Thursday, September 27, 2012

Throwing resources at the problem

One of the obvious differences between Dubai, or the Gulf in general, and Oz is that when something needs to be done in Dubai resources are thrown at it.

You see it particularly with construction.

In Oz when we build a road there'll be days when there's no activity at all, then a truck with five or six men turns up; a couple poke around with shovels, one drives a digger, two are lollipop men...

In Dubai busloads of workers and fleets of machinery pour all over the site day after day.

For example, here's a shift of construction labourers from one site waiting for the bus back to their accommodation:

I was reminded of it when I read about the robbery of a money exchange in Dubai, in The National newspaper.

Crime is relatively rare in Dubai but of course it does happen. In this case a couple of men burst into a money exchange, threatened staff with a pistol and ran off with the equivalent of about A$250,000 in cash.

Within a couple of hours police were outside the apartment they were hiding in and took them into custody.

 I'm sure that's at least in part due to the resources thrown at it.

The National tells us: "Within five minutes of the heist 243 police officers had been deployed to hunt down the robbers. Officers took less than two hours to identify an address in Bur Dubai where they believed the robbers were hiding."

Two hundred and forty three police officers.

Here the scenario would more likely have been a couple of constables in a car arriving at the shop ten or fifteen minutes after the event, spending the next two hours taking statements.

The story is here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Neanderthal gene

It's fairly standard these days that after violence of some sort we get photos of the accused's supporters leaving court.
After the recent Sydney violence, the excuse for which was the amateur video about the prophet Mohammed, here they are:
Photo. Walter Peeters. Sydney Morning Herald
What struck me, yet again, was that this bunch are simply clones of all the others.
Random attacks on strangers, as we had recently in Kings Cross, violence at football matches, protests that turn violent, ethnic clashes...there's a common denominator.
The participants.
Identical young males. In spite of their claim for some sort of individuality or difference from each other, they're identical. Same clothing, same build, same attitude, same body language and obviously from the same gene pool.
If we want to reduce gratuitous violence maybe that's something for the geneticists to work on.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Another religious own goal

The protests over the totally irrelevant amateur video made by one of the world's too many religious nutters - this time an Egyptian Coptic Christian with a long criminal record - have spread to Sydney.

So naturally another bunch of religious nutters took to the streets on a violent protest that left nutters and police injured.

They carried moronic signs such as ''Behead all those who insult the prophet'', ''Obama, we love Osama'' and ''Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell''.

I was going to write along the lines that it was so utterly cretinous that you could almost hear the conspracy theorists planning to tell us it was a CIA plot to discredit Muslims.

But I read an open letter from Peter FitzSimons in this morning's Sun Herald that summed it up so well I decided simply to repeat it here:

HAVE we Sydney-siders got this straight?

Because on the other side of the Pacific, somewhere in California, some loser has thrown together some kind of amateur internet video insulting your particular god, you think it justifiable to:
  • Take over the Sydney CBD.
  • Cause willful damage to property.
  • Throw rocks at police officers who are doing nothing more than their duty.
  • Hold up such ludicrous signs as “Behead all those who insult the prophet.”
We have to ask: Do you have the first clue as to the ramifications of your actions? Do you not understand that the net result of such irresponsible, appalling action is to give ample fuel to every racist in the country to reinforce every bad stereotype they have ever had of you, and that will affect badly the hundreds of thousands of other peaceful and law-abiding Islamic Australians?

Get this straight, and quickly: some of you may be from countries where this kind of thing is acceptable. But it is NOT acceptable in this country.

In this country you are free to worship whatever god you damn well please. Others are free to worship their gods.

And I am free to say it is all nonsense over imaginary friends.

But you are not free to create the mayhem you did yesterday, simply because you don't like a freaking video!

Racists have said for years, “If you don't like the way we do things here, go back to where you came from.” The net result of your actions yesterday is that – for those people specifically disgracing themselves in the CBD yesterday, not the vast bulk of Islamic Australians – much of the country now feels the same.

Nice work.

An Open Letter from Peter FitzSimons

Friday, September 14, 2012

As I was saying...

Back at the end of June I wrote a post titled  The Greens are gone  after the performance of their new leader on TV about their position on asylum seekers.

Today our local paper has a piece about last week's local elections:

Greens Sue Wynn perplexed by Greens poor showing

ANGRY, no; annoyed, no; perplexed, yes.

They are some of the feelings of former Greens councillor and deputy mayor Sue Wynn this week after being dumped by voters at Saturday's Wyong Council elections.

"I don't know what more I could have done," she said as she reviewed the disastrous performance of the Greens statewide.

There's no mystery as far as I'm concerned.

ExpressAdvocate story is here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Same old

There's a lot of media coverage about the drop in commodity prices, especially iron ore and coal, the inevitable slowdown to the mining boom (or what the media is calling an end to the boom), deferred investment in new mines/expansion of mines and in mining infrastructure.

And of course, all dominated by the emotional bogeyman of job losses.

Job losses dominate all thought here it seems, without much thought about a wider picture. A day doesn't pass without headlines screaming  'job losses'.

The cut to education budgets here in NSW resulted in calls to radio stations this morning, virtually all I heard complaining about job losses. I didn't hear one talk about the need to improve educational standards, or to get better value for money. But I digress...

In reality it's all just yet another example of how business operates.  There's a boom, businesses rush to expand, pile on staff, ignore cost restraints, make all sorts of investment plans. The boom will never end.

Some of it, like hiring staff and ignoring cost controls, can be done instantly so they are.  Other things take more time...and often that time is longer than the boom lasts.


Reverse everything you just did. Contract the business. Start looking at cost control. Fire staff in their droves. Ditch the money-raising for investments, put the investment 'on hold'.

