From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.


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Brushtail Graphics

Lies, damned lies, and Treasury costings

29 February 2010

“Well, a famous victory!” said the old colonel when I went down to the Brushtail Café for evening drinkies. A swag of the locals had assembled for an impromptu celebration.

The old boy was referring, of course, to Kristina Kerscher Keneally’s decision to abandon metro and go ahead with the light rail extensions.

“A great victory, but we’re not out of the woods yet”, I muttered, as I ripped the top off a cider. “Did you see the costing they’ve put on the rail projects. Nobody sane and responsible reckons that the light rail extensions could possibly cost more than $250 million – after all, half the track is already there – but they’re setting aside double that for the project.

“And then there’s the North-West Rail Link. They say the full 22 kilometres will now cost $6.7 billion! That’s over $300 million a kilometre.”

“That does seem extraordinarily high”, somebody muttered.

“High. Are you kidding?” said Old Possum, who was brandishing a fat manilla folder. “Look, here’s an interesting comparison. The estimated cost of the California High Speed Rail project is just $4.5 billion US – roughly $5.3 billion Australian.”

“Less than the CBD Metro? How long is it going to be?” Joadja asked, from behind the bar.

“Fresno to LA. Three hundred and sixy kilometres. That’s about $14 million a click. The naysayers are indignant because they reckon it’ll be twice that. So they’d put the real cost per kilometre at $28 million – great value in NSW terms. Strangely enough, neither of those opinions are out of the ballpark of the $20 million a click the French pay for high speed track for their famous super-fast TGV.”

“Shit. What the hell is going on in NSW?” asked Tarkis, who was nursing a champagne.

Old Possum had them in. “Well, in my opinion”, he went on, warming to his topic,  “certain folk in Treasury, who are known to be rabidly opposed to public transport users getting anything other than motorways and buses, get the wink from certain like-minded ministers in the NSW Cabinet and they just double the estimates, and, if necessary, double them again. That way, they calculate, the projects will get cancelled because they’re absurdly expensive.”

“But that’s horrific, Machiavellian. That’s a crime against the people of NSW.”

“Doubly so, because either we don’t get the infrastructure we need, or, in the unlikely event that the project gets through Cabinet, we pay two, three, four, times as much as we should.”

“Which, of course, wouldn’t ruin the prospects of said politicians and bureaucrats getting a nice little sinecure from a construction company when they leave the service of the great unwashed”, muttered Joadja. “So what do they base these huge over-estimates on? They have to have some evidence.”

“Well it certainly isn’t comparable overseas examples … here’s another ugly story. When the metro enthusiasts were first trying to get some traction for their campaign, the government hired a big mob of international rail builders, Connell Wagner, to do a secret metro feasibility study. I got hold of a copy. The Connell-Wagner scheme was to have had four fully-tunnelled lines converging on the CBD. The whole shebang was around 50 km of double track with about 40 stations. On the basis of recent overseas projects – which they cite in their report – they put a price tag at $8.1 billion on the whole scheme, or just over $160 million a kilometre. That seems pretty conservative, if you compare it to the Airport Rail Line which cost about $100 million a kilometre ten years ago, or the Cross City Tunnel which cost about $160 million a kilometre – and it’s a very big tunnel indeed, much bigger than a rail tunnel.

“But by the time John Watkins, who was the transport minister at the time, announced the so-called North-West Metro – from the CBD to Top Ryde – the government was putting the cost of just that one bit, a quarter of the whole scheme, at $12 billion. That’s more than the entire metro scheme as estimated by Connell Wagner!”

“So they dropped that metro project and shot Morris Iemma. Watkins walked away and then we got Version Two – Nathan Rees’ CBD Metro. But the story doesn’t end there. Look at this.”

He pulled a quarter-page newspaper adverisement from his folder.  

“This thing, titled ‘A better deal for NSW families’, appeared in the Herald on 29 September last year, addressed to the Commonwealth Grants Commission.  
The lead signatory – and no doubt the drafter – is NSW Treasurer Eric Roozendaal. And there’s the usual suspects including NSW Business Chamber, Sydney Chamber of Commerce, Urban Taskforce, and, of course, the Civil Contractors Federation.

“It’s couched in the usual claptrap about ‘working families’ and it’s an appeal to the Commonwealth for NSW to receive a larger share of GST redistribution. Its central argument is that ‘Sydney is Australia’s only global city and faces challenges and costs which other Australian centres do not experience’ and the only substantive evidence of this is, remarkably, the cost of tunneling.

“According to the treasurer, ‘the cost of tunneling through Sydney sandstone is $400 million a kilometre’. Really Eric, since when? Remember, the Cross City Tunnel only cost $160 a kilometre and that’s the widest type of tunnel we’ve ever built here. Eric was lying through his teeth.”

Old Possum took a swig of his cider and let the full horror sink in. “Holy cow, we’re not just talking about ripping off NSW, we’re talking about the state government trying to rip off the taxpayers of Australia”, somebody muttered.