Friday, June 29, 2012

personal trainer

They say the more effort it takes the more calories you burn.
I lost 4 ½ kilos this morning just getting out of bed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

sin the male

The Other came home from work today – as she often does – and told me how difficult it is to find a pc free at work when she needs one. After finally locating one, she discovered the reason it was free is that it did not work. Duly reporting the problem to several powerful people, she was finally given a telephone number and asked to contact the IT help desk.

The Other rang the help desk to report the non-working status of the pc, and the IT help desk call-taker very pleasantly and efficiently said the modern equivalent of no wucking flurries; - “we’ll be onto it first thing tomorrow morning… could you please just log that request in an email?”

It seems, not only from this incident but from casual observation in other contexts that the digital generations are unable to function without digital stuff – so much so that many even lack basic handwriting skills.

There are millions of clips on YouTube explaining the parts of a fountain pen, each using riveting dialogue such as “this thing on the end is called a ‘nib’”.  

There are even more riveting clips on YouTube explaining how to teach a child to hold a pencil.

If you were able to sit through the whole clip you might have noticed the kid look to someone out of shot towards the end, with a pleading expression of desperation on his face.
In fact it’s highly likely the poor little bugger was so traumatised by the lesson that he swore off handwriting forever.

No wonder the digital generations are unable to function without digital stuff.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

not the six o’clock news

Until "terminated" recently, I did a spot of work at the old Age building in Spencer St.

The whispers, at the time I left, included the following:
  • There are plans for a massive apartment complex on the site.
  • All the original letterpress machines still occupy the basement, as they are so big they cannot be removed until the building is demolished.

The press is now reporting that the Age is to go tabloid. No, tabloid is not a portmanteau word for “tablet + Android operating system”. Well, not yet, at least. Well, not necessarily on the cards at all, as major publishers are still flogging iPad as the newspaper of the future.

[For the benefit of this blog’s international readers, tabloid is simply a smaller and more manageable size for a newspaper – e.g. the Herald Sun.]

In the lift lobby on the floor where I worked, there was a carpet square which had an image [more recent version] of this chap.


Taking photos inside the building was strictly forbidden, and more than one staff member had been instantly dismissed for breaking this rule. I’m quite bummed out that I can’t find a similar image on the net.

[For the benefit of this blog’s international readers, ICPOTA was an acronym for It’s The Classified Pages Of The Age – quite a clever marketing ploy really, to anthropomorphise a service].
[***late edit... as per Windsmoke's comment below the acronym really stands for IN the classified etc]

This was the yard at which trucks congregated sometime around midnight when copies of the “doorstep” started spewing down the chutes for distribution. It was quite common for people to hang around outside at the same time, waiting to buy the first copies so they could read the accommodation/job and other ads before anyone else.

With all of the ad supplements the Age was once referred to as ‘the doorstep’ – quite reasonable at the time because after buying a copy at the local Milk Bar it usually took three trips to carry the whole thing home - unless one hired a moving van.

Few people ever bothered with the ads in the Sun. In marketing terms, the Age had positioned itself successfully as the place to go for ads.
Today, the classified/jobs link on the Age website simply transfers one to the My Career website. Fairfax missed the boat with this one, because the SEEK website has positioned itself more successfully as the place to go for job ads.

Until now I’d no idea that the Age was a broadsheet [double the size of a tabloid] simply because broadsheet was better for laying out classified ads.

I don’t like either job website. I don’t want some software program limiting my search to parameters someone else has decided are appropriate. Whatever happened to browsing?

But, back to the tabloid topic: For the benefit of international readers, ‘tabloid’ has always been a pejorative term, [any tabloid sized publication was assumed to have the same high journalistic standards of something like the National Enquirer.]
By extension, the most effective and subtle way to position oneself as an intellectual [pseudo, self-deluded, tosser or wotever] was to sit on a tram or train and turn the broadsheet pages of the Age [casually but competently] with a ho hum air of nonchalance.

The tabloid decision is an assault on my self-identity which I intend to take personally.

Apart from the classified problem, the Age is sinking because the rest of its content has developed a bit of a pong. Some of the opinion pieces are full of opinions that are just plain stupid. A more recent one was so badly written that after three attempts I gave up trying to work out what the premise was.

The content is increasingly ‘generic’, much of it written to satisfy both the NSW and Victorian customers of Fairfax. [I only mention this for the benefit of those of the international readers of this blog who are amused by the Sydney/ Melbourne rivalry.]

The literary supplement is so crappy I almost yearn for the days of the outdoor dunny.
Why, even “our” Germs has had pride of place directly under the Leunig cartoon for the last few weeks. [Admittedly I’ve no right to comment on her articles, because I couldn’t be bothered reading them.]

