Monorail! Monorail!

Sydney ratepayers must miss the albino pachyderm that was their late beloved monorail, formerly of their parish. It may have stopped at no useful locations and cost more than a taxi to go there but at least the liability had been paid off and it only cost them operating overheads.

It was removed a few years ago but, rather than learn a lesson about crap public transport projects nobody asked for, the State Government decided to spunk ratepayer’s money on light railways.

How’s the value for money been so far?

Oh: Light rail project costs blow out to at least 30% over budget and is two years late.

The +30% figure is conservative, by the way. That’s a calculation by a journalist based on public information. The real figure when (if) the line is completed is likely to be an order of magnitude greater. Sydneysiders should prepare the wallets for close to $3bn when the final invoice has been counted.

Actually, it’s not the ratepayers in Sydney we should feel sympathy for; the ratepayers of regional NSW are up for the same bill but none of the eventual benefit.

There’s something about grand infrastructure plans in Australia that seem to regularly under deliver and over cost. The National Pornband Broadband Network, for example.

Bill’s Opinion

This isn’t my area of expertise, so I welcome illuminating comments below as always.

However, it would seem that there’s been a fundamental disconnect somewhere between the NSW infrastructure planning department and the legal counsel to have let such an obvious issue of subterranean cables be so vaguely contracted for.

Do you think any civil servant will have lost their job over this $576m screw up?

The eternal lesson is there for another generation; if you want something done badly, get a government department to do it.

Mandate rooted

As we know, Australia is in the insalubrious club of tin pot dictatorships and banana republics that enforce voting by law.

So, turn out must be close to 100% then, with any missing votes due to forgetfulness or illness?

Hmm, not quite.

So despite there being an enrolment rate (ie “we know who you are and where you live for the purposes of issuing the fine”) of over 98%, only 91% of voters turned up?

Ok, but that 91% took the important task of maintaining confidence in the democratic process seriously, though, surely?

Oh;

But up to 1.5 million people on the roll failed to vote at the election. In some seats, once informal votes are taken into account, less than three-quarters of those entitled to vote cast a legitimate ballot

Ah. So, faced with a choice of a $20 fine or turning up and drawing a penis on the form, a quarter of the population chose the genital option.

One Liberal MP said the voting figures suggested ramifications for the political system and major parties.

“Everyone campaigns on the assumption that people vote. This might mean they will have to campaign on the assumption they have to get people to vote,” they said.

You mean politicians will have to go out and campaign for people’s votes and engage them on matters of policy, as if they were taking voters’ views in to account?

How novel.

Bill’s Opinion

A major difference one notices when experiencing an Australian Federal election compared to general elections in other western democracies is how little you see of politicians in the wild.

Sure, they are all over the media, dropping well-crafted soundbites in time for the evening’s TV news but you can do the weekend shopping at the local mall safe in the knowledge it will be a politician-free zone.

As for politicians walking the streets, knocking on doors asking for your support? Forget it.

I have long assumed this lack of visibility of prospective MPs is a direct consequence of compulsory voting. Politicians assume everyone is going to vote, and most likely vote en masse for their traditional demographic’s party. If that assumption is correct, then their resources are best directed at potential swing seats only.

Perhaps this taking for granted of the electorate is now becoming a poor strategy when a quarter of the electorate are going to the local school, signing on the register and then flipping the bird at the whole charade?

More of this, please.

No Australian earns the minimum wage anyway!

In a move that will directly benefit the square root of fuck all people, the Australian national minimum wage was raised by 3% to $19.49 this week.

If you are reading this from a country other than Australia, yes, that wasn’t a typo; the Australian minimum wage is $19.40 an hour!

Or;

US $13.41

€12.05

£10.64

Look at all the goods and services you’ve bought in the last year. It’s a safe bet none of them were made in Australia. Coincidence?

Before we get into the economics and demographics of Australia’s farcical minimum wage, let’s take a quick journey down a NLP cul-de-sac…

To reduce neuro-linguistic programming to a pithy sentence of dubious accuracy; it is the theory that specific words act as triggers to people’s behaviour. Perhaps that’s what the Australian socialists who came up with the leviathan bureaucracy around the central planning of wages were trying to achieve with the names they gave various elements of the legislation and policies.

