds.
Rail replacements on the Caulfield line are not the only major disruptions to public transport at the moment.
Bus routes from the eastern suburbs into the CBD are some of the busiest in Melbourne.
All of them are currently terminating on the edge of the CBD for five weeks due to power upgrade works.
Bus passengers are asked to make their own way to/from Exhibition/Lonsdale Streets.
From the western end of the CBD, it’s a long walk to Exhibition Street, or a ride in a very packed tram.
Caulfield rail replacements also drop people on the edge of the CBD, though the frequency of north-south Swanston Street trams connecting to Federation Square and the Arts Centre is far better than the east-west trams along Bourke and La Trobe Streets.
Making it even worse for bus passengers: more roadworks elsewhere this week resulting in more delays even once you’re on the bus.
Back to the signage. Kudos to them for programming the Smartbus sign to say the County Court stop is closed.
But some other routes from the western suburbs continue to serve this section of Lonsdale Street as far as Queen Street. Confusing much?
At least those routes don’t generally pick up passengers along here – because they terminate in Queen Street.
Also baffling: remember how some 232/235/237 buses from Port Melbourne are diverting away from Collins St due to heavy traffic?
Some of them are choosing to join the congestion in Lonsdale St. This doesn’t seem like the best idea.
Anyway, it’s understandable that Transdev didn’t get want their eastern suburbs buses getting stuck in heavy traffic every day during the works. This caused lots of problems during the William Street works in November.
Rather than just leaving people to walk (fun this morning in the heavy rain) or catch a packed tram that doesn’t really connect to where the buses run, there are things they could have done.
Maybe they should have set up a shuttle bus service along Lonsdale Street to Exhibition St to help people connect with their service?
It probably makes sense to do these works in school holidays, but it’s a myth that everyone’s on holiday for all of January.
Better co-ordination/staggering of works, and some kind of provision for passengers who can’t walk the length of Lonsdale Street certainly wouldn’t go astray.
The Doncaster area may never get a rail line to the City. It’s important that their bus services run as smoothly as possible.
There is an uncanny analogy between China in the 19th century and the US this very moment: in both cases a large part of the general population could not be persuaded away from drugs by morality or prison. Opium in China then, opioids in the US now. Could it be the case that the essential mechanism is that those at the bottom of very unequal societies cannot say no to drugs and that with a stagnant society, the elites cannot say no to drugs money because growth has then come to be zero-sum? So the combination of inequality and stagnation spells great trouble with drugs? Let’s go over the core bit of this idea and how to check for it in other historical episodes.
In China, the opium offered on a large scale by foreign invaders was too seductive to the general population to ignore. China was under great strain with high inequality, no longer able to ward off foreign powers (the UK and France) or maintain efficient government. The US now too is under strain from foreign competition (from China but also the EU), has high inequality, and is subject to a quite stunning opioid crisis, one essentially engendered by corrupt insiders to the US establishment, exactly as in China the establishment was corruptible when the Opium trade came round.
Now, the US is stagnant in a very particular way: whilst its GDP is growing, the majority has seen little improvement in their lives and nearly all the growth occurs at the very top of the income and wealth distribution, so all those lowly government bureaucrats have seen their relative income and status drop the last few decades, just as was true in China when the UK pushed its opium on the people. The US is stagnation in the echelon of the elites that it needs to keep law and order functioning: in its basic bureaucratic machinery.
The EU countries are not suffering from the same opioid epidemic, where the upsurge in problems is far less than in the US. At the same time, the EU is not stagnating in its middle ground: employment levels are high, inequality is much lower than in the US, and its basic government machinery has not become corrupted to the same degree as the US’ machinery has. Perhaps most importantly, much of the EU feels it is doing well, with happiness levels up markedly in many countries (including Italy), and the Eastern countries growing in confidence and stature.
So the basic pattern fits the big power players. Let’s check some of the other drug-related knowledge history provides.
For one, we know that a conquered people are highly susceptible to a drugs epidemic, even if it has no history of government. A drugs epidemic happened to the conquered Aborigines in Australia (who never had anything resembling government); the native Americans all over the Americas, and also occurred in Russia when the economy collapsed in 1991 (a period aptly called Katastroika). So there is clearly something to be said that a discouraged population is very vulnerable to drugs, whether offered by insiders, such as Russian opium-running army officers or American pharmaceutical companies, or outsiders, like the UK in the case of China or alcohol salesmen in Australia.
We already know it is basically futile and extremely destructive to stop all mind-altering drugs, as the disastrous episode with banning alcohol in the US has so nicely demonstrated during a period that the US was doing well in terms of its economy and confidence. So we already know our societies need drugs-related mental release to a high level even in good times. Sensible governments have learned this everywhere and do what they can to maximize the benefits from taxing the drugs and minimizing the harm by pushing the idea that only losers lose control over their own drugs habits.
When a people is conquered and there is lack of optimism, it seems neither very small groups of people, like the hunter gatherers of the New Worlds, nor very large groups like the Asian societies in the 19th century could resist drugs. I think similar things are true for Africa, but there my knowledge is less solid.
Yet, we also know something about when drugs-oppression is relatively sustainable. It came in big time in the 1950s everywhere in the world, particularly in the Asian countries that introduced draconian punishment for things to do with drugs. This of course did not stop the drugs trade, but neither did societies collapse. On the contrary, they managed to thrive. Ditto in Australia, the US, and most of the rich world: whilst there was plenty of drugs taking, particularly at the very top and the very bottom, societies and economies still managed to flourish anyway. The do-gooder middle management of the state basically towed the line and kept things manageable, whilst those at the very top did whatever they managed to get away with, and whilst the very bottom couldn’t resist but was of course openly miserable and thus a form of living deterrent.
The European societies for a while moved towards a social-shaming model of drugs control, with decriminalized cannabis and also a largely social-norm based approach to hard drugs. That has worked reasonably well.
So social discouragement seems to work at least as well as draconian punishing in growing societies. In both cases of course is it then by construction the case that large parts of the population have a positive alternative to live for that keeps many smart about drugs.
If this basic story is true, it would have several implications: enforcement fails when regular economic growth runs out and zero-sum economic games emerge; the US is in serious trouble over drugs, which will last as long as the growth does not trickle down; Australia will probably experience a rapid and serious drugs epidemic as well (maybe it already is?); the EU and most of Asia is relatively safe from the current epidemic, with the key long-term indicator whether inequality is still going up.
In terms of policy consequences, they all seem politically unpalatable.
Research wise, this stuff seems easy to look at with the amount of data we have on rates of drugs use in many countries over time. There are probably already many papers on this theme.
These are some quick notes on listening to a Libravox recording of Chapter Three of Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace the text of which can be found here. I was stunned at how good it was. It was like listening to a phone message from another planet.
The overarching casting of the drama in terms of looking forward and the loftiness of the future which seems possible for Western Civilisation (and that this is not only the best course but also the only rational one) and looking backwards (which ends in the magical thinking of basing one’s thinking on the impossibility of recovering the past).
[Clemencau’s position] is the policy of an old man, whose most vivid impressions and most lively imagination are of the past and not of the future. … My purpose in this book is to show that the Carthaginian Peace is not practically right or possible. Although the school of thought from which it springs is aware of the economic factor, it overlooks, nevertheless, the deeper economic tendencies which are to govern the future. The clock cannot be set back. You cannot restore Central Europe to 1870 without setting up such strains in the European structure and letting loose such human and spiritual forces as, pushing beyond frontiers and races, will overwhelm not only you and your “guarantees,” but your institutions, and the existing order of your Society.
The picture it paints of the ever-presence of vanity in the world. And what is to be done in the face of vanity. A well considered argument is the only cure we have. Of course it’s only a ‘talking cure’ – exceptionally weak in its effects in the world, but what else is there? As Johh Henry Newman wrote and Manning Clark quoted: “Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man.”
The issue of sensibility is front and centre – the need for sensibility to navigate the world and the way in which we all have only so much of it and need a division of labour in it – and Woodrow Wilson’s utter failure on that score
That this is an ethical as well as a cognitive matter (something more and more eclipsed in modernity)
The idea of Woodrow Wilson as the philosopher king with feet of clay – devoid of sensibility. Here’s a fabulous passage:
When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history. His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence the realities of power were in his hands.
With what curiosity, anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilization and lay for us the foundations of the future.
The disillusion was so complete, that some of those who had trusted most hardly dared speak of it. Could it be true? they asked of those who returned from Paris. Was the Treaty really as bad as it seemed? What had happened to the President? What weakness or what misfortune had led to so extraordinary, so unlooked-for a betrayal?
Yet the causes were very ordinary and human. The President was not a hero or a prophet; he was not even a philosopher; but a generously intentioned man, with many of the weaknesses of other human beings, and lacking that dominating intellectual equipment which would have been necessary to cope with the subtle and dangerous spellbinders whom a tremendous clash of forces and personalities had brought to the top as triumphant masters in the swift game of give and take, face to face in Council,—a game of which he had no experience at all.
We had indeed quite a wrong idea of the President. We knew him to be solitary and aloof, and believed him very strong-willed and obstinate. We did not figure him as a man of detail, but the clearness with which he had taken hold of certain main ideas would, we thought, in combination with his tenacity, enable him to sweep through cobwebs. Besides these qualities he would have the objectivity, the cultivation, and the wide knowledge of the student. [Wilson had been an academic.] The great distinction of language which had marked his famous Notes seemed to indicate a man of lofty and powerful imagination. … With all this he had attained and held with increasing authority the first position in a country where the arts of the politician are not neglected. All of which, without expecting the impossible, seemed a fine combination of qualities for the matter in hand. …
The first glance at the President suggested not only that, whatever else he might be, his temperament was not primarily that of the student or the scholar, but that he had not much even of that culture of the world which marks M. Clemenceau and Mr. Balfour as exquisitely cultivated gentlemen of their class and generation. But more serious than this, he was not only insensitive to his surroundings in the external sense, he was not sensitive to his environment at all. What chance could such a man have against Mr. Lloyd George’s unerring, almost medium-like, sensibility to every one immediately round him? To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man’s buff in that party. Never could a man have stepped into the parlor a more perfect and predestined victim to the finished accomplishments of the Prime Minister. The Old World was tough in wickedness anyhow; the Old World’s heart of stone might blunt the sharpest blade of the bravest knight-errant. But this blind and deaf Don Quixote was entering a cavern where the swift and glittering blade was in the hands of the adversary.
The way any interpretation and any explanation must try to comprehend the essential issues – which will also be multi-dimensional. So skill in economics is important, but so too are other areas. Note Keynes respect for ‘history’ as a discipline which he is not schooled in, but this doesn’t lead him to simply pass the buck (not my department), but rather to a certain humility and tentativeness alongside the observation that the synthesis nevertheless needs to be done, so he’s proceeding as best he can.
Yet, if I seem in this chapter to assume sometimes the liberties which are habitual to historians, but which, in spite of the greater knowledge with which we speak, we generally hesitate to assume towards contemporaries, let the reader excuse me when he remembers how greatly, if it is to understand its destiny, the world needs light, even if it is partial and uncertain, on the complex struggle of human will and purpose, not yet finished, which, concentrated in the persons of four individuals in a manner never paralleled, made them, in the first months of 1919, the microcosm of mankind.
The way in which morality enters in a kind of shadow play with sophistry protecting the high opinion the Great and the Good hold of themselves. Today the bullshit is piled higher and deeper, pervading not just politics and international relations but almost every aspect of our lives – certainly any with a mission statement. Speaking of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points which were what the belligerents bound themselves to in the Armistice:
This wise and magnanimous program for the world had passed on November 5, 1918, beyond the region of idealism and aspiration, and had become part of a solemn contract to which all the Great Powers of the world had put their signature. But it was lost, nevertheless, in the morass of Paris;—the spirit of it altogether, the letter in parts ignored and in other parts distorted.
Having decided that some concessions were unavoidable, [Wilson] might have [used] the financial power of the United States to secure as much as he could of the substance, even at some sacrifice of the letter. But the President was not capable of so clear an understanding with himself as this implied. He was too conscientious. Although compromises were now necessary, he remained a man of principle and the Fourteen Points a contract absolutely binding upon him. He would do nothing that was not honorable; he would do nothing that was not just and right; he would do nothing that was contrary to his great profession of faith. Thus, without any abatement of the verbal inspiration of the Fourteen Points, they became a document for gloss and interpretation and for all the intellectual apparatus of self-deception, by which, I daresay, the President’s forefathers had persuaded themselves that the course they thought it necessary to take was consistent with every syllable of the Pentateuch.
And allow one quote from a later chapter – the denoument, or one among many where truth is spoken to propaganda. Thus the comments of the German Financial Commission on the way in which, having fought a war to make the world safe for democracy, the allies showed no regard for it in Germany, with the Versailles Treaty breaching German sovereignty in numerous egregious ways. This is all a bit rich from the Germans given their conduct of the war, but a reasonable critique nevertheless.
“German democracy is thus annihilated at the very moment when the German people was about to build it up after a severe struggle—annihilated by the very persons who throughout the war never tired of maintaining that they sought to bring democracy to us…. Germany is no longer a people and a State, but becomes a mere trade concern placed by its creditors in the hands of a receiver, without its being granted so much as the opportunity to prove its willingness to meet its obligations of its own accord. The Commission, which is to have its permanent headquarters outside Germany, will possess in Germany incomparably greater rights than the German Emperor ever possessed; the German peopleunder its régime would remain for decades to come shorn of all rights, and deprived, to a far greater extent than any people in the days of absolutism, of any independence of action, of any individual aspiration in its economic or even in its ethical progress”.
In Victoria, public transport performance data (in particular reliability aka cancellations, and punctuality aka delays) is “usually published on the 10th of every month.” – or so they claim, anyway.
This typically gives eligible passengers just under 3 weeks to claim compensation. Applications normally close at the end of the month.
But the publication of this data has been getting later and later. I’ve graphed it back to the start of 2018, based on PTV media releases. (For a couple of months, the announcement is not on their web site – I’ve used the date of media reports instead.)
The last time they delivered the data by the 10th was September’s figures in October.
The publication of November data on 19th December set a new record. And the December data? As of 5pm today, the 17th of January, it’s not out yet – so it’s at least a week late. (Update: published on 20th January.)
When they publish the information late, are they allowing more time to claim? Nope.
How long does it take to publish this data? Unclear – there may be some manual collation and adjustment that has to take place, including dispensations for events outside the operators’ control.
But keep in mind that some data is published daily by PTV, and the operators certainly use near-real-time data internally.
It’s bad enough that public transport services are delayed, but it’s pretty poor form when even their punctuality data is delayed.
If this is going to keep happening, then at the very least they should allow more time for compensation claims. (Really it should be automatic. They use Myki data to reject claims. They could use it to find eligible passengers.)
Taxpayers fund the transport network to the tune of billions of dollars every year, much of it paid to private operators.
Obviously the investment in these services brings huge benefits to society… but transparency is also important. We have a right to know how well the public transport network is performing.
Update 20/1/2020: the December results have finally been published. The graph above has been revised. Yarra Trams is paying compensation to eligible passengers, and – apparently due to the late publication – Passengers have until 10 February to apply for performance compensation.
A couple of weeks ago I passed through Redesdale, and its 152 year old bridge. This, by Australian standards, is pretty old.
Despite the sign, it opened in 1868, not 1867.
On approach, there’s a warning sign about the width (3.2 metres) and height (4.3 metres) limit. Higher than the Montague Street Bridge, but not as capacious as bridges built to modern standards.
Making the bridge doubly fascinating is the story behind it: the ironwork was intended for the Hawthorn bridge (at Bridge Road), but the ship carrying it from Britain caught fire and sunk in Hobsons Bay. Eventually the ironwork was salvaged and used at Redesdale.
A relative reckons that during heavy rain, it’s not unknown for the river to reach the bridge deck – which must be quite a sight.
But even with the river level far lower, on a long drive, it’s an eyecatching sight.
It seems there were some lessons learnt after Black Saturday. Particularly noticeable was the change from the Stay Or Leave policy, to much stronger language. The emergency warnings are now very forthright, and even quite confronting, including phrases such as:
Emergency Services will not be able to help you
Heat will kill you before the fire reaches you
One can only hope that the dire warnings for people to get out of danger areas before the fires approach has saved lives.
But it’s not over yet.
We all know that climate change alone does not cause fires. But it does cause hotter temperatures.
Climate deniers and conspiracy theorists manage to blame the Greens for a lack of burn offs. As if the Greens have control over anything – they are a minor political player everywhere around the country.
And so we come to the Federal Government’s response to all this.
I don’t mean their direct response to the immediate threat – that was slow to get going, with numerous missteps, but seems to be in gear now. I mean their actions on the longer term threats from climate change.
