Renovating the Kitchen

Just thought I’d chronicle my kitchen renovation experinece.

I decided to do our kitchen because the kitchen in the house we live in was pretty tired and some aspects of it – particularly the gas burners and cook top – needed to be replaced. We also needed more storage space.

Here’s the old kitchen:

yeah I didn’t manage to get a picture of it clean, sorry.

So, I have renovated kitchens before and I feel pretty comfortable with most of it – but obviously we wanted to keep costs and effort down so our basic ‘scope’ was contained by trying to keep the existing kitchen footprint basically in place.

There was a bit of disagreement about where to put the oven but I actually really enjoy having a mid-height oven – it’s really easy to use at a convenient height like this… but my partner felt that the bricks surrounding the oven wasted a lot of space. So essentially the remit was to keep everything more or less where it was but make it better.

I used Alpine Kitchen and Bathroom cabinetry in my last renovation and it was really good quality stuff. Only available in white but that’s fine, we figured we’d add some flair in other places. It also fit our layout pretty well, with one 10cm gap on the wall near the cupboard that would need to be built out – but otherwise it offered everything we wanted in cupboard options. Notably including lots of drawer cabinets – they work really well for pans and tupperware.

The other thing to think about with a project like this is timing… and particularly minimising the time your family has to do without a working kitchen. There are a lot of dependent relationships in building the cabinetry back in, too. So I devised a very simple plan for how I expected the workflow to go.

yes, i used a meal planner template for my kitchen reno. I’m comfortable with my masculinity.

The above details all the work needed to do up until the benchtop measure, which was the crucial point where the kitchen needed to be ‘finished’ enough to measure the benchtops. After the measure, there would be a two week lag on the kitchen being usable while they built the benchtops (and the sinks and taps were plumbed back in). So the whole thing meant about a month of living with a temporary kitchen that was spread between our dining room and back yard patio.

The schedule above included a few days before the benchtop measure in case things went wrong – and they did – but by fast-tracking some jobs and doing some concurrently, we were actually able to bring the measure forward by a day or two. That’s not to say everything went smoothly, far from it, but I was able to keep to the crucial steps of the schedule close enough that the project remained on time.

First step was removing the tiles and oven

Found that the house builder had used the cavity below the oven as a rubbish tip of sorts. Shame on you Dale Alcock!

At this point we could still use the kitchen in it’s entirety, we just moved the fridge out to the dining room.

Next was removing the existing cabinets and, sadly, the cook top.

This also contains my first start at plastering the wall behind the old oven. It looks rough because it is!

At this point we could still use the dishwasher – and the taps if necessary. So it wasn’t as bad as it looked. All cooking was now done either in the mircowave or on our camping stove out the back.

This sort of thing really challenged my partner’s OCD

The big ‘tipping point’ for the project was getting the electrics done. The electrics both couldn’t be done with old cabinets in and at the same time, the new cabinetry couldn’t be done until the electrics had been done. I had help from cousin Bruce for this part and it was a long and hot day of crawling around in the roof cavity but it got done.

The oven isn’t in because Retravision delivered me the wrong one! the block on the far wall is to help me hang the cupboards in line… the wood piece is a part of the old cabinetry.

The blue wall matches another ‘feature wall’ that we have in the adjoining room. It looks a bit striking from this angle but trust me that it looks ok from another angle.

At this point the cabinetry was ready to start being installed. This meant a few things… the dishwasher had to be disconnected so that the new cabinetry could be fitted around the water pipes (getting the pipes sealed off for the duration was horribly expensive). I also needed to start cutting out tiles around the base of the new cabinetry. I tried a few methods of doing this but settled on ‘just being careful’ with an angle grinder. A circular saw is not built for this purpose, apparently!

Putting the cabinets in wasn’t difficult in itself (although installing the high cabinets by yourself isn’t fun!) but the difficult part was getting them all to fit. One particular problem was that when I installed the cabinetry for a moment it appeared like I didn’t have enough room to fit the dishwasher back in. The solution was to chip away some plaster on the bricks at either end of the cabinetry, and shuffle everything down a little, which gave me about another 5cm of space.


None of these ‘little jobs’ were little but I managed to fit them in around the other ‘big items’ in my schedule. The cabinets were in enough to be measured when they needed to be and then I was able to finish the cabinets above the fridge and the small piece of filler for the 10cm gap next to the inbuilt cupboard in the time between measuring and benchtop install.

The joy at being able to use a sink and dishwasher again after a month…it’s indescribable.

There were a few potential pitfalls with the benchtop that are worth talking about. First, the sink I ordered from the Good Guys online never arrived in time. In fact, it wasn’t even dispatched until three weeks after we’d needed it. The Good Guys were awful through the whole process – I couldn’t speak to anyone ‘real’, and had to use their online ‘automated service’ (and I use that term loosely) to both inquire about the delays and then cancel my order… and the cancellation didn’t work. In the end I had to spend twice as much on a sink I could pick up that day from Sink Warehouse. The sink is fine, a little bigger than expected, but the experience with The Good Guys was terrible. I’m still waiting for my refund more than 2 months later. But the crucial point from a project management perspective is that the work couldn’t begin on the benchtops until the sink was here, and that meant that the sink was a crucial dependency for the project’s completion and we had to sink extra resources to overcome the delay in it’s delivery.

Another thing to watch was the cost of plumbing. I used to have a great plumber (Tony, thank you) who would always do great work at a reasonable quote. Tony has sadly retired and so I was flying blind. In the first instance, for the sealing off of the existing pipework, we hired a plumber from a friend of a friend’s company based on good word of mouth. The work, which took far less than an hour, cost more than a couple of hundred dollars. So when it came to re-installing the taps and sink, we got a few quotes. The difference between the high quote and low quote was $700! Now, the high quote presented as very professional but so did the low quote. So we went for the low quote and the guy did good work, very friendly and although he missed a couple of things in terms of quality control, I’m really glad that we did. Just saying, get quotes before signing on to a plumbing job.

The final parts of the renovation were the plastering and painting of the existing brickwork, the splashbacks and finishing off. Of these, it was only the plastering that bothered me. Plastering is a messy, tough and uncompromising job. You can make mistakes with it (and I did) but making mistakes means you take even more time doing a job that already takes a lot of prep and clean up. I don’t like it.

