Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Our Kev

Our Kev, yes the one that we elected to government in November 2007 has let the side down.

We all knew that dealing with Climate Change was going to be difficult and would require courage, intellect, balls and brains. Little did we know that Kev would be taking his cues from the business lobby and their spokespaper "The Australian".

Kev talks about *getting the balance right* and says that both the *far right* and the *far left* are unhappy with his targets. He says that this shows that he is in the middle and that he is walking the tightrope and has got the *balance right*.

He can say what he likes – my view is that this is bullshit.

He has been conned by the business lobby and their far right spokespeople who write emotional claptrap that can only ever get published in the Murdoch press. If he chooses to listen to them ahead of the environmental lobby then of course he will be swayed by their view – as he obviously has. This is John Howard in drag – what is it about the office of Prime Minister that causes normal, rational, logical, honest and smart people to head to the *dark side*?

It seems like our Kev has been conned by Chris Mitchell – because he wants to be liked.

Kev, we didn’t elect you to be liked by Murdoch and Mitchell – we elected you to do the right thing by Australians.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Penny's Carbon White Paper

Today our government released it’s *White Paper* on Climate Change and the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - why?

Because the planet is warming and we need to deal with it – pronto.

I haven’t yet read it all – because they have released 32 files and nearly 8 Mb of verbose content but my preliminary view is that it is either a bureaucrats dream or nightmare – there is an enormous amount of stuff there that seems designed to *obfuscate*.

In severe contrast with the Garnaut report – this one is full of stuff that I already know – or can’t understand. Whoever wrote this is a deft hand at producing content that seems designed to confuse.

Much of what I have read today is just a regurgitation of the problem and the need to act decisively with some detail about what has already been done/agreed. The Executive Summary alone is 35 pages of verbosity. Where is the new stuff Penny?

My initial impression is that much of this is a *marketing exercise* - with two key objectives.

1. To get the "deniers, nay-sayers and The Australian" on-side – a puny reduction is what the vocal anti lobby have been on-about and this delivers for them. Chris Mitchell should have a glowing "Editorial" in The Australian tomorrow. His vocal supporters in the business lobby will be jumping for joy at the crappy little attempt at mitigation. They can keep on pumping out *greenhouse gases* to their hearts’ content. No cost – no penalty and no need for change - all that lobbying seems to have worked.

2. The verbosity is also designed to obfuscate with those folks who have an understanding of the real problem and who want to see some real action. These people know that we can’t delay because there is no *PlanetB*. But it won’t work with this group who are already feeling frustrated by the delays of the past decade.

It amazes me that the first group don’t *get* the urgency to act. They view climate change as yet another *thing* that needs to be negotiated in order to get a competitive advantage over others. They haven’t yet worked it all out.

And frankly, I am over the BS that is put about by these turkeys – if they aren’t smart enough to realize that we need to act now then that is their problem – I am building a personal *mitigation plan and process* - designed to help me and my immediate family and friends get through the effects of a *post 450 ppm* world.

When we get there and these turkeys realize that they are seriously exposed – then they can *sit and burn* for as long as they like – the rest of us will be elsewhere.

Monday, December 8, 2008

OZ politicians - solving the crisis

Here is my take on some of the *contributing* factors around the current *crisis* and why it won’t be fixed anytime soon by our political class.

For over seventy years we as a nation have allowed our governments the freedom to attempt to *pick winners* at their sole discretion. Mediocre politicians have had a merry time with our money flashing it about to this or that cause – investing here or there – all in the hope that some of it will stick and that it will result in a sustainable and viable *industry* - creating that holy grail – "employment".

These same politicians would then go to confession and say "there – we did our bit for the nation" - in the hope that it would result in a gong or sinecure of some sort.

Seventy years ago they tried it with the car industry, then the aircraft industry, the defence industry, the oil and gas industry, the steel makers, the aluminium producers, the energy companies, the telco industry, the banking industry, the retailers, the wine industry, the mining industry, the fishing industry, don’t forget the farmers and the services industry. Have I missed anyone?

We have had just about every - old world industry on the planet asking for and getting some form of help, assistance, tariff or preferential treatment by our various governments – state and federal. And they are still at it.

Forget the lean, clean and modern IP based industries of the future - they are too complex for our political class to understand.

And here we are in late 2008 and strangely, we cannot point to any one of those needy - old world industries actually being world class, standing on their own and weathering the *crisis*. In fact they are all demanding yet more *assistance* to see it all through.

In a word – it’s "bullshit".

Our car industry is a classic – propped up by featherbedding, tariffs and government assistance – it has been in a class of it’s own – all because of the numbers of workers in the system.

Australian’s have been paying more than 20% too much for cars for eons. Government’s have been paralysed and unable to act for fear that they will be seen as the "bad guy" when the industry collapses – as it now has. Mind you the signals have been obvious for 5 or more years but the paralysis has just meant more inaction. It’s a tragedy – especially for the workers.

And Joe Citizen is not totally stupid – he has seen this unfolding and has reasoned that if the car industry can get away with it for so long then he will try to game the system as well. This is one of the reasons why Joe and his friends and family have been paying too much for houses – they reason that if governments can make us pay too much for cars for 70 odd years then what’s wrong with doing the same with houses for a few years? Good question.

And some of those same political class think that the future of the nation hinges on a $10 billion distribution to welfare recipients this week.

