A fast train to nowhere:

Michael R. James writes: Re. “Sydney/Melbourne by plane or bust: Airbus vision kills the fast train” (yesterday, item 8). In response to Ben Sandilands piece Guy Rundle wrote “Arrrggghh!” So do I. I mean, Sandilands CANNOT BE SERIOUS. (There are times when only the John McEnroe response is appropriate.)

This vision of hundreds of 800-passenger jets servicing Melbourne-Sydney-Canberra “doesn’t require a single dollar of taxpayer funds”? That’s only if you do not count the cost to the economy of city congestion, currently estimated to be about $10B annually and likely to reach $20B under the business-as-usual scenario of Ben Sandilands and the roads lobby. Or the oil import bill, $26B annually according to the ABS. Or if you are happy to export high-value jobs to Toulouse and Seattle (or China which is building its first Airbus under license from Toulouse). Or the cost to the soul of the slow torture that airports represent today (Ben, haven’t you noticed that the actual final boarding of the planes is the very least of it?)

Well, of course Airbus is using Melbourne-Sydney as their poster boy because we (along with the Americans) are the Neanderthal holdouts when it comes to sensible transport policies (and not coincidentally, energy policies) Naturally any vision of fast trains and new cities (and new energy policies) includes vastly improved public transport for our major — and any newly planned — cities.

As one of the bloggers, James McDonald, writes “I’m mystified how additional air terminals are supposed to be easier to build and use than VFT terminals. Both require intermodal connections but only one of these requires taxiing and takeoff space.”

All these things (fast trains servicing new distant airports, and new cities and proper Metro systems for cities) work together in a coherent and mutually beneficial way — and contribute to a much better quality of life — instead of the vicious circle of more roads and more congestion from perpetually delayed decisions on things like airports due to Nimbyism and short-termism.

Ben actually acknowledges all that. He says “Making public transport within the cities functional, slashing car dependency within them, and building some new “smart” cities seems a much better start to breaking with a dismal past.” But it seems that he has simply become totally, 100% defeatist that Australia is capable of changing from an unplanned road-based mess of poorly serviced sprawl. Because we don’t have it now and haven’t done it in the past, we will never do it in the future.

With transport “experts” like him settling for third-rate non-solutions, and even more rabid road lobbyists everywhere (who have given us the Sydney of today and the Brisbane of tomorrow), maybe he is right. And with Costello now appointed to the Future Fund, how much imagination in infrastructure spending can we expect from that repository of our national wealth? What an appalling “vision” for what Australia will be like.

John Dowden writes: The development of large jets has not killed the fast train. It was already dead. In fact it is now almost 20 years since the demise of the joint venture to link Melbourne Sydney and Canberra by rail.

The Parliamentary Library has an informative timetable of the events leading to the collapse of the VFT project. It confirms Ben’s view that whole railways can be built in the time Australia takes to study, debate and ditch a proposal.


Tim Mackay writes: The government does not have a “piratical approach” approach to Telstra as Avril Clark (yesterday, comments) and other Telstra shareholders claim. Telstra shareholders should recognise that it is simply a matter of supply, demand and negotiation. The government can supply something Telstra demands — 4G spectrum. The government is under no obligation to allow anyone to bid for and access 4G spectrum.

The government wants Telstra to split itself to weaken its remaining legacy monopoly powers. The government has decided that it will allow Telstra to bid for the 4G spectrum only if Telstra voluntarily decides to split itself. It has every right to do so as it owns this asset on our behalf — Telstra does not own it. It is completely Telstra’s decision as to whether it decides to split itself to gain access to the government’s 4G spectrum.

Savvy shareholders should be aware that the potential long term financial destruction of Telstra’s future business model from not being able to access 4G spectrum outweighs the short term cost of structural separation.

This is not piracy, this is Negotiation 101 where, for the first time, the government is bargaining from a strong position and Telstra a weak one.

Asylum seekers:

John Shailer writes: Re. “Mungo: Tough stance on boat people borders on the ridiculous” (Monday, item 13). Another day, another boatload for Christmas Island! What is our fearless leader doing? — parroting his spin doctors’ mantra “tough but humane”, and taking no decisive action.

