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Call for new approach to Asia relations

AUSTRALIA’S political leaders have been criticised by some of the most senior foreign policy advisers for clumsy handling of relations with Asia and slavish devotion to the US alliance.
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A conference held in the NSW Parliament yesterday by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, a federal government chartered and assisted body, heard calls from eminent diplomats for a more balanced approach to the rise of Asia.

The institute’s national president, John McCarthy, who has been Australia’s envoy to Washington, Jakarta, Tokyo and New Delhi, said Australians should not let themselves be led to think they have to choose between new ties with China and the military alliance with the US.

Most thinking Australians supported the ANZUS treaty alliance with the US, making it difficult to change ”even if we personally disagreed with aspects of it”, he said.

”But there is a lot to be said for paying our alliance dues only where it is strictly necessary in terms of the alliance – we don’t necessarily have to please the Americans, as it is often put,” he said. ”We have to honour the terms of the alliance, as a responsible ally will do [but] not say things or offer things that really aren’t necessary.”

He said the the announcement last November that the US would station 2500 marines in Darwin for six months every year was an example of what could have handled better. ”The Chinese and the Indonesians could have been forewarned, very seriously, two or three days before, and explained very very carefully at a very senior level what it all meant. None of that was done.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Still in the dark, with governor on the defensive

Defensive … the Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, before the House of Representatives economics committee in Canberra yesterday.THE testimony given yesterday by the RBA governor, Glenn Stevens, about the Reserve’s handling of the bank-note bribery scandal was faltering, defensive and, at times, evasive.
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It was in keeping with Mr Stevens’s past appearance at the committee and highlighted again the need for a proper inquiry into the affair.

Mr Stevens was asked about briefings given to senior officers of the RBA in 2007 about bribery and corruption in its subsidiaries.

The facts are clear. A briefing was given to the RBA deputy governor Ric Battellino by Brian Hood, the company secretary of RBA firm Note Printing Australia. The briefings raised serious allegations of bribery and corruption, including the claim that a Malaysian agent was paying off politicians.

Earlier this month, the federal police told Parliament it expected serious bribery allegations received by a Commonwealth agency to be reported to police.

But the RBA didn’t call in the cops in 2007. The AFP were only called after it was reported by the Herald and The Age in 2009. Even then, the RBA didn’t immediately hand over a damning 2007 memo written by Mr Hood.

And, for the past five years, the RBA has chosen not to tell the public or Parliament about the 2007 briefings, even when the opportunity begged.

Instead, Mr Stevens has stuck to the line that the RBA was in the dark about the alleged bribery in its subsidiaries until the 2009 media expose´.

This week, the Herald and the ABC demolished that claim by publishing the contents of the 2007 briefings. The revelations expose a major corporate governance failure at the top of the RBA, as well as an inability to be open about this failure.

At the economics committee yesterday, the Liberal MP Tony Smith asked Mr Stevens when he’d read a 2007 corruption memo addressed to his then deputy, Mr Battellino.

Mr Stevens said that, according to his memory, he didn’t read it in 2007 but may have later.

He thought Mr Battellino “may have been shown a copy at some point”, despite the fact that the memo was addressed directly to him. But Mr Stevens said he couldn’t be “certain of that.” Despite the intense media pressure surrounding the issue earlier this week, Mr Stevens said he hadn’t spoken to Mr Battellino in the last few days.

Mr Stevens couldn’t recall if he was told about Mr Hood’s 2007 meeting with Mr Battelino prior to it occurring. Asked if he had read the memo in the lead-up to his February committee appearance, Mr Stevens couldn’t recall.

When asked by Mr Smith if it would have been in the “interests of openness” for Mr Battelino (who retired in February) to have told the committee during previous hearings about the explosive 2007 briefings, Mr Stevens answered: “I didn’t myself feel that that particular event was of the importance that you seem to feel it is.”

This was a remarkable answer: the “particular event” Mr Stevens felt was unimportant involved a senior company executive exposing details of the most serious scandal to hit corporate Australia in decades.

After just several minutes of questioning by Smith, Mr Stevens was thrown a Dorothy Dixer that would make any backbencher proud. Committee chair and Labor MP Julie Owens clumsily tried to give Mr Stevens an out by stating that his past claim that the RBA knew nothing about corruption prior to 2009 had been misrepresented.

Ms Owens claimed that because the RBA corruption briefings in 2007 dealt with Note Printing Australia and not Securency – and because Mr Stevens was responding to questions about Securency when claiming the RBA knew nothing – he was in the clear.

But Mr Hood’s 2007 briefings to the RBA dealt with NPA and Securency. His memo clearly stated that both firms were using a potentially corrupt Malaysian middleman.

Mr Hood’s briefings also stated that Graeme Thompson, the chairman of NPA, had authorised a payment to this middleman despite probity concerns. Mr Thompson was also the chairman of Securency. The 2007 briefings also accuse Chris Ogilvy, who was the chief executive of NPA and a director of Securency, of malfeasance.

But, instead of ensuring Mr Stevens faced appropriate oversight in her role as committee chair, Ms Owens went in to bat for him. In doing so, she appears to have followed the lead of the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, whose three-years-and-counting response to this growing scandal has been to say nothing and do nothing. By not confronting the unpleasant questions about the RBA and other government agencies that flow from this scandal, the Gillard government is rapidly becoming part of the cover-up.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

PM tries to tame beast risen from the grave

“Indeed, every union has what it refers to as a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever, which is the fund that the leadership team … puts money so that they can finance their next election campaign” … Prime Minister Julia Gillard.What’s in a name, Shakespeare’s Juliet doth often ask. For shaken Julia, it seems, the answer is quite a lot. Indeed, just what is in the public understanding of ”re-election slush fund” may well determine whether the Prime Minister can extricate herself from swirling allegations that she acted improperly while a solicitor two decades ago.
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If she cannot, her critics will claim vindication in their portrayal of Gillard as a person of questionable trustworthiness and poor judgment. Her electoral stocks will further suffer. If she can knock the allegations into a cocked hat, Gillard will get her head above the parapet probably for the first time since the equivocal election, although she and Labor won’t be out of the woods.

Until a week ago, with mixed success, Gillard employed stonewalling, indignation, intimidation and haranguing to keep her accusers mostly quarantined to internet blogging in the matter we will attempt to outline here. Last year, she scored a humiliating triumph over mainstream journalists who attempted to report suspicions against her. But she didn’t count on her sacked attorney-general Robert McClelland opening old wounds about the extent of union corruption and recent corroboration from people well placed to challenge Gillard’s clean-sheet approach.

