Monday, April 30, 2012

Bottom of the barrel

We're scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as our elected representatives are concerned.

They don't even bother to pretend anymore that they're interested in the country or us.

Hypocrites, demonstrating clearly that their only interest is self interest, their own positions, power and the benefits it brings.

We have the opposition faking disgust that the government exists only because they have the support of the Greens and independents. "Disgraceful, the government must resign", they screech endlessly.

Yet they did their utmost to do the same deal with the Greens and independents after the election so that they could govern with exactly the same support.

And let's not forget that the Opposition is a combination of two parties anyway, the Liberals propped up by the Nationals. On their own they wouldn't win power.

They're appalled, they claim, that the Prime Minister has been supporting the Speaker, they're stressing the man's weaknesses and failings. Yet he's one of their party, a man supported by them for election after election.

Never a word or move against him while they could count on his vote.

Then we have the government.

The pokie reform promise to Andrew Wilkie to get him onside scrapped the moment they had an extra vote in the House.

That vote gained by the shonky deal to make Slipper Speaker.

After weeks of supporting them - hypocritical cliches about presumption of innocence, right to defend themselves,when it was actually only about votes in parliament - the PM suddenly decides a line has been crossed.

If a line has been crossed it was right at the beginning, nothing's changed in relation to the allegations.

Again it's simply about party politics, retaining power, keeping their positions and jobs.

Then we have the media's role, and again we've been let down.

We're now getting articles * about both Thomson and Slipper, telling us they've always been dodgy. Politicians of both parties have long known the problems, so have many 'journalists' we're told.

So why weren't questions asked way back then? Why was no digging done, why no revelations of inappropriate behaviour that they now say they've long known about?

And why didn't their parties replace them with more suitable people?

The same goes for all the other crooks, incompetents and self-serving hypocrites who're foisted on us at election time.

It's all starting to seriously affect our international standing and our economy too.

Almost unique in the world we have a strong economy, strong currency, low unemployment, no austerity measures causing riots, and we haven't had to borrow or print trillions of dollars to get where we are.

But that's being overshadowed by the infantile politics being played out in Canberra. No policies, no vision, no dicussions about the country, the economy or the future, just party politics with fake outrage in an attempt to keep or gain power.

The world and the markets see, note and act on that.

Democracy gives us the opportunity to get rid of incompetent clowns. But it's meaningless if we only have other incompetent clowns to replace them with.

I despair.

* An example from the Sydney Morning Herald tells us that Slipper trouble goes back 10 years
    Another about Thomson tells us that powerbroker Graham Richardson had warned Labor's head office about the dangers of preselecting Mr Thomson in Dobell before the 2010 election

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yes, I really enjoyed the food

In my last post before I flew to Dubai I said I was 'looking forward to real Indian food...and in particular my favourite Lebanese food.'

Our favourite for Indian meals is India Palace in The Walk at JBR in Dubai Marina.

 Crispy, spicy, oven-fresh while you're reading the huge menu...

 Top quality, authentic, tasty dishes, as spicy as you want them:

Mouth cleansing herbs & spices at the end:

Naturally we went more than once and it was, as usual, never less than excellent. All that food and a bottle of mineral water, less than $25.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

You couldn't make it up

Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the nearly forty years since satirist Tom Lehrer made that observation weve had continuous proof that he was right.

Satirists just can't compete with what goes on in reality.

The latest is an absolute classic.

Take a bow Bill Shorten, our federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation.

Asked on Sky News whether he thought Speaker Peter Slipper should return to the Speaker's Chair while the civil claims against him were still being played out he replied:

"I understand that the Prime Minister has addressed this in a press conference...I haven't seen what she said but let me say that I agree with what it is that she said".

Interviewer: "Hang on. You haven't seen what she said..."

Shorten: "...but I support what my Prime Minister said, so..."

Interviewer:  "Well what's your view"

Shorten:  "Well my view is what the Prime Minister's view is".

The interview finished with:

Shorten: "...and I support what our Prime Minister said".

Interviewer: "But you don't know what that is".

Shorten:  "Mmm, I'm sure she's right".

You can watch the clip here.

It even looks like a satirical sketch.

And this clown is seriously being touted as the next leader of the Labor Party. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Back to Oz

The non-stop Emirates 777 early tomorrow morning for me, Sydney about thirteen and a half hours later, then the shuttle back to Terrigal. I should be there around midnight I guess.

Then a good few days for the body to get back to Oz travelling of about 18 hours and a six hour time difference take their toll.

