29 April 2010

The great climate policy collapse

Let us be quite clear about what the Prime Minister was saying when he announced his great backdown on climate change policy on Tuesday.

He said that after the end of the current Kyoto commitment period would be a good time to assess what others have done and take that into account in devising our own response.

“Assess” is code for conduct a review.  We are going to wait until 2013 before we even begin to think about a coherent response to climate change (as distinct from photo-ops like the one with Cate Blanchett resulting from installing a solar panel on the roof of the Sydney Theatre Company).

The Garnaut Review took about eighteen months, the Government’s response several more months.

We will be out to lunch on this one until 2015 at the earliest.

27 April 2010

World Bank open data initiative

In an enormously important development for researchers worldwide, the World Bank has launched an Open Data Initiative under which it has opened up its databases for free public access.

For an extraordinarily rich array of data and research, go to http://data.worldbank.org/ . From this front page you can access country profiles for over 200 countries, view data for over 300 indicators.

At http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog you can access the data catalogue, a listing of available World Bank data sources. This listing will continue to be updated as additional data resources are added. These resources include databases, pre-formatted tables and reports. Each of the listings includes a description of the data source and a direct link to that source. Where possible, the databases are linked directly to a selection screen to allow users to select the countries, indicators, and years they would like to search. Those search results can be exported in different formats. Users can also choose to download the entire database directly from the catalogue.

At http://data.worldbank.org/topic you can access data organised in accordance with sixteen topics – environment, financial sector, health etc.

At http://www.worldbank.org/reference/ you can access formal World Bank publications through the Online Bookstore, download over 65,000 free documents including operational documents (project documents, analytical and advisory work, and evaluations), formal and informal research papers, and most Bank publications, and access the Archives.

Death of the ETS

Lenore Taylor reports today in the Fairfax newspapers (see the SMH report here) that the Government has shelved its carbon emissions trading scheme for at least three years – which means for ever. Action on what then Opposition Leader Rudd declared to be “the greatest moral challenge of our time” has been adjourned sine die.

There will be much debate in the weeks ahead about when this initiative died. For my money, the ETS, and the whole governmental response to climate change, died the day Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change, declared that the Garnaut Report (at that stage yet to be completed) would be “just one input to the Government’s thinking”.

That was the day the starter’s gun punctured the air in the big race for the rent seekers to get in for their cut.

The Garnaut Review had immense credibility. It was established by the wall-to-wall Labor Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, and the then Opposition Leader, who joined the panel of sponsors, became Prime Minister early in the days of the Review.  The man appointed to lead it, Professor Ross Garnaut, had enormous credibility throughout the community. Apart from his academic economic credentials, he had been, as Economic Adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke, a key figure in the economic reform ambitions and achievements of the Hawke-Keating era. He is well known to and highly regarded by big business, commands respect across party lines, and is himself the chairman of a significant gold mining company, Lihir Gold.

He consulted widely, gave everyone an opportunity to have their say, and produced a report that is one of the better pieces of public policy formulation that I have seen in my forty years in the game.  If the Government had stuck to the Garnaut script, it could have pressured everyone to come on board on the grounds that everyone had had their say and the Garnaut Review laid out the most economically efficient way to achieve what the science dictated needed to be done. The opportunity was there for the Government to get everyone into the cart, and it has been squandered.

Senator Wong, evidently a person for whom politics is just about doing deals (who cares about science or economics, what have they got to do with it?) took this robust and healthy calf, slit a vein, and threw it into the Orinoco, so that we could all watch the piranha with their sharp little teeth snatch everything they could until there was nothing left but the bones.

As Garnaut himself ruefully remarked, this is one of the worst examples of public policy making in recent memory.

26 April 2010

Dick Stanton Honoured

Professor R.L. (Dick) Stanton AO FAA, who was Professor of Geology at the University of New England from 1975 to 1986, has been honoured by selection as an Inaugural Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales.

Professor Stanton was an undergraduate student at what was then Sydney University’s New England University College in Armidale in the 1940s. After work as an exploration geologist for Broken Hill South, a Lecturer in Geology at the University of Sydney, and a post-doctorate fellow at Queen’s University in Canada, he returned to Armidale in 1959 after being invited to take up a position as Senior Lecturer in Economic Geology at the University - by then the autonomous University of New England.

Professor Stanton was a Royal Society Bursar at Imperial College London and the University of Durham in 1964, Hoffman Research Fellow at Harvard in 1966-67, and British Council Visitor in the Department of Geology, Oxford, in 1978-80.

He was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1975, and was Vice-President of the Academy from 1989 to 1990. In 1996 he was honoured for his achievements by being named an Officer of the Order of Australia, and he is the recipient of many other awards.

For further information see Professor named as an Inaugural Fellow of NSW Royal Society on the UNE website.

