Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Aristocracy is good?

This is a REAL example of cultural relativism. What some Europeans deplore about Australia is precisely what Australians are most proud of.

There may be more devotion to high culture in Europe but so what? I myself have a devotion to much high culture -- from Buxtehude to Janacek -- but if one of my fellow Australians enjoys reading "Phantom" comics as much as I enjoy reciting Chaucer in the original Middle English, good luck to him. As the Romans wisely said: "De gustibus non disputandum est".

Besides, it is precisely to avoid the social rigidities of Germany, Britain etc., that millions of their citizens have migrated to Australia.

Despite my "highbrow" tastes, I personally am most at ease among working class people here in Australia. I think their realism, relaxed attitude and sense of humour is hard to beat.

For Europeans, as the Swiss banker father of a friend of mine once said, Australians are the plebeians of the Western world.

The cliches were presented by the editor-in-chief of the German broadsheet Die Welt, Thomas Schmid, last year in an editorial. He argued that Australia lacks civilisation, everyone is dressed informally, there is a lack of social differentiation and the only thing setting the upper class apart from the middle is its higher income.

It is an empty place with nothing in the middle - in geography nor identity. These are prejudices Australians have had to deal with almost since the arrival of the First Fleet, a fate they shared with other New World societies such as the United States.

One reason was that while on the political spectrum undemocratic Old World societies constituted one end of the scale and democratic New World societies the other, it was the other way round on the cultural spectrum, which ranged from the distinguished, educated European gentleman to the materialistic, uncouth philistines in the colonies.

In Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the aristocratic Frenchman lamented that the United States - the first and worst example of democratic excess - lacked an aristocratic elite, which made great art and literature possible. He found a "depraved taste for equality which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level" .

In the second half of the 19th century, Australia started looking into matters of a distinctive national identity. It found the bushman, a myth that neatly fitted into the 19th-century intellectual landscape.

It was closely connected to the notion of the "coming man", a reaction against the social snobbery the English middle-class exhibited against the colonials and amplified by Australia's foundation population.

In contrast to this larger and socially inferior group, the colonial gentry did not regard Australia as "home" but kept close and respectable connections to England, and therefore left the creation of a distinctive Australian identity to the less powerful but numerous "lower orders".

The ritual of egalitarianism helped to shape the new order. It is always what people believe that matters, yet while the idealism of the bush hardly claimed more than sentimental commitment, Australia's democracy had a real basis. It was an "egalitarianism of manners".

A highly efficient economy together with a shortage of labour after the discontinuation of the assisted migration scheme produced high standards of living for male workers. They became more independent and self-confident.

They found dignity and did not have to be humble before their "betters". There was no need for "improvement".

The manners of public life were direct, open and non-deferential. In this egalitarianism lie the deeper reasons for the condescending view upon Australia - it devalued the cultural capital of the average European intellectual.

In contrast to mass culture, the consumption of high culture implies certain competencies. We need to be able to decode a piece of art, the ability for which is conveyed by education. This helps social groups to set themselves apart from others which lack these capabilities. Everyone understands mass culture; it does not serve any form of status. Matters are different, however, with "restricted" culture; by a conspicuous refusal of other tastes, a class tries to depict its own lifestyle as something superior.

As a result, in Europe cultural distinctions functioned as social distinctions. Aversions to different lifestyles became one of the strongest barriers between the classes.

In Australia, ordinary men enjoyed "cultural dignity". Claiming to be better than the rest because one could competently talk about art did not suit a society of "common man". Tastes were often shared. Everyone met at the races. This did not mean art was not appreciated; it meant the exchange rate of cultural capital into power was less favourable than in Europe.

The "holy men of culture" and their inimitable nuances of manners and behaviour were confronted by Australia's democracy. This annoyed them to no end. Australia was not only the end of the world, it also became the end of civilisation and of any worthy cultural endeavour.

Take the Englishman John Pringle, for example. In his classic book, Australian Accent, he complains about art being just "part and parcel of the general background of entertainment and recreation".

