Monday, 31 December 2012

Teasing out the shape of Australia’s future

Some of histories patterns are universal; e.g., Overshoot, imperial rises, imperial falls and the cycling of Civilisations, while others are specific to an area and/or civilisation type. E.g. the cyclical rise and fall of Chinese empires, the relative permanence of European borders (Gaul is roughly in the same are as France), the cycle of empires in the Middle East, the conflict between the East and West (its far older than Islam or Christianity) and the contests between settled and nomadic peoples. From these patterns it is possible to see the broad shape of the future (though not the details) over an area, the larger the area, the more accurate the vision. This is one of the reasons that makes historical analysis useful, many of the factors that determine how history plays out; such as geography, climate and agriculture potential, are relatively stable. Unfortunately, for Australia, this sort of useful historical analysis is unavailable.

We can’t look at pre-European history, since the Aborigines lived as hunter-gatherers and so had a radically different relationship with the land, therefore the factors that affect them affect us differently (to separate degrees). Since Australia’s original inhabitants were almost wiped out by European diseases (about 90% fatalities) and predation, most post-European history of Australia is that of colonisation and parts weren’t settled until after Federation. So, while some of our history is useful for this task, for most of it Australia wasn’t a settled country with established cities, populations and cultures, unlike Europe and Asia and for the section of history that is has, oil has been in major use. Since we’re entering the downturn phase of overshoot with established cities, populations and cultures, the situation has changed considerably. And then there’s the fact that the sections of our history that are similar have all taken place during the upward phase of overshoot, with rising fossil fuel usage and international trade. In short, historical analysis in the specifics is very difficult or impossible for Australia, even while universal historical analysis is possible.

This leaves us with a question, how do we see the broad shape of Australia’s future? What roles will the central desert and long coastline play? The Great Dividing Range? The tyranny of distance? The States and Territories? New Zealand, Indonesia, Pacific Islands and New Guinea? These questions need at least a cursory answer and I will be going over some of the possible questions and answers.


  1. Hi Leo,

    I look forward to reading your thoughts. It is a large topic. I reckon, maybe water availability will dictate where populations reside. It is interesting, but the original township up here was abandoned because of the lack of available water. The original land titles are still in place and there is an area that even looks like a township. There used to be a Post Office up there (which was later relocated), but by the 1940's and 1950's there was only a single individual living up here in the mountain range.

    In the 1890's someone even built a health resort called Craigielea which is still there today operating as a bed and breakfast, but was empty for some time! People in the Victorian era thought that fresh air was a way to avoid the endemic diseases of the time - especially during summer (typhoid, cholera, polio etc). Lucky for you that you don't live in those times as you'd have to sleep on the verandah even during winter! Hehe!

    I'm a bit worried about the heat wave about to hit us because the summer rains have failed! Keep well and stay cool. Chris

  2. @ Cherokee Organic
    It'll be a mixture of factors, waters pretty high up on the list. Hyden in WA Wheatbelt was only settled because the train station was there, before it was at wave rock because they used wave rock as a water catchment.

    At least now we have better ways to avoid epedemics diseases and such, its mostly sewers and good health. luckily sewers are a pre-fossil fuel invention, just need to change the current ones.

    Just remembered one of the places we visited near Albany, it was an organic farm started by a recently immigrated swiss family. They were growing spices and flavourings from all over Australia, moving towards ones local to their area. Also had a greenhouse to grow some tropical spices from Queensland. We bought some of their stuff, its pretty good and the Quandong jam is nice with Kangaroo.

  3. Carrying on from your previous discussion about citystates v federalism, what do you think of the possibility of eliminating the states and keeping the federation, with local responses and powers being exercised by councils?

    Most of the symbolism is national rather than state-based, and there is a constitutional mechanism for states to refer powers to the Commonwealth. The shortcomings of being ruled from Canberra could be remedied by giving the majority of the current state-based powers to local shires and councils.

    It seems to me that most people's emotional attachment is either at a very local level of their home town, or at a national level with ANZAC and flags etc. Therefore, it seems likely that in the face of a forced reduction in complexity, the state governments would be first to go.

  4. It could be done, but the federal goverment would need to replace the state goverment because certain functions work best at that levels. All that would happen is an identity change and a bigger federal goverment with a bigger disconnect between the local levels (having a well spaced heirarchy is important).

    Things like regional (but not national) rail lines and roads, certain shipping laws (small scale piracy and smuggling) and types of police work (think Ned Kelly) are best done at a state level. A local goverment either dosen't have the resources, authority or skills to carry out these tasks, while a federal goverment is to far away and big.

    What could happen is a breaking up of the larger states into smaller states, but thats not likely. What will happen is that a lot of the powers and responsibilities held by the federal and state goverments will be devolved further down, state militias will probably turn up and local law enforcement will become more common.

    The Attachments just how nationalism works, the local part comes naturally. Since we're a representive democracy, as opposed to a monarchy, empire or autocratic system, it's unlikely any of the states could be dissolved by the federal goverment. What could be part of the decomplexification is that the goverment levels become more streamlined. E.g. Voting may only take place at the local or city level for non-politicans and only once in what ever cycle (so between one and four years), and then the local politicans vote and so on, instead of having seperate elections. So the state goverment is elected by the local and city goverments, and then they elect the federal goverment (or representatives to the federal goverment).