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Friday, 17 August 2012

Wayne's World

Number One Bag has been cleaning out my closet, Eminem style, and stumbled across the following gem in my collection of trivial newspaper clippings:
"The financial markets are populated by a lot of immature, younger-type people who play with their computers and drive home in their Porsches, and who have no understanding of the of the human or economic dimensions of unemployment."
Who is this wild-eyed Trotskyite? None other than Wayne Swan, now Federal Treasurer, but quoted in 1994 when he was chairman of the ALP Caucus Economics Committee and not yet in the grip of his current delusion that the market must rule us all. 

Vale sense and sensibility.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Procedures to follow if arse is on fire


1. As an Australia Post employee, it is a high probability that you may not be aware that your arse is on fire.

2. If someone draws your attention to the fact that your arse is on fire, sigh volubly and say, yes, that always happens. Mutter darkly to yourself and then continue with your prescribed task.

3. If you are a supervisor you will certainly not be aware that your arse is on fire.

3a. If a Mail Officer, PDO1 or contractor draws your attention to the fact that your arse is on fire shrug, and walk slowly away and make a cup of coffee before returning to reading the morning paper.

4. If you are an Australia Post manager, file a report with your state manager that significant improvements are being noticed in your initiative for increased thermal energy production in the spine base region amongst staff, consistent with Australia Post's FutureReady plan and four cultural pillars, going forward.

5. At no time should emergency equipment be used to extinguish an arse that is on fire. This equipment is very expensive and using it would add costs to Australia Post's bottom line, and this will, in turn, impact on profitability.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Where power lies

An excellent post over at Andrew Elder’s Politically Homeless on Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s contribution to the energy debate this week.

It provides a link to the evcricket blog, which provides some very interesting facts about electricity generation - facts that seemed to elude Mr Abbott this week.

Energy policy, specifically electricity policy, is an interest of mine as it strikes me that much of what we view as civilisation is heavily dependent upon the ubiquitous 240 volt three pinned wall socket, yet few Australians are aware of how their energy is generated - apart from vague idea of power stations - let alone where the power for their house actually comes from. 

I became acutely aware of this issue when I became involved in the electricity privatisation "debate" in NSW from late 2007 onwards. Much of the verbiage in this process was absolute garbage peddled by discredited hucksters such as ratings agencies (Standard and Poors being a serial offender, scripting NSW Treasury and that political zygote Michael Costa) and other intellectual pygmies, such as Federal Energy Minister Mar'n Ferguson (whose claim to his position in public life is solely based on the fact that he is the son of former NSW Deputy Premier Jack Ferguson).

Electricity infrastructure was rolled out in this country largely by local government, aggregated by state governments in the latter part of the post-war boom and then corporatised through the eighties to become a ripe plum for the usual suspects looking for easy pickings in this neoliberal age.

The assumptions of the market - and even the idea of a market as the best instrument to allocate energy resources in Australia - are seriously flawed when one gets to grasp the fallibility of base load power generation.

A good example of this is Transgrid in NSW; a State Owned Corporation who have been pushing for high voltage power lines from baseload power stations to all parts of the state based on demand management scenarios where they simply got a ruler and drew a line that looked like the North Face of Everest and called it 'projected demand'

Efficiencies in consumption mean that demand is flatlining or falling in south-east Australia.

And this isn't even getting close to the ridiculous subsidies that taxpayers fork out to Alcoa and other aluminium smelters giving them electricity at absurdly low prices so they can produce what is little more than bottled electricity. If we had an informed populace most state and federal energy ministers would be swinging from their largely redundant lamp posts.

An example: The Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission recommended a major overhaul of the 'poles and wires' network that was fingered as partly culpable in the disaster that swept parts of Victoria in 2009. This network is owned by SP AusNet after the State Electricity Commission of Victoria  was privatised by the Kennett government. Surprisingly, the private company put commercial considerations ahead of the public good and allowed this infrastructure to run down. Now that they have to do something about that little oversight they are seeking permission from the Australian Energy Regulator to pass the costs through to the privately owned retailers (the people who send you your electricity bill), who will no doubt show the same consideration of the public good as SP AusNet, given that the electricity pricing market in Victoria is totally deregulated. That's why your electricity prices are going up - nothing to do with Carbon Price there, Tony. 

It's a fascinating example of how privatisation allows corporations to socialise costs while pocketing profits. Singapore Power is owned by the Singaporean government through a company called Temasek Holdings. So apparently it's bad for Australian governments to own infrastructure, but totally OK for foreign governments to own Australian infrastructure. Gotta love the pygmy logic of neoliberalism.

So if you're a Victorian you could do worse than toddle off to the Australian Energy Regulator's website and put in your two cents about this shakedown by the Singaporean Government. I doubt it will make too much difference in the ultimate outcome, but at least you might learn something of how decisions are made in this country and how little it has to do with elected politicians. Bring your own lubricant.

Similar story in NSW where the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (which is none of those four things) green lighted passing on a $17 billion spend on poles and wires to household power bills, which is where half the increase in regulated electricity prices is coming from

So while our parents generation paid for our electricity infrastructure once, through taxes, we are now paying for it again, through power bills. It's what Arthur Daley referred to as 'a nice little earner'.

It is not far removed from government underwriting the installation of horse watering facilities on every street corner ten years after the arrival of the Model T Ford, and charging the cost back to households. 

Wonks talk sonorously about 'not pickling winners' , but what is gold plating baseload power and charging the bill back to households who have no choice but to cough up the difference?