Since the most serious fires started, our local (Federal Coalition) MP has been tweeting about emissions reductions measures. He sent this one out twice, on 30th and 31st December.
They can claim they’re acting, but they’ve been in power for six years, and emissions have been rising under their watch:
The problem is, ultimately, the Federal Coalition is led by climate sceptics.
It’s really hard to look past this moment from 2017:
As the fires took hold, while Morrison was away, his deputy Michael McCormack finally managed to admit they needed to look at more action on emissions. Morrison then got back from Hawaii and hosed it down.
In some ways, Morrison seems to be the stereotypical conservative. How good is Australia? Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here. Do nothing – which ties into the common conservative theme of small government.
And yet finally, I think people are seeing through this. It’s a shame it took a crisis, but that might be the only silver lining here.
Perhaps it’s easy to be doubtful about climate change when you can’t see it. It’s the (mythical) boiling frog.
Now it’s very, very visible. The skies in many areas have been red from fires. Even in the big cities away from the danger areas, there is smoke in the air.
Metro also put out their own advertising. By train probably is just about the quickest way from Ascot Vale to Broadmeadows (18 minutes back then; 19 now) – but probably one of the slowest if you just missed a train on a Sunday morning (add a 40 minute wait).
One quirk of the changeover from Connex to Metro was that when it was announced Connex had missed their final performance targets, passengers had to apply to Metro for the compensation.
There was also a lot of prominent advertising for Myki – even though it hadn’t been launched in Melbourne yet. (This photo was snapped on the 17th of December 2009; Myki launched on the 29th.)
At railway stations, Myki vending machines were being installed alongside Metcard machines.
In the days before the Free Tram Zone, the City Circle was regularly packed. Nowadays, almost every tram in the CBD is packed.
The view over the west end of the City, towards Docklands. You can see the wheel under construction – not sure if this was the first one being disassembled, or the revised version being built.
A prominent reminder to motorists to give way to buses pulling out from the kerb. One the left you can see signs for Myer’s Lonsdale Street store, since replaced by Emporium. And that lady perhaps isn’t having a great day.
Happy new year everybody. Hope you’ve had a good one.
Yesterday marked ten years since the Myki system’s implementation in Melbourne. It was switched on for Melbourne trains on 29th December 2009.
The roll-out and first ten years of operation ended up costing a whopping $1.5 billion. The only Australian system of comparable size, NSW’s Opal system, was a little bit cheaper, but is still the same order of magnitude. My conclusion is that the size of the system (number of devices, and all the supporting infrastructure) is a more important determinant of cost than anything else.
(If you’re wondering, the $100 million a year of costs is more than covered by fare revenue, which the PTV Annual Report says topped $900 million in 2018-19.)
After a very shaky start, and a long protracted roll-out that took more than four years (from regional town buses in early 2009 to V/Line in 2013), the Myki system has improved over time – and I suspect most passengers have become accustomed to its quirks.
But there definitely is still room for improvement, even without wholesale re-engineering of the system.
How can Myki be made better?
Here are a few issues that should still be fixed:
Passes are confusing, and can result in passengers who travel every day paying more than necessary. This should be replaced by a Myki Money weekly cap, which was originally promised. (Monthly too? Perhaps.)
With readers often awkwardly located, touch-on and touch-off sounds should be made different so it is easier to identify that the card has been touched successfully, and in the intended manner. Sounds should also be consistent across Myki reader types, and made louder so they are easily audible in noisy environments. (There’s no need for them to beep once or twice depending on the type of ticket. Nobody uses this.)
Myki reader speeds are inconsistent. New faster readers have been deployed at many stations, and increasingly on buses and trams as well, which is a big improvement. (Thank you, open architecture.)
It would be good to know if this roll-out is going to eventually replace all of the older readers. Their response times were never acceptably fast and consistent – and are probably why the terminology changed from “scan” to “touch”.
The new readers either don’t display the card balance/expiry, or display it so small that it can barely be read. I know they’re trying to ensure people don’t dawdle at station gates, but some people now never see their card Pass expiry.
Myki Mobile for iPhone would be a big plus – take-up on Android seems to have been reasonably good, despite some glitches, but making it available for iPhone mean almost all mobile phone users have the option.
If this can be achieved, arguably being able to use credit cards directly on the system (as in London and Sydney, both using variants of the same system) becomes less important.
Fare anomalies need to be fixed. This is not strictly a Myki issue, but the result of years of governments of both stripes fiddling with the fare system – first getting rid of zone 3, then making zone 1 and 2 an almost flat fare. The result is that Melbourne to Lara (58km) cost $4.40; to the next stop at Corio (64km) is $12 (peak). That’s completely ridiculous, and encourages people to drive across Geelong to Lara station before catching their train.
Expansion to the rest of V/Line would be useful, to make train usage beyond the commuter belt easier. This was originally the plan, but was “de-scoped” by the Baillieu government in 2011. I suspect there are probably issues getting Myki to handle First Class and seat reservations, which is why it was decided it was all too hard.
Free mode. Myki readers need this for the now regular bus replacement operations, to prevent issues with passengers touching-on when they don’t need to, and for regular free travel periods such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. (They might still need to be partly functional to cater for touch-off for people ending their trips, for instance just after 6pm when free rides start on New Year’s Eve.)
Tickets for occasional users need to be easier to get. Single use tickets were also originally planned for the system, and de-scoped in 2011, along with tram vending machines.
Admittedly there’s some benefit from not having single use tickets – it reduces litter and waste, and encourages repeat use – but only if you can convince people to get a card in the first place. If not, the system remains a barrier to new public transport users.
Remember, concession cards can’t be obtained through the vending machines, which are the only option at unstaffed stations.
Are the cards sufficiently available for tourists? Can the refund system be improved?
And what to do about the lack of touch-on opportunities for tram users?
All this becomes less important if both major mobile phone operating systems can use Mobile Myki.
Fix the web site. Most of it (including the overall look and feel) hasn’t been changed since it was originally released. Still the same tiny fonts and non-mobile-friendly layout.
And there’s idiotic stuff still on the web site: When you purchase a Myki Pass online, the default selection is Zone 1 to Zone 1, which would also be the most popular option. Leaving that default returns an error: This myki pass is not available at this time. Please select another and try again.
What does that error mean? It’s because since 2015 you’ve had to buy Zone 1+2 (for the same price). Why not either tell you that, or automatically change the selection?
The same page has a “Which zones do I need to travel in?” link. This goes to a PDF with another link in it, to a page which doesn’t actually tell you anything about which zones you need to travel in.
It happens every year at Chadstone and the other big shopping centres: hordes of shoppers descend. Demand fills the car parks, which spills onto the access roads, delaying buses.
Demand also fills the buses to bursting. And because of traffic congestion, some buses actually get diverted away from the shopping centres, making the whole thing worse.
Here’s Channel 9’s story. (Yes there’s some of my footage in here.)
So was anything different this time?
A key difference this year was the addition of extra Oakleigh to Chadstone express shuttle buses. Funded by Chadstone themselves for the summer, these seemed to be plentiful. And although Oakleigh station is undergoing refurbishment which means it’s difficult to get between the bus interchange and the Citybound platform, the shuttles were frequent and well used, taking some of the load off the other routes.
Last year’s bus priority from Warrigal Road to the bus interchange appeared to be the same, and again worked well. Buses avoided trying to enter via Dandenong Road, and came in from the east – longer for some, but they got a good run once inside Chadstone’s property.
There has been minor infrastructure changes that allow all bus bays to be used, meaning the confusing temporary arrangements from years gone by don’t have to be enacted.
Buses from Warrigal Road still queue at traffic lights to enter the bus interchange. Given all routes were diverting via Warrigal Road, this meant more far delays than necessary. It should be obvious that the lights need to prioritise buses over other traffic.
Worse, the problem of buses having to enter, loop around, exit and re-enter the bus interchange (with long waits twice at the traffic lights) just to get to their bay still affects some routes, for example the 900 towards Caulfield, one of the busiest. See below.
While the Oakleigh shuttles helped, other routes were still overwhelmed by demand. The 625 I caught to Chadstone was 10-15 minutes late, and standing room only from Oakleigh.
There was heavy traffic on the Dandenong Road approach to the centre, from the east, and a bus driver told me it was the same on Warrigal Road from the north.
When I got to the centre, I watched for a while as a queue for the 900 to Caulfield grew longer and longer, and the bus got later and later. It eventually arrived 28 minutes late, and was so crowded that people were left behind and had to wait for the next one.
See it in this short video below. (For some buses, passengers decided to board at both doors. When the 900 arrived, they all patiently queued, meaning it took some minutes for the bus to load.)
What needs to happen
I’ve covered all this in the previousposts, but really, what’s needed includes:
Extra buses on route services, not just the Oakleigh to Chadstone specials
Spare buses to cover for delayed services (similar to the “Block car” occasionally used by the trams)
Better on-road priority for buses approaching the centre
Ensure buses get priority at the traffic lights in and out of the bus interchange – and longer term make changes so buses don’t need to loop around it so much to reach their bays
Better on-the-ground advice for passengers – it might be quicker for some to connect to trains on the Dandenong line via the Oakleigh shuttles or walk to Hughesdale station
Improved pedestrian access to Poath Road. Hughesdale station is only a ten minute walk away, but is via a pedestrian-hostile not-very-direct route that’s hard to find
Ultimately, the State Government and Chadstone management needs to take public transport seriously, starting with more frequent services on all routes. It’s a planned major event every year. So plan it.
More people on buses and other public transport means fewer in cars clogging up the roads and the car parks.
It’s not just Boxing Day – weekend bus frequencies are appalling – mostly hourly – on most Melbourne bus routes all the year round.
And it’s not just Chadstone – many big shopping centres suffer these same problems.
Chadstone must be envious of Southland, where shopper numbers are no longer constrained by the capacity of the car park. pic.twitter.com/jBlV81HjKX
Southland now has its station. Eastland and some of the others also have rail access. Southland station is busy, and for passengers travelling parallel to the rail line, means reaching the centre is now easy, expanding Southland’s catchment beyond the constraints of its car parks.
How – especially in the short term – can the same be achieved for Chadstone and other centres?
I wrote this essay a few years ago as part one of a two-part article that would illustrate some parallels between intellectual authoritarianism in neo-Darwinism and in neoclassical economics. In some ways my response to Paul Krugman’s response to me was Part Two. But, wanting to quote this essay in another essay I’m working on – “Disciplines as institutions” I’m publishing it now in all it’s unfinishment.
I. Denis Noble on what’s wrong with gene centred Neo-Darwinism
A few weeks ago I finished reading Denis Noble’s very intriguing and provocative Dance to the Tune of Life, a comprehensive take-down of Neo-Darwinism and excessive reductionism in science. Noble was one of Richard Dawkins’ PhD examiners and used to identify with the Neo-Darwinist mainstream – of which more in a moment. But, through his work in mathematical physiology gradually became aware of mounting problems with certain doctrinal foundations of Neo-Darwinism.
Often he shows us recent work that seems to debunk very important Neo-Darwinist doctrines at the same time as showing us that those heterodox ideas have been around for many many decades – sometimes over a century – but that they’ve been marginalised by the Neo-Darwinist consensus. And that consensus has been enforced by a Neo-Darwinist ‘political correctness’ police in which Richard Dawkins takes pride of place. My purpose in this essay is to delineate some intellectual roots of this political correctness and also to show strong parallels with the way ‘scientific rigour’ is policed in another discipline – economics – with similar disastrous results.
Fittingly enough, cross-fertilisation between economics and biology has been common. Since economics first threatened to become little more than a branch of applied mathematics as the marginal revolution took hold, numerous economists of note have insisted that economics should be more like biology. In fact the cross fertilisation goes right back to the beginning of modern evolution. When Darwin read Malthus’s political economy, particularly his famous Essay on the Principle of Population it turned his mind toward every creature’s and every species’ struggle for survival. The rest was history – well biology actually, but you get my meaning.
II. Reductionism: Here’s looking at Euclid
Noble’s immediate target is what he argues is the excessive reductionism of the gene centred view of the world, popularised by Richard Dawkins. Of course, judging what’s excessive by way of reductionism can only be properly done on the merits. After all, the extreme reductionism of the Newtonian Revolution was a huge success. As Adam Smith put it (yes that Adam Smith), Newton’s theory of gravity proposed “an immense chain of the most important and sublime truths, all closely connected together by one capital fact, of the reality of which we have daily experience”.
The point is that, at least in physics, although flaws eventually emerged as they always do in science, extreme reductionism was miraculously successful, generating vast new areas of practical knowledge. Many of the motivating ideas behind Neo-Darwinism 1 from which the gene-centred view of evolution grew were likewise a powerful engine of new knowledge. But they and the intellectual ‘temperament’ they embodied also came to marginalise important work and to foreclose its being assessed on its merits.
The gene centred view of evolution so brilliantly and trenchantly popularised by Richard Dawkins’ best-seller The Selfish Gene has a powerful logic to it. So powerful that it feels like some kind of key. If only we can root biology in the genome, then not only will we have got to the bottom of the whole thing – right down to the molecular level – but we can also replicate the Newtonian manoeuvre of building a whole science from crystalline axiom like formal propositions just as Euclid built his geometry all those centuries ago.2
As the great Neo-Darwinist Ernst Mayr is quoted in Noble’s book saying in 1982 “All of the directions, controls and constraints of the developmental machinery are laid down in the blueprint as instructions or potentialities.” And the fact that this is all encoded at the molecular level appeals to native reductionism in which the world is at least in principle, built like a pyramid with the tiniest things at the bottom and with larger things being uncomplicatedly built from them – like a wall is built of bricks, those bricks are built from clay particles which in their turn are built from molecules, then atoms with the atoms comprising sub-atomic particles and on it goes. As Francis Crick put it, “There are only molecules – everything else is sociology.”
III. The science and epistemology of non-reductionism
However there’s a problem with the extent of the reductionism in gene-centred Neo-Darwinism. It degenerates into incoherence. As Ernst Mayr put it in 1999:
An individual either survives or doesn’t … reproduces or doesn’t.… The idea that a few people have about the gene being the target of selection is completely impractical; a gene is never visible to natural selection, and in the genotype, it is always in the context with other genes, and the interaction with those other genes make a particular gene either more favorable or less favorable. In fact, Dobzhanksy, for instance, worked quite a bit on so-called lethal chromosomes which are highly successful in one combination, and lethal in another. Therefore people like Dawkins in England who still think the gene is the target of selection are evidently wrong.
Noble argues that, for all its success, Neo-Darwinism degenerated into hubris:
What went wrong was that the Modern Synthesis became hardened into dogmatism. Starting from the theory that this is the way in which evolution could have happened, it became transformed into the conviction that this was the only way in which evolution must have happened.
Noble proceeds to quote the transcript of a debate he chaired between Richard Dawkins and Lynn Margulis. At issue is the possibility of symbiogenesis in which certain organisms evolved not through the gradual accretion of random mutations a la Neo-Darwinism but by some process by which one organism acquires the characteristics of another – by physically absorbing it:
Dawkins: It [Neo-Darwinism] is highly plausible, it’s economical, it’s parsimonious, why on earth would you want to drag in symbiogenesis when it’s such an unparsimonious, uneconomical [theory]?
One of the exciting things about Noble’s endeavour is the way in which it operates both at the level of science and of epistemology or the philosophy of science. Though Noble dignifies it with a grand title – “the theory of biological relativity” – his basic epistemology or theory of how to encounter the natural world can be simply expressed. Order, and so causation, is emergent at many levels and causation runs both ‘upwards’ – for instance from genetic material to its expression in organisms – and downwards – from organisms to their genetic material – and that there is (therefore) no privileged level from which causation somehow originates. Other essential tenets of his view of biology I relegate to the following footnote.4
IV. Boys, girls, left, right, authoritarianism, permissiveness
It’s worth pausing to consider some deeper undercurrents of gender, temperament and ideology. In the extract just quoted, Dawkins, a man, is policing the discipline for ‘rigour’. Margulis is a woman, a scientific rebel and well to the left of Dawkins politically. It’s not coincidental – it’s part of the plot – that symbiogenisis entails biological cooperation between organisms, rather than competition which is central to the Neo-Darwinist vision of evolution. Something similar seems to have happened in considering the role of group selection in evolution (survival of the fittest groups) compared with survival of the fittest individuals. If the latter effect dominates competition remains the paradigm mechanism. Where the former effect intrudes, a dialectic opens up between competition (between groups) and cooperation (within them).
