Talking with TED, finding purpose, doing analytics, and 25 mins

Appearing in In The Black magazine, November 2018 

 

TED Talks: The official TED guide to public speaking

By Chris Anderson

Headline, $25, 224 pages, ISBN 9781472228055

TED Talks 9781472228055Large parts of the Internet seem to have descended into meaningless chatter but the TED Talks site stand out as a beacon of clarity and relevance. Anderson, the curator of the site, is adamant about the importance of clear communication, and in this book (recently re-released) he provides advice on everything from organising content to setting up a lectern.

TED Talks are given on a wide range of topics but the underlying lesson is the same regardless of subject: know what your point is and how to get to it. There is no single method for a good presentation but Anderson explores five tools in detail: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. Showing a little vulnerability, and even some humour, can help. The book has an important section on how to explain complex issues, something particularly relevant to finance professionals. The key is to build on the audience’s existing knowledge, bringing in new concepts in an ordered way.

Anderson does not much like visual aids but he nevertheless offers some useful tips. He underlines the importance of preparation and rehearsal, and has solid advice on managing nerves. Public speaking is a skill which can be learned, and this book is a very good place to start.

 

The 25 Minute Meeting

By Donna McGeorge

Wiley, $25, 208 pages, ISBN 9780730359234

McGeorge, a corporate trainer and facilitator, believes that bad meetings are the bane of business life, and when you see her calculations of the cost of lost time it is hard to disagree. Most meetings take about an hour but usually there is only 25 minutes of effective work. So, she says, limit the meeting to this time. It’s obvious, once someone has suggested it.The 25 Minute Meeting

McGeorge argues that the first step is to determine whether the meeting is even necessary (she believes that two-thirds of meetings are not). In many cases the wrong people are there, or there are too many participants (McGeorge suggests a limit of five). To make a meeting effective the purpose must be clear, the agenda provided in plenty of time, and discussion must be relevant. And everyone should leave their phones on their desk.

Much of the book is for meeting organisers but the lessons are for all participants. McGeorge believes that the chairperson must be firm in keeping things on track; this will be welcomed by everyone. And everyone should leave knowing what they have to do next. The book sets all this out with admirable clarity and systematic organisation – a model, in fact, for an effective and enjoyable meeting.

 

The Purpose Effect

By Dan Pontefract

Elevate Publishing, 288 pages, ISBN 9781773270562 (hard copy); ISBN 9781773270579 (e-book)

Pontefract’s previous book, Flat Army, was about developing collaborative mechanisms within organisations as an alternative to hierarchies and silos. In The Purpose Effect he takes this theme further, looking for ways to build personal satisfaction. He starts from the premise that a company should act in a socially responsible way, and that its values need to be understood by employees. In fact, much of the book is directed at employees, although the latter chapters are designed for corporate and team leaders.

The Purpose EffectHe asks employees to examine the relationship between their individual purpose, the purpose of the organisation, and their role within it. Do you really aspire to the position of the boss, or is it merely what you have been told you should do? If you get there, what will you do to improve the organisation and society? Is there another direction that might be more satisfying? Difficult questions, but necessary.

Pontefract provides several case studies, with his examination of Deloitte being the most interesting. It created “a culture of purpose” by seeking to instil confidence and responsibility in employees. Such programs can lift productivity but the real goal, says Pontefract, is not to improve the bottom line but to make the world a better place.

 

Analytics and Big Data for Accountants

By Jim Lindell

Wiley, 226 pages, ISBN 9781119512332 (hard copy); ISBN 9781119512363 (e-book)

This book is meant to accompany a course given by the author, a format which offers a step-by-step guide starting with basic concepts. There are chapters explaining the definition, background and development of Big Data, and an interesting section on recent and emerging trends. The real value of the book, however, lies in the chapters dealing with various analytical tools and how they can be applied, and the discussion on which tool best fits a given purpose. The section on using analytics with strategy and planning is also highly relevant.

Lindell incorporates a range of exercises and knowledge tests, using examples that grow increasingly complex. Even though he is writing about the American business environment the lessons are generally applicable, and the chapter ‘Big Data in the Accounting Department’ is especially instructive. This underlines an important advantage of this book: a reader can begin at a place which fits their own level of existing knowledge. A section that should be read by everyone, however, is the chapter dealing with privacy, which includes examples of major ethical lapses.

