Tag Archive: Rant

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.

I read an interesting article today on the Herald Sun website today by journalist Alan Howe proclaiming the virtues of multiculturalism, and praising Victorian premier Ted Baillieu for celebrating the ethnic diversity of this state.

Alan Howe is executive editor of the Herald Sun newspaper here in Melbourne. He’s not exactly in-line with my political views, and his paper is quite the target of my rage due to its dumbed-down populist right-wing agenda. However, when I read this article, I was converted. I agreed, God forbid, with something written in that rag. It actually gave me hope that not all of the people in this country were right-wing xenophobes who loved to hate people of different ethnicities. That was until I read the reader comments on the article.

Here is a brief yet indicative sample of the hate-filed vitriol that Herald Sun readers dished out to Howe’s attempt to embrace ethnic diversity in our state:

Muslims and Sudanese do not intergrate but segregate themselves from the rest of the population . Politicians sit in their ivory towers whilst white Australians watch the degeneration of Australian culture.

Alan, take a referendum on this issue and I think you will find that the majority of Australians do not agree with you.

i always thought mixing in with the locals was the way multi/c worked,apparently i am wrong!but when whole suburbs are usurped by one nationality or one faith or another i reckon it’s fair to say it aint working

This is where you create problems with ghettos and ‘clash of cultures’ which can lead to terrorism.

It is about time we change interpretation of our multiculturalism where the term would mean to encourage every culture to contribute to our ONE and unique Australian culture.

When Asian gangs are in open conflict with African gangs in your street Alan, and your children are to intimidated to play on their own front lawn after 6pm, let me assure you that multiculturalism does not deliver the beneficial effect on society that you are extolling in this poorly conceived column.

All ethnics work towards their own ethnic ends,sending much money back to the home country, creating whole suburbs with just their own nationalities living there,this is a pot waiting to boil over.Parisites living off us,and the money they make off our country, are what the majority are,On the street level they want to own Australia not be an Australian

The general population know multicultarism does not work. THEY want everything their way…. bad enough….but they want to CHANGE us all and THEY ARE!!! Own swimming pools and so on…we’re on the way down.

…and so on. Basically, apart from a few slightly more level-headed interjections, the tone of the 54 comments left on this article was that having people of different cultures in this country was a bad thing and was ruining society.

What a load of garbage.

I don’t know whether it’s the extreme inaccuracy of those comments made, or the hatred they display to people of different nationalities that upsets me most. While it’d be ridiculously naive of me to assume that there weren’t people like this in our country, still seeing and hearing opinions like that in a public forum denegrates the standing of Australia society as a whole.

Naturally, it is at this point where those to my right would pipe up with the old “freedom of speech” argument that we all know so well. Now I am a believer in the right to express a view free from the threat of persecution or government intervention, but when it comes to being a racist and a bigot, my patience is tested. When I think of attacks on freedom of speech, I think of examples like the Chinese government deleting the Tiananmen Square protests from their history and prosecuting those who dare discuss it publicly. That is the form of freedom of speech I believe in defending, not simply the right to be an uninformed hack who hates coloured people.

Back to the point of multiculturalism itself, while the system and its implementation may not be in every way perfect, I think there is no doubt that multiculturalism has enriched our society. Australia now, more than ever before, is home to a diverse range of cultures, races and religions, all of whom share this great land. I have friends who are Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, not to mention Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic, and probably even more. Despite my being a white agnostic Australian with Croatian and English background, I am friends with and get along well with all these people of different faiths and nationalities. In a mono-cultural society, which is what it seems these opponents of multiculturalism are advocating, I would be denied the opportunity to have met and known all these people. I’d have been denied the opportunity to experience and gain an understanding of how different cultures work.

Again, I’d be shut down by those opposite with the claims that they do not want a mono-cultural society, just that they want immigrants to assimilate and integrate into society. They cite the way the influx of Europeans in the 1950s and 60s became a part of society, and have grown to be accepted by the “rest of us” (I use that term very reluctantly).

