Celebrating Australia Day

As Australia Day rolls around again we’re encouraged to celebrate the nation’s official birthday. I’ve mentioned before my agitation about “celebrating” the invasion and near genocide of another people that this day represents.

Since writing that post, I’ve had the thought that if we are to continue celebrating on this date, that the celebration should be something akin to the sentiment engendered in ANZAC day. While a celebratory event, ANZAC day begins with a solemn reflection on lives lost and the cost of war. As the day progresses it transforms into a celebration of the human spirit — of overcoming and moving on from hard times, of friends and family, of sacrifice and valour.

Perhaps if Australia Day was practiced in this manner, I could support it. Imagine if at the beginning of the day we acknowledged the First Australians and the terrible wrongs wrought upon them in the foundation of the English phase of this nation? That we acknowledged and reflected on the lives lost, on the traditions ignored and broken. Then, perhaps, after this solemn expression we could begin to celebrate recent achievements and a vision for the future.

This is highly unlikely to happen, of course. This nation has been built upon a racist foundation — from terra nullius to the stolen generation to the White Australia policy. And that foundation still manifests in so many ways — from the relatively silent (for example, the Northern Territory “intervention” which is barely discussed) to the more vocal, such as the so-called “debate” on refugee policy. I put “debate” in quotation marks, because it is not. It is a race to the bottom as political parties and the media1 clamour for the most headline-catching (and usually inhumane) way to “manage” distraught and desperate people trying to flee war and persecution. All fuelled by a public sentiment that is so fearful of “the other” and an ignorance of the beauty and benefits of other cultures.

The only glimmer of hope I see in this discourse comes from SBS, with a string of excellent documentary series that aim to bring to light alternative perspectives on the race and immigration debate. From First Australians to Immigration Nation to Go Back to Where You Came From to the most recently aired Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, SBS seems to be the only (relatively) mainstream media entity willing to actually tackle the issue with any degree of respect and balance.

Contrast that collection of works with the jingoistic nationalist tripe that gets rolled out annually across the commercial networks. Until the types of stories that appear on SBS are being told regularly on Sixty Minutes and Today Tonight, we have a long way to go before we can truly come to grips with our past, reconcile with our indigenous and immigrant brothers and sisters, and truly celebrate our nation moving forward.

I love a good BBQ. I drink beer with my mates and celebrate “mateship”. I believe in this supposed Australian tradition of a “fair go”. I am a fervent NRL fan and love heading down the pub to watch the grand final with the rest of the rabble. I’ll cheer Lleyton and Bernard, or Clarkey and the team. I’ll gladly give some good-humoured stick to the Kiwi’s or the Poms when we get up in the union, cricket, rugby (or anything really).

I celebrate and enjoy these traditions. But I can’t bring myself to celebrate this day. I find it a sad shame that when I see people displaying an Australian flag (on a temporary tattoo or on their car or in their window) that I can’t help but think there’s a racist “go home” intent.

All that said, I will appreciate Australia Day, in all of its complexity, in solemn reflection and respect. I hope you do too…

  1. The only time I’ve seen the Daily Telegraph display a pro-refugee headline was when it was an opportunity to beat up on the Gillard Government’s policies (or, more to the point, a beat up on “Julia”). As an aside, is there any male Prime Minister where it was ok to reference them by their first name so readily? I don’t remember Kevin or John or Paul being bandied about quite so freely in the press and public discourse. But I digress…

Annandale brick in the wall…

I’m a fan of live music. I am a musician and count on venues to remain viable as an outlet for my artistic expression. The Annandale is a long-running venue in Sydney’s inner-west. I’ve played there, and seen countless great gigs there. It would be a great shame to see it close, especially so to make way for residential apartments.

The Annandale recently launched a “buy a brick” campaign, where fans of the venue can contribute $20–250 to get their name on a plaque at the venue. This is to help reduce debt and upgrade facilities.

At face value, this seems like a great thing to contribute to — a way of supporting live music into the future. Especially important with venues like the Hopetoun having shutdown some months ago and there being very few venues around in the inner-city continuing to support live music.

But… I have a doubt. As the FasterLouder article (linked above) notes, the venue has been under the same management for 10 years. There is no indication anywhere in the article, nor the Annandale’s campaign page, is how the Rule brothers intend on actually turning around the fortunes of the hotel (e.g. get it out of debt and into a sustainable, viable ongoing concern).

I assume (though it’s not clear) that the “membership” system is one of renewing annual membership. It’s not clear how much money the scheme is intended to raise. There’s no indication as to the level of debt that needs to be cleared, or how much the upgrades are going to cost and thus how much the scheme will likely assist in achieving this goal. While I’m sure it was a last ditch effort to avoid foreclosure, selling the poker machines has devalued the venue and removed an important revenue stream — this seems like a very short-sighted and ultimately detrimental decision.

