Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Australia must lead on forests at Cancun

Dear Minister Combet,

I’m writing to urge you and your government to avoid giving the timber industries special conditions by creating massive loopholes on forestry in a global climate treaty.

Developed countries such as ours need to play a bold leadership role to get the talks back on track. It’s time for us to lead, please ensure that Australia supports honest and complete accounting of emissions from forestry and land use at the current UN climate negotiations in Cancun, Mexico.

The world can’t afford accounting tricks -- what is needed is real, science-based climate action.

I believe that protecting forests is a very important action we can take as one measure for tackling climate change.


Peter Campbell
Home address supplied

Send your own letter via Avaaz.org: Trees not Tricks

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What is Labor up to with the NBN?

Labor's policy initiative for implementing a high speed National Broadband Network arguably was a decisive factor in them forming minority government after the hung 2010 Australian federal election.

Rob Oakshott and Tony Windsor both stated that the delivery of fast internet access to rural regions in Australia was a key consideration in their decision to support the minority Gillard government.

So far so good.  Many of Australia's regional areas - even close to major cities - have very slow Internet access.  This hampers local businesses and makes it difficult for them to compete with city-based businesses, particularly when websites need updating and eCommerce transactions are conducted.

Spending money - say $20b - on providing fast broadband Internet access to rural areas would go a long way to providing services and opportunities to rural areas.  This could have the following benefits

  • Companies could conduct business relying on Internet services at any location, not just major cities
  • Regional employment opportunities could increase, attracting people to live in regional areas rather than continue to go to cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that are becoming crowded and congested
  • Innovative health services using video conference and remote surgery could be provided in regional areas, and mean that people living there don't always have to travel to Melbourne for complex or specialist medical treatment
  • Young people in rural areas would have the same sort of access to online media and social network that their city counterparts have.
I think all this is good.

However, the notion of providing fibre to every household in major cities is questionable.  The vast majority of  people who currently have ADSL2+ are happy with their speed of access and download volumes.  Our household manages well with 15GB per month and two fairly heavy Internet users find the speed more than acceptable.

Friends with teenage children downloading lots of media operate on plans up to 150GB per month and find this meets their needs.

The notion that extremely high speed (and expensive) optical fibre is required to every home is simply not true.  The notion that "it will be needed in the future" is highly questionable too.  Given the rate of innovation and change in computing and the Internet, when the future arrives it will be different, and more often than not cheaper.  

Politicians like Stephen Conroy know virtually nothing about technology and networks, yet they are presiding over major decisions like the scope and technology solution(s) for the National Broadband Network.

Most of these decisions are happening behind a veil of secrecy, with "commercial in confidence" being trotted out as the excuse for this.   This is just not good enough.   There has been no community consultation regarding the NBN requirements that I am aware of.

There has been no open industry consultation about it either.

Now Stephen Conroy and Julia Gillard are sitting on the "business case".  Why?  It is because it doesn't stack up?   Do the significant costs of providing optical fibre to every home not have any tangible benefits?

Right there are more questions than answers.  

I support proceeding with a rural high-speed Internet solution (say $20b) but think we should delay any expenditure on implementing optical fibre to the homes in our cities.

Optical fibre is already in use within the "Internet backbone" and further investment in this would be appropriate and cost effective.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Liberal, Nationals and Labor converge to shut out Greens

When political parties lodge their "group voting tickets" with the Electoral Commission, their distribution of preferences reveals deals that have been done between them.  These "group voting tickets" number all candidates in order and determine the order of voter's preferences for those who vote "above  the line" by putting a "1" in a single party's box.

Looking at the "group voting tickets" lodged for the 2010 Victorian State election, the following preference deals are evident:

Labor and the Country Alliance
Labor has a directed preferences to the Country Alliance in Northern Victoria and Eastern Victoria regions - which could result in a right wing candidates getting elected who would oppose new National Parks, support native forest logging and support duck shooting and hunting.

Labor and the Sex Party
Labor has directed preferences to the Sex Party in Northern Metropolitian ahead of the Greens.  This is likely to have no effect as the Greens are most likely to win a seat on first preferences.  In exchange, the Sex Party is directing lower house preferences in some seats such as Melbourne to Labor ahead of the Greens.

Liberals and the Sex Party
A deal has been done between the Sex Party and the Liberals, making them strange bedfellows. The Liberals have given the Sex Party second preferences in Northern Metropolitan. The Sex Party give immediate preferences to the Greens in South Metropolitan, but as the Greens are likely to have a full quota, the next preference to be effective is to the Liberals ahead of Labor, defeating Labor's Jennifer Huppert and electing Liberal Georgie Crozier (source: Antony Green).

The Sex Party may have even put the Greens last everywhere. The are looking like "the porn and pimps party" run by the big money of the adult industry and are supporting Labor.

Labor and the Greens
Labor has directed second preferences to the Greens in five of the eight upper house seats.  In exchange, the Greens have directed preferences to Labor in 11 of Labor's 13 most marginal seats (Mount Waverley 0.3%, Gembrook 0.7%, Forest Hill 0.8%, Mitcham 2.0%, South Barwon 2.3%, Frankston 3.2%, Mordialloc 3.5%, Prahran 3.6%, Burwood 3.7%, Ripon 4.3%, Bendigo East 5.4%, Bentleigh 6.3%, Ballarat West 6.5%)

Labor has also directed preferences to the Greens in 79 of 88 lower house seats, but this is of no real benefit to the Greens as the only seats where they are likely to get elected are direct contests between Labor and the Greens, which means Labor preferences will not be distributed.

The Greens appear to have withdrawn preferences in two of the 13 (possibly Gembrook and one other) in retaliation for Labor directing preferences to the Country Alliance in the upper house.  The Greens have stated that they did not direct preferences to Labor in lower house seats in regions where Labor preferenced the County Alliance.

Liberals and the Greens - no deal
The Liberals announced their decision to put the Greens last in all lower house seats across the state. This breaks with their practice in past elections of putting the Greens ahead of Labor on their how to vote cards.

There appears to be four possible reasons for this.  The first reason is that the Greens were apparently not offering the Liberals anything they wanted - such as more open tickets (no preference direction) in key Labor marginal seats.

The second reason appears to be ideology. John Howard stated that the Coalition had nothing to gain by helping the Greens take seats from Labor. This was due to perceptions that the Greens would always support Labor and their agenda was more extreme. "I think my side of politics has got to be very careful about giving preferences to the Greens. In my view the Greens are worse than Labor". "The Greens are fundamentally anti free enterprise. They have terrible  foreign policy attitudes and they have a lot of social policy attitudes that a lot of Labor people would find abhorrent."  Senator Helen Kroger expressed similar views.

It is interesting to note however that both Howard and Kroger participated in previous decisions to preference the Greens ahead of Labor.

However, there was a split within the Liberal party on this.  Ex-Treasurer Peter Costello stated that it made good political sense for the Coalition to direction preferences to the Greens in the four inner city seats of Melbourne, Richmond, Northcote and Brunswick as Labor losing these seats would make it easier for the Coalition to win government, and because Labor would be directed campaign resources on two fronts - the inner city contest with the Greens and the other Labor marginals mostly in the outer Eastern Suburbs.

Ex Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett weighed in with an attack on Helen Kroger, stating the Liberals should direct preferences to Labor in the inner city seats, but then later backed Ted Baillieu's decision not to.