An interesting and amusing comparison that one. My grandfather was one of those European immigrants who came over in the late 1950s to flee an oppressive communist Yugoslav government. My grandfather came to Australia seeing it as an accepting place, a land of opportunity where hard work was fairly rewarded. He was at least half right. He has told stories of being assaulted by “Aussies” when trying to apply for work for “stealing their jobs”. He was also routinely refused work by employers for being “a wog”. He built his house in Bell Park, the suburb where a vast majority of European immigrants who came to Geelong lived. He was friends with other immigrants, he constructed a European style garden in his yard, he made is own wine and cured his own meats, he listens to Croatian music, and to this day still proudly displays the Croatian flag inside his home.

Now I’m not painting these things in a bad light at all. It’s just interesting to look at this example, especially when the common criticisms of the Asian, Muslim and Indian immigrants of today are denigrated for “stealing our jobs”, “occupying whole suburbs”, “not associating with anyone outside their ethnic group”, “bringing their country to ours” and “not embracing Australian culture”. Those same criticisms were aimed at immigrants fifty years ago, only they came from a different place.

My grandfather would probably be appalled at me criticising this country so much. Despite the tough time he had when younger, he still regards Australia as a land of great opportunity, and is immensely proud to be Australian (he was naturalised some years ago). He passionately believes we Australians can do anything and are given so much in our lives, and he’s entirely correct. I also have no doubt that the immigrants of today share his passion and love for this land too.

Maybe in fifty years time, these anti-multiculturalists will have moved on from pathetically complaining about the immigrants, just like they have about “the wogs” that came over all those years ago. Though I dare say it’s still a pipe dream to hope that at any point in time the people who made those comments quoted above will accept the migrants that make up this country, and recognise the benefits of being such a culturally diverse nation.

While we’re on the topic

While we’re on the topic of natural disasters and the recovery for them, I feel the need for a bit of a rant about disaster relief payments, and the usual complaints about the bureaucracy they bring. In the week or so immediately following the Queensland floods I talked about earlier, there were complaints that in order to access the government-funded disaster relief payments, and the monies raised through the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal, long and laborious series of forms needed to be filled out, and payments would be delayed to those who desperately needed the relief money. Bureaucracy, they cried, largely in the populist morning tabloids and evening “public affairs” shows, was denying people the chance to start moving on and rebuilding their lives.

Today a report was released from Centrelink (who administer some of the disaster relief payments) explaining that a number of people had been caught rorting the system, claiming flood relief payments when they were not eligible or, in many cases, not even affected by the floods at all. Funnily enough, these same people, fanned by these same populist journalists, are claiming that adequate checks were not in place to stop these heartless bastards ripping off innocent people of their deserved relief money.

They are in at least one way right – the people ripping off the flood relief are in fact heartless bastards, and far worse, who deserve to be severely punished for putting their petty, dodgy self-interests ahead of those who are genuinely in need. However, does anyone else not see the clash in logic between the two sentiments shared by the same group of people? Had the bureaucracy been fully in place and been able to properly manage the allocation of flood relief payments, all adequate checks could have been performed and the rorters would have been minimised if not completely eliminated. However, due to pressures from politicians and the public to speed this process up, shortcuts had to be taken, and as such these kinds of mistakes will happen from time to time.

My issue is that the populist media convinces people that they can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to all matters involving government. Basically, anything they can blame bureaucracy for they will, regardless of the real cause of the issue. I say this having spent some time working in government, and being regularly subject to the line that all government departments are lazy, slow, unresponsive and bureaucratic. Such is the hatred in the community for government of all levels that anything it can be blamed for it is, despite there being little to no logical grounds for doing so. I really believe that should people see the actual goings on inside these departments they so frequently and passionately deride, they may also have a much different opinion to the inaccurate populist viewpoint like I do.

