|Labor’s ‘spaghetti’ diagram|
I wrote a piece on Knowledge Nation for this morning’s “Last Word”, an opinion spot on the back of the Herald’s front section. It’s reproduced below, and you’ll see that I used quotes from three Webdiary contributors.
Typical journalist – I first thought of the proprieties of this at home last night. My apologies to those concerned.
I’m very proud that we’ve created a space here in which readers feel safe to contribute, knowing that their work will be respected. I hope to quickly regain your trust in this regard. It looks like I might get a semi-regular Last Word spot, and am keen to bring readers’ voices in. I promise to obtain the prior permission of contributors before doing so.
First, the piece, then your latest ideas on knowledge nation.
Picture this: A nation smart enough to think, not snigger
Cynics leapt to mock the Knowledge Nation vision of Barry Jones and Kim Beazley. The rest of us should stop and think about it, says Margo Kingston.
Confession of a fruit loop: I love Barry Jones’s diagram. Vision ain’t a word, it’s a hard slog. Decisions here bounce onto consequences there, and top-drawer minds are required to visualise the goal and make it happen.
When was the last time a political party produced an unashamedly intellectual document which dared to use big words and invited debate and critique before decisions on priorities and how to pay for them were made?
Horrible, isn’t it? No wonder the media didn’t have a clue what to do with it, until THAT diagram gave them the excuse for cheap ridicule and a lecture for Kim Beazley on his shocking blunder in letting Australia’s leading public intellectual have a go at engaging the Australian people in a vision for a future.
As Herald online reader Tom Moore put it: “The contemporary political imagination is scared of the manifesto. A manifesto holds political parties to things. A manifesto demands that parliamentarians account for their conduct … A manifesto will get you into more trouble than it’s worth.
“My greatest fear is that its clarity of vision will take second place to the negative politics that goes with the territory of electioneering. Now is the time for Kim Beazley to reanimate public life in Australia by demonstrating that manifestos are still good for something.
“Its definition of ‘knowledge’ is surprisingly broad and expansive. The Knowledge Nation isn’t just a country committed to learning or research.
“The Knowledge Nation emerges in our own self-awareness of who we are culturally, as Australians, in our wonderful diversity. Our knowledge resources, in the face of the momentum of globalisation and neo-liberal forces, are the most valuable things we have as a nation.”
In my view, this manifesto seeks to tackle the underlying issue in the next Federal election – the role of government – which has become as commodified as every other institution crushed under a ideology which sees nothing of value in values on which it can’t put a short-term dollar value.
Herald reader Andrew Elder puts it this way. “When I think about science/education funding, I think of arguably the greatest scientific discovery in this country: Howard Florey’s contribution to the discovery of penicillin. At the risk of sounding like Barry Jones, Florey was a professor at the University of Adelaide who got a CSIRO grant to study mould growths in citrus fruit. His discoveries took him in a different direction, and the powers that were at that time trusted him and supported him to an end that could not have been foreseen.
“Can you imagine the outcry if that happened today? Radio talkback would blast him as a fraud against taxpayers and citrus growers; and where is the politician who wouldn’t take their line? Instead of being supported and trusted, the latter-day Florey would be roused out by a bunch of bureaucrats and probably sued.
“Then, as some foreign scientist was awarded and rewarded for his work, the latter-day Florey would feebly claim: ‘Hey, I did that.’ How would the Aussie media respond? Jeers (‘Yeah, right!’) or forehead-slapping (‘Another Aussie invention ripped off by the Yanks’).”
Knowledge Nation talks about the disappearing public intellectual, the need to reassert the value of the humanities and the need to rebuild great national institutions like the CSIRO, the National Library and the ABC. It talks to people like Elen Seymour, who says she’s freezing in Ottawa because her research scientist husband had to leave Australia and is desperate to come home and put on her bikini.
Elen wrote: “It didn’t seem outrageous to me to use ‘big words’ in a document that talks about education, the economy and revitalisation of the cultural and intellectual scene of Australia. Especially not when the document took pains to actually explain what these ideas are all about. If a crappy diagram was all the fault people could pick out of the document (and the lack of hard numbers) then maybe – just maybe – there is sufficient will amongst Australians to do the hard yakka to get back into line.”
Since pygmies in the media have chosen the path of anti-intellectualism, let’s hope they retire to snigger corner and let people who care have a read and a think and make a contribution to a fundamental debate.
There’s lots to critique in this experiment in intelligent democracy. But really, there’s nothing to laugh about. Thank you, Barry. You’ve done good.
