Saturday, 25 June 2016

Conversations with your Drunk Uncle - The Meaning of Brexit for Australia

There's a large lot to swallow for political types in yesterday's Brexit vote. A lot more again for people of the left and people of Labo(u)r. But I worry we're going to wind up focussing on the wrong things again, and I worry more that we're not going to have many more chances to learn the lessons.

Because to me, the one, salutory lesson from yesterday's vote was clear: 

Had the Syrian refugee crisis not peaked when it did, Britain would not have voted to leave the EU.

This was, as much as many campaigners on either side attempted to make it not, a vote entirely about the issue of immigration. So Farage's "Rising Tide" poster was one of the key moments of the campaign. Because it was one of the few moments where one felt like the discussion was anywhere near the genuine locomotive issues for most people.

And the real message of that poster was "Turkish muslims are coming to swamp us when they too join the EU." It was perfect because it played into feelings of the EU as a kind of structure "out of control" and misaligned with traditional European national identities. But it also clearly posited "you wanna see another repeat of all these Syrians ..." dovetailing perfectly into anti-muslim sentiment, working class fears over job insecurity, and a sense that EU membership effectively means ceding control of one's national borders.

Europe is Burning, Australia Smoulders

Chatting online with European friends lately, one cannot emphasise how severely the totally unprecedented levels of Syrian refugees the continent has accomodated has led EVEN THE MOST ARDENT MUTICULTURALISTS amongst them to wonder aloud whether we've gone too far. The change has been too profound, the potential risks to our broader social fabric are seen as too great, and too real. In short, ALL the sorts of anxieties that we are all too prepared to call racism when workers exhibit them are now being voiced aloud by liberal left elites all across the continent.

And this resonates with us particularly here in Australia, where immigration and the broader multiculturalist project have become a zone from which politicans have sought to build personal agendas, where they have come to be seen as a kind of political "pet project" of the political elites that working people blame for the broader economic insecurities they are feeling.
"This was not a vote on the undeniable lack of accountability and transparency of the European Union. Above all else, it was about immigration, which has become the prism through which millions of people see everyday problems ... Young remainers living in major urban centres tend to feel limited hostility towards immigration; it could hardly be more different for older working-class leavers in many northern cities and smaller towns."
-Owen Jones, The Guardian 

Every inner city hippie type who opposes "stopping the boats" needs to heed this message, and stop listening with condescention to the people delivering it. Your outrage against "racist" immigration policies and "dog whistling" is only convenient to you because it turns your opponent's argument into a unidimensional charicature.

Because if you're fighting racists then you've already won the argument, right? Well that only works at Uni in debating club. Try retrofitting that into a world where you need to win over actual living, breathing, sentient beings before you can win ANYTHING and it's simply yourself and your own argument that wind up losing.

We're mapping a whole raft of different phenomena here, but one of the crucial ones for Labor people in Australia is that we URGENTLY need to start showing that we understand the economic frustrations, but more importantly we need to give people a much better sense that we have an actual plan capable of addressing them.

Who owns "globalisation"? The left turns up to protest it vehemently. The populist right pillory it as ceding control of nationhood and economic independence, and millions of people worldwide suspect it's a process that directly threatens their best interests. There was a time when Labor would have done anything to attach itself to a mast of that size, but that it would be reticent to do so today tells you how badly our political culture has declined. Any Keating-scale headline policy would be eschewed by modern federal Labor as too ambitious, and Keating's experience would be cited.

But did we ever bother going through what Keating actually got wrong in how he sold his agenda before we declared big agendas "too difficult". For this author, no, and not by a very long way.

Modern Australians - Keating's Illegitimate Offspring

Everyone remembers but nobody understands the meaning of Keating's "banana republic" speech. It was a specific call to "open the economy up, or become yesterday's backwater". And it was an absolutely essential prescription. If you don't remember growing up in Australia in the early 80s, you won't properly remember a time when "Australian" meant "like the rest of the world, but a bit shitter", when the "cultural cringe" was a real phenomenon induced in you every time "Australian-ness" was ever invoked on a global stage.

That backward, insular Australia died in public policy terms at the end of Keating's political vorpal sword, but he totally failed to bring the people most impacted by those policies to see and understand their benefits. By the time he'd gotten around to "the recession we had to have" - and that was really just another (worse) way of phrasing the banana republic speech - nobody was listening to the policy headlines because they were too busy bearing its negative impacts.

