Sunday, June 22, 2014

Help the poor trade their way out of poverty

Help the poor trade their way out of poverty

Help the poor trade their way out of poverty
“Aid is not charity,” says Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. Photo: Andrew Meares
In reframing Australia’s aid role, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop has acknowledged that aid is best used as a catalyst, and that the poor should be helped to trade their way out of poverty.
Aid is a highly contested domain. Many economists see aid as part of the problem, not part of the solution. Much of the $US1 trillion ($1.06 trillion) development-related aid to Africa has made things worse, argues former World Bank economist Dambisa Moyo in her book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa.
She demonstrates how aid can trap developing nations in a vicious cycle of dependency, where corrupt governments siphon off benefits and refuse to make the necessary policy changes to improve living standards.
Over 60 years, rich nations have spent $5 trillion on aid yet 50 per cent of humans still live on less than $US2 a day. But in the last 20 years it was pro-growth, business-friendly policies that lifted 1 billion people out of extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $US1.25 – not aid.
More aid money will not beat absolute poverty. The economic rise of Asia on our doorstep was the greatest change in human welfare the earth has ever seen.
It taught us that the real heavy lifting in poverty reduction is done via prudent human capital investments, liberalising markets and building the infrastructure that underpins economic growth.


Bishop’s new policy for Australia’s foreign aid programme, worth $5 billion a year, admits the world has changed. Innovations from mobile phones to micro-credit are transforming market access. Her policy reframe recognises aid is now less than one-sixth of foreign direct investment to the developing world and one-third of remittances (earnings sent home by family members working elsewhere).
Aid is best used as a catalyst. Targeting spending on women and girls, for example, continues Labor’s policy and is proven to increase the money’s impact. Such spending can be used to leverage system change to increase the focus on women and girls in recipient countries.
Furthermore, there are good synergies in aid being administered within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Bishop can direct Australian diplomats in developing countries to advocate for better policy in those countries.
It’s none of our business what other countries do, unless they’re spending our money. Development economists have shown that increasing scrutiny, transparency and accountability can reduce the likelihood that bad governance is rewarded by aid.
The aid budget will now be capped at $5 billion. Australia will remain in the top 10 giving nations per capita, but climb no higher. Does this matter? As long as the smaller, more focused program achieves greater impact, then no. Aid should never be judged by dollars spent, but by outcomes achieved and lives improved. In this light, this refocus looks promising.
Aid now sits within the federal Coalition’s broader agenda: economic diplomacy in the national interest. This means tightening the focus on our region – 90 per cent of Australian aid will be spent in the Indo-Pacific region by 2014-15, including on enhancing security.


This focus on Australia’s interests rather than the global poor will be lamented by many. Bishop counters: “Aid is not charity.” Charity we do from home – we can give personally however we want.
Taxpayer-funded spending, she argues, needs to be aimed at producing systemic change: encouraging countries to spend their own tax revenues to build the pre-conditions for prosperity to benefit us all as trading partners. Compassionate Australians want their government to contribute to a world free from extreme poverty. But without results, compassion is an empty sentiment.
If it’s changed lives you seek – demonstrably better nutrition, education, healthcare and consumer goods – the only sure way is driving economic growth.
New jobs must be created for the next generation of young people (50 per cent of Asia’s population is under 25). Nine out of 10 new jobs, according to the World Bank, are created in the private sector.
Aid can’t deliver new jobs and economic growth. In Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, MIT and Harvard economists Darren Acemoglu and James Robinson demonstrate that inclusive growth, open markets, free trade, protection of property, investment in human capability and good governance account for differences in wealth around the globe.
Governments that fail these tests will never see their people rise out of poverty. No amount of compassion changes that.
Australians should be heartened to see sensible policy measures implemented. This is a step in the right direction. It brings Australian’s aid program into the 21st century, where the next billion entrepreneurs – many of them young – are waiting to trade their way out of poverty.
Elena Douglas is convener of the centre for social impact at the University of Western Australia’s business school

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Menzies legacy, interview with Geraldine Doogue on Radio National, 12 April, 2014

The Menzies legacy

Saturday 12 April 2014 8:20AM
Sir Robert Menzies not only led the nation for a record breaking number of years, he strode the world stage as well.
As the Liberal party celebrates its 70thanniversary and John Howard’s book The Menzies Era is prepared for publication in October, we can expect greater scrutiny of the man and his legacy.


