Before I dig my hooks into the reasons why negative gearing isn’t to blame for high house prices (a seemingly controversial view these days) I will tell you, in the interests of full disclosure, that I’ve been negatively gearing property for the past 5 years or so. Back when we first bought our property I lamented the dearth of good properties that were available in our price range, focusing much of my anger of the property boom that took place mere years before we went into buy. However we found something that we could just afford if we played our cards right, even though it was out in the sticks of Canberra. During that time though I never once blamed the negative gearers for this predicament but the more I talk about it the more it seems my generation blames investors for it when they should really be looking elsewhere.
Depending on what figures you’ve read though I’d find it hard to blame you like the table above (from this ATO document) that has been doing the rounds lately. On the surface it seems pretty hefty with some $7.8 billion in total losses being claimed by investors with negatively geared property. Realistically though the total cost to the government is far less than that as even if everyone was on the top marginal rate (which they aren’t, most are on $80,000 per year or less) the total tax revenue loss is closer to $3.5 billion. Out of context that sounds like a lot of dosh, especially when this year’s budget came in at a deficit of $18 billion, but it’s like 0.9% of total tax revenue which is significantly dwarfed by other incentives and exemptions. If your first argument is that it costs the government too much then you’re unfortunately in the wrong there, but that’s not the reason I’m writing this article.
The typical narrative against negative gearing usually tells a story of investors competing against homebuyers (usually first timers), driving up the price because they are more able to afford the property thanks to negative gearing and the higher amount of capital that they have. Whilst I won’t argue that this never happens it fails to take into account the primary driver for upward trending house prices: owner occupiers. Initially this idea sounds ludicrous, since homeowners aren’t taking advantage of negative gearing gains nor are they in the market for new property, but the thing is that the vast majority of capital gains in Australia are held by just such people, to the tune of 84% of the total property market.
In Australia the primary mechanism which drove house prices up, with most of the increase occurring between 1994~2004, was current home owners upgrading their houses. For a current homeowner especially ones that own their property outright, the cost of upgrading to a larger property is a fraction of what it would cost to buy it outright. However anyone looking to upgrade will also try to extract the maximum amount of value out of their house in order to reduce the resulting loan and thus the cheaper priced houses get pushed up as well. Couple that with the fact that the majority of Australian owner/occupiers move at least once every 15 years and that selling your primary place of residence is exempt from capital gains tax and you have a recipe for house prices going up that’s not predicated on negative gearing’s influence.
Indeed the ABS Household Wealth and Wealth Distribution supports this theory as the average value of an owner occupied property is $531,000 which is drastically higher than the Australian average (which includes all investor properties) at $365,000. Considering that the bulk of the Australian property market is dominated by owner-occupiers (since investors only make up 16% of it) then its hard to see how they could be solely responsible for the dramatic increases that many seem to blame them for. Most will retort that investors are snapping up all the properties that would be first home owners would get which is something I can’t find any evidence for (believe me, I’ve been looking) and the best I could come up with was the distribution of investment property among the 5 sections shown here which would lead you to believe that the investors are normally distributed and not heavily weighted towards the lower end.
The final salvo shot across the negative gearing bow usually comes in the form of it providing no benefit to Australia and only helps to line the pockets of wealthy investors. The counter argument is that negative gearing helps keeps rent costs down as otherwise investors would be forced to pass on the majority of the cost of the mortgage onto renters, something we did see when negative gearing was temporarily removed. Indeed the government actually comes off quite well for this investment as using that revenue to instead build houses would result in a net loss of rentable dwellings which would put an upward pressure on rents.
I completely understand the frustration that aspiring home buyers go through, I went through it myself not too long ago when I was in a position that wasn’t too different from average Australian. But levelling the blame at investors and those who negatively gear their property for the current state of the Australian property market is at best misguided and at worse could lead to policy decisions that will leave Australia, as a whole, worse off. You may believe to the contrary, and if you do I encourage you to express that view in the comments, as the current Australian property market is a product of the Great Australian Dream, not negative gearing.
