Tuesday, August 16

Marvellous Melbourne





 
Over the weekend we stayed in the heart of Melbourne at Southbank, experiencing  a  rare burst  of sun shine and warmth. Some of the pictures were taken from the apartment where we stayed.  

On Monday we joined retirees members from my previous employer ( I am the Victorian co coordinator ) to enjoy the Morning Melodies concert at the Arts Centre at Southbank which featured International soprano sensation Mirusia who thrilled the audience with her beautiful yet powerful presentation, augmented by her outstanding classical ensemble. It only cost members $17 and was wonderful value as Mirusia made her Hamer Hall debut with a well-rounded variety of popular and classical numbers including such favourites as Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Memory’ (from Cats).   
Afterwards we luncheoned  at PJ O’Brien’s Irish Pub- see the picture of their Irish  pie with drink for only $20 which I was able to cover  from my very modest subsidy.   

It is always good to catch up with the latest news. Many members have been holidaying in the warmer regions of the far North and the Gold Coast as Melbourne’s experienced its wettest months in July for over 30 years. In July we enjoyed a stay in Byron Bay where the sea water was warm enough for many hearty souls to enjoy a surf. Others moved further afoot to Honolulu where the weather was super, 28 every day. But the highlight was to hear to learn one member was expectantly awarded a local Community Award for 2016 – having served a staggering 46 years as either Committee Member or President of the local tennis and bowling clubs.  Additionally to the awards he was given $250 for the charity of his choice which he gave to the St Vincent DePaul Soup Van.

The retirees group is made up of many to whom 30 years plus prior service is not uncommon but such longevity sadly belongs to a past era not likely to be repeated.    

Friday, August 5

Less than a great result

If you list a public company the expectation is you will provide a satisfactory return  for your shareholders who are after all the owners of that business. In effect, a public entity and its CEO along with the executives act as stewards to stakeholders to invest wisely on their behalf. Success and ethical conduct go hand in hand to enhance an entities reputation and create the positive flow on effect of brand recognition for the company to flourish over the longer term.  By providing superior customer service. and acting in a responsible manner returns are likely to be boosted and not deteriorate.

Of course failure frequently do occur when a listed company manages to loose most of its value. In such event usually the reputation of the directors suffers a blow - particularly where business conditions are not  sufficiently challenging  to generate above average failure rates.  What one often sees is a CEO continuing to be rewarded notwithstanding  incurring heavy losses sustained by shareholders.  Once such group 's track record doesn't  augur go well for one Donald Trump.
click here for more reading.
 
Recently the ABC's Q &A program gave their take on the us election. The lively discussion by the panellists from different perspectives included the likes of political satirist PJ O'Rourke and previous foreign minster Bob Car. Either way it seems not a great result is expected but even stanch republican O'Rourke is reluctantly now going to vote for Hilary.    
Click here for the summary. 
        

Tuesday, August 2

Joseph

The Hebrew writers and poets of the OT told stories which embraced myths and were expert story tellers as they attempted to add meaning to their life and culture. The problem is, of course, the writers more often than not made up these stories on the basis they were never intended by their readers to be taken literally or be believed as true events.Rather the intention was to bring fresh insight into their existence and to underpin a philosophy or recipe for living.  One such story suggests undue favouritism, a will to power and redemption are inextricably linked in the very familiar story of Joseph and his coat of many colours.

Here is my poem which attempts to tell the story.  
 
Blessed by his father’s hands

Always resting at his side.

Envy of his brother’s hearts   

Schemed to end his life.

 

One brother feared,   

Let not blood stain our hands,

Sell him to slavery, share the spoils.      

Dipped his coat in animal blood.

“Dear father –Joseph now is dead”.

 

Joseph enslaved. Interpreted dreams.

His fame spread, his council sought.

From Pharaoh’s dream he revealed   

Seven years’ plenty, thence famine be.
 
Pharaoh to Joseph, be my ruler, he decreed  

Go harvest aplenty, let my silos overflow

Until famine came, just as Joseph foretold  

Food for all nations, across a barren country        

 
Until famine was his brothers' fate,

Came begging at Josephs feet,

What lesson would Joseph now impart?
“Forgiveness.” 

 

Thursday, July 28

Architecture that makes a difference

Architecture can have a much more profound effect on our disposition that we generally realise. Seeing something beautiful and well designed not only raises out sprits but contributes to our well being in a practical  sense to achieve much better social outcomes . For instance prisons which are smaller and more open have vastly superior outcomes for rehabilitation than the impersonal mega structures  prone to violence and alienation we continue to build..A city that has laneways converted to restaurants for pedestrians and designated common areas to congregate  will exude a certain welcoming air of goodwill.    