It’s not covered in Noble’s book, but group selection is another idea that tended to be marginalised by the gatekeepers of Neo-Darwinist orthodoxy, even though of course, as a matter of logic, there’s nothing in Neo-Darwinist logic that renders group selection marginal. The intellectual straighteners Dawkins and Pinker are still policing that boundary. They mount some quite good arguments. Perhaps they’re right. But permit me to be sceptical. (I’ve elsewhere briefly referenced how displinary gatekeepers of psychology resisted the use of the word “love” in Harry Harlow’s exploration of the mothering role with his terry towling monkey experiments. The word “proximity” sounded so much more scientific.)5
If you think this ideological reading of the debate is a bit far fetched, certainly Lynn Margulis bought into it – from the left – objecting to the dominant Neo-Darwinist paradigm is that it’s a “zoological, capitalistic, competitive, cost-benefit interpretation of Darwin”. She thinks it inherently implausible that the singular driving mechanism of evolution is random mutations. “I have seen no evidence whatsoever that these changes can occur through the accumulation of gradual mutations. … There’s no doubt, of course, that they exist, but the major source of evolutionary novelty is the acquisition of symbionts – the whole thing then edited by natural selection. It is never just the accumulation of mutations.” Sounds more plausible than strong Neo-Darwinism to me, but what would I know? And as for citing Lynn Margulis for support, she thinks the Sept 11 attack on the World Trade Centre was a “false flag operation”.
Here are some reasons why in some sense competition appeals to those I’ll suggest are of Neo-Darwinist ‘temperament’.
Given the undoubted role of competition and individual selection, as Dawkins initially argued against Margulis, the more you admit cooperation, the more messy – the less parsimonious – things get.
In a reductionist schema, the individual is also prior to and thus more fundamental than the group.
There are two additional psychological/sociological attractions of gene-centred Neo-Darwinism to someone attracted to policing intellectual rigour:
The Neo-Darwinist position is inherently paradoxical, especially to the intellectually uninitiated whether they’re a ‘creationist’ or just a sceptic about how random mutation subject to natural selection might enable the climbing of Mount Improbable to use Dawkins clever phrase. How can it be that the marvels of complexity, of coordination and cooperation within or even between species come from such a crude, competitive and cruel process? It marks one out as a sophisticated thinker and yet not so sophisticated that one’s case can’t be explained to an informed layperson in a couple of minutes on some TV panel show. Richard Dawkins is generous in that way, forever donating his time to explaining to people what fools they are; 6
Similarly, group selection opens up space for the wishful thinking of the Kumbaya crowd with all their blathering about living together in peace and harmony. The alternative suggestion – that the road to the miracles of nature is the cruelty of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ resembles the moralist’s injunction that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
To summarise very simply, I’m taking Neo-Darwinism to be what Julian Huxley christened the Modern Synthesis in biology 1942. From Wikipedia “The modern synthesis was the early 20th-century synthesis reconciling Charles Darwin‘s and Gregor Mendel‘s ideas in a joint mathematical framework that established evolution as biology‘s central paradigm“. In what follows, I use the term Neo-Darwinism somewhat loosely as Noble often does to cover this core and a cluster of supporting doctrines sometimes, though not necessarily including a strongly gene-centred view of evolution. ↩
One of my favourite titles for a popular maths book was Here’s looking at Euclid, but I digress. ↩
Dawkins was subsequently gracious about Margulis. He subsequently described her as “one of the great achievements of twentieth-century evolutionary biology”, and regarding this episode (and no doubt others like it) commented “I greatly admire Lynn Margulis’s sheer courage and stamina in sticking by the endosymbiosis theory, and carrying it through from being an unorthodoxy to an orthodoxy.” ↩
Post-Neo-Darwinism a la Noble
Noble summarises his essential points thus (apologies that the list uses terms introduced in the book that may be new to you but I’ve tried to help with relevant links to Wikipedia and some square bracketed explanations). Noble proposes:
2. that genetic variation is not always random with respect to function. In some situations evolution may work as our body develops antibodies – even though this isn’t passed to the next generation – by ‘targeting’ random variation until a successful antibody is found.
3. the existence of other forms of inheritance in addition to strict Mendelian inheritance.
4. that the Central Dogma of molecular biology is better represented as an important chemical fact about coding, rather than an absolute statement about control by and primacy of the genome.
5. the full significance of mobile genetic elements and the reorganisation of genomes.
6. the inheritance of epigenetic and similar Lamarckian forms.
7. the significance of symbiogenesis and many other forms of co-operation.
9. evolution is a multi-mechanism process, that the Neo-Darwinian mechanism is just one of them, and that we really do not yet know the relative contribution of each process to each stage of evolution. This would be a return to Darwin’s more nuanced view that other processes may also exist. ↩
Krugman reflects on something similar regarding free-trade. “It is hard not to suspect that our professional commitment to free trade is a sociological phenomenon as well as an intellectual conviction. … By emphasizing the virtues of free trade, we also emphasize our intellectual superiority over the unenlightened who do not understand comparative advantage. In other words, the idea of free trade takes on special meaning precisely because it is someplace where the ideas of economists clash particularly strongly with popular perceptions” ↩
Of course if you were paying very, very careful attention, this wasn’t a complete surprise. The eventual shift of Geelong trains back to Newport and the Metro 2 tunnel was included in a document leaked in 2018, and has been floating around as a way of helping capacity constraints for the proposed Airport line.
So what do we know? Nobody official is willing to speak on-the-record, but as far as I can make out, the proposal is:
New express tracks from Werribee to Newport for Geelong trains (it appears the recent Aviation Road bridge includes provision for this)
Geelong trains would then join Werribee trains to run through the proposed Metro 2 tunnel underneath the Yarra, to Fishermans Bend (one or two stations, probably two) then to Southern Cross
Werribee trains continue through the City via Flagstaff, Parkville, Carlton and Fitzroy then through to the Mernda line
Geelong trains also continue through the City with stabling around the vicinity of Thornbury
There’d be a rejig of Newport station and surrounds to separate the Werribee and Geelong trains (heading into the tunnel) from the Laverton/Altona Loop and Williamstown trains (heading to the City via Yarraville and Footscray)
Geelong trains using the tunnel obviously need to be electric, not diesel. This means either the tracks need to be electrified all the way to Geelong, or a bi-modal (diesel and electric) train fleet used for Geelong services.
What about other lines?
This proposed change would mean Wyndham Vale and Tarneit would be served by local services – hopefully electrified along with the Melton line (and separate Ballarat express tracks) to provide higher frequency, higher capacity trains than at present.
The Werribee line could be extended slightly to provide interchange with the Wyndham Vale line, assisting connectivity.
(It’s unclear how the Suburban Rail Loop would interact with the Wyndham Vale line given SRL is meant to be a standalone railway. My view is the SRL, when eventually built, should go by a completely different route, helping to spark transit-oriented development in the outer west.)
Long distance Warrnambool trains would either need to terminate in Geelong, requiring passengers to change services, or run to Melbourne on the aboveground line via Wyndham Vale and Sunshine.
How fast would it be from Geelong to Melbourne?
The fastest current inbound service is scheduled to take 58 minutes – the 7:50am from Geelong, stops at North Geelong, North Shore, Corio, Lara, then express to Wyndham Vale, express to Sunshine, Footscray, Southern Cross. But most inbound trains take around 70 minutes, with more stations served.
Let’s assume trains with similar patterns instead will stop at Werribee (for connections) then two stops in Fishermans Bend and then Southern Cross, and assume they could maintain a maximum speed of 160 km/h as far as Newport, then 80 in the tunnel.
Geelong to Werribee would take about 25 mins, same as the above train to Wyndham Vale
Werribee to Newport (21km) would take about 8 mins, plus 1 min for the stop at Werribee = 9 mins
Newport to Southern Cross with two stops along the way, say about 9 mins
That’s 43 minutes in all, with 7 intermediate stops in all. Quite a bit faster than today (a 26% time saving), and that’s without pushing the maximum speed over 160.
That’s also assuming the new trains would have similar acceleration and braking to the current V/Locity fleet. But electric trains could be quite a bit better.
Pros and cons
Advantages of this plan (particularly over the Sunshine to City tunnel idea)
Speeds up Geelong to Melbourne services quite a lot – without the enormous expense and disruption of completely re-engineering the line for actual High Speed Rail
Relieves capacity on the RRL line – which serves Wyndham Vale, Ballarat/Melton, and Bendigo – and may provide enough relief to run Airport trains as well, especially if Melton and Wyndham Vale become Metro services using the suburban tracks
Avoids disruptive track amplification between Deer Park and Wydham Vale – apparently some bridges and cuttings need work to handle 4 tracks
Potential for a bus/train interchange in Fitzroy so that DART/Eastern Freeway bus passengers can complete their CBD commute by train rather than slow buses stuck in traffic (leaving aside potential for a Doncaster train)
Fast cross-town connections from the west could include one-seat journeys for trips such as Geelong to Flagstaff or Parkville – and indeed from the Geelong/Werribee corridor to Fishermans Bend, currently a big weakness of public transport compared to driving
New underground platforms and pathways at Southern Cross could help relieve passenger congestion there
The are a few disadvantages of course.
Despite what The Age’s article says, I think there’s no way you’d send Geelong trains back via Newport without a tunnel for them to reach the City
It’d be expensive. Tunnels never come cheap
Does not inherently speed up the Ballarat and Bendigo lines, though the capacity boost would have a positive effect on punctuality
Mixing Geelong and Werribee trains on the same tunnel tracks may have issues. Probably made a lot easier if there are 4 platforms at Southern Cross to help deal with CBD dwell times
Ditto Geelong and longer distance trains if they end up sharing some of the same tracks
Equally, capacity on the Sunshine to City corridor needs to be carefully managed, especially if Airport trains join the mix
If sticking to maximum speeds of 160 km/h, it postpones the development of actual high speed rail
What have I missed?
Tunnel vs tunnel
I’m sure the debate will continue between the merits of a Sunshine to City tunnel against other proposals, including Geelong via Metro 2.
Some of the arguments coming from the Committee for Ballarat are a little odd – including repeated claims that their trains get caught behind slow Metro services – something that hasn’t happened since 2015 when RRL opened.
In a discussion on Twitter with a Ballarat Courier journo, it was clarified that the paper at least is referring to outer-suburban V/Line stations between Sunshine and Melton. This is an important issue, but not one resolved by a Sunshine to City tunnel – it’s better fixed by track quadruplication between Sunshine and Melton – something also needed for the Bendigo line between Sunshine and Sunbury. And further cutting travel times can be achieved by duplicating the rest of the line to remove single track bottlenecks.
Compared with the Sunshine tunnel proposal, a key advantage of Metro 2 is that it doesn’t just parallel existing tracks – it expands the footprint of the heavy rail network, which is why I think it’s a better plan.
For these expensive projects, the more boxes they tick, the better.
I was after one of the sillier charts to illustrate CSR. It was a tough choice, but this one hit all its KPIs. Originally worked up from the map which guided the bombing of Hamburg, all Troppodillians will join with me in celebrating its use in a civilian capacity.
CSR, shared value and its old establishment incarnation, pro bono work, arose from the old sense of noblesse oblige. Actually I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how it arose, but I thought I’d begin this post with a bit of strategisation – you know, where I say that a social institution suited its own time but now needs to be brought into the modern world, that given the state we’re in this issue has never been more important etc etc? </strategisation>
In any event, today CSR and similar initiatives arise from various motives.
The company would like to do something good, either because it wants to of its own accord or because it’s got up the community’s nose in the past.
The company would like to associate itself with Good Things which it hopes won’t hurt, and ideally will help its bottom line. This can happen through:
Continued licence to operate (it minimises the number of people chaining themselves to its bulldozers or snarking about it on social media);
Increased sales through improving its image with consumers; and/or
Improved recruiting power in appealing to employees who want to ‘make a difference’.
In my discussions with big consulting and legal firms, one driver of pro bono work is its capacity to address the angst of the best graduates. Amid all this money making, they want their careers to be about making the world a better place. As the saying goes “All work and no change we can believe in makes Jack a dull boy”. Of course this hankering can only be addressed within reason – we’re not running a charity here. Nevertheless, a managing partner of BCG once told me that this was worth 5% of payroll to them to attract the best graduate talent.
Of course billionaires – even billionaires – can’t on their own do much to address inequality. But, as Anand Giridharadas’ point’s out, their do-gooding papers over the structural inequality that has been responsible for their wealth and very few do anything to tackle structural inequality – like tax avoidance for instance.
I think it’s worth exploring how one could broaden the idea of CSR to CSPR or corporate social policy responsibility. A firm signing up to CSPR would undertake not to lobby for or otherwise support public policies to support their own corporate interest unless it was also in the public interest.
Obviously the hard part is how it could be operationalised. Firstly if the idea is to be pursued it’s most likely to be pursued as a result of some kind of activism seeking to push companies toward it. That would come from various movements for ‘ethical’ consumption and investment 1 seeking to broaden their mandates to pursuing CSPR. Perhaps it could also come from such movements seeking to politicise the issue of what firm you work for.
Accordingly activists trying to get this off the ground would need to have some objectives which can be demanded of the targets of their activism which operationalise the principle – which is to say ensures that a firm can’t just say nice things and resume business-as-usual.
As a first cut I’d suggest that it include these requirements for a firm to be accepted as CSPR compliant:
They would maintain a publicly accessible log of all policy positions and requests made of government
They would undertake that any policy position they sought to promote with government would go through some process of ensuring that it was in the public interest.
Given that opinions would differ regarding this, some independent process would be required for determining this, or perhaps some weaker standard of being unlikely to violate the public interest.
A waystation towards such a position might involve activists making it clear that their intention was to campaign against some firm if they publicly articulated a position that was determined by some process as in 3 above, to be clearly against the public interest. The Disney corporation lobbying for the Mickey Mouse Protection Act would be an example of a violation of CSPR.
I’d also like to see a situation where some firms came out in favour of plugging tax loopholes, and that CSPR would not require them to unilaterally foresake taking advantage of them. This places the onus where I think it is reasonable in a competitive market. I recall the ex South Australian Premier Steele Hall when a Senator campaigning against politicians getting a pay rise as a matter of policy but not foresaking it when he lost the vote and the pay rises went through.
Is it realistic to think that this might be an avenue for successful activism? I don’t know. If so it would definitely start out as a niche play. But I can imagine activists raining on the parade of firms trumpeting their CSR and shared value credentials and so making it a bit harder for firms to bask in their glory without some compromise on the CSPR front.
Anyway, for too long CSR and shared value have been suited to the twentieth century where they spent their early years. But this is the age of smartphones and AI taking everyone’s jobs. So just like Henry Ford brought the horse up to date by taking it off the racetrack and running it down the assembly line and putting four wheels on it, we need to update CSR to make it fit for our age. We need to do to CSR what Uber did for the sundial.
What sayest thou O Troppodillians?
[Thanks to Davis Sligar for reading a draft of this post. He did so on condition that I take responsibility for the content but he gets credit for the (incredibly funny) jokes, jokettes and jokesque asides. NG]
For almost a century the royal road to becoming a top politician in Anglo-Land was to study law and/or a bit of economics. In Australia that was the ticket for Keating, Hawke, Gillard, Howard, and Turnbull. In the US, that mold fit Obama (law), Clinton (law), and both GHW and GH Bush (one studied economics, the other business). In the UK, the royal road is recognised to be the PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) study in Oxford, which for instance begat Cameron and several other prime-ministers since WWII.
Yet, currently, we have marketeers in charge of the most populous Anglo-countries. They are invariably men who have spent their working lives engaged in selling ideas and themselves to the general public. In Australia we have Scott Morrison, a marketing man, and before him Tony Abbott, a journo. In the US we of course have Trump, who spent decades in showbiz. I include Justin Trudeau of Canada in this list because I regard him as a born marketeer. And in the UK we now have Bojo, a journo for many years who is also, like Trudeau, a lifelong and natural self-promoter.
This is a bit much for coincidence. Politicians have always had to sell themselves, but in previous decades it was the marketing departments of political parties that helped them do it. Margaret Thatcher was famously re-dressed and re-branded to make her electable, and the Bushes had a lot of professional help in selling them. What is interesting is that now the top people themselves are marketeers. Any other skill or interest other than how to sell stuff seems a burden when it comes to reaching the top of the political tree.
Can we say the same for top politicians outside of Anglo-Land? Not really. One might at a stretch include Berlusconi, who is in many ways Trump’s predecessor but with more panache. Yet, if you look closely you will find that all the major countries are run by the usual types: Macron of France studied public administration and was in charge of a ministry; Merkel of Germany is an engineer-administrator with a similar trajectory as Thatcher; Modi of India did political science and then became a professional pollie; Jiping of China is the usual engineer-administrator normal for Chinese leaders; Putin is the usual for Russia (secret service); and Bolsonaro of Brasil is the usual for that region (military). Even Berlusconi turns out to have started with a degree in Law, the usual for Italian politicians before and after him.
So no, the non-Anglo countries do not get their politicians from the world of marketing, not even in those places we associate with populism or right-wing nationalist politics. In the rest of the world, politicians still come from the same place they came from 20 or 50 years ago. Anglo-Land has changed with the rise of the marketeers.
