Category Archives: Sundries

Posts on sundry matters of life the universe and everything: Culture, Environment, Life, Politics & Government, Science, Social Science and Society, Technology etc.

Seasons greetings 2020

Last year around mid-December the blog fell apart and did not re-appear until 2 January. Eventually I posted a Belated season’s Greetings on 4 January which was based on a Christmas newsletter I had distributed with cards.

This year we were quite overwhelmed during December with one thing and another, so I did close to nothing about cards, newsletters etc. This newsletter is a belated offering. Continue reading Seasons greetings 2020

Saturday morning interlude reprise

Twenty years ago on 7 December, 2000 I joined the ‘zip club’. In plain English I had open heart surgery. Around a week earlier I had undergone an angiogram, where they pump dye through your arteries while you are awake, but sedated.

The cardiologist said calmly, “You have 90 to 95% blockages, compromising 80% of your heart.” I needed a triple by-pass as soon as they could fit me in.

So I went about my normal business for a week with a bottle of nitroglycerin tablets in my pocket. I remember driving back from the airport in my old red Falcon ute, a blisteringly hot day, with inadequate aircon. This may be where it all ends, I thought.

Open heart surgery makes quite an impact on your life, and I had meant to write about it. Time passed until one Saturday morning a few years later I had an experience that got me going. Blogs were new then. The piece I wrote was published by a Melbourne freelance writer and editor, David Tiley, who was running a blog called Barista: heartstarters for the hungry mind.

When I started blogging here and there, it felt like one of those dreams where you are at a social function and you suddenly realise that you’ve forgotten to dress from the waist down. I was about to give up, when David wrote me an encouraging email.

The blog is no longer around, but David is. He is currently editor of Screen hub. The guest post from way back then, which I copied as published and kept on my hard drive, is posted with minor modifications below the fold. Continue reading Saturday morning interlude reprise

Does anyone listen to what Labor are saying?

John Quiggin has penned a piece We’re all “real Australians”:

    Labor won’t win elections by targeting some groups at the expense of others
Labor’s Chris Bowen outside his childhood home in Smithfield, in the Sydney electorate of McMahon, after the party’s loss at the 2019 election. Bianca De Marchi/AAP Image

Quiggin says that shadow health minister Chris Bowen, the member for McMahon in Western Sydney, tells us that Labor needs to win the trust of suburban voters. Then:

    Bowen seems to think, however, that lots of voters (though not enough to give Labor a majority) live in a place he calls the “inner city,” and that Labor is paying them too much attention.

Continue reading Does anyone listen to what Labor are saying?

Should Biden’s election cause Australia to pivot on climate change?

Our Prime Minister Scott Morrison refuses to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Joe Biden’s election as US president will not change Australian climate policy.

Joe Biden calls climate change the ‘number one issue facing humanity’:

    “Climate change is the existential threat to humanity,” the former vice president said. “Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation.”

Continue reading Should Biden’s election cause Australia to pivot on climate change?

Trouble in the ‘Canberra bubble’

Louise Milligan’s Four Corners piece Inside the Canberra Bubble (transcript here) may have had its limitations as a program, but raises important issues as to whether the ‘Canberra Bubble’ is an appropriate and safe working environment, and the ethical appropriateness of the modus operandi of the Morrison Government generally.

Former ALP politician Kate Ellis who has written a book about women, sexism and misogyny in the Australian political landscape was interviewed on ABC RN’s Drive program by Patricia Karvelas – see or hear podcast “Clear power imbalance”: former MP on staffer relationships. Ellis is also quoted in Jennifer Duke’s SMH article ‘It affects all Australians’: Former MP Kate Ellis calls for reform to improve gender equality in Parliament. Continue reading Trouble in the ‘Canberra bubble’

Weekly salon 15/11

1. Aboriginal philosophy

Every week Waleed Aly and Scott Stevens bang on at ABC RN’s The Minefield for about 40 minutes on what they see as profound ethical and philosophical questions inherent in our politics and our culture, how we see the world and how we live in it. They always have a guest to help them.

This week they asked the question Can Aboriginal political philosophy and political liberalism be reconciled? Continue reading Weekly salon 15/11

Weekly salon 6/11

1. Staff vs line authority

The question of which minister in Victoria was responsible for hotel quarantine functions can be easily resolved if we look at it in terms of an old question in management, namely, staff versus line. I say staff versus line but it should really be staff and line.

The Wikipedia article outlines the difference:

    A “line function” is one that directly advances an organization in its core work. This always includes production and sales, and sometimes also marketing.[1] A “staff function” supports the organization with specialized advisory and support functions. For example, human resources, accounting, public relations and the legal department are generally considered to be staff functions.[2] Both terms originated in the military.