In reality though, the persuasiveness of their nouns tends to have the opposite effect. As anyone who’s met a highly dangerous or tough individual has ever realised, if you must tell people you are tough, you probably aren’t. Or, more amusingly, the reason why the 1.85m tall Tiny Tim was called “tiny” was irony.

Hence, we have the Fair Work Commission ruling on Modern Awards and Penalty Rates.

What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good

You’ll find out when you reach the top

You’re on the bottom

So, how many people get this mythical $19.40 an hour?

Nobody really knows. The Australian Bureau of Statistics have one of the worst reputations in the developed world for collecting accurate data on employment. A Melbourne academic study from over a decade ago estimated it was about 3% of the working population (which was about half of the total country). However, there are two factors to bear in mind when reading that study; firstly, academia is populated exclusively by those with at least a left of centre bias and, in many cases, extreme left wing views and, secondly, it’s bloody Melbourne, a city still feeling the disappointment from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the discrediting of Walter Duranty’s New York Times’ reporting on Stalin’s Russia.

Let’s assume the estimates are in the ballpark. Half the population are employed, so that’s about 12.5m people, of which, 3% are on the minimum wage. So about 375,000 people.

What work do these people do? Well, it’s easier to tell you what work they don’t do. Anything covered by this list for a start…..

Take a moment and follow that link to the Fair Work website and pick a random job you’d think is an entry level, minimum wage role. Waiting tables at a café, for example? Nope, that’ll be covered by the Hospitality Modern Award, so they will receive at least the minimum wage or higher plus other benefits such as holiday pay. Similarly, abattoir workers, concrete mixers, grape pickers, sugar cane cutters, sheep shearers, and fish gutters are all on their own “minimum wage plus” deal.

Let’s pause for a moment and state a fact most Australians aren’t aware of; Australia is the only country in the world that isn’t a socialist dictatorship that legislates wages by industry in this way.

Bill’s Opinion

At a stroke, the Fair Work Commission increased the minimum wage by 3%. My statement at the start of today’s rant is inaccurate, it will benefit many people because many Modern Awards are pegged to this rate, this has the effect of increasing those pay rates by 3%.

Great news; everyone has more money to spend.

No so great news; every product or service manufactured in Australia to be exported abroad has just had its input costs increased by at least 3%, thus negating any positive impact of the trashing of the currency by the RBA when they cut interest rates next month to save the banking industry.

But more importantly, who exactly benefits from this ridiculously bureaucratic centrally-planned wage system?

My guess, in order of benefit;

1. Employment lawyers,

2. Union officials,

3. Labor (sic) MPs, both State and Federal,

98. Minimum (or close to) wage workers.

It’s no game

Well, this isn’t very good for “the narrative”, is it?

And, being commercially astute, some of the snow resorts in Australia have opened early, one of them has made it a free weekend for skiers and even those snowboarder scum.

Something’s not quite right here. After all, here’s a scientific, peer-reviewed prediction from 2005;

Modelling for 2020 and 2050 shows that the resort with the most remaining snow will be Perisher, in NSW, followed in order by Falls Creek, Mount Hotham, Thredbo and Mount Buller. The smaller resorts of Mount Buffalo, Mount Baw Baw and Lake Mountain become marginal for skiing at 2020, even in the most optimistic scenarios.

Awkwardly, 1 year from doom and Mount Buller has opened a week earlier than normal, which is a shame as some of us were expecting to go there for a camping and mountain bike holiday next weekend. Imagine our surprise to learn they’ve had a blizzard, despite the predictions of the taxpayer-funded CISRO.

But this is surely a one off, an anomaly, an outlier on the hockey stick of doom?

But wait, what happened last year?

Oh, they extended the season;

Bill’s Opinion

Climate change is both a religion and an industry.

As Mencken said;

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it. Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve. This is true even of the pious brethren who carry the gospel to foreign parts.

