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Nation-building on the nose; infrastructure stocks nose-dive

Toll-road operator, ConnectEast, has only one asset, a 39km motorway running from Mitcham to Frankston, at the cost of $3.5billion. In "A testing time for ConnectEast," The Australian Financial Review on 12 June 2008 reports that ConnectEast's shares are at their lowest value ever, just as it is about to open the toll-way, five months early. AFR Journalist, Chanticleer, thinks this is part of the 'thrashing' handed out to the 'debt-laden infrastructure sector in general'.

This is yet another private-public pet State Government project. The Victorian State Government's bias for new roads is looking sillier and sillier in the light of peak-oil, yet it continues to ram these costly anachronisms through against all kinds of public protests.

We reported on this toll-way in "Roads to Wildlife Extinction", where a proposed route for a bypass threatens to cut through a major flora and fauna reserve and to bisect the Mornington Peninsula, ruining plans for wildlife corridors in the area.

Transurban, is also sinking fast on the share-market. This is the company behind the unpopular tunnels in the Victorian EastWest link, which includes an 18km road tunnel linking the Tullamarine and Eastern Freeways and a 17km rail tunnel linking Footscray to Caulfield. These enormous automobile-intensive and invasive works have sparked massive protests, despite the fact that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, just 'kicked in' $12 million to help

Rudd's contribution comes under what everyone in the government and the mainstream press is referring to as
"nation building'. This quaint term is creepily colonial and one wonders why our leaders have accepted to mouth such clunky terminology, then one remembers that they are clunky leaders.

Anthropologist John Posthill has devoted an entire book to the term, and here is an apt quote for what's going down in Australia:

"The notion of nation building is no less problematic than that of nation. This term has long been marginalized from serious Western social theory for its association with modernization theory (Smith 2004:195, cf.Deutsch and Foltz 1963, Deutsch 1966). The latter had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s as the U.S. government recruited scores of social scientists in its efforts to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of Third World populations in rivalry with the Soviet Union and China. Modernisation became an elastic notion used by U.S. academics and policy-makers to explain the persistence of traditional ‘mind-sets’ and ease the transition to market-driven, ‘democratic’ regimes in the post-colonial world. In other words, it was used to promote a form of nation building modeled on an idealized United States (Latham and Gaddis 2000). In Vietnam, ‘the other war’, the propaganda war over hearts and minds, was fought and lost by American social scientists who failed to agree on a nation building strategy for that country (Marquis 2000). At present, the term is often used in the Anglophone media and popular scholarship with reference to America’s half-hearted attempts at ‘reconstruction’ in occupied countries such as Afghanistan or Iraq (e.g., Ignatieff 2003)."
Source: John Postill, Media and Nation Building: How the Iban Became Malaysian, Berghahn Books, 2005

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