The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Some observations around the Houses

Saturday 28 April 2007 at 9:48 pm

I’m caving into writing a list again: if only I’d had time to develop each of these into posts themselves!

  • The speculation earlier this week about possible tax cuts in the next episode of The Peter Costello Budget Show is amusing in the context of John Howard talking up his economic management credentials in Brisbane. It’s an election year, and you have to be pretty naive to think that the Budget will contain anything other than vote-buying measures. If only we could get some real economic reform out of these guys, like a desperately-needed simplification of the tax system (rather than just tweaking rates and thresholds) to cut down the gigabucks wasted on administration. Or better yet, how about some spending on economic constraints — on upgrading the ports that serve our mines, or on technical education to address skills shortages?
  • Water from the Kimberly is back in the news; forgive me for not being excited. Lots of people are saying things like “forget the cost, we’d never get anywhere if we didn’t build expensive stuff!” … and sure, big visionary projects are wonderful, but there’s a difference between being a visionary and bankrupting the State. The best available assessment suggests that three thousand kilometres of water transport system, be it canal or pipeline or whatever, would fall into the latter category. (For those who failed physics: to move stuff, including water, requires energy. The amount required is directly proportional to the distance travelled. Energy is not free, and the Kimberly is a bloody long way from Perth.)
  • The other part of Omodei’s proposal this week is far more sensible: an irrigation scheme to develop agricultural land near the Fitzroy River. I can see a lot of potential problems (the region’s ecosystems are more fragile than anyone in Perth seems to recognise) but there’s actually hope that these are problems that can be handled. So much so, in fact, that the idea sounds like a copy of what already exists.
  • On the other side of the House, state Labor have always been pretty bad on the self-promoting propaganda front, but why do we need ads during the footy telling us that new liquor laws are coming and we can expect a “change of scene”?! Actions speak louder than words, kids.
  • Finally, a brief mention of federal Labor: I don’t know enough to comment on the merits of the new IR policy, but for crying out loud, this obsession with throwing the term “fair” around whenever workplace relations come up is getting very tired, very fast.
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A few things I’ve missed

Saturday 21 April 2007 at 8:43 pm
  • Because of an ugly conflation of factors that conspired to keep me from blogging this week, I missed a bunch of cool things, like the article about PerthNorg in last Tuesday’s West Australian, complete with a lovely photo of Bronwen ;-)
  • How did I not discover Galacticast sooner? It makes little sense if you’re not a sci-fi nerd, but if you are, it’s a whole new level of awesome.
  • In Federal politics, this week saw the re-emergence of boat people! and dangerous immigrants! and topics like that. First there was Johnny’s off-the-cuff mention that he thinks HIV-positive people shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate. I agree that this’d be horribly discriminatory … but I find myself not that concerned, since it’s basically no change from current practice. I mean, my cousin recently spent $150 on X-rays to prove he doesn’t have tuberculosis, and that was for a bloomin’ tourist visa.
  • As for the more recent announcement, about swapping asylum seekers with the US, I’m seeing lots of comments calling it “illogical”. But although this policy is no less discriminatory, I have to give credit to Johnny for its brilliance. Given that the man’s stated goal is to keep boat people off Australian shores by any means possible, a plan to ship them across the world immediately is genius. It’s also a cheap attempt to switch the punters’ attention away from Ruddster-love and back to issues on which the little man seems trustworthy, but it’s failed miserably thanks to other matters dominating the news.
  • Perthlings! The public comment period for Northbridge Link has been extended to the end of the month, so if you haven’t already filled in the online comment form, you should!
  • And a final word about Perth: when Jeff Kennett came over a few weeks ago I heard several people say we could use a bloke like him in power here. But I think they picked the wrong Victorian: what we really need is a rock-star Lord Mayor like John So. Seriously, could you ever picture people doing stuff like this for Peter Nattrass? Problem is, none of the current candidates for this year’s election look good enough.

Hardly a simple election for the Timorese

Thursday 12 April 2007 at 11:49 pm

There was a time a few days ago when I honestly thought that Timor-Leste’s election this week (to replace Xanana Gusmao) would be straightforward, just because it’s for a symbolic position with limited real power.

I’ve seen a few reports claiming that voters were rebuking Fretilin, the party formed from the revolutionary group that fought Indonesia for decades. More reliable sources, though, are saying the result is a show of support for the now-independent José Ramos-Horta in Dili, and for Lu’Olu (Fretilin’s man) everywhere else in the country. Since no one has a 50% majority, there’ll be a run-off election in May.