I did manage to consult my old man’s knowledge bank and was told to use plasterboard for larger areas, which I ended up doing. I also used cornice cement for the plastering of the brick (in place of mixing up my own plaster, which I did for the space around the oven). The cornice cement was just that bit easier to work with and so I used that to finish off around the gyprock (plasterboard) sections. As always though, with my plastering, much topping compound was still in use. To strengthen the ‘bare’ sections of plaster at brick face ends, I also used a fibreglass mesh. Of course, as with everything, I developed my expertise from watching YouTube videos.

The splashbacks took some time but once they were in, it was just a tiny bit more pretending to be an electrician and the job was finally done.

The fantasy being sold here is a clean kitchen. as if.

The final cost of the project would have been roughly $15550:

cabinetry $5000

appliances $1600

benchtops $7000

sink and tap $450

plumbing/electician costs $1300

tools, supplies and equipment $200

It would have been two weeks of solid work hours… but 10 days of that was ‘intense’ and the rest of those hours were spread over many weeks.

Best decisions:

buying myself new tools when I needed them.

I don’t own shares in Bunnings but I probably should. Their Ozito range of power tools is really good and really affordable. In this instance I had to buy a new angle grinder (I fried my old one, or Paul’s old one, when trying to cut through some structural steel – oops). On the other hand I chose to buy a new hand drill because my two old drills were giving up a bit… and the new drill was well worth it. All my power tools are Ozito at this point and all of it did well. I think I used every tool I have at some point here.

Probably most valuable player in tools was my old, blue handled chisel… used it for just about everything. But yeah, nothing beats a hammer drill when you need one as well.

Using plasterboard and cornice cement for plastering, instead of plaster. I wish I had used cornice cement initially, instead of buying 20 kg of lime and 20kg of cement and 100kg of white sand… which I then gave away to an artist when I only used about 2kgs of each of them.

Things I’d reconsider…

The benchtops. The benchtop company we used were fantastic and while it was expensive I think they were competitive (benchtops just cost a lot). We got ‘Da vinci smartstone’ which does look great and goes with the rather shabby floor we have… but I am finding that maintaining white benchtops is quite demanding.

This part of the floor

the very definition of cutting corners

The old oven wall brick extended further into the floor than the new cabinetry and so I had to either fill it in (like this) or pull up more tiles and replace them all with properly sized and cut new tiles. Partly because of sheer exhaustion and partly because I am thinking we will replace/overlay this flooring one day anyway, I took the easy option. But it hurts me everytime I look at it… and compounded by the accidental angle grinder stripe in front of the cabinet on the right… which again I just chose to live with rather than fix properly.

Big thanks to:

Hutchy for making the cuts on my filler pieces with his professional table saw set up.

the tilers working on the house across the road who made the cuts on the filler tiles in the picture above.

Bruce for helping with the electrics and being a general source of wisdom

Ian and dad for also having insight and opinion about renovations in general

the family and friends for putting up with the inconvenience with mostly good cheer.

What the media isn’t telling you about Scott Morrison

Ever wondered why the ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) has gone so easy on Scott Morrison and the LNP this election?

‘What’ you say? I thought they were remarkably even handed, he’s had some quite uncomfortable moments, and lost every debate!

Yes, MSM has gone incredibly soft on him (double entendre intended). In this post I’m going to talk first about some egregious corruption that should ensure that no one even thinks of voting LNP this election, and then cover why the media aren’t quite covering it that way.

First, here are some examples of issues where they have been kinder to the Morrison LNP than they were to the Gillard/Rudd Labor government. Much of this comes from the longer list at :

A small sample of Morrison government corruption:

  • The Morrison government used $800m for paying for carparks and sports facilities (many of which didn’t even qualify for the funding) as a bribe for voters to win the last election.
    • The Morrison government responded by cutting funding to the national (fully indpendent) audit office that exposed this corruption.
    • Given the narrowness of the election win, this tax payer money can be understood to have directly ‘bought’ power for the LNP. Yet, this has never been mentioned in the media.
  • Implemented the ‘Robodebt’ system which cost more money than it recovered, mistakenly accused people of owing money and triggered a number of suicides.
    • For comparison, the death of two workers in Labor’s ‘Pink Bats’ scandal led to a Royal Commission and a strong finding against the Rudd government. The LNP even redirected $4m from the Child Sex Abuse Royal Commission to pink bats because those deaths were to be taken so seriously. While a senate committee has called for a Royal Commission into Robodebt, the Morrison government has refused to engage one – and the media is strangely silent on demanding one.
  • Paid almost $20m in incentives to encourage the sale of Port of Darwin to China, which Morrison now maintains that they had ‘no say’ over
  • Despite promising a Federal ICAC in the last election campaign, the Morrison LNP has failed to table a viable proposal for that ICAC and voted against proposals, insisting that any corruption investigation be overseen by government (as in, let them run their own investigation).
  • And well might this government fear an ICAC as they have repeatedly been implicated in shelling out money to their mates and supporters with no proper process literally dozens of times. Such as:
    • $450million on carbon capture and storage projects – none of which were successful, and almost all of which were subsequently cancelled.
    • $600m on new gas power plant that was not considered viable by the private sector.
    • $15.5m on fossil fuel research.
    • $39m to a naval boat manufacturer Austal for meeting key milestones when they DID NOT meet those milestones. However, Austal just happens to have donated $80,000 to the LNP that year (as opposed to a $1500 donation to the Labor party).
    • $25k to a US defense contractor blacklisted for bribery.
    • Paid a billionaire 10 times the market rate ($30m) for land valued at $3m a year later.
    • $50m to APA to develop new gas projects. APA just also happens to donate to the LNP.
    • $6.7m in Job Keeper to Harvey Norman, despite them quadrupling their profits during the pandemic. (Academics, musicians and artists got $0 from job keeper)
    • $18m on a ‘leadership program’ for young libs, awarded to a shady company with no prior experience, without a tender process.
    • Gave $10m of bushfire recovery money to a paper mill that wasn’t affected by the bushfires.
    • $200k to a National party media advisor to take photos and videos of bushfire recovery.
    • $423m to an inexperienced security provider ‘Paladin’ to supply Manus Island security via an illegitimate ‘limited tender’. The group had only $50,000 to their name when they ‘won’ the ‘limited tender’, so the government advanced them $10m to get started.
    • $385m (eventually $1.6B) for a Brisbane construction company with only $8 in assets at the time… but happened to be a LNP donor.
    • $443m to Great Barrier Reef foundation to ‘save the reef’ through developing business opportunities. This money was awarded without tender or applicaiton.
    • $2.2m on scientifically discredited ‘water fans’ as a solution to reef bleaching.
    • $100m loan to BHP and Rio Tinto – because they need the money.
  • While all this has been going on, the LNP has refused to legislate for transparency of political donations, loosened political donation laws and has increased the amount of government funding without proper tender process to $34billion per month.