A welfare led recovery ;-) now that is unfrigginbelievable.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Boat - Model Images

Here are some images of "The Boat" - have been updating the model as construction proceeds and as some minor changes evolve based on what I am learning during construction. With any luck the model will evolve into an "as constructed" view of the final built boat.

Progress has been good - am putting together the frames and supporting structure for the first half of each hull and coating everything with epoxy as work proceeds. That is interesting - if time consuming work.

Biggest challenges to-date? Not enough clamps and having to wait for the epoxy to "go off". Just been to the hardware store for more clamps and am trying to organise a day's assembly work in advance so that each morning the epoxy has sufficient strength to move the structure.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Boat - Update 1

Here is a simplified model of a hull – without centerboards, beam sockets and other appendages.

Each hull is made up of eight vertical frames three of which contain beam sockets, a keel running the full length, a horizontal bulkhead at 400mm above the LWL, a top skin, a bottom skin and two side skins. The top and side skins are 6mm ply and everything else is 9mm ply. The whole structure will be glued using epoxy and all joints taped inside and out. Each hull will eventually be covered with a glass skin and epoxy.

During the past two weeks, all the hull frames, beam sockets, reinforcement panels and bottom skin have been cut and shaped and readied for assembly for both hulls.

The next task is to clean up the work space and get all the components ready for epoxy. Everything will get two coats of epoxy and then all the pieces will be assembled – something like a giant 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzle – assuming that I have measured and cut everything correctly!

Winners and Losers

Our Prime Minister has declared a "War on Unemployment" to combat one of the bigger problems arising from the global financial meltdown.

But it is the Treasury staffers who are pulling the levers – in fact the same people who have by and large, been pulling the same levers for the past decade and more. Is it any wonder then that we see the same unintended consequences resulting in the creation yet again of groups of "winners" and "losers".

If you are a loser then blame the econocrats in Treasury. If you are a winner then just pocket the cash and grin ;-)

Obviously the car industry and it’s various hangers on are among the winners. This is an industry that has been on the public teat in one way or another since the end of the second world war – over 70 years ago.

If you are involved with the car industry then you will be a winner because according to Treasury you are part of an industry that they deem too big to fail – so you can happily keep doing the same things that you have been doing since day dot.

Perhaps eventually the local car industry will get creative and innovative and produce efficient and inexpensive quality transport that stirs the soul – but I won’t be holding my breath.

Meanwhile, all those small, innovative, creative and mostly technology based industries that are at the dawn of a new age will become the losers.

These are the so called "soft" industries – that are evolving and developing in and around the internet and which rely on, develop and use leading edge information technology.

They include; analytics, image, video, audio and other software developers who are the backbone of the success of Google and others. Unfortunately, they are largely invisible to politicians and bureaucrats and they don’t have a big brother in Treasury or a capable industry association and lobbyists to watch over them.

Believe it or not there were once a large number of people employed in Australia in these industries and in the original information technology industry which got started here around the mid 1970’s. The large companies like banks and telco’s actually can’t operate without IT but for some reason they don’t like employing Australians to make it all work.

The banks and other large corporates have been relentlessly *offshoring* these jobs for a few years now because they have been pursuing a "lowest cost" model. It’s ironic that the local banks seek to operate under the protection of the "Four Pillars" policy while discarding Australian staff in information technology and other areas.

In the same week that our Prime Minister announced that he would throw over $6 billion dollars at the local car industry, one of our local banks announced that it was sending a $580 million technology project to India. Great timing. Which bank?

It’s obvious to me which industry we should be fostering and supporting and which ones we should be weaning off the public teat.

But then I don’t work for Treasury.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Boat

For the past three years on-and-off I have been researching boat designs, systems and technologies – all geared toward the day when I have enough time and money to build "the boat".

I have previously built boats and other complex things and have a lot of experience with wood, epoxy and composites – usually small craft in the 14 to 16 foot range.

Three years ago "the boat" was going to be a catamaran – to a Tim Clissold design but those thoughts and ideas have evolved into a variety of trimarans and other cats and even the odd mono hull.

The final version is a cat by Bernd Kohler and based on his DUO 800 design. You can find the design here.

This is a very light – even minimalist design that can be described as a "pod cat" – because it has two 8 metre long hulls and a central pod supported by aluminium beams. It is demountable and the version that I am building has a neat "biplane" rig – two carbon fibre masts – one in each hull.

But even Bernd’s design wasn’t quite what I wanted – so I have made a few modifications.

As an aside, I ended up going to school and learning the fundamentals of yacht design - including hydrostatics and structures and spent a lot of time exploring alternatives with 3D modeling software. I must have created and tested 30+ designs before this final configuration emerged.

I have enlarged the DUO 800 pod (slightly) and the hulls have been modified – they are now symmetrical – the original was asymmetrical and didn’t use centerboards and a few other things that are evolving as the build progresses. Some very interesting foils are going to serve duty as centreboards.

Progress has been good – my efforts in the first week have produced the hull sections and I am starting on the beam connection sockets - will keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poor Policy dressed up as a Good Idea

Now I don’t want to be a party pooper – but it’s a seriously *stupid* idea for the federal government to prime the real estate market with yet more dollars by way of the "first home owners grant".

Because that was a big contributor to this mess in the first place.

The OECD and others have been warning for a long time that Australian real estate is seriously overvalued – to the tune of 50%. The bubble that started inflating at the beginning of this century has yet to deflate.

There was an opportunity with the current financial crisis to fix this distortion and to allow prices to come back to a reasonable level – albeit one that would mean that punters would have lost some of their gains – and state governments would have had to get smarter with their land release strategies.