25 April 2010

Thailand’s diversity

A friend and former colleague has drawn my attention to a letter which was published today in The Bangkok Post (see here).  I am no expert on Thailand or Laos, but I have spent some time in each, including chairing the tri-nation Steering Committee that was responsible for oversighting the construction of the first bridge across the Mekong, the so-called Freedom (Mittraphap) Bridge from Nong Khai to Thanaleng near Vientiane. The comments in the letter resonate with me, and also with the account of the problems in the Malay areas of Southern Thailand given by Australian counter-insurgency expert Dr David Kilcullen in his The Accidental Guerilla, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 210-224.

The letter reads:

Respect Thailand’s diversity

While interesting, Voranai's column last week failed to address that most of the current issues are a legacy of Thailand's ethnic history and colonial expansion and incorporation of subjugated peoples. The myth referenced in the column about "dialects" spoken outside of Bangkok is an example of this.

Anthropologists concur that the Lao spoken in Isan is a mix of dialects from Laos itself, and its predominance in that region is a result of Thailand's incorporation of Lao territory in the last few hundred years. Until the French arrived Laos was a colony of the Thai Kingdom and the Korat plateau was Laotian territory prior to that. Most anthropologists agree it would be more correct to describe Thai as a dialect of Lao. Of course this is offensive to the "dominant" ethnic Thais - one of the root causes of the ills of the country - and the basis of the "Thaiification" government programmes of the 1930s.

It follows that as the people of the Korat plateau and the other side of the Mekong were forcibly incorporated into the Kingdom between 200 and 100 years ago they were considered ``subjects'' of the Thai. My wife, who is from the Khon Kaen area, can trace her ancestry to the Vientiane region over 100 years ago and her ``dialect'' is termed the ``Vientiane dialect'' by anthropologists. All the customs, traditions, food, society and general culture of the Korat plateau derive from Laos, not Thailand, the Thai language or people.

My wife holds a bachelor of science degree from one of the top Bangkok universities. This did not prevent her and her friends from being humiliated by Thai students for their appearance (dark), their accent when speaking Thai or from being insulted as a "Lao" - something my wife is now very proud of. This has naturally led to her voting for TRT in the past and her support for the UDD. So much for the "uneducated rabble" as the Thai elite like to describe the opposition.

From my discussions with people in other regions there are similar views held in other regions by the Lanna in the North (where Thaksin is from), the Malays in the South and the Suai and Khmer in the southeast.

Until the ethnic Thais recognise that the country is a diverse ethnic mix and develop some respect for the significant ``minorities'' (Lao make up around 40% of the population) instead of carrying forward their mythical superiority of language and culture, the divisions will remain and blood with continue to be spilt. Democracy flourishes when such cultural respect is adopted and enshrined in enforceable laws.

(Sgd.) Jezz

Horowitz der Klaviertiger

A few weeks ago an old university friend of mine sent me a newspaper cutting from The Sunday Times, 3 January 2010.  It is a retrospective on Vladimir Horowitz’s career, from the 1920s to the 1980s, triggered apparently by the release by Sony Music of all of Horowitz’s recordings for RCA and Columbia on 70 CDs, in its Original Jacket Collection series.

Our time at the University of New England came during the longest of Horowitz’s extended silences – no public performances from 1953-1965 –  but we were fully paid up members of the Horowitz fan club, and I avidly collected any Horowitz LP I could get my hands on: Horowitz’s own rewrite of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (Mussourgsky was not a pianist and did not realise the possibilities of the piano, you understand); Beethoven’s Appassionata and a wonderful performance of the Sonata no. 7; Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Fritz Reiner; Homage to Liszt; Horowitz Plays Chopin; Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3 and a selection of preludes; Chopin’s Funeral March Sonata and other works; and a very elegant selection of Schumann (Kinderszenen), Scarlatti, Schubert and Scriabin, fortunately long ago released on CD.

The admiration was not universal, however. Sunday Times reviewer Hugh Canning writes:

Just over 20 years after his death, he remains a contentious figure, idolised for his technical wizardry and mercurial persona among his many devotees, but grudgingly acclaimed by the more fastidious, who argue that his flashy showmanship blinded — or rather deafened — his fans to a certain musical superficiality, especially in the central Austro-German repertoire of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann.

Yet, despite the critical caveats, he remains a towering figure.

In Horowitz’s favour, the great Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau is quoted as saying, after one of Horowitz’s first concerts outside Russia:

It was some of the most volcanic playing I had ever heard. I was sitting with my mother in the first row and I was amazed at the things he could do, despite the stiffness of the arms.

The great Polish Pianist Artur Rubinstein dismissed Horowitz after the third of his four periods of public silence with

[He] returned to the concert life as the great virtuoso he always was, but in my view does not contribute anything to the art of music.

My response to the proposition that Horowitz’s extraordinary technique blinds his fans to “a certain musical superficiality” would be that the technique blinds his critics to the musicality – they cannot see (hear) beyond the technique to the interpretive powers.  Those who think he is just a “flashy showman” are really missing out on something. As far as the central Austro-German repertoire is concerned, what about his recording of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto (listen to the transition from the second to the third movement), or his Appassionata, or the Sonata No. 7 with its incredible largo movement. In the “other” repertoire, what about the musicianship in Pictures at an Exhibition – not just the virtuosity of The Hut of Baba Yaga or The Great Gate at Kiev, but the delicate playing in Catacombs. As for his first recording of the Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto with Sir Arthur Coates, dating from 1930 when Horowitz was 28 ...