So, considering all this, yes, the media IS going soft on Morrison’s government. And this is why…

Included in the campaign against accountability that the LNP has waged for the past 10 years, it has worked furiously to coddle the commercial media (Newscorp, Fairfax and Seven West) and undermine critical media and journalism.

In terms of coddling, ‘traditional’ media has been thrown into a crisis by the economics of search engines and social media – and long story short – the LNP government has raced to the aid of large media businesses. Note, not journalists (more about this below), but the billionaire business owners. The ‘News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code’ could have offered rewards for insightful journalism that made a public contribution but, instead, it ended up guaranteeing some internet advertising revenue to the largest media companies in Australia – but not the ABC. This is the sort of legislation that is needed but the ‘shape’ of the legislation fits the issues described above – it favours the Murdoch press and big business. That has meant, in turn, that the entirety of the Australian commerical media has really opted NOT to go too hard on Morrison, who has been a great friend. I mean Morrison’s government even gave $345000 to News Corp to build a spelling bee website, there was no tender, no competitive process.

On the other hand, the LNP’s attack on critical journalism has been unprecedented. And I use that term pointedly. Unprecedented.

Like the unprecedented use of the AFP to raid ABC and Newscorp journalists who were collecting evidence of war crimes in Afghanistan and writing about increased state surveillance powers respectively.

Like the unprecedented new laws

which mean Edward Snowden type leaks are punishable by up to 10 years of prison. No exemptions are made for anti-corruption leaks. If journalists report on anyone (including innocent bystanders) being killed accidentally or deliberately by security personnel, they will be jailed for up to 10 years.

The government has shown it means business on this by spending $2m trying to prosecute a whistleblower who leaked truthful information about corruption. It has also changed protest laws so that anyone who tries to object to the governments plans or policies will pretty much forfeit all their rights.

Like the unprecedented attack on the ABC, not just accusing it of not being on ‘Team Australia’ for making critical comments about war crimes, corruption and double dealing, but more importantly chronically defunding Australia’s most trusted source of news and information. The reason the ABC is so trusted is because it doesn’t replicate the cronyism and support that the Murdoch/commercial media does. For the same reason, the government thinks it is ‘left leaning’. No, it is the most objective and accurate source of news Australia has, and still the best source of honest journalists and journalistic training.

As I researched Australian’s media use during the pandemic, it became clear that Australians tend to turn to the ABC in times of crisis. Think of the pandemic, the bushfires, the floods. How reliant are we on the excellent journalism of the ABC at these times? And yet the Morrison and Abbott government defunded it to the tune of around $250 million dollars over the past 10 years. As a media scholar studying the proliferation of misinformation online, I can tell you that the quality journalism that the ABC offers has never been more crucial. So why defund it? Because it occasionally offers valid criticism of nepotism and corruption.

Finally, the Morrison government hasn’t just attacked critical voices in journalism, but also the training of critical thinkers (and journalists) in our universities. When considering how we could change university funding to encourage ‘job ready graduates’ the Morrison government ramped up the costs for training in journalism, critical thinking and anything else that challenged the ‘status quo’. For me, this is where the corruption becomes endemic – it is an attempt to ensure that not only does this government get away with it, but that future governments will too.

Don’t take my word on any of this, you can google any of these talking points and ‘do your own research’. At the same time check out and see how your local LNP member has voted on issues like a Federal ICAC and University funding just to check that I’m not smearing them. I’m not. This is what they are doing.

They are trying to destroy our democracy by making corruption endemic, and the media has been bought along for the ride.

Statements (about what is going on at UWA Social Sciences) that are not rumours

What follows are statements of fact that are (at least as far as I know) are neither rumours, nor possibly defamatory on the basis of the fact that they are true.

If you believe that something said here is not a fact, please point it out in the comments and I’ll do my best to address it. Similarly, if you’d like to make more statements of fact (not rumours) about the UWA Social Sciences change proposal, please feel free to comment below and I will add any verifiable statements to the list.

FACT: The recent ‘restructure’ of social sciences at UWA losing at least five of Australia’s leading academics in their field. Prof Loretta Baldassar, Prof Petra Tschakert and Prof Farida Fozdar were made redundant, whereas Ass Prof Jeannette Taylor and Ass Prof Joanna Elfving-Hwang chose to leave. They are all recognised as being excellent in their field, are ‘top cites’ and have each attracted large amounts of research funding to the university. They are all women who asked reasonable questions about Amanda Davies and her ‘vision’ of the social sciences. They are all now leaving UWA.

FACT: While there was no clear argument in the proposal document about how the changes proposed would achieve their goals, Amanda Davies stated to me that ‘increased efficiency and teaching load’ for the school would be achieved by increasing the teaching load of Media and Communication. That is, increasing efficiency and teaching load is to be achieved by making one discipline teach more than the others.

FACT: The implicit justification provided in the proposal for the preservation of ARCH, GEOG, POLS and LING research time was that they were established or emerging areas of research strength. There was no reason given for why COMM and ASIA were not considered areas of emerging research strength, although these disciplines were clearly marginalised by the new ‘school vision’ ‘in which students learn to employ the scientific approach to examine, theorise and develop solutions to complex social challenges’. The only justification for making these latter disciplines ‘teaching focused’ was ‘to ensure adequate teaching resources are available for the School’s programs and enable the programs to be delivered sustainably’.

FACT: The COMM major is one of the most efficient majors in the university. It is not just ‘sustainable’ with a Teaching and Research staff but highly profitable. So the ‘sustainability’ of programs does not refer to the COMM program but, rather, to the sustainability of other programs in the school.

FACT: Despite COMM being among the most understaffed disciplines in the university the school of Social Science has repeatedly appointed staff to other discipline areas over the past 10 years. Notably the disciplines of GEOG and ARCH have made appointments, despite being at the lower end of the Staff Student Ratio (SSR) table.

