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Irregular writings

February 2013

  • Dave Graney

The future is Springvale

I dropped my phone and the screen went dark. I only use it to get calls but it’s pretty handy – an old model a friend fished out of a bottom drawer. The camera is quite good and it has more storage than my first computer by a dozen fold. So I thought I’d get it fixed. Looked all over the magic box for ideas and clues as to the problem. Went to several forum areas and even watched a YouTube video on how to replace the screen for that model. It all looked so easy but I have been involved in that kind of pile of dead parts of a machine in front of me, suddenly like an incomprehensible puzzle, many times before.

So I found myself at a little hole-in-the-wall shop in Springvale that promised to fix problems like mine.

Springvale is an area many people read about in the papers. To do with scary stories of unknowable ethnic crime and the like. It’s in those people’s minds more than as a place they go to very much. Footscray (Footscary!) has the same stories about it with its successive waves of immigrants changing the tone and flavour of the place over the years, but people actually know where that is. Springvale is not in Dandenong, but it’s on the way there. It is actually quite accessible to where I live in the hills. Just a roll down the highway and a turn at Springvale Road. This is one of those long and winding avenues like High Street Road (the south eastern one) or Burwood Highway, which must have been aboriginal walking tracks at one stage. That’s just a vibe I have, understand? Don’t quote me in an essay or anything.

So Springvale Road tootles along, past the posh mall that is Waverley Gardens and Wellington Road and Princes Highway and then you are in an area of unmistakeable ethnic variety. For me, it’s like a fantastic holiday, as the hills are so totally Anglo.

I find the shop and drop my phone off. They tell me to come back in an hour. I have confidence in them. I walk along the road. Great Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Middle Eastern grocery stores. Furniture shops and bath and kitchen utensil stores. Stuff for people building homes and businesses. After fooling around in a junk shop for a while I make my way back to the shop. One fellow takes care of the customers and he enters and exits the backroom through a door behind the counter. Who knows how many people are back there? One? A dozen? The thing is that everybody who comes in is at their mercy. This beguiling smartphone technology is a mystery to all.

Except for a few initiates who are in on the source code. These guys have us by the short and curlies. And who are “we”? Well I find, sitting in the cramped, stuffy room, that I am pretty much the only Anglo guy in the team. A couple of other grey haired, white van driving geezers come in.

Tradespeople. The rest of the clientele is a veritable United Nations. The Vietnamese are running the show. A young African girl comes in. They give her a quote as to the repair of her smartphone. She says “I’ll just go and ask my personal assistant.” (She had walked in with an even younger, but taller young bloke with no shoes on.) Two Sri Lankan guys come in with their phone, then a Sikh with his exotic headwear. This trio all sported skinny jeans though, and were all in their twenties. Hipster ethnique. Then a young Chinese woman with her son. She had dropped her smartphone too

The place specialised in waterlogged phones, “unlocking” them and cracked screen replacements. See, everybody is taught that these things will either never break or, if they do, that it’s only right just to toss them away (or give them to a cheapskate friend) and get a new one. These guys were onto that scam.

Most of the young men affected clothes that clearly came from an R&B or hip hop aesthetic. A guy from a more Balkan or Mediterranean background was told the people out back would be working further on his phone. “I will push them,” said the capable, smiling guy at the counter. “Well push them harder!” said the customer. He wore sunglasses and a cap. He had no more time to spend on this. I wanted to wait around to see what happened next but I was told my phone was still dead but they would try some CPR overnight.

The joint was never empty. Can-Do people!

A day later I got the call that my phone, it lived! I went to pick it up and took the moment to have a further look around this suburb and how its reality compared to its illusory reputation. Hey, it was like being on holiday in the near north. A food market presents the most beautiful array of fruit and vegetables (watermelon seeds and green gauge plums) and then a startling pile of flesh in the meat section. Mounds of pigs’ tongues, heads and casually layered offal. Strange cuts of pork and lamb and chicken. A seafood area with glass cabinets of crawling crabs and all kinds of sea creatures.

I make a note to come out here more often. It’s the future! Or actually the present. Different from the dormitory nature of a lot of the more Anglo suburbs.





February 2013

  • Patrick Allington


Fence-sitting: the new radical

These days, politics imitates sport, which imitates Beyoncé lip-syncing the national anthem at Obama’s inauguration, which is more or less why I’ve come over all let’s-change-the-world and have decided to stand as a candidate in the federal election (assuming I haven’t passed retirement age by September 14).
The nice folks at the Electoral Commission have sent me a ‘How To Win At Democracy’ Fact Sheet. I’ve been memorising my lines in the shower (from where I intend to give all my press conferences): as an audacious, tough, visionary, faintly belligerent leader-in-waiting who instinctively knows what makes our espressoed, tree-stacked, coal-lined country tick, I demand your support. You will vote for me or I’ll … I’ll …

I’m yawning already. Confected rage isn’t my thing, except when I’m sitting on the couch with a glass of red, trying to fathom why the ABC bothers to get Kerry O’Brien to introduce episodes of ‘4 Corners’. Still, I’ll give it a go. As Kevin07 would say, it’s high time that I rolled up my sleeves and got on with the hard work of hectoring the country. Here’s Core Promise #1: I will insult, with senseless venom, a minimum of one person per day for thirty days. By election time, I’ll be humming along at a smooth ten slurs a day. It’s okay, though, it’ll be non-core abuse, forgotten the moment I utter it.

Invective alone won’t get me to Canberra. I need to rebrand … but I’m just not sure who or what I’m supposed to become. I should get my nostril hair trimmed. Obviously. I suppose I’ll need a T-shirt slogan, something like ‘PatrickFantastic’ or ‘Patrick13: not-quite-Green, rarely seen’. Maybe I should go the whole hog and change my name. I wouldn’t mind being Eddie McGuire for three or four years, except that voters might mistake me for Eddie Obeid (hang in there, Eddie, innocent until proven guilty, or so the story goes). Maybe I should go for something more reliable, like Ned Kelly. Or Sir Donald Bradman.

I’m not sure which seat I’ll run in. It’s not as if I have to live in the electorate I represent (do I, Julia?). I might settle for Forrest in WA because apparently Margaret River ‘is the place for indulging many passions’. Look out Nola Marino MP, I’m coming for your job. In a genial and non-confrontational way.

I suppose I’ll need some policies. Two or three should be enough (it’s a long campaign but not that long). Okay: I promise to introduce on-the-spot fines for any public figure who says ‘What the Australian people want…’, with repeat offenders forced to watch one-day cricket. I undertake to ban the writing, distribution and reading of Media Releases. And I will introduce a private member’s bill limiting political donations to the price of a cup of coffee — let’s say $3.50, with requests for additional shots, soy milk or single origin organic gold-dusted beans to be made to the Federal Police.

I’ve developed a sophisticated election strategy: if nobody loves or hates me, if I’m ineffectual, then all the other candidates will preference me. I’ll win by default. The media will lap it up, nicknaming me ‘The Accident’ or ‘The Steve Bradbury of Australian politics’. But I’ve watched super-slow-mo of Bradbury’s skates flinging around the ice during that gold medal race. He planned the whole thing. It took genius and nerve to sit so far back while the rest of them fell over.

Winning Forrest is not enough. I crave the balance of power. And not just on the floor of parliament — the anti-politician-politicians have already been there, done that. I plan to insert myself at the precise centrepoint of 22.9 million Aussies: men, women and children, fat and thin, Christian and assorted heathens.

If you think splitting the country into two perfect halves sounds impossible, have a little faith in democracy. Forget the crossbenches: I’ll build a white picket fence on the grassy knoll outside of Parliament House. I’ll sit on it day and night. If anybody wants to chat — no lobbying allowed! — they’ll have to sit beside me, in plain sight. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing, or why, or how, even after I’ve done it. Vote 1 for indefatigable indecision: it’s the new radical.




The Little Blue Book

February 2013

  • Stephen Koukoulas


While nothing is certain, it would take a massive change in fortune, polling and betting market pricing for there to be any thing other than a Coalition victory at the September 14 election. 

This of course means that on September 15, Mr. Abbott will probably be Prime Minister, Mr. Hockey, Treasurer and Mr. Robb, Finance Minister.

It will be the first time in six years that there will have been a Coalition government and Mr. Abbott will become only the third Liberal Party leader to be Prime Minister in the last 40 years.

On taking office, Mr. Abbott and senior Ministers will be given the so-called Blue Book from Treasury. The Blue Book is a document prepared in the lead up to each election by Treasury for the Opposition of the day in the event of a change in government.

The Blue Book gives the newly elected government an up-to-date assessment of economic conditions and the outlook for the economy; it includes analysis of the various policy announcements made by the Opposition in the lead up to the election and touches on a checklist of big picture themes that Treasury judges to be important short- and medium-term issues that the new government will need to consider as it starts the job of running the country.

It is probably one of the documents most subject to Freedom of Information requests given its sensitive analysis of Opposition economic policies. It has never been released under FOI laws, because, according to Treasury, it sees the information contained therein as “an incomplete draft” of its advice and analysis of Opposition policies.

Treasury continues, “consistent with the Treasury’s long standing policy to protect the confidentiality of advice prepared for a government that is not formed, and consistent with the Treasury’s normal administrative practice, the Blue Book was not finalised,” and after the 2010 election, it noted the strong views of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Abbott, “that the release of oncoming government briefs would contravene the Westminster conventions”.

Such is the political dynamite in these documents.

That aside, the importance of the Blue Book has been diluted a little in recent elections because of the requirement for the Secretaries of Treasury and Finance to publish a Pre-Election Economic and Fiscal Outlook (PEFO) within 10 days of the writs for the election being issued. This means that in the upcoming election, the latest economic forecasts, budget projections and estimates of tax and revenue will be available for all to see on or before August 22. They will, of course, be based on the existing policy settings and will take no account of hypothetical scenarios such as a change of government.

The PEFO is a good initiative, introduced by Mr. Costello when he was Treasurer as part of the Charter of Budget Honesty. The PEFO effectively prevents the government of the day fudging budget or economic figures just before the election and it stops a newly elected government from having any excuse to break promises because the prior government was hiding a budget or economic problem from scrutiny.

Which brings us back to the early days and weeks of the likely Abbott Government.

Mr. Abbott’s policy announcements to date involve commitment to reduce government revenue and add to government expenditure. This means a larger deficit unless savings are identified in the seven months until polling day. Abolishing the carbon price and the mining tax are two high profile and revenue-sapping promises offset in part by cutting the school kids bonus, hiking income tax (reducing the tax-free threshold) and cutting other payments.

Mr. Abbott is also committed to increase spending on infrastructure, increase defence spending to 3 percent of GDP, buy new boats to protect Australia’s borders, index the superannuation of defence personnel, give government funded concessional loans for small business indirectly impacted by natural disasters, increase the education tax rebate, establish a “green army” and spend more on roads, to name a few.

In addition, the Direct Action Plan to cut carbon emissions will have significant budgetary implications, all of which points to the need for some policy changes elsewhere in spending or higher taxes to pay for all the commitments. The fiscal outlook for Mr. Abbott is even more challenging given the Coalition is also committed to having a budget surplus of 1 percent of GDP.

It is likely that Treasury and Finance are already working hard on the background for the Blue Book given the range of policy changes that have already been outlined by Mr. Abbott and his economic team.

There is no doubt that for there to be policy credibility and consistency and no broken promises, Mr. Abbott will need to have the Coalition’s policy proposals articulated and costed so that when he walks into the Treasury building with Mr. Hockey and Mr. Robb a few days after the election, he is not confronted with a Blue Book that shows that his policy agenda cannot be delivered.


Stephen Koukoulas is Managing Director of Market Economics. He writes a daily column for Business Spectator.




Third Age

February 2013

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

All tragic to the moon

Another Australia Day has come and gone. Picture poor old Shirley, sitting like patience on a monument, smiling at her disappointment.

No republic, no good national anthem, no national flag that represents us properly.

Life’s disappointments in one month’s hit. I had also believed, when young, that religion would be a niche interest by my life’s end. How wrong could a girl be?

But I don’t think I am wrong about a Republic. Many Australians share that disappointment. If it has to entail a referendum and agreement by major parties to sponsor it, and becomes the subject of the sort of extreme political abuse we have seen in and out of the parliament recently, we’ve got Buckley’s. Don’t even go there. You’ll just get the tosh about “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – a foreign expression, to add insult to injury, to insist on Australia’s being tethered to a monarchy.

The national flag for me will always be the beautiful blue and white flag of Eureka. Not much hope it will be adopted by all. Any change to the flag immediately brings up “Men (and women, if they remember) fought and died under our present flag.” End of conversation. It is too touchy a subject while there are still young people being sent to fight and sometimes die “for their country” overseas.

Too hard, the flag.

Another lifetime perhaps. Though Canada did it. And now PNG is talking about it.

So that leaves the anthem, or national song as I prefer to call it, since anthem is usually an address or appeal to God. God is always being badgered to defend or save or something. Or God-Understood called upon to advance us… But who says that has to remain the case? Let’s talk about a song to be played to represent our nation. Not only on the podium, but when we feel our hearts stirred by our ancient, lovely, threatened land.

Surely no one is going to go to the barricades for the present dirge about girt. For me and many other people, the real national song exists, and is our national song simply because it is what we sing when we are most moved by love of country, (and yes, it is sung by soldiers); whose first notes always find spines to send a shiver up, whose atmosphere is mysterious, whose subject… is different. But it speaks volumes about our land. As a national song it will be esoteric, enigmatic. Not militaristic or belligerent. God, as they say, forbid that.

We should have the confidence as a nation by now to make Waltzing Matilda our national song for all occasions, to hold our head high and embrace the folk tradition of our music.

Tough call. I fear it’s the swaggie that most upsets urban elites, though Dennis O’Keeffe, in his 2012 book Waltzing Matilda: The secret history of Australia’s favourite song (Allen and Unwin), points out that swagman, when the lyrics were written by Banjo Paterson, and the music adapted by Christina Macpherson, meant an itinerant rural worker. A matilda was the blanket swaggies carried. Waltzing Matilda is much more than ‘a simple song about a petty thief stealing a sheep’.

Then look at the alternative. There is one poem with one phrase that always pulls me up sharp and makes me think of my feeling about my country. It is a cry, almost a passionate wail: “Core of my heart, my country.”

Dorothea Mackellar was a good sort. In what is known now as “I love a sunburnt country,” she really set out her spiritual feelings about Australia. “A stark white ringbarked forest/all tragic to the moon./ The sapphire-misted mountains/ The hot gold hush of noon…” A child can understand and be moved by this. And I would think so could every Australian. “Her beauty and her terror…” Advance Australia Fair is nothing compared to it.

I know there are musical settings of the poem, some of them lovely, but perhaps not robust enough for a national song. Yet the possibility is there. “Core of my heart….” Wonderful stuff: and a challenge for our contemporary composers.  


I know perfectly nice and smart people who talked last year about those who govern us with a vehemence that shocked me. Politicians were being de-humanised to make this level of abuse possible. It doesn’t make sense. We elected them. There was a choice. We have a freedom that is the envy of the world.

It must be scary to be the focus of everyone’s discontents. No wonder politicians get carried away in the Parliament. It is certainly dangerous for our democracy to allow political conversation to become abuse.
And don’t blame the internet.  You can escape Twitter and the like if you want. What you can’t escape is a mouthful or a hideous poster.

Stop it. Celebrate our freedom. Don’t trash it.




What did Lance Armstrong Teach You?

February 2013

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett


In recent times we have witnessed the demise of one of the world’s truly big personal brands in Lance Armstrong.

Interestingly, it became official in a very public chat with an even bigger personal brand, Oprah Winfrey. There has been much written and spoken about this very sorry story, but for us it represents a timely reminder of the fundamental dimensions that shape all of our personal brands. Certainly his tainted legacy of lying, cheating, doping and bullying to secure a victory is at the extreme end, but there are wider lessons to be learnt.

Our day job is in the world of brands, whether it be product, service, organisational or personal brands. What we so often find is that while there may be a level of consciousness around the need to strategically manage product and organisational brands, the average punter seems less aware of the need to proactively manage their personal brand. We all seem to get it when it comes to sports people and the world of celebrities, but in our own careers we are inclined to adopt a far more laissez-faire approach.
However, when working with individuals on their personal brand we encourage them to explore what they stand for on a number of fronts. Two dimensions that are fundamental, relate to their character and their competencies or talents. Stephen Covey (Jnr) has written a great book called the ‘Speed of Trust’ that elaborates on these and other factors that shape the level of trust we engender. An interesting read.

In a consulting sense we have to declare that typically with individuals, our primary focus is to explore the competencies and talents that they have or need to develop to differentiate them in their chosen fields. To us to be of good character is non-negotiable. It is a constant. Competencies on the other hand are situational and relate to the context in which someone is operating.

What Lance Armstrong has demonstrated to the world is that you may seemingly have an abundance of talents, but if your character is found be of a dubious nature – and clearly cheating puts you in that camp – then your personal brand is going to suffer significantly.

What is most disturbing about Armstrong’s case is the way he rationalised his cheating. In the interview with Oprah Winfrey, he explained how he had looked up the definition of ‘cheat’ and found that to cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe which you know that they don’t have, or of which they are unaware. In Armstrong’s mind, he was not cheating. He viewed it as simply leveling the playing field. In other words, drugs were the norm. It was simply a matter of winning at all costs. Sadly it would seem that the deeds of Lance Armstrong are about to be superseded by the wider sports community in Australia. The current investigation by the Australian Crime Commission into sport is a sad reflection of the scale of the insidious need to win at all costs. How untimely is Essendon Football Club’s motivational slogan for the 2013 season: ‘Whatever It Takes’.

Such a distorted sense of competition and therefore character is not only the preserve of sport. We increasingly see it playing out in business and Government. In fact as specialists in brands, we often have conversations with each other about how hard it is to build strong positive personal brands amongst politicians because there is such a win-at-all-costs mindset at play. In the political world, personal brands have to be subservient to the party brand, and when the party is all about winning, true character can come a distant second.

Likewise consider business. Should individuals apply the same interpretation to cheating that Lance Armstrong applied when they are attempting to win contracts in some overseas countries? Is bribery OK when seemingly all your competitors are making illegal payments, justified on the basis of cultural difference? To do so would be akin to saying that ethics is relative to location. Presumably then do we rationalise human rights as being something determined on a location-by-location basis? Of course not, it would be absurd. As is the case in believing that we should always win regardless of the cost, evident in the global bribery campaign of Reserve Bank company Securency, which according to police evidence, extended to more than a dozen countries. Likewise, the actions of former editors to News of the World who are facing phone tapping charges, all in the name of ‘winning a story’.

If you are sitting back reading this and feeling very comfortable about your own character, then let’s turn our attention to the other dimension of personal brand. Where do your competencies and talents reside? What makes you distinctive and valuable in your chosen field? What are you doing to evolve those competencies to stay relevant? What is your personal brand equity plan?

Business and marketing writer Seth Godin says that “if you’re the average person out there doing average work, there’s going to be someone else out there doing the exact same thing as you, but cheaper.” For individuals shaping their careers the world has become far more competitive, globally connected and demanding of true value. Hence there is a need to differentiate one’s self in ways that are authentic and compelling.

Personal branding requires you to have a heightened sense of consciousness about the journey you are on and develop a greater level of alignment between purpose and passion. It is about identifying the sweet spot where you thrive.

For most people their character test will be very different to the one that confronted Lance Armstrong. It will not be a major ethical dilemma. More likely, it will be simply a question of whether they are being true to themselves.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




Letter from Mali

February 2013

  • Alexander Downer


I met a French ambassador recently. “Congratulations”, I gushed. “You have shown great courage and leadership in Mali.” He graciously thanked me and then tried to persuade me Australia should do more in Africa. “After the Asian boom,” he said rather improbably, “will come the African boom.”

Well, let’s take one thing at a time. The French intervention in Mali reminds us that the war against Al Qaeda is far from over. For Western politicians, Al Qaeda has become an inconvenience. President Obama, in wanting to distance himself from President George W Bush, has made a great and understandable virtue of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US troops. But he then wanted to persuade the war-weary American public that the death of bin Laden was pretty much the end of the road in the war on terror.

When late last year the American consulate in Benghazi was destroyed and the Ambassador killed, a controversy erupted over whether this proved that Jihadist terrorism was still alive and well or whether the attack was related to a particular event. The administration seemed to suggest it related to an anti-Muslim film, perhaps trying to play down the continuing threat of Al Qaeda.

Even in Australia the prime minister proclaimed in January that the “9/11 decade is over”. Future threats were more likely to come from States rather than “non-state actors” – meaning terrorists.

There are a couple of issues here. For a start, the good news: America and Australia have successfully protected their homelands from a terrorist attack since 9/11. Huge additional resources have been poured into domestic security. Neither country should become complacent, though. The threat is still there and it will remain so for a long time yet.

Secondly, Jihadist terrorism, including Al Qaeda, is still active. Al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist organisations are much less organised and effective than they once were. They no longer have the stable base granted to them in Afghanistan by the Taliban… but they are not dead.
Al Qaeda is still active in Iraq although they have transferred much of their activity now across the border to Syria. Extremist Jihadists are an important element of the forces opposed to President Assad and his regime. Al Qaeda is still active in Yemen, as well. And importantly, they are active and effectively so in the Maghreb (North West Africa) and further South in Mali.

If there was one lesson that came out of 9/11 it was that Al Qaeda should never be able to sink their roots in a sovereign country, using its territory for planning, training and as a base.  Al Qaeda had literally taken over northern Mali. To have left them entrenched in cities like Timbuktu would not only have left the local people distraught, it would have given Al Qaeda the stable base it needs but no longer has. From that base they could plan, train and launch attacks almost at will. Northern Mali – and perhaps in time all of Mali – would have become what Afghanistan was under the Taliban. That led to 9/11.

The intervention by French troops has been decisive. Al Qaeda has been driven out of the towns and cities it controlled, including Timbuktu.  When the rather dour French president, Francois Hollande, recently visited that historic city he was treated as a hero. The crowd was huge; they chanted Vive la France! and Vive le President! with gusto.

France is back as a force for good in world politics. What is interesting is the line-up of countries prepared to help the French. Once, Americans enthusiastically – you may say too enthusiastically – led the world in the war against terror. This time, France’s major supporter was its old friend Great Britain. British planes flew the French troops to Mali and the Brits have provided 400 troops in support of the French. It’s a bit of a repeat of the NATO Libya operation. That was an Anglo-French led charge as well.

There are two interesting conclusions to draw from all is. First, Al Qaeda may have been seriously degraded over the past dozen years and homelands such as America’s and ours may have been safe from AQ. But Islamic extremists prepared to kill innocent civilians in support of their cause are still around. If they are not dealt with effectively, then their capabilities will only grow. Defeating them will be a long and grinding task.

Secondly, who is going to do this ugly and often controversial work? The Obama administration has pulled back. In doing so, they’ve left a vacuum. It’s a vacuum which could quickly have been filled by Jihadists. Thankfully, the French and the British have come to the rescue.

This doesn’t seem to affect us much in Australia. Well, don’t be too complacent. If someone doesn’t do the dirty work of confronting the Jihadists, they will do their dirty work in the West. And that could mean right here.




Third Age

January 2013

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

Getting up close and personal with the past

Third Agers know better than to make a big deal about New Year. It is just another January with things lurking in it. But this year I have to carry out a vow: to go through my papers. On the stroke of midnight, a fine sweat on my brow will break out, and with it that nasty little squeezy feeling in the chest which people of my age do not relish at all. It’s time. To get up close and personal with the past.

2013 is the year when I will closet myself with boxes of papers, cuttings, letters, unfinished novels, court judgments (all in my favour in case you think I am a mug), marginalia, memorable quotes… the detritus of a writer’s life. Yellowing newsprint is the most interesting; past written threats to my life and wellbeing are the scariest (one of the things that really got some men going ape in the 80s was the proposal to admit women to the fire brigade). And there are the lovely ones. These belong to pre-internet days, when people who liked what you wrote picked up a pen, some nice notepaper and wrote, without benefit of hashtags. It was a deliberative act, not an impulsive sign-in to Facebook with something like: “Kool wot U wrote, hugs XXX.”

Yes, enough of that. All this paper I must sort through tells a bigger story. It chronicles my contact with the social and political changes of 50 or so years. Julian Barnes has one of his characters, not the brightest of a bunch of pretentious schoolboys in The Sense of an Ending claim that history is the memory of survivors. People of my age are survivors of some of the most radical, concentrated changes ever. We survived the wars our fathers and mothers went to, the wars our fathers and mothers engaged in at home, political fights about education (free? private? religious? secular? tertiary fees?), advocacy for women in the work force, for women everywhere, the outing of criminal assault in the home; the gradual, perilous uncovering of the prevalence of incest, and later on, the discovery that people could finally talk out loud about sexual abuse, especially of children. These are just a few of the changes.  We went from pretty young things with hats and gloves to tough women in jeans; from people who largely did what they were told, to people who questioned everything.

But history is more than memories. Documentation is necessary. Another of Barnes’s smartarse schoolboys says that history is “that certainty produced where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.” It’s clumsy and his teacher shoots holes in it, but the story of the protagonist’s life – a 60-ish over-cautious, self-regarding man – takes off from there in a riveting novel about ageing, memory, missing documentation, regret, and the horrible truth that the lessons you learn about yourself in old age come too late to be useful.

The points made about needing documentation stand up.

I know that some of us wake in the night with the thought: I must tell my daughter/son/grandchild that. Before we fall back to sleep we recognise that what seems so important to us will not likely catch the attention of the younger person. If siblings cannot agree on their family history, people separated by generations will likely regard our memories as at least part fiction. What we need is documentation to back up our stories.

As Barnes’s ageing narrator says, “as witnesses to your life diminish” there is “less certainty as to what you are or have been.” Even if you have kept records, they may prove to be wrong or inadequate.

Perhaps I am talking myself out of getting my papers in order. But someone has to do it, I suppose, even if it proves to be just an inadequate record of my past, totally fallible as history and makes me have a little cry.


When I heard of Dame Elisabeth Murdoch’s death at the age of 103 in December, and read many tributes to her intelligence and understanding – observable in TV interviews late in her life – I recalled that about 18 months ago Peter Coleman, a columnist for the Australian segment of The Spectator, expressed regret that Dame Elisabeth had co-signed a letter to The Age supporting the carbon tax. He wrote: “She is a grand old lady and a great Australian. But there is no evidence that she has made or can make an independent assessment of the issue. At 102 it is not surprising that she has had some difficulty in following the debates or always staying awake during discussions.”

Breathtakingly patronising, but that is not the point I am making; which is that Peter Coleman was 83 when he wrote this.

He appears to believe in a hierarchy of the old. Are you young enough to have an opinion at 83, but not at 102 (as the great Dame was at the time this was published)? She must have wanted to box his ears.




Australia through Zeitgeist eyes

January 2013

  • 0

Each year Google publishes its Zeitgeist report, a summary of the mountains of data they collect based on the search behaviour of the ‘hooked-up and linked-in’ citizens of the digital world.

Previously, we have had annual snapshots of the nation, utilizing traditional market research to conclude who we are, what we think, and what we do when the lights are on and when they’re off. But because you never ever seemed to be personally included in the survey, or your cynicism has you feeling that the people only really answer what they think they should say, rather than what they actually do or think, you are often left wondering if they were a true reflection of our nationhood, warts and all.

But Google’s Zeitgeist is different. It is not asking individuals ‘what they search on the internet’; it is reporting on exactly what they do search. Given that a 2012 report by Swinburne Universities ARC Centre reports that 87% of Australians had used the internet in the past three months, it is truly representative of where our interests reside. Google’s report is filled with sparkling insights into the brands that genuinely capture our interest across a number of categories – even if they’re not the most aspirational of their peers.
Here are how some of the categories researched play out:

Most searched car brands:

• Toyota
• Ford
• Holden
• Nissan
• Honda
• Mazda
• Hyundai
• Subaru
• Suzuki

At first glance the list of car brands makes a lot of sense with a reasonable correlation between online search and sales data. The interesting car brand here is BMW, the only European car on the list. The BMW brand sells on aspiration and has very strong ranking in online searches relative to the number of cars it sells.

Most searched fashion brands

• Forever New
• Country Road
• Witchery
• The Iconic
• Victoria’s Secret
• General Pants
• Mimco
• Portmans
• Lorna Jane

As a snapshot of a category, this search data is strongly skewed towards women’s fashion. Men really don’t get a look in. Forty percent of the top ten fashion brands searched for are online offers; ASOS, The Iconic, Victoria’s Secret and General Pants. While online retailing still only accounts for around 5% of all retail spend in Australia, it is nevertheless a reminder that if you’re in the women’s fashion game there’s a compelling need to develop strategies to compete against online retailers.

Most searched Australian athletes:

• Stephanie Rice
• Sally Pearson
• Tomic Bernard
• Lleyton Hewitt
• James Magnussen
• Cadel Evans
• Lauren Jackson
• Lissel Jones
• Anna Meares
• Liz Cambage

Interesting by way of the potential for sponsorship and brand alignment these Australian athletes represent. With the exception of ‘bad boy Bernard’, an appearance on this list represents the widespread interest of a big chunk of the Australian population, providing a clear insight into which sporting star personal brands carry the most brand interest. Whilst it’s been an Olympic year, spotlighting our swimmers, what is more interesting is the focus on international sports and sportspeople and the lack of representation of athletes from the strongly dominant domestic sports of AFL, Cricket and Rugby.

Most searched food & beverage brands:

• Pizza Hut
• McDonalds
• Coffee
• Lite N Easy
• Eagle Boys
• Dan Murphy’s
• Subway
• Dominos
• Hungry Jacks

The prevalence of fast food chains suggests membership of this top ten list may be skewed by a search for nearest store location and home delivery details. But beyond that we get some insight into a pecking order of interest in a number of brands that offers up some surprises. The non-delivery fast food brands still have a very strong showing, as does the Woolworths Ltd owned Dan Murphy’s as the only liquor brand on the list, demonstrating brand dominance in that category. Also of interest is the Pizza category which represents 30 percent of the top ten searched brands – possibly skewed by the home delivery habits of pizza lovers. But what is most interesting is the dominance of Pizza Hut, a brand that’s been trying to reinvigorate itself and has the least number of stores of the big three with 270. Eagle Boys Pizza who come in at number five have around 300 stores, and Dominos who dominate the pizza landscape with more than 400 stores were the least searched brand of its peers – a result at odds with what their scale should provide.

Most searched beer brands

• Carlton Draught
• XXXX Gold
• Skinny Blonde
• Crown Lager
• Tooheys Extra Dry
• Tooheys New
• Victoria Bitter
• Melbourne Bitter
• Brisbane Bitter

When it comes to beer our search habits are strictly old school. With barely an imported or boutique beer to be found, the Zeitgeist list of most searched beer brands reads like a back porch beer fridge anywhere in suburban Australia. The dominance of two XXXX brands suggests either a very active digital media campaign, or an unfortunate overlap with searchers of the adult entertainment kind.

As with any report of this nature, the interest is in the detail rather than the ability to draw any sweeping conclusion on what it all says about us as a nation. But like a good session of people watching, the delicious detail reveals a deeper glimpse of our friends, neighbours and fellow countrymen – a fascinating perspective that perhaps allows us to see a truer, sharper picture of ourselves.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




On the Abolition of All Political Parties

January 2013

  • Simone Weil

Before she died at the age of only 34 in 1943, French philosopher Simone Weil left behind an intense body of work around Christian philosophy, mysticism and political activism. One of her most famous essays has been newly translated into English by renowned essayist and critic Simon Leys.

When someone joins a party, it is usually because he has perceived, in the activities and propaganda of this party, a number of things that appeared to him just and good. Still, he has probably never studied the position of the party on all the problems of public life. When joining the party, he therefore also endorses a number of positions which he does not know. In fact, he submits his thinking to the authority of the party. As, later on, little by little, he begins to learn these positions, he will accept them without further examination. This replicates exactly the situation of whoever joins the Catholic orthodoxy along the lines of Saint Thomas.