And now for the news: What news? The Herald Sun, god bless it, actually provided a clear and detailed breakdown of cuts to TAFE funding, and the colleges and courses affected. Not so the Age.
Further cuts to the Age reporting and editorial staff are unlikely to restore the paper to its former informative glory.

Where are the sub editors of old, who could be trusted to entertain us with witty headlines like “I fell on man, 18 stone detective says.”?

The Age website does have one gem of a headline tonight:

“Labor weighs in on media control” has been placed directly below a particularly unflattering picture of La Gina. Wit or just downright desperation?

The Labor Party is frightened of the idea Gina Rinehart might exert some editorial influence over the Age. I don’t understand their concern – if they can abandon their own ever so slightly left of centre philosophy, why not have another newspaper that stands for what they stand for? Assuming they still stand for anything.

The only thing I shall seriously miss is the Age Quiz. Sometimes I manage to score at least 50%  [for the benefit of any readers who can’t see the bleeding obvious, this is obviously because the quiz is written for Australian clever-dicks.]

The quiz in the Herald Sun seems to be a mixture of questions from syndicated American quizzes, Wisden’s Cricket Almanac, and AFL records. My score in that quiz usually ranges somewhere between “Hit the books” and “Hit the books”.

It pains me that a mere tabloid can make me feel so stupid.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Duh! I always thought one of the great things about this country was that it was flat. You know, all the volcanic activity and shifting of earth underground was over and done with eons ago. 'Ooh no' sez I.
You would never catch me living anywhere there are tornadoes all the time, or earth tremors or wotnots.
I love a sunburnt country, the land of stable plains.

I blame Frankston. Seriously. Never ever ever felt a tremor before in my life. Sometimes The Other would say we just had a tremor and I would say "Bollards" and not believe. Now I'm a convert.

It happens regularly here, sez The Other, going on about some plate, platter or trifle dish.

Most reports vary about how long it lasted. I know exactly - the time it took for  The Other to tell Maude to stop scratching, realise it wasn't Maude making the house rattle, and run downstairs to find a safe spot under a doorway.

What would I know about doorways? I was sitting here in my study when it began, and had no idea I was supposed to know what was happening. It's good being slower than a wet week and close to the bluntest knife in the drawer [thanks Windsmoke], cos I didn't have time to get concerned.

Of course, I'm still shaking, but that's probably just because it's so darned cold here right now. [Looking forward very much to the winter solstice].

Only one question remains... whose 'fault' is it? Julia? Tony? Ted? La Gina? The public transport system?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

warning this post contains the n word

Sometimes things go in threes, which I took as a sign I might just as well take a punt on posting this post. Well, it's up to more than three now, anyway.

Firstly, there was Jeff Kennett's vigorous defence of golliwogs after the Oprah team asked a Melbourne store to remove gollis from their window display.

Next, Mother Christmas gave yours truly what young grand-niece J calls a "dollywog":


[Please forgive the lousy photography - long story short my phone is the only camera available at the moment.]

Naturally I was asked what name I should bestow on dolly. Having waited nearly 60 years to have such a dolly, I did just happen to have a name ready. Her name is Martha. Not because nearly every black maid in old hollywood plantation classics is a Martha Washington [offsider of the faithful retainer Thomas Jefferson] but because "Martha slave ran away".
[Don't blame me - I didn't make the movies I just watch them when I need a laugh].

If you are still talking to me, let me show you the difference between a dollywog [as above] and what the average Australian [i.e. anyone as irreverent as myself] would call a stereotype:


The Other and I were in the city recently and passed a shop full of golliwogs which all had slave names and in other ways played on negative stereotypes. We did smile but agreed that is probably going too far.

Then Aunty, who has recently been through that horrible task of sorting the contents of her home and deciding what to give to whom and what to hang on to for now, unpacked her Uncle's old egg cup [i.e. more than 90 years old]

egg head

Well, I seriously doubt great great uncle or my own Aunt were racists as 3 or 4 years old as they probably never saw anyone with even a half-way decent tan til they were 40 or 50 years old.  [And yes, we do accept responsibility for what happened to our own indigenous people]. Now that we know better about the history of African Americans, should she throw it away?

BTW, Whoopi Goldberg collects this sort of crap and quite right too, because why should history be sanitised? 

Not so long ago another blogger posted something which did NOT mention golliwogs but which nonetheless got me thinking. I won't provide a link because if this post offends anyone it is my responsibility and no one else's.

As a little aside on the same theme, let me mention my teenage addiction to Agatha Christie's detective novels, the best of which was called 'Ten Little Niggers'. The plot was devilishly clever, but I can honestly say I did not understand the connection between niggers and this cover.

