Categories
News and events Politics and activism

Enough delay. Time for climate action

Fires have ravaged south eastern Australia this summer.

As I write this, cooler weather and even a little rain provided a few days of relief, but warmer weather is on the way. There’s much of the fire season still to come.

26 people are dead.

8.4 million hectares are believed to have burnt – figures in Wikipedia indicate this is the biggest recorded for Australia’s east coast. So far.

Eleven years ago we had the disastrous Black Saturday fires in Victoria, which burnt out about a 20th of the hectares, and left 173 dead.

It seems there were some lessons learnt after Black Saturday. Particularly noticeable was the change from the Stay Or Leave policy, to much stronger language. The emergency warnings are now very forthright, and even quite confronting, including phrases such as:

  • Emergency Services will not be able to help you
  • Heat will kill you before the fire reaches you

One can only hope that the dire warnings for people to get out of danger areas before the fires approach has saved lives.

But it’s not over yet.

Climate change

We all know that climate change alone does not cause fires. But it does cause hotter temperatures.

Temperatures are rising. A few days ago they announced that 2019 in Australia was the hottest year on record.

On the 18th of December, they announced that the day before had been the hottest single day on record. The very next day the record was broken again.

Hotter temperatures contribute to the frequency and ferocity of fires, as well as the length of the fire season.

The fact that serious fires this season started in September, that so much of the country is now ablaze, and intense fires are now commonly creating their own localised weather systems should be ringing alarm bells.

And there were clear warnings:

Deniers

Climate deniers and conspiracy theorists manage to blame the Greens for a lack of burn offs. As if the Greens have control over anything – they are a minor political player everywhere around the country.

Actual burn figures show that in many areas, extensive hazard reduction burning has occurred – though increasingly, good safe conditions aren’t available – a point repeatedly being made by fire chiefs.

Other conspiracy theorists reckon some fires are deliberately lit to clear land for high speed rail. Seriously.

Much more common is the claim that fires are mostly caused by arsonists, something not backed up by statistics.

Response

And so we come to the Federal Government’s response to all this.

I don’t mean their direct response to the immediate threat – that was slow to get going, with numerous missteps, but seems to be in gear now. I mean their actions on the longer term threats from climate change.

Since the most serious fires started, our local (Federal Coalition) MP has been tweeting about emissions reductions measures. He sent this one out twice, on 30th and 31st December.

They can claim they’re acting, but they’ve been in power for six years, and emissions have been rising under their watch:

The problem is, ultimately, the Federal Coalition is led by climate sceptics.

It’s really hard to look past this moment from 2017:

Scott Morrison holding a lump of coal in Parliament, February 2017

As the fires took hold, while Morrison was away, his deputy Michael McCormack finally managed to admit they needed to look at more action on emissions. Morrison then got back from Hawaii and hosed it down.

In some ways, Morrison seems to be the stereotypical conservative. How good is Australia? Everything’s fine. Nothing to see here. Do nothing – which ties into the common conservative theme of small government.

And yet finally, I think people are seeing through this. It’s a shame it took a crisis, but that might be the only silver lining here.

Perhaps it’s easy to be doubtful about climate change when you can’t see it. It’s the (mythical) boiling frog.

Now it’s very, very visible. The skies in many areas have been red from fires. Even in the big cities away from the danger areas, there is smoke in the air.

ABC News 24 - Eden, NSW, 9:36am, Sunday 5/1/2020

Thousands of people have been displaced. Events and institutions are disrupted. Millions upon millions of animals are dead. Thousands of homes have been lost.

It can’t be ignored when you can see it happening in front of you. And although the sceptics will look for any excuse, remember, this is just as the climate scientists warned.

If it continues like this, it’s going to get worse. Much worse.

Climate change is here, and it’s got to be stopped. (And there are lots of other tangible benefits to reduced emissions, of course.)

Climate Summit cartoon

There’s a cost to cutting emissions of course, but there’s also a huge cost not acting.

Australia’s contribution to emissions is small by world standards, but it’s very high per capita, and we can’t expect others to cut theirs if we do nothing.

Worst of all – our government of sceptics has been sabotaging world efforts to cut emissions. (Who says Australia can’t make a difference?)

With Australian public opinion finally changing, will the Federal Coalition pivot, and act, if only to save their political skins?