Elena Douglas
Convenor, Centre for Social Impact WA, UWA Business School
Troy Bramston
Writer and columnist The Australian
Editor of The Whitlam Legacy (The Federation Press, 2013) and author of Looking for The Light on The Hill: Modern Labor’s challenges (Scribe, 2011)

Further Information

Robert Menzies' stolen legacy
Elena Douglas, The Financial Review
Menzies the true Liberal
Troy Bramston, The Australian


Geraldine Doogue
Jackie May

Global citizens offer smart power in a networked world, 12 March 2014


Global citizens offer smart power in a networked world
Kim Beazley . . . Wiggles requests surprised the Washington Embassy team.
“Connectedness” is the new measure of power in a networked world, argues Anne-Marie Slaughter in Foreign Affairs.
Harvard University political scientist Joseph Nye illuminates “smart power”, the triple-decker chessboard of economic power, military power and soft power, the ability to shape the preferences of others by example and attraction.
In a networked world, your power is measured in the number, quality and centrality of your connections.
In a soft-power world, it’s reflected in your attractiveness: to foreign students, academics, migrants, tourists, investors and the success overseas of your businesses, cultural product, and, most importantly, your people.
Australia, then, possesses no greater soft-power asset than our 1 million Australians overseas. These global citizens, in their work, their creativity and drive, are this country’s ultimate smart-power network. You will find outstanding Australians going about their business everywhere from the boardrooms of the Fortune 500 to refugee camps in war zones to the world’s major performing arts organisations and frontiers of science and knowledge. With every step, they are expanding Australia’s footprint.


Advance – Australia’s Global Community, headquartered in New York but with global chapters and reach, was founded with the support of then consul-general Ken Allen, AC, to leverage this talent base to Australia’s advantage. If, as Slaughter argues, “the key to success in a networked economy is being able to harvest the best ideas and innovations from the widest array of sources” then global Australians are a critical resource.
On Thursday, at the Advance Global Australian Awards, a number of outstanding Australians who live and work overseas will be honoured for their achievements. Educated and “made in Australia”, they are the fruit of this country’s world-beating education system.
Australian journalist Prue Clarke has built New Narratives, which provides editorial and business support to fledgling media organisations in countries without strong media, particularly in Africa. Head of the Edinburgh Festival Jonathan Mills, leading cross-border arbitration and litigation expert Caryl Nairn, and United States-based cancer researcher Richard Pestell are among the finalists.
They are joined by senator Sekai Holland, the former Zimbabwean co-minister of state for national healing, reconciliation and integration. Senator Holland, as a graduate of Sydney’s University of Technology, will be presented with the alumni award representing the now millions of global citizens to have enjoyed an Australian education.


Education and cultural products are central in the new power landscape. Australia’s success as a destination for working holidays and semesters abroad will transform the next generation’s understanding of this country.
Kim Beazley tells the story of a moment of peak Australian power in Washington. To the surprise of the Embassy team, high-powered Capitol Hill insiders under the jackboots of their four-year-olds were calling, saying “do whatever it takes” to get tickets to a Wiggles concert.
I once watched several hundred of the most senior representatives to the United Nations scrambling like schoolboys to take selfies with Nicole Kidman at the special preview of her movie, The Interpreter, hosted by the bemused Australian Mission.
Understanding these new types of power requires different thinking, not in hierarchies of power, but in networks of influence. It’s also harder to measure than conventional power.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has shown early signs of an aptitude for working this way. Witness her instinct on a revival of the Colombo Plan: she wants to engage a new generation of Australians in learning about Asia and bring their knowledge and networks home.
She also intends to pursue a more synthesised, Team Australia approach to the government allocation of investment, so as to promote Australia across public diplomacy, tourism, trade and investment.
Foreign policy will increasingly require the orchestration of networks of actors public, private and civic to better project Australia’s story. Australia is one of the world’s most creative, multicultural and innovative societies, but we could do a much better job of leveraging our global Aussies, those abroad, as well as the incredible depth and breadth of foreign-grown talent now planted in our soil.
The future of nations rests, as never before, on their capacity to nurture and sustain creativity. Australians overseas keep us closer to the centre of the future. They are a source of business connections, access to supply chains, and globally seasoned board and executive talent.
Thinking smartly and differently will allow us to make better use of this powerful resource so that Australians overseas and the foreign alumni of our universities help us stay plugged into all corners of the global brain.
Elena Douglas was the founding chief executive of Advance – Australia’s Global Community from 2002-2007.
The Australian Financial Review

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

AFR 19 Feb 2014 - Is Competition Still a Labor Word?

"I say competition is a Labor word", pronounced Paul Keating in 2008.
Labor’s record on competition is its Groundhog Day. This is where the battle line for Labor’s soul is drawn: whether Labor returns to its once strongly held convictions and stands for a globally competitive Australia – which means dismantling protection and cosy deals.