DEATH TO THE BEAN MONKIES!
By Jack Robertson
The Great Thing about the Human brain is that it is infinite. (Mine is, anyway, dunno about Paddy McGuinness.) There is no limit on how big or how far ahead we can think – except, of course, our own puny, miserable, watery, scared, self-doubting, provincial, hillbilly, luke-warm, battleship-grey, strait-jacketing, self-imposed limitations.
Inadequate thinkers always get scared when genuine ponderers like Barry Jones get on a superheated roll – especially inadequate Bean Monkies. Economists simply can’t handle anything that they are unable to squish instantly into the dull, numbing profit/loss columns of a fiscal spreadsheet. It makes them extremely uneasy.
They gaze upon other peoples big, bold ideas and soaring abstract explorations of the Humanly possible (as opposed to the economically inevitable), they reluctantly allow their minds to wander for a bit entirely unfettered by the plodding principles they learned in Accountancy 101, and in their middle-aged and faintly regretful mediocrity, they start to belatedly wonder whether there is more to life than the financial pages, after all.
Terrified by their own lack of imagination, they run away to take refuge in self-nobbling phrases like fiscal responsibility and economic rationalism .
Knowledge Nation, as Margo rightly observes in today’s hard copy Herald, has got em scared shitless. They are the Bean Monkies – they run our present government, they run our banks (dreary twerps like David Murray whose life is nothing but numbers), they even run our Universities, these days.
Their first and instinctive reaction to the Knowledge Nation document has been to wonder where the money will come from. Isn’t it funny how no-one responded in this way to that moment when Samaranch said the magic words: Siddennee? I can’t recall much number-crunching disapproval when we elected to bung troops into East Timor, either. Yet neither of these Oz adventures was ever going to make a profit, at least in dollar terms.
This latest chunk of Jonesian Jauntiness is a fantastic development for political life and the life of politics in Australia, because it will flush out the small-minded twerps at last.
The KN blueprint might just finally clear the air on the great globalisation debate in this country, too. For a long time in the Oz Meeja now, Bean Monkies like Imre Saluszinsky and Michael Duffy have been waging an unsubtle campaign to paint those who question elements of rampant economic fascism (often incorrectly called globalisation by the IMF and the WTO) as Hansonite fellow-travellers.
Whether it’s Tim Blair taking the piss out of our own dairy debate, or a first-rank Bean Monkey like Robert Gottliebson decrying economic bunkerism, there has been a concerted effort to portray people who get uneasy about developments like the Billiton/BHP take-over or the Woodside matter as somehow small-minded and backward-looking .
And yet the true provincial thinkers in this country are those who would have us lie back, part our thighs, and let the global economy dictate terms to us. They seek intellectual refuge in citing what is supposedly beyond our control because otherwise they might have to be creative instead of reactive, the essence of KN.
The Bean Monkies say things like ‘We can’t do this because…’ and ‘You are living with the fairies if you think that is possible’ because if they don’t, the unstoppable impulse of imagination might creep into their hollow cranial cavities and demand they start to really LIVE. So theirs is a world full of inevitable things that happen to them, not one where they can make brilliant things inevitable for others.
Knowledge Nation suggests that life can be otherwise, and so of course, there have been many who reject it instantly simply because they haven’t been told how we will pay for it, yet. Bound by the wallet, before they even allow themselves to think. These are the true 1950s suburbanites. These are the small grey accountants who are now running our lives, the true intellectual Hansonites – still living in a self-imposed cerebral desert, a world they have (wrongly) convinced themselves is a terra nullius of the imagination.
I listened to the first episode of The Continuing Crisis a few weeks ago, the new Radio National program hosted by Saluszinsky and Blair, and a single remark by the Herald s own economist Steve Burrell summed up the entire last two decades of small-minded mediocrity that has masqueraded as political leadership throughout the globalising world. They’d been vox-popping a few pensioners at supermarkets about the issue of Australian-made versus imported products, and one old biddy had suggested that she would only buy Oz-made stuff if it were cheaper than the imports. Steve Burrell’s summarising comment says all you need to know about the Bean Monkey view of the future. As an economist I find it encouraging, he noted, to see people behaving the way economic theories say they should.
Inspiring, isn’t it?
Knowledge Nation may be pie-in-the-sky, it may be economically vague, it may be a wish-list, it may be reaching out for the stars when we’ll probably all still die with our feet in the gutter, anyway. And the Bean Monkies may snicker and sneer and snarl, but I personally would much rather live in a world of infinite, endless possibility, than remain trapped within the mind-numbingly boring pages of a Treasury spreadsheet.