Will Federal Labor step up, stop defending coal and its billions of dollars of annual subsidies, and be bolder in its ambitions to move Australia forward on this? Ultimately, we need to transition off coal – including helping workers transition to new jobs and industries.

And, assuming the next two fire seasons are not as serious, will the populace remember all this when the next Federal election comes along, two years from now?


One last thing. There is a transport angle on all of this.

Categories
Politics and activism transport

Illogical obsession

Saturday’s Federal Election result might have been unexpected by many, but it underscores the Coalition’s illogical obsession with East West Link.

Well, illogical from a transport planning perspective that is. Remember, it’s got a business case that says it will lose money – unless you include Wider Economic Benefits with which the Victorian Auditor General had, and I quote: significant issues (of) plausibility.

(This was also a reminder that you can’t always believe everything in business cases.)

It’s not really free money of course. It’s money from taxpayers. It should be spent wisely.

'Lies' #EWLink

Being a money-losing project didn’t stop the Federal Coalition making a pledge of $4 billion for East West Link during the election campaign. Despite their claims, that doesn’t appear to be enough money to pay for it.

The $4b is only the government contribution – as per the 2014 business case. But the amount required is questionable given five years have passed, and there’s been some scope creep thanks to overlap with the WestGate Tunnel, and (perhaps) a proposal last year from the State Coalition to build the eastern tunnel portal further east.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

There’s also the question of whether there’s construction industry capacity to build a third major motorway project (at the same time as WestGate Tunnel and North East Link), alongside numerous level crossing removal projects and the Metro tunnel. Heavy demand tends to drive up prices.

Obviously the Federal Coalition backed EWL yet again because of politics, but it’s not really clear why they remain so obsessed with it, since it didn’t translate into swings to them around Melbourne – apart from in Aston.

Everywhere else in Melbourne, there were swings away from the Coalition – maybe not enough to lose seats, but enough to move a good many electorates into marginal territory.

To be fair on the Feds, they also made a pledge for the Kooyong railway crossing removal – which amazingly isn’t on the State’s list. (The Coalition pledge also included studies for two others: Tooronga Road and Madden Grove). This is good – except that they insist it has to be rail under, because they’ve taken the State Lib line on skyrail… as if an elevated rail line will somehow spoil the view of the nearby elevated tollway.

If the Feds can get over their obsession with EWL – which of course they won’t – there are plenty of other projects they could be contributing to, including other level crossing removals and rail network duplication, which would provide huge benefits.

If they were feeling particularly mischievous, they could take on public transport projects that the State isn’t interested in, such as suburban tram extensions. Some, such as the 75 to Knox and Ferntree Gully, would even reach into the eastern suburbs electorates the Coalition is courting.

Equally there’s an argument that a spirit of genuine cooperation would see the Feds funding projects on Infrastructure Victoria’s short term priority list.

Punt Road traffic during evening peak

It’s not as if Melbourne doesn’t have already enough major road projects underway. Two new tollways is two too many.

Yes, these motorways all have short term travel time benefits, but history shows those won’t last. And there are ways of boosting access and economic activity that aren’t restricted to people who drive and can afford tolls, and don’t so easily get clogged if they are “successful” and people actually use them.

It’s worth noting that every time the EWL has been taken to an election, it’s lost: Kennett in 1999, Brumby in 2010, Napthine in 2014 (despite the side letter, which is what triggered the huge bill for cancelling it), and Guy in 2018.

And now 2019. It seems the Coalition hasn’t yet learnt their lesson.

Categories
Politics and activism

Climate, money and politics

I don’t often write about climate change, but here are a few thoughts as we go into the Federal election on Saturday.

But first I need to get these points out of the way:

  • Climate change is real.
  • If you think climate change is a hoax because you think you know more than the 97% of climate scientists who say it’s real, that’s up to you – but I’m not interested in your theories. Don’t bother leaving a comment.
  • Australia’s share of emissions isn’t that big, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence, that we shouldn’t set a good example, or that we shouldn’t make an effort with everybody else.

Okay then.

So often it seems the politics of climate change in Australia comes down to cold hard cash: the cost, the impact on jobs.

The Coalition’s rhetoric going into the election, and for literally 20 years now, has been to demand to know how the cost of reducing emissions.

They never seem to consider the cost of not acting.

No matter how much I might dislike the rhetoric, for some people it resonates, and it seems in Australia, real action on emissions reductions may continue to be resisted for this reason.

