Jul 31

Retrieving trees II the new power of political reportage II Simmering discontent II artistic joy II

July Blog

Retrieving trees II the new power of political reportage II Simmering discontent II artistic joy II Quote of the month

Let’s start with something positive. Am sick of political rancour so this month is about “lost treasure”, how reporting can go viral, inequality (yes its important) and the joy of art in a poetic setting. 

Retrieving trees

Two Tasmanian entrepreneurs have developed a means of harvesting the old growth forests still standing at the bottom of the icy waters of Tasmania’s hydro-electric lakes.  This lost treasure of highly priced and increasingly rare timber; sassafras, celery top, Huon pine, myrtle and blackwood is a resource anticipated to last for many decades, and an increased boon for the island state.

Dreamt up over a few beers in the local pub, Andrew Morgan, an environmental consultant and David Wise his business partner, developed Hydrowood. It’s a significant achievement.  The operation began commercial harvesting in 2015 with seed money of $5 million, a federal government grant aimed at assisting Tasmania’s struggling forestry industry.  The men raised an additional $2m privately. (Image courtesy of ABC Northern Tasmania, Rick Eaves)

Lake Pieman on the shores of western Tasmania is the first lake to be surveyed by Sonar, and a custom-built barge manoeuvres and excavates the timber from as deep as 26m below the lake’s calm surface.The timber has been miraculously preserved due to water’s icy temperatures, the oxygen levels and sun protection afforded by the tannin-stained water. The timber is sold to craftsmen in Tasmania and Victoria who say it is easier to work with than normal timber.  Mr Morgan estimates Lake Pieman’s timber will last ten years and Hydrowood has the rights to harvest the drowned forests of Lake Gordon, and four other lakes have also been surveyed.  “There is relief but pride is the overwhelming emotions” said Andrew Morgan,  he believes the business may well have timber resources for 100 years. Source: Matthew Denholm, Weekend Australian July 8-9 The Nation p7

The new power of political reportage…

In The Saturday Paper July 29, Zambian born Santilla Chingaipe who is an Australian award-winning journalist and documentary film maker, takes issue with journalists commentary going viral.  Chingaipe asks – what does engagement look like online and is ‘going viral’ a measure of success?  The ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann who has fronted the 7.30 Report and the National Press Club’s Luncheon speakers and parliamentary debates, found himself covering the G20 summit in Hamburg. His 2.5minute report on Trump caused a social media sensation.  The “on-camera commentary went viral and was praised by commentators and journalists alike”.  Trump “managed to isolate his nation, confuse and alienate his allies and diminish America”, he said.  “It’s the unscripted Trump that’s real, a man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as president at war with the West’s institutions, like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.  He was an uneasy, lonely awkward figure at this gathering.” Journalist Chris Uhlmann defends his commentary. Photo image: Andrew Meares, Canberra Times.

Chingaipe said Uhlmann’s commentary raised questions about a journalists’s role at such events, are they there to reflect opinion or to have one?  A spokesperson for the ABC said “Chris Uhlmann is the ABC’s political editor and his analysis was based on his observations and reporting… the primary purpose of analytic content is to aid understanding and offer the audience [a] richer context and information about an issue.  As a specialist with expert knowledge of a subject area,  this is a regular part of Mr Ulhmann’s role.”

While agreed, in asking questions about the impact of clickbait on social media platforms, credibility and trust must be at the forefront, journalists are under pressure with declining revenues, new sources of unvetted information, the 24 hr media cycle, dangerous assignments and ever increasingly complex technology, to deliver the news.  Professionals such as Uhlmann should be applauded in my opinion and the ABC’s view on the piece going viral speaks volumes for the national broadcaster which is constantly having to justify its funding.  

Breaking News: Facebook reported $US9.3 billion in revenue for the second quarter of this year, up 45% from the same period last year.  Profit rose to $3.9billion, up 71% from last year. There is an ‘ad load’ limit it can place in its news fed without disturbing its 2 billion Facebook customers.  Mobiles continue to be the driver of growth for the social media giant. Source: The Australian Financial Review Friday 28 July, p14, Journalist: Mike Isaac.

Simmering discontent – inequality

There is a lot of talk at present of inequality and unfairness and it is not just Australia’s Labour party initiating it. The New Internationalist devoted its entire July/August issue to the subject.  Australia did not even figure in their table of countries listed, but the United States and the United Kingdom were listed as the most inequal with the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland being the least inequal.  