So, to wrap this all up, I understand and fully support the need to get flood relief payments out into the community as soon as possible, and I do wish to try to avoid the presence of a Sir Humphrey Appleby style bureaucracy that seeks to needlessly delay and stifle any form of progress. However, in this case there is no such bureaucracy – there is I’m sure a lot of people working very hard to process a huge number of claims as quickly as possible. In that kind of situation, mistakes will happen, but they can be dealt with in the aftermath, once the help has been handed out. There’s plenty of time for chasing up loose ends after the cleanup has been done, and there’s simply no point attacking these people about it now while there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Post-disaster blame games

Yesterday saw the release of a report which laid blame on the Bureau of Meteorology for failing to accurately predict the severity of the rainfall in the days that led up to the horrendous floods in South East Queensland. So, someone wrote a report telling us that the weathermen weren’t and aren’t always right. Breaking news that is.

Come on – meteorologists do the very best job they can, but ultimately what they do is prediction, which is far from always accurate. Take away their computer models and you might as well ask an astrologer when you’ll die – chances are you’ll get about as accurate results.

The other part I dislike immensely about this is the human need to play a post-mortem blame game on everybody and anybody in the wake of a natural disaster. The same thing happened after Black Saturday down here in 2009, and will probably happen in the period after every other disaster that occurs from now on, but I find it revolting.

What seems to be completely missing from this blame game is actual acknowledgement of the facts of the matter. The fact was that all of Queensland had endured huge amounts of rainfall in the weeks and months leading up to the major floods. All the catchments were completely soaked – normally dry ground was completely waterlogged, so the additional 250mm of rain that fell in the two days before the floods really hit simply had nowhere to go. And when a quarter of a metre of rain falls anywhere: wet, dry or otherwise, it will create some serious runoff. That’s just simply hydrology – not the fault of the Bureau, or the dam operator, or the government. When Mother Nature’s a bitch like that, there’s very little any human can do expect pray that complete disaster does not ensue.

It’s all good and well to want to learn from disasters such as this and improve on areas where it wasn’t handled perfectly, but ultimately we need to accept that we are all human. In the face of disaster there is only so much any of us can do. Now sure, we can look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that less water could have been released from Wivenhoe Dam, and maybe a few more properties could have been spared from flood damage, but ultimately we need to accept that the best possible job was done given the circumstances at the time.

Relating this back to an example closer to home for me – I sat through the day now known as Black Saturday, and witnessed the aftermath of it, in terms of the physical damage done to people and property, as well as the political fallout from the subsequent Royal Commission. I, along with just about everyone who experienced Saturday February 7th 2009 here in Victoria, regard that day to be the most horrendous in terms of weather that has been seen. It’s was unbelievably hot, ridiculously windy, and as a whole just an incredibly scary experience. Had someone told me on that day that the world was about to end, I might have even believed them – I can’t imagine the concepts of Armageddon or even hell being much worse than that day. Add to that the fact that we were 12 years into an ongoing drought, and it really should not have been surprising that serious bushfires erupted on that day.

By no means take this as me trivialising the suffering and damage inflicted upon the victims of that terrible disaster – as a distant observer I can’t imagine the horror of being caught up in it directly, and have complete sympathy for those who were. But by the same token, is grilling senior members of the emergency services the real way forward from these disasters? Is lambasting the chief of the CFA and ultimately forcing his resignation a good way to reflect upon one of the worst natural disasters in Australian history? Is chastising the chief commissioner of the police for leaving on the night of the event and not micro-managing her entire police force when the scale of damage was not even close to being evident a successful outcome? And while I’m sure News Limited will proudly claim that it exposed and forced the resignation of Christine Nixon due to her dinner-date on that fateful evening, have they really achieved anything other than ruining another life? I personally don’t think so.

One of my favourite quotes describes this situation perfectly: “Hindsight is always in 20-20 vision”. Yep, true words they are. If only our authorities and society didn’t have such a taste for blood in the aftermath of these kind of extreme events, perhaps we could avoid having to subject ourselves to the continual reminders of the devastation in order just to pin the blame on someone. These disasters were in every way horrendous and totally unprecedented, let’s just accept that as fact and leave it there. But maybe I’m asking way too much of us here.