Thursday, December 30, 2010

That's not a mining boom...

Apparently there’s a mining boom going on. It’s pretty hard to tell from the inside; we’re all still just digging a hole and selling some of the stuff that comes out of it. It’s easy to tell when there’s a tourism boom going on: every shop suddenly sells fluffy koala toys, you need a phrase book to read the street signs and you have to check whether someone speaks English before you ask for directions (there’s a deep irony to the fact that someone will travel all the way here from downtown Beijing to buy a fluffy toy that was probably made in a factory three blocks from their house). Banking and finance booms are easy to spot too: wait two years and see if the country goes broke. It's not so obvious with mining though: since we’re good enough to dig holes a long way from everything so the noise doesn’t upset the chooks and the dust can’t blow all over your washing, nobody really notices much when mining is doing well.
There are a few subtle signs you can see if you look closely, like our pay packets doubling every ten minutes, and the government blathering about a ‘two-speed economy’. I’ve figured out what this means now: people in non-mining states can’t find work, and people in mining states get to pay thirty bucks for a soggy burger and a lukewarm cappuccino that tastes of dishwater.
It’s not just about overpriced soapy coffee though. Mining booms also mean a lot of long-term employees on older mines leaving for the bigger money and the ten minutes on/three years off roster at the new smegite mine they’re opening up round Koolyanobbing, or Sweatyanoboff or wherever it is. Nice work if you can get it, but good times for mining companies can mean tricky times for mine workers. In the bad times everyone’s happy to leave us alone out here to savour the pristine beauty of muddy salt flats, and the deep spiritual connection you feel with the land when you’re digging a ute full of rock samples out of an axle-deep bog. But along comes that mining boom and suddenly everyone wants a piece of the action. People abandon their day jobs, their comfy city life and apparently their senses and head for the nearest mine site, hoping to get a piece of the action before our Chinese friends figure out how to make cars out of bamboo and pandas instead of iron (the Koreans are a jump ahead of them here; Hyundai bodies are made exclusively from 100% recycled reality TV stars). Once upon a time you could be sure the bloke helping you service a bore pump had done the job before. Along comes mining boom and its “Worked on this model before mate?” “Um, no, we didn’t have many bore pumps at the coffee shop.” Didn’t matter when they hired him though, because a mining boom is accompanied by something called a ‘skills shortage’, which means a lot of people getting jobs they’re not qualified to do. Where I come from that’s called the IT department.
It won’t last though. Eventually there’s so much iron ore stockpiled in China that it starts to affect compasses in Alaska; they shut the factories down for a while and iron ore drops to five bucks a ton overnight. India loses interest in gold, or the Swiss banks decide to sell a few tons they, um, found a few years back, and suddenly we’re back to the bad old days of gold costing less per ounce than cabbage. The exploration teams turn up one morning to find the field office is now a plant nursery and would they all mind handing over their company mobiles please. Drilling companies fold faster than an origami teacher, house prices in mining states finally come within reach of the average millionaire and all the geologists with mortgages start looking very, very nervous.
But that’s fine by us. The coffee shop guy shorted out the bore pump last time. Those things aren’t cheap.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where the bloody hell Qatar ya?

So maybe you heard: we missed out on the World Cup. And like me you're asking yourself: how did that happen? We're a nice, stable democracy, we've got the track record with major events, there's plenty of space, a decent bag of ready-to-go stadiums and a climate that can't be beat. Yet instead of sports-mad, democratic, tourist-friendly Australia, it went to a nation run by a dangerous ex-KGB nutjob who somehow got voted Dictator-For-Life, and another country best described as a burning, oil-soaked sandpit. What happened?

Personally, I can't see how our pitch could have failed. Facilities, PR campaigns and infrastructure aside, our video presentation should have done it for us (haven't seen it? Take a look). Julia put on her best performance since trying to push that 'Moving Forward' slogan. There were desert shots, pics of Ayers Rock, beach vistas, bikini hotties posing next to cartoon kanga, even a quick glimpse of Thorpie before cutting to Cathy Freeman going for a jog. Top the whole thing off with Paul Hogan playing Max Max (hard not to imagine Mel playing Croc Dundee after that) and you've got our bid to convince the world's most powerful sporting body to let us run the show in twelve years time.

But we lost.

Seriously, what happened? Was Thorpie not on screen long enough? Should we have let Hugh Jackman wear his Wolverine sideburns? Did they want more bikinis? Wait, come back! We've got lots more bikinis! We'll get Lara Bingle back to swear on camera again! Were there not enough didgeridoos? Tell us, please! WHATEVER IT WAS, WE CAN CHANGE!

At least, we might if anyone gave a damn.

