Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Art of Redemption: Myuran Sukumaran’s legacy

Indonesian lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis (C) displays recent paintings done in prison by Australian drug convict and death row prisoner Myuran Sukumaran. Image: Romeo Gacad/AFP

By Dr Evelyn Tsitas

In the paintings he made in the 72 hours leading to his execution, Myuran Sukumaran’s burst of artistic activity revealed his determination to leave a final mark on the world. His painting of heart, large but fragile, its arteries reaching out from the canvas like vines to the sun, is deeply moving.

Sukumaran’s artworks speak louder than words about the brutality of the Indonesian Government’s death penalty. In those final artworks, the 34 year old Bali Nine drug smuggler also painted Indonesian president Joko Widodo with an underlined inscription on the back: "People can change". 

Close friend Tina Bailey said of Sukumaran’s last paintings: “that canvas is his voice. His life journey is personal, a statement and openness of his heart.” (The Australian, April 29).

There is a good argument to be made that the artworks serve as a very potent reminder of the tenacity and vibrancy of human life, and the brutal finality of the death penalty.

In the widespread anger and dismay that has followed the execution of Andrew Chan and Muyran Sukumaran this week, it is Sukumaran’s artwork which has served as a visual metaphor for the possibility of redemption.

Indeed, in the media narrative on the rehabilitation of Chan and Sukumaran in their decade long incarceration in the Indonesian prison, it is Sukumaran’s artwork that provides the key to his rebirth as a model citizen.

Bailey explains: “You can’t paint without connecting, especially not the way Myu paints and I think it is soul work. My hope is that he is connecting his soul to them.” (March 13) 

 In Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel Never Let Me Go, scientists have been able to clone people and use them as spare parts for organ donations. Asking what it is that makes us human, Ishiguro paints a grim picture of a possible future of slave-donors. In the novel society looks away from the donors so it isn't forced to confront the issue that they might very well be human and have feelings and desires and fears like the rest of us.

At the end of the novel, Kathy and her friend Tommy track down Miss Emily, a teacher at their old boarding school, and ask her why she was obsessed with them doing creative projects such as art and poetry at school. The reason is never revealed to the students, but Kathy H and Tommy propose the theory that their artwork would reveal their inner selves, and that they might be therefore granted a reprieve from donation their organs if they could prove they were really in love. They are told, however, they were encouraged to make art because it was thought it could both reveal their souls and whether they even had souls at all.

Literary ‘monsters’ fulfil many roles. They scare, shock and blur the distinction between human and other. These outsiders can take many forms, such as the Chimera of ancient legend, but it the modern world, the monster among us is the criminal, and in Indonesia, the convicted drug smuggler awaits the death penalty as the ultimate retribution for their crimes.

But in the case of Myuran Sukumaran the outsider has taken up the brush, and painted to reveal a soul. Art allowed him a way to recreate his narrative, and show everyone that humans are complex creatures, capable of great depth, contradictions, and change.

Louis Nowra has written that many Australians seek succour from the arts and that as Australia has become more secular, “so many of us find spiritual and emotional satisfaction in art” (The Weekend Australian Review July 12-13 2014).

Archibald prize winner Ben Quilty mentored Sukumaran for several years, paying regular visits to him in the Bali jail, and Deborah Cassrels noted that Sukumaran – who was awarded his associate degree in fine arts from Curtin University in February this year – “blossomed under Quilty’s mentorship”. (The Australian, Jan 23).

Writes Cassrels; “After two years of serious training, the novice has emerged as a talent…yet the goal was not to launch an art career, but rather to achieve rehabilitation, unattainable without the support of Indonesia’s jail system.” (The Australian, August 6, 2014)
Ben Quilty in turn praised Sukumaran’s “rare drive to learn” and said; “it has taught me more about the intangible skills that a human needs to make an art practice part of their existence, and more about me.” (The Age, Jan 23)

In Never Let Me Go, Tommy, who had such a hard time at Hailsham because he wasn't creative, continues to draw his imaginary animals even after he learns that there will be no "deferral" or delay in starting organ donations. This is part of the outsider’s growth, for despite the fact that society has decided that the clones did not have souls, and therefore there was no cruelty in keeping them alive and using them as needed, they display a free will and creativity of their own.

