Don't get comfortable


When the tsunami disaster occurred in December, many Australians wondered, ‘Could it happen here?’ Some thirty hours after those waves struck, Thaksin, the Thai PM, ordered large trucks south to the devastated areas. Each truck included rows of satellite phones, enabling tourists and locals to contact loved ones. I remember reading in amazement and thinking, ‘That would never happen here.’

Peter Newman, the NSW government Sustainability Commissioner, recently said, ‘A city where it takes longer to catch a bus through the CBD than to walk the same distance “ has a serious problem.’ Sydney is having serious problems.

Since November 2004, the New Matilda office has had three power shortages (black-outs). Each time, the explanation through the grape-vine of our building has been the same: ‘something happened at the sub-station’. No word from our de-regulated power supplier. Try running a website three kilometres from the Sydney GPO without electricity.

Thanks to Hive

Thanks to Hive

It currently takes one week to have a new ADSL internet connection operating in Sydney. Perhaps we should be grateful, apparently it used to take three weeks. This is not time to lay cables, install and configure hardware. This is one week for a Telstra employee at the nearby telephone exchange to ‘enable’ ADSL on the requested phone line, i.e. flick a switch.

Wireless networks in Sydney? Some cities around the world such as Philadelphia have set-up ‘Citywide’ wireless networks (link here). The economic hub of our nation can be thankful some select coffee franchises have invested in running wi-fi networks. The baristas at most, however, have no understanding of a wireless network protocol and why should they? Perhaps Sydney hasn’t taken up this technology because everything is done by mobile phone anyway.

Australia Post? Their current business strategy is clearly: sell more electronics than Harvey Norman. Staff provide an excessive number of services with inadequate results. I suggest Australia Post is not capable of delivering government services and standard postal delivery should be privatised. I would gladly pay 25 per cent more to have mail delivered, if I didn’t have to queue for fifteen minutes for the privilege.

Public transport in Sydney seems to be going from bad to worse. Bangkok has a more efficient system. Bureaucrats complain that the Sydney network is big and serves a large population. Try Mexico City. El Metro de Ciudad de Mexico commutes four million per day and has eleven different lines. And it is cheap. Of course, that means heavily subsidised.

I’m unsure if the NSW government has a problem with this. We currently shell out over $100 million per year to the private company which built a new rail line “ just five years ago “ that no one uses (link here). The airport link is privately operated and statistics on airport rail link usage is unavailable to the public – funny though, that our money is available to them.

Many now suggest that despite the Carr Government’s significant majority, Labor may lose the 2007 election. Often cited is the failure to deliver on services like our rail system. It may be the unions’ fault and maybe it is RailCorp’s poor management but as a long time union and Labor Party member I can proudly say: ‘I DON’T CARE! Just fix it!’

Surely the Carr Government realises this and are doing all they can to improve the publics perception? Maybe not; until recently, Reba Meagher, Member for Cabramatta (western suburbs of Sydney) had her driver drop her off and wait outside her 7 a.m. pilates class in Surry Hills (trendy inner-city). The pilates school is in the same street as News Ltd and the nemesis of the Carr Government – The Daily Telegraph.

Perhaps the closest Sydney has come to the ‘not if, but when’ terrorist attack or natural disaster since 9/11, was a ‘possible gas leak’ from an old train. (link here). The emergency procedure was chaotic and disorganised. The crowd management throughout central Sydney could be summed up as: ‘Please face the direction of your suburb and start walking home’

Betty Blacktown isn’t interested in the political implications. She and many others are just tired of being taken for granted.

These are personal experiences of frustration and gripes. Services from state and federal governments, as well as corporations, aren’t always bad. Sometimes they are exceptional. But if this is what happens to a new media company in the centre of Sydney, what is it like in rural centres? Or where country train lines still operate? And beyond?

Last month I was mugged by a man with a hunting knife two doors from my house (no big deal, it is actually now fairly standard in Sydney). I quickly gave him my cash and he jumped into a waiting jeep. Angry and shocked, I ran after the jeep whilst calling 000. Shouting down the phone, I was transferred to Police…ring… ring… ring… ring… ring…’Telstra advises that your call…’

I wasn’t hurt, but I was alarmed. I think we should all be.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.