To date, Labor leader Bill Shorten has played the protection card, demanding more “assistance” for the car industry. The economics and the politics appear to elude him. “Competition” was a great Labor word in the high-reform era of the Hawke and Keating governments. Then, the political project was reviving effective markets, not government controls.

Hawke-Keating’s driving purpose was to deliver the worker and consumer the benefits, not the rhetoric, of competition: cheaper air travel, clothes and cars; more efficient industries; new jobs in a globally competitive service sector. Competition was to deliver purchasing power to the people, rising real incomes and an Australia stronger for dismantling the protection that kept us weak, despite adjustments and unemployment.

In competitive global markets, firms face two sets of constraints: those imposed by the markets in which they compete, and those set by the laws and regulatory frameworks in which they operate. Government’s only power is to set the latter. Hawke-Keating Labor made decisions from the firm’s eye view. They sought cost-competitiveness and knew that empowered firms benefited workers.

Competition has long been a policy fault line. Joe Hockey too faces ongoing internal debate about the merits of economy-wide competition. For the Liberals, however, competition is a defining word. Their electoral majority will hold them to it.

The unpalatable reality for contemporary Labor is that Australians have matured on the nature and experience of competition. The Australian public, by and large, is now comfortable with competition, and tolerates decisions such as removing government assistance from uncompetitive industries. Outside the government-funded sectors – health, welfare and education – in 70 per cent of our economy managers and workers make decisions every day in competitive environments. The electorate is changing. Labor is not.

The unions’ control of the talent pool available to the parliamentary Labor party chokes access to a broad range of people and ideas. Union membership is less than 20 per cent of the total workforce but more than double that in sectors protected from competition and still subject to government control – health, welfare and education. With its talent pool largely restricted to the world behind the wall of protection, the party which led us boldly into this new world of global competition in the 1980shas, post-Keating, drifted back to the comfort zone of government controls, re-regulation and class warfare.

Shorten, nurtured by the union movement but possessing an MBA, came of age in Hawke and Keating’s Australia. Keating once declared: “My task is to make competition into a Labor ideal.” This task now falls to Shorten.

Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, this Bill will rise each day and be asked the question until he gets it right.

Elena Douglas is the convenor of the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia Business School.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Robert Menzies’ Stolen Legacy

PUBLISHED: 24 JAN 2014 16:16:00 | UPDATED: 04 FEB 2014 17:50:02

Robert Menzies’ stolen legacy
Robert Menzies was a passionate advocate of higher learning, who increased access to tertiary education for thousands. Photo: R.L. Stewart
Paul Keating’s depiction of Robert Menzies as reactionary and stultifying coloured the opinions of a generation. Photo: Peter Morris
An encounter with history books, rather than political rhetoric, leaves one shocked at the jaundiced portrait of Sir Robert Menzies in the public imagination.
I speak from experience. The Menzies of my childhood and adolescence was a faintly ridiculous figure. Throughout my education in the 1970s and ’80s, anyone holding cultural authority – teachers, parents, writers, filmmakers, all vastly different people with myriad perspectives on the world – shared one thing: they had seen the enemy and it was Robert Gordon Menzies.
Menzies, in my mind’s eye, was a pompous, anachronistic, forelock-tugging Establishment figure, who held back the tide of Australia’s potential and denied the country its independent greatness. In his reverence for the British Empire, his enchantment with the Queen of England, even his plummy voice, he lacked Australian authenticity and patriotism.
More unforgivable was his failure to expand educational horizons for Australians. Heavens, had it not been for that white knight, Gough Whitlam, I wouldn’t have gone to school, let alone university.
By the time I heard prime minister Paul Keating’s parliamentary tour de force against conservatism on February 27, 1992, it resonated with everything I’d ever been told about Menzies. Keating, under pressure from the deteriorating economy, sought to shift the debate to the more fertile and creative ground of Australian identity. He framed his opponents, Liberal leader John Hewson and shadow treasurer John Howard, as throwbacks to that “awful cultural cringe under Menzies” which “held us back for nearly a generation”. Dripping with sarcasm, Keating’s words were laced with his signature bitter humour: “That was the golden age when Australia was injected with a near lethal dose of old-fogeyism by the conservative parties opposite, when they put the country into neutral and where we gently ground to a halt in the nowhere land of the early 1980s.” It was among his most memorable parliamentary performances.
This rendition of Menzies was as familiar to me as Ned Kelly’s heroism.
If you’re under 50, unless you spent your youth inside the bubble of Liberal Party lore, chances are you heard little that was positive about Menzies.


