Monday, September 19, 2011

"Fast-tracked" defence equipment falls apart

This is absolutely typical of the Australian defence procurement bureaucracy. Have they ever got ANYTHING right?

A charming image of Australian military efficiency above. I think they do better than that in the Third World

Australian diggers are finding themselves exposed on the frontline by their American-made camouflage pants.

The hi-tech MultiCam pants were tried by special forces soldiers before the Government spent $2 million for 5000 sets of the combat clothing. But infantry troops in Afghanistan are apparently much tougher on the clothing, the Herald Sun reported.

"Special forces do a different job to us," one soldier said. "We are out for days on end living in the dirt."

The Diggers are generally happy with the MultiCam clothing, which is more comfortable and better suited to mixed terrain.

But in many cases the pants, which include special stretch sections and built-in knee pads, are tearing along seams where stretch fabric meets non-stretch fabric.

Some soldiers can no longer wear them, others have patched them up, some are happy to wear shredded pants. Some Diggers mix MultiCam tops with old pants.

"The problem is along the stitching where the fabrics meet," one said. "It seems the distance between waist and crotch is too small, especially for taller guys."

Defence Materiel Minister Jason Clare, who fast-tracked the MultiCam clothing and lighter body armour, said the tearing problem must be fixed.

He said replacement uniforms and patching kits had been delivered to Afghanistan.


Housing affordability

What is causing the housing affordability crisis in Australia? Land restrictions and low interest rates are typical answers. But people forget about the impact of seemingly minor government rules like regulations that stipulate minimum dwelling sizes and quality.

Next year, the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency will require all residential properties, new and existing, to have consistent energy efficiency ratings. The idea is buyers and renters will then make better choices about energy efficiency – thereby mitigating climate change and saving themselves a few dollars to boot.

That sounds nice, but the reality is otherwise. Mandating ratings will impose real costs on sellers, lessors and taxpayers, which will exacerbate the housing affordability crisis. Licensed assessors will require training and charge fees to make assessments; bureaucrats will have to enforce and administer the assessments.

The supposed benefits – lower greenhouse gas emissions and household savings – are tentative at best.

Australian residential buildings emit 10% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions, and Australia as a whole contributes 1.5% of the world’s emissions. Even if slowing the growth of 0.15% of the world’s greenhouse emissions would effectively mitigate global warming, will these measures actually work?

As anyone who’s bought or rented knows, the energy efficiency of a home is a marginal consideration. Location, appearance, size and quality overwhelm any other factors. Indeed, renters tend to care even less about a dwelling’s energy efficiency if they are sharing (household utility bills tend to be split equally).

As for savings, everyone already has the ability to calculate the payoffs from more energy efficient fittings and appliances. And businesses have a natural incentive to advertise any potential savings from such installations. It is not the role of government to nanny how people manage their household utility bills.

The government claims buyers and renters suffer from ‘uneven information’: that owners and sellers have superior information. That might be true at first, but it is no bold feat for prospective buyers and tenants to inspect appliances and fittings. Indeed, inspecting a house is vastly easier than assessing the reliability of a used car’s engine – and the government does not mandate assessments there.

Moreover, the proposed mandatory efficiency standards undermine the role of real estate agents. Agents exist to bridge any knowledge gap between buyer, sellers and renters.

If the government wants to encourage energy-efficient products, it should alter the price of energy directly and make the installation of energy efficiency products more appealing. By contrast, the compulsory efficiency standards impose certain costs only to elicit dubious benefits.


How Victoria's Department of Human Disservices looks after handicapped kids

A hyperactive autistic boy was run dowm and killed by a car after he was left in the care of a 21-year-old woman who had only ever had one other job - working at a fast-food joint. Real professionalism!

"Michael was no Rain Man. He was smart, but he did what he wanted to do. Sometimes he was hard to control."

Eventually, he was so labour-intensive Lyn needed to convince the DHS they should fund one-on-one care. It became her first experience of fighting for Michael - and, she says, not her last. Michael's case managers were swapped regularly. They meant well, but they were there one week, gone the next. Lyn felt nobody took enough time to understand his complicated needs.

The DHS insisted Lyn have respite from young Michael. They insisted he spend weekends with their carers - usually three of them each weekend, rostered in shifts. She hated him to go, but she needed a break.

As the months wore on, weekend carers came and went. They moved him around from place to place, unable to find a person or accommodation he wouldn't wreck.

The little boy's life had been upended and his behaviour got worse.

Lyn says she complained to the DHS about the respite arrangements. Sometimes he was housed in on-site cabins in caravan parks, often with workers ill-equipped to handle severe autism like Michael's.

The company charged with his respite care, Vista Community Support, lost a booking at the back of the Kyneton Bush Resort estate - a unit hundreds of metres from the main road. Lyn says Vista failed to pre-book blocks of time in the safer unit.

Instead, Michael and his respite carer were housed closest to the road on the weekend he died.

That night, his carer was a 21-year-old woman who told Lyn she had only ever had one other job - working at a fast-food joint.


