Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let the fight for regional development begin!

Second Gillard ministry sets out ministers in the second Gillard ministry  as sworn in. It includes a link to the administrative arrangements, the formal document setting out who is responsible for what.

In various posts on this blog, I have suggested that the new environment provides an opportunity for new approaches to regional development, including a chance to address New England problems. By New England I mean the broader New England, not just the Tablelands or Mr Windsor's electorate.

This will not be easy. In an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, Our highly taxed and deprived country folk, and other myths, economics editor Ross Gittins sets out what has in fact been the dominant conventional wisdom. I have great respect for Mr Gittins, but his writing ignores systemic factors that have discriminated against regional Australia including New England.

In another story, this time in the Australian, Sean Parnell says in part:

Treasury modelling and briefings obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws show that northwestern and far western NSW, and the Wimmera and Mallee regions of Victoria, are expected to have fewer people in 2031 than in 2006, despite the nation's population rising by 8.8 million during that period.

"Although the focus has been on population growth, there are large areas of Australia, especially in the wheat-sheep farming areas, where there is projected to be only small population growth or even population decline," Treasury officials told Mr Burke in an executive minute in April.

This is a small example of what I mean.

I deal with demographic projections all the time. The problem is that when used for planning purposes, they ensure that those who are expected to have will be given. In that sense, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don't get me wrong, We have to to use them, but we also have to recognise their weaknesses. As an example, the ABS projections for inland New England on which Treasury bases their advice are, on my analysis, highly unlikely to be correct.

There is a further problem. Planning based just on projections actually accepts the past as the status quo. It addresses what has been, ignoring what might be.

We are not going to change thinking through emotion, although emotion has its place. Rather, we have to challenge both the conceptual underpinnings and the use of evidence.

This is not easy.

It's partly a question of resources. There just aren't very many people available to crunch numbers in alternative ways. Consider, as an example, two posts I wrote in April:

These posts challenge aspects of conventional thinking. Behind them, lay hours of number crunching, sitting with spread sheets sorting and analysing in different ways. I am not pretending that I am right, simply that I an consciously trying to test. For every person like me, there are one hundred working with numbers in the conventional way, who have to deliver outputs set within conventional bounds.

This brings me to the second problem, the way in which conventional ways of thinking determine the questions to be asked. The problem here lies in the way in which those ways of thinking condition action and analysis in often unseen ways. I use the word unseen advisedly.

All forms of thinking are based on logical structures. Thought builds up from a base of assumptions and ideas. Mostly, these are simply taken as a given.

If you challenge a conclusion on evidentiary grounds that is in fact really based on ideas and assumptions buried deep below, then the person challenged is highly unlikely to accept your views. Rather, they will try to massage your conclusion into a form that fits with those deeply buried assumptions and ideas.  

This adds to the difficulties for those of us trying to present alternative views. We have to constantly disentangle, to deconstruct, to work out not just what is being said but why, what does it really mean?

As I said, not easy. Still, if we are to take advantage of the way that things have opened up, we have to try. We have to fight with logic and evidence, using this to support arguments based on emotion and feeling.

Let the fight begin! 

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