Monday, October 31, 2011

Weird Conservative Ideology #qantas

Why we insist on bringing these "whiz-kids" to Australia to manage our icon businesses is just beyond me.

Does anyone remember the debacle that was the AMP under George Turnbull Trumbull - whose "red indian" reign led to a massive $5.5 billion write down at the insurer? He was rewarded with a $13 million termination payment.

What about Telstra and Sol Trujillo and the mess he created? Telstra’s share price dropped by 40 percent while the "hairy chested" little amigo collected $30 million.

Lets see what happens to the Qantas share price and the customer and staff satisfaction metrics as a result of the performance of this latest "whiz-kid".

Part of the Qantas corporate spin is about how their workforce is trying to bargain for some *unreasonable* and *unachievable* job security in their negotiations with the company.

Of course they are. Because for years Qantas managers have been doing their best to remove their workers' job security by outsourcing and offshoring their jobs to Asia, NZ and elsewhere. All in the pursuit of a "cheap and nasty" corporate culture that is so dear to the hearts of our managerial class.

Why is it so unreasonable for staff to attempt to re-gain some "job security"?

The Qantas spinmeisters and media commenteers are busy explaining that the concept of "job security" doesn't exist anymore. They point out that we no longer have jobs for life. And that is probably true.

Except that it doesn't matter so much when you are a Qantas Chief Executive on a AU$5 million salary - because you can afford to spend some down time catching up with your mates for lunch or golf or even a bit of hurling.

It does matter when you are a baggage handler on a AU$40k salary - struggling to feed your family and pay the mortgage.

But then I suppose baggage handlers and their families never catch planes - or at least they never catch Qantas ones so there is no need to treat them properly and pay them a real income.

What we have here is a failure to communicate and a dingbat ideology gone terribly wrong.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

32 Young Dead Australians #auspol

Following the deaths of another 3 young Australians and the wounding of 7 others in Afghanistan - we have seen both the Minister and the Head of Defence standing up and presenting the details on national television. As you would hope and expect.

This time Minister Smith took the time to explain - in simple and thoughtful words why we are there and what the longer term plan is likely to be. And his explanation makes perfect sense - I don't think that is in dispute.

It's just a real pity that neither he nor the Prime Minister has been able to articulate that previously.

What is in dispute is how we got here with 32 young dead Australians.

* How did we get into such a shitty and dangerous little war?
* Why did we follow the US along like lap dogs into this quagmire?
* What changes have we made inside our government to ensure that we don't fall into a similar trap again?
* Why didn't the parliament get to vote on this crappy little adventure and what have we done to fix that?

And so on. These are the real questions that our Government should be dealing with.

And the Government's answer to them all is - "we don't want to discuss that".

Go Virgin #auspol #qantas

The Qantas CEO and Board have been suckered into starting a war with their staff. For what? So Peter Reith can brag to the Melbourne Club about taking the nation back to the 1950's - again?

Qantas have shot themselves in the foot - big time. The Board and Management of this once great Australian icon should resign.

Regardless of what the Board and the Management and the shareholders may want, the people will not tolerate this sort of treatment of their Australian workers.

If Qantas want to cut costs using Irish management and Asian crew and maintenance staff then let them move overseas and call themselves Jetstar. Oh wait - they've already done that.

"Cut costs using Irish management" - that is a joke Virginia ;-)

The truth is that Jetstar was created for this very purpose. What we are seeing now is the final nail in the coffin of the Qantas brand as the Board and Management pick over the remains and give the finger to their Australian staff.

Basically what they are trying to do is to swipe the name, the safety record and the brand recognition - all for cheap.

The real reason why this has happened now is because the *dingbat right* want to use industrial relations as a weapon to destroy our government. If they succeed then we can all look forward to WorkChoices mark 2.

So I am going to move my support to Virgin.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation

The Australian government has established an “Independent Inquiry into Media and Media Regulation” and published an “Issues Paper” on 14th September 2011.

This is my submission to that Inquiry.

It is not my intent to comment on the full gamut of Australian media because I don’t have the time or the knowledge or the inclination. There are however two elements that I am keenly interested in;

* Media Standards and;
* Media Regulation

But before that, let me explain where I am coming from. I am a mere citizen - an Australian consumer of media and an observer of the effect of our media on our democracy. And I am unimpressed by what has been happening over the past several years.

In my opinion, our democracy has been degraded - in part because our media standards have declined. And our media standards have declined in part because of ineffective regulation.

Media Standards

I am truly appalled by how truth and facts have become a casualty in the rush to remain relevant and competitive in a changing media market.

