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Coming to Terms with Floods of Challenges

By Denis Bright

Finton Magee’s Street Art on the railway underpass at Merivale Street, South Brisbane is a tribute to Brisbane’s survival after the January floods of 2011. In early summer, Brisbane is in temporary remission from disastrous recent and historic floods. Although river heights have not approached the 7 metres mark since 1893, the 1974 floods contributed to eight fatalities, mass inundation of property and enormous financial losses.

Dams on the Brisbane River and its catchments have contributed to a lowering of flood heights. The Flood of Challenges from the increasing frequency of intensive rainfall episodes arise largely from the neoliberal commitments to settlements and subdivisions in flood-prone areas in the post-1974 era.

On this theme of human follies, it is a good time to search for street art that expose the soul of Riverside City perhaps with assistance of the street art from Sarah Mattson (2021).

If you are really into your urban art you won’t want to miss the back streets of West End, South Bank, and South Brisbane. The highlight of street art in South Brisbane is the Pillars Project on the corner of Merivale Street and Montague Road. Created by eight local artists, the Pillars Project was launched in 2014 as part of the G20 celebrations. Artists include Guido Van Helton, Gus Eagleton, John Beer (aka Gimiks Born), Simon Degroot, Fintan Magee and Mik Shida.

Riverside Cities like Memphis, Tennessee are often eulogized in the American popular musical traditions. Marc Cohn’s Walking in Memphis encoded the transformative nature of Memphis with its reference to the Ghost of Elvis and the surreal effects of the city. Its entertainment precinct has been powerful enough to raise him ten feet off the Beale.

Readers might want to set out on a virtual tour of other riverside cities on their computers. Decide if cities in more neoliberal societies offer a better life for residents.

Historically, Colonial Australia provided more recognition of local environs in song. Brisbane gained a mention in the Irish folk traditions in The Convict’s Lament attributed to Francis McNamara (1810-61). The Commissariat Building remains as a tribute to the Convict era in the Moreton Bay Settlement (1825-42) near the ethically compromised Queen’s Wharf Casino Project.

Within our prevailing neoliberal economy, the transition of South Brisbane and West End from a flood-prone industrial riverside suburb and quite diverse residential area has been in progress for generations. The state government will buy out the Visy factory in West End and assist in transferring its recycling activities to outer suburban and portside areas at a cost of $165 million. The site will be used as a media centre for the 2032 Olympics. Meanwhile, progress at clearing ugly industrial sites out of South Brisbane and West End needs to be fast-tracked with financial support from state and local government agencies. This increasingly gentrified inner-city precinct is no place for a bulk-cement depot generating heavy traffic flows.

This population influx continues to attract new retail and commercial services along popular bus lines serving Montague Road. Montague Markets is in a commercial Transport Oriented Development (TOD) with diverse commercial functions including the main ground floor retail anchor, commercial and professional services on the first floor as well as several storeys of largely upper-income housing units. This project was a very capital-intensive investment requiring a low-risk outlay of $400 million through Pradella Developments.

Montague Markets is an architecturally innovative development with a breezeway food courtyard with access to underground parking facilities accessible by travelators.

Image: Montague Markets

In contrast to the high-security presence in more regimented shopping centres, security personnel maintain a low profile. The retail anchor and shopping centre management rely mainly on electronic robotic security, particularly at check-out terminals as well as the usual camera surveillance.

Almost 54 per cent of the issued capital in the Woolworth’s network is controlled by major global financial institutions such as HSBS Custody Nominees (24 per cent), JP Morgan Nominees (16 per cent), Citicorp Nominees (8 per cent) and Paris National Bank Nominees (BNP) (6 per cent). However, this Woolworth’s anchor store has a very Australian character. It promotes youthful talent in its selection of flexible local managers and acting managers. Woolworths also welcomes trade union membership of the two retail unions which is a big plus for working conditions of casualized employees who often use this employment to assist with their incomes during high school or university studies.

A particular aspect of Woolworth’s commitment to the Australian social market is this firms association with reverse shopping for recycling efforts through the Norwegian firm Tomra and other recycling firms. Recycling efforts by customers are convertible to cash or discounts off items purchased in this retail network. Woolworths does its share of legalized tax minimization to focus on commercial expansion. This services a corporate debt of almost $3 billion in 2022. Living with debt is indeed a tool of corporate expansion that is deliberately overlooked by the LNP’s saturation election advertising themes.