Although there’s street-level calm, the election has turned somewhat scandalous, with various accusations of unfairness being flung in pretty much every direction. The electoral officials, though, seem to think that any resulting error is insignificant.

If supporters of the five presidential candidates who dropped out go for Lu’Olu rather than Ramos-Horta, I wonder what effects that’ll have for Timor-Leste’s relations with other Asian nations (specifically Indonesia)? If the opposite happens, I wonder what prospects remain for cooperation in government, given that Fretilin members (notably the ex-PM, Mari Alkatiri) have accused Gusmao and Ramos-Horta of spreading misinformation?

Either way, I sincerely hope that the lessons learned this time around will be applied to the parliamentary elections in June, by which time Gusmao will be leading a new party

Update 13/4: There’s confirmation of problems in the count, albeit not as severe as has been alleged.

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Opportunity comes knocking, but the Premier doesn’t notice

Wednesday 11 April 2007 at 10:31 pm

Uranium mine buildings and lake
The hideous devil that Alan Carpenter is protecting us from; photo by Stephen Codrington

A few days ago, it was reported that the European Union’s ambassador to Australia would use his trip out west this week to mention that his crowd would be interested in buying uranium from us, if we offered. Today, Alan Carpenter’s response has been to keep his head in the sand, insist that the sky will fall if we add uranium to our list of exports, and mumble something about preserving a power source for the future. (This is separate from the question of nuclear power for WA: I’m inclined to think that since we have relatively small requirements, and it takes ages to build nuclear plants, we should just jump to renewable technology — assuming local producers can get over their obsession with coal.)

Europe isn’t like China or India; it has lots of existing power stations that won’t go away in the next few decades, and it needs supplies from a place that isn’t planning civil war anytime soon. All of the world’s nuclear reprocessing expertise is in Europe, so it’s safe to say that radioactive waste will be properly managed.

The hand-wringing about whether we’d be asked to take back that waste is touching, but I see no stampede by plant operators wanting to offload onto South Australia or the Territory. More importantly, though, is uranium really the only natural resource for which we should get morally antsy about supplier responsibilities and end-of-life concerns? (All that iron ore leaving the Pilbara goes straight to Chinese steel mills which don’t exactly have perfect environmental records, then onto building sites that’d make an Aussie union heavy faint). And while uranium mining is definitely dangerous, it’s not that much more so than other mining processes we happily tolerate. (Until recently, no one in Perth had heard of the lead mine at Wiluna). It’s also worth noting that there’s already a (small) waste dump on the Nullarbor.

So I have a hard time seeing any logical coherence in the continued opposition to uranium mining in WA.


Fiery delights!

Sunday 8 April 2007 at 12:24 pm

Although I may have slightly freaked out the people I went with, my trip to the Freo Street Arts Festival yesterday was awesome. There was a curious theme of performers getting down to their underwear, but more importantly, there was fire!

Fyredanz: dude breathing fire next to a flamethrower spurting into the sky

Also from yesterday: Fremantle’s mayor reckons local voters will dislike having an outsider parachuted into our Federal seat after Carmen Lawrence leaves (because, you know, it’s pretty rare for the Labor Party to do that. Oh wait …). He’s been neither bad nor brilliant in his current role, and if he does stand as an independent I don’t see him winning … so what’s he hoping to achieve?


Why we should be worried about global warming

Friday 6 April 2007 at 11:27 pm

[A fish named 'Daisy' on the Great Barrier Reef]
One of the many ecosystems in danger; photo by Laurence Grayson

The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land use change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources).

Earlier today, the second working group of the IPCC released their report into the probable effects of global warming. So far only the summary for policy makers is available online, but even that is quite terrifying reading.

Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk. The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable.

(This is the second of three reports in this year’s “fourth assessment”; the first asked whether climate change is real and whether it’s caused by humans, this one asks what the effects of climate change will be, and the third will suggest things that can be done.)

Although the report is basically a glorified literature review, and very much the work of a bureaucracy, it isn’t the sort of document that can be dismissed as easily as what the Prime Minister seems to think. There are hundreds of authors, all of them highly distinguished (such as the director of our own Bureau of Meteorology), and while they might all be wrong, it’s not something I’d put money on.