We need to spend some actual time talking to people about why an open, not a closed, economy is crucial for Australia to prosper - being a huge landmass with a tiny domestic economy in global terms, it's not a difficult argument to make. Your kids will have a better future in a more open Australia.

But we very urgently need to understand that for so long as workers feel that their current job insecurity is the coin used to purchase that future then they are not going to sign on to the vision. And they are going to take every opportunity to blacken the eyes of the "political classes" untill we show some sign that we appreciate this.

Calling people racists who are afraid that we've ceded control of our immigration policy is completely misguided. Because failing to understand what's actually going on that comprehensively almost always ensures you'll seek out the least effective response. You're most certainly going to respond with the least persuasive discourse for your actual target audience.

Explaining to people how this is neither true, nor the source of their insecurity should be the easiest thing in the world if political classes took their role as PERSUADORS seriously. Instead our political cultures seek out great "revelators" and autodidacts, our internal party processes do everything BUT reward persuasion and argument as a skill. Why the hell would you need either of THOSE qualities to secure an ALP safe seat preselection? All you need is the tap from George Seitz ...

We urgently need to change this tune, because there are as many people in Australia as in the UK looking for something more substantial than just putting Pauline Hanson back in Parliament to bash us about the head with. Who can say for sure they'll never have a wrecker's moment on a Brexit scale?

And who would declare they entirely blame them?

Monday, 20 June 2016

"Shut Up About Box Hill Already" - Plan Wombat Does the 'Twenty Minute City'

So, we've recently seen yet another document from a government agency, this time from Infrastructure Victoria big on fluff but light on detail about facilitating suburban CADs, and the hell with it, that's the acronym I'm going to continue using.

For those who haven't read the previous wombat offering foregrounding all this, I strongly recommend checking out THIS POST first as background to everything that's afoot here.

My self-designated mission therefore is an INFRASTRUCTURE agenda that would MAXIMISE the connectivity of suburban CADs, along with their concomitant rail catchments, as well as maximise the dispersal of possible CADs across a wider urban area than is currently planned, and maximise the number of CADs in total.

All this based on the assumption that far more investment and a far larger and more dispersed range of CADs than are currently planned is going to be necessary to drive success if we're actually being serious about facilitating "twenty minute cities". And again this on the assumption that the present repetition of mere hot air very specifically WON'T get us there.

So. Plan Wombat proposes FOUR major projects - three via light and one via heavy rail. We'll discuss the potential costs and other limitations below, but for now let's dive in to the specifics...


1. Alamein - Narre Warren Light Rail

Shown in RED above

This in some ways very obvious project involves REPLACING the Alamein line completely with light rail terminating at Camberwell's third platform. This would probably require some kind of flyover for much of the short section of track it would share with the heavy rail network.

The light rail would then run under the creek via tunnel then use the above ground reservation from the former Outer Circle Line to Dandenong Road, from there via a new Chahdstone superstop, and then the whole damn way down Warrigal Road to Lower Dandening Road, and from there via Braside to Dandenong and on to Narre Warren, providing a new light rail catchment for the major residential areas into that center.


2. Huntingdale - FTG Light Rail

Shown in YELLOW above

This would run from Huntingdale, or for even better network effect from Oakleigh Station along North Road to Monash Univerity and Monash employment center, and running via Rowville and Knoxfield to Ferntree Gully.


3. Willy - Donny Light Rail 

Shown in BROWN above

This is my cost-effective alternative to doing what we're told will have marginal usage benefits - a heavy rail Doncaster-City link. It may be a little presumptuous in that it assumes a light rail technology that would be able to share the Metro Rail tunnel. Dual track should be easy enough, but I'm not sure how you'd accomodate TWO overhead power systems. Nor how you'd get CBD North and South platforms to accomodate two different modes. Suffice to say for this exercise I've assumed these problems away. If that were not feasible, PTV's network development solution of doing essentially the same thing via SXS would be one alternative.

The second issue is that I'm replacing the entire Williamstown line with light rail, but this would also need to share a small section of existing track with Werribee line trains, creating the same issue as above, and which again I'm just going to assume away for now.

This facilitates Metro 2 through the inner north and Fisherman's bend. From Newport, we're tunneling through Fisherman's bend - possibly achievable through cut and cover rather than boring, with a Southbank stop at the Casino/Convention Center entrances, it would then either share the metro rail or a duplicate rail tunnel to the CBD North station from where it run to create new stations around Lygon and Brunswick streets before intersecting with the northern group lines at Collingwood, tunneling through to Studley Park Rd and continuing above ground to Kew Junction and then on to Doncaster, largely replacing the existing tram line.


