Cultural Comment

Penrith par le Nepean – A French Vision for Penrith

Penrith. Yes, the city that raises a laugh of pretty much anyone who lives east of Concord in Sydney. It is for many the centre of bland houses, intolerance and cultural desolation. Yet, what needs to be recognised is that Penrith is a city that provides an opportunity for us as a society to get the balance between urban design and nature right. That is because the Penrith CBD, across to the Nepean River is, in part, a blank canvas ready to be used.

The Penrith City Council have, along with Panthers, decided to commission a French company, Campement Urbain, to discuss with the community of Penrith to design a new way for the city of Penrith to look and work. It is a bold and outrageously good idea, due to the one big natural asset Penrith has that most other regional centres don’t – the Nepean River.

Currently, the Nepean River is accompanied on one side by one hotel beer garden, its restaurant, a rowing club and an underdeveloped park / pathway. And one cafe – a Coffee Club outlet.  Back from there, between the riverbank and the big box retailers of Mulgoa Rd are farms. On the other side, in Emu Plains, is another riverside park and pathway, the Penrith City Council region’s most expensive houses and the Lewers Bequest and Penrith Regional Art Gallery (known to many locals as the Lewers Gallery).

The Penrith side provides Campement Urbain the most opportunities for connecting the river to the CBD, as well as linking both sides of the river with a proposed pedestrian footbridge.  The possibilities provided by such a move would be plentiful. Just what could be achieved I will outline:

1. The Footbridge. Currently, the only ways to walk across the Nepean is via a motorway, which is near impossible to access and the Victoria Bridge, a bridge originally built for Russia, but the Crimean war saw it being diverted to Penrith.

Great for Russian rivers that may get frozen. Terrible for people who might want to walk on it, or perhaps see a river below, like say this:

In addition, a footbridge / bike bridge would make it much less dangerous to walk from one side of the river to the other.

2. Cafes and a Hotel. The proposal to build cafes on the footbridge and a hotel at one end is not as far fetched as people may think. There is a shortage of good cafes in Penrith, especially ones in relaxing surrounds (the best cafe I know is Lattetude, which is in the middle of an industrial area, near my old hunting ground of Preston St). There are plenty of Penrith and Lower Mountains people who would appreciate the development of cafes and other related businesses in this area of Penrith – and I could imagine people coming from Sydney and other places to enjoy a relaxing afternoon next to the river. I could at this stage suggest that perhaps a bookshop / microbrewery would be ideal somewhere near the river. But that would be much too predictable from me.

Hotels are also needed. Penrith doesn’t have a big choice of accommodation and has a need for hotel beds – the best rated hotel is Penrith is the Chifley, next to Panthers – which is hardly the most welcoming location. If the Penrith City Council is serious about staging a push for more conferences and tourists, there would be a need for a hotel, and one next to the river would be a sound idea – though, I suggest, it would be on the Penrith side.

3. Canals and Fountains. Another idea that may would call fanciful is building canals that lead into the CBD from the Nepean – though, is a fantastic idea. The city does get hot in summer and the centre of the city is fairly unwelcoming and desolate. Feeding water from the river into that area, to create water features – if it had little to no impact on the Nepean – Hawkesbury river system – would be a positive move to create amenity for the people of Penrith.

4. Cultural Growth. There is a good argument for creating a culture pathway between the Lewers Gallery and the other excellent community resource, the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre.

There could be the possibility of creating various spaces for public art along such a pathway – simply because the western end of Penrith is relatively underdeveloped.

Where that pathway could lead would be for the designers to consider. However, to assume that there would not be a demand for such a development is to make bald assumptions about the cultural potential for Penrith. It does have a university, as well as a solid core of people who either appreciate art or want to, given the opportunity.

It has long puzzled me why Penrith has been so shunned and under appreciated by those in Sydney, especially considering that it has natural features that many next to which people in the inner city would pay millions. If its cultural facilities matched those in some way, the potential for Penrith par le Nepean would be wonderful.