Raised in an Italian-Irish Labor family, anti-British to the bootstraps, my discovery that Menzies and the Poms could be blamed for most ills in the world, let alone Australia, was a defining cultural insight.
Returning to outer-suburban Perth in 1978, after a year in Tuscany (in the town of Pietrasanta, where artists from Michelangelo to Henry Moore had worked with the local marble artisans), I grew certain Robert Menzies was the reason Australia was so boring, monocultural and unimaginative. Coming of age in Keating’s Australia, where we looked to Asia, watched Japan’s stunning rise turn the heads of our teachers at university and mentors in business, it was axiomatic that the lack of international engagement and cultural depth, not to mention that national stain, the White Australia policy, were all Menzies’ fault.
Paul Keating was the best economics teacher I, or this country, ever had. Enrolments in high-school economics in Australian peaked while Keating was treasurer. But he was unreliable as a history teacher. The portrait of Menzies, signed by Keating, is in the romantic and mythological style beloved by Labor. Menzies plays the recalcitrant villain in this script written in the argot of the anti-British nationalists, such as Manning Clark, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson. The Menzies era was the “tragedy writ large”. Australia was saved by ­“enlargers” – Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Keating – knights who redeemed us from the Menzian darkness. This drama has √©lan, colour, movement and narrative rhythm. It’s a shame the facts paint a different picture.
If Keating’s theatre was stunning, it came at a dangerous price: the swindle of a great Australian political figure from the national gallery. History is often the plaything of politics. Menzies had his flaws, his misjudgments, his obsessions, certainly his blind-spots. But he was one of the most creative and interesting figures in Australian history who, for 31 years, embodied the Australian Parliament. Not to know him and his deeds is to lose an important character in Australia’s story.
To claim a swindle took place, I do not need to prove that Menzies was without flaw; just that, by any measure, Menzies was an extraordinary Australian.
Robert Menzies (1894-1978) was the son of country-town shopkeepers, in Jeparit, Victoria. His mother and father (a state MP and the son of Scottish migrants), raised him to believe the duty of public service rested with the gifted. He was awarded numerous prizes at university; aside from Alfred Deakin and Gough Whitlam, no other prime minister has been as erudite. He excelled at the bar, and then the local politics that occupied the talented young men of the day.


His career ascent was spectacular: by 34 he was a Victorian MP; by 40, federal member for Kooyong; and within five years prime minister representing the United Australia Party. Early in the Second World War, he became a member of the Imperial War Cabinet – co-ordinating the Allied response from London. It’s a period in Australia over which controversy rages regarding the degree of preparedness for war.
While visiting England in 1941, Menzies lost the faith of his United Australia Party colleagues in Canberra. The Labor leader, John Curtin, declined to support him in the formation of a bipartisan war cabinet. Lacking a workable parliamentary majority, Menzies resigned as leader.
Reflecting on these painful events he later wrote, “on balance . . . my humiliation in 1941 turned out to be a good thing for the country”. It taught him how to get along with people. And that “the state of mind in which to be logical is to be right, and to be right is its own justification” doesn’t get you far. He acquired “the common touch” and learned “that human beings are delightfully illogical but mostly honest, and to realise that all-black and all-white are not the only hues in the spectrum.” Chastened, Menzies led a collegial wartime opposition.
He wrote a series of nationally syndicated radio broadcasts, “The Forgotten People”, which was aired between May and November, 1942. The product of deep reflection, the series became a turning point both for ideas and his public profile. The broadcasts reveal Menzies’ political instincts and frame the most successful political strategy in Australia’s history: a focus on the “great and sober and dynamic” middle class, “the salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers”.
On these philosophical foundations, and alert to the lack of cohesion on the non-Labor side of politics in Australia (compared with Britain and the US), Menzies built a new political party. The Liberal Party was born on August 31, 1945. Menzies took it to power in December 1949 and led the country for a record-breaking 17 years.
Some people remember the Menzies era as a golden age, highlighting the postwar prosperity and Australia’s emergence as a top 10 trading nation. Industrial, manufacturing and minerals development soared as the world rebuilt. The vast sales of iron ore to Japan commenced. Purchasing power increased dramatically and with it a sharp rise in living standards: home ownership rose from half to three-quarters of the population; 1 million migrants were settled in 10 years; massive infrastructure projects, such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme, came on-stream. A new social safety-net was woven: pensioner medical services, child endowment, private medical insurance, the homes savings grants and state aid for non-government schools were all kicked into life.