What is equally interesting is that really, tree of these seem to have had to reform the way politics was done in their own party and have pushed policies their parties disliked: they were resisted internally and had to force their parties into new ways. This makes their rise to power even more impressive because they will have been told constantly how wrong they were and how obviously their attempts at gaining power would fail.
Trump’s constant critics in the media and within the Republican Party are famous. Bojo argued for Brexit against the top of his own party, then once in charge kicked out his rivals from within the party, notably alienated his own brother, and was famously unpopular and disliked by the vast majority of his own parliamentary party when he was voted in by his MPs. Morrison had to battle Dutton and others for supremacy within, and was then written-off by the Labour supporters and their friends in the media till his stunning single-handed victory. In all three cases did their party insiders only grudgingly accept them as leaders in the belief they had to in order to have a chance of retaining power.
They also had professional or political careers outside of the center of their party: Boris was first major of London and then had to work his way up in the parliamentary party; Morrison was a tourism manager for many years; and we all know the stories of what the Donald was up to before politics, even trying to get into the other party first.
What is it about Anglo-Land currently that makes marketing men so electable now and not before, to the extent that these characters can make it even against the wishes of their own party? Maybe we should have a look for clues in history and find someone similar who rose to power, looking at the characteristics of that time.
I think it is not coincidental that Boris Johnson is such an admirer of Churchill, because really, all four of these men are children of Winston Churchill. Their previous careers, rise to power, and even their alleged inadequacies are close copies of Churchill.
Churchill was also a journo, a child from the elites with huge charisma who milked his journalistic experiences in the Boer War in South Africa in 1899 to great effect in order to get into parliament. There, he made sure he was constantly in the news, even switching political parties when it was convenient to him. Twice no less, earning him a lifelong reputation as a ‘rat’, a disloyal liar!
He was also a famous womaniser and drug addict, playing with the institutions of his country with total disregard for expertise or loss of life to others. Sound familiar? By the standards of today you would have to call Churchill corrupt, racist, and a war-mongerer (see here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29701767). Again, sound familiar? Amongs the policy disasters that have been laid at the feet of Churchill one can include the disastrous campaign of the Dardanelles and even the loss of the British Empire, though of course people disagree about this and this is not the place to argue either way.
My own English grandparents, who were conservatives their whole lives, thought Churchill was one of the biggest idiots in British political history (a title for which there is stiff competition!) and the biggest disaster to its standing in the world. They had to bite their tongue for decades as their country decided Winston was a hero, not an unmitigated disaster. But even my grandparents recognised he was someone who had the gift of projecting authenticity: a wonderful speech writer, quick witted and charismatic. He was a gifted marketeer and a magnet for romantic nationalists, just like Trump, Boris, Scott, and arguably even Trudeau.
So really, we are seeing the return of Churchill. It is almost as if the spirit of Churchill has infested four different men of different ages in Anglo-Land, each managing to grab power at almost the same time. Each has a bit more of this talent and a bit less of that talent than Churchill, but with essentially similar skills.
It is tempting to conjecture that our times, at least in Anglo-Land, must resemble the time and place in which Winston rose, which was the UK of 1900-1910.
What are the similarities between 1900-1910 UK and Anglo-Land now? In 1900-1910 the UK was at the height of its colonial powers, a period of rising nationalism. It was also the time of impending loss of power as the UK was economically already overtaken by the US and, arguably, Germany, with Russia well on its way too. It was a period of immense inequality, with previous elites (the aristocracy that controlled land) feeling the hot breath of new ones in their neck (industrialists that controlled labour). It was an era used to violence and used to solving international problems with gunships.
Is our time really like this? Some bits seem similar, some not. The times are not violent at all now and the indicators we have of support levels of nationalism have been very stable for decades. What is true is that geopolitical power is being challenged by the newcomers, China and India. Inequality has also increased, though the big increase already dates back well over a decade now.
Still, then the UK was shoring up ties with France, not breaking up with France as the UK is doing now. The Labour movement challenging wealth then was up and coming, whereas now it is weak and waning.
Conversely, the 1900-1910 period in the UK had no Murdoch media, no social media, no analogue migration issues, and an even less educated and informed voting public.
The analogy with the 1930s is similarly poor, not merely because the usual politicians were in charge then of Anglo-Land (with Churchill somewhat sidelined, only to be dug up after the outbreak of the War). We are now not in the aftermath of a huge recession, but enjoying record levels of low unemployment in the UK and Australia. There are no colonial empires to lose. And there is no obvious ‘embedded elite’ that is fighting a battle with rising socialism, certainly not in Australia or Canada.
So what is going on? Why are the marketeers now again so in vogue? And why only in Anglo-Land? What are their skills that were undervalued by the existing party machineries and why are those skills so much more important now than before? Essentially: why has Churchill returned?
I have many ideas, but none that really convince me. It’s a puzzle. Maybe it’s just a coincidence and the analogy is less good than it seems. Maybe Churchill was a one-off marketing genius who was going to make it in politics in any era and we should not look at his career for clues why we currently have so many lookalikes in Anglo-Land. Any good ideas?
Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Language like this shows us how fundamental framing has become to political combat. Political debate isn’t just ‘dumbed down’ or simplified. There’s a geography to the ground on which it’s fought and those with an eye to victory head for the high ground.1
There’s much talk these days about the divide between political elites and ‘ordinary folk’. It’s tearing western democracies apart. I think that the elite lack respect for the hoi polloi and their view of the world. Hence my frequent reference to the ancient Greek political principle of isegoria or equality of speech.2
In Sam Roggeveen’s response to my review of his essay Our Very Own Brexit (which I recommend by the way), he isn’t the first to argue that I do my cause no favours by “aligning it so closely with causes that our political elites would endorse (e.g. welcoming of immigrants and refugees; against Brexit)”.3 This is definitely sound political advice if one ventures among the red meat folk at Quillette.
But for the record, while I think Brexit makes lousy economic policy and statecraft, I wouldn’t just respect the will of the British people if they chose the course they are embarked upon with open eyes. I’d be awestruck with admiration. I’d think it was a fantastic development in which people decided that there were more important things than money and power to live for. But I don’t think any of that. I think they’ve been sold on a particular framing of the story in which the EU is an elite project gone mad, and so something which is coming after their nationhood and something on which they can heap their rage.
Roggeveen’s response goes on:
The problem I identified in the book is that the party-political class in Western democracies has become a separate caste with few connections to a social or economic base; Brexit shows what happens when the policy preferences shared by that caste runs too far ahead of the public.
I’ll call this the ‘frolic’ school of analysis. The elites have just kept doing what elites do – pursuing various hubristic agendas until the inevitable Wile E. Coyote moment comes and they realise that they have, in their zeal, arrived at a place where there’s no ground underneath them. Now it has to be admitted that the EU has major flaws. It seemed to me that its treatment of Greece was and continues to be a disgrace, and even if you disagree with that – as Paul Frijters does – the whole Euro project was ill-conceived and devastating. I’d go so far as to call it a frolic – and it’s a frolic of spectacular, and spectacularly ill judged proportions.
But there’s a problem with this analysis that the elites left the community behind. Firstly, the UK dodged the bullet of the Euro (though it won’t dodge it when it comes back into the EU in a few decades) so if frolics are the problem you’d not think the UK would be the first cab off the rank. More fundamentally, if this break was the product of an elite frolic getting out in front of public opinion, you’d expect it to be about something else. In the UK you’d expect it to be about austerity, economic development in the periphery and so on. (I admit Brexit did carry some flavour of addressing what was seen by some to be excess immigration – though, as I understand it, it was only in London where EU immigration was seen as much of a practical issue for the populace.) Brexit simply didn’t rate as a major concern until it was cranked up by a faction of the elite and their cheer squads in the media.
By the same token if the ‘elite frolic’ thesis were to explain Australia’s ‘Brexit moment’ in which we abolished carbon pricing, there were no shortage of fault lines between elite and mass opinion. More than half of the agenda of economic reform divided elite and mass opinion. In Australia that includes cutting protection and national competition policy, cutting corporate tax rates, and perhaps cutting the top marginal tax rate.
What was happening with carbon pricing in Australia and Britain’s relations with the EU was that the elite was managing a dilemma and choosing the lesser of various evils, though imperfectly. In the act of doing their job they encountered various dilemmas and solved them as best they could. In Australia we gradually accepted that carbon pricing offered the best prospect to meet most of the burden of meeting our emissions reduction targets.
These agendas were not the source of division between the elite and the masses. But there were tensions between the right and left on them which were then able to be exploited for party political advantage when the occasion presented itself.4 On Brexit I’m fairly sure something similar can be said. The EU had been broadly supported by the public, and not much interest was taken in it. Also, what led to carbon pricing and Brexit being chosen as the pretexts du jour was a split in the major parliamentary coalition on the right.
In this context, the benefits I see in a citizens’ jury are not just the idea of greater consideration as an antidote to dumbing down and sensationalism. Rather it is placing those who represent the public in the position of having to choose between two concrete, considered and possibly difficult alternative pathways for their country – i.e. the position in which the governing elites of left and right were in when they made the choices they did – on Europe in the UK and on carbon abatement in Australia. There’s very good evidence that all it takes is for this to occur – for ordinary people to be placed in the invidious position of having to choose (rather than munch popcorn and throw brickbats) for their rage at elites die down considerably as they set about trying to solve the same dilemmas that have preoccupied the elites.
In this situation, participants realise it’s not as simple as the elites just looking after their own. In this way, citizens’ juries engender far greater respect for our political institutions. Jurors’ opinion of their politicians and their officials rises strongly. There’s one exception. Jurors’ opinion of the media – already pretty low – sinks further as they come to see how misled they’ve been. The effect is particularly strong when they see their own deliberations put through the media grinder to produce a story of conflict and sensation they barely recognise.
So it seems to me that in characterising Brexit as an elite project, a frolic which is not supported by the public Sam Roggeveen is falling for the framing of the Brexiteers. It’s not an elite project particularly. It’s the gradual enmeshing of the national economies of Europe. But its great vulnerability is not that it’s an elite project or that some aspects of it have been managed incredibly badly, but that its various aspects are dull and difficult to explain in a sound bite. So they’re easily misrepresented when factions of the elite see some advantage and push comes to shove.
These considerations are my reason for arguing for the changes I am. I may well be wrong. What kinds of things do you think we should be pursuing to address this crisis?
Precisely the same happened in the early 1990s when it became good party political tactics for Paul Keating to argue that Dr Hewson’s GST was a Great Big New tax – the same tax for which he’d previously vigorously campaigned for years. ↩
This is part five of a series that charts the short history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory of Australia and the involvement of NT police officer Constable David Jennings in that story.
The following is the full text of an article in the Darwin Star, a modest newspaper that ran in opposition the NT News for some years. The article is noteworthy for two reasons – firstly that, apart from the brief comments made by Constable David Jennings to the NT News (see part two of this series), this piece represents the only available record of Jennings speaking about his membership of the Klan and his activities.
Second, this piece is disappointing because, despite the fact that the Darwin Star made a good get in putting Jennings on the record, the article doesn’t set out relevant facts, contains minimal critical analysis and doesn’t put Jennings to proof for his statements – many of which are contrary to established facts – and conduct, both in his capacity as an NT Police officer and his involvement with the Ku Klux Klan.
The Darwin Star, Thursday, November 9, 1978
“I have no money, no job. All I have is
a crusade.” Klan chief calls for separatism.
“The Ku Klux Klan in Australia is about 1000 financial members today-and if I don’t treble that figure in three months, I’ll be very surprised”, David Jennings said last night.
Jennings, the former NT policeman who is self-styled leader of the KKK, told The Star he had no political leanings or ambitions… Simply a desire to see separatism between white and black. “I have no job, no money. All I have is a crusade” he said. “I want to see white with white, and black with black. “Let the white man live in peace with his neighbour, according to white man’s law. And let the black man do the same, without white man’s interference.”
Jennings, 28, resigned from the NT police a fortnight ago after five charges were preferred against him departmentally. All the charges, in effect, accused him of conduct prejudicial to the good name of the police. All arose from his confession to his superiors that he was the leader of the KKK in the NT.
Son of a commissioned police officer in another state, Jennings, married with three children, admitted he first came under notice of his superiors last year. The first occasion, he said, followed an attempt by Aborigines at Hooker Creek, on the northern edge of the Tanami Desert where he was stationed, to bring a “flagon wagon”, or truck laden with booze on to the reservation there. Jennings said he intercepted the truck, unloaded the 80 flagons of port wine, then he and others destroyed it with shot gun blasts and hand-held implements.
Later, some aborigines confined to the lock-up were released to do some manual labour, cleaning up weeds in the Hooker Creek town area. A station hand from the outlying area had some horse hobbles which were placed on the legs of the offenders, restraining them from running away, but causing them no discomfort.
“Through the efforts of some misguided white people, who enlisted the aid of the Central and Northern Legal Aid Services, these matters were given a lot of publicity, and brought to the notice of senior police officers” Jennings said.
“But there had been no wrongdoing on my
part-departmental enquiries proved that” he said. According to Jennings, two
cases in the white man’s court turned what was a joke into reality for him. The
joke was when he wore a sheet to a fancy dress social function while he was
stationed on Groote Eylandt.
“Everybody thought it was a great joke-and I certainly wasn’t serious about it” he said. The first case was that of Aborigines charged over the fatal wounding of another tribesman after the man had made sexual advances to his wife. The accused man was released on a six-month good behaviour bond. Two weeks later a white man who shot and killed another white man was jailed for seven years.
Jennings said one of the primary aims of the Klan was to achieve the division of white and black so that the black man lived in his own domain, according to his tribal law. “We must remove white police from the aboriginal reserves – and we must tell the black man: ‘Don’t you leave your reserve all you will be subject to the white man’s law’.
“Just look at the inequality of the Aboriginal land rights question. “Anyone with a miner’s right can dig up my front yard in search for minerals. The law says, though, that the white man cannot even venture onto the black man’s reserve without an entry permit.
“The former Prime Minister, Mr John Gorton, put the thing in its proper perspective when he said: “there cannot be any justice when black and white are not equal before the law”. So let’s have two sets of laws, and separatism, or self-determination, for both” Jennings said the KKK was not racist, not anti-Semitic, and didn’t hate anyone.
He said the burning cross of the Klan – which too
many people associated with crucifixion, murder and other atrocities – simply
signified the truth and the light of the KKK doctrine: the blazing spirit of
Western Christian civilisation.
The grand wizard of the main section of the Klan in the United States, David Duke of Metairie, Louisiana, had sent him a telegram after his exposure as Klan leader. “Mr Duke asked me to ring him, reverse charge.
I did so, and he told me not to hesitate to call on him for funds if I ran out of money.” Jennings said. “Well, I have resigned, and I have no chance of getting a decent job in the NT, so my family and I will be moving on. “My resignation pleased my superiors, but not the regular non-commissioned policeman in the NT who know that, despite my so-called prejudices, I have never allowed anything to interfere with my duty. “Everywhere I have been stationed – and that’s a few places since I first joined the NT force in June 1974 – the aborigines have liked me, trusted me.
“Many of them think just like I do – and for the
same reasons. They know there’s no place for the black man in the white man’s
“I came here with an open mind. I have nothing but
gratitude and admiration for an aborigine who ran 25 miles one day to get help
after I was seriously injured in a tangle with a bull, on Granite Downs
Station, just over the South Australian border.
“I had a fractured skull. That bloke probably saved my life.” Jennings said there were about 500 financial members of the Klan in the NT, many of them keeping a low profile, for obvious reasons.
Many other people sympathised with his crusade, and provided moral and some financial support, without actually becoming financial members.
He said Klan sympathisers were active in universities in New South Wales and Victoria, and he hoped to visit the eastern states during the next few months.
He said high-ranking officials of the KKK from the USA would visit Australia in January, to further the cause of anti-white discrimination.
Hello, my name’s David Sligar. Nicholas Gruen has kindly encouraged me to do some blogging here. I started reading this blog over a decade ago, so I’m excited to contribute.
First up is a slightly modified cross post from my blog proposing a “job of last resort“. The policy is intended to be a modest variant on a “job guarantee”, a policy idea gaining increased attention around the world, particularly on the left.
I’ve long been a sceptic of a job guarantee (JG). A world in which a government department can effectively evaluate the needs and capabilities of every unemployed person and assign them to a suitable individualised job is beyond the scope of plausible reality, in my view. It’s just not my experience of the way bureaucracies work.
Such a program would also bring macro-economic risks, potentially suppress wages in JG worker sectors, and do an injustice to the unemployed by making promises it can’t keep. Unemployed people suffer enough stigma. It would only get worse if the government effectively told the community the unemployed were all there entirely by choice, as would be the implication of claiming jobs were “guaranteed”. A full blown JG would also have a massive fiscal cost – likely tens of billions each year – which just cannot be hand waived away in budget obsessed Australia.
