Melbourne plans extravaganza for NYE

Fireworks, loud music and human gridlock: for many, New Year’s Eve is the party of the year.

More than half a million people are expected to pour into the city on Wednesday for what Premier Dan Andrews and lord mayor Robert Doyle have promised will be an “extravaganza”.

“Anywhere you can see the skyline of the city, you will be able to see the fireworks of the city,” Cr Doyle said. He expected about 100,000 at Yarra Park alone to watch the family fireworks at 9.30pm.

The city and surrounds will offer parties for all tastes, ranging from the burlesque of the Mad Hatter’s Ball, to be held at St Brigid’s Parish Hall in Fitzroy, to prayer at a special service at the Catch the Fire Ministries’ Apostolic Centre in Hallam.

Bimbo Deluxe manager Brendan Kenner said the Brunswick Street institution and its south-of-the-river counterpart Lucky Coq will host a “no frills” night to cater for “those that see New Year’s Eve as something that’s a little over-rated, a bit full-on and intense”.

For those seeking a more solitary New Year’s Eve, the Melbourne Shyness and Social Anxiety Meetup group will be watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show from 7.30pm at the Astor. The organiser of the meetup group did not respond to emails for comment.

If you have the $650 spare to attend Vue de Monde’s New Year’s event atop the Rialto, you may look down on a crowd topping 550,000 while you eat herring and drink 1993 Chateau d’Yquem.

For a mere $400 per person, you could catch an Edwardian-era steam yacht for a cruise on the bay. Drinks and finger food included. Or, for $290 a couple, you could rise above the rabble for a late-night high tea at the Hotel Windsor.

Party centres will be organised at the city’s four corners: Docklands, King’s Domain, Treasury Gardens and Flagstaff Gardens. These will play host to music and entertainment, as well as a digital countdown to the year’s final seconds.

Victoria Police will take to the streets, the skies, the waterways, the roads and public transport networks, “to keep the extravaganza as safe as possible for everyone”, Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan said.

“We will have a big contingency of uniform members, plainclothes police officers and a lot of our specialist capability to ensure that we can actually deal with anything that comes up,” she said.

“We don’t want people to wake up in 2015 with something worse than a hangover, which could be fines for drunk in a public place, $590, or fines for drunk and disorderly, $758.”

More than 60 suburban rail stations would remain open and patrolled until 7am on New Year’s Day, marking a first for Victoria, Ms Nolan said.

However, city loop railway stations including Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament will close at 11.45pm to avoid the problem of passengers trying to board trains that would arrive full from Southern Cross and Flinders Street stations, which will remain open.

In light of Australia’s heightened terror environment, Ms Nolan said Victoria Police had conducted rigorous risk and security assessments for New Year’s Eve festivities.

“We certainly have well and truly gone into that because of recent events,” she said. “We’re very confident about the arrangements and I think that Melburnians and the rest of Victorians will come out in numbers just because that’s just the sort of people we are.”

Why New Year’s resolutions work

Why New Year’s resolutions work. Illustration: Simon Letch.New Year’s resolutions are ridiculous.

Think about it. People who want to change their behaviours decide to change their behaviours and then all do so at once at midnight. But if they really wanted to change their behaviours they would do it of their own accord, without waiting.

At least that’s what anyone who has ever studied economics has been taught. People are meant to be straightforward, literally single-minded.

But we’re not, and the success of New Year’s resolutions proves it. That’s right, success. Because despite all the jibes, the truth is that New Year’s resolutions work, and work far better than the alternative of simply deciding to change behaviour and then changing it.

The reasons why give us an insight into what it means to be human and into why many of us are never quite sure who we are.

Here’s the evidence, assembled by United States psychologist John Norcross. In the lead-up to New Year’s Eve 1995 he and a team from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania phoned hundreds of Americans at random and asked whether they were planning to make a specific measurable resolutions at midnight or whether they weren’t but still had measurable goals they would like to achieve.

Half a year later an impressive 46 per cent of those who had made resolutions claimed to be meeting their goals, compared to only 4 per cent of those who had not.

Conceding that self-reported success might be exaggerated, he said his findings should be seen “in a comparative context – compared to what”.

“In this case, the success rate of resolutions is approximately 10 times higher than the success rate of adults desiring to change their behaviour but not making a resolution.”

His finding has been replicated repeatedly: resolutions work. And it suggests that rather than being single-minded, as economists have traditionally believed, many of us are better thought of as having at least two minds, each fighting for control. One might be the saver, the other the spender; one the lifter, the other the leaner; one the dieter, the other the eater.

Economist Richard Thaler had his epiphany when he invited a group of graduate students to his house for dinner. While he was cooking he brought out a bowl of cashews.

