Friday, August 26, 2016

Open letter to Josh Frydenberg - SAVE ARENA stop the $1 billion cut

TO: Josh Frydenberg
Minister for Environment and Energy,

I’m writing to you today with a very important message about ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. That's the Agency you want to cut $1 billion in funding from.

ARENA is a critical force in driving renewable energy research and development in Australia. It has funded projects that developed the most efficient solar PV [1] and solar thermal technology in the world [2].

ARENA is crucial if Australia is to continue to lead in renewable energy research and innovation. If protected, projects funded by ARENA grants will create thousands of jobs [3], and help Australia transition to a renewable future.

Your government talks up innovation, but slashing ARENA's grants funding will cut the legs out from underneath a key industry that would otherwise be set to boom.

As your constituent, I am asking you to lead on innovation and make the right decision for Australia's energy future. Don't send Australia back to the Dark Ages. Don't cut ARENA.

Also, gas is just another fossil fuel and must not be used as a "transition to renewable energy".  The transition should be directly to renewable energy.

The same applies to coal seam gas - there should be a permanent ban on exploration and production of CSG in Victoria.

Regarding your previous comments on nuclear energy, could you please confirm that this dangerous and expensive energy source will  not be used in Australia?

[1] Milestone in solar cell efficiency by UNSW engineers, UNSW Newsroom, 17 May 2016, http://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/milestone-solar-cell-efficiency-unsw-engineers

[2] ANU team cracks solar thermal efficiency of 97% -- a world record, Renew Economy, 22 August 2016, http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/anu-team-cracks-solar-thermal-efficiency-of-97-a-world-record-34199

[3] Queensland solar projects that could create 2,600 jobs at risk in federal cuts, The Guardian, 24 August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/25/queensland-solar-projects-that-could-create-2600-jobs-at-risk-in-federal-cuts

Yours sincerely,
Peter Campbell
Surrey Hills, Victoria, 3127, Australia

External links



Friday, August 12, 2016

Australian Census 2016 - rank incompetence, lies and a failure of outsourcing

The conduct of the Australian Census 2016 is a worrying demonstration of government incompetence.  Here are my observations on the debacle.





Privacy concerns

In the lead up to the Australia's 2016 Census serious concerns were raised relating to a change in the retention of personal data that allows respondents to be identified and what this would be used for.

I didn't see an adequate response from the Australian Government or the Australian Bureau of Statistics about why this was being done and what the personal identification data links would be used for.

I have concerns that government departments and other authorities could access this data and use it to track down issues with individuals, which is not the purpose of census data.


Funds stripped from ABS
The Rudd and Abbott governments both cut funding for the ABS.  This set the scene for the debacle that was to follow.  The ministers previously involved in this were Kelly O'Dwyer and Joseph Ciobo.


Online data collection outsourced to IBM
In a apparent attempt to save money a decision was made - its not clear to me by which minister - to shift the majority of data collection to an online process using the Internet, and to outsource the technology solution to IBM.

With this outsourcing, it was vital that requirements for the solution be specified by government, including:
  • Appropriate security for online submission of forms
  • Appropriate security for data retained
  • Performance - the maximum number of concurrent users supported
  • Website availability - protection for Distributed Denial Of Service (DDOS) attacks
Statements were made by the ABS and the newly appointed minster Micheal McCormack that everything was in order, data would be secure and the website would handle the number of user that would use it on the night Tuesday 9 August 2016 (data collection night).


Website meltdown and failure
During the evening of Tuesday 9 August 2016 people experienced problems accessing the website.  Some people completed forms but were not able to submit them.  Others couldn't access the website at all.  Messages via Twitter from the ABS were confusing - they said to "try again later".  Millions of people gave up trying to submit their response and were left wondering what had happened.


The morning after - claims of hacking
There was intense interest on Wednesday morning on what had happened. Claims emerged on ABC morning radio that

"the website had been hacked"

"no data has been compromised"

"there was a DDOS attack" (no evidence has been provided for this)

"DDOS is not actually an attack because no data was accessed" (by Minister McCormack)

"the website was taken down by the ABS due to a false positive alert from IBM"

"a hardware router failed that prevent people accessing the website"

"the website was tested for up to 1 million concurrent users"

It is not possible to determine the veracity of any of the above claims as no information is available to validate them.

