I’m a middle-aged Canadian born 185 cm 90 kilogram straight white male permanent resident of Melbourne, Australia. When I arrived in Australia permanently in late 2010 to join the woman who is now my wife, I became part of a household that included Stella, a King Charles Cavalier spaniel. One morning shortly after moving in, I decided to walk out to buy The Age, and to take Stella with me. I put her on her leash and we started walking along the four lane main street in front of the house. A ute going about 60 kmh in the same direction as I was walking slowed down and pulled into the curb lane. The lone occupant, a Caucasian male who looked to be in his late twenties, stopped the ute beside me and reached across to the passenger side to roll down the window so he could shout at me. “Nice dog, . . . for a poofter!” He then gave a derisive laugh, rolled up the window, pulled the ute back into the second lane and accelerated away.

“Welcome to Australia,” I thought.

When I tell people about this incident they at first often chuckle. After we talk about it, they often say I shouldn’t take such incidents seriously, or sometimes that it was just a joke and I should lighten up. Or that he didn’t mean anything by it.

I wasn’t hurt by the comment, nor did I feel endangered. I wasn’t insulted, and I can shrug the incident off. The man was rude and ignorant. I can see some humour, not in the comment but in the absurdity and randomness of the interaction and its timing in relation to my permanently joining Australian society. I was astonished that someone would see a dog, make a judgment about the man walking the dog, make a decision and the effort to interrupt his drive, slow down his vehicle, pull over to toss out a homophobic insult at a complete stranger and run away. That he would use this language speaks volumes about his worldview and prejudices.

But this random unprovoked incident also speaks volumes about the culture in which that man lives and moves. This man obviously felt entitled and able to speak this way, that there would be no ramifications, that he was powerful enough to insult someone on a public street. And that all these decisions and actions took place so quickly, spontaneously, on simply seeing Stella and me as he was driving by, says that he has long engrained and automatic assumptions and beliefs that erupt from his unconscious when given the unfiltered and unconsidered chance to do so, in a situation with no consequences for him. And this in many ways trivial incident gives a hint of the uncertainty and wariness with which people who are subject to these types of comments on a far more regular and intentionally vicious basis must live.

People who consider themselves powerful in a given situation act without consideration for the impacts on others. And so we come to Eddie McGuire. When confronted with the fallout from his comments, McGuire eventually apologises. But it is his unconscious state—his lack of awareness—that keeps getting him into trouble. The Adam Goodes mess and now the Caroline Wilson debacle are situations analogous to what happened to me: the expression of a moment of thoughtless ignorance that exposes the speaker’s unconscious perspective on and understanding of his culture. The difference is that McGuire’s comments were eventually heard by thousands of people, not shouted out of a passing ute with no witnesses, and so McGuire is held to account. Faced with the reaction, he’ll make excuses, and finally apologize (for reasons he’s not really certain of, with a feeling of being persecuted) because he thinks he didn’t mean anything by it.

Unfortunately, McGuire did mean it, because he is actually expressing his unfiltered beliefs, the ones that are the product of countless thoughtless reinforcing repetitions over his life in the society around him. A conscious part of him may not want these beliefs, and may not like them when confronted with them, but he has them and acts according to them automatically.

Until he changes those beliefs, by being open to comprehending the consequences of his comments on others, and by deeply and unflinchingly examining what those comments demonstrate that he unconsciously assumes are the primary perspectives of his society about indigenous people and the place of women (because comments consistent with these beliefs are therefore acceptable to state publicly without thinking), Eddie McGuire will continue to make similar comments, and will go through this cycle again. I hope he can achieve this growth, but the growth will not happen until he questions himself in truly challenging ways. And the same goes for Australian society in general.

The term “mature debate” has been appearing more often recently. It has become a favorite when calling for reforms to tax policy, setting climate change targets, and adjusting industrial relations policies and legislation.

Consider, for example, the following report which appeared in The Age and on SBS on 8 October 2015:

Morrison Backs Mature IR Debate:
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison laments the predictable fight between unions and business over penalty rates.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has flagged the inevitability of changes to weekend rates.
Mr. Morrison, speaking to ABC radio on Wednesday, called for an end to the “us and them rhetoric” that dominated the workplace relations debate, citing reforms in the UK.

