Monday, 5 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Joshua Factor" by Donald Clayton

Joshua FactorJoshua Factor by Donald D. Clayton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a very clever book. I first read this in the 1990s, at about the same time I read Boundaries, which I am re-reading again now. The rich blend of geopolitical, scientific, religious, historical, and philosophical concepts is superb. Well worth a second read but I must admit that when I first read this, I really had little idea about much of its content. If ever I enjoyed a science fiction book, this is my favourite.



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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses" by Theodore Roosevelt

The Strenuous Life: Essays and AddressesThe Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses by Theodore Roosevelt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Roosevelt's speeches read like a great apologia for the Protestant work ethic. I could not help but think that we have failed to capitalise on his progressive zeal. At times, I found Roosevelt's words to be rousing, at others, antiquated in their institutionalised view of women and "others", yet inclusive and accepting of diversity. Nationalism underpins much of Roosevelt's rhetoric, not empty, but nevertheless of his time. There is much wisdom in his ideal of the strenuous life, and much warning of the over-strenuous. I am cautious about the applicability of his lessons to present times, not so much because of his words but because of the way history has played out in spite of them. The ideas of manliness resonate from time to time, but I could not help but feel a distinct "foreignness" in the underpinning idealism. Although Roosevelt has been built into an icon, his words convey a measured tenacity and ability to rise to the occasion in the face of adversity. Herein, for me at least, lies the greatest lesson. If we strip away the legend, and look to the man (as Roosevelt may well have agreed), we can see an ordinary human being who became extraordinary through great effort and an ability to be great despite living with many of the ailments suffered by fellow mortals. If I were to sum up the man? No-nonsense, progressive pragmatism. I suppose what perplexes me is the historical baggage. Much like reading and admiring Hemingway's work, one must constantly forgive the context. Upon finishing the works, the "Whose motorcycle is this?" scene from Pulp Fiction comes to mind.



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Friday, 2 December 2016

Book Notes: "The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty" by Patrick Hollingworth

The Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with UncertaintyThe Light and Fast Organisation: A New Way of Dealing with Uncertainty by Patrick Hollingworth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Patrick Hollingworth signed my copy of this book after his presentation at the NSW Taxi Council Annual Conference. In his presentation, he mentioned the old-style website where the developers controlled everything, changes took months, and results were professional but poorly-timed and laborious. This resonated with me so I decided to give the book a go. While reading it, I was disappointed by the journalistic-style short paragraphs, use of contractions, rather shallow references to other work I was mostly familiar with, and I had to become comfortable with the TED-style approach (I am not a fan of TED talks). But his approach to understanding the contemporary world fits with how I try to think and act, and it was only as I entered the second half of the book that I began reflecting and learning, taking notes, ordering other books, and began to see how my other reading fits in with Hollingworth's theme. In particular, the concept of antifragility, gleaned from my regular reading of The Art of Manliness, struck a chord. One area that I am grappling with is the concept of the anti-alpha. I have been alpha for so long it is second nature, but my MBTI scales have slowly centred from extreme ENTJ to now flicking between INTJ and ENTJ depending on my mood. I once scored ISTJ when I was particularly tired. So maybe there is hope for me yet. This book has set me off on further reading, but it parallels many of the concepts i have been teaching in my undergraduate leadership course, which I have changed significantly based on Clawson's ideas about Level Three Leadership. I read this while conducting my annual reflection on the year past, and it was quite timely. Truth be told, I focused on this as a quick way to reduce the number of books that I have half-finished so that I can clear the decks for a more focused reading schedule in the new year. Nevertheless, I gained much from Hollingworth's approach, and having heard him speak, and observed the audience's reaction to his approach, to borrow from Ryan Holiday, only my ego can get in the way of what I can get out of this work. A very timely read, and while my own ideas about good work cloud so much of what I read, it is clear that Hollingworth does his fair share of reading, and I daresay the influence of his wife (who was completing a PhD while the book was begin written) kept the work honest, and therefore a worthwhile addition to the literature on leadership and change in uncertain times.



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Speech at the Breadalbane History Meeting

Some of the Participants at the Inaugural Meeting of the Breadalbane History Group


About twenty people from the Breadalbane community met at the Breadalbane Hall on Sunday 27th November to share photographs and stories of the history of the region. I was invited to give a talk on the importance of local history. My talk was rather personal, but I thought this was important because the group hope to interview some of the residents of the area, and, having an interest in local and family history, I thought it important to outline some of the issues that one usually encounters when delving into the past. I have added the transcript from my talk here. It is rather personal at times, but so be it!


The Importance of Local History in Australia


Dr Michael de Percy

Good afternoon. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address you here today and I thank you for the invitation. I would like to acknowledge that, according to the traditional owner’s map from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the Gundungurra people, which intersects with the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal and Wiradjuri peoples, and I would like to pay my respect to elders both past and present. I will explain a little later why doing so is important to me, and I will do my best to put this in the context of this meeting here today. But let me start with my interest in history.
Paul Ings and Terry Hannan with their old photographs

In my political science research, I am particularly interested in how decisions made in the past help or hinder the choices we can make in the present. This is obvious in networked infrastructure such as roads. Le Corbusier, writing about architecture in the 1920s, made a point about how the roads in Paris were based on tracks carved by beasts of burden over many centuries.  While there have been changes over time, a good deal of the road network still traverses those same tracks and may continue to do so for some time. The past, once traditions, habits, and patterns become entrenched, can be difficult to change.


In Australia, we have a similar situation with internet access, although it is often difficult to convince others how decisions made at the time of the telegraph continue to impact upon broadband access today. Many technologists will tell you that the telegraph has nothing to do with broadband, but the interpretation of the wording of section 51(v) of the Australian Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth powers for “telegraphic, telephonic and other like services”, and the way these powers are put into practice, explains why your local councillor cannot help you with your internet connection or speed up the delivery of the NBN. In countries such as Canada, different approaches to deploying the telegraph have resulted in a much stronger role for municipal governments in enabling broadband. 

This is all history, and while it may not mean much today in the context of the NBN, pretending that the decisions made in the past have not influenced the way we do business in the present is little more than denying the impact of history. And so it is with local history, and I would like to talk to you today about how local history can play an important role in not only understanding where we came from, but where we could go in the future if only today’s choices were better informed. Drawing on Karl Marx, Bogdanov suggested that “the dead lay hold of the living”, and in many ways, our present is lived in the very future established by generations past. Understanding history, then, is to me something quite necessary. And in Australia, where the history of European settlement has been rather short, we still have a lot of work to do.