Outer Circle Lines

Shown in GREEN below.

Readers who are following closely will note an evolutionary shift in wombat thought about this. Yes, you guessed it, I now want to spend even more money. Obviously this could be staged and start delivering benefits from early in the project, but we'll look at the logistics  more shortly.

So, the proposal is for a largely underground medium-heavy orbital rail system. One cost-effective approach would be rather than traditional heavy rail, examining the possibilities for incorporating "Medium" rail in the form of Alstom's Axonis technology, and while I don't intend to bog us down in the specifics of mode selection, for anyone interested in the technology, how it works and why it's cheaper, there's an excellent article over at Urban Melborne HERE.

So, looking at Plan Wombat by section, we envisage firstly the creation of an airport link via the Albion freight corridor AND via a new orbital Northern and Eastern suburbs line connecting all the major CADs thereabouts.

In the North it looks like this;


The two proposed lines would run Mordialloc - SXS via Sunshine and Frankston - Airport, with a third SXS-Airport route also incorporated. I very strongly believe we are going in the WRONG DIRECTION looking at longer car sets for the heavy rail network. Because I VERY strongly believe that inadequate service frequencies are one of the present network's major shortcomings. We should be about small car sets running MORE frequently if we're about delivering a network that meets people's needs. In my experience your twenty minute off-peak wait does a lot more to prevent people actually using the network than overcrowding does. I would envisage this network extension running entirely on three car sets with a metro style service frequency.

My NEW development, relative to earlier incarnations of Plan Wombat is that in the East the tunnel is now split into TWO lines, a la this;

And these statistics here are a little out of date, but this shows that what we're doing with Plan Wombat is connecting - particularly in the outer East is connecting ALL the major existing transit stations.

As per previous incarnations of the Plan, a key objective here remains the VASTLY improved NETWORK EFFECT of having a fully interconnected grid that no longer operates purely radially from the CBD, and the scope of the change is quite demonstrable. We've moved from THIS today:


And, it's a bit of a dog's breakfast visually, but with the CADS shown it looks like THIS:

In addition to the facilitation of the CADs shown above, I strongly believe that there are network inherencies that would also advise, based on these centers either having good existing catchments or newly facilitated ones as a non-primary objective for Plan Wombat, the additional inclusion of the following as designated CADs.


Costing of these sorts of projects is a can of worms. Switzerland have just delivered 57kms of dual rail tunnel at a cost of AUD$17bn = $0.3bn/km.

Sydney Metro City and Southwest is costed at around $12bn, delivering 16 kms of tunnel and another 15 kms of converted existing track. If they've released a costing of the tunnel component alone, I can't find it anywhere. But with a quick back of envelope assessment, assuming the tunnel is 75% of the total cost, the Sydney metro tunnel is delivered at $0.5bn/km

With Melbourne Metro, we're getting 7kms of new tunnel at a cost of $11bn. = $1.5bn/km. So something's seriously screwy here. How do we wind up paying over $1bn/km in Melbourne when the Swiss can do it for a THIRD of that cost, Sydney at HALF?

At the recent Melbourne Metro info sessions I did ask their in-house tunneling expert about this. His not particularly convincing response was that geological conditions tend to be the major determinant of project costs. Did you know that almost all tunnel borers are BUILT TO SPEC for their specific projects? You don't hire these things, you BUILD a new one for your project alone, and the technology you use will be specific to the project geography.

I would suggest the following staging for the Wombat project, with those stages intended to deliver the highest benefits prioritised first.
  • STAGE ONE - Frankston-Ringwood
    31.75 kms, $9.5bn at Swiss rates, $15.8bn at Sydney Metro, $47.6bn at Melbourne Metro
  • STAGE TWO - Sunshine-Airport
    13.5 kms, with 9 kms of this electrification of esxisting track, let's run with the existing costings for this, say $2bn 
  • STAGE THREE - Ringwood-Airport
    45 kms, $13.5bn at Swiss rates, $22.5bn at Sydney Metro, $67.5bn at Melbourne Metro
  • STAGE FOUR - Doncaster-Braeside
    30 kms, $9bn at Swiss rates, $15bn at Sydney Metro, $45bn at Melbourne Metro
So at Swiss rates, the heavy rail projects would cost $34bn, at Sydney rates it's $55bn, and at Melbourne, it's an insane $162.5bn.