Even Rubinstein was not always so dismissive of Horowitz. Having heard him at a concert in Paris in 1926, Rubinstein declared:

There was much more than brilliance and technique; there was an easy elegance – the magic of something that defies description.

That assessment will do me; my sympathies are firmly with the “towering figure” school.

I will soon have an opportunity to opine more authoritatively on Horowitz’s oeuvre. A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered the 70 CD set from Presto Classical in the UK – a bargain at £195.65, especially when the current AUD-GBP exchange rate is considered. The item itself is currently located on this page here. My copy was despatched from the UK on 9 April, so it should have been well clear before Eyjafjallajökull brought European aviation to a standstill; otherwise, who knows when it will turn up.

Until Rupert puts up his paywall on 1 July, you can read Canning’s review for yourself here.

Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC

On 22 March 2010 an old boy of The Armidale School with a distinguished war record and a post-war record of community service to match died of cancer in his adopted city of Perth. Some friends suggested to me that I write an obituary to mark his passing and celebrate his life, and I did. 

The more I found out about Russell Leith, the more I came to admire him.  An edited version of what I submitted was published, fittingly, on the eve of Anzac day, in both The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. To read it as published in The Age, see Pilot fought for the flag in Normandy here.

Below is the full text of the 1500 word piece I submitted. I think the 870 word version published by the papers is a fine job of compressing the piece without too much loss of information, but it is a tale worth telling in full, so here it is. My principal source is a fine memoir entitled Duty Done, Colin Russell Leith AM DFC, as told to Cyril Ayris, published by Cyril Ayris Freelance, 73 Outram Street West Perth WA 6005. Characteristically, Leith directed that proceeds from sales of the book were to go to the Anglican Homes Foundation to help fund aged care accommodation in Western Australia.  The last time I looked there were a few copies available from AbeBooks.

Duty Done:  Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC

In the small military museum known as the Sandilands Room at The Armidale School (TAS) in northern NSW, there is a canopy recovered from a World War II Spitfire. The man who flew that Spitfire into aerial combat over occupied France, as part of the Allied invasion of Normandy, and crash-landed it behind enemy lines, Flight Lieutenant Russell Leith AM DFC, died recently in Perth.

Russell Leith was born at Labasa on the Fijian Island of Vanua Levu, the son of a field officer with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR). At the age of eight he went to boarding school, first Suva Boys’ Grammar, and then TAS. At age 15 he was obliged to leave school and start work, as a junior clerk with CSR in Sydney.

In mid-1940, having turned eighteen, he enlisted for war service.  He was accepted into the RAAF, and in 1941, after completing his initial flying training, was sent to Canada to join the Empire Air Training Scheme, following which he and his comrades sailed to England for their advanced and operational flying training.  in July 1942 Russell was posted to 453 RAAF Squadron based at Drem, east of Edinburgh, for further training, but also handily positioned to intercept German aircraft attempting raids from Norway and Denmark.

In September 1942, 453 Squadron was posted to Hornchurch in Essex to join the RAF group closest to enemy occupied France and Belgium.

On 8 October 1943 Russell participated in an early morning 453 Squadron patrol (seven Spitfires) out of Perranporth in Cornwall that encountered a formation of eight German Me-110s over the English Channel. In the ensuing dogfight the Australians shot down five of the German aircraft, with a 6th unconfirmed, for the loss of one of their own. Russell shot down two of the German Me-110s.

453 Squadron participated in the invasion of Normandy from day one, its new role being to harass enemy ground movements and guard the beachhead against fighter and bomber attacks. It moved to France as soon as an airfield could be established on the Normandy beachhead, and was Australia’s only operational unit in France during the Battle of Normandy.

In a tumultuous 48 hours in July Russell experienced seeing his companion Spitfire shot down by a trigger-happy American pilot, and a close colleague misjudge his strafing dive and plunge into the ground during an attack on a line of German trucks.

Later that day he and eleven other Spitfires of 453 Squadron were scrambled to encounter forty Messerschmitt Me-109s in the Lisieux area. In the course of that action Russell shot down an Me-109 over enemy territory, but left himself so short of fuel that he knew he could not make it back to base. He was thirty miles behind enemy lines, and at best could glide twelve miles in the direction of home. Rather than bail out he opted for a “dead stick” belly landing.

He attempted to make his way back to his unit, and was fortunate enough to make contact with the Resistance, who told him he had no hope of crossing the lines without being shot or taken prisoner.  He was delivered to a safe house where Jean and Renee Renoult were already sheltering two American airmen.  There the three airmen were forced to remain until the Renoult’s farm was liberated by Canadian soldiers on 22 August. The last four days of this were spent hiding in the attic, as fleeing German infantry had set up a machine gun post just outside the Renoult’s front door.

