Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Greenie electricity nonsense causing hardship to families in Victoria

Greenie "smart" meters etc. are behind it. Because of its large and conveniently located suppies of brown coal, Victoria used to have very cheap eletricity -- in the days before Greenie obsessions

MELBOURNE residents are paying up to $285 a year for power before they turn on a single light or appliance. Hundreds of thousands of households are being stung with the highest supply charges in Australia as new smart meters are rolled out and distributors pass on increased costs. Soaring fees for some customers are almost double those in Sydney and Brisbane, a review by fee broker reveals.

Homes in Broadmeadows, Sunbury and Preston are among the worst hit.

The finding comes as some distraught customers say they are going to bed early to save money in the face of crippling electricity bills. EnergyWatch national sales manager David Perry said anxious pensioners and struggling families were restricting movements to one room with one light on at night, or going to bed earlier. "For some people it's not only too expensive to go out, it's becoming too expensive to stay at home," Mr Perry said.

EnergyWatch general manager Ben Polis said smart meter rollout costs, electricity network upgrades and higher generation costs were to blame for surging power bills. "It's a bucket with a hole in it," Mr Polis said.

The price study examined charges for customers on combined electricity and gas who have never signed up for a market offer. About 30 per cent of Victorian homes - 800,000 households - are still on default energy prices, which tend to be the dearest on the market.

Even customers who had signed up to competitive deals were paying the most of any major capital city for fixed supply charges, Mr Polis said.

Generators had factored in higher prices since an emissions trading scheme designed to reduce pollution and encourage green energy was first mooted by former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

The Herald Sun last week revealed Victorians were already paying an average $900 more for electricity, gas and water compared with five years ago. Power prices are expected to rise again in January.


Greenie elitism

FOOTSCRAY residents have been dubbed poor and inarticulate by a Greens candidate who wants to represent them in Parliament.

In an email leaked to the Herald Sun, Footscray Greens candidate and former Maribyrnong mayor Janet Rice said her potential constituents needed a helping hand to protest against State Government's proposed WestLink tunnel plan because "they are poorer and less articulate than Yarraville and Seddon residents".

The put-down comes as the Greens ramp up opposition to the new roads link, with national party leader Bob Brown saying MPs would seek to block federal financing for roads and divert money to to public transport.

Footscray Labor MP Marsha Thomson seized on Ms Rice's comments, saying residents were capable of thinking and speaking for themselves.

But Ms Rice hit back, saying a high proportion of people who do not speak English as a first language need stronger support than they are getting. "There are a lot of refugees and people who haven't had an opportunity for such a good education and don't have the skills to stand up for their rights," Ms Rice said.

Ms Thomson said just because someone was poor did not mean they could not speak up or express themselves. "While there are people who have come from other countries and don't speak English as well as others, it doesn't mean they can't think and don't have an opinion," she said.


NBN: the national boondoggle network

Fibre broadband is a political stunt, not good economics

You might think someone would look at whether it would work before spending $43 billion. You might even wonder what else could work with $43 billion. You might compare the value of alternative purchases as you would in a supermarket. But our government is not as careful about $43 billion as you would be with $43.

The high point of this farcical process came after the election when the government announced that construction on the network would be jumpstarted in rural areas where there are fewer customers rather than metro areas where there are more. Guess where the installation is to commence? Would it surprise you to know priority will be given to the electorates held by the independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, whose votes are critical to the government?

The Minister for Communications, Senator Conroy, has figured out how to turn the national broadband network into the national boondoggle network.

What surprises me is the silence from the board of NBN Co. This is the least commercial way of planning the build-out. The point of having a board is to get independent and commercial oversight of operations. If this board is not up to that, then it might as well fold.

The government is showing as much respect for the board as it does for Infrastructure Australia - which is a lot less than it shows for swinging voters in key regional electorates.


