Saturday, January 18, 2003

Politics in SA--insights for elsewhere?

What can we say thats new?

The Rann Labor Government is managing public opinion very well. Things are running smoothly. It continues to ride high in the opinion polls by talking up law and order and using spin to disguise the big budget cuts to health and education. It has been able to deflect the problems arisng from nursing shortage in public hospitals and the 30% increase in electricity prices. Its optimism and confidence all round. The Liberal Party is still on the ropes and unable to land punches, the Australian Democrats are caught up with their own problems as usual, and the local media are content to be the lapdog that desires nothing more than have its ears tickled and to be regularly fed with tid bits.

That is not much I know. Its all the papers give us.

But it does show the effort that goes into managing public opinion by the government of the day. It is a little fragment that signifies the strategies that have been put in place behind the smiling facade that already has a wash of arrogance through it. The strategies have made the Liberals a sideshow and the Democrats irrelevant. What differentiates the Liberal Opposition under Rob Kerin from the Rann Labor Government these days?

Thats the political strategy--so clear in NSW with Bob Carr labor. And if the Liberals manage to get their act together and produce some policy, then Carr Labor shows the next tactic in the strategy. Pinch all the best bits and promote the Premier as a statesman whose got what it takes to keep things secure in troubled times. Isn't that pinching from John Howard?

The big federal SA Liberal heavies----Ministers Minchin, Vanstone, Downer---cannot be to happy with the poor performance of their SA state colleagues.

The Libs may dominate Canberra, but they are running a pretty poor show in NSW, Victoria and SA.
Cyberspace and subjectivity

For some off the cuff comments on what is happening to our subjectivity, as we increasingly go on line and relate to one another through online texts, see the posting Digital being.Its not all sweetness and roses.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Tent City?

I mentioned in passing an earlier blog-----Manas back online & with Aboriginal stuff-----that the homeless in Adelaide were no longer hidden. They have become visible, especially around the southern parklands of the city. But the problem of homelessness has generally been ignored---apart from the charity organizations----even though it signifies one of the most devastating and heartbreaking aspects of poverty. Homelessness has become a permanent feature of poverty in Australia.

At a time of record low unemployment in SA, an image from the 1930s has returned---a proposal for town camps for the homeless in the west Parklands of Adelaide, Murray Bridge and the Riverland for those 7000 who 'sleep rough'. It has been put forward by the Social Inclusion Board .

Well, we already have a de facto town camp situation in the Parklands, without the proposed free toilet and shower facilities, secure lockers for storage for bedding, and maintenance of barbecues and rubbish bins. This proposal just makes the town camp official. It also turns the attention away from the lack of affordable public housing, poverty and unemployment and accepts that homelessness is a permanent feature of the new information economy.

It is unlikely that homelessness is something left over from the deindustrialisation days of the 1980s when Australian policy makers embraced the global market. It is more likely to be due to the rapidly changing social and economic fabric of Australian society caused by people being thrown out of work due to the competitive market pressures of the global economy. Other causes of homelessness apart from poverty, are changes in the housing market and changing delivery systems for mental health services. As a result, homeless Australians include increasing numbers of women and children and other groups in special circumstances, including adolescents, persons with mental illness and Aboriginal people. See Working Towards a National Homelessness Strategy. A town camp is a short-term measure to social exclusion.

Clash of Civilizations

This book said it first. Here are some snippets from the book review to show its relevance to the new world shaped by the war on terrorism.

" In reply to the global optimists basking in the triumph of the West and glorying in the benefits sure to accrue from the spread of market economies, free trade, and human rights, Huntington offers a different picture: the onset of an era in which conflict will be deep-seated and endemic and in which the West will find itself competing at severe disadvantage. The adversaries in this great struggle will be blocs of nations—"civilizations," in Huntington’s construct—that will define their identity and determine their interests and loyalties primarily in cultural terms.

..... A clash between civilizations is thus a struggle not between princes and plenipotentiaries but between religions. The stakes are fundamental. The conflict itself is likely to prove intractable.

....The twentieth-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism," he observes at one point, "is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity." As civilizations, Islam and the West—the one with its jihads, the other given to crusades—seem peculiarly well-suited to be at each other’s throat.