In fact, the illustration was so wasted on me I remember thinking how stupid putting a golliwog on the cover, and wondering what it had to do with the story.

Naturally, the title was deemed offensive so it was published in America as Ten Little Indians. Much better? Is the expression 'double standard' a reference to two flags?

Back to the here and now. This weekend I returned to Bairnsdale to finish what I had failed to finish there last trip. The Other decided to come with me so we drove, and stopped at the excellent tea rooms at Yarragon. While at the tea rooms I read an hilarious newspaper article giving examples of the difference between politically insensitive and downright offensive.

We went to the confectionery shop cos The Other loves sweet shops, and while there bought ourselves a new mug.

dishwasher proof
There is an excellent second hand bookshop at Yarragon, where I found a booklet [1974 edn] which was a joint publication of UNESCO and the Australian Government, with detailed discussions of Aboriginal Culture. I've not read it all yet, but a quick scan revealed something interesting - the entire discussion of Aboriginal culture is written in the PAST tense. Hmmm.

Bairnsdale being a long drive, I had to stop for a you and me along the way, and saw this sign in the park at Stratford upon the river Avon

Is it my imagination or is there something strange about the first item on the list of places to examine highlighting 30,000 years of indigenous culture?

Now, yonks ago I criticised Andrew Bolt for calling several people 'professional Aboriginals', and I would hate you to call me a hypocrite. Apart from the tone of the original Bolt article [sarcastic or worse, as well as incorrect], 9 million bloggers made comments under the article on the newspaper's blog, most of them deliberately hateful, and those comments were not moderated or censored in any way. No wonder a group of 9 people took him to court [asking for no money, just an apology].

So, all comments about the difference between political correctness and incorrectness, the merits or otherwise of censorship etc etc are welcome, but anything I deem politically offensive will be deleted.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


“A web of ‘citizen journalists’ cannot replace newspapers.” suggested an opinion piece in the Age today.

Without hard edged/nosed well trained journalists, says the author, no one would have learned of Watergate, and us plebs would not have known what to make of Julian Assange’s leaks. While people are right to suggest that some parts of the media [emphasis is mine] squander the public’s goodwill with a focus on the fatuous, and on trivia.

Blogs have their limitations as well, though, and we must be careful not to turn our backs on the serious journalists who put in the shoe leather [i.e. not the boot] and actually speaking with pollies, police and others.  
Enough about that opinion, let’s talk about us. Novice that I am, I have formed some views about what blogging can/might mean to the good citizens of Blogonia.

Possibilities include
  • forming friendships one can value;
  • learning interesting stuffs about all sorts of interesting stuffs;
  • armchair travel;
  • inspiration;
  • NO canned laughter [had to put that in… Mrs Bucket is doing her thing in the next room];
  • lots of clever and witty exchanges;
  • getting away with typos;
  • reely reely larfing;
  • genuine exchanges of ideas without parliamentary ‘question-time’-type, puerile, play-yard point-scoring;
  • having a whinge with people who might sometimes agree with us [me].

At least bloggers get to talk about/hear about important things the press doesn’t have time for… the stuff that’s important to the little people… like a young man expelled from a local state school because he is too disruptive in class and, yes, we know he has Aspergers, but we can’t get an aide for him because he is “not disabled enough”.

As for asking pollies the hard questions – puhleeze!
If a whole generation are growing up antipathetic to democracy, it’s no surprise.
I don’t blame the press for the inane 30 second sound-bite BS pollies serve up, I blame the pollies. And if the press can’t get anything better out of them, well, it’s not just a matter of whether we get the press we deserve, but one of whether we get the government we deserve ‘n’ all.

PS the opinion piece to which I refer was written by a former Labor political speechmaker. Go figure.

Friday, June 8, 2012

sunnyside up*

In my previous post about the great Frankston flood of 2012, I failed to make the observation about how lucky we were when the hot water pipe burst while someone was home. Imagine the mess [and subsequent mildew pong] we would have had if the on-demand-just-keeps-on-filling hot water service had been happily pumping water into the house for hours.

Things must and do go wrong from time to time, but timing is everything. After a visit with some friends years ago, up in the hills where the roads are windy? wind a lot and are narrow [sorry about that, they don’t always have wind], I climbed into my little car and about 60 seconds after take off the steering died. Given the timing and location, I could live with that.


Now I can change a tyre if I have to, but would rather not. A very long time ago, driving between Mildura and Adelaide, it seemed one of my tyres had a slow leak. Quickly conducting a risk assessment I decided I could make it into Burra without damaging the wheel, and get someone to change/fix the tyre there.
After entering what remained of the little township after the copper mine had closed, I drove around for a block or two then found a garage with a work-shop.
It was a warm day, and sweat ran in rivers down the face of the proprietor as he pummelled and banged with hammer and lever to remove said tyre from wheel. I kept my fingers crossed that he would not croak from the effort before the job was finished, or before what looked like his rapidly approaching age of retirement.