If a man were to say, as he applied for his party membership card, ‘I agree with the party on this and that question; I have not yet studied its other positions and thus I entirely reserve my opinion, pending further information,’ he would probably be advised to come back at a later date.

In fact – and with very few exceptions – when a man joins a party, he submissively adopts a mental attitude which he will express later on with words such as, ‘As a monarchist, as a Socialist, I think that …’ It is so comfortable! It amounts to having no thoughts at all. Nothing is more comfortable than not having to think.

As regards the third characteristic of political parties – that they are machines to generate collective passions – this is so spectacularly evident that it scarcely needs further demonstration. Collective passion is the only source of energy at the disposal of parties with which to make propaganda and to exert pressure upon the soul of every member.

One recognises that the partisan spirit makes people blind, makes them deaf to justice, pushes even decent men cruelly to persecute innocent targets. One recognizes it, and yet nobody suggests getting rid of the organisations that generate such evils.

Intoxicating drugs are prohibited. Some people are nevertheless addicted to them. But there would be many more addicts if the state were to organise the sale of opium and cocaine in all tobacconists, accompanied by advertising posters to encourage consumption.

*      *      *     *

In conclusion: the institution of political parties appears to be an almost unmixed evil. They are bad in principle, and in practice their impact is noxious. The abolition of parties would prove almost wholly beneficial. It would be a highly legitimate initiative in principle, and in practice could only have a good effect.

At elections, candidates would tell voters not, ‘I wear such and such a label’ – which tells the public nearly nothing as regards their actual position on actual issues – but rather, ‘My views are such and such on such and such important problems.’

Elected politicians would associate and disassociate following the natural and changing flow of affinities. I may very well agree with Mr A on the question of colonialism, yet disagree with him on the issue of agrarian ownership, and my relations with Mr B may be the exact reverse.

The artificial crystallisation into political parties coincides so little with genuine affinities that a member of parliament will often find himself disagreeing with a colleague from within his own party, and in complete agreement with a politician from another party. How many times, in Germany in 1932, might a Communist and a Nazi conversing in the street have been struck by a sort of mental vertigo on discovering that they were in complete agreement on all issues!

Outside parliament, intellectual circles would naturally form around journals of political ideas. These circles should remain fluid. This fluidity is the hallmark of a circle based on natural affinities; it distinguishes a circle from a party and prevents it from exerting a noxious influence. When one cultivates friendly relations with the director of a certain journal and with its regular contributors, when one occasionally writes for it, one can say that one is in touch with this journal and its circle, but one is not aware of being part of it; there is no clear boundary between inside and outside. Further away, there are those who read the journal and happen to know one or two of its contributors. Further again, there are regular readers who deriveinspiration from the journal. Further still, there are occasional readers. Yet none would ever think or say, ‘As a person related to such journal, I do think that …’

At election time, if contributors to a journal are political candidates, it should be forbidden for them to invoke their connection with the journal, and it should be forbidden for the journal to endorse their candidacy, to support it directly or indirectly, or even to mention it. Any ‘Association of the friends’ of this sort of journal should be forbidden. If any journal were ever to prevent its contributors from writing for other publications, it should be forced to close.

All this would require a complete set of press regulations, making it impossible for dishonourable publications to carry on with their activity, since none would wish to be associated with them.

Whenever a circle of ideas and debate would be tempted to crystallise and create a formal membership, the attempt should be repressed by law and punished.

Naturally, clandestine parties might appear. It would not be honourable to join them. The members of these underground parties would no longer be able to turn the enslavement of their minds into a public show. They would not be allowed to make any propaganda for their party. The party would have no chance of keeping them prisoner of a tight web of interests, passions and obligations.

Whenever a law is impartial and fair, and is based upon a clear view of the public interest, easily grasped by everyone, it always succeeds in weakening what it forbids. The penalties that are attached to infringements scarcely need be applied: the mere existence of the law is itself enough to neutralise its target. This intrinsic prestige of the law is a reality of public life which has been too long forgotten and ought to be revived and made good use of. The existence of clandestine parties should not cause significant harm – especially compared with the disastrous effects of the activities of legal parties.

Generally speaking, a careful examination reveals no inconveniences that would result from the abolition of political parties. Strange paradox: measures like this, which present no inconvenience, are also the least likely to be adopted. People think, if it is so simple, why was it not done long ago?

And yet, most often, great things are easy and simple.

This particular measure would exert a healthy, cleansing influence well beyond the domain of public affairs, for the party spirit has infected everything.

The institutions that regulate the public life of a country always influence the general mentality – such is the prestige of power. People have progressively developed the habit of thinking, in all domains, only in terms of being ‘in favour of’ or ‘against’ any opinion, and afterwards they seek arguments to support one of these two options. This is an exact transposition of the party spirit.

Just as within political parties, there are some democratically minded people who accept a plurality of parties, similarly, in the realm of opinion, there are broad-minded people willing to acknowledge the value of opinions with which they disagree. They have completely lost the concept of true and false.

Others, having taken a position in favour of a certain opinion, refuse to examine any dissenting view. This is a transposition of the totalitarian spirit.

When Einstein visited France, all the people who more or less belonged to the intellectual circles, including other scientists, divided themselves into two camps: for Einstein or against him. Any new scientific idea finds in the scientific world supporters and enemies – both sides inflamed to a deplorable degree with the partisan spirit. The intellectual world is permanently full of trends and factions, in various stages of crystallisation.

In art and literature, this phenomenon is even more prevalent. Cubism and Surrealism were each a sort of party. Some people were Gidian and some Maurrassian. To achieve celebrity, it is useful to be surrounded by a gang of admirers, all possessed by the partisan spirit.

In the same fashion, there was no great difference between being devoted to a party or being devoted to a church – or being devoted to anti-religion. One was in favour of, or against, belief in God, for or against Christianity, and so on. When talking about religion, the point was even reached where one spoke of ‘militants.’

Even in school, one can think of no better way to stimulate the minds of children than to invite them to take sides – for or against. They are presented with a sentence from a great author and asked, ‘Do you agree, yes or no? Develop your arguments.’ At examination time, the poor wretches, having only three hours to write their dissertations, cannot, at the start, spare more than five minutes to decide whether they agree or not. And yet it would have been so easy to tell  them, ‘Meditate on this text, and then express the ideas that come to your mind.’

Nearly everywhere – often even when dealing with purely technical problems – instead of thinking, one merely takes sides: for or against. Such a choice replaces the activity of the mind. This is an intellectual leprosy; it originated in the political world and then spread through the land, contaminating all forms of thinking.

This leprosy is killing us; it is doubtful whether it can be cured without first starting with the abolition of all political parties.


This is an extract from On the Abolition of All Political Parties by Simone Weil, translated by Simon Leys, published this month by Black Inc., $16.99.




Naming the price to reduce transport congestion

January 2013

  • Kate Roffey


Without doubt one of the best things about working in Melbourne in January is the significant decrease in congestion on the roads and crowding on trains and trams as you make the daily commute to work.

To say Melbourne has a transport infrastructure problem is an understatement. For years we have discussed and dissected our infrastructure problems and have unanimously concluded that our current rate of build in no way meets current demands. What we haven’t done is pushed the discussion to the next level and asked the hard question – just how much do we really value more efficient transport options?

As our infrastructure backlog grows, the construction costs of meeting the needs of Melbourne’s population today far outweigh available funding pools. We are now at a point where the infrastructure challenge facing us is beyond the capacity of any State Government budget alone, or State and Federal Government budget combined for that matter.

Given that the options for Government to increase spend on infrastructure are to either divert existing funds away from current spend on essential services like health, education, fire, police or ambulance, or to raise taxes, the bottom line is if we want to continue to rely on Government funds alone, we will pay, either through decreased services in other areas, or increased taxes.

To make substantive inroads into our infrastructure demands, we need to change our mindset away from relying primarily on government only funded construction, and seriously start considering alternative user pays options to generate essential funding.

When we talk about dollars it is essential to understand the very clear distinction between funding and financing.

Financing is money raised to help pay for construction. We often hear comments about super funds and overseas investors needing to be more active financiers. A good supply of willing financiers is not the limiting factor in meeting the high costs of major infrastructure construction – repaying that finance through a secure funding source is.

Any money ‘borrowed’ via financing is in effect a ‘loan’ that will have to be repaid, and if Government funding alone cannot meet the cost demands, then alternative funding sources must be found – and that means user pays.

This is the decision Melbournians must make. If we are to accelerate our infrastructure build, we must look for innovative and creative means of generating funds via appropriate direct and indirect funding mechanisms.
We are already familiar with direct funding charges like road tolls and parking levies, such as the parking levy that was introduced in the CBD, Southbank, Docklands and St Kilda in 2006. A congestion charge similar to the cordon-based charge introduced in London has also been mooted as an option for Melbourne’s CBD, although strictly speaking, the real aim of this type of initiative is to limit traffic volume rather than to raise infrastructure funds.

What we are not so familiar with are a range of indirect mechanisms that can also be applied to include other beneficiaries of infrastructure value uplift, such as businesses, land owners and developers.

Because indirect mechanisms are arguably harder to clarify or implement, they are often overlooked as options in exchange for easier to implement direct charges. Ignoring these options, however, not only limits the possible funding opportunities available, it is also unfair as both direct and indirect beneficiaries alike should be making a reasonable contribution to the funding pool.

Numerous successful projects prove that indirect mechanisms can be very effective in helping to generate funds.

The Melbourne Underground Rail Link or ‘City Loop’ as we know it, included a Benefitted Area Levy mechanism whereby CBD businesses who benefitted from the improved city loop infrastructure paid a levy to help contribute to the cost of construction. On Queensland’s Gold Coast, benefitting rate-payers will be charged a $111 annual transport improvement levy to help fund Stage 1 of the Gold Coast Rapid Transit light rail project.

Surrey, in Canada’s British Columbia province, after identifying a significant funding gap in its 10-year transport servicing plan, introduced a range of redevelopment related property taxes and development charges to help fund public transport initiatives.

In Los Angeles, the LA 30/10 initiative has applied a specific one-half cent sales tax across the entire county to generate funds to fast-track the delivery of 12 new transport projects over a 10-year period. Interestingly, this funding proposal was voted in by more than two-thirds of LA County voters who realised that the only way forward was to start making a funding contribution.

In the case of all the initiatives mentioned above, there was a clear and demonstrable link between the charge, tax or levy the beneficiary pays, and the infrastructure improvements received in return, and this is an absolute must for success. Evidence shows that people are much more open to contributing if they can actually see their dollars at work.

Solving our infrastructure funding issue won’t be easy, and there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution. The only certainty is that as Melburnians we need to stop thinking of this as a ‘government only’ issue, and start taking some responsibility for our own future by embracing more innovative and creative ways to accelerate our infrastructure build.


Kate Roffey is Chief Executive Officer, Committee for Melbourne




Irregular writings

January 2013

  • Dave Graney

Beck’s Songbook

Beck’s new album Song Reader came out in December. Only it is not a recording, it is a songbook. Sheet music for the purpose in that the person who buys it, brings the music to life. It’s out through an online publishing operation called McSweeney’s Internet Tendency – the link is here:

The site describes “Twenty songs’ worth of sheet music, assembled into twenty individual song booklets, each decorated with ‘full-color, heyday-of-home-play-inspired art,’ and stored in a “lavishly produced hardcover carrying case.”

Quite a daring idea. I looked at some online responses from people to the idea. Readers’ comments. As in most of these areas, the response is almost totally given to smartarsery and ill-informed nonsense. The first, hot thoughts, never the third or fourth more considered ones.

I read a great interview with Beck where he talked of his interest in the project going back more than a decade. He wanted to take the time to have the right songs. He talked of how differently it made him think of what an actual song was. Recording and working a persona in a performing sense was what he’d been used to. This way, he talked of the songs having to have some crude power to come through in this most primitive way. He said that you had to write in very universal terms, almost on the edge of corniness and vulgarity. It was no place to be cool. He then talked of songwriters like Hank Williams and John Lennon who had done this. The songs had to be simple but strong.

He mentioned a hit song by Bing Crosby in the 30s selling 53 million copies of sheet music – when the population of the USA was roughly 104 million.

Jon Rose, in a 2007 Peggy Glanville Hicks lecture “Listening to history: some proposals for reclaiming the practice of music” tried to illustrate how close Australian people once were in relation to making music – that it was not a distant, mostly imported experience.

“…. notion of one piano for every three or four Australians by the beginning of the 20th century could well be close to the mark. Here’s some statistics just from the Port of Melbourne for that year:
01888: 3,173 upright pianos and 1,247 organs were imported.
By 1909 – 10,432 imported pianos.
1910 – 13,912 imported pianos.
1911 – 19,508 imported pianos.
1912 – 20,856 imported pianos.
That’s 64,708 imported pianos in just four years”.

Those people would have been buying sheet music and playing the songs themselves. They were so much closer to the stuff. They were in it, they had to dive in and swim.

I do a radio show with Elizabeth McCarthy called Banana Lounge Broadcasting on RRR in Melbourne and we had the honour of the Pretty Things coming in to the studio. I tried to tease out of them what it was like to be involved in British music in the early 1960s. I asked what they’d thought – as Londoners – of The Beatles. (Hoping for an early reflection of the UK North/South divide). Both Dick Taylor and Phil May said they’d loved them. Dick said he’d first heard Love Me Do while sitting around with former band member Keith Richard. I asked how they heard it, trying to get out to the listeners how radio had changed. He said it was mostly people listening to records in each other’s houses. There was a one hour pop show on the BBC once a week. Otherwise, radio was for live performance and orchestras. For many years there were Musicians Union regulations for playing records and the use of tapes to pre-record programmes in both the USA and the UK. (Bing Crosby made a lot of dosh out of tape – and started the idea of pre-recording his radio shows so he could tour as well).

Sheet music was big. Until Buddy Holly and the Beatles, artists did not write their own material. The A&R man put the songs with the performers. Artist and Repertoire. Then it all went to hell.

Songs were written by ugly professionals – in hit factories. 9 to 5! First Tin Pan Alley in the world of musicals and then the Brill Building in the age of the transistor radio. The Beatles ruined that one too! As Mark E Smith noted, “Four proletariat idiots! En route to Candy Mountain!”
If that wasn’t bad enough, the digital world fell on us and the whole world is now creative. And the notion of copyright is theft – disallowing the possibility of somebody having something!

As David A Jasen says in Tin Pan Alley, “Between 1900 and 1910, one hundred songs were said to have sold more than one million copies each – and this to a national population of just over ninety million. The songs sold for an average of 50 cents a piece, when the average take-home wage of a family of four was $12.75.” 

Beck’s idea may be a return to something older but as every idiot I’ve met in the music business loves to parrot, “a song is a song”. Well, as every songwriter knows, the great freedom that comes when you try to write a song for a  specific other person (rather than yourself) – a person you can see and imagine – is so different to finding and filling in some more blank space in your own façade. Beck had to confront all these ideas with this songbook. I’m getting a copy. I hope it has chord charts for guitar. I am blind to the flyshit.




Letter from Europe

January 2013

  • Alexander Downer

This summer my reading included a stunning new history of the causes of the First World War called The Sleepwalkers, written by the Cambridge based historian Christopher Clark.

The book is a confronting reminder of how power politics and nationalist rivalries plunged the world into a war which killed over 16 million people.

At the same time, I was also struck by the current debate in Britain about its membership of the European Union. As someone who spent several years living in Brussels working at the Australian Mission to the EU, I’ve embraced with some passion the leitmotiv of the European Union: that Europeans will avoid repeating the horrors of the 20th century by restructuring the whole continent in a co-operative Union.

At one level, the European project has been a stunning success. The French and Germans work hand in hand, day by day to manage harmoniously the affairs of the Continent. And for all the uncertainties of the euro in recent years – and the euro was a mistake – the ugly power rivalries and obsessive nationalism of Europe have been tamed.

Then there is Britain. It decided not to join the European project at its birth in the 1950s. It was a huge mistake. In 1957 Britain was the most powerful nation in Europe. It could have moulded the new European institutions to its liking and been at the centre of Europe’s power structure. Instead, it chose to remain aloof with its traditional European policy of what was once called “glorious isolation”.

Finally, in 1973, Britain joined the EU but by then all the rules and institutions had been set up by the French and Germans. As a new member, Britain just had to go along with those rules. For the British, it was like a rugby player joining a soccer team.
Since 1973, Britain has gained economically from the EU. It has increased its trade, helped with investment flows and the EU has been an important source of skilled and semi-skilled migrants. These days, London is the fifth largest French city in the world.

Yet Britain has failed to make the most of its EU membership. It has marginalised itself too often allowing the French and the Germans to continue to dominate the EU agenda. Mind you, Britain was right to remain outside the euro. That was the one really valuable contribution Gordon Brown made to Britain. But it would have been far better if Britain had stopped the euro in the first place.

And that’s the problem. France and Germany are making the policies and Britain allows them to do so. And only once the policies have been made does Britain object. No British prime minister has managed the EU relationship effectively since 1973. Even Margaret Thatcher struggled with Europe.

Well now there’s a debate about whether Britain should remain in the EU at all. This is gaining considerable momentum. Opinion polls show more Britons would rather leave the EU than remain in it.

There is an important political angle to this which is causing an excruciating dilemma for the Prime Minister, David Cameron. The anti-EU UK Independence Party is polling around 10 per cent of the vote. Most of these voters are disillusioned Conservatives. They’re not just driven by EU issues; plenty of Conservative voters are unhappy with the performance of the government in general and UKIP is somewhere for them to park their votes rather than switch to the opposition Labour Party.

So Conservatives from Cameron down want to win back these voters and they see Europe as a way of doing it. They believe – mistakenly – that downgrading still further Britain’s role in Europe will do the job. It won’t. Good economic management will kill off UKIP, not euro scepticism.

The worry about Britain is that it is sleepwalking out of the EU. No one is explaining the case for Britain’s EU membership. They should. If Britain leaves the EU it will be substantially weakened both politically and economically.

Politically, Britain will lack the strength it gains from being part of a 27 member transnational organisation which is, collectively, the biggest economy in the world. Economically, Britain risks that free access it has to a market of 500 million people as well as the benefits of a liberal investment zone.

So leaving the EU would be suicidal for Britain. It would leave it cold and alone in North Western Europe. Even its closest ally, America, wouldn’t want to see that. As a great friend of Britain’s, we should be telling the British government it’s in Australia’s interests as well as their own they remain active in the EU, not withdraw into undignified isolation.

Sure, the EU has its weaknesses. It has huge weaknesses. But Britain needs to work to rectify them. In 1914, Britain should have been trying to constrain Austria, Germany, Russia and France but instead just sat back and let war happen. They should learn the lessons of history.




Letter from Tokyo

December 2012

  • Alexander Downer

I often bore people with my list of the ten cities you have to see before you die.

Cities like Rome and Paris, Istanbul and Rio de Janeiro, New York and Jerusalem. But no one would include a Japanese city in a list like that. Most of them were bombed to ashes during the closing stages of the Second World War, not least Tokyo. It was reduced to rubble.

Yet today modern Tokyo is a triumph. Its modern buildings are elegant, it has the best public transport system in the world, it is perfectly clean, the huge population is astonishingly polite. And the restaurants are stunning. No, Tokyo isn’t one of the ten cities you have to see before you die but it is one of the world’s most under-rated cities.

Travel outside of Tokyo and the countryside is stunning. Wonderful trees, rolling countryside and looming over all is the symmetrical elegance of Mount Fuji. So when I think of what I love about Asia, Japan is a big part of it.

It’s also a country of strategic importance to Australia. Japan is democratic, liberal with a free press and it’s a democracy. What is more, Japan and Australia are America’s two most important allies in the East Asian hemisphere.

And then there’s trade. Japan is our secondly largest export market. Yet there was almost no reporting in Australia of Japan’s general election on December 16. That would be fine if the result had been the re-election of the government. But it wasn’t. The opposition Liberal Democratic Party led by Shinzo Abe won in a landslide.

The new government will face serious challenges. For a start there’s the economy. Japan has suffered from a prolonged period of economic stagnation coupled with a staggering level of public debt. Greek public debt has reached 150 percent of GDP. That’s pretty much brought the whole economy down.

In Japan, public debt is over 200 percent of GDP. Unlike the Greeks, the Japanese government funds 90 percent of its debt by borrowing from its own people. The Japanese are big savers, unlike Greeks. But still, a level of debt which is twice the size of GDP is a huge burden.

For years, Japanese governments have been borrowing from the public at an ever growing rate in order to stimulate the economy. It’s an interesting case study of how government spending is seldom the answer to economic stagnation. Structural reform is.

A few years ago, Japan elected once of its most impressive post-war prime ministers, Junichiro Koizumi. He had the courage to make structural reforms to the economy. But since his time, nothing much has happened – with one exception. The outgoing left of centre government legislated to increase the rate of GST. That’s not going to stimulate growth.

The Japanese economy certainly needs a dose of liberalisation. The rigid labour market needs to become more flexible and the financial sector needs to be opened up. For the casual visitor to Japan, financial transactions can be primitive and confusing. That’s a symbol of a creaking, old fashioned banking system. And a banking system lies at the heart of the economy, as the world now knows.

So far, there’s been no indication from the new Prime Minister that he wants to make reforms of that kind. On the contrary; he seems to prefer looking for still more novel ways of stimulating the economy through looser monetary policy.

But Japan has another fundamental problem. It has a shrinking population. So do the maths. To generate economic growth, productivity has to grow pretty fast if the population is declining. Aggregate working hours in Japan have fallen by 15 percent over the last two decades.

One obvious solution might be immigration. But that has never been popular with the Japanese public. They prefer to maintain the country’s striking homogeneity.

If the economic challenges for the incoming government weren’t great enough, it also has to deal with the strategic implications of a rising China. Don’t under-estimate the task. Added to the historic distrust between the Japanese and Chinese people is the dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku or Diayou islands in the East China Sea. Both Japan and China are vigorously defending their claims to these uninhabited islands and incoming Prime Minister Abe says he will be uncompromising on this issue.

Now Japan is a long way from Australia. But it has a significant impact on our economy and if the relationship between China and Japan becomes unstable that will affect us as well. After all, China and Japan are the world’s second and third largest economies.

And public sentiment in Japan is changing. Nationalism is becoming more pronounced and the public remain resistant to economic reform and immigration. Watching and working with Japan should be one of Australia’s top foreign policy priorities.




Irregular writings

December 2012

  • Dave Graney

Thrills, Anarchy and Neighbours

In 2012 I enjoyed being lost to successive American TV series, HBO or FX mostly, shows that grabbed you and sucked you in and you found yourself watching several episodes at a time. Of course, if you were lucky enough to have a partner to share it all with, it gave the experience an extra kick. Affirmed your thrills and your laughs.

There was Justified which is a vehicle produced and starring Timothy Olyphant, the uptight sheriff from Deadwood. In Justified he is a Federal Marshall in present day Tennessee. Dealing with the local and state levels of police forces as well as the ‘Dixie mafia’ who generally live out in the woods, eat badly and either cook meth or grow weed.

I’m not writing this to tell you what to watch – these shows work really well if you find your own way into them. Some, like Shield were even on free-to-air TV for a while but at such crazily irregular times that it was difficult to catch them. Shield had seven series and the writing and the acting held up for all of it. I mention it because one of the police in that show, Walton Goggins, is a major character in Justified. A terrific player, totally watchable in whatever role he takes on. Sometimes looks a wreck, sometimes looks a star. He even turned up in Sons of Anarchy as a transgender prostitute.

Sons of Anarchy is on my mind at the moment. It has terrible music and one of the lead actors is far too buff and handsome to be (a) an outlaw biker and (b) a consumer of so much weed, booze and cigarettes. But the whole show fairly whizzes along. The show has many flaws but, again, the story and the actors pull it off. Ron Pearlman and Katy Sagall are the King and Queen of the gang. Gradually, all the gang members come into focus: Chips, Juicy, Tigg, Opey, Bobby Elvis, Halfsack and Otto. This show has me in its grip and I am busting a friend’s balls to download the latest episodes for me. I then hand them on to fellow SAMCRO twitchers who are waiting in line. (I don’t do that torrent stuff myself). I feel bad copping it on the street but I am hanging out for the next instalment.

One thing I have noticed is that they are not afraid of killing off very central characters in a lot of these shows. It’s shocking. Probably become a predictable thing. Brought up on regulation storylines and narrative arcs, you never got played like that before now.

A show that hit every note it could in just two seasons was the incredible Rome. Filmed on a purpose-built set in Rome, it again has brilliant actors revelling in roles that give them time and space to wander through the story. This is the story of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony and all those crazy bitches back in the day. Civil war and murder. It is seen from street level with two blue collar (well, blue tunic) centurions and in the palaces with the senators and the nobility. The last episode of this came far too quickly. The actress who plays Cleopatra is not curvaceous or overtly sexual in any modern way but she is so absolutely carnal that it’s other-worldly. Young Octavius is so high in the social strata he might as well have stepped out of a space ship. He is right into the politics and the show of power and thinks nothing of a pleb getting sliced along the way. Doesn’t blink.

Ideal has had almost as many seasons as Shield but I have only ever seen it here on free-to-air TV. At odd hours when I am in the best state to experience it. I mean, I can tune into it best. It stars Johnny Vegas as a pot dealer in a flat in Manchester. The world comes to his door. Psycho Paul and Cartoon Head menace everybody. Barry Adamson turned up in it one night as a nightclub assassin. The gangsters turned away from pot to dealing in human body parts. The gay character bought a penis from them “for best”. Japes ensued. Like many UK comedies, it doesn’t sound like it, but if you are in the right state of mind it is even funnier.

Through the mail I got to see Series Two of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle. These last two years have seen Stewart Lee back on British television and he destroys the joint! Anarchy! I had to get it through the mail because Australia is a TV country that has ignored the work of people like Harry Enfield for their entire careers. Only this year have we seen his show with Paul Whitehouse. More please!

Of course there’s great Australian comedy like Lowdown and, even though I’ve only seen the first episode, Sam Simmons Problems. Sam is a freak! (I mean that as a compliment).

The only other free-to-air show that I care for is Neighbours. Paul Robinson has been on fire this year, doing that straight-laced Indian school principal at Lassiter’s while her husband works late at the office. “You want danger! Thrills! I can give you all that stuff!” Paul hissed at her as she fell into his rich, evil arms. Meanwhile, her teen daughter was seeing Kyle’s juvie nephew. How could she tell her daughter what not to do anymore?




Sort of but not exactly

November 2012

  • Patrick Allington

An open letter to Santa Claus

Dear Santa,

Here’s my Christmas wish list. You want to know, I suppose, that I’ve been a good boy. But how do you define ‘good’ and ‘bad’? And how bad do I have to get before you withhold my pressies? Have you devised a formula to calculate degrees of goodness? Is it Quality Assured? Did you consult all relevant stakeholders? Don’t mess with me, I know my rights. I’ve got lawyers in the family.

I’ve heard rumours that you won’t be giving General Petraeus any socks and jocks this year. That’s rough justice. Sure, Dave-o cheated on his wife but why do you care? I’d understand if he’d exchanged bodily secrets with some triple agent employed by Iran and funded by the ghost of Stalin, but his biographer? Ease up there, big fella, everybody’s got egos and urges.

While you’re at it, cut Kristen Stewart some slack. What’s a snog or two with a dashing director when you’re rich and famous and beautiful and 22? Mind you, she did parade her guilt to the whole world, apologising to all seven billion of us, one hand-wring at a time. I had to take leave without pay just to monitor Twitter. Still, massaging a wholesome public profile is a tough gig: surely she’s earned herself a Vampire Barbie Doll. And a bloodless Ken.

The real question, Santa, is have you been good? I’m not insinuating some buried scandal but I do wonder if your standards have slipped. That whole fat Elvis persona is tired. It’s time you got yourself a makeover and cast aside confused history: Santa Claus or Father Christmas, red suit or green, Coke or Pepsi, North Pole or Finland, it’s old news. Yes, I know, you feed on nostalgia. People love your predictability. But never take the kid population for granted – they get more sophisticated by the hour. Just last night, my three-year-old finished A Christmas Carol in one sitting and then explained to her proud parents that Charles Dickens uses way too many words (she’s terribly advanced for her age).

Never mind children: stop neglecting adults. For starters, be a better role model. I’m not just talking about your weight, although you could drop a few kilos … and make some extra cash along the way. With your international profile, you could pitch ‘Santa’s Skinfold Challenge’ to Channel 10 (coming in 2013, 7.30pm Mondays to Thursdays). Think of the cross-promotional possibilities: you could put a free pedometer in every Christmas stocking – you’ll make a killing on replacement batteries – and a discount voucher to any gymnasium willing to give you a kickback. But hurry up: Russell Brand is gagging for your job. He’s already wearing his costume, jeans tight as a water balloon, flame-red shirt unbuttoned to the navel, beard wild yet ornate.

Seize the moment. Even if you don’t exist, you’re the man to defy that whole ‘true meaning of Christmas’ mantra. I’m not proposing that you trash Christianity’s good name – that’s George Pell’s job – but I dream of a jolly old grandpa telling us straight that Christmas is a secular celebration of family and friends and booze, a time to dimly sense that force-fed joy and peace and goodwill to all humankind sounds lovely but might, just might, be a grubby salve.

Instead of sneaking down chimneys and disappearing into the night like a thief, transform yourself into a human prawn cocktail, the prawns the size and colour and consistency of a big toe, the sauce hot pink and flowing like lava. Stick fast to our tongues and resist all our efforts to rinse you away. Every time we brush our teeth, serenade us with that faint but unmistakable lament ‘what about the starving masses in Africa?’

That’s what I want: Kristen Stewart levels of guilt. Oh, and world peace (of course) and gender equality (except when it inconveniences me) and a humble Lance Armstrong (even though there’s something sexy about his absolute arrogance). I’d love a permanently angry Julia Gillard. I wish Malcolm Turnbull would stop jogging laps and start running an actual race. I’d be grateful if the slipped disc in my spine magically reinserted itself. And – on behalf my family, who adore Christmas just the way it is – maybe you could help me lighten up.





Third age

November 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

She knows when you’ve been bad or good.

Hullo, Santa here.

Hi and that. Pumped and stoked for the Christmas season, are we? Well, let me tell you that Santa doesn’t like those words. Unless you drop them from your answers, especially when interviewed on TV, Santa will ensure that your great-aunt gives you one of those presents that can never, for fear of lightning visits, be stashed away. Something that will really upset your Ikea décor of black-and-white with a single red poinsettia painting. A bronze bust of Shakespeare, perhaps.

I am bringing Tony Abbott a lovely selection of purple ribbons for making women aware this year that they are feminists after all. This was a good thing. The Prime Minister must also have a great gift from me in her stocking, something real to match the real-me that broke out on an October day in the House of Representatives. The Press Gallery will get nothing of value from me, to match their hopeless coverage of the incidents that have forced me to shell out gifts to unlikely people this year. They don’t believe in me, anyway. What do they believe in, I wonder, if they can’t give a bit of praise where it’s due?

I have agonised over the States this Christmas. I know that in this festive and vaguely religious season they are struggling with their failure to share. Water again. An encouragement award rather than a punitive one suggests itself, but what? My grandchildren need sharing models in their childhood (yes, Santa has grandchildren, perpetually young. How else do I know that trash trucks are good presents and that Barbie’s divorce-wear might be the latest thing?).

In her big jubilee year, the Queen is a girl who has everything. Alas, she has an heir about her, and it’s not the one the subjects want. Now Santa thinks she has probs thinking up good presents and bribes, but what about Elizabeth trying to think what the something special is that she could whisper in Charles’s ear to make him give up the throne to William? No chance. So Santa has for the Queen a nice Target frock for relaxing days at Sandringham. I think Charles would like Kylie under his tree, but again, no chance. I haven’t forgiven him yet.

There is something quite attractive about James Packer, since he lost some weight. Let’s give him Australia for Christmas before Gina gets it. It’s hard thinking up pressies for rich people, but Clive Palmer is easy. A boiled fruit cake.

I am bringing a tie to the man outside my library who, seeing me (well disguised) on the steps, tells me to “smile, because it costs nothing.” He should wear my gift while he can because someone with depression or even a seriously bad mood is going to kill him soon.