Huntington does not attribute the West’s recent difficulties with Islam to the influence of a handful of fanatics. 'The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.' Given this combination of qualities, Islam finds it difficult to live in harmony with its neighbors

All of this, in Huntington’s estimation, does not point inevitably to a cataclysmic intercivilizational spasm of self-destruction—although such an outcome is within the realm of possibility. It does, however, point to a new era of competition, friction, and contentiousness. At times, the competition will manifest itself in armed conflict. When actual fighting does break out, it will produce bitter, protracted, off-again-on-again violence that will smolder intermittently along the boundaries adjoining rival civilizations. In this regard, Huntington points to Bosnia as the grim prototype for "fault line" wars to come."

Whet your appetite? Read the book. This is conservatism with intellectual grunt and a keen eagle eye ---a different beast altogether from our flabby conservative pundits still obsessed with the soft totalitarianism of political correctness.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Australian history, public opinion, culture wars

Cathie Clement, the Perth-based historian, has posted a long piece on the ACPHA
Discussion Forum here on Tuesday, January 14. It is a long and important post.

It starts by responding to comments made by Uncle at ABC Watch about who can speak and who cannot speak in public debates about the meaning of Australian historian. It then moves to defend the role of oral history in the writing of Australian history in response to Quadrant-style attacks that oral history amounts to little more than bush gossip” and “tales my granny told me”. It then discusses the role of the professional historian in our public debates about what the various, competing interpretations of Australian history mean for us.

What Cathie says in terms of the current state of play in the formation of public opinion is important. She says:

"It is time to acknowledge that Australia has a violent past and to accept that is was neither as universally horrific nor as universally peaceful as some would have us believe. It is time to accept that people who administered Aboriginal affairs made decisions that, at the time, seemed to be appropriate and, in hindsight, are seen by some to have been inappropriate. It is also time to accept that people who write history sometimes make mistakes and read things into the sources they consult. I am prepared to accept that they do so without intending to fabricate history. Perhaps it is time for others to do the same."

I would suggest that this is the common ground of public opinion that has been reached in the current debate about the the use and abuse of primary sources in the writing of Australian history. This has largely been a debate conducted within the terriory of the professional historian.

But the writing of Australian history is also caught up in the culture wars and the broad conservative attack on left-liberalism Keating-style that began around 1996 under the sign of political correctness. There is no common ground in the formation of public opinion that has been reached here: it is a war that is being waged on many fronts and it is centrally about power. For a recognition of this see DEAD CAT BOUNCE (13 january)

The debate over the use and misues of footnotes arose from the over-the-top claim that the misues of footnotes by lefty historians = fabrication and lies. That claim was just a tactic employed by neoconservatives to attack the left liberals, undermine their credibility, and roll back the left liberal hold over the commanding heights of the interpretation of Australian culture and history.

And they succeded in this skirmish on the field of the politics of culture. The neo-con attack machine drove a wedge between the leftys who defend an empiricist history and those lefty's who defend history as a field of multiple contesting interpretations. Though this culture war is seen as a fight between the right and the good versus the bad and evil by the journo/commentators, it is actually a power game between partisans who use litigation as a weapon. The conservatives won power in Canberra now they are turning the sights of their guns onto the left's cultural fortresses. The left have to be vanquished because the neocon right have to regain their history. The neoconservative discourse is one of war.

This conflict is all about the thrill of the battle, leaping out of bed in the morning to find another opportunity to wound the left, and being propelled by a mission to defeat the left. The journo/commentators are the attack dogs in a historic struggle ---thats why much of the journalism is so shoddy. It is politically-biased journalism that is marketed as objective journalism but is actuallly destructive partisanship.

Lets face it. The style of journalism has changed as a result of the culture wars. The old ethos of restraint, civility, investigation and truth has gone, to be replaced by ends -justify-the-means radicalism.

This is a very different world to academia. The war indicates that Australian history is too important to be left to academics and professionals. Citizens want to have their say in sorting out the welter of conflciting historical interpretations. After all, these are interpretations about our national history and identity.
Sharing the Grief

I stumbled in from scrapping and painting the front walls of the inner-city electronic cottage this morning, opened up Microsoft Outlook and came across an email from Jim Capozzola at The Rittenhouse Review yesterday.

