Council elections – if party affiliations aren’t obvious, look for the clues

As already noted, it’s council voting time.

In some council areas, including here in Glen Eira, council candidates aren’t overtly aligned with political parties.

But a number of candidates have affiliations. You just have to look for clues.

  • Look for photos of candidates with state or federal MPs, ministers and leaders, particularly at events not publicised in advance (eg party events)
  • Candidate preferences will link them to other aligned candidates, and against those nominally in their “opposition” party
  • If local MPs recommend particular candidates, that’s often a sign of affiliation

Glen Eira council election posters 2016

For instance, in my area, Tucker Ward (Glen Eira), we have 14 candidates vying for 3 vacancies. Here are some of the clues I’ve noticed:

Nina Taylor – Labor aligned – flyer shows a pic of Mark Dreyfus, and it’s authorised by someone I know to be a Labor campaign manager. Preferences exchanged with Rodney Andonopoulos, who is also Labor aligned.

Jamie Hyams – Liberal aligned – flyer is authorised by an ex-Liberal state MP, and flyer shows a photo with new Federal Liberal member Tim Wilson.

Philip De’ath – Liberal aligned – he and Hyams are preferencing each other, and their flyers arrived in the mailbox together. De’ath’s flyer also has a photo of him with former Liberal MP Elizabeth Miller. De’ath and Hyams both preference Anne-Marie Cade third; so far she’s been invisible in the campaign.

Joshua Bonney – unclear – being preferenced by Karina Okotel, who is apparently his sister! Karina was a Liberal senate candidate, though it’s unclear if Bonney is similarly aligned.

Michael Searle and Neil Brewster – declare themselves to be independents, and are preferencing each other.

Donna Elliot and Michael Karlik also say they are independent. Karlik preferences Bonney.

Jim Magee preferences independents and Labor candidates above others.

Oscar Lobo, who I thought was Labor aligned, actually preferences independents above known Labor candidates. He’s put his fellow current councillors (Hyams and Magee) last.

It’s important to remember that any affiliation doesn’t necessarily mean a councillor will automatically align themselves with that party and its policies.

It may give some more insights into their views on particular issues. But I think the best way of determining that is to read the material carefully and discuss the issues that matter to you with the candidates — many of them have been seen at local railway stations and even schools in the past week, and all have a contact phone number and/or email address. Some are also on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Based on my contact with candidates, it looks like my top three preferences will be one each of a Lib, a Lab and an independent. And while I don’t have major problems with council services or overall management, recent kerfuffles at council meetings makes me think some new blood would be nice. But I’ll do some more reading in the next few days before sending my forms in.

Every station now has PSOs after 6pm – except when they don’t

Sometimes travelling by train at night you’ll see PSOs out on the platforms and station concourses. Sometimes they’re not in sight… they might be in their pod, or elsewhere.

Given the high-profile rollout of PSOs onto every station a signature policy of the 2010-2014 Ballieu Coalition government, carried over by the Andrews Labor government, you’d expect that the staffing would be reasonably consistent.

Turns out it’s not.

Macleay College journalism students lodged an FOI request to find out how many stations were without PSOs on duty during the last week in June.

It was surprisingly high. On the Saturday night, 18 stations had no officers on duty due to unplanned leave (in addition to 5 stations closed for level crossing works.

The train network is generally safe, and many passengers have said they feel safer having PSOs on stations. But it takes a lot of officers to do it, and comes at a huge cost.

You would think authorities would have enough officers to roster onto every station, especially during a period when numerous stations were closed for rail works. Hopefully when they fall short, they’re prioritising stations that don’t have other regular Metro staff on duty, as well as stations where crime is a concern.

PSO at Richmond station

The broader issue is whether providing two officers at every station, busy or quiet, every night – and only at night – is sustainable in the longer term.

The PSO rollout was completed in June 2016 with officers deployed at Alamein line stations Hartwell, Willison as well as South Kensington.

As noted in a fascinating piece in The Age last week by John Silvester, it’s an extremely expensive program, with unclear levels of success. Officers have limited powers, and are deployed in a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t really work.

As has long been highlighted, some stations have more crime than others, about half of all crime occurs before 6pm when officers come on duty, and many incidents occur not on stations but on the trains – where PSOs don’t patrol.

PSOs on every station (nearly) of course frees up Victoria Police officers and Authorised Officers to patrol both on the trains and elsewhere in the community.

But with an estimated cost of $80 million per year, it would make sense to target resources at the hotspot stations where crime is a real problem, not just at night but from first to last service – and have others PSOs patrolling around the network, not just stations but also on-board the trains.