This is a useful book for anyone who needs to know what Big Data is and how it can be used – which means, really, everyone.
Analytics and Big Data for Accountants

 

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How data analytics is transforming audit

Appearing on In The Black Digital site, 7 November 2018 – https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/11/07/data-analytics-transforming-audit

 

Data analytics is allowing auditors to check much larger amounts of information and focus on areas of risk.

 

The auditor of the future will use data analytics to check data of much larger sets of information from a wide variety of agencies, according to Ben Jiang, director – data analytics in the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO).

“It once would have been impossible to analyse all of the transactions of a large agency,” Jiang told CPA Congress in October 2018.

“The traditional approach of sampling was necessary in its time but now the volume of transactions is so high that analytics technology has to be the way to go.”

A major advantage of analytics is that the contributing agencies can provide data in almost any format. Clients lodge their data, usually monthly, through a secure portal.

Algorithms for data analysis

Jiang’s team has written a series of algorithms to transform the material into a common format for analysis, as well as run checks for completeness. The aim of the algorithms is to streamline processes that were formerly done manually.

Image result for auditingThe result is a dashboard of aggregated, summarised data relating to each contributing agency. This allows auditors to easily access information and drill down as they need to. The common format allows for easier extraction of data, and also the checking of anomalies and outliers. The analytics program can create “red flags” to draw a matter to an auditor’s attention.

In the VAGO, the system is still in its development phase. The dashboard system will be used in conjunction with traditional auditing methods for a complete audit cycle. The two methods will then be compared and assessed, and any problems with the analytics methods will be identified and addressed.

The first wave of clients involves 35 agencies across the range of government entities, which includes departments, universities, councils and others. Second and third waves are planned, with improvements to the system being made as more experience is gained.

Auditors’ focus on risk

“The aim is to free auditors from mechanical tasks so they can concentrate on what they really need – and want – to do, which is auditing,” Jiang says.

“They can focus in on areas of risk that the analytics have flagged, such as classes of transactions. Ultimately, it will allow for better performance benchmarking and resource use as well as auditing oversight.”

To get the most from the analytics system and the dashboards, additional staff training will be needed. While auditors are generally very pleased with the prospect of not having to perform routine data collection, processing and checking, the new system requires some new skills and a different mindset.

Data analytics requires a large amount of computer processing power, so this led to a rethinking of the IT system at VAGO. Safeguards also had to be built into the IT changes to ensure data security.

Jiang notes that the software packages used to design and operate the new system are Microsoft SQL Server, Qlik Sense and Python.

“We are aware that we are writing the rulebook rather than working through an existing one,” he says.

“Especially in relation to performance auditing, I think we are just scratching the surface. And we take the view that analytics is meant to supplement and improve auditing. Analytics is the first post of auditing, and then human experience, insight and judgement take over.”

 

Looking for shoes and finding a new direction

Appearing in the UpStart section of September issue of In The Black magazine

 

Children’s book a whole new challenge

 

Going from a senior role in corporate risk management to writing a children’s book has been a huge but very satisfying transition, says Naomi Vowels, an Australian CPA who has re-located to Singapore. The company established by Naomi and her sister Frances, Red Shoe Stories, is set for success, with an innovative approach and a lot of energy.

The company’s debut book is called Where Are My Shoes?, aimed at the 0-6 age group. It is about a favourite pair of shoes that have gone missing; the main character recalls what they did that day to try and remember where they left them. A key part of the book is that it can be customised so that it features the child, including their name and with suitable illustrations. It also allows for the choice of an ‘adventure buddy’, and even gives the child the chance to choose the shoes they wear in the story.

Naomi Vowels“Frances’ two children were the inspiration for the book,” said Naomi. “They love hearing stories about themselves and their possessions. Frances had her third child in April – just ten days after the birth of my first son.”

Naomi decided to make the change from the corporate sector to small business owner and author when she and her husband relocated to Singapore from Geneva in early 2017. She had held a number of private sector roles, and worked in the Australian diplomatic service, but her most recent position had been as Vice President at Lombard Odier, a private bank, working in strategy and risk.

“Frances and I enjoyed our former careers but they were never really our passion,” she says. “We always knew there was something more ‘us’ that we could be doing. It just took us a bit of time and courage to get there. We set up our business in Singapore because it is easy to register a business there, there is support given to start-up ventures by the government and the private sector, and our key suppliers are based there.