I suppose I have to hand out a year’s supply of sorries, as is the custom now. Perhaps I will say sorry to the social workers who got caught up in the forced removal of babies. Some of these highly educated, nice people – mostly women and now Third Agers – never did a thing wrong, yet their careers in retrospect have been smeared. If we are going to say sorry, we should be more specific about who exactly is to blame.

To city and local councils everywhere, I am bringing a tree. Just a tree. It’s a tiny hint that planting trees is the single most beautifying thing for any city. Look overseas. Avenues, even common streets of green this and that. I know the general taste here is for cutting them down, but be brave, be different, plant trees. And no, gifts cannot be exchanged. Put that ridiculous statue down.

Santa doesn’t get presents. For me it is all give, give, give. But if anyone feels like offering a badly dressed, chubby woman with a white beard a thank you, I would like a picnic. A long walk, then sandwiches, cake and fruit on a red-checked tablecloth pinned with stones from the creek. Talk: happy, desultory, no phones. Then home before dark.

Memories, eh?

Now I’m off. A long, tiring trip ahead. Mr. S says I have only myself to blame for resisting sleigh-drones. His heart never was in the job, was it?




The 2013 election is looming

November 2012

  • Stephen Koukoulas

On all measures, Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott is deeply unpopular. His approval rating is among the lowest recorded for an Opposition leader and his policy agenda is universally seen as shallow. Former colleagues of Abbott and Liberal Party elders are on the record saying “he has no interest in economics – he has no feeling for it”, he is “innumerate” and that his future “was not in economics”.

Against Abbott is Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard. She leads Abbott by around 10 points in polls as the preferred Prime Minister. Gillard will be heading into the election year with the economy entering a 22nd year of unbroken economic growth. The unemployment rate is around 5.5 percent, one of the lowest in the industrialised world and real wages have been rising for 10 straight years. At the same time, mortgage interest rates are 6.6 percent, well below historical averages and 2 percent below the level of the Coalition government.

The Gillard Government has a policy agenda that includes education reform, a national disability insurance scheme and the national broadband network, all very popular policy proposals according to public opinion polling.

Despite these economic drivers being so very favourable for the Gillard Government, the common wisdom from political pundits is that the 2013 election is unloseable for Abbott. Indeed, most opinion polls have the Coalition well ahead of Labor in two-party preferred terms.

Now look back 20 years.

Common wisdom from the pundits is that the then Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating should have been soundly beaten in the 1993 election. Unemployment was 11 per cent, the highest since the 1930s Great Depression. The economy was barely climbing out of a deep recession and real wages had been falling for the bulk of the prior five years. At the same time, mortgage interest rates were around 10 percent, although this was down from the 17 percent experienced a few years before.

Confronting Keating was the Liberal Party leader, Dr John Hewson, a well credentialed economist with a blueprint for economic reform. Hewson’s so-called Fightback! manifesto included tax reform, establishing independence for the Reserve Bank and a range of other microeconomic changes designed to boost productivity.

Hewson was popular and credible; Keating was seen as arrogant and carried the weight of the recession which started under his watch as Treasurer.

It was an unloseable election for Hewson on these facts and perceptions. Yet there was a 1.54 percent swing in the two-party preferred vote to Labor and Hewson was humiliated.

There are obviously chalk and cheese differences between the economic fundamentals now and back in 1993. They massively favour the incumbent Labor Party. There are also differences in the relative credibility of Opposition leaders Hewson and Abbott which again undoubtedly favour Labor.
That said, the polls show the Coalition with a solid lead based, it seems, on Gillard’s comment prior to the 2010 election that “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead”, the vexed issue of asylum seekers and some of the policy compromises that have been an inevitable consequence of the minority government arrangements entered into as a result of the hung Parliament.

It seems a stretch to think that for Abbott and the Coalition parties the 2013 election is “unloseable”.
On the contrary, the hard facts on the economy, rising living standards and a policy agenda of popular and decent reforms make the election a very winnable one for Labor. As 2013 unfolds and the election campaigning focuses electors’ minds on the things that matter for them, it is more than just conceivable that Labor will win.

This point is even more apparent with the Coalition currently holding 14 seats with a margin of 2.5 percent or less. Eight of those seats are in Queensland and Victoria where there are increasingly unpopular State Coalition Governments. All eight seats are at risk. The Labor Party has only nine seats with a margin of 2.5 percent or less and while those seats and others are obviously at risk, in the absence of a uniform swing some Coalition seats could easily move back to Labor and some Labor seats will move to the Coalition making the election outcome impossible to call.

All of which suggest the 2013 election is up for grabs. It is no forgone conclusion. It will be the Labor Party fighting on its economic record and agenda for social reform versus the Coalition fighting it on the perceptions of trust for Gillard and the promise to revoke the carbon and mining taxes. With close to a year to go until polling day, there will be many events that might sway voters one way or the other. This seems obvious, but try pointing that out to the pundits declaring Abbott home and hosed in another unloseable election.

Stephen Koukoulas is Managing Director of Market Economics. He writes a daily column for Business Spectator.




Letter from Dubai

November 2012

  • Alexander Downer

The other day I caught the new direct flight from Adelaide to Dubai. I arrived, Dubai time, at 5 am in the morning fresh and lively having had a nine-hour sleep on the way. Plane travel these days is an opportunity to escape from emails, SMS messages and phone calls for hours. It’s not as hard as it once was.

In Dubai I had one of those chance encounters which sets your pulse racing. Sitting just two metres from me was 007. There was James Bond! Well, to be more accurate it was Daniel Craig. So I did what any of you would do. I asked him if my friend who was travelling with me could take photos of us all together.

A firm “no” was the answer! He said he was tired! Too tired for a photo? Well, I left it at that. It was true; Craig looked washed out. I found out why. He had been in Afghanistan cheering up the British troops. That was laudable. It’s always good to see rich and successful people doing their bit for the community. But I’m not all that sympathetic. The best actors earn huge amounts of money from the public so they owe it to the public to share their fame around.

But it did make me think of the few encounters I have had with actors. On the whole, it’s been a mixed bag. There was the time I hosted a dinner in Los Angeles as part of the Australian celebration known as G’Day LA. Nicole Kidman arrived to a battery of flashing cameras. I had a brief conversation with her when another star appeared: Keith Urban, the country singer.

So I did the honourable thing. I introduced them to each other. This was an important moment in the history of global gossip. They hadn’t met before but were all eyes for each other. If ever there is such a thing as love at first sight, that was it. They went on to get married and remain so to this day.

Tragically, the happy couple have never recognised my cupidic role. I was not invited to the wedding, for example. I’ve not even received a thank you! But I do claim this as one of my significant diplomatic achievements.

Actors are used relentlessly for political purposes, as you know. Political leaders wheel them out to support their causes. I suspect their support means nothing to the public. The public are too smart. They know actors are people who learn lines written by other people and have the skill to interpret those words effectively. But the public know that actors are not experts on macro-economic policies or geopolitical strategy.

I’ve often thought of Clint Eastwood as a bit of a hero. But the reason I’ve thought that is because I’ve liked the characters he’s played; people like Dirty Harry. But when I saw him bumbling along at the Republican Party convention in support of Mitt Romney, it confirmed my hunch; these people don’t win votes for candidates they support.

I was at a dinner in New York a few years ago and sat next to Deborra-Lee Furness. She’s a nice woman, no doubt about that. She started to tell me she was off to a demonstration the next day on Darfur. I approved, until she told me the target of the demonstration was President Bush. I wondered whether President Bush was massacring people in Darfur. Er, no, he wasn’t. But she didn’t know who was. I told her it was President Bashir of Sudan. No, he wasn’t known to her.

But, she argued, President Bush should intervene and stop the killing. “Invade, you mean?” I asked. After all, Deborra-Lee had opposed the invasion of Iraq. She was flummoxed. She didn’t know.

Look, that’s fair enough but my point is this: her fame was being used to support a cause but she didn’t really understand much about the cause. There’s no reason why she should. She’s an actress not a professional diplomat. But it says something about our era. PR people think the public are dumb and that they will listen to actors – not experts – on serious public issues. They won’t. And the public are not dumb.

The truth is there’s a huge gulf opening up between the culture of celebrity and reality. We put actors on a pedestal not because of what they know or their wisdom. We put them on a pedestal because we know who they are. Nothing more and nothing less.

I’ve met only one actor who has struck me as a real thinker; as someone who reads and learns and can argue her case. That’s Cate Blanchett. I don’t really buy her politics but I respect her intellect and her learning.

It’s about time political parties and other promoters of political causes understood a simple point: the public would no more listen to an actor on public issues than accept the advice of actors on health issues. Unless, of course, it’s a face lift.





November 2012

  • 0

Needs more than marketing.

The news that 15 restaurants at Melbourne Docklands, or 40%, have closed their doors in the past 10 months brings into stark focus the challenges associated with place branding endeavours. Importantly, it is a reminder that place branding will only be successful if the ‘place making’ efforts that underpin it add up to a compelling proposition to the target audience. Sadly, from a place making perspective, Docklands is an underachiever. It has no sense of community and a complete lack of soul. However, for this article we wish to park the issue of a huge ‘community void’ and focus for a moment on the wasted opportunity to create a signature dimension that is world class.In 2011/12 Docklands experienced the most development in its 12-year history with more than $2.4 billion worth of private development (commercial and residential) under construction. To date some $8.5 billion of development has been completed or is currently under construction which represents over 50% of the planned development of docklands. This has manifested itself in a community made up of about 8,000 residents and 30,000 workers but a rapidly declining dining precinct and place brand reputation.

When the media picked up on the recent restaurant closures we were disappointed to see that the responses from key stakeholders simply revolved around the marketing (or lack of) of Docklands. Anita Donnelly, the newly appointed CEO of Destination Docklands, was reported as saying in the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘…for the past two years it (the marketing) hasn’t been good enough, but since this extra funding (from City of Melbourne), there is a lot more we can do.’

However, what is required for Docklands relates more to the need to re-think its core proposition to residents, workers and tourists, and less to how it is currently marketed. The vision for Docklands articulated on the website of Places Victoria, the Government Authority responsible for its development, suggests that the end game is to be a place made up of 44% commercial, 44% residential, 7% retail, 1% hotel and 4% other. Simply same-old same-old, but with more scale – unless there is a big wow factor in the unknown 4%?

Their ambition from a place branding and place making perspective should be to create a number of stand-out dimensions that truly distinguish the Docklands. When it comes to creating an enduring drawcard, the forever under re-construction Southern Star Observation Wheel, a sporting stadium and a Costco store are hardly breathtaking.

Interestingly, we do not need to look far for inspiration for what is possible. In Tasmania, Hobart has been re-energised as a must-visit place through the development of the extraordinary MONA (Museum of Old & New Art). It has been described as the most important cultural site in recent Australian history. The inspiration of the eccentric art lover and professional gambler David Walsh, it is innovative and unorthodox. The museum has drawn 600,000 visitors in its first 18 months and won the 2012 Australian Tourism Award for best new development. It is Tasmania’s single most visited attraction.

In contrast to the Docklands, the restaurants in Hobart are basking in the halo effect of MONA. Booked out, with many reporting that on weekends the proportion of their customers from outside Tasmania is as high as 75%.

MONA provides many lessons for the future development of Docklands. One of the most striking is the need to understand the target market to which it wishes to appeal. Social scientist and author, Ross Honeywell, believes there is a huge market opportunity amongst consumers who he calls NEOs (new economic order), and he thinks MONA appeals massively to this segment. Honeywell describes NEOs as cultural explorers, well educated with progressive social views. They like sport (tick for Etihad Stadium), but love the arts and believe food is a celebration of life. In Australia and the US he suggests they make up some 24% of the population but account for 54% of all discretionary spending. NEOs spend more, earn more, read more, know more, and are better educated. For the Docklands, it would seem that they represent an excellent target market on which to focus and to imaginatively explore how it might appeal to them. The challenge for Docklands is that NEOs value experiences that directly touch the human mind and feed the human spirit. As such perhaps one would be better off to simply leave the Southern Star Observation Wheel as it is, and claim it as a much loved art installation called the ‘Dock’s Folly’.

On a more serious note, MONA’s success makes evident the need to create a signature experience that is bold, imaginative and different. In the world of place branding, this is an excellent example of what is often referred to as the Bilbao Effect, a term coined to capture the transformational impact of developments such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

Our recommendation to Places Victoria is to re-think what is planned for Docklands. From a brand framework perspective, we believe the problems being experienced are simply not ones of scale. There is a need to draw on the best creative minds in the world to assist with defining a transformational element that will act as a beacon to NEOs and put Docklands on the global map. Likewise, from a wider architectural perspective, there is the opportunity with the remaining development to explore how to create a more unique and dynamic architectural landscape. Throughout the world place branders have leveraged the concept of ‘starchitect’ (celebrity architects) to great effect.

If there is a sense within Places Victoria that there are budget constraints then think again. MONA cost something in the order of $175 million to create, with $100 million of that being the art collection. In Melbourne each year the Victorian Government contributes approximately $50 million in subsidies to the Grand Prix. We greatly appreciate the power of staging world-class events in a place branding sense, but the opportunity cost of such an event is high.

Docklands presents a unique opportunity for Melbourne to create something that is capable of becoming a world famous landmark. Let’s seize it with greater imaginative gusto.

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




The new influencers (Part II)

November 2012

  • 0

Peter Singline and David Ansett continue their look at the increasing commercial and branding influence of bloggers.

Few changes driven by the rapid advance of technology over the last decade have struck our lives as the revolution of media. How we consume, share and are influenced by media has changed – and leading the charge are a new breed of influencers. Web 2.0 brought us a revolution in blog site functionality and with it a new generation of bloggers fuelled by their passions who have quickly established serious followings. Many of the leading blogs in the US who cover business, news, fashion and celebrity gossip boast audiences many times larger than their traditional print publication counterparts. The popularity of these blogs, their authenticity through editorial independence and pure passion for their niche have combined to create overnight rock stars of influence. And so it is brands are waking up to the opportunity bloggers represent as the gate keepers to whole communities of potential consumers. But as always in a new landscape, brands, their marketers and PR agents are struggling to find their way – although not for want of trying.

In advertising, the old adage goes that at any one time fifty percent of your marketing is working – the trick is understanding which fifty percent. With social marketing, the science has the potential to be more exact – a fact not lost on brands at the forefront of their categories. Stephanie Vieira, Social Media Assistant for fashion label J Brand says “Analytics are an important aspect of all our marketing campaigns, and the same goes for social media. The numbers help us determine what worked and what didn’t, how many people we reached and the level of engagement. We do the same for bloggers, tracking click-throughs from posts, and seeing how eventually these placements convert to sales. We realize our return on investment when a blog is noted as one of the top directors of traffic to our site.” Research presented at a recent International Herald Tribune Technology conference showed when engaged in active social media integration, brands have reported as much as a 25 percent return on investment. 

As understanding of the value of bloggers has grown, the opportunity for brands to leverage their credibility has created a potential conflict between the ability for bloggers to commercialise their popularity and make a living from their craft and the need for those bloggers to be an independent source of views and opinions. By partnering with brands, covering photo shoots and promotions, receiving payment or free products for writing posts or earning a commission on the sale of products they write about, the blogging industry is developing a commercial edge. And why not? Today’s bloggers are talented writers and photographers who are dedicated to their readers and invest hours of time and buckets of passion into what they do. The sensitive line between endorsement and independence is one that bloggers seem hyper-conscious of, with one declining to be involved with this article based on the subject matter alone. 

Anderson reflects the views of many bloggers: “I get a heap of requests for products to be featured on my blog and offers for straight out advertising. I’m not interested. If I allow myself to be owned then I fail myself and my principles; what’s the point of that?” Checks and Spots’ Claire Hillier adds, “I’m incredibly selective who I will work with. There has to be a synergy between their brand values and positioning and mine. As a blog reader, I switch off from blogs that become one advertising post after the other – so I won’t consider doing the same to my readers. I’m also always upfront about which posts are sponsored or what products I’ve been sent to road-test. I do this by including a disclaimer at the bottom of each relevant post. By being honest, my readers can trust me – and that trust is sacred.” 

Whilst editorial integrity is self regulated in the semi-professional blogging industry there is a clear grasp of authenticity and transparency that frankly puts many traditional media figures to shame. Chris Richardson who writes the travel blog The Aussie Nomad concurs. “Leveraging my brand to work with the corporate world is a balancing act for sure. I’ve found that fully evaluating any partnerships and laying out firm ground rules allow me to keep the independence that my blog grew from.”  yTravel’s Caroline Makepeace agrees: “Always ask yourself ‘What is in it for my readers?’ It is not a two-party partnership when bloggers work with brands. It is a three-party one, you have to look after the silent third party – your readers.” Design blogger Lucy Feagins of The Design Files Daily takes her editorial independence one step further. “I write all the content on the site myself, and all content on The Design Files is editorial.  I am very strict about this – we have clearly designated ad space on the site and no editorial content is paid for.” 

As the way we consume media fragments further with more hours glued to the little screen instead of the big one, it seems we’re in good hands. Perhaps, just perhaps, with the commercial demands of big media replaced by the simple and pure demands of remaining true to passion and community, bloggers may be providing some much needed richness and balance to our lives – and that can only be a good thing.

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.

Meet the New Influencers

Rohan Anderson / Food

Rohan Anderson is a modern day food warrior. Raised on a small farm near Jindivick in regional Victoria, Anderson developed not only an affinity for nature, but also an understanding, and appreciation of, the role nature plays in providing sustenance. Anderson has taken these lessons into his adult life where he now grows, hunts, fishes and forages in wild and urban surroundings to feed his family. He also documents his adventures through photography, sharing his recipes, slow food philosophies and (sometimes contentious) views on his hugely popular blog, Whole Larder Love.

Clare Hillier / Fashion

Clare is a brand storyteller. She works with fashion and lifestyle brands to create a narrative that connects with the hearts and minds of their target market. After all, it’s not what you say – it’s how you say it. Checks and Spots is her blog dedicated to checking out and spotting fashion, beauty, design and lifestyle to inspire and amuse. It is a chronicle of all the things that make her ‘look twice’. Clare also writes a fortnightly column called Look the Book for Just B.

Caroline Makepeace / Travel

yTravel blog is one of the biggest independent travel blogs in Australia and most popular in the world. The founders, Caroline and Craig Makepeace, have been travelling and living around the world since 1997. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with their global readers who are interested in living a similar nomadic lifestyle or who just want to travel for short holidays. The blog offers information and inspiration on travel destination, budget travel, couples travel, travel tips and family travel.

Lucy Feagins / Design

The Design Files started up in early 2008. It’s been a brilliant ride. The Design Files has been featured in many local and national design and lifestyle publications. In 2009 it was named by The Times (UK) as one of the world’s Top 50 design blogs. Each year The Design Files run an event called Open House. Open House presents fans of the blog with a real-world experience, introducing the designers, artists, products and brands showcased throughout the year in a styled Melbourne Home, with an added bonus – everything is for sale. From bed linen to books, artwork, furniture, kitchenware and lighting, each and every item can be purchased on the spot. Open House 2012 will run through November.

Laura Porter / Travel

Laura writes the London travel site and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s. Laura has lived in the London area all her life and can’t imagine ever wanting to live elsewhere. Laura visits London attractions every week with her young daughter and is often the first to arrive and the last to leave. “I love London and want others to enjoy the city too. Many first-time visitors come for its history and royalty but, intriguing as those are, that’s just the beginning of what the city has to offer”. As Dr. Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”





A Plan for Affordable Energy

November 2012

  • John Thwaites

Electricity price rises have become a BBQ stopper in much the same way that water shortages were five years ago. Maybe my BBQ conversations are a bit nerdy, but certainly people are more aware of energy prices and energy efficiency than they have ever been before. 

Since 2007, electricity prices have risen more than 50 per cent. There has been plenty of debate about the cause of the rises. The best evidence points to high expenditure on electricity distribution networks, the poles and wires bringing electricity to our homes, as a prime culprit. Part of the reason for this is the increase in peak demand, particularly on a few very hot days when everyone turns on their air-conditioners at the same time. As electricity can’t be stored, poles and wires and extra generation have to be built to cope with these ‘super peak’ periods, which may only cover around 40 hours a year, but are responsible for up to 25 per cent of electricity bills.

In some states, Queensland and New South Wales in particular, it has been claimed that electricity bills have been driven up by ‘gold plating’ by the electricity distribution companies building more expensive infrastructure than is really needed. This is not totally surprising as the companies are paid a regulated return based on how much infrastructure they build. The more they build, the more they are paid.

A group of business, consumer and welfare groups have recently commissioned a report on electricity prices that demonstrates that without urgent reforms, electricity bills will continue to rise in the next five years. As well as continuing rises in network distribution costs, there is a likely new culprit – rising gas and coal prices, which will drive up the cost of generation. Despite all the public debate about the carbon price, it is expected to be responsible for only about 10 to 15 per cent of a total increase in the electricity price of more than 100 per cent over a decade.

The business and consumer group includes the Australian Industry Group, the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, CHOICE and the Energy Efficiency Council. They have made a number of recommendations for reform to help make electricity more affordable. 

One widely supported reform is to allow big electricity users to sell a reduction in their electricity zuse to the wholesale electricity market at times of peak demand. This would make electricity more affordable for everyone by reducing price spikes during periods of intense demand and by reducing the need to build new generation and network capacity that is only used on a few days a year. 

Another reform is to set incentives for distribution companies to reduce their spending on infrastructure by encouraging demand management measures. To do this, there needs to be a shift in the way the distribution companies are remunerated. Distribution company prices are set by using a regulated rate of return on their capital expenditure that is based on how much infrastructure they have built. The companies therefore have an incentive to invest in more infrastructure, which drives up prices. Incentives could be set to encourage distribution companies to be more efficient by setting targets for them to reduce peak demand or by basing their remuneration on the total of both capital and operating expenses.

Another potential cost saver could be reliability standards. No one wants to experience brown-outs but in some cases reliability standards may be unreasonably high. The reliability standards should at least be examined to see if they can be reduced to save costs, while at the same time protecting business and residential customers.

One of the main reasons for the growth in peak demand is that there is no price signal to electricity users about the real cost of using electricity at peak times. Time of use pricing would significantly reduce peak demand because people would have an incentive to cut their use at peak times. However it would be important to ensure that vulnerable households are not disadvantaged. At present we don’t have much information about how time of use pricing would impact on low-income households or other vulnerable customers and this needs urgent investigation.

Retail margins generally only make up a relatively small proportion of electricity bills. In most states there are now numerous retail companies that compete for customers. Victoria is the only state to have fully deregulated retail prices. Interestingly retail price margins have risen faster in Victoria than in other states. Increased expenditure by the retailers on door-to-door selling and marketing may be putting up retail prices in Victoria. These prices should be monitored and evaluated to assess the effectiveness of retail competition and deregulation.

Finally the report recommends that in future, energy consumers – both business and residential – should be given a much greater role in setting electricity prices. This could be achieved through establishment of a national consumer energy advocacy body with a formal role in the price setting process.

Some of these reforms can be implemented quickly and some will take time. But if we don’t start the process now we will lock in billions of dollars of unnecessary infrastructure and higher bills for years to come.


John Thwaites is Chair of the Monash Sustainability Institute and a consultant on sustainability and climate change at Maddocks.




Letter from New York

November 2012

  • Alexander Downer

Four days after Australia was successfully elected to the Security Council for a two year term I was in New York myself for consultations with the Secretary General and other United Nations officials.

For over four years I’ve worked for the United Nations as an Under Secretary General with the title Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Cyprus. It’s a hard job by any standards. The task is to help achieve the objective set by the UN Security Council of re-uniting Cyprus after 38 years of division.

There’s a specific formula for the re-unification but years of distrust, antipathy and mutual blame make it hard work; in some respects the hardest job I’ve taken on. That’s a story for another time.

Cyprus is, after all, one of the world’s three or four most intractable problems.

Over those four years, I’ve come to know the UN, warts and all. It is an imperfect organisation. It has its administrative weaknesses, it often disappoints a hopeful world and it has made mistakes. But for all that, it has its strengths. The UN is imbued with a sense of idealism; a belief that it is serving the best interests of humanity. Its policies may sometimes be flawed, it may disappoint even, but it is driven by good intentions. It wants disputes settled peacefully, it abhors violence, it fights poverty and crime, it promotes civil liberties especially in oppressive societies.

And it does something more; it brings together almost all the countries of the world in a single forum where they all get a say, from the United States to Samoa.

At the heart of the UN is the Security Council. Its resolutions are one of the bases of international law, of the rules-based international political system. And at the heart of the Security Council are its five permanent members: Britain, the United States, Russia, China and France. They all have a veto. Nothing can happen without their approval.

Then there are the other ten non-permanent members, from next year including ourselves. They can, collectively, block any initiative of the five permanent members but they can’t act without them. It’s a fairly weak position but there’s no doubt about it; it’s a good forum to be in. You attend meetings of huge importance; you can express a point of view, argue a case and try to persuade others.

So personally I was pretty excited when Australia was elected to the Security Council. I did my bit. Without my own UN hat, I asked a number of foreign ministers for their support. And I had someone in New York wake me up with the result – I was asleep in Australia at the time.

As a senior UN official, I go before the Security Council once every six months to report on Cyprus. It will be nice next year to report to a familiar Australian figure – an Ambassador who at one time used to work for me.

To be frank, the election this time shouldn’t have been difficult. It would have been extraordinary if we had lost. We did lose in 1996 just months after I became the foreign minister. That time we ran against Sweden – which itself had lost four years earlier – and Portugal. Portugal has extensive links around the world having once been a global power. Interestingly, Portugal is again on the Security Council right now.

There are two other reasons why our victory was a virtual certainty. One is that at the last elections two years ago, two EU countries were elected and Canada defeated. There isn’t in the minds of the UN a country more like Canada than Australia. Some UN officials laughingly call Canada Australia on ice!

For UN members to have once more elected two EU members and this time rejected Australia was almost out of the question. And secondly, without being disrespectful of Finland and Luxembourg, the problems of the euro and the weakness of the European economy more generally has made the EU a little less popular than it once was. In this case, that’s a bit ironic because both Finland and Luxembourg are amongst the EU’s best performing economies.

But even if it was easy to win, we did and for that I’m glad. It isn’t proof, though, that we are wildly popular or a good international citizen all of a sudden. We didn’t beat everyone! We only beat Finland and Luxembourg! Rwanda won as well in a different ballot. 

Our two years on the Security Council will be a window into the machinations of the UN. We’ll learn a lot more about it. And one of the things we’ll learn is this: the UN is only as strong as its member states will allow it to be. If it can’t agree on Syria it is rendered powerless. When it did agree on Libya or Afghanistan in 2001, it made a huge difference.

But there’s one thing to say about the UN: if it didn’t exist, you’d invent it. 





Third Age

November 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

One day a week

Once a week I pick up my granddaughter from her school half an hour or so away and she comes to my house to play.

She is four. I am 76. The age difference is not a problem. I am an old grandma. Young grandmas jump in the car and pick up the grandkids from school and that’s it.

It’s different for me. One of the late Robert Hughes‘s attachments was to “slow art”; “art that holds time as a vase holds water.” My attachment is to slow life. Slow parenting is what old grandmas do.

Preparations for picking up Cordelia begin the day before. Planning her after-school treat for the car trip home is something I put my mind to. Then there are the balloons to pick up on the way.  The treats and balloons have to be duplicated because Cordy checks that her brother will get something later.

Because the weather has improved, I get the plastic slide from the garage. It has been a great thing, that slide. It provides opportunities for little kids to show off without coming to grief.  Cordy’s brother is nearly too old for it now, but Cordy has been asking for it all through winter. I assemble it on the back lawn before leaving for school.

I am shy around the young teachers. Cordelia is not. They are her friends. Have you noticed that children playing school these days don‘t stand as an authority figure before an imaginary class as we did?
In the car, Cordelia inspects her treats and smiles. “You know I like chocolate tiny teddies.” I glow.

Now for my indulgence. Classical music indoctrination in the car begins after a few minutes. It is terrible when the wrong kind of music is being played on ABC FM. You’d think they could plan their programs for after-school grandma-time. I talk to Cordy about horns and violins and clarinets. It is a wonderful day for me when she volunteers that she likes something. If the radio is not giving up the right sound, I use a CD. It has some Kats-Chernin on it. Cordelia loves the music and the name. Kats-Chernin.

There can be a problem for me hearing chatter from the back seat. Not with Cordy. She knows how to speak up for grandma. I feel brave enough, when Tchaikovsky is playing, to ask her why she doesn’t go to ballet any more. She hesitates. I coax: “You know I like to see you dance.”  She says, “Ballet makes me shy.” I have never seen Cordy shy and say so. “Ballet makes me shy so that’s why I don’t go.” She is a girl who knows her own mind. She is ready to sing for a bit. It is a song about a rainbow and she sings it a few times.

We pull up at my house. I wait for the cheer but Cordelia, with her mouth open, is fast asleep in her car seat. I crush my disappointment and settle down to wait. I am busting for the loo, but you can’t abandon a sleeping child for small necessities. The nap doesn’t last long.

After a long, noisy session on the slide, and cups of “tea” from the tea set that belonged to my daughter at the same age, I begin to think how nice a glass of wine and a sit-down would be. The former being out of the question, I go for the sit-down. It occurs to me that I am channelling my godmother, Aunty Mar (Mary) who looked after me on my Mum’s tennis days. Mar was a retired public servant, so it was slow life time for her too. It dawns on me that she switched activities so she had a fair number of sit-downs. That would be colouring-in time. Can I really remember this after 72 years? Yes.

Cordy and I share an interest in language. Her subordinate clauses are good. She sometimes gropes for a new word and looks at me inquiringly. I am happy to supply “coil” this week when she tries to describe my no-kinks garden hose. She understands when I say she must not touch my golden kingcup, flowering in the little pond, because it is toxic. She tries, and likes, “toxic.”

Inside the house she is allowed to touch everything that interests her except her brother’s aeroplanes. She tries the wind-up toy nun though it has never worked in her lifetime. It is a ritual. As is play in the bathroom sink standing on her stool. “Only three toys today,” she says reprovingly when I set her up. But it is getting to be slow time for both of us now.

She never asks to go home. I am proud of that. But Molly the cat and I know when it is time for me to strap her into her car seat again for the short drive home.
I come back to a quiet house where you can hear the clock ticking, as Cordy’s brother says. Toys are scattered from front to back. I choose to leave them like this for another 24 hours. To enjoy.  As a vase holds water, slow life holds time.




Irregular writings

November 2012

  • Dave Graney

My life in CAPITALS

I woke up from a short but deep sleep, feeling groggy due to the potions I had partaken of the night before. They knocked me out but wore off pretty quick. A CLASSIC stone. I had dreams, but as has been my lifelong attitude to these things, was going to keep them to myself. As soon as I actually remembered them. It was a CLASSIC wake up. Absolutely VINTAGE. I ambled to the kitchen. In a way, I was waking up in a robotic, mechanical, zombie like manner, though I have since learned I could use a much grander term. I was operating in a CLASSIC manner. It was a HERITAGE shamble into a new day. The cat played its part and ran in front of me at every opportunity, herding me towards its food bowl.

BEST cat! I boiled some hot water in the sleek, new, stainless steel, DEFINITIVE looking kettle and prepared some tea. No tea bags for me, only loose leaves which I had imported myself from an ICONIC supermarket in South Australia. A RUST BELT state. The tea is in a packet which I associate with that part of the world where I sprang from. And that time when I was springing. Behaving and moving to ETERNAL weather patterns and human growth. Amgoorie Tea. In a brown paper packet with exotic images of the mysterious east all over it. I drive there to get it. 455 kilometres a pack. I assemble a bowl of my BALL-TEARING cereal which is raw oatmeal from the ICONIC house of BLACK AND GOLD. I drench the rustic oats in LONG LIFE soy liquid and open my newspaper. As is my want, I threw it away in disgust. I was behaving in a PROTOTYPICAL way of a disgruntled reader of my age group. They would have had focus groups to agree with them on this. I needed to be herded toward the online version of the paper, full of more intelligent shit, blinking lights and sexier ads. Toward the exit door. My money was SAD. The editor should be happy.