I didn't even know we were bidding for this thing until about a week before the vote. I mean 'vote'. You'd think I'd have heard something: I watch SBS most nights. And apparently we put $45 million into it. Not sure who paid for that oh wait yes I am it was me, you and every other taxpayer. I dunno, at that price you'd think we would have got a receipt or something. Still, not a bad deal really: two dollars or thereabouts from every man, woman and child in the country. And in return for this sum we got one vote. That means each vote cost us...hang on...$45 million. Bargain!

The money wasn't completely wasted though. It got Mark Arbib out of the country for a few days. In case you don't remember, he was one of the chaps who knifed Kevin Rudd, the guy we all voted in as PM. That's probably what got him on the bid team: they thought if things went bad for us, he could tap Qatar on the shoulder, tell them the party no longer has faith in their ability to run things, and would they mind stepping aside for this lovely lady here? But nope; when we actually wanted him to give democracy a good solid knee to the groin, he just stood back and grimaced while he clapped the winners.

Cue hand-wringing and cries of 'unfair!' from across this wide brown land. None of us knew we were bidding, none of us gave a damn whether we got the world cup or not, but when countries that aren't Australia win it, suddenly we give a damn.
And that's all this was of course. With the exception of Frank Lowy, Mark Arbib and the couple of thousand people nationwide who actually bother turning up to their local soccer games each week, nobody wants the world cup. Really, what would we get? A bunch of rectangular stadiums that we can't use afterwards? English soccer hooligans chanting 'Swing low sweet chariot' while they set fire to our policemen? VUVUZELAS? Nobody actually wants any of this stuff!
But that's not the point. It isn't not losing the world cup bid we're cranky about. It's losing, full stop.

We're a competitive bunch here in Australia. It doesn't matter whether it's hosting a sporting event, inventing a sickly sweet dessertseeing a local lass saintified or proving that our spin bowlers are the biggest philandering douchebags up to but excluding Tiger, we just want to win. I suspect if we'd gone over there to bid for the right to host a nuclear waste dump, people would be cranky if we lost. Sure, Qatar's got the second-highest per-capita income in the world after Liechtenstein. Who cares, we got Thorpie! And yes, maybe Russia does have world-class organised crime syndicates, ready to deliver quality building materials on time and under budget. Australia's got powerful organised crime syndicates too. And if I only learned one thing from watching Underbelly, it's that the commodity our criminals are best at delivering is tits. Given the choice of being delivered a cement mixer full of watery grey glop or a really top-shelf set of boobies, I'm going with the breastier of the two.

Apparently that's not enough for these FIFA types. Maybe they really like runny cement, I dunno. It hardly matters. Their job isn't to make sure it's fair. Their job is to see that the world cup happens somewhere every four years. That, as far as I can tell, is just about it. And I'm guessing there's enough blank space at the bottom of their job descriptions to pencil in "...and get really, REALLY rich doing it."
This poses a problem for Australia. We're not toooo keen on handing out bribes these days. Hell, we don't even tip in restaurants. Not to say we haven't tried bribes in the pastA bunch of blokes who sold grain to Iraq got caught slipping fifties into the odd wheat sack a few years back; next thing you know their company's tanking and most of them are on the news, running away from courthouses with their jackets over their heads. It's not like that in other countries; while I've never been there, I'm guessing the odd bribe is just politeness in Russia. And Qatar? Well, up until about 1975, half the oil money that country made went straight into the boot of the king's gold-plated Rolls Royce(s). The only reason the king got the sack is because his son wanted a slice of the gold Rollers and slung dad out back in 1995 (he was smart enough to cut back on the boot-stuffing, but I'm guessing he's not short of a palace or two). With a system of government like that I'm guessing nobody's going to pay much attention if the odd diamond-crusted Ferrari gets popped in the post addressed to Sepp Blatter c/o FIFA.

So I say we're reading the whole thing wrong. Far as I'm concerned, losing the world cup is the best way to win. No vuvuzelas, no hooligans, no paying jillions in bribes to soccer fat cats. Sure, no legions of Brazilian fangirls wearing nothing but green and gold body paint, but hey, we got the Internets, we can see that any time. We didn't want the thing. Not really. The only mistake we made was not realising it before we let Frank Lowy and Marky Mark head over there and embarrass us all.

Next time we make a play for a thing like this, I say we save the money. Because the thing that makes Australia the right place to host anything doesn't cost us a cent. Sure, Qatar's got more money, it's closer to everything, they've never had a turn before and they've promised to pack up the stadiums and post them to whichever country sends FIFA the most trinkets next, but that's not good enough as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, maybe Russia's got vodka, nukes and a prime minister who wrestles fighter jets shirtless, but I bet ours would too if we asked her. For future bids, we need to cut to the chase. And to make it as clear as possible, I've designed a table that should present everything the world needs to know about why Australia should win:

CountryAwesomeNot Awesome

Any questions?