I would like to start by talking about family history, and then move to the importance of local history, particularly in this region. Why family history? Well, to me, local and family history are often linked. I am sure for any of you who have already delved into the history of this region, you will be familiar with the names of the families that bring that local history to life. Indeed, I suspect that many of you here today will be members of those same families. But like all families, there are many myths that become legend that eventually become accepted family facts. It is not unusual for people to use these accepted facts as key pillars of their identity. In my own family history research, I remember the first fact was that my paternal great-grandfather had been a member of the light horse, had served at Gallipoli, and had won some sort of medal for bravery during the Great War. The truth was that he joined the 33rd Infantry Battalion and went to France in 1916, and was subsequently gassed twice. He was charged with being absent without leave a few times, but he never did receive a bravery medal. But the truth didn’t mean he wasn’t a hero. He volunteered again in the Second World War – I believe he lied about his age. His second time in the infantry didn’t last long – he appears to have become a sapper and worked building roads. Very different from the family legend, to be sure, but fascinating nonetheless. There are many more family legends that I have “myth-busted”, and I will share one more of these with you.

I was fortunate enough to have met each of my great-grandmothers. My maternal great-grandmother told us how she was Cherokee Indian. The family believed this for more than two decades. We were also told that there were no convicts in our family – none at all. But just recently I discovered that my great grandmother was born on Walhallow Mission. Not only was her great grandmother an Aboriginal woman, but her great grandfather was a convict. Her own father appears to have been an Aboriginal man, too. If I were to believe the historical trail she left behind in her marriage certificates and her own mother’s death certificate, she had two different European fathers. There was also a view that my maternal grandmother’s family were Irish ne’er do wells, but I have been able to trace her father’s family back to the 1500s in Kent, England. So I have busted many myths, but the truth has always been more fascinating than the family legends. But I do not recommend this approach if you have created your own identity based on family legends! But the truth is there are many stories like these waiting to be discovered.

Now to local history. But allow me to digress. It wasn’t until 2006 that I first travelled overseas. Since that time, I have visited the old Quebec City and the Maritimes in Canada, the ancient ruins at Palmyra, Syria (well before the current war), the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the site of the Great Library of Alexandria, the fascinating ancient city of Petra carved out of the mountains in the deserts of Jordan, made famous by the scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Baptism Site on the Jordan River, the great old city of Jerusalem, the ancient burial crypts of Bahrain, the Buddhists monuments in Thailand, ancient pagodas in China, the ruins of St Pauls in Macau, the tenements of Glasgow, and many of  the famous historical sites of London and Paris. And then recently, I moved to Gunning, NSW, population 500.

I first visited Gunning last year. I had seen the signs, but had never driven beyond Gundaroo. While conducting research for a radio show I presented on the words of Henry Lawson set to music, I stumbled upon Max Cullen’s autobiography. At the end of the book, Max states proudly that he lives in the old Coronation Theatre in Gunning. I asked my wife if we had ever been to Gunning – we hadn’t – and that afternoon I made an offer on the house we now live in. It is a federation house built by the Caldwell brothers for Samuel Bush in 1926. My great-grandmother owned a federation house in Haberfield, and I have always wanted to live in one and now I do.

Between the time of the offer until the settlement date 3 months later, I discovered that the original owner of the block of land was a journalist who bought it in the first town lot release in 1875. By the 1890s, he was bankrupt and the land changed hands several times until purchased by the Bushes. In 1949, Samuel Bush gave the house to his son as a wedding present. I believe they lived in that house until the 1990s, and I am pleased to say that after numerous transactions, it is now in good hands. But I couldn’t stop there. I have been fascinated with the village of Gunning. Every building has its own story to tell. My favourite piece is a story by a journalist written in 1878. He walked from Meadow Creek up to the Public School on Yass Street, crossed the road and walked back down the other side, describing every building along the way. Many of those same buildings are still there now. It is not unusual to become addicted to such a quest for historical knowledge, and it is one of the few healthy addictions!

In June this year, I ran two workshops on using Trove, the National Archives, and the Australian War Memorial records for family and local history research. Both workshops were fully booked out and the team at Trove and ABC 666 in Canberra were interested in what we were doing at a local level. Participants were encouraged to bring along their own research projects, and after a brief introductory session on the database, I shared some of my tips and tricks.


Each participant found something interesting and relevant to their research projects. One was able to confirm a family legend about a relative who had performed at the Sydney Opera House, others were able to learn about the history of their house or about family members who had served in the military.

Some of the tips and tricks I shared included to notice the typing conventions of particular periods and to recognise repeated patterns in the transcription errors. For example, when looking for street names, it was once common for newspapers to hyphenate the street name. Yass Street then becomes Yass-street. If you use quotations marks and search for "Yass-street", then it excludes the many articles that relate to Yass the town, rather than Gunning’s main street. Even simple tips like using a minus sign to exclude certain words can improve the search results. More tips can be found in Trove's Help system.

After a while, I was able to recognise standard errors in the transcription. For example, Saxby-street often appeared as Samby-street. By searching for the error, I found most of the missing links in my project. And each time I found an error, I corrected the text so that future researchers will have an easier time searching.

One of Trove’s important functions is the ability to fix transcription errors. If there is a particular topic or region of interest, a committed group of researchers can improve access to the historical records by enabling better search results. It can also be useful to have shared lists on particular topics. 

As a result of the workshop, local history research has improved as the accuracy of the transcriptions of local articles has increased and searching Trove has become much easier.

The most recent workshop held at Gunning Library focused on Australian military service records using Trove in conjunction with the online collections from the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial. We are hoping to make further exciting discoveries about the town that will eventually feed in to planned walking tours of the village.

Trove provides rural and regional communities with access to all sorts of digitised information held in collecting institutions around the country, including maps, photographs and music. Trove’s advantage is that it provides information that you would otherwise have to travel to to find. Indeed, Trove overcomes the barriers of distance and many local libraries provide internet access so you can search Trove and its many treasures. But as I said - be careful – it can be highly addictive!