I turned the radio on to listen to the anguished thoughts of the callers. I wanted REALITY. I drank a can of pop soda. It had my name on it. A friend had bought me a case. TOTAL IRONY! The drink’s name itself was a brand synonymous with corporate fascism and mass ill health the world over. Loved by billions. To the grave by way of the dentist.

I got into my car – a Japanese made 4 cylinder van. A PEARLER from the early 00s that will never be made again. I’m hangin’ onto it. The wheel. Will to live I guess. Some damn INNATE compulsion. Thank Christ something knows what’s goin’ on. I turn on the radio, set to a CLASSIC rock station and listen to stuff I had heard a thousand times before. It had been great. Once. I waited for the magic again. The stuff was guaranteed. SUREFIRE! I wasn’t feeling it. I felt off the world’s game. Out of it. Like Steve Martin in THE JERK.
What am I sayin’? Its tough living in a world of capitalised CLASSICS! You feel TOTALLY diminished, ABSOLUTELY.

I turned to one of the few stations dealing with new shit and tried some of that. Scandinavian indie bands singing some dreadful, sexless, feckless, filthless, faux folk song that sounded OLDER than time. Terrible lyrics and the boy/man’s voice came all out of his throat. There was no rest of his body involved. Sounded like musical theatre pipes happening. Thin and reedy. Punk was never going to happen. Is that why people listen to Neil Young? The reassuring grampiness of it all? There were a lot of other acts around on air, they were all generic too. Rooted.

When I grew up there was a squall of old time shit on the TV too. Made it unbearable. The Waltons and Happy Days. How many teen deaths were those shows responsible for? The nights were so long. Interminable! And then GREASE!

So we got stoned and turned to the Blue Oyster Cult with their hit, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”. (The singer is dead and is telling his girlfriend to kill herself and cross over – a CLASSIC). The Cult were being killed off with that hit. That would have been legendary if we’d all carked out there in the forest, behind the drive-in, with “Tyranny and Mutation” on the tape deck, repeating on the track “OD’d on Life Itself”. Total teen death VERISIMILITUDE! My life would have had, almost, an appearance of meaning.

Back in this day I was dressed in quadruple denim. The world had perverted me thusly. I was always dressing for that funeral that never was. For the old gang to gather at the back of the drive-in and sink a box of West End longnecks. And blaze a good pound of weed. A denim cape, jacket, shirt and pants. I was looking for some denim shoes and a denim hanky to poke out of my pocket. Years ago, I had a denim slouch hat made. A fucking CLASSIC! It was ICONIC! Made from a General’s titfer. Five folds in the band.

ANZACIACAL! Still, people eyed me suspiciously. They still do. I am neither romantically driven nor do I strive for a classic form. Well I do, but that’s just me being polite, trying to get square with folks. Get out of peoples way. Dodgy, but.

What I really needed was a one piece suit in dark denim, perhaps like the one designed by Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. It was called a cock suit, because it had an exterior sleeve wherein a bloke ostensibly sheathed his throbbing purple headed Gila Monster. That was an ICONIC bit of clothing. It beheld a narrative! Eldridge had fled the USA to Algeria and had come back, with an eye to making a killing in the rag trade. They mocked him, perhaps that garment’s time has come? And I could at last assume some agreed human form?




Sort of but not exactly

November 2012

  • Patrick Allington

An open letter to the men of Australia

Dear fellas,

Misogynists and sexists, perverts and louts, passive hypocrites and good blokes, straights and gays, metrosexuals and King Gee stylists, we must band together. So far so good: the media, without the slightest prompting, has transformed Julia Gillard’s parliamentary rant into ‘the gender wars’. In the rough and tumble months ahead, remember that there’s nothing like a slogan, a dose of crude salts, to create a diversion … although, that said, let’s postpone all ‘ditch the witch’ chants (if you can’t completely break your addiction, and I know it’s hard, at least confine yourself to the shed).

Surely us blokes can’t lose the gender wars? After all, women go weak at the knees at the sight of blood – except, maybe, Tony Abbott’s blood. How many chicks wandered about Gallipoli? A nurse or two, sure, but (never repeat this aloud) the caring industry – like every other clean-up-the-mess-and-get-underpaid-for-it industry – isn’t where the real action is.

Still, Julia’s speech sure got the global sisterhood screeching – hysterical mob aren’t they – and she even seems to have impressed a few limp-wristed blokes. But we must resist. As Kevin07 would put it, it’s up to all of us to roll up our sleeves and get behind the effort. Poor Kev: if we can’t save him, how can we save ourselves?

But it’s getting harder and harder to fight back. What an awful gig Tony Abbott has, having to explain that Julia is playing ‘the gender card’ (memorise that phrase!) without coming across like a bullyboy. No wonder he’s grumpy.
Tony is the mascot for the emasculated modern man. Despite chiselled shoulders, his identity, his man-spirit, is ebbing. Today he’s Leader of the Opposition but tomorrow he’ll be shuffling along abandoned streets, barefoot, haggard, a flat beer in one hand and a feather duster in the other. ‘Should I scull my schooner or do the dusting?’ he’ll ask himself, but the very question will rip him apart. He’ll shake his feather duster at the heavens. A gigantic black cloud will block out the sun and bring forth an ice age (and the fact that he’ll end up being right about global warming will barely console him).

Tony’s crisis is our crisis. Should I abandon the kitchen to watch the footy at the pub with my mates or should I stay home and make nutritious and delicious meatloaf? While it’s cooking, should I read Zoo Weekly (so-so articles, great pics) or should I seek out my daughters to encourage them to be scientists when they grow up? After I’ve serenaded them to sleep, should I sneak out to the garage to give the ute a kiss and a cuddle or should I settle in for a quiet evening with the missus, reading the latest Naomi Wolf tome aloud to her while massaging her feet?

It’s dire, I know, but there’s hope. We need to get back to basics. First, if you feel obliged to perve at hot young things, use restraint. Don’t let your gaze linger. Don’t dribble. And don’t commit the Peter Slipper error: say whatever you want about women to your mates, but never ever keep a record.

Second, do just enough housework to create the illusion of something approaching a fair share. And be careful: the age of leaving scorch marks on the wife’s favourite blouse to ensure she’ll never again force you to iron a basket of clothes may, I fear, be ending. Fail with finesse: do your chores badly but not observably badly.

In the meantime, talk up your feminist credentials. Ponder the fact that you’ve turned out all equality-minded because strong women raised you. Extol the virtues of the women you love and admire, and who love and admire you, and conclude that you must therefore be a New Man living in a New Australia.

But don’t forget to fret about how boys are falling behind girls at school. This is our secret weapon. The more angst it causes, and the more time and money we invest trying to fix it, the less likely it is we’ll have to explain why all those under-achievers will probably end up earning the big bucks and running the joint, just like their fathers and their father’s fathers.




Third age

October 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

A friend’s aunt (a contemporary of mine) used to come to the breakfast table at her home in NZ in the mid-1950s to find that there were holes in the newspaper where articles had been cut out. She was 15, and the censorship was occasioned by reports of the crime and trial of two Christchurch schoolgirls who murdered the mother of one of the girls with a brick.

I was 17 when I heard about them, a student, struggling a little with growing up and away from my own family. It gave me the shivers, this case of murder and matricide by girls close to my own age. The reports of the behaviour of these two teenagers rocked everyone’s world a bit, especially as one of them, Juliet Hulme, then 15, was the daughter of an upper middle class, academic family at the centre of the then very Anglo society of Christchurch. Pauline Parker, whose mother Honora Parker/Rieper was killed, was 16, and from a less advantaged background.

It was a horrible crime, planned (in her diary, Pauline called it  the “moider”), but hardly thought out, by a ratty pair of girls infatuated with each other and the fantasy life they had created. The idea was to prevent adults separating them. Highly intelligent they may have been, but out of touch with reality they certainly were. That didn’t stop them being found guilty, detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure (in different prisons) and the evidence of psychiatrists being set aside in favour of “bad not mad.”

This crime has contemporary ramifications, as some readers may know. In 1994, Juliet Hulme was found living in Scotland – and famous as “Anne Perry,” a writer of Victorian crime fiction; almost as successful as she had been, 40 years before, reviled and infamous. The “outing” was precipitated by the Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures. Ugly things happened. How on earth could any human being cope with such a revelation about her past, even if she had half-expected it every day of her life since leaving prison some five years after the crime? A new book, The Search for Anne Perry, by Joanne Drayton (HarperCollins), tells how.

Anne Perry is now in her 70s, still writing: some good mysteries, some not so good (one of them was my bad book of the year once). But many people love her books, which have sold in the millions. 

Third Agers will find her story of special interest for we are now all dealing with our past as never before as it looms so large compared with what we see as our future. Even the squirm factor often keeps us awake into the small hours: stupid things we’ve said and done. We all have regrets; but shame is something else.

How does Perry cope with the shame of so brutally and stupidly ending someone’s life? Are we the same person at 15, 16 as we are now in our third age? Don’t we mostly like to think that we are, and that our basic values have not changed despite maturity? Anne Perry certainly can’t afford to think that. To survive and flourish as she has, she must see her teenage self as an aberration caused by several factors: illness, long separations from her parents, infatuation, inability to see consequences of planned actions, extreme adolescent nuttiness. Without necessarily excusing herself, this gifted woman probably also acknowledges that her parents were too distracted by goings-on in their own lives to help her navigate a difficult girlhood. Her father Henry Hulme, by the way, abandoning her after her arraignment, denouncing her from on board the ship to UK, went on to have a big career as head of the British hydrogen bomb program, with glowing obituaries in The Times and other London papers. Life did go on (rather splendidly for him), and for her mother, stepfather and brother and for her partner in crime Pauline, and also, eventually, in a rewarding way for Anne Perry. Pauline’s family did less well. And of course, her poor mother died. It does not do to think what that woman‘s final thoughts were, after wondering what the dear girl was doing with that brick in her hands.

Joanne Drayton tells the story well. It is fascinating. Just the way Perry’s publishers and agents coped with the bombshell after thinking they had known the genteel, matching-handbag-and- shoes woman for decades is worth a read. Incidentally, the Mormon church comes out of it well for its support of its 1968 convert Perry when the secret was known by very few. But the book provokes deeper thought about dealing with the past, duration of guilt, and the question: who are we?

The skeletons in our closet may never be as ghastly as Perry’s, but we are all involved in rearranging memories and justifying some things. Anne Perry has had to do it, big time, in the public glare, a very rough deal indeed.

 Shirley Stott Despoja





Irregular Writings

October 2012

  • Dave Graney

I was speaking to a mutual friend of Peter Lillie’s when the terrible news came that Peter had died up in Sydney. Quite sudden news. My friend was wondering aloud how to have a wake of some sorts and being unsure how to get in touch with people, indeed, who to get in touch with. 

Turns out he needn’t have worried. Paul Madigan organised a wake at the St Kilda Bowling Club. I turned up at the designated time of 4:30pm and it was already pretty packed. They came from right out of the very woodwork of Melbourne. Johnny Topper was talking, and continued to talk for longer than I’d ever heard him. That strange, high, warbling tone of his. Very funny tales of working in the night rail yards along Flinders and Spencer Streets with Peter Lillie, lining up for the work like something out of On The Waterfront. Stories of spending arts grants on old cars and guitars and starting a band playing at the Pram Factory and La Mama instead of in pubs. Anarchist bookshops and the like. This is early 70s Melbourne stuff. Jane Clifton was sitting near the stage and Topper kept turning in her direction for corroboration of details. Paul Madigan was also on stage, drinking a pot and interjecting occasionally.

The room was full of grey ghosts from that Carlton/Sunbury period. Some had had great commercial success, like Greg McCainsh, Bob Starkie and Barry Dickins. Others were more from the world of poetry, theatre and inner city legendary rockabilly and western swing bands. There were also people from that late 70s Melbourne punk scene like Chris Walsh, Andrew Duffield, Ash Wednesday, Greg Ades, Lucky Last, Conway Savage and Amanda and Jim Shugg. I had a chat with a bloke who used to do live sound and now runs a pub in Warburton. He was talking of the family who ran the Tote before it was the Tote. Paul, who ended up leaving the family and jumping over the bar to play guitar with the Johnnies, apparently named it. Said it should have something to do with the betting that used to go on there in John Wren’s days. He asked if I was working much. “A lot,” I said and added that it was hard work. He agreed that it was plain hard work getting people out of their tech-ed up caves nowadays. This gathering was mostly talk of simpler times.

Mitchell Fairclough aka Slim Whittle gave a great talk and sang a song accompanying himself on a ukulele shaped like a Les Paul. The song had a line that went something like “I sent a snail to his maker today – you can’t always know what you’re treadin’ on.” He had a face and tone of voice like many uncles of mine years ago in the country. They’ve all turned up their toes now, too. Tracey Harvey aka Tammy Whittle walked past. Johnny Von Goes sang a Lillie tune, Mark Ferrie spoke about going to see the Pelaco Brothers at the Kingston Hotel in 1975 or 76. He said it was the coolest crowd he’d ever seen. Some of ‘em would’ve been looking back at him now.

Fred Negro sang a very respectful version of a Lillie song, as respectful as you can be holding a broomstick with a plastic horse’s head on one end and strumming it like a guitar. 

People spoke of the person they knew. All being very close to him. All telling their truth. I met him much later on. I’d heard his name. He’d heard mine. We talked across a mess of reputations and bullshit. Ran into him in different places. Melbourne, in the city street the last time. Byron Bay in the mid nineties. Having sudden, spirited conversations about Ern Malley, Max Harris, Fender guitars and amplifiers, Don Dunstan’s vision of the satellite city Monarto. He wrote songs about all that stuff. 

Garry Adams read a wonderful telegram (how quaint) from Peter in heaven where he was in the band and saying that Hendrix was OK on guitar but “not really the sort of thing (I) was looking for…” Everybody laughed too easily. Must have been a raw truth there.

I spoke to some of my friends, a decade younger than this lot. The older ones were living and eating healthier is all I can say.  

Madigan sang New Road to Gundagai and I shed a tear because that song always does that to me. Wistful tune of a delicate sensibility. Peter’s and that whole scene of freaks. That crew saw and imagined everyday iconic lolly wrappings and ice cream brands as psychedelically out of time. They celebrated dumb dead ends and non sequiturs. New Road to Gundagai mentions staying a night in the TV Motel. The TV motel has been torn down now. It was shaped like a TV set! On legs which you parked underneath. The thing is gone and the sensibility and the reaction is gone too. All so delicate. Seemed so solid and powerful for a while. 

Rick Dempster did a dance and twirl on his Cuban heel boots because Topper asked him to. A hat was passed around. There was an auction of some Fred Negro artwork. I left early, crossed the river and sat and watched the Hired Guns playing at the Standard. It was great to sit in a room and hear some music. Let the songs, old and new link up all those mismatched, half imagined and isolated scenes in your mind. In your life.

Dave Graney




Sort of but not exactly

October 2012

  • Patrick Allington

Dear Cory,

In case you’re worried – I’m one of your constituents, after all – I found the first week the hardest (categorically no pun intended). I just couldn’t shake the image of you rising up in the Senate to pontificate on gay marriage and the prospect of human-animal relations. Each night, I put on my grandpa pyjamas, sipped a mug of warm milk, closed my eyes and gently floated towards a deep and peaceful slumber… Only for my subconscious to burn hour after salacious hour, with visions of you wining and dining the feral cat that hangs out in the tree in front of my house, filling the street with its lonesome screeches. 

Yes, I know, that’s my fantasy, not yours: I don’t doubt that you’re a happily married man who would never stray, certainly not for something as base as a silky set of whiskers and a bad-girl attitude. Besides, now that the shock of your words has faded — fickle, aren’t I, when I can see no cost or benefit to me personally — I’m beginning to see the value of your (insert preferred taunt) deluded, offensive, crackpot or, shame of all shames, ‘indiscreet’ leap of logic. 

It’s my task to formally commend you on behalf of your fellow parliamentarians, especially the ones who don’t really respect you. Because it turns out that most of your colleagues agree with you that gay marriage is a no-no. But in painting a picture nobody wants to look at, you’ve gone and taken the rap for every one of them. What a hero. What a martyr. 

It’s little wonder Tony Abbott promoted you to the backbench. Sure, you’ll have to take a pay cut but the conditions are A1: now you can speak your mind. And now you can serve your leader by making him seem more moderate with every passing hour. Next time Tony pleads with you to maintain party discipline, he’ll have his tongue in his cheek because, truthfully, he really, really, really wants you to share your every inner thought with a grateful nation. 

I should be your target audience: I’m married to a woman (a human woman, what’s more); I’ve got a young family; I live in the ‘burbs; I was raised Christian, although it’s true I spent my Sunday mornings reading novels I slipped inside hymn books. But you and I will never be Facebook friends. You don’t horrify me in the way that terrorists or people-smugglers or Bashar al-Assad or even Tom Cruise horrifies me, but your pugilistic brand of Christianity, your nonsense brand to commonsense and your ‘good government is tiny government’ mantras utterly deflate me. Nothing personal, but I desperately hope –I’d almost be willing to give prayer a go – that you haven’t got your finger on the pulse of what the silent-majority of dinky-di Aussies truly believe. 

Still, I’m with Tony. Keep up your speechmaking. Keep on blogging. Keep promoting your personality cult. Conventional political wisdom claims that disunity equals defeat. I suppose it does, too, but staying ‘on message’ is trite. It’s how aficionados set about misleading parliament.

George Bernard Shaw reckoned that ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ I love the idea of filling federal parliament with unreasonable men and women. Why bother getting the gig if all you do is learn your lines? Is anyone hankering for another round of ‘this government will deliver a surplus’ or ‘let me tell you about the Tony Abbott I know’? 

I’m not advocating yet more (yawn) Question Time tantrums but I wouldn’t mind some too-earnest frothing at the mouth. Or some razor-sharp provocations: maybe Germaine Greer could give lessons. Most of all, I want some authenticity. The PM was onto something with her Real Julia routine, even if she only managed to conjure up Plastic Julia Version 2. Now, Real Cory, you must lead the charge: wrap yourself in an Aussie flag and warble your sermons from every flagpole across our great land. I’ll cringe every time you speak, but I’ll cop it sweet if you start a trend. 





The new influencers (Part I)

October 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

Since the spread of the printing press across the globe more than four hundred years ago, media has played an influential role in what we think and the way we feel about everything from politics and social issues to business and brands. Over the last century the influence of media has grown exponentially with the advance of technology. The impact of mass-distributed newspapers and magazines, radio and television has reached further and deeper into our lives. The few who own and control these valuable media interests have the power to exert their views – paid-for or otherwise – in an extraordinarily influential manner. In the U.S. just five companies – Time Warner, VIACOM, Vivendi Universal, Walt Disney and News Corp – generate as much as 95% of all mainstream media. But as technology spins ever-faster we’re seeing the emergence of a new breed of influencers who play by a completely different set of rules.

In less than a decade we’ve witnessed the rise of bloggers to a position of real influence. In a trend that’s still growing, the gap between those who consume traditional media, and those who read blogs is closing – and faster than most comprehend. In the US, the most widely read newspaper is the hundred year-old Wall Street Journal with around 65 million readers each month. Comparatively, US-based news and opinion blog The Huffington Post is not far behind, building a readership of around 54 million in just seven years. Whilst the absolute accuracy of these figures is difficult to nail down, the comparison highlights just how quickly and substantially the influence of blog sites has grown.

However, influence cannot be measured by readership figures alone. Research has shown blog readers to be considerably more polarised than consumers of traditional media. Demonstrating that word of mouth is being supplanted by ‘word of mouse’, online readers are gravitating towards blogs that accord with their personal interests, beliefs and philosophies, drawing more accurate comparisons with television programs and magazines. A glance at magazine circulation provides another starting insight into the strength and popularity of today’s bloggers. Time magazine – an icon of U.S publishing – has a monthly readership of just over three million people, compared with the business news blog Business Insider, which has a readership of more than twelve million. People magazine with a readership of three and a half million compares no more favourably with celebrity news blog Perez Hilton, read by more than ten million people each month. And whilst magazine publishing is defined by geography the world’s bloggers assert influence without borders, dipping into the richest local scenes around the world in a way traditional publishers never could. 

But perhaps the most critical ingredient of influence is the bloggers’ independence. Disconnected from any sense of editorial or commercial direction, bloggers are seen as enthusiastic, independent passionistas – a powerfully positive credential. As the influence of bloggers has grown, so too has their value in the eyes of brands from fashion to food, from travel to politics and beyond. 

Once seen as enthusiastic amateurs, bloggers are now a front row fixture at the highest profile fashion shows and paid columnists in the pages of world famous fashion magazines. Fourteen year-old American blogger Tavi Gevinson who blogs as The Style Rookie is a front row regular at Marc Jacobs shows and a columnist for Elle magazine. Other established fashion bloggers Fashionista, Bryanboy, Susie Lau of Style Bubble, Geri Hirsch of Because I’m Addicted and Scott Schuman who’s also known by his blog moniker The Sartorialist are considered ‘must invites’ for up-and-coming and established fashion houses. At the Swarovski New York Fashion Week last year between 10 and 20 percent of media invited to each show were bloggers. “Bloggers are increasingly important to us and we invite a select group of 35 to 40 to the show,” said Eric Delph, Vice President of public relations and marketing at Nicole Miller. “Moving more bloggers into seats and putting some as far up as the first and second row was a priority.” Fashion designer Prabal Gurung agrees “Blogging opens the door to greater brand recognition and familiarity to a younger generation. It is an approach to marketing in a more unconventional way that is becoming almost the norm.”

Like their fashion peers, food bloggers have also stepped out of the media shadows. Leading food bloggers such as Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim and Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zuchini fame have a readership that exceeds those of many traditional magazines in their space and are feted with book and TV deals. The Australian hospitality industry is also fast coming to terms with the influential role of bloggers. Melbourne food blogger Jess Ho was recruited by hip Melbourne eatery Chin Chin as part of their social media strategy. Ms Ho, who runs the blog That Jess Ho was employed when the restaurant launched in a dual role as front of house and social marketer. Chris Lucas, owner of Chin Chin, was attracted by Ms Ho’s blogging and public relations background. “She understood the space and she had credibility in that space,” he said.

Another category to have shot to prominence is mum bloggers. In the U.S there are now almost four million mum bloggers, including Rebecca Woolf of Girls Gone Child, Jenny Lawson from The Bloggess and Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother who have become household names amongst their audience. Of the 32 million mums who go online each month, more than half of them visit a blog. With a combined readership of more than 50 million mums each month, this category of bloggers are becoming heavy hitting brands in their own right with book deals and spots on CNN, Today and Good Morning America.

Across the board bloggers are feeling a brighter glare of the spotlight from brands. Laura Porter who writes the London Travel blog says, “I hear from a lot more brands or their PR companies these days as they see the value of working with online media and particularly social media. I have a good sized twitter following and that seems to appeal.” Fashion blogger Clare Hillier of Checks and Spots agrees; “In the last six months I’ve noticed a real upsurge in both the number of brands trying to woo blogs and what they are offering in exchange for coverage. Some brands are nailing it, like Sussan, Freedom, and Eat Fit Food who I have worked with recently. They understand how Checks and Spots is positioned, my audience and how we could work together for an outcome that is mutually beneficial. Other brands totally miss the mark. They take a mass communication approach that often gives the impression they’ve never even read my blog! So, I just hit delete. If you haven’t taken the time to understand my brand why would I want to promote yours? It definitely needs to be a two-way street and the basic PR principles of a brand pitching a story or angle go a long way.”

Fashion blogger Phoebe Montague of Lady Melbourne sees an increasing awareness by brands of the subtleties of social media. “Brands are not only asking for a mention on the blog but wanting to be mentioned on my social networks as well. They are far more aware of the reach of Twitter and Facebook and usually want to know how many followers or likes I have.”

A common thread for bloggers and a powerful differentiator from traditional forms of media is their absolute love for what they do; their shared passion for writing, for connecting with their online community, and most importantly their pure passion for the subject matter. Rohan Anderson, author of food blog Whole Larder Love says; “I love writing the blog, it’s just part of my life. I do like having a subversive message of being a little more involved with where your food comes from, and my hope is that people can take notice of my example of an alternative life.” Hillier of Checks and Spots tells a similar story; “The reason I blog is to simply share. I love sharing with others the things, people, places and trends that I discover. I love sharing in the sense of community that Checks and Spots has created. And I love the chance to meet people from all over the globe that I share interests and passions with.” 

It’s precisely this undercurrent of passion that both fuels the blogging industry as well as provides its critical point of difference from traditional media. And this passion also plays a critical role in managing the conflict that arises when brands seek commercial relationships with bloggers. As Lady Melbourne’s Phoebe Montague sums up; “It’s a pretty simple formula: I only blog about what I love. That keeps the checks and balances pretty even.”

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.
The Huffington Post –
Business Insider –
Perez Hilton –

Fashion Blogs
Kingdom of Style –
The Style Rookie –
The Man Repeller –
Fashionista –
Bryanboy –
Style Bubble –
Style by Kling –
My Style Pill –
Because I’m addicted –
The Sartorialist –
Checks and Spots –
Lady Melbourne –

Food Blogs
Chez Pim –
Chocolate & Zuchini –
That Jess Ho –
Whole Larder Love –

Mum Blogs
Girls Gone Child –
The Blogess –
Her Bad Mother –

Travel London Travel –
The Aussie Nomad –
Y Travel –

The Design Files Daily –





Abbott and the placebo effect

October 2012

  • Stephen Koukoulas

This sums up Tony Abbott and his approach to finding solutions to the condition of the electorate.

Mr. Abbott is a placebo politician. He brilliantly offers an antidote for those wishing and hoping for a solution to all of their ills and he shows that he feels the electorate’s pain. But for the man who is likely to be Prime Minister at the end of 2013, the substance of Mr. Abbott’s policy medicine is all sugar and little in the way of an active ingredient.

Indeed, some of the ills that the electorate feels are fabrications of Mr. Abbott himself or at the very least, are a magnification of pea-sized issues that Mr. Abbott says are the curse of the people brought on by Julia Gillard and the worst government in Australia’s history.

Such is Mr. Abbott’s political skill that in addition to manufacturing the problem, he simultaneously offers a solution. He’ll “stop the boats”, stop the “toxic carbon tax”, “slash wasteful government spending” and eliminate the “mountain of government debt”, even though each of these issues is small beer in the scheme of national well-being, growth and fairness for the local population.

It is natural and understandable for much of the electorate to hanker for a saviour, for someone to give them the solution to their problems. The electorate seldom, if ever, realises that no government can do much about their specific problems. Sometimes people are simply victims of plain bad luck or suffer the consequences from self-imposed discomfort like excess consumption, which creates an illusion of cost of living pressures.     

In terms of the events that are high on Mr. Abbott’s political agenda at the moment – issues such as boat people, government debt, the carbon price and electricity prices – the impact of each on individuals from each is small. It is unlikely these would be issues if Australia’s economy was like that of the UK or Greece, for example.

The fact that the things that truly matter like the economy, jobs, income growth, education and health are all in very good or excellent shape means that Mr. Abbott can dredge up mildly irritating or frustrating items and turn them into top-tier policy issues.

Are boat people really causing a problem for people in an outer Sydney suburb? You bet, foams Mr. Abbott; they are, in his own words, “illegals”, “un-Christian”, “queue jumpers” and they might even be “terrorists”.

So too carbon pricing and electricity bills. For every household paying $3.30 a week extra for electricity because of the carbon price, they are almost certainly getting either direct compensation greater than the cost, have been enjoying substantial real wage increases for the past decade or are have had pension increases that might make a 70 year old Greek pensioner blush.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the price of coffee has risen by almost as much as electricity over the past year, yet there is little or no consumer outrage over this because it cannot be spun into a political issue by Mr. Abbott. Electricity, conversely, can be spun as a carbon tax problem even though less than 10% of the price rise over the past five years is due to carbon pricing.

The non-problems in government finances and the Budget should not be on the policy radar given how well they have been managed for not just the last five years, but frankly for the last 25 years by both sides of politics. Yet Mr. Abbott rather loosely tells all who listen that he will cut red tape, cut wasteful spending and reduce the size of the bloated public service. He says this is the medicine the country needs, and the electorate agrees particularly when they see the government spending a few dollars on refurbishing the Lodge or sponsoring a literary grant for school students.


Stephen Koukoulas is Managing Director of Market Economics. He writes a daily column for Business Spectator.


Photo courtesy of Bidgee




Letter from Cyprus

October 2012

  • Alexander Downer

Frankly, I’ve been shocked by the violence of the reaction. To kill the American Ambassador to Libya because some screwball in America made an offensive film is a terrible thing. The mass demonstrations in various predominantly Muslim cities, including protests outside the American embassies, are alarming. Even in Sydney there were violent and ugly protests.

So what can we make of all this? Well, I had a look at the trailer of the film on YouTube and can see why pious Muslims would think it is offensive. It is. 

But what the demonstrators are doing and demanding is astonishing. For a start, the United States is a country of 350 million people. It’s hardly surprising that those 350 million include a few people with extreme points of view and that the extreme points of view get published. But what has the film got to do with the US government? It wasn’t authorised by Barack Obama or funded by the federal government. It was just an ordinary expression of an offensive opinion.

The demonstrators are saying two things: first, such films “shouldn’t be allowed”. Well, that’s all very well in some parts of the world but the West allows freedom of speech and expression. This is a demand that the West changes the whole basis of society. That’s not going to happen.

But secondly, they apparently think it’s acceptable to riot, hurl rocks, beat people with polls and even kill diplomats if someone in that country does or says anything offensive. Imagine if every time some preacher got up in a mosque in Egypt and yelled out the old cry “death to America” and Americans went and burnt down the Egyptian embassy in Washington? Imagine if every time someone said something offensive anywhere in the world those who were offended took to the streets and set buildings on fire. The world would be in flames, permanently.

Some Westerners have tried to justify these actions by complaining the West has been hostile to Islam. That, of course, is nonsense. In Syria, Muslims are fighting Muslims. So too in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Indonesia it was the killing of Muslims by terrorists which turned the public against the Indonesian equivalent of Al Qaeda, Jemmah Islamiah. Those Westerners who always blame the West for every atrocity committed against Westerners sell out their culture and civilisation.

A few years ago a similar controversy erupted when a Danish newspaper published cartoons which were offensive to most Muslims. They mocked the Prophet. There were riots, the Danish Embassy in Islamabad was torched, other Danish embassies in Muslim countries were temporarily closed and so on.  

I was the foreign minister at the time and the media asked me whether I thought Australian newspapers should publish the cartoons. I made a simple point; no one will ban them from publishing but if they do they need to think of the consequences. From recollection, none did, which was a relief. After all, we live next door to the largest Islamic country in the world. 

But the need for responsible behaviour is a two-way street. Leaders in Islamic countries need to be leaders; they need to tell their communities what a film like this really is. It’s a private, back room film put together by a couple of oddballs. It should be studiously ignored.

The truth is, not too many leaders did that. They didn’t want to be seen to be defending America against Islam. The result is, they made matters worse.

So in the midst of all this I sent an email to my best Muslim friend in Cyprus. I asked him what he thought about the reaction to the film. His reply was crisp: “I haven’t seen the film but regardless, I think it is a great shame that learned Islamic clerics and leaders have not condemned the violence and declared such behaviour unfitting of a true Muslim”.

Wise words. Some Muslim leaders have condemned the violence but plenty have qualified their condemnation. That’s dangerous; it’s a half justification for the violence.

My Cypriot friend’s response, though, should help you remember that it is folly to generalise about Muslims. They vary greatly, as do Christians. Islam in South East Asia is different from Islam in the Middle East. In Turkey, Islam is different again; in the main moderate bordering on the secular. In Cyprus, Muslims – who are the Turkish Cypriots – are traditionally quite secular; they bear no relationship to the hardliners who emanate from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East.

But let’s face it, the rioters of recent weeks have done the reputation of Islam real harm with non-Muslims. Their leaders need to ram that message home to their flocks, without qualification.