The great controversies surrounding Menzies rumble still. National wealth grew rapidly but was Australia in relative decline? (Compared with other settler societies, Australia slipped; compared with industry-nationalising Labor Britain the country thrived.) Strong protectionist measures prevailed. Foreign policy analysts debate whether Menzies was paranoid or prescient about the threat of communism.
Our question here, however, is whether his contribution is significant enough to make a fair historical treatment important to the nation’s self-understanding.
No other figure before or since has dominated Australian politics as did Menzies. Both Paul Kelly in his book, The March of Patriots, and Don Watson, in Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, interpret Menzies’ long reign as a powerful force in the development of Keating’s political personality. The long spell of seven election victories, undefeated for 17 years, was to become a torment for Labor warriors such as Keating. What better proof of Menzies’ political brilliance than the fuel he provided for Keating’s 1992 tirade, the venom palpable in his denunciations.
Part of Menzies’ political success was undoubtedly due to the turmoil in Labor at the time: the splintering off of an anti-communist Democratic Labor Party from the radical industrial wing. But no honest political analyst can deny Menzies’ raw political genius and unerring instincts.
When asked what he considered his most enduring accomplishment, Menzies cited education: expanding access to education for Australia’s great wealth of bright young people. Surprised? This is where the plot thickens. This is where the great swindle of Menzies’ legacy is most acute. It is rarely grasped that the first major wave of expansion of Australian higher education was driven by Menzies’ government.


In a nuanced Menzies Oration last year, Janice Reid, vice-chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, slew several national myths. Reid acknowledged Menzies’ deep reverence for universities as “homes of pure culture and learning” and “training schools for the professions”, “homes of research”, “custodians of mental liberty, and the unfettered search for truth” and a “rugged honesty of mind”. That’s the rhetoric.
Turning to the facts: expenditure on universities under Menzies increased tenfold between 1955 and 1966. Enrolments expanded eightfold from 12,000 in 1938 to 96,000 by his retirement. The Commonwealth Scholarship scheme, envisaged by Labor’s Ben Chifley, was implemented by Menzies in 1951. By 1963, some 37 per cent of Australia’s full-time students had all their university fees paid and a means-tested living allowance. The 1965 Martin Report noted an additional 39 per cent of students received bursaries and cadetships. That means three-quarters of all university students had their education paid for by the Menzies government.
The era also saw massive institutional expansion, with numerous state universities funded into existence, including Monash, Macquarie, La Trobe, Newcastle, Flinders, James Cook, Griffith and Murdoch.
Menzies was not always the initiator of reform but, once convinced, he used his powers of persuasion to drive it home. Announcing a fourfold increase in education spending to the Parliament in 1957, he said, “if I may confess it, this is rather a special night in my political life . . . it is not yet adequately understood that a university education is not, and certainly should not be, the perquisite of a privileged few”. The bright and ambitious from less privileged families would attend university on scholarships. We must “become a more and more educated democracy if we are to raise our spiritual, intellectual, and material living standards” and “open many doors and to give opportunity and advantage to many students”. His speeches, especially Freedom in Modern Society (1958), illuminate a humanism that once guided university education (and a Scottish focus on education, part of the Menzies heritage). He said: “Are the universities mere technical schools, or have they as one of their functions the preservation of pure learning, bringing in its train not merely riches for the imagination but a comparative sense for the mind, and leading to what we need so badly – the recognition of values which are other than pecuniary?”
There is a spectacular opportunity for the Liberal Party to re-engage with Menzies’ understanding of the role of education in a modern democracy. It may prove its salvation. “If it wasn’t for Gough Whitlam, I wouldn’t have gone to university” is an Australian catchcry. As Reid claimed, Menzies-as-underwriter-of-university-access is unknown today. You’ll note no equivalent gratitude to Menzies from the baby-boomer generation. Cultural guardians such as David Williamson, Robert Manne, Germaine Greer and David Marr all attended universities under the Menzies expansion.
The writers and producers of the ABC documentary, Whitlam: The Power and the Passion, didn’t get the memo either. They fuelled the myth of Whitlam Labor’s single-handed expansion of educational opportunity. While Whitlam has the distinction of having made higher education free, Hawke and Keating reversed this, correctly identifying its effect: the working class was funding the dreams of the middle and upper classes for their children.


