The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Critics of OSS, look over there!

Sunday 30 September 2007 at 11:26 pm

This weekend saw Eric Ripper copping flak in the papers over the Office of Shared Services, an overly-ambitious project whereby the many arms of the State bureaucracy will unify business functions like payroll in one database, using Oracle software set up by ASG. Apparently, it’s costing more than expected, yet again.

To use corporate-IT speak, this is Enterprise Resource Planning, and it’s one of the juiciest markets in the industry on account of there always being messy problems requiring specialist knowledge to fix. While cost blowouts are no reason for praise, the journalists and the Liberals who’ve launched this criticism ought to check out the real world, where they’d find the OSS budget but a minnow surrounded by much bigger fish.

Like the HP OpenView deployment I’ve heard about which started in the local IT service desk of a multinational firm, only to be haphazardly applied across the entire business, with attendant stuff-ups and cost blowouts. Or the war stories scattered around the Internet from bottom-rung sysadmins stuck within hundred-million-dollar borked deployments of SAP. Or … well, you get the idea.


Awash with cash, but only a little to spend

Wednesday 26 September 2007 at 11:24 pm

Earlier today, Treasury released its report on the State’s finances, showing a higher-than-expected budget surplus of $2.3 billion. (Other underestimates in the report include the take from State taxes, $650 million more than first expected, and public service salaries, $280 million more.)

This sits alongside the discussion in business pages this week about Midwest Corporation and Murchison Metals duking it out over building a port and railway for iron ore mines near Geraldton. The situation’s become a mess, with past agreements falling apart and Government proposals leaving no one happy in trying to please everyone, though there is motion towards sitting everyone down for a rational discussion. But it’d be nice if the Government could just commit some of that surplus money and be done with it.

Admittedly this is last financial year’s surplus, with big chunks already committed (e.g. to building the new hospital in Murdoch) … it’s just that there still seems to be room to ramp up spending on overworked social services or on infrastructure (as the Chamber of Commerce reiterated today).

The Premier did use the news as an opportunity to announce a moderate jump in funding for the construction of Homeswest accommodation and acquisition of housing land. But if he sticks to his stated plan of not cutting taxes (at least till next year), I’d expect to see more of that money being spent on something useful …


So, how do MPs handle hookers?

Sunday 23 September 2007 at 11:27 pm

The last few weeks have actually quite busy in State politics — here’s a horribly delayed wrap-up.

  • It amuses me that when prostitution law comes up for debate, there’s a sudden groundswell of concern for women and children (with just the slightest tinge of paternalism). ’Tis in this frame of mind that we’ve heard about the “Swedish model” (with its sensible but tough-to-enforce goal of going after buyers), which the Liberals have been using as something of a bludgeoning instrument in the moments between their petty bickering. Their champion was last week making claims like “lots of studies agree” without actually citing any detail, which methinks leaves the taskforce of pollies who recommended the new laws as the most reasonable evidence put up so far. And thus, I don’t see too much to be worried about in the likelihood of this bill passing, given that the other State bill to have recently wrought conservative worry (allowing therapeutic cloning) passed the lower house even in a conscience vote.
  • Also in the papers is the proposed State Bill of Rights, which seems to have generated no agreement about whether it’ll be a feeding frenzy for lawyers or just an overdue formal statement of common beliefs. The committee (due to report in November) seems intent on the latter, and their draft tries to avoid having any serious real-world effects, but there are still people saying it’ll shift power to the courts from Parliament. Then again, is that all bad?
  • With Chevron’s Gorgon gas development on Barrow Island having been cleared to go ahead, and Rio’s new mine at Pannawonica also being cleared despite the presence of rare microfauna, I’m suddenly worried about whether the Environmental Protection Authority is doing a good enough job. In fairness, though, the current operations on Barrow Island have been handled remarkably well, and Rio Tinto has gone to some effort to survey troglobite environments in their area.
  • News that the railway is to cost more didn’t cause as much of a stir as I was expecting; either the State Opposition and local media are sick of project budget news, or they realise people care more about the timeframe. Despite the upcoming week of cancellations that’ll allow Joondalup trains to run to Esplanade, it’s entirely possible services further south won’t start until some time when I’m out of the country. Having waited five years, that would really suck …
  • The City of Perth’s proposed riverside development at the Concert Hall sounds really worthwhile, quite aside from being less than Mayor Nattrass’ original grandiose dream. In particular, it fixes the horrible waste of land that is the Terrace Road carpark. So assuming any of them go ahead, this project will nicely complement the riverside developments at the Causeway and by the convention centre.
  • Speaking of Peter Nattrass, thank heavens he’s not running for another term as mayor. While everyone is saying the field for city mayor in next month’s local government elections is weak, I think that some of the candidates have prospects of developing into a worthwhile leader. As such, Lisa Scaffidi seems the most worthy of support, in that she presents hope for not just running things the same way they’ve always been.
  • Finally, it was only quietly reported that the Press Council recently upheld a complaint against our local daily for their ridiculous “article” in January about a supposedly-frail lady sleeping on chairs in a hospital.

