Just reporting the news at The Australian

Follow up question (from The Australian journalist): "So you'd like people to pay more for petrol and diesel, Senator?"

Christine: "My view is it would be fantastic to have really good public transport in Australia. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have very fast trains, wouldn't it be great to have a decent metro system in Melbourne and Sydney, wouldn't it be great to have electric cars, wouldn't it be great to redesign our cities so that people are less car-dependent and they're healthier and happier at the same time, and experience better air quality. They are the questions that need to be asked and that's what people want. If you want to get transformation and innovation, you only get it by transferring to the technologies that are low carbon and that's where we're coming from in this scenario to make sure we drive that kind of innovation in Australia."

Qn: "So you're signalling that petrol will be included?"

Christine: "Well, the transport sector is.."

QN interrupting: "When you say the transport sector, you're talking freight or people's ordinary cars?"

Did this journo already have his story written and just needed to stick the quote in the appropriate placeholder?

You wouldn't be politicizing the floods would you Tony?

As Julia Gillard warned tough budget choices lay ahead, the Opposition Leader said the $36 billion network was an “expensive luxury that Australia cannot afford”.

“The one thing you don't do is re-do your bathroom when the roof has just been blown off and that's the situation that we find ourselves in right now,” he said.

That sure sounds like you're using the flood disaster to grind an axe there Tony. Your party's newspaper has been all over Bob Brown, accusing him of doing the same for pointing out coal's complicity in climate extremes. Hypocrisy much?

Dear Australian Retailers

Your recent campaign to get GST levied on all Internet transactions has some rather major logical flaws.

1. Your prices are much more than 10% higher than overseas prices.

It's interesting that Angus & Robertson and Borders are part of your campaign. The book business is probably the easiest area where the massive price differences can be shown, thanks to the awesome Booko service which allows consumers to find the cheapest source for books, taking into account delivery charges and exchange rate fluctuations.

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$10.61 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$18 delivered.
Price difference: 41%.
Price difference without delivery: 8% (though to be fair, the cheapest price without freight was 44% cheaper).

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$38.15 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$56.39 delivered.
Price difference: 32%.
Price difference without delivery: 58% (clearly The Nile loads their "free" freight into the book price).

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$18.33 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$25.57 delivered.
Price difference: 28%.
(both sources load freight into the price)

Cheapest foreign sale, AUD$4.02 delivered.
Cheapest Australian sale, AUD$18.04 (for the Australian edition).
Price difference: 78%.
(both sources load freight into the price)

Here we see two examples of books that are only really of interest to an Australian audience cheaper overseas, a science fiction novel with international release also cheaper and a mass market bestseller. All dramatically cheaper bought from overseas. My experience having ordered from Australian online retailers is that they also take much longer to deliver than the overseas vendors. 6-10 weeks for delivery from Australia versus 2-6 weeks from Book Depository US or UK.

So book retailers, come back when the difference between your prices and those overseas is less than 10%, and your service is at least on par.

Now I know that the book industry is difficult. The local publishers are absolute idiots, and the sooner they die the better for everyone involved. But what about consumer electronics?

Example 1: D-Link Boxee
Price difference: 34%.

Example 2: LG BD570 Blu Ray Player
Price difference: 38%.

So even if they charged GST on these sales, they'd still be cheaper overseas. Why's that Gerry?  Should it be a legal requirement that Australian consumers subsidize your horseracing hobby?

2. Your online sites are woeful

Have a look at the sites of the retailers sponsoring this advertisement and see how many will actually sell you a product online, or have most of their product range online. Now before I did this little audit, I figured none of the retailers listed would sell anything substantial online. Surprisingly, there's more than I expected selling their full range online. Interestingly the fashion sector seems to have gone into this in a big way, and fashion is the sector many have regarded as very difficult to sell to people outside of stores.

But the big, noisy players in retail, the ones complaining the loudest about competition from overseas online stores, have conspicuously crap online presences. David Jones, Harvey Norman, Myer and Target hang your heads in shame!

