NBN:

Peter McDonell writes: Re. “Turnbull v Conroy: how Coalition broadband plan stacks up” (yesterday, item 3). I wonder at the lack of understanding of the media about one of the fundamentals of broadband.

Speed is only one factor. Perhaps the most important factor is the cost to the consumer related to the download allowance.  It may be wonderful to have a 100 Mbit connection, but not if that means you can use your entire monthly allowance in 24 hours, and thereafter be charged premium rates or be throttled back to dial up speed. When will one of the tech commentators address the consumer cost in terms of download allowances, and at what cost.

Look at the download allowances currently available on ADSL2 and ask the NBN proponents what they will charge for, say 100GB of download allowance? Compare this with Optus, TPG etc. allowances. I currently get a speed of about 4 Mbit and would be delighted with 12 Mbit. Everything I do would be more than adequately catered for. Many source locations used by downloaders would have a problem in feeding at a 100 Mbit speed.

Journalistic comment addressing the potential cost of download allowances, and premiums, on the NBN would really add to the debate. Has the NBN spin even addressed this issue? Why not examine just what fraction of the community needs, or can beneficially use, the 100 Mbit speed. You can’t even watch movies that fast!

Mark McDougall writes: I am from Newcastle. Over the last thirty years we have had three significant disruptive events. In 1987/8 we had the earthquake, in 1995 and 1998 we had bushfires, in 2007 we had the Pasha Bulka storm.

In each case for varying reasons the power went down for prolonged periods. These are not the only times our power has gone off, but these were the times that we were most needful of communications.

The copper lines are the most reliable form of communication in such emergency events. Power can go down but the copper line didn’t used to need 240 volts to keep operative.

If, when we lose power, the mobile towers and the NBN all stop, we will be quite at a loss. What has Conroy proposed to cover Australia in crisis such as regularly keep occurring when he decommissions the copper network (and relies upon 240 volts to power fibre optics cables for his NBN)? No one seems to have noted nor addressed the potential for communications black hole in a extreme event crisis.

VoIP just doesn’t work without backup power at every junction, same with fibre and nodes. Are they thinking we will never have another Ash Wednesday or Black Saturday when we desperately need communication but the power is out and the fires are hellishly devouring street and city? No more earthquakes? Never another storm nor flood?

Banks

Les Heimann writes: Re. Yesterday’s Editorial. Crikey wrote:

“It’s time for Swan to justify his resistance to an inquiry into financial regulation, and why he thinks his own measures to strengthen competition for the banking cartel are effective when, by all possible measures, they are anything but.”

One must ask why the more appropriate point was not made, being; in the light of experience gained from the Global Financial Crisis why is it that there has been no effort made to introduce the financial reforms considered necessary at the time to be essential to prevent a repeat of the GFC?

Banking and other corporations operate in a competitive market in a manner allowed them through whatever legislative framework exists. In a democracy making a profit is not illegal. Making a massive profit is also not illegal. Charging whatever the market will bear is also not illegal. Offering services to customers within the law is not illegal. Attempting to obtain the greatest possible share of the market is not illegal. However, colluding with competitors for mutual advantage is illegal.

The reality is that when governments withdrew state owned competition organs from the market they opened the barn doors. Both sides of the political fence stand accused of lack of foresight, economic incompetence and a complete inability and unwillingness to level the playing field, even a little. Labor and Liberals both are acting in the country’s worst interests by not legislating the necessary financial reforms required to protect Australians.

It is about legislating the definition and parameters of a market place and, without sounding contradictory, ensuring there is genuine competition within the market.

Gavin Greenoak writes: Just imagine what would happen if the heart said — oh gee, all this blood coming my way — the blood that every cell of this body wants — made in the marrow — and it all flows through me — oh what an opportunity — to be the biggest most powerful organ — to appropriate this — as mine — regulating the rate and flow — not according to the body’s interest as a whole — but according to my separate interest — above all — and storing this essential nourishment — not for its actual value but for its promise of value — and selling it — as such — for more promises — so vast they must be broken — and held against those who need it — under threat — just imagine what would happen if my heart became a parasite — in my own body — where heart failure — is often fatal — oh this sad, sad heart of it — this sad, bad heart of us — all — and why we go along with it…

Coal:

Matthew Auger writes: Re. “When will Australia’s coal run out?” (yesterday, item 23). Stubborn Mule’s article really is just another “Club of Rome” style doomsday bullsh*t (or rather mulesh*t) story that does a lap of the media every so often.