Like Ishiguro’s clones, Sukumaran’s pursuit of his art did not accomplish the aim of moving those in power to grant him the gift of life. But even after knowing there was no hope, Sukumaran continued to make art, and continued to pursue his academic studies, just as Ishiguro’s Tommy continued to draw imaginary animals.

It is the triumph of the human spirit to make art despite there being no monetary or ‘useful’ value in it. And it is this creative drive – and defiance – in the face of certain death that survives.

It is a sad world that cannot believe in redemption, a bleaker one that turns away from the acts of creativity that nourish the community’s soul in times of both light and darkness.  This is the gift of the artists among us. It shows us what it is to be truly human, in all its messy, faulty, complexity.

Dr Evelyn Tsitas has a PhD in Creative Writing from RMIT, and works as a communications strategist at RMIT Gallery, as well as writing, blogging and teaching.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Lessons from an oil spill: how BP gained - then lost - our trust

Oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico - photo via iStock

by Tony Jaques, RMIT University

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most exhaustively analysed environmental and management crises in recent history. And BP‘s response will probably be remembered for a generation as the perfect example of how not to manage a crisis.

But it wasn’t always that way. This year marks the 25th anniversary of another BP oil spill which is now virtually forgotten, but was regarded at the time as a gold standard in how to respond effectively and protect reputation.

Although it is eclipsed by a litany of subsequent high profile oil spill disasters – such as the Erika breaking up off Brittany in 1999 and the Montara oil rig fire off northwest Australia in 2009 – there is much to be learned from what happened 25 years ago on the coast of Southern California.

In February 1990, less than a year after the debacle of the Exxon Valdez running aground in Alaska, the BP-chartered tanker American Trader accidentally ran over its own anchor off Huntington Beach in Orange County, spilling 400,000 gallons of crude oil, which came ashore on the prestigious surfing strip.

BP’s response was prompt and unequivocal. In just over two hours, oil skimming vessels were on the scene and the company’s crisis team was in the air. And within 24 hours there were 36 BP specialists on-site.

Even more impressive was the leadership of BP America Chairman James Ross, who flew straight to the scene. In a memorable press conference on the polluted breach Ross told reporters: “Our lawyers tell us it’s not our fault. But we feel like it’s our fault and we are going to act like it’s our own fault.”

Contrast this statesmanlike approach with the denial and blame-shifting which blighted BP’s response in 2010 when fire destroyed the oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and starting a torrent of oil onto a massive swathe of coastline. Then-BP CEO Tony Hayward commented that the amount of oil was “relatively tiny in a very big ocean.” His now infamous comment to the media that he would “like his life back”, was dubbed by the New York Times as “the sound bite from hell”.

The clean-up at Huntington Beach was swift and efficient. More than 100 people from other big oil companies took part on the spill response, and BP trained and equipped volunteer bird rescuers, who became some of the company’s strongest supporters in the community. And they worked very closely with government agencies, and the parade of political figures who wanted to be photographed on the beach. Ross later commented: “We are convinced that by working with them, we avoided jurisdictional disputes and a ton of controversy.”

The outcome is strikingly evident. The Los Angeles Times ran a story praising the company’s efforts under the headline “After spill, BP soaks up oil and good press.” It later ran a front-page photograph of the company’s crisis manager fulfilling his pledge to be the first to swim at the cleaned-up beach.

When BP America President James Ross was summoned to Washington he found himself praised by lawmakers. Compare that with the concerted attack by American politicians on BP after the Deepwater Horizon spill. President Barack Obama himself called for Hayward to be sacked.

Of course the volume of the Deepwater Horizon spill was much greater. But the lesson for today is not about the challenges of clean-up. It’s about the response at a management level, and what it teaches us about crisis leadership. Just like the Huntington Beach spill, James Ross too was quickly forgotten by the media and he went on to a successful career as CEO of Cable and Wireless and company Director.

