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

Weirdness and treachery on the ghost tram to Dulwich Hill

13 Sept 2011

The first I knew about Tuesday was when my nose hit the floor. I must have fallen asleep with my head on the desk, and then, I guess, the chair rolled backwards and deposited me face down, tail up. I staggered to my feet. Weak morning sun filtered through the dusty venetians and the chair laughed at me from across the room.

I’d spent a long disturbing night finishing a report on the Craig Thompson Twatgate  affair. I had a client in the media who wanted details, and quickly. I got what they wanted from an endless stream of outraged Health Services Union members. It was an ugly tale, as they told it – another sleazy saga of the ALP Right. People wondered aloud how the party had “lost its moral compass”, but it was no surprise to me. Once upon a time, long decades ago, even right-wing union officials wanted to build socialism. Now, they aspired to live like the robber baron CEOs, with platinum credit cards, blond bimbos for hire and kids in private schools.

I checked that I’d actually emailed my stuff to the newspaper and shuffled across the lane to the Brushtail Café for breakfast.

The regulars were there and all the talk was of the O’Farrell government’s deferral of the light rail extension to Dulwich Hill.

“Look at this!”, said Joadja. “Gladys Berejiklian now says they can’t finish it until 2014 and she reckons it’ll cost $176 million. Unbelievable.”

“Great Mother of Darwin!” I said “Another rail project ‘deferred’ on the point of going ahead! This is shaping up like the Carr, Iemma, Rees and Keneally governments all over again.” 

“I’ve been researching what it really costs”, said Old Possum. “There’s an easy way to check that this is nonsense, and that’s to look at what the first light rail extension cost”.

“That was the one from Wentworth Park to Lilyfield, right?”

“Yep. Opened in August 2000. That one was finished in under a year. Three kilometres long and it came in at $20 million, of which the NSW government paid $16 million. Therefore it cost less than $7m a click. That was for four stops, all power supply, signals and minimal but entirely adequate track refurbishment. Adjusting for inflation, that would be about $27 million today, or about $9 million per kilometre.

“So multiply by 5.5 kilometres and you get just shy of $50 million, for the job. That’s not quite the whole story, because back in 2000, they didn’t replace all the rail track because it wasn’t necessary, whereas the Keneally government in their wisdom wanted everything ‘all-shiny, all new’. Nevertheless,  on what’s been published in the papers,  completely renewing the track from Lilyfield to Dulwich Hill only cost $25 million. If you adjust for that,  you still only get $14 million per kilometre or $77 million for the whole gold-plated job.

“And, by the way, that’s exactly the average cost of constructing light rail in Melbourne over the last decade – $14 million a kilometre.”

“Gee, that’s very, very different to the Keneally mob’s estimate of $120 million, let alone Gladys Berejiklian’s $176 million”, I said, wondering whether I should go for the full vegetarian breakfast.

“But here’s an even more weird thing”, Old Possum said, putting yet another sugar in his long black, “The contract that Metro Transport Sydney operates under stipulates that they’re responsible for paying for all or most of the cost of extensions, so in theory at least, not much of the construction cost – whatever it really is – is an immediate cost to government.”

“What a tangled commercial-in-confidence web we weave when first we get involved in public-private partnerships. There’s just no transparency”, Joadja snorted.