Premier John Brumby also made an extraordinary direct appeal when he begged for Liberal voters preferences for Labor ahead of the Greens, stating that Liberal voters should realise a Labor government would be better placed to tackle the big policy challenges than a minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power. ''For the Liberal Party to de facto elect Greens members of parliament is quite anathema to the Liberal Party,'' Brumby said.

The third reason is that it seems there were perceptions within the Liberals that the Greens would not form a minority government with them in the event of a hung parliament, which would have been likely if the Greens won four inner city seats.   The Liberals were possibly thinking "if we have got nothing, we have got nothing to lose", or they may prefer staying in opposition to the prospect of entering a minority government with the Greens.

The fourth reason, probably the most likely, is that Labor got onto its big business mates and used them to persuade the Liberals to put Labor ahead of the Greens.

So the Liberals announced their decision to direct preferences to Labor in the four inner city seats, and attempted to claim the high moral ground by claiming "voters now have a clear choice" and that "a Labor majority government is better than a Greens-Labor minority government.  Brian Walters, the Greens candidate for Melbourne stated that in doing so, "The Liberals and Labor seem to have formed a grand conservative coalition to shut out the Greens".

Mandatory preferences are not good for democracy
The electoral requirement for parties and candidates to specify "preference flows" for Upper House voting in Victoria (and the Australian Senate) opens up the playing field for parties and candidates to do all manor of "preference deals", which sometimes results in candidates being elected from a tiny percentage of the vote as Stephen Fielding (Family First) and Peter Kavanagh (DLP) were from Labor preference deals.

This is anti-democratic as voters are not involved in or even aware of such deals, yet their votes go where the party apparatchiks have decided.

A solution is to give voters the right to decide NOT to distribute the any or all of their preferences.  For above the line voting this would mean that a "1 Liberal" vote would go only to the Liberal candidates and not "flow on" to others.  For voters who do wish to allocate their preferences they could go 1, 2, 3, 4 etc above the line, or number any desired squares below the line in sequence - stopping when they want to.

In the lower house, how-to-vote cards favour political parties who have the resources to (people and/or money) to have them printed and handed out.  This provides a heavy bias against any independent candidates who don't have the resources to do this.

A solution would be ban handing out of how to vote cards, and provide fixed printed versions in every polling booth.   This would have the added benefit of eliminating the massive waste of paper from the hundreds of thousands how-to-vote cards printed and mostly discarded.

In conclusion
The Liberal-National coaltion's decision to direct preferences to Labor has certainly have impacted the Greens chances in all four inner city seats, but a lot still depends on the voters, many of whom may not follow their party's how to vote cards and choose where their preference goes.

If Liberal voters in these seats follow the Liberal how to vote card, then a vote for the Liberals will be a vote for Labor. 

If you live in the seat of Melbourne, Richmond, Brunswick or Northcote (or any other seat for that matter) you would do well to allocate your own preferences and not follow any how to vote card.

It is also possible that  Labor preferences may elect the Country Alliance to the Upper House, and that they may hold the balance of power in the upper house.  Yet another right wing group could hold the government to ransom.

Note that some of the articles below would have been written by party apparatchiks and fed to the media, and may bear no semblance to the truth!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Has Melbourne's property bubble burst?

After a long sustained period of dramatically rising house prices in Melbourne, and across Victoria, the market seems to have flattened out at last.  Many house prices in metropolitan Melbourne have doubled over the last 10 years.

I think the major factors contributing to this are:
  1. Tax free status of the place of residence. Home owners pay no capital gains tax when they sell their house.  This is one of the last easy ways to avoid tax.
  2. Negative gearing for investors. Investor can write off interest on loans for investment properties as a tax deduction.  This is also easy tax avoidance.
  3. First Home Buyers Scheme grants puts money in the pockets of first home buyers which allows them to pay more for a house
  4. Ongoing volatility in the share market creates doubts about shares being a good investment
The first three factors are all dependent on and associated closely with continually rising house prices. Nobody wants to take out a big loan, buy a house, then see its value decline.  As soon as there is a perception that house prices are flat (or even worse falling), we risk entering a negative feedback loop of the kind seen recently in the United Kingdom and the United States.

We could end up with a rush to sell houses to avoid losing capital value, which in turn floods the market and would drive the price down.  In addition, if unemployment rises and/or interest rates keep increasing, some people can no longer make their home loan repayments so they would be forced to sell their house.

Money borrowed to buy houses at inflated prices only benefits the banks and other lenders who reap a windfall in interest payments over a long time period. This money would be better spent on improving the energy efficiency of our housing stop so the we use less energy and save money on bills.

Factors one, two and three are "sacred cows" where no politician will go.  Unfortunately, I fear these factors  have combined to create a huge bubble in house prices which is based on peoples perceptions about wealth without having any real basis.

The other big problem is affordability and provision of housing for people and families on low incomes.  Many are simply priced out of the market.  They cannot afford to buy a house, or pay inflated rents that landlords charge to offset their large loans.  This is not good for the long term cohesion of our society.

By coincidence, the Australian has also published a prominent article on this topic.

Update 24/1/11
Apparently Melbourne's house price bubble is no longer growing.  I wonder if it will burst?

In the last two decades, we have gone from affordable housing for most to the world's most expensive housing for the wealthy elite, under the gaze of our politicians.

See also

Friday, October 22, 2010

A better solution for water

Here is a copy of our domestic water bill for 2 February 2010.

We have 23,000 litres of water tanks in Surrey Hills and are almost completely self-sufficient for water - as you can see by the information on this bill, including:

  • 4 litres per person per day for November to Jan 2010 (compared with the government target of 155)
  • 0 liters per person per day over the periods may to October 2009.
Yet the Victorian Minister Tim Holding has stated that "water tanks are not an effective solution" and Premier John Brumby as stated that "water tanks would have higher carbon emissions than the desalination plant".  

Neither have responded to my letters informing them that they are wrong on both counts - despite me providing evidence that proves my point.

The Brumby government panicked during 2008-2009 when the drought was severe, and threw 10 years of water strategy and community consultation focused on recycling water and conserving it in the bin.

Instead the Brumby government has:
  • Built the north-south pipeline at considerable cost that takes water from the deprived Murray Darling basin.
  • Commissioned the world's largest desalination plant which will cost around $5 billion to build, and residents will have to pay the private consortium "returns" even if they don't produce water
There was no community consultation about either project and the huge environmental impacts of both have been basically ignored. "Parliamentary rule" from Spring Street is not democracy - its dodgy business deals that deliver really bad outcomes that we all have to end up paying for decades to come.

If the government had commissioned recycling and storm water capture instead, we could have avoided the expense and environmental impacts of both these projects.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Agreement to exit native forest logging in Tasmania

An historic deal that will end logging of Tasmania's native forests was reported today.

Following lengthy talks between industry, union and environment groups, an agreement between them has just been struck, and a joint statement of principles issued, that includes:

  • Recognising the need to protect high conservation value forests and end ''industrial forestry'' of them in a timeframe to be agreed
  • Restricting the burning of timber as biomass fuel to material sourced from plantations only
  • Moving to ''a strong and sustainable industry based on a range of plantation-based industries including a pulp mill"
  • The logging of some specialty timbers from these forests for purposes such as craftwood is allowed.
This is great news for Tasmania's remaining native forests, and potentially ends decades of conflict over the logging of native forests.

It is interesting to note that no politicians were involved in brokering the agreement.  Forests have been a "political football" for some time, with both Labor and Liberal governments supporting their ongoing destruction for decades and ignoring the wishes of over 80% of the Australian population that want them protected.

