catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Keating the aesthete-luddite

with 52 comments

I used to have a lot of time for Paul Keating. Architect of competition policy during his Prime Ministership, deregulator extraordinaire (except in the labour market but even there he kicked off the process), Australia’s first true economic rationalist Treasurer – what’s there not to like about the guy?

But I think my admiration for the ex-PM is over. I’m getting increasingly annoyed by his recent public comments. In a week when the nation was rocked by a speech made by Australia’s worst advertisment for multiculturalism, a fellow who was able to jump the immigration queue because of Keating, what does he go on about? He goes on about how ugly Sydney is, specifically ‘modernist architecture’. Tell me this doesn’t sound like the rantings of lifelong dole bludger and Luddite Prince Charles:

    FORMER prime minister Paul Keating has called for developers to be banned from making political donations, in a direct attack on the power wielded by firms he accused of “desensitising the built environment”.
    In a speech at the Local Government Association of NSW conference at Leura, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Mr Keating tore into modernist architecture that, he said, saw people crammed into “egg boxes”.
    Mr Keating also attacked modern architects, accusing them of “knowing nothing about colour”, and outdoor advertising firms, “a creeping cancer”.
    “Knocking these guys back should be a national sport. Kicking them in the bum should be a national sport,” he said.
    Mr Keating urged his audience of local government representatives to insist on height restrictions, that certain building materials be used for aesthetic reasons and that development be kept away from beachfronts.

There was some other report where Keating was quoted as going on about how Sydney was starting to resemble Tokyo and I was thinking ‘And what exactly is wrong with that?’

Ultimately this is all a matter of taste. I happen to like my egg-box and I like spare, minimalist architecture. Anyone who’s ever been inside my spartan, utilitarian pad could probably guess this about me.

There are some things I can agree with Keating about insofar as his critique extends to a poorly developed mass transit system (I say mass transit rather than public transport because I see no reason why with rational pricing of the transport network, trains and trams couldn’t be more commercially viable and I’m happy to pay for them subsidy-free). But the import of his various suggestions seem retrograde for the desirable objective of moving towards more environmentally and economically rational use of space. I’m all for Sydney being high density and high all the way, packed and bustling with 24 hour shopping and commerce. And while Keating goes on about bureaucratic power being ‘centralised’ in urban planning, he’s complaining about it being centralised and not producing the results he wants. He wants more developments knocked back for aesthetic reasons by other central planners.

I admit to being a total dilettante in this business, but so is Keating, I suspect. So, over to the commenters …


Written by Admin

November 5, 2006 at 6:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

52 Responses

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  1. I have noticed in the past few weeks that you’re moving towards the right. Not that there’s anything wrong with that …

    Sinclair Davidson

    November 5, 2006 at 6:34 pm

  2. Seems more to me like Keating’s just getting a bit grumpier and starting to mouth off about things that irritate him – bit like a lot of us bloggers really, except people pay a bit more attention to what he says (or at least the media does) because of the ‘ex-PM’ thing (which is probably fair enough really).

    Maybe he should be encouraged to start his own blog so he could really let fly

    Andrew Bartlett

    November 5, 2006 at 6:50 pm

  3. except that unlike chucky Keating actually understands the topic.

    When it all comes down to it it is which aesthetics do you prefer.

    On this I’m with Keating.

    North Sydney should be bombed out of existence and rebuilt.

    Where was that mythical Hussein when you needed him

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 5, 2006 at 7:00 pm

  4. Andrew, you’re being too nice. Keating has always been grumpy. Made some good decisions as Treasurer – but done nothing since then.

    Don’t know if North Sydney should be bombed, but all local government should be bombed.

    Sinclair Davidson

    November 5, 2006 at 7:04 pm

  5. A Keating blog would be a very good thing.

    Mark Bahnisch

    November 5, 2006 at 7:21 pm

  6. The height restriction and statutory urban aesthetics are simply examples of Keating’s well-known Second Empire fetish, as applied to the built environment of his home town. With city planning, however, it’s a fine line between the power-preoccupied gigantism of Speer’s Germania and the elegance-preoccupied functionalism of Baron Haussmann’s new Paris.

    A couple of months ago, he said the Opera House was the greatest building of the twentieth century. He should recollect that knocking people like Utzon back and kicking THEM in the bum used to be a “national sport” and it took decades for people to realise they were wrong.