Nevertheless the motivating spirit behind the JG has its attraction. Long-term unemployment is a waste and a tragedy. Human beings, willing to work, sit idle for years when they could be contributing to society through some form of productive labour. And although I think claims about the “dignity of work” can be overstated, it is true that long-term unemployment is profoundly damaging for happiness, health and human capital. Many of us would prefer almost any safe and dignified job to this. Some – not all – of us have a deep need for a reason to get out of bed, duties to perform, a need to feel needed.
What if we could design something like a JG, but on a relatively modest scale, capturing its merits while dropping the risks and grandiosity of a universal JG? Let’s call this a “job of last resort” (JLR) program.
The starting point is that JLR would only target the segment of the unemployed who are relatively unlikely to gain employment in the private sector any time soon. It would not cover someone briefly between jobs. Rather, it would be limited to those who have been substantially underutilised for a very long period. This is to ensure the program does not interfere with transitional unemployment, which is present even in the healthy labour markets described as “full employment”.
A problem with a full blown JG, available to all unemployed, is that it would divert a significant number of people into the program who otherwise would have quickly obtained a regular job. This may harm the individual, whose career progression would probably be better served in regular employment. By crowding out private sector employment, it may also cause inflation. However, to the extent JLR only targets the unemployed who are not on the margin of employment – call them inframarginal unemployed – these concerns should not be overwhelming.
The program would be available to anyone who has received an unemployment (or related) benefit for:
at least two thirds of the past year and
at least two of the past three years.
Also eligible would be a person who has:
received an unemployment benefit for at least two thirds of the past year,
received an unemployment benefit for at least one of the past three years, and
had total labour earnings of less than $80,000 over the past three years.
The latter eligibility method attempts to capture long-term underutilised workers. An earnings threshold is chosen due to administrative difficulties in evaluating hours worked. Modified criteria would exist for people who had spent time as students or carers.
JLR participants would be paid at the minimum wage. They could choose between programs of different levels of commitment, for example 35, 25 or 15 hours per week.
Eligible participants would be offered a job in city or regional beautification, for example, gardening, litter collection and landscaping. Those who do not have the required fitness would be eligible for placement on low skill tasks in government agencies. The important point is that they are undertaking work that adds value but which would be unlikely to be performed otherwise, such as in basic staff catering – what used to be called “tea ladies”. They could be hired as door greeters at government agencies.
We may consider allowing community organisations to apply for JLR workers. In this event, measures would have to be put in place to mitigate the risk of worker displacement. For example, community organisations applying for a JLR worker might have to demonstrate that their regular full time equivalent worker numbers are growing and will continue to grow. They should have some financial skin in the game, such as covering employee on-costs. One option would be to structure the JLR in community organisations as a 100% wage subsidy that slowly tapers down.
All JLR participants would be held to usual workplace standards and may be dismissed if they fail to complete assigned duties or abide by the code of conduct. In this case, the participant would return to regular unemployment benefits and be eligible to reapply for a JLR position after six months.
Self-directed work plans
After participants successfully complete the first six months of a JLR program, they would have the opportunity to submit a business case to request allocating up to 10% of their working hours to self-directed work. Work options would include arts, culture and sports. The business case would have to satisfy that the activity made a measurable contribution to the community. The threshold would be modest – for example, exhibiting work, publishing articles or even getting hits on a blog post. An approved participant in this arm of the program would be accountable for the delivery of the benchmarks set out in their participation agreement.
Non-completion would result in the loss of the self-directed time and its reallocation to regular JLR activities.
JLR participants who successfully deliver on their self-directed benchmarks over a six-month period may apply to increase the self-directed time to 20% of their working hours.
Job search requirements
The JLR is not intended to be a permanent job. It is a last resort. Participants would be expected to undertake some (reduced) job search activities. The discount on job search requirements, relative to unemployment benefits, would be substantial for 35-hour work week participations. The idea is just that they continue to apply for appropriate jobs, rather than spend their time churning out pointless low-chance applications.
There are currently around 100,000 people who have been unemployed for at least two years. Program eligibility is considerably broader than this, but only some of those eligible will elect to sign up. So as a rough guess – potentially an underestimate – let’s assume 100,000 people will participate in the JLR.
Let’s assume all participants chose to work the maximum 35 hours per week, an obvious overestimate.
The minimum wage in Australia is currently about $19.50 per hour. On-costs for public servants — including superannuation, office space, training, etc — are typically assumed in government costings to be around 20%-30%. But the figure is likely to be much higher for JLR participants for two reasons.
The first is mechanical — the JLR’s wages are lower than those of regular public servants, so a given amount of spending (on accommodation for example) will be greater as a percentage of their income.
The second is that management costs of JLR participants will be high due to the participants’ diverse and complex needs and capabilities, which will be affected by their spell of unemployment. Managers will have a challenging task to create effective and integrated teams out of workers who are given to them ad hoc, rather than selected to fill specific roles based on their personal capabilities. I’m going to assume on-costs of 50%.
Based on these assumptions, the gross annual cost of the JLR will be:
100,000 * $19.50 * 150% * 35 * 52 ≈ $5.3 billion.
The cost will be offset by Newstart savings. The rate of Newstart for a single with no children is $279.50 per week. Let’s assume, conservatively, the average JLR participant would have received half of this due to occasional work and various means testing arrangements:
100,000 * 279.50 * 50% * 52 ≈ $0.7 billion
In addition, the tax office would claw back some money through personal income tax, but this would not be material for this level of analysis. People on minimum wage just don’t pay much tax, and their spell of unemployment would drag down their year’s tax bill to zero in many cases.
Based on the assumptions above, the net cost of the JLR would be approximately $4.6 billion annually. The estimate is crude – a professional costing would require administrative data and sophisticated modelling – but it gives the order of magnitude.
At around 0.2% of Australia’s GDP, the JLR is eminently affordable in theory. It wouldn’t crack the government’s top 20 most expensive programs. It costs roughly one tenth of the age pension, a quarter of family tax benefit and of disability pensions, a third of funding to private schools and half of unemployment benefits. It is trivial compared to tax concessions on superannuation.
But the issue is political will. In Australia we live in a political culture that is fixated on the budget. The immediate question is whether, given political economic constraints, this is the best use of around $5 billion a year. There are probably other ways we could spend this money to get better bang for our buck in terms of human welfare. On the other hand, perhaps this is more politically feasible than other programs. Voters do love “jobs”.
Should we do it?
I remain concerned about the interlinking of social security with work. I would prefer a clear demarcation between safety net programs and labour requirements. Blurring this distinction is a slippery slope to exploitation. Sure this ship sailed with Work for the Dole, but should social democrats be promoting it as part of our grand vision?
I have no absolute answer to this question. What I can say is that if we do go down this path, we should do so modestly, and with concrete policy proposals, rather dealing in grand rhetoric and sweeping claims that cannot realistically be implemented.
The JLR is my offering, for discussion, to this end.
It kicked off at 5pm. You know how at some concerts the support acts are a bit half-rate, fledgling bands still finding their feet? Not a bit of it here. All superb.
And then headliner, Paul Kelly.
The Sidney Myer Music Bowl was packed, and no wonder — this gig had sold out months ago.
I don’t think I’ve been to a concert at the Music Bowl since I was a kid. Carols By Candlelight one year. It poured down with rain. We were so drenched the tram conductor took pity on us and gave us a free ride home.
This time it didn’t rain, and we were lucky enough to get seats undercover in row G – close enough to see everything; not so close that the crowd at the front blocked the view. The General Admission areas were also packed, with some people finding a comfortable spot on the grass where they couldn’t really see anything, but could at least hear all the music.
A friend rang before the main act came on. “We’ve got some spare seats. Row P. Do you want to join us?” Sorry Steve, it’s really nice of you to offer us an upgrade from Economy to Business, but we’re already in First.
There was free bonus entertainment: the couple next to me who got narked-off by the couple sitting in front of them who kept holding their phones up to record long videos of many of the songs. They resorted to tapping them on the shoulder. Then towards the end they got really irritated when the phone couple stood up to dance and see better… but really, that’s part of concerts.
PK played all the hits, and some new stuff. It was all great.
The clouds threatened but the rain held off, the queues for the food weren’t too ridiculously long, and all the musicians and the crowd were in top form.
And one of my favourites, perhaps his best obscure song: Love Letter, probably the most mainstream song from his terrific Professor Ratbaggy side-project from 1999.
As the crowd dispersed, we walked back along the river to Flinders Street Station. Plenty of people around at 11pm on a Thursday night – and I was once again struck at how busy Melbourne can be, 24/7.
This is part four of a series that charts the short history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory of Australia and the involvement of NT police officer Constable David Jennings in that story.
Below is the full text of a letter received by the Northern Territory News in March 1978 but not published at that time. The letter concerns the purported conduct of a meeting at Katherine south of Darwin at which it was claimed by Constable David Jennings that the Australian branch of the Ku Klux Klan was established.
I have been unable to locate any record of a “K . Hettinger” – the purported author of the letter – and I believe it is more likely that the letter was produced by Constable Jennings.
Nor have I been able to locate any record of the “David Callaghan” referred to in the letter as the “national director and coordinator” of the Klan branch in Australia – a title that was apparently bestowed on Constable Jennings by the leader of the west coast faction of the Klan, David Duke, in August 1978.
Similarly, in my research to date on the conduct of a meeting of the Klan – complete with burning cross – outside of Katherine in early March 1978 has drawn a blank. If you have any information about that or any similar meeting please get in touch.
Dear Sir: Last Wednesday (1-3-78) I had the good fortune to be invited to the inaugural meeting of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Australian Division).
The meeting was held on the property just outside Katherine
at a location I have sworn not to reveal, and was attended by a surprisingly
large crowd. I kept notes of the meeting and this is how it went.
The crowd stood around the symbolic fiery cross, none were
hooded and yet no one seemed uneasy and yet there was some well-known persons
From the back of the crowd came a tall, handsome man in his
late 20s, he wore the traditional Klan robe, the hood off his head.
He strode to a position under the cross and after a token
applause, raised his hands and spoke:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope I will soon be able to address you as Klansman and Klansladies or will it be Klanspersons. This is the first official Klan meeting ever to be held in Australia and we have chosen Katherine in the Northern Territory because at the moment it is so like the situation in the States (more applause).
“Let me introduce myself, I am called David Callaghan and I am the national director and coordinator of this branch of the Klan in Australia.”
Turning to the cross he says:
“This is certainly not a 20 foot flaming cross, but in our minds it symbolises for very important things, fire, heat, devotion and the light that it sheds. (Then as if by Divine intervention a gust of wind whips the flames even brighter).
“Many people around the world think the fiery cross is a symbol of hate, but our movement is primarily a movement of love, love of country, love of race, love of our heritage, love of the values of white civilisation. We see in the fiery cross the light ideals and purposes of Western culture. We see in the fiery cross the light of the Western world. This light is the white race.
He next recounted a brief history of white achievement,
including major advances in medicine, technology, art and philosophy.
“All around us we find parasitic minorities who want to leech off our accomplishments.
“The Communists control three quarters of the world, immigrants and Jews control our foreign policies, our governments, the press and the financial organisations.
“Together they will destroy the purity of our race and the fabric of our civilisation. “Black people have organisations that fight for black people and black power. “All minority groups have organisations to support them. But there are no organisations that fight for and support the rights of white people. “That is why we have formed the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan here in Australia.”
He went on to say that the new Klan was a strictly legal and
all aboveboard type of organisation.
None of the activities that originally bought to notice
after the American Civil War were to be used.
He stated that what the Klan was going to preach separatism.
“The Blacks of the Territory especially are sitting back and laughing at the good fortune, wouldn’t you with one law for you and one for the whites.
“Wouldn’t you with massive government handouts enabling you to just sit around and drink up and do nothing other than perhaps collect your checks once a fortnight.”
He also stated:
“The Blacks of the Territory are blockading the advancement of the Territory. Their land claims are no more than black greed, they are trying to force the government and the people of Australia to march backwards instead of forward so that they can receive more and more gratuities.
“This is all the black of Australia understands, he has been pampered and spoiled since the time that some white gave birth to some perverted conscience.
“Yes the Territory especially is the conscience of Australia, you are the ones that are wearing it for those that reckon that they have done the wrong thing by the Blacks.” He further stated: “we know that the Klan will grow in Australia. The whites of Australia need the Plan to stand up for them and fight for them.
“Why only the other week I received the news that black lay preachers are now preaching anti-white sermons in the settlement churches. This is only the beginning.
“The black of Australia, the full blood or the tribal black, is being led to believe by the Governments, by the half-caste city dweller that has only seen pictures of settlements and by organisations like Legal Aid et cetera, that he had a rightful place in the white community.
“Nothing is further than the truth. Who wants included in our society, illiterate, unclean, drunken bludgers, who cannot even sign their names on the Government checks, who is allowed to sign those checks with the cross because he’s too lazy or too ignorant to learn even to write his own name.
“The time has come for changes in the system, better stop the littering of our streets with drunken blacks who are now raping our women and beating up our fellow citizens and escaping the true wrath of the law just because they are black.
“We do not want the black problems that soft governments and misguided do-gooders has thrust upon the United States and Africa. Let us act now and stop it before it really starts.”
Callaghan then stepped down from the front of the crowd
amidst the loud applause and mingled with the crowd. All shook his hand and
express their willingness to help.
30 new members were
sworn in before the night was over, and Callaghan stated his itinerary was to
include Alice Springs, Darwin, Tennant Creek and most towns up and down the
The night ended for the first meeting of the Knights of the
Ku Klux Klan in the very early hours of the following day.
Trust that you find the enclosed information of interest and
worthy of inclusion in your next edition.
I will keep you informed of our progress as we travel. May
white power rise again.
Public Relations Officer
Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Aust)
Other parts of this series can be found at the links below:
This is part three of a series that charts the short history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory of Australia and the involvement of NT police officer Constable David Jennings in that story.
In parts one and two of this series I examined the brief rise and spectacular and sudden fall from peculiar grace of Klan member NT Police officer David Jennings and the only Australian branch of the Klan – of which Jennings was apparently the only member of – authorised by the Klan in the United States.
In this part I will look briefly at public relations advice received by Constable Jennings from Carl Hand Jnr., then US National organiser of the Klan based in Los Angeles. As I noted in part two, the Klan at that time was riven into two warring factions, one controlled by David Duke, based in Los Angeles, the other led by Bill Wilkinson and based in Louisiana.
The letter to Constable Jennings from Carl Hand Jnr. was dated 19 September 1978, nine months after Jennings’ Klan membership was authorised and a month after he was recognised – by David Duke’s Los Angeles-based Klan faction – as an “organiser” of the clan in Australia.
Two other dates are relevant – in March 1978 Jennings wrote a letter to several news outlets outlining a meeting that he claimed to have been held outside of Katherine, south of Darwin earlier that month. That letter was not published in full by any outlet until October 1978 (but see the next part of this series) and was passed onto NT Police Commissioner Peter McAulay. Also in early October NT Police laid two internal disciplinary charges against Constable Jennings – soon followed by a further three – in relation to his Klan activities, including appearing on an ABC TV broadcast in full Klan robes and pointed hood.
The following extracts were first published in the NT News on 31 October 1978.
Territory Ku Klux Klansman, David Jennings, has been advised by his American counterparts on how to use even an unwilling press to get his message across. David Jennings resigned from the Northern Territory Police Force last week, one day before he was due to face internal hearing on charges relating to claims of Ku Klux Klan activity in the Territory.
The advice Jennings received is in a letter, written by the US National organiser of the Ku Klux Klan, Carl Hand Junior, and seized with other Klan items from Jennings home recently.
In his letter to Jennings, Carl Hand suggested that to get across the message of his activities, he take out an advert in the newspaper. In another suggestion was that he send the newspaper a copy of the KKK official publication Crusader, of which, and noted, Jennings had been forwarded 10 copies.
“If both these failed, you might try issuing press releases. And if that still fails, there is always the concerned citizen routine, that is getting a cooperative friend who is not identified publicly with the Klan, to write nasty letters denouncing your activities. This is always as a last resort, but it never fails,” Carl Hand Jnr. concluded.
This is part two of a series that charts the short history of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory of Australia and the involvement of NT police officer Constable David Jennings in that story. In part one I sketched the nature of NT policing in remote NT communities and the role of NT Police Constable David Jennings in two disturbing events at the small community of Lajamanu (formerly Hooker Creek) in 1977 and the consideration of those events by NT politicians through to March 1978. In this part I will look at the role that Constable Jennings played in the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Northern Territory.
It isn’t surprising that I can find no references to Constable Jennings, the emergent Klan or the unfortunate events at Lajamanu from late March through late October 1978. During those months the NT was more concerned with the introduction of full self-government that was granted effective from 1 July 1978.
