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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Billions are the new millions

28 May 2009

Nathan Rees reminds me of nothing so much as Hitler in the final days, holed up his Berlin bunker, moving phantom divisions of long dead teenage soldiers around the maps as the Red Army closes in.

Except  Nathan is surrounded by grim RTA fanatics, sly Ministry of Transport flunkies, MacBank spivs and the sort of consultants who tell you what you want to hear. 

“Ja! I vill haff a metro from here at Central station to here … vot is zis place?”

“Zat is Rozelle. Most strategic, My Premier!”

“Of course, dumbkompf. Unt build anozer metro unterground from Central to zis place.”

“Zat is Parramatta. But Premier, Marshall Kevin has betrayed us. Ve haff not any funds. Ze private sector has not any mon …”

“Zos are my orders!”

“Jawohl Premier!”

The government has been living out a bizarre fantasy and it’s the faux precision that gives the game away. Nathan reckoned the City Metro would cost $5.3 billion and the Western Metro $8.1 billion. They haven’t yet decided on a route for the Western Metro and they haven’t done any detailed design work. They haven’t even settled on how many stations there will be, or where, but they do have a price – $8.1 billion. How do they know that? Where does that point one come from? Why not, “Buggered if we know. Anywhere between four and twelve billion we guess”? At least that would be honest.

And on top of all that, maybe we’ll have the M4East for $12 billion. How about a spaceport at Barangaroo for $19.5 billion or maybe $27.7 billion. Why not? The Solar System as Nathan’s last territorial claim in the Universe.

Enough. I’m being cruel. Poor bewildered young Nathan inherited a terrible situation created by Carr, Egan, Costa and Iemma, and the feds have now delivered a humiliating awakening by giving NSW next to nothing.

The point is, we’re all numbed by the numbers. In fact, too numbed to check up on them. I mean, if you had a project worth just $50m, nobody in the NSW government would take you seriously. It’s gotta be “worth” at least a billion before it rates. But how do some of these projects compare to what governments are forking out elsewhere in Australia, or for that matter what we were paying in NSW just a few short years ago.

Here’s a fascinating comparison. Last year, the WA Labor government opened Perth’s new Mandurah line. It runs for 72 kilometres from the centre of their CBD to their south-western growth centre. There are 11 stations – two underground, and most with integrated bus interchanges and park-and-ride facilities for hundreds of cars. There’s about a kilometre and a half of tunnelling through the city centre and most of a city block was levelled to excavate the hole for the underground platforms at Perth’s version of Central. There were also two major water crossings, hundreds of metres long, a stabling yard and work to connect the line to the rest of the network. The whole job came in for about $1.22 billion – about $17 million per kilometre.

Compare that with the NSW Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation’s 2007 cost estimate for Sydney’s proposed South-West Rail Link (typically, it’s since been abandoned by the NSW Government). The South-West Link was to have been 13 km long, through unchallenging terrain with no water crossings, just two new stations, a stabling yard and work to reconfigure Glenfield station and connect the new line to the rail network. This insignificant job was to have cost the NSW taxpayer $1.36 billion (or $106 million per kilometre). On this comparison, heavy rail construction in NSW costs six times what it would cost in Perth.

How does the South-West Link’s estimate stack up against previous work in NSW? Take the Airport Rail Link. This 8 kilometre tunnel came in at around $800 million 10 years ago. There are five stations on the line and it was heroic engineering through wet sand most of the way. That’s $100 million per kilometre. Ignoring the cost of property acquisition, it’s generally said that tunneling costs at least four times surface construction, so an equivalent cost for surface construction would have been less than $25 million per kilometre against the South-West Link’s estimate of $106 million. The difference can’t be inflation because there hasn’t been anything remotely like that level of inflation since 2000.

So what’s going on?  If Sydney’s South-West Rail Link had been built by West Australia’s Labor Government it would have cost a bit over $220 million, but our Labor Government reckoned it was going to set us back $1.36 billion. Something is very wrong here and we need a Royal Commission to get to the bottom of it.