Commercialising Cleantech

September 2012

  • John Thwaites

Clean technologies have the power to transform the way we use energy, water and other resources. Australia has some great cleantech scientists and innovators, but bringing technology from the lab to the market place is enormously difficult.

Australia is a relatively small market and an uncertain outlook for clean energy regulation has forced some leading Australian innovators overseas. A well-known example is Dr David Mills who took the solar thermal technology he developed at the University of New South Wales to California. The technology has since been on-sold to a French company.

Many clean technology ventures die in the so-called “Valley of Death” where promising technologies are unable to attract the capital they need to proceed to the next stage of development. In fact, cleantech innovators face two Death Valleys. In the first “Technological Valley of Death”, venture capital is unavailable to take a technology from the lab to pilot stage. In the second, “Commercialisation Valley of Death” private equity or debt is unavailable to bring a pilot project up to commercial scale. 

The implementation of creative policies to overcome these Valleys of Death will not only generate business and job opportunities; it will also provide the cleaner energy and energy efficiency technologies needed if we are to reduce the likelihood of dangerous climate change.

Recently global firm GE in collaboration with five venture capital partners pledged $10 million to find, fund and bring to market breakthrough Australian ideas for reducing our carbon footprint. GE will select five Innovation Award winners and invest in promising cleantech start-ups. Importantly, GE and its partners will assist the start-ups with business strategy and global connections.

It is a good sign that a company like GE is prepared to provide a helping hand through the Valley of Death to some cleantechs, but much more is needed. Government policy is required to overcome a clear market failure. The Government must play a role in reducing financial and other barriers to commercialisation.

Two recent Federal Government initiatives aim to do that. As part of its carbon price package, the Federal Government has established the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. ARENA will provide financial assistance to projects across the various stages of renewable energy technology innovation. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation will invest $10 billion in the commercialisation of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.

Some people object to such government support as government “picking winners”. But this ignores the fact that our existing coal-based energy system has benefited from massive amounts of government support in the past for research, development and government-funded infrastructure. The playing field is not level because the existing players have been massively subsidised. If the government fails to act now it is in effect picking the existing energy suppliers as winners.

While financing is a major hurdle for cleantech companies, it is by no means the only one. Many smaller firms may have a well-developed and innovative product, but lack the market insights, business planning skills and customer contacts necessary if they are to succeed in the market. To make headway, these firms need alliances and partnerships. Collaboration is often the key for successful innovation.

This is the thinking behind the Industry Capability Teams that have been established under the Federal Government’s Buy Australian at Home and Abroad program. There are over 500 firms in the Cleantech and Water Industry Capability Teams that are able to share information and skills and build knowledge of local and international markets. Understanding customer needs is critical. Customers don’t like to change their existing systems, so the more a cleantech can make its product fit into existing systems, the more likely it is to be taken up. 

One stream of cleantech that has been quietly successful is Australian water technologies that are being used around the world. A Victorian company, Rubicon Water, has developed a range of automated irrigation systems that save significant amounts of water. The technology is not only being used in many parts of Australia, but also in other water-scarce places like California. 

Australia is a dry country and we have developed a lot of expertise in water efficiency. We have top researchers in both urban and rural water in our universities. Many other countries look to Australia as a leader in water policies like our irrigation water market and water conservation programs. Bob Herbert, who is Australia’s Water Supplier Advocate, is championing our local water industry overseas and believes that our reputation for water research and policy helps water cleantech companies get a foothold in international markets. 

Collaboration between researchers, policy makers and the corporate sector will be the key to maximising the commercial benefit from our high quality cleantech capacity in Australia.


John Thwaites is Chair of the Monash Sustainability Institute and a consultant on sustainability and climate change at Maddocks.





Just ‘harmless fun’?

September 2012

  • Victor Sojo & Robert Wood

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Julia Gillard repeatedly made the news on the same theme. First, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agricultural Company, spoke about his plans to build an abattoir that would specialise in killing old cows for cheap meat. “So it’s designed for non-productive old cows – Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.” When challenged, Mr Farley replied that he had been taken out of context and his comments had been “tongue-in-cheek”.

More recently, questions were raised in a national newspaper about her actions as a lawyer almost two decades ago. In responding to those allegations, she slammed the “misogynists and nut jobs” who perpetuated these stories.

This chain of events unleashed the well-worn reactions – “Misogyny rules”; “PM cops sexist spray”. It was the subject of sustained debate with some commentators agreeing that this was directed to the prime minister precisely because of her gender.

This raises the interesting question of what is acceptable behaviour when it comes to making jokes which involve the target’s gender. Are ‘low level’ jokes really harmless? Were those who expressed their disgust being a bit too precious?

The Centre for Ethical Leadership at Melbourne Business School has completed research into resilience of women in the workplace and it has found that even ‘low level’ sexual comments have a major impact on women’s work performance and are a critical factor in whether they survive and prosper in organisations or leave. 

Resilience examines the factors that determine whether women fit in, function well and are able to grow in their workplace. It is accepted that if an employee fits in, performs well, stays healthy and involved with the organisation and is able to progress through the ranks, he or she is more likely to remain.

For female employees, positive factors that promote their fit, performance and health include opportunities for development, job network and support, organisational climate, transparency of HR practices and job satisfaction.

However, the negative factors that detract from this are sexual harassment and a sexist climate. If an organisation values men more than women and allows for overt and covert discrimination and harassment of women, then this has a negative impact on a woman’s ability to thrive. Covert discrimination includes crude behaviour and low level jokes made under the cover of humour.

So what happens when a woman has already risen through the ranks of the organisation? Doesn’t this prove that the organisation has been supportive or that she is tough enough to be treated as “one of the boys”? Shouldn’t someone as experienced as the Prime Minister be able to brush off these sorts of comments?

Sadly, the effect of these comments does not end with the reaction of the target. The Centre’s research also details the phenomenon of ‘stereotype threat’. 

While the perpetrators might not believe that they are being sexist, and will often respond that they are “just joking” when challenged, the effects for women are insidious because they create a reaction referred to as ‘stereotype threat’ in which the targeted individuals will often ruminate on the implications and be distracted from the task at hand.  

The effects are not limited to the women who are targeted – other women who hear the remarks can also experience stereotype threat as a member of the group whose status is challenged. 

When a sexist remark is challenged and the perpetrator responds that they are “just joking”, it presents two challenges – first, women are diminished by their gender and second, about their sense of humour and social competence. Women who experience this, even second-hand, are less likely to remain in the organisation or feel a sense of commitment to its success.

In the next research report to be released later this year, we will explore the theme of unconscious bias which is an inclination to hold a biased perspective at the expense of other valid alternatives, and without our conscious awareness. This has important implications for the success of any gender initiatives which organisations seek to introduce. If its management team and employees hold views which are inconsistent with the idea of gender equality, whether conscious or otherwise, then this makes the introduction of equality programs less likely to succeed.

Perhaps Mr Farley and the “misogynists” referred to by the Prime Minister will agree to have their attitudes examined to see whether they holds any biases in relation to women in senior executive roles.


Victor Sojo is Research Associate and Professor Robert Wood is Director, Centre for Ethical Leadership, Melbourne Business School.




Never famous enough

September 2012

  • Dennis Altman

Gore Vidal first visited Australia in 1974, and lunched with Prime Minister Whitlam at the Lodge, where they sparred jocularly over the historical accuracy of Vidal’s novel about the Roman Emperor, Julian. Vidal was much taken with Gough, though he remarked that it was difficult to preserve the line between vanity and overweening vanity. The same could be said of Vidal himself.

Whitlam seemed the sort of politician Vidal imagined himself to potentially be: educated, patrician and a convinced social democrat. Thirty years later Vidal was back in Australia, dining with Bob Carr, whom the ABC subsequently persuaded to be filmed driving through Los Angeles with Vidal, as he held forth on the evils of the American Empire. One suspects that particular piece of footage is not held in high regard by Carr’s current department.

My connection with Vidal dates from the seizure in 1971 by a zealous Sydney Airport customs official of his novel Myra Breckinridge, which became the basis for a Council of Civil Liberties trial aimed at our then draconian censorship laws. Customs won the case – Judge Levine concluded that there were passages in the book “introduced for the sake of dirtiness, and from the sure knowledge that notoriety earned by dirtiness will command for the book a ready sale” – but the laws were soon abolished.

Defending Vidal in court proved the basis for a long acquaintanceship, although one limited by my position in the literary pantheon. After all, as Vidal once observed, “in the world of stars no-one is a stranger”. I was invited to stay at the villa at Ravello, but not, sadly, at the same time as either Princess Margaret or Mick Jagger.

Vidal was always a generous host, as long as he remained the centre of attention. During a 50-year partnership with Howard Austen he maintained a strict routine: writing in the morning, hunting for sex in the afternoon, dinner with friends in the evening. The routine was interrupted only by travel or by his two attempts to enter politics: his race for a Congressional seat in 1960 and the more quixotic campaign for the Democratic Senatorial nomination in 1982.

Vidal insisted that he was bisexual, and often spoke disparagingly of those he referred to as “homosexualists”. Only they and Catholic priests, he said once, were interested in marriage:  “But since those who believe in romantic love suffer so much anyway, I would not dream of adding to their sufferings.”

Vidal was never able to recognise, as Christopher Isherwood said, that you know you are homosexual when you fall in love with another man. His public persona, with its mixture of charm and aggression, was in part a product of an inability to fully accept his own sexuality, and he fluctuated between denying he was part of the gay movement and occasionally speaking for it.

Vidal was a remarkably disciplined and hard-working writer. Conventional wisdom claims that he was best as an essayist, though I suspect some of his critics are too lazy to have read most of his novels. Not only was he a master of the historical genre, he also created some of the blackest satires of contemporary America. Myra Breckinridge, which subsequently became one of the all-time bad films, should be read as the founding text of queer theory.

When I was approached some years ago by a publisher to write a book about “a celebrity”, I chose Vidal, a recognisable icon of American intellectual life for half a century. We agreed that I would only show Vidal the manuscript once it was ready for copy editing, and he could only correct factual mistakes. 

He must have read the manuscript four or five times, and clearly brooded on what he saw as insufficient recognition, but he did agree to appear at two events for the book at bookstores in southern California. By then he was eighty, walked with difficulty, drank too much and was still mourning the loss of Howard, who had died two years earlier. But the presence of an audience – and Vidal was still able to draw hundreds to bookstores – rekindled the old hunger for adulation.

I learnt much from Gore Vidal, not least that if one craves fame one can never be certain one is famous enough. When Gore Vidal’s America was published in November  2005, there was something very sad about his constant need to reassure himself of his importance, and the sudden bursts of anger about hurts and rivalries going back over a long career. On stage Vidal was witty, imperious, and absolutely unwilling to share the limelight.  

As he aged Vidal grew increasingly bitter with what he saw as the failures of the United States, which he proclaimed a corrupt empire, but after Harold’s death he sold the villa in Ravello and moved back to the Hollywood Hills. His were not a happy last few years, but he would have delight in the attention his death occasioned. Indeed if he and I believed in the afterlife I could imagine his stentorian voice correcting my grammar as I write this.


Dennis Altman is Professor of Politics and Director, Institute for Human Security at LaTrobe University.





Third age

August 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

Censorship as a debating question is as popular as ever I see, whether it is about not mentioning a person’s race or not promoting fats and sugars. I have my own targets, of course, and mostly I can understand those who want to control the rage in their lives by shutting the mouths of others. 

Third Agers are pretty keen on banning stuff, but they are perhaps not to the forefront of those taking action. This is because over the years we have learnt how easy it is to get caught up in a cause and how hard it is to make change; above all, how LONG it takes.

Wishing to ban things on TV is a great outlet for annoyance. A frequent complaint I hear from my peers is about close-ups of tongue-kissing on TV. “Unnecessary,” is the word used to describe it. “They didn’t do it in films in our day.” So they get up and make a cup of tea. 

There are of course many worse things on TV and the depiction of women in ads is one of those that has barely changed for the better over the years. Making a cup of tea won’t change that, so dashing off a complaint is a good thing to do. As it is when anyone is demeaned.

If you’ve lived for six, seven or more decades you have seen great changes in what people get upset about in the media and the action taken. I was, into my teens, forbidden to read advertisements called Personal and Missing Friends, and appeals for mates from the lovelorn. Looking for love by means of advertisements had word-fascination for me when I was young. Typical was something like this: “I am 33 and vivacious and my friends tell me I am good looking.” I suppose I hoped my friends would tell me something like that – they never did – and “vivacious” was a great buzz word in the 50s. It was as sought-after as a 19 inch waist, stiff petticoats and a Maidenform bra. I haven’t heard that it is important to internet dating CVs, although “good sense of humor”, I am told, is still a general requirement. 

I was also forbidden to read the columns of “Dr Wickham Terrace” in some magazine, lest I encounter some of the normal human functions that my mother preferred me not to know about until they surprised me by happening to me. Her copy of The Sheik, by Edith Maude Hull, was hidden, as was a terrible, 19th century book on childbirth. All five of us found the books I think; certainly the girls, and went forward into adult life with the belief that ginger ale and not hearing bad news shouted by the newsboys in the street below would help us through birthing.  The Sheik is on my shelves to this day, well thumbed, but still with the sheen of the forbidden: testimony to the innocence of those years before the 50s and 60s. 

My mother would have loved the “parental lock”; though how it would have worked on radio I am not sure. As it was she had to shoo me outside to play even on wet days when she was ironing and listening to an agony gent called Frank Sturge Harty on the radio. He spoke about family problems in slow and honeyed tones. I wonder if my mother ever took his advice. I have since learned that he was promoted along with his program on 2UE Sydney as “The Man Who Knows the Confidences of TEN THOUSAND WOMEN”. I am sure my mother didn’t confide anything. People did not share confidences easily in those days. My mother addressed friends she saw frequently as Mrs. Hopper, Mrs. Hobbs, Mrs. Wilson. I certainly never knew their first names.

Between those times when I bowed to parental dicta and now, I have been on both sides of the censorship battle. We all now laugh with delicious, self-righteous horror at the banning of a Patrick White play, of Lady Chatterley, Portnoy, a few films and works of art, and wonder at the folly of those times and the power we gave people over us and what we encountered.

But I do not regret for a moment wanting to conceal demeaning images of women in newsagents’ displays in the 80s. And I am all for putting a bit of stick about in the cause of recognising the dignity of the disabled. Creating awareness is the benign face of attempting to ban stuff. A bit of rage at what human beings are capable of can be a good thing. 

 These days in the ageless battle between censorship and revealing all, banning and persecuting are still ahead – otherwise Julian Assange would not be in such a sticky spot. But the internet’s freedom tends to make fools of those who want to control us and our thoughts. Just the same, when I see politicians stranded by internet allegations that cannot be tested, I wonder where this is heading. It makes me want to stick around to maintain the rage – or just have a cup of tea.




Irregular writings

August 2012

  • Dave Graney

The Caravan Music Club is in a street in Oakleigh that is always busy with hidden, suburban entertainment. It’s held in the RSL there; sometimes they also hold shows in the Bowling Club which is a few street numbers away. The area itself has quite a Greek population and Sundays in the mall nearby is a huge day out for the locals eating outside all the Greek restaurants. Peter Foley, who started this Club, began putting on gigs in his house in Oakleigh and then a bowling club and then to this street where it is happening now. 

This night I walked past the Bowling Club towards the RSL and there were lots of young people being dropped off at a hall and a reception centre on the other side of the street for their school formals. Their parents were probably dropping them off and then heading to where I was going. This night was going to be an event cooked up by Billy Miller. An exceptional and highly individual player of music in Melbourne for many years. A soldier, an officer and a dude.

Billy Miller usually holds court at the bottom bar of the old George Hotel every Sunday with his band, the Love Brothers. They play on the floor. Callow indie musicians would be killed by the ferocious, close fighting in this red brick room but Billy is highly skilled. Unlike most of his generation he is a pop player rather than a bluesman and can play anything at will and with great conviction. You can sit and marvel as he plays the Kinks and the Stones and Michael Jackson and Free and the Bee Gees, and the entire crowd singing along. Hardly needs a PA!

Billy’s our Alex Chilton. By that I mean he’s always been into songs and pop music and never went down the road of roots and blues. ‘Rootless and toothless’ as he calls that generic dead end. He began playing in the early 70s in a band called Buster Brown that morphed into Rose Tattoo. It’s not like he hasn’t hung with badass types. That band broke up on a trip (by train) to Perth and Billy had to make his fare back by busking Beatles songs. Shit was really real then. Beatle Billy! The Ferrets and Countdown era pop stardom came in time.

I played with him and learned so much, mainly about conviction and how great it is to play with people who are UP for it. No sooks. Tonight he was doing a set of songs based on the first gig he ever went to, Festival Hall in 1968 with Paul Jones (from Manfred Mann), The Small Faces and The Who. I used to turn my nose up at tribute bands years ago, but I then got to respect their hard-core showbiz attitude. It’s different if it’s an ongoing week after week thing. In shows like that, all the weirdness usually gets shaved off and the basics are trotted out. Then there is the phenomenon of bands getting back together. The Who themselves came here in the early 2000s for a car race gig. “The Two” they were derisively called. But this stuff has lasted, it’s worth hearing and people love it! What’s the problem? Ruth Rogers Wright, an English woman living in Melbourne, does an amazing Nina Simone show. It is difficult stuff to inhabit and pull off, for the players and the singer. She does it brilliantly well. Henry Manetta and the Trip did a Sun Ra show, complete with conga line of freaks weaving about the room. Again it was great to hear the music for real, being pushed out into a room by real people. Tex Perkins plays Johnny Cash as well as doing shows of country standards. Who could do that stuff any better – his amazing voice and his really demanding standards for any player who steps on a stage with him? People love it! Those songs are stone tablets!

Billy came on and did the Paul Jones songs first. Bill plays a 1963 Strat that he makes absolutely sing. Battered and worn, he gets the cleanest sounds then power chords and works the tone constantly with the pots on the guitar, very few pedals. His voice is outstanding, getting all those screaming notes and totally controlling it, and mugging all present. They launch in to the Small Faces songs, from “Itchycoo Park” to the amazing “Tin Soldier”. It was beyond great to hear. People were dancing crazily. Antique moves from back in the day. Led by the women first, as always.

For The Who set, a man with a shaved head and quite ordinary suit stood in front of me. As the chords to “Substitute” rang out he began to move violently all by himself in the crowd. The Who’s music talks to men. He was making windmill guitar arm moves and riding the cymbals and clapping in a flamenco style. Stuff as hell. Not drinking at all. Song by song he removed his coat, then tie, then shirt and ended the gig in a drenched old T-shirt. The band played superbly, all the dynamics, harmonies, solos, key changes and other weirdly Who-specific arrangements. People know every note of those songs and Bill sang the hell out of them and made all those licks on the guitar totally happen. Nailed it all. Joy! “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is so full of weird dynamic changes and vamps on a single chord. A song written and recorded by a band in their own world and at its very peak. The edge of their world. It was so exciting to hear. Within these songs you heard all sorts of other musics by people like The Raspberries and Big Star who totally tripped out on the 60s mod style.

Like a recital of music in the classical world, played by modern players who were still close to it. Outstanding experience. 




Letter from Beijing

August 2012

  • Alexander Downer

The first time I visited China I was a bag carrier for the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser. It was August 1982. Frankly, the place was forbidding. There were few pedestrians on the streets, people dressed in the uniformly drab Mao suits and there were thousands upon thousands of bicycles. The streets of Beijing were wide and empty.

The meetings between Fraser and his counterpart, Premier Zhao Ziyang were formal and pro forma. This was a meeting between the leader of a Western democracy and the leader of a totalitarian society.

Last month I made one of my regular visits to Beijing. The sights are all the same; the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the vast avenues eight lanes wide. But that’s it. There are scores of five star hotels, all the fashionable Western shops which once made Hong Kong such a shopping Mecca are there: Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Dior… 

And then there’s the traffic. Eight lane avenues which were once empty save bicycles are now clogged with cars, nearly all of which are Japanese and European makes.

As for my meetings, they were pretty modern too. Lunch with the Chinese foreign minister at the St Regis Hotel was steak – Australian steak – not a bowl of rice garnished with some indescribable seaweed and jelly-like seafood of unrecognisable provenance. 

There have been several revolutions in China over the past sixty-five years; the communist revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and, under Deng Xiaoping, the capitalist revolution. Make no mistake; the last one was the big one.

We still live in the past. Our vision of China is of a poor, unhappy people oppressed by a communist dictatorship more interested in the creature comforts of leadership than the welfare of their poor, overworked, underfed citizens. What is more, we subconsciously equate communist China with the old, bankrupt but threatening Soviet Union.

This is just nonsense. The liberalisation of modern China is one of the greatest developments of the modern era. More people have been lifted from poverty by the Chinese capitalist revolution than in any comparable time in history. This hasn’t been achieved with large dollops of foreign aid from the West – although China has received plenty of aid. Poverty has been reduced by allowing the market to operate. Modern China is the greatest monument to the success of market economics since the rise of America. 

None of this is to belittle the problems China still faces. Its political system is still inadequate, there is poverty in Western China, there are serious environmental challenges and so on. But we seldom give credit where it’s due. Chinese reforms initiated by its diminutive leader, Deng Xiaoping, have been an economic miracle.

Which makes everyone ask: is this country a threat to American power and the dominance of the West? Well, yes and no.

Let’s start with no. China, unlike the Soviet Union, isn’t trying to export revolution. It’s not trying to impose its undemocratic political system on an unwilling world. Nor is it fermenting unrest and revolt in developing countries with a view to wedging them away from Western influence. It is investing heavily around the world but it is doing so in order to guarantee the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs for its massive population.

Nor do I think China’s leaders see themselves in a competition for power with America. But they have their issues. They want to secure their borders, which include Tibet and their contested claims in the South China Sea. They want to retain the option of securing Taiwan by military force if circumstances ever require it. And they want to avoid their ports being blockaded, as they were by the Europeans in the 19th century (the Chinese have long memories).

These are very different objectives from challenging American power throughout the Pacific and beyond.

Now let’s think about yes. The rise of China will change the global agenda. Where once the West unilaterally determined the priorities for international and multilateral negotiations, others including China and India will have a large say in what can be discussed and achieved. The West’s fascination with climate change is hard to foist on a country of 1.3 billion people trying to shake off centuries of poverty and deprivation. For them, the G20’s economic agenda, the WTO, APEC and so on matter more.

Something about Australia and China sticks in my mind. I can’t shake it off. Policy makers in Canberra and many of our academics debate Australia’s choice. Do we consolidate the American alliance and give China the cold shoulder or do we downgrade the American relationship in order to placate a growing China? It’s a kind of Sophie’s Choice. Either way we are a massive loser.

Australia needs to grow up. There isn’t about to be a war between America and China. If there is it will be a catastrophe for the world. We don’t have to make a choice between China and America unless there’s a war! China is a great economic partner and that partnership will grow. It’s also what we might call a regional colleague who we need to work with on other issues.

And America is our great ally, the guarantor of our security and the keeper of the ring in East Asia. That’s the message we should be sending.  




The new shift in consumerism

August 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

The concept of shopping is shifting and the trend is away from owning stuff. After decades of relatively static consumer trends, we’re seeing a profound movement in the reasons why a growing number of us are buying. This profound shift is not being driven by manufacturers, retailers or brand owners, but by a changing mindset – away from owning to doing.

This type of movement – or at least the green shoots we’re observing – does not come about every day. As consumers we’re creatures of relatively predictable habit. But the convergence of a number of significant factors appears to be freeing us of our old ways and opening up the possibility of a new mindset towards the way we choose to spend our hard-earned.

The last four years have seen a once in a lifetime change to the world’s economy. We’re living in a new economic reality, and the psychological impact of that change on consumers is still playing out. Derek Thompson, senior editor at The Atlantic points out: “The Great Recession didn’t just postpone financial independence for millions of young Americans. It also changed our attitudes about what it means to be an adult. The new economic reality is changing the way we think about adulthood. It’s not that adulthood has changed, necessarily, but that the road to financial independence is getting longer and more fraught.” And whilst inarguably the millennial generation have been hard hit by the new economic order, the shift is not an entirely new phenomenon. As Paul R. Abramson and Ronald Inglehart suggest in their book Value Change in Global Perspective published in 1995, “the gradual shift from Materialist values (such as the desire for economic and physical security) to Post-materialist values (such as the desire for freedom, self-expression, and the quality of life) is in all likelihood a global phenomenon.”

Technology too is playing an active role in the changing way we view ownership. Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and iPhone with its millions of apps don’t fit into the traditional monetised economic models. Many of these technological breakthroughs have become endemic to whole generations. They produce significant gains in terms of happiness and connectedness (even if online), but little in terms of economic gain. These products cost nothing to consume and are often produced by people working for free or for a shared cause. From images on the web to open source software, from free apps to streamed digital content, never before have we had access to so much without having to pay a cent for it, and this is impacting the expectations of consumers across a growing number of categories.

Spotify is an online music service that typifies this trend. Spotify offers free access to more than 16 million songs streamed through your computer. With playlist and social music sharing through Facebook, Spotify threatens to do to iTunes what iTunes has done to the traditional CD market.

Another significant influence on the way we are behaving as consumers is the emergence of collaborative consumption. We’re seeing the resurgence of traditional forms of sharing, lending, bartering and borrowing applied to things we’d only ever previously owned outright, all enabled by new technology. Shared ownership is a form of this behaviour where a group of like-minded people pool their resources to purchase something together. Sometimes called the ‘access economy’, this is another example of the transfer of investment from owning to doing. Savvy entrepreneurs are scaling the concept commercially with business ideas such as GoGet. GoGet members have access to a growing network of new cars available to use when they need them without the hassle and expense of individual car ownership. 

A large part of the reasons why we buy has always been social. For a multitude of reasons including ego, social status and positive self-perception we’ve always enjoyed telling others about what we have bought. Yes the joy is partly in the owning, but also very much in the sharing. As Josh Allan Dykstra, founder of consulting firm Strengths Doctors frames it, “When we share something we like with people we like it creates a bond, and this is meaningful”. 

People are becoming more switched-on to buying things because of what they can do with them. Dykstra goes on to point out that “the product or service we deliver can help people do something important (if only to them), and this connects people to a sense of empowerment. It helps them feel less like spectators in their own lives, and gives them a greater sense of autonomy and action. In other words, the reason we acquire ‘stuff’ is becoming more about what we get from the acquisition. Purchasing something isn’t really about the thing itself anymore. Today, a product or service is powerful because of how it connects people to something – or someone – else. It has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us.”

A recent study from the University of San Francisco has shown that people who spend their money on buying experiences are happier and more fulfilled than those who buy material possessions. Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University who headed-up the research project concluded: “Purchased experiences provide memory capital. We don’t tend to get bored of happy memories like we do with a material object. People felt a greater sense of vitality or ‘being alive’ during the experience and in reflection,” Howell said. “As nice as your new computer is, it’s not going to make you feel alive.”

For brand owners and managers the game is changing, and those who adapt to the new drivers of ‘why we buy’ will have more success in forging real and long-lasting connections with consumers.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.





Sort of but not exactly

August 2012


An open letter to my unborn daughte

Your skull will still be soft after you’re born, so maybe I should wait a little while – say, fifteen or twenty years – before I start filling your head with all the things I want to tell you. It might take me that long, anyway, to decide whether to shield you from the world or to just plonk you down in front of ABC News 24 and let you work it all out for yourself… because sitting on the couch, watching wars and famines and massacres and Masterchef on TV, is sooooo dangerous. We’re not Lady Gaga-rich but we’re filthy privileged. It’s a miracle, except that – sorry, here’s Lesson 1 – miracles, unlike Gruffalos, don’t exist.

You’ll learn quickly that I complain a lot. Don’t worry about it. Sure, I’m a champion fretter but I love life. I love tree-studded hills. I love rainbows. I love bad jokes and laughter that shakes the walls. I love cows: looking at them and eating them. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love homemade olive and pepperoni pizza (although, technically, I’m off processed meats), washed down with cheap red wine. I love sunrises and rain-soaked days. I love cuddles. I love great novels and bad football journalism. I love strange people (but not too strange). I love working, far too much for my own good. 

But I also love pointing out – long and loud –  everything that is wrong with everything. I’m a rooted-in-the-mainstream dissenter, a there’s-good-in-everyone cynic. It’s meditative, like the yoga your mum does. I groan, as if somebody’s thumped my pizza-stuffed stomach, when I read the newspapers. I heckle and wave my arms about when I watch the 7.30 Report, and then I change channels. I whinge about how much Murray River water our household uses (seriously, we’re worse than rice farmers and El Niño combined). And yet this morning I took a twenty-minute shower to loosen my concrete neck (or because it’s luxuriating standing under that steaming waterfall, listening to the precious stuff gurgle its way down the drain and out to sea). 

Prepare yourself: I get especially grumpy at Christmas, when we all – me too – prattle on about peace and harmony and goodwill to all humanity as if we mean it. But then I eat my ham and coleslaw and sip my ice-cold Heineken and open my presents. I’m a self-indulgent hypocrite, apathy my worst sin and my saving grace, but it’s not entirely my own fault. I’m indoctrinated, and thank goodness for that. 

Freedom of speech is our birthright but too much complaining is unAustralian: it messes with our ‘no-worries’™ brand. Pull your heads in, all you whinging athletes who missed Olympic selection … and be comforted that you’ve avoided an event – a movement – that each day seems more and more like a cult. We’ve got it easy. We get to blame our politicians for everything (listen Julia and Tony, what the Australian people want is for you to turn the boats back without telling anybody so that we can carry on imagining ourselves a nation of über humanitarians: is that really so much to ask?). Employing an intricately constructed work-life balance, we make time to sign online petitions. Now and again we march in protest rallies, clearing the lungs, the head, the conscience with a chant about something, anything. ‘No blood for oil’ and ‘Holding the ball, ump’ are my personal favourites but I trust you to choose your own.

Some of the things I want to tell you about I can’t explain – because I’ll never understand them myself. Like why did the man sitting behind me in the train the other day whisper ‘shut up shut up shut up shut up’ every time the two Sudanese blokes sitting opposite him spoke to each other? Like how is it that men keep getting away with the fantasy that we’re the new oppressed gender? When you’re older, maybe you can explain that one to me. Mind you, since I’m a bloke I’ll probably cry foul too when it suits me. No, I’ll hint foul, because it’s a subtle downtroddenness we’re feigning. Call me on it, will you? Even if I’m changing your nappy at the time.


Patrick Allington




Third Age

August 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

Guiltily listening to the Sydney International Piano Competition on ABC Radio in July, I reminded myself that one of the blessings of old age is that one need never sit another exam.

As it is many years since I sat an exam, or competed for anything, I hope this means that finally I will be freed of the recurring dream of opening an exam paper and discovering that (having skipped lectures) I had read 50 years off the course.

I am not sure that institutions of learning still require students, stomachs churning, to sit in great draughty rooms with invigilators and merciless clocks. But surely the same sort of terror has survived when pianists, some in their teens, are invited to compete against each other in a marathon. Commentators kept saying it was not all about virtuosity, but memory lapses cause sympathetic listeners exquisite pain even if the pianist is praised for “recovering well,” as though from typhoid. One wonders how the parents and teachers of young people born with such special talents can bear it. I kept imagining the horror of waiting one’s turn, losing one’s breakfast behind the Steinway, and afterwards hearing a commentator showing, perhaps, that the point of a performance had been missed. Why do I listen?

It is not because I hope to discover genius. My musical discernment is not so great. I do like to hear a lot of piano music, but some of the impulse to follow the competition is from sympathy for the performers (is this a leftover from my time of playing Wood Nymphs’ Frolic at the Sydney Eisteddfod in the 40s?). I want to show them the love in what is a barbaric contest that perhaps does not belong in the arts.

The contestants must think it’s worth it and, after all, they are performers. We were told that among the pianists immediately before their performance were some who prayed or danced. One declared he was going to make history. Young people today are a lot tougher. But being judged, measured, in this way, and the judging itself, are strange behaviour.


