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Community highlights

The Conversation receives a lot of comments each day and you can’t read everything. That’s why we occasionally end the week with a selection of community highlights: comments we enjoyed or thought interesting. Read on for five comments and discussions I thought worth highlighting.


How do we create liveable cities? First, we must work out the key ingredients

George Michaelson shared his experiences of a city’s development and how, often, the locals were left out of the discussion:

Towns which respect local views on planning and development score highly in my book. I’m not living in one, and I don’t think many of us are any more, despite paying rates.

Brisbane has a notional town plan but in practice, its sketchy and the loss of control as a local is pretty high. As a resident I understood height limits to be more than an aspiration. Whats happened locally, is they are being translated to an effective density per area, and then the same estimated residency rate is used to justify over-height applications. They are not equivalent for two reasons: Firstly, they destroy sight lines, and secondly, they assume no future development in the same area, where its reasonably likely another round of planning revision will permit a second or third tower at height, since there is no longer any preserved height limit below the build line.

The change from public open spaces, to requests to developers to create functionally public spaces from private land is a de-facto reduction in the public commons. Developers know they can make semi-public spaces, areas of ornamentation, or raised height green spaces with restricted access, and comply with this part of the plan. Instead of truly open spaces we get managed spaces with rules.

During the most recent inner-city revitalization I feel that inadequate planning for future needs has eventuated. We have a high rate of occupancy of 2 bed units with families of more than one child. This works in the short term for young children but is dysfunctional for teenagers. These properties were developed with a view to housing singles, but have been converted by market forces to the only affordable choice for young working families. We’re returning to density levels inside housing which in times past where held inappropriate.

Where is the longterm plan for Doctors, STI clinics, Funeral facilities, Churches, Mosques? Do we have to see these removed to edge of town, and to hypermarket and strip-mall facilities?

Where is the longterm plan to house rental market, older and poorer people alongside the burgeoning middle classes? Surely I’m not alone in wondering why places like the Netherlands can require developers to include low cost housing alongside the mansions, and without discriminatory access rights to shared facilities like pools and gardens (which is happening in London)

What we get instead, is a retreat from public housing, public health, public planning, and long term hand-wringing about the social dislocation and consequences.

We’ve participated in the privatization of planning to our own detriment.


White student unions are based on a misunderstanding that anti-racism means anti-white

Lorraine Muller discussed racism in the context of class:

Racism is a broad concept that is similar to the class system. Using class strata when discussing racism in an Australian context can demonstrate how racism is not black and white. In Australia at the bottom of the ‘class’ system are Indigenous Australians.

As new settlers arrive, mainstream ‘white’ Australian culture is the norm most strive to fit into - in what ever class ranking their occupation/wealth aligns with. It is not uncommon for non-white, non-Indigenous Australians to take up the pervasive racism/classism of mainstream society, resulting in some being overtly racist towards Indigenous Australians.

When new settlers come from class based societies, such as ex-British colonies, the class structure/racial stratification of Australian society may well be seen as normal.


Australia’s defence: can we learn from New Zealand?

Mike Swinbourne took aim at the defence debate in Australia and our various alligiences:

The need to debate our strategic defence posture is absolutely paramount, but unfortunately the debate is usually framed within the sacred cow of the US alliance - and that is a bad thing. We only came to the US alliance during WWII when it became plain that our existing strategic alliance with the UK was not serving us well. Hopefully it would not take a similar situation for us to examine whether the US alliance also serves us well.

And to be frank, it doesn’t really serve us well at all. There are the usual platitudes about intelligence and logistic support, and that we would be incapable of dealing with a high end threat by ourselves (all of which were advanced to support our UK alliance as well). But, just like the UK alliance, our alliance with the US comes with the cost of involvement in conflict after conflict when we do not have any real strategic stake in in the outcome, and which cost us in terms of lives lost and the need to have equipment and operational interoperability.

And as far as our Defence posture is concerned, there are multiple ways of skinning that cat. High end equipment such as fighters and capable warships are only useful for the posture of defending against a high end threat. They are less than useless for the types of low end conflict that we keep getting involved in, and which are more likely to occur in our region. Indeed, the cost of acquiring and maintaining them reduces our capacity to increase our force capabilities in the areas which are useful for dealing with low end conflict - such as a larger and more mobile army which is capable of multiple self supporting deployments.

The next Defence White Paper should be out soon (???), but I won’t be holding my breath to see these issues debated with any degree of robust thought. More’s the pity, because it will probably mean that - once again - our Defence Force is poorly structured to deal with the types of threats we are likely to face.


