“Award for Ross Gittins,” The Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 1991, p. 2.
The Sydney Morning Herald’s Economics Editor, Mr Ross Gittins, has won this year’s C.R. Kelly Award, given to the author of an article that best advances the case for a competitive market economy in Australia.
Mr Gittins’s article, “Why we must roll back the tyranny of distance,” published last May [reproduced below], was selected from 14 entries. It examined the excessive costs of monopolistic practices, unnecessary regulation in the transport system and the vested interests in maintaining these structures.
The award honours Mr C. R. (Bert) Kelly, a former Federal Cabinet minister and Member for Wakefield during the 1960s, regarded as a pioneer advocate of a competitive market economy in modern Australian politics.
Mr Gittins was in Canberra last night to receive his $1,500 prize.
Ross Gittins, “Why we must roll back the tyranny of distance,” The Sydney Morning Herald, May 23, 1990, p. 13.
You can say what you like about Geoffrey Blainey, but I reckon any man who can uncover “the tyranny of distance” can’t be all bad. As is my custom, I discovered Blainey’s book about 20 years after the rest of the populace.
(Actually, I read it while lounging on a beach at the French Riviera. It may have been odd reading for such a sophisticated location, but it was my kind of beach. All those boardwalks, deck chairs and umbrellas meant I could “lie on the beach” without ever coming in direct contact with sand, sun or water. Regrettably, regular visits to the Riviera are not my custom.)
Blainey opened our eyes to the remarkable way distance has shaped Australia. For us, the tyranny of distance has two dimensions: we’re a long way from anywhere else, and we’re holed up in cities scattered around the edge of a vast continent.
Transport is important for any country, but for us it should be an obsession. If ever a country needed an efficient system of transport, we’re it.
We need every mode of transport — air, sea, rail, road — in tiptop condition, so that we can make optimal use of all the choices available; so that our horses go on the right courses.
Yet the truth is that each mode is plagued by major inefficiencies. The organised robbery that is the two-airlines policy needs no elaboration.
Similarly, the costliness of our coastal shipping — compounded by the inefficiency of our waterfront and ports — has had a lot of attention lately. It’s got to the point where it can be cheaper to buy goods brought in from other countries than goods brought from other parts of Australia.
And a major reason why we do so little to raise the value of our mineral commodities before exporting them is the cost of shipping them around Australia for further processing.
Now rail. Our five railways systems are poorly co-ordinated, rundown and rife with overmanning and crazy work practices. Their productivity is roughly half that of railways overseas. Their deficit is about $1.8 billion a year.
That brings us to road transport. In one sense, road freight in Australia is highly efficient. The big freight companies run very tight ships. In fact, they exploit the oversupply of men wanting to lead what they initially imagine to be the romantic life of a self-employed interstate truck driver.
The trouble is that the road transport industry enjoys a hidden road subsidy running to more than $1.5 billion a year. That’s the extent to which the cost of the road damage done by heavy vehicles exceeds the fuel excise and registration fees they pay.
So, from that point of view, road transport is inefficient, too.
Why such a mess in our transportation? Why so much inefficiency wherever you turn? Mainly because, in different ways, each mode is protected from competition.
Preventing competition from third parties is the whole point of the two-airline policy. Even when that policy expires later this year, domestic airlines still will be protected from competition with international airlines.
The ships plying our coast have have grown ever more costly because the Federal Government’s policy of “sabotage” restricts the coastal trade to Australian-flag vessels.
As for railways, the State Governments give them special protection: over half the freight carried by rail has been subject to monopoly provisions preventing its carriage by road.
Looking across the transport modes, the picture is clear. Lack of competition breeds inefficiency and excessive costs; as businessman seek to cut their transport costs, freight migrates to one mode that is technically efficient and heavily subsidised: road.
To avoid high domestic air fares, more people travel by road coach. Apart from heavy bulk commodities, coastal shipping has lost most of its cargo to land transport. And the railways have lost most of their general cargo to road, Coal, minerals and grain account for almost two-thirds of the rail system’s freight tonne kilometres.
For a country with a chronic balance-of-payments problem, all this expensive inefficiency makes no sense. But the inexorable drift to road creates many other problems, of which we’ve become acutely aware in recent days. All the extra road freight and coach traffic causes more accidents and fatalities. We get upset and demand more spending on dual-carriageways. After all, we’re paying enough in petrol taxes. But our Governments are heavily stretched paying to repair the damage being done by all the heavy vehicles.
Apart from the problems of people living near airports, road is the transport mode which generates most noise and air pollution.