This is what I was expecting to happen – but Kevin and Wayne have obviously been convinced that a hit to housing would have a large impact on the broader economy.

This intervention has got Treasury’s fingerprints all over it. And all it will do is defer the moment when the hit to real estate will have to be taken and prices come back into line with what is happening in the US and the UK.

It’s not a very smart approach to keep propping up real estate so that prices stay 50% or so higher than the rest of the world – just to keep the punters on-side.

My sense is that they might be successful in the very short term but eventually the piper will have to be paid and we will see a decline in values – my guess is that Kevin probably won’t want that just prior to the next election.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Skill Shortages - Part 4

It is interesting to discover the large amount of quality material in the public domain about "skill shortages" - the only question is why we still keep blabbering on about it - perhaps it has something to do with "vested interests" trying to control the agenda. Anyway, this article by Sam Varghese in March 15, 2005 is still relevant in 2008.

The talk of a skills shortage in ICT labour market is perplexing because most available data points in exactly the opposite direction, a leading labour market consultant says.

Bob Kinnaird, who is with the Sydney firm of R.T. Kinnaird and Associates, said there was no evidence to justify the claims of a shortage of qualified labour among IT graduates, post-graduates or experienced professionals.

Kinnaird undertook a study for the Australian Computer Society last year which found that migrant IT workers were depriving Australian IT workers of jobs. The report was never released by the ACS, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.
However, a copy was passed to the then communications minister Daryl Williams and distributed to several government departments.

Kinnaird said today that the ACS had commissioned him to do an update to the report which he had completed and submitted. "They are considering that report and planning to release their policy along with the report's findings by the end of this month," he said.

In defence of the ACS, Kinnaird said they had commissioned a study and were now willing to pay for an update. "The government departments should be doing this because the government is responsible for immigration policy, not the ACS," he said.

"The immigration department is supposed to take advice from the department of employment and workplace relations about matters such as this. One would expect immigration to also speak to the ICT department and the minister. Why that didn't happen last year, when they had copies of the report which the ACS commissioned, I guess you'd have to ask the departments concerned."

Kinnaird said all available evidence pointed to a massive oversupply of IT graduates.

"Thirty percent of IT graduates can't find full-time work. This is much higher than the other professions where 20 percent can't find permanent work," he said. "Last year, there were about 2000 IT graduates out there in the market without jobs, these being from the 2003 graduation class."

He said among post-graduates, 26 percent could not find full-time jobs. "The figure for other fields is 12 percent, so there is no justification to speak of a manpower shortage."

Among general IT professionals, Kinnaird said the unemployment figure was relatively high compared to the past - 4 percent for IT pros, 2 percent for other professionals.

He pointed to government statistics which show that there are more suitable applicants for IT vacancies now than a couple of years ago. "In May 2004, there were 5.8 suitable applications for each vacancy; in 2003, it was 5.5. And this judgement is made by employers, not recruitment agencies. The figure was 3 during the height of the tech boom."

Kinnaird said the situation in NSW was tighter than in some other states but said he could not provide figures right away.

"No doubt, the labour market is improving. But if people are talking about shortages of skilled IT personnel and a skills crisis, then one would think that they should produce some evidence of the same," he said.

Kinnaird again pointed to government statistics published in the last few weeks to show that migration was adding to ICT oversupply.

"The number of ICT visas issued in 2003-04 was 9400, of which about 50 percent (4800) were onshore visas, meaning visas for overseas students graduating in ICT from Australian universities. That represents an increase on the number issued in 2002-03.
"The increase was over 50 percent, from around 6000 visas in 2002-03. In other words, while 30 percent of Australian IT graduates could not find a full-time job in 2004 (2000 people), the government actually increased the ICT immigration intake by 50 percent from 6000 to 9400.

"That shows how ICT immigration has got out of line with the ICT labour market reality. My report to the ACS suggests ways of fixing this," he said.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Skill Shortages - Part 3

I have previously accused the mainstream media of regurgitating the press releases of "vested interests" and now I am about to do the same. Here is a relevant one from the Australian Computer Society (ACS) from September last year.

-- Start of Press Release --

September 12, 2007 - 1:47PM

While Australia continues to have its lowest unemployment rate in decades, ICT professionals in their middle years aren't sharing in the rewards.

One in three ICT professionals in the 41- to 50-year-old age bracket have been unemployed in the past five years, at a time when the sector is experiencing an unemployment rate of 3.84 per cent, nearly half a per cent lower than the national average.

This is one of findings from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Employment Survey for 2007, released today by the Australia Computer Society (ACS).

ACS president Philip Argy said the higher level of unemployment across the 41-50 age group was of concern.

"It is more likely that this unemployment is derived from a combination of age discrimination and either real or imagined concerns about the currency of their ICT skills."

The survey also revealed that 19.2 per cent of respondents felt that they had experienced discrimination on the basis of their age, and 9.6 per cent of respondents felt that they had been discriminated against on the basis of race and ethnicity.

"The survey results demonstrate that mature and experienced workers are being sidelined and their skill levels and corporate memory are being ignored. With the ICT industry suffering from major skills shortages, Australia is not in a position to ignore skilled professionals," Argy said.

Another disturbing finding in the survey is that 27.8 per cent of female respondents felt they had been discriminated against on the basis of gender, compared to 1.5 per cent of males.

It also found that sexual discrimination was significantly higher in Queensland and Western Australia.