After quite a bit of pummelling and banging I wondered if I would croak before he finished.

He fixed the inner tube and then, with some more pummelling and pounding, eventually got the tyre back on the wheel, and the tyred wheel back on my car.
The total cost was something like $5 [I told you this was a very long time ago], but I gave him an extra $2 and told him to go and have a couple of pots of beer.

Relieved that neither of us had died during the repair process, I set off in search of a road from Burra to Adelaide. About 2 blocks from the old garage I drove past a brand new tyre franchise with a workshop full of hydraulically operated tyre removing gizmos. Life is like that.

*The tune used for my favourite AFL team's theme song

a bang for your bucks

Yesterday The Other was sitting at her desk when Maude started a low growl. Usually this is just a warning that someone is in the court delivering junk mail – it’s louder when one a them thar pesky power salespeople come to the door.
But The Other looked out the window, saw nothing, and was just telling Maude to be quiet because there was nothing happening when there was a very, very loud BANG.

The Other went out the front to see if something had happened in the carport. No.
Came back inside and thought she heard the washing machine emptying, which would be strange because I had washed [self and clothes] the previous day.

We don’t live in Gippsland but a flood was happening, so The Other called out to me then ran out the front to turn off the mains, while I came downstairs wondering if she had hurt herself.

The BANG came from one of these snake-like, flexible hoses which delivers hot water to the bathroom. The internal rubber hose had finally karked it, the pressure causing the metal casing to blow apart.

Now, following a post on Andrew’s blog some time ago, showing off his nice new towels and his disgustingly tidy linen press – and because Aunty was moving in and needed to know what’s what about what – I had actually done some tidying. All of the old, dog bath, floor mopping and other miscellaneous towels were at exactly the right height in the press for The Other to grab. [This may seem incidental to you but not to me because The Other would not have hesitated to use new towels had they been at the wrong height.]

With a wad of these she did what Kanute could not, and stemmed the tide. [Well, his name is spelt Cnut in Waikikipedia, but it does not look pretty at first glance so I spelled it with a KA, ok?]

After several attempts to find a plumber by phone… “What do you mean what’s my email address, I’m not sending an email to ask for a plumber [Phone slams]”… she found one who wasn’t “on his way back from Ballarat”, but could arrive within the hour. It took longer for her to organise a plumber than it took me to mop up/wash the bathroom/laundry floors, which is saying something because there was an awful lot of water oozing through a wad of towels into the loungeroom.

Now, the hose itself was only 23 years old [talk about built-in obsolescence], but we gotta wonder how much one little bit of pipe is worth. “Do you have discounts for old-age pensioners?” asked the other, proudly whipping out her new card. “I’ll tell them at the office not to add GST”, said the plumber. As it is illegal to quote a price without GST included, it seemed the guy was not only an efficient plumber able to replace a pipe in 2.5 minutes, he was also an expert in the art of bovine faeces.

When I asked if I could “work it off” he laughed hysterically and whipped out an EFTPOS machine. The sod. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

a rare treat

TV current affairs shows of any description are something I generally avoid, however, yesterday an Age columnist spoke about an episode of Q&A which had Barry Humphries, Miriam Margoyles, Jacqui Weaver, John Hewson, and David Marr on the panel.
As reported, politically incorrect at times, and hilarious.

It will only be on the ABC website for 5 more days, if you’ve missed it but are interested.

Episode 17

August 2012 Footnote - this episode now available on YouTube

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

my melbourne

There was an article in the paper today complaining Victoria was short changed in the latest Australian tourism campaign. According to the paper, one of the attractions that should have made the list is a shopping trip to Chadstone. I couldn’t think of anything worse.

When people come to visit me, these are some of the things I like to suggest:

Penguin Parade

Fairy penguins are not only found at Phillip Island, but the Island is certainly the best place to see them doing their thing, and to see just how small they are.
There was a time people could just roll up and trample all over their burrows, but now we’ve done the right thing and taken steps to protect them which means entrance to the nightly parade is not free. But it’s worth every cent.
Standing out in the cold at Phillip Island is also a good way to prepare yourself for a trip to Ballarat.

The Queen Vic Market

This clip focuses on the food hall and fresh veg, but it does include a shot of the most important attraction: The 4 million year old van that sells hot jam donuts.
You won’t see Morris Dancers at the market every time you go, but there is often some big multicultural thingy happening, or interesting buskers.
Towards the end of the clip is a brief shot of “stuff”, and a Sunday trip to the market is a great opportunity to wander through miles and miles of stalls selling “stuff”. If you like "stuff".