Your colleague Alan Ramsey has had enormous fun lampooning the Knowledge Nation report, in the usual “front bar test” manner (Herald, Wednesday). I’m happy with front bars, there should be more of them. But pouring scorn on this effort on the basis of one odd diagram has hoisted the front bar into a position it never sought.
On this test, if it looks funny or the bloke who spruiks it raves on about stuff you never heard about and don’t get, it’s dog meat and whoever let it loose is a clown, a dead loss and a
moron. Aussie Rules state readers will recognise a Sam Newman-style cruelty here. Such clown or clowns have simply given their opponents free kicks and endless opportunities for ridicule and shaming.
I think the “spaghetti and meatballs” response amusing, but essentially cheap and meretricious. Yes it’s a silly diagram. Yes a lot of the stuff isn’t costed. Yes there were probably too many people on the working party. Yes some of the ideas are silly for Australia (picking market sectors in 2001 is the same as picking Tricontinental, Rothwells or State Bank in the 80s). And yes, Beazley so often opens his mouth merely to change feet (“I’m staking myself on this” was a gimme for “skewering”).
But as you’ve said before, why does every even slightly left field thought in the public life of this country get slapped down and made mock?
There’s plenty of stuff in this document worth considering, as in every Jones production. It doesn’t have to be chewed through on one news cycle alone.
But perhaps Alan, the PM, (usually) Beazley, Crean et al could leave the front bar every now and then.
After all the drinkers are there to drink, smoke (while they can), flirt with the barmaid, play darts, back a sure thing, tell tall tales…it’s not a place for governing countries. The boys’d tell you that straight out, they don’t see themselves as the answer.
So why are they the judges?
Elen Seymour in Ottowa
Boy, were we all excited reading this here in Canada! Here! Messrs Beazley and Jones! We’re over here! It was a bit like reading about the promised land.An R&D culture and sunshine? Yes! Broadband? Yes! (My husband works in photonics). University funding? Yes! Tax Concessions – well I don’t want to crow too much but Yes! And look, its already working, Peter Doherty is coming home!
On a more serious note, I share some people’s concerns that this “manifesto” is going to be spoiled by political fighting and budgetary restraints; it probably is already mostly doomed by the $300 per cardigan giveaway by the incumbents (if you call right now with your vote we will throw in a free set of steak knives!).
Michelle Grattan puts it nicely by saying the government can’t come out with the knives too sharp against this manifesto but the government is working really hard to screw it up anyway.
I find it a bit galling of Howard to have described the report’s proposals as a wish list “that you might adopt if you had unlimited money and unlimited time”. Who’s damned fault is it anyway that we will have to pedal as fast as we will to catch up, that there is not the money for it? Not that the current government is totally to blame; Keating and Hawke also have to share some of that guilt but does Howard really think we will overlook his critical role in the downturn in education and R&D?
The feedback from experts and mug punters alike has so far has been most interesting and sometimes disappointing. The appallingly Australian rubbish about it being too intellectual and the weirdness about the political death capabilities of one diagram apparently drawn by an over-keen Barry Jones are just two cases in point.
It didn’t seem outrageous to me to use “big words” in a document that talks about education, the economy and revitalization of the cultural and intellectual scene of Australia. Especially not when the document took pains to actually explain what these ideas are all about.
And guys, its a diagram! Actually I find it kind of reassuring at one level because if a crappy diagram was all the fault people could pick out of the document (that and the lack of hard numbers) then maybe – just maybe – there is sufficient will amongst Australians to do the hard yakka to get back into line.
But to equate a bit of ridicule with the end of the whole banana, or even the death knell for electoral success of the Opposition, is ridiculous and insulting to the voting public. And if people do allow them to be distracted by a bloody diagram then perhaps the truism of “you get the politicians you deserve” contains more truth than one dares to hope.
David Palmer in Adelaide (in A Manifesto!) seems to have missed a key point. The whole point of broad banding everyone and digital this and digital that is all of that dematerialization, weightlessness stuff – the replacement of books with their heavy paper with digitized streams of information that can easily be accessed by anyone with the right toys.
One reason people are not using the internet for information is the limitations of the current system of copper wires which restricts the amount of “stuff” that you can get. Once you get fibre optic cable the capacity for transmission of information increases amazingly.
