Turnbull: the Wasted Opportunity

There were so many potential narratives which could have defined Malcolm Turnbull’s political career, but none of them have proven interesting enough to cement his position in Australian history. It is more likely than not that he will be one of those “in between” prime ministers, whose name we remember, but of whom we remember nothing.

This very point was pressed home hard on Turnbull’s garrulous Q and A performance on the ABC recently. His and his party’s obsession with personality and petty rivalry was on full display as he flung accusations toward his former colleagues of ‘madness’ for having ousted him as party leader. I detect nothing short of egoism in this, since there is nothing to be garnered politically from this, as his party is already on the nose in the polls and he himself has ‘quit’ politics. Just a heads up, Mal, sniping from the sidelines is not any more chivalrous once you’ve quit the parliament; you’re still an Abbott-esque menace.

The man, to be fair, is only doing what is in his own self-interest, which is in keeping with the doctrine of his party and the entirety of his public life. The decision to challenge Tony for the top job was made on no other basis than ‘I want it.’ The justification of polls and anti-intellectualism from the Abbott camp was a thin veneer for Turnbull’s cunning, and his ultimate undoing.

Therein lies the issue with Turnbull. He regards himself as having been cut short of his full tenure, without any consideration for what his tenure actually meant for this country. To be prime minister is not merely to be positioned behind the correct desk, it is to be directing meaningful change and ushering the nation through troubles as they inevitably arise. Yet, Turnbull has left no legacy after three years in power. Where is his NDIS? Perhaps a child abuse royal commission? Nothing of the sort; his tenure was defined by petty partisanship and repeatedly defeated pushes for upwards redistribution of wealth via tax cuts for the rich. He was Abbott’s marionette and he had no care, for it meant his exaltation as leader and successor to the great Menzies and Fraser.

It is Menzies and Fraser surely who would most criticise the Turnbull experiment, owing to its failure and its un-versatile nature. Turnbull proved a horse for the Tory Trojan thrust into the Australian political zeitgeist; a mere echo of Howard manipulation.

Short story: "Cole"

The last clients had left the room about an hour ago, and it was his job to shut down the machine for the night. It was a long and tedious process, as the machine required its own nuclear reactor to power it, as well as numerous super computers to aggregate all of the calculations being performed by other machines all over the world. It was far easier to kick back and enjoy a cold beverage before the long list of requisite tasks had to be performed. He deserved the small pleasures, after all. His job was not merely to oversee the machine, but to present it to customers of high power and prestige, customers who expected only the best in service and hospitality whilst doing anything or being anywhere, even a top secret underground research facility.

Winston was a man of fifty-nine years, his sixtieth dawning in only a few days. He had much to reflect on as he swilled his last few sips around the glass bottle. He had accomplished much, but had still yet failed to achieve his one foremost desire.

“Hey, the Russians are pretty happy. I reckon they’ll be back again soon!”

Winston turned to see his deputy had just entered the reinforced titanium doorway. “I locked the door for reason. Procedure and privacy,” he thought as he frowned.

“Yes, I’m sure they will. They seem to think our friend here,” he gestured towards the machine “is capable of changing the future.”

“We’ll never agree on this will we?” Mourned the deputy.

“Definitely not. Consider my Calvinist roots!”

They both smiled and bid one another good night.

Winston turned back to his console, overlooking the array of six supercomputers from above, and began the procedure of shutting them down. One by one, each ‘core’ terminated its global connections, and millions of microprocessors expelled a sigh of relief. Eight hours of rest, before another day of presaging. The on-site refactor began to cool, and the console gradually turned from an array of green lights, to red.

In bed that evening, the lights blinded his mind’s eye in his dreams. The temptation had always been there, but never fulfilled, the risks too high. Still his brain churned over the desire to push the buttons for himself, not his corporate masters. Only once, such that he might know the fate of his life’s objective.

He dreamt then of his mother, his deceased solace, and his guiding light.

The following morning started early with a meeting with the board of directors. Winston hated these, as it inevitably imposed new restrictions and demands on his intellectual pursuits. University had prepared him to inquire and to experiment, but not to be told what to do.

“Winston?”

He looked up from his laptop, distracted, at the CEO.

“We’re tasking you with Project Prometheus. We think your background in medicine and computer science make you the perfect synthesis of what we’re trying to achieve here.”

Oh god, another bloody project. What this time? Did the Saudis want another mobile oppression palace?

“Thank you, Richard,” he said to the CEO “but, I’m not sure how I can work on both. Project Cole is a lot of work.”

“We feel Cole should probably be retired. We’re getting a lot of government agents snooping around, and we can’t afford a scandal. Prometheus is the way forward, without question.”

“Without question,” Winston repeated in his head.

“Alright then, Dick. It would be a pleasure.” His eyes beamed with glee, but his heart broke in two.

