Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Happy Easter


Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

Image by MrGajowy3 from Pixabay

Hi there!

I’m just going to wish you a Happy Easter today. There are a lot of things happening here at the moment and right in the middle of everything three of my appliances and my dongle (internet connection) have decided to toss their mortal coil. Most likely it’s because we had two power outages in quick succession, but I can’t help thinking it’s because I wrote about the importance of being able to repair things last week. Of course there are no parts available for any of them and the appliances are built in, so I can’t lug them along to the next repair café, but that’s life.

If Easter is not your thing but you live in the Northern Hemisphere I hope you have a lovely Spring and if like me, you live on the other end of the planet, we'll look forward to a bit of autumn colour before we hit the downhill run into winter. One quarter of the year gone already! Keep well and look after each other. Or perhaps I should say, stay away from each other. The pandemic isn't over yet.

Image by Oldiefan from Pixabay

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

At the Repair Café and Why we need Right to Repair laws


Carole and Deb make sure the coffee machine is working well

On Saturday I had a great afternoon at our local Repair Café.  The weather was perfect, the surroundings were lovely, there was real coffee in the coffee machine and there were plenty of knowledgeable people on hand to help with all kinds of problems. Many of the volunteers are now retired and happy to pass on useful skills. In quiet moments - we are early, Aaron, the convenor, strums a tune on an acoustic guitar.You could say it was as much about repairing souls as about repairing objects.  


Pride in workmanship -Ian proudly displays the ceramic fish he has just FINished if you'll pardon the pun


There are now 45 such Cafes operating in in Australia and around 2000 worldwide.  Apart from the social aspect and possibly being able to save money by not having to buy new items, they are a great boon to the environment.  Repairing not only diverts material from landfill but uses far fewer resources and less energy than making new stuff. The big problem however, is that more and more products are deliberately designed to break down quickly and to be unrepairable.


Waiting for 'business' -Jenny Neal and her beloved Albi are waiting to repair your jewellery


Why we need Right to Repair laws


Many modern appliances are intentionally bonded or soldered so that they can’t be taken apart and put back together. Others use unique parts which are unavailable to the public or require special tools, diagnostic facilities or design specifications which are only available to authorised dealers. Farmers complain that they can no longer repair their modern tractors without having to call in expensive help.  Replacing a broken screen on an iPhone will set you back $300 through an Apple facility, whereas being able to have it done by an independent phone repairer costs less than a third of that, though Apple seems to be doing its best to prevent that in future.  This year I’ve had to throw out two perfectly good printers – one new and still in its box, the other still working, because Windows 10 won’t support them and no one else could use them either. Just having someone look at one of the printers cost more than buying a new one. We also have a brush cutter which no longer works but is just out of warranty and almost once a year there's a  kettle which has to be replaced.  Too bad they don't make those old ceramic duck kettles any more. Sure they were ugly, but they lasted a lifetime. Even if you were silly enough to boil one dry, all you had to do was get a replacement element or fuse wire and put it in with a screwdriver. While the current situation suits manufacturers because it makes us keep buying new products, the growing mountains of waste have prompted governments around the world to start taking action. 


 Aaron plays a bit of gentle guitar while things are quiet. 


What other countries are doing 


The European Union's Eco Directive comes into effect today. It requires appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, and monitors to  have components which can be replaced using common tools. It also says that producers must keep parts available for ten years and supply them within 15 days. Unfortunately, personal electronics aren’t included in this legislation but some countries have gone further. France for example, has an elaborate rating system which applies to everything from smartphones to lawnmowers. Points are awarded for ease of disassembly, access to repair info, availability of parts and so on and these scores must be displayed at point of sale. France aims to have 60% of its electronic equipment repairable by 2024. It is also promoting modular product design. Although no longer a member of the EU, the UK also passed similar laws earlier this month with additional emphasis on low energy consumption.

 Sweden also encourages repair by giving tax returns to consumers for having goods repaired in their homes. This also encourages local employment.