-- End of Press Release --

The ICT industry in Australia, in particular has been decimated by the talking up of "skill shortages" and the bringing in of foreign workers under the 457 visa.

Clearly big business have discarded and ignored older workers because they have been able to easily import younger, cheaper and more compliant foreign substitutes.

And our Immigration Department and it's policy people have obviously been no intellectual match for the *spin meisters* employed by the large foreign owned ICT companies that have driven this agenda and which has been so damaging to Australian ICT workers.

So the message is rather stark.

If our Immigration Department has been "rolled" by the large ICT companies – why wouldn’t they have also been "rolled" by other large industries?

The truth is that they have been.

As I said previously – "Skill Shortages – its mostly BS".

Skill Shortages – Part 2

It is difficult to find an impartial analyst – especially one who is both curious enough and thorough enough to uncover the facts and present the truth on the story of Australia’s "skill shortages" - and related government policy.

And the story of the 457 visa has been clouded by claim and counterclaim. To uncover the truth we need to dig deep to find and then discard the views of "vested interests" whose job it is to obfuscate.

For example, according to the Immigration Department, the latest (July 2008) figures show the average salary for a 457 visa-holder is around $73,000 and this is often compared with the average Australian salary of about $55,000 – all supposedly to demonstrate that these folks are being well paid – and so we should not be concerned.

The problem is that around 81% of the incoming workers are professionals – a significantly higher percentage than the Australian workforce generally. So you can see how this is an example of using selected statistics to skew the truth.

Journalists in the mainstream media in particular have been guilty of this – often just regurgitating the spin that is put about by "vested interests".

For a fairly complete and somewhat impartial commentary on the 457 visa there is a transcript of an interview between Peter Mares, Bob Kinnaird and Siew-Ean Khoo here.

As Bob Kinnaird says, "The key concerns about the IT area in 457s are that the visa grants in IT were actually increasing during a period of downturn in the graduate labour market in particular in Australia. Over the period 2001 to 2005 we had record levels of graduate unemployment amongst Australian graduates from computer science courses, yet the department was actually increasing the number of visa grants to young 457 visa holders and predominantly the growth was going to people from Indian companies and their salaries were being approved at very low rates".

The results of these "unintended consequences" are there for all to see in the shunning of computer science courses by young Australians in 2008. They observed what happened and have voted with their feet – often moving to legal and medical studies – which are seen as being "safer".

Meanwhile, the salaries of IT workers have plummeted and the bar has been moved ever lower. There does appear to be a key linkage between talking up "skill shortages" and driving down the salaries of Australian workers.

And we talk about being the "clever country".

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Skill Shortages - it's mostly BS

I keep hearing the nonsense that serious "skill shortages" exist in this country – most recently from someone who shall remain nameless - but who should know better.

Those people who are pushing the "skill shortages" barrow are really just vested interests who are trying to gain an advantage – usually at the expense of the rest of us.

So who are these vested interests?

Well mainly it is big business – often supported by small business – who have been *geed* up by the industry associations – which in turn have been setup by big business.

And often these vested interests have been aided and abetted by the recruitment industry – because these people live on the fees generated as labour moves around.

Big business has been driving the "skill shortages" agenda for a few years now – it’s all designed to drive down the cost of labour and to put pressure on government to allow the importation of foreign workers – often under the 457 visa.

The theory is that if business can control the importation of workers then they can more closely control who they bring in and at what cost. From the business perspective this is all about control over the supply and cost of foreign labour – which can then be used to set the benchmark for the cost of local labour.

There is also much greater opportunity to exploit vulnerable foreign workers as they often owe their employment, income prospects and immigration status to their business sponsor.

Who is looking after these workers?

The issue for me is that there has been no "expose" of what is going on – neither governments nor the media have done anything to raise awareness - why?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unfinished Business – Indeed

Have just finished reading David Love’s new book "Unfinished Business" – which is about Paul Keating’s superannuation revolution that he started in concert with Bill Kelty and others - and which ended abruptly in 1996.

It’s a fantastic and true story, one that any thinking person will recognize as being a great overview of the key drivers of Australia’s economic performance over the past 15 or so years.

Keating’s revolution was based on his insight that by encouraging every citizen to save for retirement and with the help of government, a huge pool of investment capital would be created that could be used to enrich the nation.

This is the capital vat that has been used to great effect by Macquarie Bank and others to develop a world class financial services industry – mostly based in Sydney.

The book also shows how the Howard government wasted the opportunity to continue the superannuation ratio trajectory as Keating had planned - beyond 9% toward 12% and eventually to 15% of income and the risk now to the Australian economy as a result. All because of conservative party ideology.

This is weird because the conservatives seem to have a problem with a savings system that will provide for worker’s retirement but they seem to ignore the fact that the same system provides a mammoth investment pool for Australia’s benefit.

The book also shows that there is reluctance within the new Rudd government to pursue Keating’s "Unfinished Business" because of the people who are currently in control of superannuation policy. Is this a different ideology at work?

Love’s story provides a tremendous explanation of the creativity and innovation that happened in the Australian financial services industry – starting in the 1990’s. For me personally it is a great story because I was in the middle of it at the time. It also shows why other states are not as developed from a financial services perspective – because most of the action didn’t filter through to them. Like a lot of things at the time, most state government’s didn’t *get* what was happening and were left behind.

This is a fantastic book – and David Love has done a terrific job – it is something that should be compulsory reading for all thinking Australian’s on all sides of the political spectrum.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Superstition parading as science?

