The really, really dopey country

Posted by Allan Whiting

Back in 2015 I ran a blog entitled 'Living in the Dopey Country'. I didn't think it could get more stupid than that, but i was wrong. In 2017 Australia is even more stupid than it was in 2015.

We're seriously helping build a vast coal mine in Queensland that will be run by a mob that is best described as shady and is already committed to shelving its profits offshore. 

The nation's domestic gas and electricity power supply was privatised and we were told it would create competition and prices would fall. Guess what?

Even worse, while the rest of the world is helping people put in solar systems, to ease the burden on power stations and to reduce emissions, most Australian governments actively discourage solar power, saying it harms the base-load power suppliers.

How embarrassing is it that Tesla's Elon Musk has taken pity on us stupid Aussies and offered to solve South Australia's power issues.

We're also in the process of letting foreign natural gas miners frack under our farmland, threatening artesian water, so they can export it to make huge profits while we pay through the nose for what should be our right.

Australia is the only gas exporting country that doesn't have a domestic supply quarantine. Even worse, we've geared the export deal royalties to gas company profits, not to export volume, like sensible countries do.

We're blessed with inland open spaces that could easily host vast solar arrays and and wind farms, to produce cheap power, but we're too stupid to do it. When one state tries to increase its renewable energy system it gets sabotaged by the power companies, with the Federal Government's blessing.

Every government in the developed world  - except Australia - and even some developing countries, have subsidies that encourage the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles. The electric vehicle revolution is coming at a rapid pace, but it's bypassing Australia.

The stupidity of letting foreign investors buy up our land and housing is partially seen in ridiculously high real estate prices in our major cities. But we can't blame foreigners for stupid laws that reward some people for buying investment properties and penalise those who simply want to buy their own house.

No wonder voters are turning to the loony fringe in frustration, but politicians are too stupid to see what's happening.

Hopefully, we've reached our level of incompetence and the next generation will remedy these ills. However, watching them walk into lamp posts or drive their cars over cliffs while texting leaves me in doubt...

VW emissions scandal widens

Posted by Allan Whiting

In my September 2015 blog I suggested that Volkswagen may have been premature in saying 'sorry' for the fact that it had sold some half-million diesel-powered cars in the USA that didn’t comply with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws.

Since then, it has become apparent that VW's emissions violations are much greater than that: at least 11 million illegal vehicles around the world, including Audi, Skoda and Porsche models.

In a well-publicised September 2015 statement, Volkswagen’s then chief executive officer, Martin Winterkorn, said:
"I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.
"We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case."

He resigned not long after making this statement. 'Sorry' is only the beginning for VW.

Since September, not enough has been done by VW and many government agencies around the world have been threatening action. VW has said it will fix all the illegal engines, but as yet there's no clear means by which this can be done.

The way VW has handled this scandal will no doubt serve as a 'how not to do PR' exercise in university courses all around the world.

The USA's Department of Justice has finally lost patience and on December 4, 2016, sued Volkswagen AG in the Federal Court, seeking around $US18 billion in penalties over its acknowleged cheating on emissions tests, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The lawsuit specifically seeks more than $32,000 in penalties per violating vehicle. In this US lawsuit the offence is alleged to have occured in 580,000 sub-two-litre diesel-powered vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement official Cynthia Giles said that vehicle recall talks haven’t resulted in  an acceptable way forward. Worse, VW seems to have obstructed investigation into likely anomalises in emissions from its three-litre V6 diesel.

“The United States’ efforts to learn the truth about the emission exceedances and other irregularities related to the 3.0L Subject Vehicles, including whether VW had committed the violations of federal law alleged herein, were impeded and obstructed by material omissions and misleading information provided by VW entities including at least Volkswagen AG and Audi AG ,” the lawsuit says.

“Volkswagen will continue to work cooperatively with the EPA on developing remedies to bring the…vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible,” VW said.

In addition to the EPA-instigated civil court action in the USA there's a possibility of criminal prosecution as well. The US Attorney in Detroit, Barbara McQuade, said this initial action marks only the first stage of the US Government’s efforts.

Volkswagen faces a further widening of the scandal after a European admission that hundreds of thousands of new cars from its 2016 range - including petrol engines - have 'implausible' CO2 ratings and could contain illegal software.

“We will overcome this crisis, and VW will emerge stronger from this situation,” Bernd Osterloh, the VW works chief, told Süddeustche Zeitung newspaper.

VW has taken a €6.7bn provision as a result of the scandal, which wiped billions off the value of the company and caused it to slump to its first quarterly loss in more than a decade.

Some European analysts think the total cost of the problem could total more than €30bn and VW is looking to secure some €20bn (£14bn) in short-term loans to get through the crisis.

In the backgrund the EU Bank is threatening to recall loans previously made to VW to finance emissions technology.