And what I have realised is that while we do not have the Great Pyramids, or ancient Greek and Roman ruins, in this fair land we have everyday stories that together form a rich tapestry of a nation forged out of the antipodes, and many of those stories are just waiting to be told. I recently read Robert Macklin’s book about Hamilton Hume, and, while somewhat starry-eyed in its patriotism, I couldn’t help but feel that Hume’s story is part of my own. Hume was a native born “currency lad” while his historical companion, William Hovell (as we were taught at school - but I am reliably informed that the name should be pronounced “Hove-ell”) – was a “sterling” or English-born. Hove-ell attempted to claim most of the glory for Hume’s bushmanship and navigation skills but was later found out. Charles Sturt, although another “sterling”, had a good deal of respect for Hume’s abilities and did all he could to ensure that Hume received the recognition he deserved. Nevertheless, the “Hume River” is now known as the “Murray River” because Sturt, fascinated by the prospect of finding an inland sea, thought he had discovered another river. Macklin suggests that Sturt may well have regretted this transgression. 

But as we know, Hume’s name has been recognised in the name of the highway nearby that traverses much of the original track established by the famous explorer. And while I have no wish to put down Hove-ell, Hume’s importance to this region and the legends of his abilities to negotiate with and befriend the Indigenous peoples, his expert bushcraft, navigation skills and so on, all contributed to the folklore of the Australian bushman, a theme later captured by the official historian of the Great War and founder of the Australian War Memorial, Charles Bean, in developing the now celebrated legend of ANZAC. 

So legends, myths, myth-busting, stories of the past and their influence on the present – all of these things are part of our local history, often intersecting with the history of our own families and, en masse, forming the rich tapestry of our national culture and identity. Which brings me to the purpose of this meeting today.

Often, when I discuss local and family history stories with older members of the family and community, it is apparent that much of the knowledge of the 19th and early 20th centuries, if not already lost, is no longer part of our living memories. You may never know if you are of Aboriginal heritage if, like me, your ancestors had no birth certificate and stories were devised to hide that fact. Legends may also hide your convict heritage or, indeed, your ancestors may never have been at Gallipoli. Such things are part of living. But what of our local communities? Is Breadalbane and the pioneers who forged a community here, the coach services, the railway station, the Aboriginal peoples who once walked this land, Thomas Byrnes who may or may not have been a bushranger, the battle between troopers and Ben Hall’s gang nearby, all to be relegated to the dustbin of history because we did nothing about it?

Paul Kelly once wrote that Australia suffers a “settlement” mentality where we rely on the government to provide our every need, and it is unfortunate that the funding of our national cultural institutions is steadily being eroded. But our local communities are now more important than ever, particularly in the regions. And in re-building, re-creating, or re-imagining these communities, whether socially, economically, or spiritually, I believe it is important to begin at the beginning. To begin with history. 

But that history begins with you. On the website “Aussie Towns”, under the heading “Useful websites about Breadalbane”, it reads: “There are no websites with information about Breadalbane”. Yet the National Library’s Trove database provides information about a number of interesting things about the region, including:
  • Iron, gold, and copper mines were worked nearby;
  • There were numerous engagements between troopers and the bushrangers Gilbert, Hall, and Dunn here
  • This land is known traditionally as “Mutmutbilly”
  • The centenary holidays in 1888 were “very quiet” here
  • A photograph of the honour roll from the Second World War
  • A photograph of the highway in 1938
  • A photograph of the centenary plaque at the school from 1968

I am certain there are many more stories hidden in Trove, but even more so in your personal collections. And photographs from the past are rare, especially those that are digitised and freely available to others.

There are of course some issues with family history. One of my great-grandmothers refused to tell us who her father was. One of our well-regarded ancestors was a Salvation Army officer who mysteriously “disappeared” after the Great War. His medical record reveals that he spent a very long time recovering from a particular disease in Paris, and then married a nurse in England and moved to Canada, never to return to his native land. There are appropriate reasons that historical records are not often available to the public until well after our ancestors are but distant memories. But this does not help us to understand where we came from, how our values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations were forged by generational experience, or what our ancestors looked like.

Fortunately, technology is providing us with greater access to our knowledge of the past than ever before. But it is a truism that technology can only produce what we put in to it – the basics still apply. Therefore, I encourage you to support this local initiative to capture the history of this village. There are many benefits to doing so, be they social, economic, or spiritual.

But more than that, while the cultural cringe that has plagued Australia since European settlement is far from dead, there is a rich history in this region just waiting to be discovered. And although I have been fortunate enough to see the Great Pyramid, the last surviving Ancient Wonder of the World, to see a version of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash in Jordan, to walk on the Mount of Olives, to touch the walls of the old fort at Quebec and to stand on the walls of Saladin’s Qalat Ajloun (or Ajloun Castle), to enter centuries-old Chinese pagodas and to see some of the ancient wonders at Palmyra in Syria that are now no doubt lost to us forever, there is a rich history right here in our own back yard waiting to be discovered. From the history of the Indigenous peoples dating back some 800 centuries before “ancient” times to the end of the railway station here in 1974, there is much to record, and much to be lost if we do not act soon.

I wish you well in establishing this group, in recording your individual and collective histories, and I commend to you the Gunning and District Historical Society as a vehicle to help you on this journey. Thank you and good luck.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Book Notes: "Come in Spinner" by Dymphna Cusack

Come in SpinnerCome in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a wonderful piece of Australian literature. It captures the lived experience of Sydney and the "American Occupation" during the Second World War, bringing to life the social history I studied in one of Joan Beaumont's classes at Deakin University. I am rediscovering Australian literature that for some reason is hidden behind the cultural cringe. This 1953 version of the work is apparently heavily abridged, and a later version edited from the original manuscript includes the parts about rape, prostitution, and abortion that were not allowed to be published when first released in 1951. I enjoy discovering great literature at bric-a-brac stores, but it really makes we wonder how such gems escape the Australian education system. The tales of tragedy, glamour, despair, and comeuppance, following the lives of a handful of young women in 1940s Sydney, expose a reality that was well-hidden by my great-grandparents and their facade of morality. Maybe this is why the work has not had its proper place in Australian literature, despite a television series based on the book that seems to have also disappeared into history.



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Friday, 25 November 2016

Book Notes: "A Pocket Philosophical Dictionary" by Voltaire

A Pocket Philosophical DictionaryA Pocket Philosophical Dictionary by Voltaire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Reading Voltaire's "combative" rise against religion, dogma and superstition is unusual in that, at times, it is hard to tell whether he is being satirical or serious. That he was an historian is obvious. That he was well-travelled even more so. What strikes me is his knowledge of the world, put to good use in Candide, and taken to another level in the Dictionary. The notes and appendix are helpful to place Voltaire in historical context. An interesting quote from the article "Toleration" resonates today: "if there are two religions in your country they will be at each other's throats; if you have thirty they will live in peace". This comes from his work Letters Concerning the English Nation and is a precursor to recent ideas about free trade "where commerce levels the differences between cultures and so brings men (sic) together". At least the was the theory before the "post-truth" world.