FACT: GEOG and ARCH have held the Head of School position for the past 5 years. According to the proposal, which the FWC acknowledged clearly used ‘data that had proved to be incorrect’ for persuasive purposes, the GEOG reported SSR stands at 17 and ARCH at 13 students per staff member respectively. COMM is at 27 students per staff member.

FACT: When COMM lost one of only two Level Ds in 2019, they received no replacement position. Despite this being an ongoing position. Despite having one of the highest SSRs in the school.

FACT: When I asked HR to provide me with a list of appointed positions by the last three substantive Heads of School, HR claimed that they did not have this information.

FACT: In a meeting with Amanda Davies and Christina Lee (HR) just prior to the release of the proposal in July last year, Amanda Davies stated to me that Media and Communication ‘should be a cash cow’.

FACT: During the time considered by the proposal for total research funding by discipline, Media and Comms had the most junior staff in the school (on average), had lost their Level D without replacement and had their research funds frozen by the university because of ‘COVID contingencies’ that were not transparently applied to all staff equally (meaning some staff members were able to use their research funds and others of us were not, with no justification, or transparency around the decision).

FACT: When I contacted the then SDVC to point out that the inefficiencies of the school of Social Science was the result of inequitable appointments and resourcing within the School, he responded that he ‘didn’t see it that way’, without making any argument about why my argument was incorrect.

What does the term ‘genuine consultation’ mean? FWC on UWA change proposal illustrates low standards of accountability in Australian universities

When Associate Professor Martin Forsey was presented with a proposal for change at his workplace that lacked a logical argument and contained flawed data he bought a case to the Fair Work Commission, arguing that such a flawed proposal could not be used as the basis of the ‘genuine consultation’ about structural reform required under his enterprise agreement.

However, in its judgement released last week, the Fair Work Commission found that the university was under no obligation to provide data, let alone accurate data, in order to justify its proposal, and that because staff had been given the opportunity to respond to the proposal, UWA had clearly fulfilled its remit to provide ‘genuine consultation’.

The term ‘genuine consultation’ was included in the EBA and the use of the term ‘genuine’ seems to imply that consultation will extend beyond a cursory or deceitful representation of the justification for change.

But in this case, the Fair Work Commission argued that ‘genuine consultation’ had taken place on the following grounds:

  • UWA provided a written proposal detailing the nature of the change, the underlying rationale for the change and the impact of the change on employees.

Fact check. The Social Science Proposal for Change did outline that the rationale for the change was to ‘improve budget sustainability, increase student load growth and improve student experience’, it also outlined that in order to achieve these goals, some majors would be eliminated, some turned into ‘teaching focused’ majors, and some rendered as ‘research flagships’. What was not in the proposal was any logical claim or connection between the nature of the changes made and the intended goals of the changes.

Logically the proposal read like ‘in order to have more bananas, we’re going to plant some apples’.

This was particularly concerning for staff as many of the changes seemed to undermine the ability for the school to achieve the stated goal – for instance – rewarding inefficient disciplines with ‘research flagship’ status while punishing efficient ones with high teaching loads actually discourages efficiency and student load growth.

In place of any rational justification for the changes, the proposal simply contained some carefully selected tables of data that selectively represented the achievements of disciplines in external research funding and Staff/Student Ratio (note – not in efficiency or student outcomes). It also selectively mentioned the decline in enrolments in Antrop and Sociology. All of these tables and use of data contained flaws and misrepresentations.

  • UWA provided the opportunity to meet and confer on the Proposal and any alternative proposals.

Fact check. The Head of School and a HR representative met with every discipline after the proposal was released. In these meetings my discipline was explicitly told that the only way to provide feedback on the proposal was via a school administered email address. When it was revealed that the Head of School would be vetting all feedback staff questioned the fairness of this process but were asked ‘to trust’ that management would consider all feedback. While the Head of School did offer to meet again to discuss the impact of the proposed changes, she made it clear that such meetings could not be used to discuss the proposal’s merits.

  • Genuine consideration given to matters raised

Fact check. The FWC uses the the inclusion of an indigenous anthropology major as evidence that ‘genuine consideration’ was given to matters raised. More than 390 pieces of feedback were received in response to the proposal. As a result of an FOI request we can now see that one of them suggested that indigenous anthropology might be necessary (presumably to secure more research funding from mining companies). The rest of the feedback questioned the logic behind the proposal, and most illustrated that the proposal would not achieve its rationale. This included a joint submission from all school disciplines that rejected the proposal based upon clear inequity and faulty logic.

The vast majority of feedback (over 380 carefully written and argued documents) was simply rejected, or went unconsidered, and at hastily called town hall meeting the Head of School announced the ‘revised’ proposal would be enstated with no further alteration beyond the inclusion of a possible anthropology major.

This was the first time staff had heard that all their efforts to point out the logical flaws in the proposal and come up with alternatives were being ignored and dismissed. So following the presentation the ‘town hall’ was opened up to questions.

As I had to use video conferencing to attend at such late notice (the meeting was announced less than 24 hours before it was held) I typed in my question that went to the heart of the faulty logic behind the proposal:

‘How does punishing the most efficient discipline in the school with the best student outcomes with higher teaching loads encourage other disciplines to achieve efficiency and improve student outcomes?’

The Head of School started to read this aloud, but then stopped and skipped to the next question without answering it, before becoming flustered, shutting down the meeting and attempting to leave. The question remained unanswered and the ‘consultation’ was over. So I sent an email to SDVC Biggs who simply responded that ‘he didn’t see it that way’ without any argument, logic or rejoinder. I then sent an email to the VC  asking the same question and am yet to receive a response. I emailed the VC again about a month ago, restating my question – and again – I’m still yet to receive a response.

And this is supposed to be ‘genuine consultation’?

This FWC judgement sidestepped the complaint that there was no rationale provided in the proposal aside from the faulty data. Feedback on the proposal was collated only by the proposal’s author and the vast majority of it, including a joint submission from all school staff, was never responded to, or addressed. Of 391 pieces of feedback to the proposal, almost all of which was entirely critical of the lack of clear and justifiable rationale behind the changes, one largely cosmetic change was taken on board and used by the university and the FWC as evidence that the consultation was ‘genuine’.

