What Systems Theory tells us about Don Burke

He is the tip of the iceberg but not in quite the way that you would think.

When a Systems Theorist comes across a phenomenon like Don Burke, he is identified as an event. We then look to see if he is a regular occurrence, a pattern or simply an event,   a one-off, an aberration or whether he represents a pattern.

And yes, Don Burke represents pattern. Youbetcha. From the US perspective there is a clear pattern of accusations of harrrasment:

Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, Ben Affleck, George H.W. Bush, Chris Savino, Roy Price, John Besh, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Lockhart Steele

So when we see these patterns emerging, we know they are not one-off events and that there is some underlying structure that is producing this pattern of behaviour.

In this instance, these structures are almost inevitably male dominated power structures particularly in the entertainment and film industries. These  power structures rest upon  the ability of the powerful men to manipulate the employment conditions, the opportunities of women in less powerful and dependent positions.

It’s also more subtle than that as the women in the ABC program testified. It’s implicit. The women don’t complain because they’re frightened that their employment will be threatened. In some instances, they have been told that they are expendable so they have to put up with it.

Such messages are communicated through the informal networks very quickly. So the fact that nothing gets done about complaints about people like Don Burke means that putting up with his behaviour becomes the norm. It becomes part of the culture, part of the structure of the organisation and industry.

But there is a more invidious element, one that is not touched on by the media. For all women who have denounced and rejected the advances of people like Don Burke, Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein and their ilk, there will have been ones who did not and traded some sexual favours for advancement.

Those who agreed and cooperated, perhaps unwillingly, and accepted the benefits of that corporation no doubt see, in hindsight, that their success has come from their own talents rather than the compromises they made.

These women do not speak up, so we cannot judge. But by their cooperation, they have contributed to strengthening of the structures that lead to the perpetuation of the exploitation of women in the industry.  And they reinforce, reward and encourage the behaviour of people like Don Burke. So he keeps doing it.

Underlying these systemic structures of exploitation are long-held mental models, values and attitudes that hold them in place. Without changing these mental models, there is very little chance that the behaviour of people like Don Burke will ever be changed.

The Systems Theorists argue that if you want be effective in bringing about change, you need to start the bottom of the iceberg with the mental models. It is difficult and its long-term. The least effective way is to deal with the events. Getting relived of Don Burke (an event) is highly ineffective. It won’t change much. It will serve as an example and will be effective in that respect.

But it won’t bring about systemic change.  The next most effective way to bring about  effective change  is to change the systemic structures.

And changing systemic structures can also bring about changes in mental models. Changes in systemic structures changes the way people behave and that brings about changes in the way people think and that changes  their attitudes and values.  So if TV channels starts mandating certain forms of behaviour.  Then the tide starts turning.

But is worth reflecting that one of the worst perpetuators of this form of  of behaviour was elected as president of the United States of America having brazenly admitted to sexually harassing women.


A significant proportion of the people who voted for him, women included, simply don’t care about this kind of behaviour and he knows it.

These mental models values and attitudes are established over a lifetime. They are established within the family, in the schools, in the social networks in which children grow up and in the workplace.

Simply removing Don Burke from the workplace is not going to remove the problem. There are a lot of people who don’t like Don Burke and there is a strong feeling that there needs to be a fair amount of retribution and certainly will be.


But it’s not going to fix the problem.

Don Burke will never work again in the television industry in Australia. But people like him will continue to work until the mental models of people in the industry have changed.

The alarming thing about the revelations of the Tracy Spicer program on the ABC was that the senior executives behind Burke’s Backyard roundly denounced Burke yet did nothing about him in the face of complaints about his behaviour. David Leckie and Sam Chisholm, both senior executives at of Channel Nine, roundly condemned Burke.

Both appeared to have had knowledge of his behaviour. There appeared to be a large number of people who were partially complicit in keeping Burke working in the industry despite being aware of his behaviour.  Public opinion is not going to treat these people well.