As a Slater and Gordon solicitor in Melbourne, Gillard advised her then boyfriend – an Australian Workers Union rising star, Bruce Wilson – on constructing a union facade, the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association, from which Wilson and his AWU sidekick Ralph Blewitt allegedly misdirected hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The association’s stated purpose – at least according to a 1992 public notice – was to promote and encourage ”workplace reform” in construction and maintenance. But it wasn’t used for workplace safety and training. Gillard acknowledged this week she thought it was intended as a union leadership re-election fund where levies on union officials, and the proceeds of fund-raising dinners and so on, could be safely deposited.

In 1995, she confided to senior colleagues that the association was a ”re-election slush fund”. ”It’s a common practice,” she told them. ”Indeed, every union has what it refers to as a re-election fund, slush fund, whatever, which is the fund that the leadership team … puts money so that they can finance their next election campaign.”

On Thursday, Gillard conceded her slush fund reference, uttered in the context of a casual and jovial conversation, ”wasn’t the best form of words”. ”But I’d ask people to assess the form of words in the context in which it was being used in a sentence where the description of the purpose of the association, as I understood it, is exactly the same as the description I’ve given you here today,” she told journalists.

Gillard said her description was not inconsistent with workplace safety aspirations because they were key goals of the union leadership ticket.

Instead, Wilson and Blewitt extracted big deposits from construction and resource companies employing AWU members. Initially, the national AWU knew none of their activity but subsequently notified police of its suspicions and went so far as demanding a royal commission, a call that fell on deaf ears in the Keating government.

Wilson and Blewitt allegedly used the money as a sort of private bank account, buying a house in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, after Wilson moved from Perth, and spending on other activities unrelated to the association’s given purpose.

Wilson, who works as a part-time club cook on the mid-north coast of NSW, and Blewitt, who fled Australia for Indonesia (where he is accused of a land swindle) and Malaysia, have been investigated by police in Perth and Melbourne. Documents reveal Perth detectives wanted them charged but could not convince the builder Thiess to co-operate. Wilson and Blewitt have not been charged but the latter has told The Australian newspaper that ”sham” transactions took place and that he will tell all in return for indemnity from prosecution. An AWU civil action against Wilson went nowhere.

Gillard claimed on Thursday her role was limited to advice and not to execution, that she did not know what improper use Wilson and Blewitt would make of the entity she helped establish, and that she severed the relationship with Wilson in 1995 when ”I became aware that I had been deceived about a series of matters”.

Much of the more salacious, zany and explicitly offensive commentary (and invention) has been restricted to internet ranting – to what Gillard called misogynists and nut jobs. That is not a description neatly befitting Peter Gordon and Nick Styant-Browne, two former senior partners at Slater and Gordon, however.

Together, they are the source – intentionally or otherwise – of much of the fresh revelation. Gillard’s handling of the AWU matter angered some of her senior colleagues and she was interviewed on September 11, 1995, by Gordon and another as part of an internal investigation.

According to a transcript of the interview, Gillard conceded the renovations to her inner Melbourne home might unintentionally have benefited from the rorted union funds, although she doubted this. She provided receipts to show the renovation work was paid by her.

In a Peter Gordon-leaked draft statement, the former Slater and Gordon principal said last week the firm considered terminating Gillard’s salaried partner position but accorded her the benefit of the doubt and accepted her explanations. ”Nevertheless, the partnership was extremely unhappy with Ms Gillard, considering that proper vigilance had not been observed and that [her] duties of utmost good faith to [her] partners, especially as to timely disclosure, had not been met. Ms Gillard elected to resign and we accepted her resignation without discussion.”

But a statement by Slater and Gordon’s managing director Andrew Grech said Gillard took leave of absence at the time to contest unsuccessfully a Senate election and, in May 1996, resigned to become chief of staff to the then Victorian opposition leader John Brumby. Said Gillard on Thursday: ”It had long been an aspiration of mine to move to a political career so I made the determination to resign from Slater and Gordon.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

NT Libs slammed for vicious tactics

ALP candidate Des Rogers.FIRST Nations’ candidate and popular singer-songwriter Warren H. Williams has blasted the Country Liberals for using ”cruel in-your-face tactics” to win votes for the bush seat of Namatjira in today’s Northern Territory election.
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Mr Williams told The Saturday Age it’s ”enough to put you off politics for life, I don’t think I would have stood if I had known how bad and ugly the campaign was going to be”.

He said he had witnessed ”vicious personal” attacks made on the reputation of ALP candidate Des Rogers at Santa Teresa community outside Alice Springs.

The ”verballing of voters” was in Aboriginal language so polling officials had no idea what was taking place, he said.

Mr Williams declined to identify who had made the attacks or repeat the defamatory comments he overheard, but said it had been part of a systematic campaign. The Country Liberals are fighting to retain Namatjira in today’s closely fought territory election, which politicians and analysts say could go either way.

In Namatjira the contest is particularly hard fought between Mr Rogers, Country Liberal candidate Alison Anderson, who defected from the Labor ministry to the opposition after the last election, and Mr Williams, who is the only First Nations candidate to preference Labor.

Labor has been in power in the territory for more than 10 years and, unlike New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, seems to have resisted the ”It’s time” factor. It narrowly avoided defeat in 2008 and holds office with the support of independent Gerry Wood.

Mr Rogers and Ms Anderson weren’t available for comment.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The Dismissal’s ‘third man’ drawn from the shades of history

SIR John Kerr had been governor-general for just eight months when, in March 1975, he approached the vice-chancellor of the Australian National University with a confidential request. Kerr put forward an unusual proposition – the formation of a group within the university to meet with him, in confidence and without the knowledge of the prime minister, and to advise him on the nature and extent of his powers as governor-general.
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Kerr did not tell prime minister Gough Whitlam he had sought advice from this hand-picked advisory group – or indeed that he harboured any doubts about his role and powers – and Kerr never revealed the role played in the formation of this group by its most senior judicial figure, Sir Anthony Mason.

Mason was at that time a sitting judge of the High Court of Australia and a pro-chancellor of the ANU. He and Kerr had been close friends since Mason first appeared as a junior counsel to Kerr in the 1950s, and it was Mason who drove the discussions with Kerr on the establishment of this advisory group, conferring directly and confidentially with the governor-general about ”constitutional problems”.

Kerr’s request for confidential advice posed ”some difficulty” for Mason, since the matters that the group was likely to consider were the same controversial political and legal points that were the subject of intense political debate and were also likely to go before the High Court.

Mason acknowledged his dilemma to Kerr: ”I have felt some difficulty as to my own participation in the discussions, for it may appear to some that we are engaged in the consideration of important questions which may sooner or later come before the High Court for decision,” he wrote.

”No doubt the questions which you have in mind are presently hypothetical. Unfortunately the hypothetical questions of today have a distressing habit of becoming the actual questions of tomorrow. I therefore doubt whether it would be proper for me to become a member of the group on a continuing basis.”

While expressing some doubt over his own involvement, Mason told Kerr he would attend the initial meeting and ”refrain from expressing my opinion on questions which might become controversial”.