The corruption and cronyism at UWA goes way beyond this case but the fact that the management of a PUBLIC university is hiding behind such low levels of legitimacy and accountability to me suggests that the university is losing its integrity and will soon be consigned to become the ethics-free corporate training college that the Morrison government most desperately wants it to be.

Discussion of our responses to the proposal have been redacted. This is what they should have said.

This is just a rant about the recent proposal

The university’s investment in Media and Communication has always been weak, and the staff in that discipline have been asked to carry excess teaching loads to support two offshore programs as well as their UG and PG programs – which are among the most successful and efficient in the university despite this lack of investment. The proposal for change does not recognise and reward this success but punishes it. And that makes no sense whatsoever, which is why I suspect that sections of this response document that deal with Media and Communication are redacted.

Despite being the most understaffed and junior discipline in the school (at around 35 SSR and a staffing profile composed mostly of Level Bs at the time of this proposal) Media and Communication staff have also taught into non-synchronous offerings in Singapore and Hong Kong since the discipline was established (from 2006-2015 and 2006-present respectively). This has meant that discipline staff have been relied upon to deliver an excessive amount of teaching. In my own case I delivered 36 extra units offshore on top of an always overloaded teaching load at Crawley. Other staff would have delivered more than this. As well as the second largest UG major in the School, our 5 or 6 staff also deliver the large and profitable PG Masters in Strategic Communication.

As a result of this ‘teaching intensive’ workload, defined by the university, Media and Communication staff have ‘relatively underperformed’ in terms of attracting external research funding. Of course, low research performance has previously been used as an excuse to deliver these staff higher teaching loads, prevent career advancement and, in the case of one staff member who has been serving the discipline with distinction since 2009, as a justification for no permanent contract. These conditions have created a ‘vicious cycle’ undermining research in the discipline group.

As a further result of being so short staffed there is a heavy requirement for ‘service’ within the discipline – personally I’ve spent 6 of my 11 years as Level B in discipline chair/Major Coordinator roles, which is a significant amount of leadership of the second largest major in the school for a Level B. Beyond that, being a small discipline with a lot of students means that things like supervision, dissertation marking, marketing and promotion, event attendance and general pastoral care fall to a very small selection of people. Delivering a major to 200 EFTSLs with 5 or 6 staff presents major challenges to the ability for staff to concentrate on their grant applications. Every hand is needed all the time and there is no flexibility to arrange teaching schedules to block out some research time as there simply aren’t the staff to take up the slack. But we have soldiered on for our students.

In response to this issue the discipline has submitted repeated business cases to the university for extra staff. These have always been rejected on the basis of the school’s SSR being too low. It has been galling, in this respect, to see continual appointments made in other, less understaffed disciplines. But we have soldiered on for the sake of the school and our colleagues.

Let’s be clear about this – the Media and Communication staff have always produced a significant profit for UWA. We have always carried the heaviest teaching loads in the school, we have always delivered courses in the most efficient structure (8 unit majors) and we have been successful at everything we’ve been asked to do. We are NOT the source of the budget deficit and we continually have the best student outcomes in the state, if not Australia.

And as the discipline within the school with the most junior staff and the highest staff/student ratio, we lost a Level D appointment at the end of 2019. The university’s refusal to backfill this position in the most understaffed discipline in the school is emblematic of the lack of investment in our discipline. This level D was the closest thing we ever had to a ‘research appointment’ and of course, in a discipline defined by the need for more staff, the loss of that position definitively impacted our ‘externally funded research’ figure used in the proposal. The fact that this refusal to fund us was then used to compile evidence that Media and Communication wasn’t performing in externally funded research exemplifies the fact that university leadership had already decided to defund our research by early 2020. And yet I’m sure consultation on the proposal was ‘genuine’.

This decision flies in the face of the fact that despite these structural impediments, we have a discipline made up of highly respected and productive researchers. In my own case I have supervised 8 PhDs to completion, I have a H index of 7, and I am a CI on more than $400,000 of grants. I have four articles published this year, with another 2 due out before Christmas and another 2 currently under review. I lead a team of international researchers on game studies and we have been extremely close to securing those ‘large external funds’, our project will be successful in getting these funds – just maybe not at UWA Social Sciences. My performance outstrips most other Level B academics in the school and has been achieved in a situation of structural disadvantage and immense service load – and yet I am to lose my teaching/research balance without any substantive justification. My research covers issues such as fake news, democracy, online radicalisation and COVID communication, which apparently lies beyond the purview of our school’s ‘vision’.

The university has treated Media and Communication as a cash cow and refused to fund our area in a way appropriate to the growth of our discipline and the requirements of our students. University management is now using their own failure to manage effectively as a justification for undermining the future of the Media and Communication discipline. This doesn’t just fail to acknowledge and reward our good faith and excellent performance, it also enshrines a culture of punishing efficiency and commitment to students.

Do we care about what we share? A proposal for dealing with the proliferation of false information by creating a public platform

Excited to see my latest article come out: ‘Do we care about what we share? A proposal for dealing with the proliferation of false information by creating a public platform’ (publicly available here:…/gjlhd/article/view/1214)
This is a huge topic for me that returns both to the subject of my PhD (how can democracy survive and flourish in the digital age?) and what I think is the most pressing and fundamental issue of our times: How can we generate more transparency and accountability around decision making, and how can we start to celebrate positive contributions to the public good as a marker of identity and public esteem?
Answer: We could develop a ‘public platform’ under the auspices of public broadcasting legislation, to provide a place for ‘truth-telling’ and the establishment of (and dispute over) shared truths.
This article contains my basic description of how we might use digital technology to do this based on insights from democratic theory. The proposal ends up looking like a wikileaks mixed with reddit, mixed with facebook, with contributions and identities judged by their ability to make a positive public contribution over time.
As a piece of scholarship it is imperfect but boy is it important, as unless we develop something like this ‘public platform’ for debating public issues and establishing public truths, the powers that govern us will continue to use evasion and misinformation to set people against each other, while they make decisions that suit their own interests, largely free of scrutiny.
The article was inspired by Facebook’s banning of Australian news services during a pandemic and bushfire season and my own work on misinformation around the COVID vaccines. It became clear to me that we can’t fight misinformation without first determining how we arrive at ‘truth’ in a way that is acceptable to everyone. The role that existing social networks (and governments, and media networks) currently play in determining truth is clearly problematic. Our public broadcasting system is already mandated to (independently) inform and educate and it does a valiant job (and is the most trustworthy source of public information in Australia); but the broadcasting system needs to move into the era of many-to-many communication – and this is how it could do that.
The article doesn’t acknowledge a lot of work already done around these areas by people such as Tim Van Gelder, who has long been interested in these issues alongside me, and side steps a host of other academic objections to make this basic point:
Corporate governance structures abuse public naivete and reward themselves with inequity. The public needs to fight back with demands of transparency and accountability. And for the first time in history we do have the technological capacity to facilitate this in a way that can re-engage us with caring about the things we share.

