Saturday, 8 September 2007

APEC leaders sign climate change pact - So?

We have a "climate change pact" signed. What does it mean?
"The declaration says concerted international action is needed"
Translation - We have the best of intentions.
members support flexible arrangements to ensure their energy needs
whilst contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions".
Translation - Do what you like - it's OK so long as you have the best of intentions.
"The Sydney Declaration does not set an overall target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions"
Translation - It's basically a lot of hot air - nobody is obliged to do anything except look pious.
"It also aims to increase forest cover in APEC countries by at least 20 million hectares within 13 years"
Translation - We have the intention of planting lots of trees.
"Mr Howard says the APEC declaration will add to the momentum of future international meetings focused on climate change"
Translation - We didn't really achieve much this time - but who knows what might happen if there is a next time.
A lot of middle-aged men basically couldn't get their heads around the
need to ensure a reasonable quality of life for their grandchildren -
sad really.

Freudian Slip

George W has dropped a few clangers during his visit to Oz. That in itself is not noteworthy - happens all the time - but his substitution of OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) for APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) shows us exactly where an old oil man from Texas keeps his head.

Oil is slippery stuff.

Speaking in Tongues

Watching the video of Kevin Rudd addressing the Chinese delegation at APEC made me wonder why the media has made such an issue of it. But when you think about it, it is very rare for an Australian politician to be multilingual. This is not the case, of course in Europe, where (on the continent at least) it's commonplace. I often wonder whether our history of conflict might have been different if somehow all political leaders and foreign ministers spoke at least three languages fluently.

Let's say there was some kind of qualification of this kind necessary before you could put yourself up for election in the federal parliament. Delicious thought! Imagine Pauline Hanson speaking Urdu with her nasal twang!

Seriously though, learning a foreign language usually involves some in-depth study of the culture and thought patterns of the country involved. I learnt French at high school, and at Uni, and got interested in French culture and history as a result. This in turn led to an interest in French cars (especially after time in Vietnam where I fairly unsuccessfully practiced my meagre skills), and was intrigued by what the locals did in keeping French cars on the road with no access to spare parts to speak of. The result for me has been a succession of old French “project” cars, which my wife and kids may not necessarily see as a good thing. Ask my second son who currently drives my 1984 Peugeot 505 – great car when it’s running, which tends to be an intermittent phenomenon.

The point of this ramble is – if our federal pollies with responsibility for international relations looked outward in their diplomacy instead of inward, we might live in a more peaceful world. At the moment, they seem to operate with an eye on making the populace ether afraid or suspicious of other cultures which is a useful technique in terms of holding on to power.

Friday, 7 September 2007


There’s a dispute between Fosters and their Brewery workers at Yatala. The report is that the employees want to involve their unions in the wage negotiations, and the employer is saying “no” on the strength of the new legislation. Strike action is being threatened. Seems passing strange that the Workchoices legislation could be the cause of an industrial dispute, given that it is supposed to deliver sweetness and light in the workplace. It will be interesting to watch the outcome.

I’ve had some interesting experiences around purchases from various businesses in the light of Workchoices. I made a decision a long time ago that I wouldn’t do business with any company that employed their workers under the new legislation. When I make large purchases such as cars or appliances, I do my research in terms of getting the best deal, and just before signing on the dotted line, pop the question as to employment conditions. If I’m told that AWAs are used – the sale is off. It’s been intriguing, and I’ve learned a bit in the process, even to the point of getting a personal letter from the CEO of Ford Australia assuring me that their work practices are above board. (They use collective bargaining).

I only needed to knock a sale back once – from Harvey Norman. Their employees refused to discuss the issue on pain of dismissal, and management referred me to head office, so I still don’t know how they employ their people. I went to a local small business, and ended up paying less for the machine, so it was a good result all round.

Given that as individuals we don’t have much political power, using financial power can be effective. The rampant materialism that is the basis of so much that drives society in 2007 can be turned against itself.

For the Petrol-Heads – 2

During my work in South-West Queensland, I drive about 20000k annually on Western roads. I use cars from the Toowoomba District fleet, and rarely the same one twice (they’re assigned by the fleet coordinator). This provides a great opportunity to compare makes and models.

Toyota Camry – Solid and user-friendly, but dead boring. The four cylinder versions actually use more fuel than the sixes on bush roads. The ones we use have side air bags.