I sent a letter to "The Australian" this morning in response to another climate change denier and his fanciful story on page 8 - this has become a pattern at the OZ and frankly, I am over it.

-- Start of Letter --

You really do this nation a disservice by continuing your campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt around climate change – as demonstrated by Arthur Herman’s article on Monday August 4th.

He starts off by quoting NASA as his source and then seriously misrepresents the data there. All your readers need to do is visit - this NASA page to see the true extent of the unfolding climate disaster. Australian’s don’t need this misrepresented through the filter of your bias.

The Australian and it’s editors might get their jollies by continuing to parade the world’s deniers as having credibility – but the poor and the ignorant will be the losers – is that your intent?

Most thinking Australians expect more from their national newspaper.

Its gone way beyond a joke – I only wish you would put as much effort into the rest of your newspaper as you do into the half truths and bias on the opinion pages which seem to have become someone’s personal vendetta against the nation.

You might consider adopting the motto of another large media organization – "Do no Evil" – because you will need to do something to resurrect your credibility.

-- End of Letter --

Of course The Australian won't print it - because their Editor, Chris Mitchell is running a campaign against anything to do with climate change - makes you wonder what he is scared of? Actually, the truth is that he is just another tired old right wing cultural warrior who thinks he is the only one able to take the fight to those dreaded lefties AND he has managed to con Rupert into thinking that he can do it. Makes me wonder why we tolerate their ignorance and stupidity - it's all so 1970's?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Money and Water – a volatile mix

I have been watching the recent SA Water billing issues and political response with great amusement – it’s all so very predictable.

Basically, the SA Parliament legislated last year to increase water charges – some by 13% from 1st July this year. But because the SA Water billing system is such a fossil, they couldn’t do it effectively on the day and so SA Water have been adding extra charges to bills generated from meter readings as they happen – some as early as last December.

All this means that the voters who have received those inflated bills are unhappy.

The state government has finally realised they will cop the blame and so they are proposing to refund *some* of the windfall. Or that is what Murdoch’s “daily shopper” reports – my guess is that it is a bit more complex.

The reason this has happened is that like so much of South Australia’s ageing infrastructure, no real investment in SA Water systems have been made for many decades and so the basic tools that we expect a water utility to have just don’t exist here. If they can’t get billing right then what about their people, assets, customer and demand management tools? My guess is that they are equally defective.

Actually, I know they are. It all reminds me of a time back in the “previous century” when I had responsibility for the billing systems of another state water authority – when the then leadership recognised the need to upgrade and move toward a more flexible system.

This was planned to be a system that could accommodate fast and unusual change and which was responsive to government, customer and business needs. It has been in place elsewhere since the mid 1990’s.

One of my early tasks was to travel the country, meeting with leaders from other water authorities – with the objective being to see if we couldn’t all get together and contribute to a system that would deal with uniquely Australian issues and more importantly be one that would satisfy the needs of our owners (the state governments), the various state water businesses and our customers.

Now I could write a book about the various responses to that. But the response of the then E&WS Department was - why?

Basically, the locals didn’t *get* the need for change – they were happy with what they had and couldn’t ever see a need for “flexible” billing – because well “we don’t do that sort of thing here”.

I am sure they don’t.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Leaders have to Communicate

Yesterday I wrote about Ross Garnaut’s briefing at the Adelaide town hall – on the economic effects of climate change - and why this should be front page news in the Murdoch press today.

Well the local version of the Murdoch press is colloquially known as “The Daily Shopper” – its banner name is “The Advertiser”. I imagine you can guess what its prime focus is.

Anyway, the front page today is dedicated to that great intellectual pursuit - “Football” and a beatup about vehicle manufacturing. The Garnaut story is buried on page 8 – well hidden as a subset of a bigger story on the G8 meeting. Not only is it well disguised but it somehow doesn’t get around to mentioning the “risks” to South Australia that were a feature of the Garnaut briefing.

I suppose that if your primary business is selling advertising space to local retailers then the last thing you would want to do is “scare the horses”. But then I wonder who is responsible for informing the local community - if not the local newspaper?

This all reminds me of Lee Iacocca’s 9 commandments of leadership – one of which is:

“Leaders have to COMMUNICATE. I’m not talking about running off at the mouth or spouting sound bites. I’m talking about facing reality and telling the truth. Nobody seems to know how to talk straight anymore. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to convince us that things are not really as bad as they seem. I don’t know if it’s denial or dishonesty, but it can start to drive you crazy after a while. Communication has to start with telling the truth, even when it’s painful.”


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Garnaut says that South Australia is more exposed to climate change than any state

I went to Ross Garnaut’s briefing this morning in the Adelaide Town Hall and I am glad that I did.

Not just to hear about the work that his team have done on the economic effects of climate change but also to witness the strong support that he has across the South Australian community. That was impressive.

There were a lot of people there – the entire top and bottom sections of the main hall were full and not just with young people, there were a lot of old people – all interested in what he had to say.

And what he had to say isn’t pretty. The main theme for South Australia is that this State is more exposed than any in the nation and Australia as a country is more exposed than any other developed nation.

Now that should be front page news in the Murdoch press tomorrow and the lead story on commercial television tonight – we shall see.

The full impact on South Australia is not yet known because the modeling isn’t yet complete but the situation is dire because;

As Ross Garnaut said: "By 2050, unmitigated climate change on middle of the road outcomes would mean major declines in agricultural production across much of the country, including a 50 per cent reduction in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. By 2100, irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin would decline by 92 per cent."

