Sunday, April 29, 2007

On Dreams, Wordpress and Blogger

I see that Neil (Ninglun) has put up a post on the virtues of Wordpress addressed in part at Leagle Eagle and myself.

By the way, Leagle Eagle is yet another Australian who had a relative fight in the First World War. Her post on ANZAC Day provides another perspective from mine and further illustrates some of the complexities.

I am sure that Neil is right about the virtues of Wordpress, but his post also drew out the fact that you cannot put ads on WP unless you have your own server. Now here I have a problem.

My dream in this next stage of my life is to get to the point that I can research and write full time. Yes, I enjoy blogging for its own sake. But the real addiction comes from the interface with my dream.

There is just so much to write about. Not all serious stuff either, although my inclination takes me in that direction.

I enjoy writing. I also enjoy making a contribution, giving people access to information. To do this full time would be wonderful.

This where ads come in as one building block, a source of future income. Here I have a problem.

I know a fair bit about the on-line world. My approach to blogging breaches most of the rules required to make real money. I do not want to change that approach. So I have to find a path that allows me to do what I want while still generating income.

Content is king. There may now be 71 million blogs world wide, but most (and this includes some of the most successful ones) are ephemeral.

I do not mean this as a criticism. Those writing choose, as I do sometimes, to live in the immediate world, to follow questions of immediate interest.

I want to go a different route. I want to build content that people will continue to access because I am saying something that is relevant or at least useful to them.

In some ways this is very egotistical. It is also very difficult because time is so short.

Take, as an example, the brief story I did pointing to some of the web references on the Birpai or Biripi, the Aborigines of New England's Hastings and Manning Valleys. It's not a long post, but it still took several hours to write because of the time involved in checking Google references to try to see what's most relevant.

There are, I suppose, eight or nine main Aboriginal language groups within New England. So to repeat the process for them all I am looking at a minimum of 16-18 hours. Once done, this provides a minimum information base that is useful to those like me with an interest, a base that can then be built on. Of course, this takes more time.

Content management becomes a real issue in all this. I was astonished to discover that across my blogs I have in fact written 731 posts since March of last year. This total includes some repeats, some cross-references, but it's still an enormous total. Get a life, Jim!

No one can remember all this. Here Neil suggested that one feature of Wordpress was its fixed pages that allowed material such as my posts on Australia's indigenous peoples presently spread somewhat awkwardly across blogs to be consolidated.

I have no doubt that this is a useful approach because it makes material more accessible.

Not all the material I have written is worth the paper it is written on, so to speak, but there is some useful stuff. Certainly there is material that I want to access myself, to use again.

At the moment I am running two experiments within the limits set by the blogger format.

On the Ndarala blog I have begun consolidating some of my posts on public administration and public policy into a single series. My thinking here is that once done I can then look at consolidating them into a single document for use in other ways including fixed web pages.

Then on the New England History blog I am experimenting with a Google equivalent of fixed pages, entry pages to topics referenced on the blog's front pages.

Again time is an issue. So far these entry pages really lead nowhere because I have yet to create the backing pages. Here the more time I put into the management of existing content, the less time I have to write new content, the really fun part.

I am not sure quite where I go in all this. Just keep going, I think, and see where the whole thing takes me.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Hockey Season Begins

Well, school sport is back with us, adding to Saturday's crowding and, in so doing, making it harder still too keep the blogs up.

Yesterday the school team played at the Olympic hockey stadium, something that was an experience for all the girls. We went down three nil. Since Clare (youngest) was in goal, this was all a bit nerve wracking. The ball just travels so much faster on turf.

For most parents, these games are a time to catch up with each other. I get too involved to do this, spending my time instead walking the sidelines to keep up with the play.

I am going to miss school sport. Not only have I learned more about sports I would never otherwise have watched - netball, hockey and water polo are examples - but it's just fun.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Understanding Australia's Indigenous Peoples - a practical suggestion

Over on the New England Australia blog I have been pursuing another of my hobby horses. Just to set a context.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis will know that I am fairly obsessive about the need to take into account local and regional perspectives. So when I talk about Australia's indigenous peoples I constantly say that they are not one group but multiple groups each with a different story.

I also complain about how difficult it is to get information at local level.

A week back I had to prepare the first draft of a speech. As part of this, I had to insert a phrase at the front acknowledging the traditional owners of the place at which the speech was being delivered. So I did my usual web search, only to come up with three possibilities.

I was able to sort out the problem through contacts. Still, it illustrated my usual point.

Around the same time, I prepared a post looking at what brought people to the New England Australia site. One of the searches was on the Birpai, the Aboriginal people of New England's Hastings and Manning River Valleys.

I do not have any real material on the Birpai on the New England Australia blog. This led me to do a search myself on the Birpai. There is a reasonable amount of material, but it is again all over the place.

All this led me in turn to make a simple, practical suggestion. I can see real advantages if Government coordinated and paid for the creation of sites for each of Australia's indigenous nations, thus providing a main source of information to all those interested.

I suspect that this would yield a very high social return for a modest cost.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Blogging Woes - Technorati and Google Search

Just at the moment I am suffering from real blogging woes, woes to which I do not have a solution. Maybe someone else can help me.

If you do a Technorati search on this blog you will find that the blog is ranked 3,110,904 in the world with the message that no blogs link here yet. That's rubbish. You will also see that the last update was 319 days ago. I have pinged them and pinged them to get an update, but without results.

As a crosscheck, I did a search on Ninglun's blog. I often reference Neil's blog. But none of those references appear in Neil's rankings because this blog is not searched by Technorati.

Exactly the same thing happens with the New England Australia blog. Again I have pinged and pinged.

By contrast, both the Regional Living Australia and Managing the Professional Services Firm blog are checked, although the outcomes are far from perfect. So two blogs seem to be on some form of electronic black list.

I have another problem and new problem with Managing the Professional Services Firm blog. Three week ago traffic suddenly dropped by 90 per cent. At first I thought that this was just a statistical problem. Then when it continued, I went and checked.

As best I can work out, about three weeks ago all search engine hits stopped. I mean all. Not one. Not a single one. All traffic since has come from return visitors or site links. Again, all. So has this site gone onto some other electronic black list?

I don't know, but its very frustrating.

Later

My thanks to Neil for his quick comment. Like Neil, I have just increased the number of posts shown on the front page because this gives me greater to add to and extend posts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Musings - ANZAC Day



Photo: The 10th battallion in formation on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales, 24 April 1915.

I have part completed the next post in the water wars series, so when I post it will come up just before this post. Given the time taken to write that type of post it will be the weekend before I do complete and post. Ah well.

Today is ANZAC Day (and here). For the benefit of my international readers, ANZAC Day celebrates the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on 25 March 1915. While the campaign was a military disaster, the day of the landing has become a major Australian and New Zealand national memorial celebration.

I have very mixed feelings about ANZAC Day.

As I wrote in an earlier post written on Remembrance Day (11 November), 416, 809 Australians enlisted for service during the First World War, representing 38.7 per cent of the total male population aged between 18 to 44. At almost 65 per cent, the Australian casualty rate (deaths, wounds, illness) proportionate to total embarkations was the highest of the war.

All Australian families were affected.

