Letter from Australia

20130222-105238.jpgBlogging has been light because I am out of the country attending a friend’s wedding. He is to be married up above the north shore of Sydney harbor in a venue with the feel of a jungle retreat. I’ve been making the most of the trip and tuning out of day-to-day stresses, such as the chronic state of British politics, but have a few random observations worth sharing.

It is apparently illegal in Australia to cross the carriageway and reverse park facing into the traffic. We were struggling to find a spot in the numerous bays on a sleepy high street. I noticed someone with keys in hand and wound down the passenger window to ask him if he was leaving. He wasn’t but pointed to a space opposite and remarked “make sure you point it up the hill or they’ll book ya”. “Oh really?” said I, genuinely surprised. “Yeah. Can you see all the cars are facing in the same direction?” I could. Of course pointing your car in the direction of travel is bound to be popular but all the cars, in the whole road, were all lined up in the same direction in an eery display of obedience. I’m left wondering if this is a bookable offence in the UK? I’m also trying to remember if we ever did that ourselves in any country.

Overall I think of the Aussies as relaxed and straightforward. I remember passing through a small side-of-the-road town called Worrimba and noticing that the shopping arcade was sign posted “Worrimba Shops”. We call groups of retail buildings “shops” in the UK but I never saw a sign with that expression. So even signs are plain talking, I like that.

For an economy with a currency equal in value to US Dollar the people are surprisingly generous with their time. At zebra crossings even taxi’s screech to a halt for you, unlike London where it is customary to step into the road on a zebra crossing and the first one or two cars drive right by. I wonder if the warm weather makes people feel more benevolent or if the customs are influenced by strict enforcement of rules. I don’t know, but it is interesting to notice that a nation doesn’t have to be in a constant hurry to be wealthy.

Of course, a wealthy nation does have to be prudent and ABC News showed a shocking contrast. Labour Treasurer Wayne Swan spoke at an economists breakfast and announced a host of improvements to how election promises are costed and audited. Apparently a Parliamentary commission to audit manifesto policy costings is a recent innovation and is about to be expanded, mostly to embarrass the liberal opposition. That’s interesting but the real shocker was when an opposition spokesperson responded by pointing out how Swan was “failing to deliver a surplus”. Watching politician getting undermined for failing to deliver a surplus is amazing to someone used to seeing them done over by the media for cutting small amounts from the deficit!

But Australia has it’s fair share of big government nannying. Reminiscent of Milliband’s attack on Frosties, the big story on the radio when we arrived was a regular ten yearly report that had just been delivered that changed the government’s diet guidelines to exclude anything with added sugar. Food industry spokespeople were up in arms disputing the research and calling for more regular reviews, but should have taken a leaf out of Thank You For Smoking’s Nick Naylor because nobody seemed to question whether the Government should be telling people what to eat at all.

Another familiar item is the speech printed in today’s Australian. A former BHP Biliton chairman is calling on the troubled Labour Government, recently out of it’s failed coalition with the Greens, to cease “popular” welfare spending amid tanking revenues from Australia’s mining tax and causing a storm by pointing a finger at Labour’s “rose-coloured spectacles”. It’s good that business people are getting involved in that kind of conversation and making front page news.

A final and somewhat bizarre observation is that despite several revisions to the weather forecast, always for the better, and lucky escapes for the bulk of New South Wales from “tropical systems”, the entire climate of Australasia appears to be conspiring to make it rain on my friend’s wedding day. Dramatic pictures of waterspouts on the TV don’t cheer me up much either. Perhaps there is a god, and perhaps he has decided that tonight’s wedding is to have all the bad luck there is, hopefully he’ll leave mine alone.