I remember being utterly shocked to discover that Menzies, so demeaned and despised in my youth, spoke at British prime minister Winston Churchill’s memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral as statesman and friend. “In this crucial moment,” he said, “the battle had to be won not only in the air and on the sea and in the field, but in the hearts and minds of ordinary people with a deep capacity for heroism”. This was “in the whole of recorded modern history . . . the one occasion when one man, with one soaring imagination, with one fire burning in him, and with one unrivalled capacity for conveying it to others, won a crucial victory not only for the forces (for there were many heroes in those days) but for the very spirit of human freedom”. This moving moment in Australia’s modern history is all but lost, collateral damage of our politics.
To judge if this demonstrates bias in our national story-telling, ask this question: what if John Curtin had delivered a eulogy to Roosevelt? You’d know about it.
Richard Nixon wrote of Menzies, in 1982: “If I were to rate one postwar leader . . . it would not be one of the legendary European or American figures. It would be Robert Menzies.” Nixon believed had Menzies been born in Britain, he would have been that country’s prime minister. Had this been the case, opined Nixon, “Menzies would have ranked with Gladstone and Disraeli”.
We now forget it was Menzies who signed the ANZUS treaty in 1951 – our first military alliance beyond Britain – and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation in 1954, and that his government introduced the Colombo Plan, extending Australian university education to students across our region. Churchill asked Menzies to be minister of state in South-east Asia after his 1941 defeat. Menzies was honoured with the ceremonial post, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports – a title bestowed on Churchill himself, as well as William Pitt the Younger and Viscount Palmerston in retirement. These are but a few fragments in the total portrait of the man. Yet for most Australians, Menzies lives only in caricature.
Partly this is due to the lionisation of Whitlam as Australia’s pre-eminent postwar cultural saviour. Interestingly, Whitlam didn’t see himself eclipsing Menzies. In a letter to Menzies, Whitlam illuminates his high regard: “No Australian is more conscious than I how much the lustre, honour and authority of that office owe to the manner in which you held it with such distinction for so long . . . you would, I think, be surprised to know how much I feel indebted to your example, despite the great differences in our philosophies.”
Keating, in full flight as radical-nationalist warrior, delivered the decisive blow to Menzies’ legacy. Yet this is not the whole story. The balance can be laid at the feet of Menzies’ parliamentary successors. His reputation was trashed between his unbidden departure and Whitlam’s election. The haphazard, largely ineffectual prime ministerships of Harold Holt, John Gorton and William McMahon ended in mockery and ignominy, and trashed the Coalition’ reputation. So the 23-year Coalition rule, from 1949 to 1972, was remembered as it ended: stumbling and out of touch. The Menzies legacy was a casualty. This false mythology suited Labor which took the activist mantle and ran with it, and has done so since.


Wise to the vagaries of the “verdict of history”, Menzies said to Churchill in 1948: “Five years after your death, clever young men from Oxford and Cambridge and other seats of learning will be writing books explaining that you were never right about anything!” While the Liberals still use Menzies’ imagery, they rarely do him justice either. In his acceptance speech, Prime Minister Tony Abbott evoked the “lifters not the leaners” from “The Forgotten People”. Howard tried hard to resurrect the Menzies achievement. He is trying still, his next book is a study of the Menzies era. But to date, he has not got traction with these efforts.
In fact, it’s an Australian political conundrum why the Liberals have failed to take the mantle of “lighting the lamps of higher learning” post-Menzies. This may be the “tragedy writ large” in Australian politics: Labor’s unjust ownership of the expansion of educational opportunities in the public imagination might be the reason the Liberals fail to resource the task with passion, conviction and their best people. Witness the recent carelessness over schools funding. It’s several generations since the Liberals did major constructive work in the life of Australian higher learning and institutions of culture. Today’s Liberals often fail Menzies’ deepest purpose: the cultural and moral enlightenment for which “homes material, homes human and homes spiritual” exist. In the Gospel of Menzies, education – “the lamp of learning” – and enlightenment are the purpose and prize of increasing wealth.
The lesson of this essay is this: to paraphrase Clausewitz, history is politics by other means. So you’ve got to keep the bastards honest. Otherwise the great men and women will be swindled from the pages of your history. Those who strode the global stage will be removed from the pantheon, their nation-building deeds erased.
To Menzies’ contemporaries, he was a giant. It was a commonplace in 1967 that no living statesman had been more intimately concerned with world events. In the verdict of history, just as the judgment of the time must be corrected by posterity, so too the judgment of posterity must be corrected by the judgment of the time.
Every Australian has a right to know the great Australian figures from the national gallery of the past. Understanding this country’s evolution requires a decent knowledge of Menzies. To have a new vision of the future it has always first been necessary to have a new vision of the past. Reclaim what is yours. Take a fresh look at Robert Gordon Menzies.
Elena Pasquini Douglas is a social and economic commentator and convener of the Centre for Social Impact at the Business School of the University of Western Australia.
The Australian Financial Review

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tony Abbott: leader of the bloke nation