If you’ve been here a little while you’ll know that last year I won a competition to go up to Brisbane to cover TechEd Australia 2013 for LifeHacker Australia. During my time up there I wrote three posts covering everything from PowerShell, the evolution of the term “private cloud” and why Windows Server 201 would succeed. Evidently the LifeHacker writers and readers loved what I wrote and I ended up winning the mini-competition with the 2 other guest bloggers. At the time I was told that this would lead onto another series of posts for Microsoft themselves however that never eventuated but I did end up with a shiny new HP MicroServer that’s become the mainstay of my home network.
I thought that would be the end of it but a couple months ago Angus Kidman, the man behind much of LifeHacker Australia’s tech coverage, contacted me with an offer: come with him to the USA and participate in covering TechEd North America as part of their World of Servers initiative.
Of course I said yes.
It will be much the same as it was last year, I’ll be attending TechEd in New Orleans every day and writing up a post that sums up the lessons learned that I take away each day. The primary focus will still be on Server 2012 although with Microsoft’s increasing focus on cloud integration you can rest assured that I’ll be weaseling my way into as many Azure sessions as I possibly can. It’s going to be interesting to compare and contrast the two as I’m sure TechEd North America is going to be huge by comparison and hopefully that means we’ll get some juicy insights into some of Microsoft’s upcoming products.
But this post isn’t just for me to humble brag to you guys. I’m here to tell you that LifeHacker Australia is offering this very same opportunity to 2 lucky IT professionals! To enter all you have to do is fill out this entry form and answer a few questions about your IT chops. Once you’ve done that you’re in the running to win a fully paid trip to New Orleans to cover TechEd North America and you’ll get to hang out with me for the duration of the trip (most people would consider that a perk…most people ).
If you’re a budding blogger hoping to get a foot in the door or just a tech head who loves everything Microsoft then there really isn’t a better opportunity than the one LifeHacker is offering here. You’ve only got until May 1st to get your entries in (that’s 2 weeks people!) so I’d encourage you to get it in sooner rather than later. I’m incredibly excited to be going along for the ride on this one and if my previous experience was anything to go by it’ll be a blast and it’d be amazing if I could bring one my readers along for the ride.
Hope to see you there!
If you follow the start up scene, care of industry blogs like TechCrunch/GigaOM/VentureBeat/etc, the lack of Australian companies making waves is glaring obvious. It’s not like we haven’t had successes here, indeed you don’t have to look far to find quite a few notables, but there’s no question that we don’t have a technology Mecca where all aspiring entrepreneurs look towards when trying to realise their vision. You could argue that Sydney already fits this bill since that’s where most of the money is but it’s not the place where the innovation is most concentrated as Melbourne as arguably given risen to just as many success stories. This decentralized nature of Australia’s start-up industry presents a significant barrier to many potential businesses and whilst I don’t have a good solution to them the reasons behind it are quite simple.
Reserve bank governor Glenn Stevens gave a speech at the CEDA annual dinner a couple nights ago and hit the nail on the head as to why Australia doesn’t appear to have the same vibrant start-up ecosystem that can be found overseas:
Only 4.8 per cent of start-ups in Sydney and Melbourne successfully become “scaled” (large enough to be sustainable) which is another way of saying that 95.2 per cent fail. In Silicon Valley, the success rate is 8 per cent.
The difference is capital: start-ups in California raise 100 times as much money as Sydney ones in the scale stage, and they raise 4.8 times as much in the earlier stages of discovery, validation and efficiency.
Yet as everyone knows, Australia punches well above its weight in capital formation, thanks to compulsory superannuation and the $1.4 trillion super pool. Why doesn’t any of that money find its way to supporting
Current fiscal policies are quite conducive to long term, low risk, moderate return investments (such as property and bank stocks) and the investment practices of our superannuation funds reflects this. Indeed even at a personal level Australian investors are risk adverse with majority preferring things like property, extra super contributions or term deposits. Partly you could also put some of the blame on Australia’s culture which is more inclined towards property ownership as the ultimate achievement a regular Australian can aspire to, whereas the USA’s is far more entrenched in the entrepreneurial idea.
We then have to ask ourselves that if we’re aspiring to create a Silicon Beach here in Australia what we need to do in order to make that happen.
