A KEANE EYE: Stimulate this!

It makes sense for me because I work from home so I don’t get caught in the daily commute and cover relatively few kilometres – probably less than what I do interstate in modern hire cars. Best of all, it’s the most reliable car in a four-car family (the kids refuse to leave home), it gets close to 40mpg thanks to a simple after-market electronic ignition and a catalyst in the fuel tank, and what would you pay for a new, rear-wheel drive, manual car these days?So what has this got to do with construction? Well, if you want to get old cars off the road, what about the old trucks and construction equipment around the place? Arguably, the difference in economy and emissions between old and new trucks and plant is significantly greater than for cars, and this gear would normally operate for a lot more hours than most cars would, and burn a lot more fuel.So should we be getting a posse together and putting a bounty on all old trucks and earthmoving equipment – and for that matter, farm tractors, lawn mowers and so on?If I was driving to work every day or had to regularly drive long distances, there’s no doubt that the Sunny would be long gone. Part of its longevity is that it has averaged around only 10,000km per year for its 29-year life. If I had bought a new car every five years, it would have been wasteful and much more expensive. The other thing is I’ve always made sure the Sunny was roadworthy and that maintenance was done at the first sign of a problem.There are some similarities with trucks and earthmoving gear. There are some applications where a plant item is needed, but it is not required to work day in, day out. Take a look at many country contractors. They generally have more machines than operators and some machines can be parked up for weeks at a time. There isn’t a Coates Hire shop around the corner and at times the need might be only very short term, so hire isn’t a practical option and keeping an older piece of plant in the fleet is the only real answer. For really resourceful owners, there’s the possibility of converting an old piece of plant to suit another purpose, where either that item can’t be bought off the shelf or it would be prohibitively expensive. The best part is that many of the contractor solutions provide considerable savings over past methods and in many instances provide OHS benefits by reducing manual labour.It’s easy to make decisions for the urban population where you have continuity of work, a generally high level of public spending and a broad base of industry. But if you’re in a remote rural community, earthmoving is probably one of three or four businesses that you run to make ends meet, most maintenance work you have to do yourself, there is limited capacity to pay and the community is drought-affected for large periods of time, so any work is kept to a necessity.That doesn’t mean that safety issues should be compromised, but these are the people who get bugger all spent on their roads, most of which are unsealed; they have to truck water in on a regular basis and if they have sewerage treatment, it is not to tertiary standards; and they do not have the same access to telecommunications as their city cousins, but fly under the radar because statistically they are unimportant (95% coverage by population can miss an awful lot of land area). Perhaps their greatest dream is that a major resource deposit will be found near them so that roads and water become important, and the local economy might pick up and generate more regular work. And perhaps their greatest protection at the moment is that if they aren’t quite doing things by the book, they are too remote for anyone to care. But realistically, for non-safety issues, there is surely a case for concessions on equipment doing low annual hours. In the middle of nowhere, where there’s not a lot of equipment around and the greatest emissions are coming out of farm animals, what is the harm done in repairing rather than replacing, where the embedded energy in building a new machine is out of proportion to any saving that might be made in replacing an old machine doing low hours with a new one doing the same? When will we see a national leader doing a ground-level tour of the remote areas of his own country and experiencing reality first-hand, rather than getting on a jet to give world leaders a slice of Australian wisdom? Watching Australia at the movies or The Farmer Wants a Wife on the telly hardly qualifies as a substitute.

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