Walking Melbourne

For such a young city Melbourne has some amazing old buildings, and setting out with a walking-tour guide-book in hand can be a great way to spend a day.

The Royal Arcade and the Block Arcade are a must, as is a stop in one of the old tearooms. [There’s even a rather pleasant tea room at Young and Jacksons Hotel].
Also on the must-see list is the old commercial and legal district, many of the buildings with interesting mosaics.
History is part of the appeal of these buildings, but you have to see them to feel the stories.


The Melbourne Zoo is a great place to spend a day, but a visit to the Healesville Sanctuary can be combined with a day trip into the country. From there, it’s possible to take some detours on the way home and maybe catch Koalas, Wallabies or Wombats doing their own thing au naturel.


My own personal weakness is Churches. [Our first trip to Rome was just Hell for The Other, so now we negotiate churches at the trip planning stage.]

St Patricks Roman Catholic Cathedral, East Melbourne
Although this is described in one YouTube clip as St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, it’s definitely one of my mob’s, built with money from the gold rush days.

My motto is you should never be shy about going into churches, no matter what your background or conviction, so long as you are respectful. If you know you would visit St Peters if you were in Rome, then you should see this joint if you are in Melbourne.
The acoustics are astonishing, so I’ve no idea why somebody installed mikes and speakers around the place which just make the services incomprehensible.

This building grew out of a vision, is huge and impressive, and often empty.

St Francis’ Catholic Church in Lonsdale St Melbourne provides a stark contrast – small in scale, built smack bang in the heart of the city, and nearly always crowded. I’ve dragged lots of shy people inside over the years and, whether they were simply being polite or not, they’ve all said they were glad they went in.

More Religion

You can watch an Australian Open Tennis match on the TV at home without visiting Melbourne. 

If you are a sports-nut, what you really ought to see while you are here is an Aussie-rules football match. If it’s the wrong season, or if it’s winter and you can survive without the atmosphere, stay home with me and watch a replay of the 1993 Grand Final. [My team always wins.]

There’s a whole swag of things to see and do in Victoria, but shopping at Chadstone would be at the bottom of my list of priorities.

human moments #1

Different people find different things funny, but sometimes we meet a kindred spirit with much the same sense of humour. It's a great way to connect.

Some years ago I worked with a middle-aged Indian man who had recently migrated to Australia with his family. We shared the normal, amicable relationship people do when they work in the same room.

One day we were in a lift, a very crowded lift, and at every floor, more and more people kept trying to fit themselves in. We both started to giggle when we found ourselves holding our arms close to our sides, then he asked, in a Groucho voice, “Say, is it my imagination or is it getting crowded in here?”

After that, there were many times when we would just quite naturally look at each other across our desks and share a laugh without saying a word.
Naturally I can’t remember his name, but I’d know that grin anywhere.

Monday, June 4, 2012

hot potato, hot potato

Part four of a series of whinges. Part one starts here

Those of us who are baby boomers will remember the late 60s early 70s when Australia had ‘over full employment’; the opposite of unemployment, this meant that there was a severe shortage of workers.
It was possible to get a job by simply ringing/turning up in response to an ad, and if the job was already taken, another hour of looking would find you a job somewhere. If it wasn’t much of a job you could just walk out and get a different one before you went home to dinner.

Of course, now we are part of the global economy and live in the real world where unemployment is – at the right level – taken to be a natural state of affairs.

The school leaving age was 15. We were probably used to working because the law did not prevent us from getting part time jobs as kids. When I was thirteen I worked 25 out of school hours a week in a local milk-bar, and paid board. B1, as a boy, was able to secure a job selling [the afternoon newspaper] the Herald, and made a fortune in tips from the drunks spilling out into streets just before the pubs closed at 6 pm.

Technology was not changing at any great, noticeable rate, and so long as we could read, write and count there was a wide range of occupations to choose from. Filing documents was the bread and butter of many people.

If there was any post-school training needed for a job, it was provided by the employer.
The world is not just different now because we are part of the global economy, or even because something as simple as going to the bathroom now requires a permit.


Now, a tertiary education is no longer something reserved for middle and upper-class kids. The jobs market is competitive and it is up to those looking for work to make and keep themselves employable. It’s called life-long learning because that’s what it takes to stay employed. Unfortunately, as branches of technology become increasingly specialised and as the number of rules and regulations we live by has grown exponentially, choosing self-funded training is a bigger gamble than ever for wage-earners. Even with training, we can quickly become obsolete.

There are several ways an unemployed person can acquire the training needed to find a job.