It seems the monsoonal rains have eased and the forecast is mostly sunny, top temps in the low to mid twenties. It's down to about 10C overnight and that's cold for me but as I'll be tucked up under the doona I won't notice.

And good news - the weather bureau is predicting a mostly dry autumn for the east coast as the La Nina climate pattern ends.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting trucks off our roads

The time frame is far too long but nevertheless the federal government has made a good decision.

An estimated 3,300 fewer truck trips a day will be taken when a new freight terminal is built in south-west Sydney. At the terminal trucks will transfer freight to trains which will take it on to Port Botany.

It's something that should have happened many years ago of course and it's only a beginning.

The first option for moving land freight should always be rail. And if our huge trucks are the only option they most certainly shouldn't be anywhere our towns and cities, there should be similar terminals for freight transfer to much smaller trucks for use in the urban areas.

Sydney Morning Herald has the story here.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Weather everywhere

Home on the Central Coast of New South Wales has continued with this year's bad weather while I've been away.

Last week seemed from reports I've been reading to have been non-stop torrential downpours, 150mm in 24 hours at one point.

Our local paper had some interesting photos of the flash flooding resulting from all the rain. Like this one:

 Photo. Mark Scott, Express Advocate

The shoes must be very precious to him.

And demonstrating bureaucrats' obsession with stating the bleedin' obvious:

Photo. Express Advocate

Meanwhile in Dubai the past few days have been the worst kind, with air you chew rather than breathe. After the sandstorms, although there's been little or no wind, the air is full of dust.

I'm heading off back to Oz on Wednesday where the forecast is possible showers and daytime temps of around 24C.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

True competition

Being in Dubai highlights just how bad Australia's retail situation is for us consumers, with the total dominance of just two groups, Coles & Woolworths.  I last posted about it  here.  

Over 70% of our grocery spending is in their hands. That's not only bad for us economically but our choices of products is increasingly limited because just two companies decide what they're going to offer us.     

This lack of choice is highlighted by the truly competitive market in Dubai.

Within a few minutes walk of our apartment in Dubai Marina we have a choice of five big supermarkets; Waitrose, Carrefour, Choitram, Spinneys, Al Maya. 

Waitrose and Choitram    
Also within a short walk we have a dozen small independent supermarkets and convenience stores to choose from.

And then within a few minutes drive we have three huge hypermarkets, Carrefour, Geant and Lulu, plus many more independents.

Within ten minutes we have the choice of nearly thirty outlets, products from all over the world, low prices reflecting the competition.

Sadly it's far too late for us to have competition, and choices, in Oz. What we can buy and what we have to pay for it is in just two hands.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We've had weather

The picture the world has of Dubai is probably something like this:

True of some of it of course, but Dubai actually covers a small area in a vast sandy desert.

And there are plenty of sandy areas in the city itself, undeveloped blocks in the developed areas:

All that sand in and around the place means problems in strong winds.  I was driving along in clear weather on Thursday when a wind came out of nowhere and as I passed one of these sandy blocks the visibility suddenly dropped to a hundred metres.

Not only was the air suddenly full of sand but as the wind built all kinds of things started blowing about. Bits of trees, the inevitable plastic bags, all kinds of construction-related stuff.  It made driving very interesting.

Overnight we had rain, which settled the sand and cleared the dust from the air, but there was evidence all around of the previous day's weather:

Costly non airport

A PS to my last post about the talk but no action on Sydney's deperately needed new/second airport.

The federal Infrastructure & Transport Minister has joined the debate with some interesting figures.

Anthony Albanese makes the point that the discussions have gone on for thirty years, several sites have been proposed, nothing has actually happened.

In 2000 Sydney was the gateway for half the arrivals into Australia and although that's gone down to 41% now it's still the major gateway.  Yet Melbourne's Tullamarine is more than double the size and Brisbane is three times the size.

Mr Albanese points out the obvious, that Sydney airport's limitations are damaging Australia's economy. A point worth emphasising because he says that by 2035 the cost to GDP of turning away flights will be $6 billion, and about $35 billion by 2060.

"This issue must be beyond short-term politics. It needs a mature bipartisan approach. Sydney is our gateway to the nation and the world. This joint report shows beyond doubt, we can afford to ignore these facts no longer."

With the politicians we have the approach will not be mature, will not be bipartisan and the facts will be ignored. The debate will still be going on in another thirty years.

AAP's report in Sydney Morning Herald is here

Sunday update

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell has made a decision (which in itself is a remarkable achievement).  There will be no second Sydney airport.  SMH report is here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The airport debate

A story in today's Sydney Morning Herald links nicely with one in yesterday's Gulf News.