But what I think might (hopefully) get things happening is if it can be shown that actually, cutting emissions can save money.

Technology is getting cheaper over time, and this is changing the equation.

Some examples:

Power

Everyone knows the importance of affordable reliable power.

Coal subsidies are huge, particularly the costs of keeping the existing coal power stations going.

It’s even getting cheaper to build new renewables than to maintain existing coal power stations – let alone build new coal power.

Recent power reliability problems such as on January 25th were caused by coal failures. Coal is becoming expensive and unreliable.

No wonder coal is on the way out, with 13 coal power stations shut down in Australia since 2012.

Meanwhile effective large-scale battery systems have emerged that are
overcoming store and dispatch issues with renewables, contributing to stabilisation of the grid, which in turn demonstrably cuts power costs.

This means I’m not convinced anymore that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.

(People like to talk about baseload power, but what’s really important is dispatchable power – in other words, available when and where it’s needed.)

Britain recently went a week without coal power. Okay, so it included 46% gas and 21% nuclear, but they still think they can regularly get by without coal and gas by 2025.

The cost of PV panels is dropping, making both large-scale solar farms and household solar a good investment.

Given labour is becoming the biggest cost in many industries, it makes sense that over time, the once-off installation and maintenance of renewable energy generation will end up being cheaper that paying people to continually dig stuff out of the ground and burn it.

In fact the economics of it means that even people who don’t believe in climate change are jumping on this bandwagon.

Tony Pecora, the now disendorsed Clive Palmer/UAP candidate for Melbourne, who believes that the IMF and the World Bank “are pushing the idea of climate change so strongly … because having a global-based carbon taxation system is one of the most effective ways of centralising financial power” (his actual words) and yet his day job is installing solar panels!

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Cars

Meanwhile the cost of electric vehicles is dropping, with some models set to drop to the same price as their petrol counterparts by next year. That’s high-end vehicles initially, but even for models such as Toyota Camry it’s likely to be between 2022 and 2024.

The Coalition’s bleating against electric vehicles is utterly ridiculous. They’ve gone in hard against them just because Labor has decided to support them – a reminder that politicians will say almost anything to get themselves elected.

The key claim that electric vehicles are under-powered is just simply wrong. Here’s a video of a Tesla pulling a Boeing 787.

With other countries moving on this, vehicle manufacturers are also moving off petrol. Mercedes just announced half of their new vehicles will be electric by 2030, with all switched by 2039.

Electric vehicles won’t fix traffic problems, but do reduce pollution in cities, and if combined with renewable energy, will help cut overall pollution and emissions.

Transport choice

Transport investment has outcomes in emissions.

Because transport is supply-led, funding more road infrastructure results in higher emissions (especially while the bulk of the car fleet is petrol) whereas providing better public transport (particularly when powered by renewables) gives people options to leave the car at home more often, helping to cut emissions.

Victorians who consider transport infrastructure important have a stark choice in Saturday’s election. The Coalition says they’ll fund the East West Link. Labor says it’ll fund the Suburban Rail Loop.

SRL isn’t perfect. Most would agree it isn’t as important as Metro 2. And the whole concept still needs fleshing out. But I’d rather have it than EWL any day.

Follow the money

Lots of people want action on climate change, but the way the economics are going, even those who don’t particularly care will soon be choosing to buy electric vehicles and rooftop solar – because it’ll be cheaper.

And power industry investors will be building renewables, not coal, because it’ll be cheaper. The dinosaurs will be left behind.

Climate Summit cartoon
by Joel Pett, December 2009

So I suspect climate change action will come, with of course plenty of other benefits from cutting pollution.

But this is not an excuse for our political leaders to do nothing. On the contrary – they should be pushing harder for change, to help us ride the wave, not swim against it.

It’s not just good for humanity, it can also ensure that Australia doesn’t miss out on opportunities to be at the forefront of a huge technological shift as the world decarbonises.

More action needed

So the good news is that money will force progress.

The bad news it it won’t be enough.

The science says CO2 needs to get down to a level of 350 parts per million to stabilise the climate. It’s just gone above 415, the highest in human history.

Something has to happen, and quickly.

It’s all very well for us to just follow the money to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but stopping dangerous climate change should be a higher priority for our political leaders and policymakers.

Vote well, Australia.

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Election wrapup

Many people have written about the state election result. I thought I’d add my two-cents worth… noting that as of Wednesday night, some seats are still in doubt.