The South Australian economy is very dependent on agriculture and this is the "middle of the road scenario". The worst case scenario is not yet fully understood but it will mean that even larger areas of the State become uninhabitable!

And yes, there were the usual claque of naysayers, deniers and nutcases present – mostly asking irrelevant questions and/or making ridiculous statements. Sometimes I wonder if they actually understand anything about the subject. But clearly Ross had heard the dumb questions before and managed to answer them with dignity and clarity. I imagine that it must become very tedious having to respond to these people each time he gets up to present some important work.

The good news is that his work is leading to a thorough understanding of the problem and that should lead us to a range of options for mitigation – we all need to get involved and ensure that our politicians follow through with real *action*.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The world is changing – we need to be aware

The world is definitely changing – and at an increasingly fast pace.

Those amongst us who are either in denial or who resist informing themselves about this change and/or the pace of it - risk becoming further alienated at serious personal cost.

One small example is around what is happening in the USA with transport fuel costs.

This is the place that has had some of the lowest transport fuel costs of any major country over an extended period - and who have become so profligate that they think their SUV’s are somehow appropriate transport – and that they all have a god-given entitlement to cheap fuel!

Well lordy - many of them have had a huge wake-up call with increasing “gas” prices and they are now concerned because their little Iraq adventure and experiment was designed to “protect” the American way of life from the “realities” of the world.

In particular, it was supposed to ensure their control of a large slice of the world’s oil reserves - so the good ole boys could continue to drive their F350’s and Hummers – while giving the rest of us the “bird”.

Well guys, your devious little plan seems not to have worked as expected.

Aside from demonstrating the extent of your diplomatic and military competence, the other thing that your little adventure has done is that it has probably contributed to the establishment of speculators who know how to drive the oil price higher each day – thus delivering real pain to American and other profligate oil consumers. Some might consider it unkind to suggest that Bush and Cheney have managed to achieve what Bin-Laden failed to do.

Anyway, now many American citizens are desperately trying to catch up with the realities of an “oil constrained” world. Some are even investing in bikes and learning how to ride them – it must be hilarious to see those good ole boys jump on the treadley and head down to the mall for their morning maccas.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Small minds – and small minded scams

Is it any wonder that the people of South Australia distrust their government when they try on scams like the one that I witnessed today.

First a bit of background – one of the main roads leading out of the city of Adelaide toward the south is Goodwood Road. Over recent months there has been quite a bit of building activity along here - as the buildings are refreshed around the showgrounds.

A number of new buildings are being erected and “the government” in it’s wisdom has changed the traffic management arrangements along Goodwood Road – there are lots of temporary changes in place – it varies from day to day – but basically, the speed limits have been reduced and traffic is regularly disrupted during the course of the day as trucks and deliveries come and go to the work site. It’s a bit of a shambles really – as anyone traveling along there will know. A typical state government project.

Which is all very well – except the police have set-up a speed trap with a patrol car - using a speed camera to catch people who are exceeding the arbitrary “construction speed” limit.

Not a problem really – except the arbitrary signposting and speed notification is extremely poor quality and unreliable – it gets changed regularly and that’s exactly what happened today.

The worker who had responsibility for setting up and managing the limits and process today obviously had a hangover – because the world (OK – the local traffic) was moving faster than he could cope with.

And the speed camera cop was having a field day – catching those poor souls who dared to exceed the arbitrary “construction speed” limit. He might even have made enough to retire – given the amount of tickets that were written.

Anyway, this just highlights what is going on in South Australia. It’s a sad situation when the police need to set-up speed camera traps – and rely on construction work to make them effective from a revenue perspective.

And so the question is – “what is the construction speed” along Goodwood Road? I’m glad you asked – because I don’t know and neither does the person who is responsible for the signposting – because it varies between 25, 40 and 60 kilometers an hour – all depending on the time of day and the location - and probably also the phase of the moon and the size and location of a rat’s rectum.

But I guess that doesn’t matter when the objective is to scam some revenue.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Lets all sit around and wait – for something

I wonder how many times the reality of South Australia’s prospects need to be raised before Mr Rann and his colleagues start to pay attention, listen, understand and actually do something?

Last night at a conference in Adelaide, Mr Phil Ruthven – the IBISworld executive chairman - said South Australia is in danger of developing a “cargo cult mentality” by waiting on the much hyped mining boom to arrive.

Of course this is the very same mining boom that Mr Rann and his colleagues and the Murdoch press have been talking up for years now and which still seems as far away as ever.

The reality is that mining does not employ many people – the Australian average is around 1% of the workforce – in the South Australian context that is about 5500 people. And the latest Bureau of Statistics data shows that since 2002 the mining workforce has actually been reducing in South Australia! The South Australian Government’s own economic forecasters show that employment will peak in 2011-12 at around 8900 jobs! The truth is that mining alone won’t create the necessary jobs to support the place.

Clearly mining is not something that our state government should be “betting the future of the state on”.

The two questions that spring to mind are – “Why are they?” and “What’s the alternative?”

The answer to “Why are they?” is that unfortunately - in South Australia - we have a history of government and political leadership that is incapable of marshalling the intellectual resources needed to develop a big-picture long-term plan - to sell it to the people and to then execute against it.

There has also been a historical failure of many previous South Australian politicians and their bureaucrats – we all saw the debacle of the Liberal's Brown and Olsen attempt to recreate Silicon Village in Adelaide.