Tony Abbott: leader of the bloke nation

Tony Abbott: leader of the bloke nation
Tony Abbott dons body armour flying into Afghanistan on Monday for a ceremony to remember the 40 Australian lives lost during the 12-year conflict in the region. Abbott’s “manly” image appears to be resonating with the electorate. Photo: Andrew Meares
Change the prime minister, warned Paul Keating, and you change the country. John Howard intended us to become “relaxed and comfortable” with traditional notions of Australia’s achievement and ­history. Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to model what it means to be relaxed and comfortable with older ideas about manhood. Australia, already known for the red-blooded masculinity of its men, appears ­destined to become more hairy-chested. The personal is political.
Under Abbott it looks like the gender wars could be on the other foot, a contest about manhood. The fault lines of gender and ­identity are far more clearly drawn for men than women. One of the markers of progressive identity is what it means to be a modern man. The changes in women’s rights are enshrined in law and company procedures manuals. But the changes in notions of ­masculinity are not legislated – they are pure cultural expressions.
Tony “I love John Wayne movies” Abbott, who prides himself on his traditional ­masculine identity replete with the time-honoured notions of chivalry (outside the blood sport of Parliament that is), seems like a throw-back to another age.
Last week during the agony of the NSW bushfires, Australians saw Abbott in his fire-fighting gear and heard of his 13 years as a devoted “firie”. This week we saw him don a flack jacket as he flew into Tarin Kot in Afhanistan. All this adds to stock images of Abbott as cyclist, surf lifesaver and fitness jock.
And now he’s the strong, silent type. ­Compared to our loquacious former PM, Kevin Rudd, Abbott seems bent on keeping a low profile during his early days in office. Even his speeches are shorter; Abbott PM, a “man of few words”, aiming for the quiet- achiever sobriquet.


One distinct possibility that must terrify Labor is that, outside the narrow latte belt, this masculine imagery could be one of the keys to his electoral success. According to the latest Newspoll, Abbott is now preferred PM with more than half the electorate.
Could this be the start of a national ­bromance with Tony Abbott? Perhaps Australian men, especially in the outer suburbs, crave a return to, or a restoration of, traditional masculinity with its emphasis on difference between men and women, physicality and strength, rites of passage for boys to become men, resonance with the old virtues of valour, honour and service and the focus on achievement outside the home? The big question is: is Abbott counter-cultural or mainstream?
Over recent decades we’ve seen vast changes in the presentation and self-perception of Australian men. This process has had its own rhythm while it has been influenced by trends internationally, particularly in the US and Britain. Progressive and conservative notions of masculinity are very different. Of course some men mix it up, but the fault lines remain more acutely drawn for men than for women. This could spell trouble for a Labor Party that just received its lowest ­primary vote in 100 years, and seems determined to hew close to the value system and world view of the progressive end of its base.
Remember when the reconstructed, so-called metrosexual man arrived fully formed in the late ’90s: house-proud, design-friendly and into fashion, products and cooking up a storm? The natural habitat of metrosexual man is the inner city, especially of Melbourne and Sydney, although eventually they began to inhabit all the nation’s ­capital cities.
But in the traditionally macho states of Queensland and Western Australia the staying power of the RM Williams and moleskin man was well entrenched. Unreconstructed man continued to strut down the boulevards of George Street in Brisbane and St Georges Terrace, Perth. To this day, the over-50s in these towns continue to wear the old Australian male costume. The under-50s, however, stand out with their well-groomed eyebrows and foodie ways, not to mention skinny jeans. (Note to over-45s: don’t go there, unless you’re really skinny.) Now you can find metrosexual man in all capital ­cities, but not many outside them. Outside the inner-city belt, things are different.


Enter Tony Abbott. Abbott takes us back to the days when men were men. Being a man, in those days, meant emphasising your ­difference from women. Abbott (who possesses an Oxford boxing blue) exudes aggressive physicality. The two defining images of his first day as Prime Minister were the 5am cycle ride with his mates, and wheeling his bike across Parliament House from old office to new. Values-wise Abbott stands for the old ties and institutions: religion, the ­military, the monarchy and active community service. He knows the power in the politics of the old bonds and cultivates these assiduously, often outside the field of vision of the inner-city media.
Abbott is no metrosexual. In fact, he is from the real-men-don’t-eat-quiche-or-fish brigade (He cooked salmon for Annabel Crabb, but cooked himself a manly steak in his pre-election Kitchen ­Cabinetappearance. It went unremarked, but spoke volumes).
There are risks in all this of course. Abbott could become a Putinesque he-man caricature. He proved himself tone-deaf about the expectations of the modern reconstructed male who would never refer to a professional woman’s sex appeal (remember Fiona Scott, the then candidate for Lindsay). And no reconstructed male would countenance a swagger like Abbott’s. His persona forces the gender distinction in a world which, especially in professional ­settings, seeks an American-style gender blindness.
American professional culture is as female as it is male. There is an ambivalence – sexual difference is diminished at all costs among professional people of Abbott’s generation in the US. These days there is rarely a sense of testosterone in American corporate life, except perhaps in the wilds of Wall Street. But even this, post-global financial crisis, has been the subject of various straitjackets and re-education programs. (In Australia, Macquarie and other investment banks have reputedly undergone such ‘retraining’ too).
In the US, masculinity has been on a rapid descent for some time. Susan Faludi picked the trend back in her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the Modern Man. Faludi gave her project six years of embedded research examining what she called the betrayal of blue-collar American men in the 1990s. Faludi, famous as a big-book feminist, offered an impassioned argument for men who she saw had much to be angry about. American men, she argued, had been betrayed by a culture that had undermined their old loyalties and communities: churches, unions, political and civil groups, veterans’ associations.
But no loss has been as great among this community as the loss of the stable, long-term, well-renumerating blue-collar jobs.