It said that a dear and wonderful friend of his had just died.

Jim has written a testimony and remembrance to Richard Silbert, ON THE DAY SHE DIED:The Passing of Marlene Dietrich -- And of Richard Silbert'. It can be found here.

Jim says that this piece means a lot to him and asked me if I would link to his remembrance.

Please take a few moments to read it and share the grief. It is very moving.

And beautifully written, as always.

I wish that I had a hair stylist who was also a dear friend.
Why not shift to renewable energy?

Thats a question I raised in an earlier post on the Democrats and work-to welfare reform. I asked: Why not have government sponsored research and development into renewable energy to ensure profit-driven, entrepreneurial product innovation?

Well Mark White from pineappletown has come up with an answer in an email. Its from a newspaper file (No name of newspaper or link) and it says :

17 December 2002

Howard Government Suffocates Renewable Energy -- Cooperative Research Centre
The Howard government has de-funded the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Renewable Energy and instead given another $68.5 million to the mining industry in today’s announcement of new CRCs.

The closure of the Renewable Energy CRC in June 2003 is a tragedy for Australia, marking the end of specific government support for research into renewable energy, especially solar power including solar panels and solar hot water, Greens Senator Bob Brown said today.

“Only ten years ago we led the world in renewable energy research excellence and were poised to develop an exciting new industry.

“The remaining research faculties and renewable energy companies will not survive unless the government turns off the flood of money to its coal industry mates and makes a serious commitment to environmentally sustainable renewable energy.

“In this round of CRC funding, the entire mining and energy allocation, $68.5 million, has gone to the mining industry, and none to renewable energy.

“This is on top of --
· $46 million to fossil fuel CRCs in previous funding rounds
· $35 million to Rio Tinto, for a Sustainable Minerals Industry Foundation, whose work appears to be almost identical to the newly funded CRCs for Sustainable Resource Processing and Greenhouse Gas Technologies (carbon sequestration)
· $77 million to the coal and aluminum industries through the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program.

“As well as getting its own government grant, Rio Tinto is a ‘core participant’ in every one of the four CRCs announced today.

“The government’s Rio Tinto-led energy policy is destroying Australia’s opportunity to switch to solar and get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions”, said Senator Brown.

Says it all doesn't it? The Howard Government is protecting the fossil energy industry in the global economy, and it is dismantling the few strategies that have been put in place to shift from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable energy one. This shift had only been treated as a side issue during the 1990s and that we cannot expect across-the-board initiatives encompassing a wide range of policies --energy, environment, employment, taxation, competition, research, technological development and demonstration, agriculture, and regional development policies---in relation to renewable energy. The Howard Government has taken its stand along side the established fossil energy industry---Big Energy----in resisting any shift to a solar economy and ensuring an eclipse of solar energy.

Why? My guess is that it is the global market places pressure on obtaining low fossil fuel prices because this is what the forces of competition dictate. Hence the argument from the fossil fuel industry is that, 'only fossil fuels at globally competitive prices can secure the economic existence of companies and economies.' And, 'Australia has an economic advantage in conventional energy resources whilst renewable energy sources are an expensive burden that can only be borne in small doses'. So we need 'to keep the conventional energy supply structure for reasons of national security'.

And national governments cannot go against the dictates of the free market can they? Nor can they act to undermine the economic security of the nation-state, can they?

These considerations indicate how the Howard Government is trapped in the past.
New Oz weblog

Check out this political commentary blog out from Brisbane called pineappletown. Its by Mark White. Its been going since December last year. Its informative, has a keen eye on the nation and has an international focus. One to read regularly. Welcome aboard Mark.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Democrats need more policy substance

Unlike me, John Cherry, the Australian Democrats spokesman on employment, has given Two cheers to Tony Abbott's welfare reforms. He says:

"FEDERAL Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott joins a long list of commentators arguing for reform of the welfare system to remove poverty traps. Such reform has been justified for years, because the welfare-to-work transition is the great unfinished work of tax reform. The Keating Labor government made a start with the Working Nation program in 1994, and the Howard Government made a big dent in overhauling the family payments system in 2000.