By contrast British-born Hayward was famously pilloried by a headline in the New York Times - “BP’s CEO Tony Hayward: The most hated – and most clueless – man in America.” And when he was appointed to a role in a small oil company two years later the New York Times observed that for bewildered Americans who saw oil plumes rising, livelihoods crumbling and seabirds dying in the viscous crude, Hayward came to personify the catastrophe.

The starkly different outcomes of the two incidents could be put down to failure of corporate memory. To a rigidly hierarchical executive style which was acknowledged to exist at BP Headquarters. Or to over-dependence on a single spokesperson who was ill-suited to the task of conveying compassion and conviction. Whatever the cause, BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill has well and truly earned its place in the pantheon of bona fide PR disasters. And it’s a brutal warning that the impact of bad management can persist for decades.

But perhaps most importantly, it’s a reminder that individual managers set the tone in a crisis. Even after 25 years, there is much more to be learned from the little-known success of James Ross of BP in 1990 than can ever be gained from raking over the much studied disaster of BP and Tony Hayward in 2010.

This is part of an ongoing series on ‘bad’ management. Read more in the series here.

The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Australia's energy productivity plan: great idea, but is it ambitious enough?

image via iStock

by Alan Pears AM, RMIT University

The three main elements of the government’s vision in its Energy White Paper, released this week, are competition, energy productivity and investment. One significant new proposal is a National Energy Productivity Plan to “lower costs, improve energy use and stimulate economic growth”.

This will cover the built environment, equipment and appliances, and vehicles, and aims to “improve national energy productivity by up to 40% by 2030”.

Energy productivity, which includes energy efficiency but also goes beyond it, is a way of doing more with less. When it works, it means Australia could be using less energy – which is good news for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and for energy security.

But how quickly can such as plan be developed and put in place? And is the government’s upper limit of a 40% improvement by 2030 ambitious?

What is energy productivity?

The most common indicator of energy productivity is the amount of economic output per unit of energy input: the higher the value the better. This is similar to other productivity indicators.

One way to think of energy productivity is to look at gross domestic product (GDP) per unit of primary energy. Primary energy is the raw energy that is harvested, mined or extracted. Typically some of this energy is “lost” through processing, conversion and delivery to the meter or fuel pump.

This is different to “final” or “end use” energy such as when you flick a switch at home. For instance, heating a room with an electric fan heater uses fewer units of metered electric energy than if gas is used, as the gas appliance has combustion losses on the consumer side of the meter. But in terms of primary energy, the electric fan heater uses much more energy, as three units of fossil fuel are used to create each unit of electricity. So despite the losses from gas combustion, the gas heater uses half as much primary energy as the electric one.

Productivity could focus business

In the white paper, the government seems to use a different energy productivity indicator, the “cost of energy” per unit of GDP, although this is not clearly defined. This means that any reduction in energy prices – through competition, flexible electricity prices, or privatisation as recommended in the paper – will increase energy productivity. So the way the government has defined energy productivity may not deliver a reduction in primary energy use, or the associated environmental benefits.

Energy productivity has become a buzzword over the past few years for several reasons.

First, it has proved increasingly difficult to drive overall productivity improvement by focusing on labour and capital productivity, the two traditionally dominant factors.

Second, while energy is a relatively small input to the economy, it plays a key role as the “engine of development”, as industry and business can’t deliver products and services without energy, and can have large impacts on overall productivity of labour and capital.

Third, increasing economic output while lowering costs is attractive for policy makers and businesses. With the major role of energy as a driver of climate change, and concerns about energy security in many parts of the world, energy productivity can help us focus on energy issues.

For instance, I commonly encounter businesses across all sectors who reject energy efficiency measures that pay back costs immediately or within five years, despite the clear benefits of pursuing them. But by showing that energy efficiency is very profitable in comparison with other investments, I hope to encourage businesses will begin to take advantage of their amazing benefits.

How can we improve energy productivity?