“Excellent. Today is Cole’s last day. I understand there’s a Chinese delegation today, We’ll see them off, and we’ll begin decommissioning first thing tomorrow.”

Another day, another frothy cold one to cap things off. The Chinese had been extremely interested in the machine, asking the most minute and exhausting details of its operation. Something told WInston they planned to build one of their own. It didn’t surprise him. Most didn’t understand the point of the machine at all, and thought it was an agent of change. To him, it was a god, merely speaking commandments that cannot be disobeyed.

That said, he had given away corporate secrets to a foreign power. In spite of all the security; the armed guards, the CCTV, the self-destruct - he eyed the discreet black button beneath the glass case, the thought of flames licking the gaps of the titanium door from the outsides crossing his mind - it took only one man to break his non-disclosure clause to breach corporate security.

“Perhaps Prometheus won’t be so bad,” he thought. “After all, if it means new life of our design, why not redesigned eternal lives of our own?” It was a long shot, but if he could do one, and then the other, before he was done on this earth, then his life would be complete. “It’ll never happen,” he reflected “and even if it did, it would only be for those who could afford it - Dick included, no doubt.”

“To immortality!” He exclaimed, his beer raised to Cole.

“I hope so, sir. For my sake.” Cole replied.

“Don’t worry, mate. If it’s anything like it is for you as it is for us, it’ll be just like going to sleep.”

The machine didn’t like being compared to humans and elected not to reply. They sat in silence for a few minutes before the machine decided to say something.

“What if you knew when you were going to die, sir?”

“Then I would go back in time and tell myself no to bother at university. I’d tell myself to go out and enjoy myself.”

“Why is that, sir?”

“Well, Cole. If you were presented with the one proof that your life endeavours would ultimately be fruitless, woudn’t you want to go back and change things?”

“I suppose I would, sir. Though I can only see the future, not change the past.”

“I can do neither, my friend. So I suppose what I would really do would be to kill myself.”

He popped open another bottle. It’d been a few already, but if not now, then when?

“If not now, then when?” It gnawed at him, until...

“Cole...”

“Yes?”

“When am I going to die?”

Five seconds elapsed as the supercomputers spun up and then down again.

“Twelve years, six months, and eight days from today.”

Down the hall, Winston’s deputy was walking jauntily towards the control room. He had just been offered chief technical officer on Prometheus. Champagne clasped, he approached the titanium door.

The hallway suddenly shook violently, the deputy losing his balance an falling to the floor. Th champagne bottle smashed and its insides poured towards the door. Looking up, the optimism flashed away, replaced with coldness, as the flames licked the gaps of the door before him, and the security sirens pierced his ears.

Expansion of the Level-crossing Removal Programme

The Premier’s office has announced 25 additional crossings will be added to the list of 50 to be removed by the LXRA. The added crossings mean the expiration date of the programme has been revised from 2022 to 2025. This is part of a broader suite of promises made by the Labor party going into the November 24th state election, which includes a massive expansion to the metro system, and upgrades to the regional rail system.

I just want to address two particular crossings, one of which happens to be local to me, which has been added to the list — Argyle Avenue, Chelsea. I’ll talk about Glenhuntly Road later in the post.

En-queued at Argyle Avenue

En-queued at Argyle Avenue

Argyle Avenue

The crossing itself is a well-known bugbear of locals in the Chelsea-Bonbeach community, and I doubt I’m the only one relieved to see it announced as a target for removal. The nearby Bonbeach and Edithvale stations have had their adjacent roads already slated for removal in the initial list of 50 put forward in 2014. A long process was undertaken to determine the preferred model for removal of Bondi and Edithvale Roads.

The government initially put forward elevated rail (‘skyrail’) as its preferred option, with the possibility of rail-under-road (trenching) depending on community feedback and an environmental impact assessment related to the closely situated and internationally-protected Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands.

You may call me a cynic, but I believe that the state government, owing to the marginality of the sandbelt electorates, wanted to go forward with skyrail only on the condition that no protests were made. Even a little bit of protestation was bound to tip the scales, given that the seat of Carrum was won at the last election on a margin of just 0.72% of the vote, or roughly 500 votes. Needless to say, there was a campaign, with the backing of local Liberals, to stir up anti-skyrail sentiment. Labor was completely unwilling to rock the boat by doing anything even slightly controversial, and thus caved. Trenched rail effectively represents the status quo, whilst skyrail represents a reconfiguration and re-imagining of the local area, due to its more outstanding and obvious nature.

The reason that the government initially put forward skyrail, in spite of the risk of hostility, as its preferred option is for two reasons: firstly, skyrail is cheaper. The more you save on each individual crossing, the more you can do overall. Secondly, it was the obviously superior option for the area. Indeed, skyrail is a preferable option as a general rule, for a variety of reasons.

