August 4, 2012

While I was away...

I've been away, for about ten days. First I visited my lovely Aussie family in Torquay, on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, and then Rainbow Beach, back in Queensland, with family from the UK.

One cold but brightening morning the first week, I went down to the beach to take photographs (Torquay Main Beach, below). It suddenly struck me: how would I ever endure not having glorious beaches on hand? There are lovely beaches in the British Isles and Europe, don't get me wrong, but they're much further and fewer between... or colder... or smaller yet more crowded... or parking is a nightmare. Here, there are so many long and beautiful expanses of near-perfect sand and crashing surf that I can't even begin to choose which are my favourites. (Apart from those at Byron, I mean.) The privilege of being able to drive along some of them – not on an organised tour – has been a uniquely Australian part of our adventure (Cooloola Beach, below but one).
The Limpics are underway but seem to be something of a disappointment for the Aussies this time around. They've not as yet collected as many medals as they hoped. 100-metre silver medallist Emily Seebohm cried an Olympic pool and blamed her failure to win gold, as expected, on too much tweeting on race day. There's certainly disappointing TV coverage for non-Australians. A couple of nights ago we endured the whole of a dull women's hockey match just because the 'Aussie girls' were playing. What will happen if there are no Aussies in some of the exciting track and field events to come: will there be no coverage?

The Airport Link opened, with little fanfare, while I was away. It's being well used already – it is toll-free until 22 August – and punters are impressed by the engineering feat that is this latest addition to Brisbane's infrastructure. Well, it was built by my friend. I returned from the airport in it (to the Campbell Street exit for Fortitude Valley), which was vastly preferable to endless traffic lights along Kingsford Smith Drive.

Campbell Newman has continued his massacre of environmental protection measures, this time promising to develop Cape York (pointy top bit of Queensland) by revoking the wild rivers declarations. A 'wild river' in Australia (and America and New Zealand) is a river system that has been designated by government to be protected in its natural state from all development. The Wild Rivers Act 2005 was introduced by State Premier Peter Beattie, and continued by Labor under Anna Bligh to include 13 river systems in Cape York, on Fraser Island and in the Channel Country in Queensland's remote southwest. Environmentalists fought long and hard for this legislation, but it was opposed by Aboriginal leaders who believe that it stifles their communities' economic development. How good to know that Newman and the LNP are fighting for Aboriginal rights... as well as smoothing the way for bauxite mining companies in the 'wild' Wenlock River catchment, of course.

It's been a month since the introduction of carbon pricing, and there is still sky over Queensland – a beautiful August blue one as a matter of fact. There were companies, of course, that attempted to deceive their customers and subvert the purpose of carbon pricing. Our electricity (and gas) supplier, the Origin Energy Company, announced an increase in their charges from 11 July: the price per kWh was going up by 13.8 per cent, while the service fee per metering point (a daily charge) was increasing by – wait for it – 125.4 per cent. The kWh price has to be increased to encourage people to reduce energy consumption and hence carbon emissions. However much they did that, Origin's customers would still have seen a massive increase in their power bills as a result of the huge rise in service fee, unrelated to their consumption. Origin offered no explanation as to how carbon pricing had affected their service fees. How iniquitous was this strategy?

Not surprisingly, there was an outcry from their customers, a major one of which happened to be the Queensland Government. Their threat to change supplier probably had more impact than my friend's strongly worded letter of complaint: ten days later a letter to customers explained that Origin had 'listened closely to our customers and decided to significantly reduce the previously advised increases' that would 'now match the current government [sic] regulated rates (Tariff 11)* for 2012/13. This change in rates supports the Queensland Government's [sic] initiative to "freeze" the regulated Tariff 11 excluding the impact of the carbon pricing scheme.' What this meant was that the kWh price increase is 11.5 per cent and the service fee is not increased. If Origin can afford this revision, just imagine how much profit they would have made out of the service fee hike.

Another energy company, AGL, don't seem to get carbon pricing either. I spotted this poster a few weeks ago. What Dennis should be doing, of course, is saving energy to save the planet.

* Tariff 11 is the residential rate (my note)

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