Reagan, journalists and weed

This is Ronald Reagan’s quip on the attitude governments have to business;

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

With this axiom, we can be certain the end has come for the once never noble profession of journalism.

Philanthropist Judith Neilson to fund a $100m institute for journalism in Sydney. Note the irony of the Gruaniad having to get the begging bowl out at the bottom of that article.

She’s a billionaire, so $100m is just the loose change down the back of the sofa, but seriously? $100m to train people in a job that produces a product nobody trusts and therefore doesn’t want to pay for any more? This is surely the epitome of the concept of “having more money than sense”.

At least the money being pissed up the wall is her own. Over in Canadia, the country that used to be home to people who were tough enough to thrive in a climate even polar bears find depressing but is now the world’s epicentre of thumb-sucking social justice, the government of Justin Trudeau have spunked $600m to help their preferred news outlets to survive a little longer.

The temptation with these two stories of insanity is to point to industries that don’t need subsidies to survive but, when one starts to look for them, they are very thin on the ground.

Here in Australia, through combinations of direct financial subsidies, tax breaks or artificially high barriers to entry, one could make the case that almost every industry sector benefits from government largesse. Examples that would immediately appear on a Google search would include banking, (the late) car manufacturers, mining, fossil fuel energy, green energy, farming (try buying an imported banana), real estate, electronics retail, childcare, taxis and even national sports.

Probably the only sectors not benefiting from welfare for business are the illegal ones. Coincidentally, the price of marijuana has not increased with CPI and, in fact, has fallen.

Bill’s Opinion

Nobody wants any more journalists. If rich individuals want to waste their money subsidising journalism, so be it, but keep your damn hand out of my wallet.

Oh, and I’m out of Rizlas.

I identify as ethnically grumpy

Australia has a new Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt. It is being widely reported that Ken is the first minister in this role with an Aboriginal heritage which, to be fair, is somewhat surprising given that the role has existed since 1968.

Regardless of whatever political persuasion you gravitate to, the fact that neither the left or the faux right have been able to find someone from that community to make decisions on behalf of them is not a great look, is it? Just to pick on one previous Prime Minister (but the same goes for all the others), Kevin Rudd could tearfully say sorry for something he wasn’t responsible for that happened before he was born but he couldn’t find an Aboriginal to be Minister for Aboriginals?

Little wonder why people are cynical about the motivation of politicians….

Back to Ken, though. Let’s be gauche and point out the obvious; he doesn’t look very Aboriginal.

That statement is not offered in bad faith, but as a lead to a discussion about what ethnicity means and whether it does or perhaps should have any place in decisions about the allocation of employment, particularly those that wield power?

What exactly does it mean to be Aboriginal in Australia in 2019? How is it defined? What difference does it make?

There are three components to the official government definition of who is considered to be Aboriginal;

  1. A person who has Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent; who also
  2. Identifies as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person; and
  3. Is accepted as such by the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community in which they live (or come from).

#3 seems to be the most critical of these; if you can show other “official” Aboriginal people agree you are one of them, you’re one of them. Cynically, this might be considered as somewhat analogous to the Medieval Relic Trade, where a nail from the True Cross could be rubbed on a brand new nail and, lo! the new nail was imbued with the magical qualities of the original.

Yes, I know, I’m sure nobody is deliberately defrauding the public purse with false claims of ethnicity in Australia, I’m just saying the possibility of mendacity is there if someone was so motivated…..

But ethnicity is a funny concept, isn’t it? I have a friend, let’s call him Rupert, who was born to two sub-Saharan African parents. His skin tone is extremely dark and has the facial features one would expect from someone with a long heritage of ancestors from, say, Kenya. Rupert was privately-educated in very expensive schools in England, and consequently speaks and has mannerism like Hugh Grant. If you spoke to him on the telephone, you wouldn’t correctly guess his ethnicity. Culturally, he’s about as English as it gets. We’ve spent many pleasant afternoons together drinking beer watching sports matches at Twickenham and Lords. So, can he really claim to be African?

Similarly, in addition to his Aboriginal ancestors, Ken Wyatt has ancestors from England, Ireland and India. That’s a lot of non-Aboriginal genes.