Australian local councils enforcing Muslim sexual hangups

A bikini ban for a Ramadan event at a public pool should not be taken lightly as it puts fundamental freedoms of Western society on the line. "Anti-discrimination" body approves discrimination

A COUPLE of weeks ago a report surfaced about families being ordered to cover up before attending a public event to avoid offending Muslims during next year's Ramadan in August. It involved VCAT approving a bikini ban for a community event to be held at Dandenong Oasis, a municipal pool. Dandenong Council, and pool managers YMCA, successfully sought an exemption from the Equal Opportunity Act to compel "participants aged 10 and over" to "ensure their bodies are covered from waist to knee and the entire torso extending to the upper arms", and to refrain from wearing "transparent clothing".

Controversy erupted: tabloid TV lapped it up, talkback callers fulminated, bloggers pontificated, politicians, including Premier John Brumby, were quizzed. Amid the outrage came the predictable and inflammatory warnings that the ruling was evidence of a sinister plan to "Islamise" Australia.

The ruling enforcing what VCAT described as "minimum dress requirements" for Muslims was certainly novel. I'm not aware of any other instance in which the tribunal has made a religious dress code mandatory at a public venue - as opposed to a place of worship - let alone at the local swimming pool. In fact, the ruling was so novel that for some it simply couldn't sink in.
Advertisement: Story continues below

Perhaps this is why some of the fair-minded people in my orbit initially doubted the story's veracity. After reluctantly conceding it was indeed true, they still thought the thunderous response over the top. We're talking about a one-off, two-hour event, they argued. It will be held when the pool is closed to the public and normally used for a women-only swimming session, the attendees of which are almost all Muslims. And hey, aren't we all covering up to be sun-smart now anyway? (OK, maybe not in the middle of August.) Let's keep things in perspective, they said.

Well, I agree perspective is crucial. And seen from a wider and deeper perspective, the Dandenong pool episode is neither trivial nor insignificant. It is but one example of human rights laws producing outcomes that restrict rights. It raises tough questions about how far public authorities ought to go in accommodating cultural practices that sit uneasily with mainstream Western values.

And it exposes some disturbing and hypocritical currents in progressive thought, a point best and fittingly made by a Dandenong-based Muslim women's group, set up to help newly arrived Afghan migrants integrate into Australian society. "I've spoken to a lot of women; they don't want this," Women's Better World president Mandy Ahmadi told the Dandenong suburban newspaper, flagging her campaign to overturn the ruling. "Enough is enough … why run from the Taliban to come to this?"

And yet, as Ahmadi's "enough is enough" phrase might suggest, the VCAT ruling was not the first example of authorities bending to accommodate religious sensibilities at Melbourne's public pools. Dandenong is not the only municipality to allow gender-segregated swimming. The practice is now almost routine: a development that has unfolded largely under the public radar and therefore attracted scant debate. Viewed against this trend, the VCAT decision is perhaps less of a leap than it first appears.

During the past decade or so, VCAT has approved out-of-hours segregated swimming at many councils. I tried to count how many, but tired of the task after hitting double digits.

There's a degree of fiction here; a legal sleight-of-hand. It presumably would take a brave council, and even braver tribunal, to endorse a "Muslim women only" swim session. But most "women-only" sessions are conducted with Muslim requirements in mind, even if non-Muslims can turn up and even if, as appears to be the case, a small number do. Most councils base their VCAT submissions explicitly around the needs of Muslim women. (One pool in the municipality of Melbourne suspends women-only sessions during Ramadan because so few women attend at that time.) Nearly all these councils also obtain approval to staff the sessions with women only.

The cultural sensitivity goes further still. A spokeswoman for Brimbank City Council, for instance, said their swimming sessions took place in "visually secure surroundings". In other words, there's no danger of women being glimpsed in the pool by passers-by. (Such "security" is a key demand of some Muslim communities.) And while every council I contacted denied that dress codes applied during the sessions, some of the responses suggested the issue was murky.

The Brimbank spokeswoman explained that "participants should be dressed appropriately, as is expected of a centre used by children and families". The City of Darebin's acting mayor, Gaetano Greco, was more candid. "We don't impose a particular dress code," he said. "However, women attending should be respectful of Islamic beliefs."