The group, variously described as a ”seminar” or a ”tutorial” for the governor-general, met twice at the ANU during September 1975. Sir John Kerr attended with his official secretary, David Smith.

By October, with the opposition senators refusing to vote on the government’s appropriation bills in a bid to force a general election, it was clear the ANU was involving itself in matters of partisan political controversy of the highest dimension with the governor-general – a fact that was creating unease among some members of this curious group. Kerr was told that their ”tutorials” would have to cease. Professor Geoffrey Sawer, ANU’s first law professor, recalled: ”My thumbs pricked a warning that the university shouldn’t get actively involved in a situation involving actual rather than academic problems, and Sir John gracefully agreed to ceasing our tutorials.”

The end of his private tutorials did not signal the end of Kerr’s solicitations to Mason. Before the opposition had taken action in the Senate against the government’s budget, Kerr had initiated, according to his records, what he termed a ”running conversation” with Mason to discuss ”probable future events and discretionary alternatives open to me”.

These records describe a series of strategic and undisclosed exchanges that continued throughout the period of mounting political crisis, marked by the extraordinarily close involvement of both Mason and the Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, in Kerr’s final actions, and which ended only with the end of the Whitlam government itself.

Kerr later set out a detailed archival record of what had transpired between himself and Mason, without which ”his part in my thinking in October-November 1975 will not … be known to history”.

He wrote: ”In the light of the enormous and vicious criticism of myself, I should have dearly liked to have had the public evidence during my lifetime of what Mason had said and done during October-November 1975 [but] he would be happier … if history never came to know of his role.

”I shall keep the whole matter alive in my mind till the end, and if this document is found among my archives, it will mean that my final decision is that truth must prevail, and, as he played a most significant part in my thinking at that critical time, and as he will be in the shades of history when this is read, his role should be known.”

The scenario depicted in Kerr’s record dramatically recasts our understanding of these events and of the role of key individuals within them. This remarkable document presents a hidden history, now left for archival posterity, as much for personal vindication as public illumination.

Kerr records that at every stage in the painstaking, strategically fraught, politically acute and apparently confidential discussions between the governor-general and the prime minister during the critical month from October 12 to November 11, 1975, he was confiding every meeting and recounting every detail to Mason, ”to fortify myself for the action I was to take”.

Mason has steadfastly refused to speak on these matters, despite repeated requests to do so.

Whitlam meanwhile, was oblivious to it all.

The precise nature of Mason’s role in Kerr’s deliberations has never been revealed, either by Kerr or by Mason. In his memoirs, Kerr referred cryptically to ”conversation with one person only other than the Chief Justice”.

Although speculation soon emerged that Mason was this unidentified ”third man” in conversation with Kerr, it would be another 20 years before he was identified as such and as having spoken to Kerr during that time.

But Kerr’s records suggest Mason was not merely the third man: he was, in many ways, the man. From their earliest discussions, months before there was even any supply crisis in the Senate, Kerr records that it was Mason who met, talked with, planned for and counselled him, guiding him through his deliberations and advising him on the action he should take.

Of equal significance from Kerr’s detailed record is his depiction of Mason as providing a necessary bridge between Kerr and Chief Justice Barwick.

In the years to follow, the more his own actions were questioned, the more eager Kerr became that Mason’s opinions and advice to him should be revealed. ”From my point of view it is unfortunate that they are unknown,” Kerr wrote.

Five years after these events, Kerr noted in his journal that he had renewed his plea to Mason to make his involvement public, and that Mason had again refused. Mason’s view, as he still maintained when pressed on these matters nearly 40 years later was, ”I owe history nothing”.

What is clear from Kerr’s detailed archival record of these discussions is that, even before supply had been blocked, he had already reached a decision on the critical element fundamental to the resolution of the political crisis that would engulf Parliament and occupy much of his negotiations with both the leader of the opposition and the prime minister in the coming weeks.

Kerr accepted without question the existence of ”the reserve powers” – powers that, although unspecified in the constitution and subject to intense debate, would, if presumed to exist, enable the governor-general to act independently, even against the advice of ministers.

But the question of the existence of the reserve powers was not only the subject of intense legal debate, it lay at the heart of the political differences over the role of the governor-general. The advice proffered by opposition shadow attorney-general Robert Ellicott, which Kerr had dismissed to Whitlam as ”bullshit”, was that the reserve powers not only existed but that Kerr should act on them immediately and remove Whitlam from office from the moment supply was blocked.

The government’s chief law officers and formal legal advisers to the governor-general – the solicitor-general, Maurice Byers, and the attorney-general, Kep Enderby – firmly rejected Ellicott’s approach. ”Mr Ellicott’s expressed views are wrong,” they advised the governor-general.

But from his own record of their conversations over this time, Kerr had not even received the advice of his legal advisers when he declared to Mason that he would ignore it anyway, in favour of the advice of the shadow attorney-general.

Kerr had already decided that he could act against Whitlam and his government as early as October 12, 1975, at the time of the very first of his discussions with Mason when, Kerr’s archival record states, they considered ”probabilities, options and timing”.

On that day, when there was no crisis, no block in the Senate and, as Kerr himself noted, ”no conceivable ground for action on my part, supply not having been blocked”, Kerr resolved that he should not act yet, but that he should ”await further developments”.

By October 17, with supply blocked for barely two days, Kerr was even more certain in his decision to act against the government. It was just a question of when. ”The real question at this time is whether I should act before the money runs out and whilst the Senate is still only deferring,” he noted.

The next week, as Kerr’s archival record presents it, he again met with Mason, and on October 20 resolved to ”still follow the same line” and do nothing for the moment. According to Kerr’s records, it was at this meeting and again by phone the following day that he and Mason discussed for the first time ”the desirability … of seeking Barwick’s formal advice”.

The notion of the governor-general seeking ”formal advice” from the chief justice, against the advice of the prime minister, was an exercise of unilateral vice-regal power, since the governor-general’s formal adviser is the prime minister and his formal legal advisers are the solicitor-general and the attorney-general.

At this point, as Kerr recorded it, Mason advised that he should approach Barwick only when he knew ”what he would be likely to advise”. Barwick believed, as Ellicott did also, that Kerr should move immediately against Whitlam. ”Barwick … would advise immediate radical action – dismissal,” Kerr noted. Barwick therefore should be approached only once Kerr was ready to act.

The timing of this exercise was crucial and, according to Kerr’s record of their conversation, Mason cautioned that ”such advice [immediate dismissal] would be disastrous at this time”. Kerr would continue to ”follow the same line” as previously determined upon, Barwick’s advice could wait.

The next day Whitlam reminded Kerr that he was not entitled to seek outside advice, that ”I could get advice only through him”. Kerr ignored the directive and, according to his records, told Mason of it and continued to seek outside guidance.