The other reason is of course content, something Knowledge Nation also sought to address (for example see Recommendation 19, Improving the position of arts, humanities and social science in Australia). But it is a bit Catch 22. No one is creating content because there is no demand, there is no demand because there is no content.
Hopefully once word gets out that there will be the capability, people will demand that this capability be utilized, and then we will have the kind of content that will see the local library becoming less relevant. Information will become weightless.
One final, critical reason for the lack of content is some pretty restrictive regulatory practices. Note the self-interest in the next statement but also its truth; there is no “real” reason why I or anyone else cannot watch live say pay per test coverage by whatever channel on my laptop of the Ashes series. India already does so, why doesn’t Australia?
On a different angle, I strongly agree with Knowledge Nation’s claim that a campaign to raise awareness of Australia as something other than a cool holiday destination is long overdue and critical. We need to get Australia just as much in the consciousness of the world as Ireland, Finland and Canada.
I have spoken of the role of taxes ad nauseum, but I concede tax concessions are of limited value if no one thinks of us whilst planning their global expansion. Except for California, they know where we are, “Hey look honey a free six pack of Australian scientists with every patent!”.
I have seen this lack of awareness of Australia as a modern economy first hand. I have been told in surprised tones that “the Sydney Olympics were really good, because it showed that Australia has big cities and is pretty modern.” Remember I work in a global organization with otherwise educated and intelligent people.
Time and time again I hear surprise that Australia is something other than a backward country full of kangaroos and Croc Dundee types. Ordinary people are barely aware that we are multicultural, that we have one of the highest rates of technology uptake in the world, that we live in big cities with big buildings and that we went metric in the 1960s.
They listen open-mouthed when my husband and I say nearly everyone has a mobile in Australia, how you can have one for as little as ten dollars a month with “free” voicemail, free caller id and how we only have one network, digital. My husband and I stood staring at the phone kiosk selling analogue mobile phones when we first arrived here.
What’s more, I am constantly surprised when I hear of things proudly announced as new here in Ottawa that I had long since taken for granted in Australia. The legislation of the province was available on the internet for the first time only a few months ago. I finished my law degree in 1997 in NSW I was heavily dependent on the internet for statutory references, accessed through public websites at no cost. The Australian Tax Office has a world class research facility on-line.
There IS a lot to do, and maybe John Howard is right and it’s all just one big fantasy, but Australia does has a good foundation upon which to build the Knowledge Nation. There are a lots of reasons to believe we can pull it off and leapfrog well into the front of the game.
The question is, do politicians have the guts to do what it takes, and does Australia have the guts to make them do it? I hope so, or it’s going to be a long winter here in Canada.
Susan Stock in Glebe, teacher-librarian
About ten years ago I visited Switzerland with my then partner, who was trained as a school teacher in Switzerland. His sister put on a party for his fellow students, all school teachers of some 15 years experience.
They told us that in Switzerland, teaching is the second hardest course to get into after leaving school, after medicine, and that they were on salaries of around $A150,000 per annum – higher than than engineers, dentists or economists. Unlike Australia, respect for school teachers in Swiss culture was extremely high.
Switzerland IS a knowledge nation, having few natural resources and relying on the calibre of their human resources. We should look at countries like Switzerland and Germany for ideas and models, not just the USA and UK.
David Davis in Switzerland
I feel hesitant to comment on Knowledge Nation report. I am sympathetic to the cause but am deeply skeptical. I don’t want to be overly critical of any document which promotes debate on these issues. Now I am not so sure what the big deal was. It seems to be a rehashing of all that we know anyway – written in an irritating partisan style. Not surprising really.
There are so many comments in the report referring to the decline of investment in “knowledge” since 1996, which so surprisingly (not) coincided with the election of the Howard government.
I don’t buy all of that. I think many of these problems have existed for decades. That being the case, it is probably better to get on with solving the multifaceted nature of the problem rather than bickering about whose fault it is.
I hope this report keeps “knowledge” – however it is defined – on the agenda.
I was irritated by the inane promise of free phone calls by 2010. Any person who is remotely excited about a promise like that, in this era, needs psychiatric therapy. I can see why the price of phone company shares remained unaltered. Who can be bothered with all this garbage or take it seriously?
The declining cost of telecommunications is inevitable. Then again, free phone calls by 2010 is slightly more believable than “no Australian child will live in poverty by 1990”. If the promise of free phone calls by 2002 was being made, THEN there could be cause for minor excitement. But 2010 – what are they thinking? They can only even guess the direction technology will take.