Cultural Comment

Rugby League – The Five Eighth Sign of the Apocalypse

Growing up in the Sydney of the 1980s, there was one game in winter to be watched and supported by people of the western suburbs – rugby league. NSWRL. The domain of hills, blankets, beer and Rex Mossop mangling the English language on the TV. Peter Sterling had hair, Warren Ryan at Canterbury was making a defensive phalanx to block any scoring by other teams. Fatty Vautin was some bloke from Queensland who played for the silver tails, but kept his extra special games for Origin. Wally Lewis was a player you never saw outside Origin. That was it. That was league. It was tribal, and everyone belonged to the rugby league tribe. Wear blue and white socks in the streets of Greystanes, and you were an outcast. Blue and Gold, son.

A great deal has happened to rugby league since those days – and most of it bad. Indeed, I think most of the annoying, disgraceful, shocking things that have been occurring to society can be traced to and routed through rugby league – through the way it is managed and promoted.

1. Gambling

The NRL have become synonymous with opposing the Wilkie / Xenophon poker machine reforms, helping to fund the Clubs Australia campaign, encouraging radio personalities such as the Grill Team to confront government ministers with their misrepresentations, going into local newspapers with stories about the reforms affecting the viability of their clubs. These same clubs place the absurd “You didn’t vote for a licence to punt” signs out the front, spelling out that the NRL clubs are in danger of closing. Channel 9, the broadcaster of league, has now actually said that opposing the poker machine reforms is their editorial line now, using Ray Warren and Phil Gould to state that view during a game.

While on the subject of Phil Gould, we now see and hear him doing political commentary to people down at Campbelltown RSL – apparently he is qualified to say that Julia Gillard is the “worst PM in our history”. Coaching football teams to premiership victories in the 1990s isn’t a qualification for anything much, except bellowing during league matches and getting a job with one of the most poker machine dependent clubs – Panthers. Conflict of interest much?

It is not just the poker machine reforms about which the game of rugby league has little dignity. It is during broadcasts of the game that we see the most advertising of gambling services – odds being discussed frequently, representatives of gambling companies featured during broadcasts, during panel shows. It is the game that puts gambling front and centre of its operations, to the extent of having the Penrith stadium being sponsored by one of these companies.

League didn’t start gambling, nor is responsible for problem gambling by itself, the relationship it has with gambling shows how in our society large organisations are unwilling to make sacrifices for the greater good, instead favouring more dollars, no matter where they come from.

2. News Limited

Those who read my blog and tweets will know of my general dislike of News Limited and its influence over our media landscape, political scene and culture. News Limited should be a media company that makes money from covering things like politics, sport and culture. They have, whether through company decisions or those of individuals, however, frequently crossed the line into interfering in politics, the media and sport is managed and conducted, through mendacity, misrepresentation and manipulation. Rugby League stands as a testament to that callous disregard for what has been.

There has been much said about Super League and the pain it caused the game. It essentially started out from Brisbane, where the part owners of the Brisbane Broncos – News Limited – and the Broncos combined to start a new Super League, which would be centred around wrestling control of league away from Kerry Packer and the ARL. This account is one of the more colourful versions of the origins of the deal. The advent of the rebel league, caused a fight that has caused lasting, damaging pain to the game – not least of which was the filleting of foundation club Souths – and ensured News Limited has a far bigger stake in League than it did in the 1990s. That has seen Foxtel gain a large footing in the game, ensuring that no Saturday games are broadcast on FTA TV as well as the continuing saga that has been the Melbourne Storm – still on the News Limited drip.

News Limited makes money from league – that’s not the bad thing. The influence News Limited casts over league and the way it is run – and the callous way it treats fans – provides another example of which in our society, News Limited is one of our darker bastions of corporate amorality.

3. Ray Hadley and Alan Jones

Alan Jones was a relatively popular radio host in the 1980s, after his stint as Manly, then Australian rugby union coach. His deep, lasting a profound place as the “people’s champion” started, however, after his stint as the coach of Balmain in rugby league. That gave him the credibility of being someone who “understood” the “little people” because rugby league is a working class game and Balmain was as working class as clubs came. No matter that Jones himself is a patrician chameleon who has successfully recast himself as a number of characters. League gave Jones the real push he needed into credibility.

The same can be said for his acolyte, Ray Hadley. Hadley’s life as an auctioneer then football caller has provided him a platform for his nasty shouty bile that infests the radio waves each morning. That the Liberal Party’s operatives (such as Tommy Tudehope) celebrate the bizarre ramblings of Hadley is testament to just how low the state of political discourse has come in these past few years. But it was league that gave Hadley this undeserved platform.