“We started devouring them,” he later explained. “I could see that our appetites were in danger. After a while I hid the bowl in the kitchen. Everyone thanked me.”

And then it hit him. He was being thanked by graduate economists. They wouldn’t be thanking him at all if they really believed human beings were rational. “After all,” he recalled in his biography, “if we wanted to stop eating cashews, we could have done that at any time.”

Economics has traditionally explained away what appear to be two separate selves by saying each of us is one self with stable preferences moderated by a discount rate. Because we care most about the present we “discount” whatever good or bad things are likely to happen in the future when comparing them to the good or bad things we are facing now. We are said to have a constant discount rate of about 8 per cent per year.

But the explanation doesn’t stand up. Rather than being constant, our discount rate seems to climb the closer we get to the choice we have to make.

Ask someone today to choose between working seven hours on April 1 or eight hours on April 15 and that person will almost certainly choose the easier day on April 1. But ask again when April 1 arrives and the same person will almost certainly choose the harder day in a fortnight’s time.

The example comes from US economists Ted O’Donoghue and Matthew Rabin who in 1999 published a paper in the American Economic Review eviscerating the traditional idea of a constant discount rate and proposing instead a model of two selves in which the first was concerned only about the present (always wanting to put off anything unpleasant) and the second was concerned about where that would lead.

The two fight it out. There’s no single “self” always in command.

If they are right it explains the success of resolutions – they are a tool the long-term self can use to trap the short-term self into acting.

And it explains why certain types of resolutions are more likely to succeed than others – those that are specific and are made in public with no room for backing out.

John F. Kennedy did it most famously in 1962 with his commitment to send a man to moon “before this decade is out” and just as effectively a year earlier declaring that the US would regard any attack on West Berlin “as an attack upon us all”.

In both he was influenced by Thomas Schelling, an adviser to President Truman who later won the Nobel Prize in Economics and probably invented the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction, which against all odds has kept the world free of nuclear attacks for seven decades.

His insight was that closing off options can be empowering. The US was formidable when it declared that it would send a man to the moon no matter what, frightening when it declared it would defend Berlin no matter what and terrifying when it declared it would respond to nuclear force with nuclear force no matter what.

His advice for tonight is to eschew vague resolutions and go for absolutes: “Just as it may be easier to ban nuclear weapons from the battlefield in toto than through carefully graduated specifications on their use, zero is a more enforceable limit on cigarettes or chewing gum than some flexible quantitative ration.”

And say it out loud. Lock yourself in. Surprise yourself.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Twitter: @1petermartin

AirAsia flight QZ8501: ‘Unique weather’ may have caused plane crash, says CEO

Bodies pulled from AirAsia wreckageThe passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501

The AirAsia chief executive whose plane crashed on Sunday killing 155 passengers and seven crew has told Indonesian President Joko Widodo he believes the blame can be put squarely on bad weather.

CEO Tony Fernandes said his company would pay an immediate advance of money to families bereaved by the tragedy, and that AirAsia would not run away from its future obligations to them.

Mr Joko said his priority was to get the bodies and wreckage of flight QZ8501 off the bottom of the Karimata Strait as quickly as possible so victims can be identified and returned to their families. He has instructed search and rescue agencies to deploy all available ships and aircraft to speed the task.

Speaking of the families of the passengers and crew, he said: “We also feel the loss from this tragedy”.

Six bodies were recovered before night fell on Tuesday, and the grim task will recommence at first light on Wednesday.

Mr Fernandes said the “black box” flight cockpit recorder, which should provide crucial clues as to the cause of the tragedy, had not yet been located. He was confident that it would be.

While saying it would be “improper” to speculate on a cause, Mr Fernandes said he had spoken with the Indonesian President “about some of the information that we [AirAsia] have about what could have gone wrong”.

He then added that there were “some very unique weather conditions” in the area at the time.

“We cannot make any assumptions about what went wrong. All I can say is that the weather in south-east Asia is bad at the moment,” he said.

Referring to floods in Malaysia and Thailand, he suggested that climate change may have played a part in more dangerous conditions for air travel: “There’s a lot of rain, so that is something we need to look at carefully because the weather is changing. The weather is changing”.

Standing outside the Surabaya airport facility set up to cater for about 200 grieving families, Mr Fernandes said AirAsia would advance money “straight away” to the victims’ families, and “will not run away from any of our obligations or hide  behind any conventions”. The grief stricken families, who had only hours earlier learned about the certain deaths of their loved ones, were “an amazing group”.

“Many of them say they will continue to fly on AirAsia,” he said.

The airline’s bookings were still strong and he would “continue our business as normal”. There had been no suggestion from Mr Joko about ramifications against the company in Indonesia, and it was too early to talk about operational changes as a result of the company’s first crash in 13 years of flying.