The SMH has yet more talk about a second Sydney airport, something that's been talked about for as long as I can remember but about which nothing has ever happened.

This time the report is  "Is Canberra Airport a viable substitute for a second Sydney airport, or is it imperative a new facility be built?"

Gulf News reports that the government of Dubai is creating a corporation "that will help the emirate leverage its expertise in master-planning and developing world-class airports in and outside the country...The corporation will also be responsible for supervising the construction of airports and facilities, developing currently operating airports and carrying out infrastructure services they require."

We need to give them a call.  They certainly do have  expertise in master-planning and developing world-class airports.

Sydney's airport is a disgrace - old, tired, grubby, out-of-date, far too small, lacking facilities, and everything from parking to a cup of coffee is far too costly. It gives a bad first impression of the cityand the country. It's not even close to good enough for today let alone the future.

Get on a flight at SYD and disembark at DXB to compare what we've got with what we should have. DXB is modern, bright, clean, efficient, a great first impression for the city.

In a few short years Dubai's become the world's fourth largest airport for international passenger traffic. Ten years ago it wasn't even in the top thirty. It can now handle airport 60 million passengers a year and 2012 is on target to achieve 56.5 million passengers. Capacity is being expanded to 75 million passengers by next year. 

It's also the world's sixth busiest cargo traffic airport, with nearly 2.5 million tonnes of cargo handled.

There are over 27,000 aircraft movements a month, from 130 airlines.

And Dubai Duty Free has in less the less than thirty years of its existence become the single largest airport retailer in the world with an annual turnover of more than one and a half billion dollars.

But that's not all. A second airport, about 40km from the original and planned for the needs over the next 50 years, already has phase one completed and operational.

The first runway, A380 compatible and 4.5 kilometres long, was completed within its planned 600 day construction period.  Phase One can handle 600,000 tonnes of freight per annum and operates 24 hours a day. There are 64 aircraft stands, a state-of-the-art ATC Tower, fire stations, a 66,000 square metre passenger terminal and all the other necessary infrastructure.

Eventually it will be the world’s largest airport, able to handle 120 million passengers and 12 million tonnes of freight a year.

The airport is just one part of what will eventually be a vast aviation, logistics, commercial, exhibitions and residential city with free zones and even a golf resort.

A company was formed to get it all 2006. Yep, six years ago they decided to start planning it and it's already up and running.

Meanwhile the endless talking about what to do with SYD goes on, talking being our politicians' usual preference to actually doing something.

The two stories I refer to are here:
 Sydney Morning Herald
 Gulf News

And if you're interested, the website for the new project/airport is here

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

e-Gate here I come

Coming into Dubai this time I had the same problem as the last trip - a long wait at Immigration.

DXB is one of the world's busiest airports and even at the gigantic new Terminal 3, exclusively for Emirates, the queues can be daunting.

Getting stamped in took about two minutes (automatic visa on arrival for Aussie passports). But it took just under an hour inching forward in a queue before I got to the counter. And after a fourteen hour flight from Sydney you really don't need that.

So I decided to see whether I could get an e-Gate card.

As a resident I had one - it's plastic, credit card size, linked to a computer which has your details and fingerprint stored. You go to the dedicated e-Gate section at Immigration, insert the card, put your finger on the scanner and, hey presto, it lets you in.

It does refuse to recognise you every so often, but there's an officer at a desk alongside the gates who just stamps you in.

There are never queues and it takes about a minute.

So, off I went to the DNATA building on Sheikh Zayed Road which has my nearest e-Gate office.

There was a vacant counter, so no wait. I explained I was no longer a resident but as a frequent visitor with an Aussie passport, could I please have a new e-Gate card?

"Of course".

My details, fingerprint, photo were still in the computer. He gave me a printout, I took it to the adjacent cashier and paid Dh225 ($60).

By the time I got back my new e-Gate card was waiting for me.

Incidentally, there are constant whinges here from expats about Emirati officials being rude, arrogant and dismissive. That hasn't been my experience and this was another example. In view of what people say, it's worth just recording the transaction.

An important first point to note is that we're not talking in the official language of the country or the mother tongue of the national I'm dealing with, which of course are Arabic. The whole transaction is in English - can you imagine that in your country?

A male and female Emirati were on duty at the e-Gate office. Both were smiling and helpful, we chatted about how nice it was to have an Aussie passport, how busy DXB is these days and other chit-chat. Then the lady was called away, just as the office boy came in with two coffees. My man insisted I had the now spare second one.