All sides of politics could indeed extend the TOD model of commercial development to more disadvantaged outer suburban and regional communities with some financial support from the Future Fund and the various state investment funds to attract local and overseas corporate capital to assist with planning and development.

Here in Queensland, the Queensland Investment Fund (QIC) has seen the commercial advantage of investing in retail assets in Australia and the USA to generate dividends which support superannuation returns and other vital public sector priorities. Some details of this investment are available on the QIC website.

With superannuation now recovering from the slowdown in the Australian and global economies, most funds have minimal returns depending on their level of exposure to market forces. Superannuants chose this level of exposure. The returns from most funds like the Australian Retirement Trust in negative territory for the past year to 21 October 2021.

Fund managers cannot possibly risk maintaining current low rates of return for superannuants by investments in less profitable social market projects. However, the Future Fund and the various state investment funds might consider taking hedge-fund investment, particularly from overseas firms and entrepreneurs to support new social market investment projects which do not guarantee dividends. Overseas investment would still be attracted by the strength of the Australian dollar in difficult times and the possibilities of discretionary dividends. Such investment policies would not affect the profitability of funds for superannuants as these investments would operate as social market funds.

Historically, government-guaranteed loans offered fixed rates of interest like the Electricity Loans in most states.

SEC Loan Float Joins Brisbane’s May Day Parade in 1953.

For today’s families and other householders who are burdened by unaffordable housing costs including rates, body corporate fees, water, insurance and electricity charges these personal stresses detract from community political involvement. Neoliberalism has succeeded in extending public debt to householders. Australia is in the top ten league table for large household debts (Yahoo News 25 August 2022).

Australian conservatives of all shades of blue are always concerned about public sector debt levels but largely ignore private and corporate debt levels or the unsustainable wage rates arising from casualized employment.

Labor’s profile in financially challenging times requires more emphasis on its pragmatic economic agenda as articulated by Jim Chalmers. Rediscovering Labor’s commitment to a sustainable social market is an important process in the rehabilitation of these credentials.

Vital issues such as the upsurge of global militarism do not trouble most householders who are struggling from day to day. Even affluent families make new commitments to add to that private debt such as fees at elitist private schools, state-of-the-art vehicles or that extra holiday in the sun.

As a riverside city with port facilities in the estuary of the Brisbane River, our state government offers protection from the hazards of nuclear ship visits from allied countries through Emergency Management Queensland. Details of these contingencies have been released for public discussion but are seldom reported in the mainstream media where the emphasis is on family visits to the vessels as an extension of hospitality towards allied countries and on the commercial value of visits by naval crews to Brisbane night spots. Emergency Management Queensland has some anecdotes of these nuclear-powered ship visits but remains silent on the intrusion of nuclear weapons into our ports:

“Nuclear-powered warships have visited Queensland for over 30 years. Analysis of monitoring devices and environmental samples has revealed that no releases of radioactive material were detected, nor were any radiation levels recorded in excess of normal background levels of ionising radiation, either during or subsequent to these visits.

Visits to Australian ports by either conventionally powered or nuclear-powered warships (NPW) of allied nations are one of the most visible means of demonstrating Australia’s commitment to defence cooperation agreements with those nations. For this reason, it is the Australian Government’s clear policy that these visits be welcomed. At this time, only NPW belonging to the United States Navy, Royal Navy and French Navy are allowed to visit Australian ports. Because of the nature of their propulsion plants, and despite the excellent safety record of their countries with respect to the operation of these vessels, it is a Government requirement that contingency arrangements be in place for all Australian ports visited by NPW in the unlikely event of an accident resulting in the hazardous release of radioactivity to the environment.”

There is an additional problem when and if Australia proceeds with the purchase of nuclear-powered submarines which was covered by Ben Smee for The Guardian (11 March 2022):

“Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would “inevitably” be forced into an emergency reactor shutdown by swarms of jellyfish if the fleet was based in Brisbane, a leading marine scientist says.

The Australian government this week released a shortlist of three sites – Brisbane, Newcastle and Wollongong – as a potential east-coast home port for the nuclear submarine fleet, which will arrive in about 2036 under the Aukus partnership with the US and the UK.