Staff positions can have four kinds of authority:

    “advise authority,” with line managers choosing whether or not to seek advice from the staff person, and deciding what to do with the advice once they get it; “compulsory advice” or “compulsory consultation” in which line managers must consider the staff person’s advice, but can choose not to heed it; “concurrent authority,” in which the line manager cannot finalize a decision without the agreement of the staff person, and “functional authority” in which the staff person has complete formal authority over his or her area of specialty, such as the Personnel Department in the United States Navy. The Staff Officer in this role is typically a rank of O-3(LT) or O-4(LCDR) and is granted authority over personnel assigned to those specific roles. [5] Common types of functional authority for staff positions include authority over recruiting standards, reimbursement policies and quality standards.


    Staff workers derive influence from expert authority or “authority of knowledge,” from their control of information which may be vital to line managers, and from their closer access to upper management.

So in practice there can be co-operation, and there can be conflict. And confusion.

Top level staff managers also have line functions within, desirably employing specialists who know more and/or can do more than the top person.

I could now tell you the story of my working life, when I was employed as Supervisor, School Library Service, as a service to the ‘line’ directorates of Primary Education, Secondary, Special and at the time Tertiary (teachers colleges) and TAFE. The Department of Education expected me to install libraries within schools and would hold me responsible for the nature and quality of the service from a position where I had no line authority.

Reality was complex, but it worked pretty well until there was devolution of line authority to Education Region offices and schools in the 1980s.

In terms of Victoria, it seems to me that hotel quarantine was always a police operational matter as the line manager, but health should have been drawn in with “concurrent authority” in how it was set up and supervised. In other words, while the involvement of health should have been mandatory and ongoing, the operational responsibility should have been with the police.

Setting this up should not have been a complex management issue, but it should have been done, and wasn’t.

2. Scotty from Marketing

PM Scott Morrison has done much to annoy me recently. I thought I would highlight his sheer rudeness and contempt for his political opposition, caught in this image by Alex Ellinghausen:

Q&A caught Tanya Plibersek’s reaction. Dave Sharma’s effort to gloss over that behaviour and normalise it did not do anything for me.

Q&A showed Labor front-benchers going hard with their phones.

Plibersek is right. You don’t know what they are doing. They may be, as she says, Tweeting about what is being said.

They were firmly pointed to the front, not using body posture to communicate their disregard. Christian Porter’s body position indicates that what they did was scripted.

3. Tingle on Morrison’s Trumpian disregard for transparency

It’s interesting to see what title Laura Tingle’s weekly articles are given at the AFR and at the ABC. The online titles are often different again. Last week we had PM shows a Trumpian disregard for transparency in the AFR and at the ABC it’s It’s not just public servants feeling the ire of the Morrison Government. However, her ABC site shows We worry about Trump, but Morrison’s lack of respect for transparency should be of equal concern with this intro:

    If this week’s ANZ-bashing conga line [over its policy on climate risk in lending] tells us anything, it’s that it is hard to think of a recent government which has done more to reduce transparency or frustrate inquiries into activities carried out in its name, writes Laura Tingle.

He was fussed about Cartier watches at Australia Post, but unfussed about the three former senior Liberal Party figures on the Board, supposed to look after our interests. Also:

    unfussed about the shocking revelations concerning land near the Badgerys Creek airport site in Sydney for which taxpayers paid more than 10 times the value to former Liberal Party donors, a deal exposed by the Australian National Audit Office and now the subject of a federal police investigation.

    The Prime Minister said he was “disappointed” by the failings in the process unveiled by the ANAO.

Their reward?

    The audit office made these revelations, along with the still running saga of sports rorts, and was rewarded with a $14 million cut in this month’s federal budget (as a result of “efficiency dividends”), which will see the number of its audits cut from 48 to 38 each year.

She details other concerns, including:

    contracts made without competitive tender, including two contracts that combined are worth almost $1 million for 18 months’ work advising the government on aged care financing, given to a man who resigned as the chief executive of one of the country’s largest nursing home chains, which was accused of putting profits before people.


    The more colourful, and outrageous aspects of Donald Trump’s rhetoric have always grabbed the headlines since his rise to presidential politics, and they will dominate these last few desperate days before Americans find out who will be their next president.

    But what has happened to the systems of government in the United States on Trump’s watch is much less remarked upon. Ultimately, that will be the more dangerous long-term consequence of his tenure.

    The arrogant approach of our Prime Minister and his government towards accountability and transparency should be of equal concern here.

4. Integrity commission scam

The new Morrison Government proposed integrity commission has been called a toothless tiger, a “sham” and a “feather duster”.

From what I’ve heard, the real problem is voiced at the end of this article:

    The Centre for Public Integrity director, Geoffrey Watson, a leading barrister, has described the model as a “sham”.

    “The absence of retrospectivity means Australians will never find out what really happened with the Great Barrier Reef fund, with the so-called sports-rorts program, or with the Murray-Darling water buybacks,” he said.

    Former Victorian supreme court judge Stephen Charles, who is also with the centre, said the body was designed to “protect parliamentarians and senior public servants from investigation”. (Emphasis added)

Judge Stephen Charles may be on the money, I think. The Coalition is good at making it look as though they are doing stuff when they are not. This move goes a large step further.

