Saturday, 31 January 2015

Dash Cams

Now that I'm back on the road, I'll post a sequence from my dash cam.

This is fairly typical of the roads I drive, although at the very Eastern end of my loop (Warrego Highway between Dalby and Toowoomba). The sound track is PM on the ABC. It's the only thing worth listening to out here.

The vehicle is a Territory diesel. They're not a bad piece of kit. It's a pity they will become extinct next year.

The dash cam is a Uniden 800. It's OK, but does eat up SD cards at a rapid rate. It's best to replace the original with a high capacity card. They last longer than six months.

I know it's boring video. It's generally a boring drive............

Privatisation – a Case Study

In the course of my work I average 60 overnight motel stays annually. This means 60 bookings to be made. I usually make them a term at a time.

It used to be a simple process. Step one was phoning the motels, and making the bookings myself. Strictly speaking, this is unnecessary, as my agency will make them for me, but I’ve learned through bitter experience that the mining companies bulk book the motels well ahead, so I do it early and all at once so I don’t have to sleep in my swag.

The next step was to fill out a form and email it to my local office, whereupon the booking would be processed, and an authorisation to charge the agency sent to the motel. Because I follow a fairly regular circuit and use the same motels all the time, generally all I had to do was cut and paste the new dates.

It was a quick and trouble free exercise, and took less than an hour’s work for the whole term.

Now that we have an LNP government, whose ideological mantra is to shut down anything the public sector does that can be done by a private concern, that has all changed. This task has been contracted out.

The very efficient woman in the district office who used to do the bookings has had her hours cut to the bone. In some of the smaller offices in the more remote districts, the people who do used to do this work as part of their duties have been sacked.

The bookings are now made by a Sydney based agency. I’m not sure who owns it, but in my conversations with them, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who doesn’t have an Indian accent.

Under this new dispensation, I have to make a booking on-line on a clunky website that is very difficult to navigate. Of the four of us at my base, I’m the only one who has so far mastered it to the point of actually successfully making a booking. The new system was set up in November last year, so we must be slow learners.

To give you an example of the clunkiness. To select the particular location you use a drop-down dialogue box listing every destination on the website. These destinations are not limited to Queensland, but include the whole of Australia. This means that there are over a thousand options on the drop down list. It’s not intuitive – you can’t type in the location. Stiff luck if your destination has a name beginning with a letter somewhere in the middle of the alphabet – no matter which end you start at, you need patience and a cut lunch to find it.

Many of the places I stay are well off the beaten track, and the locations simply aren’t listed. When this happens, you have to phone a 1300 number and twiddle your thumbs whilst you wait in the queue for the agency to do the booking manually. Meanwhile, precious time that could be spent in doing the actual work I’m paid for ticks away.

Now even if you’ve got it all to work, you get your confirmation email, and you head to your destination in the sure and certain knowledge that you have a bed for the night, you could be in for a big surprise. Or at least I was last week when I discovered that the motel I thought they’d booked for me had no record of my booking.

Now they had one room available, and I am a regular, so I had somewhere to sleep.  I was lucky. The motelier and I had a three way conversation on the 1300 number with a "Consultant". The conversation was laced with apologies from the polite Indian chappie at the other end, but he was not amused when I pointed out that his agency’s stuffup could have resulted in me sleeping in the car.

This situation led to the motelier giving me her opinion of the new system. She hates it. First up, they cream a $15 commission off every booking. This cuts pretty deeply into the small business’ margin, but she has no option but to deal with them, as all state agencies must use them. All she can do is put up the room rate, which in turn will increase the cost to the taxpayer. She also pointed out that they are unreliable, and my phantom booking was not the first.

So where does that leave us?

The privatised system has resulted in the following –

1. Less profitability for local small business.
2. Higher cost to the agency (and therefore the taxpayer) using the system.
3. Time wasted by the itinerants whose time is limited and precious.
4. Job losses in regional communities.

Sydney is a long way from South Western Queensland, but that’s where the Queensland taxpayers dollars are going.

But it obviously pays some people well. A little research on the company reveals the Managing Director has enough dosh to own a villa on Bali. At least the organisation appears to be Australian based.

I’ll think about that villa on Bali next time I’m left on the side of the road in the interests of greater efficiency on the part of private industry. 

Ain't privatisation wonderful?

Royal Demoted

Now this is funny.

Prince Philip has expressed profound disappointment at his recent demotion to a knight, advising that he intends to fight the appointment. “I’m taking the matter to Fair Work Australia,” he said. “I’m a prince goddammit, not a knight. Am I seriously supposed to ride a horse again?”

Read the whole thing here.

H/T Paul.


And in a similar vein -

Scenes at Buckingham Palace when they discover Tony Abbott has turned Prince Philip into a knight.

H/T Leon

Monday, 26 January 2015

Queensland - an Ethics Free Zone

Pic: AAP - Dan Peled

Back to work this week - heading west, so there won't be time for any blogging prior to the state election.
With that in mind, I'm posting this today.

It's a great piece by Gary Crooke QC who was senior counsel assisting the Fitzgerald Inquiry (1987-89) into Queensland Police corruption. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2004-2009. He is (like me) now "retired".

It goes to the heart of the malaise that has overcome government in this state, and is a timely warning about the risk of electing a government with the kind of majority that encourages the blatant abuse of power we've seen in the last three years.

Those of us who lived through the Joh era are experiencing a real sense of deja vu, and sadly, there doesn't seem to be a new Tony Fitzgerald (or for that matter a Gary Crooke) on the horizon. There's something about Queensland that creates Tammany Hall style politics every now and again, almost by default. It's disturbing that this behaviour is not entirely rejected by Labor, given the emergence of cash-for-access to Labor politicians during the campaign.

The lack of an Upper House doesn't help.

The LNP, however have honed this anti-democratic practice to a very fine art. As Crooke writes -

Take the example of a controversial property or mining development. What is the perception of a reasonable person if the well-resourced applicant pays to sup with the decision maker while the objector is not only not invited, but cannot afford the tariff imposed? What is on offer? As former minister, and now prisoner, Gordon Nuttall now famously said at his trial: "Nothing is for nothing."

So, in Queensland, if you have money to spend, it will buy you influence. The more money you have, the more influence it will buy. Wonderful stuff.....

God help the pensioners, the unemployed, or for that matter, the vast majority of voters who can't stump the necessary four or five figure sums to get the ear of those who make the decisions. Democracy it isn't.

As Crooke writes -

It is here that we come to a consideration as to the use or abuse of executive power. Given the wide remit reposed in the government, proper public administration demands careful consideration of basic rights and liberties when exercising almost boundless power. The situation is made only more fraught when there is a decimated opposition, no upper house, no bill of rights, parliamentary committees set at nought, and the major local newspaper not prepared to put issues before the public, but always pursuing a line which it decides to take.

Read the whole thing, and have a quiet thought about the future of democracy in this great state.

And think very carefully before you grab your ID (compulsory now in Queensland - we have to be sure the riff-raff don't get to vote) and head off to the polling booth.

Shut It Down

Manus Island Detention Centre

It's Australia Day, and I'd dearly love to be posting something positive and affirming about my country, which I love very much.

Unfortunately, I'd be less than honest if I did so, turning a blind eye to this resident evil perpetrated in my name.

Instead, I'll post this from yesterday's Catholic Leader.


Shut it down

Horror conditions: Asylum seekers during a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. About 30 asylum seekers have sewn their lips together and 500 are on a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: AAP
Horror conditions: Asylum seekers during a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. About 30 asylum seekers have sewn their lips together and 500 are on a hunger strike at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: AAP
By Paul Dobbyn

A BRISBANE refugee advocate who visited Manus Island twice last year has called on the Australian Government to close the strife-torn detention centre.
“There is no accountability; no journalists are allowed in to report what’s happening,” Romero Centre community engagement co-ordinator Rebecca Lim said.
“If Australia are doing everything right, why the secrecy?
“Also why are we spending millions in detaining these people offshore when it is so much cheaper onshore?”
Ms Lim visited Manus Island in February last year after the murder there of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati.
She also visited in October for two weeks.
“Reports in the media that conditions are horrendous tallied with what I heard when I visited the island,” she said.
“There were stories of detainees receiving outdated medicine and food such as milk and dairy products.
“There were also stories of rape and sexual assault of detainees.
“It’s a prison with a hierarchy of power … the weak need protection from the strong.”
Ms Lim’s comments came in the wake of reported protests at the Papua New Guinea detention centre in recent weeks.
More than 200 detainees are now allegedly receiving medical treatment after going on a hunger strike.
Refugee advocates in contact with detainees estimated the protests have involved more than half the 1035 detainees.
There were reports of no running water being available in the centre with detainees being given bottled water to drink, wash with and to use to flush the toilets.
Ms Lim’s comments also followed statements from the new Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton of his “absolute resolve” to ensure “transferees will never arrive in Australia”.
Mr Dutton said he was “disturbed” by reports of the actions of some within the centre – including cases of self-harm.
One asylum seeker is believed to have swallowed razor blades, others are said to have sewn their lips together.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said he wished “there weren’t tensions on those islands, but I wish the people weren’t there in the first place”.
“I wish we didn’t have a situation where people have paid people smugglers to try and come to this country to get around our immigration laws,” he said.
Ms Lim said asylum seekers were using a legal way to get to Australia.
“This is according to the UN Refugee Convention,” she said.
“The convention is designed for people needing protection who have to make their own way to a country that is offering protection.
“Entering a convention country and applying for asylum is a legitimate, and not a backdoor means, of getting protection.”

Make no bones about it, this setup recalls concentration camps run by the Third Reich. The inmates have no idea how long they will be incarcerated, or what their fate will be if and when they are released. At least there are no gas chambers, but we really don't know what goes on, because we are not allowed to be told.

Manus Island is about as far removed from Australian values as imaginable.


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...