I want to support this initiative. But I want to know my money is going to actually create the desired outcome — a vibrant, ongoing, sustainable Annandale hotel. Unfortunately, based on the information provided to date it’s hard to say whether this would be a worthwhile thing to put my money into. Not because I don’t care, but because I don’t know if it would actually work/help.

This is the second crowdsourcing project that I’ve seen that has suffered from this problem. NewMatilda.com also put the call out to supporters to bankroll it for a year, with promises of “bold plans” for becoming an ongoing, sustainable journalistic enterprise. These bold plans never materialised (unless the odd sponsorship/prize draw are the extent). Promises of a new site design and mobile tools never seemed to come about. A year rolled by and NewMatilda were again asking for support. Without any sense that the organisation is self-sustaining on the basis of anything but an annual membership drive makes it a harder to support.

If you’re going to enlist the support of the “crowd”, you really need to communicate your plans and increase your transparency so that we can make an informed judgement. Be honest about what your plans are, and honest when you aren’t able to deliver on them.

I will be keeping an eye on the Annandale project — I do hope that more details come to light so that I can count myself among their supporter/membership base. But until then, my contribution will be limited to being an interested bystander…

Live Local

Last time I was around at the Igloo (Digital Eskimo‘s HQ) I was excited to hear that a new project of there’s, focused on sustainable living, was close to launch.

The other day Dave announced that it’s live – the project is called “Live Local” and it is a community driven site where people can share their experiences with living more sustainably.

I’m quite excited about the site because in many respects it extends my original vision for the (now very different) Future is man made.

The site already has a bunch of great ideas on it. You can share your own story, comment on others’ stories. or join in the action by “re-creating” the idea in your world. For example, I’ve re-created the Riding my bike between work and home idea – this is something I’m already doing and it was easy to add my name to the list of people participating.

While this is a simple example, I think the site has a lot of potential. For other activities, like the Bristol Street Party or the Permablitz in Newtown, re-creating gives you an opportunity to try some different things and share your experience in more detail, including adding videos and photos.

Collectively we can be inspired and inspiring, and share our learnings to make it easier for the next person who wants to do something a bit more, or a bit different, to help make their small part of the world a bit more sustainable.

I do hope that a community grows around the site. I’ll certainly be contributing when I can – I hope you will too 🙂

The benefits of certification

Originally posted on the Green Loves Gold blog.

When I was thinking about starting a sustainable business one of the things I looked into fairly early on was certification standards. In the clothing business there are a growing number of standards and certification programmes that need to be considered.

Standards in the textile industry

In the industry that I’m entering with Arketype, there are a number of potentially applicable standards – to name just a few:

  • Fairtrade Cotton – Fairtrade certification for the raw fibre and textiles production
  • Certified organic cotton schemes, such as USDA National Organic Program or EU 834/2007 (which takes effect in Jan 2009) – covering raw fibre production using methods that are much less impacting on the environment
  • Oeko-Tex – testing and certification to limit use of certain chemicals
  • Homeworkers Code of Practice – an Australian programme that accredits garment manufacturing as “No Sweatshop” (which is part of the Fairtrade cotton standard for garments manufactured in Australia)
  • NoC02 – programme for auditing, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions

Of course there are many standards and logos which can be quite overwhelming for business owners and customers alike. The good folks at Eco-Textile News have produced an excellent guide for the TCF industry that outlines the major standards for that industry.

Even so, businesses can’t carry out all of these certifications, especially so during the start-up phase where capital (and time) are often limited. So the challenge is to be discerning about which programs we engage in.

Of course, we can also incorporate the principles of the various other programs into our practice, even if we’re not in a position to carry out certification against those standards.

Certification counter-acts the tyrrany of distance

I attended a talk recently by a member of a local food co-op and talk turned to “certified organic” produce. Many of the local growers are using organic methods, but not all are seeking certification.

In discussing this, the member explained that one of the aims of the co-op was to connect local growers with their customers directly. In breaking down this distance – creating a direct, personal connection – he argued that the need for certification is greatly reduced as a relationship is built up and trust develops.

If customers can talk directly to the farmer about their methods, perhaps even visit the farm etc., the farmer is less likely to break that trust as their customers are people they know.

In other words, it’s when distance is introduced – when the supply chain gets between the customer and the producer – that certification becomes increasingly important. The longer the supply chain, the more important certification becomes. I find it a thought-provoking alternative “approach” to achieve the same goal as certification.