The ancient Greek philosophers understood this very well and in particular Aristotle.  Scholar  Andrew Murray presented  this interesting paper at a conference I attended.  Click here should it be of interest.

What it highlights is the need for all vocations to include at least one elective in philosophy whose rich history in thinking throughout the ages adds to ones collective ideas of the many novel ways of meeting social demands.         

Saturday, July 23

Honeywell's quest for cleaner more sustainable outcomes

If you would like to read about Honeywell’s quest to be innovative and secure a cleaner, healthier  and more friendly environment click here.

Of course companies should always be encouraged to adopt socially environmental  responsible practices. In fact this should always have been the case. It as an indictment of our civilised sate to think otherwise.
My preference is for descriptive provisions or guiding principles as otherwise we are in danger of thinking ethics and environmental sustainability rests only be in the hands of highly trained people.
Honeywell's approach gives one considerable encouragement that enhanced corporate social responsibility goes hand in hand with a superior brand recognition to benefit both  shareholders and the environment. This is part of a quiet revolution not widely reported in the popular press that has ben going on for decades.

But a lot of the benefits have been lost in the growth in populations and because of rampant consumerism. Recent trends suggest  however that the rate of growth has reduced steadily from the 1970's, mainly due to a slowing in fertility rates. In the meantime as the global population continues to increase, albeit at slower rate, many more enlightened corporates are finding new ways to reduce our energy and material footprint.     

Friday, July 8

Beware simplistic protectionism

My letter was published today in the AFR.

In "Vehement defence of populism" (Letters, July 6), David Havyatt points to a growing inequality amongst voters tired of waiting for trickle-down benefits and suggests business should reject neoliberal rhetoric if it wants to assist in much-needed reform to Australian politics.

Populism is being fuelled by politicians watering down their "social demand" responsibilities to provide basic services and employment opportunities as existed in the past during less prosperous but more stable times. The risk is if we continue down this track, we will see a return to simplistic protectionism solutions that are gathering pace abroad.

Unless governments, in consultation with business, provide a much-needed boost to confidence with an industry-by-industry plan supported by policy measures, the angst against incumbent political parties is set to continue. Trade agreements, for instance, can enhance national outcomes, so long as any fallout from misplaced workers is matched with funded retraining opportunities. Otherwise you risk undermining confidence to the extent the benefits may fail to materialise.

But, to have a comprehensive industry policy across all major industries will require a bipartisan political approach, as suggested recently by former Reserve Bank governor Warwick McKibbin. There is nothing innovative or exciting about losing one's livelihood or having to accept substantially lower working conditions or services whilst observing a growing level of inequality.  

Friday, July 1

Brexit according to a technicrat

According to All Tech considered if you judge a country's interests only by prevalent Google searches, it was after the polls closed when British voters started to think seriously about the implications of their choice.
Of course this headline is somewhat tongue in cheek. But I do think there was a paucity of objective debate with a propensity instead to gravitate to the more extreme views on both sides of the fence. As they say never let the facts get in the way of good story.
Another view according to a leading economist is few people were really concerned about the EU (especially in view of the fact England was never part of the Euro currency) until some of the Tories started to blame everything on the EU and stirred up the anti establishment movement which is gaining traction globally. Tribalism reaches across all social classes, evident in the upper levels of the legal fraternity fearing legal business was migrating to EU courts. Of course one would be a fool to ignore a growing frustration amongst voters but all too often we see a gravitation to attribute blame to an external party when problems need to be sheeted home to the government in the first instance.

Central banks, including the EU, would not need to have such loose monetary policy given better management of their respective economies by their politicians. So its easy to form uninformed conspiracy theories when politicians have abrogated their "social  demand"  responsibilities (by social demand I mean governance in terms of full employment and provision of services etc etc )to the extent reasonable social demands are not being met. This has been a growing trend and differs to the degree "social demand" was taken far more seriously in the immediate post war period of almost full employment when we were less prosperous in aggregate than now but there was less inequality. But doubtless to say there will be many opinions from both sides of the divide with some claiming the exit frees England of the influence of a right wing EU.
But the opinion I would countenance is it was a non event until such time as it become a furious party debate and Cameron wanted to end the animosity but subsequently misjudged the outcome. Interestingly enough what this also reveals I think is a growing number of young people are not so inclined to tribalism as the old brigade which gives me a sense of optimism about the future.   