It is a fact that a sustainable society leaves little trace of its existence. Hunter gatherer societies distributed and bartered food and goods. Danny Dorling, in his book The Equality Effect,  states the obvious that equality matters in terms of health and happiness but new data reveals in more equal countries, people consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon.  Australia is listed as No 14 on his chart (2015). Those less inequal include countries like France, Japan and New Zealand with the least inequality being in Denmark.

Surprisingly the poorest countries are shown to have the least emissions.  Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank said of inequality “It’s risen,  it rose quite a lot in the 80s and 90s and it’s risen … recently.” Housing which tends to be owned by the wealthy was a case in point. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair, Rod Sims said the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation. “I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s severely damaging our economy.”  Deregulating the electricity market and selling poles and wires in Queensland and NSW has seen power prices almost double over five years. Mr Sims also said monopolies had been created without suitable regulation to control how much these monopolies could then charge users.  

Wayne Swan (ex Treasurer under the Gillard government) spoke on the 7.30 report recently,  saying inequality meant that capitalism must change.  I would argue that economic rationalism is the beast at fault. While capitalism is defined as an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than the state,  economic rationalism is characterised by minimal government intervention, tax cuts, privatization and the deregulation of labour markets.  Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald,  Ross Gittins rightly states “The doctrine of economic rationalism not only assumes self-interest to be normal and altruism to be non-existent,  it sanctifies self interest as a civic virtue.”  

This is the basic problem, and while Philip Lowe discussing the stagnant economy said “We don’t want to be creating a sense of excessive anxiety,” this is precisely what is happening.  Throughout the developed countries, rampant free market capitalism has hollowed out the middle classes and created vast armies of the working poor, leading to stagnant economies and deep political polarisation.  As Gitttins writes “When you’re worried about keeping your job, you don’t complain about the cost of living”,  nor would you ask for a pay rise or spend money on non-essentials.   

The ABC Four Corners program continues to unearth injustice with Aveo retirement villages gouging large administration and refurbishment fees from the elderly and multinationals are seen to be tampering with water meters and stealing water from farmers downstream on the Murray Darling.  It is the politics of greed that is running the show in Australia and as Labour’s Bill Shorten is aware,  there will be a electoral backlash.  

Millenials working in the ‘gig’ economy – unstable, insecure and low paid

The government seems incapable of reining-in these illegal excesses. With huge increases in electricity bills, unaffordable housing, high unemployment (skewed statistics) and disruptive robotics and AI intelligence set to remove 40-50% of current jobs,  it is little wonder families are letting out rooms and garages, grown up children are returning to the nest and those in employment are faced with sham and/or short term contracts. Employers are seen to be underpaying their staff, not paying their income tax contributions or superannuation. Employees are being bullied, coerced and intimated, some having to sign time sheets that illustrate less hours than they actually worked and having their hours cut adhoc, forcing those in employment to seek (and if they’re lucky), hold down two or three casual part times jobs, all on low wages. Those people particularly youth are too frightened to complain let alone retaliate. Neither does a university degree guarantee employment.  Watch this space.

Sources: New Internationalist, The Saturday Paper, July 29, ‘Ravelling Economy” by Karen Middleton p4., Sydney Morning Herald, Patrick Hatch 27 July 2016,  and Ross Gittins 7 Sept., 2011.

Breaking News: Aveo’s Chief Executive Geoff Grady warns against adverse consequences of regulatory changes (Australian Financial Review, Michael Bleby, Thurs 27 July, 2017).  The company suffered a 20% slump in its share price after media investigations exposed sharp practices affecting the elderly. The negative reports have triggered an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Federal Minister Michael McCormack said he was concerned by the excessive fees and charges – high exit fees and exorbitant refurbishment costs. Grady claimed the deferred management fees freed up capital for residents and minimised ongoing cash contributions.  Who is he kidding?

Artistic joy…

Two weeks ago I visited the Tweed Regional Gallery in NSW.  As my mother was friends with artist Margaret Olley who was born in Lismore,  it was fitting to see her Sydney residence reproduced at the gallery.  Also on display was an outstanding landscape exhibition by Andrew Hmelnitksy and a photographic exhibition of David Hockney’s work whom I remember from my time living in London.

I listened to the video at the gallery and now I will never argue about the state of my ex-husband’s studio, highly creative people it seems, don’t worry about ‘mess’ they are completely pre-occupied with the process of divine art in all its forms.


End of blog quote: There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore,  there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, the music in its roar:  I love Man the less but Nature more.

Lord Byron.

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