For example, at a recent event held by my primary supplier, Rise Up Productions, the makers of our products were there at the event, and were introduced to us. Bronwyn Darlington, Rise Up’s founder, often visits the manufacturers and suppliers of our textiles in India – she has a personal connection to the producers – radically reducing the distance between producer and customer.

This builds confidence in me (the customer) that Rise Up are doing the right thing.

Why should we certify?

Interestingly, though, Rise Up are provide certified organic and Fairtrade cotton products, and are accredited under the Homeworkers Code of Practice. So why, given her close connection to producers, is Rise Up going through the certification process?

I can’t speak for Bronwyn and her team, but for me, certification is still important even under this circumstance for one reason: customer confidence.

Thanks to the effects of greenwashing – essentially an abuse of trust by companies who do more talking than walking – certification is essential to build confidence that what we’re doing is not just a marketing pitch and that our claims have been verified by an independent third party.

Without it, we risk being tainted with the same brush as other companies that aren’t as committed to social and environmental outcomes, but are trying to jump on the bandwagon of growing consumer interest in sustainability.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Clean Feed

I decided to write to my Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek, about the Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter (which I’ve written about previously).

Over the jump is the letter itself – but I would also recommend checking out the Electronic Frontiers Australia briefing on the issue.

Continue reading

iRate (or “Apple doesn’t want my money”)

I’m wondering if someone can tell me how I might be able to buy an iPhone in Australia? Seems Apple doesn’t want to sell me one. Telstra are playing extortionist, and Optus are plain out of stock.

Note to Apple Australia: I have $850 to give to you in exchange for the 16GB black iPhone you’re advertising everywhere. If you’d like to collect, feel free to let me know…

The long version

Apple still don’t sell phones outright – only on 24 month plans with Optus and Vodafone. Their advice, roughly, is call Optus, find out where they have stock, then go and get one from whatever store happens to have one on that day. Yeh… whatever. Perhaps Apple should pull down their advertising until they can actually sell the device to interested customers?!

Telstra still have some 16GB stock, but little wonder why – they won’t sell an iPhone outright (despite their claims to the contrary) – certainly not to my interpretation of “outright”. You have to a) be an existing Telstra customer (prepaid is ok, as long as you only want an 8GB unit) and b) have to then (reportedly) pay $150 to unlock the phone to work on other networks.

Optus are clear out of stock. And the city store is no longer taking orders – the exasperated sales staffer informed me that they’d taken 4 calls for very irate customers still waiting for their phones, 3 of which apparently canceling their accounts.

In another city store I asked about the prepaid and they simply responded “we don’t know” – they’ve sent a list of interested people but have no word on when they will receive stock, let alone be able to sell it outright. I’m now on that list that’s seemingly being ignored.

I have to admit, I’m used to Apple not having stock when launching a product. But I have never seen a balls-up like this. I’m sure that Optus aren’t all that impressed with Apple’s supply issues – I wonder if they’ve ever been out of stock of a new Nokia or Sony Ericcson handset? And whoever agreed to the contract terms that limits Apple’s ability to sell the iPhone outright needs to be fired – what a stupid, stupid thing to do.

This is the second attempt to buy an iPhone in the past 3 weeks without success. If Apple thinks this is “creating desire” for the device through scarcity, they are sorely mistaken. It’s just pissing people off – their partners, their customers (existing and potential).

Anyways, I am kinda serious about my initial question. If anyone has some real advice (unlike the kind I got at the Apple store) on how I can pick up a 16GB black iPhone, I’m all ears…

P.S. The reason for my renewed interest is the announcement that Virgin are entering the fray with reasonable data-plans, and 3 have announced their options for those of us that have been able to buy a phone outright (even though they can’t sell the phone, yet), which are even better.

iPhone launch thoughts

Some time ago, when it was first announced the iPhone 3G would be coming to Australia, I quietly (and sometimes publicly) hoped that the 3 network would be the network to launch the iPhone. I thought the only way we’d get decent data charges was if 3 had the phone – given how tremendously awful those charges on other networks are.

As the launch approached, I watched as telco after telco announced that they would be stocking the iPhone: first Vodafone, then Optus, then Telstra.

It’s worse than it appears

As expected, all of them have awful data plans. Optus is by far the most reasonable. Chatting with a friend the other day, they asked “isn’t 500MB enough?” in reference to the Optus plan. Given the pitiful data plans offered by carriers to date, the 500MB option from Optus seems like a good step forward, but I think that for the iPhone this is not enough for all except casual users on a device like the iPhone.

