Budget

ABC Staff Engagement Survey – less than 50% engaged

The Morrison government is promising $44m in extra funding for the ABC for “enhanced news gathering” over 3 years. When will the Coalition realize that this treat will not make the ABC show any leniency in the lead up to the federal election? Did they even bother reading the ABC Staff Engagement Survey buried on page 94 of the 2017/18 Annual Report? Less than half are engaged.

The ABC conducted its second Corporation-wide employee engagement survey in late 2017. The previous survey was conducted in November 2015, with outcomes reported in the 2016 Annual Report.

The overall employee engagement score from the 2017 survey was 46%, down six points from the 2015 results. 6% down!!!!

This moved the ABC from the median to the bottom quartile when benchmarked with other Australian and New Zealand organisations. Bottom quartile!!!

Employees expressed the need for improvement in several areas, including:

• that the ABC Leadership Team needs to be more visible, accessible and communicate more openly.

that the ABC needs to do a better job of managing poor performance. Even the staff want to move duds on. A commercial spirit among the staff?

• that employees want to know what action is being taken to address feedback received in the survey.

The ABC management (no longer with us) conducted sessions on the back of the survey.

Three key priorities were identified from these sessions:

1. The way in which the ABC recruits, contracts, inducts, develops and manages its people needs a huge amount of work. Inefficiency!!!

2. More communication is needed between teams – employees want to know what other teams are doing, and want less top-down, hierarchical communication. Bureaucracy!!!

3. Many of the ABC’s processes, tools and technology don’t work effectively for its people. Obsolescence!!!

So instead of giving the ABC more money, perhaps an efficiency drive driven by a change manager could achieve the same outcomes desired by the market for far less cost. This reads like an organization that has too much fat.

To that effect, the annual report also noted:

Bureaucracy Stop was launched in March 2018 with the aim of creating a working environment with less bureaucracy and red tape. The program wrapped three months later with 147 ideas on simplification of processes, 55 of which were resolved by the end of the financial year. Where a simplification solution wasn’t available in response to an idea, an explanation was provided as to why that process needed to remain.

What were the dollar savings for these 55 improvements?

Maybe the government should say to ABC management for every dollar saved, the ABC keeps 50c? For a broadcaster with over $1.1bn in funding, 10% of savings would mean they keep c.$60m. Morrison’s $44mn is easily covered.

Digging a bit deeper into the stats of the ABC reveals a big need for overhaul. Comparing 2017/18 and 2015/16 we see that TV audience reach for metro fell from 55.2% to 49.7% and regional slumped from 60.3% to 54.0%. If we go back to 2007/8 the figures were 60.1% and 62.4% respectively. For the 2017/18 period, the ABC targets a 50% reach. Hardly a stretch.

Since 2008, the average salary of ABC’s staff has risen 18% from $86,908 to $105,219. Total staff numbers have risen from 4499 to 4939. Therefore salaries as a percentage of the ABC revenues have risen from 37.1% of the budget to 50%. The ABC’s ability to generate sales from content has fallen from A$140mn in 2015/16 to A$46mn last fiscal year.

The multicultural SBS has seen its budget grow from A$259mn in 2008 to A$412mn in 2017. SBS staff numbers have grown from 844 to 1,466 over the same period with average salaries rising from A$82,689 to A$88,267 or 7.2%. Which begs the question why is the SBS able to operate at 31% of the budget in salaries while the ABC is at 50%? Surely the ABC’s economies of scale should work in its favour? Clearly not.

Australia’s largest commercial terrestrial station, Nine Network, has 3,100 employees against revenues of $1.237bn. So to put that into context, Nine can generate c. A$400,000 per employee whereas the ABC generates A$238,168 in tax dollars per employee. In a sense the ABC could be shut down, and each employee paid $108,000 in redundancy costs annually for two years simply by selling off the land, buildings and infrastructure. The SBS generates A$281,000 in tax dollars per employee. The ABC will argue it deserves $400,000/employee revenues rather than a 46% headcount reduction to be on equal terms with the efficiency in the private sector.

Stop throwing more money at the problem and get an aggressive MD who will make a real difference. Pay him/her millions to save $100s of millions. The taxpayer deserves no less. So do over half the 5,000 employees at the ABC who are dissatisfied with the very organization which is so terribly run.

Bill Shorten’s electric dreams are our nightmare

Image result for fuel bowser out of use

When will politicians wake up? How can they honestly believe their targets are remotely achievable if the industry is not even in the ballpark to being able to supply those promises? Take the ALP’s plan to make electric vehicles (EVs) 50% of new car sales by 2030.