Russell resumed operational flying with the Squadron on 11 September 1944, by which time it was based at Douai in Northern France, providing air support to Operation Market Garden, the disastrous attempt to take the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. 

On 27 September six Spitfires of the squadron, including Russell, gave chase to a fleet of fifty Me-109s, and Russell made his final “kill” of the war. It was the Squadron’s last dogfight.

On 29 September 1944 the Squadron was relocated to the RAF station at Coltishall in Norfolk.  By this time the principal threat was the V-2 rockets that were now being launched from Holland. Being in populated areas the launch sites had to be bombed with high precision, and the squadron commander persuaded the British that Spitfires adapted for dive bombing would provide the solution.  The Squadron was the first to be equipped with the Mark XVI Spitfire, which in their case had clipped wings fitted with bomb racks. 

On 15 January 1945 Russell was promoted to Flight Lieutenant.  Ten days later he received the news that he had been awarded the DFC, which he received from George VI at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 10 July 1945. 

The Squadron’s last raid on V-2s was on 30 March 1945. At the beginning of April the Squadron moved to Lympne in East Kent, from where it began bomber escort duties in daylight over Germany.

On 25 April Russell led 453 Squadron on its last offensive operation in the European theatre of war, on the East Fresian island of Wangerooge.  By this time he had flown 286 operational sorties.

On returning to Sydney Russell returned to work at CSR, and in December 1945 married Meg Gwilliam, who had worked on the same floor of CSR as Russell before the war, whom he had been taking out before he joined up, and with whom he maintained a regular correspondence during his long absence. 

In July 1949 disaster struck. Russell was diagnosed with “mild” tuberculosis, and forced to spend the next 16 months in hospital and then a sanatorium at Turramurra, a period during which he was unable to have contact with his daughter Margaret and his baby son David, who was born after he was admitted.  Characteristically, he put the time to good use, completing an accounting degree.

In 1969 CSR’s regional manager for Perth retired, and on 1 January 1970 Russell was appointed to take his place. 

On retirement from CSR in 1979 Russell plunged into the community service roles which had already characterised his professional life, which was recognised in 1994 when he was made a Member in the Order of Australia.  

He served on the Board of Perth Diocesan Trustees, later becoming chairman, the Board of the Wittenoom Trust, became Chairman of the WA Potato Marketing Board, Chairman of the government’s Consultative Committee on Prison Industries, a board member of the WA Art Gallery, and Chairman of Anglican Homes.  He played a very active role on worker safety, helping to found the Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention (IFAP), and in 1990 became Federal President of the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA).

Russell Leith demonstrated throughout his life strong senses of duty and loyalty, and an acceptance of whatever hand life dealt him.  He was a man for whom family was all-important, and friendships were for life.  He remained in touch throughout his life with school friends from Suva and Armidale, with the Canadian family who had billeted him when he was on leave in Toronto, with his wartime comrades from 453 Squadron, and with the American flyers who had sheltered with him in the Renoult’s farm.

In 1977 he returned to Normandy, where he caught up with the niece of the farm family that had sheltered him in the safe house and the Resistance figure who had delivered him there, and made a visit to the safe house.

Russell Leith’s final battle was yet to come.  On a visit to Normandy in 1988 he visited the Museum for Peace in Caen, at which there is a large concourse where there were the flags of thirteen countries that participated in the Battle of Normandy. Russell noticed that there was no Australian flag, and on return to Australia began the long campaign to have Australia recognised as one of the participating nations, on the basis that 453 Squadron had participated directly in the battle from day one, had been on the ground at the Normandy beachhead, and had suffered serious casualties. It was a seven year battle with Australian and French bureaucratic inertia, but on 1 May 1998, the Australian flag was raised at the Museum for Peace.

Russell’s last wartime aircraft was the Spitfire Mark XVI, serial number TB 863, with identification FU-P, which he flew on a 30 March raid against the V-2 rocket sites at Leiden. Some years ago it was restored to flying condition and it is now part of the Temora Aviation Museum.

The canopy of the aircraft he crashed in France was recovered in 2000, after having sheltered a French farmer’s tomato plants for 50 years, and is now on display at The Armidale School.

A kind and gentle man whose community service stands alongside his wartime achievements, Russell Leith belonged to an honourable and gallant generation.  He is survived by his brother Ian, his two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Paul Barratt AO is a former Secretary to the Department of Defence.

Anzac Day, Armidale, 1959

Fifty one years ago today I participated in the annual observances by The Armidale School, and the city of Armidale itself, of Anzac Day. These consisted of a dawn service on the front field of the School, followed by a march, with ex-servicemen and the local units of the Citizens’ Military Force (CMF) – the New England Company of the Sydney University Regiment, and the 12/16 Hunter River Lancers. The March ended at Hoyts’ Capitol Theatre, where we filed in for an ecumenical service.