Mark Pesce in a post for the Future of Media blog: iPhail, writes:

“My guesstimate is that the average iPhone user would use somewhere between 2GB and 5GB of mobile data a month – a figure that’s bound to rise as 3G/HSDPA units reach the field.”

Before Mark published his post, I’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the new features of the 3G iPhone is “Mobile Me”, which pushes calendar, contacts and other data to the phone. That will chew up a significant amount of bandwidth. And as Mark points out, that 500MB could pretty easily be chewed up by an avid reader of the SMH.

But I think what has been missed by the telcos is the fact that the iPhone interface, especially the browser and applications (the Apple iPhone App Store also launched yesterda), changes the way iPhone users will use the phone for browsing – increasing it’s use as a truly mobile internet device.

Think about it – using Google Maps on my Sony Ericsson W880i is a “last resort” because of how small the screen is and how difficult it is to input addresses and navigate the maps (I do dig my phone, but that aspect of it is crapful). On the iPhone, I suspect Google Maps will be a “first resort” application – and it will take a fair chunk of data to support that kind of use.

Could Apple have done better?

With the launch of iTunes – which took an enormously long time only to result in a reduced catalogue at higher prices than our U.S. counterparts – Apple Australia demonstrated they had difficulty negotiating the kind of deals that their U.S. compadres could manage.

The inability of Apple to select an exclusive partner (due to legislation restricting the practice) in Australia no doubt didn’t help their cause. But the deals (especially Telstra’s pitiful efforts) are really, really poor – even compared with existing mobile broadband offerings from the same providers. Mark Pesce calls this discrepancy an “Apple tax” – and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

So what about 3?

Of course, the glaring omission on that list of telcos is 3. On their blog, 3 claim that Apple are not allowing 3 to carry the iPhone. I find that hard to believe – and I wonder what 3 are asking for that’s holding things up.

But, according to the SMH blogs, word is that Apple and 3 will come to an agreement by August. The general gist of the blog post is “wait” – see what 3 offers. One expects 3’s deal will be stronger than competitors to make up for the fact they missed out on the launch hype. And that, in turn, might apply pressure on other providers to rethink their offerings.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Suckered by the hype

With all this in mind, I’ve been saying to friends for the past few weeks “I’m going to wait a few weeks after the iPhone is launched before I buy one – just to see if there are any issues and to see what 3’s offer is.”

But walking past the lines at the Apple store, Optus and Telstra stores, I got sucked in and decided to at least find out if I could buy an iPhone outright and use it with my current carrier (which is 3).

I went to the Apple store, expecting that as the maker of the device they would be selling the iPhone outright. I waited until the line was a reasonable length and joined in. A friendly Apple staffer was walking the line and asked me “You’re here for the phone?”. Umm, yes. “Do you have 100 points of ID?”. Check. Yep. “OK, so you know we’re not selling the phone outright?”. Umm. No.

I find it quite incredible that Apple are only selling iPhones on plans. But the friendly staffer suggested I try Telstra (across the road) as they were selling it outright.

So across I went, into another line. I get to the (clearly exasperated) staffer. “So what are your plans?”, I ask. He silently hands me a bit of paper (clearly exhausted). Same crap plans. No mention of outright purchase. “So can I buy this outright?” Yes, I’m informed. “But the phone is locked to the Telstra network and we can’t unlock it.” What do you mean, you can’t unlock it? “I don’t know. ‘They’ just said we can’t unlock it. I think it’s something to do with the demand.”

At this point I’d spent enough time in lines to decide I should stick to my original plan and wait for 3’s offering, so I didn’t bother going to Optus and press the issue.

So on the launch day of the iPhone, I was unable to buy one outright… Seems like an odd sales strategy to me. But perhaps, in the end, I’ll be better off being made to wait. One can only hope…

Bad for industry

As an aside, John Allsopp on the Web Directions blog talks about how this affects the web development industry more broadly in iPhone in Australia – now for the bad news.

OK, in the scheme of things, this is not really a huge deal. World hunger is a big deal. But, this is not just the lament of some yuppie who wants a cheaper phone deal. To me this will actually have a huge impact on Australia’s capacity to become a serious player in the next wave of web innovation – mobile web applications and services. People simply won’t use mobile web services (except the “free” access to carriers own services – my bet is that this will come soon enough). Which means little if any incentive for local companies to innovate in this, a space with almost limitless potential. In markets with inexpensive data charges, all the innovation will take place, and when affordable mobile arrives here, those innovators will be ready to swoop on our market, with local companies in no place to play catchup.

I have to agree.

High petrol prices

Well, those of us that have been focused on the environment have known that petrol prices were likely to rise significantly, so all the hand-wringing and shouting comes as little surprise.

