28 November 2007

"Airports are very stressful places for a lot of people"

So spake a Sydney magistrate who, as today's Australian reports, did not convict a university lecturer who pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and swearing in a public place (that's still an offence?) because she missed a Jetstar flight to Hervey Bay.

The magistrate expected a bucketload of criticism from the usual tabloid sources. I don't condone violence but I do think that the magistrate has a point and, moreover, that the authorities, by which I mean airline, customs/immigration/ quarantine , airport security and management, can do more to alleviate matters.

For starters:

1. Review processes with a view to speeding them up at both departure and (particularly for international flights) arrival .

This means, among other things:
  • improving technology, eg x-ray equipment, to reduce/eliminate errors: on my recent trip transiting via Singapore (and not going out of the airport) I had to empty my carry on bag as the X-ray operators were adamant that I was carrying a small cutting instrument (I wasn't, but they wouldn't take my word for it).
  • seeing that enough trained people are available to deal with the customers.
2. Provide passengers with as sufficient information as possible to help them go through departure and arrival formalities as smoothly as possible.

  • make information available as widely as possible and in a variety of media: online, print and, for inbound passengers, in the destination videos which are shown just before arrival.
  • have clear instructions and signage throughout terminals.
If this sounds like I'm just being grumpy let me give a bouquet to the authorities at Heathrow, who seem to have, especially after the foiled bombing attempt at Glasgow airport, recognised that slow moving crowds of people in terminals can be a major security risk. My impression when I left this year was that the processing was still rigorous but that people didn't have to wait as long as has been the case in the past. By no means perfect (and the immigration counters for arriving non-British/EU citizens are understaffed - or perhaps on the morning when I passed through there were a few late arrivals ) but getting better.

In Australia the procedures at Darwin Airport were sub-standard: a long, slow moving queue stretched out of the terminal building into the tropical night, and the few instructions were bellowed out by the staff operating the x-ray machines (in a language which I, but not I imagine foreign passengers, just recognised as Australian English). Some of the staff came across as brusque and officious. Not a good way to welcome visitors and returning citizens.

Note: The version of this story printed in The Oz is longer than the online version linked to above.

27 November 2007

Bernie Banton: "decency and humanity that was sorely needed"

Bernie Banton has died after a long, courageous and dignified fight against mesothelioma. He was 61.

The Sydney Morning Herald's obituary covers his varied working life, which included stints as a house painter, funeral director and car salesman. He came to public prominence during the long fight against James Hardie for compensation. Greg Combet, the then ACTU secretary, said of this time "Bernie has been there every day and has lent to this entire process a decency and humanity that was sorely needed." A good example and a good epitaph.

26 November 2007

Matt Price: the fragility and caprice of life

Matt Price has died, soon - too soon - after, as I posted last month, he was diagnosed with brain tumours. He was only 46.

He was best known to most people, other than Fremantle Dockers supporters, as a political writer for The Australian. His blog posts and "Sketch" pieces were masterpieces of astute, but not often savage, observation of the quirkiness of politicians, and sometimes others. This from December last year is a favourite of mine, while this from just two months ago is another.

His obituary appears in today's Australian . The online version includes links to some of his pieces, including another favourite of mine, a description of his meeting with Bob Dylan .

To finish, a quote from a more reflective piece :

...it's simply impossible to dwell on the minutiae of politics or much else when the fragility and caprice of life comes along to kick you square in the solar plexus.

Update 27 November

I've been reading more of Matt's columns and blog posts (once I start it's hard to stop). Here are a couple of other pieces.

This criticises criminal investigation methods in Perth (but the general points are surely applicable to other towns and cities).

This describes some predictions of his, eg that Kevin Rudd was foolish to challenge Kym Beazley for the ALP leadership last year, which left him with egg on his face. Extract:

Unkind readers will be able to produce a much longer litany of silly things spouted in this space: the aforementioned bung predictions were simply plucked off the top of my head. Perhaps I’ve got a few things right, too. Surely not.

That’s the fun and privilege of being a paid know-all. Were your local MP prone to get things wrong as often as your average pundit, they would quickly be hounded out of public life.

There are all sorts of columns and columnists: thought-provoking, pointy-headed, partisan, quirky, authoritative, evangelical, clever, barracking, specialised, cautious, outrageous, inspiring, weighty, humorous, hectoring, provocative, shambolic, mocking, rambling, reactionary, personal, predictable, self-indulgent, angry, moving, pointless, profound, insightful, balanced, persuasive, strident, nitpicking, satirical, outlandish and downright boring. I’ll leave it to you to categorise these scribblings but, in case you’re interested, I’m content with the small but sweet victory of readers starting at the headline and staying through until the final sentence.

What more could any writer (or blogger), no matter which of the above words might apply to their work, wish for?

"A new page in our nation's history"

Thus did Mr Rudd modestly describe his and the ALP's success in Saturday's election. I'd have not raised even an eyebrow if, given the scale of the victory, he'd used the word "chapter" instead of "page". His speech acknowledging ("claiming" seems too strong a word) victory was relatively low key: it took the cheers of his audience to remind me that I was witnessing what I hope will turn out to be a significant moment in Australian history.