Kerr’s actions represented a dramatic subversion of the role of the governor-general in a parliamentary democracy, as an appointed official who acted on the advice of ministers. In seeking external advice without the knowledge, much less the approval, of the prime minister, Kerr had stepped away from the office of the governor-general defined in terms of its relationship with elected government.

Through this circular, self-referential process, Kerr was constructing an entirely new notion of an independent, unelected governor-general with literal and extensive powers, a view that was at odds with the democratic understanding of the role and certainly at odds with Whitlam’s unstinting trust and belief in him – personally and as governor-general.

Like Kerr’s dealings with Mason, the interaction between Kerr and Barwick on this political struggle stretched back several weeks, to September 20 when Kerr was guest of honour at the annual dinner in Sydney of the Order of St Michael and St George, a British order conferred for distinguished service overseas or in foreign affairs.

Kerr was seated next to Barwick, and they discussed the possible role of the governor-general should the opposition senators refuse to vote on the government’s appropriation bills. Kerr asked Barwick whether he would be prepared to advise him on his own position and actions. The chief justice agreed.

The fear of his own dismissal, which Kerr repeatedly expressed with alarm and indiscretion, had been raised with him by Sir Geoffrey Yeend, deputy head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and former principal private secretary to Sir Robert Menzies.

Kerr later recorded in his journal that Yeend had asked him in September whether, in the event of supply being denied, he had given any thought ”to what could happen if you were to consider taking action yourself? Your own position could be in doubt”, and suggested, ”It could be a race to the Palace”.

Kerr disagreed, telling Yeend that if he decided to act, there would be no race to the Palace because ”I do not have to go to the Palace”.

Kerr’s consistent and repeated concern was for his own security, that the prime minister might advise the Queen to dismiss him as governor-general if he knew that his own dismissal was being contemplated.

Kerr was presented with an unexpected opportunity to canvass his concerns directly with ”the Palace” in the unlikely setting of Port Moresby in September. The occasion was the achievement of one of the Whitlam government’s earliest foreign affairs commitments, the transition to an independent Papua New Guinea.

During Prince Charles’ 1974 visit to Australia, Kerr had discussed with him the possibility of Charles’ own future appointment as governor-general, a proposal seriously considered in light of the lengthy time the prince was likely to wait before becoming king.

Kerr took this previous interaction to suggest a personal connection to the Prince of Wales and now, as the two met again in Port Moresby, the governor-general took the extreme step of raising with the prince the possible dismissal of the Whitlam government and his grave fears that he would himself be dismissed by Whitlam should he do so.

Apparently oblivious to constitutional expectations, Charles replied, according to Kerr’s notes of their exchange, ”But surely, Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled at the very time, should this happen when you were considering having to dismiss the government”.

On his return to England, Charles took up Kerr’s concern with the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris. Unknown to Whitlam, who considered Charteris a friend, Charteris then wrote to the governor-general just one week before the supply crisis began, with equally remarkable advice.

Charteris told Kerr that, should what he euphemistically termed ”the contingency to which you refer” arise, the Queen would ”try to delay things”, although, Charteris acknowledged, in the end the Queen would have to take the advice of the prime minister.

Neither Kerr nor the Palace ever revealed that, weeks before any action in the Senate had been taken, the governor-general had already conferred with the Palace on the possibility of the future dismissal of the prime minister, securing in advance the response of the Palace to it.

Kerr’s letter dismissing Whitlam would be accompanied by a statement ostensibly from the governor-general, setting out the reasons for his decision. According to Kerr’s archival record, Justice Anthony Mason’s role in the dismissal of the Whitlam government was complete with his authorship of this statement.

Kerr states that at their final meeting in Sydney on November 10, Mason handed him ”a document … in his own handwriting”, to which Kerr added some material but otherwise used as his own words: ”that sheet as added to by me became incorporated in my final public statement”.

Thirty-five years later, when asked specifically about his authorship of one of these key dismissal documents, Mason refused to comment.

Kerr’s archival notes record that after warning his wife, Anne, of his intentions on November 9, he called Mason and arranged to have another ”private talk” with him later that day. ”I began the conversation by saying that I had decided to dismiss the government, commission Fraser as a caretaker prime minister and get Parliament dissolved on Tuesday the 11th if the crisis was not resolved by then,” Kerr wrote.

According to Kerr, Mason replied spontaneously and with genuine relief, saying: ”I am glad of that. I thought that I might this afternoon have to urge that course upon you.”

This is an edited extract from Gough Whitlam: His Time by Jenny Hocking (The Miegunyah Press), RRP $49.99, available September 28.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Gillard proves a tough nut to crack in rough week

Prime Minister Julia Gillard impressed even those in the most unlikely of quarters with her 50-minute retort to accusations about an event 17 years earlier.”SHE’S a tough bastard,” said one Labor man who’s not the greatest fan of Julia Gillard, after Thursday’s marathon news conference about her rather complicated professional and personal life before she entered parliamentary politics.
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That message would resonate with several audiences. Everybody from voters (pro and anti) to the Coalition to Kevin Rudd’s forces must realise by now that, as Tony Abbott so succinctly put recently, the Prime Minister isn’t going to ”lie down and die”.

Gillard and her backers think she has had a good few weeks. They genuinely believe the atmospherics of politics have changed. And so do her internal critics – who are depressed by what they see. They fear a somewhat stronger Gillard reinforces the reluctance of caucus to change to a leader who, they are convinced, could save more seats. The Liberals know that if Gillard lifts her game even marginally, they have to improve theirs too; instead, Tony Abbott has been making some unforced errors.

But the political mood swings from poll to poll. This week’s Newspoll had Labor’s primary vote on 35 per cent. If the next major poll is around that, the government’s positive mood will continue. If, however, it is significantly lower, fresh gloom is likely to descend. And, while it is only tangentially related, Labor’s vote today in the Northern Territory election will also feed into the mood.

The Gillard camp ticks off the past month’s achievements. First, the PM stared down the states over the trials for the National Disability Insurance Scheme – an initiative that has almost unanimous political support.

Then, with the carbon tax finally operating, Gillard (in a counter-intuitive tactic) elevated electricity pricing, blaming the states for gouging revenue, thus seeking to inoculate Labor against getting all the blame for higher bills. Abbott slipped up when he tried to confine the electricity debate to the carbon tax, with senior Liberals such as Ian Macfarlane admitting wider issues of over-investment and ”gold plating” were involved.

Meanwhile, many people were not just being soothed for the carbon price with cash and a tax cut, but reminded of the fact. In May, before the government started an advertising campaign, only 17 per cent had known of the household assistance package; by late July, after the advertising, 84 per cent were aware.

Gillard tackled another problem front with her instant acceptance of the Houston panel’s blueprint to break the political deadlock on asylum seekers. Never mind that this meant largely embracing the Coalition’s approach. Or that, her internal critics note, she should have gone down this path a long time ago.