Indi Independent Helen Haines’ bill has had a good reception, also by Labor. See also senior law lecturer Yee-Fui Ng As the government drags its heels, a better model for a federal integrity commission has emerged.

Oh dear, Federal parliament just weakened political donations laws while you weren’t watching, unfortunately with Labor’s help.

Meanwhile at the (un)Australian Scotty From Marketing Declares That The Federal Integrity Commission Will Be Armed With The Warmest Of Lettuce:

    Australian Prime Minister Scotty from marketing has let it be known that his Government’s proposed federal integrity commission will be armed with the warmest of lettuce and they will not be afraid to use it.

    ”My Government takes corruption very seriously,” said Prime Minister Scotty from marketing. ”Take Angus Taylor for instance, he is constantly on the look out for any schemes or anything shonky that he can keep his eye on.”

    ”Rest assured Australia, if there’s anything dodgy going on, my Government is a part of it.”

5. Warwick McKibbin says…

You will have heard that the Reserve bank has lowered interest rated to almost nothing:

    The RBA reduced the policy rate from 0.25 per cent to 0.1 per cent, in addition to lowering the three-year bond target rate and the interest rate on the TFF to 0.1 per cent. The policy also included the additional purchase of $100 billion of five to 10-year government bonds.

Former Reserve Bank board member and world class economic modeller, according to John Quiggin Warwick McKibbin says the Reserve Bank did the right thing in the circumstances, and has done all that it can do.

However, the government has not done all that it can do:

    While the scale of the fiscal response in the recent Australian federal budget is appropriate to tackle the economic fallout from COVID-19, the composition of the package could have been better targeted. For example, income transfers would be a better way to stimulate the economy than tax cuts in the short term. And support for childcare would be a way of maintaining labour supply as well as an income support mechanism.

    The specific lack of support for some sectors based on ideology rather than economic reality contributes to the poor targeting. Over time the key policies that are needed are substantial economic reform and other policies that increase productivity while maintaining domestic demand.

    A vital part of the recovery plan should be policy clarity. The ideal economic policy framework implemented for a sustained recovery would be a bipartisan approach with broad support across the Government and the Opposition on the critical policy platforms. Bipartisan support for the core drivers of economic growth reduces policy uncertainty and gives a less uncertain environment for firms to invest and for households to save and invest.

    A key driver of policy uncertainty is the state of play of climate and energy policy in Australia. While the Technology Investment Roadmap was a good outline of the available technologies that would enable Australia to reach a low emissions future, there’s nothing in the Roadmap that would drive adoption of technologies by the private sector.

Energy policy and climate change, Mr Morrison. Get on with it! Warwick McKibbin says!

6. Australian exporters scramble as fears of more China trade bans grow

Australian wine, lobster, sugar, coal, timber, barley and copper exports to China are being disrupted from today.

    China’s foreign ministry urged Australia to “bring the bilateral relations back to the right track”.

Queensland’s phantasmagorical election circus

In a single chamber parliament with 93 members the magic number is 47 with preferential voting compulsory. Currently the party balance is Labor 48, LNP 38, KAP (Katter) 3, Greens 1, PHON (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) 1, Independent 1, and FNQ (Far North Qld) 1.

The FNQ (Whitsunday) member was elected as LNP in 2017. The member Jason Costigan:

    was expelled from the LNP in February 2019 over sexual harassment claims, first aired in Parliament, that were later withdrawn. The LNP did not reverse the expulsion and Costigan formed North Queensland First.

So if Labor lose two they lose their majority, a swing of 0.7% would do it; the LNP need to pick up nine to govern in their own right, a swing of 3.4%. Continue reading Queensland’s phantasmagorical election circus

Sundry virus update

1. Six types of covid-19?

The New Scientist reports on a study in the UK where researchers grouped Covid_19 symptoms into six clusters:

1 Flu-like symptoms, no fever
Headache, loss of smell, cough, sore throat and aches and pains, but no fever. Around 1.5 per cent of this group will go on to require breathing support in hospital.

2 Flu-like symptoms with fever
Similar to group 1, plus a loss of appetite and fever.

3 Gastrointestinal
Diarrhoea alongside loss of smell and appetite, headache, sore throat and chest pain. Typically, no cough. Continue reading Sundry virus update

Dan is done with political sniping

The word “slam” is used from time to time by the media reporting politics. Thus back on 7 September we had Scott Morrison in Coronavirus Australia: Gloves off as Scott Morrison slams Premier Daniel Andrews on road map.

However, if you read the article Morrison is not telling Andrews what to do. So as recently as last Thursday Morrison could credibly stand in Cairns next to Qld LNP leader Deb Frecklington saying that he accepts that state leaders make the decisions on COVID management. It’s just that he’s inclined to refer to ‘Federal standards’ that have not actually been agreed to by the constituent states of the federation.

All the while Victorian federal ministers have indeed slammed Andrews on quite a regular basis for some months. Continue reading Dan is done with political sniping