The reason being that the system  of TV ratings, advertising revenue, sponsorship and executive salaries required that Burke kept appearing on television and people who complained were imminently replaceable whereas Burke was not.

Tracy Spicer says she has a list of 69 men who have sexually harassed women in the television industry. The systems theorist would say, “We understand that you want to fix the 69 men, but that’s probably not going to fix a problem. The system is the problem,  the 69 men just a symptom.”

We also have an archetype called Fixes that Fail. It is a system archetype that in system dynamics is used to describe and analyze a situation, where a fix effective in the short-term creates side effects for the long-term behaviour of the system and may result in the need of even more fixes.


How to read a Causal Diagram

In this situation, you just keep removing the Don Burkes of this world and you don’t fix a system that produces them, they just keep popping up again.

Oh for a world where bakers and florists can discriminate at will. The Brave New World of Eric Abetz

Eric Abetz knows that it’s only dead fish that go with the flow.

 Strong fish like him defy public opinion.

He didn’t have to  a big audience for his message when he addressed the Senate on his amendments to the same-sex marriage bill. Even members of his own party didn’t turn up.  He wasn’t deterred

Swimming against the tide: Senator Eric Abetz speaks during debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill on Monday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Abetz holds out hope that what is righteous could again be in vogue. Public opinion, after all, was no more than a “windsock”, flapping helplessly in the breeze.

The man is delusional. He seriously thinks that over 60% of the population who voted in favour of same-sex marriage are going to change their minds.

Surely we deserve better than this from our elected representatives    Photo: Fairfax Media

Malcolm Roberts improves on his Senate vote, but it’s not enough.

One Nation candidate Malcolm Roberts has lost his bid for the seat of Ipswich, 

Former One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts. Photo: AAP

And he proved his true pulling power by polling more than the 77 primary votes he managed in the last federal election. As the photograph shows, the man is a real winner.

The big question for PHON you is whether they give Roberts the No 1 position for the next Senate election. He is certainly a high profile candidate. But probably not for any of the right reasons.  And whether he will be able to attract any support without Hanson on the ticket is another question.

PHON has been attracting support in both the WA and Queensland elections but has been unable to translate this into seats in the Parliaments.  Since Pauline Hanson first emerged 20 years ago she has been unable to establish her party as a real political force in the way that the Greens have. PHON has never managed to be anything other than a disorganised rabble led by an unintelligent egomaniac.

As Pauline Hanson said, somewhat apocalyptically, after the Queensland election “One Nation is not going anywhere”.

Her hopes of  holding the balance of power in Queensland appear not to have been realised and if PHON cannot establish a power base in Queensland,  then its chances of establishing it anywhere else in Australia would appear to be very slight.

Is the writing on the wall for Malcolm Turnbull?

There was a funny post on Facebook recently amid denials that there was a military coup in Zimbabwe.

It read: You can tell there’s been a military coup when this guy is reading the news.

The same applies to leadership spills in Australia. The first sign of a coup is the fervent denials and protestations of support for the leader from the pretenders.

In Turnbull’s case, they came from Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison.

“Very happy with my current position, serving the people of Australia, no ambition to be prime minister,  Cabinet is united behind the PM, PM will lead us to the next election.”

 Bishop and Morrison have been touted in the media as the PM/Deputy PM combination to replace Turnbull.  So, someone has been canvassing the possibility amongst the Federal coalition.  Given that Bishop is 10 points ahead of Turnbull as preferred PM, it is not unreasonable, given that the Coalition is now trailing Labor 55-45 on a two-party preferred basis.

You have to hand it to Julie Bishop, “the loyal deputy”, who has certainly played a long game having been Deputy Leader for the last 10 years. Now she senses blood in the water.

A measure of her ambition to be PM is seen in that she has opted for Morrison from the right wing faction as her Deputy. It’s a Machiavellian and pragmatic move which will probably ensure her success.

Morrison will bring a lot of the right of the party with him in a ballot and Bishop will be able to swing Turnbull’s support in the centre of the party behind her. She will probably also have the support of all the WA MPs regardless of faction.