APEC 2007: spreading it nice and thin

Monday 10 September 2007 at 11:42 pm

Leaders at APEC 2007 wearing Driza-Bone. Image courtesy of APEC 2007 Taskforce; Creative Commons licence does not apply

This year’s APEC has brought news of so many deals, you could be forgiven for thinking the delegates tackled every big international issue under the sun … but of course, being jack of all trades usually means being master of none. And so it is that despite the rhetoric, the big-ticket announcement of the Sydney Declaration delivers no more than a bunch of hand-waving statements that are barely worth anything in seriously combating climate change.

The thing is, the Sydney Declaration actually is a decent achievement by APEC standards, which is why it overshadowed much more productive news like the deal between Australia and Indonesia to reduce wasteful burning of peat in Borneo.

The issue on which I was expecting to hear some argument was whether APEC should admit more countries, with the moratorium on new members expiring this year. Alternatively, this year would have been a great opportunity to focus APEC a bit by restricting membership with a strict definition like “must have a Pacific coastline”. Instead, the matter seems to have been swept under the carpet, with the only word in the Leaders’ Statement being a new moratorium that’ll run to 2010.

Meanwhile, the first of the long-touted trilateral dialogues between Australia, Japan, and the US was reportedly dominated by discussion of India, Michelle Bachelet of Chile gave an interesting speech, George Bush took a tiny positive step in handling North Korea, business groups adopted an anti-corruption pledge, and more good work was done in tackling the red tape that can stifle international trade.

But there’s been little motion on the bigger and more important question: how will APEC evolve in future? The hope from the early 90s of an enormous free-trade area seems moribund now, and if it is instead to continue the (probably more important) work of lessening regulatory barriers, why are delegates being distracted with things like weak climate change proclamations?

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Plodding onwards with APEC

Thursday 6 September 2007 at 11:41 pm

Condoleezza Rice and Robert McCallum at the APEC Ministerial Meeting 2007, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. Image courtesy of APEC 2007 Taskforce; Creative Commons licence does not apply

It’s really very annoying that reports about APEC in the local media are primarily focussing on John Howard, George Bush, and (to a lesser extent) Hu Jintao. Do our journalists need reminding that Sydney is also hosting the prime ministers of Japan and Canada, the presidents of South Korea and the Philippines, the chief executive of Hong Kong, and many more?

With the main leaders’ summit not happening until tomorrow, it’s too early for me to make any sweeping comments, nor will I not jump on board with critics of the cost (running any kind of conference is expensive!). And while the police panic about a few protesters is way over the top (WA police didn’t need to invent new crimes for Hu Jintao’s visit!), it’s also the case that APEC has the heaviest security requirements of just about any major international meeting.

But the meat in the sandwich, if you will, of APEC gatherings has always been the meetings held informally on the side. And so far they’ve been far from stellar: a treaty giving Australia access to American military technology, slightly more funding for APEC’s secretariat, a new security meeting between Australia and China, mutterings about missile defence, and rehashes of supposed commitments to the Doha negotiations.

Really, the most impressive announcement has been the arrest of the Chaser boys.

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