Public interest research is what people won’t pay you for, everything else is advertising.

I’m thrilled to have had Sarah Ison cover how the proposed changes to UWA’s Social Science program are going to impact my public interest research. However, the article also over-represented some blatant mis-direction from a ‘UWA spokeswoman’ that I had rebutted with Sarah.

I suspect that West Australian editors have decided to protect the interests of UWA (a major advertiser in that paper) and cut much of the story. So, I’m taking to the interwebs, where people can – at least for the moment – speak freely, to rebut the empty claim that research in areas such as ‘health, social care, the environment and media and communications – would “continue to be developed and supported through nationally competitive resaerch grants and industry funding”‘.

That statement is misguided and specious. The proposal suggests that our research and teaching contracts will be replaced with teaching focus. There is no actual statement in the proposal about supporting existing or future research projects for teaching focused academics; even in the event of successfully gaining nationally competitive research grants and industry funding. So what they are saying here isn’t even clearly ‘true’ or part of the proposed change. The only statement in the proposal is that we ‘will continue to have access to research time in line with workload allocation for activities, including, where relevant, for the supervision of HDR students’. That is an incredibly vague statement that does not even match what they have said above. It means I ‘might’ be given 5 hours a week to supervise the research of my 6 PhD students, it certainly does not spell out that if I won a grant I’d be able to buy out of teaching.  If that were the case, they might have mentioned it in the proposal (they didn’t).

But even beyond that, what they are doing is making grant success impossible for teaching ‘focused’ academics, particularly in Media and Communications which, along with Asian Studies are the ONLY disciplines to lose all research positions. I’ll explain why:

Gaining nationally competitive research grants and industry funding depends heavily on a criteria called ‘research environment’ – meaning ‘is your research taking place in an environment that actively supports and adds value to your research’. If the university does not foster research in our area we will forever be structurally disadvantaged in that category and unlikely to succeed in those grants.

Also note that when writing these grants, budgeting for teaching relief is shunned and requires ‘significant justification’ (see – precisely because the review panel don’t expect teaching focused academics to be in a strong enough research environment to get these grants. Being ‘teaching focused’ is a red flag that you are not in a strong research environment.

Simply writing up a nationally competitive research grant generally takes more than 100 hours of work just to do the writing (recommended time: at least 6 weeks) – and then only around 15-20% of grants are ever successful. Grant success is a product of time investment in the writing plus a wealth of work on previously published research to prove your research strength (which is most commonly understood in the form of ‘previous grant success’). I will need to spend my entire annual leave writing an application that is almost bound to fail because of the impoverished research environment the university is creating for us as a ‘teaching focused discipline’.

So they are saying ‘here, sign a contract that states you will no longer research, and will be given a massive teaching load that literally takes up every hour of your working week but trust us that if you manage to somehow do the impossible and find the time to write a grant, and then despite the structural disadvantage of your research environment  you make it through to the 15% of successful grants and actually secure grant funding we MIGHT let you buy out of some of your teaching duties’. (but of course we would discourage you from asking for teaching relief in your grant if you want it to be successful).

I am actually on more than $400,000 of grants for the Coronavax projects at the moment – but none of that budget is allocated to buy me out of teaching. The money goes to software, administrative support, advertising and simply to ‘the university’. When we last requested that the next grant buy me out of some of my teaching for next semester the Head of School responded that the School couldn’t afford to lose my teaching duties (as it is important for student experience). So how they expect us to ‘trust them’ that in the future it will somehow be different (after I’ve signed a contract that commits me to just be a teacher) is again, a leap of faith that I would have to be stupid to make. This statement elicited here in this story is the most concrete suggestion I’ve seen that there might be some way to protect my research time but even then, they are attempting a whitewash to suggest what they are proposing is plausible or a ‘solution’.

Finally, there is also the argument that grant research IS NOT the only form of valuable research and not the only research that ought to take place at a publicly funded univerity. The process of deciding what research gets grants is really problematic and presents huge barriers to first time applicants, or people with novel or challenging research projects. It has also been highly politicised – with Simon Birmingham and Dan Tehan interfering with the process by blocking successful humanities grants they didn’t like. While it might seem fair to block research funding for ‘mens fashion in the 19th Century’, consider that this is just the interference the government is happy to brag about because doing so wins them votes. If they are happy to brag about this interference, they are also clearly willing to interfere on more sensitive research topics.

So NO, I don’t think the Morisson government will support grants into issues such as violent misogyny, political corruption or the bungled vaccine role out (all projects I’m currently working on). While Industry partnerships can be promising, these are not a case of ‘public interest research’ but rather university subsidising research industry would or should otherwise pay for. Industry partnerships can produce really efficient and important research. HOWEVER, it should not be the case that research in a G08 university should only happen in areas that ‘industry’ wants it too. Research into the huge problems our society faces will simpy never take place under that model and the question is, if it doesn’t take place in a privileged and advantaged university such as UWA – where will it take place?

There is an old saying about journalism ‘news is what someone doesn’t want you to print, everything else is advertising’. The same can be said for research. While industry and government can (and should) fund much worthy and critical research, there is by definition a critical deficit in such research. Quite frankly, they don’t fund research that might make them look bad, they fund research that bolsters their own positions and moves them toward their own goals. (See for instance, this announcement about $1.3M being awarded to UWA for defense industry research).

What is missing in this model is research that specifically helps the the disadvantaged and the marginalised, that protects the interests of the broad public that shares the experience of being led to a bleak future by an political elite in the pocket of big business. Research that criticises mistakes made by government and industry and points us to a better world for everybody. Research that encourages critical and challenging thinking as a worthy end in and of itself. It is gone under this model of the university.