While that’s the subject of another article, it is a good example of leadership failure – and we should try to learn from it. It seems to me that the people who want to become state politicians are not the same people we need to build and develop the place.

Do we need a smarter political selection process? Absolutely.

As to “What’s the alternative?” that’s also not easy – and I don’t have immediate answers – but there is a well understood process that the state should be going through to understand and develop its options.

This is called Strategic Planning – and is a rigorous and robust process that identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the place and attempts to find the best mix of opportunities that the state should be investing in and encouraging. This is more of a process than an outcome - because it's the activity of the process that creates the learning and knowledge.

But when I talk to people about Strategic Planning – in most cases their eyes glaze over and they want to move the conversation to football. That’s the real problem.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Green Information Technology Services

I recently asked my network group at LinkedIn to give me some guidance and advice on how to develop a set of “green” information technology based services for clients.

Here are five of the responses that I thought were rather interesting and worth exploring in depth.

1. NeutralTech: Help large corporates develop initiatives that will reduce the carbon emissions of their technology departments. Lots of scope with this: from designing a model to actual implementation of a "turning green" project.

2. GreenSourcer: Set carbon footprint targets for technology suppliers. Design a carbon footprint measurement methodology. Set up an indexing system for preferred "green" suppliers.

3. SustainabilITy: Most large corporates would already have "green-ing" programs. You can position yourself as the "expert" in utilising best of breed technology to drive these programs. So this is not so much providing "green" technology services, but providing technology services that drive the organization wide "greening" process.

4. Recycling: Help create an awareness that can be inculcated throughout industry and user base to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” thereby hiving off systems that have outlived their particular ‘standard’ can be repurposed, reorganized / reprogrammed to enable usage in various charities, NGO or non critical usages. Recycling computing equipment otherwise can keep harmful materials such as lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium out of landfills and dumping yards where the risk of seepage / leakage to external environment remains high.

5. Working from Home / Telecommuting: Promote the principle and practice of telecommuting Teleconferencing and telepresence technologies that are often implemented in green computing initiatives. With many advantages like increased worker satisfaction, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions related to travel, and increased profit margins as a result of lower overhead costs for office space, heat, lighting, etc. savings are significant. I know that the Voice over IP (VoIP) reduces the telephony wiring infrastructure by sharing the existing Ethernet copper (a toxic metal) and is another efficient way to optimize the usage and adds up one more advantage to the ‘green IT’ arena.

Does anyone have any other ideas?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Nepotism is alive and well – perhaps even flourishing in the town where I live

I thought that nepotism was something that had died a natural death – with the need for increased corporate governance in the 21st century and the corresponding need for transparency within and between organizations – I didn’t imagine that it could exist in any substantial or obvious way in 2008.

With all the statutory and regulatory and reporting requirements and the fact that boards now have a much more detailed and enhanced responsibility to their shareholders, I thought that patent and obvious nepotism would be shunted out the door with all those other corporate antiquities of the previous century.

Nope - perhaps I was naive enough to think that corporate boards are actually interested in transparency and openness. The ones’ that I am talking about are willfully blind to bad behavior – probably because they have their collective fingers buried deep in the pie.

The way to fix this problem is clearly not with regulation or legislation. The way to fix this problem is by encouraging whistleblowers and protecting them when they do.

But I don’t expect it to happen in my lifetime.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Spin City in the South

I sometimes despair at what is happening across Adelaide and South Australia - or more correctly what is not happening.

The place is locked in a time warp – it’s the 1950’s all over again – but this time it is run by a *spin meister* who is more concerned with retaining power than with fixing the substantial problems of the place.

It doesn’t matter how hard or how often the Premier and his PR army try to talk the place up – the people are finally waking up, peering out from under their mushrooms and asking the tough questions.

Which is all rather unusual – South Australians have a reputation for not questioning authority. I think it stems from the fear and control that has been wielded by government and business over many decades in a town where jobs are hard to find and easy to lose. It’s much safer to keep your head down. Those who speak out have traditionally been punished – often losing their jobs or being bypassed for promotion or even blacklisted. I have some personal experience of this. To an outside observer, it seems the government thinks it is much easier to sweep things under the carpet rather than deal with reality. This might also explain why the Premier is so opposed to an independent commission against corruption.

And of course this is all aided and abetted by a local media that can best be described as mediocre. Actually, David Salter in his recent book “The Media We Deserve” can articulate it much better than I can – the subtitle is “Underachievement in the Fourth Estate” – it’s well worth a look. You probably won’t find it advertised in the Murdoch press though.

Which is why it’s interesting to note that the people of Adelaide are starting to get angry and some are even revolting. Just goes to show that when the primary tool of government is media manipulation and spin and nothing of substance comes out the other end then the community patience starts to wear a bit thin.

That’s the problem – despite the big words and the grand plans and the supersized headlines, nothing of substance ever happens here. And that’s pretty much how the *spin meister* likes it because if you do something then you might upset someone – and upset people usually vote for oppositions.

The issue of the moment is transport – I have written about this previously. Perhaps the people of Adelaide have reached their *pain threshold* and have decided that it is time to make some noise because the government and the transport minister don't seem to react until they get their names in lights.

That noise is only going to get louder while the focus remains on spin and not substance.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

John Button - a giant of a man

John Button died today. Despite his physical size, he was a giant of a man and a great Australian.