The first way is to qualify for unemployment benefits. If you are a long-term unemployed person, the government might pay for a course so you can work in a job where there is a skills shortage. Currently, this usually means performing very basic tasks in an aged care facility, where the wages are so small they reflect a very sad attitude to the elderly. Ditto childcare.
The second way is to train yourself. If you do not have a qualification but qualify for assistance you can get a living allowance, and borrow from the government to pay fees.
The right to borrow fees has only just been extended to some TAFE courses.

The second way, if you are not receiving benefits, is to train yourself without any living allowance. If you do not already have a qualification at the level you want to train in, you can borrow the cost of fees from the government.

Without or without income support, there is a sort of catch 22. You cannot claim the cost of fees as a tax deduction unless you are already working and the training is immediately relevant to your current occupation. [A letter from your employer saying the training is necessary will usually keep the tax department happy.]

In both cases, the challenge is choosing the type of training most likely to land you a job. I’ve written before about the ‘casualisation of the labour force’, and the fact that there are three different types of certificate you have to choose from just for food handling – one might get you a job making sandwiches in a cafĂ©, another might get you a job in a food processing factory, and a third type might get you a job serving food in a hospital or aged care facility.
Many of these Training organisations are shonky – either you pay up front then lose your money if they fold, or you get a piece of paper employers treat with contempt.
If the parents paying huge fees for their kids to attend Mowbray college did not know it was about to collapse, how can the ‘little people’ hope to safely invest in practical job-training?

Now let me tell you about my situation – not as a job ad but because it illustrates quite well what I’m on about.
Firstly, I have a diploma in writing and editing. There are jobs out there, but I can’t for the life of me work out facebook, twitter, and a heap of other social media whose logos mean nothing to me. I did try to find courses in these but if and where they existed they were hideously expensive, interstate, and assumed that you already knew something about them i.e. you must already have a Facebook account.

Secondly, I have done some incredibly complex quality work in a manufacturing environment. This was not just your standard quality standard but one where, for example, I wrote a program to assess manufacturing capability, estimating how many parts coming off an assembly line are likely to be within tolerances, how many would be rejects, specifying the manufacturing parameters most likely to keep good parts coming, and a system for statistical monitoring of quality so we would know if a process was drifting south. Beyond experience, I have no qualifications in this area. A “6 Sigma black belt” costs the sun, moon and stars, [no tax deduction] and the car industry is dead [or should be].

Add to this, health and safety in a manufacturing environment. I’m proud to say that by the time I was finished, workers were no longer cutting off the tips of their fingers, or passing out in small booths from the effects of chemical sprays. No qualifications.
Because I already have a TAFE Diploma [editing] I would have to pay unsubsidised fees for relevant TAFE courses. Again, because Health and Safety legislation is not national legislation, the whole of such a qualification is not transportable across state lines.

So, enough about me, let’s get back to mining. Again, I’ve written about this before. After hours going through the SEEK [job listing] website, what I confirmed is that there are a million mining jobs out there, but if you don’t have experience and/or qualifications you have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting one.


In a comment on my last post I put a link to a good article about the import of mining workers on a 457 temporary [skills] visa.

Check out the tyre on this mother trucker:

As it is, if I need to change a tyre on the little dinky care I drive, I have to literally jump on the nut loosening doo-hickey to loosen the nuts. As the photo shows, one would need muscle and at least some clues if one needed to deal with a mining industry tyre – hydraulic gizmos or not.

There are a million ads out there for mining industry training courses. But how shonky are the Training Organisations? Mining companies are looking for electricians, chippies and other tradespeople for the 4 or 5 years it is going to take just to build the super mine at Roy Hill.

We used a lot of migrant labour to build the Snowy Mountains Hydro electric scheme after WW II, but the days when unskilled labour was useful are long gone.

It seems, at the very least, there is a yawning gulf between jobs available and training available, especially in the mining industry.

There are already 140,770 workers in Australia on temporary 457 visas.

Until Rudd put a stop to it, most overseas students [a source of export income for us] would do something like this:
  • Get a bachelor degree in IT
  • Get a TAFE certificate in hospitality [making coffee and making up hotel beds etc]
  • Get a good qualification as a hairdresser.

Armed with these 3, a would-be migrant could clock up enough points against a skills shortage list to get a foot in the door, then in 3 years qualify for citizenship. Many of these courses were good, and some of them were shonky. Three different qualifications can’t all be used at once.

Last Friday, along with 599 other people, my fixed term contract came to an end. The employer kindly provided a short in-house course on how the write a CV putting a really positive spin on our experience as data processors/keyboard operators. Most of the people in this job have years of experience in specialised fields, but no formal qualifications. Many others have enough pieces of paper to decorate all the walls of a house, but few of us have anywhere to go next.