That was exactly the problem. There was culture in Australia, however it did not not serve a political economy of power as existent in Europe. Artists were just like other people, they even lived in suburbia. Accordingly, they and their work had to be inferior. Australia became the victim of an international version of class discrimination.

It should not pay attention to the knockers. Offended European capital and the cringe should not stand in the way of recognition of its achievements. It should celebrate its achievements more self-consciously, be they culturally, socially or economic.

It survived the global crisis relatively unscathed. It is a vibrant nation in a booming region. It has more to offer than beach, beer and (alleged) crassness.

Australia enjoys culture and democracy in more equal parts. In short, it has every reason to be taken seriously, especially by a tired Europe which increasingly loses meaning on the world stage and faces almost insuperable demographic problems.


Australia's bloated health bureaucracies need to be reduced

You find them here, you find them there, you find them everywhere: the bureaucrats of the Australian health system. The commonwealth definitely has 4400 of them, NSW probably has 30,000 of them and the other states and territories have lesser numbers. In total there are probably about 75,000 in the public hospitals and health system.

As C. J. Dennis observed in The Glugs of Gosh: In every office, on every floor / Are Swanks, and Swanks distracting Swanks, / And Acting Swanks a score, / And coldly distant, sub-assistant / Under Swanks galore

They are omnipresent and a necessary part of making things happen. Sometimes they are necessary to ensure things do not happen. They range from the clerical staff who check you in to any public hospital, they are the specialists' personal assistants and they support the research work done in large teaching hospitals.

There is the vast array of public relations, internal and external communications staff, logistics, financial management and accounting staff and all the clerks who process the Medicare payments, the invoices for which a patient never sees.

The private health sector also employs bureaucrats, but the advantage they have is the flexibility of being outside the rigid industrial relations and management practices of the public services.

In releasing his health reform plan, Kevin Rudd has promised there will be no net increase in the number of bureaucrats. In fact, if Rudd's plans are to succeed, what we need are more nurses and doctors and fewer bureaucrats.

As with the health sector generally, a great deal depends on the definitions of who does what and how they are classified. Bureaucrats spend hours trying to agree on the definitions. There are probably four classes of bureaucrat, however, with plenty of scope for culling:

l). The senior and middle- management level in departments and hospitals across the sector has about 2000 people who could go. The only changes would be a reduction in costs and an improvement in performance. Most hospitals would cheer.

2). The clerical officers who hold a position because ministers had to show something was being done in response to complaints, and there had to be a bureaucrat to do it. There are about 1500 of these and few would be missed.

3). Officials in departments and hospitals who are administering archaic regulations and industrial practices. There are about 3000 of these across the sector. In most cases their functions could be abolished or absorbed elsewhere.

4). The bureaucrats who service a vast array of advisory boards, regulatory, research and consultative committees. A rigorous, honest review would reduce the number of these organisations and thus the number of bureaucrats. Probably between 3000 and 4000 board members and support staff could go.

All up, there may be up to 10,000 bureaucrats (including federal ones) out of 75,000 whose jobs could be eliminated in exchange for increases in the number of health services professionals with appreciable improvements in the way the system would function. Some of these people want to leave but are handcuffed by defined benefits schemes in some states. But any reductions in staff will pose problems for Labor governments because public sector and health unions are powerful.

The Prime Minister's National Health and Hospitals Networks proposals are conceptually attractive. They ignore state borders and would result in clusters of health service centres that would meet a wide range of demands. Combined with other measures, they may also help keep people out of public hospitals.

However, the underlying assumption in the scheme is that all the states are similar. They are not. The differences are starkest between NSW and Victoria as the merger of the Albury and Wodonga hospitals has illustrated.

Unless things change by Monday, the amounts of money requested by the premiers will not flow to the public hospital sector. Yet new money is fundamental to making all this work.

Additionally, Rudd has not specified who will meet the transition costs. These could be substantial even for Victoria, which operates the best public hospital system. In NSW, the transition costs will probably be $800 million to $1 billion between now and 2014.