There are many factors that have contributed to this outcome, including:
  • Continued job losses within the native forest logging industry, despite ongoing access to native forests
  • Gunns Corporation exiting native forest logging due to the unwillingness of Japanese buyers to purchase woodchips that are not subject to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forestry practices
  • The rising strength of the Australian dollar making export of woodchips unprofitable.
  • Declining availability of native forests has forced governments to move loggers into highly contentious forest areas, which has provoked serious ongoing conflicts.
  • A realisation that plantations can provide a much more reliable supply of wood with greatly reduced environmental impact - but only if they are appropriately managed.
  • There is enough hardwood and softwood plantation resource currently available to enable industry transition out of native forests.
This follows the end of industrial-scale native forest logging in Queensland and Western Australia in the late 90s.  

This agreement clearly sets a precedent for exiting native forest logging in Victoria and New South Wales too, where factors very similar to those in Tasmania are also relevant.

It is to be hoped that industry, union and environment groups in New South Wales and Victoria can achieve a similar excellent outcome after years of similar conflict and declining jobs in the native forest logging sector. 

Forest protection is big issue in the upcoming 2010 Victorian State election.  The Brumby government protected around 41,000 hectares of forest in September 2010, but this included many areas that were not high conservation-value forests (only around 11,000 hectare were old growth forests), and left many other high quality forest areas such as Brown Mountain unprotected from logging.

A compromised political outcome that only protects Melbourne's water catchments (less than 2% of Victoria's native forests logged annually) - will not be good enough.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Water and the Murray Darling river system

We have recently seen the Murray Darling river system - Australia's greatest river system - drastically affected by reduced water flow due to the combined effects of climate change and irrigation from the river.

For several years the Murray River stopped flowing into the sea.  Barrages (like dams) are in place to stop seawater  moving backup through the lower lakes and river systems, including the wonderful Coorong.  If saltwater were to do this, the freshwater ecology of these parts of the system would be greatly damaged.

The drought that lasted over 10 years exceeded all wort-case estimates by climatologists and weather experts.  It has been broken in 2010, but the underlying causes for it have not gone away, and this cycle could be repeated within the next decade.

The drought drastically reduced water flows.  Many farmers with water allocations ("rights") along the river simply could not get their water.  Orchards, vineyards and dairies relying on water from the river had to shut down or close, and many commercial trees and agricultural crops died.

There is no point having water rights if there is no water.

The Wentworth Group of Scientists warned of this scenario over a decade ago, but their warnings and recommendations were ignored by governments and policy makers.  There has been much talk about "doing something" to restore desperately needed environmental flows to the river system, but very little effective action to date.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) has now commenced community engagement about actions and recommendations to restore environmental flows the river system.  They have released the a Guide to the Basin Plan document.

Some of the proposal and information on the guide include:
  • Proposed basin-wide cuts to water extraction of 27 to 37 per cent.
  • $9 billion has been allocated to buy back water allocations
  • No one will be forced to sell water
  • In many river valleys a lot of the reductions in water allocations has already occurred
  • Two-thirds of the minimum 3000-gigalitre reduction will be achieved by 2014 through programs already in train.
  • The amount of additional surface water needed for the environment is between 3,000 GL/y and 7,600 GL/y (longterm average).
  • The current average volume of water provided to the environment is about 19,100 GL/y, so this range of additional water would mean that the long-term average volume of water provided to the environment would be between 22,100 GL/y and 26,700 GL/y.
The guide details possible water reductions required in numerous regions within the basin.  This has generated major concern within rural communities within many regions, who fear that reduced water allocations will have drastic financial impacts on agricultural producers and the local economy and towns they support.
This will certainly be the case - but similar impacts have occurred, and will occur again, when water in the river system becomes scarce again.

There have been loud and irrational outbursts at public consultation and meeting and directed and the Federal Government , the Water Minister and numerous other members of parliament.

It is worth noting that so far only a guide to the plan has been release, not any binding plan or commitments.  This is being misrepresented by emotive claims by some rural commentators - and federal politicians such as Senator Barnaby Joyce - that "this plan (sic) will lead to the decimation of rural agriculture and country towns".  This is not consultation or a debate - this is a beat up.

Cotton, rice and vineyards all produce crops and products that require vast amounts of water (more information).  Ditto for dairies. I think it is clear that this type of production should happen in regions that have sufficient available rainfall, rather than chronically depleting a river system.

It is not hard to see why there has been no effective action on restoring environmental flows in this river system to date.  Any attempts to do so are met with a barrage of emotion and accusations, which in the past have  lead to major water reforms being shelved.

It is to be hoped that the current water reform process doesn't suffer the same fate.  Otherwise the next severe drought will cause decimation of rural agriculture and country towns along with like death of much of the ecology of the river system.

The new parliamentary committee for regional Australia, chaired by independent MP Tony Windsor whose electorate will be affected by the plan, appears  likely head up a parliamentary inquiry into the social and economic effects of the proposed cuts.  Let's hope he acts in the best interests of all Australians in doing so.

External links
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Monday, September 13, 2010

John Brumby approves a new coal fired power station

Premier John Brumby and the Victorian Labor government has just approved a new coal fired power station to be build by a Chinese company in the Latrobe Valley.

More carbon emissions will obviously result - despite claims that it is somehow "clean".

We should only be building solar thermal power stations with molten salt energy storage, and wind farms.

Update 17 September 2010
Marius Kloppers, the CEO of BHP, today called for Australia to bring in a carbon tax to put a price on carbon and to plan for a transition off coal [link]

In California, the world's largest solar power station has just been given approval to proceed.  It will cost US$6b  and provide 1000 MW of power. [link]


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nationals go feral and a disgruntled Opposition and media

After hearing nothing from the National Party during the election, we have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of Barnaby Joyce and Warren Truss launching strident and savage attacks against the two independent MPs who decided to support Labor in a minority government.  This behaviour is quite inappropriate and demonstrates the worst of "politics as usual" by MPs who should know better.

Tony Abbott, to his credit, has attempted to reign them in but has not been able to do so.  So much for a "stable opposition".  We have also seen attacks on the minority government by Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne, who labelled it as "illegitimate".   This was also inappropriate and was just more attack-dog style politics.

We also see the Coalition (all 74 of them) now committed to more whining and carping and incessant criticism of the minority government.  Imagine trying to run a company where 49% of the workers were sitting back and doing nothing other than finding fault, often for no good reason, with the other 51% working for the good of the company!   There is certainly no new paradigm being displayed here.

The response from large sections of the media is also curious.  Some seem outraged by the lack of a "winner takes all" result and subsequent autocratic behaviour of a particular political party.

As many observers have noted, minority government and power sharing arrangements are the norm in most modern democracies.  There is nothing wrong with this, and there are several advantages as we have already seen - such as better decision making, getting a wider range of issues considered by government and parliamentary reform to improve its function to name a few.

I was impressed by Tony Windsor's and Rob Oakeshott's short speeches when they announced their decision.  They made several excellent points and also provided a clear and considered basis for their decision to support a minority government with Labor, the Greens Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie.

Bob Katter had his moment in the sun and predictably swayed in the conservative direction of his constituents in Far North Queensland to support Tony Abbott and the Coalition.   Even though he displayes a visceral hate for a couple of the current national party members.  But then he knew they were not going to form government.