The failure to develop linkages between the social security and taxation systems, and paid work has not made it easier for the jobless to get casual and part-time work. It's also locked many Australians in welfare and poverty. Unemployed people face effective tax rates of up to 87c in the dollar if they take on casual or part-time work, losing 70c in the dollar in benefits and a further 17c in the dollar in tax. Which means many workers are worse off taking on paid work, after transport and clothing costs are taken into account."

So Cherry applauds the attempt to address the poverty trap through tax reform. But he is not optimistic. He cautions:

"Despite this compelling economic case, low-income earners' tax relief is likely to rank very low in the Howard Government's tax reform priorities. The Government's clear tax reform priority has been upper income earners, as it backflipped on closing tax avoidance through family trusts, opened up new loopholes with a $1 billion reduction in capital gains tax, and targeted the largest income tax cuts for workers earning more than $60,000 a year (albeit pared back on the insistence of the Democrats). And if tax credits were paid for by reducing government spending on other key parts of the social safety net, the benefits to low-income households could be negligible."

All this is well said and to the point. But instead of broadening the issue of welfare-to-work to re-training/re-education for the new economy, Cherry takes a micro turn to the stalled $500 million working credits scheme. This would encourage unemployed people to take on casual and part-time work by allowing them to keep the first $1000 of earnings without a reduction in benefits. The point at which they are hit with the 87 per cent effective tax rate is then deferred.

Again, a very necessary short-term reform. Standing in the way is Amanda Vanstone, the federal Family and Community Services Minister. She wants lots more stick attached to this carrot.---ie., harsh, punitive measures directed against sole parents and mature aged workers to get them to acquire the work ethic as a way to break the culture of welfare dependency.

But no attempt is made to connect welfare-to-work with reinventing the energy industry to include renewable energy as a way to foster sustainable regional development. At the moment, very few in policy making circles are making a break with federal and state governments defence of the existing energy structure based on fossil fuel: a defence based on saying that the interests of the energy industry are identical with those of the economy as a whole. What is implied by this defence is that there is no alternative to the fossil fuel economy.

Why not foster a bit of creative destruction (Schumpter-style) of the existing conventional energy industry to make room for renewal energy? Why not facilitate a bit of economic upheaval to unlock the benefits of renewable energy? The current energy industry is deeply resistant to change and politically sheltered. Why not have government sponsored research and development into renewable energy to ensure profit-driven entrepreneurial product innovation?

Isn't this what is happening with micro electronics and biotech to ensure new jobs in a new economy. So why not a solar economy? South Australia has natural advantage to make the shift from fossil fuels to solar power. Aren't governments saying they are in the business of acelerating economic and technological progress?

This is what the Australian Democrats should be saying when they talk about welfare-to-work. They should link up their different portfolios a bit more, and become more creative in their big picture policies, rather than being tied down to the routines of the Senate and reacting to the Howard Government.

Neither Tony Abbott nor John Cherry get two cheers.
The Dark Side

Check this out. Its Is Glen Reynolds saying that Muslem citizens should be rounded up and interned en mass? I read him as tacitly saying yes----but that reading has been influenced by seeing Bowling for Columbine

For an extended commentary see this and this.

Are Australian conservatives thinking along these lines? Are they thinking that we should intern Arab citizen, Muslim citizens in general, or Muslim citizens who come from Muslim countries?

Are people thinking this but not saying anything publicly---yet?

It has happened before---Italians in WW2.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Water: things are drying up in the Basin

Various reports in the newspapers this week indicate that the Darling River, which had stopped flowing at Bourke in November last year, has now become a chain of salty ponds with high levels of salinity and blue green algae. Irrigators in Bourke are having the water for their local vineyards and orchards cut off by the NSW state department. They are now faced with making decisions about which crops and trees will have to be sacrificed.

A combination of low flows, clear water and hot weather has left the South Australian section of the River Murray vulnerable to toxic algal outbreaks.

Though the Darling River has stopped flowing in previous droughts, the average maximum temperature in the Murray-Darling Basin is 1.2 degrees higher than in any previous drought since 1950; and the Murray-Darling Basin received just 45 per cent of its normal rainfall---- the lowest ever March-November rainfall. Evaporation rates recorded at Griffith, in the centre of the Murray Darling Basin, were the highest on record by 10 per cent.