Unlike many of the people who have been recently laid off in Victoria and other eastern states, I don’t have a mortgage to pay off or a family to support. Also unlike these people, many of our 600 people will soon be part of the ‘hidden unemployed’.

Treasurer Wayne Swann, meanwhile, goes on and on about how solid our economy is and, to be fair, we are doing some things right that that other large countries aren’t. But he is still living in fairyland. The uber-rich have recently been given a hugely generous maternity leave program, while the dole is totally unliveable. Pensioners are struggling to survive, while superannuation savings are going down the plughole.

Currently, the hot potato of training for employment is being tossed about between the Federal Government, State Governments, workers and employers.

What am I hoping for from our government[s]?
  • Provide some tax deductibility for self-training if we train in an area where there is a skills shortage;
  • Clean up the training industry – especially job placement providers funded by Centrelink;
  • Extend the availability of HECS fees [loans] for higher education;
  • Make the dole a little more liveable for those with families and/or mortgages;
  • Reduce some of the perks available to long term jail residents and improve the quality of life of pensioners;
  • Co-ordinate job training and relocation for those willing to go west and get into the mining industry.
  • Don’t resort to vilifying unemployed people.

Well, there’s more, but these would be a start.

I applaud the Australian government for not resorting the printing money. I deplore their twisted priorities, and their constant bungling.
I don’t want to talk the economy down, I’m just trying to be realistic. Every worker – especially in manufacturing – who has been laid off and is about to lose their house or let down their kids deserves better.
More importantly, house prices are about to melt down so badly they’ll be oozing under the door.

As the housing industry has for a long time been a major indicator of the country’s economic health, abandoning real workers is economically stupid as well as callous.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

free trade between the states

This series of posts begins with Part One: trade off
followed by Part Two: who's listening?

Three professors were shipwrecked on a desert island, with nothing but a can of baked beans to survive on. They had no can-opener, but believed that if they were all reasonably intelligent academics they should be able to work together and find a way to open the can.

The nutritionist was able to describe in great detail the benefits each would derive once the can was opened and they were able to eat the contents;

The physicist explained that a fire of a specific temperature would be able to generate enough internal pressure to blow the can open – without burning the contents – but could not think of a way to stop the contents being scattered across the beach and therefore un-usable;

The economist waited til the other two had finished, then smugly announced the solution to the problem was simple: ‘All we have to do”, she said, “is assume the can is open”. 

Theories about free markets are built on as many assumptions as other economic theories. One assumption is “buyers make rational decisions”, and another is "buyers and sellers have perfect information".  [When Adam Smith came up with the latter assumption in 1776, he'd obviously not tried getting served in a large department store.] 

Australia at its best was a country founded on a good mix of government and private market investment though, as we have seen in recent times, it is moving increasingly and rapidly towards the goal of a totally free market – despite the fact that no such market can exist in practice.

The Australian Constitution was a product of its time, its primary purpose being to find a way several individual colonial governments might work together. To oversimplify, it was believed a federal government could deal with three pressing issues of late 19th Century Australia:
  • Mutual cooperation for the purposes of defence;
  • Mutual cooperation to get rid of non-white labour which could only undermine the white standard of living; and
  • Free trade between states.

In the 1890s, free trade would mean that the cattle barons could move fattened cows from Queensland to their own meat markets in other states without paying excise to cross borders. Stuff like that.


Labour and human skills are market products. That’s it in a nutshell.

Mr Abbott likes to rabbit on about how bludgers should be told to move west and fill all the job vacancies in the mining sector, or have their dole payments cut. [At the rate things are going, cuts to unemployment benefits would mean unemployed people should start making payments to the government, but I digress.]

In a free market place – assumed to be an efficient one – the free movement of labour and skills across state borders would seem to be essential.
It is only in this sense that the Prime Minister’s vision of Australia-wide qualifications has some merit – if only she and her mates could get their act together.

The states punish people who move across borders. Relocation costs include transfer of motor registration and driving licences, roadworthy certificates for cars, security deposits for rental accommodation, connection fees for utilities, and stamp duty and bank fees if buying or selling houses.

It would seem, from people I’ve spoken to and from letters to newspaper editors, that a lot of people from eastern states have run themselves ragged trying to work out how to actually get a job in the mining industry. Yet we now learn that Gina Rinehart has been given the go-ahead to import 1,700 unskilled workers to help her get a mining project off the ground.

This announcement made by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has put just one more pin in the voodoo doll of Gillard, as they had a public spat about whether or not she had been given notice of the decision or a chance to review it before it was announced. 
Here I was all this time, hoping the Coalition would implode and replace Abbott as an alternative Prime Minister before the next election but, here too, Julia Gillard is letting me down by competing with Abbott to see if the Labor Party can't self-implode first.

