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On why you don’t want to look back (and end up like Lot’s wife)

Lot's wife turned to salt after she looked back at Sodom.
Lot's wife turned to salt after she looked back at Sodom.

NEWS FROM THE FRONT DESK ISSUE  No 405: Ye gods what’s going on with the Feds? Down the rabbit hole they go again. Long after the biggest climate denier and sustainability slayer of all time Tony Abbott led a big bunch of them down there and just days after he got whacked in his own electorate with 30 per cent vote against him for pre-selection (some say 55 per cent when no one was standing against him) we get the all smiling, ever-ready Scott Morrison trotting out “fair dinkum” power. Say what?

“Fair dinkum power” is what will happen to a lot of pollies at the next federal election, quips Willow Aliento in her new column for us that she’s aptly named The Oxygen Files. Named so because it’s about giving a low carbon airing to the best and worst of news that needs to see the light of day.

It’s a bit like Nero twiddling his thumbs while Rome burns.

In one of the articles from early in the week that’s still enjoying a great airing is David Chandler’s piece about Google and its sidekick Sidewalk Labs, which is about to do to cities what Uber has done to taxis and airbnb to hotels. 

Not quite literally yet, but see what he says.

Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront Sidewalk is tackling the challenges of urban growth but instead of arguing with disparate suppliers of technology and whatnots to get them to collaborate, Google has purchased all the businesses involved so it can control all the IP. “No disconnect between designers, constructors, makers and regulators”.

“All thinking is then based on looking at everything as a connected platform – physical, human services, sustainability, affordability, viability, technology, off-site manufacture, regulation and compliance. Advanced system thinking. BIM works.”

This makes Google the system governor and “while it deals with local regulators for now…Google could become a global system compliance default option for the making of future cities,” Chandler says.

One of the reasons this is happening, he says, is that everyone is too busy playing move the deckchairs to see that we’re heading into an iceberg, even if it’s shrinking.

Confidence in our governance systems at any level have eroded, and as they say, the fish rots from the head. Confidence is a strange thing. You see it operate in markets. What’s notable is it’s slow to build but very quick to dissipate.

As we heard at Tomorrowland from newDemocracy’s Iain Walker, citizens’ panels invariably make great decisions if members of the public, randomly selected, are properly informed and hear competing arguments. The opposite currently rules: instant gratification driven by emotion and opinion often based on nothing much, generating a social media flood that’s used to justify power plays by those who know how to manipulate the crowd.

We don’t have leaders any more we have power brokers, the ABC’s Laura Tingle said this week

And increasingly it’s like a travelling marionette show, all about entertainment while the business of good government flounders. Not quite burning, but smouldering. Citizens turning away or looking back, like Lot’s Wife. Well that’s what it feels like as you read the leaks now emerging about the coup and how it was

Rupert Murdoch who declared to Kerry Stokes that “Malcolm has to go.”

Rupert instead says Australia is now Lachlan’s patch, something that a few years ago when the young radical challenged his father’s dominion and went his own way, we might have liked to hear. Today though, we read he’s more extreme than the old man. Don’t look too hard. It could be Lot’s wife again.

Clearly we’re lobbying the wrong people when we sign petitions to government. We need instead to send our signatures to Rupert or Lachlan, supplicating these  plutocrats to heed our worthy cause.

Bah humbug.

So when John Alexander told Tomorrowland we had reason to be confident that the future of our cities and regions were in good hands and that there would be peace in Canberra and a “contest of ideas”, we wanted to believe. Seriously.

Less than two weeks later, on Monday, out comes a massive document of more than 170 pages from a committee he’s chaired. It outlines a pathway for the infrastructure, population and settlement strategies that might make sense for this immigrant country of ours.

The document, called Building Up & Moving Out,

is wide ranging and ambitious. Its authors have consulted a huge range of professional bodies and it’s even – wait for it – flagged a step-up in the mandatory disclosure regime for energy efficiency in commercial buildings, even tenancies.

Sadly the one place the document won’t go is residential. Even this great tome has shied away from tackling the sector that houses each and every one of us and is now, let’s say, officially the pariah of the property industry, the sector that cannot be touched thanks to the bully boys (and gals?) who stop progress and ensure good bills are bludgeoned into hollow shells of themselves, so that consumers need to pay the cost of say, flammable cladding, as Anne Paten has so carefully chronicled in this massive investigative piece from last week.

So what’s the impact of Building Up & Moving Out? Given that we live in a world that’s so desperately in need of a signal that we have at least some reliable moral infrastructure (if no other) to manage the storms ahead? Not much. Nearly nada.

The only publication to pick up the story other than The Fifth Estate by the time we put clicks to screen on Thursday afternoon was the Illawarra Mercury. Go the Illawarra Mercury.

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