First mistake is that the Economic/Sub-economic Demonstrated Resources (EDR/SDR) that Stubborn Mule quotes (from Australian Energy Resource Assessment, Chapter 5 – Coal, section 5.1.2, para 3) are for Black Coal.  Stubborn Mule neglects to mention that Coal comes in two “colours”, Black and Brown.  Victoria has enormous rese rves of Brown Coal (think Hazelwood power station, Greenies!).

If Stubborn Mule bothered to look a little further down the page (ABARE’s AERA, C5, s5.1.2, para 7, page 132) he would see we have 490 years (at current production rates) of EDR Brown Coal and I calculate from the figures provided that we have 1,216 years of EDR and SDR Brown Coal and 2,557 years of EDR, SDR and Inferred category Brown Coal.  We are not exactly running out. An important point to remember is that we don’t really export much in the way of Brown Coal, so exponential export demand for (Black) Coal isn’t terribly relevant.

In Stubborn Mule’s article he makes an assumption ABARE’s reserve estimates are too conservative and says “Let’s see. I’ll be generous and assume that coal reserves are in fact twice as big.”.  Well no, Stubborn Mule could have simply looked at AERA, C5, s5.1.2, para 5, page 131 and found that there is 66.6Gt of recoverable Inferred Resources of Black Coal, so total EDR, SDR and Inferred is nearly triple EDR. It is important to remember that EDR, SDR and Inferred Resources are simply coal fields that geologists have bothered to do exploration drilling to “prove up” the amount of coal to various degrees.

ABARE makes a very important point regarding future discoveries in AERA, C5, s5.1.2, para 8, page 132: “The potential for further discoveries of coal resources in Australia is significant and is probably over one trillion tonnes given that there are over 25 sedimentary basins with identified resources or coal occurrences and that there are significant areas within these basins that are under-explored.”

If any Crikey reader wants more information on definitions of “Resource”, “Reserve”, “Inferred” etc, I would highly recommend reading the JORC code 2004 edition (the Mining Exploration Geologist’s bible).

Hugh Saddington writes: Your article giving a 90 year resource life to Australia’s coal assumes no expansion of the sector. Adopting a constant 3% growth in coal extraction would suggest a 45 year life to resources and a 5% constant annual growth in extraction would suggest a 35 year life of our resources. Clearly investment in coal generation is highly risky as the investor should not relying on local coal resources.

As an aside, climate scientists suggest that we need to keep our incremental greenhouse emissions below 970 billion tonnes by 2050 if we are to have a reasonable chance of keeping temperature increases to around 2 degrees. This proposed Australian Coal extraction would represent over 5% of our global budget.

Preferential voting:

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Labor finally realises how much it needs preferences” (yesterday, item 9). I’m not sure how Charles Richardson can claim that “if preferences had not been counted the Coalition would have won comfortably” at this year’s election. Well I suppose it could have been the case if the Electoral Commission had bizarrely decided at 6pm to ignore all preferences this year, hardly a meaningful hypothesis given the AEC’s impeccable reputation.

The alternative reading of Charles’s what-if is that he assumes we would all vote  in a first-past-the-post ballot  the same way we gave our first preferences. We may not be a nation of Antony Greens but most of us over-18s have enough understanding of preferences to choose how we write consecutive integers on our ballot papers. Where we would make an X in a different system is quite another story and you can’t extrapolate from one to the other.

The fact that preferences boosted Labor’s primary vote more than the Coalition’s merely tells us that in a FPTP election the minor parties would do much worse and the most of those votes would shift to Labor rather than the Coalition. Which is surely what all that two-party-preferred stuff on election night is all about. The details are probably on the AEC website, but I’ll bet it’s nine seats’ worth.

Despite that  criticism, I agree with his conclusion about allowing optional preferential voting. Let’s see it everywhere.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience:

Bryan Buchanan writes: Re. Gabriel McGrath (yesterday, comments). I’m sure I won’t be the only one to point out that the “Jimi Hendrix Experience” was actually the name of the band consisting of the greatest exponent of the electric guitar (ever) along with his colleagues Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell.

Sadly, all three are no longer with us.

If there’s currently an outfit doing the rounds calling themselves the “Jimi Hendrix Experience”, well, that’s just sad.

Peter Fray

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