The two minute Melbourne public transport intro

I’ve been listening to a lot of transport-related podcasts recently. Almost all of them are from outside Australia. (Here is a list of some from November 2015; I mean to post another list at some stage soon.)

Every time I listen to one of the overseas podcasts, I ponder what someone from Melbourne would say if asked to introduce Melbourne’s public transport in 2 minutes.

Here’s my attempt:

Melbourne was founded when white settlers arrived in the 1830s, making it a similar age to many of Australia’s biggest cities, but it really started to grow during the 1850s gold rush. The first railways were built around this time, with land and railway speculation leading development into the suburbs during the late-1800s. The suburban rail network as we know it was mostly completed by 1910.

Cable trams and later electric trams developed between the 1880s and 1930s, and unlike in much of the western world, most of the tram network was retained, meaning we have one of the biggest tram networks in the world, making trams something of a city icon. Most of the tram network is street-based, leading to challenges due to car traffic.

There is also an extensive number of bus routes, particularly in suburbs developed since the 1930s, though buses are often overlooked due to the high profile of the trams and trains, and service quality varies widely.

Today, greater Melbourne has a population of roughly 4.5 million people. The public transport network was in decline between the 1950s and 1990s as cars took over, development spread away from the tram and railway lines, and government investment focused on motorways. As in other western cities, this hasn’t gone well – at peak hour much of the road network is predictably congested, no matter how much they expand it.

Crowded platform at Flinders Street Station

With recent strong population growth and in particular employment growth in the Central Business District, public transport patronage has gone through the roof, leading to overcrowding on some services, and a push for investment in new infrastructure and services. Growth in car use has tapered off, as population density increases in the inner suburbs, though cars continue to dominate in the middle and outer suburbs.

Today, the train network is slowly transitioning from a suburban commuter network into a metro, and the state regional rail network (at least the sections within 90 minutes of Melbourne) is morphing into a commuter railway. The tram network is modernising with longer larger accessible low-floor trams and platform stops, and is transitioning to light rail. Some bus upgrades are coming through too, but with all three modes there are growing pains, and a long way to go.

What did I miss?

Back to the arcades?

Every so often I’ll splash out on a new toy for myself. Last year it was a new camera. The year before was a hifi. The year before (just over two years ago in fact) that was an iPad Mini.

Those paying attention will know that I had considered adding a multi-room music setup to the hifi. I ended up buying a couple of Sonos speakers, which have been great.

Here’s another idea that some may consider a bit “out there”.

Nostalgia is a powerful force. I was in a bookshop the other week looking at the Ladybird spoof book on mid-life crisis. (There are some pretty funny titles in this series.)

One manifestation is for people to buy one or more big nostalgic objects. Something tangible from their past. Unlike the people in the book, I’m not about to buy an old car* or a guitar.

(*My actual car is a 2000 Astra. Old enough to be old, but not old enough to be a classic. It probably needs replacing in the next few years, but for now meets my minimal driving needs.)

I remember going to a party in about 1992 somewhere near Riversdale station, and the focal point of the room was a fully-fledged working pinball machine.

I was never much of a pinball person, but this oozed cool. No, back in the day, I played arcade game machines.

Hmmm. What if I got an arcade game machine?

WarGames: David plays a Galaga arcade machine
Pic from the movie: WarGames

Types of cabinet

Apparently there were once 1.5 million machines in North America alone. I don’t know how many there might have been in Australia, but I’d guess it would have certainly been in the tens of thousands.

What happened to them all? We don’t know. Some of them got gutted and re-used, but some are still around, and come up for sale quite regularly on eBay and Gumtree and elsewhere.

Arcade game found in a forest, near Pemberton, Western Australia

The styles vary… doing a little research, I found there is a myriad of choices.

  • Stand-up — the “traditional” machine we (or at least I) used to stand up to play in the arcades, milk bars, etc. Almost as tall as an adult.
  • Cocktail — like a low table that you sit at on a stool, these got the name because you could rest your drinks on them. I was never that keen on these, as the controls are at the wrong angle to play some games well, and you end up bending your neck to look down onto the screen.
  • Low boy — these seem to be common these days, but I don’t remember them back then. Like a stand-up machine, but the machine is smaller (particularly with regard to height) and the screen is angled a bit lower. Many seem to be linked to Australian distributor Leisure and Allied Industries (known in Aussie arcade gaming circles as LAI for short).

Old vs new

The various styles have gone through several permutations over the years, and you see them all on sale from time to time.