The Coalition crime fear campaign didn’t resonate. The stats don’t match the rhetoric, and while the accounts from actual victims could be harrowing, Melbourne is not a crime-infested cesspit. That’s no comfort to those who have been victims of of course, and more can be done to combat crime, but this is not an unsafe city.

Anecdata is only convincing (eg reflective of reality) if enough people are directly affected. How many people do you know who have been the victim of a violent crime? I thought the rhetoric, especially when the Coalition got to the point of declaring that anybody who committed any offence while on bail would be locked up, over-the-top.

(Amazingly, the Federal Libs are still pursuing this rhetoric in some parts of Melbourne this week.)

The anti-Skyrail campaign didn’t resonate. People living underneath it might dislike it (though not all do) – but ultimately the broader community didn’t hate it. All the seats with skyrail in them now (Caulfield, Oakleigh, Mulgrave, Keysborough) and getting skyrail (Bass, Carrum) swung towards the government, not away from it.

Perhaps that was helped by the fact that skyrail exists now. It’s real. Perhaps it’s not pretty, but it’s not covered in graffiti or filled with drug dealers as some claimed it would be.

Skyrail at Carnegie, November 2018

From where I was sitting, the Coalition had few prominent, positive policies. They took a back seat to the negative campaigning.

Their best (in my book) policy was announced and then quietly dropped: trains every 10 minutes. What a shame.

Their decentralisation policies seemed a good idea at a high level, though the fast rail pledges looked undercooked, and some of the detail around the rest of it either wasn’t thought out in detail, or wasn’t communicated well.

The ridiculous intersection grade separation plan didn’t resonate. Plenty of people drive absolutely everywhere, but I don’t think many of them thought this was a good idea.

Former Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu said it well:

The campaign didn’t work. The policies didn’t work. The organisation, the administration didn’t work, the leadership didn’t work. We didn’t have any cut through. Across the board it didn’t work.

Big swings to Labor, putting normally safe Liberal seats like Hawthorn and Brighton at risk showed that even though people live in wealthy suburbs, it doesn’t mean they’re dinosaurs, and they were clearly not keen on the crime narrative, nor the Liberal party being dragged to the right by the likes of Dutton and Abbott.

Meanwhile, Labor’s narrative of “a positive and optimistic agenda” (this literally became their catchcry) was perhaps clichéd, but also justified by some big achievements in just four years. Who’d have believed they’d get 29 level crossings removed? It meant many people overlooked their failings such as the redshirts affair.

Daniel Andrews claims victory, State election 24/11/2018

So now we have four more years of Labor. More level crossing removals – which is good. And thanks to the benefits of incumbency, plans for rail upgrades that are arguably more logical than the Coalition’s ambitious (perhaps impossible) pledges for high speed rail.

Labor will borrow more money to pay for infrastructure. I remember being at a transport breakfast thing years ago with some bigwigs who were saying it was ridiculous that governments have such a fear of borrowing. You borrow to buy your house, and it costs money, but it’s good. Why not borrow to invest in infrastructure that grows the economy?

I don’t have a major problem with this, though the question is: are the specific big projects they’re borrowing for actually worth the money? North East Link, for example – Infrastructure Victoria gave it the thumbs up in 2016 based on a cost of $5-10 billion, but a Business Case released early in 2018 appeared to inflate the benefits.

Speaking of business cases and infrastructure, the Suburban Rail Loop doesn’t yet have a business case. If the project happens, it may be decades away. But it caught the imagination of the populace, and I’m told the ALP reckon they saw bigger swings in the electorates nearby.

In the meantime, what about Metro 2, which by any logic is a higher priority to ensure Fishermans Bend is a success and the Werribee and Mernda rail lines cope with growth.

And right here and now, there has to be a commitment to upping all-day service levels on the existing infrastructure.

Melbourne is growing fast, and we can’t wait for the Metro tunnel to open in 2025 to see more trains running.

Let’s hope the newly re-elected government realises that it’s not just infrastructure that’s important — how you use it is vital.

Update Thursday lunchtime: The Premier has announced a reshuffle. The new Public Transport Minister is Melissa Horne. Jacinta Allan picks up Transport Infrastructure. Roads Minister is Jaala Pulford.

Categories
Politics and activism

State election 2018

It’s state election day this Saturday, though many people have already voted:

Anyway, here are some ramblings from me.