If our aim is to extract more economic output from each unit of primary energy, we can do this in several ways. The Australian Alliance to Save Energy has suggested:
  • improving traditional energy efficiency: more energy efficient buildings, appliances and vehicles, smarter operation of equipment, avoiding waste;
  • optimising energy supply and use across the supply chain: increasing utilisation of equipment, minimising energy losses in conversion and delivery of energy, and choosing energy sources and prices wisely;
  • transforming business models, by replacing physical products with virtual services, or shifting from producing commodity products to high-value products.
ClimateWorks Australia has presented similar options, but separate out electrification (such as using energy efficient electric cars plugged into renewable energy), and energy conversion and distribution.
In the white paper the government’s approach allows competition, privatisation and cost-reflective pricing to improve energy productivity under its broader definition.

Could Australia do more?

Neither Australia’s present level of energy productivity, nor its rate of improvement, rate all that highly in comparison to other countries, as shown in a study by the Australian Alliance for Saving Energy.

Australia doesn’t stack up particularly well against other countries on energy productivity. Australian Alliance for Saving Energy

Some countries are aiming high. The US target is to double its energy productivity relative to 2005 by 2030. At the same time, both the Alliance and ClimateWorks studies have concluded that it is feasible and worthwhile for Australia to near double its energy productivity by 2030.

The government uses a broader definition of energy productivity, and admits in the white paper that business as usual would deliver a 25% improvement by 2030. So its 40% improvement upper limit for a target seems lacking in ambition.

Given the lengthy and complex process proposed to develop (let alone implement) the energy productivity plan, and the lack of detail on resources, funding and institutional processes, maybe that’s just realistic.

The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Explainer: what is 5G?

Image via iStock

by Mark A Gregory, RMIT University

If you take a stroll outside today, you’ll see a lot of people with mobile phones, phablets or tablets in their hands making calls, using the internet to catch up on the news, watch videos, or interacting with others via Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter.

In doing so, they’re all using a mobile data network. Many of these applications – particularly video – consume a lot of bandwidth, so telecommunications companies across the world are starting to talk about upgrading to the latest generation of mobile data to help speed things up.

If you think back to early 2011 you might remember a technology imaginatively called 3G, which was short for “3rd generation”. You might also remember how everything you tried to do on the 3G network was so clunky and slow.

Many of us wanted to capitalise on some of the new features available to us on our revolutionary new smartphones like the Apple iPhone that we all rushed out and bought, but often the network just couldn’t keep up.

Things were eventually upgraded to 4G, which we’ve had in Australia for just under four years, although even this is starting to show its age.

So you might think that 5G might be just around the corner. But we likely won’t see 5G networks until the end of this decade. In the mean time we can expect telcos to start rolling out some of the technologies being developed for 5G in their existing networks.


Have you noticed that Telstra is now using the groovy term “4GX” to describe the latest upgrade to its mobile network being rolled out around Australia?

If you’re lucky enough to have a new handset like the Apple iPhone 6 or the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 then you’ll notice the new 4GX splash screen when your handset starts up.

The key 4GX enhancements are increased speed and better coverage in-building and in regional areas. This is thanks to the inclusion of spectrum sharing that better utilises Telstra’s 1,800MHz and 700MHz spectrum bands.

Telstra has only recently been able to add the 700 MHz band spectrum to its mobile network that it bought when analog television was switched off for good and consigned to history.

High VoLTE

The next step along the pathway towards true 5G is likely to occur in coming months when the telcos roll out Voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE). VoLTE will replace the existing 3G technology used for voice calls over the cellular network.

Optus, Vodafone and Telstra completed VoLTE trials earlier this year and are already preparing to roll it out.

Customers will benefit when VoLTE is introduced because the 3G channels used for voice calls will eventually be reallocated to provide increased bandwidth for data, which is increasingly taxed by the services mentioned above.

Already a large number of recently released handsets support VoLTE, and the VoLTE roll out will coincide with a network upgrade that will provide new services and improved video call capability.
A key requirement for 5G is increased connection speeds that are far superior to those experienced now. There are three factors affecting 5G connection speeds: how fast a device is moving; distance from the cell base station; and the number of devices in the same cell.

The Next Generation Mobile Networks Alliance has published a white paper (PDF) that gives an idea of download speeds in a variety of usage scenarios. These vary from very high customer density, offering 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps, to typical cell edge data rates for 95% of users with high mobility, giving a minimum of 100 Mbps. The optimal is near the cell centre with low mobility giving 1 Gbps, and the 5G peak data rate is 10 Gbps.