And, for fans of rugby union, it was rugby league that gave you Hadley for that ridiculous bingo-style call of the World Cup semi – “No. 14 is now passing it to No. 11”. And, apparently, for every single rugby test broadcast on Channel 9 for as long as they have the rights. Lucky you. Rugby League has given union lovers so many great things – Channel 9, for one, who bought the rights probably as to stifle the chance for the union to compete with rugby league. Also, league gave you Wendell Sailor and Timana Tahu.

4. Encouraging Aggression and Violence

Ask any teenage boy in Sydney what they look for on Youtube, and this will be one of the most popular – rugby league’s biggest hits

Or, this, the fights

It’s rarely the skilful plays. The advertising of league on Channel 9 also plays up the big hit angle, as well as wistful and energetic nostalgia for the days when fighting was commonplace. The most notorious example of this was Matthew Johns’ creation of Reg Reagan for the Footy Show (note the homophobic reference to Ian Roberts’ coming out):

While rugby league doesn’t cause aggression and violence in the community – and clubs like Penrith have run campaigns discouraging violence against women – it certainly shows contemporary attitudes towards violence and the unwillingness of the NRL to control that image it still emits demonstrates a tacit support for celebrating aggression and violence.

5. Bogans

I tweeted during the State of Origin that league had become a bogan sport and was roundly condemned for suggesting such a thing. My point was that if you look at the way league is promoted and covered on Channel 9, as well as the advertisers who pay for the time, league is fairly and squarely pitched at the cashed up bogan, ready to outlay those bogan bucks. The loud Nickelback and Kings of Leon music, the repetitions of thumps and hits, the ads for Bundy Rum, VB and Commodore V8 SS Utes communicate perfectly which market at which the game is aimed. The over dramatised pretentious openings with Phil Gould also demonstrate a desire for Channel 9 to emulate the stylings of the film director most beloved of bogans, Michael Bay. It’s a far cry from the expert, low key coverage of David Morrow and Warren Ryan. It’s more like Roy and HG without the irony or humour.

Then there is the continuing kid gloves treatment of rugby league’s bogan-in-chief, Todd Carney – a figure not unlike Ben Cousins and Brendan Fevola.

His selfish, uncaring, drunken ways have continued to be indulged in rugby league because of his skill. Now, reports have him going to the Gold Coast or Cronulla. No surprises there.

Rugby League by no means created the bogan, nor is the only sport that contains them or is promoted to them. However, it is the sport that shows its bogan pride in full, living colour.

Rugby League. Showing us how society can take a proud sporting institution and rot it from the inside. A definite sign that society is not what it used to be – indeed, perhaps, a sign of the apocalypse. Though, for that to be the case, they would need to have evidence of reptiles taking over the game…


Malcolm in the Middle – A Blog adding to the Bad Malcolm Puns

It’s been a bit over a year since the shock almost loss of the Federal Election by the ALP and more than that since the speculation about the reanimation of the Turnbull soufflé began. It’s a constant and consistent meme amongst political commentators and those who consider themselves knowledgeable and well read about politics.

We know how this narrative goes by now – the Liberals would almost certainly win the next Federal Election if only they ditched Tony Abbott and inserted Turnbull into the big chair. This would be because, the narrative goes, Abbott is unpopular amongst women and is purely negative and original policy and idea-free. He thinks economics is boring and has no nose for policy. His socially conservative, religion based beliefs would hurt him out in secular Australia and his climate scepticism makes him a big risk for people. Turnbull, however, would attract women to the Liberals because of his inclusiveness, socially progressive views, has a proven track record in business and is a supporter of positive climate change actions. He has ideas, vision, policy thoughts and isn’t an aggressive bully who spends more time running and swimming than reading things.       Finally, according to this narrative, Turnbull would attract second preference votes from the Greens in those areas where voters are still preferencing the ALP – he seems to believe in climate action more than Gillard and the NSW Right machine that powers her value neutral pragmatism. He really does stand in the middle of Australian politics – not too right or left.