It’s entirely possible that there are more people alive who are officially recognised as Aboriginal in Australia today than there were when Captain Cook arrived. The British “genocide” of the indigenous people was, frankly, bloody incompetent by that metric.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s great that, finally after 50 years, someone from the Aboriginal community is now in the office responsible for making decisions on their behalf.

It does raise some questions about whether or not we really need people to be selected for jobs simply because of inherent factors like gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. Of those, ethnicity seems the most difficult to define at the margins.

We risk dividing people along lines that are subjective to the point of farce if we take this approach much further along its current course.

Personally, I have no issue with Ken’s “identification” as Aboriginal (and I’m sure he’s going to sleep more easily tonight with the knowledge of my approval); he grew up in an institutional home for Aboriginal children so, even if he was 100% ethnic Faroe Islander, he’ll have a better understanding of Aboriginal issues than most other candidates for his current job.

However, here’s an idea; why not remove the position of Minister for Indigenous People completely, and, while we’re at it, repeal any laws that legislate differently for different ethnicities (of which, there are a few). Finally, enforce existing laws equally; if you physically abuse a child in a remote community, the investigation, trial and punishment should be no different to the same offence committed in a metropolitan area and regardless of “ethnicity” and “culture”.

Ring the bells that still can ring

….forget your perfect offering,

There is a crack, a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

To borrow an over-used adjective from the good Doctor Wilson (he’s a doctor of property! No, really!), predictably, the various completely unbiased non-vested interests have called the bottom of the Sydney housing price crash.

Everywhere one looks there are gushing articles about the green shoots of recovery in the clearance (successfully sold) rate at auctions, or the simply wonderful news that the Reserve Bank of Australia, RBA, is so bullish about the economy that they may consider lowering interest rates from the current historical lows and now the sniff of a suggestion of a hint that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, APRA, may ease the current safety checks on lenders that ensure loans can still be repaid if rates were to rise to above 7%.

In the words of Winston Wolfe, “let’s not go sucking each other’s dicks just yet, boys“. Let’s have a sober look at the facts, shall we?

Auctions – sure, the published rate is creeping above 50% but look at the volumes; half of the previous year. Also, the auction clearance data is about the most easily-manipulated and therefore least believable of all housing data points in Australia.

 The RBA – haven’t actually lowered rates yet and anyway, if they did lower the cost of borrowing, does that signify confidence in the economic trend or perhaps the opposite? Also, how much of these banks’ mortgage funding is procured at domestic rates versus the (rising) international rate? Anyone? Bueller?

APRA – haven’t changed their policy yet. They simply are considering it.

Bill’s Opinion

Sentiment is difficult to measure. In fact, given that most of the data points for sentiment are likely to be heavily skewed by the vested interests of those reporting them, I’d suggest completely avoiding any newspaper or similar media commentary.

In this internet age, we can become our own data analysts with very little effort. Transactions such as lending volumes (a lead indicator) and house prices relative to previous levels (a lag indicator) are published frequently and have methodologies we can apply a reasonable level of trust to.

These two metrics are about as solid and tangible as we need to determine when that mythical beast, the market top or bottom has arrived.

What, therefore, is our updated “Are we there yet, Mum” index telling us this month?

Hmmm.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

Update;

This just popped up on my Creepbook for Business timeline, just to prove my point;

Thanks Elvis, is that financial advice you’re offering?

Man made pollution

Peter “weather is climate” Hannan is back on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald with the shocking news that Sydney is enveloped in smoke this week.

The smoke is a result of preventative burning by the State Government department responsible for managing the risk of dangerous bush fires. It’s an annual occurrence everyone who’s lived there is completely used to.

Consider then, the headline and stub offered; 

Yes, technically a deliberately-lit fire in the bush is a bushfire, but it’s not the same as an out of control, random event destroying lives and property. As for the ambient temperature in Sydney right now…. near-record warmth isn’t the most persuasive language that could be employed, is it Mr. Hannan?

Apparently, Peter Hannan was nearly an Olympic sprinter, nearly a more successful rock musician than Keith Richards and nearly a respected journalist writing about science.