Another key requirement that aims to reduce some of the congestion in busy areas is the introduction of seamless handover to Wi-Fi. This means that handsets will automatically shift from using 5G to Wi-Fi when the handset is in range of a Wi-Fi access point.

Have you also noticed that Telstra has commenced rolling out a national Wi-Fi network? And that Optus has announced it is rolling out Wi-Fi in major shopping centres?

Initially the Telstra and Optus Wi-Fi networks will be open and free for everyone to use, albeit with usage limitations. But in 2016, Telstra and Optus are likely to restrict the Wi-Fi networks to paying customers only in order to be ready for the introduction of handsets capable of seamless handover from mobile to Wi-Fi.

All the way to 5G

As we approach 2020 it is likely that there will be more than 50 billion connected devices worldwide and The Internet of Things will no longer be something we think about but will be all around us. Everything from home appliances to our cars will be connected to the network, and 5G is being designed and built with this in mind.

Not only will more devices be connected to the 5G network than we’ve ever imagined, but the network will do everything better than 4G. This includes providing the capability and capacity for high resolution video streaming such as ultra high definition 4K video.

Privacy and security are also key considerations, so 5G will include extra capabilities to ensure that customer information is protected and our devices are harder to hack.

An oft-forgotten aspect of our mobile connectivity is battery life. The target for 5G networks is handsets, phablets, tablets and other devices with five times the battery life of existing 4G devices. Imagine not having to recharge for a couple of days or being able to watch a couple of movies without having to find a power outlet to plug into.

The ConversationThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Pop-up or Blow up?

If you want your pop-up to success, keep the rules of a regular business in mind. Image via iStock

by Marcus Powe PhD, Entrepreneur in Residence, RMIT

Pop-up shops are often placed in the amateur category, but temporary business ventures aren’t all that different to their permanent cousins.  

The pop-up shop is a clever and interesting way to test and launch a new business. Rental of the shop is short - and sometimes free -  but this is the only difference between a pop-up and a start up when it comes to business fundamentals.

Entrepreneurs often think think the pop-up is different from other businesses, but this is not the case. All businesses when they open for the first time are pop-ups.

When launching a pop-up you need to consider the same things you would if you were to start a business. Most people will automatically recoil at yet another checklist, so it’s best to simply consider why so many businesses collapse in their first year? The numbers are horrifying. Just think, if we had 100 businesses pop-up (read, start) how many would be trading by the end of the year in Victoria?

The reason so many businesses fail is that they have not followed a set of steps to increase the likelihood of sustained activity and prosperity.

The first step is to determine if anyone wants your product. How do you know? How do you find out? When you do research you must then check again and again before you pop-up. You also need to figure out how you will create interest; make some noise; and educate the market.

The second step is to work out what has created the demand or need for your product and why is it you who should provide it? The demand could be created by changes in rules and regulations; the economy; society (fashion and fads); technology; or globalisation, etc. Often we are so focused on what we do that we miss the big shifts in the thinking and perceptions of our customers.

The third step: Can you make more money than you spend? This applies to for profit and not-for-profit, there is absolutely no difference. You need to find an accountant - now.

The fourth step is the simplest but the most important. You. Can you do it? Really? Do what? Work hard and long, never give up, ask for help? The real thing I prescribe is finding someone to unload with. Don't take the downs and the frustrations home. Talk to entrepreneurs, they understand, they really do. Rejection is normal and it hurts. Customers reject your product, not you. This is very hard lesson when you pop-up or start a business.

The last step: Why are you popping up? The money? A creative outlet? No one else is doing it? Please think and talk about why you want to start a business, after all, popping up is not for everyone.

If you do want checklists look at the web. A simple search for “pop-up” will return many views and opinions. It looks like simplicity has been turned into complexity.

Happiness is a positive cash flow

Marcus Powe will be at the Entrepreneurs' Coffee Club in SAB, building 80 at 8am on Monday the 20th of April. Details: