Flat White

Sub snafus and other technical traumas

18 February 2019

12:51 PM

18 February 2019

12:51 PM

Sometimes you feel like screaming when hit with that sinking feeling that our politician’s obligation to their voters is often overlooked. Six weeks into the new year and constituents are holding back tears as we witness our nation’s grim future unfold.

On the defence front, long overdue submarine contracts have been finalised, meaning taxpayers are up for hefty penalties if the contract is terminated. In the original French design “Le Submarine” was nuclear powered but anti-nuke modifications will now see it fuelled by diesel. This bizarre re-engineering has been widely impugned because diesel engines lack the power to run silent, run deep which is subs’ sole design imperative.

The project’s objectives seem to have transformed from border defence to fortifying Christopher Pyne’s seat of Sturt from now vanished Nick Xenophon hordes at enormous taxpayer cost – around $150 billion over the life of the project. There’s still no word on finding additional submariners to crew the Collins Class boats either. Apparently RAN personnel are reluctant to damn the elderly torpedoes.

There was more bad NBN news too. The decade old network is now worth around $19 billion – assuming we can find some dolt willing to buy it. This news coincided with the announcement that Optus will be delivering their first national 5G wireless network while TPG’s nascent phone network has been scuppered because of concerns over Huawei’s political allegiances. China’s irritation was palpable. Unlike Stephen Conroy’s original NBN, competition will be encouraged in 5G markets with the new network providers able to take advantage of the latest energy technologies.

In the shadow of failed tidal and geo-thermal electricity generation comes Labor’s commitment to spend $1 billion investing in hydrogen energy. This is one of opposition leader Bill Shorten’s signature energy policies, a “billion-dollar pledge to fight climate change”. All that’s needed is rivers of water and abundant cheap electricity, both requirements seemingly at odds with prevailing weather and market conditions. Shorten made no mention of where this taxpayer’s pledge will be invested given that hydrogen production is not commercially viable yet. No doubt the mainstream media will pillory any of the proposal’s sceptics again, just like they were during the NBN debate.


On a positive note, Sydney’s desalination plant is at the cusp of producing its first cup of fresh water after sitting idle for a decade. Sydney’s falling dam levels have almost triggered the contractual switch-on threshold. All that’s required is copious amounts of salt water and cheap electricity. Oh, the irony.

A big green policy week with Shorten’s encore announcement of his “big battery subsidy” plan to harness and store energy in domestic homes. Questions about recycling the billions of spent cells were answered with claims to build a big, new, green industry here in Australia.

To top off a busy political start to the year an activist judge in NSW ruled that climate change is an existential threat to human survival and a contentious coalmine licence will not be approved. Strangely this coincided with the Product Safety Australia’s reminder that one million car-owners still need to replace their car’s airbags. Is it safe to assume that 30-40 per cent of those slowcoaches’ fear climate doom more than an airbag exploding while they zip down the freeway at 110 kmph? Strange days indeed!

It wasn’t such a great start to the year for Australian or New Zealand foreign policy either. Using the NBN mantra that nothing gained from bitter experience is ever worth remembering, Australia now has new “Medevac” legislation that immediately solicited more than 300 applications from ailing Nauru and Manus Island refugees for relocation to the mainland. Bolstered with AMA support, the policy openly invited queue jumpers to leave their tropical paradise and seek further medical assistance on the big island. No word yet on the widely anticipated self-harm that desperate economic refugees may attempt.

As defence ally USA’s foreign debt hit $US22 trillion dollars, mostly to China, over the ditch an Air New Zealand jet was turned around because it lacked “clearance” to land in Shanghai. If it were a Qantas plane how would our politicians or media respond? Our relationship with China’s communist regime is declining at a rapid clip and Australia needs to put contingency planning in place as this geo-political challenge starts biting.

At least we can hope to have serviceable submarines in twenty years’ time to dissuade our muscled-up neighbour from pushing us around like Kiwis.

Mike Ryan is a curmudgeonly technical copywriter who lives in the glorious Hunter Valley.

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