please give a fuck.

Amsterdam Sloterdijk

sorry about the swearing so early in the piece. can't be helped sometimes.

it's just a quick rant. in three parts. about private organisations providing public services. or perhaps not, as the case certainly is. in fact, when i grew up, all these industries were owned by the public. then, of course the 1990s happened. and john howard/jeff kennett happened and, well. look what we have now:

banks (financial infrastructure)

my bank charges me $2.50 to use another banks' teller. then that bank charges me $1.50 because i'm not their customer! what the fuck? last night it was cheaper to buy something at the IGA and get money on EFTPOS, than it was to use the banks' own infrastructure, to use the banks' services.

now, i might add, is not a good time for banks to be arseholes. and i know we've all whinged, but for god's sake, i'd like us to actually do something. what the hell is consumer regulation for, if its not preventing this kind of double-dipping. add insult to injury: UK banks don't charge a thing to use the ATM. in fact, they boast about it!

UPDATE: yes! the public have spoken (as has the ACCC) and banks aren't allowed to double-dip. they're still allowed to pillage you with fees, but no double-dipping at least.)

telstra (comms infrastructure)

i broke up with telstra years ago. in fact, as soon as T2 got off the ground and the service took a major dive, i switched teams. not that the others were all that much better, but as government infrastructure/structure/organisation, it was shit.

my mum and my sister kept on. they stayed loyal, believing that a company with years of service would aim to improve over time. nah-uh!

last week i rang my mum and her phone was disconnected. i called her mobile and she was in tears from frustration. they pay their bill automatically - each month - and are always in credit. in fact, telstra recently sent them back a cheque because they were in credit so much. telstra switches their systems and suddenly the money is not paying for the bill (but turning into a rebate cheque, douchebag) and their account goes into the red, while my mum calls the offshore call centre, trying to get an answer. being told that they have to pay the bill before the discrepancy with their credit (ie, telstra's fuck-up) gets fixed. then, still not able to speak to anyone who knows what the hell is going on, each time getting a different answer, but the same runaround, the number gets disconnected and my mum becomes homicidal. and, the problem still isn't sorted.

not only that fucking appalling example of service, but they are in serious fucked-up land at the moment and i can't believe that the ombudsman, the ACCC, the australian people in general and the government aren't on their heiny! here's the awesome timeline of events for the once-public company:

government brings in big-gun CEO, govt sells majority share and goes public. telstra focus all their resources into a decent dividend. cut costs by going off shore. worsening service, customers leave. no money coming in, so the service gets worse. exploit cheap foreign labour, local workers get sacked. CEO breaches contract, gets A$20 million pay out, share price drops and the shareholders are fucked. how shit is that!

this is what happens when public infrastructure (ie, communications cabling, workers' skills, telephone poles, manholes, switchboards, mainframes - the whole lot) goes from being owned by the taxpayer. to being shared between people who can afford to buy it (when they say 'public', they mean, open to purchase by those not directors. it isn't owned by the wider public). interests are privatised and the wider public are disempowered in the machinations of their own lives.

connex (transport infrastructure)

i know that many have ranted about the bastard lovechild of jeff kennett and an inflated ego, but you can't talk about failing private - public infrastructure without mentioning the trainwreck that is connex (at least in this state).

i don't think any amount of spin is going to improve their image, and given that the contract is up for tender v. soon, it will be interesting to see what happens with public transport in melbourne in the near future.

unfortunately, given the lack of money everywhere, financing major capital works and infrastructure is going to be harder than ever, but i really don't think melbourne/victoria will cope with current population growths without drastic improvements. the eddington report was a pile of shite and has done nothing to ease the pain of catching public transport. in fact, i praise some kind of higher being on a daily basis that i am a cyclist and only have to go near P(M)T on the weekends while visiting the parentals.

looking through the World Transit Maps book the other day, i couldn't help but being completely confused how a city like Hamburg, with a population of 1.8 million, can have a good, integrated system for half our population? i know that Germany itself has a larger population, but the transport system is still state-based.

I don't know what it takes to nationalise privatised infrastructure, but if it's at all possible to do, i think now is a most-excellent time to do so. at least for the trains. private partnerships can still exist for electronic ticketing systems (will they just get the oyster team in here please?) and labour, but the inability for a private company to maintain cohesion with the public is so obvious at the moment that it's embarrassing. in fact, the only thing that the government and connex have to thank for the continually bursting peak trains is that petrol prices, environmental awareness and inflation have been successful in encouraging people to reduce their reliance on cars. pity the government hasn't been able to pick that one up.

more importantly, all of these public 'institutions' which have become private 'firms' have been allowed to fall by the wayside because the level of ownership by the politic has been complacent. I would love to see Australians actually give a shit about their systems and infrastructure and take action, vote, write to local members, protest, whinge to the Herald-Sun or 3AW if you have to. But make some goddamn noise about it and become accountable for the state in which we live, and stop being whining victims - it's s000 19th Century.

image credit: amsterdam sloterdijk by just a guy who likes to take pictures


Rob Mortimer said...

Telstra = BT
Connex = British Rail franchises
Banks do make hideously immoral charges here, but save them for when you go overdrawn.

lauren said...

so can we continue to blame the british for shit role models then? heh...

oh, and don't worry, we get charged nasty overdrawn fees too.

Rob @ Cynic said...

If the Government listened to the people, they wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq ... so the only way [the only way] to get change is to vote via economic actions.

How pathetic is that eh, especially as often the alternative is not that different to what you've left in the first place.

I like this side of you Lauren - well, I like this side of you coming out on your blog for a change ;)

BTW, I've made you a judge for the A[P]SOTW thing. Hope you don't mind - but it's too late if you do.

[I'm using a Government approach, can you tell?]

Rob @ Cynic said...

The Australian banking system is the worst in the World for charges - if you think it's bad in the UK, you have no idea Mr M how terrible it is in Oz.

They charge you for putting money INTO your account then charge you for taking it out again - they are bastards of the highest order.

lauren said...

Hey Rob - thanks for the compliment - of inviting me to do the APOSTW. Are you sure you want that level of blind cynicism?

Actually, speaking of cynicism, i still actually believe in the power of the masses to change behaviour - Get Up in Oz has reminded me that, actually, 200,000 emails from the voting/taxpaying public makes a difference.

I'd like to see economic leverage happen far more often with these big corps. Imagine a mass mail-out back to Telstra/CBA/Connext that says 'we, the undersigned will not be paying our fees, bills, ticket until services are running to the following guidelines'... or something like that. Something rather than just words, you know.

And mr m - rob's right.. worst ever.

charlie gower said...

banking sucks unless you're Swiss or unless you have an uber bank account. As soon as they think you matter they seem to care...

my advice is get yourself a flash account and they'll bow down before you.
I've only just leaned this.

Age said...

The rail situation here is extremely fucked. V/Line are one of our clients so when we catch up for a coffee I'll fill you in on some of the insider bullshit that's keeping all of us squashed and/or stranded.

mayhem said...

right on! it's unbelievably screwed.
I was shocked moving to melbourne to see what Kennet did to connex - which is a horror!
From memory, French banks are worse than ours - but this ATM bullshite is catching up FAST - and french phone companies are still definitely worse......except for TELSTRA - which is so appallingly terrible in so many ways....
I think public services got nationalised coz there was a soviet bloc and the communist party had 15,000 members, and most essential industries were unionised...... If someone can demonstrate to me that governments respond to anything apart from the threat of mass civil disruption or imminent poll disaster, then I'll support that too

lauren said...

mr gower, what the hell is a flash account? do i get a lightning strike costume to go with it? :)

age - ooh, rail infrastructure gossip over an espresso or two.. eep!

mayhem - ah yes, i'd imagine that the french are pretty awful with their telcos. but their banks? the result of bureaucracy methinks. is that a result of mr bruni (sarkozy) in power, or just a general abject relationship with something as common as money. heh.

Thorsten said...

German transportation is private or at least independent (where sometimes the states may hold a majority of stocks). So there is competition every few years when transportation is re-evaluated by the cities. German transportation companies also run public transportation in other countries, like U.K. Greetings from Thorsten and Isabella

sublime-ation said...

Telstra sucks! Just had to calm my own mother down who was pulling her hair out with frustration at them, where do I even begin.
I finally changed my mobile from T and it's so much better, unfortunately living in the country we have no choice but to have our home line with them. And bloody Sol...

lauren said...

hey thorsten! nice to see you again :) interesting that the german PT system is privatised and still runs like a dream (well, at least in HH and M, don't know about Berlin). Perhaps that is because Germans, as people and therefor members of corporations are particularly sensitive about the role of public infrastructure and collective responsibility. oh, and their bloody efficient people too.

sublime-ation - i can't tell you how awesome it is that you're back in blogland. and while it's not so ace that your mum has also been at the mercy of telstra, it's good to know that it's not just my mum. i think the ransom that they hold to the regional/rural areas is bloody criminal and am looking forward to them splitting into two companies: one for 'service' and one for infrastructure - heavily regulated.