Public value research is what industry and government doesn’t want to fund, everything else is advertising.

A proposal for a wealthier, friendlier, more secure Australia,

The Morrison government has recently made two announcements about extra funding for defence to the tune of $270 billion dollars, and an increase of numbers of students in the tertiary education sector for no extra funding (a move which essentially amounts to less funding per student across the board in tertiary education).

In what follows I’d like to address the value proposition implied in those two decisions, presenting the argument that the government gets far more ‘bang for its buck’ from education than from military spending. I’d also like to present an alternative proposal that would achieve the goals of making Australia more secure, resilient and wealthy than the government’s current plan.

The alternative is this: we would have a more secure Australia if we sunk $270 billion dollars into funding community gardens than we will if we buy new planes, missiles and submarines. It also makes a lot more sense, and this post explains why.

The case for education

Just to be clear in his recent announcement education minister Dan Tehan spelled out that the Australian Government already subsidises universities to the tune of $18 billion dollars a year. TAFEs and other tertiary education entities appear to receive the remaining $20 billion. That’s no small change but the amount the government spends on education as a whole (including schools, and early learning) is still less than defence.

Now while some people go on endlessly about how education is always the best investment, I’m more than aware that such wishy washy arguments aren’t likely to sway Scott Morrison, who likes to base policy on facts . (that is, unless these facts suggest that his party used sports funding to pork barrel the last election or that coal use leads to climate change, which contributes to increased bush fires).

But what I think does make a compelling argument for university education is that the $18 billion dollar investment generates around $37 billion of income for the Australian economy. Critics point out that only about $15 billion of that is direct income for universities in the shape of international student fees – the rest comes from the contribution international students make to the economy. However, I think it is fair to argue that if it wasn’t for Australia’s world leading university sector (Australia has 7 universities in the top 100 in the world, with more than China (6) and only fewer than the US and UK – an impressive result for a small country), these students would not be in Australia spending their money.

While COVID has clearly undermined the income universities receive from international students, the government could, with a little strategising around quarantine, use Australia’s relative COVID-free status to promote Australian universities globally and turn this into a massive windfall for our economy and our society. How many international students would jump at the chance to move to Australia to study considering we are the only country with world class universities that remains COVID free (well us and the University of Auckland)? This could also encourage immigration of the best and brightest from overseas, helping address Australia’s population decline in the best possible way.

But that’s not what they’re doing, choosing instead to defund the industry at its time of greatest need. To paraphrase Rove:

Wtf GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

The case for military spending

Let me just say at the outset that I have massive respect for the people who serve in this country’s armed forces. As I’ve commented on before, I’m the first male of my direct ancestors for four generations that hasn’t served in the Army. I had great grandfathers on both sides of my family in WW1, both of my grandfathers served in WW2, with my mother’s father actually being shot in Borneo. My father did national service during Vietnam; my uncles also both served, with one spending his entire career in the Army. I appreciate the courage and the sacrifice they made – along with every other person who has dedicated themselves to defence.

That does not mean, however, that defence is above or beyond critique, and that we shouldn’t carefully consider how we spend our money in that capacity. We don’t honour our heroes by endorsing militarism, we honour them by creating a world that is good enough to justify their sacrifice.

And with that in mind, I don’t think that the Morrison government’s decision to spend $270 billion dollars over the next decade on new military equipment makes any sense. It doesn’t make sense financially, it doesn’t make sense militarily and it also doesn’t make sense in terms of the strategic goals of Australian people.

Morrison justified the expense by pointing out that the post COVID world was likely to be more mean spiritied, less compassionate and more ruthless. Of course, with people like him in charge, maybe that is the case. But I’d like some explanation as to why, after humanity has been so united as a species in working together to beat this virus, why does he think we will suddenly devolve into trying to kill each other? More to the point, isn’t avoiding conflict, not creating conflict, one of the key skills of leadership? With a massive failure of leadership and imagination, Scott Morrison has fallen back upon the idea that more and bigger guns are what will give Australia security.

Q: Do you know what would give Australia more security than more and bigger guns?

(the answer I want is not ‘anything’, but that is also correct)

A: One of the great stories to come out of COVID is the resurgence in urban farming and communities sharing food. This is something that has happened worldwide and in many senses replicates the emergence of ‘victory gardens’, planted by Aussie communities during the first and second world war, to ensure food security. What a wonderful idea – apparently beyond Scott Morrison – to imagine that a challenge could actually make a community stronger.

Because when you think about armed conflict in the past 50 years, no invading army has been able to subdue and control a country which has a population that resists occupation. Think about Afghanistan (both US and Russian versions), Vietnam (French and US versions), Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands and Iraq. In all of these cases, a far more ‘advanced’ and EXPENSIVE armed force was unable to successfully exercise control over a population that was motivated to resist the aggression.

Conversely the only example I can think of where an armed invasion ended with something like success would be the Russian incursion into Crimea, which is both far from over and is also a situation where a near majority of people in the region (apparently) welcomed the intervention (as was the case in places such as Austria and Vichy France in WW2). So the determining factor in successful defence over the past 50 years seems to be the desire within the invaded population to resist the invading force.

Why then, when history clearly shows this, do we remain so steadfastly focused on buying more and ‘better’ military technology (when having more and better military technology has not led to military success for the US, French, Russians etc)? Funding community gardening programs would do more to increase community unity and resilience in the face of an external military threat. And at much smaller cost.

And when I say much smaller cost, I mean much, much, much smaller. Leaving more tax payers’ money for community inclusion initiatives, combatting domestic violence, toxic online culture and for funding more innovation and community resilience through education.

At this point I just want to point out that I’m not a hippy, I am fascinated by military aircraft and military power in general. There’s something about its potency that is intoxicating. I get it. I made a 1/32 scale model of an F4-J Phantom II during COVID because I think jets look cool. When I was a kid, I wanted to design military aircraft.

looks pretty cool huh?

It’s just that I’ve reaslised that something looking cool, or feeling powerful, shouldn’t determine policy, or truth (sorry Nietzsche).

I know that as an adult that has to look after kids.

But the entire ‘defence’ and international relations sector continues to carry on as though the ultimate purpose of the national economy is to have the best toys. Not education. Not health. Not community prosperity. Not security understood assafety from violence and repression. Not managing global warming and the ecological disasters its bringing.

Just having the coolest new technology that can be used to kill people more quickly, from further away.