    I think Keating is right if he’s saying Sydney is in danger of swinging too far towards an aesthetic of private power, at the expense of an aesthetic of communal elegance. (Bearing in mind that Sydney has always been more developmentally organic than orchestrated). That said, his advocacy is more redolent of the clock-collector’s snobbery than it is of someone likely to effect change and – to that extent – Jason’s comparison with vocal hobbyist Prince Charles is not far off the mark.


    November 5, 2006 at 8:11 pm

  7. Yes of course. We finally found out Charles preferred the mock crap that went up after the London bombings that was made to look like was there before.. The tasteless prince only liked reproductions.

    Keating only likes Victorian mansions. Of course developers didn’t build them at the time. Yeah right. Of course they were.

    He needs to pick a copy of architectural Digest and see what modern architecture is all about. New is fantastic and makes you want to live forever.

    Old is ok in its place, but I have always thought we don’t need heritage restrictions primarily because the market does a good job of deciding what’s worth while keeping anyway. But more than that why not have the ” heritage” of the new. Why not aspire to see new forms being created and letting the cities change and reform themselves. Not everything is going to look great, which is not different to old architecture.

    I love new architecture. It’s wonderful and inspiring.

    Here’s a deal. Forego stamp duty for striking designs that are voted on by a panel of expert designers.

    You may even have this God of form design for us.

    click on current projects and go to 80 south street


    November 5, 2006 at 9:04 pm

  8. 29 Mill a pop – I’ll take two.


    November 5, 2006 at 9:21 pm

  9. CL
    You think Keating would that or is it too modern for him.


    November 5, 2006 at 9:29 pm

  10. JC
    Stop this! According to Clive Hamilton you’re adding to the sum of unhappiness by exposing us to all these things we can’t afford to buy. Then we’ll work ourselves to death to try and get them anyhow.

    Jason Soon

    November 5, 2006 at 9:31 pm

  11. Interesting question, JC. Not sure.


    November 5, 2006 at 9:32 pm

  12. I kind of imagine Keating’s tastes as tending towards the grand and ornate and frilly. That’s sort of how I think of French clocks and his taste in Romantic music.

    Jason Soon

    November 5, 2006 at 9:37 pm

  13. I always got the impression that Keating was one of those people who was pretty sure he had things figured. This attitude came out very strongly in his view of ‘the Yarts’, and helps to explain all the money sloshing around to further government patronage (read ‘rent seeking’) while he was PM.

    I think it’d be pretty difficult to explain to him why some artforms are legitimate and/or beautiful once he’d formed his view. You’d probably get called something vulgar.


    November 5, 2006 at 9:57 pm

  14. What gets me SL is the liking for those old clocks. Most are just tacky and gaudy looking objects.

    What’s interesting is that lots of antique stores are going broke as people are rushing to the new. There was a time when new design was simply uninspiring by the in last 20 years we have seen a big change as new designs have improved.

    Keating is onto something though. These days developers biggest risk and cost is having to meet shockingly difficult and obtuse buliding codes. In addition they are kept waiting for approval for up to 2 years at times.

    Add the high cost of stamp duty, carry cost and all the juggling the architects have to do to meet zoning code and it may not leave a lot of room for design creativity.

    If costs were lowered, i would bet people would take a lot more interest in design.


    November 5, 2006 at 11:20 pm

  15. I do not care about what Keatings likes or dislikes. It is as sensible to listen to him on this as to listen to political views of a prominent footballer. But when he suggests policy solutions (donations etc), I get annoyed. Unless it was a joke and I am being a bore?…


    November 6, 2006 at 12:39 am

  16. A few comments re Keating as there appears to be a fair bit of ignorance.
    firstly the french clocks were bought by Keating because of arbitrage.
    He bought them cheap somewhere and then sold them at a fat better price somewhere else.
    I know Treasury officials were amazed at his extensive knowledge of the market.

    He is not or was not much of a reader. He preferred to hear the expert and then ask probing questions. That way he gained his knowledge of the topic.
    This is one of the reasons why Treasury took him to their heart.

    He has done this on this topic which is why he was asked to give the talk.
    He gave a talk on a similar topic at the ANU just after his first challenge to Hawke.
    I know Kohl’s minister on this topic was very impressed with Keating on one of his trips there.

    So he is not like you at all Jase but I wouldn’t mind betting you would love to sit next to him at a diner party even if he has a great knowledge of Hayek

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 8:53 am

  17. Elizabeth Farrelly’s articles in the SMH on Wednesday and Saturday both knock Keating into a cocked hat and explain why poor planning and building is so much more than an idle matter of aesthetics.

    The cities Keating admires (Paris, Prague) are much more densely populated than even the most densely populated parts of Australian cities – yet he whinges about urban consolidation.