The government is rushing to set up offshore processing and this week announced details of the Houston-recommended program for taking extra refugees. The test will be whether the boats will stop or slow (there’s no sign yet). If they don’t, Gillard will be in a very bad spot. If they do, Abbott will be deprived of one of his most potent issues.

This week Gillard started to swing major attention onto education, although the government has delayed its response to the Gonski report on a new system of school funding. When that comes it will involve controversy, because government schools will be the relative winners, and there is also likely to be a fight with the states. Gillard is trying to minimise the downside by promising all schools will be better off. The government got a bonus when Abbott fluffed by suggesting the present system was unjust to independent schools, allowing Gillard to warn the state school sector that they were looking at ”Jack the Ripper”.

BHP Billiton’s cold storage of its Olympic Dam plans was bad news for the government but the PM was able to exploit Abbott’s admission – later rescinded – that he had not read the company’s statement (he actually had read the press release). Abbott tried to blame the carbon and mining taxes, despite the company not doing so.

It wasn’t just Abbott who tripped this week: after Resources Minister Martin Ferguson declared the resources boom over, there was a good deal of faffing around by the government to soften that line.

Amid some better news, Gillard’s past caught up with her (again). In a front page story in The Weekend Australian, a former partner in Slater & Gordon, the law firm where she had worked, claimed in effect that she had had to leave after a scandal involving her former boyfriend, then Australian Workers’ Union official Bruce Wilson, who allegedly siphoned off funds from an entity into which companies paid money supposedly for training. Gillard gave legal advice when the entity was being set up.

What followed in this resurrection of old allegations was an amazing retrospective public battle between former Slater & Gordon partners about Gillard’s 1995 insistence she had done nothing wrong. One partner leaked the transcript of an interview the firm did with Gillard during its internal inquiry into aspects of the AWU-Wilson affair.

Gillard’s initial tactic this week was to deny the story oxygen by refusing to be drawn on any detail. By late in the week this had become untenable. She decided to carpet bomb. After 50 minutes on the subject at Thursday’s news conference, no journalist present had anything more to ask. Gillard didn’t kid herself the allegations would go away; she lashed out at what she described as the ”misogynists and nut jobs on the internet” who circulate them.

Jacqueline Kent, author of The Making of Julia Gillard, looked into the AWU-Wilson affair during the research for her book. She recalls that discussion of it was ”one of the stickiest bits” when interviewing Gillard (who was deputy PM at the time). Gillard didn’t like to be reminded of it. But Kent believes her account.

”All the investigations I did, including with Slater & Gordon, would lead me to believe what she said [at Thursday’s news conference] was the absolute truth,” Kent told The Saturday Age. ”Her discomfort at having it mentioned was the normal discomfort of being reminded of something unwise she did 17 years ago. I’m quite convinced she did not know anything about what Wilson did.” She believes Gillard chose (rather than being forced) to resign. In her book, Kent writes: ”Gillard said nothing about the episode in the [Slater & Gordon] office except to make a few mordant jokes about her taste in men.”

On The Pulse blog this week Katharine Murphy posted a ”poll of polls”, aggregating the two-party vote from Newspoll, Age/Nielsen, Essential Media, Morgan and Galaxy. The trend is tiny, but from about budget time there has been a slight movement up by Labor, with the corresponding slight move down by the Coalition. There is still a huge gap. But at the moment the Gillard strategists are more cheerful than before. They report that in the focus groups people laugh when Tony Abbott’s name comes up.

Make of that what you will.

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To love and to submit: a marriage made in 2012

In step … Andrew and Stephanie Judd at their Wahroonga home.BRIDES will be promising to submit to their husbands under a new marriage vow the Anglican diocese of Sydney is expected to approve at its synod in October.
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It requires the minister to ask of the bride: ”Will you honour and submit to him, as the church submits to Christ?” and for her to pledge ”to love and submit” to her husband.

The service is already being used in some Sydney parishes, under a diocese that opposes the full ordination of women and supports an exclusively male leadership doctrine.

The vows were written by the diocese’s liturgical panel, which has the imprimatur of the Archbishop, Peter Jensen. The panel chairman, the Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, said ”submit” was a deeply biblical word.

”The Bible never said women must obey their husbands but Paul and Peter did say submit, which I think is a much more responsive, nuanced word.”

The bishop said no one would be forced to use the new version, and an alternative would remain available to couples who did not want the woman to obey (which has been optional since 1928) or submit.

Kevin Giles, a New Testament scholar in Melbourne, said the subordination of women was exclusively related to ”the fall” in the Bible and in 2012 made for bad theology.

”Jesus not once mentions the subordination of woman and says much in contradiction to this. Paul’s comments over the subordination of women fit into the patriarchal culture of the day and are not the biblical ideal. The truth is that happy marriages today are fully equal, and unhappy marriages are ones where one or the other party is controlling.”

Muriel Porter, a Melbourne academic and laywoman who writes on Anglican Church issues, said submit was a more derogatory word than obey and had connotations of slavery. ”Frankly I’m horrified,” she said. ”It is a very dangerous concept, especially in terms of society’s propensity for domestic violence.”

But Stephanie and Andrew Judd from Sydney, who used part of the new service when they wed in January, said those who were offended by the word were not placing it in the right context.

”The husband’s love is one of sacrificial love, and to submit to that kind of love is not oppressive, but is actually a joy and a great freedom,” said Mrs Judd, 26, who teaches Christian studies at a private girls’ school.

Mr Judd, 27, who is studying to be a minister, said a Christian marriage was akin to dancing: ”The male always leads, even if he’s not necessarily the best dancer … as long as you take the definition of male leadership that we’re operating on, which is giving yourself up and putting others’ interests ahead of yourself.”

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, declined to comment.

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Pub’s fight to survive is music to their ears

Legendary live music venue … the Sandringham Hotel faces a battle to survive.WHEN the crowd arrives at Newtown’s Sandringham Hotel tomorrow afternoon they won’t be looking for a beer or a band; instead they’ll be demanding salvation for the hotel itself.
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The drawn-out saga of one of the legendary music venues of Sydney, a pub which launched careers of successful acts such as the Whitlams and Frenzal Rhomb, is nearing its end. But whether that end is a sale to developers looking to build apartments or a continued life as the heart of small and independent music scene is still unclear.

A deal with Bank West has gone sour for the hotel’s owner, Tony Townsend, and the Sandringham has been in the hands of receivers looking to resolve a debt of about $3.7 million. In an attempt to avert a September auction, the Save Our Sando rally and concert – which will begin in Sydney Park in St Peters at midday before marching down King Street to the Sandringham at 4pm – is demanding the bank defers any action until the end of a Senate inquiry into bank practices such as those it claims have entangled Mr Townsend.

The bank’s role in the saga is defended by Morgan Kelly of Ferrier Hodgson, who said the Townsend Group was given extra time and money to restructure its finances, which ”have been in disarray for some time”.