“My former colleagues were extremely supportive of my decision. In fact, many of them expressed some jealousy that I was taking the opportunity to step out of the corporate world and pursue something I feel passionate about.”

Support and advice

Naomi believes that the expertise she gained as a CPA has been invaluable – not only the technical skills but also the peers who provided support and advice.

The next step is to get the book into the marketplace. The sisters launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the website, which is the means for customers to buy the book.

“The campaign was financially successful but we also saw it as a way to connect with potential customers all over the world,” says Naomi. “On the website, customers are able to personalise their stories and see a flip-book preview of their book. We also plan to exhibit at several book fairs in Asia, Australia and Europe, and we will continue to build our audience on social media.”Shoes book #1

Naomi and Frances have also partnered with the charity Room to Read, which promotes childhood literacy and girls’ education. One book is donated to the program for every book sold.

“We plan to make the book available in languages other than English, and we have started writing our next book,” Naomi says. “We will continue writing books for as long as they are enjoyed by children and parents. It has been hard work but I don’t think I have ever been more satisfied or happy than I am right now, writing and running our business.”

 

Red Shoe Stories Website: redshoestories.com

Social media: @redshoestories

 

The US$, fixing teams, and new leaders

Appearing in In The Black magazine, September 2018

 

The Almighty Dollar

By Dharshini David

Simon & Schuster, $33, 256 pages, ISBN 9781783963768

Almighty DollarDespite the best efforts of bitcoin, the euro, and the renmimbi, the US dollar remains the key global currency. It is recognisable around the world, is convertible nearly anywhere, and in times of crisis becomes the flight option of choice. How, says economist David, did this happen, and what is the effect on the world economy? In The Almighty Dollar she explores the phenomenon of what, in economic parlance, is called the “circular flow of income”, following a (hypothetical) dollar spent in a Walmart in Texas as it travels to a Chinese manufacturer, then to Africa, and then on to a German pension fund. After a series of other spending/investment stops it finally ends up back in the hands of the Texan consumer.

This is a contrived device, yes, but it helps to explains the processes involved. And also the scale of the flow of cash: US$1.2 trillion of banknotes are currently in circulation, with half the dollars actually outside the US. David might have spent more time in explaining why other currencies have not supplanted the greenback as the global role of the US has relatively declined but the story she tells is a fascinating one, a good balance of insight and narrative.

 

Fix Your Team

By Rose Bryant-Smith and Grevis Beard

Wiley, $28, 296 pages, ISBN 9780730354499

A good team is a productive mix of complementary skills; a bad team is a world of hurt for everyone involved. Bryant-Smith and Beard, consultants in solving workplace conflicts, believe that many team leaders fail to realise that their job is not about technical expertise but people management. The authors’ aim is to explain the most common problems and to offer practical, targeted answers to each one.Fix Your Team

Some of the issues, such as a lack of certainty in goals and confusion in lines of responsibility, are structural and can be addressed by clear communication from the leader. Others, such as unproductive meetings, need organised training. The hardest problems are clashes between people, and they can range from bullying to manipulation. Counselling can assist but sometimes intervention from specialists is needed. Joint exercises can do much to bind a team together as well as reveal the hidden abilities of members. A weekend retreat, with upskilling, can improve the engagement of employees who are only going through the motions. Most of all, the team leader must be able to develop emotional intelligence and empathy, even if it requires additional training. It is not easy, say Bryant-Smith and Beard, but it is necessary.

 

 

Leadership Transitions

By Richard Elsner and Bridget Farrands

Kogan Page, $58, 208 pages, ISBN 9780749466923

There is no shortage of books on leadership but researchers Elsner and Farrands argue that most leaders, when they take up a new position, find a vast gap between the theory and the practice. Success is more likely if the transition is approached as a learning process, especially when coming to terms with the “undiscussables” of a new organisation and its culture. They specifically argue against the idea of a new leader making immediate and radical changes. It is more likely to give an impression of insecurity than strength.

Leadership TransitionsThey see effective transitions as composed of three phases. Arrival is the time of encountering unexpected barriers, complications and unknowns. The core task in this phase is to meet and know the organisation. In the Survival phase, the new leader communicates their core values, and then, guided by those values, develops a mandate to lead. The third phase is Thriving. Here, leaders use their experience to decide the priorities and how to move forward.

Along the way, Elsner and Farrands examine the eight critical “tensions” new leaders will encounter and how a balance might be achieved. A leadership transition is always going to be difficult but this book provides sound, well-presented advice.