Meanwhile, to implement the networks, the NSW government will have to dismember most of its existing area health services, introduce significant new accounting and management information systems, expand at an increased pace the new clinical and financial systems to support case-mix and reclassify a large number of the clinical and clerical staff who will remain in the system.

Successfully changing the structure of the head office of the NSW Department of Health, the area health services and the relationships with groups such as the universities that use the system for teaching hospitals will be a gargantuan task. It will mean widespread staff relocations, redeployment where possible into other parts of the already large and costly NSW public service and, ultimately, forced redundancies.

Rudd said at the National Press Club on March 3 these arrangements "will not be allowed to result in any net addition to bureaucracy because, as a condition of funding, any increase in the number of local staff working at Local Hospital Networks must be matched by a reduction in head office staff numbers in health departments and regional bureaucracies".

It was a very courageous commitment, Prime Minister. Worldwide health-sector experiences show that organisational change of this dimension requires consummate management and financial skills. Giving the task to the federal Department of Health will not be a solution as it has not run a public hospital since 1970.

It would not be possible to redeploy NSW Health Department bureaucrats to the commonwealth public service because such transfers are virtually impossible.

If enduring reform is really going to happen, an essential step will be a rigorous assessment of what health departments are doing and why they are doing it. In many of the states' health departments there are a wide range of programs, roles and functions that have accumulated through time. No one would really notice if some quietly disappeared.

If states such as NSW and Queensland are to deliver on the networks and other federal government reforms, they will have to bite the bullet and quickly come back to the fundamental services that are needed to support a public hospital system.

As an ageing Australian I have a fervent interest in ensuring that the policy incapacity and ineptitudes of my generation are not visited on my children and grandchildren by a reluctance now to fund the costs of a high-standard health system in 50 years.


How to hijack a child’s education

The union inspired threat by state school teachers to boycott next month’s literacy and numeracy tests for Queensland children ought to be seen for what it is, wildcat industrial action aimed at sabotaging a policy for which the Rudd Government gained a mandate at the last election.

Queensland Teacher Union president Steve Ryan’s performance on radio this morning justifying this boycott was an example of the sophistry and arrogance that afflicts union officials who believe schools are there for the benefit of teachers rather than for students and their parents.

According to Ryan, the NAPLAN tests “only’’ measure literacy and numeracy, not the whole child. Good to see that the union sees the ability to read, write and count is such a minor part of a child’s school education.

And while this boycott might seem a lot like industrial action to the rest of us, it is nothing of the sort, according to Ryan. It is a “moratorium’’ on supervising the tests.

This action is all about the union’s distaste for a nationally consistent measure of school performance. It has precious little to do with the welfare of Queensland children. It’s unlikely that the union will be able to get away with such nonsense for long, but it would help put a quick end to this ridiculousness if the Bligh Government gained some backbone and opposed this union’s constant efforts to hijack a policy that has the legitimate political endorsement of the Australian electorate.


Prime Minister Rudd invited asylum-seeker boats to Australia, says people smuggler

The surge of asylum seekers flooding into Australian waters was a direct result of the Federal Government's policies, according to the men who send the boats here.

For weeks Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has denied the sharp rise in the number of refugee boats was connected to Labor's decision to overturn the Howard government's hardline Pacific Solution.

But a former people-smuggler now living in Australia, who can only be identified as Shadi, said: "The immigration rules in Australia were changed and everyone knows it and that's why so many are now coming. "Before, the reason it stopped was John Howard absolutely, he deterred some boats by force and Nauru Island where they (boat people) knew they could get stuck for one or two or three years.

"We and the passengers would check the internet daily to see what Canberra was doing and we all knew these things," he told The Courier-Mail.

The Rudd Government tightened Australia's borders on Friday by immediately suspending the processing of asylum claims from Sri Lanka for three months and claims from Afghanistan for six months.

About 50 men, who arrived at Villawood from Christmas Island last month, began a hunger strike late on Sunday, according to advocacy group the Social Justice Network.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the Government understood Australians were concerned about the influx of boat arrivals.

The Government will decide whether to extend the bans after the suspension period ends. But Mr Smith was forced to deny this amounted to indefinite detention, or a stripping away of human rights.