Some other points of interest are:

  • Penny Wong may be replaced as the minister responsible for climate change by Greg Combet.  Wong has been a dismal failure in the role, but Combet has previously launched intemperate attacks on the Greens. 
  • Peter Garrett is missing in action.  Off to the back bench I think, never to be seen again.
  • Rudd looks like he will be the next foreign minister - he would be the best for this role and Stephen Smith has graciously stepped down to vacate it
  • Wilson Tuckey has lost his seat to an "independent National".  Bye bye Wilson.
  • Stephen Conroy seems to still be pursuing his ill-considered "clean feed Great Firewall of Australia" despite the fact he won't get support in either house for it.  Drop it Stephen.
  • I still think Malcolm Turnbull should be offer the job as Treasurer.  Wayne Swan really doesn't seem to know what he is doing.
  • What will be become of Martin Fergusan?  Will he retain his job as Minister for Coal and Oil?  He had a massive swing against him in favour of the Greens Alex Bhathal.
  • "Border security" and "the population debate" have both disappeared off the radar, and so they should.  If Labor and the Coalition ramp up this sort of dangerous and errant nonsense in future elections then the Greens will pick up even more votes and more will get elected.   No more dog whistles please.
Hopefully we will see a rejuvenated political system with less gumpf from the mainstream media and opposition, and we will at last see some positive steps to the future, including steps to transition to a clean and safe energy future.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gunns exits native forests, they should now be protected in Tasmania, NSW and Victoria

Gunns has exited from logging native forests in Tasmania, and have stated that "native forest is not part of our future" and that they are moving to a plantation-based business.

Gunns acknowledged that the vast majority of Australians want their native forests protected.

However, Tasmanian native forests, and native forests in Victoria and New South Wales, are not protected from logging as a result of this.

Three wise monkeys at the Brown Mountain rally at the Victorian Parliament

The Victorian Labor government promised in 2006 to "immediately protect remaining significant stands of old growth forest currently available for timber harvesting" but they have not yet done so.

The 40,000 hectares of "forest" they did commit to protect included low quality regrowth forest and even some cow paddocks.  They did not protect other designated old growth forests such as Brown Mountain.

Following legal action by Environment East Gippsland, the Victorian Supreme Court ruled that Brown Mountain forest must be protected due to the presence of endangered species and the requirements of the law, and found the Victorian Government and Vicforests to be at fault.

It is now up to state and federal governments to recognised the will of the people and ensure that remaining native forests are protected and that the logging and woodchip industries fully transition to plantation resources.

The very significant benefits in protecting our remaining native forests include preserving their biodiversity, safeguarding the carbon they store and the water they produce, and providing an excellent resource for local and international eco-tourism.


Thursday, September 02, 2010

A well hung parliament is healthy for Australia

Negotiations are proceeding to form a stable government in Australia, with neither of the "major" (or "old") parties getting enough seats in the House of Representatives to form government on their own.  The magic number is 76 seats.

Currently the Liberal - National coalition have won 73, which includes a National MP in Western Australia who has not yet fully committed to supporting the Coalition.

Labor have won 72 seats.  The Greens had previously committed to supporting a minority Labor goverment [link], bring Labor's total to 73.

Andrew Wilkie, the indepedent who has just won the seat of Denison in Tasmania, committed to supporting a Labor minority government today [link].  Wilkie's commitment boosts Labor to 74.

There are three remaining independents yet to decide who they will support.

Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott appear to share similar views on matters of policy and the conduct of government.  The recent revelation of serious errors in Coalition budget estimates and promised found by Treasury means they are either incompetent or liars, which does not auger well for a future Abbott government.

Both Windsor and Oakeshott have stated that a price on carbon is needed as one of the measures to tackle climate change [link].  Abbott ruled this out during the election campaign and stated his government would not bring in either a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme.

For these reasons (and a few more), I think Windsor and Oakeshott will support Labor too, which would give Labor 76 seats.

Bob Katter comes across as a rough diamond passionate about protecting the interests of rural Australia.  There is no doubt that services and economic conditions in much of rural Australia have been neglected by political parties (and governments) intent on winning elections focussed on marginal seats.  Katter was quoted today saying the "Nicholas Stern and Ross Garnaut are lightweights" along with some mutterings about climate change [link] - which seems to indicate he is the camp of politicians gulled by carbon industry PR.

Katter's background and the views of voters in his electorate would seem to push him towards supporting Abbott, but he may go along with his other two independent colleagues and support Labor too.

We should know by the end of this weekend coming.

The hung parliament has been the best possible result for the election, as our political system was being gamed by the major parties leading to many perverse policies, including unfair treatment of asylum seekers, avoidance of any real action on climate change to name a couple.

The benefits of this hung parliament are already clear.  They include:
  • reform of question time in parliament so that it real questions get asked and properly answered (3 independents)
  • two-and-a-half hours of allocated debate for private members' bills (Greens)
  • an independent speaker in the House (3 independents)
  • bans (or limits) on donations to political parties (Greens)
  • some tightening of policies relating to poker machines and problem gamblers (Wilkie)
  • the scrapping of Labor's ill advised "Citizens Assembly on Climate Change" and establishment of a Climate Change Committee to replace it (Greens)
  • a referendum on recognising Indigenous Australians (Greens)
  • access to Treasury analysis of government and coalition budget estimates and statements (the three independents).
  • the formation of a climate change committee
  • a parliamentary debate on Afghanistan (Greens)
  • legislation on truth in political advertising (Greens)
  • the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Committee (Greens)
  • a parliamentary integrity commissioner (Greens)
  • improved processes for release of documents in Parliament
  • a leaders debates Commission (Greens)
  • a move towards full three-year parliamentary terms (Greens)
All these are in the best interests of good governance and the people of Australia.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The evolution of personal computers - what I have owned

Here is a list of "primary" personal computers that I have owned in order of purchase.  The evolution of the technology and specifications - particularly the hardware - is spectacular.

1. Kaypro, circa 1989
  • 1 MB RAM (640K used by DOS)
  • 20 MB Hard Disk
  • Intel 8088-2 Processor - 5 MHz, turbo mode 8MHz http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_8088
  • 5.2 inch floppy disk drive
  • Cost $4,000 (approx)
  • Status: in storage
  • MS DOS
  • MS Windows 1.4 (ran like a dog, basically useless)
  • MS Word for DOS v4
This was my first PC.  The processor was on a board that plugged into the motherboard so in theory it could easily upgraded, but in practice CPU and bus design superseded this feature.

The RAM above 640KB could be configured and used as a RAM disk.

2. Microarts 486, circa 1993
  • MS DOS 5
  • OS/2 version 2.1 and version 3.0
  • MS Word for Windows 2.0
3. Landmark AMD K6, circa 1997
  • Windows 95
4. Dell Optiplex, circa 2001
  • 512 MB RAM, upgraded to 768MB RAM (3 * 256 MB modules)
  • 100 MB Hard disk (?)
  • Pentium III processor - 600 MHz (?)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentium_III
  • Video onboard
  • Cost: $1,250 (approx)
  • Status: Returned at end of lease deal.
  • Windows 2000
This machine was purchased as part of a "PC at home" via the company I worked for at the time.  They took a long time to get the program running so it was a substandard spec by the time it arrived.  I upgraded the RAM and hard disks over time.