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Saturday, 5 November 2016

Book Notes: "Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer" by Robert Macklin

Hamilton Hume: Our Greatest ExplorerHamilton Hume: Our Greatest Explorer by Robert Macklin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This was an engaging, patriotic read. Macklin's style is scholarly yet populist, and draws on an earlier, unpublished work by his father-in-law, Robert Webster. The work includes photographs from the Cooma Cottage at Yass. Hume's story is interwoven with the history of colonial Australia and stories of the British "sterling" class who are now more familiar as place names. I enjoyed the style and I must say I was gripped by the story. I am undecided whether the poetic embellishments reduce the scholarly usefulness of the work, but the story certainly rouses a native-born Australian's regard for Hume the man, and his ultimate victory over the vainglorious Hovell and his claims over Hume's achievements. The backstory of Hume's friend, the famous explorer Charles Sturt, not to mention many of the famous early explorers, are revived in this work and go a long way to filling in the gaps provided by a nationalistic 1970s primary school education that appears now to be passé. My thoughts keep going back to Macklin's writing style, and that his father-in-law's work could not find a commercial publisher. As a reader, I appreciate Macklin's style, but it makes we wonder how much scholarly compromise is made when adapting such work for a popular audience. This is not a criticism of Macklin's style, but rather a recurring reflection for my own practice. While I am interested in Australian history and can enjoy reading scholarly historical accounts, I cannot help but wonder what has been lost in a retelling that results in a gripping yarn about an important but otherwise under-appreciated Australian explorer and bushman. At the same time, I wonder whether the story would have resurfaced had it not been written in such a style. I daresay one must simply choose and suffer the judgements of one's audience accordingly.



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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Gold Coast City Council's decision to invest $3.6m in fibre network makes sense...

© Depositphotos.com//@jamdesign

Spokespeople from GOLDOC, the Games organising committee, and NBN have "golf clapped" the decision but NBN Co could not commit to delivering its fibre in time for the Games.

I spoke with ABC Radio Gold Coast's "Drive" presenter Matt Webber this afternoon about the Council's decision.

The budget for the Commonwealth Games tops $2bn, with the Queensland Government paying the lion's share at $1.5bn. The Gold Coast City Council is contributing $155m, with the Commonwealth funding the rest.

The Gold Coast Bulletin claims that:
ratepayers will fork out almost $4 million to bring high-speed internet to a section of the city – a job the National Broadband Network should have done – but most will not benefit from it.
While the investment will be funded by ratepayers, and it seems absurd that NBN Co was not in on the deal to ensure the economic benefits of the Games could be adequately captured, the Council's move is not out of step with other countries. 

For example, it is quite common for municipal governments in Canada to come to the party when the benefits of high-speed internet are obvious. But Australia's constitution hampers the ability of local councils to get involved in telecommunications infrastructure.

I have long argued that the NBN model was destined to become a political football, and central control would lead to sporadic failure of the approach. The inability of NBN to support the Commonwealth Games provides yet more evidence of the problem with central control.

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate is to be applauded for his political courage. The risk that internet services will embarrass the City during the Games should be worth the relatively small investment. 

But local council broadband plans do not generally go well for councils, as indicated by the Macquarie-Hastings Council's attempt to deploy its own network back in 2006. 

But ratepayer's may not be happy, even though the potential economic benefits flowing from services such as free WiFi along the light rail route should be obvious, especially in one of our major tourist destinations.

When I think back to Brisbane's transport infrastructure pre- and post-Expo '88, the city transformed itself and the updated infrastructure provided a much-needed injection into the economic life of the Brisbane that continued for years after Expo was but a memory.

The potential benefits from the Commonwealth Games should do the same for the Gold Coast.

Given NBN's poor record at delivering high-speed broadband, I hope that the Gold Coast's approach is successful and might be taken up by other local councils to shake up Australia's approach to telecommunications infrastructure. At least at the local level, the politics of infrastructure is dealt with within the geographical area where it is needed.

NBN Co is rightly tight-lipped in responding to criticism. It has a job to do, set by the federal government, and that doesn't include deploying the network to service the Gold Coast or the Commonwealth Games.

What the situation does indicate is the failings of the overall National Broadband Network approach. The model is cumbersome, slow, bureaucratic, and fraught with politics.

I daresay that after the fact, $3.6m would be a paltry sum to recover the Gold Coast's reputation if nothing had been done. Whether the Gold Coast Council can bear the impact from ratepayers used to the Commonwealth paying for telecommunications infrastructure might just be a bridge too far. But I hope not.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Book Notes: "Surrealism" edited by Patrick Waldberg

SurrealismSurrealism by Patrick Waldberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


At first I thought this book was an old high school art text. But after a while, it was obvious that the book is a collection of original works by Ernst, Dali, and in particular, Andre Breton, written for a number of surrealist magazines over several decades. The references to Rimbaud made me think of Bob Dylan, and the fascination with Freud, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels, and many other great thinkers threw me. The development of surrealism from the early 1920s well into the 1960s was also a surprising discovery. The fascination with automatic writing makes me wonder to what extent Jack Kerouac was influenced by surrealism. There are many colour and black and white photos of the artists and their work, and the notes and biographical details are helpfully comprehensive. I must admit that I knew little of surrealism beyond Dali, and it is interesting for a movement that, to some extent, was a revolution against academe, was so very much academic despite its reputation.



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Saturday, 22 October 2016

Book Notes: "The Subjection of Women" by John Stuart Mill

The Subjection of WomenThe Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


If it were not for archaic words such as "burthen" (burden) and "rainment (clothing)"; the necessity to counteract arguments from phrenology; and the use of the figurative "Mrs Grundy" (an archaic Mrs Bucket); one might be reading a contemporary argument for diversity and greater opportunities for women. Mill exerts his authority by challenging then-dominant ideas (such as phrenology and assumptions about biology then-untested) and then reconciles this absurdity for the modern reader by suggesting that while such things are unknown, and he has little time for these, he can still argue away their objections to his central thesis. Mill was far ahead of his time and his arguments took some time to materialise in universal suffrage and equality of opportunity for women, but the central message, then radical, is now part of political discourse. I intend to focus on James Fitzjames Stephen now to see how Stephen deals with Mill's authoritative works on liberty.



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Friday, 14 October 2016

The Week in Politics with Michelle Grattan

Michelle Grattan on Malcolm Turnbull's trouble with marriage equality

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, University of Canberra



Now that Labor has shot down the government’s proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, the issue of marriage equality threatens to haunt Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership.