With Sydney Metro argued to have a Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) of 2.5, and Melbourne just 1.1, would it be possible to ever get a project of this scope to a positive BCR? That's obviously well beyond my humble capabilities to calculate. But it is obviously THE key question in whether this would have legs.

My argument is that the benefits of facilitating suburban CADs through this means is, provided it is predicated on a RADICAL re-working of the city's entire transport and employment patters, such a necessary enabling factor in allowing Melbourne to continue to grow sustainably at the rates that have been forecast, that I think one could mount an argument that costings towards the lower end of the scale WOULD have a positive BCR.

"Shut Up About Box Hill Already" - CADs prioritised

So putting all this together, I hope readers will discern that this is a SIGNIFICANTLY more comprehensive plan to enable the desired radical re-working of existing patterns than anything currently on the table.

Firstly, I believe it properly prioritises those CADs that have the GREATEST POTENTIAL in a way Plan Melbourne fails to do. Secondly, it addresses all the existing employment centers that Plan Melbourne ignores.

And I maintain that if we are SERIOUS about facilitating "twenty minute cities" that there are categorically not enough designated CADs within Plan Melbourne as it stands to facilitate this, as I believe the following table bears out.


Plan Wombat
Plan Melbourne
1 Ringwood A Activity Center
2 Monash/Clayton A Employment Cluster
3 Broadmeadows A Activity Center
4 Dandenong A Employment Cluster/Activity Center
5 Footscray A Activity Center
6 Heidelberg/West A within La Trobe Emerging Employment Cluster
7 La Trobe A Emerging Employment Cluster
8 Box Hill A Activity Center
9 Parkville A Emerging Employment Cluster
10 Airport/Kielor A Transport Gateway
11 Braeside B None
12 Campbellfield B None
13 Epping B Activity Center
14 Frankston B Activity Center
15 Knoxfield B None
16 Moorabbin B None
17 Narre Warren B Activity Center
18 Sunshine B Activity Center
19 Werribee B None
20 Glen Waverley B None
21 Springvale B None
22 Burnley C None
23 Camberwell C None
24 Caulfield C None
25 Ferntree Gully C None
26 Huntingdale C None
27 Oakleigh C None
28 Richmond C None
29 South Yarra C None
30 Springvale C None
31 Thomastown C None
32 Mordialloc C None
33 Murrumbeena C None
34 East Malvern C None
34 Chadstone C None



And we can see how vastly improved the catchments into the designated centers would be under Plan Wombat versus Plan Melbourne.


Ringwood is by FAR a better prospect for creating an effective mixed use CAD. It's shopping center is already larger and better integrated with the rail network than Box Hill's, and under the Wombat plan, it will have full FIVE RAIL CATCHMENTS radiating into it, as the below illustrates. You can clearly see how direct access lines into Ringwood would dominate the majority of the surrounding residential areas, and NONE of the other planned suburban CADs has quite this comprehensive a dominance of its immediate region.



But we can also clearly see that the plan facilitates a similarly sophisticated network into both Doncaster and Monash/Clayton. Just look at your transport options across the catchment NOW...



Under the wombat plan, BOTH the Craigieburn and Upfield lines become effective catchments into Broadmeadows and Campbellfield. Especially if the obvious job is done duplicating the top end of Upfield and re-connecting it to the Craigieburn Line. Completing the Epping - Wollert extension similarly extends the catchment for MOST of the designated Northern CADs. And if there's a train station in suburban Melbourne BETTER PRIMED in terms of the sheer volume of redevelopable land within coo-ee of it I'm not aware of it.


Again the point needs to be made that the airport region is presently Melbourne's largest employment center outside the CBD, and it is entirely unserviced by public transport. Unlike previous airport rail plans, I am proposing the creation of new commuter stations along the new extension through the Albion corridor, again because the entire point of Plan Wombat is primarily allowing WORKERS effective public transport options to their workplaces, catering for airport commuters would be a SECONDARY concern.

Over to YOU

So, of course people love to pick these things apart in intricate detail. And honestly I welcome that. Please take the time to comment, share, discuss, critique. I'm not sensitive. This isn't necessarily the only or even the best way to deliver on the objectives we're aiming at, but we certainly won't get to that point all sitting around in isolation. And so, over to YOU, dear reader ...