Sunday, June 26

Brexit an emotional decision


It appears to me the decision was largely an emotive one with about 75% of younger voters in favour of staying. That tells me the younger generation intuitively are not nearly as hung up over issues such as migration and refugee intakes which I believe drove the exit vote amongst older voters to tip the scales in favour of an exit. But, any reduced employment and investment opportunities arising by this  move may not be as material as is envisaged unless there is retribution from EU member states (which seems most unlikely) or there is severe contagion from others such as France, Italy, Spain or Greece lining up to opt out. That potentially could cause credit markets to seize up and bring on global recessionary fears.

Although some feel the move will trigger Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the UK I don't think this is likely as less drastic options are available. It has been reported already both Gibraltar and Scotland, which both gave resounding votes   to stay might maintain the UK's membership of the bloc. Northern Ireland could also be included in such discussions.   
 
Rather, I think over time, the existing status quo might be engineered with new trade deals given a modicum of goodwill. That reverts back to my original hypothesis the no vote was really all about increased sovereignty and a backlash against the more accommodative EU provisions on migration and refugees.  
Governments do have a say of course, but the reality is customers and suppliers largely make markets and determine outcomes much more so than is generally realized and market fears are about what might happen, not what are the more likely outcomes. Businesses will seek to continue to do business where it is in their best interest and as changes will take many years, new deals will be made.  
But, how long markets will remain skittish with a marked move to bonds and cash rather than equities is anyone’s guess, but, I think the position is nowhere near as dire as early market losses might otherwise suggest. What is often overlooked is the loss to huge numbers of average people who own shares through their retirement funds only to see those investments tank.
In summary, it appears, the exit votes were largely based on a desire to return to sovereign control. In the process England has effectively turned back the clock on the cooperation and open door vision which was widely applauded at the time of the EU’ s inception.
  

Wednesday, June 15

Tech puzzle

In funny happening to our tech revolution “(AFR 6th June 2016) Nouriel Roubini concludes we don’t really know for sure what is driving the puzzle of anemic growth in productivity despite living in the so called golden age of technology and innovation.

But, Roubini overlooks the increasing levels of re-work surreptitiously invading every level of our complex life to risk us becoming slaves to technology rather than its master. Hidden is the additional time spent on –line adapting to unexplained new formats or discovering bugs or unexpected outcomes.  Solutions are provided by the growing on line forums, encouraged by technology providers who underinvest in adequate support in the first instance.
One can routinely expect outages on phones or the internet which sometimes last days and amount to wasted time until a solution is finally provided which might have been avoided with adequate back or more experienced call center staff.  In an increasing complex world much more testing is required before new products or services are released when the reverse is happening. Consumers and businesses increasingly are the “guinea pigs”, forced to waste precious time identifying faults or bugs which should have sorted out beforehand. This is rather obviously more economical to the suppliers but bad for productivity Additionally when things fail electronically we upgrade only to find many applications now aren’t compatible so the pattern of re -work continues.

Another aspect often overlooked is that the pace of change in terms of new ground breaking discoveries in our modern economies has slowed to crawl compared to that which occurred in the last few centuries. What has increased exponentially instead is the amount of information available and the ease by which this is communicated on the internet with the aid of advanced communicative devices.  One might argue however we are at risk of a “dumbing down” of society as devices are now programmed to routinely tell us what to do and attend to day to day chores without needing to pay attention to the elements or figure out commonsense solutions of our own accord.     On a broader scale the long term economic effects of the tech revolution on employment remain widely debated. In the past major new scientific discoveries impacted positively on just about every level of employment and on our overall well-being albeit there was some severe dislocations as the old gave way to the new.
But the tech sector only accounts for about 10% of GDP in advanced economies and applications to improve outcomes in the larger service sectors such as in health and education have proven to be meagre. This is possibility one important factor as to why we going to be stuck in a period of very low growth in what is described as a golden era of new technology and innovation.  We are told we are living in rapid era of change. But a lot of that change is having to repeat tasks because they were programmed incorrectly in the first place. Maybe we could move back to an old fashioned innovation to “get it done right the first time’’- which would be a new innovation for the burgeoning tech sector.  