That's when the media starts pushing the doom & gloom agenda, especially concentrating on job losses.   Note that they didn't give blanket coverage to job creation stories at the beginning of the boom, by the way.

I keep seeing 'hundreds lose jobs in coalmine closure' stories but I didn't see any 'coalmine hires hundreds' stories earlier.

Over the years, in different places,  I've seen the same old situation repeated over and over again in boom-bust cycles.

Way back, the advertising business was booming, agencies expanded, staff were hired by the thousand, long expense account lunches, costs not controlled. It inevitably came to an end, the lean years were back and the fat had to be cut out of the agencies. Job losses equalled the earlier job gains. Over-extended companies disappeared, swallowed up by bigger rivals.

Back in the eighties Sydney didn't have enough hotel rooms for booming domestic business travel and inbound tourism, companies tried to cash in on the boom and many new hotels were built. But they take two or three years to complete, by which time the boom was over. Business plummeted, staff were 'let go'. Many of the buildings had to be converted into apartments.

In Dubai (and Ireland, Spain, China et al) the recent real estate boom fuelled by cheap money at close to zero interest rates. Too many companies tried to cash in on the boom, resulting in too many properties for not enough buyers.  The boom ended, as they always do.  Thousands of jobs went, projects were cancelled, companies went bust, properties were left vacant.

Across the world the current (no, we're not clear of it yet) global financial crisis caused the usual panic. Businesses in all sectors were caught up in it, not just construction and finance. Companies contracted in an instant, millions of people who'd been hired during the fat years suddenly lost their jobs. Previously ignored cost controls suddenly became  number one priority.

History teaches us lessons but we always ignore them. Each time there's a boom business does the same thing, borrowing, expanding, hiring, at rates based on the boom never ending. And when it does end, they do the same panicky contraction.

It amuses me that each time it's treated as something new.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Oceanic collateral damage

Most of the fuss about the super trawler that's here to trawl our waters is about the huge catch it's capable of.  It's licensed to take eighteen thousand tonnes of 'mainly' mackeral and red bait fish.

But if the super trawler isn't used, presumably a fleet of smaller boats could be licensed to bring in the same catch.

I think a bigger concern is the so-called 'bycatch'. Like the euphemistic 'collateral damage' used to describe innocent victims of war, 'bycatch' means seals, dolphins, sealions, and many other kinds of fish, which will be caught up in the super trawler's 600 metre long nets.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Simply too costly

For a long time now many retailers have complained that we're encouraged to buy online from overseas because GST isn't charged on purchases less than $1,000.

Today it's reported that Mike Baird,  NSW Treasurer, wants that GST-free threshold for goods bought online from overseas retailers cut to around $30.

Reported in the Herald he talked mainly about the additional revenue the government would collect, and that makes sense.

But he also said it was so that our retailers could compete on a level playing field, repeating that on radio this morning, and that's nonsense.

Buying from overseas gives us a hugely bigger choice and cheaper prices, whether it's online or in person.

A massive problem that Australia has is our ridiculously high costs. Not just for consumers and business here but when we try to compete on the world stage.

But just on retail, Australians are travelling overseas more - nearly five million trips last year - and we see how the range of products and prices leave what we're offered here for dead.

I travel regularly and I haven't bought clothes, digital cameras, perfumes, cosmetics in Australia for years.

Look at these leather jackets:
I bought them in Dubai for AED140 each. That's A$35.
On my last trip to Dubai I bought two pairs of Reebok trainers from the Reebok store in Dubai Marina Mall. They were AED120 (A$30) a pair.
A caller to ABC radion during a discussion of the GST proposal summed it up clearly.
She worked in drapery shops but bought material online from overseas. She made the point that the range offered was many times larger than what was on offer here and she bought it retail at the same price the retailers here pay for it wholesale.
Adding GST will add a few dollars to what it costs us to buy online from overseas, will help the cash-strapped state budgets, but it certainly won't encourage us to buy from local retailers.
Like so many businesses here the real problem retailers have is the high costs we all labour under. Plus bad management and bad marketing.
Ridiculously high rents, ridiculously high fit out costs, high wages with extras like penalty rates, superannuation contributions & leave loading, high taxes, high freight costs.
They have the system of importation/wholesale/retail distribution, the price doubled at each handling.
And yet all retailers sell on is price. No marketing, no value for money message, no selling of quality, just price.
They make price the only reason to buy. They got away with it when we didn''t have the opportunity to see how bloody expensive their prices were in comparison with overseas retailers.
We're doing what they've always told us to do. We're buying on price, but we're getting better prices overseas.
It's too late to wind back salaries and no politician would dare try to remove the 'entitlements' that add to the wages bill.
But other factors need to be looked at. Rents, taxes, freight, the cost of getting anything done, like shop fitouts. 
But we desperately need better management and we need to learn how to market products and services rather than simply selling on price.
No point trying to sell on price when your price isn't competitive.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Dry, warm, windy - and an early start to the fire season

Only five days into spring but we have a total fire ban over much of NSW today.

We also have a severe weather warning for damaging winds.

Temperature is 27C with very low humidity, winds gusting up to 100kph.  The heavy rainfall of the past couple of years encouraged growth, but with no rain to speak of last month there's plenty of tinder-dry fuel for fires.

That combination creates the worst conditions for firefighters to face.

Sydney Morning Herald has a map showing more than fifty fires currently burning. Some are hazard burns, including a couple that have jumped containment lines, others are new fires. They stretch all along the coast and there are several in the west.

In the south near Jindabyne an old house has been destroyed and several other properties are in imminent danger.

It looks like it's going to be a long, hard, bad fire season.

Sydney Morning Herald story/map   here

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Perfect workplace

Forget the desk in a badly lit office. With a laptop you can work from anywhere...