These small town commemorations of Anzac Day were no celebration of militarism or warfare, they were simply part of the life of the community.   They were quite solemn affairs; everyone knew someone who had not come back, survivors who were still paying the price, or townsfolk whose lives would never be the same. My pre-school teacher and her two sisters lost their fiancées and their brother in World War 1.

The commemorations were also an acknowledgement of the service of those who had put themselves in harm’s way and lived to tell the tale – not that any of them ever did tell any tales of their war experiences in my presence. In a small town where everyone knows everyone, people were aware of and respectful of the contributions of their fellow residents.  Members of the old New England Light Horse had been at Gallipoli and the charge at Beersheba.  My dentist lied about his age and was on Gallipoli as a 15 year old. A friend of my parents from Sydney University days, a researcher at the CSIRO Research Station at Chiswick, had been a member of Z-Force, the special operations unit that made raids into Japanese occupied Southeast Asia.

On that Anzac Day in 1959 my mother was among the watchers in the main street, with my father’s trusty Voigtlander Vito B in hand (father was marching with SUR).

In the first of the two photos below, the gentleman in the black beret was (then) Major Des Harrison, for whom I wrote an obituary published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 24 April 2005 (see Remembering Des Harrison).  The lanky Sergeant with the word “Sydney” on the Sydney Dry Cleaners van almost touching his shoulder is your bending author.  The nearside cadet in the front rank (third cadet from the left of the photo) is the late Alex Buzo (see The Alex Buzo Company).

The shop behind is Richardson’s Department Store, established by the Richardson family in the nineteenth century.  Clifford Russell Richardson (1890-1946), the father of two of my father’s close friends at TAS, and himself an old boy, was the first Australian to be awarded a Military Cross on Gallipoli (Gazetted in London on 15 June 1915 – see the Australian War Memorial’s entry here, and the National Archives entry here).

Alex Buzo on Brian Mattingley

In addition to his great contribution to Australian theatre and his non-fiction works, playwright Alex Buzo was a very elegant writer of travel pieces for the newspapers, and contributed two fine obituaries of our former school masters. One of these, a tribute to Brian Mattingley DFC, was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 February 2005.

Anzac Day seems a good occasion on which to remember a great educator man who had a distinguished war record, and I republish this piece as a tribute not only to him, but also to my former classmate Alex.

Joe held the Arnold Line at Armidale
Brian Mattingley, Teacher and war hero, 1914-2004

"Sedete omnes," he would say as he swept into class.  Others may have said "Sit down, everyone", but he always made an entrance, and like many teachers of his era he was a performer.  Brian Mattingley, long-time senior master at the Armidale School (TAS), has died at 90.  The letters after his name, DFC and BA, tell the story.  He was a war hero and an educator.

In the quadrangle at TAS, where he taught English and Latin for 40 years, he cut quite a figure, being tall and pigeon-chested and known behind his back as "Joe".  No impersonator could complete his act without the stabbing accusatory finger and the strangled cries of fury ("Mou! Mfff!").  In his study he kept a cane called Horace, for those who did not get the message: this was an Anglican boys' school dispensing the muscular Christian philosophy of Rugby's Dr Thomas Arnold.

One of three brothers whose father was a dentist, Brian John Mattingley was born in Tasmania and educated at Launceston Grammar; after university and a sojourn in Adelaide he joined the staff at Armidale in 1939.

The Mattingleys were to make quite an impact on Australian education; brothers Max and David had distinguished careers at Geelong Grammar, Prince Alfred College and All Souls, Charters Towers.  Brian served as deputy and acting head of TAS, where he "really ran the place" at times.

In World War II, Flight Lieutenant Mattingley was a navigator in the RAAF, flying 36 missions over Europe for Bomber Command.  Having proved he had the right stuff, he returned to Armidale in 1946 and set out to do well in the tricky climes of peace.  A conservative Anglican, he favoured tweed jackets, drove a Wolseley, and devoted himself to the profession of schoolmastering, as it was called.

He looked like a film star, one of those Michaels (Craig, Denison, Redgrave, Wilding) who abounded in postwar English cinema, and made quite an impact on speech days.  My mother liked him, and she was not Robinson Crusoe.  He was seen by the school hierarchy as "good for recruitment", but he was married to the job and was essentially a Catholic priest in a Protestant setting, even attracting the same "waste of a good man" comments from the female public.

From his office located at the T-junction of the school's main corridor and the covered way, he could see a cloud of smoke, hear an obscenity and sense a crooked tie or egg-covered face.  It was a reign of terror, with the amused approval of parents.  I felt the wrath of Horace only once, but it was enough to know that Joe was not all talk. 

He often went on patrol, his curious bent-kneed walk suggesting both Groucho Marx emerging from a hotel room and Slasher Mackay going out to bat.  Helped by rubber-soled brogues, he liked to materialise unexpectedly and catch out smokers, bullies and Joe impersonators.

No entrance was more spectacular than his appearance in the 1956 staff revue as a dancing, twirling Spanish senorita.  Not being a method actor, he saw no reason to shave off his RAAF moustache - and stole the show.