Australia has historically experienced natural climate variability of around 0.5 degrees --- but the temperatures across the nation were 1.6 degrees higher than the long-term average.

Do we have a case here of a temperature increase that cannot be explained by natural variability alone; and is an indication of the impact of human-induced global warming?

It also looks increasingly unlikely that the commonwealth and the states will reach an agreement on water rights, environment flows and a national water strategy (to identify which rivers to develop and which to protect) and deliver on water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin in 2003. The cogs of the political machine are not moving. So we come back to the Constitution, where the States are given rights to the reasonable use of water, to reconsider what is 'reasonable;' in the light the need to balance the ever-increasing demands for water with the need to protect the Basin's scarce resources and ensure healthy rivers.

The constantly increasing water demand in the basin means that Adelaide will need to shift to storm and waste water reclamation, recycling and reuse as a part of a comprehensive water resources management programme. Planned augmentation of local groundwater water resources via groundwater recharge needs to be given priority to reduce dependence on River Murray water.

With that quick sketch in mind about water shortage I picked up Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist. It had been lying around in a box of library books since Xmas. I could not bring myself to read it as thought that it was recycled Julian Simon. I read Lomborg's few pages on water. This is what he says.

He mentions three central water shortage issues: Precipitated water (rainfall) is not equally distributed and so not all have equal access to water resources; more people means fewer water resources for each person; many countries receive a large part of their water resources from rivers that cross boundaries and this means cooperation/conflict. He is aware that the largest part of all water used is for agriculture (69%), then industry(23%) and lastly households (8%). So the greater gains in water use will come from cutting down on agriculture.

His key argument is this:

"Water is a plentiful and renewable resource, though it can be scarce, partly because it has not sooner been treated as a limited and valuable resource. In many places this has given rise to very wasteful water practices. Basically, the problem is a question of better management, where water pricing can secure a reasonable and entirely sufficient amount of water for all purposes."

All fairly simple really. The market will do the trick. And, surprise, surprise. There are not tight limits on water resources. So there is no foundation for the worried pessimism that we are over-exploiting our renewable resources. We have sufficient water. We need to manage water more carefully and price it more realistically since it has been overallocated, wastefully used and inadequately managed. Instead of pessimism we have optimism of continued prosperity. Things are getting better.

Mind you, he does acknowledge that there are regional problems with water. So he covers all bases. What he doesn't see is that things are not improving for the environment---in this region our rivers. He never mentions returning water to the rivers for their sake----not even when he talks about reality and morality. How can he, when his economics enframes the environment as resources to be used for human benefit?

What we get is a very basic message that has been repeated over and over by many a free market economist. We greens have just got it wrong. We are too caught up in our myths. The economy is not undermining the environment. Environmental development stems from economic development, for it is only when we get sufficiently rich that we can afford the relative luxury of caring about the environment.

Not even government ministers in Australia run this luxury line anymore. They have grasped that our rivers are our life-support system: no river no vineyards no drinking water. Simple really. Though our Minister's accept Lomborg's two basic claim---that the current problem with water is bad management and the market will sort things out---they understand something Lomborg doesn't: its the politics that is the real toecutter and plenty of toes are going to get cut.

Oh, and I was right about Lomborg. It is recycled Julian Simon. The Sceptical Environmentalist has been returned to the box.
The discourse of Australian history

For those interested here is an excellent snippet on the current history wars by Bain Attwood called The Past as Future: Aborigines, Australia and the (dis)course of History Its worth reading. Far more sensible than the recent Dick Moses piece in The Australian which I briefly discussed in Monday's weblog on this topic.
Bowling for Columbine
I saw the Mike Moore film tonight. What a great political film. I just loved the tabloid style, the emotional montage of material just like television does, the interweaving of the personal and the political, the culture criticism and the use of the media to embarrass corporations to become responsible that he does to great efect on his television show. This is the finely honed media techiques being reinvented. It is not a film just about content: the form was extremely important.