So who will be supporting Malcolm? Probably no one.


There are some problems. Dumping incumbent PM’s carries a huge political cost with the electorate.  And the risk is that  Julie Bishop will not be popular enough to turn round a 10% deficit in the polls.

Poor Tony Abbott must be on the horns of a dilemma.  On one hand,  he argued, albeit in his own case, that “We are not the Labor Party” when it came to axing current leaders. On the other hand, he would dearly love to see  Malcolm Turnbull go. Even if he now realises that he will not be replacing him.

The other distinct possibility is that the hard-heads and numbers crunchers know that when the dual citizenship crisis is resolved, the Government may lose its majority in the lower and be facing a general election which it will probably lose.

So, why not leave Malcolm there and axe him after the defeat?

The other problem with replacing Turnbull at the moment is that he may take his his bat and ball and resign.  If the electors of Wentworth get really huffy and elect a Green, then the government will have lost its majority even before the dual citizenship crisis is resolved.  All w

The earth is still flat, Round Earthers accused of being part of “vast conspiracy”

Sometimes, it feels as the world is going backwards.

The Washinton Post reports: This man is about to launch himself in his home-made (steam driven) rocket to prove the Earth is flat.

Mike Hughes promised the flat-Earth community that he would expose the conspiracy with his steam-powered rocket, which will launch from a heavily modified mobile home — though he acknowledged that he still had much to learn about rocket science.

Self-taught rocket builder Mike Hughes plans to fly in his homemade rocket above the Mojave Desert in Southern California on Nov. 25.

The Washinton Post reports: Kyrie Irving has been in the news a bunch lately, what with his alleged desire to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers via trade. But his opinions also are making waves in an entirely different arena: middle-school classrooms.

NPR’s Avi Wolfman-Arent wrote a story this week about how teachers are battling the onslaught of fake news that is reaching their students and uses the example of middle-school teacher Nick Gurol, who says his students think the Earth is flat because Irving said so on a podcast.

And immediately I start to panic. How have I failed these kids so badly they think the Earth is flat just because a basketball player says it?” He says he tried reasoning with the students and showed them a video. Nothing worked.

“They think that I’m part of this larger conspiracy of being a round-Earther. That’s definitely hard for me because it feels like science isn’t real to them.”

Is Tony Abbott out for the count?

He’s been  punch-drunk for some time but the same-sex marriage vote has probably put him on the canvas.  He’s taken a compulsory eight count which, in boxing terms, means you’re  probably not going to last much longer.

He will probably stagger to his feet and continue for a few more rounds, flailing wildly at opponents who are no longer in the ring.  The fans have long ago gone home.

He has probably fought his last bout. The promoters (the preselection committee of the Warringah) won’t be giving him another fight.  There are younger fighters, quicker on their feet and with a better range of punches. The day of the old time sluggers is over.

Rocky Marciano, world heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956

The pity is, unlike Marcianohe won’t be remembered with much affection.

See also

 in the Australian  Tony Abbott’s vacillations leave him at risk of permanent irrelevance

Mark Kenny in SMH ‘He is now irrelevant’: Does Tony Abbott’s defeat on marriage mark his final decline in Canberra

Why did Malcolm Turnbull really cancel Parliament?

We were given an explanation on 7.30 last night by Scott Morrison.And not a very good one at that.


It was so that the Senate could consider the same-sex marriage legislation.

That was Morrison’s best shot and in a pretty ill-humoured interview, Leigh Sales did not press him.

So here’s the argument. We suspend the lower house so that the upper house can get  on with its work. But surely both  Houses of Parliament can sit together at the same time and still function efficiently.

Isn’t that what they normally do?

Clearly Turnbull is concerned that all hell will break loose with the government being two seats down with the absence of Joyce and Alexander. But suspending Parliament should not be because you’ve lost your majority. That doesn’t seem like the way democracy should be functioning.