As Barrie Cassidy noted, however, in a piece written in “The Age” earlier this year, we haven’t seen much mature debate actually happening. Instead, we see the “old fashioned scare campaign” peddled by politicians and media.

Cassidy’s article focuses on the lack of maturity in the discussion, primarily the hyperbole and fear mongering. But perhaps we don’t see positive responses to the term “mature debate” because the term is actually being used as a Trojan Horse for introducing changes that certain people or groups will find painful, like reducing Sunday penalty wage rates, or ending negative gearing, or raising the GST, or pricing carbon. Unfortunately, the discussion of options is actually negated by pre-establishing positions: we’ll have a discussion, but certain solutions or ideas have already been rejected. Or the call for a debate includes the “inevitability” of its outcome, like an increase in the GST, or a reduction in weekend rates, and the battle lines are drawn.

In fact, the word “debate” comes from Middle English—debaten, and Old French—debatre, which both mean “to beat”, and is also the root of “battle”. The common dictionary definitions include
-“a discussion … from opposing viewpoints”, and
-“a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers”.

Parliament is set up on a debating model: two sides, one in Power and one in Opposition, and there are winners and losers in the various votes that are cast on the propositions put by one or the other group.

Perhaps what is needed to really foster reform is not mature debate, but mature dialogue. Dialogue’s meaning also comes from Old French and Middle English, through Latin and Greek, with logos (word) as its root. But unlike the opposing views inherent the word debate, the word dialogue means
-“an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.”

Dialogue means hearing and exchanging, listening and understanding, and has agreement as the goal. Perhaps a call for dialogue would be better received than a call for debate. A call for dialogue would not be couched in the black and white opposing views of “should the GST be increased?” or “should negative gearing be eliminated?” or responded to with personal attacks on those who ask difficult questions or have differing opinions.

Dialogue can embrace multiple perspectives and accommodate differing views. Dialogue can try to balance diverse aims and creative tensions. Dialogue creates different kinds of questions to allow different kinds of answers, and looks for common ground and meaning that will allow all participants to feel included and engaged, rather than isolated and demeaned.  Dialogue operates in layers, with sophistication and depth rather than sweeping generalizations.

The first layer of dialogue can be triggered by open, problem solving questions:
a) how can we as a country best reduce our carbon emissions?
b) how can we ensure the tax system delivers sufficient revenue in a manner that is fair?
c) what would fair and reasonable pay terms and conditions be for those who work on weekends?
This layer gives us ideas, without positioning or commitment, and independently of the status quo.

The ideas from the first layer lead to the second layer of dialogue questions, which are more specific:
a) what impacts (positive or negative) on our existing context could we identify if we tried to implement these ideas?
This layer identifies challenges and barriers, and allows fears and concerns to be considered.

The third layer of dialogue questions drills down further into options for action:
a) how might we mitigate the negative impacts?
b) how might we support the positive impacts?
This layer allows us to envision moving from the present to the future, in a way that ensures the best ideas have the greatest chance of succeeding.

Only after discussing the third layer should a full proposal appear, for debate if necessary–but even then debate would only be necessary to choose among options–and for a decision. At this stage, we will be familiar with the issues, aware of various perspectives and goals, and able to make mature choices, as fully engaged members not only of a particular community, but of a particular community that embraces its role within a greater society. We will also at that point have a much better chance to create a proposal that will generate a consensus.

Of course, none of these discussions will be easy. It is hard work to listen, to hear and to try to understand the views of others, to discuss issues in an open manner despite your own fears and awareness of risk to your well-being, to set aside your power to act and your own perspective during the time of discussion, and not to feel personally attacked if an idea is challenged. But these are the elements of mature dialogue, and this approach will engage and encourage people to participate, and to commit, and to be responsible for their own roles and choices, as citizens with an interest in their communities and country.

Politicians and media should model dialogue, not “old fashioned scare campaigns”. Civility and maturity require a period of dialogue, before debate and decision making. If our society aspires to be truly mature in its decision making, it has to be much more comfortable with periods of uncertainty, times of reflection, and information gathering and deliberation processes.