The News of The World fiasco shows just how bad things have become elsewhere.

There was a time when I used to read “The Australian” every day. From about 1980 until 2004 I was a loyal reader. I seldom agreed with the Murdoch world view but I did recognise and appreciate the quality of that newspaper.

These days “The Australian” has gone feral. At least in terms of the quality of its campaigns and with it’s reporting of truth and facts. It usually presents a US centric and rabid right wing viewpoint that is often biased and untrue.

For example, I have been deeply disappointed by its campaign against climate change. Clearly it has not been interested in serving the national interest.

I choose not to read the Murdoch popular press. And I seldom read the Fairfax newspapers. Because while they are not as bad as the Murdoch version, they are not sufficiently better that I need to go out of my way to consume or endorse them.

Similarly I no longer listen to commercial radio - which seems to have cornered the market in right wing blather and opinionated pap. Some of the stuff they dream up is just horrible. It is difficult to believe that Alan Jones and his ilk would appeal to anyone with an IQ above single digits. Perhaps that’s the idea.

I used to make similar comments about commercial television - but I am probably out of date there as I haven’t watched it for some years.

And I used to rely on the ABC to be fair and balanced with its reporting of events in the nation and across the world. But like its commercial cousins those standards have seriously declined in recent times.

I suspect that the ABC is chasing the same audiences - and using the same source material as its cousins (why?) and that has caused their lack of focus on truth and facts.

Is it my imagination or has the quality of the ABC declined during the reign of the current Chairman and Managing Director? Is this declining quality a part of their KPI’s? Is the ABC Board bothered?

SBS has clearly become the stand-out public broadcaster in Australia.

My view of public broadcasting is simple. If they can’t or won’t present the facts and the truth - then why do we need them?

Media Regulation

It is obvious to me that our media regulation is ineffective. How else did we end up with such low value and poor quality?

Now I am vaguely aware that our media regulation is via the Press Council which has been set-up by the industry itself. It looks like window dressing to me - a “claytons” regulator.

Clearly an effective regulator is needed to counter the excesses of a rabid mogul, a newspaper that has wandered off the reservation and a public broadcaster that is running an agenda.

I don’t know what such a regulator would look like or how they would act - but it is clear that they are needed and that they should have wide ranging powers - probably a bit like the ACCC.

Let’s test a few concepts and ideas before we lock anything in and give the people a say via referendum when next we have an election.

In summary, I would like to see a high quality media that operates in an innovative manner and which adds value to our democracy by focussing on things that are in the national interest. This will require enhanced regulation and supervision and a re-focus on truth and facts.

Can we manage any of that?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Apple vs Google

I am not an Apple fanboy - more of a Googlesta. I have been using Android for a while now - am currently on my 4th phone - a neat little Huawei IDEOS, running Android 2.2. I just seem to wear them out - must be my fat fingers ;-)

The reason why I am wedded to Android is that I am a Google apps user - have been using this software in my day job for over 6 years now and it just keeps getting better.

Gmail is fantastic - easily the best email client on the planet. And while the other software tools are not yet as advanced they are getting close. The Google team are working hard to improve them and new releases occur regularly. If you get lots of email then you need Gmail with "conversation view on".

I just can't live without Chrome, Gmail, Calendar, Reader and the rest of the Google software. If Larry or Sergey ever get to read this then I really need you to build a *proper* Project Management tool. Please?

Which brings me back to Apple - recently I spent a few days with an iPhone. It looks great, the performance is very good, the screen is big and it feels like a quality product - if a little heavy. But it is seriously let down by its apps.

Now don't get me wrong they do work and some are even capable - but they just don't give me the level of control that I need in my day job. The email client in particular is weak.

And this got me thinking - clearly the iPhone is a mass market product. It is not built for the *road warrior* it is a *retail consumer* type product. And it has obviously been successful in that market. I only know that by looking at the number of people who are peering at them on the train during my morning commute.

But I need software with a lot more *oomph* and right now Android is the only thing that allows me to harness the power of Google apps while I am on the move. So I had to give the iPhone back - sorry fanboys.

I have huge respect for what Steve Jobs achieved at Apple. Clearly he understood his market and the success of the Apple products reflect that - but I just need something else.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inertia or Innovation - you choose Virginia #auspol

It’s not very often that I subject myself to an "encounter" with one of our government agencies - because the process is just so painful. It is also a bit embarrassing - because as I keep explaining to my international friends - Australia thinks of itself as an advanced nation.

Last week was a bit special because I had three such encounters.

