Politicians and their fake Postal Vote forms: don’t be fooled #AusVotes

One thing I really really hate about spammers is how they often insist on the bottom of their email that you’re receiving their crap because you subscribed to it.

They know it’s not true. I know it’s not true.

Along the same lines are these types of letters, one of which I received yesterday. The envelope makes it look official, non-party:

Official looking letter (1/3)

Inside it’s clear that the letter is party-political. Stop the boats. Build more roads (they don’t mention that they specifically refuse to fund public transport). Free you from the carbon tax (you know, the one almost individual was fully compensated for, and is having the desired effect of cutting carbon emissions).

Official looking envelope turns out to be party political letter (2/3)

And there’s a “Postal Vote application form”.

...with party-supported postal vote info (3/3)

…As Crikey noted in an article yesterday, it may look like a Postal Vote Application Form, but actually it’s a data-gathering exercise for the party involved.

Crikey adds that the information does get sent to the Australian Electoral Commission, but often there can be delays, and there have been cases in the past of forms being stockpiled, and some even get “corrected” along the way by the party.

The extra twist of the knife? Taxpayers/voters are actually paying for these letters.

The Liberals aren’t alone in doing this. Tens of thousands of people use these forms, via various parties.

Don’t be fooled. If you want to apply for a Postal Vote, do it via the AEC.

If Abbott’s Coalition won’t build rail, why does their policy document include a rail icon?

If Tony Abbott’s Coalition won’t build rail, why do they include a rail icon on their infrastructure policy?

At least, I’m assuming it’s an icon for rail — not giant white picket fences to keep out asylum seekers, or something like that.

Abbott: infrastructure policy 2013

(The above is from the summarised version. The slightly more detailed policy document is here).

True, they’ve specified they won’t build urban rail, but it seems pretty clear their plan is to build lots of roads, and no rail at all.

In fact, their plan proposes a frenzy of motorway construction right across the country. Truly a pave-the-planet scenario: Melbourne East-West Link, multiple projects in Sydney, Brisbane Gateway Motorway, Adelaide South Road, Tasmania Midland Highway, and a bunch in Perth.

One can only conclude that they really believe that — unlike every other major urban road project in history — this massive road expansion will somehow solve traffic problems.

Unfortunately this kind of popularist, car-oriented thinking misses is the point that transport is supply-driven. Traffic demand grows to fill the available capacity.

When it comes down to it, this means if you want more people to drive, building more roads is the way to do it. If you want more people to use public transport, provide more of that instead.

If elected, Mr Abbott will fund more roads, which will fill with more traffic — further undermining sustainable transport modes, not the least by starving them of billions of dollars of funding for years. Wonderful.

Some thoughts on the Labor leadership spill

A few thoughts on Federal politics from the last few days.

I think Gillard did some great stuff. Carbon tax (some don’t like it, but it works), National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Royal Commission into child abuse, and (along with her predecessors on both sides) keeping the economy afloat in dire economic times — and all while dealing with the challenges of a minority government, making it difficult to get anything done at all.

Introducing KevinBut for whatever reason (probably a combination of sexism and problems of running a minority government), she had zero chance of winning the next election for Labor.

Rudd is apparently a control-freak and difficult to work with, but has a small chance of winning. Small is greater than zero. And even if Labor can’t win, it’s better to have an Opposition that works than an Opposition that’s been almost totally destroyed.

Why is this important? Because the Coalition under Abbott is regressive on key points. For me, the two biggest are that they won’t fund urban public transport, only roads; and they will abolish the carbon tax even though it works.

And of course there’s Abbott’s half-baked (but most of the cost) version of the National Broadband Network — completely lacking in the vision to see the types of emerging IT-based industries that could help drive the next economic boom, as well as bring benefits right across the country, especially in regional areas, such as much better (remote) access to medical services and advice.

(I fully suspect that if Malcolm Turnbull hadn’t lost the Liberal leadership vote by a single vote, the Coalition would have a much more enlightened view on these three issues.)