And the content? Well he nailed it. The boy nailed it. He put his finger on the special culture of the US---the way the government, big corporations and media work so very hard at cultivating a culture of fear, insecurity, and anxiety for their own ends. If he didn't nail it, then he has done a better job at doing so than anyone else. That fear is out of control---though many know something is badly wrong most Americans don't see the pathology of their culture:--eg. the way it was expressed in terms of their gun-totting animals. The out-of-control fear was signifed by the white guy at the end of the film wearing a hat saying 'fuck everyone'; saying that you could trust no-one; and that everyone was a threat and so had to be treated as a potential enemy/shooter. Fear pulls the trigger.

How different the US is from Canada or Australia. Watching the fim was like standing outside looking inside the US beyond the glossy media image it presents the world through the media. It is difficult for us in Australia to see through the gloss. More cuts through it; it enables us to look through the gloss and see the multiple reflections in the mirror he holdsup. Its a distorted mirror, a politically biased one, but it still cuts to the chase. You need the political distortion to get a handle on what what gives Americans the historical shudders. This is a society where normality is violence and that violence found expression in the cartoon history of America.

And poor old Charlton Heston----he really does need to work on his lines about why Amercians resolve their conflicts by shooting one another.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Welfare Reform

Tony Abbott's proposal for welfare reform has been welcomed by Peter Dawkins, one of the member of the Reference Group on welfare reforrm that produced the McClure Report, as an Attack on unemployment to help worst off.

He says that:

"The McClure report recommended a rationalisation of the income support system, to make it simpler and more integrated. This has been picked up in the discussion paper. For example, rather than operating completely separate income support payments for lone parents, disability support pensioners and unemployed job seekers from other types of households, a modular system was proposed.

This would include a base payment for everyone receiving income support, plus add-ons for such things as: the costs of living alone, the presence of children and the costs of disability."

The idea is that the broad welfare-to-work strategy would involve add -ons for the unemployed would be in the way of work incentives. Dawkin's says

"Along these lines, a promising option canvassed in the [discussion] paper is an employment conditional benefit: a supplement to the wages of low-wage earners in low-income families. This could be implemented through the tax system as a tax credit or employment credit."

It all sounds promising. But it depends on what the supplements are. Dawkins mentions the need to to boost the demand for labour, especially low-skilled labour, which is prevalent among the unemployed and in jobless households, since the employment content of growth has been disappointing in the past decade, despite sustained strong output growth. This could be done through a supplement to wages to take the pressure off wages safety net adjustments as a method of helping low-wage earners in low-income families.

There is no retraining or reskilling involved here to give low-skilled labour a leg up into the growth sectors of the new regional economy. It is the low wage, unskilled option that is being accepted, rather than linking unemployment, education and the clustering of new technologies. Thats the big policy failure---treating welfare-to work-as an in-it-self problem rather it being a part of education and regional economic innovation. The policy is get people back to work but the nature of the work doesn't matter. The reality is that its going to be low paid casual work that will not pay the bills.The working poor is the US model and I suspect that it will also be the Australian model of the Howard government.
Update: I notice that ACOSS, the welfare lobby group, has said that Tony Abbott had little chance of convincing his cabinet colleagues to spend my billions of dollars from wellfare reform rather than tax cuts. He would met with stiff opposition because the Cabinet view is that Australia is a high-taxing nation. And the Australian Labor Party has pointed out that Minister Abbott had not committed the government to the training required to help unemployed people back into the workforce. Work-for-the-dole fills the gap left by no training.
Australian history revised again

Gummo at Tugboat Potemkin continues with another instalment of his fascinating Tugboat History of Australia. Its central theme is how we all became to be relaxed and comfortable. It looks like it will rely heavily on Manning Clark as a reference point and that it is going to be strong on interpretation and weak on historical fact.

Its a good read.

Its good to see the crew taking history seriously and doing so by working through the past at a time when the empiricist defenders of history are saying that it is time to move on from the Ryan/Windshuttle history of frontier conflict. Many appear to want to break from the past because they feel that nothing can live in its shadow. When history is a slaughterbench of the innocents it is difficult to look the bloody past with an unflinching eye. We still need myths to cope with the horror.

Yet the past lives on in our lives in the present. The past that we would very much like to evade lives on in the present. It has not been mastered, and many Australians continue to deny or minimize what happened whilst others are guilt-ridden and full of shame. Its historical wound that will not heal and the doctors of history don't know how to heal it.