The Klan in the NT – fact or fiction?
On Friday 20 October the NT News reported that an unnamed NT police officer – but undoubtedly Constable David Jennings – was facing two internal NT police charges of behaving in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the force arising from letters produced earlier in the year about a branch of the Klan established in the small town of Katherine, south of Darwin. The paper noted that the officer was not under suspension and had been transferred from Hooker Creek (Lajamanu) to Darwin.
The following Monday the NT News reported on the “widespread and angry” reactions from politicians, churchmen and local communities at the news that a Klan branch had been established in the NT and examined the contradictory claims by the leaders of two embittered factions of the Klan – David Duke and Bill Wilkinson – concerning the Klan’s operation in the NT.*
Earlier that day former KKK grand wizard David Duke (see my 2013 post on roadside “DavidDuke.com” signs here) told the local ABC Radio that Australia was, due to “aborigines sitting on rich deposits of uranium” ripe for the establishment of the Klan. Duke claimed that he and Jennings corresponded regularly and that the NT branch was not the only Klan group established in Australia.
On 1 January 1978 Duke – who claimed to have received “hundreds” of letters from Australia – signed a Klan certificate accepting Jennings as a “Klansman” and in August bestowed the official title of “Organiser in the NT”. Around that time the Klan’s newsletter, The Crusader, ran a piece stating that the Klan was “making steady headway under the leadership of Jennings in Australia,”
Bill Wilkinson – Imperial Wizard of the “Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” from 1975–1981 – countered Duke’s claims, stating that no Klan member had ever been initiated in Australia and that the claims by Jennings, whom he described as “an overzealous individual,” were unauthorised.
The “White Giant”
On Monday 23 October a Canberra Times article quoted from letters sent to NT media outlets earlier in 1978 (but not apparently published at that time and subsequently passed onto the NT Police Commissioner) written by the self-proclaimed “public relations officer for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (Aust)” who claimed that a large crowd had attended a meeting of the Klan outside of Katherine.
The crowd stood around the fiery cross, some were hooded … from the back came a tall handsome man in his late 20s. He wore the traditional Klan robe pulled over his head … let us stop the littering of our streets with drunken Blacks who are now raping our women and beating up our fellow citizens … Let us act now and stop it before it really starts.
The Canberra Times noted that “A man calling himself “the white giant” appeared on ABC TV in a white robe with a hood over his head.
Over the next few days matters escalated dramatically for Jennings. NT Police Commissioner Peter McAulay released details of a further three internal charges (taking the total to five) that would be the subject of a disciplinary hearing on Wednesday 25 October 1978. Those further charges arose from a five-hour interview between Jennings and police investigators earlier in the week. Commissioner McAulay advised that Jennings had been suspended from duties because of the continuing nature of the alleged breaches.
“An embarrassment to the force”
The day after the NT Police internal disciplinary hearing into the five charges laid against him – where it is understood that an adjournment would be provided so that Jennings could prepare defences to the charges if required – Jennings outed himself as the “leader” of the Klan in the NT and resigned from the NT Police force, immediately applying for another position in the NT public service and then leaving the NT for New South Wales.
Jennings admitted to the NT News that it was he who had appeared on the ABC TV news program the previous Saturday clad in Klan robes – now seized by NT Police – and that he’d resigned on the basis that the internal charges against him would be dropped.
Jennings spoke to the NT News somewhat reluctantly – he didn’t want to jeopardise three months holiday pay he said he was due. He went on to say that if he was single he would stay and fight on principle, but, being married with three kids he reckoned he couldn’t afford to fight on principle.
“My politics are not in line with the force,” he said. “I’m an embarrassment to the force.”
The next and final part of this series will the full text of a letter written by Constable Jennings to the NT News in March 1978 – but not published until late October 1978 – referring to the conduct of a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan held at Katherine earlier that month.
You can read some fascinating – if fundamentally depressing – history of the various elements of the Klan and the disputes between Duke and Wilkinson at the Southern Poverty Law Center “KNIGHTS OF THE KU KLUX KLAN” page here. This 2015 Daily Mail article provides interesting insights into Wilkinson’s post-Klan life in Belize following his “disappearance” in 1984.
Thanks to Rachel Maddow at MSNBC for the tip earlier tonight that a number of newspaper editorial boards have recently spoken out in support of the Articles of Impeachment against Donald J. Trump currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee. Much of that comment comes on the back of the results of the House Intelligence Committee inquiry
Here are a few extracts from editorials over the past few days from coast to coast. I’ve just updated this post with extracts from excoriating statement by the Editorial Board of the New York Times Editorial of Saturday 14 December 2019.
IN THE END, the story told by the two articles of impeachment approved on Friday morning by the House Judiciary Committee is short, simple and damning: President Donald Trump abused the power of his office by strong-arming Ukraine, a vulnerable ally, holding up hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid until it agreed to help him influence the 2020 election by digging up dirt on a political rival.
When caught in the act, he rejected the very idea that a president could be required by Congress to explain and justify his actions, showing “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance” in the face of multiple subpoenas. He made it impossible for Congress to carry out fully its constitutionally mandated oversight role, and, in doing so, he violated the separation of powers, a safeguard of the American republic.
By stonewalling as no previous president has, Donald Trump has left Congress with no choice but to press ahead to a Senate trial. The president insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing, yet he refuses to release any administration documents or allow any administration officials to testify — though, if his assertions are in fact true, those officials would presumably exonerate him. He refused to present any defense before the House whatsoever, asserting a form of monarchical immunity that Congress cannot let stand.
It’s regrettable that the House moved as fast as it did, without working further through the courts and through other means to hear from numerous crucial witnesses. But Democratic leaders have a point when they say they can’t afford to wait, given the looming electoral deadline and Mr. Trump’s pattern of soliciting foreign assistance for his campaigns. Even after his effort to extract help from Ukraine was revealed, the president publicly called on China to investigate his rival. Asked as recently as October what he hoped the Ukrainians would do in response to his infamous July 25 call with their president, Mr. Trump declared: “Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer.”
So far, Republican legislators have shown little sign of treating this constitutional process with the seriousness it demands. Instead, they have been working overtime to abet the president’s wrongdoing. They have spread toxic misinformation and conspiracy theories to try to justify his actions and raged about the unfairness of the inquiry, complaining that Democrats have been trying to impeach Mr. Trump since he took office.
The Republicans’ most common defenses of Mr. Trump’s behavior fall flat in the face of the evidence.
There is, above all, the summary of the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. Mr. Trump still insists that summary exonerates him. It doesn’t — which is why White House officials promptly locked it in a special computer system.
Then there is the sworn testimony of multiple government officials, including several appointed by Mr. Trump himself, all of whom confirmed the essential story line: For all the recent claims about his piety regarding Ukrainian corruption, Mr. Trump did not “give a shit about Ukraine.” He only wanted the “deliverable” — the announcement of an investigation into the Bidens, and also into a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
ASSUMING MR. TRUMP IS IMPEACHED, the case will go to the Senate, where he will have the chance — on far more friendly territory — to mount the defense he refused to make to the House. Rather than withholding key witnesses, he should be demanding sworn appearances by people like Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and John Bolton, the former national security adviser.
As recently as a few weeks ago, some Republicans seemed to want to get to the bottom of things. Even Trump’s footman, Senator Lindsey Graham, said, “If you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing.”
The time for such expressions of public spirit has, apparently, passed. “I’ve written the whole process off,” Mr. Graham said during the impeachment hearings. “I think this is a bunch of B.S.”
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, says there will be “no difference between the president’s position and our position in how to handle this,” as he told Sean Hannity of Fox last Thursday. Before the House had cast a single vote on impeachment, Mr. McConnell said there was “no chance” the Senate would vote to convict.
For now, that leaves the defense of the Constitution, and the Republic, to the House of Representatives.
Since taking office as president in 2017, Donald Trump has used the unfiltered power of social media to broadcast his daily disdain and mockery of rivals, and to promote his version of the truth.
That he has continued this mockery to the impeachment process — the most serious action Congress can initiate beyond a declaration of war — is of grave concern.
The first article charges Trump with abuse of power for “soliciting the interference of a foreign government to influence the 2020 presidential election” …
But it is the second article – the obstruction of Congress, by his “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas” — that should have us all frightened … In defying these orders, and through his continued ridicule of the impeachment process and the members of Congress who initiated it, Trump has severely disrespected his office and the document he swore to protect and uphold. Should this process end with a trial and a Senate vote to remove him from office — a prospect that seems highly unlikely — it’s not hard to imagine that he would insist that the process was invalid and refuse to go. Such an act of tyranny is what the Constitution was created to protect against. That is why this impeachment process is urgent and should move forward without delay.
The impeachment investigation has been an attempt to get to the truth about the president’s abuse of power. One career civil servant after another has testified to the same facts confirming the whistle-blower complaint that triggered this investigation. Those facts have not been disputed, even by most of the president’s defenders … And that is why we endorse a vote to impeach the president. While his removal from office is unlikely, his crimes against the country, and the Constitution, warrant that outcome
Trump’s abuses of power are worthy of several articles of impeachment. But two are enough.Los Angeles Times Editorial Board. 11 December 2019.
President Trump’s myriad abuses of power could easily provide the basis for several articles of impeachment. But on Tuesday House Democrats unveiled only two, both related to Trump’s unconscionable attempt to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that would benefit him politically … The first article alleges that Trump abused the power of his office when he “solicited the interference of a foreign power, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States presidential election.”
The second article accuses Trump of obstructing Congress by ordering “the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives” pursuant to its power of impeachment.
By emphasizing that the defiance by the White House was “categorical” and “indiscriminate,” the drafters of the article have anticipated an argument by Trump’s defenders that he has the right to assert privilege to block the testimony of key advisors.
But Trump has gone far beyond asserting executive privilege in narrow cases. Rather, he has refused across the board to cooperate with an investigation that his White House counsel has dismissed as a “purported ‘impeachment inquiry’” and a “charade.”
Still, no one should think that these two articles exhaust the case against Trump, whose contempt for the rule of law and for the norms of governance seem to lead him regularly to the brink of what’s acceptable — and beyond.
But with their careful and damning explication of the Ukraine scandal, the articles more than suffice to justify his impeachment.
Impeach the president. Boston Globe Editorial. 5 December 2019.
From the founding of this country, the power of the president was understood to have limits. Indeed, the Founders would never have written an impeachment clause into the Constitution if they did not foresee scenarios where their descendants might need to remove an elected president before the end of his term in order to protect the American people and the nation.
The question before the country now is whether President Trump’s misconduct is severe enough that Congress should exercise that impeachment power, less than a year before the 2020 election. The results of the House Intelligence Committee inquiry, released to the public on Tuesday, make clear that the answer is an urgent yes.
But the president also betrayed the US taxpayer to advance that corrupt agenda. In order to pressure Ukraine into acceding to his request, Trump’s administration held up $391 million in aid allocated by Congress. In other words, he demanded a bribe in the form of political favors in exchange for an official act — the textbook definition of corruption.
Impeachment does not require a crime. The Constitution entrusts Congress with the impeachment power in order to protect Americans from a president who is betraying their interests. And it is very much in Americans’ interests to maintain checks and balances in the federal government; to have a foreign policy that the world can trust is based on our national interest instead of the president’s personal needs; to control federal spending through their elected representatives; to vote in fair elections untainted by foreign interference. For generations, Americans have enjoyed those privileges. What’s at stake now is whether we will keep them. The facts show that the president has threatened this country’s core values and the integrity of our democracy. Congress now has a duty to future generations to impeach him.
“Put your own narrow interests ahead of the nation’s, flout the law, violate the trust given to you by the American people and recklessly disregard the oath of office, and you risk losing your job.”
USA TODAY’s Editorial Board wrote those words two decades ago when it endorsed the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, a Democrat. Now, in graver circumstances with America’s system of checks and balances at stake, they apply to another president facing impeachment, Republican Donald Trump.
The current board has made no secret of our low regard for Trump’s character and conduct. Yet, as fellow passengers on the ship of state, we had hoped the captain would succeed. And, until recently, we believed that impeachment proceedings would be unhealthier for an already polarized nation than simply leaving Trump’s fate up to voters next November.
Abuse of power. Testimony before the House Intelligence Committee produced overwhelming evidence that Trump wanted Ukraine’s new president to announce investigations into the Bidens and a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
To pressure the Ukrainian leader, Trump withheld a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in congressionally approved security aid, funding that was released only after an unnamed official blew the whistle.
Obstruction of Congress. Trump has met the impeachment investigation with outright and unprecedented defiance. The White House has withheld documents, ordered executive branch agencies not to comply with subpoenas and directed administration officials not to testify.
Our support for Trump’s impeachment by the House — we’ll wait for the Senate trial to render a verdict on removal from office — has nothing to do with policy differences. We have had profound disagreements with the president on a host of issues, led by his reckless deficits and inattention to climate change, both of which will burden generations to come. Policy differences are not, however, grounds for impeachment. Constitutional violations are.
Bill Clinton should be impeached and stand trial “because the charges are too serious and the evidence amassed too compelling” to ignore, the Editorial Board wrote in December 1998.
The same can be said this December about the allegations facing Donald Trump. Only much more so.
The House of Representatives is moving toward a momentous decision about whether to impeach a president for only the third time in U.S. history. The charges brought against President Trump by the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday are clear: that he abused his office in an attempt to induce Ukraine’s new president to launch politicized investigations that would benefit Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign, and that he willfully obstructed the subsequent congressional investigation.
Because of that unprecedented stonewalling, and because House Democrats have chosen to rush the impeachment process, the inquiry has failed to collect important testimony and documentary evidence that might strengthen the case against the president. Nevertheless, it is our view that more than enough proof exists for the House to impeach Mr. Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, based on his own actions and the testimony of the 17 present and former administration officials who courageously appeared before the House Intelligence Committee.
We believe Mr. Trump should receive a full trial in the Senate, and it is our hope that more senior officials will decide or be required to testify during that proceeding, so that senators, and the country, can make a fair and considered judgment about whether Mr. Trump should be removed from office. We have reserved judgment on that question. What is important, for now, is that the House determine whether Mr. Trump’s actions constituted an abuse of power meriting his impeachment and trial.
We take no pleasure in recommending the president’s impeachment and are aware of the considerable costs and risks: further dividing and inflaming our politics; turning impeachment into one more tool of partisan warfare; perhaps giving Mr. Trump unwarranted aid in his reelection effort. But the House must make its decision based on the facts and merits, setting aside unpredictable second-order effects.
That is particularly true because, unlike any previous president, Mr. Trump has refused all cooperation with the congressional inquiry. He has prevented the testimony of a dozen present or former senior officials and the release of documents by the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and three Cabinet departments.
Congress prepared an article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon for a less comprehensive refusal to cooperate. Mr. Trump’s actions demand that Congress again act to protect a foundation of U.S. democracy.
I have extracted below a section that took my fancy from an academic article about the economist Neild, whom I’d not heard of previously. It is an interesting story on its own terms and a nice illustration of how unhelpful the instinct to locate regimes or their functionality on a singular spectrum between ‘government’ and ‘market’. They are co-dependent entities.
The English, the French and the Oyster (Neild 1995) is a succulent feast of a book, with rewards for readers of different kinds. Neild wrote the book as a result of his love of that mollusc and his interest in the evolution of its consumption. He wondered why oysters were more scarce and expensive in Britain than in France. He looked for an explanation but could not find one. So he researched the topic himself (Neild 2013b). While the book was not primarily an academic study, it dovetailed with his enduring interest in the ‘diversity of cultural evolution that shaped institutions’ (Neild 2017a, p. 6).
The book can be read
with reward by gourmets with no interest in economics, while economists and other social scientists can revel in its historical and institutional analysis of the oyster industry, as an illuminating complement to the more famous study of other common-pool resources by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (1990).11
In the middle of the 19th century, oyster production and consumption were as extensive and popular in Britain as in France. Charles Dickens in The PickwickPapers (1836), and Henry Mayhew in his classic London Labour and the London Poor (1851), noted that oysters were plentiful and consumed by the poor as well as by the rich. The new railways brought fresh oysters from the coasts to London and other cities. Some estimates suggest that per capita oyster consumption was higher in Greater London than in France (Neild 1995, p. 30).
The railways had facilitated an increase in the demand and supply of oysters in both England and France. In both countries the result was severe over-fishing of the oyster, leading to a precipitous fall in o
yster production in England between the 1850s and the 1880s. Estimates suggest that the number of oysters sold in Billingsgate – their principal market in London – fell by 90%. During this period of overall price deflation, the nominal price of some types of oyster increased about sevenfold (Neild 1995, p. 55). France faced a similar problem.