I first came across John back in the 1990’s when I was involved with developing export markets for Australian IT products and services. The first time I met him was at the Hannover Technology Trade Fair in Germany in 1994 – seems like ages ago now.

He was then the Industry Minister in the Hawke Government and he was on a mission.

He wanted to change things and to create a better world for the benefit of Australian industry - they certainly needed it. His passion was to bring Australian industry into the 20th century and to do it in a way that had lasting benefit. He thought Australia should have a place on the world stage.

He was miles in front of recent Industry Ministers.

He was someone who intuitively knew that we couldn’t rest on our laurels and that we needed to walk the talk with regard to becoming the “clever country”. In fact I think it was John who cajoled Keating into talking about it and eventually doing something about it.

And John was passionate about football and his team – Geelong. I don’t think he missed a game at home. In his later life, this was his main interest and it gave him a lot of joy.

I last spoke with John at a party in Melbourne in late 2007. Julian Burnside was launching a book and John was there with a lot of like minded people. We spoke about old times and his health. He was optimistic about the future.

John was a good guy – he worked hard and tried to make a difference – I will remember him as an Australian politician who did make a difference - a rare breed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

House Prices - a disaster about to happen

The Possum at his web site has an interesting series on housing – lots of ideas, thoughts and comments on display.

I do like the fact Poss that you have gone “out there” and offered your thoughts and ideas - but my sense of it is that the time for properly managed policy responses has long gone. Now we are in unchartered waters - the housing market has a life of it’s own and “policy” - is pretty much redundant.

A major factor influencing house prices is “emotion” - how else to explain the fact that for at least three years the “punters” have been buying houses at seriously overvalued prices.

The OECD have been saying for at least those three years that OZ house prices are 50% overvalued. It might be that *some* of us are deaf but the rest of us have been in denial. The truth is that we have been paying too much because we think that we will be bailed out - either by the banks or by government.

Perhaps that should be re-phrased as - we think that we will make a serious killing while other punters keep buying and paying too much. And in the event that the music stops - then we will be looking for someone to bail us out - because isn't that what always happens?

And the reason is because that is the expectation and the history of the place. When was the last time that Joe punter had to wear the consequences of his decisions? Greed is a powerful emotion and greedy punters think that they will be saved from their own stupidity - by *someone* - often a taxpayer.

And in truth it will likely happen. Because we have been pouring our spare cash into non-productive housing investment and not into real business activity, we have come to believe that this is all OK.

My sense is that we are about to find out how the “market” works - and some of those folks who were flashing around someone else’s money will end up in deep doo-doo.

The question is - “do we save them from their own stupidity”? Or “do we let the market perform it’s function”?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Adelaide Traffic - Is anyone listening?

I wrote about this last year - but obviously no-one was listening - probably time to regurgitate it.

Many years ago when I was a conscript we had a saying about the mission of the Australian Army - it was “Hurry up and wait”. That seemed to be the single thing that drove the place and which all conscripts could identify with - we had to rush to get somewhere and then we had to wait.

Well it seems that Adelaide has adopted the theme.

The local traffic management system was obviously designed to keep people waiting in the city. It’s a stop start system that seems intent on wasting time and money. Progress through Adelaide is a series of small steps from intersection to intersection - each followed by an excruciating wait for the signals to change to green so we can continue to the next - only to approach and get the dreaded red light.

Some think this was designed to slow us down - but did anyone calculate the impact in terms of fuel and pollution cost and wasted time?

A simple analysis shows that the cost of the Adelaide traffic management system in wasted time, fuel and pollution is around $1 billion annually. The cost of fixing the system is also large but using new and smart technology, it is likely to be less than $100 million. The benefit/cost ratio is compelling – so why won’t the state fix it?

Good question – the answer is because the state has become dependent on red light, speed camera and other penalty revenues which are designed to exploit the dysfunctional system. It’s about exploiting traps and is a Catch 22.

These revenues are generating huge monthly income for the state and that is something Messrs. Rann, Foley and Co. have come to rely on. Is it sustainable?

Never mind the poor old motorist - why isn’t the business community up in arms? It’s a standing joke with interstate visitors. The worst thing is that it’s been like this for over 30 years - and no-one locally seems to have noticed.


I am just getting in early

I know that we aren't yet in the FOOTBALL season but frankly I find the local obsession rather disturbing.

People need to be entertained - but local entertainment has become almost exclusively the AFL brand of FOOTBALL!!

AFL marketing folks have done a great job at exploiting locals and promoting their product. The trouble is that outsiders look at the place and think - Why?

Excuse me - but how can anyone obsess about their “Footy Tips”? The truth is that the local obsession with football just demonstrates that nothing of much substance happens here - there is no depth, no breadth and no alternatives.

Football is the “filler” that occupies time between work and family. Most developed states and nations exploit a variety of “fillers” - often including a form of football but also other sports and other cultural activities. From a cultural perspective it seems unhealthy to focus on just one filler - and limiting the depth and breadth of experience that results from a diverse activity set.

I sat through a boring lunch recently where the ONLY topic of conversation was the Crows, Port Power and their likely progress against the dreaded Victorians. Excuse me but this is a joke - how can we expect the world to take SA seriously when our single topic of conversation is football - what about the big issues facing us - why don’t they get a mention? Do we even know what they are? Probably not.

So we need to find cultural activities that will enhance the “filler” experiences of South Australians - and promote diversity. The good news is that there are lots on offer - lets use the clout of the State more effectively to promote healthy alternatives that exploit the natural advantages of the place.