  • early 80s-early 90s – probably the traditional layout, MDF and/or wood. Some of the liveries are very distinctive. Varying conditions; some have been gloriously restored, some not. Some have been modified.
  • late 90s – sometime close to the end of the 20th century, the style seemed to change to a kind of blobby plastic shape, known as “candy”. Very unappealing to my eyes, they combine the worst of the stand-up models in being quite bulky, but players have to sit down in front of them, like a cocktail cabinet. Possibly the lower height might have been due to growing awareness of disability and access issues.
  • reproduction models – usually try to mimic the early 80s models, but some are stylised to the point of, again, being quite unappealing to me in terms of nostalgia value.
  • a subgroup of the reproduction models is the table-top versions, which are little more than a miniaturised version that sits on a bar or table. Again, not my cup of tea.

The older, vintage machines often have coin slots, though most people who have these games at home set the machines to free play.

They’re also in varying states of repair of course. Some people are expert at restoring them, and a whole cottage industry has grown up around it. Parts are surprisingly easy to obtain — even things you’d think are pretty obscure nowadays like CRT monitor chassis and coin mechanisms are available from suppliers in Australia. That said, I’m not sure I’d have the knowledge or the time to take anything major on.

WarGames: David plays a Galaga arcade machine
Pic from the movie: WarGames. Standing desks are not a new concept!

The games

And then there’s the game software itself.

  • Genuine PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards), one game per PCB. This is the only way to play the genuine article. The older ones had custom connections to the controls and the screen; many of the newer ones from the 90s onwards have a JAMMA connection — a standard interface thought up by the Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association to make it easier for arcade owners to convert a machine from game to game. But basically they are wired-up for one game at a time. PCBs are found on the secondhand market from time to time.
  • Inside some cabinets are PCs running MAME — which emulates arcade hardware, allowing many games to be emulated.
  • There are also 60-in-1 JAMMA boards that you can plug in (and variations with different numbers of games). It turns out these are just small computers that run MAME too. Some are known to be underpowered for specific games (Gyruss has been highlighted as problematic on some boards), which could be frustrating.

The limitation on multi-game setups is that arcade games were written to either a vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape) screen. Cabinets were designed to be reconfigured if required, but it means a limit on which games you can play easily. This means you won’t find Donkey Kong, Ms Pacman and Galaga (vertical) on the same machine as Moon Patrol, Joust and Popeye (horizontal).

Original cabinets of course had CRTs for screens, some of which are now unreliable and need repair. Some old machines have had LCD replacements — most of the new/reproduction cabinets have LCDs, for a clearer but less-authentic experience.

eBay and Gumtree regularly have ads for various boards, cases, parts and fully-fledged machines. The going price for a genuine vintage machine seems to be from about $500 upwards, depending heavily on the condition.

You see some advertised at much higher prices, up to $2000 for a vintage machine, but they don’t seem to be selling. Apart from vintage machines selling frequently in the $600-800 range, you can get a very passable classic design reproduction for about $1000; I would think few would want to pay $2000 for a decidedly average original. That said, there are more elaborate and rare machines, such as sit-in models for driving games or Star Wars, which are probably quite reasonably advertised for several thousand dollars.

From all my rambling, as you can tell, I’ve done rather too much research on this.

Could it even be a good investment? Tony Temple (who writes an awesome blog around arcade machine restoration, culture and history) notes that prices are steadily increasing, particularly outside the USA where cabinets in good condition are getting rarer.

But I suspect you’d have to be incredibly lucky to count on making money this way — and confine yourself to immaculately restored genuine machines dedicated to their original game.

I really don’t know if buying something like this is a good idea. In fact it might be totally ridiculous. But I’m not going to pretend I’m not tempted. I’ve got a corner of one room with crap in it that might look quite good with an arcade machine instead. But I’d have to clean up that corner first.

* * *

Further reading:

Charity and money

Years ago I decided I wanted to donate at least 0.7% of my income towards charity.

Over the weekend I was doing my tax, and calculated it: for 2015-16 it’s 1.32%. Cool.

About half the annual total is Oxfam. Other regulars include Greenpeace, The Salvos (though I mean to check their latest position on homosexuality, as for a while there it was looking pretty medieval), Amnesty. The regulars, of course, have been set up as direct debits – though note I refuse to deal with chuggers.

The rest is ad hoc stuff like sponsoring friends for charity events, Royal Children’s Hospital (Good Friday), Public Transport Not Traffic etc.

Meanwhile in the high finance stakes, I’m being urged by some family members to refinance my home loan and get an investment property.

Refinancing is easy thanks to a friendly local mortgage broker. But investment property? It all seems very adult… and time consuming, though probably worthwhile. Do I really want to contribute to the stupidly high appreciation of home prices?