Monday, 15 September 2014


I'm about to head off for a trip mainly for the purpose of walking in the High Tatras, but also spending a few days in London (on the way over) and Berlin (on the way back).    I've set up a dedicated blog for this.  Here's the link to it:
The border shown is between Poland and Slovakia

So, I'm closing off this blog, at least for now.  

After that.....perhaps I'll establish a fresh day-to-day blog on my return?

Friday, 12 September 2014

The rights issue

I've got a small holding in AGL, so received the offer to participate in the Retail Entitlement Offer, which in old-fashioned language is a rights issue.   It's to help AGL pay for the Macquarie Generation assets.  

Now, only a week or so ago,  I attended an internal seminar at which the competition issues involved in this acquisition were discussed.   The acquisition was authorised by the Australian Competition Tribunal, which we were told was rather dismissive of at least some of the ACCC's arguments opposing the transaction (the very detailed decision is here).    And the ACCC wasn't very happy, either.  Well, we were being addressed by the lawyer who led the competition team for AGL in this transaction, so I suppose it's natural that she would emphasise the parts of the decision that might be considered as "dismissive".

But I digress.    Of course, everyone has to make their own decision as to whether they want to participate in the offer, and there are various factors involved.  But the tax consequences are almost always a factor, so I was very pleased to see that these issues were addressed in the offer booklet in an up-front way, in the section headed, "Summary of options available to you".   Sure, there's no absolute certainly about the tax issues for any particular investor, but it was good to see the issues clearly and concisely set out, instead of the jargon we so often see along the lines that "tax isn't really our concern, but if you go to page so-and-so (deep in the innards of the documentation), you'll find some long-winded and usually inconclusive explanations".  Yes, the detailed tax dissertation was there as well, but, as I've said, it was nice to find a concise summary readily available.

As a footnote, it's a bit odd that a senior executive of AGL makes some rather "interesting"comments about the operation of the national electricity market just a day or so before the last day for the mums and dads to stump up their money!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Prostrate Years

Sue Townsend has written a whole series of Adrian Mole diaries.  They've been around for years, but I've only just read one of them, namely The Prostrate Years.   Hmmmm, very light-hearted, but it's quite amazing how a mixture of ordinariness, serious issues and the bizarre can actually be made to be humorous against a background of events occurring in the wider world. 

That said, a little bit of it goes quite a long way, and while I'll possibly read other books in the series if I come across them, I don't think I'll be actively seeking them out!

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Tax time

Perhaps I'm just a masochist, but I continue to prepare and lodge my own tax returns. My affairs aren't particularly complex, and over the years, I have done my best to keep up with changes as they occur, and as they are incorporated into e-Tax  I do admit that it would be challenging to lodge via e-Tax if you had to make a "cold start".  However, I  am associated with a trust that has to lodge a return, and an accountant arranges this.   Based on my experience in this regard, my observation is that the main issue is assembling the required information.  Once this is done, the actual process of inserting it into the tax return is not always as hard as it might seem.

I also note that the ATO now allows simplified returns to be lodged using "myTax".  However, my affairs do have a couple of little "wrinkles"  so I don't come into this category that can use this form, and I have to continue to work my way through e-Tax.
The biggest change this year is the need to create a "myGov" account.   Although this is a new process, I guess it just builds incrementally on the previous arrangements.    Just the same, the process certainly brought "Big Brother" to mind and I worry about the security of portals such as this.   Frankly, I'm not reassured when, after a security breach, I read statements along the lines that, oh yes, there was a vulnerability, but we've "fixed" it (that is, past tense).   I guess the next vulnerability will be fixed, too - after the hackers have demonstrated that it exists!

Another issue with e-Tax is that it's hard to save a pdf file of the final tax return as lodged (or even as a draft).  I think e-Tax expects you to retain the file within e-Tax.  I've experimented with a couple of work-arounds, and the best one that I've come across is a little bit of freeware called "CutePDF writer".   Pity that e-Tax doesn't contain something like this.

The one upside of all this is the nice feeling that I get when, after hours of digging out data and filling things in, I finally press the "submit" button!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Wotif to be acquired by Expedia (2)

I see that the Expedia proposal to acquire Wotif has been given an "amber light" by the ACCC.  It seems that one of the issues of possible concern  is that Expedia tends to charge accommodation providers a higher commission than Wotif, and that if the Priceline group (which is and Agoda) and Expedia (which includes, as well as others) were the only participants of any scale in the on line travel agent (OTA) market, the  accommodation industry considers that rates charged to hotels would possibly rise.

I skimmed through the very interesting Statement of Issues and noted that the ACCC seems mainly concerned (see paragraphs 47 and 52) with the three largest participants on the OTA market (Expedia, Wotif and, and doesn't  place a great deal of weight on other players in the market, such as Zuji (owned by Webjet), Flight Centre, and Orbitz (which is and is linked to Helloworld).   How this will flow through to the final determination remains to be seen.