Road is the least fuel-efficient mode. And it emits most greenhouse gasses.
Clearly, something needs to be done. For economic, social and environmental reasons, the mess needs to be sorted out. Basically, we need to get rid of all the artificial factors forcing freight on to our roads. To limit the social and environmental costs, we should have no more freight on the roads than is economically justified.
Governments have begun working on the problem. Domestic aviation is to be deregulated — sort of. Coastal shipping and the waterfront are to be paid huge bribes of taxpayers’ money to raise their productivity over the next three years.
But as yet, nothing’s been done about rail and road. The Hawke Government has not decided how to dismantle the great rats’ nest of inefficiency, protection and subsidy. The position is so inherently complex as to provide each player with a seemingly impressive excuse for resisting reform.
Right now, the Government faces a stand-off which is as typically Australian as it is Mexican.
Thanks to the attention the matter received during the election campaign, the Government is under considerable political pressure to get results on the waterfront and in coastal shipping.
But already, that crowd is making its excuses to the Government, which is retailing those excuses through the media: why is everyone coming on heavy with us? What kind of delusion is it to imagine that the waterfront and coastal shipping is the be-all and end-all of micro-economic reform? If we were perfectly efficient, the difference that would make to the national economy would be tiny. The inefficiencies in rail are infinitely greater than any sins of ours.
OK, you may have a point. Why don’t we move in on rail? Let’s find a way to force the States to remove the monopolies which shelter so much overmanning and inefficiency. Let’s make the railways pay their way.
I can tell you now the reaction from the railways and their unions: What? You must be crazy! You’d take away our subsidy, but leave the road industry’s untouched? Our problem isn’t work practices; it’s the dilapidated state of our track and rolling stock. We’d never be able to compete with road. Huge increase in road freight traffic would cause pollution to escalate and road deaths to skyrocket. The social costs would be unthinkable.
OK, you may have a point. Why don’t we go straight to the heart of the problem: road. Let’s override the States and impose a proper weight-distance tax on heavy vehicles which recovers the cost of the road damage they do.
You can imagine the reaction from the transport companies, not to mention the roadblock-happy truckies: Why pick on us? We’re the one efficient transport mode the country’s got. What about all the inefficiency of the railways, their monopolies and taxpayer-funded deficits? Can you imagine what this impost would do to the cost of road freight? How’s that going to help the balance of payments? What would it do to inflation? We’d all of us go broke.
Dear reader, you see the point I’m driving at. The only feasible way to break this impasse is to work on all fronts. All the anti-competitive measures have to be withdrawn, not just some. All the subsidies — explicit and hidden — have to be rolled back together.
We have to tell the wharfies and seamen to stop whingeing and get on with it, because land transport’s next on the block. We need a package of measures which sorts out road and rail simultaneously, to minimise the inevitable arguments.
We need to phase in a tax on heavy vehicles at the same time as we phase out the railways deficits which allow crazy work practices to roll on forever.
We need to put pressure on the railways — and give a quid pro quo to road transport — by removing their monopolies over the carriage of certain commodities.
But, provided the railways come to the party on increased productivity, we do need to give them big bucks to bring their main lines up to 21st century standard. The obvious problem with all this, of course, is that “we” really means seven Governments, who can never agree on anything.
I fear that the tyranny of distance will blight our lives for some time yet.
- Gittinomics: Economics for Gits
- Exclusive Ross Gittins Interview on The Happy Economist
- Ross Gittins Wins Bert Kelly Award
- Ross Gittins Opposes Licensing
- Bert Kelly on his journalism
- Move for a body of Modest Members
- Modest Members Association
- Bert Kelly's Maiden Parliamentary Speech
- Government Intervention
- 1976 Monday Conference transcript featuring Bert Kelly
- Bert Kelly, Hayek and Mencken on the virtues of farmers
- Sound economics calls for quiet from government
- Petrol for Farmers
- Some Sacred Cows
- Experiences in Parliament
- Spending your Money
- Is Taxmania a politician fetish?
- How Bert Kelly repays a free feed
- Modest column #898
- Chicken-hearted feathered friends strange bedfellows on a feather bed?
- Who needs literary licence?
- A touch of Fred's anarchy
- Helping the farmers help themselves
- Standing on the shoulders of the downtrodden
- Supply and Demand
- Bert Kelly responds to claims he is arrogant and uncredentialed
- Politics: it's a very confusing business
- The best featherbeds run on rails
- Bert Kelly on Disaster Relief
- Bert Kelly Wants to Secede
- Blinded by their tears
- Anti-freedom pro-tobacco industry lobby harmed Australia
- Under Labor, is working hard foolish?