Firstly, I received a bill from one of our public hospitals for some work that they did to me about a month ago. No complaint with the work though. Of course there is no ability to make payment over the internet or via BPAY or anything else even vaguely convenient. They do take Visa and MasterCard over the phone. And curiously they still accept Bankcard - which closed in 2007.

And the calling number that they published was continually engaged. It took me nearly three days on-and-off to get through before they managed to take my payment.

Got me thinking that perhaps we should upgrade our public health payment processes - before we spend money on shiny new hospitals.

Secondly, I am trying to track down the detail of my Army Service. I was a National Serviceman or "Nasho" during the early 1970's and recently discovered that I have lost my record of service. I want to get it re-issued so I can trot it out as "evidence" of my gung-ho nationalism. Not. The dog also ate my slouch hat and my GP's but that is another story.

So I Googled the Central Army Records Office and sent them an email with my request. Nope - can't do it they said, we must have a "real" letter for our "records", one that is "signed" before the request can be processed.

So I wrote my letter, headed into my office to print it on A4, signed it, went to the Post Office for an envelope and a stamp, queued for 20 minutes, grumbled a bit, sealed it and then sent it off. About two hours effort versus 5 minutes.

Made me wonder if we shouldn't fix our military records management systems - before we acquire a dozen new submarines.

Thirdly, I received a letter from the South Australian Motor Vehicle Registry. Everyone fears this agency because of the arbitrary nature of the revenue chasing schemes that they cook up and the penalties they impose. And this one is a cracker.

I have let the registration of one of my classic Citroen's lapse - because I am not there often enough to use it and the registration fee is way too much. Anyway the letter wants me to return the plates or suffer an "Expiation Fee" because the car has been unregistered for 90 days?

The reason they gave for wanting the plates back is: "to stop them falling into the wrong hands". Say what?

Of course there is no way to send them an email or a TXT or a tweet - or even a fax to get them off my back. Nope I must write a letter, print it out on A4, sign it and then hunt down an envelope and a stamp and finally send it off. And if all that takes too long then I will get another letter informing me of the size of the "Expiation Fee".

It occurred to me that if we were to fix our motor vehicle registry processes - they probably wouldn't need to go off in search of more revenue.

If they still want the plates back then I will put my two remaining stamps on them and post them in the red box.

Isn't *Inertia* a fantastic word - much better than that other one - *Innovation*?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Window Dressing #auspol

A tweet from Paul Barratt this week reminded me about the shortcomings of some of our government agencies. Especially those that have a watchdog role and the ability to expose corrupt and unethical behaviour.

Some of these agencies are intended to be window dressing. Ombudsman offices, Child Support agencies, Equal Opportunity commissions, Anti Corruption agencies and a raft of others exist to create the impression that governments are actually concerned about these things. When often they are not.

Many of these agencies and their services were created with great reluctance and much fanfare - and sometimes every opportunity is taken to remove or reduce funding and to make it difficult for their staff to do a top quality job.

They should be celebrated when they do succeed despite the best efforts of their political masters.

A few have had spectacular successes. I can't identify them here but their people know who they are.

There are probably a couple of books in it - but until we get an electorate that is awake and alert it will be a waste of time.

And it has been amusing to follow the ducking and weaving of our state governments - some of whom are resisting the creation of anti corruption agencies. Eventually they will give in and the agencies will be created - but probably not ever funded properly.

Investigation and exposure of these tactics is the real work of our mainstream media - but they don't do it. Perhaps that will change when Rupert leaves the building.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's Their Real Game? #auspol

Bill Mitchell nails it with this article on "Debt, Deficits, and Modern Monetary Theory" in Harvard International Review.

And if you read it carefully and understand what he is saying then it becomes very clear that our Governments are not actually interested in looking out for their citizens. They are doing something else altogether - something that is built upon a nasty and destructive right wing *ideology*.

Which is why the UK, the USA and to a lesser extent the AU economies are all heading downhill - with their focus on *austerity* and reducing government debt and implementing budget surpluses.

Of course the politics are different in each country but the effect will be the same. A giant friggin mess.

In the UK the Tories are misguided - probably due to their extended period in opposition. Their Chancellor seems to believe that cutting government expenditure will help their economy grow ;-) In the meantime millions of their citizens will have to accept serious pain. The Tories will be lucky to see a second term if they keep this up.

In the USA many more millions will be subjected to even worse pain as the GOP attempts to shaft their President - and the Democrats just look on in awe. Unfortunately the American people have become the victims in a blatant attempt by the Republicans to stop a black man from being re-elected to the white house. It's not even subtle anymore.