A necessary harvest: it’s time to allow Japan to kill whales

Robert Smith and article author Justin Rose discussed how ideas around cruelty play into how people think about whaling (and meat more generally).

Robert Smith

One issue the author didn’t mention is that while many people are against the killing of whales, what really causes much of the opposition to whale hunting is the horribly cruel method of their capture and the obvious lengthy torturous process involved in killing them. Look at the outcry over the fate of animals under our live meat exports as another example of animal cruelty that revolted us.

The method of hunting whales puts it in the same category as fox hunting, bear bating, dog and cock fighting and many people view it as just as cruel, which of course it obviously is.

Perhaps whaling legislation should be changed to demand humane killing as a prerequisite for being allowed to hunt whales and lets see if Japan, Norway and Iceland can meet the standard of killing which is equivalent to the standards we apply to other animals. That might just be the best way to finally end whale hunting. After all we wouldn’t accept the killing of cows or sheep by spearing them in the body and letting them thrash around until they eventually bled to death.

Justin Rose

Thanks for your comment Robert

The material I included on cruelty was removed during editing due to word limits – too many complex issues to fit into 800-900 words. But, no word limits in the comments, as many of the commenters have proven.

Firstly - on a personal note - I have not eaten the flesh of any mammal since 1999, unlike every Australian Environment Minister during that period. Also, as a lived exercise in ethics and learning, I spent 3 years raising all of my own meat – from egg to plate. I would be perfectly happy for meat to cost many times more than it currently does and for factory farming, a much much much much greater locus of animal cruelty than whaling, to be completely outlawed. But that is very different from suggesting that the Australian Government should take that position to an international legal forum.

In essence, I agree with those who have commented here regarding the extraordinary cruelty that Australian governments and citizens accept in the production of the meat we consume. In this circumstance, directing accusations of cruelty at the Japanese is hypocrisy writ large.

Judgments about animal cruelty are necessarily subjective, but I agree with you that the act of killing a whale is cruel.

But I don’t understand, or accept, that cruelty or suffering occurs only at the moment of death. Considered over a whole-of-life, whale meat carries a fairly small cruelty-footprint, both for the individual animal and especially on a per kilo basis.

Consider this, would you rather be one of the 500,000 -1 million minke whales in the southern ocean with a 1 in 1000 chance of suffering a long violent death after living your life free in a natural environment, or one of the 600 million chickens eaten by Australians each year who are guaranteed a quick and painless death after a short incarcerated life, never touching the earth or seeing sunlight? Or, if you don’t think avians deserve the same consideration as mammals, consider the 4.8 million factory farmed pigs, on concrete, kept in cages so small they can’t even roll over.

All meat production carries a cruelty quotient. Australia can take the Japanese to task for inflicting cruelty on whales when we have ended some of the much worse cruelty in our own meat production systems. Doing it prior to that is extraordinary hypocrisy, often born of ignorance and racism.


Here’s looking at: Blue poles by Jackson Pollock

Quite a few readers shared their thoughts of Blue Poles and Jackson Pollock on Kit Messham-Muir’s article on the painting. Here are but a few highlights.

Barbara Mitchell thought something interesting was afoot when she saw the painting:

I really enjoyed Kit’s response to Blue Poles. I saw the painting at the Art Gallery of NSW many years ago. A security guard was sitting close to the painting. He was wearing odd socks and they elicited a stronger response from my friend and I than the painting. We didn’t think of it at the time, but maybe his odd socks were part of the whole scene. Anyway, he did make it all a lot more interesting.

Kit Messham-Muir

I think it’s great that you noticed the odd socks and took the institutional context into account of your experience of Blue Poles. We never see anything in isolation. Blue Poles on a different day, without the odd-socked security guard, would have been something different again.

Kerryn Herman got scientific:

My understanding was that many of Pollock’s works have been analysed for fractals and those that show these fractals were works that he as an artist was prepared to show, but works that don’t never saw the light of day. What does this say for how he saw the world?

I have to admit that part of Pollock’s appeal to me is this overlap between “Art” and “Science”. I like these things that sit at this weird interface - the digestive machine at Mona, a beautiful piece of jewelry that is inspired by anatomy… there is an appeal in this for me.

As an aside - I was in Venice earlier this year and went to Peggy Guggenheim’s house. They had recently completed a restoration on another of Pollock’s pieces that had hung in Peggy’s dining room for years (can’t remember the name off hand). There is something about the colour and the shape and the movement in these works that I find captivating, and images do not do the real art works justice.

Finally, Giles Pickford posted this brief hot-take:

I have seen Blue Poles. To me it is like a bush fire at its height. I fought four bush fires when I was growing up on the farm. I think it is a magnificent painting.


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