The report itself details a couple ideas that can be done from a policy perspective, namely making certain company structures and incentive schemes cheaper and easier, however that’s only part of the issue. Ideally you’d also want some policies that make investing in risky start-up companies more attractive than the current alternatives. I don’t think abolishing current legislation like Negative Gearing would help much in this regard but it could potentially be extended to cover off losses made on start-up investments. There are many other options of course (and I’m not saying mine is the perfect one) and I’d definitely be supportive of some investigation into policy frameworks that have been used overseas and their applicability here in Australia.
There’s also the possibility of the government intervening with additional funding in order to get start-ups past the validation phase in order to increase the hit rate for the venture capital industry. I’ve talked a bit about this previously, focusing on using the NBN as a launchpad for Australia’s Silicon Beach, and really the NBN should be the catalyst which drives Australia’s start up industry forward. There’s already specific industry funds being set up, like the one that just came through for Australian game developers, but the creation of a more general fund to help start up validate their ideas would be far more effective in boosting the high tech innovation industry. It would be much harder to design and manage for sure, but no one ever said trying to replicate Silicon Valley’s success would be easy.
For what its worth I believe the government is working hard towards realising this lofty goal (thanks to some conversations I’ve had with people in the know on these kinds of things) and as long as they draw heavily on the current start-up and innovation industry in Australia I believe we will be able to achieve it. It’s going to be very hard to break the risk adverse mindset of the Australian public but that’s something that time and gentle pushes in the right direction, something perfectly suited to legislative changes. How that should all be done is left as an exercise to the reader (who I hope is someone in parliament).
I’ve long been of the opinion that many of my fellow Generation Ys are suffering from a crisis of desire in regards to the Australian property market. It’s an understandable phenomenon as most of us grew up in what are now quite nice suburbs, central to a lot of services and now considered to be an extremely desirable place to live. It then comes as no surprise that our generation would want to replicate this with their first home purchase and regrettably this leads many to believe that the property market is unaffordable, which at that level it most certainly is. Buying out in the mortgage belt, like most of their parents did back when the time came for them to do so, has been my solution to the issue for quite some time now but some recent reading has pointed me in another direction, one that I hadn’t considered previously.
To give you some background on where this thought came from I’ll point you in the direction of a really solid article from The Atlantic on the drastic change in spending habits between Gen Y’s and their predecessors. In it Thompson lays out the idea that perhaps Generation Y has replaced the home and car as the most desirable objects with modern technology like smart phones. This is coupled with an increasing tendency towards sharing those same goods (called collaborative consumption) that have such a high capital cost which means total ownership plummets whilst use sky rockets. It’s an interesting idea and I was wondering if the trend translated across to Australia.
Turns out part of it does.
Whilst I couldn’t find any good information around car ownership with Australia being a country that’s heavily focused on property ownership there was a lot to dig through in regards to Gen Ys attitude towards property. Shockingly, at least for me, the vast majority of Generation Ys do intend to buy, somewhere on the order of 77% which is actually above previously generations. Faced with the decision of not being able to get the home they own many will consider a cheaper investment property initially in order to be able to leverage it later into the property they actually want. That’s not the interesting part though, what I found out is that 72% of Australian Gen Ys would buy a house with a friend or family member. Whilst I’ve known people who’ve done this I had no idea that it would be so common and that’s an intriguing insight.
I’ve long held the position that the median house price on a single income is unaffordable in Australia and it appears that Gen Y is aware of that, at least on some level. Collaborative consumption of the housing resource then is our way of reacting to this, in effect shrinking the affordability gap by spreading the pain around a bit. Indeed I did something very similar to this when we bought our first house in Canberra by renting out two of the rooms to friends for the first year. The experiences from others are similar as well with the sharing arrangement usually only being temporary (on the order of years, not decades) before they’re able to part ways into a home of their own.
This means my hammering away at the point that Gen Y is suffering under a crisis of desire (they still are, at least in my opinion) probably isn’t going to help them change their minds. What I should probably be focusing on instead is the ways in which to structure these kinds of sharing arrangements in order to make the desired property more affordable or what strategies they can use in order to get themselves into a position to make it affordable. As you can probably tell I’m still wrestling with the best way to approach this and the ultimate idea will have to be a post for another day.