It’s an attractive narrative. We’ve had it from Jane Shaw, amongst others. It is attractive especially to those people who love politics and want it to have a close relationship to policy and genuine reform. Abbott’s continuation as leader, and, to a lesser extent, Gillard’s continuation as Prime Minister, seems to show a preference for the simplification of politics to mindless catchphrases and simplification of politics to risk averse numbness.  A return to Turnbull as Opposition Leader and Rudd as PM would take us back to where policy is important and the politics would be intelligent.

Just like the Godwin Grech business.

When I read Annabel Crabb’s excellent essay on Turnbull, the one thought that kept repeating was “he can’t stay as leader”. Crabb’s portrait showed us a restless, brilliant mind that was always engaged, able to focus on big ideas with precision, but easily distracted and a figure that would leave many puzzled and confused with that brilliance of presence and mind. Not to me ideal material for an Australian Prime Minister. I know that Paul Keating had a brilliant mind and is able to focus on big ideas with precision, but he was able to play his vaudeville act when needed – but did manage, over time, to alienate a large chunk of the Australian population with his inability to reduce the size of his ideas and play to the people who didn’t want Australia to “waste taxpayers’ dollars” on things “that don’t matter”.   Telling was a conversation I had this year with the at-the-time surprise new member for Lindsay, Jackie Kelly.  She was assured she didn’t have a hope of winning in 1996 – she didn’t resign her position with the armed forces because of that. However – despite our economic prosperity – people were in a dark mood at the election and just wanted Keating out.   This just adds to my suspicion that many Australians, I believe, cannot handle a brilliant, ideas-focused person as Prime Minister. Hence, Turnbull would be equally hard to handle.

What else would keep Turnbull out is something that is often downplayed by the politically focused commentators – the Weekday News / Sunrise / ACA / Today Tonight effect.  Turnbull plays very well on Lateline, Q & A, 7.30 and other more serious news programs. Better, every time, than Abbott.  When Abbott is confronted with economic and climate change logic, his own statements and policies, he often stumbles, unlike Turnbull. It is a reality, however, that most people don’t watch these shows or follow their arguments and analysis of policy.

Abbott is more a creature of the short grab weekday news, current affairs and Sunrise program – get on, say your piece about how bad the government is and get off before any serious discussion is done. And if it’s not Abbott doing it, it will be one of his army of machines doing the same thing.  It’s an effective thing, continually bagging the government – it’s a constant of our contemporary political period, except perhaps in the Beazley and Crean periods as opposition leaders.

The one modern opposition leader we have as a previous template with which Abbott can be compared is Mark Latham – one with the same “mad” moniker as Abbott. He, too, was very successful at being negative about the government of the day and being repetitive with that criticism.  Latham, played very well in the outer suburbs of Sydney, because he really did represent their interests.  Examples of these were his bizarre entreaties to Howard to support reading to one’s children and cut off the superannuation for MPs. He also managed to keep his more intense political ideas away from the limelight – things such as his “Third Way” philosophies.  Latham’s poll numbers were good to start with because of simplistic nature of his messages and the way he marketed them. Fortunately for us, as it turned out, we found out just how truly “mad” he was, with a mix of ALP bastardry during the 2004 campaign and politically suicidal plans like stripping funding away from the big private schools, which made him unpopular with the media and the political forces that combine whenever private school funding is threatened.

Since then, the success of people like Rudd and Hockey has been attributed to their easy going blokeyness on Sunrise. This explains somewhat the enduring popularity of Rudd, because his brand was well built in those years. Hockey, though, has had some decline, mostly due to the perception he has been a disaster as Shadow Treasurer.  Which he has been. Joe would have been better as a shadow of a human service, such as health, rather than dealing with money. It’s not a strength. Mind you, I suspect Abbott’s people would have realised that. Brand Hockey has been hit, almost terminally.

Turnbull, however, would struggle to appeal to the audiences on Sunrise and its ilk because he comes across as a super-rich merchant banker, rather than as a man of the people. Rudd is better at imitating a warm everyman, as is Abbott – the man “with a workable substitute for integrity” (a Bob Ellis observation). Gillard, however, has not managed to imitate that same sense of warmth for people who are making judgements based on instinct and personal engagement.  In addition, Rudd managed to reduce his policy ideas and statements to sound bytes for that audience – “working families”, even if that ability lessened somewhat when he assumed the PM’s chair.  Turnbull, however, is not as strong at this reduction. He also fails at the relentless negativity that marks the Abbott approach.