Remember, ten years ago, bugger all people had Internet access or had even heard of it. Only boffins knew of its existence. In a communications and technology revolution, a promise of free phone calls in eight years is ridiculous.
I also noted comments about high school retention. Shock, horror, high school retention went down in the prosperous Howard years. Did anyone consider that high school retention was greater during Keating’s reign of terror due to the “recession we had to have”? There wasn’t much point in leaving school in an era when youth unemployment rose to horrific levels. Statistics, damned lies and statistics.
The phone call promise and the drawings were the sideshow. The high school thing had the rigour of a high school economics student.
Beazley’s question – do we want to be a knowledge nation or a poor nation – really grabbed my attention. Australians are usually more reluctant than Americans to openly covet wealth. That’s fine. Aussies seem to covet lifestyle. That’s wonderful – but a good lifestyle and standard of living doesn’t just happen. This is a key moment and Australia can either take the dumb, poor path or the clever, knowledge path.
If Labor’s Knowledge Nation is a red flag being waved – then good. Either they or the Libs need to get busy and get serious.
Finally, don’t dismiss the expats. They know other models and I am sure many would return if things were different. I suspect the magnitude of the “brain drain” is under estimated. Check out the picture in today’s Herald of the Aussie Nobel Laureate, Professor Peter Doherty. He is surrounded by Australian scientists in Memphis. Professor Doherty is going back to Oz but how many others are there like those in the picture who will stay overseas? For how long can Australia afford to export knowledge and talent to enrich other countries? If such talent only comes back belatedly – it is a tragedy.
David had two takes on the diagram.
I just looked at that spaghetti and meatballs diagram and it’s not interesting. In my opinion there should be more of the spaghetti and less of the meatballs.
Take defence as an example. It earns a meatball (deservedly so) but it only has spaghetti leading to the Knowledge Nation meatball and the government meatball. What about R& D in Defence and collaboration with industry and education? I note there is no spaghetti linking such meatballs.
That’s why the diagram is indeed a joke. There’s no point in drawing a diagram unless in can
graphically represent something better than words. It’s not good enough to write a reasonably good report and then spoil it with stuff like this. I think most people already appreciate the linkages and the diagram is of no help.
A few days ago I was looking at a Joan Miro painting I have looked at many times before and suddenly saw a whole pile of things I’d never noticed. Perhaps that’s the point of the Jones diagram – it’s more like a work of modern art. Perhaps its something to be pondered over rather than jumping to hasty conclusions.
I may have started with the wrong assumption. I assumed the diagram was supposed to simplify the Knowledge Nation concept. That’s why I was critical. Now I am wondering if its purpose is more to make us think rather than anything else.
Has Barry Jones explained this diagram anywhere? I’d like to see him do it on video.
Back when Web Diary was dealing with lesbians and IVF you asked for diagrams. I had a go at it and it ended up a disaster. It was a kind of spaghetti and meatballs things with strips of cheese representing the political process from left and right sides. I also made the mistake of trying to size the meatballs in relation to their impact on the issue. I even tried some colour coding. It all got too hard in the end.
What I’d really like to know is Barry Jones intentions. Is the diagram meant to clarify or to generate discussion? If the latter is the primary purpose – he has succeeded! I am still not convinced it clarifies the concept.
Again I come back to the defence meatball. Why is its spaghetti a TWO WAY arrow back to government? Another example of the arrow problem – manufacturing feeds into the Knowledge Nation meatball but agriculture only feeds from it. Is this really the view? I suppose if you assume that the CSIRO is the only “knowledge part” of agriculture, it makes sense. Why doesn’t “biotech” gets its own meatball rather than only being parts of others?
If you make your eyes “all blurry” the whole thing looks like a spiders web – with the government being the spider (note the long legs) and the “Knowledge Nation” being the tasty prey caught in the middle.
Or perhaps it is the solar system with the Knowledge Nation circle being the sun. If that was the case than the government would be Uranus (how fitting), TAFE would be Mars and Infrastructure an enlarged Pluto. Then again, the government looks more like Jupiter if you compare it to… mmm it all gets too hard as well. If its the solar system, I am grateful the government is not the sun at its centre. At least he got that part right.
By the way, I’m not sniggering – I’m having some fun while thinking about the issue. There’s no crime in that.
Finally, I have to come back to that wretched defence meatball. There is virtually nothing about that one I like. It beats the hell out of me why it should be as big as tourism or banking and insurance. The defence meatball is the wrong size, has the wrong arrows and is far too close to the centre.