The Rugby School philosophy has been criticised for its paramilitary aspects, and Mattingley was its faithful servant, but he lightened Dr Arnold's game plan with his whimsical humour, quoting jokes from 1066 and All That or regaling us with chunks of James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Like many teachers of the period, he created a character, or "adopted a persona", so that when the heckling comes, as it always does, he could rationalise that it was the Latin-spouting cane man who was being attacked, not him.

The attitude to performance was always an amateur one.  After a world trip he showed us slides, including one of Hollywood.  It was just the scrawny hills above Sunset Boulevard, but I was entranced.  "Impressive looking place?" asked Joe.  "Yes sir!" I gushed.  There was a pause.  "I don't think so," he said, to murmurs of assent from the rest of the class.  Dr Arnold's schools were supposed to turn out empire builders, not poodle-fakers.

Contrary to belief, these rugger academies were not completely sports mad.  B.J.M.  was bored by cricket and football, and as school swimming coach he was all stopwatch and no stroke correction.  At his farewell in 1979 he said "there are too many takers in the world and not enough givers".  What he gave was his time, and with it his life.

Many of his decisions were improvised Solomon.  I was upset by a missing tennis racquet on the last day of term and he hauled one out from behind a cupboard, asking, "Did it look like this racquet?"

"Well, I ..."

"Do you think it's possible someone could have mistaken yours for this?"

"I suppose it's ..."

"Then why don't you take this one?"

"Thank you, sir."

Schoolmastering ...  it was a seven-day-a-week job, and teaching was only a part of it.

As a teacher, Mattingley was in the front rank - as his public exam results proved - and his classes were never boring.  When we did Richard II for the Leaving Certificate in 1960, he said the play had been criticised because the ultimate hero, Bolingbroke, was absent for such a long time.  "But what could Shakespeare do?" he asked the class.  "Should he have brought Bolingbroke back sooner?" There was a pause.  "No sir," I blurted, "because that would detract from his victorious entrance later."

It had just been Joe's way of making things interesting, but in that instant I crossed over to the other side and started looking at writing creatively.  Many years later he came to see a performance of Macquarie and, true to form, said nothing about the play over supper afterwards.  Did I detect a "what have I started?" look? There was something pretty close to it.

As a grammarian, Mattingley was of the old school, but again, he made it interesting, however Pavlovian the responses he instilled may have been.  "Nice" was outlawed ("It's a meaningless word"), as was "different to" ("It's similar to, different from"), while "different than" was an abomination.  Even today, if I hear someone say "between you and I", an involuntary twitch ensues.

We were also introduced to literary conventions, such as not writing or saying "William Shakespeare" or "Shakespeare's Hamlet" - it insults the intelligence.  I wonder what he would have made of the latter-day American announcers and their "That was Fidelio by German composer Ludwig van Beethoven who was born in Bonn, Germany".

The 1970s brought rebels and precursors of student rights, culminating in the 1973 Monckton Shield swimming carnival, where the entire school turned its back on the pool - unthinkable in the '50s, but how could Horace hold the bridge against so many? In response, the school did not turn its back on Dr Arnold, but gradually embraced the more liberated theories of Kurt Hahn, the long-time head at Gordonstoun.

At his valedictory address in 1979, Mattingley reiterated his educational philosophy, that "change just for the sake of change is an exercise in futility" and that class sizes, streaming and so on were as nothing compared to the "ethos or character of a school".  The gymnasium was named after him, and then he left Armidale for good.

Change did come to TAS, beginning with the appointment of a day boy as senior prefect in 1980.  Previously a scorned minority, "daygoes" from the town's professional community had diluted the school's traditional stream of graziers' sons.

More change was to come in the '80s.  The anachronistic uniform worn since 1894 had included a Norfolk jacket with gnarled leather buttons that gave much merriment to the "townees".  It was replaced by a single-breasted blazer with plastic buttons.  By this time, Mattingley was living in Tasmania and had been ordained as an Anglican priest.  "He was wise to retreat to the cloth," said Philip Bailey, who had taught with Joe during the turbulent '70s.

Some older teachers gradually switch off and by the end are phoning it in, but Mattingley had an active old age.  He had always been involved with Missions Abroad and Legacy and did some coaching of children with learning difficulties, deriving satisfaction from "breaking down the wall".
At his 1993 testimonial in Sydney there was a record turn-out of TAS alumni and I remarked, "This is a tribute to you." It was no more than a mild pleasantry, but back came the reply like a rifle shot, "You don't know how many refused to come, do you?" He had never played favourites and did not expect to be played as one.

The classics of school life - To Serve Them All My Days, Goodbye Mr Chips, The Corn is Green, The Browning Version, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - threw up vivid characters who were not at all like Mattingley.  Were their visions false? Many of these people, especially Mr Chips, had an ingratiating quality that was missing in Joe.  A hard man to the core, he was certainly not nice to everyone, but he was a great educator.

