14/05/2009 - 00:00

Nothing wrong with compromise position

14/05/2009 - 00:00

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Savvy South Australia’s daylight saving solution may provide the way forward for us here in the west.

Nothing wrong with compromise position

POLITICIANS have done us a disservice by resurrecting the daylight saving issue in the form of trial and referendum.

That is not because I am an avowed 'No' voter but simply because democracy struggles to deal with divisive issues where half the community wins and half loses, no matter which way the dice rolls on Saturday.

Those who have wanted daylight saving, including me (till I saw the light and became a 'morning person'), have long borne a grudge against those who voted against the concept three times in the past.

This weekend is essentially a 'chronotypical' showdown. Pitting friend against friend, neighbour against neighbour, brothers against sisters and surfers against those who like to socialise.

In other words, it's the morning people against the evening people.

That the result has the potential to make 49 per cent of people unhappy is poor government in my view.

It's a pity that parliamentarians of the past have ignored the suffering of evening people for so long and didn't find an alternative way to end this discrimination via a compromise, which is really what democracy should be all about.

I see two options that could, either on their own or combined, help solve the problem.

The first is offering people choice. There are many issues with changing the clocks that cannot be overcome easily by an individual no matter how determined they are to enjoy their evenings or mornings, whichever they find most fulfilling.

Businesses are not always flexible enough to allow workers to choose their own working hours. That is fair enough to some degree and depends heavily on the type of industry, task the workers do and how much oversight is required.

Nevertheless, if business - which is pushing heavily in the favour of evening people by backing the 'Yes'campaign via its peak industry body the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA - wants to inflict its choice of hours on nearly 50 per cent of the population, it ought to give a little itself.

Why not just allow people one hour's flexibility? Many businesses already operate in such ways but there ought to be rules that prevent discrimination against employees who reasonably choose to operate in the defined time zone they prefer.

That would ensure that neither evening nor morning people are discriminated at any time of the year. I'd advocate one hour's flexibility from normal and accepted business hours, not something that tries to accommodate vampires.

Of course, it's not just about business. Government would need to provide for children to be dropped off an hour earlier or later than the norm, during a defined summer period, depending on who actually wins the daylight saving battle.

Education standards would need to be guaranteed, too. We couldn't have an issue arising in 20 years where the offspring of evening people, for instance, had suffered due to the loss of up to 10 hours of formal schooling a week during the warmer semesters.

Of course, governments could do all of us a favour and split the difference on daylight saving.

We could shift our time zone by half an hour either in summer or permanently. South Australia has done the latter, cheekily nudging itself closer to Sydney.

Compared to Perth, Adelaide is approximately one-third the distance from Sydney yet, at standard times, it has only 25 per cent of the time difference that we have.

That's because, like Doctor Who, it and the Northern Territory have ignored all the rules of time and opted to be 9.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

To some this might seem clever, but it's definitely cheating. In our region, only Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are more outrageous, posing as +8 GMT when they really ought to be +7 GMT.

Adelaide has conveniently avoided the time envy that occurs in Perth.

By doing the same thing and permanently adding half an hour to become +8.5 hours GMT, we would not just match the savvy of the South Australians, but would go one better.

That is because of geography. Technically, Adelaide is already well east of the centre of the GMT zone in which it resides. If time zones were divided into smaller increments it would probably be nine hours and 15 minutes ahead of GMT anyway. So adding half an hour doesn't change much unless you live near the WA border, which not many people do.

Perth, the main bastion of evening people, is well to the west of the central division marking eight hours ahead of GMT. In effect it's really +7.45 GMT; that's why it's so dark in the mornings during much of daylight saving. So adding a half hour permanently (or just for summer if you have to mess with things) would be a geographical addition of 45 minutes.

If done permanently, it would close the time gap with Sydney and Melbourne to 1.5 hours in winter and 2.5 hours in summer.

In addition, a half hour difference softens the anti-discrimination issues I mentioned above, because business and government have half the problem to deal with.

Whatever the result on Saturday, I hope someone in parliament takes note of this.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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