It was fun seeing Stephen Fry talk about his favourite gadgets on TV a few weeks ago. Some of the old gadgets are still lurking in cupboards. Old people still resist built-in obsolescence, though computers have taught us a severe lesson about it. Even the least technical old friends these days would hesitate to say, “But I’ve only had it for three years!” My point is that intriguing though it is to see how gadgets have changed, Fry might have held my attention longer if he had talked about how behaviours have changed within our lifetime.

You can ignore new gadgets (I know someone who still uses the old dig-it-in tin opener). Changes in human behaviour cannot be avoided. I suspect that approval or disapproval of such changes takes up a considerable space in the dialogue in our heads as we struggle to make sense of the world that bears so little resemblance to the one in which we first became conscious 70 and more years ago. Extremes of wickedness and kindness have not changed very much. It is the everyday stuff that makes us wonder.

My younger granddaughter is four. She told her parents that she and a little friend from school would be meeting up on holidays this recent break. Her parents dismissed this kindly, knowing that the family was going overseas and unlikely to bump into anyone they knew. It turned out that the children knew what they were talking about, knew exactly where they were going, to the same island. The worldliness of them! At age four. Children are of the world now, even if they don’t travel. They know how many beans make five long before they are five themselves. Do you remember the snivelling kids we used to be, crying on the first day of school, anxious outside the family, frightened of teachers? Thank heavens, not any more.


With the Olympic Games underway and Wimbledon not far behind, we are all aware of how much competitive behaviour has changed. Bragging, boasting, smashing and rudeness are horrible in sport, but tolerance is now high. If I have to listen to one more breathless, victorious athlete sobbing and laughing with ungracious self-obsession, I will switch off. Maybe I have already done that. I switched on long enough to watch the Federer-Murray final and was rewarded by the players’ restraint. Not typical behaviour anymore.

Men used to remove their hats when they came inside. It still niggles that men who need to define their personalities by silly hats and caps wear them everywhere all the time. For women hats and gloves were de rigueur in our living memory, and as a kid I was scared of nuns in their wimples. Now we are upset by a head scarf; some of us, anyway. We have uncovered our head but bared our teeth. Someone seems to have decided that people, especially women, are required to smile all the time. This has led to ferocious teeth-whitening. Gravitas is no longer appreciated. The cult of tattoos revolts me. I will say no more, but when I saw Angelina Jolie’s beautiful skin disfigured by a tattoo, I could have cried.

Perhaps most annoying and prevalent among strange behaviours is that the language of appreciation has become debased. Everything is “incredible”. Someone on a book show recently said that a protagonist should be “incredibly believable.”  Now that would have been incredible 30 years ago.





Digital Influence: game on

August 2012

  • 0

There is no doubt there is a growing recognition in the world that social media has the capacity to alter traditional power dynamics

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have attracted hundreds of millions of members. As a result the interplay between consumers and brands is undergoing a shift, not to mention the relationship between Governments and their citizens. While ‘how’ stakeholders engage with each other has changed, the motivations behind the engagement have not. All stakeholders are seeing the digital world as a new frontier in which to influence the outcomes that they desire. The question yet to be answered is: who will benefit most from this new world?

There are lots of stories available on how consumers have been able to influence the actions of brands – how consumers have been able to harness ‘digital outrage’ at what particular brands or organisations have done by way of poor service, pricing/fees or product changes and sourcing. And we are not just talking about small brands, we are talking about back-flips from the likes of Coca-Cola, BlackBerry, FedEx and Bank of America.

Social media has provided a mechanism for creating a critical mass, providing a rallying point for disenfranchised consumers that was previously not available. However there are still too many instances of BAD profits being made by companies to suggest that the pendulum has totally swung back in favour of consumers. The Bain consulting team behind the Net Promoter research tool consider BAD profits as those earned at the expense of customer relationships. Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, profits from that customer are deemed BAD. In many instances the source of the BAD profits are hidden, but in other instances they’re blatantly obvious. Regardless, they are plentiful. In our own little world we constantly feel a sense of dismay at how four- and five-star hotels feel the need to charge you for WIFI while the local café down the road turns it on for free. Or the fact American Express charges merchants a higher fee than the bank’s credit cards and that we the customers get slugged the difference at point of sale by the retailers. Then there is the ultimate slap in the face when you book flights with your credit card and have Qantas charge you a fee per person travelling on the booking, when it is simply the one financial transaction. There are plenty more examples of the ‘screw you’ customer mentality shown by business from huge petrol price swings to the numerous banking fees. Consumers in most cases still cop it, regardless of our more informed and connected social media world. 

While consumer inertia is a factor in providing brands with some safety from digital scrutiny, brand owners have also recognised that they have too much at stake to allow social media to be the domain of consumers alone. While many organisations have been slow to adapt, the problem is typically more in the context of how they respond to negative sentiment rather than how they are using the power of social media for marketing. For brands who do cop some flak online there is a need to respond quickly, be transparent and seek to pick up the dialogue offline in a personal and respectful manner, refrain from the temptation to delete negative comments that have been made, and let humility and common sense shine through. Simple as it is, many are still learning the game.

However, setting aside those who need to learn how to respond to digital fallout, we should not forget that for every one example of ‘consumer power’ being demonstrated through the use of social media, there are probably twenty fantastic examples of how brands are using social media to their own advantage. Sports drink brand Gatorade has in fact set itself the goal of becoming the largest participatory brand in the world. It has created a ‘war room’ within its marketing department to monitor the brand in real time across social media. According to a recent McKinsey Quarterly, Gatorade is regularly honing their smarts by using custom-built data visualisations and dashboards (including terms related to the brand, sponsored athletes and competitors). They are also running ‘customer sentiment’ analyses around product and campaign launches. Gatorade will even tweak their TV commercials based on feedback from their devoted online followers. Since the war room’s creation, the average traffic to Gatorade’s online properties, the length of interaction, and the viral sharing from campaigns has more than doubled. 

One small food brand Truly Deeply works with has over 100,000 Facebook friends and views its community as the ears and eyes of the brand. Its Facebook friends are the first to provide feedback on flavour and profile tweaks and have been responsible for championing the brand into distribution channels that were previously blocked.  They are viewed as an extension of the marketing department.

Big and small brands alike are ramping up their efforts to turn social media into an advantage. Social media is viewed with wonder and anticipation by those brands wishing to make their marketing budgets punch above their weight. For the passionate members of the wider community who generate digital fame through their talented blogging or social media commentary, it is brand owners who seek to leverage their influence, invite them to fashion launches, make a new model car available for them to drive, provide them with particular bottles of wine to share with their friends. Connect them to your brand in a positive and meaningful manner and let them do what they do best: influence.

Digital Influence assessment software tools such as Klout, PeerIndex and Kred, while giving these influencers marketable status, will increasingly be leveraged by brand managers to direct their overtures to the people who count. While the tools assessing true influence are still in their formative phase, and there is some healthy skepticism about their efficacy, their mere presence signals the growing focus of the marketing world on this new way of influencing. 

For all brands the digital frontier in all its forms has added another layer of complexity to how brands engage. It represents the biggest revolution in brand management since traditional broadcast media became mainstream. Beyond social media, consumers are engaged with products and services across the entire digital space. But what marketers need to recognise is that it is more than a shift in media and technology formats, it is a full-on cultural shift. And it has only just begun.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




One century on…

August 2012

  • Richard Porter

The Commonwealth Bank recently celebrated its centenary since it opened its first branch in Collins Street, Melbourne on July 15, 1912. Not much is the same as it was 100 years ago. Life expectancy has nearly doubled, air travel is commonplace, and among other things, banking is a far cry from the monthly trip to the branch it used to be.

From banking at agencies and post offices to using smart devices to manage your finances, we’ve come a long way since the days of the horse, mule and camel mobile banking team that serviced the Trans-Australian railway workmen in 1912.

The advent of the internet has changed every aspect of our lives, with banking no exception. But even the proliferation of online banking seems a bit old hat in the inexorable march of technology. The ubiquity of the mobile phone means that mobile is the fastest-growing platform for banking interactions and transactions. The launch of CommBank Kaching – a pay anyone, anywhere, anytime social payments app – has proved extremely popular since its launch in late 2011, ringing up 400,000 downloads and $1 billion in transfers. The app is now available on a range of Google Android powered smartphones and Commonwealth Bank also recently gave iPhone users the option to pay people using Bump. CommBank Kaching customers can simply ‘bump’ phones with their intended recipient and an instantaneous payment will be made. 

The pace of change is exponential. Social media now dominates business innovation discussions like the internet did a decade ago. In 2010, the Harvard Business Review called social networking “the most significant business development” of the year. This year it will even be possible for customers to do their banking through Facebook, with the upcoming launch of the CommBank Kaching Facebook app. 

Technology hasn’t always been so sophisticated, but it has always been innovative. In the early days of 1912 there were relatively few bank branches, with personal banking taking place in post offices and agencies. ‘Mobile banking’ consisted of a horse, mule and camel team travelling 60,000 miles to open more than 4,000 savings accounts of workmen on the Trans-Australia railway line.  

Ledger Posting Machines eliminated the need to handwrite individual transactions in 1925, and in 1969 the development of the Black Light signature enabled bank customers to make withdrawals at branches other than their own.

The more recent technology advancements such as the introduction of ATMs in the 1970s, development of phone banking in the 1980s, and then mobile phone banking in the 21st century, have formed the banking experience we now so readily take for granted. 

The innovation has improved the processes and outcomes of the banking industry, increasing efficiencies and overall improving the experience not just for the everyday customer but also for business customers. Small businesses account for 95.9% of Australia’s 2.1 million businesses and one challenge they face is cash flow.

In Commonwealth Bank’s Better Business survey in February 2012, two-thirds (60%) of small businesses said it was an issue not being able to access weekend trading funds until the following Monday or Tuesday, and more than three quarters (78%) of small businesses with an annual turnover of under $1m said slow payment processing from merchant/EFTPOS terminals has had an impact on cash flow. 

Now, real-time banking is allowing businesses to access the funds they’ve earned that day, without having to wait until after a weekend or public holiday, giving businesses far greater control over their cash flow. 

Break-through innovations are also now helping to bridge the gap between merchants and consumers, enabling businesses to connect with their customers in a far richer way than ever seen before. The recently launched point-of-sale (POS) payment platform, CommBank Pi, together with the secure merchant terminal, CommBank Albert, are designed to enrich the customer experience. Together, they will offer a portable touch interface with an unprecedented level of functionality and customisation, providing solutions from inventory management to loyalty rewards.

The next 100 years will continue to bring exciting opportunities and with the advent of more sophisticated technology and ongoing innovation in the world of banking, there is much to look forward to – for both businesses and consumers alike. 


Richard Porter is Commonwealth Bank Regional General Manager (Melbourne).




Third Age

July 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

Friends I have never met

I talk quite a lot about my friend Esther and often catch myself saying, “I wish you could meet her.” Strange, because I never met her myself. Not in the flesh. She was my wonderful friend via email. I couldn’t have enjoyed the friendship more if we had met every week.  We talked about everything – ideas, books, gardens, cats, families.  We chose not to meet in person because of our mutual deafness.  Without making a meal of it, we both feared that it would interrupt the flow of ideas and, yes, the idea each had of the other. But I can recall her face better than the faces of people I meet every week. Her imagined voice is in my head.

Dr Esther Roe died last month at the age of 93, with her wonderful family – three daughters (all GPs as Esther had been) and a son, and many grand and great grandchildren near her. One of her daughters wrote to me a day or so afterwards, saying that she missed her already. “I would like to talk to her about it all.” At age 80 she was the oldest person to have cochlear implant surgery. But hearing was a continual strain. Esther and I often talked by email about how we miss “the little things.” I think one of my sighs was about not hearing the throwaway remarks of the butcher. Esther, after the cochlear implant, said how she was thrilled to hear a checkout person mumble “Have a good day.” 

Esther had interesting stories about her early medical career. Her daughters recall her telling them about the “diphtheria bell” that hospital staff would ring to summon doctors when a child was choking to death. They are right in thinking this story a good reminder of the importance of immunisation when parents are in doubt. Most Third Agers can remember the ordeals of childhood in our day: mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, measles – I think I had the lot within four years. Then came immunisation. And now the almost unbelievable reaction against it. My mum would have said she’d like to shake some sense into them. 

 Esther’s and my emails took the place of the letters we might have written each other. I know people worry that much will be lost of the past with the demise of chatty letters. But I suspect we are more spontaneous and free using a keyboard than pen and paper. Alas, there is the trap. Esther intended to send me my emails to keep. She switched computers a few years ago and lost the lot. I have many of hers to me, thank goodness. 

The idea of friends I have never met brings up Facebook. How odd it is that I know not only what “friends” who are comparative strangers had for dinner at home, but what it looked like on the plate.  There are many things about Facebook that are boring, “too much information”, and wise sayings that make one squirm. But I can see its value in lessening isolation for new mothers, for example, in sharing worries big and small. The isolation of the “sacred” family home which has made life a misery for many children and adults is further diminished by Facebook. And a good thing too. I like to think of someone picking up the early signals of situations that are not quite right and offering to talk in a helpful way. The downside of Facebook is well known. There is this other possibility for good.

And then there is this brilliant facility Facebook offers. A few months ago some “friend” gave me gratuitous advice about how to deal with deafness. From the depths of his ignorance he told me to laugh at it. So in the name of Beethoven and my dear friend Esther I clicked a little box…. Phuttt! …and he was gone. Never to darken my life again.

So satisfying. I recommend it when “friends” prove to be absolute dills.

Patrick White’s centenary has brought belated recognition to a colleague of my younger days, Hugh Clunies Ross. White’s biographer David Marr has gone to some trouble to confirm that Hugh was the photographer sent by the Sydney Morning Herald in 1956 to do portraits of White at the time of the publication of The Tree of Man. Marr says that Hugh “took a series of extraordinarily fine photographs of White which are still being used and never attributed to him”, but often attributed to famous freelancer Axel Poignant.

David Marr wanted to correct the attribution once and for all in time for his lecture at the National Portrait Gallery last month about the pictures and portraits of White. 

Writing to me at the end of May, Marr said: “Trolling through the internet a few minutes ago, I found you mentioning a Hugh Ross as the photographer when you found yourself on a rather terrifying assignment to interview Edith Sitwell in 1963.” (Hands of a Poet, August 2011: Hugh Ross took beautiful pictures of Edith Sitwell’s hands and huge rings, because the elderly poet declined a more conventional portrait.

Alas, this remarkable picture was also wrongly attributed, when Elizabeth Salter’s biography of Sitwell was published in 1967. 

David Marr, with the help of Ross’s former colleagues, has uncovered the unquiet life of a highly talented man: born in 1915, Sandhurst-educated, a Rat of Tobruk, newspaper photographer, and lyrical portraitist. 

Hugh Ross returned to England where he was born after retiring from The Advertiser in 1980, but he came back to Adelaide before his death in 1993. So far as David Marr has found, there has never been a retrospective of his work.

A wistful footnote: Marr has found in the National Library these lines in a letter Patrick White wrote to his New York publisher, Ben Huebsch, on May 1, 1957: “…the name of the photographer is Hugh Clunies Ross, and I hope as much credit as possible will be given to him, for he is a very modest young man.”





Sort of but not exactly

July 2012


An open (fan) letter to Karise Eden, winner of ‘The Voice’

Dear Karise,

I whinged and whinged when members of my household became devoted watchers of ‘The Voice’. “Life’s too short,” I said. “If I die on this couch, do me the dignity of changing the channel before you ring the coroner.” But — shhhh! — I actually liked the show, partly because I don’t get to the footy much these days and it’s therapeutic having something to yell at, but mostly because of you.

As Seal would say, I want to thank you. As a dedicated (if semi-retired) music snob, bless you for being an umbrella in a raging storm of Karaoke. I don’t buy the “you swallowed Janis Joplin” hyperbole but, still, as Joel Madden would say, you killed it out there — and not in the sense that Viktoria Bolonina murdered Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ in week whatever. Thank you for wandering lost and confused across the stage, except when you were singing. Thank you for giggling through your every triumph. And thank you for not butchering Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ — that’s higher praise than it sounds — and for transporting me back in time to 1984, when my parents and I flew across the Pacific to spend a year living in Logan, Utah, USA. 

Fourteen years old, I fretted constantly that people would notice that I had hair sprouting from everywhere. In the toilet on the flight from L.A. to Salt Lake City, I shaved my smudge of a moustache. I bled, profusely. Things went downhill from there. Dressed in a Vegemite T-shirt, I cowered in my bedroom, petrified of American girls, befuddled by the Mormons who filled my new hometown, besieged at a school where even the nerds were brash and where, before and after gym class, boys strode around the change rooms naked. Naked! 

I fought back, best I could. After my first day of school, when I knew I’d made a horrible mistake by wearing fluorescent blue Nikes, I marched Mum to the mall to buy white sneakers. Another time, playing baseball, I nailed a Victor Trumper cover drive – I’d been practising for years – and sprinted all the way to second base. And during one history lesson, I waged a silent (but highly effective) protest against the teacher who told me that the Vietnam War had been a draw. 

But the pokey house we moved into remained my refuge. It had an enormous record collection: hundreds of Beethoven discs plus Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. I first listened to Rumours in honour of Stevie Nicks’ shadowed thigh, which adorned the album cover and became my first real girlfriend. I still remember the utter shock I felt when I heard Lindsay Buckingham’s guitar fade-in at the beginning of ‘Monday Morning’. I’d discovered an alien world, sexier than Narnia. 

Ah, 1984: the year I first believed that music was better than sport. The year I set out to record the Top 40 every single week on my new tape deck (my collecting fetish having already moved from rocks to stamps to cricket books). The year I was too stunned to speak after I met a man who looked like Billy Joel. 

1984 was the mid-point of my career as the Allington in-house clarinettist – a clarinettist who could rote learn ‘Flight of the bumblebee’ but who could no more feel the music than caress Stevie Nick’s thigh; a clarinettist oblivious to jazz; a clarinettist who left puddles of dribble everywhere. 

I couldn’t be less interested in the lectures Seal seems so fond of giving the Australian television public about the music industry – just like I don’t understand how my microwave oven works. But I do care that Stevie Nicks (and the clarinet, God help me) is woven deep into the fabric of my life. You reminded me of that. In gratitude, I downloaded your new album this morning. 

I’ve bought worse – so much worse – but I look forward to hearing your real debut. I hope you do, too. And I hope we meet one night in some dingy club, you prowling the stage, me propping up the bar and scribbling down your setlist. But I’m not holding my breath. No doubt you’ll eventually escape those Westfield Centre gigs. But how will I ever find my way off the couch?


Patrick Allington




With These Rings, I Thee Wed

June 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

As brands continue to change the way they build relationships with their consumers, the heavy-handed manner in which organisers of the upcoming 2012 London Olympic Games are managing their brand seems at odds.

If only we had a dollar for every conversation regarding the way digital and social media have changed the brand paradigm. In the last two decades of marketing history, nothing has impacted the manner of relationship between brand and consumer like the digital revolution – and more specifically social media.

The manner in which social media shifts the power in brand relationships from owner to consumer is having a major impact on the mindset of those building brands, and the expectations of consumers on the role they rightfully get to play in the life of those brands. Today’s consumers are more empowered, critical, informed and demanding than any previous generation. Their brand views are heavily influenced by social networks, blogs and peer review forums in what is being termed ‘word of mouse.’

The new paradigm of brand ownership sees an equal distribution of influence between those who manage the brands and those who consume them. Andrew Dalglish, Co-founder of UK B2B market researchers Circle Research suggests, “Your organisation doesn’t own its brand. It can shape it, manage it, but never own it. That’s because a brand is not what an organisation says it is. It’s what the market believes it to be.”

Brands owners are taking on the role of managers, engaging with their community of brand fans, sharing conversations, product development and most importantly the meaning of the brands. The biggest shift for brand owners is that they’ve become influencers rather than benevolent dictators. In the words of American Express chief marketing officer John Hayes, “We went from a monologue to a dialogue. Mass media will continue to play a role. But its role has changed.” “At the end of the day,” says Virgin Atlantic Airways chief executive Steve Ridgway, “we fly exactly the same planes as everybody else. If we get our customers off the plane happy, and they go on to talk about that and get others to come and then come back again themselves – that’s a huge marketing tool.”

Both Gap and Starbucks have felt the power wielded by their customers when they updated their brand identities in 2010 and 2011. In both cases the changes to their visual brand assets were met with howls of protest begging the question: so who exactly owns the brand mark? Whilst Starbucks responded with a strong hand and business rationale in support of the change, Gap’s response was a quick backflip, reverting to their previous brand identity to which their customers felt such a strong affinity.

Barclaycard in the US is a brand that understands the new world, recently leveraging the power of their engaged customers to launch Barclaycard Ring MasterCard, the world’s first social credit card which offers card members the opportunity to shape the product and share in its financial success.

Over past months we’ve observed the approach of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to the management of their brand which has been in distinct contrast to the broader consumer-led trend of brand ownership. As a much-loved brand, the public’s expectation is that ownership of the Olympic brand is shared by the competing athletes, organisers, Olympic Committee, volunteers, spectators and the world’s sports loving population. But in their quest to protect the equity in the Olympic brand and the value of commercial sponsorship relationships, LOCOG is taking a hard-line approach to brand management. Legal experts are calling these the most stringent restrictions ever put in place affecting every Olympic athlete, ticket holder and UK-based business.

In defiance of the spirit of consumer brand ownership of the London Olympic Games, top tier sponsor VISA has been accused of exploiting spectators by banning the use of rival cards. By ordering the closure of all cashpoints which accept MasterCard or American Express, non-Visa customers won’t be able to use credit cards to pay for goods at any of the games venues. The reaction from the general public has been significant with VISA facing a potential backlash beyond the games, but also with a lingering impact on the spirit of the Olympic Games brand itself.

Even more disturbingly, the rigid application of copyright rules over the London 2012 logo has seen a number of widely publicised incidents such as 81-year-old widow Joy Tomkins being forced to withdraw a hand knitted doll from her local church sale to avoid legal action over the ‘GB 2012 and Olympic rings’ she’d embroidered upon it. In East London, a long-established kebab shop has been forced to change its name from ‘Olympic’ to ‘Lympic’ after it was threatened with a lawsuit from the Games organisers. And in a gesture that strikes to the very heart of being British, pub landlords will be banned from posting signs reading: ‘Come and watch the London Games from our big screen’.

Further, the passionate force of 70,000 volunteers so critical to the spirit and delivery of the Games have been instructed not to use social media to post photos and updates about the Games. Likewise spectators attending the Olympic Games are to be barred from sharing Facebook photos or YouTube videos of the event.

However, Olympic Athletes face the strictest sanctions of all with threats of prosecution from LOCOG for broaching the blanket ban on posting any message or photo to social media linking them in any way with products or brands that aren’t official Games sponsors. Interestingly this restrictive approach seems at odds with the International Olympic Committee who have not issued any restrictions on the use of social media.

Whilst close management of brand messages makes good commercial sense, Olympic organisers seem to have lost sight of the values on which the brand is built. As consumers and sports fans alike continue to evolve their expectations of brand and customer relationships, even the world’s largest and most loved brands must stay abreast to retain their relevance. If they wish to maintain the very brand equity they are so desperate to protect, the Olympic Games and their organising committees will need to manage the brand in a manner that truly shares the experience with those who feel emotional ownership. As we approach the Opening Ceremony it appears sponsorship dollars are well and truly the gold medal winners, with most other stakeholders seemingly unable to qualify for a spot on the team.


Brand Banned – What the social media guidelines say:


Athletes are banned from:
• Endorsing any product that is not a product of an official sponsor on any form of social media – during Games period all endorsement is banned.

• Post video clips from inside the athletes’ village to your blog or YouTube. No audio or video content from inside any Olympic venue can be uploaded to any site.

• Post “in the role of a journalist”. Athletes “must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants”.


Non-Sponsor Companies and Businesses are banned from:

• Saying: “Supporting our athletes at the 2012 Games!” or “Help us make it a Gold 2012!”

• Using images that suggest an association with the London Olympics.

• Offer tickets as part of a promotion.


Ticket holders are banned from:

• “A Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet.”

• Post your pictures to Facebook – this may fall under the same restriction.

• Take part in any ambush marketing activity, “including, for the avoidance of doubt individual or group ambush marketing”.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




Irregular writings

June 2012

  • Dave Graney

Hey if I forget to drop any names, please forgive me, I’m typing quickly. I attended the annual RecLink Community football match in Melbourne, one team consisting of players from the Melbourne community radio stations PBSFM and RRRFM and one of players from the rock music scene. The Megahertz vs the Rockdogs. It’s been going for so long that the latter team is still vaguely referenced as having something to do with St Kilda music venues – of which there are very, very, few. 

The game has had many homes, the Junction Oval in St Kilda and the Punt Road Oval being used for a few years. Recently it has been hosted at the Elsternwick Recreational Park, a venue which usually hosts PUGWOOD, the monthly gathering of pug owners. (I know because I know some of those. Freaks.)

Now both radio stations are north of the river and most of the music venues are as well but the event seems to be one of those cultural institutions/events which behave like a comet with a long tail. It flies low over the city and drags everybody in, no matter where the spread of Bohemia is located at the moment.

So, despite the fact that Sandringham line trains were all replaced by buses due to a derailment and the venue being quite off the normal radar, and also, despite the match being IGNORED AS USUAL by the AFL, 9,000 people even freakier than a willing collective of proud pug owners turned up at the oval on a grey, windy, cold and wet day. Bravo troops! It was not like the conditions were a surprise – the weather had been grim and Shakespearean for the week leading up to it. They knew what they were getting into.

The game had its pantomime type beginnings with Brian Nankervis from Rockwiz leading the umpires out to a dopey AC/DC tune and Johnny Von Goes from RRR reciting the national anthem a la John Laws with a string quartet. He mock barracked for the Megahertz team at the end and was attacked by a female Rockdog, knocking him to the ground and pushing his synthetic suit all through the mud with much too much relish. Perhaps he’d never played her music? He was stretchered off to the cheers of the crowd. The game started and after excitedly running about like children, it slowly dawned on the players that there were to be actually 100 more minutes out there shivering in the wet grass, drizzling rain and wind with shorts and jumpers with no sleeves.

I had brought a footy and went onto the oval, along with a thousand others at half time for a kick. It was beautiful football anarchy with balls of all different shapes and sizes flying through the air. We had to semaphore to locate each other in the great throng of leaping and jumping humanity. Little kids, dogs, stoners, mums and dads. It was like being on a strange dance floor.

Speaking of shapes and sizes, the players on both teams were refreshingly representative of the people you see on the street in their variety of form. Short, fat guys are never seen in the top leagues but they used to be common on the field. There were a few here, as well as many women on both teams and I was glad to see a few hopeless, scrawny, pathetic, indie types making up the numbers and running awkwardly the wrong way whenever the ball threatened to bounce into their arms.

The game had actually been too willing for one fellow who broke his arm in the first minute and Pete Satchell from Dallas Crane who broke his collar bone in the last minute. Dan Sultan, captain of the Rockdogs, looked as though he could run out for any AFL team as well as any rock band. Youth, looks, energy and fitness. Lukey D from PBS was sporting a savage cut across his nose, Tim Rogers volunteered he had a cracked rib. Paul Kelly arrived to present the medals. At the after party at the Bowling Club I ran into Mark Cornwall who I knew as a boy in the Mt Gambier Catholic penitentiary. He’s in town researching a book about Frank Thring and had no connection with the game, just walked into its aftermath.

I sat around with Clare Moore, Jane Dust and Elizabeth McCarthy and let a few people give me shit about my clothes. The usual.





Third Age

June 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

The sweat and the beauty of ballet

Whenever I think of the first night, 50 years ago, of the Australian Ballet at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney, I see the flash of diamonds. 

It was not my first glittering occasion. For the ballet I wore the long rose pink frock that A. T. Shakespeare, the proprietor of The Canberra Times, had allowed me to buy at the newspaper’s expense, for Princess Alexandra’s ball in Parliament House not long before. It still hangs in my wardrobe, its 20-inch waist ensuring that, after the ball and the ballet, it was never worn again, by me or my descendants. But nothing prepared me for the total glamour of this historic night: the dance, the music, international stars, very rich people and the hopes and excitement attending the birth of a large Australian arts company, longed for over many years.

How beautiful we were. We dressed like mad for the occasion in those days. Even the reporters. I think I can date, almost to the night, the last time we dressed for the theatre anything like that. It was the opening of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee organ in the Festival Theatre in Adelaide 25 years ago. Before then, jeans and a casual look had crept into the theatre first nights of the big capitals, but Adelaide kept its dress- to-the-nines traditions longer. Readers may have different memories. 

On that first night of the Australian Ballet, Adelaide’s fondly remembered Harold Tidemann was The Advertiser’s ballet critic; Harold was a great encourager and almost part of the AB family. Twenty five years later, he was to write a loving piece about the Australian Ballet for their silver jubilee publication. I tagged along with Harold to write the facts and the “colour” for a page three feature, but the clever people of the new company had an eye to the future, foreseeing the struggles after the initial excitement faded. Two great public relations people, Annette Massie and Noel Pelly, took me, the young reporter, under their wing, taught me about the ballet and the artists, allowed me for years to stand in the wings, to watch rehearsals and dancers at the barre, fed my infatuation with dance and gave me the goss. It led eventually to my being a dance critic, writing for a range of publications, and to a love of ballet that has outlasted many other loves. 

I can remember shyly interviewing the incomparable danseur noble Erik Bruhn and his dazzling Bulgarian partner Sonia Arova, the stars of Swan Lake on that first night – and two dancers in the company, Leonie Leahy and Helen Magner.  I talked to choreographer Rex Reid, who was to present his ballet, The Melbourne Cup, in the new company’s second program.

Noel Pelly sat with me, in the second row of the circle, if I remember rightly, and taught me the vocabulary of the ballet, his pride in the new company and a few bits of wicked tattle. Annette Massie, who returned home to Australia from a well-established career based in London, for the new company’s birth, was the one who ensured I saw what the dancers went through for their demanding art. I remember how shocked I was to see for the first time, from the wings, a magical pas de deux, and then the dancers crash, flat-footed and cursing, backstage. From gods to mortals in seconds. The dancers in those days seemed to lead an almost cloistered life: most were very young in a very young company, like Warren de Maria, a soloist at 17. They were shy and single-minded, preoccupied with their injuries and insecurities. A hard life, a short career, and an awful lot of pain. But then the nightly transformation to beauty… “First comes the sweat,” Balanchine said. “Then comes the beauty – if you’re very lucky and have said your prayers.” Sounds a bit like everything else worth doing, really. But for me the ballet is not like anything else and for the dancers it is everything.

Between then and now the Australian Ballet has become a great company with its home-grown stars, pushed along the way by great artists and teachers of our time such as Sir Robert Helpmann and Dame Peggy van Praagh, by immortal stars such as Dame Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev, and our own brilliant dancers, conductors and designers. There have been fights; even a dancers’ strike in 1983, threats to funding, interstate rivalries… but the triumphs at home and abroad have saved it. In the late 70s, it appeared possible that classical ballet would lose out to the new dance companies, forms and styles. But these days they co-exist and intermingle in a most satisfactory way for dance lovers.   

The company seems in safe hands now with its brilliant artistic director David McAllister, whose own dancing days are well remembered. The company is still something of a miracle, in this country where arts funding has rarely been a priority. People are welcome to be excited by visiting foreign companies, but for me the artistry, strength, health and beauty of Australian dancers have always been what I enjoy the most. They have provided some of the best memories for my third age.




Writers’ festivity

June 2012

  • Dave Graney

At the airport in Melbourne on a Thursday morning, flying to Perth for a writers’ festival. It’s not my first but it feels like it. Going out West as part of a posse and staying in the festival hotel etc.

This morning is a bit special as Kevin Rudd has just resigned and Prime Minister Julia Gillard has ordered a leadership spill for the Labor Party. In the Qantas gate area, George Megalogenis from The Australian strains to catch the audio from the TV screen suspended high on the wall, the sound all but inaudible against the ambient noise of the departure area. He, and many other political commentators, are going to be on the other side of the country during a tumultuous weekend of politicking. Marieke Hardy politely kisses Robert Manne. George waves at him, Robert doesn’t see. This pretty much sets the bar for the intense, wordy awkwardness which will ensue over the next few days.