Meanwhile the “Indonesian solution” is in tatters — an Australia’s Customs vessel has effectively been hijacked by Tamil refugees. A senior AFP officer advised that Kevin’s “open door” policies would lead to a surge in boat people — tragically, a second boat has sunk with further loss of the life. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner has warned about Tamil terrorists among the refugees.

Under Kevin, our border protection policy is completely Rudderless!


Simon Ochsenbein writes: Re. “ASIC takes a serious swing at MFS” (Monday, item 24). There is an error in Adam Schwab’s article. Schwab wrote “After slipping into administration, MFS sold 65% of Stella to private equity firm CVC for $430.”

Despite the tone of Schwab’s article Schwab gives the Stella sale a far more honourable tilt than it deserves. Not only was OCV Ltd six months away from Administration but far worse, it was in a trading halt on the ASX. OCV Ltd were allowed to sell their only substantial asset, while in a trading halt, without share holder approval.

I understand that the sale price for the 65% share of Stella was $409M plus the transfer of $900M of UBS debt to CVC.

A food fight:

Dr Rosemary Stanton writes: Re. Kate Carnell (yesterday, comments). An “activist” is defined as a zealous worker for a cause. Having worked for over 40 years as a nutritionist in public health, I’ll accept a tag of “nutrition” or “public health” activist, although I suspect Kate meant it as an insult.

I would have thought Ms Carnell’s previous life in politics would have made her a zealous worker in directing the Coalition’s amendment to remove food from the ETS. Or was the AFGC simply surprised and delighted by their call?

The AFGC’s claims the ETS would increase food prices by 5%, prices has been challenged by Assistant Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet who says detailed Treasury modelling puts it at 0.1%.

Had Ms Carnell read my Crikey article, she might have noted that I was calling for a carbon footprint tax — something bigger and more relevant to arresting global warming than the proposed ETS. Unless imported foods could cross the ocean by magic carpet, on entry they’d be hit with a tax based on the carbon footprint involved in getting them here.

My aim is to reduce consumption of junk food and drinks — whether home-produced or imported.

Climate change:

Kieren Diment writes: Ken Lambert’s point (yesterday, comments) is as usual obscure poorly argued, and massively overstates his case in ways not supported by the data. It’s very easy to make scientific sounding arguments that fail rigorous scrutiny.

However applying such scrutiny requires engaging the reader with fairly complex science that requires some background in statistical methods (undergraduate level or more advanced). So countering his poorly cited, second hand report of a letter on a scientific issue to a magazine with limited scientific credentials is a bit too big an ask for your letters page. I also suspect that whatever branch of physics that Horst-Joachim Luedecke, the original letter author did research in, it did not require a detailed understanding of the statistics required to do climate science.

Meanwhile if your readers are interested, the kind of information required to be able to assess the size and magnitude of climate trends has been done to death and more in the Climate Change Cage Match.

Neither Ken or Professor Luedecke seem to understand how this is done, but don’t understand that this limits the validity of their opinions.

John Peak writes: Many followers of the intermittent climate change debate in Crikey proper (as opposed to spectating the Climate Change Cage Match) will, like me, need a bit of a Google path after some of the entries, to understand what’s going on.

I must admit I had only the smallest notion of what Ken Lambert’s acronym-ridden contribution was saying today, but there were names, Horst-Joachim Luedecke, and Mojib Latif, so I Googled them, and I recommend others, including Mr Lambert, do the same.

Retired Professor Luedecke’s letter to the Economist of October 29 does make the claim that at the World Climate Conference in Geneva this year, Professor Latif demonstrated that “mean global temperature has actually declined since 2001. Moreover, his computer models predict a further temperature drop over the coming decades”.

Next stop, Wikipedia on Professor Latif’s talk at the Conference: “New Scientist reported him as ‘We could be about to enter one or even two decades of cooler temperatures, according to one of the world’s top climate modellers’. This interpretation was described as being likely incorrect on different blogs and is not in line with his own interpretation given in a later interview. In fact, Latif did not make any specific long-range predictions.”

Check it out — and I particularly recommend reading the Climate Progress Blog referring to an interview with Professor Latif, where a detailed exchange suggests that Latif makes no claims of accurate long-term prediction, if anything he comes out on the side of rapid warming. It is claimed he was wilfully misreported.

If I can do that…

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