14 May 2007
WORKPLACE AGREEMENTS & BUDGET.
Labour party stalwarts have been reported in the press as making an
issue of the fact that productivity of the workforce, since the
instigation of workplace agreements, has declined.
Lets try to make this simple. Consider the
case of a factory making
widgets. Productivity is the number of widgets produced by the factory
per annum divided by the number of workers producing those widgets.
The introduction of Australian Workplace
Agreements has changed an
economic fundamental. Now an employer can employ a new worker without
worrying, if there were to be a downturn, or if the worker were a dud,
whether he would be stuck with an unsackable worker.
So employers have employed new workers,
because they anticipated
that AWAs would improve the economy, and wanted to prepare by training
So the factory that had 20 workers
producing 2,000 widgets a year
suddenly had 21 workers still only producing 2,000 widgets a year. So
productivity went from 100 widgets per worker per year to 95.24widgets
per worker per year. Productivity has thus fallen by nearly 5%.
It must be the fault of AWAs. Well yes, it
most certainly is. So is
the rise in employment. Which rise, multiplied across the workforce has
increased consumer spending, which means more people will eventually
buy widgets, and so the cycle of prosperity continues.
Of course anybody who devotes some thought
to the matter realizes
that it is unadulterated self interest that motivates those Labour
party stalwarts. Significant Labour party funding is tendered by
unionist management, who derive their salaries (and those tendered ALP
contributions) from union fees, which are shrinking as union membership
declines because of AWAs.
And the rank and file? Most that I have
talked to are happy. They
have increased wages. They can see that there is a shortage of workers.
They do not believe that the days of the "Shearer's strike" could
return, but if it did, well they would form a new union.
FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND
Douglas was a welcome rest. I found shared accommodation (in with 2
German boys) for $21/night. An internet lounge allowed ethernet
connection of my laptop for $2.50/(30 minutes). The airconditioning
wasn't really necessary. PD was a hive of activity, real estate is in
short supply, new buildings everywhere. Lots of Yachts in port, empty
malls, dreadful coffee (except at one location, a combined
bookshop/coffeeshop on the main street.) I was told that accommodation
would not be available from that weekend, because some sort of festival
was starting, and the "stingers" would be gone next week. (Stingers are
some sort of jellyfish whose sting is often fatal to humans.)
I headed for nearby (1 hour away) Cairns. Cairns has some of the
advantages of a big city, (cheap internet, even wifi). The beach here
is a mudslick. Shared accommodation (at least that week) was either
unavailable or too expensive (around $30).
In the outback, camping charges for a single person are about $8-$10
per night. Along the eastern seaboard from Sydney to Cooktown, for
whatever reasons, a single and double campsite are nearly always
combined, so the cost for a single camper is generally about $18-$22
per night. As a consequence I mostly seek shared (dormitory)
accommodation, which provides clean sheets and a bed, better cooking
facilities, air conditioning, no mosquitos or flies, TV, sometimes
internet, and weatherproof shelter. I have pointed out these
differences to several campsite owners, but they refuse to reduce their
rates. Consequently I generally end up in one of the free campsites
provided along the highways, which lack showers and closeness to
shopping and rapacious campsite owners.
Next destination was Cooktown. The road has been upgraded to all
bitumen, and is an easy 4 hours from Cairns. Same rapacious caravan
parks, and no space for backpackers, so I headed for a free out-of-town
campsite that I had been told of on the "qt". That campsite turned out
to be quite idyllic, right on the seashore, waves crashing about 5
meters away, onshore winds that kept insects away. Palm trees and A few
family campers (including an extended family group) were scattered
about, fishing boats moored a few eters offshore. I was told that the
best fishing was on the reef, about 5 kilometers out.
Next morning in Cooktown, then on to the aboriginal settlement at
Hope Vale. A warning near the entry not to carry more than 2 litres
wine or equivalent onto the community under threat of a $70k fine. Then
a welcome. This had all the trappings of a showcase community. It was
not a large town, perhaps 4-6 blocks, each with 10-20 houses that were
well constructed and for the most fairly well maintained houses on
large (half acre?) blocks. Happy picaninies running about the streets
with assorted levels of clothing (down to zero). Quite respectable 4WD
vehicles parked at most of the houses, most of which had dish antenna.
An attractive school, a brightly decorated police station completed the
picture of urban bliss.