How to vote

I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but I will tell you how to vote.

1. Think about the issues that matter to you, and look at what the candidates/parties are pledging.

2. Decide for yourself where your preferences will go.

Lower house: Fill every box according to your wishes, not the How To Vote cards. Remember, you can safely vote [1] for a minor party, and not waste your vote, because your preferences will end up with one of the majors. This cartoon explains it nicely.

Upper house: Never, ever vote above the line. You don’t want your preferences going to mystery places, and being harvested to elect some extremist micro-party. Always vote below the line. You only have to fill the first five preferences if you don’t want to do more.

Who’s who in the zoo

Some of the minor parties you might not have heard of, or might not know where they’re from, or what their key issue is. Many are centred around specific issues. Here’s my brief summary.

There’s another frank and fearless assessment of the micro-parties in this Twitter thread from André Brett, or in more detail on his blog.

This blog also has some good information. And another quicker take from former Fairfax journo Jill Stark.

Or for something with a bit more meat, here’s ABC’s summary.

Transport

The PTUA has a scorecard (summary: Greens better than Labor, Labor better than Coalition).

Bicycle Network also ranked the parties this way, and they have a detailed scorecard.

Energy and climate change

Environment Victoria has a scorecard. They’ve gone ballistic in distributing this in marginal seats. We’ve seen their volunteers at the railway station and in the shopping strip multiple times, and they’re pushing it out on their social media and other channels too.

My view is that neither major party is doing enough – and it’s mostly a Federal problem, not a State one.

At a State level, both sides are playing politics, as one would expect, but at least Labor’s policy of subsidised panels will clearly achieve more use of solar.

The Coalition emphasises affordable power, but given the level of subsidies to fossil fuels, and the emergence of effective large-scale battery systems that seem to be contributing to stabilisation of the grid, I’m not convinced that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.

This interview on Sky News last night is amusing:

…By the way, people that know about this stuff tell me that “baseload” is a crock. What’s important is despatchable power — that can be put into the grid when it’s actually needed.

New battery technology seems to have revolutionised this. You can now combine renewables, whose energy generation varies with the weather, with large battery installations, which together enable power to be fed into the grid to keep it stable as demand and supply elsewhere rises and falls.

This is far better than coal which is near-constant, day and night, except for when they fail. In other words, baseload is not flexible.

More reading: Baffled by baseload? Dumbfounded by dispatchables? Here’s a glossary of the energy debate

Watching the state election count, 2014

Local issues in Bentleigh

In 2010 we knew the seat was marginal when then-premier John Brumby showed up at a nearby polling booth.

In 2014 we knew the seat was still marginal when I was greeted at the polls by the Labor candidate with “Hello Daniel! Meet Bill Shorten!”

Since then, three level crossings are gone (Bentleigh/McKinnon/Ormond). Labor deserves credit for making this happen, even if it was piggybacking off Coalition planning and funding for the Ormond crossing that had already occurred.

Labor is pledging yet more crossings to remove. The Libs aren’t – they want to do road intersections instead, which is a terrible idea. But they have pledged some level crossing removals. Both sides have pledged Glen Huntly, which more than any other on the Frankston line, delays every train.

Labor’s also pledging a new bus route, from Moorabbin along Tucker Road and East Boundary Road (the connection between them seems a little unclear) to Murrumbeena and Chadstone.

Other pledges, from either side, to fix buses and trams (anywhere in Melbourne) are pretty scant.

If I had to fault Labor for anything, it’s the redshirts affair. What a stupid thing to (allegedly) do, risk everything, and jeopardise trust, for such a lousy return (which they’ve now paid back anyway).

Both sides are pledging upgrades for local parks, schools and kindergartens.

The Coalition is pledging to convert the Dingley Bypass into a freeway, and grade separate road intersections at Warrigal/South Roads and Nepean Highway/South Roads, which risks making them unusable for pedestrians and cyclists, and will inevitably make South Road traffic far worse than it already is.

I personally find the claims about out-of-control crime to be unconvincing. ABC Fact Check looked into the statistics, and that’s well worth a read.

Pledges from both sides (Labor, Liberal) to replace the scoreboard at Bentleigh Reserve. This makes no sense to me, because it’s only 8 years old. A new fully electronic scoreboard will probably have more capabilities, but the current one appears to do an okay job at showing football and cricket scores. Hopefully the old one can be handed down to another oval somewhere.