Neild compared the responses of the French and UK governments to this mid-century crisis. He showed that differences in institutional heritage and ideological predilection led to very different recommendations and policies. The result was the near-extermination of the oyster industry in Britain but its survival and prosperity in France.
Neild (1995, p. 52) defined a ‘common property right’ in terms of ‘no exclusion of anyone from the use of a property’. This is close to Ostrom’s (1990) definition of ‘common pool resources’, although he was unaware of her work. These are ensembles of assets, which are depleted by use, but where it is too costly to exclude other users. Common-pool resources differ from public goods (such as lighthouses), which are not depleted by use but are similarly non-excludable. Club goods (such as film shows in cinemas) are by definition excludable but not depleted by use (they are non-rivalrous).
Notably, Neild thought about the solution to the commons problem in terms of the standard private versus public and market versus state distinctions, whereas Ostrom showed that other workable governance arrangements had been used. Ostrom showed in her case studies that arrangements to manage common-pool resources effectively had evolved over time, but without recourse to individ-ual property rights, market pricing or overall planning. Instead customs and rules had evolved to ensure the survival and continuing exploitation of the assets.12
In both France and England, longstanding custom and legislation had enforced a closed season in the summer months, ensuring that the oyster population could recover. But unlike the case studies in Ostrom’s book, Neild addressed a problem of common-pool resources facing massive economic and environmental pressures, obliging governments to investigate and make recommendations. The UK and French governments solicited the advice of oyster fishers and scientific experts. But the institutional conditions and the policy responses were very different.
A Royal Commission into Sea Fisheries was set up in 1866, which devoted attention to the problems with oysters, as well as to the supply of sea fish, particularly the herring. One of its three members was Thomas Henry Huxley – the famous friend and defender of Charles Darwin.13 Their report noted that a spawning oyster can produce hundreds of thousands of eggs, and wrongly inferred that the oyster shortage could not have resulted from over-fishing.14 Their report proposed that where possible oyster beds should be placed under private ownership, to encourage investment into and maintenance of the resource. But they also proposed the removal of all regulations and restrictions upon oyster fishing – including ending the closed season in the summer months (Neild 1995, p. 67). The free market should hold sway. This policy proved to be a disastrous failure. Neild (1995, pp. 71–2) commented on Huxley’s role:
After his triumphs in the Darwinian battle, Huxley’s appetite for laying down the law and striking down those with different beliefs caused him increasingly to address political and philosophical subjects which were far beyond the realms of the physical sciences and hard evidence. . . . It is the misfortune of the British oyster that it fell foul of him at that stage of his career, as well as meeting the high tide of laissez-faire.
Subsequent attempts to establish private property rights in oyster beds largely failed, because they proved to be too complex and costly as they were encumbered by the ancient entanglements and ambiguities of British property law.
England had experienced a long history, from the Magna Carta of 1215 to the Glorious Revolution of 1688, where the powers of the monarch were checked by strong countervailing powers. In particular, the barons had forced King John in the Magna Carta ‘to stop enclosing the shore and seabed for his own purposes’ (Neild 1995, p. 86). But this led to a complex maze of devolved property rights. These entanglements made the recommendations of the 1866 Royal Commission unenforceable. Problems in defining property rights over the shore and seabed persist in the UK.
The French response to their 19th-century oyster crisis rested on very different institutional foundations, stemming from the period before the 1789 Revolution:
In France the king stopped the private enclosure of the shore and seabed in order to make it a public domain where he – and the governments which succeeded the monarchy – were able to grant concessions and take other steps to conserve and develop the supply of oysters. . . . Thus the authoritarian actions of the French monarchy providentially furthered the interests of the producers and consumers of oysters better than the anti-authoritarian actions of English barons. (Neild 1995, p. 86)
Neild thus revealed a hardly noticed paradox concerning the development and nature of property rights in different contexts. The prevailing narrative of modern institutional economists is that clear property rights became well-established, first in England, by placing the powers of the monarch in check, thus reducing the risks of arbitrary confiscation.15 By contrast, without citing this rival narrative, Neild showed that checks on the king’s power had led to an impossible tangle of rights over the shore and seabed in the UK.
Regarding France on the other side of the Channel, a prevailing account is that its centralized monarchy restricted the development of property rights, trade and industry. There is probably some truth in this, but the argument does not apply neatly to fisheries and oyster beds. Neild showed that concentrated ownership of the shore and seabed, in the hands of first the monarch and then the republican state, created the opportunity to establish clear leasehold property rights that could be exploited by the oyster producers.
There are further issues concerning the comparison of the English and French political and legal systems that need to be brought into the account. Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer (2002, pp. 1195) argued that in medieval England ‘judges and juries faced both physical and financial incentives to cater to the preferences of local feudal lords’. By contrast, feudal France developed a system of state-employed judges who were ‘better insulated’ from local pressures and interests: ‘France chose to rely on state-employed judges precisely because local feudal lords were too powerful.’ This does not necessarily imply that English lords were less powerful, but that France, unlike England, was capable of a centralizing state response. In France there was a massive tax-funded state bureaucracy, surmounted by a relatively more powerful king (Carruthers 1996, 23). While the 1789 Revolution dismantled much of the feudal state, Napoleon Bonaparte and others followed by building a stronger system of centralized political and legal powers in the early 19th century.
Paradoxically, it was thus easier to establish clear and effective property rights over oyster resources in etatist´ France than liberal Britain. The British fostered the myth that laissez-fare was a longstanding natural condition, as proclaimed by Huxley – the influential naturalist. But in reality all property rights depend on historically specific, complex, political and legal institutions, which are not universal for all time. Property rights themselves involve several aspects or incidences (Hodgson 2015a; Honore´ 1961).
Neild understood that property rights are systems of legal rules, not merely instances of control or possession, as in the manner of ‘the economics of property rights’ (Hodgson 2015b). Hence the response to an existing chaos of complex legislation and overlapping jurisdictions should not be to do nothing (as many proposed in the UK) but to ‘tidy up’ by legislative reform (Neild 1995, p. 112).
In France in the 1860s the authoritarian Emperor Napoleon III accepted scientific advice on how to safeguard the oyster supply and granted concessionary seabed leases to oyster producers. Conservationist policies were further developed after the Franco-Prussian War. The two world wars in the 20th century severely interrupted French production, but it has recovered thereafter.
Of course, the relative success of the policy of Napoleon III does not imply that state ownership of assets is superior in this particular case, or more generally. Neild made no such claim. Peculiar political conditions impelled the French Emperor to take a beneficial course of action. The most important overall message is that market solutions cannot work unless clear property rights concerning use, benefit and responsibility are established; historically, at least in this particular French case, the state facilitated their development.
Neild also shows that the evolution of the British and French oyster industries were affected by laws and cultural practices dating back centuries. They are cases of strong, path-dependent evolution (Arthur 1989; David 1985, 1994).
Neild (1995, ch. 12) related how the regulation of the British oyster industry remained in an ‘unsatisfactory condition’ until 1993 when new and better regulations were introduced as a result of membership of the Single Market of the European Union. It seems that supra-national forces are needed to shake the British oyster industry from its century of path-dependent relapse.
Transport for London (including London Underground) has a calendar that shows disruptions for months in advance – it’s unclear if all planned works have been entered, but TfL Rail (aka Crossrail, which is partially open) shows disruptions listed as far ahead as April 2020.
Back in Melbourne, the fact that passengers can see disruptions as far as mid-February is a big step forward.
But that level of advance warning is unfortunately not routine, and it should be – for more than just the “special case” Gippsland line.
Some major Melbourne rail closures are already planned well into 2020.
For instance, the Upfield line, is expecting a three month partial closure for level crossing removals. I understand this will commence in August.
If they published this information well in advance, there could be a caveat: maybe works would move by a week or two, or the scope of the closure might change a bit closer the date. And smaller weekend-only closures might have to be moved or added with less advance notice.
But often rail closures are locked in months in advance. So why not warn people so they can plan ahead?
I made up the term #Bossplaining. Or thought I did. Turns out it’s already a thing.
The one thing I learned in my university education, the one thing that excited me, was the need for people to exercise real effort in understanding each other. The language we use is so full of shades of meaning and we’re such emotional creatures – particularly when we’re arguing. Johnathan Haight has popularised lots of the evidence of the truth of Hume’s claim that our reason is the slave to our passions.
There’s something funny about the commentary in this thread about aggressive debate in economics faculties. It’s recently acquired a gender politics dimension and the first commenter – a male economist confesses to misreading the motives of the piece assuming the author was a man. Thinking he is dealing with one kind of meaning making – in which someone is right and the other wrong – he encounters another.
Anyway, like my gradual disenchantment with almost all political debate, which I see as simply the thin artefact of the rituals of competition, where words mean less and less (and are chosen for that purpose) with everything in the body language (the body language of an argument – ha ha) I’m pretty disenchanted with aggressive argument itself. I’ve never seen it turn up much, though I guess it could when the argument is about things that are sufficiently formal that there really is a right and wrong answer. Even then though, argument should be direct, but not aggressive as it’s less efficient that way.
Compete if you must – it’s not only natural but it’s good up to a point. It tests ideas. But even if one side wins, there’s usually quite a lot to be gained by looking at the perspective of others. This came to mind when reading this terrific piece by Kevin Kelly. He’s fantastic to read – such a powerful, curious intellect. That’s one reason why he’s not in the footnote chase of academia of course. Anyway, he disagrees with Robert Gordon. I’ve not read Gordon, but he’s certainly a well regarded economist. An A leaguer.
If I had to guess who’s going to be proven right, I think maybe Kelly will be, but who knows? Certainly Gordon looks to be right about all the panic about robots coming for our jobs – at least for now. It’s future gazing so a very difficult call. Both sides have a good case to make. What’s shocking is how juvenile Gordon’s response is. The lack of graciousness is unfortunate, but the lack of curiosity is unforgivable. Rather than explore the issues, elaborate on where he thinks the weaker parts of his thesis are, or take up some of the fertile threads Kelly weaves through his piece, Gordon is in high school debating mode. He’s right and Kelly’s wrong. Note how, in this style the antagonist defines the terms – making the debate about his contribution – and any deviation from those terms results from their opponent’s foolishness or knavery.
What a tragedy that academia is so often policed by people of such desicated, reductive sensibility as Gordon. I’ve been reading recently about the foundation of the internet and it was populated by such clever and curious people with a passion for humanity – seriously, it’s amazing how many of them had a human vision for computers – how much they anticipated the ‘social turn’ that IT took at the turn of the millennium, though that’s now being set upon by various dystopian forces.
Here’s a presentation I gave to a recent Government Economists’ Conference in Canberra. Like some other reflections of my book launching years (only some of which have been preserved for posterity),1 it tries to describe how I go about thinking about economics.
And the thing is, I don’t really know anyone who describes their own approach similarly. Most of the people who are unsatisfied with economics as it is, and that certainly describes me, want some new paradigm to take hold. I guess I could say the same, but only by saying that the paradigm change I want is some self-reflectiveness of the discipline and an ability to get the best out of the paradigms available to it. As I intimate with my use of the image of the plane with feathered wings, a discipline like economics which cannot really mark its knowledge much to market – where falsifiction is mostly only available to prove the obvious – one of the greatest enemies is impatience. The hankering for a new paradigm for the outsiders is like the hankering for the next bit of economic theory from the insiders.
In my experience, most of the good economists can do comes from patiently looking at things, asking people on the scene and trying to find productive ways of describing the situation and finding ways to improve it. Hence my little man with the magnifying glass and the chart suggesting that ‘doing economics’ in a professional capacity is and should be mostly the act of applying ideas. There’s plenty of different ways quite simple ideas can be applied, and the task is to find a principled and productive way to do so rather than just turn up, announce that you’ve got your “economists’ hat on” (what’s with it with these hats all of a sudden?) and then uttering some econo-robo-babble like “it’s all about supply and demand” it’s all about the “incentives”. It’s not that those ideas shouldn’t be used, but, like the idea of putting wings on a plane, they’re the very beginning of the search for insight, not the end.
I know you’ll be looking for book launches at this stage, so here are two. ↩
We, the leaders of the
Gurindji people, write to you about our earnest desire to regain tenure of our
tribal lands in the Wave Hill – Limbunya area of the Northern Territory, of which we were
dispossessed in time past, and for which we received no recompense.
Our people have lived
here from time immemorial and our culture, myths, dreaming and sacred places
have evolved in this land. Many of our forefathers were killed in the early
days while trying to retain it. Therefore we feel that morally the land is ours
and should be returned to us. Our very name Aboriginal acknowledges our prior
claim. We have never ceased to say amongst ourselves that Vesteys should go
away and leave us to our land.
On the attached map, we have marked out the boundaries of the sacred places of our dreaming, bordering the Victoria River from Wave Hill Police Station to Hooker Creek, Inverway, Limbunya, Seal Gorge, etc. We have begun to build our own new homestead on the banks of beautiful Wallis Creek in the Seal Yard area, where there is permanent water. This is the main place of our dreaming only a few miles from the Seal Gorge where we have kept the bones of our martyrs all these years since white men killed many of our people. On the walls of the sacred caves where these bones are kept are the paintings of the totems of our tribe.
We have already occupied a small area at Seal Yard under Miners Rights held by three of our tribesmen. We will continue to build our new home there (marked on the map with a cross), then buy some working horses and cattle. These we will use to build up a cattle station within the borders of this ancient Gurindji land. And we are searching the area for valuable rocks which we hope to sell to help feed our people. We will ask the NT Welfare Department for help with motor for pump, seeds for garden, tables, chairs, and other things we need. Later on we will build a road and an airstrip and maybe a school. Meanwhile, most of our people will continue to live in the camp we have built at the Wave Hill Welfare Centre twelve miles away and the children continue to go to school there.
We beg of you to hear
our voices asking that the land marked, on the map be returned to the Gurindji
people: it is about 600 square miles in area but this is only a very small
fraction of the land leased by Vesteys in these parts. We are prepared to pay
for our land the same annual rental that Vesteys now pay. If the question of
compensation arises, we feel that we have already paid enough during fifty
years or more, during which time, we and our fathers worked for no wages at all
much of the time and for a mere pittance in recent years.
If you can grant this
wish for which we humbly ask, we would show the rest of Australia and the whole world that
we are capable of working and planning our own destiny as free citizens. Much
has been said about our refusal to accept responsibility in the past, but who
would show initiative working for starvation wages, under impossible
conditions, without education for strangers in the land? But we are ready to
show initiative now. We have already begun. We know how to work cattle better
than any white man and we know and love this land of ours.
If our tribal lands are
returned to us, we want them, not as another ‘Aboriginal Reserve’, but as a
leasehold to be run cooperatively as a mining lease and cattle station by the
Gurindji Tribe. All practical work will be done by us, except such work as
book-keeping, for which we would employ white men of good faith, until such
time as our own people are sufficiently educated to take over. We will also
accept the condition that if we do not succeed within a reasonable time, our
land should go back to the Government.
(In August last year, we
walked away from the Wave Hill Cattle Station. It was said that we did this
because wages were very poor (only six dollars per week), living conditions fit
only for dogs, and rations consisting mainly of salt beef and bread. True
enough. But we walked away for other reasons as well. To protect our woman and
our tribe, to try to stand on our own feet – We will never go back there).
Some of our young men are working now at Camfield and Montejinnie Cattle stations for proper wage. However we still ask them to come back to our won Gurindji Homestead when everything is ready.
These are our wishes, which
have been written down for us by our undersigned white friends, as we have had
no opportunity to learn to write English.
witnessed and transmitted by the undersigned:
In the mainstream media, they have word limits. Even online, they have to keep it succinct. Blogs have no such limits, so I apologise not only for revisiting this topic again, but also for rambling on so long.
Bustitution looms again over the summer, with large scale rail closures on the Mernda line underway now, and the Cranbourne/Pakenham, Gippsland and Frankston lines to be replaced by buses for almost all of January, and more around the network right through 2020.
(There are so many closures coming up on the Frankston line that one senior transport bod jokingly suggested: “Have you considered moving?”)
So here’s a braindump of a few points about planned bus replacements.
Divide and conquer
A big factor when designing bus replacement routes is the sheer number of people who catch trains – even on weekends and in the evenings.
One of the ways they manage this is to split the buses up into separate routes, to speed up journeys, and so that not everybody crowds onto one route.
For instance with the current Mernda line closure, the bus routes are:
Stopping all stations Thornbury to South Morang (“S”)
Express Thornbury to Keon Park, then all stations to Epping (Limited Express “L1”)
Express Thornbury to Epping, then all stations to Mernda (Limited Express “L2”)
It’s the same when other lines close: there are often multiple bus routes replacing the trains. It can be confusing, but it’s much more efficient.
But they do need to communicate this well. More on this later.
Shorter = better?
This ties into something else. I used to think the length of the bus replacements needed to be minimised, above all else.