Another night at my free campsite, then next morning back towards
Cairns. I stopped for the night at Kuranda at the "Kuranda Backpackers
hostel". It was nearly empty, I paid $19 for a bed in a dorm with 12
beds and no other people. The hostel is a huge oldfashioned
"Queenslander" style wooden building. Kuranda is an attractive town,
having a contrived village atmosphere, and seemingly filled with
penurious artists. There are several shops and markets which sell
handmade pottery & jewelery, paintings and artefacts. Quite
reasonable coffee can be obtained on the corner coffee shop near the
tourist "I" park.
The tourist attraction at Kaunda is the "Barron Falls". I drove to
the viewing area and observed a thin thread of water falling about 100
meters. Lovely mountainous valley, but not much waterfall.
Then on to the big smoke, Cairns.
10 May 2007
Isa & Karumba.
Darwin was hot and humid. I had arrived
late April, which was a tad too early. However I explored a little.
To the northwest of the downtown area is
the suburb called
Larrakeyah where it appears the wealthy live. There is an enclosed
harbor with a lock, and residences fronting onto that harbor with
wharves chockablock full of yachts. The lock was presumably because the
"king" tides here are nine meters higher than lowest tides. A small
retail block fronting the enclosed harbor seemed to be struggling to
survive. The only business that seemed to have a chance of success was
the restaurant/coffee shop. I think they had better improve the quality
of the coffee. What many would be retailers probably fail to understand
is that rich people did not get rich by paying inflated prices for the
staples of life, and mostly they do know what good coffee tastes like.
Around mid-April accommodation in Darwin
was at a premium because
the Arafura games were due to start in May, and the various teams were
arriving in Darwin early to acclimatize.
I next drove into Kakadu, a distance of
about 250 km mostly east of
Darwin. Kakadu is a very large park about half the size of Tasmania. To
it's east is Arnhem land, which is even larger, probably about half the
size of the Australian state of Victoria. Arnhem Land occupies the NE
corner of the Northern Territory. White Australians must ask the local
Aboriginals for permission to enter Arnhem land. Kakadu has one largish
town about 1000 population named Jabiru, which is actually a mining
town, mostly owned by the Rum Jungle mining company. It is not possible
to purchase real estate in Jabiru. During the day, Aboriginals are much
in evidence in the commercial district. Jabiru has what seems to be an
Architect designed shopping complex, (much like that at Leigh Creek)
and has extremely expensive tourist accommodation (tent sites start at
Much of Kakadu (like much of the NT, much
of North Queensland, much
of SA and much of WA) is only accessible by 4WD. I was driving a front
wheel drive 92 model Camry sedan. The Camry was great at quite high
speeds on the bitumen roads, where 4WD, with the streamlining of a
brick, must crawl along at around 90 - 110 KPH.
I continued a further 80 KM on to a map
location called "Border
Store", which is across the river from Arnhem land. Border store turned
out to be just that, an apparently abandoned store a few hundred meters
from the East Alligator river. There are three rivers in Kakadu: the
West Alligator River, the South Alligator River, & the East
Alligator River The East Alligator River forms the border with Arnhem
Land. There are crocodile warnings near just about every bit of water
that I saw in Kakadu. There is a campsite called Merl near Border Store
where the campsite charge is $4.50 pp. Near Merl there are a couple of
very good tourist walks. I met an Aboriginal ranger at one of those
walks who explained quite entertainingly various aspects of Aboriginal
Next stop was Katherine, the third largest
town in the NT. (10,000
ppl) Katherine is an important tourist and beef production center. I
found an internet cafe - coffee shop - artifact shop operated by an
Aboriginal. He charged $3 for a rather ordinary coffee, and gave 15
minutes internet with it. He was happy to let me connect with my
laptop. His artifacts were reasonably priced, (comparable in price and
quality with the Alice Springs Aboriginals or the shop at Jabiru).
Artifacts shops in Darwin, Alice Springs and Port Douglas are (to my
admittedly unprofessional eye) expensive tourist traps. At the time
there was a petrol price war in Katherine, and petrol from the
Woolworths outlet was around $1.20/litre, which compared well with
about $1.40/litre in Darwin.