There is also a very nice analysis in The Age by Tony Wright this morning which details the likely outcome of various scenarios, one of which is that Turnbull is desperately worried that an audit of dual citizenship will devastate his Parliamentary numbers.


And trigger a general election which, if the polls are right consider coalition losing up to 20 seats in the lower house.

Nobody liked the postal vote but it mayhold some important ideas for reforming our political system

Political and International Editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Peter Hartcher poses the question in The Age: How can we do democracy better?


He also  highlights the ironic situation namely that with the same-sex marriage postal vote having worked so well, no one wants to see it used like this again.

Now, there are very good reasons for this.

Firstly, the issue that was involved and the campaign that followed, has been deeply damaging to the LGBTIQ community.

Secondly, the postal vote was prohibitively expensive.

Thirdly, the sophisticated pollsters already knew the answer.

Nonetheless, it did make the will of the people clear to politicians in an emphatically clear way, one which only the foolhardy or the about-to-retire would ignore,

Hartcher sees that part of the answer to bringing about improvements in the way our democracy works lies in the way question of marriage equality was resolved: through some form of plebiscite/referendum.

The issue was not that the will of the people was unclear.

The problem was that our democratically elected representatives were hamstrung when it came to legislating what was clearly the preferred option of more than 60% of the population. In other words, our democracy had effectively failed its constituency.

That was because  the issue was being hijacked by a small group of right wing conservatives within the Liberal party.   When this happens it has a slow corrosive effect on our democracy.

Hartcher quotes the keeper of the Australian Electoral Study, ANU’s Ian McAllister, “Trust in politicians is at its lowest at any time since we started surveying it, all the way back to 1969… falling from 51 per cent to 26%.”

Hartcher goes on to argue that methods such as the postal vote are very effective way of assessing public opinion, a far more effective way than electing a group of politicians every three or four years and letting them make up their minds on every issue that comes up, such as funding the Adani coal mine.


He then goes on to draw on the work of John Keane, professor of politics at Sydney University,  who outlines the arguments for and against using referenda as a way of assessing public opinion on important legislative issues. It’s an interesting argument and worth reading.

In the case of the Adani coal mine, which appears to have very little public support nationally and very little economic and environmental rationale,  there would appear to be a good argument for canvassing public opinion before the Federal government approves project, let alone puts close to $1 billion dollars into the project.

It is possible to conduct large-scale plebiscites electronically even allowing for the fact that a proportion of the population is not connected to, or cannot use, the Internet.

It is also clear that modern sampling techniques are statistically accurate enough to give accurate indications of much larger population samples.


Such techniques gave fairly accurate indications of the likely outcome of the postal vote on same-sex marriage. However, sampling may not be an adequate substitute for large-scale surveys given the requirements of democratic society.

Nonetheless, given that our Parliamentary processes are becoming confounded by inertia imposed by the vagaries of the electoral system, it is well worth considering a process whereby electronic and binding referenda are conducted on major policy issues.

For such referenda to be binding they would need a participation rate of, say, 70%+ etc.

The difficulty of such a system is that it would need to be legislated and would need to be legislated by politicians who would effectively be giving up some of their power.

But it is clear that democratic processes around the world are failing.

There has been a general wringing of hands at the  process that led to the election of Donald Trump and the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicated in the electoral process  may have been deeply flawed and corrupt as well.

However, despite controlling both the Senate and the Congress, Trump has been unable to pass any major legislation.

The process of Britain’s exit from Europe appears to have be heading towards an  economic disaster that  political system was unable to control.

In Australia, as in Britain and the US,  the influence of small fringe groups such as the Tea Party, UKIP,  and One Nation is disproportionate to their support  in the electorate.

All of this is a manifestation of the system that needs to be overhauled and it needs to be overhauled to make it more responsive and  more reactive to public opinion.

This is happens the disillusion that Ian McAllister speaks will only deepen.






A cautionary thought about the No voters

Some members of the LGBTIQ community would probably like to give some of the opponents of same-sex marriage a good whacking, given the results.  And who more than Tony Abbott, whose electorate Warringah, returned a whopping 75% Yes vote. This must make Tony a little bit nervous about preselection.