The Queensland government has been cagey when asked whether it supports a base in Brisbane, a position described as “very strange” by the federal defence minister, Peter Dutton, whose electorate is in Brisbane.

In 2006, the US nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan was forced into an emergency reactor shutdown in Brisbane after it sucked more than 800kg of jellyfish into its condensers, hindering coolant from reaching the main reactors.”

While Peter Dutton eulogises the strategic and commercial benefits from visits by nuclear-powered vessels carrying nuclear weapons into our ports, there are also hazards from such visits, particularly if the technology used on these vessels has passed its use-by date as with the ageing French nuclear submarine Emeraude which was commissioned in 1988 to be upgraded between May 1994 and December 1995. The French submarine Rubis has been operational since 1993 during the era when France had a more strident socialist government that was still committed to the US Global Alliance.

Our beloved allies in France sought to be on the Australian supply chain for new submarines and military equipment and sent the Emeraude operating in stealth mode through the Taiwan Straits to test Chinese surveillance. In hindsight, President Macron has a quite different viewpoint on the need for greater French independence in strategic policies within the US Global Alliance (AFR 18 November 2022):

Bangkok: Emmanuel Macron has doubled down on his criticism of Australia’s decision to dump French submarines for nuclear vessels, increasing pressure on Anthony Albanese to more strongly repudiate the French president he claims to be his friend.

Just hours after Mr Albanese dismissed initial claims by Mr Macron that nuclear-powered subs would increase the risk of nuclear confrontation with China, and could not be serviced or maintained, Mr Macron told Bloomberg the agreement with the US and UK under the AUKUS pact “will not deliver”.

Still trying to sell Australia conventionally powered French submarines, Mr Macron first criticised the AUKUS arrangements on Thursday.

“The strategy we had with Australia was a strategy that was fully aligned with this logic of the Indo-Pacific…meaning that of freedom and sovereignty,” said Mr Macron, who is at the APEC summit in Thailand as a guest.

“We were helping and accompanying Australia in building a submarine fleet in-house, an industrial cooperation.”

So those Floods of Problems continue. The lament of our beloved convict is ever more relevant. Will our neoliberal society stop a moment to work through some real alternatives to political non-participation and alienation in this brand new world constructed in the post-1989 era?

Strike Up the Beats For Change.

Denis Bright is a financial member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to consensus-building in these difficult times. Your feedback by using the Reply button on The AIMN site is always most appreciated. It can liven up discussion. I appreciate your little intrusions with comments and from other insiders at The AIMN. Full names are not required when making comments. However, a valid email must be submitted if you decide to hit the Reply button.

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  1. wam

    cairns, darwin or adelaide.
    Closer to trade routes, under the nose of china or where the repair expertise is to be found, safely out of reach by china, usa or uk?
    perhaps the meaning of scummo’s purchase is clear:
    U SUKA

  2. Leila

    Hopefully the new government will continue to support Australian music, drama and films in the traditions of our lamenting convict who believed that a better world was possible

  3. Ola

    The article captures the flood of problems that afflict humanity in its transition from the high globalization era – thanks Denis for the meticulous research.

  4. street crafting

    Good to see street art and feature articles that tune into social reality: How can things change for the better if everyone is locked into private living?

  5. James Robo

    Watch out for crime when walking the Beale in Memphis. Little Memphis is one of the most crime ridden and disadvantaged cities in the whole USA Brisbane is a better model for urban societies and should feature more in films and music.

  6. Tessa_M

    Keep up your research Denis.

  7. Indigo

    Thanks so much Denis.

    Capitalist values emphasise the need to internalise social problems as personal problems requiring medications, therapy with the support of larger than life heroes like Elvis who moved to Memphis during his high school years in the late 1940s. Elvis helped to globalise the American way as a global cultural norm that justified the excesses of its military industrial complexes

  8. Clío

    Hi Denis,

    Great article – thanks for sharing!!!

  9. Isabel

    Denis, thanks for an interesting article. Hopefully the nuclear submarines won’t be based on the East coast.

  10. Luka

    Always an interesting read – thanks Denis

  11. Steve

    These stories were really well tied together. I appreciate the different narratives – especially in the fascinating politics of nuclear vessels.

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