- An Idiot's Guide to Interventionism
- Is free healthcare worthless?
- Can government kiss it better?
- Bert Kelly Destroys the Side Benefits Argument for Government
- Bert Kelly gets his head around big-headed bird-brained politics
- First Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Second Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Third Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Fourth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Fifth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Sixth Modest Member (Bert Kelly) AFR Column
- Bert Kelly on the 2011 Budget and Australia's Pathetic Journalists and Politicians
- Bert Kelly, Bastard or Simple Sod?
- Liberal Backbencher Hits Govt. Over Import Restrictions
- Bert Kelly feels a dam coming on at each election
- Bert Kelly Enters Parliament
- Why take in one another's washing?
- Bert Kelly breaks the law, disrespects government and enjoys it
- Gillard's galley-powered waterskiing
- State Premiers are always asking for more taxing powers
- Can price control really work?
- Should we put up with socialism?
- We're quick to get sick of socialism
- Time the protection racket ended
- Can't pull the wool over Farmer Fred
- People not Politics
- Bert Kelly admits he should have had less faith in politicians
- The inspirational incentivising Dear Leader Gough Whitlam
- Labor: a girl who couldn't say no
- Why leading businessmen carry black briefcases
- Ludwig von Mises on page 3 of AFR
- Bert Kelly's empowering feminism
- Mavis wants the Modest Member to dedicate his book to her
- What if the whole country is swindled?
- Moss Cass: "Flood plains are for floods"
- A worm's eye view
- Eccles returns to haunt us
- How to grip a politician's ear
- It's hard to digest this economic cake
- Time to Butcher "Aussie Beef"
- Cold water on government-instigated irrigation schemes
- Hooray for Ord River Dam!
- Tariffs paid by exporters
- The problem of principles v popularity
- If you support State Quotas, where will your logic take you?
- Against guidance by government
- A socialist in Liberal clothing
- Never ask the government to help
- Don't listen to economists!
- Whitlam's July 1973 25% tariff cut
- Bert Kelly on Import Quotas
- Good directions when government backseat driving, like reversing down wrong side of road
- Barriers to imports are barriers to exports
- Bert Kelly reviews The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop
- Bert Kelly reviews We Were There
- Tariffs get the fork-tongue treatment
- Bert Kelly reduces government to its absurdities
- Politician sacrifices his ... honesty
- It's all a matter of principle
- Bert Kelly Destroys the Infant Industry Argument
- Bert Kelly Untangles Tariff Torment
- Bert Kelly resorts to prayer
- Eccles keeps our nose hard down on the tariff grindstone
- "Don't you believe in protecting us against imports from cheap labour countries?"
- Even if lucky, we needn't be stupid
- Great "freedom of choice" mystery
- Small government's growth problem
- I like my kind acts to get a mention in the press
- A Modest Member rakes the embers
- Tariffs Introduced
- More About Tariffs
- Sacred cow kicker into print
- Bert Kelly's 1984 two-article quote-collection on Aboriginal policies
- Modest Member must not give up
- Traditional Wheat Farming is Our Birthright and Heritage and Must be Protected!
- Tariff-cut nonsense lives on
- Bert Kelly brilliantly defends "theoretical academics"
- The high cost of protection
- Generosity creates problems
- The Society of Modest Members
- John Hyde's illogical, soft, complicated, unfocussed and unsuccessful attempt to communicate why he defends markets
- Modesty ablaze
- Case for ministers staying home
- The unusual self-evident simplicity of the Modest Members Society
- Animal lib the new scourge of the bush
- The Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Krill
- modest members society
- Repeal economic laws, force people to buy new cars and enforce tariffs against overseas tennis players
- Thoughts on how to kill dinosaurs
- Let's try the chill winds
- Taking the Right's road
- Bert Kelly: "I did not try often or hard enough"
- Bert Kelly "lacked ... guts and wisdom"
- A look at life without tariffs
- The Gospel according to Bert
- Tiny note on Bert Kelly's column in The Bulletin in 1985
- Why costs can't be guaranteed
- Hitting out with a halo
- Paying farmers not to grow crops will save on subsidies, revenge tariffs, etc
- "The Modest Farmer joins us" | "How The Modest Farmer came to be"
- Bert Kelly Destroys the Freeloading Justifies Government Argument
- Industrial Relations Club shovellers
- From Shann to Stone
- Government Intervention
- A sojourn in the real world
- The tariff wind swings
- Bigger Cake = Bigger Slices
- Bert Kelly on the Political Process
- A charabanc called protection
- Taken for a ride - to nowhere
- Down hill, in circles, all the way
- Relationships with the Liberal Party
- Tariffs = High Prices + World War
- Bert Kelly's Family History
- Bert Kelly's Pre-Parliament Life
- What the MP could say to the Bishop
- Why Bert Kelly was not even more publicly outspoken
- WEATHER IS USUALLY UNUSUAL
- How to stand aside when it's time to be counted
- How the Modest Member went back to being a Modest Farmer
- My pearls of wisdom were dull beyond belief
- Bert Kelly on Political Football
- Undigested morsels in Fraser spew
- Bert Kelly on LSD
- Bert Kelly reflects on the Australian car industry in 1992
- Bert Kelly wants reprinted Shann's Economic History of Australia
- If tariffs are opposed here then why not there?