From Katherine I drove to Lake Argyle in
the Kimberleys of Western
Australia. The Kimberleys have been so named because landforms there
are similar to the landforms around the diamond and gold Kimberley
mining area of South Africa. Like the original Kimberleys, the region
has diamond mines that produce large quantities of high quality
diamonds. Lake Argyle exists by virtue of a dam on the Ord River. The
lake has flooded the Durack station. (for a history of the area, read
"kings in Grass Castles" by Mary Durak). Lake Argyle is about 80Km
long, and is the largest freshwater lake in Australia. The flow out of
Lake Argyle was miniscule. I was told it was not being used for
irrigation. It seemed to have electricity generation capability.
I next visited Kunamurra (population about
20,000) some 50 KM
downstream, and then the surrounding Ord river irrigation areas to the
North (up to the Ivanhoe crossing), and South (to Split rock cafe).
There were signs about the size of Barramundi that could be caught (not
less than 55 cm, not more than 80cm) and fishermen and their children
were standing in the river, despite the crocodile warning signs posted
a few meters away. I was told that the water for the extensive
irrigation in the region comes from the Durham River which meets the
Ord near the Kunamurra Diversion dam, which dam forms a lake on the
southern edge of Kunamurra. The diversion dam is on the western side of
Kunamurra. A local explained that even though the Ord was not used for
water, it had to be dammed to prevent the annual floods that would have
inundated the town and the region. The irrigated land is a dark
(alluvial) soil, in contrast to the mostly ochre soils of the
Then back to Katherine. The countryside in
the region between
Katherine and Kunamurra is sparsely settled. The soils are ocher, and
most of the Eucalypts were neither large nor a recognizable variety of
box. The tallest eucalypt I recall anywhere in the NT would not have
exceeded about 15 meters, although the Boab trees near Kunamurra were
quite bulky. (In the NSW tablelands and plains, such stunted, non box
variety eucalypts are generally taken as a sign of poor country.) There
is only one town of perhaps a few hundred people midway in the
approximately 500 kilometers that separates Katherine from Kunamurra.
My next destination was Port Douglas,
Queensland. First stop was
about 500 KM south at the "Three Ways Roadhouse", which is about 25 KM
North of the rich gold mining town of Tennant Creek (Tennant Creek is
the 4th largest town in the N. territory with about 3,000 population).
From the Three Ways Roadhouse I traveled
East for about 550KM to Mt
Isa, just inside the Queensland border. I was warned that the speed
limit was 110 KPH, that there were 53 meter road trains, and that I
should allow one kilometer of clear road before attempting to overtake
a road train.
That set me to thinking. The Northern
Territory is 130 KPH country.
NT Road trains are up to 53.5 meters long, and seem not to exceed 100
KPH. When overtaking, the law in Australia is that the overtaking
vehicle must not exceed the local speed limit. The calculation of the
clear road vision for overtaking is not difficult. Allowing 10 meters
fore and aft of a road train, (to avoid "cutting in") and allowing 6
meters for the overtaking vehicle length, a vehicle passing a road
train must be in the opposing traffic lane while passing (53.5+10+10+6)
~ 80 meters of road train and clearances. If the overtaking vehicle is
in the NT then it can travel 30 KPH faster than the road train, which
is (30×1000/3,600) ~ 8.5 meters/second faster than the road
it would take nearly 10 seconds to pass the road train. At 130 KPH a
vehicle travels about 350 meters in 10 seconds. This means that for
safety, an overtaking vehicle driver should not overtake if he does not
have a clear view of the road ahead for at least twice that distance
plus a "frontal" (noscare) clearance of 200 meters, which amounts to
(2×350+200) say 900 meters.
After doing those calculations I was quite
shocked to find that the
Queensland government, with a maximum speed limit of 110 KPH,
recommends allowing only 1 kilometer to overtake a 53 meter long road
train. By a similar calculation to that above, an overtaking vehicle in
Queensland would require at least 2.3 kilometers of clear road to
safely overtake a road train.
After Mount Isa I drove North about 500 KM
to Karumba which is
located at the bottom of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Karumba is a prime
tourist destination for fishermen in the dry season, perhaps because
the gulf is rich in Barramundi. The owner of the park, his wife
confided, took fishermen out from April to September, then moved for
the summer to another caravan park in South Australia, and fished
there. Sounds pretty idyllic (if you like fishing) to me.
Then 600 km east to Atherton, where I
found a campsite and spent a
cold, wet & uncomfortable night. Atherton tablelands are another
fabulous agricultural region. Plenty of water, and rich soil.