More recently, it has been claimed that:

"access to the website is geo blocked" (you must be in Australia to access the website)

"DNS servers outside Australia were blocked (preventing them routing access requests to the website)

What these claims highlight is rank incompetence by the ABS, the Government and IBM.


Solutions
I work in IT.  The following solutions were possible, but apparently neglected.

Robust security:  Encrypted sessions to secure data (appears to have been implemented)

DDOS protection:  Mechanisms are available to identify and avoid DDOS attacks, which are quite common.

8 million concurrent users:  Website performance should have been scaled to meet up to 8 million concurrent users as the majority of the population is on Eastern Standard Time and therefore was trying to access the online form at the same timee.

Drop the extended data retention:  In the absence of valid reasons for retaining identification data longer, this should be dropped.

Hardware failure: Redundancy and fail over is required, preferably via virtual devices rather than physical ones.

Increase scalability: If the application has been written properly (it may not have been) and the solution is cloud hosted, then performance can be scaled up (e.g. by instantiating more virtual servers) as required, and scaled down when not required.

Unfortunately, recent comments from Prime Minister Turnbull, Minister McCormack and the ABS only amount to misinformation, blame shifting and finger pointing.

The Australian online census meltdown is a failure of outsourcing and reveals gross incompetence of the Australian government.

Turnbull has said that "heads will roll". Perhaps Turnbull and McCormack are the ones who should be sacked for rank incompetence?

This debacle makes a complete mockery of Turnbull's "innovation agenda".

Misinformation, blame shifting and finger pointing won't fix the problems.

See also

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Getting clean energy, cutting pollution and protecting reefs, rivers, forest and wildlife onto the Kooyong 2016 election agenda

The long running federal election campaign is coming to an end.  Most of the action has been in marginal seats in New South Wales and Queensland where cash gets splashed and promises are made.

A safe Liberal seat like Kooyong becomes a bit of backwater.  However, this election the Australian Conservation Foundation and The Wilderness Society have mobilised community volunteers to door knock through the electorate and ask people to pledge they will vote for a candidate who commits to:

  • Supporting clean energy
  • Cutting pollution
  • Protecting reefs, rivers, forest and wildlife onto the Kooyong 2016 election agenda
Party candidates in Kooyong were asked to make the same pledge. Margaret D'Arcy (Labor) and Helen McLeod (Greens) both did, but Josh Frydenberg (Liberal, incumbent) did not.

Pledges and leaflets
Over 1000 people in the electorate did make the pledge.

I did some door knocking on Saturday 25 July in August with about a dozen other volunteers. I had many good conversations with voters and over 100 pledges.  One person said they couldn't pledge as they voted Liberal. When I told him that the pledge was apolitical he said he would and asked me why Josh wouldn't.  I said he would have to ask Josh about that.

I handed out copies of the scorecard (which is not a how to vote card) at the early voting (pre poll) centre in Riversdale Road.



Josh was there with his "blue army" of around 8 helpers in blue shirts.

Helen McLeod, Margaret D'Arcy and Angelina Zubic (independent) were there too.

Josh said he wasn't happy about the leaflet, even though I clarified it (and the pledge) was produced by ACF and TWS.  He said he wasn't happy with the "pledge truck" that has been around in Kooyong, so the Liberals have responded with their truck (attacking the Greens, but no mention of Liberal except in unreadable fine print).

However, Josh did say he was interested in helping get the Hawthorn to Box Hill bike trail built so I will catch up with him after the election - he is likely to be elected - to discuss how we can make some progress.

It will be interesting to see how community-based door knocking and the pledge in Kooyong will affect the outcome.  A good comparison will be Goldstein, which has a similar strong Greens vote but there was no activity with the pledge.

Kooyong is still among the top 25 green electorates in the country and the vote is growing:
  • 1998: 4%
  • 2001: 11.24%
  • 2004: 12.54%
  • 2007: 11.82%
  • 2010: 18.48% 
  • 2013:  16.58%
Josh Frydenberg responded to this environmental focus by distributing a leaflet to the entire electorate spruiking his environmental credentials.  

But Josh didn't mention his support for coal seam gas (CSG, fracking), new coal mines such and Shenhua (Liverpool Plains, NSW) and Adani (Carmichael, QLD) and increased coal exports to India

It is very clear that we need to transition of coal and other fossil fuels over the next 10 years to 100% renewable energy if we are to have any chance of retaining a safe climate.  

The Liberal-National minority government are stuck in denial of climate change; their "Direct Action" policies are ineffective and emissions have risen since Tony Abbott scrapped the effective carbon tax - this was his greatest blunder and an act of sheer vandalism.

The Labor party's climate and energy policies, while better than the LNP, are still nowhere near good enough. 

The Greens still have the strongest environmental policies, and they are the only ones to mention forest protecting during this election campaign.  If the Greens win Batman (possible) and Higgins (not so likely) in Victoria and a couple of others elsewhere they may have the numbers to form government with Labor.  Labor has churlishly ruled this out, but would they really force us to go to another general election? 

It will be interesting to see what the voters of Kooyong and across Australia do.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Please introduce a permanent ban on unconventional gas in Victoria

TO:
  • Daniel Andrews, Premier
  • Lily D'Ambrosio, Energy Minister
Dear Minister,

My name is Peter Campbell, I am an IT consultant and live in Surrey Hills.  I am writing to you to urge you to stand with the community and permanently ban onshore gas drilling.

The community has reached consensus. 73 communities have declared themselves 'Gasfield Free' , with an overwhelming majority pledging they will do whatever it takes to stop onshore gas drilling going ahead.

Onshore gasfields have inherent risks that we will not tolerate.  Water contamination, air pollution and industrialisation threaten rural communities, the health of people and animals, our environment and local economies.

Already the coalition have promised us a 5 year moratorium on all onshore gas drilling. But that does not give us enough certainty. We need your government to address community anxiety and lift the cloud from over our heads by putting in place a permanent ban on all onshore gas drilling.

Unconventional gas (UCG) production will destroy agricultural land and wilderness areas and will greatly compromise tourism in Victoria.

I hope the Andrews Labor Government will stand on the side of the community.

Renewable energy must be implemented to replace fossil fuel usage for electricity, heating and transport.

Regards,

Peter Campbell

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why we need a Royal Commission into Australian banks and financial services

Calls for a Royal Commission into Australian Banks and financial services have so far fallen on deaf ears.

The reasons why a royal commission is urgently needed include:
  • Entrenched ongoing fraudulent (possibly criminal) financial advice provided by the Commonwealth bank that has resulted in the losses of tens of millions of investors money.
  • Banks rigging interest rates. Commonwealth Bank, ANZ, Westpac and National Australia Bank are all under official investigation by ASIC and have been served with official notices.
  • The Australian Senate inquiry demanded a royal commission into Commonwealth Bank and ASIC
  • The failure of "self regulated" banks and other financial services companies to deal with corrupt and illegal activities within their businesses.
Predictably, some major Australian banks oppose a Royal Commission into their conduct.  What have they got to hide?

Labor now supports a Greens move for a Royal Commission into financial services.  Some Coalition politicians such as Warren Entsch also support this.

Prime Minister Turnbull has dismissed calls for the Royal Commission, describing it as a "thought bubble".  Ministers Josh Frydenberg and Peter Dutton have also parroted the "thought bubble" dismissal.  

It is quite clear that Turnbull, Frydenberg and Dutton are putting a massive cover-up of corporate banking fraud ahead of the public interest.  Perhaps the large political donations that banks all make to the Liberal and National parties influence this curious response?

I don't think that the Commonwealth bank losing tens of millions of retirees and other investor money due to illegal and fraudulent practices is a "thought bubble".  Nor is collusion between banks to manipulate interest rates. 

I think it essential that the financial sector in Australia abides by laws and is held accountable and penalised for illegal activities if and when they occur.

External links

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I just signed this petition asking the Australian Senate to keep EPBC laws

I just signed this petition asking the Australian Senate to keep EPBC laws strong to protect our environment including forests and the Great Barrier Reef.

 EPBC petition

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Underground rail with a linear park is better that overhead Skyrail

The Victorian government has announced plans for "Skyrail" overhead rail along sections of the Dandenong line.  Daniel Bowen provides a good overview of the proposal.

Murrembeena Station concept drawing Source
Community consultation by the Victorian government regarding this proposal seems to be "we are providing elevated rail and we want feedback on the details".

An underground rail option is not being publicly canvassed by the government.  Underground rail would probably cost twice as much as the overhead rail so it has apparently already been ruled out.

While underground rail would cost more it would have much less long term impact. A linear park can be built above it with bike and pedestrian paths and a mix of some residential and commercial buildings. 

Cities around the world such as London, Paris, Stuttgart, Naples and Tokyo all have underground rail. 

If you want to see how overhead rail ends being a disruptive divisive eyesore visit the Canterbury Railway station or have a look at the wasteland under Flinders Street viaduct in Melbourne's CBD.

Flinders St viaduct source: Wikimedia
The "Skyrail" proposal includes:

"an extra 12 km of cycle paths will be added, linking existing sections to make a single stretch for bikes from Caulfield to Dandenong, with local councils contributing additional links to Monash University and the Gardiner Creek trial, which provides an off-road path all the way into the city."

Bike path near overhead infrastructure

However, bike paths on the surface need to cross roads like the current train line does. This is a poor outcome for cyclists, less so for pedestrians. 

Here are some pros and cons of underground versus overhead rail for grade separation.


Pros
Cons
Overhead rail
  • Achieves grade separation between roads and rail
  • Cheaper to build
  • Bike and pedestrian paths can be built under gantry that can provide overhead cover


  • Creates an eyesore
  • Divides communities
  • Propagates noise further
  • Space under the gantry has low sunlight and low amenity - three or four tracks cover a lot of area
  • No opportunity for residential buildings along rail easement
  • Bike path road crossings impede cycling

Underground rail
  • Achieves grade separation between roads and rail
  • Provide linear park above with mix of residential and commercial buildings and bike and pedestrian paths
  • Less noisy, low impact on  local communities
  • Can include bike and pedestrian underpasses in tunnels (next to rail tunnel) under busy roads.

  • Expensive to build
  • Separate overhead cover required for bike and pedestrian paths
  • Diesel fumes from regional and freight trains need to be dispersed

The Level Crossing Authority should provide the best transport outcomes for motorists, public transport, cyclists and pedestrians with all grade separation projects.

So far the track record for grade separations is appalling.  For example, feedback to provide good pedestrian and bike underpasses at Springvale and Rooks Roads was ignored even though the Box Hill to Ringwood Rail Trail was an approved project when they were planned and built.

More recently, the need for a tunnel under Burke Rd for pedestrians and cyclists during the grade separation was also ignored with the usual litany of excuses such as "there isn't room for it" and "it would cost too much".

I provided feedback that a bike and pedestrian underpass should be included during consultation for the Middleborough Road grade separation.  A pedestrian underpass was belatedly provided but bikes cannot use it.

The plans for Blackburn Road grade separation show now indication of a bike pedestrian underpass

Blackburn Road separation concept [source]
Pedestrians and cyclists are forced to use pedestrian crossings at all these locations - they must press and wait for pedestrian crossing lights that then impede the traffic - that the grade separation is supposed to have prevented!  This is an absurd outcome for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Tunnels should be also be provided for pedestrians and bikes next to train tunnels - its is much cheaper to do this during construction.

Linear parks over underground rail with covered solar bike paths and a mix of residential and commercial buildings provide the best amenity for all users and the lowest impact on local communities.

Linear bike path in Hungary

Linear bike path concept in Sydney

Please reverse government cuts to CSIRO climate science

Open letter to:

Josh Frydenberg, Member for Kooyong, Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia

Greg Hunt, Member for Flinders, Minister for the Environment

Please reverse your government's announced cuts to CSIRO climate science.

Hectares of burnt cushion plant. Photo: Rob Blakers

More government funding is required to better understand the effects of climate change, not less.

Climate change impacts that are now apparent, many of which are exceeding worst case scientific estimates, include:
  • Dramatic increase in very severe bushfires and the extension of the bushfire season
  • Bushfires occurring in regions not adapted to burning such as Tasmania's Central Plateau, where rare plants in World Heritage areas have been destroyed.
  • Heat waves resulting in increased deaths due to heat stress
  • Sea level rises now impacting many coastal regions and communities around Australia
  • Acidification and warming of the oceans leading to coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Increased frequency and severity of tropical and sub tropical storms (such cyclones and twisters)
All these impacts require ongoing scientific measurement and modelling, not less.

Climate scientists believe Australia's obligations under the Paris climate commitments will be directly undermined by the CSIRO cutting 350 jobs.

Australian and international climate scientists in Melbourne have warned the cuts would cripple CSIRO climate research.



Please reverse your government's cuts to the CSIRO Climate Science team Oceans and Atmosphere, and Land and Water divisions.

Regards, Peter Campbell

Links