 

Contemporary Environmental Accounting

By Stefan Schaltegger and Roger Burritt

Routledge, $48, 462 pages, ISBN 9781351282505

This is a re-release of a seminal 2000 publication and it remains a solid guide on integrating traditional accounting with environmental issues. The book is designed as a textbook but would be equally valuable to working accountants and business leaders. The authors, both academics who specialise in this area, explain how traditional practices and new methods differ, and offer practical examples of how the principles are applied in Europe, North America and Australia. A particularly useful section deals with life-cycle assessment, probably the most common model in use in environmental information management. There is also discussion of issues such as accounting for environmentally induced financial impacts and the kind of environmental management that is compatible with increases in shareholder value, and suggestions on ways to assess and report external environmental events.

Some of this material is daunting in its technical nature but Schaltegger and Burritt manage to keep it accessible for non-specialists. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for review, which would be good for students. The section dealing with environmental management accounting gives an excellent overview of that field, and the book includes a helpful compendium of terms which allows for easy look-up of needed definitions.Contemporary Environmental Accounting

The sweet spot in the coffee business

 

Appearing on In The Black Digital site, September 2018, url https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/09/07/coffee-club-data-sweet-spot

 

The Coffee Club is using data analytics to understand customers better and stay ahead in Australia’s highly competitive café sector. Here’s how your business can use data to arrive at new solutions.

Behind a simple cup of café coffee lies a highly competitive industry, with a fickle customer base and complex marketing issues. In such an environment, the effective collection and analysis of data has become essential, as the franchise chain The Coffee Club has learned.

“In 2011-2013, The Coffee Club was riding a wave where the café industry was exploding,” says Jimmy Wu, analytics manager at The Coffee Club.

Jimmy Wu of Coffee Club“However, this growth hid a lot of problems. Data strategy at The Coffee Club was vague and ad hoc in nature, and many executives and internal stakeholders relied on summarised reports.”

The measurements were purely financial and not customer-focused.

“In 2014 there was a marked increase in competition from other chains and from independent cafés,” recalls Wu.

This put The Coffee Club brand at the crossroads between its heritage and the premium, value and convenience players in the market.

Using multiple data sources

Wu has introduced a comprehensive data analytics strategy aimed at building a complete picture of existing customers and profiling new ones. Point-of-sale data was collected on the time of day of purchases, the day of the week, other items purchased in the same transaction, and traffic count versus average spend.

Wu notes that the primary transaction data was already available, but it had not been used in the right way.

Unstructured data such as customer feedback, perceptions and behavioural patterns was also incorporated. Another data source was 150,000 active VIP customers, which provided data on their buying patterns through repeat visits.

There was also cross-referencing with other datasets. It was found, for example, that a drizzle of rain on Saturdays would increase traffic in stores, but heavy rain on Sundays would deter customers from shopping centre sites.

Comprehensive profiles on each store were developed, combined with Australian Bureau of Statistics and GIS (geospatial) data, to model the best sites for possible new stores and examine growth options within the franchise chain.

Using data to arrive at new solutions

“We are always on the lookout for better data analytics solutions as this space changes rapidly,” Wu says.

“I am a big fan of Tableau Software because it allows users to discover structured data quickly. There are also other packages that we use for different purposes, such as Power BI, SPSS, Qlik, R, and Python.

“The challenge that most organisations using advanced analytics techniques face is that you reach a point where your traditional data warehouse will not accommodate the sheer size and calculation power needed. To address this, we are moving into cloud infrastructure. This will allow us to not only take advantage of addressing our current 5Vs – volume, velocity, variety, veracity, value – but also explore innovative areas such as machine learning capabilities, and data lake [data repository] and discovery sandpit areas.”

Data-related possibilities for the future include facial recognition technologies and having AI robots answering reservation phone calls, or even having a personalised digital menu based on customer preferences with product recommendation systems built in. Another idea is to leverage AI to enable store-level operational improvements.

“In this business, understanding your customers is crucial,” says Wu. “And it’s an ongoing journey. The moment you think you’re successful is the moment where your competitors start to outperform you.”
coffee

Takeaway coffee

  • Use data to profile existing and potential customers
  • Look to see what information is already held but not used
  • Cross-reference with other datasets
  • Stay abreast of new analysis tools
  • Ensure warehouse capacity

 

Blockchain shifts solutions thinking

Appearing in In The Black Digital site, url https://www.intheblack.com/articles/2018/08/22/how-governments-using-blockchain-technology

 

Blockchain tech offers public sector answers

 

There has been a fundamental shift in thinking about blockchain technology in the past year, and blockchain-related innovations are already providing solutions to longstanding problems.