    There is no legal framework that would effectively ban donations from developers to political parties, and if there was the political machine that made the Keating Government possible (and I include the period 1983-91 when he ran the government’s policy agenda) would find a way around it.

    Keating’s credentials as an advocate of sensible planning have died with that redevelopment at Millers Point. It’s banal and nowhere near public transport. Next time he dares to wade into any debate of this type, point to this abomination and make him shut up. It was meant to come up with a design on par with the Opera House.

    Speaking of which, Utzon only ever did the high-level esign – it was Australian architects and engineers who made it work, long after Utzon had flounced off and the building unions had gored successive Labor State Governmernt time and again. Keating and his camp followers always seem to forget that.

    I see no reason why with rational pricing of the transport network, trains and trams couldn’t be more commercially viable and I’m happy to pay for them subsidy-free

    Consider how much the infrastructure of public transport (it’s funded by the public sector and it’s open to the general public, hence “public transport”) infrastructure has been allowed to run down, and the cost of investment needed to bring it up to today’s needs rather than any future projections. Then consider the irony that those who are most prepared to pay full-price for public transport are those least likely to use it.

    Public transport makes it possible to have low-wage people working in expensive cities. The alternative to publicly-subsidised mass transit is increased wages, private transport systems that would cost more to set up than to refurbish current systems, or increased public housing for those who ought not require it. The more you look at it in context, the economic Augean stables that is public transport is starting to look pretty damn rational (if no less of a shambles for that).

    Andrew Elder

    November 6, 2006 at 8:54 am

  18. Andrew,

    Unfortunately public transport is usually a subsidy to the higher income types who work in the cities.

    The blue collar set usually work in the suburbs where public transport isn’t so hot.
    David Hensher now at Sydney Uni has written extensively on this.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 9:43 am

  19. Homer

    You do say silly things don’t you. In Homerstan a secretary is s rich person.


    November 6, 2006 at 9:48 am

  20. JC,

    Can you translate that into English please

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 9:51 am

  21. “Unfortunately public transport is usually a subsidy to the higher income types who work in the cities.”

    Most rich people drive to the office in Australian cities, Homer. Subsidies are more important to low income earners that they are to higher. Take a look round the train next time during peak hour. I bet you won’t be seeing the CEO of Maquarie bank in there.

    A subisidy of a couple of 5 dollars a week say per train trip is more important low income eraners, Homer. It stands to reason.


    November 6, 2006 at 10:01 am

  22. JC,

    Sydney is the financial capital of Australia and hence has much higher wages than other cities.

    They work in the city with other high income types.

    It may come as a surprise to you but there is only so much parking available.

    As I have said David Hensher has written about this for ages.
    I also did some consulting work with Cityrail which confirmed this as well.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 10:14 am

  23. what Homer says is correct. we’re not talking CEOs taking the train but consultants, economists, normal bankers, etc

    Jason Soon

    November 6, 2006 at 10:15 am

  24. JC’s right in general terms. It’s nice that you’ve found an academic who agrees with you BBEP, but while it’s true that public transport is inadequate in and around communities where low-income earners live, in terms of public transport from the suburbs to the major urban centres is used by employed people in low-to-middle ranking jobs. It is true that people who live and work in cities tend to earn more than those who don’t, but it is a missaplication of the term to describe these people as “rich”.

    However, while I make no claims about his transport habits and at the risk of undermining my own argument, I have witnessed Allan Moss, CEO of Macquarie Bank, at Martin Place railway station in the early evening travelling on the Eastern Subuirbs line. That exception proves JC’s rule, not BBEP’s.

    Andrew Elder

    November 6, 2006 at 10:21 am

  25. I didn’t make the term rich.
    I said higher income types.

    Cityrail and its predecessors have always surveyed its patronage.
    Little has changed in terms of the %s for income types since the early 80s.
    you are probably confusing more densely populations centres of Europe with that of Sydanee

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 10:25 am

  26. .

    Of course city workers in Sydney are the highest paid workers in the State. A Sydeny working secretary would be earning more than one working in … I don’t know pick any spot.

    But these people aren’t rich by the standards of people working in sydney.They just earn higher incomes than people in the same industry elsewhere.

    Maybe Sydney has changed since I last worked there. I recall executives drove in while secs etc.trained or bussed it.


    November 6, 2006 at 10:26 am

  27. and what about secretaries, catering workers and all other service industry personell that keep the city going?


    November 6, 2006 at 10:28 am

  28. “He is not or was not much of a reader. He preferred to hear the expert and then ask probing questions. That way he gained his knowledge of the topic.
    This is one of the reasons why Treasury took him to their heart.