The same seems to go for his party.  It seems as though the Liberal Party prefer the Abbott simplistic approach to the complex, demanding, restless approach Turnbull would demand of his colleagues – another reason why I believed he could not stay leader whilst reading the Crabb essay. Like Rudd’s ceaseless work ethic as PM, Turnbull’s colleagues would buckle under the pressure. And the Federal Liberals appear to have even more truculence and sluggishness on work than the ALP, making it harder for Malcolm in the Middle to tread the line between neo-liberal economic policies and socially progressive actions that would polarise the party.

Ultimately, while I would, along with Jane Shaw and the rest, love to have Turnbull back, I can’t see the Australian political landscape being able to handle his triumphant return. We are a small, provincial place when it comes to our favourite political leaders and Turnbull should have parachuted out when he had the chance. It is somewhat depressing seeing him acting as Abbott’s wrecking ball on one good, self-generated reform being performed by the Government, the NBN. He is one man stuck in the middle – but far too left, intelligent and restless for the Federal Liberal Party to handle.

Cultural Comment

Weight Loss – It Shouldn’t Matter So Much

Something I read about on Twitter and in the general populace a fair bit is about weight loss. Lots of discussions about methods, ways, schemes, what to eat, what not to eat and so on. Eat more protein, eat less protein, carbo-free, no sugar. You know the ones. And there are people in our community who are on them swear they work – and are happy to tell everyone else to follow that same method, way, scheme so they can just be as happy losing weight as they are.

Good for them. Personally, it doesn’t matter that much.

I was married to a weight loss consultant (not a full time job for her) and from what I could see, what she was offering worked for people who were prepared to think about what they ate and committed to a more balanced approach. It was long term, lifestyle based discussions with like minded people trying to change their approach to eating and life in general. It seemed pretty reasonable to me.  So does the balanced approach to weight loss and reflecting on it conducted by Bec Pobjie on her blog. Much better than these schemes that require you to completely cut yourself off from a particular food group because it happened to work for one person.

But that isn’t my point, really. My point is that I think the meetings that company offered meant that the women (and it was almost exclusively women) who went could have a chance to share what worked and what didn’t as well as their feelings and fears about being excluded from society because of their weight.

What boggles my mind though is that it shouldn’t matter. We shouldn’t be forever nattering about weight loss schemes in the outside world. Weight and people’s perception of weight shouldn’t matter to the self-esteem of women and men in our society.  Men are forever reassuring their female partners that “they aren’t fat” – settling a neurosis built into women by a society that is forever talking about weight loss schemes. Women are discussing weight loss over coffee and reading magazines packed with thin people telling them how they maintain their figure.

The problem comes with weight loss and talking about it when it becomes the main topic of conversation with people, dominating other aspects of their personality and psyche. They can’t read books or see films because they have to go to the gym again, or “no, I can’t drink that wine/beer/eat that food because it’s not in the diet” or “oooh, aren’t you lucky you can eat that piece of chocolate cake”. They become jealous of those who are seeming to be enjoying life, either by eating what they like, or by doing things that isn’t ruled by a focus on weight control. Such a focus on weight loss distorts people’s personalities and engagement with more important and interesting issues.

Ultimately, I’m sure that people who respond to this will say “you don’t understand, you’re a man” or “it’s ok for men, they can be any weight and it doesn’t matter”, or “men can lose weight so much easier than women”.  All true, though it is changing for men as well.  I will never understand why women judge each other on their weight. Nor why it becomes so important for a woman’s self esteem. Most men I know don’t really bother themselves that much about women’s weight, unless they are self-deluded fools or the men who are obsessively building their six pack instead of their mind. Any man who does urge their partner to lose weight clearly doesn’t have much of an interest in their partner’s personality or genuine engagement with their mind.  It should be the decision of the partner to do it if she wants to.

To those out there who feel empowered about controlling their weight – I admire that and congratulate you. But what are your views on the carbon tax? Asylum seekers? Occupy Wall Street? The glass ceiling? Empowerment of women in the workplace? Marriage equity? The representation of gender on TV and Films? I really want to talk about those things. Not whether you’ve lost 1 kilo on the No Milk Diet.