Saturday, May 14

A Brighter future


In April we holidayed in the tiny community of Tawonga South nestled close to the Kiewa River and just a few minutes’ drive to the township of Mt Beauty. Mt Beauty is within a comfortable 4 hours’ drive from Melbourne and situated in Victoria's high country. The location of Tawonga South where we stayed is at the southern end of the Kiewa Valley at the foot of Mount Bogong which is the state's highest mountain. For those more adventuresome in the summer months there are horse riding treks with pack horses to traverse the mountain forests and alpine woodlands. 
Mt Beauty is aptly named as it is a place of abundant natural beauty which my pictures do not do justice. The landscape is predominantly one of mixed farming which gives way to the surrounding Alpine National Park punctuated by lakes, forests and snowfields.
The township dates to the 1940’s when work began on the Kiewa Hydro-Electric Scheme but the construction of a large dam and power station did not proceed as other priorities took precedence. However in 2001 as the state encountered power shortages the project was re-considered, but the new proposal constructed a tunnel rather than a dam, as originally envisaged and located the power station underground.
Bogong power station was commissioned in 2009 and currently provides 140MW of ultra-fast power during peak demands whilst eliminating 88,000t of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The power station, operated by the publically listed Australian Company AGL, does not interfere in any way with tourism and the recreational benefits to the region. Reference   http://www.power-technology.com/projects/bogong-station/
The purpose of the holiday was also to join our walking group friends and although we did not participate in any of the walks we enjoyed their company in the evenings. Over dinner it was always interesting to hear about their experiences such as an encountering a team of pack horses and to learn about the many historic sites they observed and took photos of along the way. A highlight was a visit to the Bogong Estate winery where in the evening we all enjoyed delicious fresh Pizza's baked in the estate' s outdoor Pizza oven. We were also treated to a fine drop of " Pinot Noir" courtesy of one of the walking group's nephew  who owns the vineyard. 
Mt Beauty proved to be an ideal spot, not only for its attractions but as it was relatively close to other centres such as the township of Bright. We visited Bright on a number of occasions which was resplendent in autumn colours reflected in the Ovens River which winds it ways through the town. The is plenty to explore in the nearby forests, to visit their boutique wineries or to simply enjoy, as we did, the local produce and township cafes.
On our trip up from Melbourne nearing Mt Beauty we were greeted by a disconcerting smoke haze caused by a planned “burn” in preparedness to reduce fuel and ensure improved fire trail access prior to summer’s bush fire threat. It was a minor inconvenience and during our stay it began to clear. 
It was a reminder of the devastation caused in February 2009 when a catastrophic wildfire engulfed the State Forest and surrounding districts.  The tragedy claimed not only human life but the livelihood and livestock of many as more than 33,000 hectares were destroyed. Such was the ferocity of the blaze that even some of the very old trees, who had withstood many prior bushfires, dropped their limbs and died. What tales of life could they convey or words of wisdom impart?  
But, it seems the local communities have responded very well to the crisis and are united in adapting to a brighter future- in the same enterprising manner as the early settlers eventually adapted to the reality of much harsher conditions compared to their homeland. The area was first discovered by the expeditions in 1824 (Hume & Hovell) and then further exploration of the region was undertaken by Charles Stuart (1848) after which large scale sheep and cattle runs with lots of up to 50,000 acres were established. But the relative wealth and prosperity of the early pastoralists was short lived as they were soon subject to the ravages of a severe drought and bushfires – a feature of the Australian landscape that prevailed for thousands of years prior to colonisation.

But in the 1850’s after the discovery of gold, like many country areas of Victoria, the district subsequently prospered from increased wealth and migration. By way of example by the 1900’s Melbourne was the most open cosmopolitan city in the world with 40% of its population born abroad. The mixed fortunes of the region over the ensuing period to modernity were enhanced by the preparedness of farmers and communities to better understand the landscape with affiliation to such groups as “Land Care”. But the ferocity of the 2009 bushfire and its destruction galvanised the community and authorities into renewed restoration objectives and affirmative action.   
Subsequently a “Community Landscape Project” was formed from an allocation of funds raised by the Bushfire relief appeal at the time to help with the restoration of the land and ensure the original heritage trees are retained in conjunction with additional plantings to improve biodiversity.
Funding additionally covered the publication of the historical journey entitled “a farming journey: an account of the development of eleven farming districts in North East Victoria for the region’.” The action plan linked the natural environment to practical farming to achieve sustainable environmental outcomes. I purchased this excellent publication and found it interesting reading with many photos of the early pioneers of the region.     
Details of recent plantings of deciduous and native trees across the fire affected communities and the work undertaken can be ascertained from the website reference below. Once in the website scroll down for details and pictures of locals engaged in plantings and restoration work.  
During our stay we also visited the nearby historic township of Yackandandah whose settlement arose to support the goldfields of 1852. It is a delightful small town with quaint shops. It was a hive of activity when we visited. The town like many in the area, is now attracting many more folk who introduce new skills in contrast to the earlier rural bias. But strict planning and regulation have skilfully maintained the old world feel whilst ushering in the new – so that none of the old charm and history is lost,

The region gives grounds for cautious optimism and the likelihood of a brighter future.  Andrew Cross

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