5. Homebuilt Pentium IV, circa 2003
  • 2GB RAM 
  • 100 MB Hard disk (?)
  • Pentium IV processor - 2.4 GHz (upgraded to 2.8 GHz) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentium_IV
  • Video: nVideo GE Forece 4 440, upgraded to ATI Radeon 9600 512MB
  • Cost: $1,500 (approx)
  • Status: Still in use
  • Windows 2000
I built this machine as a longer term proposition. It had double the RAM that was common at that time.  I also fitted a SCSI card to run a Nikon Coolscan III scanner.  I started with a RAID configuration then reverted to normal disk management.

6. Asus F3JM Laptop - Core 2 Duo, circa 2006
  • 2GB RAM 
  • 250 MB Hard disk (upgraded to 500 MB)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor - 2.53 GHz
  • 2 cores
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Core_2_Duo
  • Video nVidia Geforce GO 7800 512MB
  • Cost: $2,700 (approx)
  • Status: In use.
  • Windows XP
  • Kubuntu 9.10
The concept here was to use a lower power machine as my primary workstation that I could also lug around when required.  The processor has enough grunt to do video editing.  However, over time the boot time has increased and the performance has degraded.  It never ran Adobe Premiere Elements very fast.  I also ended up with several large (1TB +) which cluttered up my desk space a bit.

7. Custom built Core i5, mid 2011
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Sun Virtual Box - Linux Mint 8 and Fedora Core 13
This machine has good processor power for encoding videos and more than enough for general office tasks.  There is enough memory to run additional operating systems in virtual machines too.

Mobile and secondary computers

Fujitsu Lifebook 2120
  • MS Windows XP
  • Kubuntu 9.10 Linux
This very compact laptop ran the low voltage and low power Transmeta Crusoe processor.  It was a pioneer of the segment that later become known as Netbooks.  It has been very reliable, but the processor speed is a bit slow and the memory cannot be upgraded.

MSI Wind U100 Netbook
  • MS Windows XP Home Edition
  • Linux Mint 8.0
  • Kubuntu 9.10

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wave and tides damage Portsea front beach following channel deepening

The deepening of the shipping channel in Port Phillip Bay that ran from to February 2008 to November 2009 has been criticised for not having a business case and for the environmental damage it would cause.

The project proceeded with approvals from the Victorian state government (Tim Pallas, Minister for Roads and Ports) and the Australian federal government (Peter Garrett, Environment Minister) with assurances and reports stating that no environmental damage would result.

I visited Portsea Front Beach on 20 June 2010 and was amazed to see the beach almost completely gone. Waves were pounding at the footing of the Portsea pier that has been there for several decades, and at the vegetation that used to be protected by a reasonable beach. People sunbathed on the beach, and I remember it stretching a third of the distance to the first landing on the pier.

Two large erosion barrages were in place to stop the footing of the pier being destroyed. Two things struck me - the height of the water and the size of the waves. Both were much higher than my memories for the past.

Increased water flow speed and volume through the Port Phillip Bay heads after the Channel Deepening Project is a possible and likely cause of this. However, this has been denied by the authority charged with monitoring the environmental impact of the project.

The Victorian State Government seems to have made no comment on this to date.

Here are the photos of 20 June 2010.

I returned on Monday 23 August 2010. The protection barrages were gone and a lot of rock had been placed around the base of the pier where it connects to the shore.

We passed three B-Double trucks full of sand that was being delivered to the beach. Another truck was dumping its load near the pier. Two front end loaders were pushing the sand along the beach attempting to restore it. There was a massive plume of sand as it was being washed away almost immediately out to sea. It looks like a very expensive and loosing battle.

A local told me they had "rebuilt" the beach a week ago but that most it had then been stripped way again. The front end loaders were perilously close to toppling into the waves as their sand ramp was being eroded.

External links

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An opportunity for a new form of government

The 2010 Australian Federal election results are not yet finalised, but it appears that no party has enough seats (76) to form government on its own.  This situation has not occurred in Australia since 1940.

The Greens have won their first ever lower house seat at a general election (Adam Bandt in Melbourne).

The three previous (incumbent) independents have been returned to office.  These are:
  • Tony Windsor, New England (rural NSW)
  • Bob Katter, Kennedy (rural QLD)
  • Rob Oakeshott, Lyne (rural NSW)
In addition, it is quite likely that Andrew Wilkie may win the seat of Denison in Tasmania as an independent.

Negotiations are in progress between the three confirmed independents and both the Labor party and the Coalition as to how a minority government might be formed.

I think this is a good outcome for democracy.  All those elected (all parties and independents) have been selected via the current electoral process by the people of Australia.  It is incumbent on them to form a stable and effective government.

These three confirmed independents have stated that a new form of government will be required to provide the stability required, and that traditional party politics should be shelved to make this happen.  I agree.

If either major party forms government in their own right they tend to run their own agenda along their party line rather than respecting the best interests and wishes of the Australian people.  They are basically accountable to nobody until the next election.

We saw this with the Rudd Labor government ignoring the recommendations of the extensive Garnaut Review of Climate Change and concocting a fatally compromised Emissions Trading Scheme (the CPRS), that was initially supported by the Coalition opposition, then opposed.  It failed because it was no good.

The Henry Tax Review finished early in 2010 was eventually released by the Rudd Labor government, who then chose to implement only 2 of the 137 recommendations (the mining tax being one of them) in the midst of an election campaign for political reasons.

Rob Oakeshott made the point on the 7:30 Report (special election edition 22/8) that a lot of time, money and effort has gone into these and other similar reports, which could be considered by the next government with more care and attention than the previous one.   In short, the next government should use this type of information to formulate policies for the future covering energy, carbon pollution, taxation and water utilisation and conservation, rather than just playing short term political games about these important issues.

It seems that the old political parties have become part of the problem contributing to lack of action on climate change and inadequate planning and investment in infrastructure for the 21st century.  They are stuck in old paradigms of winning, losing, being "in government" or "in opposition".

Why should 51% of our elected representatives be given the right to "govern" in an autocratic manner with the other 49% consigned to "opposition" where they spend most of their efforts whining, criticising, attacking and just opposing for the sake of it?

If Malcolm Turnbull would be a better treasurer than Wayne Swan, why shouldn't he get the job?   Our current political system totally precludes this (for this example with a Labor Government in office).

The Labor, Liberal and National parties are out of touch and out of date.  The Greens need to be very careful they don't end up in the same state.

Tony Abbott seems to think he has won the election and Labor has lost, apparently oblivious to the reality that the Australian people have given him no mandate to govern.

Julia Gillard seems to be adopting a better negotiation approach to possibly forming a minority government with the support of the independents and the single Greens lower house member.

I think we need a form of government where all 150 lower house MPs are accountable for delivering stability, innovation, good management of the executive arm of government and planning for a prosperous and sustainable future.  Bring it on please.

External links

Friday, August 20, 2010

11th hour hatchet job on the Greens on Lateline

The Leigh Sales interview with Michael Kroger and Paul Howes on 20/8/2010 lacked balance in one very serious aspect.  

We heard the Labor point of view (Howes) and the Coalition's (Kroger), but both of them attacked the Greens about them potentially holding the balance of power in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

We did not get to hear the Greens point of view on this.  Such unbalanced coverage is likely to impact the Greens vote  during this election, particularly among those voters who have not yet made up their mind (up to 1 in 10 apparently).

A spokesperson from the Greens should have been represented in this discussion for fairness and balance. This segment was not accurate, impartial or objective in its coverage of the Greens.

I wish to lodge this as a formal complaint.


You can leave your own feedback about this here.

The end game - is a minority government likely?

The election campaign is now at end game.

This election was Labor's to lose rather than Abbott's to win, and it looks like Labor may have just about blown it.  The basic problem with playing politics is that a clear majority of people don't like it.