And here in AU we have an opposition leader who is trying hard to intimidate our government into adopting a neo-liberal ideology. And it seems to be working a treat - which is why we have a promise by the actual Treasurer to bring the budget back to surplus "as soon as possible". Meanwhile job creation has stalled and the economy seems to be flatlining.

Three so-called developed nations - all with governments playing the *austerity* game and shafting their citizens - because they have been captured by a dingbat right wing ideology - or because they are too dumb to know what such a thing actually is.

I will leave it up to you Virginia to work out who is in which camp.

And now they are all cacking themselves that the Occupy Wall Street protest movement might actually get some legs and turf them out.

Bring it on baby.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Going to a party - A Political Party #auspol

You only need 500 verifiable members to form a political party. Anyone can create one.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission:

All federally registered political parties must meet the eligibility requirements for political party registration on an ongoing basis. These include:

* Being an organisation (constitution, structure and membership) with an aim of endorsing candidates for election to the House of Representatives and/or Senate; and

* Having:

– at least one Commonwealth Parliamentarian who is a member of the party but not a member of another party; or

– at least 500 members who are eligible to enrol on the Commonwealth electoral roll and who are not also relied upon by another party for registration purposes.

Plainly these requirements have been orchestrated by and for the political parties that have gained control of our parliament.

And our actual members of parliament seem to have gone right along with it.

Was there a fight before they handed over control or was it done in the usual way - bribery and corruption - charm and suasion?

Having a political party as the interface to our politics is like having a corporation as the interface to our wallets - without the protection of the ACCC.

I am curious to know how and why it is "a good thing" for the people of the nation to have a political party determining policy for them and for their hand picked representatives in the parliament?

Have we inadvertently outsourced our representation?

And if political parties are such a good idea then why is the Australian Constitution silent about them?

OK I do understand that the duds in the parliament do benefit - because they don't have to do much thinking or say very much as they follow the leader - but how is that of benefit to the dud's constituents?

It seems to me that political parties mainly provide a thick layer of insulation between the people and their parliamentary members - and I would argue that is not a good thing because it tends to muffle both the actions of the member and the voices of the people.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Australia and Asia #auspol

Alison Broinowski has a brilliant article about Australia's engagement with Asia or rather lack of it - over at "The Conversation".

For me at least our ham fisted approach to engagement with Asia and our genuflection to the United States is what has helped "distort" our domestic politics. Apparently Mark Arbib spends his days leaking our secrets to the US embassy - when he should be on his bike across Asia.

Why is it that neither our Prime Minister nor Opposition Leader has a history of engagement with Asia? How does either of them expect to be an effective leader of a nation whose future is so intertwined with the region - when neither of them can be bothered to engage with it?

Their only serious regional engagement is by cheering on the decade old war in Afghanistan - where the US is spending $10 billion per month invading a country with a total annual GDP approaching 4/5ths of 5/8ths of SFA. I don't get it.

Our domestic politics are so badly broken because our current political leaders and their parties have no frame of reference across our region. They take their cues from a sick and broken US ideology. But as Andrew Bacevic has pointed out :
employing ideology as the basis for policy is a recipe for disaster.

They actually don't know how poorly we are viewed across Asia because they don't have any long term experience or relationships with the people who live there. They view it as a place to stop over and do some shopping on their way to somewhere else.

Or they view it as a never ending source of fodder for our imaginary "world class" universities where we spend years training Asian students - so they can end up driving our cabs and serving in our convenience stores.

And anyway how is it that insular and opportunistic local politicians can actually get to be Australian political leaders when they have so little international experience?

Beats me too. But it doesn't seem to bother anyone else.

Perhaps that is why Lee Kuan Yew so famously called us "The poor white trash of Asia".

One Brave Politician #auspol

All it would take is one brave politician to show how it is done.

I was reminded of this again the other day when I was reading Crikey about how Alan Jones is *so influential* in Sydney.

Apparently despite The Parrot's weekly audience of nearly half-a-million listeners, five out of six people in Sydney never listen to him. I am sometimes in an office with five other people - and often wonder who the odd person out is ;-)

And former NSW premier Kristina Keneally said :
There's not a politician in Australia who wouldn't take his call.

Really. Don't her comments just show what Australian politicians are made of?

Everyone knows that Alan Jones is a right wing blatherer and a bully and a bore. Some also think he is a shrill little shill.

All it would take is for one principled politician to stand up for themselves and their constituents and to refuse to be drawn into his orbit - for his power to start to evaporate.

Does such a person exist amongst our political class?