- The emperor has no textiles, clothing and footwear sense
- Ross Gittins Wins Bert Kelly Award
- Interesting 1964 Bert Kelly speech: he says he is not a free trader and that he supports protection!
- This is the wall the Right built
- Tariff Protection in Australia (1970)
- Has Santa socked it to car makers?
- Is the Budget a cargo cult?
- Will we end up subsidising one another?
- Keeping the bucket of worms alive
- Can we get off the stomach-churning head-spinning tariff merry-go-round?
- Do we want our money to fly?
- Can a bear be sure of a feed?
- How to impress your MP -
- The time for being nice to our MPs has gone ...
- Don't feel sorry for him -
hang on to his ear
- Trade wars can easily end up on a battlefield
- Tariffs Create Unemployment
- Bert Kelly recommends Ayn Rand
- Bert Kelly on Alf Rattigan's Industry Assistance: The Inside Story
- Bert Kelly's Satirical Prophecy: Minister for Meteorology (tick) and High Protectionist Policies to Result in War Yet Again (?)
- Bert Kelly in 1972 on Foreign Ownership of Australian Farmland and Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and Bill Heffernan in 2012
- Bert Kelly baits Welfare State Tiger
- Why does Govt wear two faces?
- Parliament a place for pragmatists
- Of Sugar Wells and Think-Tanks
- Bert Kelly: "I must take some of the blame"
- Bert Kelly on dumping duties
- The Govt's helping hand often hurts
- Unbuckling the hobbles on the motor industry
- A Modest Farmer looks at the Problems of Structural Change
- Government Fails Spectacularly
- Know your proper place if you want the quiet life
- Bert Kelly on political speech writers
- Having your cake and eating it
- Perish the thawed!
- Hooray for Northern Development!
- The silly image of our MPs
- Bert Kelly Question Time highlights
- Modest Farmer sees his ideas take hold
- Should facts stand in the way of a good story?
- Fondling one another's glass haloes
- What is the sense in making the effort to look after yourself?
- Fred's Feeling: Counterpatriotic country contrarian
- Handouts for big boys only
- Mavis trying to buy a hand loom
- Bad news for bearers of bad news
- Is it time to get aboard the tariff band-waggon?
- Why farmers resent tariff protection for motor makers
- A sordid use of scare tactics
- Goods vs services
- Tariffs are hilariously counterproductive
- Bert Kelly on decentralisation
- Inflation breeds moral decay
- Who envies equality?
- Growth – malignant or benign?
- Government wiser than Magna Carta
- Bert Kelly on looking to politicians for moral leadership
- Max Newton: Maverick in Exile
- Whitlam & co on the Dismissal
- 25% Tariff Cut
- Bert Kelly on pensions
- Mr Clunies-Ross of the Cocos Islands should rule Australia
- They get the wind up when it changes
- Why the Big Green Lie survives
- Ross McLean in 1982: "Malcolm! Why don't we try good government? It might be popular."
- Bert Kelly on the importance of exchange rate movements
- Bert Kelly shows how to attack
- Bert Kelly vs Bert Kelly vs Bert Kelly
- Industrial relations dinosaur, Bruce, chews his cud
- Hooray for "firmly entrenched"!
- Respect your dinosaurs
- What if something is "deeply ingrained" yet harmful?
- A case for ministerial inertia
- Why politicians don't like the truth
- Our great open spaces
- Ominous dark clouds are gathering
- Better to be popular than right
- Crying in the wilderness
- Ivory tower needs thumping
- Bert Kelly asks, "How can you believe in free enterprise and government intervention at the same time?"
- Politicians get undeserved praise, why not undeserved blame too?