In the USA, which produces 15 million tons of e-waste a year, fourteen states have independently passed Right to Repair legislation with others set to follow suit. The inability to repair ventilators was a big wake –up call during the pandemic and now both California and Hawaii have passed laws to ensure that medical equipment can be repaired. Farming states such as Kansas, Arkansas and Vermont are also looking for the right to repair farm equipment as are Australian farmers who, because of the great distances here, must be able to be self - reliant.

Australia is also considering general Right to Repair legislation. Although formal submissions have now closed, comments may still be added during the draft stage. The report is set to be released in July. In 2018, Australia sued Apple for telling consumers that their warranty would be void if they went to a third party repairer. However, the victory may be short-lived as Apple is now making this more difficult  in other ways. 


Mark Pearson and Ian McLean are in charge of electronics. Sadly fewer and fewer of them can be fixed, but at least one microwave was repaired while I was there and my friend's phone charger now works again


'Everything' - says the sign at Arthur and Peter's table and they did a fine job of my friend's handbag. Meanwhile others were working on computers and several people were also clustered around Cindy and her sewing machine, too busy to stop for photo ops

 Extending Right to Repair to Software

India too is looking at Right to Repair laws. However in addition to the concerns already mentioned, it emphasises the importance of using open - source software or waiving the monopoly control of large corporations through the use of copyright. Writing in The Federal, Jai Vipra and Shrindini Rao note that the European Union doesn't stop companies forcing upgrades on consumers and using software locks to render older devices unusable, even when they still work. They are calling for longevity, support for legacy devices and more concern for affordability and human welfare.

They are also looking at  the consequences of having say, a smart refrigerator already programmed to expire after a certain time, or printers that cease operating after so many impressions. With software modification not permitted under present licensing arrangements, the writers argue that this will be especially damaging to less developed countries and will stifle innovation. They say it's important that consumers have their say now before the Internet of Things really gets going. 

Speaking of innovation, the Logan Repair Café (Queensland, AU) has already created a portable phone charger for use in Indonesia. They also refurbish computers for those who can't afford them.  Given that Covid has shown us how vulnerable our supply lines are perhaps as many young people as possible should be encouraged to acquire repair skills. I would also like to see communities have some kind of central repository with parts from products sent to landfill and with an electronic inventory. This was my son’s suggestion after we had had to send an otherwise functional dryer to the tip for want of a proprietary fan belt which was no longer being made.


James is officially in charge of bicycles but he's also pretty confident that the !X%#@ brush cutter can be fixed

  • A big Thank You to the people at the Hobart Repair Cafe for a friendly and very informative afternoon. Next time I'll bring the brush cutter! The Repair Cafe is free and usually held on the first Saturday of the month.Check their FB page for more



Monday, March 15, 2021

Mini Roadtrip to the South West


Got quite depressed last week reading about all the things going on in our Parliament and with Mental Health leave being all the rage, I thought I’d take a short mental health break myself.

It was “Goldilocks Weather” according to the Weather Bureau meaning that it was neither too hot, not too cold. That’s a nice change from the weather you usually encounter in these parts, though it isn’t actually all that far. My GPS says it’s two hours and 17 minutes  from Hobart (253 Km), but that doesn’t allow for all the bends, hills, a spot of sightseeing here and there,  or a few roadworks or bad weather, so I  gave myself at least five hours for a leisurely drive down.  I was hoping to find a couple of fungi as people had started posting some interesting ones and I’d found some excellent specimens out this way last year, before the weather put a stop to it.

Unfortunately that wasn’t to be. It was quite a lot drier than last time and fires had been through some of the denser vegetation. Even the walk to the Needles which I did last time was now just a burnt out wreck, so I just kept driving.