At 90 he was still active, albeit with a walking frame, and made it to Christmas, but then "crack'd a noble heart" and was found dead by a carer.  He is survived by his brother David and sister-in-law Christobel.

Alex Buzo

Alex Buzo, playwright and author, was a student of Brian Mattingley's.   A memorial service for Brian Mattingley [was] held in the TAS Chapel on February 20 at 10am.

24 April 2010

A Supplementary Note on Parliamentary Approval with respect to the Exercise of War Powers

Andrew Farran, Garry Woodard and Paul Barratt

The notion of ‘Parliament’ and ‘Parliamentary approval’ as a precondition to the exercise by the Executive of ‘prerogative’ war powers may be questioned or rejected given the bicameral nature of the Australian Parliament and the different systems of election for each House. More than once have motions in support of military actions abroad been denied in the Senate where the balance of power may be held by minority parties. Yet it can be argued if the military issue is so controversial such rejection reflects our system and is a safeguard against poorly judged or rash action by the government of the day. Conversely, it may be argued that if the military situation is really grave then both major parties would surely be in agreement about it and the proposed action would be supported, and supported promptly, by an appropriate parliamentary resolution.

It is possible, however, that in a number of situations involving the deployment of Australian troops abroad the issues will not be so clear cut, and the Government of the day should not, it may said, be paralysed by minority parties in the Senate, particularly when the government is in possession of information relevant to the need for action but which cannot at the time be publicly disclosed. Notwithstanding a presumption against withholding disclosure where not warranted, or to disguise ulterior purposes, its avoidance should be secured by tighter Parliamentary rules. 

A possible way around this problem would assume that the deployment of Australian troops abroad, in circumstances where lives would be endangered, is sufficiently serious as to warrant parliamentary passage and that the overall will of the people should be expressed or confirmed by Parliament in some form. In the case of Constitutional change and parliamentary deadlocks leading to a double dissolution, the government of the day has the option, after due process, of putting the issue to a Joint Sitting of both Houses. So too with ‘acts of war’: that is, the Constitution could be amended to provide that in warlike or potentially warlike situations where either a declaration of war may be required, or at the least the deployment of Australian troops abroad in warlike circumstances, a Joint Sitting of both Houses should be convened to consider and approve the actions proposed by the government of the day. This approach was advocated by constitutional law expert George Williams in a submission to the recent Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee Inquiry into the war powers legislation proposed by Senator Ludlam (see George Williams on the War Powers Bill).

Such a process and procedure would signify the high significance of the course of action being proposed and would concentrate the minds of the general public on the seriousness of the military situation. The government of the day should then have its way with clear support and political legitimacy.

As for the possibility of government deception (e.g. the alleged WMDs prior to the invasion of Iraq), concerns of this nature would seem to be receding given the emergence of 7/24 news coverage, the penetrative capabilities of internet and other electronic communications accessible by the public, and the lead time preceding a warlike situation (other than a clear and present emergency). The seriousness of a Joint Sitting would make resort to deception to procure a particular outcome a matter of huge political consequence, much greater than deception prior to or in explanation of an Executive Act.

23 April 2010

Copenhagen Accord pledges

Yesterday the latest edition of the scientific journal Nature (Vol 464, 22 April) published an opinion piece by a group from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and others that shows that, to use the title of the piece, “Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry” (access the article here).

Among their comments:

-  It is amazing how unambitious the pledges are. For example, the European Union offered cuts in the range 20-30%; the 20% figure would lead to smaller annual reductions from now to 2020 than have been achieved over the last thirty years.

-  Actual emissions might be higher than the sum of the pledges, even if everyone sticks to their undertaking, because under the Kyoto Protocol some countries’ pledges were so weak that large amounts of surpluses have been and will be generated over the 2008-2012 period even without any environmental policy effort. These allowances can be banked and used later.

-  A further surplus comes from land use, land-use change and forestry.

-  Many parties have indicated that working towards the stronger end of their pledged commitments, or making any further improvements, is conditional on a global and comprehensive agreement that doesn’t currently exist. So the less ambitious ends of these targets are more likely to reflect the real outcome of the Copenhagen Accord.

-  Unless there is an increase in reduction rates between now and 2020, we will be relying on extreme reduction rates beyond 2020, of a kind (eg 5% per annum) that could only be achieved by radical policy changes implemented now.

The authors’ own summary of their key findings is:

-  Nations will probably meet only the lower ends of their emissions pledges in the absence of a binding international agreement

-  Nations can bank an estimated 12 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents for use after 2012

-  Land-use rules are likely to result in further allowance increases of 0.5 GtCO2-eq per year

-  Global emissions in 2020 could thus be up to 20% higher than today

-  Current pledges mean a greater than 50% chance that warming will exceed 3 deg C by 2100

-  If nations agree to halve emissions by 2050, there is still a chance that warming will exceed 2 deg C and will almost certainly exceed 1.5 deg C.