I admit to being uneasy about our public municipalities treading so carefully around religious sensitivities, particularly when doing so under the banner of "women-only" access, with its (radical) feminist overtones.

But there is another side to this issue because at the centre of this debate are real women whose lives have been improved by these sessions. All very well for the likes of me to lecture about the sanctity of our secular public space, being at perfect liberty to roam through it.

In its 2006 application to VCAT for segregated sessions, Brimbank led evidence about the large number of disadvantaged women in the municipality. Many are refugees and recent arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. They tend to be poor and isolated. The council even produced data showing some residents had a lower-than-average life expectancy. Research had indicated swimming was an activity these women were keen to participate in, and that it would bring health and social benefits. But without segregated sessions, the women would never experience the joys of the pool.

It is a powerful argument in support of women-only sessions. The dilemma is a tricky one, and I don't pretend to have all the answers. But flowing from this is a reasonable question: namely, what's next? If the experience overseas is any guide, we're on a slippery slope.

Britain gives some hint of what's "next". Last year, the Telegraph newspaper reported on swimmers being forced to comply with Muslim dress codes during weekly segregated sessions at six public pools. In the most extreme case, Croydon Council in south London instructed on its website that "during special Muslim sessions male costumes must cover the body from the navel to the knee and females must be covered from the neck to the ankles and wrists". Some British Labour MPs slammed the dress codes as "divisive".

WITH the Dandenong Oasis ruling - which is what came "next" here - we're now almost in Britain's league. Greater Dandenong mayor Jim Memeti defended the ruling as part of a council strategy to promote "greater respect, tolerance and understanding of others". And yet this strategy is directly contradicted by the demand for "tolerance and understanding" being made of one side only, namely the non-Muslims.

The most noteworthy criticism of VCAT came (again) from a Muslim woman, Sherene Hassan of the Islamic Society of Victoria, who feared the dress code would undermine the purpose of the event in fostering harmony. (The media blow-up suggests that she has already been proved right.)

Otherwise, the official defenders of liberty and human rights fluffed it. Liberty Victoria said the curtailing of liberty at the public pool was reasonable because the event was to be held out of hours. Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke compared the bikini ban to dress codes in pubs. Really? Banishing thongs in pubs is about preserving decorum. But surely appropriate dress at a swimming pool would be, err, bathers?

A request to cover up, however politely made, is layered with intimate messages; about men lusting and women being lusted over, about the dangerous and vaguely shameful nature of sexuality. Such ideas run counter to the West's more than 500-year struggle for individual freedom - including both freedom of religion and freedom from religion - and for gender equality. Our public authorities ought to be pushing back hardest when these values are under threat. Yet this is precisely where they've been buckling under pressure.

The community workers and VCAT officials who sought and made the Dandenong ruling probably congratulated themselves for their "tolerance". Possibly there are a number of like-minded people who would happily attend the Ramadan function and dress as a Muslim for the night. And when the party's over, they could go home and spread the message of tolerance to their daughters, who are, one assumes, free to visit the local pool wearing as little or as much as they wish.

But what about the young Muslim girl who is beginning to question some aspects of her religious heritage, and wants the same room to move as the daughters of these "tolerant" folk? What if her ideas about how a "conscientious" Muslim woman ought to behave differ from those of Sheikh Fehmi? What if she dreams of ditching her burqini for a bikini?

Isn't there at least an argument that all these publicly funded, respectfully modest and "visually secure" swimming sessions undermine her bid? And what message does the Dandenong ruling send her? Here are the civic institutions of liberal, secular society effectively saying: your cultural practices are so sacrosanct, so unassailable, that even non-Muslims must comply with them.

Shouldn't they instead be resisting attempts to water down our fundamental human rights, which exist for the benefit of all? We don't have to go the way of France and force people to break out of their traditions and join us by the democratic poolside. But neither should we be blocking their path to greater autonomy in the name of "tolerance".