Unexpected encounter -The Bitumen Bones Sculpture is dedicated to roadkill, an all too common sight on Tasmania’s roads. Read Sarah Day’s Poem about it here. The 'wings' represent the black crows that do such an excellent job cleaning up afterwards

 There were other ‘bones’ too. Bleached trees like pickup sticks around the edges of the dam and skeletal ones, blackened by fire, but the views from the Lake Pedder Lookout were striking enough.  Lucky I didn’t see the original one with its pink quartzite beaches before it was dammed, or I might have been sad. True Tasmanians who remember it have never forgiven that, even my ex. who worked for the Hydro. Its flooding in 1972 sparked the creation of the United Tasmania Group which is regarded as the world's first environmental organisation. Although it failed to save the original Lake Pedder, it gave rise to the Tasmanian Greens who then went on to save the Franklin River from a similar fate. I doubt that Tasmania would have had a tourist industry at all had it not been for them.


Early morning at the New Lake Pedder. The original one which was 24 times smaller, lies beneath it. According to those who knew it, it was little gem with pink quarzite beaches

I spent the night at Ted’s Beach a camping spot on the edge of the lake, about 15 Km before Strathgordon. It had toilets, untreated water –you have to boil it, a picnic shelter and electric BBQs all of which suited me perfectly. The new Lake Pedder is a mecca for boaties and fishermen, usually one and same and there were a few of them scattered about. I imagine that if there was no pandemic and it was a normal tourist season, there would have been standing room only here, but sometimes good things can come out of bad ones. There was hardly any traffic on the road either.


Rainforest vegetation and reflections at Serpentine Dam

 Next morning I took  the side trip to the Serpentine Dam. The rugged hills and dense vegetation reminded me of my beloved West Coast. After an easy walk across the dam wall I could see an intriguing set of stairs running up the side into the hills above. How could I resist? I soon found myself on a pleasant little bush track which stopped abruptly at a sign.  There were all the usual warnings plus  Very Steep Grade, and  TRIG 500 metres. Did I mention that I wasn’t a peak -bagger? Still 500 mts.  seemed doable, even for me.

"Unprotected cliffs, extreme and changeable weather ..... " If you kill yourself, it's not our fault.


The beguiling little path now turned steeply upwards and became a climb rather than a walk. This meant hauling myself up using sawn posts, saplings, rocks, tree roots or whatever I could reach. It was also very wet -a running creek bed in fact. I soon regretted not changing into my boots. Every now and then my shoe would get bogged, my foot would pull out and the shoe would fill up with mud. The only good thing was that you couldn’t see far ahead and I kept thinking I just had to reach the next little ridge and that would be it. Eventually I came to a bit of a grassy hillock. On top were two rusty posts – bits of railway line I suspect, and I assumed I had arrived. There was no trig point, no drum roll and no sign but it certainly felt like I had gone quite a few miles.


Not sure if this was it or not

Great views though

 I sat around for a bit, catching my breath and taking in the 360o  views. Far below canoeists were exploring some of the inlets. Then I started sloshing my way back down. As I was leaving I noticed another little track snaking off to the right and towards another set of hills. It wasn't as distinct as the one I had come on, but a path nonetheless.  I asked at the Chalet later if the posts were the summit.” Don’t know,“ said the young woman. “Never been there, but I do know that it’s the start of an eleven day hike.” OK, that was enough for me. I’d had a pretty good workout and had gone just about as far as I could. At least I had a better trip than the chap below. Mt. Sprent is the next peak along.



Afterwards I drove to the Gordon River Dam, at 190 m the largest arched dam in Australia.  Built in d 1972 it holds back about the same amount of water as six Sydney Harbours and it is certainly a stunning sight. Although it's an amazing engineering feat, it looks it looks way too fragile to be doing the job it’s doing. 


The Gordon Dam


It was getting a bit darker now. I;m not sure if that signalled that there was about to be a change in the weather or whether it was just getting late. As it was still fairly warm I thought I might stay another night and decided to take a look at two other campsites along the Scott’s Peak Road, another area I hadn’t really explored. 

