Dear King Pig

My mate Don sent a letter to the King Pig and the Special Minister for World (Catholic) Youth Day in NSW in regards to his freedom to annoy Catholics.

Dear Minister

It was my intention to be involved in a peaceful demonstration over the Pope's supposed World Youth Day on July I am concerned by reports in the media, primarily the Sydney Morning Herald, that I will be breaking the law and risk jail or a fine.

Could you please clarify that I will not be breaking the law if I:

  • assemble at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst at 12pm 19 July with other like minded citizens.
  • wear a T-shift of the English folk/rock band Chumbawumba. The T-shirt is plain black and says in grey writing "Chumbawumba" on the back "Atheist" on the front.
  • I will be carrying a cardboard placard A2 size. One side will say "Miranda Devine Sux" and the other side will say "World Peas" with a picture of some small green vegetables.
  • Offer condoms to passed by, in a respectful, polite and peaceful manner.
  • Possibly sing or chant harmless songs - such as one of my old rugby favourites "Has anybody seen JC" lyrics at

Thank you kindly

Don McCallum


Why direct action is important

Parliament protestors

The Guardian has a great piece about direct action group Plane Stupid, who are all about preventing the expansion of the aviation industry in the face of climate change. It presents a passionate and well-reasoned insight into why direct action is important, and how electoral politics can't solve the world's problems.

"In a situation where you need massive, urgent systemic change, we don't really have the system to achieve it," says Thompson. "Electorally, everyone is fighting over the middle ground. So the mere fact that you're not a moderate means you can't be listened to. That means anybody who had the answer to climate change would automatically be excluded from the debate. This is why you can't just think, if I vote for the greenest party at the election, I'll have done what I needed to."

Carbon pricing and petrol

Australia is in the midst of deciding how its eventual carbon taxation and trading environment will work, and the conservatives have switched back to their default climate change denial position, as they had before they thought it might win them last year's election. These supposed fans of the free market are now calling for petrol to be excluded from any eventual carbon pricing mechanism.

Crikey has been banging on about the fact that excluding any sector of the economy from the carbon taxation means the cost of carbon for every other sector will be higher. Our government would do well to resist these regressive moves, and aim for a flat carbon price that is based solely around the carbon emitted. We are, after all, trying to get the economy to be less carbon-intensive, so any moved by any sector to reduce their carbon emissions should be encouraged, via a price signal.

Last week China removed some subsidies on processed oil products, which caused a sharp rise in prices. This change was partially caused by pressure from economists to remove the subsidies and instead focus the subsidy on those in most need of financial help. This is the same approach Australia should take.

So the eventual approach we need to take is to tax all carbon sources equally, and help households that meet the criteria of fuel poverty through direct, means-tested and targetted subsidy. Otherwise you'll end up continuing to subsidise road transport over other forms of transport, the rich will end up with cheaper fuel, the poor will still be struggling.

Obviously part of the package needs to be providing alternatives to single-occupant petrol-based transport throughout the economy.

Ban this filth!

Anne Geddes kiddy porn

It seems according to Hetty Johnson's version of "community standards" that any photograph of a person under the age of 18 in anything more revealing than a full burka is pornography. Anne Geddes, watch out!

The people who are sick are those who can't see a naked body in anything other than a sexual context. That's just weird and twisted. It's the Hetty Johnsons of this world who need help.

Disappointingly, our prime minister weighed in with his opinion without having seen the images themselves. He doesn't know a lot about art, but clearly he knows what isn't art.

Competition policy isn't that hard

Politicans seem to have been constantly making a hash of competition policy in Australia. The idea behind such policy is to smooth the way of competition, and allow markets to improve the lot of consumers. It's pretty simple stuff, but in many markets in Australia, there's very little competition.

Take, for example, private health insurance. If you earn more than a certain amount, you're effecively forced to have it. So you want to find out which plan suits your needs, but it's almost impossible to work that out. Health insurers use all kinds of sneaky tricks to exclude certain benefits, restrict you to specific care providers and make it difficult to claim. Sneaky tricks like allowing private doctors to decide, case-by-case, whether they'll work with your insurer or not mean it's impossible to make an informed decision when you're choosing a policy.

It doesn't have to be like this. What's needed is for the government to set a common set of criteria that companies operating in the market must disclose to enable direct comparisons. The former government had a half-hearted stab at this with private health insurance, offering a database of available policies. But because it doesn't cover the sneaky tricks, it's virtually useless.

This is an approach that could be taken across industries. I work for a telco and see the marketplace swamped with conflicting offers using sneaky fine print to con consumers into thinking they're getting a good deal, when of course they aren't. The offers change constantly, with some providers offering genuinely good deals to build market share, before switching to sneakier deals that aren't anything like as good.

This means that comparison services like Choice really can't offer simple advice. Instead, consumers are left to try and make up their mind without adequate information.

Common criteria for comparison

The ACCC should be empowered to act in markets that aren't working. They should be able to direct industries to come up with their own common criteria for comparing products, and force them to disclose the information in a machine-readable form with an open-access license, which will enable the data to sliced and diced to help consumers make informed choices. Even better, industries where online billing is the norm should be forced to allow consumers to extract their bill data in a standard format, so they can upload it to comparison sites and be recommended the best offers based on past usage.