How to Shape Responses – the Pokie Campaign

I have continued to read the Poker Machine Reform issue with interest, especially the articles on the issue composed by the Political Editor of all of the News Limited City Sunday papers, The Australian alumnus Samantha Maiden. I will attempt to address with this blog how her work could be rephrased to reflect the context of the statements by Clubs Australia.  This is where the original article came from – and here is the headline:

Clubs Australia offering to trial betting limits on pokie machiens in select pubs to prove reforms will not work

Samantha Maiden, National Political Editor From:The Sunday Mail (Qld) October 09

This could be rewritten – the headline sounds a bit like the Clubs Australia mantra “Won’t Work, Will Hurt” – perhaps this:

Clubs’ Lobbying Organisation Changes Position In Terms of Precommitment Trial

Continuing on, the original article will be in italic text, while my suggestions are in plain.

BETTING limits on poker machines could be trialled in selected pubs and clubs after the industry offered to fast-track negotiations to prove the reforms will not work.

This could be rewritten as: “Precommitment Technology in poker machines may now be trialled in selected pubs and clubs after the industry changed its position in terms of such a trial”. Because that is the case – rather than the line that again sounds like the Clubs Australia slogan.

In an apparent olive branch to the Government, Clubs Australia has written to Families Minister Jenny Macklin offering to help organise a trial of mandatory pre-commitment technology.

I would suggest this is a different way of expressing it: “Clubs Australia have changed in their opposition to a trial of the technology to Families Minister Jenny Macklin, offering to now help organise that trial, in a move calculated to prove their point that such technology is flawed”.

But its offer comes with a multimillion-dollar price tag with taxpayers to foot the bill for clubs to install the technology for the trial.

This is a line designed to encourage readers to be outraged about the “waste of taxpayer money”. I would suggest this as a different way – “This change, however, would require the government to fund such a trial.”

The Sunday Mail understands Clubs Australia has given a written undertaking to Ms Macklin to find locations and is working on a trial in Canberra, Tasmania or a third, undisclosed location.

“A proper trial of mandatory pre-commitment is the only way of showing whether or not the technology can help problem gamblers, and the other effects it will have in the community and on the industry,” Clubs Australia CEO Anthony Ball said.

“Andrew Willkie’s experimental technology should be subject to testing and examination before billions are spent and permanent damage is done.”

A change in perspective on this quotation may be: “A press release from Clubs Australia CEO, Anthony Ball explains this change in position, stating ‘that a proper trial of mandatory pre-commitment is the only way of showing whether or not the technology can help problem gamblers’,  adding their continuing attempt to characterise the technology as a risk – ‘Andrew Wilkie’s experimental technology should be subject to testing and examination before billions are spent and permanent damage is done’.”

The move follows secret talks between clubs and the Gillard Government who remain at loggerheads over the reforms.

Secret talks! More like “this change appears to have come as a result of continuing negotiations between Clubs Australia and the Federal Government”.

Regardless of the outcome of the trials, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie will demand the Prime Minister enact the betting limits, threatening to bring down the Government if she doesn’t deliver.

“Nothing has changed. From the very start, I have supported the Productivity Commission’s recommendation of a trial. This trial would, of course, be of specific technical solutions in light of the fact that the value of mandatory pre-commitment has been well established,” Mr Wilkie said yesterday.

This part is fairly innocuous.

A trial would assess how a mandatory pre-commitment system would impact on both recreational players and problem gamblers.

These features could then be modified in the final arrangements from 2014 and would consider rules for punter registration, betting limits and default settings for the length of time gamblers would be excluded after they reached their limit.

Ms Macklin said the Government remained interested in a trial to help “shape the final features and technical details of the mandatory pre-commitment system to be implemented in 2014”.

“But a trial requires the co-operation of all venues, and the state or territory government, in a region or state,” Ms Macklin said.

The Canberra trial may extend to Queanbeyan, NSW, if agreement can be reached to ensure gamblers don’t simply cross the border to avoid having to register to play high-intensity machines.

Conducting a trial of the technology was a key recommendation of the Productivity Commission report into gambling reform, but has not been delivered to date due the problem of getting states, industry and Federal Government agreement in a jurisdiction that will not allow gamblers to simply go to the next suburb.