Despite my tentative prediction about the outcome, it was a landslide in anyone's terms, and I congratulate all those who contributed to the victory.

Special thanks are due to those who developed or modified the policies which look like pointing the nation in a more equitable direction. Given the middle ground over which the ALP and the Coalition fought, or, in some respects merely quibbled, the ALP's strategy of emphasising a few key points of differentiation, eg Workchoices, worked well. The party also maintained a much tighter discipline than the Coalition throughout the campaign: in the past it's often been the other way round.

Naturally the media (mainstream and other) have had plenty to say: take your pick. To choose just one (not entirely at random) Crikey has its customary range of opinion embracing various permutations of the considered, the quirky and the ratbag (this one caught my eye).

Unlike Mr Costello who referred to neither Mr Howard nor Mr Rudd by name during his speech on Saturday night, I thought that Mr Howard conceded defeat graciously. Given recent and current events in Pakistan, Burma and many other countries it's good to see a smooth acknowledgment of a change of government.

Mr Howard held power for so long partly (not entirely) by massaging the underbelly of the Australian character, eg materialism, racism. I hope that Mr Rudd, for all the "me-too" propensities he displayed during the campaign, is less inclined to follow suit. His victory speech may have been short on visionary rhetoric but he did mention Bernie Banton , someone whose case was taken up by the (to the Coalition) much maligned union movement.

I wish Mr Rudd and his government well, and more than one term in office unless they prove exceedingly incompetent, but expect to offer constructive criticism from time to time.

23 November 2007

The election

Tomorrow's election hasn't set my world on fire, even though I've followed the protracted and often tedious campaign quite closely since I returned from overseas at the end of last month (there was very little about it in the British media) .

What I've seen is both major parties trying to grab a the larger share of the middle ground. Mr Howard is a pastmaster at doing this, even though he or his followers have stumbled a couple of times eg the Lindsay Affair.

Judging from his policies, Mr Rudd has followed the principle of "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer". The main differences between the ALP and coalition policies are mostly of degree rather than kind , though in industrial relations he does, despite the dilution of the ALP's initial tooth and nail opposition to Workchoices, appear to offer an alternative option, one which is at least better than leaving the coalition's Mark 2 version intact.

I'm not sure about other areas, despite all the huffing and puffing about the alleged differences. I think it's significant that the ALP is promising "new leadership" rather than new policies, which is code for saying "things are pretty much OK at present for most people but we can handle the economy etc a bit better than the Howard - Costello team (or whatever permutation of it might emerge in the event of a coalition victory)".

I will vote tomorrow: before 10am, when the local Christmas pageant begins its journey which takes it past my house and seals off the neighbourhood (albeit in a very good cause) until about noon. As is my custom, I've invited a few friends round to watch and share some refreshments . In the evening I'll watch the count on TV, expecting to see a Labor win, though being, like both Mr Howard and Mr Rudd, of a naturally conservative disposition, won't expect a landslide.

19 November 2007

Search for HMAS Sydney to "begin early next year"

In breaking news The Age and news.com.au report that an "official" search for HMAS Sydney will begin "early next year".

Both reports are similar, suggesting that they are drawn from the same media release. Here's an extract from the news.com.au one:

The HMAS Sydney Search Foundation today announced it would begin looking for the vessel in January or February with $4.2 million in federal funding, $500,000 from the WA Government and $250,000 from the New South Wales Government.

HMAS Sydney Search director Ted Graham said about 1500 sq nautical miles of water off WA's northern coast would be searched, reaching depths of 2500-4500m.

"The scale and complexity involved in such a search is significant, Mr Graham said.

"However, advances in technology, exhaustive archival research and the recent increase in government funding for the search, provide our best chance yet of success in finding HMAS Sydney II."

The search will be coordinated by shipwreck hunter David Mearns, who found two legendary WWII vessels, HMS Hood and the German battleship Bismarck.

I shall await developments with interest.

16 November 2007

Another fatal rail accident near Adelaide

Apart from the sadness of hearing that two people have been killed in a level crossing accident at Virginia it beggars belief that the level crossings in the area, after some recent incidents eg this accident in August are still not safe for both road and rail users.

The accident-prone line is a the main line, not a rarely used branch, so there is little excuse for not beefing up safety. Having said this, I'll wait to hear (and see) more.

11 November 2007

Armistice Day

Anzac Day is Australia's principal day of acknowledgment of the sacrifices made by so many people in wartime, but I was pleased to see that the custom of two (or is it one ?) minutes' silence on Armistice Day was widely observed at eleven o'clock this morning.

When I was in the UK a fortnight ago I noticed people such as TV football commentators wearing poppies then, though here I only noticed them today on, among others, the Insiders panel and the Channel 9 cricket commentary team.

I'd be interested to know how widespread the Armistice Day observation is around the world. Is it still mainly confined to the "victors" of World War 1, or has it been taken up more widely?

06 November 2007

Back in my backyard

A longer time than I intended between posts, but I hope to be a little more prolific from now on.