On the plane I watch a sci-fi movie starring Justin Timberlake on a large screen. It looks foggy and pixelated and with no sound in my ears, seems kind of interesting in a 70s Euro psychologically taut kind of way. I try to listen to some music on an antique Discman but the all-enveloping low hum of the jet only lets puny, treble notes through. I read an old British music magazine, stories about old musicians and records that were rightly ignored the first time around. Back in the old days – those days – my own low hum and powerful forward thrust had revealed only the puny trebly nature of these acts. Now, with vintage experience and the general middle-aged phoniness of the current scene I am too slow and actually hear someone suggest there may have been more to these clowns. I doubt it!

Once landed and reunited with our luggage we all pile into a school bus. This is cute! I engage with a likely fellow who is a fourth time novelist. “Does it get any easier?” I ask. “No!” he says and we both laugh. He has never been out of Melbourne, let alone here to the West Coast. I give him the benefit of all my prejudices, explaining how, like Brisbane, they have excellent arts festivals because they throw so much moolah at it. The Art. “They worship us as GODS!” I inform him, shouting above the din of the diesel powered but largely empty bus. We laugh. Five minutes later he catches a glimpse of the WACA and shouts in extraordinary joy! As if he has been impressed.

“Hush now!” I say. “Don’t fuck it up for the rest of us!”

We arrive at the hotel where we are told our rooms won’t be ready for another two hours. “Look, I’m from Melbourne!” I say with a smile. This usually opens any door around but alas, WA hotels operate to a strict turnover timetable and will not budge the clock for an Eastern whim, no way.

A festival worker arrives to work out a script with me for our informal chat, which will occur two days into the future. I have time to kill so I swing along with her European efficiency. We shoot the shit over a coffee in the intense Perth heat and I dazzle her with preposterous ambit claims to entertainment authenticity. She humours me. We tear down a world and build a teepee wherein people might feel it nice to be invited. Different.

Back at the hotel lobby, tempers are fraying. Robert and Anne Manne nod at the festival worker (Anne is to be next in line to trade some clues with). They are more concerned with winning entry to their room though. Stuart Littlemore walks past and the festival worker follows in his silken wake. I am forgotten. Peter Fitzsimons sits about in a loud bandana. I think to myself that it is no wonder that Andrew Bolt cuts through this mob like a hot knife through butter. We need new smartarses – fresh wits!

The Festival opening night was a speech given by Germaine Greer. The bus was chock full of literary freaks. I sat in front of others, straining to hear their measured, even tones tease out the guts and the tail of the ongoing drama of Rudd and Gillard. “Well Crean reacted like a normal person to a defeat and just found his way through his career”… “It’s interesting – leaders both going for a presidential pitch…” Fascinating, and rude, to eavesdrop on such high-toned, private talk about public matters. But I’m well into my life and still playing the outsider in so many situations. It’s my attitude, my tone – I can’t fight City Hall.

The talk was also mostly inaudible due to the air being choked up with zombie talk from the Brisbane trio to the fore of me. The bus stopped and I saw Robert Manne greet right-wing humourist Imre Saluzinsky with, “It’s fated we should meet – this is Anne…” This was delivered in grey, robotic tones and very little eye contact made. 

Germaine had filled the large hall at the UWA. A giant organ flanked a large glass structure seemingly ripped straight from an Aztec temple. Germaine would after refer directly to the room, “I love this mad Italian fantasy in which I am speaking….” The talk had begun with us being welcomed by local indigenous people. A fellow called Derek blew most impressively on a didgeridoo and, using circular breathing, kept a note going without a break for a good five minutes. He toyed with the sound billowing through the room. He could have stopped anywhere into his “song” and we would have been amazed, so exotic and alien was the sound and its very shape and sense to us. Germaine spoke of “eco feminism”, touching on slime moulds and nasal microbes and winding up with an 18th century poem by a woman about a hare being hunted. She was talking about man’s place in his own hierarchy with women and animals being below him. She was questioning it, of course. She also advised everybody against cleaning too much or sterilising their homes.

Back at the hotel I had quickly settled into a kind of routine. It was like I’d been sent back to school and was on a trip with a class. The august Frank Moorhouse, standing at the lift with his white linen suit jacket over his shoulder was asked by a younger colleague as to how he was travelling. Frank stopped, paused within that stop as if to consider the question more thoughtfully and answered that he was indeed very well and that may have been to do with the “gastronomic tour of the south west” he had indulged in for a couple of days. Later, in the lobby, I said hello and asked what he was up to for the rest of the day. “Another panel – and more talk of sex,” he replied. I surmised that it went with the abundant folding stuff that this part of the country was awash with.

I went for a walk into the shopping area of Perth. The West End? The sun was fierce. A crusty, scabbed gent fell onto the bench beside me. “Mate! Where the fuck am I?” “Hay Street Mall, Perth,” I told him. “Mate! I don’t know! I come from Rockingham! I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout this!” I repeated my opinion of our co-ordinates and pointed in the direction of the station but also informed him that I wasn’t a local. “I dunno nothin’ about this!” he cried and stumbled off into the bright afternoon.

I went down to the Festival area three hours early, as I was bored of the hotel. I sat in the green room and checked out the race. Soon I was very pleased to renew my acquaintance with Ramona Koval. Until recently she had run the best book show in Australia but the ABC, in its wisdom and new drive to completely dunce down the corp, had lost her in order to get more direct feedback from the listeners as to arts and literature. We accompanied a friend of hers, who wanted to smoke, outside and continued an arch but icily witty skewering of the various talents that Radio National has put in place in their mania for hearing the opinions of the audience, that is to say, the ignorant. “Where are the experts?” we cried. And laughed. Robert and Anne Manne joined us. They all spoke warmly of the UWA grounds, where we were standing. Robert mentioned that Mick Malthouse had been given a doctorate at Latrobe. Ramona and I were disgusted, though her opinion was formed completely without the distortion of knowing how dull Mick Malthouses’s pronouncements can be. She is not sporty. Stuart Littlemore hovered around our tight circle but we held to our structures and he had to go and play with Peter Fitzsimons, a fellow Sydney-sider. It was only right. We Melbournians enjoy stirring the denizens of Sin City. Cashed up, but lacking our quality tones, all vintage EQ and valve compression.

I then sat around with Marieke Hardy and John Birmingham. These felt to be more peers and contemporaries. I missed the old school manners and exotic personal tics of the elders I had been hanging with, however briefly. I felt the ambience turn to matters of pop culture. It just happened. No one was taking care of things.

I then sat through an hour of the comedian Fiona O’Loughlin being interviewed by a younger comic. Like all the panellists and talkers – thrown together by an arts administrator after a bottle of scotch and a round of darts on the deck one warm night. Comedians are neurotic at best. Fiona had some badness, an interesting mix of Australian slackness and show business remove. Totally unresolved tensions. The interviewer was parochial and banal. (Older people should interview younger people – it’d be more fun). It helped that the audience was swinging around the same pole and things went very smoothly. My session was next. In my mind I imagined the audience changing completely, which they hadn’t really. A lovely sunken garden in mock ancient, overgrown ruin design. I was interviewed by Simon Collins for an hour, sang a song called “Life’s a dream”, signed some books, walked back to the green room and took a bus with George Megalogenis and Andrew Robb to the hotel. George likes Wilco.

The next day I met a new friend on the bus. Selena Hastings, an English woman with a delightful London accent who was to do a panel on biographical writing. “Who have you written of?” I asked. “Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh and Unity Mitford,” she replied. Bang! Bang! Bang! Top shelf life material there.

I saw the last part of her talk. She was on a panel with Fiona O’Loughlin and Andrew Robb who had a book out about his battle with depression. A very disparate bunch. The grounds of the UWA are lovely. The venues are called “The great hall”, “The secret garden”, “the tropical grove”, “the Romeo tent” and several others. I did a panel with Fiona O’Loughlin and Anne Manne on writing memoirs, moderated by the poet I had met days before, Tinecke, who had put in a lot of research into everybody.

Back at the green room I was yacking again with Ramona Koval and Patricia O’Donnell. There were a couple of young authors into “Young Adult” fiction there but I like to parlez with the pros. Going at the same speed, with sure knowledge of the limits of our worlds. 

Later, back at the hotel, I went for a swim in the pool which was outside, on the fifth floor, in the warm night and looked straight into a reception room where a rich young West Australian wedding was in full flight. 





Irregular writings

May 2012

  • Dave Graney

I am by nature a contrarian and a cheapskate. If I had tens of thousands of dollars to throw about I would not buy a guitar and an amp. I would buy a car or something. Fix something in my house.

Basically I’m a singer. For the first couple of decades as a performer I liked to stand there at the mic and sing. I didn’t want to be stuffing around with a guitar. In the Moodists, Steve Miller had a Fender twin and Mick Turner had a small Marshall combo. They were pretty intuitive as to what they played. Somehow we arranged our one chord boogies by ear.

The Moodists were operating in the post punk scene. Guitar heroes were few. These were ours: Johnny Thunders, Steve Jones, Keith Levene, Tom Verlaine, Robert Quine, Lou Reed, Poison Ivy, Bryan Gregory, Kid Congo, Rowland Howard.

Later, after the Moodists, I wanted to be a singer songwriter in a 70s kind of way as that was the music I was tuning into. That’s what I’ve done ever since. I wrote songs on an acoustic guitar but usually turned them over to my band, which pretty much always had a piano, bass, guitar and drums. The guitar was always pretty trebly and clean and played with the piano. The guitar didn’t have to be the central part of the sound. We always had the vocals and the rhythm section front and square. Influences from R&B.

I had an acoustic guitar I bought from Robert Forster from the Go-Betweens. Twenty pounds it cost me. Some time in the late 80s I started to do some acoustic shows. The beginning of the vogue for all things “unplugged”. I bought some crappy Ovation style copy from Dean Street in London. Scratched out some performances that way. It was just a cheap way to get around.

Some time in the late 90s, after the Coral Snakes period, I started to play electric guitar, and got myself a Harmony semi acoustic. During this period we had started to use a lot of harmony singing and the sound on stage had to be controlled. The volume of the guitar is always an issue with lots of open mics around, so we were always wanting the guitar amp to be at a lower volume.

I had started to think hard about textures and sound and production and wanted to get a small combo with no piano and clean sounding guitars. A beat group. Stuart Perera played guitar, a left handed solid body Rickenbacker. He put it through a Laney combo and still does. I liked it all pretty loose. Low volume, loud lead vocal, harmonies.

When I was a kid I loved those dudes like Hound Dog Taylor and they all had the cheapest gear. Punk bands like the Buzzcocks proudly had Tesco (supermarket) guitars and the Subway Sect played Fender Squires. I always tune out when people start to rave about “warm valve sounds”. I know, from experience, that it’s all true but there are other sounds. I mean Neil Young and The Foo Fighters might record on tape and the like but they are millionaires. End of story.

The Moodists did a reunion gig in 2005 and the young rock sound engineer was telling our guitarist, who had his own sound and was an original gangster, to “dial some mids in”. I had to tell the young cat that the ideal sound was not always Bon Jovi or Aerosmith, this was the sound we had. Steve turned all the treble on his amp up and there it was – that spindly, loud, reverbed-out Fender twin sound. The kid put his earplugs in.

I’d been putting out my own albums for more than 20 years in between Moodists shows. By now I had some other references for guitar sounds that I loved. Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, John Cippolina, Ike Turner, Gatemouth Brown, Grant Green, Duane Allman, Ed King. Lots of people. American rock and jazz. 

So that’s where my attitude towards the sound I was looking for came in. I can’t wipe all that away from my sensibility. That’s how I ended up buying a $120 solid state Fender combo amp from eBay. The amp had a beautiful clean sound which is what I wanted. Only it was piercingly loud and trebley. The volume was at “1” and it was overpowering.

I became obsessed with building my own sound and scoured the online guitar forums on different subjects. Needless to say, guitar folk love to talk. All continually searching for their own sound, or one somebody else had perfected. I ventured into the world of online opinion and critiquing of the electric guitar experience. The language was pretty amazing – occasionally. I came across the terms “sag” and “bloom”. Using a valve amp, there is a kind of power compression when a note is hit hard and the amp can’t respond straight away. Being valves, they behave differently to solid state circuits. The power “sags” and then gathers and “blooms”, becoming louder and more resonant.

Sag and Bloom. Like a couple of Jewish entertainment lawyers. I was reading this stuff and almost getting it. Then I had to investigate as the Janglebox was very noisy being plugged into mains power. I learned that people preferred batteries in the studio for a better sound but mains power at gigs where reliability had to be uppermost. The sound was better with batteries. New batteries? Well with that question a new rabbit hole appeared when a fellow opined that the “sweetest” sound he’d ever heard was when he used batteries that were just about to run out. Carbon batteries too, whatever they were. I left the building at this stage, happy with the sound I had been able to chase down, ready to go and play and record. Guitar and combo amp still pretty much weighing in the same. Leaving them to all their endless talk.





Walking with Retail Dinosaurs

May 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

Twenty five year old student Jessica Waters was recently quoted as saying “I don’t buy more than I used to, but I buy differently…” and in those simple words she eloquently summed up the quandary facing Australia’s retailers.

Traditional retailers such as department stores, bulk electronics, whitegoods and homeware stores can today be typically identified as undifferentiated generalists. In their time they had a relevant role in the retail landscape, but as the world of shopping and shoppers changed over the last two decades towards niche specialist retail, they have not evolved with it. 

Meanwhile a new generation of retail brands have emerged, defined by their appetite to be truly exceptional in one or more defining dimension of their business. This new breed of retail brands move quickly, adopting new technologies, sensing new consumer movements and building brand fans as naturally as they draw breath.

Australia’s retailers have enjoyed a ‘Goldilocks economy’ over the decade or more leading up to the global financial crisis. Whilst the good times meant year after year growth for retailers without the need for real innovation, the current climate has revealed the flip side of prosperity – complacent businesses who find themselves in a constricting market, unprepared for the changes demanded by this tough new world.

It is undeniable Australian consumers are spending less money with our retailers.  David Jones, Myer, JB Hi Fi, Harvey Norman and Billabong are amongst the big-name retailers to have predicted lower profit expectations for this year. David Jones recently announced their full year profit would be down 40% with fellow department store Myer reporting a 19.8% drop in profit.

As the new reality bites, one major retailer after another has announced strategic plans to transform themselves into omni-channel businesses. It’s clear today’s customers expect retail brands to fit seamlessly with their lives in a manner unimaginable ten years ago, and the omni-channel strategy is designed to bridge that gap. The challenge for traditional retailers is to raise their aim above the tactical to understand the extent of transformation this strategy demands.

Whilst much of the discourse driven by big retail has focused on the impact of internet shopping and the threat to our local industry from overseas e-tailers, National Australia Bank’s Online Retail Sales Index reveals that online still represents just 4.9% of Australia’s $216 billion retailing industry, with less than half of those sales from overseas sites. These figures provide a clear perspective that if there is a single demon facing retail in Australia, it simply isn’t off-shore eCommerce. Deborah Sharkey, eBay Managing Director (Australia and New Zealand) agrees, commenting that “the consumer is giving us a clear message – their needs have evolved and the retail industry needs to evolve to meet the changing needs.” Choice’s Christopher Zinn also believes that “the big chains should recognise that it’s their high prices, limited range and poor customer service that increasingly encourages people to use the internet.” The reality is there’s no single, simple answer. Searching for a silver bullet to meet the challenges facing retailers in Australia will be fruitless, but at least the way forward is clear.

Many traditional retailers in Australia have lost touch with the ‘value’ dimension of their value proposition. Retailer Harvey Norman was this year named the third most valuable retail brand in the Asia Pacific region in an annual survey by Interbrand. This matched their ranking from 2011, but the brand was valued at almost US$25 million less than twelve months ago, with the report recommending that Harvey Norman ‘needs to develop a stronger, more unique brand positioning in 2012’ to maintain its position.

Today more than ever, time-poor and choice-rich consumers demand real clarity on why and how brands add value to their lives. And, here’s the kicker, that value must go way beyond the functional stakes of price and practicality. Brands need to clearly articulate the emotional benefits they offer – from beautiful design to extraordinary customer service, from ease and friendliness of transaction to brag appeal. Too many of our retailers are simply masters of assortment, bundling a diverse range of products under one roof and believing that is all that is required of them. 

One retail brand who stands out from the pack is Apple. Apple stores deliver the highest sales per square metre of any retailer (in the US Apple stores deliver sales of US$65,000 per m2, that’s 25% higher than the next best performing retailer Lululemon Athletica) and there’s much to learn for many retailers from the way they’ve gone about it. 

Apple has long had absolute clarity around their brand which layers intuitive technology with beautiful design aesthetic and soul. Over time Apple has built a huge community of passionate loyalists, the envy of brands across the spectrum. Apple retail stores provide a place beyond the functional where these fans go to connect with the brand. Customers continue to flock to Apple stores where they’re willing to pay a premium for the Apple experience, even when the same products are available in the US at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and on Amazon at lower prices. 

Beyond their brand clarity, service bar concept, and product range playground, the defining dimension of Apple stores is their retail staff. Staff are carefully trained to be experts in the forgotten art of ‘making customers happy’. Apple retail staff don’t earn sales commissions, it makes no difference to them whether they sell a customer the latest Mac Book, or get their old one running smoothly again. The role of Apple’s store staff is to deepen customer relationships and build loyalty by discovering what they need and helping them get there – no cross-selling, no up-selling. 

Former Senior VP for retail at Apple, Ron Johnson believes retailers shouldn’t be asking, “How do we create a store that’s going to do $15 million a year?” but rather “How do we reinvent the store to enrich our customers’ lives?” In the current landscape, this represents perhaps the most defining challenge facing the old guard of retail.


Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.




Malaysia’s guessing game

May 2012

  • Sen Lam

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak seems to be examining his options, as he keeps the people guessing about the date of the next general elections


In Malaysia, they’re known as ‘Merdeka Babies’, people born in the year of independence (merdeka) from British rule. And so it is, for the Barisan Nasional coalition government, and in particular, the dominant UMNO party. UMNO, which has ruled uninterrupted since independence in 1957, has been in crisis mode even before the 2008 general election; with party renewal and rejuvenation sorely needed after half a century in government.

John F. Kennedy was fond of pointing out that the Chinese word for ‘crisis’ is made up of two characters – one representing danger, the other, opportunity. Whether or not UMNO has the leadership and unity of purpose to seize the opportunity for change, is as yet unclear, even though Prime Minister Najib Razak has for the past twelve months been espousing reform and democratisation.

For example, the unpopular and once dreaded Internal Security Act or I-S-A has been abandoned in a few short months, and replaced with several other ‘security’ laws. And with suspicious haste, it would seem, according veteran lawyer Ambiga Sreenavasan, who’s also the public face of Bersih, the campaign for free and fair elections.

Bersih (translated as ‘clean’ in Malay) is a non-partisan organisation, but because it has the support of the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, Bersih and its co-chair Ambiga have been the target of much vitriol from less-tolerant elements within UMNO (particularly the youth wing) and the ultra-right Malay PERKASA organisation.

Whether or not the government is sincere in seeking genuine change, one place to begin may be the culture within UMNO. An ‘all or nothing’ mentality which brooks little tolerance for dissent or different points of view has trickled down to the government machinery.

One source speaks of Malaysian students abroad on government scholarships being given strong hints not to participate in democracy workshops or events, or risk being sent home. Stories of SB (special branch) men, hovering menacingly in the background at civil society meetings are commonplace in Malaysia.

I was a curious observer at the July 2011 Bersih2 rally in Melbourne’s Federation Square. There were some men perched on various vantage points taking pictures with giant cameras. Were they media, or were they ‘special branch’? Hard to say. But the Bersih organisers came prepared, and with that special brand of Malaysian humour, handed out paper face masks with the image of Bersih co-chair Datuk Ambiga. This was to allow those of a nervous constitution to stay for the event, to hear what the clean election advocates had to say.

Bersih3 (held on April 28) elicited more of the heavy-handed response by Malaysian police. In contrast to the rallies taking place in 75 world cities, including Melbourne’s Federation Square, where local authorities facilitated safe venues for the Malaysian diaspora, Malaysian police fired tear gas at demonstrators in Kuala Lumpur. The government says allegations of police brutality will be investigated.

Prime Minister Najib Razak has a natural disposition towards democratic values. But as the President of UMNO, he has to balance the courage of his convictions with the realpolitik of party survival. There are still many conservatives who want things done the ‘old way’, not unlike the struggle currently on display in China’s Communist Party, as demonstrated in the Bo Xilai saga.

The PM has to show leadership, without being seen as draconian. He has to concede without being seen as weak, if he’s not to suffer the fate of his amiable but ultimately unsuccessful predecessor, Abdullah Badawi.
On the home front, Prime Minister Najib has to contend with allegations of extravagance levelled against his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah. Mrs Najib is reportedly fond of expensive jewellery and trips abroad to order couture frocks from, of all places, Sydney.

In Malay culture, blatant exhibition of wealth is in poor taste. The stories in social media have taken on an increasingly gossipy and unflattering tone – not unlike those suffered by another avid shopper, the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, 220 years earlier.
The Malaysian electorate, apart from maturing in spirit, is also increasingly youthful. Many Malaysians in their 20s will be voting for the first time. This social-media savvy generation is also an impatient one. Driven by the immediacy of smart phones and inspired by civil society movements overseas, many want change, and they want it now.

That Prime Minister Najib and BN are trying to ‘democratise’ is heartening to the Malaysian diaspora like myself, who remember the years when, in the absence of the Internet, the only ideas and discourse were those driven by government-owned or controlled media. So credit where credit is due. Malaysia is a far freer place today, compared to the 1990s.

For a southern Johor boy like myself, long used to the dictates of UMNO (Johor being a stronghold) the nurturing of a healthy public forum for the free exchange of ideas can only bring good. As is transparency and the ongoing battle against corruption and crony capitalism.

In a sense, Malaysians (including Malays, the biggest ethnic group) have given the BN government a mandate to institute change.

Accountability and a healthy opposition are crucial if Malaysia is to achieve the developed nation status of Dr Mahathir’s Vision2020 which is, after all, only two elections away. The BN government, the Opposition and Malaysians have a choice. Whether to go for cosmetic options to stave off the inevitable, or to face the maturing process through the more holistic path of openness, tolerance and courage to embrace change.




The North Korean fiasco

May 2012

  • Alexander Downer

There isn’t an English word for what the Germans call schadenfreude but the sentiment is universal; comfort at the discomfort of others. We may not like to admit it but we all feel it from time to time. I did when I saw the North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile had crashed and burned soon after takeoff.

It was welcome news. That odious regime had humiliated itself on the grand scale. The launch was to coincide with the centenary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, sometimes known as the Great Leader. It was a time of great official celebration, celebrations which were to include a demonstration of North Korean technical excellence. 

Mind you, it’s quite something that a country with a GDP less than half the State of South Australia’s can build and launch an intercontinental missile. But it also says something about the regime’s priorities that it spends its limited resources in that way. Imagine if the South Australian government spent money on such enterprises. It would be seen as eccentric, just as it is eccentric for North Korea to build long range missiles. 

I’ve often wondered why North Korea would bother to build not just long range missiles but nuclear weapons. It also has a vast army. With a population about the same as Australia’s, North Korea has an army said to be about 5 million strong. 

The traditional view is that North Korea has made all these investments to protect itself from a South Korean and American invasion. Well, the vast army could do that, at least making any invasion very costly. But a nuclear weapon? Let’s think about it rationally.

North Korea probably has around 3 to 5 nuclear warheads. So far, they cannot attach one to a missile. It would take many years to develop that technology. They could, of course. Pakistan has and its missile technology has been sold to them by North Korea. The real question is, in what circumstances would North Korea ever use a nuclear weapon?

I don’t think they ever would. On one occasion when I was the foreign minister and he was Secretary of State, Colin Powell rang me about a North Korean related issue and we had a brief discussion about this very topic. Now Colin Powell is no Dick Cheney style neo-conservative hardliner. But he was pretty emphatic. “Alex,” he said, “if North Korea ever dropped a nuclear bomb on the South, we’d turn the North into a parking lot”. 

That’s the point. The North Korean regime isn’t suicidal. They know that the use of nuclear weapons would bring the end to their regime, and pretty quickly. So it still begs the question, why would the government of poverty stricken North Korea spend so much of its GDP on a nuclear program and long range missiles which could, conceivably, be armed with a nuclear warhead?

We can only guess but here’s a thought. During my first visit to North Korea, the then foreign minister took me to dinner at a government guest house several kilometres outside the capital, Pyongyang. Dinners are important in diplomacy. After a few drinks, the two sides open up more frankly with each other. On this occasion, the conversation turned to the issue of the re-unification of all Korea. This isn’t an issue we know much about when we speak of North Korea. I wanted to know what the North Korean vision was. After all, in the early 1950s their vision was to invade the South and impose a brutal, Stalinist regime on the whole peninsula. 

His reply was fascinating. North Korea wanted re-unification, but of a very different kind. They wanted a loose federation of two quite distinct states. The North would retain its autocratic – we would say Stalinist – system and the South its more open liberal capitalist system. There would be a federal government which would comprise representatives of the two states and they would take responsibility for Korea’s foreign relations and other essential functions like currency which would more or less unite the country.

This, I thought, is a pretty odd model. I couldn’t imagine it could ever work. But it is interesting that in both North and South Korea the leaders and their people still dream of the re-unification of their country.

So what has this to do with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs? Well, remember that the South has double the population of the North and its economy is twenty to thirty times larger. In a re-unified entity, the South would be predominant. But not totally if the North retained a significant military capability.

The North’s calculation is that if Korea re-unifies, the Americans will leave the peninsula and Korea will become a neutral country. In that environment, the North with its nuclear weapons and missiles would be a formidable partner with the South.

Personally, I think it sounds eccentric but the alternative scenario is that reunification would be on the South’s terms. The North wants re-unification but on equal terms. It can’t happen but it helps explain the otherwise eccentric policies of the North Koreans.




Third age

April 2012

  • Shirley Stott Despoja

Bread and butter and hundreds and thousands.

Sometimes I think that the only things that have not changed in my lifetime are arrowroot biscuits, and pass-the-parcel at children’s parties. At my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party last month I experienced the shock of the old when I realised that a child’s indoor birthday party is basically the same as it was 70 years ago.

My friend Anne, a great-grandmother, and I found that soothing, I think. The parents playing the pass-the-parcel music cheated to ensure every child was a winner, in just the same incompetent way as I used to, decades ago. I half expected an appeal to the court of disputed results, but those little children knew both the rules and when they should be broken. The table groaned with good things, of course, but my humble offering of fairy bread went down like a dinner. Bread and butter with hundreds and thousands forever! Completely tasteless, but traditional, comforting, absolutely unchanging party food. The balloons stayed up (they didn’t in our day) and nobody cried. It made me ridiculously happy, though I realise that was not quite the point of my granddaughter’s party.

Third agers need these little touchstones of continuity now and then to counter the continual thrust into our lives of the new, especially at those times, as Henry Francis Lyte’s doleful hymn goes, when change and decay in all around we see. Of such sadness, here is an example:

When we were young we built our houses and planted trees to shade them. Now builders rip out trees and bushes, fill up the block with house. Then they cover up the builders’ rubble with some sad soil and shove in some spiky yuccas that go with the verandah-less, jail-house domestic architecture of today.

I cannot be doing with yuccas. They could take out the eye of an unwary person, especially a child, and they provide no shade at all. Trees that survive, especially big shady ones, have no security of tenure. There’s always an excuse for chopping down or mutilating a tree, it seems. The man behind my house trimmed a neighbour’s gum tree and in doing so changed the micro-climate of my small back garden without a by-your-leave. Councillors cave in to all sorts of requests to kill off trees which are deemed “unsuitable “or “dangerous” with little proof that this is so. Skin cancer is a lot more dangerous and prevalent than shady tree danger. 

My Yates garden club contact tells me: “At last gardens are moving away from the spiky, clumping plants that have been so much in favour in recent years. While there will always be a place for structured plants, there’s nothing quite as inspiring as a garden filled with colourful flowers.”  For structured read yukky yuccas.

Flowers, yes, always, but where are the garden trees and substantial shrubs of yesteryear and who, if anyone, is planting them? Flame trees, jacarandas, wattles, gum trees, oleanders, hibiscuses, bottlebrushes, weeping myrtles, bauhinias, crepe myrtles? Where I live there are some old gardens left from the 50s, tangled and mysterious and beautiful, with height and understoreys, hiding cottages that developers only see as ripe for demolition. I seek these gardens out like old, lost friends and risk lace curtains being twitched as I stare and touch if I can. An old camellia can make my day; honeysuckle brings tears to my eyes. An apple-scented magnolia is all the sweetness and drama I need for a week. I am watching those beloved old bauhinias in the street near the new river development on the former Channel 7 site at Gilberton. If some bugger argues that he can’t get his truck onsite without their removal, I will do something drastic, I know.

A garden is a potent metaphor. Squabbling birds, rampant climbers, lemon trees firing off lemons in a storm, barren figs, woody pears, the gardener’s constant struggle with pests and efforts to grow something where the aspect is wrong… I used the complex habitat of my last old garden as disguised political commentary for years in a long-gone column, evading the censorship of my then editorial master who never quite got it. But my readers had no difficulty getting the message. And now we have few trees, many yuccas and even plastic lawn… what better metaphor is there for certain aspects of modern life and human behaviour?

Lesley Cains is a woman who worries about gardens. Hers is one of the last small garden shops to survive against the competition of the big hardware/garden chains. Lesley knows that her 35 year old garden will not survive her. Gardening makes one realistic. About the likelihood of suburban garden tree planting, she says Generation X and Y can’t visualise a tree that takes 15 years to grow when they expect to move on in three or five years. Lesley made her garden from cuttings from her older neighbours’ gardens when she moved to a housing trust place. The old neighbours have gone and so have their gardens, but there is something of them still in Lesley’s place.

She thinks young people are getting interested in eating from their gardens and enjoys advising them. Don’t be like the old man who waited until his flower-loving wife died to expand vastly his vegie patch. Without the flowers, bees did not come to the garden and the vegies died. She has excellent advice for old people struggling to maintain their gardens, too. Get friends in on a rota to help. Someone among them will have a strong back, someone else some good knees. That’s the theory anyway.





Private label needs public disclosure

April 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

Whichever way you cut it, the growth in private label brands is going to continue within Australian supermarkets.

Consumers in Australia are increasingly seeing private label products as representing great value. A recent AC Nielsen research report into the power of private label brands globally found an average of 69% of all respondents agreed that ‘supermarket own brands are usually extremely good value for money’. In Australia 81% shared this sentiment.

Growing consumer adoption, combined with more sophisticated private label branding by supermarkets, has seen private label sales increase steadily from 15% in 2003 to above 25% of total sales today. Given that private label penetration is strongly correlated with market concentration, both Coles and Woolworths, with approximately 80% of all supermarket sales between them, are in a strong position to achieve their stated aims of pushing their private label sales closer to 40% of total sales.

From a consumer perspective this perhaps represents good news. Consumers are cashing in on some big savings while also believing that the discounted private label will often be coming out of the same factory as the national branded product. On the surface it’s all upside.

However, for many Australian food processors and manufacturers who have their own branded products in the market, private label is turning into a nightmare. They are witnessing the transformation of their once dedicated channel partners into formidable competitors with an unfair advantage. Never before have they had a competitor who required them to sit down and share their new product and promotional plans in advance. Never before did they have a competitor able to dictate their product pricing – a major issue when their input costs keep rising. Never before did they have a competitor who determined shelf allocations, positioning and promotional slots.

You get the picture.

The conflicting roles of Coles and Woolworths, as both supermarket channel partner and product (private label) brand competitor, places national brand owners at a huge disadvantage. They are not only facing a new breed of competitor in the supermarkets, they are also encountering a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. Significant discounting by private label brands in 2011 spurred global Heinz executives to describe the Australian market as an ‘inhospitable environment’ for suppliers.