What I found very interesting in the Statement of Issues were the descriptions of the participants in the market, as above, and also that Wotif includes and

The ACCC's release contains a reference to Hooroo, as a relatively new OTA.  I hadn't heard of this, so I followed up on it.   It didn't take long to see that it's owned by Qantas!   And they've built it from scratch and it's based in Melbourne.  I may in fact have unknowingly used it when booking through the Qantas site. I've added it to my bookmarks and will be looking at it in the future, but my first impression is that it's got quite a way to go before it can be taken to be a serious player in this market.   It doesn't have much coverage and it's a pity that I don't seem to be able to see the rates charged by overseas properties in their local currencies.

The Statement of Issues also stated that OTAs (except Wotif) generally charge a base rate of commission to accommodation providers for bookings through their portals and charge a higher rate of commission to hotels to appear on the front page of their unrefined search results. I guess we all assumed this, but it's interesting to see it in writing.  Another case of "buyer beware", I suppose.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Prahran Hotel

We had a Sunday night meal at the funky Prahran Hotel, and it was good:  service was fine, food was good, prices were very reasonable (except for the wine, which was higher than you'd expect in a pub).   You get a choice of places to eat, and we chose the "dining" area, but even here there was a bit of a spill-over of music from the DJ in the bar area.  However,  this is a pub and it didn't intrude on our conversation, so it wasn't a major issue for us. 

It was nice to be able to park close to the venue but at busy times, this may not always be possible.   There's some "permit only" parking in the area (including in the evenings) so care is required.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Getting the car serviced

With a relatively new car, I'm still taking it to the dealer to be serviced.   But my patience is wearing thin.
For one thing, the dealer is some distance away and in a locality not well served by public transport. which gives rise to the issue of what do I do while the car is being serviced?  There is a railway station but it's a long walk which I would have to do there and back if I came home.    And there's nothing of interest in the area (except a few other car dealerships)!

I'm still at the stage where the services are more-or-less routine, and on the most recent occasion, I was informed that if I brought the car in at a designated time, I could wait for it as it would only take an hour.   I arrived a few minutes early, but even so, the car wasn't handed back to me until 30 minutes after the promised time.

Even if I have the car serviced closer to home, there are issues.     At this stage in the car's life, servicing consists mainly of a change of engine oil and oil filter plus a few visual checks.

I understand that, when I take it to the dealer,  I'm paying for the dealer's "expertise", and that he has significant overheads.   But closer to home,  there's the well-established guy with all the credentials - who is nearly as expensive as the dealer.  Then there's the guy down a side-street, who is cheaper....but based on past experience, I have some misgivings about his work.  Or there's K-mart, where the prices are somewhere in between.  But taking your car to K-mart?

Such are the issues associated with cars!

Thursday, 4 September 2014


It's strawberry season, but it seems we live in a world where "bigger must be better".  I was surprised at the size of the strawberries available at the supermarket.
That's a dollar coin for comparison

Frankly, I can't discern any difference in the taste (for better or for worse), but I am worried what has been done to achieve strawberries of this size.

In the meantime, more conventionally-sized strawberries are around for as little as 99¢ (for 250g).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014


Spring's here!   We  had a couple of foggy mornings a few days back (actually, it was still winter then), but then the warm days got the plants into bud.  [Edit - image updated]


Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Good Food Guide

Although at the end of the day I like to make my own assessments, I do find it interesting to compare my thoughts with what the Good Food Guide says about restaurants. 

Perhaps a little unusually, I find myself in agreement with the most recent edition's positive ratings of a couple of the restaurants in our area.

A couple of other local long-term inclusions have been dropped from this edition;  perhaps regrettable for them,  but on reflection probably under-standable.   Expectations change, and sometimes it's not enough simply to keep doing things the same way.   I think this applies to at least one (perhaps both) of the local places that have dropped out.   My impression is that they're still doing things in much the same way as they have in the past.  Perhaps this appeals to an established clientele, but it's not necessarily the way to keep your place in a guide that purports to be "up there" with the trends in the industry.

One thing about the Guide that I sometimes struggle with is the mapping.    Of course, many of the restaurants reviewed are in concentrated pockets and others are widely dispersed, so a "one size fits all" mapping layout just wouldn't work.  But the maps are a bit of a "mish-mash".  It seems to me that they could be a little clearer.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The aqueduct

Carrying drinking water through open channels has a long history and the Romans of course had some great aqueducts, with their use of bridges being particularly notable.   Growing up, I was aware of the existence of some aqueducts forming part Melbourne's water supply system.     I now read that there was the O'Shannassy aqueduct in the Yarra Valley which is no longer used (see here and here).    

There was also the Maroondah Aqueduct, which I read was built in 1886–1881 to supply  water to the Preston Reservoir.  This, too, has been closed in a number of places and there's a walking/biking trail along part of it. There's also a disused section of this aqueduct that intersects the Yarra Glen to Christmas Hills Road.

Although in this era of steel pipes, we tend to think of this technology as a bit "yesterday", in fact there are still sections of the Maroondah Aqueduct in use today.   There's a reference here to over 30 kms of it still being in use (but my limited googling hasn't confirmed this distance).

Why am I saying this?  It's because, immediately behind Balgownie Estate (where we stayed recently), just a little further up the hill, a section of aqueduct is alive and well!    It's fenced off, and there are emphatic "do not enter" signs, but it most definitely is still is use.

Here's a link showing the location of the section of the aqueduct where it passes behind Balgownie Estate (the big while blobs are the accommodation blocks).