”The circumstances of this receivership have come about not as a result of any dastardly action by the bank, but purely as a matter of commercial reality,” he said.

The Sandringham, which is profitable, will be sold as a trading hotel with a live music offering, if not necessarily a future of live music.

”That buyer will liaise with council and do whatever they choose to do with that hotel,” Mr Kelly said.

Mr Townsend said he hoped a lover of live music in the industry would step forward to buy the hotel, if the sale couldn’t be stopped. ”Now is the time for action,” he said.

Roscoe Waraker, a self-described ”second-class keys player” who spends half the year in corporate and strategic management and half playing music, is helping the rally organisers. He argues that saving the hotel is ”intrinsically good for Sydney” because of its role as the breeding ground of live music in the city.

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Royal reputation, a flash in the pan

Prince Harry. In the Nude. In Las Vegas. Pratting about. Just about the second after the Queen had finally managed to reinvigorate respect for the royal family with her goodnatured participation in the London Olympics (and, indeed, her own diamond jubilee) along comes flashing Harry, caught on camera disporting himself in a manner unbecoming. He was snapped while allegedly playing ”strip billiards” and while one assumes royalty has always found a way to have its own kind of fun in the past, the sight of Harry once more looking less the senior royal statesman and more like an extra from American Pie VIII was too much for the Palace. It tried to have the two offending pictures banned from the US celebrity website on which they first appeared. To which the world said: Barn Door. Horse. Bolted …
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Speaking of diplomacy – the week kicked off with celebrity publisher and international information ”fence” Julian Assange stepping onto the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy in Knightsbridge, London, and pleading earnestly to be left alone, especially by the US government. Good luck. The US has a terrific record of flexibility and leniency on the issue of national security, as Bradley Manning, incarcerated for more than 800 days without trial, will attest.

At home the big news was that the mining boom was suddenly over – the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, was sure of it, after BHP shelved its Olympic Dam mine expansion. Ferguson probably just meant that it had peaked but once he’d put the grey cloud in the political sky everyone rushed to give their own interpretation. The Finance Minister, Penny Wong, thought the cloud was more off-white than grey, saying the boom had a long way to run. On the other hand, Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott, in galoshes and sou’westers, declared the cloud evidence of a big storm approaching, with Abbott asking ”How can you have a government whose policy is to spread the benefits of the boom, now that the boom is officially over?”

One person for whom at least the fun of the boom might have peaked was mining magnate Nathan Tinkler. It was revealed on Monday his horse racing company. Patinack Farm, had failed to meet its employees’ superannuation payment since November, and those employees were on the verge of mutiny.

Channels Seven and Ten were on the verge of apoplexy when a last-minute deal saw Channel Nine and Fox win the rugby league TV rights. Seven had come close to a winning bid that would have meant up to four live games a week broadcast free-to-air, as opposed to the mere one we are stuck with. State of Origin matches will remain on Wednesday nights, the issue of mobile broadcasts remains unresolved with Telstra, and Nine will continue to pick and choose which game and what time it will screen matches.

After the deal it was said of Nine’s chief executive, David Gyngell, that he had done ”a Packer”. If so it wasn’t half as impressive a Packer as realised by Lachy Hulme in Howzat!. Hulme gave us a fearsome, fearless unstoppable Packer. Nearly 2.1 million viewers watched the first episode of the two-part drama for Nine, a figure Kerry would have approved. Kerry Packer was Australian royalty of a sort: rich, brash, of the people – and certainly no Flash Harry.

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The stuff of dreams … punked-up Prospero with ray guns

TOP hats, leather masks, cyborg eye sockets and corsets will take over the stage in a ”Steampunk” cabaret recreation of The Tempest, as part of this year’s Sydney Fringe Festival. It’s Shakespeare meets ’90s film Wild Wild West in an adaption that combines a 400 year-old play with a growing modern subculture to explore humans’ love affair with technology.
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”Steampunk”, influenced by Victorian-era fashion garnished with brass accessories resembling gadgets from science fiction fantasy, forms the basis of John Galea’s contemporary adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s last works.

”It’s Victorian-era but not as you know it. Ray guns, Tesla coils, cogs, goggles and airships,” the director and producer John Galea said. ”Steampunk is where you have the same sort of post-modernist mash up going on, but it’s more in the Jules Verne clockwork machine, an alternative Victorian-era history.”

Galea initially prepared to stage The Tempest in a sci-fi setting, in the vein of Star Wars or Star Trek, but adopted a ”Steampunk” theme after attending a cabaret party.

”For any other Shakespeare, it may not work but because The Tempest is a fantasy to start with set on a tropical island, it lends itself really easily to that change of scene,” Galea said.

It took little time for the unusual setting to be adorned by the actors, who knew little of the subculture before auditions.

”I didn’t know much about it until now but when we did a fund-raiser for this a few weeks ago, it attracted so many people who dressed up in Steampunk and they looked amazing,” the actor Bernadette Galea said. ”I quite like wearing a corset now.”

Speaking at a final dress rehearsal at Rosebank College, Five Dock, the actor John Michael Burdon who plays Caliban, as a cyborg-like creature, believes the theatricality of Steampunk feeds into the element of fantasy Shakespeare created when writing The Tempest in 1611.

”I think because of the magical element and that they’re deserted on an island, it gives the illusion that it’s in another world. Burdon said. ”I think a lot of people who play The Tempest play into that magical world.

The Tempest is running from the August 29-September 8 at Sidetrack Theatre, Marrickville as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival.

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After the boom, the main game

Australia’s mining boom was never going to last forever.
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Tucked away in the budget papers two years ago were estimates from Treasury and Geoscience Australia about how long each of the nation’s minerals would last. Iron ore was set to run out in 70 years at the current rate of extraction, gold in just 30 years. Black coal would last longer – 90 years, meaning many very young Australians will still be alive when the last known lumps of black coal are dug from Australian soil and thrust into furnaces.

Treasury was careful to say its estimates weren’t definitive. Higher prices could ”encourage greater investment in exploration activities and new discoveries”. But its message was clear: mining would be unable to power Australia’s economy forever. Sooner or later – within one lifetime or maybe two – we would have to face up to the question of what comes next.

It’s the sort of question Australia has faced in the past. Those who grew up in the 1950s were forever being told the nation rode on the sheep’s back. Back then the farm sector accounted for one-quarter of Australia’s production. Today it accounts for a little over 2 per cent.

For the most part that transition away from agriculture has been managed smoothly (although for a while woolgrowers tried to stare change in the face by legislating a floor price for wool, with disastrous consequences). The subsequent decline of manufacturing has been more painful, mainly because of the number of people employed. In the 1960s manufacturing provided jobs to one in every four Australian workers. Today it employs just one in 12.

On Thursday, the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, appeared to ring in the next change. Speaking to the ABC’s AM program after BHP shelved plans to

build what would have been the world’s biggest uranium mine at Olympic Dam in South Australia’s arid north he declared the boom over.