If only more seats were marginal.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Check the parties, policies, pledges, candidates. Know who and what you’re voting for.

If you haven’t already, vote carefully, and enjoy your democracy sausage!

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter

What’s the number one priority for politicians, more than anything else? Getting elected.

Just a quickie…

A senior politician (I won’t say who, or which side) once told me something which, at the time was somewhat surprising to hear, but in retrospect it’s obvious – and puts a lot of things into perspective:

For politicians, the number one priority is to get elected / to get re-elected / to get their side into power.

And this person specifically said that sometimes, the motivation to get elected trumps good policy.

I don’t suppose that it always goes for all politicians, but often, particularly when in opposition, you can see that on show.

You’d hope that more often than not, good policy would actually get them elected, but it’s not always the case.

Of course you can argue that for someone wanting to Do Good, there’s a limit to what they can do without being elected… so of course it could be seen as important.

And no doubt there are some idealist politicians out there who would genuinely risk their popularity or their position in the pursuit of good policy.

But remember, as you watch their actions, and hear their comments and sometimes incredibly overblown rhetoric, that for most politicians, getting elected and staying elected is their number one priority.

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter

I’m voting yes.

Here’s what I think about the Same Sex Marriage postal survey: I’m voting yes.

The reality is that not everyone is attracted to the opposite sex. Who are we to deny them getting married if they want to? Despite how some others paint it, it doesn’t harm anybody else, and certainly doesn’t harm heterosexual marriages.

It’s not like marriage is ever purely for having children. My mother and stepfather got married well after their all kids had grown up.

And it’s not like it would overturn a centuries old law. It was John Howard in 2004 who changed the Marriage Act to specify a man and a woman.

I can understand why some people on the Yes side object to, and might boycott, a postal survey.

It should be a free vote in Parliament. But it’s not. And it’s not a people’s vote, it’s not a referendum, it’s not a plebiscite, it’s a $122 million survey. Ridiculous.

A win for Yes may not be binding on the Parliament, but whichever side wins, it will send an important message.

Some propose a boycott. That would only work if it was widespread, which doesn’t seem likely.

The last thing supporters of the cause need is the survey to come back saying No. Judging from recent polls that wouldn’t represent public opinion, but it would also discourage politicians on the fence from getting it done.

As for this:

“And I say to you if you don’t like same-sex marriage, vote no. If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no, and if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.” — Tony Abbott last week

This is a furphy. It’s pretty clear that both major parties want a level of religious freedom, that is, if a religious celebrant objects to same sex marriage, they won’t be forced to perform them.

And Abbott, like many arch-conservatives, seems to have confused “political correctness” for just having some basic respect for other people and their wishes.

Abbott campaigned hard on de-regulation. It seems he likes stricter laws when it forces people to conform to his own values.

So anyway, I’m saying Yes. If consenting adults want to get married, let them.

Update 15/11/2017:

Categories
Politics and activism transport

Whinging with credibility

Following a little jaunt out to Caroline Springs on Tuesday (more on this in the next post), with some tweets along the way, I had an interesting Twitter conversation with a disgruntled Geelong line user.

One of my tweets noted that a huge crowd waiting at the platform for a Geelong train had in fact fitted into the train when it eventually arrived. (The exchange is reproduced below.) My correspondent took umbrage at this, thinking it implied the Geelong line is all fine.

My view is that showing a photo of one train that a platform that looks okay doesn’t imply that every train is fine. It doesn’t even imply that the train in question didn’t become overcrowded down the line when it picked up more passengers.

Here’s the thing:

I have been told repeatedly by those in power — ministers (from both sides), senior bureaucrats, operator staff (from the CEO down), that they appreciate (and pay attention to) my observations because I call out both the positive and the negative. Good, bad or ugly.

It’s also gained the PTUA credibility with the media, who know they will get an honest assessment of a situation.

Remember the boy who cried wolf?

If I was 100% critical all the time, it wouldn’t be credible.

If I claimed the entire public transport system is 100% stuffed, it wouldn’t be credible. (If it was 100% stuffed, so many people wouldn’t use it and rely on it every day.)

I do tweet plenty of pictures of packed services. But I also try to put it into context, and to understand why it is so.

  • Running late? Why?
  • Previous service cancelled? Why?
  • Short train/uncommonly small bus/tram? Fleet shortage or some other factor?
  • Unexpected or poorly planned special event?
  • Or is the regular service simply inadequate for the usual demand?