So I could talk about the cost of the new attack class submarines (12 at $80 billion dollars), which are replacing the 6 collins class submarines (6 at $5 billion in the 1990s) that never fired a shot in anger. Or I could talk about the cost of invading Iraq (over $5 billion). But because I like jets let’s look at Australia’s procurement of the F-35 – an fighter/attack aircraft (72 aircraft at $9 billion or only $126 million per plane).

For $126 million dollars per plane, the Australian government has bought a plane that can’t fly above the speed of sound without losing its stealth paint coating. According to reports, it has numerous issues with avionics and the cannon can’t shoot straight. In fact the plane still has more than 150 registered design flaws and the patch up job has become so bad that Lockheed Martin have decided just to reclassify ‘deadly’ flaws as less severe. That may be why they keep crashing. And why it is already 10 years behind schedule.

Despite this, the F35 has had it’s share of backers and even now, journalists who will spruik the plane are provided with fully funded ‘fact finding’ trips to various air shows and factories where they can get ‘the facts’. Take this rallying cry about the plane published in Forbes, and note that the author is a heavy hitter in the defence industries and military, and that Lockheed Martin paid for him to gather information on the piece he wrote.

Tom Scott isn't a huge fan of journalism - GIF - Imgur

The lobbying power of the defence industry is phenomenal, hardly surprising when you look at the billions poured into the industry. The industry also enjoys the stewardship of ex-ministers such as former Defence Industry minister Christopher Pyne, who left his role as defence industry minister in the Morrison government to join Saber Aeronatics, a company that have been awarded $2.7 million in government defence contracts.

Think of the political influence that hundreds of billions of dollars buys.

And again, for all that spending, we are not necessarily any safer for having a fleet of F-35s. Even our own Defence chiefs have suggested that the aircraft will not serve our needs (whatever they are) when it arrives.

And dear reader, I don’t know what work you do – but I know in my industry if I was so ineffective at my job that I was constantly over budget, late on deadlines and then not coming through with the goods, I’d be out of work and destitute. Why is the defence industry like the rich kid who can’t be relied on to do anything but somehow still gets promoted because his dad is a billionaire (and either owns the company, or owns the guy who does)?

AFI #77 – All the President's Men | The Confusing Middle

So then I think of Pyne, Morrison and Dan Tehan and how they think they can make decisions like taking money from universities and using that to buy more over-priced and ineffective jets from the trillion dollar international arms industry. And I realise that if another country was to come invading the state they have created, I’m not sure I would be that upset about that. I can’t get passionate about defending the version of Australia they are creating. Because they aren’t creating it for us, they are creating it for the trillion dollar international arms industry.

If they were spending $270 billion dollars on community gardening initiatives, I would fight who ever came here until they were thrown back into the sea. I’d have a sense of community, access to food, strong local organisations and local knowledge – and most importantly an Australia I could believe in.

But in Scott Morrison we have a PM who has not just defunded education while boosting military spending. He has also sanctioned the gagging of journalists, he has supported the collection of metadata to spy on his own citizens, he has used taxpayers dollars to illegally secure an election win, he has defunded our most trusted source of news during a fake news crisis and he has continued to celebrate burning coal while his nation burns to the ground, and gone on holiday while it does so.

Tell me this: Who is going to invade Australia, and why would they be worse than Scott Morrison’s government?

If we truly lived in a democracy we would get rid of him.

Spleen venting about the proposed changes to tertiary education funding (and defence spending).

The Australian minister for education Dan Tehan’s recent proposed changes to tertiary funding are, quite frankly, the stupidist policy move that Australia has made since it’s overenthusiastic approach to invading Iraq in 2003.

I typically live and let live in terms of policy but when something this stupid is actually suggested, I like to make a point of making as public statement about it as possible, so that history recognises that I was not stupid enough to believe in these things. I’ve been having it out with my local MP and I will also take this up with various senators as the reform bill moves through parliament.

The reason I oppose the reforms so strongly is not simply because I disagree with them – I do – but I also disagree with a lot of what the government is doing and yet let them get on with things.

The reason I oppose this bill is because it is stupid, it makes no sense, it is unjust and even if it overcame these impediments to achieve its goals (which it won’t) that would still only produce something worse. (Does that sound a little bit like John Howard’s prompting for the US to invade Iraq)?

Just for context, the new legislation will open an extra 38000 places for university students across Australia, with no extra funding provided for those places. So the take away here is that the tertiary education sector is getting less money per student than before.

That’s in the context of the sector currently suffering from a profound COVID-induced crisis. Tehan’s announcement has already seen major lay offs, such as UNSW’s recent cut of almost 500 jobs. For some reason (the Morrison government has given none), employees in the sector were not allowed job keeper or job seeker during the COVID crisis, singled out as pretty much the only industry that did not.

And let’s be clear, while Tehan and Morrison have failed to find any money to save those jobs, they have earmarked $270 billion MORE dollars for defense over the next 10 years. So they do have money for some things (killing, hostility, hatred, the ex-minister for defense industry’s military aircraft company), but not others (education, progress, critical thinking, Australia’s third biggest export industry).

Abandoning the world leading Australian tertiary sector now, at it’s time of greatest historical need and peculiar COVID inspired weakness is – in all ways – a stupid policy.

Wondering why digital everything isn’t the answer?

I really do hope that this COVID-19 event does make us rethink everything, and part of that has got to be a reconsideration of what we can and cannot do digitally.

Generally, I’d say we could do a lot more digitally, and while there are reasonable questions about whether digital activity is environmentally clean, there are clear advantages when it comes to things like saving on travelling time and energy for meetings and conferences.

I am currently attending a digital conference for the first time, and I have to say the flying time and hotel costs are brilliant. However there are some things that we cannot yet do digitally, and the happenstance interactions and embodied awareness experiences are severely missing from the digital experience.

This paper covers some of the ways in which digital experience fails to recapture lived experience, somewhat inevitably. I think its time has certainly come, as an argument, and i guess I’m just saying that if we really want to do something like live music, or a conference, well as a digital experience, we need to make sure that we are addressing some of the aspects of cult value, iteration, and interaction that digital tech often leaves behind.

Don’t get me wrong, I think doing things digitally offers up huge opportunities but we ought not neglect our humanity, our connections and our need for true public engagement and recognition in the process.