The campsite at Edgar Dam was more rustic than the one at Ted’s Beach – composting toilet, no electric BBQs, but quite pretty. Too bad it’s down 34 Km of unmade road and there’s not much of interest around it unless you’re a fisherman or just enjoy wide open spaces. The next one - the Huon Campground 7 Km further on, was a bit more difficult to get into. Larger vans would have trouble squeezing under overhanging trees. It was also the start of the six day South Coast Track. Tempting as that was, I had neither the gear nor the stamina for that. Just as I was heading back to the other campsite, a message came through on my phone.


Edgar Dam Campsite has more flat places if you need to pitch a tent


“Where are you?” ”When will you be back?” As I'd already told him I might be away two nights, I was a bit worried that something might be wrong at home, but couldn't text him back. There’s no signal anywhere here once you go past Mt. Field, which made it all the more curious that he could reach me but I couldn't reach him. I was also worried that like his Dad - bless his heart,  he might start calling in the troops. More than once when we returned late from a misjudged walk there'd be a posse of Parks and Wildlife personnel or the Police getting ready to mount a search. Still, it beats the alternatives such as lying at the bottom of a gully with a broken ankle or worse. That's also the reason you should always sign in and out even on a short walk like the one I did.

Reluctantly and carefully I drove back over the 34 Km of unmade road- the van is old and there are some big potholes- and then all the way back to Hobart, but it was a nice little break all the same. Non - fishing people might find there's not much to do here - there are meals and a heated pool at Strathgordon, but that's the point really -a device -free weekend with no pressure to do anything except enjoy the scenery, the quiet and the sense of remoteness. 



Thursday, March 11, 2021

Fighting Corruption -4 A work in progress


Image by OpenIcons from Pixabay

Bear with me folks. I have been struggling for a week now trying to find effective ways to tackle corruption. Unfortunately, great examples have been few and far between. Many middle level democracies such as Australia appear to be having the same problem. Our governments may have ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption and have even put in place some mechanisms to achieve them such as Freedom Of Information laws and transparency and accountability requirements, yet in practice, corruption flourishes unchecked, especially those which involve the government itself. 

In Australia’s case there have been 800 + recorded instances of corruption over the last seven years ranging from biased grants, ‘fast tracking” of contracts for generous donors without due regard for the environment, using the public purse for their own purposes, agency capture, state capture, undue influence,'revolving doors' unfair allocation of government contracts, inflated expenses and failure to declare interests to name but a few, yet sanctions are rare, especially when they involve the dominant party. Since governments are often the main beneficiaries of said corruption, political will for change is lacking. As Transparency International said in a recent report “…power holders are also potentially the greatest beneficiaries of corruption, with the powers and incentives to use and maintain the corrupt nature of government for their own benefit. Thus, the critical importance of the existence or lack of political will in the success or failure of governance and anti-corruption reforms has been largely recognised in recent years." Given the large number of dodgy deals in Australia over the last seven years is it rude to wonder if our own branch of Transparency International is compromised as the US one was? Woodside Petroleum is a major donor which is not supposed to matter, but they were the beneficiaries of the secret bugging of East Timor for which whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer  Bernard Collaery are being prosecuted.

Apart from those methods already listed - consulting with Transparency International or looking at tools on their web pages, active citizens groups seem to be the only way forward. In some ways being part of a larger organisation such as the EU or even a developing country seems to be among the few ways to bring pressure to bear on errant governments. In the case of Mozambique for example, donors such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the EU, NGOs and other countries have made Aid conditional upon thorough auditing and oversight, to ensure funds reach those for whom they are intended. Even Biden has just announced that US Aid will no longer flow via governments in Central America but directly to recipients, since simply turning off the tap harms the very people who need support.