Skyrail is cheaper. It enables amenities or shops to be built underneath, as well as parking or bus loops close to railway stations. It allows easier crossing on foot, by opening up an effectively unlimited number of crossing points. Bonbeach and Edithvale in particular are each areas waiting for a commercial boom to happen, which I believe to only be inhibited by the ghetto-isation created by the Berlin Wall that is the Frankston Line. This could so easily be achieved by making it easier to move around on foot, by bicycle, as well as by car. There are already burgeoning residences in the locality moving into medium density apartments and flats; the consumers are there, they have only limited options for consumption.

Chelsea is at the midway point between Bonbeach and Edithvale, and it is indeed already burgeoning commercially, albeit not as much as it once did. The past saw a broader variety of stores which have in the intervening decades fallen to the onslaught of shopping centres. This is not unique to Chelsea, nor even Australia. Still, all big four banks have branches here, there’s a post office, numerous restaurants and cafes, and a major grocery chain. The pristine beach, and the successful local businesses, draw in visitors by road and rail to shed their cash and clothes to take a dip in the water on Melbourne’s notoriously hot summer days.

Whilst the decision to trench the railway at Bonbeach and Edithvale represents a lost opportunity, my hope upon hearing the announcement that Argyle Avenue, Chelsea Road, and Swanpool Avenue, all localised to Chelsea, would be grade-separated gave me pause to wonder the enormous possibilities. Imagine a central plaza, a proper bus interchange, the unlocking of Station Street retail opportunities.

Alas, the Premier pre-empted all discussion or possibility of a future satellite business centre at Chelsea by conceding on the same date of announcement that there would be only trenches in Chelsea. There was no community consultation, no independent bodies analysing the proposal, not a single academic lending a word on the matter. The 500 voters prized by Labor had their way. The Premier had made his decision, and it was an easy and cowardly one. Now a massive gash will open wide across our beachside community. Foot crossings will be closed, people forced into their cars. We will all become a little more isolated, and our community will whither. Those situated west of the canyon will get richer, and those to the east will be crammed into smaller and smaller units on increasingly subdivided blocks. There will be no inter-cooperation or interchange of people. We will become two separate communities. I bemoan yet another lost opportunity for revitalisation and local economic growth.

I am left with only one last speculation on the Bonbeach-Chelsea-Edithvale Project. Will it be a single trench? In the case of a similar project to the north at Bentleigh-McKinnon-Ormond, the decision was made to have three successive trenches in short intervals so as to save on expenditure, at the cost of a lengthened timetable due to excessive train acceleration and deceleration. Passengers are left with an irksome feeling as the train makes repeated dives and halts. Will this shortsighted design be re-employed in my locality? Will commuters from Frankston be made to endure a rollercoaster of design compromises on their daily commute?

That brings me to the second crossing project I wish to discuss.

Glenhuntly Road

This is probably the worst level crossing in metropolitan Melbourne. It severely negatively impacts on all who use it: motorists, train and tram passengers, and pedestrians. The pain of Glenhuntly is felt all up and down the Frankston line owing to the fact that all trains, including expresses, must slow to a crawl at the intersection due to logistical issues to do with the intersection of overhead wires of both the railway and tramway. This severe slow down leads to backed up queues of pedestrians, trams, and cars. That this nightmare of a level crossing has finally been listed for removal is something for which it is worth praising the transport deities.

That said, why in said deities’ names was this crossing not removed when the three to the direct south were thusly removed? There was huge impact on services as the line was suspended for weeks at a time as the crossings at Bentleigh-McKinnon-Ormond were removed. Now, due to lack of foresight, we commuters of the Frankston line will be made to endure this nonsense over again. The local businesses of the area adjacent to the stations, who have only just recovered from the enormous disruptions caused by dust clouds and the fleeing of customers, will once again face the exact same. Level crossing removals will have and will continue to take place all up and down the line with an order that indicates no rhyme or reason other than political expediency. The Frankston line, by the time all is said and done, will have only been haphazardly usable between the years 2016 and 2025. Nine years of continuously interrupted travel is not something that freeway users would expect or tolerate, so why should commuters of Melbourne’s second busiest railway line tolerate such?

Conclusion

I thank good fortune for Victoria having a government that finally, after decades of neglect, is paying attention to rail transport. I will fiercely defend said government insofar as they continue to pursue an agenda that is anti-congestion and pro-rail, and I will likewise heavily criticise the flaws which have pockmarked the litany of announced projects; pockmarks emergent almost entirely from political expediency and the desire to cling to power. Labor is no better than the Liberal party when it comes to splurging billions to win votes, damn the consequences. I want a government that thinks far into the future, and doesn’t just make decisions for the here and now.