There’s more language obfuscation fun to be had in his column, as is his idiom; 

Almost eight degrees above the May average. Students of statistics might wish to comment on what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from the information that a data point is higher or lower than the average of a range of data points (clue: the only conclusion that can be drawn is that you need to see more contextual data about the data range and standard deviations before you can draw a conclusion).

It was also the second warmest day this late in year season (sic) on record for Sydney, exceeded only by the 28 degree reading on May, 225, 1994.

We could read that as good news, couldn’t we? In 25 years, we’ve still not beaten the highest recorded temperature. Trend much?

Bill’s Opinion

Back burning is a good idea if you’d like people to not die from bush fires (most of which are deliberately set by arsonists or accidents, by the way, somewhat ruining Peter’s usual assertion that climate change causes bush fires).

Warm weather that doesn’t break records isn’t news.

Stop playing truant, Greta fucking Thunberg.

Political handbrakes

Australia held a Federal election yesterday. They do this every couple of years and also change Prime Minister about halfway through each term, for reasons nobody really remembers. Perhaps this is rather like how the winter and summer Olympics are held 2 years apart to keep everyone interested?

Like many “new” countries, Australia has a written constitution. When one speaks with Australians, they claim theirs is quite analogous and heavily-based upon the USA constitution.

This claim is accurate only to the point that there are States (but also “Territories” which differ to a “State” somehow) that can write local legislation and the Federal government that can write national legislation.

The similarities come to a rather screeching halt there.

The USA Constitution is, in my opinion, one of the greatest and most beautiful pieces of written text in the history of the English language, staking the primary claim that the rights of the individual are paramount.

It’s a work of philosophy first, a declaration of nationhood second. It has stood the test of time and is still the envy of everywhere and everyone else in the world. If you are in any doubt about that, Google the statistics on where potential immigrants would prefer to relocate to and from. The jihadi supporters might shout “Death to the USA!” in the streets of Gaza but they individually change their tune the moment there’s a hint of a Green Card being granted.

Interestingly, Liberia was founded on an almost direct copy of the USA constitution, perhaps demonstrating that national, cultural and ethnic differences might be slightly more important and harder to assimilate than the cultural marxists would like to believe.

One of the wonderful consequences of the American system of maintaining separate Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches acting as checks and balances on each other is the constant drag on making radical changes to anything of importance; a “Hitlarian” populist character simply can’t enter the Whitehouse and start jailing his or her enemies. So, despite what the increasingly insane left would like to think about Trump’s motivations, he’d be hamstrung even if he was maliciously-minded.

Let’s just repeat that in another way, for the simple-minded folk who have let their hatred of Trump cloud their judgement; either Trump is Hitler/Maduro/Erdogan/Jong-Un and wants to jail dissenting voices but the system stops him, or he isn’t actually a malicious person after all.

Either way, brilliant news for Americans and the rest of the world!

If you accept that the system prevents dictatorships, consider that this is a design feature, not a bug, of the American system.

No such designed constitutional devices exist in Australia. The constitution is, in effect, the result of a few months of horse trading and pork barrelling by the rich and powerful at the turn of the last century. There’s even a clause in there explicitly allowing laws to be passed discriminating against racial groups, despite there being no legal definition of what a “race” is in English Common Law. Oh, and there’s the classic “New Zealand can become Australia if they ask nicely” clause.

Did you hear that, Jacinda? You could get those gnashers finally fixed up on Medicare. It’s a shame Uncle Helen Clark didn’t realise that, eh?

However, Australians are a canny bunch. They don’t need a high fallutin’ philosophically-based document to define their nation. They can find more practical ways to slow shit down.

This latest Federal election is a fantastic example of this phenomenon.

Spoiler alert; the incumbent party, the Liberal/National Coalition (ie a left wing party but not the extreme left wing party) won but without a workable majority. The amusing part is that the Labor Party (yes, they deliberately use the American, not Australian, spelling for some bizarre reason) were supposed to win in a landslide.

Turns out people lied to the pollsters. Now where have we seen that before?