Michelle Grattan tells University of Canberra senior lecturer in political science Michael de Percy that Turnbull is under pressure from Labor and same-sex marriage advocates to allow a free parliamentary vote.

“But the Liberal conservatives are making this really a bottom line issue. They will not tolerate a free vote letting the change to the law go through parliament and it would really blow the party up if Malcolm Turnbull did move to that position,” Grattan says.

“At the moment, the issue just simmers away there and maybe nothing will happen until the next election. Then of course the parties will have to put forward election policies and it’s really pretty untenable for the Liberal Party to go again to a poll with a plebiscite, which has become, although initially popular with the community, more unpopular as time has passed.

"So it’s just one of those real burrs under the saddle for Malcolm Turnbull.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Book Notes: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie

How to Win Friends and Influence PeopleHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


It is hard not to like this book. I have read this a few times before and re-read it as I thought I should revisit some of the classics in leadership. I was surprised to find, with the benefit of education, that Carnegie touches upon many of the known leadership theories without ever explicitly stating so- which of course was his aim in making practical skills available to the lay person more or less immediately. I was a little disappointed that this was not the original edition, even though that is what I thought I was purchasing. Some of the examples have been updated and include what appear to be 1950s events and technologies. Not that this takes away from the central purpose of the book, but I do enjoy re-discovering events of the past through such reading. Alas, I will have to search for the first edition some more. But it does prove my point: a good deal of contemporary knowledge is simply re-packaged in more academic language and using more up-to-date examples. Yet the style stems from what Hilkey (1997) refers to as the "Gilded Age", beginning in the 1870s in the United States and developing elsewhere through Arnold Bennett (1911) and then, in my view at least, into the Carnegie format that is still adopted by authors such as Ryan Holiday today. While Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography might qualify, I tend to agree with Hilkey's thesis about the cultural elements of the success manual genre and have found interesting parallels with the philosophical works of J.S. Mill and James Fitzjames Stephen with the rise of the market economy. Still worth a read, still one of the best, but my personal experiences suggest that the leadership theories that have been developed since Carnegie, particular Fiedler's contingency theory and the work of Hersey and Blanchard, bring in the environmental factors that Carnegie's work, like many other works of the time, tend to ignore.



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Friday, 30 September 2016

Researching Australian Military Service Records at the Gunning Library

Participants at the Gunning Library Workshop, Friday 30 September 2016. Photo courtesy of Maree Roche
The Gunning and District Historical Society, in conjunction with the Gunning Library, held its second community workshop on Friday 30 September 2016. The topic was "Researching Australian Military Service Records" facilitated by Gunning resident Dr Michael de Percy from the University of Canberra.

Information and paraphernalia provided by the National Library of Australia's Trove team and also the Research Centre at the Australian War Memorial were welcomed by the participants, many traveling from as far as Ulladulla, Canberra, Mt Pleasant and Breadalbane to visit the village.

Two sessions were held from 10:30am to 12:30pm and from 1:30pm to 3:30pm. Participants enjoyed morning and afternoon tea during the sessions, allowing time for new connections to be made and to share stories and ideas about researching family histories.

The workshop covered the basics of researching the information available from the Australian War Memorial, Trove, the National Archives of Australia, and ancestry.com.au (which can be accessed for free from the Gunning Library), with some venturing into the births, deaths and marriages websites for NSW and Victoria.

Some of the participants were able to discover digitised war records of various family members. This is much easier for those who served in the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War and the 2nd Australian Imperial Force in the Second World War. But it can be particularly challenging to find information on those who served in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF) or in the Royal Australian Navy.

The Australian Army website provides more information about searching records from various conflicts, and online access to the records from the Royal Australian Navy are still somewhat limited but improving over time.

Some of the participants discovered various records of family members who were Prisoners of War or Indigenous servicemen. Others worked patiently and were rewarded by discovering their family members under slightly different names (for example, one "James" was officially "Jim" in the records), while others were able to find new information such as newspaper articles on Trove about the exploits of their relatives some time after the war.

Some of the more difficult to find records appear on the Australian Government's World War Two Roll website, which is currently being updated to a new website managed by the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

One participant was able to complete an assignment for school based on the service records and was very helpful in assisting other members of the group to grapple with some of the more technical issues that inevitably arise when using technology!

Others will have to request a copy of their relative's records, but were able to register to request this information either for purchase or physical viewing from the National Archives in Canberra.

Overall, participants reported that the event was a success, with many wishing that the sessions were longer. Ideas for future sessions included a session on researching family history and creating a blog for use by individuals and community groups.

The Gunning and District Historical Society plans to run one of these free community sessions each quarter. Details of the next workshop will be advertised in the Lions Club of Gunning Noticeboard, on the Gunning Community Announcements and Events Facebook page, and on this blog.

If you have any other ideas for community workshops using the computers at the Gunning Library, please contact Dr Michael de Percy at: michael.depercy@canberra.edu.au.

Book Notes: "Phantom of the Opera" by Gaston Leroux

The Phantom of the OperaThe Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A timeless classic in the Gothic horror genre, rightly compared with Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The afterword mentions an American reviewer's distaste for the opera ghost being merely human, but after seeing many horror movies in recent times where the face of the supernatural being is revealed, I am inclined to prefer the man masquerading as a ghost any time. Apparently Leroux wrote detective novels before this work and the influence is noticeable. The nature of the building and the brilliant descriptions (or more accurately, allusions) to the opera itself recall many a nightmare where one is trapped underground. Leroux had access to the Palais Garnier to research his work and it is obvious in the story. This was an easy and enjoyable read and one I should have completed many years earlier. While I do not usually have a preference for the Gothic genre, this 1910 classic presents a complex mood that, for me, was belied by the images of the phantom singing with Marina Prior that haunted Australian televisions screens throughout the 1990s.



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Friday, 23 September 2016

The Week in Politics with Michelle Grattan

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government's approach to welfare

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, University of Canberra

University of Canberra professorial fellow Michelle Grattan and senior lecturer in political science Michael de Percy discuss the week in politics, including Nationals MP George Christensen going solo, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of a rise in Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake, Education Minister Simon Birmingham foreshadowing changes to the Gonski schools funding model, and how the government is approaching welfare spending.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra and Michael de Percy, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 19 September 2016

The biggest issue not on the political agenda...

Road user charging belongs on the political agenda as the best answer for congestion management

Marion Terrill, Grattan Institute and Owain Emslie, Grattan Institute

Road user charging is probably the best idea we have to reduce congestion and to enable better decisions on road investment. Average travel speeds in our cities are decreasing, and congestion is only likely to worsen as our population continues to grow.

Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher recently gave an important speech, albeit largely unnoticed, in which he made the case for a universal road user charging scheme. Charging people to drive has previously been the dream of transport and economic policy wonks – serving politicians tend to see the idea as political poison.

Fletcher trod gently, cautioning his Sydney Institute audience that “there is a lot of work to do” and that any move in this direction would be “a ten to 15-year journey”. It is still remarkable that a federal minister even took these first steps.
Singapore introduced the world’s first electronic road pricing system back in 1998 to manage traffic volumes in the city.
Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures/flickr, CC BY-ND

Fletcher warned of the potential impact of electric vehicles on fuel excise revenue, but automated vehicles represent an even bigger change.

The future of road use is made unclear by the looming arrival of these vehicles. Despite predictions that these could be the answer to traffic congestion, complications include the interaction of autonomous and traditional vehicles and the complexities of human behaviour.

Autonomous vehicles could even lead to greater congestion. The ease of travel in these vehicles might encourage travellers to take more trips as they reduce the time cost of being stuck in traffic by being able to read emails and stay connected while the car drives itself. Empty vehicles travelling to pick up goods and passengers could further clog roads.

Thus it is prudent to target road congestion now, especially when current strategies aren’t helping much. Building more road capacity or even improving public transport can’t solve congestion.

The best strategy is management of demand via a pricing mechanism that reflects the cost of the congestion caused by one more vehicle on the road. With prices that vary by location, time of day and distance travelled, such a scheme would encourage people to take non-essential trips at a different time, or not at all.
The European experience of road user charging has produced multiple economic and social benefits (Federation European Cyclists/flickrCC BY)
The charge could be efficient, as the trips that are discouraged are those for which the congestion caused outweighs the benefit derived. And it would be fair: drivers adding to the delay faced by others pay more, while those who drive in non-congested areas or at non-peak times pay less.

The ability to observe road users’ willingness to pay for road space will also give a better signal to planners of where additional road capacity will be of value to the community.

Don’t treat it as a revenue raiser

So Fletcher deserves plaudits for raising the issue. But he got one important thing wrong: he said that the fuel excise tax funds road spending.

Pointing out that fuel excise receipts would fall with the advent of more fuel-efficient vehicles, and electric cars in particular, he argued for a road user charging scheme on the ground that it would raise revenue for road spending.

Linking fuel excise to road funding is a furphy and gets us onto the wrong track at the very start of the road-pricing journey. Fuel excise is merely one source of general government revenue and is not in any way hypothecated, meaning pledged by law to be spent on a specific purpose – in this case roads.

It is no more relevant to say that falling excise revenues will put road funding under pressure than it is to say this will put pressure on health spending or the age pension.

Furthermore, about 75% of road funding comes from state and local government revenue, while fuel excise is a federal tax. It is true that falling fuel excise receipts would add to the federal government’s deficit problems. But there is no reason why a loss of fuel excise revenue must be replaced by another charge on motorists, or why motorists alone should fund additional road spending.

Take care to avoid an inefficient, distorting tax


Paul Fletcher deserves kudos for putting road user charging on the table.
Stefan Postles/AAP

The government should take a holistic approach to repair its pressured budget. It should restrict the most wasteful spending, wherever it is, and introduce or increase the most efficient, fair and simple taxes. It is not helpful to limit our thinking to motorist-based taxes to solve that part of the budget problem caused by falling fuel excise receipts.

The other problem with introducing road user charging as a revenue raiser rather than a congestion reducer is that a scheme designed on those terms is likely to produce poor results.

If we approach the task asking how we can maximise revenue, we’ll end up with charges on the wrong roads, at the wrong times, priced to maximise financial return rather than optimise congestion. For example, we might charge heavily on major roads, just to increase revenue, when some targeted charges on minor roads might do more to reduce traffic. In short, we’ll have one more inefficient, distorting tax.

So kudos to the minister for opening the debate. Let’s talk about road user charging, but let’s talk about what it should really achieve.

If we start by asking the right questions, road user charging could be the best congestion management policy we’ve seen in Australia. It could improve the driving experience without the need for big spending on more road capacity, and make sure we get the most economic and social value from our roads.

The Conversation
Marion Terrill, Transport Program Director, Grattan Institute and Owain Emslie, Associate, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Book Notes: "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill

On LibertyOn Liberty by John Stuart Mill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Revisiting On Liberty was an interesting exercise. It is little wonder that it was, and, according to the introduction, is ever more so, a gospel for living as an individual. What was most challenging was to find that so much of my education has led me to read Mill as if it were gospel, agreeing at every turn with almost everything. Its simplicity may be a reason for this, but it is also evident that a liberal education cannot be anything less than based on Mill's philosophy. Ideas affecting liberty, such as the after-hours lock-out laws in Sydney, are covered by Mill. Yet contemporary ideas of libertarianism seem to deny Mill's authority on the matter. But finding my own philosophy so closely aligned with Mill's is something worthy of further challenge and reflection. That this "little book" has since become a program for governments throughout the Anglo world appears to have reached its peak, with issues such as national security throwing into conflict the ideas of Hobbes and Mill on the nature of the "good society". Yet this gospel of the liberal tradition, in my mind, at least, wins again and again when read from the lofty heights of experience which I could neither conjure nor comprehend all those years ago. Mill really is the "godfather" of the liberal tradition and, like any gospel, rewards one with each subsequent reading.



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Monday, 5 September 2016

My comments on taxi industry reform, ABC Radio's PM program

Upper Lachlan Shire Council Election: "Meet the Candidates" evening in Gunning, 31 August 2016

With candidates for the Upper Lachlan Sire Council elections at the Old Hume Cafe in Gunning, 31 August 2016
On the evening of Wednesday 31 August 2016, candidates for the Upper Lachlan Shire Council elections spoke to members of the Gunning community at the Old Hume Cafe.

The council elections will be held on Saturday 10 September 2016. Twelve candidates are running for the nine council positions. 

About 50 people attended the event organised by the proprietor of the Old Hume Cafe, Peta Luck. To put this in perspective, that is about 10% of Gunning's population.

The key issues raised by the community related to roads, youth, tourism, wind farms, and what is becoming known as "Collexit".

Many community members are opposed to further wind farms in the Shire, with already some 12 wind farms in existence. The major issues with wind farms relate to perceived health impacts and the effect on property valuations in the vicinity.

