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