Public sector agencies in particular are exploring its potential, according to Katrina Donaghy, co-founder and co-CEO of Civic Ledger, which focuses on civic applications of the technology.

Katrina Donaghy of Civic Ledger“In Australia, we are still in a development stage, with government, industry, banks, academia and business exploring blockchain technology through proof of concepts,” she says.

The federal government is sending positive messages about blockchain technology. Standards Australia is the Secretariat for the International Standards Organization’s international technical committee for blockchain standards, and is looking at standards, definitions, rules, and other elements of the technology. This will provide a clear decision framework on issues such as governance, jurisdiction and interoperability of the technology.

“This role by Standards Australia will, I believe, be very significant in the long term,” Donaghy says.

“Another critical step is that the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agency is taking a lead with exploring blockchain uses in government. In our experience, their digital marketplace is very useful for Australian start-ups looking to secure government as their first customer.”

Donaghy also notes that the Australian Digital Commerce Association is working with government on behalf of the blockchain and cryptocurrency industries, assisting with the design of policy, guidelines and legislative changes to encourage innovation in the area.

Solving problems

In developing and adapting blockchain technology, Donaghy makes comparisons with the early days of the internet, when no one really knew what to do with it. It was sometimes seen as a solution looking for a problem.

Within a remarkably short period, however, the internet became a central part of both business and social life. She believes blockchain technology will follow a similar path.

“Like the internet, we did solve the problems of scale, improving its use and imagining new applications,” she says.

“There are thousands of very smart people around the world working on building the blockchain infrastructure, most of which is done through open data protocols.”

Donaghy argues that blockchain has a special role to play in public administration as governments look for ways to modernise their services along digital lines.

Blockchain provides a neutral place for a transaction to occur, creating what Donaghy calls “a shared truth” of data.

This is crucial when governments take the role of the authenticator of data and, through rules, determine the allocation of resources and benefits.

She says a change of thinking will be required. Blockchain is not owned or governed by a central authority, and the data is decentralised and distributed across thousands of computers.

Government agencies are inherently centralised, so change management in relation to issues of control and the future of work will have to take place as the technology is being explored.

Peer-to-peer platforms

Donaghy points to a project that her company delivered for the Australian Government. The key issue was how to improve information in the Australian water industry to increase participation and confidence in water trading.

Civic Ledger developed Water Ledger, based on the public blockchain, Ethereum. The blockchain-enabled platform provides a means to verify all water trades and update state registries in real time to prove that a water trade has happened, as well as showing the location of the trade.

A crucial part of the system is the “tokenisation” of a physical asset: megalitres of water.

“It showed how blockchain technology could address very complex problems involving many participants and a large number of rules – in fact, over 15,000 rules,” says Donaghy.

“Water Ledger has become a key success story and is a case study of a peer-to-peer exchange platform that increases the transparency of activities across borders and jurisdictions.”

Civic Ledger has developed similar solutions for other agencies, including IP Australia and the City of Melbourne.

The company recently won the FinTech Australia award for Australia’s Emerging Fintech Organisation of the Year for 2018, which Donaghy sees as an important step forward.

“To be recognised by our peers and industry is a tremendous honour but we also see it as a signal to government, industry and business that blockchain technology is a real opportunity to redesign economies and societies that are inclusive and democratic,” she says.

“The award sends a message to other start-ups who are building blockchain applications or infrastructure that this is an area where there are opportunities to succeed.”

 

Key points about blockchain

  • There are opportunities for blockchain start-ups in government procurement.
  • Blockchain is very suitable for commerce which has many participants and complex rules.
  • The real-time nature of blockchain enables transparency and accountability.
  • The decentralised nature of blockchain will require changes in thinking, particularly within centralised organisations.

 

Misplaced nostalgia

Appearing in Australian Spectator, 11 August 2018

 

The Knowledge Solution: what’s wrong and how to fix it

Curated by Melbourne University Press; introduction by Michelle Grattan

Melbourne University Press, $30, 216 pages, ISBN 9780522873832

 

Grattan has been a part of the political landscape for nearly a half-century, so when she says that there has been a marked change in the nature of debate in the past few years – and not a change for the better – we should pay attention. Indeed, her introductory essay is the best part of a book which is, to put it kindly, rather ramshackle.