Excuses often given to mining job applicants from the eastern states include 

  • not the right experience
  • no experience
  • not the right training

I don't for a moment presume everyone on unemployment benefits is free to leave family commitments, or is healthy enough to work in the mining industry. But what is so wrong with Australia's unskilled workers - the scapegoats of Abbott's social security plans - that there is no mining company or TAFE course in the east, and no way in for those willing and able to get on the mining bandwagon? 

Perhaps it doesn't matter, and we can still trust that decent, hard-working Australians all have a chance to get ahead - in spite of our government if not with its help.

Part Four: hot potato, hot potato

who’s listening?

for Part One - a trade off please see previous post

Part Two - What kind of vocational training should be available?

In theory at least, the TAFE system exists to ensure there is a match between the skills businesses are looking for in their employees, and the skills the unemployed can acquire in order to find work.

The system does provide some excellent training in a number of fields, but it also presents us with choices that need not be a national priority. Some people are interested in aromatherapy, and there are many Australians who use the services of Aromatherapists but, in the larger scheme of government-auspiced training, just how much of a priority is training in this field?

One thing which definitely stinks is the recent axing of the Auslan course at Victoria’s Kangan TAFE.
Auslan is the Australian Sign Language used by our deaf people – the size of the deaf community recently estimated at 6,500 Australians.
This was a two year course – latest cost to students somewhere around the $16,000 mark.
Any person who wants to work as a deaf interpreter must complete a one year diploma in interpreting, on top of the two years and considerable expense involved in first learning the actual language.

Some families have deaf children, and for a number of sound reasons [no pun intended] it’s a good idea for at least one speaking family member to learn Auslan.
Some deaf students need an interpreter to help at school. Some adults develop a profound hearing loss late in life and need to learn Auslan.
As with many other people who don’t have English as a first language, deaf people will occasionally need interpreters to deal with medical or legal issues, and interpreters are pretty well essential at the interview stage if a deaf person is hoping to find a job. In other words, it is a course that should be available somewhere to a lot more than 6,500 Australians.

The terrible thing about the axing of the course is that it was the only full time course available in Australia’s eastern states [i.e. Qld, NSW, Vic and Tas].

It seems Kangan TAFE has been keen to scrap this course for some years, presumably because it’s not very profitable. The CEO of the TAFE, however, has used the Victorian government’s budget decision to significantly reduce TAFE funding as an excuse.
The Victorian government quite reasonably asserts:
  • the state must reduce its debt; and
  • the Federal education minister put the squeeze on the state at the last Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in April; and
  • in the recent federal budget.
In other words, surprise surprise, everyone is pointing the finger at someone else.

A spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Peter Hall said the government would offer subsidies to the Deaf Society of NSW so that it could offer Auslan training in Victoria.

This is a bit of a smokescreen as the Deaf Society does not have the resources to offer full time training in NSW let alone Victoria.
Victoria’s Premier Ted Bailleau has the power to withdraw funding from TAFEs but is silent about the possibility of exerting any influence over how that funding is used – and has no plans to do much about shonky TAFE /RTO sector dealings.

Prime Minister Gillard’s last election speeches were built around two main messages:
Australia should “move forward” [whatever that was supposed to mean]; and
a fair deal for genuine hard-working Australians.

More recently, she reprised her hard-working philosophy to the Australian Trades Union congess, blathering on about her parents and their belief
“They knew that with hard work and with thrift, with effort, that they would get ahead.
If you’d like to read more on this fine sentiment you will find it here.

So, what happens to deafies looking for a job, either now or in the future? Can they, with a belief in hard work, effort and a desire to get ahead, get ahead? Unemployment benefits are currently set at $489.70 a fortnight for a single adult with no dependents. 

This appalling state of affairs is currently based on the notion that most genuine job-seekers will only take 6 to 8 weeks to find a job.

Emerging from this are two, common problems in this country:

  • false economy; and
  • equal opportunity does not apply to people who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed [no matter how skilled or competent].

By false economy I mean long-term social welfare costs; wasted skills and labour; and inevitable dependence on charities whose help is needed elsewhere.

Deafies recently held a rally protesting closure of the course– surely one of the quietest demonstrations ever – but this was overshadowed by the shock announcement that Mowbray College, an ‘ordinary’ private school had – despite it’s share of government subsidies – been obliged to shut it’s doors because it was $18 million in debt.
This was a school which had received $15 million in funding in 2010.

On Friday June 1st the state government announced a $1 million injection of funds so VCE [the last year of High School] students would not be disadvantaged.

I do feel genuinely sorry for them... all of them.

Part Three: free trade between the states and Part Four: hot potato, hot potato