It’s also understandable that the members of the LGBTIQ community would feel that they have been attacked by the political and social equivalent of some kind of freak show and feel inclined to lump all the proponents of the opposing view together in a group (which they are not) and hand out a few more well-deserved biffs.

This is particularly so when homosexuality has been linked to paedophilia and beastiality by some of the leading opponents of same-sex marriage and there has been general denigration of anyone whose sexuality falls outside the norm.  Things like this tend to make feelings run pretty high.

At a broader level, the ability of same-sex couples to raise children has been questioned by the opponents of marriage equality.

In such a situation, it is often difficult to separate out the often rabid views of some of the leaders of the movement from the people who voted No in the postal vote.

It is very important to remember that the 5 million people, who voted against legalising same-sex marriage probably don’t hold the extreme views of the leadership of the opposition to marriage equality.

It is also very easy for those of us who voted Yes to see the results as a victory of fairness over bigotry. However, whether we like it or not, there is a significant proportion of the population of Australia who probably see things quite differently.  They see it as more important to protect the institution of marriage as they defined it, than to be fair.

It has become clear that there was a very strong No vote in the western suburbs of Sydney where the “No” vote was as high as 74%.

While it is difficult to draw conclusions from the data, there are some correlational factors

These areas are traditional Federal Labor electorates with strong and diverse ethnic and religious populations.   They are characterised by low educational standards and poor English-language skills.  They are predominantly working class and suffer high levels of unemployment. This is the traditional economic and political analysis

ABC election analyst Antony Green pointed to the high proportion of the population in NSW born in non-English-speaking countries as an indication of the cultural differences.


“Gay marriage doesn’t fit into the Australian political structure very well, because it’s not a class-based issue,” he said.”It cuts across party lines, which is why the parties themselves have struggled to deal with the issue in recent years.

So, has the Marriage Equality postal vote merely done what many predicted? Simply highlighted some deep divisions within Australian society?

The initial evidence would be that this has been the case.  But it would also appear to be the case that these divisions do not appear to have emerged along the normal fault lines of traditional politics.

Pauline Hanson has risen to power, well relative power, because of a vacuum on the right of Australian politics. But her party is a disorganised shambles as has been demonstrated by the events of the last week. It lacks the infrastructure and organisation to be a serious political force. Its lack of political sophistication means that it will never have anything other than nuisance value.

Cory Bernardi may be totally different proposition. He is smarter, more articulate and more politically astute. Whether he can  build a political machine that can challenge Hanson’s remains to be seen.

After these results,  Bernardi must be pondering whether he can craft a political message that will appeal to the deeply conservative voters of Western Sydney.

He is a Machiavellian populist. His actions in the Senate yesterday proved him to be capable of doing anything just to  gain political traction so the ex-Liberal Senator will surely be looking at the potential to pick up votes of the Conservative Left as well as the Conservative Right.


Senator Cory Bernardi  looking pleased with himself during a division on Thursday.  Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In a move simply designed to delay debate on the  Same-sex marriage bill  the Australian Conservatives senator moved a series of motions in the Senate attacking abortion, communism, progressive activists GetUp! and White Ribbon Australia, which works to stop violence against women.

The danger of people like Bernardi and Hanson is that they never have the responsibility of government and are able to act without restraint, particularly in the types of positions they take on public policy promises and election issues. Given the fragmented state of Australian politics, such politicians often come to hold the balance of power and are able to exert influence beyond their electoral support or political acumen.

Nonetheless, the postal vote and current opinion polls indicate that is, in Australia, around 30% of the electorate that is disenfranchised with the major parties. This 30% does not constitute a unified voting block in the work that the support for the Liberal Labor Parties does.

However, it  could come to represent a bloc voters that could be exploited by a demagogue, probably not Cory Bernardi because he is inherently so unlikeable, who could exert considerable influence on democratic processes.