By saying that “everything is on the table”, Prime Minister Turnbull has created an opportunity for dialogue. Whether Parliament is capable of mature dialogue is not clear. However, let us not as citizens squander the opportunity by retreating into our corners and debating with boxing gloves from there. Let’s have the dialogue, not the debate, and in doing so we can recover and refresh the underlying principles that support civil societies in their quest to be safe, just, and prosperous: fairness, honesty, integrity, openness to broader knowledge and intelligent change, equal respect and concern for each person, present equality of opportunity, generous reward for effort, wise use and stewardship of resources, preservation of future opportunities for our descendants, and the transparent, responsible, and legitimate exercise of power on behalf of and for the benefit of all citizens.

David Warner no doubt regrets at least his choice of words, if not the whole experience of the last few days.  His flash of anger and personal frustration about an article and picture that he thought unfairly denigrated his colleagues and his league and mentioned corruption resulted in a public exchange with columnists that will be the subject of a hearing before Cricket Australia.   There have been a number of comments in newspapers about Warner’s failure of common sense (Greg Baum in The Age), and his need to develop a thicker skin (Mark Waugh quoted by Peter Lalor in The Australian).  Both of those comments are easy to make after the fact and from a distance, but as we all know, being in the middle of a strong reaction and experience is entirely different than speaking from outside of it. David Warner is a different person than Greg Baum and Mark Waugh, with his own skills and abilities, and his own strengths and challenges.

Like many others who have made similar mistakes and have media coaches, Warner is likely to provide some form of apology, express some level of contrition, perhaps make a promise not to do it again or confirm that he has learned his lesson. And we will all still know that he had a real emotional reaction, that he acted on it, and that he will struggle to manage his reactions again in the future, although he may manage to stop himself from sending a tweet next time.

The last sentence is not a criticism of David Warner: each of us feels strong emotional reactions, and many of us have  trouble managing them in the moment. The emotions are real, and we need to own them.  The actions we take as a result of those emotions we also own, but these actions are what we have much more control of, and if we manage them well, we can actually express our reactions in ways that are constructive, and that don’t require apologies afterwards because of their impact or consequences.  Rather than trying not to react, or to ignore or suppress our emotions, or to develop a thicker skin, we can try to find better ways to say what we feel.

Twenty years ago, Nicky Winmar suddenly reacted, after enduring more than enough abuse about the colour of his skin. The abuse he suffered was far more direct and far more ugly, racially directed and aimed at him personally, and so in every way was far more serious than the situation faced by Warner. Yet Winmar’s response, his flash of anger and frustration, has been acknowledged and celebrated.

The difference?  While Warner struck out, attacking those he felt were persecuting him, his league and his colleagues, Winmar stood up, making a declaration of who he was and what he believed in.

For those who have strong reactions to situations, are in a dispute with someone, feel challenged by others with different views and values, or feel abused or disrespected, look for a model to Winmar’s course of action, a way that allows you to express your feelings, while not escalating and broadening the dispute and attacking others or resorting to personal abuse.   Winmar’s declaration of himself by simply pointing to his skin after raising his jersey–a statement of his belief and his pride in his indigenous identity–expressed his feelings and challenged the racist behaviour of fans directly, but created no target or reciprocal insult that would allow them to shift the responsibility for their actions elsewhere.

In Warner’s situation, the statement might be something like: I am really angry and upset by that piece; I’m frustrated by the picture and comments in the article, because I take pride in what I do and how I play cricket. I will continue to do my best, and thereby demonstrate my integrity as a player, as well as support the integrity of the league.

So for David Warner and others who experience strong emotional reactions, the lesson from Nicky Winmar is to speak from yourself, about the impact on you and the challenges that you face as a result of feeling insulted:  the emotional relief will be just as strong, the fight will not escalate, and you will not face hearings about the impact of your comments or have to apologise.  You may even be more respected after you speak.

26/04/13: There was an interesting article by TIM HARCOURT in The Australian last week, where he asked: “In terms of an economic legacy, did Thatcherism work? Or did Bob Hawke’s strategy to “Bring Australia together” through consensus rather than conflict achieve better outcomes?”  His conclusion is that “Hawke hit Thatcher for six in the economic Ashes”, and he goes through a number of economic indicators to demonstrate his point.