Roads are a perennial issue for Gunning, The recent heavy rainfall has seen many in the community cut off through flooding on various roads in the Shire, including the Gunning-Collector Road and on Gundaroo Road last weekend at Sutton.

Regular commuters to Canberra will notice the veritable patchwork of hot mix that appears to wax and wane as the rain falls on Gundaroo Road. There is clearly a safety issue but of course local governments are often at the mercy of the NSW Government when it comes to major roads.

Facilities for youth and tourism got a guernsey, with many in the village asking what council intends to do to encourage young people to stay in the village, and also to attract more tourists, particularly from Canberra.

Issues from Collector were raised, with some residents of Collector lobbying for an independent body to manage funding from the wind farm companies. While some candidates were willing to discuss the issue, others were opposed on the basis of short-term planning that may actually lead to assets that the Council may become responsible for maintaining at a future date.

Candidates for the Upper Lachlan Shire Council elections
Many in the community felt that Council was not doing enough for the areas outside of Crookwell. For the residents of Collector, leaving the Upper Lachlan Shire and becoming part of the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council is regarded as a viable alternative known colloquially as "Collexit". 

It would appear that the candidates have a bit of work to do to earn the votes of the residents of Gunning. There is much to do in the local area, much of which relates to normal maintenance issues before anything new can be added.

But the turn-out for the event was encouraging, and candidates are making frequent appearances in the village of late.

Whether this will be enough to satisfy the residents of Gunning is another thing. But it is clear that the event sparked a good deal of interest in the community.

Don't forget to vote on Saturday 10 September. For further information, including postal voting and the location of polling places, visit http://www.votensw.info/.

Information on the individual candidates is available at http://candidates.elections.nsw.gov.au/ contest/councillor/LG1601-131-01-00. Further information about the candidates was published recently published in the Crookwell Gazette.

Thank you to Peta Luck for organising this event and for the opportunity for me to act as the master of ceremonies for the evening.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Book Notes: "Utzon and the Sydney Opera House" by Daryl Dellora

Utzon and the Sydney Opera House: Penguin SpecialUtzon and the Sydney Opera House: Penguin Special by Daryl Dellora

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I picked up this essay in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House while waiting to go in to see My Fair Lady. The theatre was great but the book made me angry. The way Utzon was treated by a conservative NSW government was very similar to the way Walter Burley Griffin was treated with his grand design for Canberra. These outstanding architects were basically bullied so the respective governments could take over the original plan and make a mess of it. The cheap approach ended up costing more and was less functional in both instances. I noticed the poor acoustics in the Joan Sutherland Theatre and wondered why the opera is not in the concert hall. Now I know.



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Friday, 2 September 2016

Book Notes: "Ego is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday

Ego is the EnemyEgo is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


After reading The Obstacle is the Way, I decided to read this most recent work by Ryan Holiday. While the way some of the snippets of biographical histories have been used as examples could be challenged from their somewhat mono-cultural bent, and there were quite a few typographical errors which put me ill at ease, I still found this work helpful. Again, I marvel at the wisdom of somebody so young but the depth of reading by the author is obvious and this encourages me to look beyond the standard criticisms of formulaic success manuals with small historical snippets as supporting arguments. I particularly like the bibliography and I will request a copy of the extended reading list available from the author. But as part of my overall reading plan, I am glad that I took the time to read Holiday's work and I intend to read the rest very soon.



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Monday, 29 August 2016

Book Notes: 'As a Man Thinketh" by James Allen

As a Man ThinkethAs a Man Thinketh by James Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This short book is in two parts. The first part provides an essay on the power of thinking to overcome one's own selfishness. The second part provides thirty-one days of morning and evening meditations. Ryan Holiday mentioned this book a few times, so I purchased a copy. I particularly like the Dover "Empower Your Life" Series which includes a number of interesting books in unabridged formats. Allen's work has inspired me to revisit a few books I read in the early 1990s and early 2000s. The key message is that "Sweet is the rest and deep the bliss of him who has freed his heart from its lusts and hatreds and dark desires". Without referring directly to it, Allen indicates that the internal locus of control, one of the central lessons I try to teach in my leadership classes, is the key. I intend to try these meditations over the next month, because I think Allen is right.



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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

My Latest on The Conversation

Taxi driver compensation for Uber is unfair and poorly implemented

Michael de Percy, University of Canberra

In all states that have legalised the ride-sharing app Uber, the response has been to offer compensation to taxi drivers. This is a typical move by governments that are liberalising long-standing, regulated monopolies. But the amount of compensation is far from fair and the process has been poorly implemented.

Victoria is the latest of the states and territories in allowing Uber to operate and its compensation package is nominally the most generous.

There’s a A$2 levy on each ride (that will vary according to the operator), proposed to provide compensation in the order of $378 million. There is also a $75 million allocation from the levy for a fund for those hit hardest by the reforms.

By contrast, NSW announced a $1 levy per taxi or Uber ride. Some of the funding goes to taxi operators suffering severe financial hardship as a result of the regulatory changes. The total package for NSW is $250 million.

Taxi industry reform had to happen. But it has been driven by populist policy with state governments bowing to pressure from Uber’s disruptive approach. While states are providing compensation packages for taxi licence owners, the amounts pale in comparison to the investment value that has been lost.

In Sydney, average licence values peaked at about $425,000 in 2011, and have been in decline since. Licence owners can expect to receive $20,000 in compensation per licence, with multiple licence owners receiving a maximum of $40,000.

In Melbourne, recent market values were in the order of $150,000, down from around $500,000 in 2010-11. Victoria’s buy-back scheme will provide for a maximum of two licences with $100k offered for the first licence and $50,000 for the second licence.

Taxi licence owners have been mostly kept in the dark about taxi industry reform in Victoria. As late as August 19, taxi operators in Melbourne had no idea what would be in the reform package announced yesterday.

And Victoria’s comparatively generous package might make Sydney and Brisbane operators wonder why the differences in the compensation packages should be so dramatic.

Uber users may not be happy about the additional levies to fund compensation for the taxi industry, either.

But the bigger issue is that investor and voter confidence in state governments' power to regulate effectively has been diminished for three main reasons.

First, Uber effectively broke the law and used its capital to force the end of the old monopoly, allegedly paying drivers' fines while lobbying governments in unique ways.

Rather than encourage a proper transition strategy, even the Prime Minister applauded Uber for its “agile” business model. Uber made the policy, not the elected representatives.

Second, taxi operators have been bound by the rules of the regulated monopoly. They played by the rules established under the rule of law.