    He has done this on this topic which is why he was asked to give the talk.”

    This is a very sensible approach for a prime-minister, but strange for someone in private capacity. Why give a talk on something you are not an expert in?

    Say, I have an interest in the global warming controversy. I know a few experts personally, ask probing questions, and form my opinion. I can even spell this out on Catallaxy. But to give a talk on the subject???


    November 6, 2006 at 10:33 am

  29. Boris,

    you have not read it properly.
    Keating has spoken to plenty of experts in this field over the last 20 odd years.

    That is why the ANU invited to talk on such a subject around 1992.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 10:40 am

  30. He preferred to hear the expert and then ask probing questions.

    This is why he reportedly hung around in Howard’s office.


    November 6, 2006 at 10:50 am

  31. So he is not like you at all Jase but I wouldn’t mind betting you would love to sit next to him at a diner party…

    He could announce his intention to leave you, Jason, as he did to Anita at a dinner party!


    November 6, 2006 at 10:54 am

  32. Never miss a chance for a slag off, do you CL?


    November 6, 2006 at 11:28 am

  33. You will notice that Keating never replied to this Heather like allegation.

    Remember if true this would have spread around the Sydney set like wildfire. In fact the first time anyone ever heard of it was when it was published in the Bulletin!

    Most people in the ALP thought that Anita told Keating to leave. This is a strange tale to purvey if one told his wife he was leaving her at a dinner party.

    Bring Back EP at LP

    November 6, 2006 at 11:36 am

  34. Zoe, you police more threads than you actually contribute to. Any thoughts on the topic?


    November 6, 2006 at 11:43 am

  35. I make a comment and am “policing”?

    Either tell me the officially acceptable lurk to comment ratio or pull yer head in, cranky pants.

    I haven’t read the Farrelly articles, and I’ve liked what I’ve seen of hers in the past – I was planning on having a look at what she’d said. That noted, my best mate lives next doors to the permanently being renovated Keating Towers, which doesn’t look frilly in the least.


    November 6, 2006 at 11:51 am

  36. Crankily intervenes to criticise two lurkish comments, then criticises crankiness and criticism of lurkish comments.

    Honestly, the boldness. 😉


    November 6, 2006 at 12:13 pm

  37. What, you think I’m some sucker for a smiley?

    I’ve always gone more for the “heh”, myself.


    November 6, 2006 at 12:25 pm

  38. Whatever you say, grumpy!


    November 6, 2006 at 12:46 pm

  39. Homer in my view talking to experts does not make you one. But ultimatetly it is up to the ANU.

    They invited me to talk next week btw. But I chose the topic I am considered to be expert on.


    November 6, 2006 at 2:02 pm

  40. Another shameless, Blog plug. I think Curitiba in Brazil has a lot to teach us about good urban design-

    If a city is to perform well environmentally, urban consolidation is the way to go, provided there is sufficient parkland and other public spaces. Urban consolidation, for example, makes public transport more viable.

    Those who use the “heritage” argument to stop every new development are being snobby and elitist in a way. If high and medium density development is suppressed in inner and middle ring suburbs, new entrants into the property market are forced into the outer suburbs, which are often poorly serviced and a great distance from places of employment, shopping and so on.

    Barry Humphreys and Geoffrey Rush should be slapped about the chops with a frozen snapper for opposing the redevelopment of the Camberwell train station.


    November 6, 2006 at 4:14 pm

  41. ..and Brazil could teach Iraq a few tricks when it comes to gang warfare, shooting politicians, kidnap and robbery…


    November 6, 2006 at 8:02 pm

  42. Well said, Steve M. Your blog plug is perfectly relevant to this thread.

    Jason Soon

    November 6, 2006 at 8:06 pm

  43. Jason
    What munn doesn’t tell you is that the city had historical planning advantages that allowed the mass transport system. The city is based on Paris first and designed in the 1860s. Not all cities would lend ithemselves to mass transport such as in this city.

    Look, this is all cooked up bullshit. NYC is the richest city in he world. Rich and poor people use the subway to get downtown from uptown. Driving or even catching cabs is harder than simply jumping in the subway.

    The subway is a dirty filthy system. You’re forced to endure it. People in NYC use their cars for weekend driving.

    Take Munn’s world with a grain of salt. He stuff is just green propaganda.

    Rog is right. Brazil is a shithole.