Coming up with common criteria would be hard, there's no doubt, and you can just imagine the cries of "stifle innovative offers" from the industries. That's the cry of people scared of competition. With a decent review mechanism, new pricing models could be easioly incorporated into the standards.

Easing the switch

The other are that will improve competition is easing switching between providers. This can be applied in just about every market. Banks are likely to be forced to make switching accounts easier, with direct debits carried across. The big ones are screaming about it, because they like their cosy little lock-in on consumers. If they're screaming, the policy must be doing something right.

Other areas that desperately need work include the telecommunications sector. To switch ADSL1 or ADSL2+ providers can be incredibly complex. To do it smoothly, both providers need to have signed up for the "fast churn" process, and there's a different agreement for ADSL1 and ADSL2+. Telstra, of course, haven't signed up for ADSL2+, which means consumers wishing to transfer from Telstra ADSL2+ can be without their internet connection for weeks when switching providers.

The solution here is simple: force all providers to support a fast churn mechanism. If they don't want to, it's clear they fear competition. What other reason could there be?

They do things differently in Tassie

Moonscape logging on my recent trip to Tassie

The government of Tasmania (that'd be the Lennon government, not Gunns in case you're confused) do things differently in Tasmania. They paid for a big DC power link from the island to the mainland, which was switched on just in the nick of time as Tasmania ran out of water to run its hydro dams. Apparently the link, built to export electricity to the mainland, has flowed almost exclusively in the other direction since it was built.

Anyway, when you're running cables it's very easy to stick a few fibres in the cable run, and that's what they did. Basslink includes a fibre connection to the mainland, which would be a boon to telecommunications services in the state. Currently the only active fibre is owned by the corporate gorilla Telstra, and as monopolies tend to do, they charge like there's no tomorrow. ISP Internode, which recently stopped selling residential ADSL2+ and 8 megabit ADSL1 plans, claims Telstra charges 6 times more for the Hobart-Melbourne route than they pay to ship data between Melbourne and the US.

This would, of course, all be solved if the fibre attached to Basslink were switched on. It's been sitting there since 2003, unused. Now it emerged that the company that Tasmania contracted to operate the fibre gets paid $2 million a year regardless of whether it's operating or not. So the company would need to guarantee at least $2 million in profit a year to do better than the alternative of letting the fibre sit on the bottom of the sea, dark.

This is the thing about privatisation which always ends up burning governments. The commercial world they're trying to entice holds all the cards, and has many other investment opportunities open to them. They have expensive and clever merchant bankers and lawyers, just waiting to negotiate the vendor (the government, that is, us) up against the wall. We see it time and again when previously "commercial in confidence" contracts between the private sector and governments are leaked or opened up: governments sell the family silver, but continue to take all the risks.

When negotiating these deals, the private sector always seems to manage to put in risk-avoiding clauses that leave the public sector carrying the can if it doesn't work out. With little risk, the private sector ends up just as bloated and inefficient (often even worse) as the public sector they replaced.

So if you're looking at the private sector to be more efficient, under the types of contracts that get signed, they're not. It costs more for private companies to raise money in the bond markets, so it's more expensive. And then they need a profit margin added on top. All up meaning it costs more, while tying the hands of governments for decades to come.

If you're a Tasmanian, check out Digital Tasmania and lobby your MPs to get this sorted. It's really very simple to fix. Just turn on the fibre!

Flint claims bias because panel not rigged in favour of monarchy

Pimms-and-lemonade enthusiast David Flint claims the governance panel at the 2020 Summit was stacked to get a pro-republican outcome. That, of course, would be totally different from that other summit where 50% of the delegates were appointed by a monarchist which, despite the clear majority of Australians wanting a Republic, managed to come up with a model nobody wanted.

So this stacked panel has come up with what should have been done in the first place. First, ask the Australian people whether they want to become a republic. Then, and only then, work out what model of republic we should be. After all of that, we put the royal family to the sword, assuming the model chosen is the Romanov option.

While the monarchists will oppose a republic by all sorts of devious means, the ticking time bomb that ensures we'll become a republic is that, eventually, our head of state will be a non-Australian inbred who has sexual fantasies about tampons. Ewwww!

Wowsers for hire

It used to be the best guarantee of bestseller status for a publisher was to be listed on the Catholic Church's Index Liborum Prohibitorum. These days, it seems you can engage an assortment of wowsers to get the publicity you want. Scorcese's Last Temptation of Christ was helped enormously due to the protests against its release.

She's dead, get over it

Goat Boy are the latest to mine this rich seam, prompting the usual outcries from the usual suspects. Yes, they're tasteless. But they're pretty bloody funny too.

What I wanna know is this: is there a talent agency for all these self-proclaimed guardians of moral uprightness? Can one hire them to ensure the appropriate publicity? If not, they're missing a trick!

Goat Boy's comment about thinking of a papal t-shirt for the World Youth Day boondoggle gave me some ideas. I'm thinking Palpatine myself, given the uncanny likeness. Then again, I'm also thinking about handing out free condoms at the event.