“I have full confidence in my fleet and crew … in our operation in Indonesia and elsewhere,” Mr Fernandes said.

Mr Joko said “ships and helicopters, from the sea and air, will conduct a massive search” of the area.

The President thanked the search and rescue crews and also other countries that had provided assistance, including Australia.

My fitness wristband took over my life

Handy companion: But I feel like it’s watching me all the time. Photo: iStockBlame it on the boredom of Heathrow airport. I had just disembarked from a long-haul flight and I was in what Oprah might call  “a vulnerable place” – sleep-deprived and guilt-ridden over all those delicious white dinner rolls I had consumed on the way over. Reader, I had not spared the butter. Neither had the complimentary wine cart escaped my attentions. And there seemed to be no way to amuse myself for five hours without spending money.

Whatever the psychological cocktail that led me there, I decided it would be a good idea to buy one of those fitness tracker wrist-band things so trendy they have been personally endorsed by Rupert Murdoch.

And since then, life hasn’t been the same.

These wristbands are the latest technological step in the “self-quantifying movement”, the contemporary craze for accumulating and analysing data on yourself – from daily calorie counts, to steps walked and energy burned, to your mood and sleep patterns.

Mine was black and slim, and fit snugly around my right wrist. I quickly began wearing my handbags on my left side to accommodate the hand-swinging action it needed to pick up my activity. This was the first in many ways in which the wristband began to control my life.

The gadget was paired with an app on my smartphone, which could magically tell how many steps I had taken that day, how many hours I had slept at night and whether I had taken vigorous exercise. It wanted me to take 10,000 steps a day and I quickly became its slave, walking unnecessarily and even jiggling more in an attempt to please it.

The app could also be paired with a calorie counter that told my master how much I had consumed in a day. The omniscient creature would then calculate whether I had arrived at an energy deficit. If I had, my wristband would communicate warm congratulations. Sometimes it even vibrated in approval, and I would feel a surge of disproportionate pride which was actually a strong signal that the relationship had become unhealthy.

Soon, the fitness tracker went from fun gadget to panopticon. I began to believe it saw everything, and the things it didn’t see – for example, if I accidentally left it at home while off for a run – seemed pointless if it couldn’t record them.

As with all technology, my black manacle-master is fast becoming out-dated. I find myself eyeing others on the market that can measure my heart rate, or tell me exactly how many hours I have left to live on earth.

But the truth is I am too frightened to upgrade. It will know.

BHP workers win jobs back after breaches

For the second time in as many weeks, BHP Billiton mine workers sacked for breaching safety rules have won their jobs back, after the Fair Work Commission ruled firing the men was unduly harsh.

Harley Schofield and Mark Winterton were sacked in March from their jobs at Broadmeadow Mine Services, which employs workers at the BHP BIlliton-Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) mine at Broadmeadow.

They were dismissed after breaching one of BMA’s seven life-saving rules at the site, relating to guarding against falls and falling objects.

The decision followed a similar case, where two workers at a BMA site won their jobs back after the commission ruled it was unduly harsh to sack the workers for using their phones on site in breach of safety rules.

Mr Winterton, a fitter, and Mr Schofield, a diesel technician, had worked for BMA for five years and about 18 months respectively and neither had any safety or disciplinary blemishes on their records.

Both were aware of BMA’s policies on working from heights, which required steps to mitigate hazards, such as the use of work baskets or harnesses.

However, the pair, with a manager, used the roof of a mine vehicle, known as a drifty, as a work platform to carry out maintenance.

Mr Winterton told the commission he had done this before and believed it was accepted practice, partly because he believed the roof platform was lower than 1.8 metres.

A more senior manager arrived at the site and demanded work cease. Following an investigation Mr Winterton and Mr Schofield’s supervisor resigned.

The mine’s senior HR business partner, Kristi Gooch, found their conduct “reckless and grossly negligent”, on the basis that the men knew the rules and failed to identify a hazard that a competent mineworker would have recognised.

The company said it had lost faith in the men to perform their jobs competently and without endangering themselves or others and their employment was terminated.

The men told the commission they had struggled since to find employment.

Commission vice-president Adam Hatcher found the dismissals had a valid reason but were unduly harsh because a manager had proposed the use of the drifty and it was also not obvious that the 195cm-high roof platform was above the 180cm trigger height for BMA’s rules.

It was also well below the statutory guide for working at heights of 240cm, Mr Hatcher found, adding that other employees had breached the rules without being fired.

He ordered the two men should get their jobs back but not get compensated for lost wages, given their conduct was negligent.

A BHP spokeswoman said BMA’s “first and foremost consideration” was the health and safety of employees.

“We welcome the opportunity to continually improve our health and safety policies and procedures, and will take feedback by the Fair Work Commission into account as part of this ongoing process,” she said.