And if one of them had the guts to do that with Alan Jones then others might find some courage in response to the other radio shock jocks and the television make-believe merchants and the Murdoch infestation that has taken over our media.

And then we could start to develop a modern political movement that actually serves the place. One where we could respect our politicians and celebrate those amongst them who would take a stand for the people and for the nation - instead of for the vested interests.

Could it ever happen - or am I just day dreaming again?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Trade Me #NZ

One of the great technology and business successes in our region is "across the ditch" in New Zealand. It's called Trade Me.

This place really knows how to *do* a modern technology based enterprise. It has been hugely successful in New Zealand and I am forever amazed that they haven't migrated their business and technology model to Australia.

Because we need it here. The local players are all very weak and even the industry giant could learn a lot from our NZ cousins. Plus a little bit of competition from someone who knows what they are doing would smarten the locals up a lot.

But since 2006 it's been owned by Fairfax - which probably explains why it isn't represented on this side of the Tasman ;-)

Five things that make Trade Me so successful are;

* It's simple and clean User Interface and category Navigation.

* Huge User base - approaching 2/3rds of the NZ population.

* An enormous Category List with lots of Products.

* The Buying and Selling processes are much easier than elsewhere.

* NZ bricks and mortar businesses use it extensively - because it adds value.

Some amazing stats here. Nearly 700k people visit each day and there are more than 2.8 million members. All in a country that has a population of about 4.4 million.

New Zealand does many things better than we do - but the performance of Trade Me is just outstanding. We all should be agitating for the Fairfax board to open their eyes and ears and bring it here. Or sell it to someone who will.

#NewsCorp Makes List of 10 Riskiest Companies for Investors

GMI identified a "Risk List" of 10 companies whose weak governance, poor environmental or social records or misaligned compensation structures present hazards to investors that aren’t adequately reflected in their current valuations.

Here's what they had to say about News Corp:

Although there have been some high-profile management resignations and a few name changes at the board level since the recent scandal, there is little indication that the quality of the company’s governance is improving — particularly in the crucial area of the relationship between the board and Murdoch. As an example, the company’s investigation into the phone-hacking scandal is being led by directors with strong ties to the company and the Murdoch family.

Plus the guardian reported this and Paul Krugman has added this.

Is anyone else paying attention to what these guys are up to?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Thinking @adelaidethinker

I am a bit of a fan of the "Thinker in Residence" programme that is run by the South Australian Government. Well I am when it exposes the state bureaucrats and politicians to some world class "thinking" - as it sometimes does.

And that is what has happened after someone in power finally agreed to invite a road safety expert into the "thinker" programme.

Professor Fred Wegman has investigated the issues and done the homework and has published his interim report here.

And it is good. Well worth a read and with any luck it will set the scene for a much more sophisticated approach to road safety in South Australia. Time will tell if professor Wegman's effort has been worthwhile.

One amusing element of his report is the following paragraph on page 3:

Professor Wegman notes that many South Australians believe that the road safety problem is related to extreme behaviours — high levels of speeding or drink driving. While he acknowledges that such behaviours are a problem requiring continued action, he says in fact, the majority of crashes occur to ordinary people making ordinary mistakes on the road network.

Amusing because the reason that South Australian's believe this is because the main characteristics of the state's approach to road safety has been a "fear and penalty" programme that targets those twin evils - "speeding" and "drink driving".

The propaganda seems to work quite well but the impact on road safety is probably marginal. It's taken about 40 years for this particular myth to be busted.

It will be interesting to see how and if the bureaucrats and police change tack to a more subtle and sophisticated approach and how many of them get shuffled off into retirement during the process.


If you spend 10 or so minutes going through this slide pack (it's 41 images) then you will be much better informed about what the #OccupyWallStreet protest is all about.

Here is a summary:

* Unemployment - The unemployment rate is at the highest level since the Great Depression.

* Jobs - This is the lowest percentage of Americans with jobs since the early 1980s.

* Corporations - Profits just hit another all-time high.

* Bosses - CEO pay is now 350 times the average worker's.

* Workers - After adjusting for inflation, average hourly earnings haven't increased in 50 years.

* Wage Share - Wages as a percent of the economy have dropped to an all-time low.

* Wealth - The top 1% of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth. The top 5% own nearly 70%.

* Taxes - Taxes on the nation's highest-earners are close to the lowest they've ever been.

* Bank Margins - The "net interest margin" made by US banks in the first six months of this year was $211 Billion.

* Bank Profits - And that has helped produce $58 billion of profit in the first six months of the year.

* Bank Salaries - The average banker in New York City made $361,330 in 2010.

And who wouldn't be protesting about all that?