Our speaker was Melanie Nolan, the general editor of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB). Here is a short version of her talk, including her answers to questions from the floor. [Photo: ANU School of History]
Melanie began with an acknowledgement of country.
The ADB began in 1957, led by Keith Hancock, with the aim of establishing a federal dictionary project. Hancock had a history of involvement with the UK Dictionary of National Biography. The ADB’s first employee was Ann Moyal. Her work duties included driving round in her car, all over Australia organising working parties and drumming up support for the dictionary project. Douglas Pike was appointed as first editor, not Ann, in 1962. In 2006 the dictionary went online, free. It now gets 60 million hits a year. So far there are 13,000 articles. The ANU continues to be a strong supporter. Files not yet online are all available to be consulted at the ANU archives. The current crop of biographies includes people who died between 1991 and 2000; it will be a decade’s work. Once the articles go online, and then taking into account any feedback, they will be published in book form. Continue reading
Helen introduced our speaker, Tony Payne. Tony is a semi-retired professor of politics at Sheffield University who with Colin Hay has co-written Civic Capitalism, a rejection of Anglo neo-liberalism.
They reject the Thatcherite view that “there is no alternative [to the market economy]”; they also reject the Marxist view of capitalism, that it is global, unreformable, and must be overthrown. Hay and Payne want to occupy the sensible centre, which Payne sees to be increasingly unoccupied.
We were delighted to welcome our speaker, Emma Davidson, from the Women’s Centre for Health Matters, who spoke on the topic of housing in the ACT.
Emma noted that housing affordability for women is worse now in the ACT than when she joined WCHM in 2010. There is movement from the government: a housing summit scheduled for September; submissions being sought for an inquiry into housing, due in February; and submissions also being sought for Mick Gentleman’s inquiry into environmentally sustainable housing.
Funding shortages are affecting public and community housing. Women are particularly affected as their numbers are hidden. We need more diversity including models that suit groups and sharing, with a sell-on option. Many women are carers and require courtyard/accessible housing, for example. A non-government brokerage service would be ideal, to place people into appropriate housing. Planning regulations need more flexibility. Capped access to new land blocks (independent of developers) would allow more first home buyers into the market. The Nightingale project and the Women’s Property Initiative, both in Victoria, are good models. Reclaiming of government land by developers (funded by taxpayers) seriously erodes public confidence and housing affordability options. Public housing stock is being lost faster in the ACT than in any other jurisdiction. Negative gearing (a federal issue) is only benefiting big corporations and the wealthy, and must be reformed.
Two speakers addressed the October VR meeting: Pat Ranald, of the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network, AFTINET, and Peter Murphy of the Philippines Australia Union Link, PAUL.
AFTINET is, in the words of its own webpage, “a network of community organisations and individuals that has campaigned since 2000 for a fairer and more democratic global trade system, based on human rights and environmental sustainability.”
With its fifty or so component organisations it has been an enormously influential opposition to the worst of so-called “free trade” agreements like the TPP. As Pat explained, the TPP was not about free trade but was meant to let the US write the rules in this region, rather than China. Big corporations would get more power, and those outside the US would get more access to US markets. In the US, unions and NGOs influenced the Democratic Party, and the TPP didn’t manage to get the numbers in Congress. In Australia, a Senate enquiry found that there wasn’t support for the TPP.
Peter gave us a short history of the Philippines union movement. The KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno, May First Labour Movement) was established in 1980. ACTU president Cliff Dolan made an issue of the gaoling of KMU members in the early 1980s, raising it with the Hawke government, and pressure from the Australians contributed to the release of these people. International links do make some leverage possible.
In 1990 there was a push-back against the unions in the Philippines, driven by US corporations. It became hard to run a union. Philippines union membership is now only at 1%, compared to 13% in Australia. Seventy per cent of Philippines workers are casuals; they are allowed to join a union after working for six months. If they do, the bosses sack them.
Photo: Peter Murphy addresses the Vintage Reds meeting; Pat Ranald looks on.
Lyndal Ryan, ACT secretary of United Voice, spoke to the Vintage Reds on the subject of penalty rates.
Service sector employers have failed many times to get rid of penalty rates, but failure has not stopped them trying. United Voice has been defending penalty rates cases for years.
The Productivity Commission has given employers more of a voice, and initially recommended stripping penalty rates everywhere. But there was concern expressed about the impact on doctors and nurses, ambulance staff etc., and employers had to pull back. The impact of changes is now felt by young, casualised staff in a few industries. UV has put the case about their need for family time, time off, etc. and this argument is understood by most people.
Pete Van Ness, from the Department of International Relations, ANU, spoke to the Vintage Reds on the topic of nuclear power.
Pete and Mel Gurtov are the editors of a recently published book, Learning from Fukushima: Nuclear Power in East Asia. (The book is available for free download from the ANU Press.)
The project developed from an ANU workshop which aimed to respond in a helpful way to the March 2011 triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown) in north-eastern Japan. It evolved into a collaborative investigation of whether nuclear power was a realistic energy option for East Asia
The focus was on the ten members of ASEAN, none of which have nuclear power plants; though at the time, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia were all interested in getting one.
The book ends with nine reasons why nuclear power is a bad choice for any country which is not already a nuclear weapons power. These are: 1 the high cost of construction; 2 continuing need for very highly trained staff; 3 difficulty for a regulatory authority to be transparent, and lack of transparency that goes with high levels of security required around nuclear facilities; 4 huge liability in the event of an accident, frequently paid by the public; 5 cost of decommissioning, under both normal and crisis conditions; 6 the relationship between nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons; 7 the intractability of the problem of nuclear waste disposal (there is currently still no site for the permanent storage of high-level nuclear waste anywhere in the world; 8 the health implications of exposure to radiation, including much lower levels than previously believed; and 9 the insufficiency of nuclear power as an answer to concerns about climate change.