Welcome to the Wild West

Sad to say, we lack this in Australia as do many other countries which profess to be democracies such as the UK and Canada. Some forms of gross mismanagement have provoked Royal Commissions – e.g. Banking, Bushfires and Aged Care, yet even when they finally happen after lengthy delay, the government limits its scope and decides who will head it up. Some Bankers were fined, a few directors were replaced but then it’s business as usual. Recommendations of the Royal Commission such as the purchase of water bombers in the case of the Bushfire Royal Commission, have yet to be implemented. Likewise with respect to Aged Care. Although results of the latest enquiry have only now been released, it follows 18 similar enquiries since 1997. Two brothers who used to have a poultry farm and were disbarred from keeping animals again on animal welfare grounds, have nevertheless been given a licence to operate an aged care facility. Neglect, abuse and malnutrition remain a problem in many others, even where people are paying millions. 

Companies which failed to return overpayments with respect to pandemic payments are not being pursued to return them, though thousands of welfare recipients, against whom debts were raised via algorithm locally known as Robodebt, were told they would be “tracked down and punished,” causing some 2000 to commit suicide.    

So where is the public outrage?

Unfortunately, it’s almost as if the powers that be, are using the Transparency International Blueprint for effective Governance in reverse. The commercial media is among the most concentrated in the world and the recipient of large amounts of Government largesse, while the national broadcaster which could once be relied upon to present issues such as this, is repeatedly hobbled by both lack of funding and the stacking of its board by government appointees. A recent petition with half a million signatures requesting a Royal Commission into the media in Australia brought by two former Prime Ministers from opposing sides, has also been denied. The new arrangements with Google and Facebook which favour the big players will make this worse. The National Audit Office has also been starved of funds to do its job. Inconsequence a parliamentar inquiry has been told, "smaller government agencies are likely to gounaudited for 20 years." Freedom of Information requests are delayed, expensive and can be denied at ministerial discretion or because of ‘Commercial in Confidence” agreements, or reasons of “National Security.”

Mounting calls for a Federal Integrity Commission have thus far also fallen on deaf ears – the bills were tabled in Parliament two years ago, but the cries are getting so loud that the Morrison Government is now proposing one where it limits the scope – (no sitting members can be investigated, criminal cases only, no retrospectivity, findings will not be made public) and with a “friendly,”commissioner at its head. This government got in with a fear campaign and only a 51% majority. After the secrecy of the Economic Forums stacked with mining exceutives during the pandemic, this now extends to national cabinet. Australians who are aware of these things fear for their jobs. Public Servants are sworn to lifelong secrecy and whistleblowers such as David McBride are looking at long gaol sentences. Secret trials, indefinite detention - that's not Haiti. That’s Australia 2021. I don’t like washing Australia’s dirty linen in public, but things have gone too far and I am looking for ways forward. I'm also fairly sure we aren’t alone with these problems either and I am hoping we can all help each other to defeat this monster which is eating our democracy.

Some glimmers of hope

Naming and Shaming

Outing companies which are doing the wrong thing is becoming increasingly popular. At least one company been shamed into returning their Bonuskeeper err Jobkeeper funds after making a profit during the pandemic. Do not spend money with these companies or buy their shares. Transparency International’s campaign to Unmask the Corrupt in the UK is beginning to bear fruit. Its aim is to show ownership information regarding property ownership in the UK which is a popular way to launder money. There are also the revelations in the Paradise papers which have led to the resignation and goaling of at least one Prime Minister. The entire Dutch government was recently forced to resign after launching an operation like our Robodebt, yet so far no heads have rolled here.

Integrity Pacts

On a more positive note, Transparency International in conjunction with the European Commission istrialling “Integrity Pacts“in 11 European countries. This is a collaborative approach to public procurement in which Government Agencies, Companies, local communities and civil society groups commit to transparency and integrity. Then independent experts and local community closely monitor to ensure that everyone delivers on their promises. 

Voting them out

That is the obvious choice, if ignorance and self interest don't get in the way. Alas, our elections are far away, leaving plenty of time to stack the deck in favour of the party in power. Proposed new surveillance powers currently the subject of another parliamentary enquiry do not inspire confidence.

STOPPRESS: 12/3/20021 Three German Politicians forced to resign over corrupt deals