We haven't seen any leadership on fundamental issues of great concern and importance; such as moving Australia towards a sustainable and vibrant economy for future generations to enjoy.

A summary of the political tactics in play follows:

  • Focus on Abbott and his negatives - viz:
  • Attempt to scare people about the prospects of Abbott as Prime Minister.  There is some validity to this as Abbott's belief that climate change somehow isn't happening is real worry (remember the bushfires?) and he has flagged big cuts to education and the public sector.  This is similar to John Howard's "please don't kick me by registering a protest vote" line in 2007.
  • Keep blaming the Greens for Penny Wong's failure to get a price on carbon.  They really have to get over this - they did not negotiate with the Greens on either the ETS or an interim carbon tax, their politically strategy to wedge the Liberals backfired when Turnbull was deposed as leader and Abbott took over.  Kevin Rudd then backed down when he should have called a double dissolution history
  • Try and shift the focus from Rudd's fall from grace - Labor even had him campaigning in the seat of Melbourne in atttempt to stop Adam Bandt winning it for the Greens.
  • Keep on hammering Labor about the demise of Kevin Rudd, and attack Julia Gillard as one of the perpetrators of his demise
  • Grab the media by any means possible - Abbott's "I am not sleeping until the election" tactic has been quite effective here.  There is lots of media coverage about this, despite the fact that Abbott dashing around in frenzy visiting police stations (law & order) and other random locations is essentially meaningless.
  • Attack the credibility of the Labor government across a number or topics - including asylum seekers (even though they share identical policies) , the economy (even though Labor steered Australia through the  GFC), and Julia Gillard's bona fides.

The Greens
  • Keep the focus on positive policies - such as tacking climate change, reducing taxes for small business. This is difficult with a huge proportion of media attention focused on who will win out of Tony and Julia and who will from government.
  • Convince people that a green vote counts - and try and counter attempts by both major parties to "scare supporters back into the fold".  This is of particular importance to the Greens in the Senate and the seat of Melbourne.
  • Present the Greens as a positive influence in the senate if they end up with the balance of power.
  • Avoid getting sucked into discussion on preferences.  For the future, I think the Greens should adopt a policy of reforming the voting system to eliminate (or at least reduce the effect of) preference deals.
In summary, for the major parties, the election has devolved to a "he said - she said" and "we are right - you are wrong" game devoid of any real substance.

Interestingly, several newspaper editorials and articles today have made similar points. 
It seems our style of western democracy has spun itself into a silly game where long term planning and strategic outcomes get lost in a babble of inane "campaigning".  A minority government is a likely outcome that I think would be positive.  It is better that some independents and the Greens have a say and role in government rather than sitting as with the "opposition".  

Adversarial systems often don't deliver outcomes; it is time for our parliament to truly represent the people rather than the fairly narrow interests of political parties and career politicians.

As postscript, here is a video I shot yesterday of a discussion between Nicola Roxon, Bob Brown and Joe Hockey with Jon Faine on ABC 774 radio.

PPS: It is also interesting to note how much we have heard about Abbott and Gillard, and how little we have from other such as:
  • Barnaby Joyce (where are the Nationals?)
  • Almost all Lower House candidates from all parties (except for a few marginal seats)
  • Wilson Tuckey (has he been gagged?)
  • Penny Wong (following her abject failure on climate change policy)
  • Eric Abetz (the shadow minister for logging)
  • Mark Arbib (gone to ground apparently)
  • Peter Garrett (after several train wrecks as a minister)
  • Bronwen Bishop (the silence is deafening).
  • Kim Carr (shouldn't he be spruiking the "cash for clunkers" scheme?)
  • Martin Ferguson (the minister for coal)
It seems that some effort during the campaign actually might go into keeping some of these people off the airwaves, or maybe the media is just not interested in what they have to say?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Is Julia Gillard doing a Beazley?

So now we have the new Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, launching Labor's election campaign less than a week before the election with hardly a mention of climate change - "the greatest moral challenge of our time".

This election has been largely a content and policy free zone.  It has devolved to a game of cat and mouse between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, both of whom have adopted personas quite different from their own.

Gillards rapier wit and forensic precision so often admired in parliament has been replaced by a bland and carefully measured drone.  She doesn't answer questions and stays on message about "moving forwards".

Abbott's bovver boy combative style has been replaced by a forced joviality and an appearance of calmness and control befitting someone who would be prime minister.

Neither are playing their natural game and it shows.  The winner takes all game they are playing is to form government after the election.  To do this they need to win the votes of a small percentage of swinging votesr  (less than 15%) in a small number of marginal electorates - approximately 20 out of 150.

The entire election has been pitched at winning the votes of this very small proportion (less than 5%) of the Australian population - based on feedback from "focus groups" in these electorates.

Rusted on voters are taken for granted -their votes won't shift.

Voters in non-marginal seats are considered irrelevant as their votes will not determine who will win government.

So what about the issues?

Climate change

  • Gillard has committed to a "community consensus of 150 randomly selected people".  There will of course be no consensus if at least one skeptic is included, and there is nothing new that will emerge that the Garnaut Climate Change Report has not covered
  • Abbot has committed to NOT introducing any price on carbon pollution if he wins government, and to hand out millions of taxpayers funds as corporate welfare to large polluters to "encourage them to reduce their emissions".  This is ridiculous - the role of government is to legislate, not hand out corporate welfare.
  • Gillard scores 1 out of 10, Abbott scores 0.  Neither will commit to the year Australia's emissions should peak then fall.
  • Emission reductions 0.
Asylum seekers
  • Gilllard has "done a Beazley" and aped Coalition (indeed Howard) policy on offshore processing.  This will disenfranchise a lot of Labor voters and drive them to the Greens.  This could a factor that costs Labor the election.  This is moving to the right and to the bottom, not moving forwards
  • Abbott's policy is virtually indistinguishable from Gillard's
  • Both are dog whistling on this too - dropping hints about "border security" and "Australia's population growth", both of which are completely irrelevant, but not apparently in the minds of those few voters who matter
National Broadband Network (NBN)
  • This is one of the few policy areas where there is a discernible difference.  
  • Labor is committing to spending $43b on fibre to 93% of homes offering speeds up to 1gbit per second.  Next generation wireless services to 4 per cent of premises and satellite services to 3 per cent will deliver speeds of 12 megabits per second.
  • This has a very high cost and provides bandwidth than many people need.
  • Abbott is proposing a confusing mixture of cheaper technologies - but it is quite clear he does not know what he is talking about. He has committed to killing the NBN too.
  • I think about $20b should be spent on high speed internet - with the priority shifted to rural and regional Australia that currently has poor and expensive services - and the other $20b allocated to clean energy project to transition us off coal
  • Gillard wins on this - GP super clinics are a good idea and some additional funding for mental health have been committed too.
  • Abbott will kill the GP super clinics.
The outcome will be interesting.  Labor could well lose the election in the key marginal seats, even though they are likely to have a higher overall vote.

Forest destruction and land clearing accounts for over 8% of Australia's carbon emissions, yet neither Julia Gillard nor Tony Abbott is proposing to do anything about this.  The solution is quite simple - protect our native forests for their carbon stores, biodiversity and water production.   However, the silence from Tony and Julia on this is deafening.

Indigenous Australians
The racist Northern Territory National Emergency Response Bill 2007 brought in by John Howard as an election stunt in 2007 is still in place and supported by Labor.  This legislation is racist as they first had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act to bring it in.  This suspension is still in force.  Welfare payments are quarantined and indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory are treated differently from everybody else.

