Archive for January, 2012


Call me a genius…

Well call me a genius. I wrote this prediction in November. Sure enough, on Australia Day, my prediction came true. Gotye and Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” won the Triple J Hottest 100.

Considering the song was odds-on favourite to win, I guess it’s no surprise really. Though I’m going to claim my little victory for all it’s worth anyway ūüôā

As for the rest of, few surprises there I imagine. I expected to see The Black Keys, Boy and Bear and The Jezabels do well, and they did. A bit disappointed that one of Florence and the Machine’s new ones didn’t get into the top 10 though.

Now the rest of the world will go back to ignoring Triple J till next January…

 

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A not-so-minor or popular rant coming up here, initially provoked by today’s announcement by Coles Supermarkets that they will be reducing prices across a number of items in their fresh produce departments, though largely fuelled by the media and some regular offenders’ contributions to the discussion of this announcement.

The headlines say it all; “Concerns over fruit & vegetable discounting”, “Fear for farmers over Coles cuts” and so on. In my mind, they should read: “People complaining about cheaper prices”.

The irony I find in the situation is expressed henceforth. In a society where everyone, particularly the populist media, makes such an issue of the supposed high costs of living for everyday Australians, they see it fit to jump on the big supermarkets whenever they say anything, positive or negative.We saw the same thing happen when Coles and Woolworths announced last year that they were decreasing the price of milk and bread –¬† a populist anger and outrage that prices were being reduced for consumers. Why?!

Now’s the part where everyone will chime in claiming that the supermarkets through their duopoly over the grocery sector in this country use their market power to pay pittance to farmers for their produce, only to sell it with high profit margins in their stores nationwide, and that these price cuts will only see farmers paid less for their produce. While I’m not going to deny that supermarkets undoubtedly make efforts to reduce the wholesale cost for the products they sell, all I can say is, who can blame them? A supermarket, like any other shop in the world, is a business. It provides a service and aims to profit from doing so. People seem to have this fanciful notion that supermarkets exist (or at least should exist) solely for the good of their suppliers and customers, when nothing could be further from the truth. They aim to make money, that’s the purpose of their existence! And a business makes money if it minimises its expenses (aka the price it pays for the products it sources), and maximises its takings (aka the price you pay at the register for those products).

So to get back to what I was trying to say, today in the media we had everyone from an AusVeg spokesman, the CEO of the National Farmers Federation, a spokeswoman from that defender of consumer rights (translation: the mob that aims to protect people from their own stupidity when shopping) Choice, and even the Greens coming out and criticising Coles decision to cut these prices, despite not actually knowing what items specifically would be reduced in retail price. AusVeg, the NFF and the Greens were touting much the same argument, namely that lower retail prices inevitably translates into lower wholesale prices for producers, and that’s bad for farmers. Choice’s main concern that these items were being used as loss-leaders; namely cheap deals that lure customers into stores with the intention of then enticing these customers to buy other premium-priced products as well.

Let’s deal with these concerns in order. For starters, the NFF is the organisation dedicated to protecting farmers’ rights and livelihoods, or as they dub themselves, “the voice of Australian farmers”. They act much like a workplace union would, attempting to lobby for additional rights and benefits for farmers. Essentially their aim and purpose of existence is to help farmers make as much money as possible. They would be quite pleased to see farmers be able to charge top dollar for the produce, which is essentially what is being argued for here. However, if Coles and Woolies were forced to pay top dollar to obtain produce, let’s examine the real impacts. Prices would rise for produce in Australian supermarkets, as wholesale prices would increase and the supermarkets would have to maintain their margins. So suddenly your $2 kilo of bananas would cost more like $4 or $5, as would everything else increase. If that were to happen, imagine the outrage from the cost-of-living-concerned individuals and tabloid newspapers/”current affairs” shows then!

The Greens coming out in defence of Australian farmers continues a string of patriotic-bordering-on-xenophobic policy statements recently regarding the protection of Australian farming and the limiting of overseas ownership of Australian farms and the importation of food. Confusing really, considering the Greens are the party who actively promote and support multiculturalism in every other way. While their concerns for the financial stability of Australian farms and farmers are noble, I sense it is a little in vain. To this day I’m yet to meet a farmer or anyone from the land who would even entertain the concept of voting Green, yet the residents of their one seat of Melbourne would be far happier with cheaper supermarket produce.

And Choice, don’t get me started on Choice. As I said earlier, their sole purpose for existence is to protect idiots from their own stupidity, and that is only proven by the arguments offered by spokeswoman Ingrid Just today on ABC News. Yes, a loss-leader is a product marketed below cost to attract people to your store, and yes, not all products in a supermarket will be loss-leaders, because it’d be a pretty stupid way to run a supermarket if all your products sold for less than they cost. However, if you’re not a gullible fool you’ll realise this, and realise that you can buy your cheap fruit and vegetables without paying extra for other products, and you as the consumer will win, which is what Choice claim to be all about supporting. How a consumer group can oppose lower prices really confuses me, and only convinces me of their continued irrelevance. Though Ms Just’s explanation of a loss-leader does shoot down the arguments made by the NFF and the Greens earlier that farmers will solely bear the burden of the reduced prices.

However, despite these pointless comments from vested-interest groups, one thing has gone amiss in this discussion: fact. The fact is that growing conditions in many parts of Australia over the last few seasons have been the best they’ve been for nearly 20 years. As a result, the supply of many fruits and vegetables available is grossly in excess of demand. Coles’ solution is this: rather than seeing excess product go unsold and have farmers turning tonnes of their good quality produce into fertiliser for their next crop, why not spark an increase in demand by lowering retail prices. That way sales increase so farmers can move more produce (which as any producer will tell you, selling stock cheap is better than not selling stock at all), and retail sales improve due to reduced prices. Not to mention, we the consumers get cheap food. It’s making the best of the situation.