”It’s about time Tony Abbott stopped talking down Australia both at home and internationally and recognised how well placed we are,” he said.

”But you’ve got to understand, the resources boom is over. We’ve done well – $270 billion in investment, the envy of the world. It has got tougher in the last six to 12 months. Look at Europe, the state of the European and global economy. Think about the difficulties in China, with still strong growth. The next round was always going to be difficult and I must say Olympic Dam was always a very, very challenging project – its sheer size.”

The Prime Minister rushed to reassure the public that Ferguson hadn’t meant to say what it sounded as if he had.

”He has indicated that prices have come off a bit – or, if you like, that the commodity price boom has passed its peak,” she told Parliament. ”But there is a huge investment phase with still some way to run and the export boom in resources still has a very long way to run.”

The simultaneous industrialisation of the world’s two most populated nations – China and India – has decades to run. Another 1.1 billion Asians are expected to move to cities over the next 30 years and they will require housing and supporting infrastructure. The Reserve Bank has estimated a typical Chinese apartment requires about six tonnes of steel, while 10 kilometres of metropolitan subway requires about 75,000 tonnes. Each tonne of steel produced requires about 1.7 tonnes of iron ore and more than half a tonne of coking coal.

But the plummeting mining profits and shelved resource projects have underscored the need for Australia to prepare for a time when it must rely on a different mix of exports, mostly knowledge-based services.

Resources exports have forged deep economic ties between Australia and Asia. But the mining boom may just be the prelude to the main game of Asia’s economic emergence. By the middle of this century, more than half of the world’s economic activity will occur in Asia.

This landmark shift creates economic possibilities unimagined even a decade ago. As the region’s middle class becomes richer, demand for a long and different menu of Australian exports including foodstuffs, tourism, education, financial services, business services, professional services and niche manufactures will steeple.

But the shift from selling Asian customers bulk commodities such as coal, iron ore and gas to the far more nuanced task of exporting a wide range of goods and services into diverse Asian markets won’t be easy.

”It is one thing to sell a homogenous minerals commodity to a minerals-hungry industrialist in China, and another thing entirely to design and market a sophisticated personal service to someone living in that culture,” the former Treasury secretary Ken Henry said in a speech to business this week.

Australians have become much more aware of Asia, especially through holiday travel. But experts warn our knowledge is superficial. Even though so many more of us are travelling to Indonesia and other south-east Asian destinations there are fewer students studying Indonesian now than in the 1970s.

A recent business survey found less than half of Australian businesses with dealings in Asia have any senior executives or board members with Asia experience or language ability.

Asia’s middle-classes are emerging as the world’s biggest consumer group but many of them won’t speak English. They will also have business cultures and political systems very different from Australia’s.

Henry, who is writing the government’s white paper on preparing Australia for the Asian century, says the nation needs to build its ”Asia-relevant capabilities”.

It will be crucial that Australian students gain a much deeper understanding of the culture and languages of Asia.

Businesses will also need to think differently. Many firms that are defined as Australian will have to start looking at themselves as regional and be willing to move components of their business to Asia in order to survive.

The Prime Minister and the Resources Minister are both right. The resources boom has ended, but only in a limited sense, for now.

It was kicked off last decade by an explosion of urbanisation in China. The first impact was to ramp up prices. With Australia and suppliers in Brazil and India ill-prepared, the only way China could get the iron ore it needed to cater for its rapidly expanding cities was to bid up the price from a long-term average of about $US13 a tonne in 2002 to an extraordinary $US180 a tonne by 2011.

For Australian miners the undreamt of price was pure profit – they hadn’t needed to spend an extra cent to get it, which is why Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan wanted to tax some of it away as super profits.

The price boom begat the investment boom as resources companies scrambled to mine more of the stuff. The investment boom is boosting the economy in its own right, drawing in billions in overseas capital and employing more workers constructing mines than will eventually be employed operating them.

But as miners across the world have ramped up production, prices have eased.

A year ago iron ore was fetching about $US180 a tonne but yesterday the price slipped below $US100 for the first time since the global financial crisis.

Investment will turn down soon. The Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, told Parliament’s economics committee yesterday he expects investment spending to peak ”within the next year or two” although it will remain at an unusually high level for a long time.

Big investments in gas production means exports are set to quintuple by the end of this decade.

But Peter Coleman, the chief executive of Woodside Petroleum, Australia’s biggest gas producer, says that as commodity prices fall miners are becoming more cautious about investments.

”We’re just seeing a natural part of the cycle to be honest, it’s kind of like that long wave that comes into the beach, it’s starting to break, that’s what commodity cycles do, and then we’ll pick up another one here soon, it just depends on picking the right one.”

But even if the resource price boom is over and the resource investment boom coming to an end, our resource income boom still has some way to run.

This payoff from the investment boom – the extra resources Australia is able to ship out of the country – will stay with us for decades.

After China will come India. China has just passed a historic milestone: one half of its population now live in cities. India’s rate of urbanisation is just a third so it has a long way to go. In the past 15 years India has shot up from being the world’s 10th-biggest steel producer to the fourth.

While India is blessed with vast reserves of its own high quality iron ore, it is desperately short of the coking coal traditionally used to turn it into steel. Australia, with its abundant stocks of coking coal, looks to be in the box seat once more. It already exports more coal to India than China.

Even so, a director at Deloitte Access, Chris Richardson, says there could be a ”tricky phase” for the Australian economy as commodity prices fall and we wait for recent investment in mining capacity to come on line.

”In late 2014 going into 2015 we are going to have to change gears from construction as an economic driver to export earnings,” he said. ”There could be a pothole. We don’t know how big it will be.”

Some parts of the economy will benefit as the effects of the mining boom fade a little. The Australian dollar will probably fall providing a boost to important sectors that have been badly affected by the high exchange rate like tourism, education and parts of manufacturing and retail. The firms in those sectors that have weathered the effects of the soaring exchange rate are likely to thrive if the dollar pulls back.

Meanwhile, Henry says there is no room for complacency. Australia should waste no time adapting and reforming its policy settings to make the most of opportunities beyond the mining boom.

”It would be a mistake to think that geography and/or geology alone will get us where we want to go and allow Australia somehow to ride the wave of the Asian century around us,” he said.

with Paddy Manning

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

For richer and poorer, the battle goes on

Illustration: Simon Bosch.The chief executive officer of ANZ bank, Mike Smith, whose annual salary converts to about $27,400 a day, thinks people on unemployment benefits of $34 a day get too much.
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His prescription for prodding the jobless to move to the salt mines of Western Australia is to cut the fat from a stipend so stingy that paying the rent and eating are mutually exclusive. It’s too sad.

As I write my last column for the Herald – a gig I started as a freelance journalist in 1988, six years before I joined the staff – I am moved to wonder: has anything changed?