The nature and cause of the problem will determine the solution, and who’s responsible for fixing it.

It’s not in my nature to be relentlessly cynical and negative all the time. Not even on Twitter.

Fortunately it appears that this helps progress the debate to solutions, rather than just get bogged down in endless criticism and whinging.

So I’ll keep calling it as I see it.

Thoughts? As always, leave a comment.

~ ~

~ ~

The tweets in question:

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter

Save the trees, or save the world?

While I work on a bigger post (or at least one requiring a bit more research), here’s a quickie on an interesting parallel observed last week.

Part one

In the same week that Minister for Energy and the Environment Josh Frydenberg joined in a parliamentary stunt playing with a lump of coal, he also launched a self-admitted flawed bid to save trees on St Kilda Road.

Part two

Meanwhile, the State Opposition’s Michael O’Brien thought that green activists gathering outside State Shadow Minister for Energy David Southwick’s office to protest the Opposition pledging to scrap the Victorian renewable energy target, should instead have been protesting the removal of trees in Murrumbeena for “skyrail” grade separation works.

O’Brien perhaps has a point of course. I bet it’s a lot easier to get a bunch of left-leaning protestors to gather outside a Liberal electorate office than a Labor one.

Save the world, or save the trees?

Two observations here.

1. Green shift: Arguably (at least in my probably overly-simplistic view) the green movement started out by (amongst other things) trying to save trees at a local level, hence the term treehuggers. For instance the Australian Greens party has its origins in 1970s protests in Tasmania.

Apparently, saving trees has become mainstream enough that Coalition politicians are calling for it, at least where it can help meet political ends. (Politicians never seem quite as concerned when tree removal is for one of their preferred projects.)

Meanwhile the green movement has moved to bigger things. The energy debate is closely related to emissions, and climate change. It has become about the future of the planet.

It would be nice if politicians on all sides started to address climate change with the urgency it deserves. But for now there are too many denialists and vested interests.

2. Activists tend to be from voluntary groups.

PTUA isn’t really a green group, but let me tell you from experience: you probably won’t get very far by demanding that a bunch of volunteers drop their chose campaign and instead do your bidding.

Categories
Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter

Some random thoughts on the Trump ascendancy

Well, this is fascinating to watch. I knew it could happen, but didn’t honestly think it would.

Nothing will change overnight. The inauguration isn’t until January, but even then… we’ll see how fast he moves after that.

I hope his tone will be more moderate now he’s not in campaign mode. So far he has appeared to be an extreme populist, saying whatever came into his head at the time, and what his audience wanted to hear.

His victory speech was more diplomatic. But then, they often are.

There’ll also be a lot more scrutiny now he’s in public office, compared to running a private company.

Hopefully the various checks and balances of the US governmental and political system will stop him doing anything too extreme. You’d hope his own party (given what some of them think of him) would keep him in check.

The challenge for law enforcement is to keep some of his supporters in check. The hate rhetoric shouldn’t be vindicated by his win, but those who practice it obviously feel that it is.

Remember that in the USA, the states have significant powers independent of anything the Federal Government might do.

And there are midterm elections in two years that may shift the balance of power.

American Presidential elections have ballot papers with a significant number of local referenda attached. Of interest to me is that a number included votes on public transport initiatives, and many of these passed, though some have noted many state projects in this area require Federal funding, which may dry up.

What will be fascinating is what Trump does for manufacturing jobs. Appealing to those who have lost those jobs was a major part of the campaign. But you can’t undo decades of economic continental drift in just 4 years.

Ditto some of the other bold claims he’s made. Even as President, you can’t just click your fingers and make it happen.

I’m not surprised if Obama isn’t delighted that some of his signature policies are likely to be rolled-back, particularly Obamacare. (One thing concerned Americans can do is lobby their representatives to not be too regressive.)

And the US might stall on climate science and other progress. (Trump said he’d halt Federal clean energy investment and climate change research.) The rest of the world will just have to keep pushing on.

In some ways, Trump reminds me a little of Clive Palmer. A billionaire with a taste for public office, elected on a populist ticket. Palmer never got that level of power, but he did run a senate crossbench bloc that was able to hold the balance of power.

Ultimately though Palmer got bored, and walked away, didn’t re-contest. It’ll be interesting to see what Trump does in four years.