    November 6, 2006 at 9:06 pm

  44. JC says: “Rog is right. Brazil is a shithole.”

    Really? I’d prefer the opinions of the residents:-

    “In early-1990s surveys, over 99 percent of Curitibans said they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, 70 percent of São Paulo residents thought life would be better in Curitiba, and 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their glittering city.”

    “Not all cities would lend ithemselves to mass transport such as in this city.”

    Curitiba uses triple articulated buses that hold up to 270 passengers for public transport. Use of public transport grew by 400% to over 60% under Lerner et als leadership. As most cities have roads they are suitable.

    The World Bank is impressed, even if you’re not.


    November 7, 2006 at 12:58 am

  45. Munn, has there been any case where jc agreed with you?

    Seriously though, what does this single example prove? It’s like building paradise in one small village.


    November 7, 2006 at 1:15 am

  46. Munn

    Australian cities have plenty of public transport. So why don’t people leave their cars home going to to work?

    ” “In early-1990s surveys, over 99 percent of Curitibans said they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,”

    Yea, right. Wanna take bet that if you gave the ” happy” residents a one way ticket to NYC they wouldn’t take it?

    ” Of course not. They love their articulated buses so much they wouldn’t think of leaving.”

    ” 70 percent of São Paulo residents thought life would be better in Curitiba,”

    Of course they would Munn. That’s because most people in SP wouldn’t own a car and the public transport system is shit. So course they would pick the least shit hole.

    ” and 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their glittering city.””

    Munn. Do you think? Seriously can you ever think through stuff. Use your brain stem.

    Here’s the question to ask the same respondants to this poll of yours ( in future please provide evidence and the date these polls were taken)

    Ask your happy Brazilians and your unhappy Brazilians if they would move to NYC which has no fancy buses. Then ask New Yorkers if they would make the swtich and live in your public transport heaven?
    You wanna know their answer?
    ” Getthefuckoutofhereyouidiot” is what they would say.

    Don’t be stupid all the time.

    New Yorkers are miserable people at the best of times. Most would answer a poll like that especially if its high humid summer or freezing winter.

    Listen to yourself Munn. You actually think people would be happier on public transport. You really a lunatic aren’t you?


    November 7, 2006 at 1:24 am

  47. Boris
    Normally i would ignore the doofus. But because he’s a member of the stupid party …. the goreen paryee, he deserves special attention.

    He comes to this site deomonstrates some pathetic form of outrage by saying something really dumb. Then goes off and licks his wounds until the next time hoping people forget the beating he got last time.
    It’s hilarious.


    November 7, 2006 at 1:32 am

  48. “Ask your happy Brazilians and your unhappy Brazilians if they would move to NYC which has no fancy buses. Then ask New Yorkers if they would make the swtich and live in your public transport heaven?
    You wanna know their answer?”

    You need to improve your comprehension skills. I said or inferred no such thing nor does the survey.

    I see you’ve disregarded Jason Soon’s request for civil behaviour and an end to flaming. I guess you know better.


    November 7, 2006 at 1:30 pm

  49. Hmm
    I missed last night’s flame war.
    JC – let bygones be bygones. Munn wants to be civil so let’s call a ceasefire like you did with Fyodor.

    Jason Soon

    November 7, 2006 at 1:36 pm

  50. Ok Jasosn.

    No probs. Munn just needs to settle down and not take things so personally when I’m giving the green party a hard time.

    In fact I’ve paid Munn a complement when I said he was smarter than all the other members.

    He needs to leave that party.

    Munn, if you renounce those nutballs publicly I’ll shout you a great lunch and even get a V8 limo to come pick yuu up.


    November 7, 2006 at 2:33 pm

  51. JC,

    Anyone who joins a political party has to realise that they are getting involved in a “broad church”, where a wide range of opinions must somehow co-exist. The Liberal Party for example has its small “l” liberals and and big “C” Conservatives. Witness for example the divisions in the Liberal Party on stem cell research, abortion and asylum seekers.

    Obviously there are certains strands of thought in the Greens upon which I disagree. Almost nobody would ever join political party if they thought they had to support 100% its current policy platform.

    Our lead senate candidate for the Victorian election later this month is Greg Barber, who has a Masters in Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science. He was part of the Yarra Council Greens team that reduced council debt faster than any other muncipality in Victoria. While the Greens put up candidates of this calibre I am happy to support it.



    November 7, 2006 at 3:20 pm

  52. Munn
    Fair enough. however you may want to look at your party’s nuke policy which says it wants to do away with nuke medicine. Those clowns actually want us to go through life without medical imaging.

    This alone should make a normal person leave that group of luddites in disgust.


    November 7, 2006 at 3:38 pm

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