Clubs ACT CEO Jeff House said that, as long as the Government paid for the technology that was to be trialled, he was happy to participate.

“It’s a genuine offer and we hope the commonwealth takes it up,” he said.

The Tasmanian Government has previously signalled a willingness to trial the technology, but the Federal group, which holds a monopoly licence in the state, would not agree to terms.

The second half of this article is fine.  But, really, in my opinion, the first half needs some reshaping, just like the previous week’s article.  On that, perhaps instead of this:

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard faces a damaging AFL revolt over pokies reforms with club presidents calling crisis talks tomorrow over the changes.

It could have been redone as this : “Concerns about Poker Machine Reforms have been expressed by club presidents within in the AFL and will be discussed as an agenda item in a meeting of AFL Presidents tomorrow”. 

As we know, there was no revolt. Plus, as we know, Clubs Australia will try anything to stop the poker machine pre-commitment technology from being enforced.

Politics Uncategorized

Private Ownership Failures 1: Short Term Parking at Sydney Airport

There is a lot of talk constantly about small government and governments not owning infrastructure. A great amount of this talk is fuelled by “think tanks” like the IPA, which produces a lot of press releases repeating the line about private enterprise being the right way to do pretty much anything and governments shouldn’t be interfering too much with that. Little wonder, due to the fact they are funded by private enterprise to say just that. The astonishing thing is, though, media outlets publish it, the ABC feature spokespeople from it – as if anything the IPA says is actually news. It very rarely is. One thing you won’t hear Institutes like the IPA tell you is where private enterprise doesn’t work. Happily, The Preston Institute is here to tell you when it doesn’t. One such case is the privately owned and operated Sydney Airport.

Ever since the Howard government sold Sydney Airport in 2002, the airport has progressively become more and more rapacious in its desire to make money, with little to no improvement in customer service.  Indeed, even airlines are critical of the level of service.  What doesn’t help is the airport’s monopoly status, which means that the parking charges are amongst the most expensive anywhere in Sydney.  Some achievement. Even the Sydney Opera House carpark is cheap in comparison.  It is the carparking situation at the airport that helps to highlight where private enterprise does not run things more efficiently, it is in fact demonstrates that the opposite is the case.

Some time ago, Sydney Airport decided to stop people from picking up passengers from the domestic terminal. Instead, it created a short term parking area, giving people 10 minutes of free parking before the usual charges of $7 per half hour kick in. As in, park in this “free” parking area for 11 minutes, you pay $7. In addition, this “free” area is some distance from the baggage carousels, so co-ordinating the picking up of your loved one from the airport has become a delicate game of timing, if you wish to avoid the $7 slug.

As I stood out in the Short Term carpark the other night, I watched the result of this balance between amenity and corporate greed play out. The southern part of the carpark is very poorly designed, meaning that cars backing out are frequently narrowed missed by cars coming into the carpark. Add to that Sydney’s mix of mini trucks and arrogant Mercedes drivers, and it’s a mess of near misses. There is also the phenomenon of cars stopping in the middle of the carpark, loading their passengers, while others have to wait. The result is not only dangerous, but it creates a very slow entrance into the carpark – it took my partner 30 minutes to travel 500 metres the night I watched the near carnage. It makes you want to just give up and park in the non-free carpark.  Might as well just pay the $7. And that’s how they get you.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a northern part of the carpark that is virtually empty while selfish drivers are busy swerving in the southern part. However, this night, there were no parking attendants directing people to that section. None. As far as I can remember, there have never been any – except at the gate where unlucky punters have to pay their $7 for waiting the extra minute.  This part of the carpark is used, though, by one group – minibuses running passengers to parking stations operated in competition to the Airport’s abominably priced long term carpark. Sydney Airport doesn’t allow them to go any closer to the terminals, not even in bus bays.

The Sydney Airport Short Term Carpark and its nightly evocation of chaos is one of those occasions where private enterprise shows exactly why they should not be trusted with running public infrastructure, especially crucial transport hubs. Their focus is on the money, not the service.  You can’t blame them for that – governments are the ones to blame for abandoning their responsibility for running public infrastructure for the gain of quick cash.