Some comments:

The critical issue in relation to the Copenhagen Accord to my mind is what impact the Accord has on the behaviour of all its signatories and everyone else.

The pessimistic view, reflected above, is the view expressed by “many parties” that in the absence of a comprehensive binding agreement they will not pledge more and will work to the lower end of their targets.

The optimistic view is that the Copenhagen pledge approach at least gets some commitments on the table. The fact that these commitments are demonstrably inadequate will cause the most significant players to put pressure on the weakest performers to do more, and also to bargain amongst themselves to strengthen their commitments.

I hope the optimistic view is correct, but we are running out of time. There seems to be no political system – even quite authoritarian ones – that can handle adequately a requirement to impose costs on the current generation in the interests of people who are coming along in the distant future. The problem with that kind of thinking is, of course, as the changed weather patterns of SW Australia and SE Australia demonstrate, the long term future is already with us.

22 April 2010

The high cost of direct action on climate change

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has just published a report which contains a performance audit of some Howard-era programs which were designed to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions through rebates and subsidies (Report No. 26 2009-10, Administration of Climate Change Programs).

Among the five programs reviewed were two rebate programs and three competitive grants programs.

The two rebate programs, both of which continued under the Rudd Government, but have now been replaced by the Solar Credits Initiative, were:

-  The $286.5 million Solar Homes and Communities Plan (SHCP), which provided rebates of up to $8,000 ($8 per watt up to one kilowatt) to homeowners for the installation of solar photovoltaic systems on their principal place of residence, and rebates to community organisations that installed photovoltaic power systems for educational purposes.

-  The $399.1 million Renewable Remote Power Generation Program (RRPGP), which provided financial support to increase the use of renewable generation in remote parts of Australia that relied on fossil fuel for electricity supply.

The three competitive grants programs provided grants ranging from $1 million to $100 million for projects such as large scale demonstration projects supporting new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The recipients have tended to be large private industrial or resource companies, or consortia of governments, industry and community organisations. The three schemes  were:

 -  The $400 million Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program (GGAP)

-  The $93.8 million Solar Cities Program

-  The $500 Low Emission Technology Demonstration Fund (LETDF).

The audit report’s overall findings in respect of these programs were:

20.  Program achievements against objectives varied for the grant programs and rebate schemes. The high risk, large value grant programs have achieved minimal results to date.  Actual achievements for GGAP, the longest running program, were substantially less than originally planned with only 30 per cent of planned emissions abatement being achieved.  This underperformance was because of delays in finalising arrangements and termination of nine out of the twenty-three approved projects.  LETDF and Solar Cities are not sufficiently advanced for any meaningful comments on overall results to be made to date.

21.  For the two rebate schemes, SHCP and RRPGP, demand outstripped available funds – particularly for SHCP.  As a consequence, the SHCP has substantially contributed to growth in the up-take of renewable energy in Australia.  However, in terms of abatement, this has come at high unit cost ($447/tonne/CO2e) and at a significant cost to the budget estimated to be $1.053 billion. The abatement achieved by the RRGP program is also very expensive especially when compared to a possible emissions trading scheme market carbon price closer to $20-30/tonne/CO2e.

Not much to show for the expenditure of almost $1.7 billion over a period of a decade.

Any audit report is of course a snapshot of the past. But the findings of these two short paragraphs give a good feel for how costly to the economy, and how ineffective, will be the programs of direct action on climate change which the Opposition, remarkably for political parties which proudly describe themselves as conservative, prefers to market based instruments.

17 April 2010

We think we have a refugee problem

The cries about the rate of arrival of asylum seekers in Australia are becoming ever more shrill.  “It is out of control”, shrieks the Opposition, and in response the Government has chosen to freeze the processing of asylum claims by Sri Lankans and Afghans.

The numbers involved are trivial. Last year we had something of the order of 60 boats arrive – a little over one per week – carrying about 2,850 people. The largest number to arrive in any twelve month period in the last three decades is 4,100.  As Julian Burnside QC pointed out in The Age on 9 April (see here), at the current rate of boat arrivals it would take thirty years to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

For a country with a real refugee problem, consider the case of Iran, which is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (see here), Iran currently has 976,500 registered refugees, of whom 933,500 were Afghans and 43,000 were Iraqis. The majority of them reside in urban areas – only 3 per cent in camps. 

Some 70 per cent of the Afghan and Iraqi refugees remaining in the Islamic Republic of Iran have lived in the country for 20 to 30 years. Half of them were born and educated in the country, and half the refugee population is female.

To get an idea of the impact of these refugees on Iran, consider the fact that on a purchasing power parity basis, the Iranian economy is about the same size as the Australian economy (see the GDP rankings in the CIA World Factbook). On the basis of 2009 data Iran, with a GDP at PPP of $US 876 billion is the 17th largest economy in the world; Australia at $US 824 billion is the 19th. We have one third of Iran’s population of 66 million, so Iran’s per capita GDP is about a third of ours, and its economic capacity to cope is consequently much less.

And we think we have a refugee problem.