So a fixation by a failed politicians on hanging on grimly to baseload power generation is going to see Gen X pick up the tab, and that's why power prices are increasing. Who benefits? The private corporations who have snatched public infrastructure from the Australian people courtesy of culpable politicians from both major parties.

I wouldn't be surprised if in my lifetime we re-invent the wheel and see local government becoming the driver for community owned power generation from a range of sources distributed on a cost basis to ratepayers. It's cheaper, works for the public good, is a local employment generator and cuts out the carpetbagging middlemen fleecing us at the moment. 

Maybe that's why we did it that way to start with.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

A long engagement

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.' - George Orwell

When it comes to butchering the English language Australia Post's internal communications take some beating.

Post's version of The Pyongyang Times, Post Journal, arrived in the PO Box at Rabbit Flat last week with the usual colourful and didactic array of exhausting hagiography. Along with the usual celebration of Post as some bizarre corporate cult there was an A5 insert containing the results of the 2012 employee survey.

It wouldn't be good enough for Aussie Post's internal communications team  to refer to this survey as, say, an internal staff survey. No, that's just so active and accurate, so instead the survey has been 'branded' as say2action.

Calling the survey Say2action does several things; it creates the illusion that Australia Post management are listening; it creates the illusion that some tangible change will result from the survey; and it creates work for graphic designers who would otherwise be doing something else.

Like a lot of agitprop, Australia Post's internal communications are an irony-free zone. When the A5 insert uses the phrase “an incredible increase of 4.6% since last year” it does so without any acknowledgement that the word 'incredible' includes the meaning 'hard to believe'*, which undermines the veracity of the survey figures furnished.

The increase concerns 'engagement', although what this means is not entirely clear. The insert describes employee engagement as “what you think and feel about working at Australia Post and the extent to which employees go the extra mile”. No, I don't have any idea what that means either, unless they are referring to those employees that will have to move further out in the suburbs because with falling real wages under Post's Fair Work Agreement they will no longer be able to live closer to inner-metropolitan Post facilities, but I digress.

“Australia Post has higher levels of engagement than other companies going through change” according to the survey, although the source for this is somewhat obscured, in fact non-existent, and how you measure something as unclear as 'engagement' has got me beat.

I certainly hope this 'engagement' is not important as, based on the figures supplied, one in four employees at Australia Post are not engaged, which constitutes about 10,000 people, or something approximating a fair sized regional town.

Your humble blogger wrote to the say2action 'team' to for further clarification: “The 'Four Enterprise Focus Areas' figures similarly remain clouded in mystery due to the absence of any verbs. Verbs are doing words and are useful in communication to qualify nouns and create context. Without context attaching numbers to nouns is meaningless. For example, to say that Leadership and Supervision is 54 percent means nothing. I realise that this is qualified on the reverse of the A5 by saying that, in this example, "our leaders are more decisive and responsive to changes in the market". But this begs the question 'What decisions?' and 'what is their response? Is it to run away? Curl up in a ball? To dress in yellow and sing Korean pop songs? These are all responses and thus involve being "responsive to changes in the market", but are they useful or appropriate? Are their decisions to have two sugars instead of one? To demand the sacrifice of every third child? Once again, these are decisions and, by definition inherently decisive, but not necessarily useful.

Without context this language means nothing, so I am curious as to the detailed results contained in the survey.

I remember the scene in the Tennessee Williams' movie Cat On A Hot Tin Roof when Burl Ives, in one of his few big screen roles as Big Daddy (and what a belter it is!), confronts Paul Newman, playing his alcoholic son, and tells him that “...every man I knew who drinks has a reason! What's yours?'

Newman's answer?


“You got to live with it. There's nothing to live with but mendacity”

Mendacity - the appearance of seeming truth; which is to say, using the vernacular, bullshit - seems to be a central cultural pillar of senior Australia Post management.

They say they are 'for zero' when it comes to accidents, but their lack of investment in capital equipment exposes thousands of postal workers every day to illness and injury while they harass, intimidate and belittle those employees that are injured.

They say they value their staff, so much that they are cutting postal workers' wages in real terms by over eight percent in the life of the current agreement.

They say they want to serve their customers better but all they have succeeded in doing is turning post offices into bargain stores, or closing them, while creating an army of underpaid contractors to trash Post's 'brand' across the nation by doing slipshod service in order to survive on the piece work rates Post pays them.

They say a lot of things, but much of it is mendacity. I'm not a religious Mail Officer, but there is much wisdom in the biblical quote 'by their fruits so shall these trees be known'. In the meantime frontline service delivery staff at Australia Post continue to be treated as second class citizens in their own organisation.

* - From

Sunday, 5 August 2012

An introduction of sorts

Well, here we go again. Back in the blogosphere.

Your correspondent is a slightly humble Mail Officer with Australia Post who wishes to provide an insight into the lives of the working stiffs that do the actual work of this planet. You know, the stuff that actually has to be done, as opposed to the frippery that entire civilisations could happily progress onwards and upwards without, such as marketing and financial speculation.

So it's a window (or a mirror for the rest of us) on that world that the mainstream media largely deems invisible, irrelevant or unimportant yet fills up most waking hours for the majority of us. So there will be no commentary on MasterChef or Australia's Got Talent here, sadly. Nor will there be any unctious barracking for tribal politics, the internet is already rife with that detritus.

The intention is to keep it vaguely intelligent and provide some form of light relief from the prolix and fulsome enthusiasm we are pummelled with on a daily basis by marketers, consultants, change management hucksters and other carpetbaggers whose zeal is only matched by their worthlessness.

As my Authorised Union Rep (AUR) at work said to me the other week, 'Some people get their ambition and their ability mixed up'.