Having been given the choice of coming up here late last night or early this morning I did what any enterprising person would do and elected to spend the extra night up here at the Gold Coast so I could enjoy a leisurely start to my day. It was worth it too as instead of having to get up at 4:30 in the morning I was able to stroll out of bed at 8am, wander aimlessly around Broadbeach for a while looking for food and then casually make my way over to my hotel for the rest of the week. After wasting a couple hours on Reddit waiting for the appointed hour to arrive I headed on down to the convention centre and met up with the guys from LifeHacker, Allure Media and the other contest winners. It was great to finally meet everyone and to put names to the faces (like Terry Lynch and Craig Naumann) and of course I didn’t at all mind that I was then presented with the shiny new ASUS Zenbook and Nokia Lumia 900 to take home. Whilst I’ve given the Zenbook something of a workout already I haven’t had a chance to play with the Lumia thanks to my sim being of the large variety and it needing a micro.
Hopefully I’ll get some time spare to sort that out tomorrow.
We then headed off for lunch where I met one of their videographers and talked shop with everyone for a good couple hours over steak, wine and honeycomb bark. As an informal affair it was great and we were pretty much told that there weren’t any restrictions on what we could talk about, so long as they were at least tangentially related to Windows Server 2012. Thankfully it looks like the focus of this year’s TechEd is going to be about Server 2012 anyway so even if we were going to go off the rails we really wouldn’t have far to go. Still I was pleased to find out that our choices of sessions provided a good mix so that we were all able to go to the ones we wanted to. I’ve chosen to cover primarily Windows Azure and the cloud integration aspects of Server 2012 as whilst I’m sure there’s a lot going on below that level my interest, at least in recent times, has been focused on just how Microsoft is going to bring cloud down to all those loyal system administrators who’ve been with Microsoft for decades.
The keynote was equal parts run-of-the-mill tech announcements coupled with, dare I say it, strange forays into the lands of philosophy and technology futurism. Now I can’t claim complete innocence here as I did make a couple snarky tweets whilst Jason Silva was up on stage but in reality whilst his speeches and videos were thought provoking I struggled to see how they were relevant to the audience. TechEd, whilst being full of creative and dedicated people, isn’t exactly TED; I.E. it’s not a big ideas kind of deal. It’s a tech show, one where system administrators, architects and developers come together to get a glimpse at the latest from Microsoft. Delving into the philosophy of how technology is changing humanity is great but there are better times for presentations like that like say TEDx Canberra which was just on recently.
The technology part of the keynote was interesting even if it was your usual high level overview that lacked any gritty detail. For me the take away from the whole thing was that Microsoft is now heavily dedicated to not only being a cloud provider but becoming the cloud platform that powers enterprises in the future. Windows Server 2012 appears to be a key part of that and if what they’re alluding to turns out to be true you’ll soon have a unified development platform that will stretch all the way from your own personal cloud all the way back to a fully managed public cloud that Microsoft and its partners provide. If that promise is sounding familiar to you it should as HP said pretty much the same thing not too long ago and I’m very keen to see how their offering works in comparison.
There were also some performances from various artists like the one from Synaecide above in which he utilizes as Kinect controller to manipulate the music with his movements. It was certainly impressive, especially in comparison to the interpretive dancer who obviously had zero control over what was happening on screen, and these are the kinds of things I’d like to see more of as they show off the real innovative uses of Microsoft technology rather than just the usual PowerPoint to death followed by a highly scripted demo. After this all finished we were allowed to go off and have a look around the showcase where all the Microsoft partners had set up shop and were giving out the usual swag which was when I decided to take my leave (after raiding the buffet, of course!).
With all this being said I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the real meat of TechEd 2012: the new technology. It’s all great to sell ideas, visions and concepts but nothing is more powerful to me than demonstrable technology that I can go home and use right away. Those of you following me on Twitter will know that I’ve already expressed scepticism at some of the claims has made during the keynote but don’t let that fool you. Whilst I might be among Microsoft’s critics I’m also one of their long time fans so you can rest assured that any amazing leaps will be reoported and missteps pointed out and ridiculed for your amusement.
Now I’d best be off, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.
You know why I typically avoid posting about the political issue du jour? Mostly because it angries up my blood but also because it seems that the Australian public’s opinion on most matters is so woefully uninformed that I feel like an angry rant about it on my blog really won’t do anything to help the cause. Of course some issues get enough attention that I feel warranted in straying from my usual cool educative demeanor and instead zip up my flame suit and get ready to unload some napalm on my unsuspecting readers. I know that I’m preaching to the choir for the most part but there are some things that I feel just need to be said.
So as any Australian can tell you the hot button issue right now is the current debate raging over asylum seeker reform triggered by the deaths of 100 people aboard a boat off the coast of Christmas Island. “The Boats”, as the Australian media loves to refer them as, are always something of a topic of contention in Australia with one side furious about the way these people are arriving and the other side equally as angry about the way we treat said arrivals. Whilst I hesitate from making general accusations about how Australians tend to be xenophobic (I certainly have tons of anecdotal evidence to support that, but I digress) it does seem the idea of people coming to Australia via boat is found offensive by no small part of the Australian public and therein is where all the drama originates.
Now before I get into the slightly less ranty section of this post let me give you my opinion as it stood prior to me doing the research for this. I personally don’t have any good answers for what a perfect solution would be as an open door policy isn’t a great idea but neither is the strict mandatory detention and offshore processing arrangement we have right now. I feel that this should be a minor issue, something that’s completely under the purview of the government and should not be receiving so much attention. Whilst I don’t know the exact percentage of refugees and migrants coming to Australia via boats I know it vastly dwarfs that of other migrants who come here on real visas and that’s the reason why I can never understand why people go so ballistic when we find another boat coming to Australia.
I think people would do well to read the Lowy Institute’s report on Responding to Boat Arrivals as there’s a lot of information in there that will make people think twice about their stance on the boats. It’s quite lengthy though so I’ll summarize the more important points.
Firstly the acceptance rate for people arriving by boats when compared to that arriving through official channels is much, much higher. What this means is that the vast majority of people arriving by boat are in fact refugees seeking asylum and the others, the ones who most Australian’s coming in “legitimately”, are more than likely not refugees. This supports my view that we’re far too focused on the wrong kind of immigration, if we should be focused on it at all (hint: we shouldn’t be, at least not in a negative sense).
Probably the major point though is that of the two types of factors that see asylum seekers come to our shores, pull (ones that draw them here) and push (ones that force them out of their country of residence), the push factors are far more influential in someone making the decision to come here. This also explains why Australia saw an increase in refugees when the rest of the world didn’t as the vast majority of our refugees come from 2 countries and the push factors in those areas escalated substantially at the same time (the ongoing war and dire human rights situation in Afghanistan are primarily responsible for this.).
In fact the most profound part of the Lowy Institute’s report are the reasons why Australia is attractive to asylum seekers. It’s not because of our “soft” asylum policies or anything like that, no it’s more to do with the fact that we’re a prosperous, democratic and fair place to live. Indeed should we want to make Australia unattractive to refugees the real way of doing it would be to abandon those qualities rather than “getting tougher on boat people”. Of course no one in Australia would support that idea which demonstrates why there really doesn’t need to be this much hype about asylum seekers in the first place.
I know that this isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind nor make the impact I would hope it to but I really couldn’t let my views go without a voice any longer. If you’ve been reading this and nodding along I’d urge you to educate people on the realities of the situation so that hopefully they won’t react in an irrational way because they don’t know the full story on asylum seekers arriving by boats. I don’t pretend to have an ultimate solution for all this but I’ll be damned if a better one couldn’t be found if this issue wasn’t used as a political punching bag for both sides to score points for the up coming election.
Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Yesterday I was linked to a particular website by one of my friends, a place which I’ve mentioned in the past and I’ve refrained (and will continue to refrain) from linking to because I don’t think they deserve anymore air time than they’re currently getting. Funnily enough I have quite a history with them, having run up against them several times during my involvement with the No Clean Feed movement and my endless blathering about the R18+ rating in Australia. Still like a driver slowly passing by a crash site I couldn’t help myself when I clicked the link provided to me, seeing a world that I didn’t believe existed.
It seems that the latest thorn in this particular lobby group’s side is the channel 7 program Sunrise. Whilst I have my reservations about that program, mostly because whilst Koch is a great financial commentator his opinion on everything else isn’t so informed and they committed the cardinal sin of making seem like climate change is still in debate, their support of a campaign for marriage equality does net them some brownie points in my eyes. This has, of course, rattled the lobby group’s cage somewhat sending them into a furor that all fundamental groups seem to get in when there’s the threat that them gays might be able to wed each other. Usually I just write it off as people taking the bible a little too seriously and are happy to leave it at that. However this time around I found ignorance on a whole new level, something that I just couldn’t let stand.
Primarily the issue I take is when people use “facts”, things that I can easily find out with 5 minutes of Googling and reference checking, to support their point of view when the reality of the situation is that those “facts” are nothing but pure ignorance and speculation on their part. Take for instance the statistics surrounding support for marriage equality in Australia. There have been a number of opinion polls done over the past 5 years or so and in all of them there has been a majority of support for it by the public. The most recent polls have shown approval for marriage equality up around 68% and a survey conducted by the House of Representatives which received 276,000 responses had an approval rating of 64.3%. Looking at the comments on various articles regarding Sunrise’s support of marriage equality would have you thinking the inverse but the fact of the matter is the majority of Australians support same sex marriage.
The second, and by far more disturbing, trend of thought is that the right to marry is somehow not a human right. Check the United Nations, you know the place with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and have a gander at article 16 where it states in no uncertain terms that the right to marry applies to all humans. Funnily enough the sacrosanct tenant that marriage is solely between a man and a woman doesn’t seem to apply here either, just that they be of age and both consenting to it. Thinking that the right to marry isn’t a human right isn’t just factually wrong its quite abhorrent as you’re classifying the entire LGBTI movement as somehow not human.
I’m a married man myself and personally I have a real hard time understanding why the government’s definition of marriage matters so much to these people. I can understand why they’re outraged, a book told them that those other kinds of people can’t do that, but what the government declares as marriage (did you know being defacto is, in essence, the same as being married in the government’s eyes?) really doesn’t affect that definition at all. At the same time does leveling the marriage playing field affect your current (and future) marriages in any appreciable way? I really struggle to find any and would love to know how it would.
Usually the next argument I see brought forth is “But think of the children!” usually followed by a ream of reasons why children brought up in non-traditional marriage situations are somehow worse off. There have been numerous studies showing that children raised in LGBTI couples are just as psychologically healthy and well adjusted as their counterparts raised in traditional families. Saying anything to the contrary ignores the decades, yes decades, worth of study and research that’s been done into this very question. The truth of the matter is that the gender, co-habitation status, sexuality and number of parents play a small role compared to actual qualities of the parents and their relationship with each other and their children.
I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here as my generation (who seem to make up the majority of my readership) are quite comfortable with the idea of marriage equality. Still even I was taken aback by some of the comments made by the opponents, comments that I would have had no straight answer to had I been asked them in person. So hopefully if you meet someone who opposes marriage equality for the reasons shown above you can hopefully reason with them a little bit. Of course if its a belief derived from religious grounds then you’re on your own with that one, but suffice to say if they try to hit you with any of these “facts” you can at least call them on their bullshit.
I like to think of myself as a good customer, having spent a good 6 years on the other side of the consumer equation. Whilst I might be ruthless in my product selection once your product is past that hurdle you’re guaranteed a whole bunch of free marketing from me, usually in the form of recommendations to my friends and sometimes even here on this blog. It’s not much but I’ll be damned if I haven’t swayed dozens of people to products that I’ve bought solely on my recommendation. It goes both ways though so if your product (or business practices) are terrible then you can be assured I’ll be voting with my wallet and encouraging others to do so.
Today, I’m going to do exactly that.
So for my birthday last year my loving wife bought me one of the TRON keyboards from Razer. It’s a very pretty keyboard but it’s unfortunately not all that great for gaming thanks to the extraordinarily large keys and tendency for the keys to get stuck in the on position when several are pressed together. Figuring that it would make a great keyboard for either my spare test machine or media PC I set about looking for a potential replacement keyboard, something more suited to my main purpose of gaming.
I had heard good things about the Razer series of mechanical keyboards. These are preferred for gaming due to their distinct actuation points rather than the rubber domes that are common on most keyboards today (including the TRON keyboard I have now). They’re also renowned for being quite loud due to their mechanical action and the keyboard I had my eye on, the Razer BlackWidow Ultimate is known for having some of the loudest keys around thanks to Cherry MX Blue¹ type switches. Razer does make the same keyboard in a stealth option which uses the quieter MX Brown switches, something that I’d prefer to have so I don’t get driven insane by the loud clicking.
