Thursday, August 14, 2008

Henderson and the "Culture Wars"

Gerard Henderson has written an epitaph for John Howard, "Despite the views of some left-wing commentators, Howard did not get to the front line in the culture wars, let alone win a medal."

His basis for making an assertion of defeat for Howard is the suggestion that Howard failed in his "expressed aim" to reform the ABC. The question for me is why Henderson fails to really question whether it really was a Howard aim, and if it was whether it can ever succeed. Howard appointed his own Chair (twice)and a number of Board members. There were two selections of CEO (Shiers and Scott), and still "no change".

Could it perhaps be that the issue lies with the charter and not with the staff? The charter has as its objective the provision of programs that "contribute to a sense of national identity and inform and entertain, and reflecting the cultural diversity of, the Australian community". But the ABC is also required to "take account of the broadcasting services provided by the commercial and public sectors".

That is, the ABC is not required to achieve the diversity of broadcasting within itself, but to provide diversity in the whole sector - that is including what is broadcast commercially. In that context it is not unsurprising that the ABC contribution is slightly left leaning given that the remainder is slightly right leaning.

Maybe Henderson would like to suggest a different charter?

Postscript. Former ABC director Ron Brunton has written a piece for Henderson's Sydney Institute Quarterly that has been reported on in the SMH. It is an interesting spray that in the coverage alleges that board members couldn't acvhieve much against the ingrained culture of the staff and their lying or "spinning" information for the Board.

It is an incredible claim. At its core it is Brunton admitting that Howard appointed Board members not up to the task, that is they couldn't do what Boards do - set direction, measure performance.

A more charitable interpretation though is the one above. To change the ABC you don't need to change the Board you need to change the charter. But to what?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What is a "European-style metro" system

Commentary on rail options in Sydney continue to mention a preference for a "European-style metro system".

I want to know what kind of rail system this is meant to be describing. Typically rail is described as "light" (like trams - think the light rail to Glebe)or "heavy" (which incorporates all the rest of the passenger and freight rail networks). Fundamental differences relate to the number of carriages, the kind of inclines they can handle and the frequency of service.

As far as I can tell the proponents of "metro" are really talking about the same thing as Asians would call a "rapid transit" system. Its features are, typically;
1. Carriages designed mostly for standing not sitting.
2. Carriages with lots of doorways for speedy exit and entry - some systems use one side of the train for boarding and the other for alighting.
3. Very frequent trains.

Sounds awfully like the early rail carriages I was still riding as a school boy with four doors per carriage. Then some idiot decided to deal with the congestion problem at city stations by building double deck trains - which are idiotic beasts that are impossibly slow to load, have very little functioning standing room (compared to any single deck carriage I have ever ridden on except for amn intercity style train).

So Sydney can be converted to a "metro" on this definition if we simply change the trains - and do something about creating another line through the city and/or improving the platform functionality at Wynyard and Town Hall (e.g. can we use both sides of the train at Wynyard? Could the Eastern suburbs line be dropped lower at Town Hall and have three sets of dual lines not two sets of three? Or perhaps could the city circle be rerouted under Town Hall and not stop there at all?)

The original North-West rail plan met many of the requirements, including a new Harbour Crossing. Let the engineers get on with it.

Saturday, August 09, 2008


Having come from the Corporate world I'm used to their being lots of talk about leadership and its distinction from management. However, I'm currently doing a stint in the public service and I'm getting to look at the question all over again.

My public service obsrvations can wait for another day. Today I wanted to simply point to a really great article by Cynthia Banham. As readers might recall Cynthis is a journalist who only just survived an Indonesian plane crash. I actually knew Cynthis some years ago as a journalist, very good at her craft but not yet standing out as a potential leader in the field.

Her tale is about more than leadership, but I do like her three main ideas about leadership.
1. One does not need an official title to be a leader.
2. An ethical leader must draw on a set of values and, to comprehend those values, must think and talk about them. A good leader treats others as the leader herself or himself would want to be treated; suggesting equality, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy (the Golden Rule is found in most religions).
3. The importance to good leadership of moral courage. It may manifest itself in willingness to speak the truth, even when others - more powerful people, perhaps - do not want to hear it. It is about making difficult and unpopular decisions because you know they are appropriate.

The article is well worth reading.