Toyota Avalon – Comfortable and easy to get in and out of. Also easy to see out of. Built like a brick dunny. Unfashionable, but probably my favourite as a work tool. Economical on a long trip.

Toyota Prius – Not user-friendly initially, but it doesn’t take long to get used to the eccentric controls. Phenomenal economy, but not suited to gravel roads in the bush. Surprisingly roomy. Drove one to Cunnamulla last year – was the first time locals had seen a hybrid.

Magna Wagon – There are two of these on the fleet. Refined and quiet, but pretty bland. I like the seats and the engine/transmission combination. I reckon they would be a very good purchase from a Q Fleet auction because of the warranty. Hard on tyres.

Commodore – Depends on which one you get. Wagons feel different from sedans. One is a real dog. The car itself is a reasonable piece of engineering, but they’re obviously slammed together. I prefer the older cast iron motor to the current alloy one – seems more torquey. Driven carefully on a trip the newer ones can return 9lit/100k.

Falcon – I own one, so feel at home. Great cruising car and economical on a trip. Steering and handling a cut above the Commodore IMHO. The one I use doesn’t have cruise control which is a bummer.

Subaru Forester – Recent acquisition, but I’ve already a done a few long trips in it. Easy to get in and out of, and vision is good. Well-finished and very practical. Handles the gravel with aplomb. Bit hard on fuel, but then it’s still a new car. Interior is very easy to live with.

Nissan Pulsar – Only used it once – hope I don’t get it again. Hard seats – asthmatic engine and poky interior. Only redeeming feature is small size. Probably OK around town. Feels cheap and nasty.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

For the Petrol Heads - Cooking with Gas

Somebody out there might be interested in my experience in converting my 2005 Falcon SR to gas.My old mate Peter (Captain Smirk) – came good with $2000, which made it worthwhile, given that the conversion was an expensive one (state-of-the-art Sequential Vapour Injection) costing $4400. It was fitted in November last year, and I’ve covered 20000k since, including a trip to the Atherton Tableland and back.

The car is giving about 14lit per 100k around town, which costs the same as 7lit per 100k given that lpg is half the price of unleaded in Toowoomba. I’ve seen 11lit per 100k cruising. It’s almost impossible to pick the difference between lpg and unleaded (car will run on both) under most conditions. Total range is about 1100k with the 68lit toroidal tank together with the normal tank. The toroidal tank fits neatly into the spare tyre space, and the tyre is bolted on the boot floor. This is the only disadvantage, but unless I’m on a trip, I don’t carry a spare relying on a pressure-pack tyre kit. On long trips, I fit a plastic luggage pod on the roof which makes up for any loss of capacity. I’ve also fitted heavy-duty rear springs which compensate for the additional weight of the toroidal tank and maintain the ride height.
The system uses an additional computer running software which emulates unleaded settings, so there is very little loss of performance because of the different characteristics of lpg. I’ve finished up with a car that costs less to run than my wife’s Fiesta, but provides the performance and security of a big car. It’s been reliable – no gas odour – instant starting – no backfiring, and seems in every way superior to the Ford factory gas which is still the old-style taxi system and lacks the flexibility of dual-fuel.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Unguided missiles

There’s been further deregulation of working conditions for heavy vehicle drivers. It’s now legal to drive 17 hours in 24. Coincidentally, a report has just been released showing that one-third of truckies have admitted going to sleep at the wheel during the past 12 months. This is cheerful news for those of us who spend a lot of time long-distance driving. The only resistance to the new regulations has come from the Transport Workers Union. I'll be watchful of unguided missiles on my next trip down the Warrego. How does the Pigram Brothers song go - "Three dogs and forty tonnes...." and asleep!!!!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Back from conference

Left Toowoomba at 6.15am to drive to conference at Virginia (that’s BrisbaneQueenslandAustralia – not USA). Arrived 9am after mad traffic on Western Freeway. It looked like a parking lot. Sitting in the traffic, it occurred to me that our urban sprawl is a manifestation of collective insanity. Given the general reliability and efficiency of communication technology, we’re barking mad to live in the conurbations we do, wasting time and resources in moving around. It makes living and working in the bush look very rational.