It’s a shame that the emphasis has been on short-term relief by the way of the government dropping the excise on petrol. Although I really feel for the folks that are finding it tough with daily commutes etc. I think that dropping the excise is a terrible idea.

Even if the petrol companies don’t see it as an opportunity to wrestle more profit out of the market (which is a likely scenario) – the price of petrol will only continue to rise, making this a very short-term solution.

Instead the government should announce that it is funneling the revenue generated from the excise into alternatives – public transport in particular, but also better planning of areas to alleviate the need for car transport in the first place.

Another area the government could invest in is building Australia’s R&D capacity in car manufacture. It’s a pet subject of mine – I’ve ranted enough on the topic here that regular readers will know my views. But in a competitive market I find it incredible that the industry, and government in general, continues to subsidise big car development for the middle eastern market at the expense of alternatives like hybrids and electric vehicles.

I did have to laugh, though, reading this article by Richard Glover a few weeks back: Here’s to high petrol prices. Some choice quotes:

HOORAY for high petrol prices. No one wants to say the unpleasant truth, so I’ll say it again. Hooray for high petrol prices. They are changing our behaviour faster than decades worth of hand-wringing over the environment.

… What’s frustrating is that there are real ways in which our politicians could help; not by making false pledges of cheap petrol but by helping us permanently adapt to this new world of highly priced energy.

… Whatever we do, we won’t be able to avoid pain. Australians of past generations showed great fortitude in the face of the global challenges of their time; they proved themselves to be resilient and adaptable.

… Will we need to make sacrifices? Of course. Will those sacrifices be as difficult as those faced by the generation who lived through the Great Depression, or World War II? Um, no.

The biggest irony, of course, is that when I viewed this article, this was the ad that came up:

high-petrol-prices-suv-ad.jpg

An ad for a petrol hungry 4WD…

Geo-sequestration mis-reporting

Environmental Leader highlights a Reuters report on the new geo-sequestration plant opening in Victoria.

The basic principle of the “plant” is to pump 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the ground (and, I suggest, hope that this won’t cause unforseen and/or longer-term issues). I’m dubious about geo-sequestration generally, but that’s not my real gripe with this report. This is the lead:

A geo-sequestration plant, capable of capturing and compressing 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide which is stored two kilometers underground, has opened in Victoria, Australia. Researchers hope the project will help to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

(Emphasis mine.) Whilst, technically, it could be argued that sequestration reduces the emission of greenhouse gases – because it’s funneling the emitted CO2 into the ground – it’s not actually reducing the emissions. Just storing them somewhere else for an indefinite period.

But the corker is when the voiceover of the report says:

… it uses experimental low-emission technology that has the potential to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

This is patently untrue. In fact, a successful trial is likely to lead to a continuation, or even increase, in the burning of fossil fuels, as it delays the need for investment in truly renewable energy and allows the continuation of use of coal fired power stations and the like.

I’m astounded that an agency like Reuters would get this so wrong in their report…

Fashion Exposed

Last weekend I went to the Fashion Exposed exhibition at Darling Harbour. The last time I attended the event was in Melbourne 4 years ago. If nothing else, this year’s event was a firm indicator of how little has changed.

Granted, there were a few booths with organic cotton, hemp or bamboo offerings. Bamboo Body were there, along with Eco Wear and Pure Pod – but there were probably less than a dozen offerings in the full exhibition center area, and of those only one had menswear (tshirts).

The organisers claimed that there was an “eco-fashion” precinct – but this turned out to be 6 stalls, one of which was linen, and the other was Drizabone – included because they use Australian sheep which is a “natural fibre” (supposedly we’re meant to overlook the immense damage sheep grazing causes on the environment.)

I spoke to a couple of merchandising and shop-fitout suppliers at the show, and it seems that they haven’t yet received word that “green is the new black”. Not one could answer even the most basic questions about eco-friendly shop fittings – they had none. One at least made an attempt, claiming their mannequins were recyclable, but I’ve yet to find evidence to back up that claim.

There were two paper bag companies I spoke to – one responded to my question about recycled bags with “you’d want to look at our natural finished product”. When I asked about the recycled content of the bags, he acknowledged there was none!

Paper Pak, on the other hand, seemed to have a good range of blended recycled material with sustainably managed virgin pulp – and the sales rep didn’t try to bullshit me. He explained that they used water based inks, improving the enviro credentials, but that the adhesives were problematic from a biodegradability standpoint. Still more research to go, but a good start at least on that front.

Overall it was worth the visit to review – but not overly inspiring. I’m currently also reading Eco Chic which serves as a stark reminder as to why I got into this game in the first place. But more on the broken-ness of the system in another post…