WHEN HE WAS MINISTER for Immigration (1972—1974), ‘Al’ Grassby had one dedicated staffer to assist him in his portfolio duties, and that was a secretary-receptionist-typist. How things change. In the last few decades, and at an accelerating rate, the numbers of unelected ‘staffers’ attached to Ministers, as well as electorate staff, has massively increased in Australian Parliaments. We are now at the point where the working and social world of staffers form their own societies attached to State Governments and the Federal Government in Canberra, an opaque one, closed to outsiders, self-regarding and self-contained, but with enormous importance for its effects on the rest of us. And as was shown in Monday’s Four Corners episode, it behaves, when it thinks it thinks it can’t be seen, with genuinely disgusting misogyny and self-entitlement.



TREES ARE RARELY ASSESSED as significant cultural heritage in Australia; the bar is too high. When a project manager gets on the blower and asks ‘now listen, but is it heritage?’, a professional applies the standard frameworks of his or her calling, and decides—with a standardised process—either a yes/no significance answer, or a level of significance (from ‘little’ to ‘exceptional’). Human involvement in the thing or place is the most important: places where historical events happened, buildings made by specific people, artefacts of a known history. The reason trees rarely meet the ‘but is it heritage?’ test is because they’re ephemeral by nature, growing and reproducing themselves and dying by themselves, without people needing to be involved. ‘Cultural landscapes’, the fashion of the 2000s, remedy part of the question of individual trees by seeing the forests, but there’s generally no such thing as a ‘heritage tree’. You see the problem already.


Romance day

THE FOUR DAY WEEK is both an attractive demand and a realistic utopia, an acheivable measure any of us could feasibly gain, and with it, improve our lives. But wait! Our society’s totalising culture of shouting-productivity and management will strike back with demands of its own:

“Managers need to be comfortable that these hours are being used for that particular purpose (of passion) and not to do chores, or to work on your own little start-up [or] business when not explicitly stated,” she says.

Absolutely no. We can all imagine the kind of management where the tradeoff for a four-day week—or any other arrangement of increasing leisure—is increasing intrusion of management onto recreation time. We’ve all heard of the (in theory) rather nice arrangements where software developers in major firms are given company time to work on open-source projects; we all know about lawyers and professionals working pro bono. This isn’t that, this is colonisation of private time. One person’s ‘romance day’ of fulfilling tasks and self-actualisation can so easily turn to HR measuring those things against firm profitability. Clocking off should be exactly, and completely, that.


The elite's many virtues

I AM READING DANIEL Markovits’s The Meritocracy Trap, which is very good, compelling, and is crystallising thoughts on human merit I’ve been recently having. It’s a fairly compelling argument that the reproduction of the ruling class, today, happens at the level of transferring skills and educational training, and through elites exploiting their own labour, of specific kinds which create value in the context of our times (financial services, law, business, technology, and so on). It’s slightly less compelling in the Australian context, where the older forms—your parents buying you a house in Sydney—still work fine. Yes, I’ve been saying to myself as I turn the virtual pages of my e-reader, yes, that observation relates to the way I see the world. Yes, that is the way the ideology works. The book happens, as I happen to be, caustically enduringly angry.

And then the challenge:


In praise of corruption

WE VIEW CORRUPTION IN public office as, generally, a bad thing. When a politician or official takes [what looks like] a bribe, we expect them to be punished. On its face, corruption of public processes breaks our norms against fairness, because we expect the State to evaluate things—policies, projects, people—on the basis of equality, and natural justice, not whose brown paper bag was heaviest. But I want to praise corruption, not bury it.


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