In 2018, 1,153,111 new automobiles were sold across Australia. This plan is so easily destroyed by simple mathematics, something CM did in 2017 when Macron waxed lyrical about 100% EV sales by 2040. The only 100% certainty is that Bill Shorten won’t hit the 50% target by 2030. Do we need the government to tell us what cars we wish to buy?

The first problem he will encounter is overall consumer demand for EVs. Few suit the diverse needs and utilities (e.g. boat enthusiasts who require towing capacity unmet by all current EVs or parents who need 7-seaters to ferry kids to footy) of individual buyers. If the types of EVs available don’t match the requirements of the users then few will see the point to buy one no matter what the subsidy. In 2008, SUVs were 19% of Aussie new car sales. It is 43% today. So much for the climate change fearing public voting with their wallets! That is the first problem.

Why is the government meddling in an industry they know next to nothing about? Having a zero emissions (ZE) target is one thing they might aim for, however why not tell auto makers they need to attain that goal but will be granted complete technological freedom to achieve it? If the auto makers see necessity as the mother of invention, who are regulators to dictate the technology? If an internal combustion engine can achieve ZE does that not meet the goal?

It stands to reason we should question those with the least idea on the technology to dictate the future. The ZE appeal of EVs is an ineffective virtue signaling device to voters.

If we look at Euro emissions regulations introduced since 1993, substantial progress has been made in the last 20 years. Euro 6 started in 2015. For diesel particulate matter, emissions are 97% down on Euro 1 (1993) and NOx down by 95% over the same period.

The irony here, is that governments have these thought bubbles and then consult the industry afterwards to see if those promises can be fulfilled. CM spoke to multiple global auto suppliers in the EV space at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2018 and this is what was said,

“So haphazard is the drive for EV legislation that there are over 200 cities in Europe with different regulations. In the rush for cities to outdo one another this problem will only get worse. Getting two city councils to compromise is one thing but 200 or more across country lines? Without consistent regulations, it is hard for makers to build EVs that can accommodate all the variance in laws without sharply boosting production costs…

…On top of that charging infrastructure is an issue. Japan is a good example. Its EV growth will be limited by elevator parking and in some suburban areas, where car lots are little more than rental patches of dirt where owners are unlikely to install charging points…

…Charging and battery technology will keep improving but infrastructure harmonisation and ultimately who pays for the cost is far from decided. With governments making emotional rather than rational decisions, the only conclusion to be drawn is unchecked virtuous bingo which will end up having to be heavily compromised from the initial promises as always.

So the suppliers aren’t on board for a start. They know their car manufacturer clients rather well and if they aren’t buying it, auto makers can’t sell it. Slowing sales worldwide adds to reluctance to add to expensive fixed cost capacity at the top of a cycle.

We have proof of this. Note what we wrote in 2017:

It isn’t a big surprise to see national governments virtue signal over climate abatement. The UK swiftly followed French plans to ban the sale of petrol/diesel cars from 2040. However, let’s get real. Government proactivity on climate change may appear serious but the activities of the auto industry are generally a far better indicator of their lobby power. As a car analyst at the turn of the century, how the excitement of electric vehicle (EV) alternatives to internal combustion engines was all the rage. Completely pie in the sky assumptions about adoption rates…

…In 1999 industry experts said that by 2010  EVs would be 10% of all units sold. Scroll forward to 2019 and they are near as makes no difference 2.5% of total vehicle sales…talk about a big miss. 10 years beyond the prediction, they’re only 25% of the way there. Pathetic. 

CM also discussed in this report, 30 reasons Tesla would be a bug on a windshield;

“To prove the theory of the recent thought bubbles made by policy makers, they are already getting urgent emails from energy suppliers on how the projections of EV sales will require huge investment in the grid. [Mr Shorten, will we have all these cars recharging overnight using renewables? Solar perhaps?] The UK electricity network is currently connected to systems in France, the Netherlands and Ireland through cables called interconnectors. The UK uses these to import or export electricity when it is most economical. Will this source be curtailed as nations are forced into self-imposed energy security by chasing unsustainable products?

The UK’s National Grid said that the extra capacity required just to charge EVs would require another new Hinkley C nuclear plant to cover it. Will people choose between watching  premiership football on Sky Sports or charging their car?

Car makers can’t produce at the desired speed and energy suppliers don’t have the excess capacity required to charge. Slightly large problems. We don’t need to look at failed EV policy to show government incompetence. Germany totally fluffed its bio-fuel promise back in 2008 that even a Greens’ politician ended up trashing it.

