Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Petrol Skirmishes

From today's Courier-Mail:

The battle for the consumer dollar reached new heights yesterday when Woolworths and Coles announced unprecedented discounts, offering 40¢ a litre off at the bowser for shoppers who spend $300 on their groceries in one hit.

For you non-Australians, what this means is that the two largest supermarket chains in Australia (which control nearly the entire market in a duopoly) are offering a deal (which ends on Thursday) that amounts to the equivalent of a A$1.50/gallon discount when you purchase fuel at one of their affiliated stations, if you buy a lot of groceries at once. It's a pretty amazing offer, given that prices average over A$5.00/gallon right now, but it also puts enormous pressure on the remaining petrol chains (two of the four are controlled by Woolies and Coles), which means we'll probably end up with another duopoly in that market in a few years.

Petrol here is generally more expensive than it is in the United States. But I am not exactly sure why. It could be due to a lack of competition, but I suspect that it is more due to Australia being a small, isolated market. I used to think that the federal government was collecting huge taxes on it, the way European governments do to help subsidize public transport, for example. Given that Queensland only recently removed a multi-year 9.2¢/litre subsidy, this suggests that governments here don't tax fuel consumption as much as they encourage its purchase. I'm afraid that Aussies are nearly as enamoured with their cars as Americans are, although they tend to drive smaller ones for more years. (When we were in the States last month it was remarkable how many enormous pick-ups and SUVs (4WDs) we still saw everywhere, despite the fact the U.S. has faced some huge fuel price increases in the last five years). Perhaps this love of cars reflects the fact that Australia, like the U.S., is a wide-open country with vast distances between its cities. Building a more extensive national train network, for example, would be enormously expensive. I am very happy with Brisbane's bus and rail network, by the way. For a city that has half the population of Atlanta, Brisbane's public transport is many times better. V. and I are able to use the trains, buses, and ferries so much that we only need to fill the tank of our little Yaris once or twice a month. And, in the meantime, it looks like we can save a few bucks at the bowser when we put a few more avocados and jars of Dick Smith peanut butter in our grocery trolley.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. I am now eating Australian peanut butter and I like it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Another Young Adventurer

As I sit in front of my computer and ponder the benefits of a corporate membership in the Qantas Club (those layovers at Terminal 4 in LAX are growing old), my admiration goes out to a 16-year-old Aussie girl who plans to sail around the world on her own. Jessica Watson will finish high school by 'long distance education' so that she can embark on her 230-day adventure in September. I must admit that the parent in me wonders how Jessica's mum and dad can let their little girl do this. I have a hard time just imagining Will going off to school in 18 months! On the other hand, as I read Jessica's website and blog, she does strike me as being very much different from your typical teenager. She's been sailing and 'racing dinghies' since she was 8, doesn't watch any television, and seems far more mature than most adults I know. Apparently, this trip will be expensive--A$250,000--so, in addition to the aid of several corporate sponsors, there's a fancy dinner ($100 per person) scheduled next week to help her raise the funds.
I know that I'll be closely following Jessica's journey in the coming months. I have long had a love for the tales of adventurers, which was born in my early adolescence during those travelogues I used to watch at a theater in Dixon, Illinois, was then nurtured through many books by authors like Jon Krakauer and Barbara Savage, and then renewed by all those Michael Palin television series and books. All those people, including teen Jessica, are far more intrepid than this soon-to-be-Qantas-club-member.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Against the Clock

Some spam that I received today, obviously in response to the hard work of my alter-ego:

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