The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), after taking a look at sales for the first half of 2008, has run crying poor to the Herald Sun. While they have not yet released these figures to the public, they presumably continue the trend evident in published figures for 2006 and 2007.
Personally I think we should be increasing the excise. It represents the many negative externalities that car use in our society creates: carbon emissions, use of space for (larger) roads; materials, construction and maintenance of (larger) roads; particulate pollution; deaths and injuries from road accidents, and so on, all of which scale with mileage and hence fuel use. And our understanding of all these factors is moving in the direction of increased disutility. Hence the charges should be increased.
I’ve been thinking about petrol and carbon emissions a bit over the last few weeks, so this is as good a prompt as any to put down my thoughts here on the Mule. I should also point out that I have Mark to thank for the back of the envelope calculation that I’ll discuss here.
Soaring petrol prices have led to all sorts of calls for action to help reduce prices. The Opposition called for a 5 cents per litre reduction in the excise on petrol, which currently stands at 38.1 cents per litre. (See note below for an explanation of the strike-throughs). the abolition of the double taxation of petrol by eliminating Goods and Services Tax (GST) on petrol excise. Since the excise is currently 38.1 cents per litre, this would save 3.8 cents per litre. One Victorian Liberal MP, Chris Pearce, went further and called for a 10 cent reduction in petrol excise. The Rudd Government initially claimed that there was nothing more that they could do, but then buckled to the pressure and has proposed the introduction of a national FuelWatch scheme aimed at promoting price transparency at the bowser. The Minister for Competition Policy & Consumer Affairs, Chris Bowen, has indicated that this scheme is expected to save around 2 cents per litre. So, what is going on with petrol prices and what are the merits of these proposals?
On my way into the station this morning, I was handed a brochure about CityRail’s new 14 Day RailPass. A bargain at exactly twice the price of a weekly pass, I suspect that it is, in fact, a cunning plan to prise more fare evasion fines from me. Thanks to public holidays, interstate trips and the like, my weekly ticket buying cycle tends to wander through the week and, since there are no ticket barriers at Newtown station, it’s all too easy for me to breeze straight down onto the platform only to be trapped at Wynyard without a valid ticket. The station attendants will always let me through to buy a ticket, but the railway police (if that’s what they are called) are another matter. Take it from me, no amount of waving expired weekly tickets will get you out of the $200 fine. Even writing pitiful letters doesn’t help. Now I’m sure that CityRail is wise to my forgetfulness and realise that if I can forget that I’m supposed to buy a new ticket on Tuesday morning, how much more likely will I be to forget to buy one every second Tuesday?
Last Monday the public beta of OpenAustralia.org was launched. The site, closely modelled on the UK’s TheyWorkForYou.com, aims to make the workings of Australia’s democracy more transparent.
Transcripts of parliamentary proceedings (Hansard) have been available on line for some time, but OpenAustralia takes the same content and gives it a Web 2.0 work-over. Searching is far easier than on the parliamentary website. You can enter your postcode, find your local member and then search for particular words or phrases in her speech (in my case Tanya Plibersek) and you can even subscribe to an email alert which lets you know whenever she says something in parliament. You are also able to post comments on individual speeches. This feature provides a intriguing forum for community debate of political issues without the filter of media decisions as to what is or is not newsworthy. I will be very interested to see how these discussions evolve.
I took an early mark today to attend some of the PubCamp Web 2.0 Media (un)conference in Sydney. Unfortunately I had to leave early and so missed the later unconference sessions, but I have a spy who promised to provide a detailed report. Still, there was enough in what I did see to make me glad to have made the (short) trip.
Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald published an article on the latest retail sales numbers for New South Wales that contrasted the sales growth in take-away food and pubs and clubs with the decline in business for cafes, restaurants and fresh food retailers. This is put in the context of with rising mortgage rates and fuel prices, to suggest that consumer behaviour is starting to shift. The data is published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, so I decided to dig a little deeper. Prompted by a comment over on the Junk Charts blog, I’ve used a table enriched with spark-lines rather than the heatmap I used in the inflation post.
Inflation in Australia has been running well outside the 2-3% range targeted by the Reserve Bank of Australia—the most recent figure was 4.3% for the 12 months to March 2008—which is why interest rates have been on the rise for the last couple of years. So what has been driving prices up in Australia? One useful way to get a sense of what has been happening is to use a type of chart known as a treemap (sometimes called a “Map of the Market”). These charts tend to be pretty busy, but can be a great way to explore a rich set of data.