Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We're being ripped off?

There's an ongoing discussion here about why just about everything costs more in Oz than elsewhere.

I've been reading about it in newspapers and it's been the subject of several recent radio debates. There's even an inquiry going on in the House of Representatives into the amount the IT industry charges Australian consumers relative to other countries.

Apple has been formally ordered to appear before the parliamentary committee in Canberra on March 22. Microsoft and Adobe have also been ordered to appear before the committee.

If you google you'll get tens of thousands of pages listing all kinds of products that cost more here than elsewhere. You'll also find 'answers' to the question 'why?' but almost  all miss the point.

Unfair pricing, rip off, price gouging are the catchphrases.

They say the high prices are because of the cost of doing business here, the cost of freight, the small market, high taxes...

The real reason of course is actually very simple.  We live in a capitalist system in which the market rules and market forces apply, so companies charge as much as the market can bear.

In Australia we earn far more on average than comparable countries. We earn more, so why do we expect to pay the same or less than people who earn lower salaries?

Compare the US and UK for example, with conversion into Aussie dollars.  The minimum wage in Australia is $15.51. In the US it's $7.25, the UK $9.13. The average wage in Australia is $73,000pa. In the US it's $47,000, in the UK it's $39,100.

We earn almost twice as much, so relative to our earnings we pay much the same, even less in many instances, for stuff we buy. Companies' pricing is based on ability to pay, on what the market will stand.

Monday, February 25, 2013

True heroes

While here in NSW we're recovering after the violent storm and tornado of the weekend, other parts of the country are struggling with fires.

Terrible news on that front over the past few days with three volunteer firefightes killed in the line of duty.

The funerals of Katie Peters, who was only nineteen, and her firefighting partner Steve Kadar have just been held. They were killed in Victoria when a falling tree crushed their fire truck.

A tree has also killed a firefighter, who hasn't been named yet, in W.A. He was clearing up after a fire south-east of Perth when a branch from a damaged tree killed him.

The word hero has been devalued by using it to describe football players and the like - " putting their bodies on the line" I've heard all too often over the past few days in that context.

The firefighters are true heroes. They truly do put their bodies on the line while helping others.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It gets worse...

The bad hunting in national parks deal I said yesterday was getting worse than originally thought has got worse again.

An exclusive report by Sean Nichols in Sydney Morning Herald reveals that it's going to cost us, taxpayers, at least $19 million.

"THE deal between the NSW government and the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow hunting of feral animals in the state's national parks is set to cost taxpayers at least an extra $19 million.

The money will go towards an additional 14 regional National Parks and Wildlife Service co-ordinators, new safety and regulatory signs in parks, training of staff and education programs for shooters who want to participate."

Great. We'll be paying millions so that a few people can endanger us by firing guns in national parks.

Herald article

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One step forward, two back

Our state government has made a whole string of bad, dodgy, questionable decisions over the past year. Two of them in the news currently are going in opposite directions.

They're backtracking now on coal seam gas plans after community anger over the original plans.

Premier Barry O'Farrell now says: "Families in residential areas should not have to worry about their quality of life being affected by the noise, visual impacts and other effects of coal seam gas mining".

Well, quite. But that thought should have applied from the beginning, not just after the electorate told him in no uncertain terms what they thought of his plans.

All activity within two kilometres of residential areas and 'industry clusters', including horse breeders and wine producers, will be banned.  There'll also be a review by the Chief Scientist of all coal seam gas activity in NSW, including the effect on water catchments.

That all should have been done in the beginning, but better late than never I suppose.

Another bad decision is going in the other direction, getting worse.

It's the shonky deal with the  Shooters and Fishers Party to allow hunting in national parks.

The dangers to other park visitors and the certainty of animal cruelty are obvious in the deal but new plans are even worse. That is to allow children as young as twelve to hunt with not only guns but also with bows and arrows.

Children killing and maiming with bows and arrows!

If there was ever a deal that needs to be called off it's this one with the Shooters & Fishers.

Monday, February 18, 2013

We need a rethink

The passing-off-of-horsemeat-as-beef story, originally from the UK but now spreading through Europe, has a background to it that I've been unhappy about for a long time.

Reports are that in addition to the UK, retailers in France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Norway have removed processed meat products from their shelves. They obviously all get their products from the same place.

Sweden-based Findus' brand frozen "beef" meals such as lasagna are supplied by a factory in Luxemburg. They get their meat from French company Poujol. Poujol buys the meat from Draap Trading, a Dutch company operating from Cyprus.  Draap buys it from a Dutch food trader, who buys the meat from two Romanian slaughterhouses.

Got it?

See, the problems for me are twofold. No, threefold.

One, nothing is local any more.

Beef meals sold in UK supermarkets are from meat originating in Romania, which goes to France, on to Luxemburg and finally into UK supermarket freezers.

The UK has a huge beef herd, why isn't local beef used?

Two, the chain is far too long. So many people/companies/countries are involved no-one can keep track. Opportunities for scams and fraud are obvious.

Three, price. Everyone in the chain makes a profit from it - supermarket, Findus, the factory, Poujol, Draap, the food trader, the slaughterhouses. Cut out some of them and you cut out their mark-up.

So much these days, in many areas of our lives, suffers from the same problem.

Consolidation/rationalisation of industries - code for the big companies swallowing up smaller companies. Globalisation, with those big companies operating across borders as though they don't exist, and now of course also via the internet.

Being able to buy local products, to support local businesses, is becoming impossible. The downside in my opinion outweighs any positives we get from rationalisation and globalisation.

The horsemeat saga only highlights a few of the negatives.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Official vandalism

There's a story in our local paper on a subject I've long complained about, the unprofessional way the electricity companies cut trees to keep them away from overhead power lines.

I took this photo as an example, just on the edge of our town centre:

The entire centre of each tree has just been hacked out, leaving them so ugly it would be far better to remove the trees completely.

The Express Advocate story covers three areas on the Central Coast, with residents saying trees were 'just hacked into' and that some trees were left so lopsided they had been made unstable.

The problem is the usual Australian one - companies use contractors rather than hiring their own labour force. With contractors using sub-contractors you rarely know who will end up actually doing the work.

The power company involved in this instance, Ausgrid, turned to the universal corporate cliche manual: 'the company requires its tree trimming workers to operate under strict guidelines which balance the need for a safe and reliable electricity network with the amenity of the neighbourhood'.

Inevitably, from corporate cliche standards through the management of the contractors/sub-contractors and down the long line to the guy with the chainsaw, things are dramatically different.

One couple were particularly annoyed that branches from a rare Chinese tree in their front yard had been lopped, including, they said, branches which were nowhere near the power lines.

Ausgrid investigated the complaints. "Our qualified arborists immediately inspected the tree trimming work and found the tree...did not meet our high standards. We have apologised to the resident and will re-inspect the tree in coming months to make sure it is healthy."

Meaningless isn't it.  The damage has been done. And if the tree isn't healthy over coming months?

Now, if the power lines were where they should be, underground...but that's another story.

Express Advocate

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Fall about laughing

NSW Labor will try to make a desperately needed break with the Eddie Obeid era through a new set of rules designed to root out politicians ''motivated by personal gain''.

According to a report in today's Sun-Herald, that's what our state opposition leader John Robertson is planning.

You have to laugh don't you. Root out pollies motivated by personal gain?  There'll be very little but empty seats in the chamber if that happens.

Mr Robertson went on to say: 'For too long, ministers' interactions with lobbyists and major corporations regarding commercial deals have been kept hidden from the public and this reform will deliver more open, honest and accountable government to the people of NSW.'

Apart from all the stuff now being revealed at the Obeid corruption hearings about previous Labor governments we have the ongoing very questionable actions of the current O'Farrel coalition government. The Packer casino deal, the Barangaroo development and Darling Harbour rebuild with Lend Lease for example. And all sorts of mining, especially fracking, deals being done against community wishes.

On Friday the Electoral Commission issued its report on political funding. It's no surprise that mining and gambling intersts are major donors to political parties - edging up to two million dollars last financial year.

The 'interactions' are endemic at federal and state level, involving both sides of politics. Only a fool would think it's going to stop any time soon.

The real problem of course is that only politicians decide who we can vote for. They're the ones who select candidates. They're responsible for the quality of the people we have in parliament. We have to vote for who they give us.  But they're giving us people like Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald, Peter Slipper, Craig Thomson and all the others.