Many Australians console themselves with the thought that what was perpetrated on the frontier could not have happened unless the indigenous people had in some way instigated the violence. They add that it is far healthier to be absorbed in the present, pursuing our practical goals of getting on with life and saying no to the devil guilt. Bearing the burden of the past is pathological, it is frequently said.

This practical frame of mind is a form of historical forgetting that is used to defend the ego against painful and unpleasant memories. It is way to avoid stirring up the demons in the historical unconscious of the nation.

But even nations should mourn for what has been lost. Historical grieving is part of the healing process. That wound does need to be staunched and stiched.

We will read Gummo's history with interest. He may help to enlighten us about the meaning of working through the past. In the meantime there is a light post on the political dimension of the history debate at under 'Working through the past'.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Welfare Reform Tony Abbott style

For once The Australian and public opinion are in agreement. In the words of the former "Mr Abbott's Government .. is now in its third term and has not, as yet, given welfare reform great priority."

Right on. In today's editorial, Belated push to reform welfare traps, The Australian says:

"TWO cheers for the Howard Government. Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott has offered a cogent analysis of what is wrong with our welfare system. But the broad outline has been familiar for some time, and for an administration of this longevity analysis should already have sponsored serious action."

The two cheers are premature. We should not get too carried away here. Its only a speech after all. The Howard Government has not acted on the McClure Report. It will deserve give two cheers when it can resolve the problem posed by Elizabeth: linking the long-term unemployed there to the new jobs being created by the expansion of Holden through proper pre-employment training and education.

Abbott's speech gives no indication that his major welfare shakeup plans to addressing this nexus for all the talk about industry, community, Sustainable Regions program and its awareness into the connection between Stronger Regions, Stronger Growth.

The core role of federal action in a whole of government approach (federal, state and local government) in its support of regional economic growth needs to be centred on education for the new economy in an information society. We South Australian's need to learn how to use the new information technology to deploy global power of big corporations in support of local needs.

If Minister Abbott is serious about welfare reform he would help us do this. Two cheers will be forthcoming ifm and when, he does.
More on Windshuttle/Ryan dispute re writing Australian history

For those interested there is a post on the above at Windshuttle, Ryan & Multiple Interpretations of History. It is a defence of Lyndall Ryan's public embrace of the historicity of understanding in our frontier history. It does this through rejecting the claims of those defending an empiricist history. These basically state that Ryan's 'two truths' (hers and Windshuttle's) remark is nothing more than 'pick whatever historical story' suits you. Ryan has been bashed around the head for that, and undeservedly.

You will need to have a big mug of proper coffee for this one.

Update: There is an op-ed piece on this by the historian Dirk Moses, Rendering the past less unpalatable. He says that:

"Windschuttle gets attention because he has a simple message many Anglo-Australians want to hear: historians have concocted the evidence of large-scale frontier conflict between the British and Aborigines in Tasmania. There was no frontier war, no Aboriginal resistance. There is no reason, therefore, to wear a black armband. We can all feel relaxed and comfortable about the past. The subtext of Windschuttle's book is, then, highly political."

The attraction of the Windshuttle interpretation is that its deeply political and not just an academic text. This may offend some conservative academic historians who think that history should be apolitical. But surely not the academic left? They explicitly acknowledge the intimate links between politics and history.

Dirk Moses then says:

"The weaknesses of the work [Windshuttle's] stem from its author's misunderstanding of the culture and documentary practices of the historical discipline. This is not surprising. A freelance writer with no postgraduate training in the discipline, Windschuttle is a self-conscious outsider taking on university historians"

And then this:

"Windschuttle needs to learn that professional historians produce knowledge in dialogue, not by attacking one another's integrity and suing others when they talk back. He will get a better hearing among them when he realises that academic work is a serious enterprise of rigorously contesting interpretations rather than waging 'culture wars'.

Thats a bit rich. There are different kinds of historical writing. History is involved in the culture wars, the culture wars exist, and people are fighting politics in this way. Windshuttle stands or falls on this kind of writing. Pick him on the errors; the misrepresentations of the work of others, his standards of evidence for frontier violence; the contradictions between his empiricist returning history writing to the apolitical facts and limiting himself to the concepts in the sources with his intense political message ete etc.---as we would any writing of history.