Turning the market upside down – it’s an increasingly tough world for food brands like Heinz.

The lot of many national brand owners is further complicated by the fact they also supply the supermarkets with their private label products. They have rationalised their role in supplying what is essentially a competitor, on the basis of lowering their overall unit costs of production, reaffirming their relationship with the supermarket, and believing if they did not do it one of their competitors would. Regardless of their reasoning they are being complicit in a significant restructuring of their own market.

The growth in private label is building the dominant position of our supermarkets to the point where they can dictate where our food products come from and the terms on which they are delivered. This will inevitably lead to an increased proportion of product being sourced at lower cost from overseas with the potential to threaten the viability of many local food producers.

Veteran food industry consultant Dr McKinna says that while food production costs such as labour, energy, freight and compliance are rising, the retail price of virtually every supermarket food category has dropped 5% in the past 18 months, with milk and bread prices down 30-50%. He said 50% of all food sold by the major retailers was now marketed at a sale price. While Coles may have based their business strategy on ‘Down Down, Prices Are Down’ it does not mean the interests of the food industry are being well served.

Given the role private label brands are playing in reshaping the landscape of the food industry we have a somewhat radical suggestion: Why don’t we make the whole thing far more transparent?

Why not make it mandatory to declare the manufacturing source of products on the pack? This would allow consumers to identify whether the private label product they’re considering is sourced from the same factory as the national brand or not. If it is and has the same ingredients, then for most it’s a no-brainer to take the lower price. However, for a food manufacturer with national brand equity to protect the decision to also supply to the supermarkets, their private label products becomes one of brand suicide.

As a result, the majority of national brands would no longer agree to supplying private label products. The supermarkets would have to form relationships with second and third tier manufacturers, who may not have the volumes to deliver the low unit prices the supermarkets are demanding. National brands would have to get on with what they were created to do: build their brands. It may also result in the supermarkets having to vertically integrate by taking ownership of some of their supply sources. This in turn means they would have to build new skill sets and confront some of the same operational risks their current supply sources face. If they can do it better than the national brand players, then it will be on merit not muscle.

Total transparency of food product manufacturing would change the rules of engagement significantly. The respective roles of brand owner, food manufacturer and supermarket would have sharper clarity with no one – including consumers – left feeling exploited.

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.





Turning from a two speed economy to a clean economy

April 2012

  • John Thwaites

Whether it’s the two speed economy or a patchwork economy, we’ve got every right to be worried in Victoria.

Victoria is losing jobs, not gaining them. Growth has stalled. The latest figures show while Western Australia gained 54,000 jobs last year, Victoria lost 34,000. The mining boom is forcing up the value of the Australian dollar making it much tougher for Victorian manufacturers and service industries like education and tourism to compete. Other sectors like retail and construction are not so exposed to the rising dollar but are nevertheless suffering from uncertainty and lack of confidence.

If Victoria is going to survive in these challenging times we need a plan to rebuild jobs and confidence.

With this in mind I was struck by a report of what states on the other side of the Pacific are doing. The Governors of the Pacific Coast states of Oregon, Washington and California in the USA, and the Premier of British Columbia in Canada, have just this month signed an action plan to create one million new jobs in their states by 2020.

How are they going to do it? By looking to the clean economy.

The governments have identified four key sectors of the economy that stand out for job growth potential across their region. The sector with the largest potential increase in new employment is energy efficiency and green building. Over three hundred thousand new jobs are planned in building retrofitting, energy saving products and green building construction. The plan also identifies hundreds of thousands of new jobs in resource management, clean transportation and clean energy.

A report prepared for the Governors stated: “The clean economy is the single most important global opportunity on the medium term horizon with revenues expected to reach $2.3 trillion in 2020.”

It’s true. Across the world, countries are switching to cleaner energy sources: wind, solar, hydro, bioenergy and geothermal. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that a record US$260 billion was invested in new clean energy in 2011, five times the investment in 2004 and more than in fossil fuels.

Germany, for example, is undertaking a massive reconstruction of its energy supply and transforming to a low carbon economy. Germany has a target for 35-40 per cent of its electricity to be from renewable sources by 2020. It is investing 20 billion euros a year in renewable energy capital investments. Some 367,000 people are employed in the renewable energy sector. Last year alone, 7,500 megawatts of solar PV was installed – enough to power more than one million homes.

The clean tech sector in China is staggering. China is now the world’s largest investor in clean energy, investing $54 billion in 2010, mainly in wind and solar. China will quadruple its wind power capacity to 200,000 megawatts by 2020.

But China is also grappling with massive environmental problems as hundreds of millions of its people move from rural areas to east coast cities – the biggest migration in history. Now China is starting to build greener cities. This is a major opportunity for Australian firms who have considerable expertise in engineering, city planning, waste and water management.

Where are the other opportunities for Australia and Victoria in the clean economy?

A number of companies are leading the way in green building but there are massive opportunities to make our existing buildings and new suburbs more sustainable. Our manufacturers and industry would be more profitable and long-lasting if they reduced their costs through energy efficiency. We have high quality educational institutions that could attract more foreign students to learn how to meet global sustainability challenges. And we have great renewable energy resources with plenty of sun and wind and productive opportunities for algae based biofuels, wave power and geothermal power.

Modelling for the Climate Institute shows that with the right policies close to 34,000 new jobs could be created in clean energy in Australia by 2030, 7,800 of them in Victoria. Many of these jobs could be created in regional Australia where the best renewable resources are located. New wind farms could lead to billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs in construction, virtually all in regional Australia. However the industry is facing a headwind in Victoria courtesy of new government planning regulations that make it tougher to build a wind farm than a coal fired generator.

Renewable energy is only part of the story. A report by the ACTU and ACF estimated that 500,000 new jobs could be created in Australia by 2030 with the right incentives across six key sectors: renewables, energy efficiency, sustainable water, biomaterials, green buildings, waste and recycling.

A price on carbon and the Federal Government’s $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation are steps in the right direction. But states and regions should develop plans that link clean economy opportunities and carbon reduction with new business opportunities and jobs.

Some regions are already doing that. Geelong and Gippsland have developed low carbon growth plans with the assistance of ClimateWorks Australia that identify the most financially attractive opportunities. Geelong has identified $1 billion of inward investment that could be attracted through building and manufacturing efficiency, transport improvements, cogeneration and generating power from waste. Gippsland has identified clean economy opportunities that would generate over $800 million in investment to the region and save businesses and households over $100 million a year through more efficient energy use.

Now is not the time to go backwards in Victoria. A plan to make the most of clean economy opportunities can create long-term, well paid jobs. As Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said at the launch of the Pacific Coast action plan: “Job creation rates in the clean economy are well above those for other shrinking sectors of the economy, pay better, and have been more resilient to the recent economic downturn.”

John Thwaites, former Deputy Premier of Victoria, is Professorial Fellow Monash University and Chair of Monash Sustainability Institute and ClimateWorks Australia.





Death in Tonga

April 2012

  • Alexander Downer

Not long after becoming foreign minister I made a visit to Tonga. Now Tonga’s a hard place to get to so I flew there in an RAAF executive jet. I was told by the Australian mission in Nuku’Alofa that the then Crown Prince would meet me at the airport. 

That was my first surprise. Sitting on the tarmac as the aircraft pulled up was a London taxi. You know the sort. Black and boxy with immense room in the back. And out of the back of the taxi emerged a rather corpulent Crown Prince. He greeted me warmly and ushered me into the taxi. It was quite a vehicle. Instead of black plastic or nylon cloth seats as you would find in London, it was upholstered in the finest white Connolly hide. And instead of metal facias and lining, Rolls Royce style walnut had been used.

But the mechanicals were pure London taxi.

The Crown Prince took me in this extraordinary conveyance not to my hotel but to his house which was half way between the airport and the town of Nuku’Alofa. This was my second surprise. The house had none of the characteristics of a Tongan dwelling, not even of a Pacific Island palace. It was a reproduction of a Palladian villa. Pure Italian. The architect had been recruited in Italy and the design based on an 18th century Italian nobleman’s villa.

To be honest, it was a truly elegant place although it looked idiosyncratic in Tonga. The furnishings were clearly carefully chosen by a celebrated European design house. A combination of English eighteenth century furniture and continental drapes and wall paper. Nice.

The Crown Prince introduced me to the manager of the villa who seemed to be the organiser of the ensuing banquet. I know it’s politically incorrect to say this but I want you to understand the scene. She was the most beautiful woman. But you know the sort: beautiful but almost entirely silent! Pity. I like talkers!

And what would you expect to be served for pre-dinner drinks in Tonga? Not, I suspect, vintage French champagne but there it was, crystal flutes and all, from the house on Lanson.

Memorable too was the conversation. The Crown Prince had been educated at the renowned British military academy, Sandhurst. He had acquired the accent of the Sandhurst graduate and many of their interests. For half an hour the Crown Prince and I discussed the relative merits of the generals and admirals of the Napoleonic Wars. It was fun. I don’t find many people share my interest in history.

The banquet was exquisite but it went on and on. By 2 am I was dead tired and still the evening ploughed on. Finally, it was time to go and I was driven to our hotel. It was a world away from the Palladian villa. It was a dump. But I had a bed and I fell into it and mercifully slept.

Well, the years passed, the King died and this unusual Crown Prince became the King.

For someone so supremely aristocratic, the new King became a champion of democracy. In the face of protests against a regime which lacked true democratic legitimacy, he guided Tonga towards what we all understand as democratic norms.

The next time I visited Tonga, we had dinner again at the Palladian villa. This time, the by then King outlined his plans to redevelop Nuku’Alofa’s centre into a reproduction of renaissance Sienna. It was a fine idea but I couldn’t quite understand the maths. The plans looked impressive but the cost was prohibitive. And so it was.

In mid March this year, the King of Tonga died. It was sad he died in his mid sixties. A tear rolled down my cheeks as I read the news. He was a good man. An eccentric for sure but he was a man who had good instincts and a good heart. He knew the virtues of democracy and knew his country had to catch up with the modern world.

This was one of the more idiosyncratic eras of the South Pacific. I had encouraged him and his prime minister to modernise his political system and the King did it. Good on him. And by doing so he had stabilised his country.

There is a message in all this for the new foreign minister, Bob Carr. The South Pacific is part of Australia’s neighbourhood. We are the biggest and most powerful country in the region. Many of the small island states depend on us for their livelihoods and for wise advice. It’s understandable the Australian foreign minister focuses on the big powers of Asia, woos Washington and wrestles with a variety of multilateral issues.

But he has to devote a bit of time every year visiting and getting to know the leaders of the Pacific. What is more, he will enjoy it. And he will enjoy the company of many of the region’s unusual personalities.





How green is your renovation? The life cycle of homes

March 2012

  • John Thwaites

Home renovation is a national pastime for Australians. Whether it is TV shows like The Renovators and The Block or whether we just like to keep up with our neighbours, something is leading us to spend a fortune on extensions out the back, en suites and new kitchens. Australians spend about as much each year on upgrading existing homes as we do on building new ones.

When our family decided to do the standard back extension to an existing Edwardian home, I was surprised at the size of the builder’s quote.

“But I could buy a whole house for this,” I said. “Well you are, and there is a lot of demolition involved as well,” the builder not unreasonably replied.

At the same time that we are adding on rooms to existing houses, new houses are getting bigger and bigger. The average size of new houses has grown by about 40 percent over the last twenty years. This not only has a financial cost but an environmental cost as well in the energy, water and materials used in construction and in the energy needed to heat and cool our larger homes.

Last month I wrote about the life cycle of clothes and their impact on the environment. It turns out that most of the environmental impact comes not from production of clothes but from consumer use: washing, ironing and drying them.

But what about buildings? How much of their environmental impact comes from building construction and materials? And how much comes from their occupation?

Traditionally sustainability experts have focused on energy use in buildings: the energy used to heat and cool them and to run lights and appliances. This is understandable as buildings use around 40 percent of Australia’s energy and produce around 20 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Building regulations have been introduced to improve design and thermal efficiency and new buildings must now be built to a six star standard. As well, more efficient heating and cooling systems and appliances are available that can slash energy use and greenhouse emissions.

Just as life cycle assessment (LCA) enables us to better understand the environmental impact of clothing, so also it can help with buildings. In Melbourne we have experts in this life cycle assessment including Professor Ralph Horne and his team at the Centre for Design at RMIT.

Professor Horne has carried out a case study of housing in Victoria that compares the energy required for the whole building life cycle: the materials used in construction, the operational energy required to heat and cool it, and maintenance over a fifty year life of the house. The study reviewed four housing types: brick veneer with a concrete slab, mud brick with a concrete slab, weatherboard with a concrete slab and weatherboard with a timber sub-floor.

In the construction phase, the mud brick house with a concrete slab had the lowest emissions, because the production of mud bricks was far less energy intensive than producing commercial bricks or timber. The weatherboard with a timber sub-floor had less energy demand than the houses with a concrete slab because of the high energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of cement: approximately one kilogram of carbon dioxide for each kilogram of cement produced.

However, a different story emerged when Professor Horne investigated the operational energy demand for heating and cooling of the different housing types over a fifty year life. Here the brick veneer on a concrete slab performed best and the mud brick house used 70 percent more energy. Essentially this is because the mud brick house had no cavity wall or insulation and so required a lot of heating in the Victorian winter.

So which is more important – the embodied energy in the construction phase (where the mud brick performed best) or the energy used in operating the house over its lifespan (where the brick veneer did better)?

Professor Horne found that taking the whole life cycle into account including construction, operation and maintenance, the brick veneer used about 30 percent less energy than the mud brick. He found that in all cases the lifetime operational energy used was much greater than the embodied energy. In the mud brick house the operational energy represented nearly 90 percent of total energy and in the brick veneer it was around 70 percent.

However, Professor Horne also found that in very energy efficient housing, embodied energy comprises a greater proportion of lifecycle energy: up to 60 percent. As energy efficiency standards improve, embodied energy will become increasingly important. This is an important finding because our building regulations currently only cover operational performance and not the whole life cycle.

Embodied energy becomes increasingly important when we renovate our homes regularly. As part of the house is demolished and replaced, a lot of the building fabric becomes waste. New materials represent considerable extra embodied energy in our homes. The more frequently we renovate the greater the proportion of embodied energy.

Last month I pointed to Tullia Jack’s research that indicated we could cut down our environmental impact by reducing unnecessary washing of clothes. Perhaps we also need to make our home renovations a little more modest, or at least recycle as many of the building materials as possible.

John Thwaites, former Deputy Premier of Victoria, is Professorial Fellow Monash University and Chair of the Monash Sustainability Institute.





Who the bloody hell are we?

March 2012

  • Peter Singline & David Ansett

Australia needs a Nation Branding Strategy.


Yes, we escaped the financial meltdown of 2008 relatively unscathed – but to a large degree, this was gifted to us by the strength of the current resources boom. However, the resulting two-speed economy is, by default, shaping significant industry re-structuring.

The booming resources-fuelled Australian dollar is also beginning to shape our future. Exporters and import competing businesses are finding it more and more difficult to compete, simply because whatever previously defined their competitive edge has been significantly discounted. In terms of foreign trade, the two star performers, education and tourism, are being seriously squeezed.

Paul Cleary, in his recent book Too Much Luck: The Mining Boom and Australia’s Future (Black Inc.) cites that numerous studies around the world over a long period have found an inverse relationship between natural resource endowments and overall prosperity. He argues there is a broader effect that takes place as resource wealth drives the local currency up and sucks the life out of the rest of the economy.

Add to this what economist Michael Spence highlights in his book The Next Convergence: The Future Economic Growth in a Multispeed World – that many advanced western economies, like the US, are only showing employment growth in what he refers to as ‘non tradeable’ industries, such as health care and Government. In Australia we have a similar trend, with the biggest job growth in the four years since Labor came to power being the 250,000 jobs that have shifted into the healthcare and social assistance sector, along with 103,000 jobs added to public administration and safety. In the 1960s, social assistance transfers amounted to around 4% of GDP in Australia, now they have doubled to 8%.

Spence also highlights the role that globalisation and technology are playing in moving the world closer to a single market for labour. The movement of work abroad in the search of lower labour costs is no longer confined to manufacturing, but also now includes white collar jobs from computer programming, to copy-writing and back office legal tasks.

Add to these structural changes the cry from the business sector that Australia in a more general sense is losing the battle to be internationally competitive, and has become a high-cost, low productivity country, complacent about what is needed to secure its prosperity. Business Council of Australia president Tony Shepherd summed up their mindset (and frankly also ours) brilliantly when he said Australians were adopting a ‘magic pudding approach’ to the economy, relying on the resources boom rather than taking difficult decisions to boost competitiveness.

The world has changed enormously in the past few decades and we need to change with it, but we are lacking a coherent game plan. A game plan that puts sectorial self interest aside and adopts a nationwide mindset as to how we should forge our future together. We are therefore advocating that the nation’s major stakeholders come together and adopt a nation branding mindset. True branding, not in the sense of logo or a strap line, but where all key stakeholders within Australia engage in structured conversations about our future. Representatives from industry, Government, NGOs, the arts, education, health, agriculture, media and other relevant sectors, along with members of the wider community need to participate in deep, factual and informed dialogue around the desired pathways for building Australia’s future prosperity.

We all intuitively understand the role brands play in our purchase decisions. What we need to do now is expand our brand paradigm to the context of the brand owner, and the planning and decision making involved in successfully building a brand. Australia is our brand, we all own it, and the question is how we are going to responsibly develop it.
When one reflects on the public utterances about concerns over Australia’s economic future, it is all a little one-dimensional. It is largely focused on the need to increase productivity and remove bureaucratic red tape. There is an underlying tone that implies that whatever needs to be done, it is some else’s responsibility to do it. However, an authentic and rigorous nation branding project has the power to imbue a shared sense of responsibility for the future prosperity of Australia.

Finland published its brand plan for the future in 2010. As a case study it is notable not just because of the noble and inspiring mission it has set for itself, but also because it is a reminder that in the competitive frontier of globalisation our competitors are turning their mind to how they wish to position themselves relative to Australia and other countries. It also provides us with a useful model of how to weave culture, social conscience and commerce into a holistic vision for the future.

Interestingly, over the years Australia has been referenced in various marketing publications as a country that has undertaken successful nation branding. But from our perspective it has never truly moved beyond positioning Australia as a remarkable tourist destination (which it is). However, the speed of globalisation on every front calls for a far more comprehensive brand mindset. And fast. We need a game plan capable of directing our focus and investments.

Which industries and infrastructure do we build? What capabilities and knowledge do we nurture? How do we increase productivity and share the rewards? What is it about our products and services that positions them positively in world markets? How do we transfer the economic wealth we are currently generating from mining into a foundation for the prosperity of future generations?

Australia is our collective brand. We have a shared responsibility to actively manage its future prosperity. We need to get cracking; we need to start the conversation in earnest today.

Peter Singline and David Ansett are co-founders and directors of Truly Deeply, a Melbourne based brand strategy and design consultancy.





Saved but unseen

March 2012

  • Alex McCulloch

Art cast into the dark by superannuation laws?


Investing in art has become a legitimate way for collectors to contribute to their superannuation funds. Indeed Self Managed Super Funds (SMSF), which may be a choice for art collectors, have grown substantially and attract numbers that contribute over 30% of monies/assets held in all superannuation funds.

There are laws, however, that must be adhered to, the most significant being that the benefits of these funds can only be accessed at retirement. This of course applies to all superannuation funds with rules that, for example, label monetary investments, usually deducted from incomes, as preserved and therefore untouchable. Somehow this is a logical and comprehensible edict when applied to financial contributions but when applied to art, whilst the logic is sustainable in financial terms, is less so when one thinks of beautiful art works ‘cast into the dark’ in storage places. And this is a requirement for those investing in art works as part of their self-managed superannuation fund.

Criss Cannings’ Banksia and Wild Flowers is a good test case. Resplendent in its hues of the Australian bush, these flowers exude a dynamic contrast in their golds, greens, reds, pinks and greens. This still life set against an intense white light is necessarily all about the external world of nature and one cannot help being perturbed at the thought of it being put away into storage.

To actually hang an artwork on the wall to be enjoyed and claimed as a personal asset is a breach of superannuation law. Instead, it is the case that some of Australia’s finest art for the present generation of art lovers cannot be seen – though of course the collector can visit the storage space and look at it when the need occurs. This furtive lurking in dark places to view extraordinary works of colour and design is perhaps yet another anomaly of the commodification of art that is so much a part of capitalism and its investment strategies.

The new rules for artwork held at 30 June 2011 grant a five-year transitional period for funds to comply. They include the requirement that artworks purchased after this date cannot be stored in the private residence of the members or related parties. ‘Private residence’ includes the land used for private residence and other buildings on that land such as a garage or a shed. Lurking in the back shed to see one’s art collection has been made redundant.

Does this make sense? Is there a way that this might be changed and in turn benefit the art industry, in particular, young artists attempting to survive financially? Or is there a way for art investors, despite the superannuation laws, to ensure these paintings can be seen?

Investment in art has grown substantially given that this investment can be linked to superannuation funds. Tax concessions offered along with predictions that these artworks will increase in value at a higher rate than investment in shares and property has buoyed the industry, whether the investors are owners of commercial galleries, workers in the art world such as curators, art hangers, administrative staff et al, or even, and perhaps most significantly, the artists themselves. This increased investment has also provided means by which new professions have developed within the art industry, not the least being post-graduate degrees in art curatorship, art history, conservation, the role of art as cultural capital, and general knowledge. If art is conceived as a canny form of investment, people who buy art need advice from people trained in the area, whether formally or by experience in the art world, who have been shown to provide professional advice that has ensured a sound return on investment.

Non-compliance with superannuation laws that insist that the art works be placed in storage has heavy penalties: tax benefits are withdrawn and art collectors would therefore be expected to pay 45% tax on the perceived value of the collection and forced to sell the works within five years heavily reducing the anticipated value of the works if retained for a longer period.

Although the current law no longer allows 5% of a collection owned by a fund (since 30 June 2011) to be on show in one’s home, funds that held artworks at 30 June 2011 have five years (to 30 June 2016) to comply with the new rules. For artworks purchased by a fund after 1 July 2011 it is an offence if the members of the fund or any related parties have any use of these pieces.

However this story has many possible happy endings for the art collector. Art must not be cast into the dark. There are other possibilities open to the art lover who wishes to indulge in his/her passion, accumulate superannuation funds and simultaneously enjoy continual public access to their artwork. The advantages need to be seen in terms of the expenses incurred. Superannuation rules have now added costs to the art investor in demanding annual evaluations by experts in the field. There is now also a requirement for artwork purchased after 1 July 2011 to be insured in the name of the fund within seven days of acquisition. And of course it has always been the case that art when sold from the fund required a market valuation.

On the other hand there is also the possibility of renting out the art in public buildings or allowing the artworks to be exhibited in public in other circumstances. It becomes therefore a choice for art collectors to either hide them away or bring them into the light.

Whether it can be claimed that investing in art is necessarily more profitable than investment in shares and property is problematic. Certainly there are many examples where this is the case. Investment by its nature is risky and is affected by the unknowable elements of global economics and levels of inflation, not to mention the question of the enduring popularity and/or acclaim for the works of particular artists or genre. There are careless investors in this area as there are in others, which is why choosing the right advisors is of paramount importance.

Collectors of art who choose to have Self Managed Super Funds do have choices, and it is to be hoped that one of these is not to ignore the loophole that allows precious artifacts to be seen either in public galleries as a community service, or as rentals which receive 6%-8% value of the art annually.

Alex McCulloch is Director, Metro Gallery.
Disclaimer: Please consult your accountant or a financial expert before making any decisions on your financial future.

Image: Criss Canning, Banksia and Wildflowers, oil on canvas, 61 x 56 cm (detail)





spare a thought for the punters

March 2012

  • Alexander Downer


When we think of Greece we think of history and holidays. You know, Aristotle, Plato and Socrates and, of course Alexander the Great. But that was millennia ago. These days, there’s the magnificence of the Acropolis towering over Athens, the beauty of Corfu with its sparkling sea, charming villages and tempting restaurants and the almost constant sunshine.

But for Greeks, their own beautiful country has fallen on very hard times.

In the Australian, British and American media it’s the Greeks who have brought all this on themselves. They signed up to joining the euro and in doing so accepted that their  government debt should never exceed 60 per cent of GDP and the budget deficit should stay below 3 per cent of GDP.   

Well, they’ve come nowhere near it. Their government debt is a massive 160 per cent of GDP – nearly three times the allowable limit. And the budget deficit is over 10 per cent of GDP, more than three times the allowable limit.

It’s a terrible story of public policy failure. All this debt has to be funded just as your own household debt has to be funded. Without help, it can’t be. The government would be unable to service its loans. So to avoid default the Greeks have asked the rest of the eurozone for help. And this is my point. They’ve said they will but at a very steep price. That price will extract a very high human toll. Greece has to implement an austerity package more drastic and socially savage than anything we’ve experienced since the Great Depression.

Think about it: before the latest package, Greece had already agreed to increase taxes by around $8 billion by 2013. That means increasing the GST, reducing the tax free threshold, the introduction of taxes on luxuries and the payment by everyone of a “solidarity bonus” of between 1 and 2 per cent.

That isn’t all. 30,000 public servants are to be retrenched, pensions reduced by up to 20 per cent and public sector pay severely cut.

Now imagine doing all that here in Australia! Imagine the reaction of the unions. Imagine the reaction of voters! The public would be outraged.

And this was before the latest, additional austerity measures were foisted on the Greeks. With the latest package, they have to cut government spending by a further 1.5 per cent of GDP. If we had to do that, it would mean spending cuts of around $150 billion. This time there are to be further cuts in public sector jobs and public sector wages. And the minimum wage has to be cut by over 20 per cent.

I’m not sure why but our media don’t focus on this pain. Riots may not be responsible or even excusable but I think you’d agree, with austerity packages of these dimensions they are explicable. By the way, all this pain will allow Greece to access €130 billion of extra loans so that it won’t have to default on its borrowings. That means Greece can stay in the euro.

Some Greeks – and others – think they might be a better off just defaulting on their loans. Well, it’s hard to believe this will make matters better. For a start, Greece would leave the eurozone and re-introduce the Drachma. At a guess is would depreciate by about 50 per cent. So the savings and assets of Greeks would be halved in value. They couldn’t get loans. No one would want to lend to them. So the cuts which they have to make under the austerity packages would have to be made anyway.

And then there’s the contagion effect. Europe’s banks hold a whole lot of Greek debt. For a start, French banks hold €15 billion of Greek government debt. German banks hold about €22 billion. Add to that the fact those same banks hold a good deal of Greek private sector debt and the problem becomes more worrying. All up, French banks hold over €50 billion of Greek debt and German banks around €35 billion.

A collapse of Greece would mean all that money was lost. So French and German banks would have to be bailed out by their governments. And that’s just the French and Germans. Spare a thought for little Cyprus which would need plenty of outside help.

So sure, Greece is a lovely place and the people are warm and friendly. But you need to understand why they are so agitated. And who’s to blame?  Well, that’s a tough one. For a start, successive Greek governments cooked the books. Secondly, the banks were more than happy to keep lending money thinking that because Greece was in the euro nothing could go wrong. Thirdly, the politicians just kept spending unconcerned about the consequences. Finally, the voters elected those politicians.

So they can work out for themselves who is to blame. But spare a thought for the average Greek “working family”. They are seeing their living standards devastated. For those of us who like Greece and like the Greeks, it’s a very sad situation.





Irregular writings

March 2012

  • Dave Graney

A trip to Planet Hobart

Hobart. It’s a different joint every time you step onto the island. Every time you turn around! Sometimes it’s a very sophisticated scene, other times, a world of sleepy thugs. Not very scary though as, you know, I’m from Melbourne.

The flight over was strange. I walked up the gangway and watched the pilot washing the window of the plane. At least he didn’t get a squeegee out like he was in a gas station. Two extremely tall men were last to get on. A voice from nowhere was announcing their presence as they walked up the plane. They squeezed into a couple of sets back behind and across from me. Then the “voice” appeared at eye level to me. A Person of Restricted Growth. With a very loud, deep, rasping voice. He climbed in between two old ladies with a few apologies that would not have been out of place in the rural 1940s and then sat perched high on his seat. His legs were not in proportion to the rest of him and didn’t reach the floor. The two tall men behind kept ragging him and touching his crusty baseball cap and he said something along the lines of “strike me lucky! It’s gonna be outta control dealin’ with these jokers for the whole trip!” Colloquial antiquities abounded. The show was on for young and old! The old ladies giggled, kind of pleased to be supporting players to a bunch of recognizeable, old school blokes.

As the flight took off the loud voiced man had a VB in his hand as soon as he could and proceeded to burp very loudly. As if he was in a shearing shed or work lunchroom. Only this time there were women around. Ducks on the pond! Didn’t seem to phase him though. He carried on regardless. A trooper. As we touched down he and the old lady were both deep into nodding tut-tutting agreement about some politically correct bureaucratic bungling that was impinging upon the world as they experienced it. Madness – but what can you do?
I took a bus to the venue. I was staying in a room above the stage.

I went for a walk to the harbour to buy some fish and chips from one of the punts there. On the way a young sheila smiled and winked at me. On the way back another young bird gave me a flying flirt from a passing car. Of course I pulled my gut in and walked a little lighter. Like I still had it. At this stage, that sort of interaction is odd and seldom. Maybe they don’t have enough men in Hobart?

Seemed like a bit of a ghost town, something must be on! Suits me as I’m feeling a little ghostly.

The next day I went for another walk around the town. It was cold and wet. Hobart always turns it on for me. Last two times there I have been chesty, phlegmy, feverish and always walking headlong into an Antarctic wind. This time I was in rude health and the wind was light. I find an apple. I always look for them in the apple isle. I feel it’s my duty. They are not easy to find though, as if the locals are ashamed of them and shush them under the couch when visitors are on the scene.

Poncey Melbourne acquaintances have yelled at me about the new art museum in Hobart. I have nothing but time here but don’t take the opportunity to take the ferry to MONA. Yeah, I’m a philistine. Guilty. I’ll make the trip one day, when I have even more time to fill up. I enjoy the freakiness of Hobart itself. Just being there. I’ve read lots of great stories written about the island. Christopher Koch’s “The Double Man” being my favourite. Witchcraft, dope and folk rock. I love those flavours. When I get to the end of the kinks that abound in Tasmania I’ll get on the ferry and avail myself of the freaked collection at the gallery. That’s my story!

At the gig I am alone with my songs and an acoustic. Takes me a few songs to dig into the right tempo and intensity of playing. When you start to play a solo gig, after playing with a band a lot, you try to fill up all the noise a bit too much. Strumming and singing out, getting some smoke and noise happening. I started out pretty low key. A fellow who’d wanted me to sign a book had mentioned some songs he liked. I did them first up. The first time I’d touched them in years. “I’m just havin’ one of those lives” and “A million dollars in a red velvet suit”.
I walk through the two one hour sets, enjoying myself and visiting all kinds of tunes I normally can’t access with my band. Yes, I am otherwise being held prisoner.

Making the most of this tiny rush for freedom I play all kinds of tunes and feels and get to enjoy the picking and singing and groaning. Sick skills. After the show I walk upstairs and read myself to sleep.

The next morning I get a cab to the airport. I see a table load of African Americans in the food area and gravitate towards them. People from the real world. I enjoy a coffee and a literary journal I have brought with me in my bag and ascertain that they are the band members for the Pointer Sisters and they had played at the casino last night. As I walk to the plane I hear a familiar sound. “The voice” appears in the queue along with his too tall buddies, all cracking up at some pedestrian bloke shit that a regular sized person would have stepped over pretty easily.

Back in Melbourne, I grabbed my guitar and took a bus and a train to the hills. At the train station there was another Person of Restricted Growth at the bottom of the escalator. This one had hipster glasses and a rockabilly hairdo. Melbourne style. Got off the train at my stop and walked up the hills. Hadn’t really talked to anyone for a couple of days but had sung my life out for two hours the night before. Sat around in an empty, quiet house, taking the silence as it was. Happy to be with a night of no appointments or places to be. I’d already started the sweet slide downhill to the changing of the years.




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