I began trying to make sense of the world in these columns in the decade when Greed was Good, when Alan Bond and Christopher Skase were household names, and when inequality, after a long period of quiescence, was taking off like a race hound.

In the time since then, the ratio of CEO pay to the pay of an average worker has quadrupled.

We are a harder, more individualistic, self-reliant and overall richer society. Some things have changed for the better. But some problems are depressingly familiar from a quarter of a century ago.

Public understanding about people stuck at the bottom is still mired in the old stereotypes of ”dole bludger”, ”beach bum” and welfare cheat.

Smith’s remedy might make more sense if the Newstart Allowance were generous, and thus a disincentive to taking a job, instead of a below-poverty-level payment.

If the unemployed comprised only fit young men, starving them into mobility might be worth it. But the unemployed include young and older women, people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, and physically worn-out older men, all unlikely to move to the mines no matter how low Newstart goes.

Harsh and simplistic solutions to complex social problems are still trotted out by the rich and powerful whose encounters with the lives of the poor are usually non-existent.

It is the same story in the schools debate. Twenty-four years ago I wrote, ”If state schools are to avoid their fate as repositories of the poor, and thus electorally dispensable, the middle class must be wooed back.” They weren’t.

The Gonski report presents a compelling economic and social argument for equalising opportunities for children in public schools. No subject is more important than improving the life chances of poor children through the best education possible.

But the debate appears lost, as the Prime Minister, once dedicated to the cause, panders to a middle-class with kids in private schools who consider themselves hard-up. She promises to give extra funds she doesn’t have to wealthy schools while the Opposition Leader claims rich schools are the true victims of funding injustice. Plus c¸a change.

Mandatory detention of refugees began in 1992 under then prime minister Paul Keating. A lot of us overlooked the development in far-away Port Hedland at the time. All these years later, harsh treatment of refugees of a kind we know is bound to cause mental illness and suicides remains our only response, and the ”regional solution” is no closer.

Journalism students doing assignments have sometimes called to ask me if I thought my work made a difference. ”I don’t know,” I tell them. ”Maybe it’s like drops of water on rock.” Some issues and problems are perennials and solutions elusive as ever.

Yet I don’t write about the ”mummy wars” any more. Mothers, sooner rather than later, make their way into the paid workforce, and not even Tony Abbott will stop that tide or reignite the old ideological divide. Young girls are outsmarting boys; young men are kinder, more dedicated fathers, and more conflicted about the long-hours culture.

But the work/life balance still favours men. Workplaces have not changed fast enough to accommodate the needs of children. Women’s talents and ambitions are sacrificed for the family, and men’s relationships are sacrificed for the business, just as they were when I began writing. The feminist dream of men and women sharing equally the pleasures and responsibilities of the traditional gender spheres is still a long way off.

In this column, I have banged on about gender and economic inequality but I have also shared the birth of my sons, now adults, my breast cancer, my mother-in-law’s dementia, my father-in-law’s falling in love at 83, and my mother’s living will.

I have been paid for my opinions, a privileged way to earn a living now that opinion is free on the blogosphere, and everyone is a commentator. I have been allowed to write about the unemployed, single parents or the price of bananas when everyone knows the way to get hits online and prove your popularity is to mention oral sex. (There, I’ve mentioned it.)

Recently I have found myself writing more about death and ageing than childbirth or childcare. I was of the generation that helped transform the culture and change attitudes to women’s rights, gay rights and sex. Now my generation is starting to redefine ageing and retirement. We’re learning how to shape a useful and pleasurable life after we have left behind the office, the full-time job, and the deadlines.

So this is my last column. I leave the Herald with thanks to my loyal readers and my astute critics. I’m letting go in the nicest sense of the word; not to spend the day in a dressing gown but to think, write, participate, and to engage with my generation in a different way. Thanks for sharing the ride.

[email protected]南京夜网.au

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Global retail chains link up Down Under

International appeal … Jemma Baines wears an outfit from Cotton On which showed its new CO. range during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival yesterday.IN the 1960s, the Americans coined the phrase ”British invasion” to describe the arrival on their shores of rock stars such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Searchers.
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Almost 50 years later, Australians might invoke the words ”American invasion” to describe the retail blitz here by US chain store powerhouses such as Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and the soon to open J.Crew, Sephora and Banana Republic.

Hip American brand Hollister will also hang out its shingle next year to sell its ”SoCal [Southern Californian] clothing for Dudes and Bettys”. The youth-oriented beachwear brand will be direct competition for surfwear labels such as Billabong and Rip Curl, and its arrival as part of the US invasion comes in the wake of European chains including the Spanish giant Zara and British high-street phenomenon Topshop. Cheap Japanese denim and cashmere chain Uniqlo and the Swedish fast-fashion retailer H&M also intend to open stores in Australia as part of global interest in retail opportunities here.

But why Australia? And why now, as other local brands continue to struggle in the economic climate?

The cynical answer is because there is hardly anywhere else left to go for brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M, which have colonised almost every corner of the globe from Delhi and Denmark to Moscow and Uruguay. Continuing expansion is key to the growth of such immense retailers that thrive on economies of scale, and despite the likes of Country Road blaming its 11.6 per cent fall in full-year net profits on ”extremely difficult” local retail conditions, compared with the faltering economies of Europe and the US, Australia’s is relatively strong.

Another factor is that companies such as Gap and Banana Republic put new global stores on the drawing board years in advance of their opening, and are more concerned with securing a lease on a prime site for the long-term than they are with short-term fluctuations in local markets.

We may lack the sophistication of more established fashion capitals such as Paris and Milan, but Sydney’s relaxed approach to style also dovetails well with the easy, breezy aesthetic of youthful American brands.

Much has been made of the supposed negative impact on Australian high-street chains by international arrivals, but the likes of Witchery, Country Road, Sportscraft and Oroton are not only all still trading, they have revitalised their product and are making a bigger deal of the Australian heritage.

And it’s not all a one-way high street. Local chain Cotton On has opened more than 800 stores in seven countries around the world, including 116 outlets in America and five in the United Arab Emirates.

The retail chain founded in 1991 in Geelong opened its first store in Thailand several months ago and will open in the Philippines in three weeks.

Yesterday, Cotton On showed its new CO. by Cotton On range on the runway during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Festival Sydney, which it sells exclusively online as a more fashion-forward alternative to its core product offering of T-shirts, shirts and denim.

Instead of focusing on doom and gloom predictions for the fortunes of local retailers, you could argue the arrival of international high-street brands has helped our country’s shopping options evolve to mirror those available to consumers overseas. In a twist on the Starbucks and McDonald’s phenomenon, the same stores and brands are colonising the globe, resulting in a kind of United Nations of affordable fashion options and trends, whether you are in Australia or the US.

This, in turn, is generating an opportunity for indigenous labels to stand out internationally by offering a point of view and design direction that could not have come from anywhere else.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.