Meanwhile in the upper echelons of the social sphere, Faludi’s analysis presented modern masculinity as having gone “soft” – surprising for such a feminist iconoclast.
She presented a portrait of the modern American man (in the middle and upper classes) more obsessed with his image than his role. She explained this change in identity focus as relating to the insecurity of jobs in the modern commercial landscape. She held the mirror up to an American manhood, like his Australian counterpart of this age, defining himself not in opposition and difference to women, but in opposition to notions of traditional manhood, and interested in fashion, food, products and sculpted eye brows. In the US, such fears have become more serious. Hanna Rosin and other commentators lament the precipitous decline in educational outcomes and employability of America’s blue-collar men. Rosin’s 2012 book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women charts the cultural significance of these escalating trends.
In Australia, the China boom and mining have created some blue-collar and many fluoro-vested jobs for Australian men. But even here there has been a decline in labour force participation by men (82 per cent in August 1961 to 72 per cent in August2011). Full-time male employment over 15 has declined from 80 per cent in 1966 to 57 per cent in 2011. Something significant is under way.
Now we have a new protagonist in the tale of the Australian male: a prime minister whose old-fashioned suburban values make him an unpredictable political force. Masculinity is yet another dilemma to add to the many challenges facing Labor. Images of Bill Shorten as the worker’s advocate after the 2006 Beaconsfield mining disaster are fading. It might be time for a new fitness regime for the newly installed Opposition Leader. Or, more importantly, some curiosity about how Labor can contribute to the revival or replacement of institutions that once engaged men but have lost their traction in the contemporary world: the churches, unions, political and civil groups.
This is the heavy lifting of connection with the electorate that Labor has no choice but to undertake. The recent leadership ballot was perceptibly an inner-city, progressive phenomenon. Comfortable and reassuring it may have been, but when the coalition can steal 31 seats away from Labor over two ­elections (2010, 2013) under Abbott’s leadership, something’s up and heads must come out of the sand.
Some politicians try to go beyond the ­gender debate. The record of the ­Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era for transcending gender, versus using gender, is mixed. Julia Gillard was correct that “the reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my time in the prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership”.
But she couldn’t resist stoking fears that Abbott represented a threat to women with her famous misogyny speech, at the moment of her maximum weakness.


With “the men in blue ties” speech, ­Gillard underlined the sharp cultural distinction “unreconstructed man versus metrosexual”. This strategy relied on Abbott’s personal narrative as socially conservative, and his presentation with all the trappings of traditional masculinity. There was a dog whistle in Gillard’s stance “traditional men oppose the advancement of women”.
Of course, the strong, confident, glamorous daughters – not the paid parental leave scheme – blew the notion that Abbott somehow had the power, or desire, to stop women flourishing, out of the water.
Gender and identity terrain is different for women. Australian women juggle roles: most women mix it up between quite traditional notions of womanhood as carers-in-chief at home, and gender-neutral professionals and workers at work. Women bristle, in the workplace, when faced with expectations they be more nurturing than male colleagues, yet take it for granted at home. Whether they are of a progressive or conservative persuasion, across the socio-economic spectrum, most Australian women have not abandoned traditional female roles, they’ve added new ones. For men it’s all still binary.
We have entered a new era in Australian politics. At 55 Abbott is a fit and young Prime Minister, but he appears as a figure seeking to restore older ideas and identities. He has surprised everyone – especially his own party – with the traction he’s achieved with the electorate. He treads on, and trips over, cultural fault lines and sacred cows with every step; he simply doesn’t see them. Nonetheless, the progressive side of politics would do well not to underestimate this daggy Dad. Abbott’s man-appeal is the closest thing the Coalition has to a secret weapon, and it’s hiding in plain sight.


Elena Douglas is a social and economic commentator based in Perth, at the University of Western Australia.
The Australian Financial Review