Was great to meet old mates at the conference. At one point I found myself in a room of fifteen people of all ages. I’d worked with eight of them during the past thirty years, and in the case of four, had a major influence on their lives – recruited one to his first job in Mt Isa, was the first principal for another in Townsville, wrote a submission that gathered funds to employ another (a therapist) who began a career working in schools in the eighties and is still doing so, and encouraged another who was a teacher into consultancy work which she continues to enjoy immensely. Getting grey has its compensations.

Monday, 3 September 2007


Driving down to the big smoke today for a professional conference on physical impairment in education. It will be great to meet up with "old" colleagues. I'll be off the air for a while and don't relesh the drive through peak hour traffic. It will be a bit of a contrast to last week's 1500k of driving in the bush. At least there won't be a fence across the Brisbane CBD!

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Thought for today

Orsis Arsis

Vyisdere asmani orsis arsis

Asderis orsis?

Becos deris vonors perars.


Last week I did my once a term tour of the schools “further out”. Plan was Toowoomba – St George – Dirranbandi – Cunnamulla – Wyandra – Charleville – Augathella – Mitchell – Roma - Toowoomba, but Dirranbandi was cancelled because of seasonal influenza. This was probably a good thing, because the stretch between Dirranbandi and the highway is gravel, and they’ve had a bit of rain.

The country looks fantastic – best I’ve seen it in three years, because of the rain, although some of the improvement is superficial. There are birds everywhere, and even the noxious weeds are putting on a brilliant show. On the St George – Cunnamulla stretch (290k driven first up on Tuesday morning) I saw every hopping running crawling creature known to man – and I few I couldn’t identify. Highlight was four wild piglets snuffling around by the side of the road with no sign of parent. Possibly parent had been cleaned up either by a vehicle or someone “piggin”.

There were goats, all looking sleek and healthy, and a few emus. As usual, I encountered lots of roos of all shapes and colours, but universally well-camouflaged by either shadow or scrub. I avoided them all – not always the case.

The bush kids are always entertaining, and their teachers and parents inspirational. It continues to amaze me that Ed Queensland has such a battle finding teachers for these areas. Young teachers looking for the best possible start to the noblest profession can do a lot worse than to head bush for a year or two. Quality of life is great, given the improvements in all sorts of communication technology, and there is the best possible opportunity to learn, because of the supportive professional community out here. It’s far superior to city schools, where sharing and mutual support is the exception rather than the rule.
The shot was taken on the road near the Nebine waterholes, about 20k West of Bollon.


I note the lack of diversity in the backgrounds of aspiring ALP ministers. This is becoming a feature of political life in this country. The backgrounds of the coalition people are generally legal or business. It’s only in the minor parties that you’ll see any real diversity.
How many agnostics, gays, aborigines, Muslims, or people with disabilities, are putting themselves out there for election?
Unfortunately, as a result of presidential style politics, we are encouraged by the media to vote for stereotypes. My personal rule of thumb is to meet the candidates in my electorate before making a decision as to who gets my vote.
Our democratic system originally paid no heed to parties - but it’s been overwhelmed by a mentality that funnels the voter towards an adversarial view of the process. The media whips this up, and we’re off down a road where sweet reason and constructive collaboration is out the window. It’s a helluva way to run a country.
The antiquated political concepts of “left” and “right” are about as relevant in 2007 as stationary steam engines.

Unions under the doona

There’s been lots of Media recently about the threat of union dominance if Labour is elected. Call me na├»ve, but I can’t see the problem. Union officials work as advocates for their members. Having done some advocacy myself in a 40 year career with disabled kids and their families, I’ve learnt that advocacy always gets people offside – particularly if they’re in the business of exploiting anyone a bit less wealthy or powerful. Look at what Hitler did to the trade unions – they’re always the first targeted by anyone inclined towards totalitarianism. Given that the feds have a majority in both houses, and the power of multi-national corporations is on the rise, maybe a bit of balance wouldn’t go astray.
In my experience the stereotype of the union bully is a bit out of date. Until retirement a few years ago I ran an establishment that employed thirty people, all unionized. I actually looked forward to the regular visits of the three union organizers (three different unions involved) as there were generally as helpful to me – the employer – as they were to their members.
My local ALP candidate is actually a solicitor. I wonder how he snuck through?
My dad used to talk about “reds under the bed”. Now it’s “unions under the doona”. Not much has changed in Australian political culture in fifty years – first get your people scared – then get them controlled.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...