He gave me the printout and pointed out the cashier desk, but told me to please finish my coffee before I went to pay. So we carried on with the pleasant chat until I'd finished the coffee.

I'm sure that some of them are rude and arrogant - every public service the world over has them. But my dealings with them in Dubai over the past six years have always been like this e-Gate experience.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

There's banks and there's banks.

The news that HSBC bank is taking over the branches here of Lloyds will be of some concern to Lloyds customers I would think.

I had never dealt with Lloyds until last week, when I had some business to do with them.

I have however had many dealings with HSBC.

For a taste of what they laughingly call customer service, here's a post on one of my experiences.

On the other hand, my visit to Lloyds branch on Al Wasl Road couldn't have been easier. Explained why I was there, waited less than one minute, talked to a knowlegeable, helpful, professional person, concluded the business in a few minutes.

I wonder whether they'll be moved to the HSBC formula.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Bad driving is universal

In spite of improvements over the past few years, Dubai drivers are justifiably well known for their aggressive, inconsiderate, dangerous habits.

(We've had a couple of typical examples this morning just going for coffee, a dangerous tailgater desperate to exceed the speed limit and a cutter-upper).

I wrote about it many times on my 'Life in Dubai'  blog, from horrific multi-vehicle multi-fatality fiery crashes to more light-hearted examples, such as this one  which  gives a glimpse of some of the problems.  But whether serious or lighthearted they all point to drivers not giving a damn about other road users.

Some of the posts under the 'driving' label, though, pointed out that Dubai isn't the only city to have moronic drivers.

Another example of that fact is reported in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

In summary, an eighteen year old learner driver has been charged with speeding at 105kph in a 50kph zone, using a mobile phone while driving, driving in a manner dangerous to the public, and driving with a suspended licence (a suspended licence already when he's still only a learner?!!)

Oh, and just incidentally, when a highway patrol officer signalled for him to pull his vehicle over, the driver allegedly accelerated and swerved towards him, forcing the officer to jump out of the way.

He's eighteen so he probably has more than half a century of driving time ahead of him. Plenty of time to kill more than a few people I'd have thought, given his attitude.

I wish I was the judge he'll come up before.

The story in SMH is here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Undeserved bad rap

Back on February 28 I posted about Dubai being equated with ugly buildings, the latest example being Sydney's Lord Mayor slamming a proposed new hotel as "a clumsy Dubai-style hotel". The story in Sydney Morning Herald was headlined: "Not so fast with that Dubai-style tower, says mayor".

The UK Daily Telegraph has just run a feature titled: 'Are these the ugliest buildings in the world?'

They've selected twenty-one breathtakingly ugly buildings...and not one is in Dubai.

Australia deservedly gets a gong though, with Federation Square in Melbourne:

Photo: Alamy. Daily Telegraph

Awash with ugly buildings is maybe a reputation Dubai doesn't deserve.

As an aside, I've never understood how such patently ugly designs are not only proposed by architects but are approved by the owners and given the go-ahead by the authorities. 

There's a whole chain of people involved and not one of them has the courage to say it's so ugly it has to be binned. 

Have a look at the  Daily Telegraph feature here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Fuel with a smile

I just filled the car with petrol.

Correction. I didn't fill the car with petrol, in Dubai there are pump-jockeys. One per pump.

My man filled the tank with 58 litres - which cost me A$26.22.

Yep, 45cents a litre.  In Oz last week I paid $1.45 a litre.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Flashing wear?

The local version of a grubby raincoat? 

It's available in Ibn Battuta Mall.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Too much information

I know I'm far from alone when I say that high on the list of annoying things in Dubai is companies demanding personal  information which has no bearing on what they're supplying.

It's come up again with the newly appointed building management company for the block in which we own an apartment.

Their Occupant Information Form has just been handed out. It asks basic and relevant information such as name and contact details of the apartment's owners, whether the apartment is owner occupied or leased, the parking bay(s) number(s), number of occupants.

I have no problem telling them that.


In large red type at the top is "Please complete this form attaching a copy of your Passport, visa page & Title Deed Copy/Tenancy Contract Copy (if tenanted)"

The form includes demands for our electricity/water, gas account number, vehicle(s) registration number(s).

And Employed Staff (if applicable) name, nationality, passport number and visa expiry date.

These people are not Immigration, not the police, not a utilities supplier. They're no more than a building maintenance company.

I've given them what they need to know and no more. I'm expecting a call,  during which it's inevitable that I'll become very angry and very loud.

It's all so unnecessary but sadly it's par for the course.