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.