He said under the Howard Government "very many people (were) on very, very long periods of indefinite detention – years, not months". "We want to, once processing starts, process people expeditiously," he told the Nine Network.

"We don't want to return to the bad old days where people are left in the wilderness for years and where people are effectively vilified for exercising their rights under the refugee convention."

His comments came as authorities intercepted another boatload of 25 asylum seekers on their way to Australia yesterday. A large flotilla of boats is expected to leave from the Indonesian archipelago within days.

Authorities have identified at least 15 people-smuggling gangs in Malaysia and Indonesia, who have mobilised hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka.


The "green" reality behind the huge NSW electricity price rises

The NSW government faces rapidly increased demand due to the Federal government's breakneck intake of immigrants so how are they going to cope with that? Increase the supply by building more power stations? No way! The Greenies would have a fit and would block construction until Kingdom Come.

So the government is going to cut down demand. How? By making electricity so dear that most families will be forced to use less of it -- which will have the Greenies rubbing their hands with glee. And the whole process will be repeated to some degree nationwide, depending on how much reserve capacity each State has

BIG businesses in NSW have been spared the crippling 64 per cent increase in power bills that families and small businesses will be forced to pay.

The NSW State Government has even set the terms of reference for independent body that oversees regulation in the power industry so that the hefty rise does not even apply to itself, The Daily Telegraph reports.

Big businesses such as mining company Cadia Valley Operations, which uses almost 1 per cent of the state's power, and power-guzzling supermarkets Woolworths and Coles will also be unaffected by the electricity price hike.

Meanwhile, families in NSW will be paying up to $918 extra a year on their power bill.

Power for the Government buildings and big businesses is set through a competitive contract, meaning bureaucrats and businesses can secure the cheapest deal.

Around the nation, the price of electricity is also likely to keep rising, the Federal Government says. In an opinion piece last month, the Federal Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Martin Ferguson, admitted that hikes to electricity prices are inevitable.

He put this down to the costs of "increased investment in electricity networks, investment that is critical to guarantee supply reliability."

Mr Ferguson added: "The fact is, state and territory regulators are now fronting up to necessary price increases, most recently the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) in NSW...and earlier in Western Australia."

In NSW, IPART granted the state's three electricity retailer-distributors average annual price rises of between $557 and $918 per household.

The Western Australian Government announced last year that electricity prices would increase by about 18 per cent. Other states would face increases of a similar magnitude, an expert told ABC.

"You would expect that all of the states should pay a similar price," International Energy Consultants managing director, John Morris, said. "There'll be variations from state to state, maybe plus or minus 5 or 10 per cent."

NSW Energy Minister John Robertson said yesterday households were free to select an electricity retailer and negotiate a better price with a different retailer in the same way big business could.

Opposition Energy spokesman Duncan Gay said the benefits for homeowners in switching retailers was only tiny and that they were being punished more by the increase than were big business and the government sector.

"Imagine the outcry there would be if shoppers could only choose between shopping at Woolworths or Coles," Mr Gay said.



rloader said...

The real motive about this is the Marxist philosophy of bringing in high and higher taxes and more and more draconian laws. The myth of climate change caused by human activitiy is only a ploy to accustom Australians to pay out more and more money towards the huge unnecessary debt being run up by this accorsed Govt. OUr cfreedom is being taken away from us step by step. Unless the people wake up and demand change at the ballot box Australia will become a Third World country with all private enterprise by ordinary working people being strangled by Govt. It didn't work in Communist Russia but, hey, the Socialists never learn so we are in for some torrid times until we learn to stand up for ourselves.

Paul said...

A large part of Bureaucrat-creep in hospitals stems from demands placed by outside influences such as lawyers, media, accademic institutions etc. We constantly see nurses seconded to "project work" which usually results in the creation of additional paperwork to satisfy the legal departments so they can say we have policies/guidelines etc in place for this or that issue. Similar for media since we became a soft target for crap shows like A Current Affair. It just grows exponentialy and its always paid for by cutting resources at the bedside.