Federal department rewards dead wood. The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) has bungled the large housing program in the Northern Territory, SIHIP, and now it is going to reward those who continue to stuff up things in the department. It now realises it has too many Executive Level 1 ( EL1) officers in the department, so it has asked, confidentially of course, for all EL1s to consider taking a redundancy. This no doubt will be paid out of program administration funds. Those incompetent senior officers will now be rewarded with a payout while FaHCSIA’s clients, particularly those in the NT, are left to suffer under a system that was developed and implemented by these soon to be rewarded incompetents.

Meanwhile, a senior public servant in FaHCSIA Alice Springs ICC has been seconded to work for the Labor Party in the NT Chief Minister’s office. Normally this would be a huge conflict of interest and would not be allowed. However, as this person has strong personal ties with the local member and federal Labor minister, it appears the rules have been overlooked.

Myer counts a people downturn. Myer has invested huge sums to put people counters on each door of every store, which give a measure of traffic or the number of people who visit the store. They are reasonably accurate, and have been in place for years. The recent stocktake sale recorded the lowest traffic figures for many years, and generally traffic has been trending down at Myer since TPG purchased the business from Coles Myer five years ago. Maybe the truth about the company’s poor performance is people simply do not want to shop there any more.

The killer trading update. What were they thinking at the National Australia Bank when they were writing the press release for today’s December 31 quarterly trading update? Including this: “The Group delivered positive jaws between revenue and expense growth during the quarter.” Is this the first admission that our fourth-biggest bank is in fact a shark? Cue the music …

Cambodia as stable as it’s apathetic … Your tip yesterday that Cambodia may about to do a Tunisia is completely wrong. Currently Cambodia couldn’t be more stable with a people who are as apathetic as they are lazy. Those at the top who are always more likely to threaten Prime Minister Hun Sen are doing very well — thanks to bucketloads of foreign aid from the West and China, most of which they steal. There are more expensive cars on the roads then ever and construction is rampant in Phnom Penh. Even in the countryside there are new houses everywhere. The rice harvest has been good and food prices quite stable.

Cambodians have been paying far too much for staples for so long that they think this is normal. Food in Thailand and Vietnam is generally cheaper because Cambodia’s own production is woeful. Over half of all food, apart from rice, is imported from our neighbours. The fact that the military receive 10 times the money in the budget than the agriculture sector may have a lot to do with this.

Hun Sen keeps a very tight lid on things here; his personal bodyguard protection unit is 4000-strong and he travels mostly by helicopter. His helicopters, one for bodyguards presumably, fly over my house every day from his residence in a very secure military base about 10 kilometres out of town to the city.

Ordinary Cambodians have little interest in politics and most won’t hear a bad word against the ruling elite. They are an apathetic and cowed people, something to do with enduring over 30 years of war and deprivation perhaps. The current stoush with Thailand is doing Hun Sen no harm either.

… meanwhile, in Burma, CNN tells the story. Surprisingly here in Myanmar — or Burma, if you like — the government-sanctioned feed of CNN has been showing uncensored coverage of the Egypt protests. While illegal satellite feeds with the BBC, ABC or the Democratic Voice of Burma are common, many people such as myself subscribe to the service offered by a government-linked company out of convenience.

The CNN channel is on a perpetual 30-minute delay to weed out any news on Myanmar, but so far news reports of the Egypt protests have continued unabated. Local private newspapers have also carried articles and photos. It’s been very surprising, and nobody has been able to come up with a reasonable explanation so far. Twelve months ago CNN was cut off, apparently because it was showing US soldiers helping out in the Haiti earthquake relief effort and the government didn’t want people to make any comparisons with the lack of assistance after Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

Tales from the front end of the plane. I regularly fly with Qantas in business class (on full fare as apart of my employment contract) and I am more often than not surrounded by a sea of orange jackets — those of Jetstar flight attendants. As a Qantas shareholder, I find it disturbing that a premium product feels not so premium when surrounded by your “low-cost” offshoot’s staff.

I’ve studied the facts. I understand the majority of yield comes from Qantas’s first, business and premium cabins. The planes are old and the service is questionable at times; we all know this. But business travellers have no other choice domestically in Australia. Why add salt to the wound? Bring on Virgin Blue and its business class. I for one will be walking and selling my shares to boot.

Get your sugar fix on Sydney stations. I have noticed a remarkable increase in the number of vending machines — selling sugar, salt and fat — recently installed on Sydney railway stations. As far as I can tell, they are at every station. I counted at least 21 such machines at Parramatta railway station, despite the close proximity of a shopping mall, convenience stores and many fast-food outlets. Even small stations such as Blaxland have had them recently installed. Granville has some, installed recently, even though there is already a snack shop on the platform and another on the concourse. I presume CityRail gets a cut. Should any responsible government department be encouraging obesity and heart attacks in this way?

Visit a wind-swept beach resort. I just received this — I guess another 20,000 plus Sheraton Members did too. Not the smartest thing to bundle three resorts into one offer — especially since the quoted “majestic beaches, awesome waves, spectacular scenery and an air of laidback comfort” would not exactly be the norm for Port Douglas at the moment …

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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