Uncle Will's Christian beliefs would not allow him to take life, but he felt that he must do his duty. His solution was to join as a stretcher bearer. On the day of the Gallipoli landing he wrote to brother Morris:

"I have tried to play the game and to live up to the ideas Jesus has set before me."

Will survived the War, Morris did not.

Morris did not enlist immediately. Then on 7 August 1915 he wrote to brother David (my grandfather):

"Perhaps you will not be altogether surprised but I have felt it coming on - like a bad cold .... while I have the conviction that men are really required I cannot hang back and let someone else carry my bundle... I've taken the step and hope it won't be labour in vain, but at any rate I've no delusions about the fun and glory of it."

Morris was offered an immediate commission but declined it. Officer training would have delayed his passage, and he also wanted to know first something about the men he would command.

In May 1917 came the news that Lieutenant Morris Drummond MC had been killed in brave but futile attempt to force the German lines in front of Reincourt. Lt. Jim Harrison, a fellow officer, wrote to Will Drummond on 6 May:

"Maurice was ... the most fearless officer in the Batallion, he was exceeding his duty at the time, very typical of him."

Many in my generation, that affected by the Vietnam War, had reservations about ANZAC Day because we saw it as a celebration of war. While my own views have changed over time, I still have mixed feelings.

All nations require symbols to unify their peoples. I find it a little sad that a military event, that Australia's military tradition, should become so dominant in symbolic terms. Still, in typical wry Australian fashion, we celebrate a defeat!

Later

Ninglun (Neil) had a good post on ANZAC Day including some stories from the Whitfield family.

For the benefit of my Australian readers interested in family history, the National Archives of Australia have now completed the process of digitising all World War One service records. These are available on-line, and can be viewed and printed.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Australia's Water Wars - Early Shots





Photo: Gordon Smith, Wollomombi Falls after rain, March 2007.

Note to readers: As part of my normal background checking for this story, I looked at a number of weather maps. I was going to include them, but then decided to run them as a separate post.

It is raining as I write. Somehow that provides a satisfying backdrop to this post.

I said in my introductory post on Australia's water wars that I thought that it might be interesting if I traced the recent evolution of Australia's water wars as seen through the prism set by this blog.

I said this not because I write often on water and drought. I do not. Rather, my posts have tended pick these issues up when something specific interested me, made me curious. So the posts provide kind of a bare bone framework for what has in fact been a quite fascinating process.

The story that follows is by no means complete and is coloured by my somewhat eclectic interests. But I do think that it provides an interesting snap shot.

Early Days

I think it fair to say that when the current drought in South Eastern Australia began it was seen very much as a rural problem. Australia has a long history of recurring droughts and the issue seemed very remote to the people in the metro cities. Again I think it fair to say that the major environmental debate about our rivers related to the question of environmental flows versus irrigation.

We can see all this in the June 2003 Four Corners interview with then Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson. Asked why it taken a drought for the Prime Minister to get excited about water, Mr Anderson replied:

Well I don't know if that's entirely fair but it probably took the drought to get a really good Australian stoush like the argument about drought proofing in Australia to get a national debate well and truly up and it frankly is time, in fact it's pretty much over time that we had that debate.

In response to a further question about poor water allocations, Mr Anderson said:

Well NSW by both sides of politics. That's the reality and now we've got to clean the mess up but we have to do it in a way that doesn't ruin farm communities. As the Wentworth Group of scientists itself are saying, if we get this right we can see higher levels of investment, more economic activity, more exports because you can switch to higher value production techniques, more sustainable techniques but you've got to have the investment certainty to do it. I think at least at the intellectual level the debate has now been largely won. Now what we need is the collective willpower I would say you know following strong national leadership to get it right for future generations. If we get it right, and I think we're at the point where we'd have to say we'll know over the next few months, if we get this right, I think we will manage a massive breakthrough and we can make a huge difference to those who want better conservation outcomes and I include myself in that but we'll also reward those like me who think that the inland matters and that we're deserving of a share of the national pie and the opportunity to continue to create economic wealth just as the rest of the country has looked to us to do for so long.

I have included these long quotes because they set a context.

At the time Mr Anderson supported by his National Party colleagues had been campaigning for a number of years to make water a national issue, to create a national framework. His problem, and this continued, was that water was seen as a sectional issue and still lacked real political traction outside regional areas, some scientists and environmental groups.

The continuation of drought and the growing threat to metro water supplies began to change these views. I saw this most clearly in Sydney where drought and water suddenly became major local issues, with local concerns affecting broader attitudes. The responses were not always very sensible.

On 17 October 2007 in Water, Drought and the Environment - working from the facts I reported on a conversation that had worried me. Here I said:

Australia faces a serious drought, perhaps the worst on record. Whether this drought is simply a bad drought or a sign of global warming is an important issue. But in the conversation I am talking, about discussion went from drought to water to the need to phase out primary production dependent upon water, especially irrigation crops. Part of the argument was couched in terms of the need for the metro cities to have access to more water, part in terms of the need for the environment to have more water, part on the belief that farming and grazing was no longer viable in many parts of Australia.

The last really concerned me because of the traditional importance of our farm exports. If we had to phase out farming, what did this mean for the economy as well as food supplies to our cities?. So I decided to check the stats to see what the current position was.

I found that the importance of primary products to exports was still high and had in fact increased in recent years. This led me to conclude:

Now I might be wrong in all this, but if the numbers and my analysis of them are in any way right, just at the moment I would be worried about the impact of drought and water shortages on our export performance. To the degree that water is short, and subject to environmental considerations, I would be focusing short to medium term discussions on where we can get the greatest export gains from the water we do have.

Now in all this I had accepted the media line that Australia was in fact experiencing the worst drought on record. You can therefore imagine my surprise when I read a newspaper report that the period October 1996 to October 2006 when averaged across Australia was in fact wetter than the long term average. How was all this to be reconciled?

As reported in my post of 24 October, Australia's greatest drought - or is it our wettest period on record? , I found that there were two Australia's.

There was one in the far south, south east and south west suffering severe drought, while the rest of the country was experiencing average to above average rainfall. The concentration of population in drought affected areas explained the media focus on Australia and drought.

Apart from finding it all very interesting, the main conclusion I drew at the time was simply the need to check to my facts. However, the analysis did point to an issue - the relative wetness of Northern Australia - that is starting to emerge as an issue in the water wars.

Stern Report and National Policy Settings

The Stern Report was released on 30 October UK time, although it was well leaked in the days before. I did not comment at the time because I felt that I had little useful to say.

This is not a post about climate change, nor about the policy responses to that issue. However, because the water wars and the climate debate are so linked I think that it helps to understand the policy framework. The views that follow are my own interpretation.

The Australian Government's position on climate change is quite complex because of the range of forces at play inside and outside the Government system. However, the main threads can be summarised this way.

Scepticism. While the Government accepts that certain elements of the climate change argument, there is a continuing degree of scepticism about the scale and timing of change. This reflects the spread of views within the Government.

Over the last two decades the Liberal Party has moved to the right in conventional political terms. Views within the Governing parties and those aligned to them range from the mainly Liberal Party radicals who are generally climate change sceptics and are in any case sceptical about anything that appears to conflict with market forces, to those supporting the climate change hypothesis and the need for intervention.