I’m not so sure now that it’s that black and white.
During Frankston line closures a couple of weeks ago, we had buses:
All stations to Caulfield
Express City to Moorabbin – (Express “E”)
Express City to Caulfield, then all stops to Moorabbin (Limited Express “L”)
This meant that only people travelling beyond Moorabbin needed to change services, which can mean an extra wait, especially if connecting from frequent bus to sometimes not-so-frequent train. The rest of the passengers got a one-seat trip on the bus.
For inbound passengers, not having so many people change from trains to buses minimises the risk of long waits like we saw last Easter at Caulfield, with thousands of people shuffling in the queue for an hour or more just to get on a bus. Instead, the bus boarding is shared between multiple locations.
Of course, ferrying at least some passengers people from the closed line over to another line that’s running can also be an option, preferably with extra train services deployed to help cope. But this is difficult in some parts of Melbourne, where it’s a long way to the neighbouring rail line.
Obviously it’s a balancing act, and each decision has consequences that authorities may or may not be able to quickly adapt to – but should at least inform the next round of planning.
It should go without saying that no matter what the combination of routes, whether they run smoothly or not depends very much on the use of bus priority measures.
During recent works on the Sunbury/Ballarat/Bendigo/Geelong lines, buses were taking ludicrous amounts of time between Sunshine and the City.
Back when Regional Rail Link was being built, buses got priority along Ballarat Road, and fed into trains at Flemington Racecourse. It’s unclear why this time instead of repeating that winning formula, they ignored it and put people on slow buses all the way to the City.
The result this time? A lot of passengers gave up and either drove – making the traffic problems even worse – or switched to other rail lines – I’m told Werribee loads jumped by as much as 30%, adding to crowding and delays on that line.
Information: Where are the stops?
Despite the problems, in many ways they’re getting better at these operations, but there are still slip-ups.
A couple of weeks ago I knew I’d be travelling home from the City on a Friday night, which coincided with a weekend of bus replacements on my line – from the City to Moorabbin (and also out to Westall).
Okay – forewarned is forearmed. So where in the CBD would I need to catch my bus? The bus variants were:
All stations to Caulfield
Express City to Moorabbin – aka “Express”
Express City to Caulfield, then all stops to Moorabbin – aka “Limited Express” – this is what I wanted.
The stop information was far too difficult to find. It was actually contradictory.
The bus frequency poster PDF reckoned catch the bus from Flinders Street – with no detail as to precisely where. (Fed Square/Russell Street? Arts Centre? They’re hundreds of metres apart.)
There was a separate detailed list of bus stops, which said I should catch it in Spring Street near Parliament. And there was mention of a third location, in between: in Flinders Street near Exhibition Street.
I wanted to minimise my travel time. (Who doesn’t?) But what to believe?
Asking Metro on Twitter, they replied that they’d depart from Parliament. Or possibly Flinders/Exhibition. Right… This was not helpful.
Eventually after some prodding, someone at Metro and/or PTV realised the mistake, and started correcting the information on the web site. The Limited Express buses would depart from the Arts Centre.
But the advice was still confusing for some Cranbourne/Pakenham people, who ended up going to Parliament, as per the notices, only to be told they were in the wrong place.
Lol, we didn’t traipse around last night trying to find the right bus, they tried to divert buses to Parliament but didn’t quite get it right… Probably would have been quicker to walk to Flinders st in the end!
And I heard of another Frankston line person who also went to Parliament, was then somehow told to go to Richmond (by train), ended up on an all-stations bus from there to Caulfield, then onto another bus to Patterson. Total travel time: about 90 minutes for a trip that should take about 30.
This type of stuff is ridiculous – and it’s not even an operational issue – it’s poor information provided to passengers.
It’s hard enough trying to convince people that they should take the bus when the trains are out, without mucking them about like this.
Even if the information is absolutely correct, some of it is presented in the most incomprehensible manner.
Some of the prominent information is the bus frequency guides, which are just a mess. This is one of the simpler ones.
This is just too hard to read, yet is the most common type of detailed poster out on the system during closures.
They’d do far better, I think, to remove the frequency information, which is in the online timetables – and is misleading anyway, as apart from a base frequency, despatchers send additional buses into service when queues emerge.
Instead, focus the most important information: the different bus route stopping pattern variants, which really should be shown more prominently – rather than the diagram which implies every bus stops at every station.
Spot the difference
It turns out there are different staffing arrangements when it’s project upgrade works (such as level crossing removals or the Metro tunnel) versus routine maintenance works.
For the former, they put temp staff at the bus stops to provide travel information and assistance. For the latter… they mostly don’t.
Because apparently passengers need help when the line is closed for project works, but don’t if the line is closed for maintenance.
On Metro at least, the bus portion of the trip is normally free: it would be far too slow if people touched on and off, and the Myki system can’t handle the special routes.
But the Myki readers are usually left on, which continually leads to confusion. On one recent ride I heard the bus driver call out “No, don’t touch on!”
This is fighting against years of teaching passengers to touch-on, touch-off.
So why not do it properly?
Turn off the Myki readers on the rail replacement buses
Even better, if possible, switch them to a special mode that says “Free ride, don’t touch-on” or something similar – also handy for fare free days like Christmas Day
Fix the Fares & Ticketing Manual. It still claims you should touch on and off at the station – completely unrealistic and unreasonable given it may be hundreds of metres away, closed, or even in the middle of demolition.
The need to do better
I apologise again for the length of this article. It got away from me.
But to conclude, there are a lot more of these shutdowns over the coming years.
There are people who avoid using the buses, thanks to experiences of long waits, slow rides, confusing information. If those people drive to their destination instead, it just adds pressure to the overall transport network.
Overall I think rail replacement bus operations are steadily improving, but they still need to do better.
Instead of munching popcorn at the political theatre, citizens’ assemblies would give the community a chance to reflect.
In what we now see in retrospect as something of a political “golden age” – say from the early 20th century through to the 1980s or so – political parties were the institution through which the political aspirations of different sections of the community were articulated and conveyed to the commanding heights of government. Millions of members joined those parties, which were embedded in the community alongside churches, unions, and business associations.
Yet as Sam Roggeveen has described in Our Very Own Brexit, “hollowing out” has now inverted that process. Senior officers of the parties now comprise a political caste, the majority of whom secured their parliamentary position within their party’s career structure with scant achievements elsewhere.
Each party manages their “brand”, and politics has become a Punch and Judy show. We barrack for our side if we have one – or our point of view in innumerable improvised or staged culture-war skirmishes. We cheer and boo, tweet and retweet.
The governance that emerges from this is an uncanny mix of stasis and instability. Stasis because, at least when seeking their votes, each party hews to a small target strategy on policy while probing for ways to misrepresent and catastrophise their opponents’ policies and purposes. Instability because we the people so hate it all.
We tell ourselves that the pollies are only in it for themselves. There’s truth in that. But also evasion. They’re victims too. The lead players in the show could be living happier wealthier lives out of the madhouse. We fancy we deserve better than this as we sit in the stalls munching our popcorn. Indeed we do. Yet our clicks and our tweets – above all our votes – drive the whole system. Ultimately we decide who represents us and the terms on which they do.
The most significant achievement of Australian voters’ emphatic decision at the 2013 election was the abolition of carbon pricing, which had taken a decade of political struggle to be absorbed into the apparent political security of bipartisan consensus.
Whenever a political party offers a skerrick of leadership – whenever they depart, however cautiously, from their traditional “small target” or “comms” strategies of relentless manipulation and tendentious evasion, they’re easy meat for the scare campaigns and outrage machines of their party political and ideological opponents.
Roggeveen’s definition of what constitutes “a Brexit” for his purposes is situated within his own, and the Lowy Institute’s focus on Australia’s external relations. I would characterise the UK’s Brexit moment and the US’s Trump moment more generally as the point at which the electorate perpetrated some action that the overwhelming bulk of the political class regarded in their heart of hearts as crazy.
If that’s your definition, then just as Australia led the world in various aspects of economic policy – such as income-contingent loans, community strategies on AIDS, and the strengthening and targeting of welfare – our rendezvous with political crazy predates its moment elsewhere in the Anglosphere by three years.
For the most significant achievement of Australian voters’ emphatic decision at the 2013 election was the abolition of carbon pricing. Its demise has plunged our energy sector into crisis and dysfunction. And it’s rarely noted by the commentariat (why am I not surprised?), but it’s also costing our budget more than $10 billion annually and rising.
Of course, simply painting the picture Roggeveen does is useful. Yet if he has any ideas about how we might fight our way out of this frightening situation, he’s not telling. Perhaps like so many others, he wants more “leadership”. Perhaps we need a hero – someone with immense political talents who, having clambered up the greasy pole, still wants to achieve something and retains the authority over their party, the parliament, and the community to achieve it.
But how likely is that in a political culture that almost never lets an act of leadership go unpunished?
The one thing that gives me some hope is the existence of another democratic tradition which has lain dormant in our political culture for centuries but remains healthy as a pillar of our legal system. Those empanelled on a jury represent us as our parliamentarians do. But they do so not by flattering us to win our vote, but more simply by being chosen from among us.
The makeup of a jury is more substantively representative than parliament, with far more of the young, the old, and the less well-healed. Selection by lot was a central mechanism through which the ancient Athenians secured the great political principle they called “isegoria” or equality of speech. It has been driven to extinction in the great political hollowing out.
We’ve learned to distrust those competing for our votes, and those with different ideologies. But when we meet together in citizens’ juries, our trust in each other comes flooding back. For instance, when around 250 Texan citizens chosen at random deliberated in 1996 on various questions including whether they should pay between $2 and $5 more for electricity to increase renewables’ market share. With 52% agreeing before deliberation, 84% agreed afterwards, with such exercises making a material contribution to Texas – under Governor George W. Bush – leading many other states and installing 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy generation.
The evidence suggests that similar methods would have demonstrated a contrast between the opinion of the people, and their considered opinion on Brexit. In late 2017, 50 Britons randomly selected to exemplify the referendum’s 52:48 Brexit vote swung to 40:60 against after deliberation, with not one of them swinging the other way. Something similar happened in a deliberative poll in 2010.
And yes, what evidence we have suggests that this mechanism offers a useful means of tackling Roggeveen’s specific concerns. Just three months ago America in One Room brought together a “state-of-the-art scientific sample” of 523 Americans for a weekend’s deliberation in small groups on five critical policy areas. As the organisers reported:
There were dramatic changes of opinion. The most polarizing proposals, whether from the left or the right, generally lost support, and a number of more centrist proposals moved to the foreground.
And for those seeking to avoid our very own Brexit, there’s good reason to take heart. The deliberations elicited a more welcoming position on both legal and illegal immigration, mostly due to a softening from the right. Deliberation reduced support for cutting refugee intake from 37% to 22% with Republicans’ support dropping from 66% to 34%. Republican support for increasing skilled immigration rose from 50% to 71% (and overall support from 60% to 80%). Republicans also shifted from 31% supporting low-skilled immigration for industries that need it to 66%, with overall support for this policy rising from 53% to 77%.
My conclusion from all this is that if we’re to avoid our next Brexit, according to my definition, we need to bring citizens’ assemblies into our existing constitution to check and to balance our parliamentary representatives. But existing politicians who’ve worked hard won’t let go of any power they’ve acquired lightly. The beauty of this agenda is that huge strides can be made from outside the system.
A privately funded but independently governed standing citizens’ assembly could surface the considered opinion of the people alongside all those polls that currently measure their unconsidered opinion. And the evidence suggests that swings taking place in such a body would affect voters and, in consequence, their elected representatives. I doubt the abolition of carbon pricing would have made it through the Senate once a citizens’ assembly had twigged to the unseriousness of what was to replace it.
Given that and the fact that the Lowy Institute is one of Australia’s best-funded think tanks, I’d like to see it take the lead. It could do so with a citizens’ assembly focused on immigration along the lines of America in One Room.
Though we have a decade’s experience of advisory citizens’ juries which is very promising, we’ve barely begun to fill out the repertoire of political institutions according to this alternative way of representing the people. But it’s possible to reimagine virtually every political institution to which electoral representation has given rise according to the alternative logic of isegoria or equality of speech.
The Lowy Institute could fund a standing citizens’ assembly on immigration. It could announce its intention to fund a citizens’ assembly whenever any Australian government was considering any combat deployment of Australian troops abroad. It could fund a joint citizen’s assembly of (say) 25 Australians and 25 East Timorese to deliberate together on the relations between our two countries. Despite the tiny size of Timor-Leste, such an exercise could have a powerful demonstration effect.
Some enterprising philanthropists might replicate the experiment somewhere where it really could change the course of global history. They might convene a citizens’ assembly of Chinese and American citizens to deliberate in the first instance, on the impasse the two countries find themselves at on trade. But that could be a precedent for numerous similar exercises on subjects about which Roggeveen is anxious. And he’s far from alone.
It’s not hard to identify problems we’d have to take into account in pursuing some of these courses. I’d rather have seen a citizens’ assembly on Timor-Leste a decade ago. And the Chinese Communist Party might be able to exercise a stronger influence on the Chinese representatives than America’s government could exercise on its own. But such obstacles are always encountered where we explore new territory. They almost never render us powerless. This one could be ameliorated, though not completely solved, by secret balloting.
Personally I can’t see a happy future for any of us if we don’t set our minds and our hearts on evolving institutions that are a little more hospitable to what Abraham Lincoln so sublimely summoned up just by naming them: the better angels of our nature.
Anyway, I’ve found a strong counter argument to Abbott’s point:
“If you live in your suburban castle, and you only ever go out in your suburban land yacht, and the only humans you ever interact with are clerks, it’s the Target checker or your barista at Starbucks, you lose that sense of sociality – you start thinking of yourself as a driver, as a consumer.
“So what’s good for drivers and consumers? That starts to be how you interact with civic life, through that lens: I’ve got to defend my parking, and my access to my local Starbucks.
“I honestly think that suburban living on a subtle, sort of subterranean level, pulls you in the direction of sociopathy. It pulls you in the direction of antisocial thinking and attitudes.
“And conversely, just being out around among people gives you more of a sense of social solidarity, and more of a sense of being in it, together, and having to accommodate other peoples perspectives.”
David Roberts (Vox) – The War On Cars podcast, episode 24
Is this extreme? Perhaps.
Is it stereotyping people? Yes.
But I think it’s making a really interesting point – and it only takes a few people behaving like this to make life difficult for everybody else.
The podcast contains other moments of gold, including this:
“We think of cities as so crowded, but that’s because almost all of the space in them we’ve given over to cars.”
“Public space is what makes a city. If you don’t have public space, you just have an urban area.”
A new Passenger Information Display (PID) being installed at Richmond station
…and one of the new displays actually working:
Is your weekend bus crowded? It could be because most of the fleet is resting in depots.
The old (rebuilt in 2016 when the level crossing was removed) Ormond Station, with its station code OMD on the top. (Pic from Nearmap, which at the time offered free access for personal use – now it’s only $$$ for corporates.)
The level crossing at Ormond caused problems from time to time. On this day, a fault closed North Road, sending thousands of vehicles detouring via side streets and the nearby but narrow Dorothy Avenue underpass. This is the normally quiet Woodville Avenue.
The level crossings also used to cause impacts for the Bentleigh Festival, so the closure of Centre Road to traffic was done in two separate halves.
More seriously, emergency vehicles used to be delayed by trains at the crossings. Of course this still happens in other parts of Melbourne, and is one reason the level crossing removal program is so beneficial.
A rally in Footscray against the then-proposed “Westlink” freeway, the Labor’s proposal at the time for a freeway connection from Sunshine to connect with Citylink at West Melbourne. I remember speaking at this, rambling about how the nearby new Edgewater Estate was served by a new bus route, but it only runs every 40 minutes – even in peak.
Why catch a train to within half a block of the football, when you can park two blocks away instead? Little Lonsdale Street near William Street.
I daily walk past this intersection, which is rife for Rule 128 violations. But in 2009 it wasn’t really on my radar – I appear to have snapped this one accidentally. Note the Owen Dixon East building at right, then under construction.
In public transport land, Myki equipment was being rapidly installed around the network and tested.
Originally it was expected that smart (but disposable) short term tickets would be offered alongside Myki. These got cancelled by the Baillieu government when they decided to keep Myki but reduce the scope of the system in 2011.
November 2009 was notable for the end of the tram and train contracts. Tram operator TransdevTSL and train operator Connex/Veolia (now part of Transdev) finished up. Connex threw a big shindig for its employees and a few stakeholders. They were a French company, so that was the theme. Everyone got given a beret. (Marcus Wong has a blog post all about the last days of Connex)
Start day for the new train and tram operators, MTM (Metro Trains Melbourne) and KDR (Keolis Downer Rail, for Yarra Trams). It didn’t save John Brumby (centre of picture) from electoral defeat a year later.