My observation is that the last few weeks of commentary about the legacy of Thatcher show those who praise her talk generally about outcomes (modernised Britain, made necessary changes), and seem to share her “us v. them” perspective (broke the back of the coal miners and unions).  Those who vilify her and her legacy speak about her disregard for impact on people and communities, her failure to understand or appreciate other viewpoints, or to listen to others’ concerns.   Hawke’s legacy seems to be one where similar “necessary” changes were achieved through at least attempting to hear and accommodate diverse views, and where the resulting outcomes are more lasting, more effective and had a far lower transaction and lost opportunity cost.

Melbourne Airport announced that its short fare taxi system would be abolished next week. In this system, a taxi driver who has waited in the queue for up to two hours then happened to get a passenger going only a short distance was allowed to cut the queue on his return. Because, according to the Airport, some drivers were rorting the system, now all taxis will go into the queue.  The possible results:

1: Some taxi drivers will immediately stop servicing the airport, resulting in long delays for passengers because of a shortage of taxis;

2: Unhappy drivers who have waited in line at the airport will attempt to get out of their obligation to take any fare, regardless of distance, resulting in conflict between drivers and passengers, and complaints about breaches of the taxi code of conduct;

3: Drivers (especially drivers who do not own their cabs) will fulfill their professional obligations and provide a good service but gradually drop out of the airport run because they do not earn enough on short fares after a long wait in the queue, therefore taking us back to number one, only gradually.

4. All drivers will bear the same risk of long waits in the queue and then having only a short fare.

According to the Victorian Taxi Association, Melbourne Airport has changed the short fare system without consultation, and despite notice that there will be problems as a result. Melbourne Airport says that the new system will be more equitable, and that changes are necessary.  The Airport is convinced of the “rightness” of its approach, but the eventual impact on communities (passengers who use taxis, want them available within a reasonable time at a reasonable cost and must interact with the drivers) and participants in the system (drivers who are trying to make a reasonable living under the rules imposed by the Airport) is not taken into account in trying to develop a solution.

So how are Margaret Thatcher and Melbourne Airport similar?  Conviction about the necessity of change, strong position on how to deal with the situation, power to impose its preferred answer, and a failure to try to develop a consensus before acting.  Regardless of whether the change is necessary or not, the impact of the Airport’s approach is likely to be be similar to the impact of Thatcher’s: high degrees of conflict, being played out in the participant communities and largely bypassing those responsible for creating it, further contributions to bad relationships, a long recovery period, a system in which tension is higher than it needs to be, and finally no discernible improvement in services for any passenger.

Why not have a consultative conversation? And think about some potential creative responses: a: two taxi ranks, one short fare and one long fare, and the taxis could join either; b: short fare departures from a specified area at the end of the arrivals level, so that taxis dropping off departure fares could pick up a short arrival fare without waiting, and then continue in to the city or go back to join the long fare queue at lower overall cost; c: a specified number of short fare cabs designated at the airport each day, so that they can cycle in and out of the airport and do all the short runs.  I’m sure others more experienced with the system could come up with other solutions.

And by the way, I generally take the Skybus.

10/5/13 UPDATE: Since I wrote this piece, there have been a couple of demonstrations and blockades, hot tempers, bad feelings, conflict, a number of suggestions, and now Melbourne Airport says it’s ready to talk.  Why not talk first, decide later?





Here we will post information, ideas and our publications.

Here is a list of recent posts:

1. Vision for ADR: An article that Frank wrote for the National ADR Conference about the future of ADR. It contains analysis of the David Jones/Fraser Kirk case which illustrates what ADR can offer if managed effectively, and the risks associated with having a narrow approach to mediation.

2. Travel Diary: The Lighter Side of ADR: short pieces that show in a humorous way as we go along the lost opportunities and different perspectives that we could have if we only tried.  Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to add to this, so we will.

Hope you enjoy these. Feedback is welcome.

Frank Handy
The Trillium Group.
1800 636 869
AFTER HOURS 0403990694