So of course I started looking around for somewhere to get the keyboard. Strange though all my usual sites don’t seem to stock it, but they do stock every other keyboard. Frustrated I check Razer’s store and it’s available through there for US$139.99. Googling around reveals that the stealth version is exclusive to the Razer online store. Fair enough I thought, the price is a little on the high side but it’s one of those things that you buy once and don’t replace for a good while. Attempting to follow the order screen through to see how much the total would be lead me to a brick wall, not being able to ship it to Australia.
Undeterred I saw that they had an Australian version of the store and the keyboard was available in there. The price, however, was no where near what I expected being a whopping $90 greater than its USA counterpart. Now Australia is renowned for getting gouged on pretty much everything, including in places where distribution doesn’t matter like Steam, but I still don’t tolerate companies that do it. Frustrated I tweeted at Razer about it, hoping for some kind of response but alas I got nothing. I could use a remailer service to get the keyboard here but then I’d be giving my money to a company that obviously doesn’t respect its customers enough to price their products fairly.
So instead I went looking elsewhere for a similar product and not 5 minutes later did I come across the Corsair K90 which ticks all the same boxes and has the better Cherry MX Red switches to boot. It might be more expensive than the stealth Razer in the USA but it’s available here from pretty much everywhere. Corsair also have a history of not treating their customers like crap either, I’ve sent several sticks of faulty memory back to them only to get better memory in return. I’m more than happy to give them my money, especially when it means not giving any more to Razer.
Will Razer respond to this post? Probably not, but it needs to be known that Razer have no respect for Australian consumers if it’s trying to pull crap like this. I’m doing the only thing a consumer can: voice their discontent and then vote with their wallet. If enough people don’t put up with these kind of shenanigans then maybe one day we’ll be able to buy products in Australia at fair market prices rather than at the garbage, price gouging levels we get today.
¹If you’re wondering what the hell I’m on about here check out this guide to mechanical keyboards on overlock.net to get the low down on the different types.
It may come as a surprise to you to find out that Australia is a predominately service base industry. Whilst it’s hard to argue that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of the current mining boom Australia’s GDP is still predominately derived from our service industry, to the tune of 69% (pg. 134). Still the current prosperity and insulation from global economic crises that Australia has received from the growing mining sector won’t last forever and now is the time for us to start looking towards the future so we can ensure future economic prosperity. I strongly believe that we’ve already undertaken the first steps towards achieving this with the implementation of the National Broadband Network.
Australia as it stands today suffers from an incredible amount of skill drain to other countries. Well over half of the Australian residents who leave Australia for over a year or permanently were skilled workers and whilst the trend has gone down in recent times (thanks wholly to Australia’s isolation from the global economic turmoil) that hasn’t stemmed the flow of talent leaving our shores. For the high technology sectors at least there is the potential to recreate the hot bed of innovation that led to the creation of Silicon Valley on the back of the NBN. This would not only stem the brain drain overseas but would produce large and sustainable gains to the Australian economy.
Right now the public view of the NBN varies wildly. Businesses by and large have no idea what benefits it can bring them, public opinion is mixed (although Senator Conroy says differently) and even the federal government seems at a loss to what it could mean for Australia’s future, doling out cash to local governments in the hope they’ll be able to sell it for them. To combat this the government should instead provide incentives and seed capital to high-tech start ups who are looking to leverage Australia’s upcoming ubiquitous high speed Internet infrastructure, in essence building an Australian Silicon Valley.
Doing this requires co-ordination with entrepreneurial communities, venture capitalists and the willing hand of the government. They could easily make investment in these kinds of companies more desirable by extending tax breaks that are currently enjoyed by other asset classes to investment in NBN based high-tech start ups. This would also make Australian based startups incredibly attractive for overseas investors, pumping even more money into the Australian economy. As the sector grows there would also be an increasing amount of ancillary jobs available, ones that accompany any form of corporation.
Australia would then become a very desirable location for both established and aspiring businesses looking to expand into the Asia-Pacific region. It also works in the reverse, giving Asia-Pacific businesses (and nations) a more local launch pad into the western business world. Establishing Australia as a high tech hub between our strong local ties and western allies abroad would provide a massive economic boost to Australia, one to rival that of the current mining boom.
Of course it’s not like this hasn’t been tried before in Australia, indeed many have tried to recreate the success of the valley with little results. Indeed I believe this is due to a lack of co-operation between the key players, namely the government, entrepreneurs and investors. The NBN represents a great opportunity for the government to leverage the industry not only to ensure Australia’s future economic prosperity but also to establish Australia as a leader in technology. I believe that the government should be the ones to take the first steps towards fostering such an environment in Australia as once the industry knows they have the support they’ll be far more willing to invest their time in creating it.
Not leveraging the NBN in such a way would leave the NBN as a simple infrastructure service, woefully underutilised given the capabilities that it could unlock. Make no mistake the NBN puts Australia almost at the top in terms of ubiquitous, high speed Internet access and that makes a lot of services that are currently infeasible to develop attractive targets for investigation. Indeed since the same level of broadband access is almost guaranteed throughout the country it is highly likely that benefits will stretch far past the borders of the CBD, even as far as regional centres.
As someone who’s group up on and made his career in technology it’s my fervent hope that the Australian government recognizes the potential the NBN has and uses that for the betterment of Australia. As a nation we’re well positioned to leverage our investment in infrastructure to provide economic benefits that will far exceed its initial cost. Creating a Silicon Valley of the Asia-Pacific region would elevate Australia’s tech industry to rival those throughout the rest of the world and would have massive benefits far beyond Australia’s borders.
In my travels through the USA I became intimately acquainted with their high level of airport security. Upon entering the country we were finger printed, photographed and grilled about what our trip was about. There was also the long lines for getting through the metal detectors and full body scanners, usually taking up a good 45 minutes of my time to get through. I was never chosen to go through the backscatter x-ray machines (nor did I see any of the newer millimetre wave ones) but I did see many people go through it. Most of them weren’t exactly what you’d call a security risk (mostly people in wheelchairs) but I knew exactly why those machines were there: to make everyone feel safer without actually being so.
This is what is referred to as security theatre. These scanners are supposedly better at detecting things that slip by metal detectors which they accomplish by using low-energy x-rays that penetrate through clothing. Solid objects then should become obvious and should something suspicious be identified the passenger can be taken aside for further searching. Trouble is the machines aren’t terribly effective at what they’re designed to do and the back-scatter x-ray type machines emit ionizing radiation (not a lot mind you, but there’s been minimal research done into them). Using them then seems like a pointless exercise and indeed even though they’ve been in operation in the USA for quite some time the jury is still out on whether they’re actually being effective or not.
So you can then imagine my surprise when I find out that we’ll be getting these scanners at all international airports in Australia:
PASSENGERS at airports across Australia will be forced to undergo full-body scans or be banned from flying under new laws to be introduced into Federal Parliament this week.
In a radical $28 million security overhaul, the scanners will be installed at all international airports from July and follows trials at Sydney and Melbourne in August and September last year.
The Government is touting the technology as the most advanced available, with the equipment able to detect metallic and non-metallic items beneath clothing.
Now we won’t be getting the dubious back-scatter style ones here instead we’ll have the newer millimetre wave ones that don’t emit ionizing radiation. That’s the only good news though as they’ve also amended the legislation that allows you to turn down things like this in favour of a pat down, with the penalty for refusing to go through one being that you’ll be barred from your flight. To top it all off the transport minister Anthony Albanese sealed it with this choice quote “I think the public understands that we live in a world where there are threats to our security and experience shows they want the peace of mind that comes with knowing government is doing all it can”.
It’s almost like he knows these things are a useless piece of security theatre, but is going ahead with them anyway.
More than a decade has past since the events of 11/9/2001 and we’ve yet to see a repeat, or an attempted repeat, of the events that led up to that tragedy here or overseas. The health and privacy concerns aside the reality is that these scanners don’t really accomplish what they’re designed to do and are thus just another inconvenience and waste of tax payer dollars. I can understand that there are some who will feel safer by seeing them there but that doesn’t change the facts that they’re just another piece of security theatre, and a costly one at that.