Retailer Online sales? Full range online?
Angus & Robertson yes yes
Borders yes yes
David Jones no no
Dotti no no (but an impressive effort)
French Connection yes yes
Harvey Norman no no
House no no
Jacqui E no maybe?
Jay Jays yes yes
Just Jeans yes yes
Mimco yes yes
Myer yes no
Nine West no maybe
Peter Alexander yes no
Portmans no no
Seed yes no
Smiggle yes yes
Steve Madden yes yes
Superchef Warehouse no no
Target no no
Witchery yes yes

3. Collection would cost more than it would raise

The final nail in the coffin here is that the cost to collect GST on incoming mail, by opening packages, working out the cost, then having a mechanism to collect the money, would likely cost more than the tax that would actually be collected. Making it useless as a tax revenue. Let's remember that raising tax revenue for government and its services is, after all, the point of taxation. It's not designed as a way to protect the revenue of local businesses!

Of course, the retailers would suggest that in addition to the tax being levied, there also be a "collection fee" added to cover these costs. This would handily bring the price you pay online somewhere closer to their ridiculously overpriced goods. How convenient. And they wouldn't even have to compete on price!

Wikileaks: major news reports miss the major point

Is it just me or are the major news services missing the whole point of the Wikileaks US embassy cables?  Sure it's a bit embarrassing for the Yanks that their data all got into the public domain, but I'm sure all the players know these kinds of unflattering accounts are a regular part of diplomacy.

The really important thing here is that if a disgruntled employee with access to this data was able to very easily gather the whole database and leak it to Wikileaks, how many other sources are there leaking it less publicly?  There's upwards of three million people who have the appropriate security clearance. Do you think some of them might be financially distressed (given the recent GFC) and be open to a little cash incentive to leak it somewhere else?  Or have some other easy method to apply leverage (especially given "Don't ask. Don't tell.") So the question is probably less which intelligence agencies have been regularly receiving this data and more which ones haven't! Of course, their versions wouldn't have had the redactions of personal identifiers and the like that we see in the Wikileaks data.

Churches get opt-out point on same-sex adoption bill

THE independent state MP Clover Moore has moved to shore up support for her same-sex adoption bill by giving church adoption agencies the right to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.

If churches want to discriminate, they should lose the ability to administer adoptions. This is churches not reflecting community standards, not the other way around.

Charlie Brooker: 'Ground Zero mosque'? The reality is less provocative

I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen's pillow. That's how "distance" works in Britain.

The "Ground Zero mosque" isn't a mosque and isn't at Ground Zero, but the wingnuts won't let that get in the way of their outrage. Recent behaviour from Australia's conservatives has started down the same path. Scary for our future.

Bring back National Service

Now before you wonder what reactionary has taken over my blog, some background.

On Saturday I spent the morning handing out Greens How To Votes at Wilkins Public School.  One of the disturbing things about watching an election is the amount of misunderstanding of the process from the general public.  People really don't understand preferential voting, or how preferences flow.

I had lots of questions about whether a Greens vote will go to the Liberals -- questions I answered by explaining that the How To Vote flyers are only our party's recommendation of how you vote, and you are perfectly able to allocate your preferences any way you want.  Of course in the Senate ticket this is somewhat onerous, with 84 boxes needing to be filled in NSW, so above-the-line is more likely and people really need to know how their chosen party will allocate preferences.

So my suggestion is this: 18-25 year olds should be required (or perhaps just strongly encouraged) to work as scrutineers or counters in one election while they are in this age range.  Working as a scrutineer means you get to watch the entire process of ballot counting, including the distribution of preferences.  It's actually a reasonably difficult thing to explain in words, but very simple to explain in practice.

I suppose an alternative would be to ensure school civics classes teach this, and teach it through a little election in the classroom complete with preferences.

The photo shows the queue at our polling place.  It didn't get below about 30 minutes wait the whole morning, mainly because two of the three people handing out ballot papers were totally useless.  The video is some random kids who picked up some of our corflutes and were going around spruiking for votes while they waited for their parents.  The kids are alright!

At last, everyone might get a say

Instead of everyone - even ministers - finding out about major reforms after the arguments have been had and the brochures printed, non-kitchen cabinet members might actually get some say.

Instead of the executive imposing an idea upon the government and Parliament, it might have to make a case, think about alternative views - accept some of them even.

Gillard Abbott

Illustration: John Shakespeare

Saying a policy had tested well in focus groups, or had been promised to a special interest group, or was sure to win over a particular demographic at the next election, might not pass muster as a convincing reason to implement it any more.

That's right, governing through negotiation and debate. What a concept! Smells like... democracy.