“The German authorities went big for bio-fuels in 2008 forcing gas stands to install E-10 pumps to cut CO2. However as many as 3 million cars at the time weren’t equipped to run on it and as a result consumers abandoned it leaving many gas stands with shortages of the petrol and gluts of E-10 which left the petrol companies liable to huge fines (around $630mn) for not hitting government targets.”

Claude Termes, a member of European Parliament from the Green Party in Luxembourg said in 2008 that legally mandated biofuels were a dead end…the sooner it disappears, the better…my preference is zero…policymakers cannot close their eyes in front of the facts. The European Parliament is increasingly skeptical of biofuels.” Even ADAC told German drivers to avoid using E10 when traveling in other parts of continental Europe.

Starting with the basics for Australia.

If we take 50% of total car sales in 2018 as the target by 2030, Shorten needs to sell 576,556 EVs per annum to meet his bold target.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room – note that petrol excise is currently around 4.7% of total federal tax take (c. $19bn) and likely to grow to c.$23bn by 2021. Even if we were to assume that we achieved Shorten’s targets based on a flat overall car market by 2030, Shorten’s tax receipts from the fuel excise would collapse and only be amplified by subsidies paid on 576,556 EVs. Throw the global average of $6,000-10,000  in incentives per EV and we’ve quickly racked $3-5bn per annum in subsidies.

Then will he offer cash for clunkers (C4C) for the poor owners of fossil fuel cars? Many car owners would require a hefty slug of C4C to offset the massive depreciation that would ensue on a trade in of a fossil fueled powered car. People are going to want decent trade ins, not 5c in the dollar of what they would have got had the government not attacked car owners. The changeover price matters. Shorten  may well get his 50% by halving the industry.

Should we also consider whether fuel taxes should be replaced by electricity taxes? If that ends up all we drive who is to stop it? Surely the maintenance of roads and related infrastructure which we’re told our fuel taxes pay for the upkeep will still need to be funded by heavier EVs.

Take the Tesla Model X 100D. It weighs 2,509kg, 49% heavier than an equivalent BMW 5-series. The heavier the car, the more damaging to the road. Such is the progress of the Nissan Leaf that the kerb weight has risen in the new model to 1,538kg on the original, or 400kg heavier than a petrol Toyota Corolla. EVs are fat.

Global EV sales units were 2.1mn last year. Total car sales were 79m odd. Let’s assume auto makers could conceivably increase capacity by 2m every 2 years (plants take 2 years to build and those poor Congolese child slave laborers will be run off their feet digging for cobalt to go in the batteries) then conceivably 30mn cumulative EV units could be built by 2030. Unfortunately VW gave the real answer on how they view EVs.

“Volkswagen makes an interesting case study. After being caught red handed cheating diesel emissions regulations (a perfect example of how little VW must believe in man-made global warming) they were in full compliance at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show telling the world of their $80bn investment in EVs out to 2030, 300 new EV models comprising 3 million units in 25 years of which 1.5mn would be sold in China. 3 million cars would be c.30% of VW’s total output today.”

However auto makers are faced with a conundrum. Chinese car sales are slowing. US car sales are slowing. European car sales are drifting and Aussie car sales are weak. Capex into EVs will be a very gentle process. They don’t want to plug in massive investments into new capacity if end demand is likely to remain soft. That is basic business sense. Note parts manufacturers need to be convinced that building new plants alongside makers is sustainable. Many are gun shy given the OEMs sent many parts suppliers into receivership the last cycle.

Ahh but EVs are less harmful to the environment. Are they?

The IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute was commissioned by the Swedish Transport Administration and the Swedish Energy Agency to investigate lithium-ion batteries climate impact from a life cycle perspective.

The report showed that battery manufacturing leads to high emissions. For every kilowatt hour of storage capacity in the battery generated emissions of 150 to 200 kilos of carbon dioxide already in the factory. Regular EV batteries with 25–30 kWh of capacity will result in 5 metric tonnes CO2, which is equivalent to 50,000 km driving in a regular, fuel-efficient diesel vehicle.

Another study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) showed that depending on the power generation mix, an all EV Nissan Leaf in the US or China was no better than a 2012 Prius. Countries with higher relative nuclear power generation unsurprisingly had lower CO2 emissions outcomes for EVs. By deduction countries with higher shares of coal or gas fired power negated much of the ‘saving’ of an EV relative to gasoline power.

So pretty much on all measures, Bill Shorten’s misadventure on EVs will be a complete dud. If only he’d consulted with the industry before celebrating how “woke” he is. He’s simply not.