She is right in saying that we are living in an age where huge amounts of information are readily available, and there are more channels of communication than ever before. But at some point this became part of the problem. If a government tries to step back from the 24/7 news cycle to think about long-term solutions to difficult problems the media space is quickly filled by the other side, or by advocacy groups, or by people claiming to be experts in something or other (they might be or they might not be, it is increasingly difficult to tell). Social media has turned into a quagmire, in which everyone has an opinion but none are particularly trustworthy.

The Knowledge SolutionGrattan does not mention it, but the Net forum of which she is associate editor and chief political correspondent, The Conversation, is an example. The essays provided by academics and qualified researchers are usually pretty good, but anything they have to say is drowned out by the public commentary, which is generally a mix of the usual Left tripe and wacko conspiracy theories. It is no longer a platform for discussion but a nasty, shouting echo chamber.

Also rushing to fill any hint of a vacuum is a slew of minor parties, which look more and more like celebrity vehicles. They usually have received only a small number of votes but they have learned a critical lesson: outrage gets you noticed. This might not matter, except that the electoral system gives them a crucial role in the Senate. Which makes them even better grist for the media mill.

Much of the current climate of distrust goes back to the media, although Grattan does not see the journalistic profession as being able to improve the situation. She suggests: “If the politicians took a higher road there would be pressure, at least, on the media to follow”. Well, good luck with that.

Nevertheless, she raises some important ideas about the current situation and where it is going. Following them up would have probably made a good book. Unfortunately, most of The Knowledge Solution seems firmly stuck in the past. Ruth Barcan’s essay on right-wing populism was published in 1998, for example.

Paul Kelly’s piece, taken from his 2014 book, examines why the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments failed. This was interesting when it was first published but now it seems like a voice from another age. Jonathan Green’s piece on political narratives is from 2013 and seems similarly dated.

Tony Abbott contributes a piece but it is from his 2013 memoir Battlelines; it is hard to see the relevance. Gray Connolly examines the Abbott government, but it has all been heard before. Here is something that the Canberra commentariat might take a note of: out here in the real world, Abbott is no longer seen as a player. The broad view is that he had his chance and he blew it. Why the Press Gallery and the Left in general remain obsessed with him is a mystery, and is one more factor contributing to the feeling that the chattering classes are in a world of their own.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does, as the book takes a Left turn down memory lane. Here is Bill Shorten meandering through the Hawke, and even the Whitlam, days. It’s all about policy, reform, and tough decisions. Says Mister Mediscare. Really, it makes one not so much laugh as snicker.

Terri Butler continues the theme, basically arguing that the ALP is wonderful and the Liberals are corrupt and satanic, and therefore Labor should be elected. Ho hum.

Greg Combet’s essay seems to have wandered in as a space-filler. It deals with James Hardie and the asbestos case. Not uninteresting in itself, but why is it in this book? Much the same can be said for Melissa Lukashenko’s 2015 essay on traditional indigenous democracy. It raises interesting points, but what has it got to do with the impact of social media and information overload on the current governing of Australia? There is the feeling that the theme has been forgotten and the book has turned into a tick-the-boxes exercise in political correctness.

The prize for misplaced nostalgia, however, must go to Gareth Evans. Although the memoir from which the piece is drawn was published in 2017, Evan’s gaze is firmly backwards, as he tells us – once again – about the wonders of the Hawke/Keating era. This is, in fact, an idea which pops up throughout the book, and one must wonder why. Yes, there were some crucial and overdue reforms implemented at that time. But we should also remember that it was Paul Keating – still a favourite of the Canberra Press Gallery – who brought a new level of invective, division and hatred to Australian politics. If there is a feeling in the general community that politics has become about tearing down your opponents, and that lies at the root of distrust, then Keating is where it started.

Given the subtitle of this book, there are surprisingly few ideas for change. An exception is a piece by Richard Walsh, arguing for an injection of direct democracy. Maybe, but the rancour generated by the same-sex marriage plebiscite suggests that Australians might have lost the capacity for reasoned, reasonable discussion. One might hope not, but the signs point that way.

This could have been an important book. Instead, with only a few exceptions, it is a mash-up of dated and irrelevant material. Ironically, it is a good example of the problem, but it is a long way from a solution.