24/10/2006 - 22:00

Daylight through the back door

24/10/2006 - 22:00

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Daylight saving is an issue that I welcome back onto the agenda, even if I am deeply suspicious about how it has suddenly woken from its coma after more than a decade on drip-feed.

Daylight saving is an issue that I welcome back onto the agenda, even if I am deeply suspicious about how it has suddenly woken from its coma after more than a decade on drip-feed.

Firstly, the issue itself is a big one for business. Anything that disconnects us from key markets is a problem for those who do business with other geographic areas.

Australia is a big country, but being big is not necessarily an advantage; and making it bigger, so to speak, by adding an hour in summer is not smart.

In a past life as a journalist who more frequently needed to speak with east coast commentators, the three-hour time difference in summer provided few windows of opportunity to reach people in the office. Admittedly, in this day of mobile phones and internet, it is less of an issue, but there are still many examples where it hampers business – not the least being the fact that people outside the state don’t realise the time change has occurred.

There is also that notion of backwardness which, rightly or wrongly, is associated the lack of daylight saving.

While I cringe at the attacks on those opposed to change as if they all think the curtains will fade, there is some legitimacy to this point.

Historically, daylight saving has been introduced in richer communities to allow people to better utilise their leisure time. That is the mark of a sophisticated society, where people spend all day indoors and governments can change behaviour by altering a clock.

Opposite that are, to be blunt, societies whose common activity is not ruled by the clock and for whom there is no such thing as an extra hour in the day.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Western Australia has a particularly harsh climate and there are good reasons why you’d want to encourage people to stay out of the sun, especially in the mid-afternoon when the kids are heading home from school (albeit in the Prado with ‘air’, in many cases). There is also the fact that, due to latitude, daylight saving will not give us balmy dusks at 10.30pm, unless we try some radical surgery on the clock.

Anyway, that’s the background thoughts.

It is perhaps the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that has attracted my interest more than the issue itself.

The daylight saving bill has been sponsored by former state Labor cabinet minister John D’Orazio, who was forced into exile and became an independent earlier this year.

Mr D’Orazio may have had some big failings in his ministerial roles but he’s not stupid. There is no doubt that sponsoring a popular bill will win him friends in high places. It’s like a reverse wedge, really, by joining rather than dividing.

Alternatively, it’s not hard to imagine that his former mates in the Labor Party have thrown him this bone. The government is loath to go against the results of three referendums, but allowing a free vote on a private members bill would be an acceptable way of getting the policy in through the back door.

Maybe even a top lobbyist and expert in political rehabilitation has assisted in all this. Who knows?

For those on the conservative side, especially business, they don’t care, so long as it passes.

I would vaguely agree with that final sentiment, except I do care when governments leave good policy to be championed by those who, through their own mistakes, have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

How much have times changed?

The subject of work-life balance is a fairly recent phenomenon and especially dull when discussed at a theoretical level.

But when a bunch of late-30s business people get up at a public forum and unashamedly chat about their kids, its both fascinating and fun.

That was the scenario at the recent launch of the 2007 WA Business News 40under40 Awards program, highlighted by a panel session with some of Western Australia’s most entrepreneurial people.

All of them discussed their kids with passion, even if most admitted to failing the balance test and spending way too much time in the office.

Another mark of change, apparently, is the attitude of the younger set – the so-called Generation Y – whose own work-life balance (tilted towards the life side of things) prompted some concern.

There’s no doubt that the current generation of university graduates and other younger people have been given a heartier welcome into working life than many previous generations.

Record low unemployment, skills shortages and booming markets make it a sellers’ market in the labour game.

But is this really so unique?

I have a recollection, admittedly vague, that the late 1980s was very similar. Cashed-up WA was great place to kick off a career, younger people were thrown into positions of responsibility and there was plenty of times for lunches and parties.

It is with a sense of foreboding that I dare to mention that period when comparing with current times.

True, the 1980s were different. But booms are booms. Soft landing or not, the younger generation will have their chance soon to find out whether they can cut it in tougher times.

Bold broadband plan in Queensland

Queensland has again shown its ability to differentiate itself from other states with a $550 million plan to invest in broadband internet infrastructure.

It’s a bold plan and, while the jury is out on how much the existing network can be pushed with new technology, there’s no doubt such a step would be encouraging to many in the business world, not to mention consumers.

I have stated previously that perhaps such a move should have been made here in WA, perhaps instead of investing in more traditional infrastructure such as a train line.

But all is not lost.

The big argument is whether such a move would be a sensible use of the windfall taxpayer funds gained from the boom, or whether tax cuts would be appropriate.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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