This is now the 3rd minority Australian government since 2010 and is likely to remain so for the next three years. At which point, 8 out of 11 years will be under zombie governments.

Why has Australia suddenly started to emulate Italy?

My hypothesis is this is due to a combination of two almost uniquely Australian factors:

1. Compulsory voting. Everyone, even the completely politically disengaged, have to turn up to the local school on a Saturday and write on a form. Many people, me included, resent this forced “right” and either spoil their votes or decide to not vote for the major parties.

2. “Preferences”. If your preferred first choice doesn’t win an outright victory and has no chance of being elected, your vote is recycled to the political party your candidate has nominated. You have no say in this. Democratic?

The experienced consequence has been that the system has incentivised a proliferation of micro-sized single issue parties, usually staffed with people with zero political experience and often little useful experience of anything much at all. QV The Motoring Enthusiasts Party.

Bill’s Opinion

Great! By a complete accident, Australian has landed on a system that makes large scale radical change highly unlikely.

Given that the economy is showing signs of slowing, it’s possible that Australia might recover more quickly than if a “strong” government were in power with a sizeable majority and an instinct to meddle (politicians of all persuasions seem to have this in their DNA).

Why?

The 1920/21 Depression offers a clue.

Bill Pulver’s letter to Raelene Castle – exclusive

(from an anonymous source in the ARU)

Dear Raelene,

Kia-Sportage bro, as you and Jacinda say in the vernacular.

I hope you’re having fun in the not so new gig and the daily drive out to Olympic Park isn’t too tiresome. Strewth, it is truly a godawful place to have to work from, thank goodness the Wobblies only play there once or twice a year. I can understand why the fans prefer to stay at home and watch it on their sofas. Well, that and the fact that they can do something else with their time in the second half of the match, once the result has been decided.

Anyway, I digress.

I wanted to drop you a quick note to wish you the best of luck in the forthcoming World Cup in Japan and send my best wishes for the preparations. Hopefully Chek has got a great esprit des corps in the changing room now, with all of those unique characters working well together. I can just imagine the larrikins Quadey and Pocock must get up to, surely they will be great room mates in Tokyo.

I wanted to mention something I missed in the handover documents. In addition to the two envelopes, I thought you might want to consider some changes to the player contracts in the next round of contract extensions.

Increasingly, and as a result of our strategy to stop funding grass roots rugby and simply poach the better mungoes from Rugby League, you’ll need to have a strategy to deal with the God-botherers.

Obviously, the majority of these are Westies with apostrophes in their names, so any successful strategy is going to have to be reasonably unsubtle and articulated mainly in monosyllables. Try to pitch it at a level that an ABC for Kids viewer could comprehend.

There’s likely to a bit of a clash of cultures with that LBTQI+ptangyangkipperbang thing you and David Pocock committed the sport to in your pitch to the Board. Those happy-clappy types aren’t so keen on the shirt-lifters so you’ll need to reign them in on the old interweb thingy. Apparently, some of them have suggested that Caitlyn Jenner might not be completely female.

I know, madness, eh!

Some sort of contractual clause about not expressing religious or political views should do the trick.

The alternative is to do what the ABC do when one of their vastly more intelligent journalists tweet some extreme left wing opinion (i.e. always); state that their views outside of work are their own and they have the right to express them without any consequences to their livelihood of providing unbiased and objective reporting.

You’ll have to pick one of these approaches though otherwise you’ll be left in a terribly difficult and probably expensive no-man (or gender non-specific) land the first time one of them gets an injection of the Ol’ Time Religion one Sunday morning.

Actually, thinking about it, maybe you’ll be in such a mess if you don’t that you’d make my CEO term look halfway competent, which, let’s face it, would have been unthinkable a year or two ago.

On second thoughts, I think I won’t bother sending this letter after all.

Yours, in rugby,

Bill Pulver

Bill (Ockham’s) Opinion

It’s a funny old world when the European colonialists spend 200+ years telling Pacific Islanders, often at the end of a gun barrel, about the salvation of Jesus Christ and then sack them from their jobs for believing the message.