Now I don’t mean to stand here and be a supermarket apologist. And yes, I know you’ll all claim I’m biased as I worked for one of the major supermarkets. However, all I’m doing is presenting the facts and what I believe to be the case, without the usual vitriolic hatred directed at supermarkets from most parts of the media and of popular opinion in general, or for that matter any profit-making institutions in this country. All I ask is, can you say the same for what you believe?

Now I’m off to buy some cheap veggies…

A backflip too far?

Late last year I wrote a post bestowing the virtues of the current minority government status we have in our federal parliament. Rather naively and/or presumptively, I wrote that

…it is almost certain that Australia will have these cash-guzzling machines limited in some fashion, if not removed from existence altogether…

I wrote this based upon the fact that, in November when those words were committed to paper (or whatever its digital equivalent is), the situation was thus: the government had an agreement with key independent Andrew Wilkie to implement pre-commitment technology on poker machines by 2014, and Wilkie, who then held the balance of power, had promised to renege his support for the government should they fail to do so.¬†At this time, what we didn’t expect to see by mid-January was the whole Slippery Pete speaker swap, reducing Mr Wilkie’s influence, and now the government’s decision to abandon its agreement with him on poker machines.

This latest episode, which did cause Mr Wilkie to withdraw his support as he promised to do, simply goes to reinforce the image that this minority Labor government is illegitimate and prepared to abandon any principle and backflip on any agreement in order to gain or maintain power.

Look at the list: Rudd dropping the ETS because it was too hard to legislate, Gillard overthrowing Rudd before the election, Gillard subsequently abandoning the need to act on climate change, Labor gaining government with a minority by wooing a few independents, Labor then backflipping on the backflip over carbon pricing to introduce the carbon tax, Labor seducing Slipper into the speaker’s role to shore up its numbers, and now this pokies backflip. The list is quite damning, seeing as this has occurred over not even two years.

While some of the policy outcomes (read carbon tax) have in fact been beneficial, that does not change what they were. Backflips. Reversals. Lies. And with the now two key backflips her government has perpetrated, Gillard has managed to alienate both of Labor’s primary supporter bases. The social conservative, suburban “Aussie battlas” were offended and driven away by Gillard, arm in arm with Bob Brown, deciding to introduce a carbon tax when it had promised not to do so. While I may support the tax, and these may be the people who choose to deny climate change based upon the fact that it was cold last night, nothing changes the fact that this backflip hurt her politically, at least on that side. Now, by breaking the pokies regulation promise, she has alienated the social progressive supporter base she had, the type who support government intervention on problem gambling. The two sides of the party who Gillard and Labor need the support of have both been alienated by two damning backflips that leave them feeling betrayed.

So where does this leave a voter like me. I reluctantly voted Labor at the last election, based upon the fact that I thought Kevin Rudd’s handling of the financial crisis was exceptional, and in spite of Labor’s lack of commitment to what should be core principles such as action on climate change and fairness to immigrants. However now, Rudd remains alienated in favour of an unconvincing politician whose every word sounds like it has been scripted and rehearsed, and who looks in no way either convincing to her voters or convinced of what she’s saying herself.

But what’s the alternative? As a progressive-minded young person, I’d rather be caught eating paddle pops in hell than vote for anyone like Tony Abbott, yet this government continues to find ways to make him look more credible than itself. His policy beliefs also swing more wildly than a loose gate in a cyclone, so he’s hardly a “conviction politician” like he claims himself and his former leader John Howard to be. And his core beliefs are so far right of centre that I’m sure Mussolini would be looking on in approval.

So what can we hope for? A change of leader in one or both of the major parties is probably the best option. Someone more convincing that Gillard or more moderate than Abbott to lead their parties would be a start. Then for some parties to provide some policy inspiration and give us something to choose between and a reason to vote for them at the next election.

Stop me now. I’m dreaming again.

Friday Flashback #25

Today I’ve brought out one from left-field. Please bear with me…

Now for those of you born post-1987, like me, the song is English novelty band The Firm‘s number one hit Star Trekkin’. For those of you born pre or post-1987 wondering why on Earth I’d promote listening to such an abstract (and that’s putting it politely) song, I don’t really have an answer.

If you want a boring story (rhetorical question), here it is. For some reason or another, I first recall hearing this song on some random video recording my mother had tape-recorded from MTV back when she was pregnant with me. Those were the days when MTV was a) in some way watchable, and b) still shown on free-to-air television (those were the days). The claymation filmclip featuring Captain Kirk inhaling from a bong amongst other humorous Star Trek overtones like it amused me as a pre-teen back then, and I guess I’ve kinda liked the song since, much for the same reasons (who says you have to grow up as you get older!)

So if you’re disgusted that I’d link to such a song, well I’m not very sorry. Remember that this song was top of the UK charts for two weeks back in 1987. Though for those of you who found it as funny and amusing as a more childish version of me did (yes, that did exist), good on you.

Due to the time consuming nature of my life at this point (aka the need to move house, complete a uni exam and visit my girlfriend interstate) I’m lacking the time to dedicate to my beloved blog. So here’s a quick one to keep you Tantalised¬†in the meantime…

I wrote about these guys back in October, and had the good fortune (thanks to said lovely girlfriend and her very generous father) of seeing them play on the Gold Coast a few weeks back. Seriously fantastic gig, even if I didn’t know a great deal of their material. This was one that stuck with me, largely¬†thanks¬†to the very¬†talented¬†and nice person that is their guitarist Marty Willson-Piper with his ridiculously quick-handed guitar work. For the record, they sounded excellent despite the thirty years of age they’ve accumulated since their debut.

Enjoy, and hopefully we talk again soon.