But don't censor the kind of writing or dismiss him because he works from a different settler discourse that rejects the term genocide in Australia history. The culture wars cannot be waved away with an academic hand. We do need the public debate about genocide in Australia history to be upfront and out in the open, rather than a repressed historical memory. We do need to learn to work through the past, rather than closing the books on the past and removing it from memory.

Working through the past is a political exercise as it involves giving a name to a (previously unnamed) horror that casts a very long shadow over the present. We are not doing this very well at present. Its a bit like a dysfunctional family with people turning on one another for trivial things whilst avoiding the underlying issues.

More Update: For a different take on the Dick Moses' piece see Robert Corr's Let's do the time warp. For contrast, there are some odd, left of field comments on 'working through the past' at 'a heap of junk for code' weblog under the No Name Post.
Heat Wave Continues: So do Electricity Cuts and Hype

Temperatures are around 39 degrees in Adelaide. And the rolling blackouts continue. Consumers are inconvenienced. Prices have increased by 30% giving lie to the fact that whole price for electricity would not rise. The State Government says to consumers to shop around the different retailers (all 3 of them) to get the best deal. Policy makers talk about creating a national electricity market, whilst economists say its a question of supply and demand. The Rann Government beats up the black hole in the State Budget as a result of its exposure to the Osborne Power Station deal with NRG. The Liberal Opposition goes to ground.

And the commentators? They stay quiet. The one suggestion that has arisen is that the Rann Government buy the Osborne Power Station ---it was put forward by Dr. Rob Booth. The Government would then have an asset and not a liability ($140 million) on its books. Instead, Kevin Foley, the slash and burn Treasurer, engages in his black hole media campaign. Why?John McDonnell, in his "Much ado about Power, in the January 2003 edition The Adelaide Review suggests:

"Clearly he wants to beat the Liberals around the head, but there is probably a secondary motive. The next budget is going to be very tough indeed. A number of State Government bodies such as TAFE have unforseen deficits and state finances are in a worse position than previously realized. The Premier made some unnecessary commitments to win the election and is determined to stick by them. No doubt the Treasurer would like to knock of a few hospital beds if he could manage it."

If the State Government want to retain its credit rating then it works within the neo-liberal strait jacket of disciplined financial management, adopting prudent set of fiscal goals being fiscally conservative. This market discipline, as policed by the international ratings agencies, means reining in spending as the financial markets hate spending on the welfare state and just love privatisation.

It means that the Rann/Foley Labor Government has no room to move other than to slash and burn or rely on poker machines for revenue.
SA Rann Labor Government

My view of the Rann Labor Government in South Australia is becoming more negative. It is operating within the straitjacket of a neo-liberal mode of governance of market competition, and substantial budget cuts to the welfare state (health and education). It is rolling back the welfare state with public servant cuts, but it is engaged in lots of spin, spin spin to cover up the continuation of the neo-liberal policies of the former Olsen Liberal Government. The grim-faced, money men are in charge.

Consequently, the Rann Government has little of the vision thing about reinventing the welfare state or facilitating ecological sustainable development. There little vision thing is due to the its social justice creditionals of the Rann Government living off the vague gestures to the 1970s Don Dunstan heritage by the poorly performing and weak Lea Stevens (Minister of Health) and Stephanie Keys (Minister of Social Justice, Youth, Aging, Housing and the Status of Women). Basically they have no idea how to reinvent the welfare state through transgressing the limits of neo-liberalism other than saying 'we need to keep the Don Dunstan vision alive'.

And the signs are that the Rann Government is unwilling to be accountable to the Parliament for its substantial budget cuts, due to its obsession with secrecy. As Leanne Craig writes in her, 'The not so accountable government', (no link) in The Advertiser, January 11):

"The Opposition has been banging its head against a brick wall for months attempting to extract details of $967 million in Budget savings over the next four years ... A 13-page report provided by the government in December was light on detail and failed to break the savings down the savings made in portfolios."

When this is coupled to the very strong emphasis on law and order we have a conservative Labor Government in power. Where is the difference between it and the former Olsen Liberal Government? it is increasing apparent that its social democracy tendency is muted and limited. According to Leanne Craig even more cuts are being planned in the next Budget.