If the Dandenong story made you uncomfortable, trust that instinct. It means the line, to which we've been steadily edging closer, has now been crossed.


Some iconoclastic but interesting ideas

I think they're all pretty right -- JR

Sydney has just hosted the Festival of Dangerous Ideas so, while we are in the mood, how about a few more dangerous ideas? If you'll kindly just sit still, I'd like to whisper them one by one in your ear. I don't want others to overhear. And, of course, if you allege I ever said any of these rashly unpopular things, I'll deny we ever met.

The bad public transport in Sydney is not the fault of the NSW government

Alas, it largely grows out of the spread-out nature of the town. You can't have a Paris Metro without high-density living and every time someone suggests high-density living, Sydneysiders organise a protest. So, the shocking public transport is our fault, not theirs.

Rupert Murdoch has saved journalism. Twice

He did it once in 1986 when he broke the corrupt hold of the printing unions in Britain, allowing new technology and a flourishing of new titles. He's now doing it again by insisting that good journalism is worth paying for, even if it's delivered online. When I go to the newsagent, I don't complain about the “pay wall” that's been erected around the newspapers, magazines and — for that matter — the chocolate bars. Why should it be any different online?

Wikipedia is accurate

OK, everyone smiles and tut-tuts when you admit to using Wikipedia, as if you'd just confessed that your main source of information was the drunk in the local pub. There's no good reason why Wikipedia is so accurate — anyone can change it, any time — but in practice it's nearly always right. On some topics, particularly popular culture, it's the best source around. Wikipedia is an inspiring example of people's ability, unpaid and unheralded, to put their shoulders to the wheel for the common good. We should sigh with pleasure, not snigger with contempt, when it gets a mention.

Most of the ways Australians describe themselves are not true

We are not lazy, despite the way we enjoy describing ourselves as easygoing bludgers. We are incredibly hard-working and always have been. Australian men are not insensitive oafs; we are loyal, sensitive and cry at the drop of a hat. Australian women are not put-upon drongos; they are strong, bordering on the stroppy, as well as spectacularly sexy. We are not an anti-intellectual people; we buy more books per head than the British. What's interesting is that we all know the ocker stereotype is a lie; we repeat it with a sly, knowing smile, as if amused by the false lead we've sent the world.

Books are great but . . .

How come a girl with her nose stuck in a book is considered a marvel, while a boy with his nose stuck in a computer game is considered a horror? No one seems to assess the nature of the book or the kind of computer game, understanding that the book might by simplistic and trashy and the computer game sophisticated and demanding. It's a prejudice in which the delivery system is rated as more important than the content, with a bit of sexism thrown in.

We don't mind the ads on TV

OK, some people do and they only watch the ABC. But for most of us, the advertisements allow a conversation about what we've been watching and the chance to fetch another cup of tea and find a more comfy position on the couch. Some are quite diverting. The new one for AAMI is better than most of the shows.

Mainstream media is not dead

The world is full of consultants making a good income by exaggerating the extent of the new media revolution. “You need someone to help you navigate this radical, all-consuming new landscape,” they say, and — what do you know — for a fee they'll help you. By contrast, there's no scam in saying the obvious: mainstream media remains incredibly dominant. Yes, occasionally there's a three-minute video on YouTube that gets a lot of hits; but where's the new media application that matches the MasterChef finale — 5.7 million Australians glued to their set for half the evening? Maybe one day it will all change but right at the moment, it's a case of “rumours of my death are greatly exaggerated”.

Parking meters are a good thing

Of course we hate paying for that car space but we'd hate it even more if the car spaces were taken all day by the chemist and the newsagent and that guy who needed somewhere to park his boat. And the money goes to the council, so what's the problem?

Personal privacy is overrated

When everything is out in the open a whole lot of hypocrisy, homophobia and sermonising will disappear. We'll all be better off once the glorious diversity of the world is properly on show.

Plastic bags are not so bad

If you are really worried about landfill, worry about where all the old mattresses go.


No comments: