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

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

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.