Love of the Left blinds much of the media

THE fact that many journalists, not so much in the News Limited "hate" media but in the progressive media at Fairfax and the ABC, missed the downfall of Kevin Rudd has been well documented, so you would expect them to be doubly wary of being caught out again.

Yet with Bob Brown and Stephen Conroy fuelling a debate about alleged media bias, and instigating an inquiry, the real media story is actually the ongoing insularity of the "love" media.

Journalists can be excused for failing to predict the final leadership coup against Rudd; it snuck up even on those involved. Not so the policy missteps, poor political management and breaches of faith with voters that many professional political observers either missed or ignored.

The coup not only surprised them but was a humiliating indictment of their sanguine coverage: Labor's caucus was more in touch with reality than the gallery.

However, the same commentators have spent much of the past year trying to make a case for the Gillard government; once again showing themselves to be out of step with political reality and the public they serve.

Julia Gillard's prime ministership has never really gathered momentum or authority. Her ascension was ugly and without a defining cause, her election campaign was shambolic and her government seemed terminal from the day she broke her carbon tax promise. Her last chance to discover a sense of purpose was the budget in May, but no narrative emerged. Since then, her fortunes have gone from bad to abysmal.

Regardless of previous affiliations, personal preferences or sympathy for people's best endeavours, commentators must be realistic. Labor's prospects are hopeless. Even ALP stalwart Graham Richardson has called it.

Yet in the past two months, many in the press gallery have tied themselves in knots trying to make a case for Labor. In The Sydney Morning Herald Lenore Taylor wrote: "It's not fast and it's not graceful, in style it's more Eric the Eel than Ian Thorpe, but Julia Gillard is starting to make good on her promise that 2011 would be a 'year of decision and delivery'." At The Australian Financial Review, Laura Tingle declared: "So the three issues on which the government had 'lost its way' have been dealt with but have not quite yet gone away altogether."

In fairness, these quotes pre-date the High Court decision on the Malaysia Solution, and these commentators have since become pessimistic about Gillard's prospects. The asylum-seeker mess, more bad polls and the Craig Thomson fiasco have combined to produce a dose of reality in most political commentary. But it seems, yet again, the public was months ahead of much of the media in drawing their conclusions. In fact, the awakening of much of the Canberra media cohort seems to have been led by Labor's descent in the polls.

Some progressive commentary still suggests it has all been unfair on Gillard.

The ABC's Richard Glover defended her this month in The Sydney Morning Herald, making excuses for her broken promises, asylum-seeker mess and loyalty to Thomson. "Why is she getting so much more heat than other politicians who have made mistakes?" Glover asked. "The role of the press gallery, as someone once said, is to come down from the hills after the battle is over and bayonet the already dying."

Well, no. But it does have an important role to try to connect voters to political reality, and vice versa.

Along with Glover-like sympathy for Gillard, the "love" media has switched to a new narrative, which amounts to "a pox on both your houses". Stretched to find anything positive to say about Labor, they tend to deplore the parlous state of politics, in which both sides are now deemed to be letting the nation down. "Why did Canberra this week feel like a grudge match between the Visigoths and the Zombies?" Annabel Crabb asks on ABC Online's The Drum. "What the hell is going on with the people we elected to the 150 seats of the House of Representatives a year-and-a-bit ago?"

In searching for answers on the big issues of asylum-seekers and climate change, the missing answer is that the government might lack authority for implementing positions it opposed at the last election.

ABC TV's Insiders program yesterday spent virtually its entire hour discussing the apparently reprehensible tactics of the opposition. Four journalists and a cartoonist seemed to believe the man with the insurmountable problem in politics at present is the "negative" Opposition Leader.

A new arrival in Australia would have been left with the impression that Tony Abbott is an objectionable opportunist blocking a government's mandate to impose a carbon tax and send asylum-seekers to Malaysia.

The futility of this Canberra play-acting is obvious. The electorate is not stupid.

Most voters are fully aware that Gillard promised not to introduce a carbon tax and not to send asylum-seekers to countries that are not signatories to the UN refugees convention.

Forget about the right side of history. Whatever your view on the merits of the policies, most voters can see Abbott is on the right side of the electoral mandate. He is abrasive but he is doing what he pledged.

Yet we see the daily absurdity of journalists who built reputations on diatribes against John Howard's offshore processing and the electoral overreach of Work Choices now arguing passionately for the adoption of the Malaysia Solution and mocking the Coalition for opposing a carbon tax that both main parties ruled out before the election.

It truly has become topsy-turvy world. In the real world, voters seem either to be disappointed about how the government has turned out, keen to put Labor out of its misery, or just underwhelmed and disengaged. You don't need polls to work that out.

But airing these media issues is important on two counts. First, because an entrenched disconnect between the press gallery and the mainstream Australians it is supposed to serve cannot help democracy.

And, second, because at a time when the government is exhibiting an extraordinary antipathy towards News Limited over an alleged political agenda, we need to consider whether this may have less to do with one media company shaping political events and more to do with other media missing them.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Thanks for that lead photo. Looks a bit like a cheap 1980's American porn flick cover from the bargain bins of some sleazy Canberra emporium (pre-internet of course).

(Title?? Maybe Tali-whacking 3 or something?)