Economic development and the national interest. Economic growth and the management of the economy is one of the main pillars that have kept the Government in power. Australia's economic performance depends critically on resource and especially coal exports.

Leaving aside climate change itself, Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the potential economic impact of the international debate on climate change. In the worst case, we could face a double whammy of increased domestic costs combined with a sharp decline in export incomes, leading to a major fall in national standards of living.

The Government's policy response reflects these considerations.

We have refused to sign Kyoto on the grounds that it is inadequate, while also arguing that we are in fact one of the few countries meeting the Kyoto targets. We are playing an active role in discussions on post Kyoto arrangements focused on trying to get a uniform level playing field. We have been trying to set up new institutional arrangements that draw in major developed and developing polluting countries. We are investing in clean coal technology because this helps protect a major national interest.

The uranium debate slots neatly into all this because if we lose coal then uranium provides another source of energy related export income.

The Government Initial Response to Stern

The Government's first response to Stern was somewhat muted and reflected its policy framework.

On 1 November Prime Minister Howard spoke at the launch of the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate 'Partnership for Action 2006'. There was no mention of Stern.

Then in an interview the following day Mr Howard essentially restated the Government's position:

It is natural with all the focus of the last few days on climate change that everybody when asked say oh yes, we've got to do more. We are doing a lot and it's very important that we don't over-react to the Stern report. The Stern report says what most people believe and that is that the science says climate change is a problem. Whether the doomsday scenarios painted in the Stern report are right or wrong I don't think anybody can assert with great confidence. I agree that the science says that the globe is getting warmer, I agree that over time we've got to take measures in order to tackle that problem and I think the best way to go in the short term is to clean up the use of fossil fuel and that's very important for Australia. That means investing in clean coal technologies and things that will ensure that we maintain the natural advantage we have as a country. We mustn't throw that away, we mustn't by over-reaction and panicky reaction impose burdens on industries that give Australia enormous advantage.

A little later:

Well I reserve judgement on whether the predictions of the scale of the crisis are accurate or not. I accept that the world is getting warmer and I accept that we do need to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it is possible to simultaneously agree with that but be a little sceptical or reserved about the dimension of the disaster that's being spelt out. I mean, Mr Beazley's embraced it all and say's it's absolutely 100 per cent correct, well what is his plan to do something?

Then on carbon trading:

I would be willing to look at an emissions trading system around the world of which Australia were part, but it would have to include the nations of the world. It's no good us subjecting ourselves to a carbon pricing system that is not matched by our competitors, we only then run the risk of investments going to other countries.

Even as Mr Howard spoke it was clear that this simple restatement was not going to work in political terms.

Water, drought, climate change and Stern all mixed together in a melange of media and public comment. The stage was set for the water wars.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Australia's Water Wars - Introduction



Photo: Daily Telegraph, the dry Edward River, part of the Murray Darling System

The announcement by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard that the taps to the irrigation pipes in the Murray Darling Basin would have to be turned off if there was not heavy rain in the catchment in the next six weeks has certainly attracted media and public attention.

I thought that it might be interesting if I traced the evolution of Australia's water wars as seen through the prism set by this blog. I wil do so. But now I need to declare a personal interest.

Australia's water wars have become personal.

New England is the wettest part of NSW. New England's great eastern flowing rivers from the Hunter in the south to the Tweed in the north rise in and flow through New England.

Of these rivers, the Clarence - the Big River - is New England's largest and by Australian standards a very big river indeed. To put this in perspective for Australian and especially NSW people, the Nepean Hawkesbury system is a minnow compared with the Clarence. The Clarence is also the only major Australian river left without a major dam.

The question of the best way of using New England's rivers to benefit New Englanders has been a steady thread in New England development discussions. From Earle Page in the first decades of the twentieth century to Zhini Buzo, Alex Buzo's dad, in the last half of the century people looked at alternative development paths.

Earle Page argued that the Clarence provided a great resource. One outcome was one of the first hydro plants in Australia.; the first was in fact also in New England near Armidale. Zhini argued that we should consider diverting some of the eastern flowing waters into the Murray-Darling system to help irrigate the slopes and plains of western New England.

There was always an issue here as to how we reconciled the interests of those living in the Clarence Valley. But this was a New England issue.

Some time ago I warned that we were going to see a grab for New England's water because New England is the wettest part of NSW. This has arrived with Minister Turnbull's desire to build a dam on the Clarence to provide water to Brisbane. We must, or so we are told, support this on the grounds that it is in the national interest. To do otherwise is to be parochial.

I am sorry, Malcolm, but this is a New England resource. If the water is to be diverted, then the residents of Brisbane should pay a market price to the residents of New England. This has to be high enough to compensate all those who will lose from the proposal plus those who might benefit from alternatives. I suspect that this might make desalination a rather viable alternative.

In writing on this blog about the water wars I will try to present the issues in a fair way, leaving my partisan arguments to the New England Australia blog. However, you need to be aware of my biases.

In the absence of our own Government to look after New England's interests, we are incredibly vulnerable. I will do the best I can through my blogs to present the New England case, to try to defend the New England interest.

Later

In response to a comment by Lexcen on this post I admitted that my response to the Clarence dam issue was parochial. However, that does not make it wrong. I had a part completed post on the New England blog that I have now completed that sets out my position in a little more detail.

Having had time to think further, I am actually a bit puzzled about the whole Clarence dam thing. The immediate political problems associated with the dam including the National's position in Northern NSW make it unlikely in the short term. I think that the issue really has to be set within the broader politics of the water wars.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Changes in Public Administration and their Impact on Public Policy

I have written a fair bit on this and other blogs about changes in the approach to public administration and the way they have affected the development of public policy. These posts have evolved with time and form something approaching an integrated body of work.

My problem is that when I write on certain issues I draw from this body of work. I am not saying that it is perfect, far from it, but it is at least informed through extensive experience.

My readers cannot be expected to follow all this work, nor is it possible to cross-reference everything so that readers know the supporting building blocks of my analysis. I have experimented with stocktake posts, but while these are useful, they are still far from perfect.

I am now trying something new. Over on the Ndarala Group blog I have begun the process of pulling together all my posts on public administration into a single integrated series. Each post has a full list of previous posts at the end so that those who are interested can read through the whole set as a series.

So far I have put up five posts in the series and hope to complete the whole set in a week or so. Those who are interested can find the introductory post here.

Mass Killers - to run amok

Neil (Ninglun) had a very good post on one of his blogs discussing the pressures on Korean students in Australia and their various responses. The post was written in the context of the Virginia Tech massacre and explored in a very sensitive fashion the surrounds to one of the discussion threads about the massacre.

I think that the post deserves wide readership for what it says about the pressures/issues associated with people from one culture learning (or working) in another. However, my personal feeling is that the assailant's behaviour - I will not remember his name for reasons I will explain in a moment - had little to do with either Korean and US culture.

This morning I listened to a very interesting radio discussion exploring the pathology of this type of killing.

The two speakers, both expert in their field, made the point that while you could identify some of the personality characteristics of the people who committed these acts, there was no way that you could use this for predictive purposes. The characteristics were simply too widely spread in the general community for use in predicting individual, isolated, random cases. They then went further, suggesting that our collective approach to these cases was fundamentally flawed.

Studies suggested, they said, that the males involved (they are all men to to this point) wanted to commit suicide. Holding a grudge against society, they wanted to do so in a spectacular fashion that would gain maximum media coverage, registering their name for history. In doing so, they were influenced by past cases.

We can see this in the Virginia Tech case where the killer referred to Columbine.

They then went on to suggest that the media coverage already given to Virginia Tech probably guaranteed the next generation killer. The only solution was to remove the coverage, so that people considering this course of action knew that they would die written out of history and popular consciousness.

To support this view, one gave the example of the Malays and amok. I had forgotten this and had indeed forgotten that English had incorporated a word from Malay that described the phenomenon.

In the amok case, Malay men would take a machete and kill people until they themselves were killed. The practice died down because the British colonial police did not kill the assailant but instead tried to capture them alive and send them to jail. This destroyed the whole point.

In an Australian context, the sad and unheroic Martin Bryant in jail is highly unlikely to attract others to do the same.

Later

As is his way, Neil has continued to extend the post I referred to at the start of this post.

As I said in a response to a comment from Neil on this post, I love Neil's topsy posts, posts that grow and evolve as he gnaws away at an issue. This approach appeals to regular readers like myself because it takes us on a journey with Neil as his thinking evolves.

Those who have read the continuing dialogue between Neil and myself will know that we do not always agree. We come at things from different world views and often follow very different paths. I find it quite remarkable how often those paths bring us to the same end point.

Neil wrote.
I can’t help thinking that the Great Blandness and Homogeneity being imposed from above here in Australia has done a disservice because it does not correspond to reality.

... the Howard-driven rush towards homogeneity makes a nuanced consideration of intercultural migrant issues far more difficult, because it favours lack of reflection, lack of response to the lives actually lived by people and the values by which they live, and lack of empathy

This is a diverse society, not a monocultural society. Teachers, especially ESL teachers, confront this every day. Sure, it is in the interests of all to negotiate integration and acculturation, but we also need to understand, and respect, the diversity that is out there. A one-size-fits-all approach is both lazy and counterproductive.

In quoting Neil I have left out some words that link to our different paths, different interpretations of the Australian experience, to focus on the core where there is agreement. I do not think that my editing in any way affects Neil's arguments.

In his post, Neil points to tensions in a Korean context between migrant parents and their children, between the old way of life and the new. This is not unique to Koreans, but has been experienced by all migrants.

I have experienced it in my own small way as I struggle to keep my children's interest in, to give them access to, the New England experience in the face of the overwhelming power of Sydney Eastern Suburbs' acculturation.

All migrants know that they have left their country behind, but they still carry with them the realities of past experiences and history. The adoption of the new culture by their children can be very painful because it severs the roots with the past, driving home the permanence of the move and the consequent loss of key elements in personal identity.

We need to be sensitive to this, to understand why it happens, to recognise differences in responses between cultural groups.

I have always supported celebrations of the different cultures that have come together in Australia, not just because this enhances understanding but also because it provides validation of our people's different pasts, affirming the value of those experiences and easing the pain that can be associated with the migration experience.

I see no conflict between all this and my writings on Australian history and culture. In fact, just the opposite.

My pride in Australia, my emphasis on the need to understand the diversity of the Australian experience, my sometimes attacks on views that I see as misinterpreting or invalidating elements of our past, meshes exactly with my support for celebration of the different cultures that have come together in Australia.

This is starting to move in a different direction. The key point is that I think Neil is very right.

Later still

I seem to be doing a Neil!

I noticed from the site stats that this post was picked up quite quickly by the search engines even though I deliberately left certain words out of the heading.

Checking the searches led me to this post. I think the post is well worth reading because it amplifies the point I made.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Celebrating the Australian Experience




Stan Cross, 'For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!', Smiths Weekly, 1933.

I often talk about Australian popular culture. I feel that this is important. It is the thing that unites us all.

A week or so back I was listening to a Chinese colleague chattering away in Cantonese to a friend. Suddenly the clear word mate emerged in the conversation. I felt very happy.

No matter what our original backgrounds may have been, few can live for long in Australia without absorbing the Australian ethos.

There have been a number of stories this week that illustrated different parts of the Australian experience.

Early in the week I was listening to the radio while driving home from the office. It had been one of those days. Busy, that's good, but also disrupted. I only caught part of the interview, but that was enough to make me feel by the end that things were still right with the world.

I cannot give you a web link, nor have I been able to check my facts. But the facts as I understand them are these.

During the Cronulla riots a sixteen year old Lebanese lad took and burnt an Australian flag from a local RSL (Returned Services League) Club. Because of his age he was given a choice between court or a mediation process with the RSL branch. He chose the second. They agreed that he would walk with people from the branch in the Anzac Day march carrying an Australian flag as a way of understanding and sharing their experiences.

All hell broke loose, with some of the Sydney media frothing at the mouth, saying that this was completely inappropriate. The RSL decided that he should not march because they felt the lad might be attacked or abused by some in the crowd.

So far this can hardly be described as a good news story except as it applies to the RSL itself. However, what happened next is interesting.

Those in the RSL who had become involved with the kid were quite unhappy about the way he had been treated by the media and in the resulting public comment. As an alternative, they raised the money to pay for him to walk the Kokoda track, the long and rugged track along which Australian troops fought and finally stopped the Japanese Army during the second world war. He did this, although he was very nervous about it.

The radio program I listened to was an interview with the lad, now eighteen, and his main RSL sponsor. During the interview they described the whole experience, presenting it as a transformation on both sides.

Many things stood out.

One was the response of the diggers themselves to the media coverage. For the benefit of international readers, the RSL has often been seen as a very conservative organisation. In this case there was outrage at the coverage, a wave of support for the idea that he should walk, with many offering to protect him.

A second was the way in which the links with the lad had been maintained over time. This was no one-off story. The lad certainly came to understand the experiences of the diggers. More importantly, the things that he did gave him a sense of pride in himself, of achievement. Perhaps most importantly, they also created a sense of pride in his family in their son, nephew.

PATRICK BALL, RESCUE CO-ORDINATOR: The company brought in some psychologists and they interviewed everybody involved. And I still had four symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and she said, well that’s terrible, your boss should have recognised that and done something about it. I said there’s only one problem – he’s got five symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, and he’s still got about three. He’s not travelling well at all.

A second, very different, story was the ABC Australian Story Men Of Ore looking back at the Beaconsfield mine disaster. The link given will take you through to the transcript.

This story brought out the individual courage involved, but also showed the continued strength of the laconic sense of Australian humour found in the 1933 Smith's Weekly cartoon. We - the whole family - all watched the program, roaring with laughter at spots. We did wonder, though, how much of our humour would be understood by people outside Australia.

The program also brought out the Australian habit of working round rules.

PATRICK BALL, RESCUE CO-ORDINATOR: ... I found myself in the very uncomfortable position during the rescue of telling people not to do things and hoping like hell that they ignored me.

BRETT CRESSWELL, MINER: We done our best to stay within the rules and get the job done. I suppose sometimes you can be constrained by the rules and regulations and stuff like that and we were trying to do our best to get out mates out.

PATRICK BALL, RESCUE CO-ORDINATOR: There was a certain amount of information we needed that could only be got by people going in and doing, well, dangerous things. We had to find a way of getting the information across to the mines inspector without the person that had gone in there admitting that they’d broken the law by risking their own life. Rex came up with a fantastic solution that became known as Rex’s dreams and we simply went up to the mines inspector and said, "Fred, I had a dream last night that you wouldn't believe. I dreamt that I went in the 925, I climbed up the rock fall, went down a small hole." There's no crime here. There’s just a man just telling me about a dream.

In all, well worth watching and reading.

History and Schools

In my last post I spoke of the way in my own work that I had tried to understand and present the diversity of the Australian experience, of my frustration at the way in which entire slabs of that experience were ignored, at my tiredness at responding to what I saw as stereotyping. I concluded that post by saying:

I would like to see a more active discussion not on Australian history but on Australian historiography, the role and processes attached to the study of our past. Not on what should be taught, but on what might be researched. What would we as Australians like to learn about our past? This, I think, would be far more productive than the current discussions.

In a comment on that post, Neil (Ninglun) came up with some interesting statistics.

I just checked the 2006 HSC. Only 267 did Aboriginal Studies (315 in 2001). 11262 did Ancient History (7218 in 2001). 9541 did Modern History (8754 in 2001). I compare with 2001 as that was the first year of the new HSC. One of the options in Modern History is Australia in the World 1945-1983. I suspect it is not all that popular. Australian History is mandatory in Years 7-10.

Like Neil, I have been interested in the rise in popularity of ancient history in NSW. I can understand it. As I said in a response to Neil's comment, Clare (youngest) is doing it, and it is simply a very good course. The numbers contrast sharply with the numbers doing modern history.

One of the issues that comes up in my mind when we look at these numbers is the role that history should play in our schools as a discipline.

I have a conflict here. I would like to see more history, not just Australian history. On the other hand, we already have an incredibly crowded curriculum. We also load things onto our school system as though school is the place where all society's problems must be resolved.

Pity our poor teachers. Instead of inspiring an interest in the joy of learning that, to me at least, should be the heart of education, they have so many roles and so many requirements to meet in carrying out those roles that the job is really impossible.

I have therefore changed my mind about Australian history in schools.

The compulsory teaching of Australian history or of civics or any other name that might be applied should be reduced to the absolute minimum. The issue is simply too complicated, too divisive and too important to be palmed off onto our school system as the solution to our nation's ills. Instead, and this was the point I came to at the end of my last post, we need a national discussion about Australian historiography, the writing of Australian history.

If talk back radio or the interest in family history is any guide, Australians have an enormous interest in their past. Yet, at least as I see it, that interest is not properly reflected in research or writing. If so, why? what do we do about it?

I am posing this as questions because I may be wrong. Perhaps I am out of touch. Perhaps there is more writing and publishing than I know.

I do know that the range of Australian history books in the book shops is well down, that those books that are published seem to go in fashion cycles. I do know that it can be hard to find the most basic information, the facts, to support or test arguments. I keep coming across gaps in the writing of Australian history.

I suppose that the next thing I should do, like any good historian, is to try to test my facts, to see if I am missing something.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Personal Reflections 17 April 2007



Photo: New England Airways passengers, Lismore. Lismore headquartered, New England Airways, one of Australia's pioneer airlines, flew between Sydney and Brisbane via Lismore. New England, East West and Eastern Australia are three airlines that started in New England and went on to achieve national status.

One of the problems I have, or at least think I have, in writing about New England populism or indeed on other New England topics is working out just how to be taken seriously.

The difficulty, at least as I see it, is that because New England lacks any formal recognised institutional structures the broader area and its history fall below the radar screen, making it easy for people to dismiss. Yet the New England story is worth telling, both for its own sake and because it has a continuing if usually unrecognised influence on current events.

Looking for ways to break through this barrier, I decided that if I was going to explain New England populism I needed first to set a historical context. To this end, I decided to do a post simply outlining elements in New England's history, linking photos and short text, presenting it in a way that you might see done for NSW or Queensland but will rarely if ever see done at sub-state level.

I hope to post this tomorrow or the next day.

All this reminded me of one of my complaints when I first studied Australian history, the failure of so much history to recognise the depth and variety of the Australian experience. Much later when I returned to University to do postgrad work, this became almost an obsession, an obsession that in fact continues.

Part of the role of history, again as I see it, is to reflect back to us the things that have made us, good and bad.

One of the reasons I became interested in Australian history lay in the failure of Australian historiography of the time to properly reflect my past back to me. Growing up outside the capital cities in a strongly political and academic family, I was annoyed by the way that things that I considered to be important were either ignored or misrepresented.

Later I realised that this was inevitable. Historiography is always partial - part of a whole - in that topics selected depend on the interests of historians and, importantly, on the accessibility of source material. The simple fact that most historians lived in the metro areas and had easy access to metro newspapers and official records dictated topic selection and approach. My interests were bound to miss out.

Time passes, new interests emerge, new partialities develop. Semesters replaced full year courses, the idea of presenting history as a story fell out of favour, to be replaced by a new emphasis on themes more suited to the semester format. New stereotypes emerged.

As with all things, there were some good aspects.

I have spoken before about the past failure of historians to recognise and reflect on the history of Australia's indigenous peoples. So that was an advance. In similar vein, past historiography was male focused in part because of an emphasis on politics and power, so the new coverage of women, the family and social history was welcome from my viewpoint.

But the difficulty in all this was that I now found myself wrestling with new stereotypes and approaches that were, I thought, just as unrepresentative if not more so than those they had replaced.

Whereas I had been wrestling with ways of better representing and presenting the past variety of experience, I now had to deal with the sometimes contemptuous dismissal of that past as simply "Anglo". So I was now fighting on two fronts. I also had a sense of ennui as I looked at my daughters' studies with what I saw as very partial and biased presentation of Australia's past.

Now we have the history wars and John Howard's emphasis on Australian history and Australian values, itself a reaction to the dismissal of our past.

Obviously I have some sympathy with the arguments of those who suggest that the treatment of our past has become twisted. Yet Mr Howard's approach itself is a fundamental breach of the principle that I have fought for over so many years, the need to recognise the variety and diversity of the Australian experience.

As I see it, his approach is fundamentally a-historical, the replacement of one set of stereotypes by another.

I must say that I am beginning to feel very tired. How many fronts can one person fight on, how many changes can one adjust too?

I would like to see a more active discussion not on Australian history but on Australian historiography, the role and processes attached to the study of our past. Not on what should be taught, but on what might be researched. What would we as Australians like to learn about our past? This, I think, would be far more productive than the current discussions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

NSW Elections 2007 - New England Results

I have now had a chance to spreadsheet all the votes in the New England lower house seats at the recent NSW elections. The full analysis can be found here, but I thought that a summary might be interesting in the context of my discussion of New England populism.

There are twenty New England seats including Barwon, only part of which falls in New England. Overall New England results follow with a comparison to the NSW average.
  • ALP including Country Labor: 30.02 per cent (NSW 39 per cent), six seats, down two.
  • Nationals: 28.78 per cent (NSW 10.1 per cent), nine seats, up one.
  • Liberals: 8.53 per cent (NSW 26.9 per cent), one seat, up one.
  • Independents: 21.17 per cent (NSW 8.9 per cent), four seats, up one.
  • Greens: 8.3 per cent (NSW 9 per cent), no seats.
  • Christian Democrats: 1.38 per cent (NSW 2.5 per cent), no seats.
  • Australians Against Further Immigration: 0.89 per cent (NSW 1.5 per cent), no seats
  • The Fishing Party 0.53 per cent (NSW 0.0 per cent), no seats.
  • Australian Democrats: 0.38 per cent (0.5 per cent)
  • Unity, Outdoor Recreation, Save our Suburbs and Socialist Alliance did not contest any New England seats.

The results show the pattern I discussed in my last post introducing New England populism.

On the 2003 election results, New England would probably have had a minority Labor Government kept in power with independent support. On these results, there would be a National or Coalition Government again depending on some independent support.

Of course, the political dynamics in a self-governing New England would have been different. Freed of the need to consider Sydney issues as well as from the tarnish of the NSW Labor Government and Party, it is quite possible that a New England Labor Government would have held power.

As I noted in my more detailed post, I was pleased to see that Australians Against Further Immigration failed in their attempt to capitalise on the Tamworth refugee issue, scoring just 435 votes in the Tamworth seat. The Green vote was also lower than I expected.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Populism - the New England Tradition:Introduction



Graphic: New England Flag

In my post On Populism I said that I came from the New England populist stream. I also said that I would discuss that stream in my next post.

To start with a definition. In writing of New England I am not talking about the regional rump now classified as New England North West by the Sydney Government, but the broader historical New England - the north east corner of NSW - covering the Hunter Valley, North Coast, Northern Tablelands, Western Slopes along with a slab of the Western Plains.

I make this point because this broader New England has to some degree vanished from historical view. Yet it continues to be important.

There have been two broad streams in New England politics, Labor and New England populist.

Even today, that stream represented by the party now known as the Liberal Party - it has had many names in its sometimes unstable history - struggles to achieve New England parliamentary representation. The Party's very narrow victory in Port Stephens gave the Party its first New England based seat in the NSW Legislative Assembly for many years.

The Labor stream forms part of broader ALP history and had its historic base in the mines and factories of the Lower Hunter, the railway workers throughout New England, the pastoral and agricultural workforce, as well those who worked in mining activities outside the Lower Hunter.

The New England populist stream has its own unique character and had its base in a range of overlapping movements and interests centred outside the Lower Hunter. Today the main political manifestations of this stream are the National Party and the Independent Movement.

New England was and to a degree still is Country, now National, Party heartland. Because of the habit of classifying parliamentarians on a state basis, the importance of New England to the Party is not always recognised.

At Federal level, six of the Party's eleven leaders have come from New England including long serving leaders such as Earle Page and Doug Anthony. At NSW state level, six of nine leaders have come from New England including Mick Bruxner who was Party Leader for thirty years. This is a not insignificant record.

The National Party began as a populist, membership based party. Membership of the NSW Party peaked at more than 50,000 in the 1980s, a record that I think no other party can match. The problem for the Party is, at least as I see it, that its institutionalisation and absorption into coalition with the Liberal Party slowly cut it off from its populist base.

I will comment on this a little later. For the moment I simply note that that changes to the Party created an opening in New England for what was to become the Independent Movement. Untrammelled by the constraints faced by the National Party, the Independent Movement was able to capture the New England populist vote, building a core of independent seats in the heart of New England.

At the last NSW election, the key New England battle lay in the fight between the independents on one side, the established parties on the other. While Labor lost one seat to the independents, the National Party held. Elsewhere in NSW, the independents went down outside Sydney and Dubbo, leaving New England as the independent core.

I hope that I have said enough to indicate the continued importance of the New England populist tradition. In my next post I will trace its emergence.

On Populism


This photo by Gordon Smith contrasts the old Armidale police station (front) with the new one just opened. Gordon wonders how all the police fitted into the old station. I wonder why it is that police stations have become such prominent buildings in so many towns, why a new police station is seen as a sign of civic advancement, why police numbers have risen so much faster than the population as have prison numbers.

In my last post I said that I wrote from a populist perspective, and indeed this is true. It colours every aspect of the way I write. It explains why I don't fit neatly into the conventional political divides, why I am "left" on some issues, "right" on others. It explains why I am against some often currently popular changes, while still wanting radical change in other directions.

Populism is not a politically popular phrase in Australia, although all our politicians adopt populist rhetoric when it suits them. Both positions are understandable.

The first arises because most Australian populist movements challenge the established order in some way, while many have been "right" wing. I have put right wing in inverted commas because while this is the way they are typed they do not fit easily into the always evolving definitions of right and left. The second arises because populist rhetoric still resonates.

In 2003 in Down with elites and up with inequality: Market Populism in Australia, Professor Marian Sawyer discussed the spread in Australia of ideas that she sees as coming from the American Neocons.

I have problems with some of Professor Sawyer's interesting analysis, problems that I will discuss later in the context of my own continuing discussion on changing approaches to public administration and public policy in Australia. At this point I simply want to quote an excerpt from the jingle composed by Bryce Courtenay for the campaign promoting John Howard’s 1988 political manifesto, Future Directions:

Never mind the fancy dancers
Plain-thinking men know their right from wrong
Don’t deal with silver tongues and chancers
Keep your vision clear and hold it strong.
I watched as things began to change around me
The fancy dancers got to have their say
They changed the vision, spurned the wisdom
And made Australia change to suit their way
It’s time we cleansed the muddy waters…

This jingle is clearly populist in its tone and pretty accurately portrays the PM's future rhetoric. Now this brings us to the core problem in populism, the fact that it is a stance not a political philosophy, allowing for a wide variety of manifestations. Here the Wikipedia article on the subject provides a good entry point.

The article begins by noting that populism, by its traditional definition, is a political doctrine or philosophy that aims to defend the interests of the common people against an entrenched, self-serving or corrupt elite.

The article then goes on to note that recent scholarship has, however, discussed populism as a rhetorical style; as such, the term "populist" may be applied to proponents of widely varying political philosophies. Leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be on both the left and the right of the political spectrum, while some populists claim to be neither "left wing," "centrist" nor "right wing". I belong to this last group.

If we look at Mr Howard's campaign jingle, we can clearly see that it is attempting to capture the populist sentiment, telling the people that they must recapture the system from the "silver tongues and chancers."

Now here I do not want to get bogged down in issues associated with Mr Howard and his stance. My point is that populism is a doctrine capable of many interpretations and applications.

So when I say that I write from a populist perspective, I actually need to define that perspective if my statement is to have other than a very general meaning. Here I said in my last post that I belonged to the New England regional populist tradition. I will look at this in my next post.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kansas, Thomas Frank, New England, Jim Belshaw

This is a post on a post, triggered by a comment from Neil (Ninglun) .

In my last post, Hicks, Kansas amd New England, also triggered by a post of Neil's, I spoke of Thomas Frank's views as set out by Neil, linking this to New England and regional decline. Neil responded with a very thoughtful comment on my post. I am now going to repeat Neil's comments interspersed with mu comments.

Franks writes from a somewhat nostalgic stance, obviously being an admirer of the populism (US historical sense)/agrarian socialism which characterised much Kansas politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

I did not realise this at the time I wrote. You can find some information about Frank on his web site. Wikipedia provides a useful introduction to populism. There is also a good article on the US Populist or People's Party, a party that had a great deal of influence in Kansas.

Like Frank I come from a regional area and am stamped with the history and culture of that area. Like him, I come from a populist tradition, although New England popularism was different, coming much later and drawing from different historical and cultural traditions.

He(Frank) is stuck by the way today Kansas Republicans have been sidetracked into identifying with what he sees as their "class enemies" by taking on the agenda of the extreme Christian Right.

The Australian position is different, although it does have some similarities.

Unlike the US where rural populist movements failed to sustain a separate political identity, the Australian country parties created a sustained if sometimes unstable presence. The Australian equivalent is the move of those parties to the conservative side of politics. The early Australian country parties saw themselves occupying a middle ground equally opposed to Labor or the Liberal equivalent.

I find it interesting that there appears to be no US equivalent to the Australian independent or minor party movements.

It is a very lively and original book, but I couldn't help thinking Frank's nostalgia also is a touch unrealistic, a bit like a Labor supporter wanting to revive the policies of Curtin and Chifley, or a National Party person wanting to revert to the ideas of the Country Party circa 1955... Though in the light of recent developments part of me well understands why people would wish to revisit both!

As Neil knows, I still classify my personal party politics as Country Party, a party that no longer exists. However, I do not want to return to the CP of 1955. If I had to go back, I would go back either much earlier or later to the Country Party reform movements of the early seventies when we were trying to chart new directions for the Party. We got it wrong but, as in earlier periods, there was a constant bubble of excitement and new ideas.

More importantly, the regional movements especially in New England were always more than the Country Party, with the New England New State Movement providing a core energiser within the same populist tradition. I belong to the New England regional populist tradition, not just to the Country Party. In fact, that party is only a small part of my political beliefs.

As I said in my response to Neil's comment, political philosophies that are not constantly rewritten and reinterpreted in the light of current experience die. My problem is that for a number of reasons the ideological tradition that I belong to went into abject decline. Yet that tradition has much to contribute to the resolution of current problems.

I am perhaps, and by historical accident, the only person alive in Australia today who can write about these traditions as a still living thing thing. I hope not, but so far I know of no other. In the meantime, I am at least trying to articulate and reinterpret some of the rich theme that forms the New England populist tradition.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hicks, Kansas and New England

This will be a bit of a funny mixed up post.

In my last post on Kipling, the Mufti and the Clash of Values I discussed (among other things) the need to defend free speech or risk loss of the very things we value.

I have now had a chance to read the transcript of the Four Corners Program on David Hicks. Back in January in what was to have been my final post on the Hicks matter, I concluded:

The problem with the Hicks case, at least as I see it, is that the treatment of David Hicks has increasingly breached these principles (rule of law, equality before the law). It is easy to uphold the principles of the rule of law and equality before the law when a matter is popular, much harder when the matter is unpopular. Yet it is how we handle the second that determines the longer term strength of the principles and of our freedom.

This was a very similar point to that I was trying to make in my last post. Reading the Four Corners transcript did nothing to allay my fears. Maybe I am wrong. Do read it and form your own views. As an aside, Geoff Robinson had an interesting post, On Trials, that provides further context.

I found the Thomas Frank's description of Kansas quoted by Neil(Ninglun) depressing. Essentially Frank argues that in the face of economic decline people in Kansas have moved to the right, adopting more extreme positions not related to their real problems or to their solutions. David Anderson, too, worries about and is depressed by changes in the US.

I have not read Frank's book nor do I fully understand all the complexities of the US experience, although I understand enough to know that there are profound cultural differences between the US and Australia despite the apparent similarities. However, I did read the Kansas material from a different frame to Neil.

A few facts, first.

Kansas is a mid-west US agricultural state with an area a bit more than 82,000 square miles (this makes it a bit bigger than New England's 75,000 square miles) and a population of 2.7 million. Like many parts of Australia including New England, Kansas along with nearby states has been suffering rural depopulation. To quote Wikipedia:

Kansas, as well as five other Midwest states (Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa), is feeling the brunt of a falling population. Out of all the cities in these states, 89% have fewer than 3000 people, and hundreds of those have fewer than 1000. In Kansas alone, there are more than 6,000 ghost towns, according to Kansas historian Daniel Fitzgerald. And between 1996 and 2004, almost half a million people (nearly half of those having college degrees) left the six states surveyed. This "Rural flight," as it is called, has led to offers of free land and tax breaks as enticements to newcomers.

Kansas's history is very different from that of any Australian state or region, far bloodier and more complicated, but this pattern of regional decline is replicated in Australia.

If we take New England as an example, in some ways a worse case because we lack self-government and hence have a reduced capacity to respond in a proactive fashion, we too have suffered from rural decline, loss of locally owned businesses, loss of the middle ranking jobs, migration of our young and the better educated. I dealt with some of the outcomes in my post NewEngland's Poor Towns.

Like Kansas, New England has a rural populist tradition, a tradition that has helped form my own political views. Unlike Kansas where this tradition was absorbed by the major political parties, New England developed regional political responses that stood outside the Liberal/Labor divide. But again like Kansas, we have seen a decline in the creative power of the populist stream, an increase in conservative responses.

The problem in both areas is that those who leave are younger and better educated, the very people who should provide future leadership. At the local level, it becomes harder to do new things simply because there a fewer people able and willing to take activist roles. This feeds into further declines in the economic and social infrastructure.

Those living in these areas can see the problems, but struggle to define effective responses. It is very easy in these circumstances to go for more extreme views.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kipling, the Mufti and the Clash of Values




Photo: Rudyard Kipling

Neil (Ninglun) had am interesting post triggered by the latest controversy around Sheikh Hilaly. I found myself agreeing and disagreeing with Neil. So, and consistent with Neil's point about the need for perspective, I thought that I would try to come at the points raised by Neil from a different perspective.

To begin with, I agree with Neil's key point about the need to keep a sense of perspective on Mr Hilaly's remarks. We can think of this at two levels, one of values, the second political process.

The comments that follow draw from previous posts. I will not have time this morning to insert the links, but will try to do so later.

Political process first, because this is in some ways the easier issue.

I have written a number of posts about the sometimes pernicious way in which the media, current dominant values and our politicians interact.

The Pauline Hanson phenomenon is an example. To a substantial degree One Nation was created by the interaction between media and politicians. This fed the Party's growth. We can also see this in the case of Tamworth and the refugees. There the Australian metro media turned a complicated local issue into a major international story to this country's detriment.

We can see something of the same process at work in the sometimes almost hysterical responses to the Mufti's words, especially in the broad sheets.

In the case of Tamworth, I pleaded for time and space to allow the local community to work the issues through. The same things holds for Australia's Muslim community, although things are more complicated here simply because the community is not really a community at all, but a number of very different communities linked in some way by a common religion that is itself not a single entity.

The danger for us all lies in the risk that the interactions between media and politics may create the very things we fear.

We can tease this out if we now look at values.

Freedom of speech is a if not the core value in a democracy, a core bulwark standing between us and oppression. Not surpisingly, as in Stalin's USSR, Hitler's Germany or more recently Sadam's Iraq or Mugabe's Zimbabwe, control over freedom of speech is central to the maintenance of totalitarian power.

So I think that if we are to maintain freedom of speech we have to start from the pre-supposition that Mr Hilaly is entitled to say what he likes even though some find his views repugnant. Now this is likely to draw an immediate response. Surely, people will argue, a society has a right to control views that are repugnant to and threaten that society?

Now this is where things get really slippery because it brings you to what has always been the core problem with free speech, where do you draw the line and when? Here Sheikh Hilaly has created an especial problem because he has managed to offend both those holding certain moral values (they find his comments repugnant) and those with concerns flowing from the perceived threat from Islamic extremists.

No one doubts that there are Islamic extremists. Equally, no one doubts that there are organised terrorist groups. Few would challenge the right of Governments to take action to protect their citizens. The problem for Governments is to define what they can and should do. The risks are that those actions may create or encourage the very thing they are intended to fight while also eroding the civil liberties of citizens.

Controlling or attempting to control what people say because their views are repugnant and conflict with other people's deeply held values is a very different issue. This an area where we have to be very careful indeed especially where, as in the case of Mr Hilaly, expressed views risk being interpreted through the prism created by concerns about Islamic extremism.

Let me be clear here. I am not talking about what Mr Hilaly said, just about the way in which people interpret or respond to what is being said. We can see this in the more extreme responses such as suggestions that he should be deported.

I am out of time on this post. I will post what I have written so far and then continue the discussion tonight.

Later

First, thanks to Neil for advising me that he has updated his post.

I was also very sorry to hear that Lord Malcolm has only a few days to go, glad to hear that the Department of Housing issue has been sorted out. I did not say so before but perhaps should now that I am presently doing some work in part of that Department. Knowing my colleagues if only for a short while, I was sure that it would be sorted.

One of the things that I really like about Neil's approach to blogging is not just the conversation, but the way he provides links so that his comments can be further evaluated.

Now here I want to extend my discussions on values and politics by taking the case of the Kashmiri Nomad, a site I found through Neil.

I should say up front that this is not one of my favourite sites because I find it a bit like a broken record with its emphasis on the wrongs of the West.

I should also say in fairness that Kasmiri Nomad has had a positive influence on my own writing by pointing to the difference between the Australian and European treatment of migration, thus triggering my migration matters series as well as my emphasis on the need for Australians to recognise the unique elements in their own experience (the Australian Way) instead of simply importing and applying overseas views and concepts.

Neil referred to a post by the Kashmiri Nomad reading in part:

Western civilization no longer defines itself for reasons of political correctness in terms of race but none the less views it as a collective duty upon itself to civilise those less fortunate than itself. The language in which imperial conquest is couched in may have changed but the effects are still the same. No longer is there mention of the White Man’s Burden or the Manifest Destiny but rather platitudes regarding globalisation, free markets and democracy are now the oft repeated mantras.

Rudyard Kipling was quoted as an example of the previous view.

The views expressed by Kashmiri Nomad are widespread. Here I came across an interesting example on Al Jazeera, a discussion forum on Zimbabwe.

Neil in his post referred, as he has done before, to Zimbabwe's problems. Under his influence I followed through on some of his links to view blogs on Zimbabwe.

One of my real difficulties has been to understand why Mugabe was still getting support given everything I could learn. Leaving aside the odd case of Iran paying for a jamming station, why was Angola prepared to send paramilitary police, why was there still support for him from at least some of the ANC leadership when South Africa itself was groaning under the strain of a reported 3 million refugees.

The Al Jazeera forum shows some of the reasons why, the presence of a very different world view. Willy from the Cameroon can be taken as an example. He wrote:

I would like you to understand that Zimbabwe and Africa do not want any involvement into Zimbabwe affairs by Europe, Europe's current actions in the world speaks for themselves; Europe has military bases all over the world into other peoples countries, for what? If Europe is the kind place you pretending it to be, just to name that example. Your version of facts about Zimbabwe is not true, Zimbabwe was all right until president Mugabe did justice by getting our brothers land back, then Europe started to destabilize Zimbabwe, again tell your governments and people to stay out of our business, that is not much asking. It has been scientifically proven that Europe is the cause of all our present and past problems, there is nothing Zimbabwe wants from Europe, just leave our brothers alone, then we can have a life too.

Willy's views are not very sensible, but in their expression have not dissimilar messages to those expressed by the Kashmiri Nomad. Both link back to the ending of the colonial period

I think that there is no doubt that western governments and their respective citizens are inclined to want to impose views and approaches that they believe are right, nor is this new. Further, many at least in Australia become very uncomfortable when they hear alternative views and especially faith based views that conflict with their own beliefs and values.

Here I feel, and this is an opinion, that Australians have become less accommodating of alternative views since the start of the seventies. I base this opinion on the combination of my own experiences with my analysis of changes in our society and culture. To the degree that this assertion is true, it does us no harm to be forced to recognise that many majority views in Australia are minority views elsewhere.

None of this means that we should move away from our views and values. The reverse is true. Linking back to my opening point, we need to protect our core values including tolerance and freedom of speech.

But I think that we need to go further than this. I think that we need to analyse, to properly understand, alternative views. To illustrate this, I want to finish with Rudyard Kipling.

In his post, Kashmiri Nomad quotes Kipling's White Mans Burden in full as an example of the previous racist attitudes now replaced by the modern imperialist equivalent. He says in part: Kipling wrote the poem entitled "The White Man's Burden" as way of rousing the American nation to civilise the native Filipinos, teach them western ways and allow them to join the community of civilised nations. In doing so, he completely misses the irony in the poem, an irony dating back in part to Kipling's still recent US experiences.

Born in India in 1865, dieing in England in 1936, Kipling lived at the height of the British Empire. He was, indeed, an Imperial writer. And what, indeed, is wrong with that? We all write within a prism set by the circumtsances of our time. But Kipling was no mere Imperial writer.

Published in 1899, Stalky & Co is a thinly disguised autobiographical account of his time at school in Devon. Kipling himself is the eggregious Beatle, bookish, overweight with glasses.

I loved that book. I was being bullied at the time and the book gave me hope. Yes, the Imperial element was there. But so was a keen eye to the world. The pompous politician who tried to set up a cadet corp but failed because the boys saw through his cant.

India and Empire were always there in Stalky & Co in part because the school trained boys for imperial service. But Kipling loved India, even though India today may not love him.

Published in 1901, Kim is a both a gripping spy story set in the midst of Great Power rivalries and a graphic picture of Indian life as Kim and his master travel along the great road in search of the mystic river. Sure the story is written from the perspective of the British spy service, but this was the Brittish Empire.

For a man of his time, Kiipling was remarkably free of either racial prejudice or religious intolerance. Kim deals pretty fairly, I think, with all ethnic groups and religions. They are just there, accepted.

Loyalty and service were also central to his writing. Officials and officers were there to serve the local people as well as the Empire. They did so in often thankless conditions, dieing in their tens of thousands far from home.

This is where the irony comes in in the poem. Kipling is telling the US that now they have become a colonial power, then they must be prepared to accept the burden of so doing. In this sense, Kashmiri Nomad completely misses the point.