One more thing: Abbott and others are criticising Rudd because he wasn’t elected by voters to be leaders. Abbott didn’t have such criticisms when Napthine took over from Baillieu in Victoria. Reality is, us voters don’t directly elect leaders. Both Rudd and Napthine are legitimately leaders.

Update 29/6: Added picture of ad for “Despicable Me” that I saw on the side of a bus earlier in the week.

Thatcher and her privatisation legacy

It’s inevitable that the passing of Margaret Thatcher would provoke mixed responses. Such polarising figures often do.

She may have been a trailblazer for women in power in the western world, but I don’t remember her time as Prime Minister fondly. I was young and perhaps it was a naive viewpoint, but I remember the early-80s under her and Reagan as a time of real fear from nuclear war.

The real situation probably wasn’t that fraught (people cleverer than me could theorise how tough-talking from the west helped bring down the iron curtain), but some have pointed out that Thatcher was against German reunification and did not support sanctions for South Africa against Apartheid.

In terms of lasting legacies, the one that sticks out for me was that her privatisation of numerous nationalised industries.

Wikipedia notes:

Thatcher always resisted rail privatisation and was said to have told Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley “Railway privatisation will be the Waterloo of this government. Please never mention the railways to me again.” Shortly before her resignation, she accepted the arguments for privatising British Rail, which her successor John Major implemented in 1994. The Economist later considered the move to have been “a disaster”.

Disaster indeed. My mother recounted how, on a visit to Britain after it happened, at a railway station a staff member couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give her any information about a different train company that also happened to serve that station.

Half the train network

In transport and in other sectors, this mess was later replicated here in Victoria — perfectly illustrated by this on-board train map from the early Connex days. It not only excludes the half of the network that Connex didn’t run, it also excludes the underground Loop stations where Connex did run, because these stations were managed by the other operator.

Later reforms, both here and in the UK, fixed many of the issues around privatisation.

Some industries, including public transport, can’t rely on companies that only compete, and never co-operate. PT operators need to work together to form a network — because their real competitor is the private car.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit off my original topic. But that’s blogging, right?

Abbott reckons the Commonwealth doesn’t fund railways… Of course they do. Here are some examples.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Frankston on Thursday.

“Now the Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

The Age

Perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

Commonwealth Railways locomotive

Several urban rail projects are currently being built with Commonwealth funding:

Moreton Bay rail link (Qld) — $742m from the Commonwealth, $300m plus land from the Queensland government, and $105m from the local council.

Regional Rail Link (Vic) — which despite its name, is entirely within Melbourne, and will serve two new suburban stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. $3.225 billion from the Commonwealth government, and about a billion from the state.

Perth City Link — is a sinking of one rail line in inner-city Perth, with $236 million of Commonwealth funding for rail infrastructure.

Adelaide rail electrification is a $400 million project, which includes Commonwealth funding.

Not heavy rail, but certainly urban: the Gold Coast light rail project includes Commonwealth funding.

In recent times, other projects have gained Commonwealth funding. In Victoria alone there’s been $95 million from the Feds for inner-Melbourne rail freight upgrades, $30 million for level crossing upgrades (some in regional areas, some metropolitan), and $40 million for planning work for the Metro rail tunnel… with rumours today that the tunnel will get more funding, presumably if Federal Labor is re-elected.

Going back a few years, Melbourne’s Cranbourne line was upgraded and electrified in the 90s with money from the Commonwealth’s Building Better Cities scheme.

Commonwealth funding was also used for the “4D” double-deck development train.

These are just the projects I found during a quick search around on Google last night. No doubt there are others.

Despite what Abbott thinks, the real distinction (which is more relevant to PT than to roads) is that the Commonwealth gives once-off funding. What they don’t generally do is recurrent funding — required to actually run public transport, but also required to maintain roads — in fact people often forget that the rough cost of roads maintenance is about 1% of the construction cost per year.

The Commonwealth can fund what they like

It might be convention for conservatives not to fund urban rail, but there’s no reason they can’t. It’s entirely up to them.

I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient.

Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person.

It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.

In the 21st century, with car use waning and urban public transport booming, this is a regressive stance, and should make people think twice about voting for the Coalition in September.