It was supposed to be an emergency in 2007, yet in 2010 indigenous affairs have not been mentioned during the campaign.  The gap has not been closed, and needs to be.  Indigenous Australians need to empowered to manage their own affairs, and more funding is required for improved health, housing and employment.

Public Transport
No federal funding is routinely allocated to the States for public transport, unlike roads which are funded 50% federally and 50% from the States.

Consequently, public transport infrastructure has lagged behind and crumbled for over 50 years.

During this election campaign, the Gillard goverment has announced funding for two new urban rail lines that both run through marginal electorates.

  • Gillard has pledged $742 million for the long-awaited $1.15 billion Redcliffe rail connection, should Labor be re-elected.
  • Gillard has promised to build the long-awaited $2.6 billion rail link between Parramatta and Epping.  This rail line runs through the marginal seat of Bennelong.  This is the biggest single funding announcement of Gillard's campaign so far, with $2.1 billion in federal funds towards the project, with the a state government contribution of $520 million.
Gillard have also pledged up to $20 million for a feasibility study into a fast railway linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.  This after they has previously voted down a bill from the Greens for exactly this, prior to the election campaign.

Will we get a minority government?

I think the best outcome would be hung parliament followed by negotiation to form government with independent MPs such a Bob Katter and Tony Windsor, and possible Adam Bandt from the Greens if he wins the seat of Melbourne.

This would curb the excesses of either major party governing in their own right, with the democratic representatives of other electorates frozen out of government and forced into a largley futile opposition" role.

Perhaps it is time for political parties to be banned - as they mostly don't act in the best interests of Australia and they corrupt the basic principle of democracy by putting there "partly line" at a much higher priority than the local MPs representing their own constituents.

This is an interesting "example" of election advertising from the Gruen Nation program that we have not seen during this campaign.  It provides some food for thought.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bali trip 2010

I visited Bali for the first time in September 2010 to go to the Ben Wilson Bali Accelerator Kitesurf Camp. You can read about my experiences on the camp on my kitesurfing blog.

This post provides some information and links to photos of my other experiences in Bali.

It has taken me 50 years to get to Bali, and I am glad I have finally visited.  Bali seems to a place you think you know all about even if you have never been there as so many Australians visit here and talk about it.

Some say they love it.  Others say they hate Kuta but the rest of the island is very good.  I was very interested to see for myself.

Arriving and early experiences

Landing at the airport, I approached customs and immigration wondering what I was in store for.   I was confronted with very long queues that took about an hour to be processed, and I was right up the end.

Once through, I looked for my transport to the hotel I have booked, but couldn't find anyone.  There was a fellow in an office who rang my hotel (the Puri Cendana), but they said I didn't have a booking.  They said to contact ABL Tours who I had booked through, but they did not answer their 24 hour number.

Not a good start.  Hot and bothered, with several guys offerning lifts.  The guy in the office helped me get a car (not a taxi as it turned out) who took me to Pur Cendana for 140,000 rp.  I figured this would be the best place to go and I might be able to talk them into giving me a room.

The car drove through the bar district of Seminyak which had people (mostly tourists) spilling out into the street with music thumping, and Balinese "lady boys" perched on motorbikes parked nearby.  What an introduction; I was getting frazzled.

The driver left me at Puri Cendana where I spoke to the attendant and settled by nerves.  He and the security  guys were friendly and helpful, as I found most Balinese to be.  The concierge found me another hotel and a taxi to take me there, and showed the taxi where it was on his scooter.  The Ari Meriki turned out to very friendly, quite convenient and not too expensive.  I booked it for my other nights in Seminyak.

The first day around Seminyak and Kuta

I woke early and went for a walk along the JL Drupadi road the Ari Meriki is on.  Some hustle and bustle starting up along the road, but most of the shops were closed.  I encountered the Bali paradox - some very neat and expensive western shops, and a small very poor street market.

I had a nice breakfast back at the hotel, then wandered in to Seminyak and walked along JL Dyhana Pura.  Again there was a mix of western bars, hotels and shops and other more local places.  I stayed out of most of the shops but settled in the Bestest Cafe for some good free wifi and some eggs for lunch.  I checked out the Sofitel on the beach after a security check to get in, and then the beach and the Hotel Pelangi where we meet tomorrow for the wave camp departure.

The beach is nice and wide, with lots of deck chairs to rent and drinks, massages and rental equipment available.  There are some good waves too.  This beach is the draw card, along with cheap prices, for the Type A Australian tourists who flock here.

I then rented a bicycle which was only just big enough for me and not in a good state of repair and cycled along the JL Raja Seminyak to Kuta.  Endless shops and people milling about.  Lots of scooters and cars too.  It was very busy, and not my idea of a relaxing holiday.  I cycled down through and around Kuta, passing ground zero for the 2002 bombings (without realising it) then back along the beach.  It is much busier both on the beach and the streets in Kuta.  Too busy for me.

I bought a mosquito net and a T shirt at the Bintang supermarket, which is full of local goods.

After a rest at the hotel I headed off to try and cycle to Sanur to check out the kitebeach there.  Lots of cycling along roads that all start to look the same, jostling with scooters on the left.  I could hear them talking about me on their scooters as they approached from behind and passed by.

I got close, but did not have a good map, so I turned before I got there as it was getting late and I wanted to avoid the dark.  I followed my nose home along a busy road.  The right crank on the bike became loose so I had to hand tighten the screw several times, as well as constantly adjust the seat.  It was great to get some exercise.  I dropped the bike back after a shower and had dinner at the Bestest Cafe - a nice safe souvlaki.

Kitesurfing at athe Ben Wilson Wave Camp

I then spent 7 days at the Ben Wilson Bali Accelerator Kitesurf Camp. You can read about my experiences on the camp on my kitesurfing blog.

A day tour to Kintimani and Sanur

Back in Seminyak after the wave camp, I decided to hire a driver and go inland to the volcano region and check out some sights along the way.  I was considering doing one of the bicycle tours that leave from the top and meander down, but I also wanted to visit Sanur.

My driver for the day was Gusti Nyoman Suamba in a Suzuki people carrier.  We stopped at one the streets where they sell and create stone carvings, which are very impressive.  We then visited the silver region, where I bought some pendants for Lena. They were not very cheap, but they were nice.

I also bought some drink coasters from a shop selling ceramics.  We bypassed Ubud, a popular town to visit in the hills, then stopped at the Ubud Rice terraces, where I was beseiged by persistant local sellers.  Gusti told by later to avoid talking to them and handling the goods they thrust at you.  I bought a couple of sarongs from an extremely persistent lady.  Every time I walked away she dropped the price, until I reallly thought I had a bargain, and they would be good to have at home.  As it turned out, I need one as a wrap at the temple later too.

The rice terraces are beautiful and there are cafes there for meals.  I bought some bananas thrust through our window as we drove off.  We then finally left the endless roadside stalls and shops and entered a more rural region where they go fruit.  Then we crested the rim of a giant crater to get a breathtaking view of two volcanoes and a giant crater lake.  This was well worth the trip.

The smaller volcano has a fairfly fresh lava flow (circa 2008) down its flank.  More sellers of postcards and paintings.  Some are mobile on scooters and pop up when you stop in the middle of nowhere.

We then visited the superb Ulun Danu Batur temple.  Gusti explained that Ganesh the elephant welcome you just inside; Hindus pay him homage during there visit.  There were various regions and shrines within, including a small shrine for Buddha.