- Feet in a bucket of champagne
- Rural Problems
- Health cover needs a $30 excess clause
- Unholy state of taxation
- Boring economics worth a smile
- The Libido for the Miserable
- Agricultural Development and Tariffs
- Fred's too poor to have principles
- Eccles Law of the constant wage share
- "He whom the gods would destroy ..."
- Tariffs: when to wean infant BHP?
- Keep any government as far as possible from farming
- The Playford charade is out of date
- Bert Kelly: the odd man out who's now in
- Dries must resist giving up struggle as going gets tough
- How a well meaning Government can be so stupid
- The icing on the economic cake
- Sir Roderick Carnegie's foreword to Bert Kelly's Economics Made Easy
- The Vale of Popularity and the Protection Procession
- Politics 101: Pay Lip Service to Capitalism and Shoot the Messenger
- Bert Kelly makes politicians eat their own words on tariffs, then says, "We cannot be blamed for treating the statements of our statesmen with cynical contempt"
- Bert Kelly on Free Enterprise
- Cartoons of protected industry, the welfare teat and the nanny state
- Bert Kelly on the theory of constant shares and the Fabian Society
- Bert Kelly vs Doug Anthony
- You're lucky if you escape being helped by government
- Bert Kelly on Small Farmers
- Bert Kelly on Apathy
- Bert Kelly in 1967 on "problems of government and things like that"
- The last "Dave's Diary"
- Bert Kelly vs The Australian on tariffs in 1977
- Bounties or Tariffs, Someone Pays
- Geriatric companies without a minder
- A free marketeer wary of free trade
- Nixon's puzzling profession of faith
- "Ford ... seems to spend more time bending its knees than its back"
- Clyde Cameron's weak ways with wise words
- Why flaunt what others flout?
- Bert Kelly yearns for Tim Flannery's powers of prediction
- Looking after yourself is silly
- Bert Kelly masterpiece on drought, fire, flood and other natural disaster relief schemes
- Government can take credit for our car industry mess
- Car makers want the 4wd driven deeper into tariff bog
- Why our MP is no longer prone to a good sob story
- Auto industry is in a straitjacket
- Bert Kelly on market predictions
- Why should dryland farmers subsidise irrigation farmers?
- How much should government decrease incentive for independence from government?
- Clarkson crowned Deputy Government Whip
- Bert Kelly to blame for soaring government healthcare costs
- 1959 return of Dave's Diary
- Bert Kelly in 1966 on developing northern Australia
- Successful government intervention can [sic] occur
- Vernon Report upholds Clarkson
- Quiet Man Makes An Impact
- Should it be compulsory to buy footwear and clothing?
- To save Australian clothing industry women must all wear same uniform
- Don't confuse plucking heart strings with plucking harp strings
- Speech only for public
- Catchy Tariff Circus Extravaganza
- Bert Kelly in 1985 on cars yet again
- Hurrah for the Gang of Five
- Thoughts on a verse about Balfour
- Bert Kelly pep talk to politicians
- Government intervention = Agony postponed but death brought nearer
- Recipe for disaster: Freeze!
- Recipe for government intervention: Gather winners and scatter losers
- Recipe for industry destruction: Blanket market signals
- Mavis writes!
- Bert Kelly's empiricism is not kneejerk reaction kind
- The $2,000 song of the shirt worker
- Subsiding only small farmers means subsiding the big banks
- Difficult to be fast on your feet when you've got your ear to the ground
- It would surprise people to see how sensible MPs behave if they think they are not being watched
- Bert Kelly on "this land of limitless resources" and "great open spaces"
- Growing bananas at the South Pole
- Car components tariff protection under fire
- Why carry a $300m car subsidy?
- Tariff feather beds for the foreign giants
- Bert Kelly says end compulsory voting to stop donkey vote
- Perhaps being smart and insured isn't all luck
- You gets your tariff, you pays a price
- More funds to train Olympians?
- Fire in their guts and wind in ours
- Should free universal healthcare include pets?
- Sound advice from a modest farmer
- A tottering monument to intervention
- Cunning meets wisdom
- Competition, Aussie-style: Who's the bigger parasite?
- Australians are proud patriotic parasites, says Bert Kelly
- Taxpayer-funded sport is cheating
- Being loved by all is not always a good thing
- Welfare State Destroys Society
- 1980 Bert Kelly feather bed series
- The White Mice Marketing Board
- Government intervention and advice can be harmful, even when right, even for those it tries to help
- One small step on the compulsory voting landmine
- The free & compulsory education sacred cows have no clothes
- Holding a loaded wallet to an economist's head
- Political No Man's Land
- Only blind greed demands both equality and prosperity