Uber didn’t, and, backed by popular sentiment, has cleverly manipulated the taxi industry. State governments continued to regulate taxis but were powerless to enforce their own laws where Uber was concerned.

Third, state governments have been slow to act and adequately transition the formerly regulated monopolies. Reform of the taxi industry was decades overdue. This has effectively destroyed the value created under the rules of the regulated monopoly. While consumers may be unconcerned, the taxi industry did not create itself – it was created as a regulated monopoly by state governments.

If we consider that Melbourne and Sydney alone are serviced by more than 8,000 taxi licences, once valued at up to $500,000 each, then significant investment value has been destroyed. Not by competition, but by a company that broke the law, by consumers who readily supported cheaper prices, and then by state governments that restructured the market by implementing rapid, populist policies.

Had state governments transitioned the taxi industry appropriately, then licence owners could have had adequate time to prepare. It is not their fault that state governments were slow to act.

Uber has won, and there will be much rejoicing by consumers. But the way the transition has occurred verges on the unethical, and licence owners are footing the bill.

This is inherently unfair. In a regulated monopoly, the regulated players have little impact on the rules.

The damage done by populist policy and poor regulatory oversight in the taxi industry is a far cry from the slow, unnatural death of the Australian automotive manufacturing industry. In fact, automotive manufacturers are still protected by tariffs even though the industry is set to end very soon. It is obvious that the investors in the taxi industry lack the political clout of the automotive industry multinationals.

It is clear that multinationals can manipulate state governments by adopting Uber’s approach. All you need is plenty of money, a plan to introduce cheaper prices for consumers, and the boldness to flaunt the law. As we have seen, state governments will then roll over.

Let’s now hope that your retirement savings are not next in the way of unscheduled reform.

The Conversation
Michael de Percy, Senior Lecturer in Political Science, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Uber legal in Victoria, but "mum-and-dad" investors should be up in arms

Wavebreakmedia2
Today's announcement that Victoria will follow other states and territories in allowing Uber to operate may be good news for consumers. But taxi licence owners, many who are "mum-and-dad" investors, have had the value of their investments destroyed by populist policy and poor foresight by state governments.

NSW recently announced a $1 levy per taxi or Uber ride to fund compensation for taxi licence owners and those suffering severe financial hardship as a result of the regulatory changes. The total package for NSW is $250m.

Victoria's package is more generous, with a $2 levy proposed to provide compensation in the order of $378m for a buy-back scheme. There is also an allocation from the levy for $78m as part of a "fairness fund" for those hit hardest by the reforms.

The compensation funds represent a typical policy response to liberalising long-established regulated monopolies, but the amounts are far from "fair" and the process has been poorly implemented.

In Sydney, taxi licences peaked at about $425k in 2011, and have been in decline since. Licence owners can expect to receive $20k in compensation per licence, with multiple licence owners receiving a maximum of $40k.

In Melbourne, recent market values were in the order of $150k, down from around $500k in 2010-11. Victoria's buy-back scheme will provide for a maximum of two licences with $100k offered for the first licence and $50k for the second licence.

News media reports suggest that consumers are upset about the levy, especially in Victoria, which will add significantly to the cost of using taxi and Uber services. Consumers tend to be happy about moves by Uber to bring competition to the decades-old monopolies in each state. And while the taxi industry is one of the last regulated monopolies to be liberalised in Australia, the transition has been handled rather poorly by state governments.

Taxi licence owners have been mostly kept in the dark about taxi industry reform in Victoria. As late as 19 August, taxi operators in Melbourne had no idea what would be in the reform package announced today. And Victoria's comparatively generous package might make Sydney and Brisbane operators wonder why the differences in the compensation packages should be so dramatic.

Uber users are sure to be happy about the new competitive landscape, but there is more at risk than simply improving taxi prices and services. Investor and voter confidence in state governments' ability to regulate effectively has been diminished for three main reasons.

First, Uber has effectively broken the law and used its capital to force the end of the old monopoly, allegedly paying drivers fines while lobbying governments with media-grabbing publicity stunts. Rather than encourage a proper transition strategy, even the Prime Minister applauded Uber for its "agile" business model. Uber made the policy, not the elected representatives.

Second, taxi operators have been bound by the rules of the regulated monopoly. They played by the rules established under the rule of law. Uber didn't, and, backed by popular sentiment, have cleverly manipulated the taxi industry. State governments continued to regulate taxis but were powerless to enforce their own laws where Uber was concerned.

Third, state government have been slow to act and adequately transition the formerly regulated monopolies. Reform of the taxi industry was decades overdue. This has effectively destroyed the value created under the rules of the regulatory monopoly. While consumers may be unconcerned, the taxi industry did not create itself - it was created as a regulated monopoly by state governments.

If we consider that Melbourne an Sydney alone are serviced by over 8,000 taxi licences, once valued at up to $500k, then significant investment value has been destroyed. Not by competition, but by a company that broke the law, by consumers who readily supported cheaper prices, and then by state governments who restructured the market by implementing rapid, populist policies.

As it stands, "mum-and-dad" investors are paying the price so consumers can obtain cheaper fares. If the same was done to the Australian share market, the economic consequences would be disastrous.

Had state governments transitioned the taxi industry appropriately, then licence owners could have had adequate time to prepare. It is not their fault that state governments were slow to act.

Uber has won, and there will be much rejoicing by consumers. But the way the transition has occurred verges on the unethical, and licence owners are footing the bill. To make matters worse, some commentators are blaming the taxi industry.  This is inherently unfair. In a regulated monopoly, the regulated players have little impact on the rules.

But many "mum-and dad" investors may never trust governments again. And rightly so.

The damage done by populist policy and poor regulatory oversight in the taxi industry is a far cry from the slow, unnatural death of the Australian automotive manufacturing industry. In fact, automotive manufacturers are still protected by tariffs even though the industry is set to end very soon. It is obvious that the "mum and dad" investors in the taxi industry lack the political clout of the automotive industry multinationals.

The "fairness funds" are hardly fair compensation, and, as I have argued elsewhere, the cheaper prices will hardly be worth the cost. Mums and dads are paying for it now.

It is clear that multinationals can manipulate state governments by adopting Uber's approach. All you need is plenty of money, a plan to introduce cheaper prices for consumers, and the boldness to flaunt the law. As we have seen, state governments will then roll over.

Let us now hope that your retirement savings are not next in line.



Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Connecting the Nation by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at politicalscience.com.au. Background image ©Depositphotos.com/ @redshinestudio