I had my sarong to wear but had to hire a sash to tie around it, after a bit more hassling.

2010-08-09 Ulun Danu Batur Temple

The three main dieties of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were represented by statues.  The flower offerings are colour coded for them.  Red for Brahma (the creator) on the right, Green for Vishnu (the maintainer and preserver) in the middle, and all the colours for Shiva (the destroyer) on the left.

We then drove along the crater rim and stopped for lunch a restaurant perched on the edge with seats looking out to the superb view.  I took the buffet after they dropped the prices to 80,000 rp + tax.  It was a nice lunch, with fruit and stick rice pudding along with good tea.  I started before 12 and was glad to leave when hordes of tourists arrived.  I found Gusti with some locals and stopped for a chat and had a snake fruit - a curiously tart fruit with a skin like a snake.

We headed down into the crater for a look.  There are market gardens growing cabbages and tomatoes down by the lake and a small village too.  We stopped at a small Warung (local bar / cafe).  I walked up onto the lava flow for a lovely panorama looking up the the Mt Batur volcano, then had a good Bali coffee at the Warong.

We continued on to the hot springs, but I balked at 150,000 rp to enter the resort.  I walked down the lake and saw some locals in canoes fishing along with fish farms.  I walked around the resort complex and found a neat local hot spring bath where they said I could bathe for a donation, but I was happy to just keep walking.  The lake is lovely, but there is garbage in it, and one guy was washing some clothes in it with detergent.

We then drove back to the top and returned along a different road, passing some large processions of locals heading to the local temple for a ceremony.  They were dressed in marvellous finery and the women were carrying ornate food offerings on their heads.

A couple of times we passed local school children in uniform marching in unison along the road, with a guide and vehicle behind them slowing traffic.

There is much more culture, ceremony and social interaction here than we have in Australia.


We stopped at Sanur on the way back.  The beach scene here is more relaxed then Kuta.  It was low tide to the reef was well exposed.  There are seveal very expensive hotels here.  I found the kitesurfing location to the west of Sanur beach.  There were four experienced kiters out in the harbour area enjoying the good sea breeze.   High tide would be much better for beginners here.  Its flat water only.  There are three kite schools along the foreshore.

We left just before the sunset and got back to the hotel without too much traffic.  All in all, and excellent day out.

Last day in Bali - Ulu Watu, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran Beach

I woke early and updated my blog and put some Facebook photos of Ben and Tony up.  I was packed at 10 and contemplating how to spend the day.  I decided to call Gusti again and do a tour down to Ulu Watu and Nusa Dua, then get dropped at the airport at 8:00pm.

We headed off, and stopped at the big Rip Curl shop on Sunset Way.  The prices were similar or more expensive than Australia, and they didn't like me taking a photo.

We drove on to Ulu Watu where I walked around the temple.  Gusti warned me to be very careful about the monkeys and not wear my hat or sunglasses.  There were a lot of them about, and some were quite playlful.  The views from the cliffs along the coast are superb.  A large surf was roaring in, and this area is not developed much.  Gusti said water is a problem up in the hills and it has to be trucked in.

2010-08-10 Ulu Watu, Nusa Dua and Jimbaran Beach

The temple is not a big one and is in a state of some disrepair.  Tourists are not allowed into the worship areas which is fair enough.

The monkeys managed to pinch a few tourist's hats and other gear, but only the ones who chose to play with them for a good photo.  I kept my distance.  Their sharp teeth and the potential for rabies is a big deterrent.

We then went to Ulu Watu, which is a surfing mecca.  Descending the foot path from the road head brings you into a world of Warungs and small shops tucked in contours of the steep drop to the water.  Surfers hang out to rest and eat, and some store there gear in racks in the roofs.  I had a great Nasi Goreng at the Surfer Warung.  Photographers are perched at good vantage points with massive lenses shooting surfers in the waves.

The break follows a reef and a largish swell was coming in.  Wave selection seems to be crucial. Many go unridden, and many attempted takes offs are not successful.  Good riders where getting in the pocket and even tubes, and getting a long ride.

A path leads down step steps through a chasm to a grotto which opens onto the flat reef which is not too sharp.  It is a very scenic spot with the combination of limestone cliffs, water and waves.

Gusti then took me to Padang Padang, where a Rip Curl surfing tournament is "on hold waiting for the waves".  A big swell is needed to get good waves at this location.  There is more of a beach than the tiny cove at Ulluwatu.  There were a lot of Europeans here; French, Italians and some Americans here, but very few Australians.

Gusti then drove toward Nusa Dua.  There was a steep climb to a plateau which we traversed in very light traffic to Nusa Dua.  At Nusa Dua, vehicles enter a secure zone though police inspection points.  Once through the road follows a neat and very tidy and well planted green zone which traverses the entrances to numerous 5 star hotels.  There were no Warungs or pedestrians about.  This was where the United Nations Convention on Climate Change was held in 2007.  It is a world apart from the Balinese.  Tourists here probably stay at their hotels and do tours out from them; many wouldn't mix with the locals.  It seems the U.N. buys into this paradigm too.

We drove through to a beach further north.  The area resembles Sanur, with a similar reef system out from the shore.  Low water sees all the boats resting on the sand and the water activities cease.  A good strong wind was blowing most of the day, but no kitesurfing was happening.  The locals were flying their ubiquitious cheap kites made from bamboo and garbarge bags.

I got a text from Jestar advising the flight would be delayed four hours which was not good news.

We then drove back towards the airport and stopped at Jimbaran beach where several local seafood restaurants spill out along the beach.  There is a public section of the beach that was being enjoyed by many Balinese, and not very many tourists.  I went for a swim in the small surf and caught a few waves.  While in the water a turtle surface a short distance out, it had massive head so it looked like a seal to me, I didn;t see its shell. It looked around then dived.

After the swim we had Chicken Nasi Goreng for dinner at a nice Warung, and I had a banana pancake for desert. Some locals held a ceremony with bells on the road.  Gusti said they were looking after the soul of a relative who had probably died there recently.

We then drove to the airport where I said goodbye to Gusti and headed through customs.  No problems with the kitesurfing bag (22.3kg), then through paying the 150,000 irp departure tax.  Jetstar gave us a free feed that was a bit average.  There are lots of shops in the airport full of souvenirs, but none of them were cheap.  I got some time to write up my trip and also some content for the kitesurfing handbook I am writing.

We got on the plane at 4:00am and had a good flight home, back to a cold wet winter in Melbourne.

Some general observations about Bali

There are of big global brands adverstised on TV

Low income Balinese can earn as little as 1,000,000 irp per month.  A beer in the Rooftop bar of the Anananta Hotel costs 50,000 irp, while a beer in a Warong costs 15,000

Kuta has been transformed by tourists into a not so pleasant place.

The surfing breaks are good, but getting to them in not easy.  A lot of survers use scooters with a board cradle, but one prang could ruin your holiday or even your life.  The best bet would be to hire a car and driver.

The official taxis are quite cheap compared to the cars that offer lifts then haggle over the price.  For example, the same trip cost me 7,000 irp in a taxi and 30,000 irp in a car.

Health is definately a concern.  Caution is required to avoid Bali Belly and even Dengue Fever.

Arriving late at night is a hassle if you don't have confirmed bookings with a hotel.

Getting out of Kuta (and staying in Seminyak or Sanur) is good to do.

Map of some locations visited

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