The company's previously spotless reputation for reliability and quality has also been tarnished and global sales are falling.

But despite the huge bill for the recall and declining sales, VW says it is confident it will not have to cut jobs.

“I do believe we can keep the core workforce,” Herbert Diess, the head of the Volkswagern brand, said.

The VW Group, which owns SEAT, Porsche, Audi and Skoda brands, is offering $1000 to each of the almost 500,000 American car owners affected by its emissions scandal. That has enraged European owners, who are organising several class actions against VW.

 

'Oh what a tangled web we weave...'

The VW emissions crisis had its beginnings back in 2005, when development engineer Wolfgang Bernhard left Daimler AG for VW. His engine design for VW was the EA189 and it used BlueTec (AdBlue) technology developed by Daimler and Robert Bosch GmbH. VW management insisted the engine be produced without the need for the patented BlueTec urea injection and Bernhard left VW in 2007

It seems that VW's development engineers were told to make the engine work without urea injection, but they couldn't, so that's where the cheating software came into play. The message from top management was apparently: 'make it work or be fired'.

Making these engines compaliant with US EPA requirements can be done in either of two ways: retrofit an AdBlue system, or cut back on combustion temperature. An AdBlue system retrofit would be ideal, preserving performance and fuel consumption, but is unlikely to be practical. The second route, which is probably the 'fix' that VW is contemplating, will reduce performance and increase fuel consumption.

This diesel fiasco is unlike the Toyota 'sticking accelerator' drama that wasn't premeditated. The Volkswagen situation is the result of management-encouraged law-breaking.


VW Group dealerships around the world are offering trade-in incentives and cash discounts in an effort to move stock, but illegal vehicles cannot be sold until they're rectified.

Violations of this type have happened before, but not on such a scale. In 2001, heavy truck diesel engine makers secured some real-world emissions testing concessions from the US Justice Department and the EPA.

This real-world test revision process started in 1998, when Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Mack, Navistar-International, Renault and Volvo were found guilty of violating the US Clean Air Act (CAA) by using electronic fuel injection software that ‘defeated’ emission controls.

‘Defeat’ software alters an engine's pollution control equipment, allowing the engine to meet EPA emission standards during specific testing, but modifies the emission control system during normal driving.

Such an engine ‘knows’ when it’s running on the EPA's 20-minute Federal Test Procedure cycle, but when the engine is running on the highway, it can produce higher nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbon (HC) and particulate matter (Pm) emissions.

The CAA prohibits a manufacturer from selling a motor vehicle engine equipped with a device designed to defeat the engine's emission control system.

 

Heavy diesl experience

Back in 1998, US engine makers agreed to spend a collective one billion dollars to settle the pollution charges, including an $83.4 million civil penalty. In addition they agreed to comply with stricter environmental requirements that were brought forward from their original scheduling.

However, the engine makers set about gathering enough real-world test experience to counter-sue.

In 2001, five separate lawsuits were filed against the US EPA by the US Engine Manufacturers’ Association (EMA) and several individual trucking industry entities that made engines in addition to trucks.

Each of those lawsuits challenged the legality and technological feasibility of certain engine emission control standards in EPA regulations. These standards were called ‘Not-To-Exceed’ (NTE) requirements.

In its challenge, the EMA stated that to determine whether an engine meets a primary emission standard, engines were tested and assessed using the standardized Federal Test Procedure 20-minute emissions laboratory test.

NTE, in contrast, had no specified test procedure and applied over an almost infinite number of test conditions. This, in the engine manufacturers’ view, made it impossible to ensure total compliance with NTE requirements, because there was no practical way to test an engine under all conceivable conditions.

This allegation challenged the legality of NTE.

Heavy diesel engine makers proved the point that in light-engine-load and light-accelerator situations, low brake mean effective pressure (BMEP) made piston-ring oil control very difficult, causing inevitably higher burnt-oil, hydrocarbon (HC) emissions.

As a result, the EPA had to modify its NTE parameters to allow for real-world driving conditions. The original NTE engine emissions graphs were redrawn, with ‘carved-out’ sections that allowed for transitory higher emissions in typical on-road situations.

This precedent is unlikely to aid VW, because that real-world-test battle has been lost and won. Current EPA testing has the force of law behind it and, unlike the EMA litigants, VW would appear to be on its own. Allegations that other vehicle makers were in violation of EPA targets haven't been proved.

OTA will keep monitoring the situation, but In the meantime, if you're not trading in a VW you should be able to get a great deal on an Amarok!

Living in the Dopey Country

Posted by Allan Whiting

I've just returned to civilisation after a month touring in the Outback: long distances on dusty roads and tracks providing ample reflection time.

I left home on Anzac Day and couldn't help wondering how those young men who made the ultimate sacrifice would view the current state of our nation.

We may have once been called the Lucky Country, but now we're more aptly titled the Dopey Country.

We sign free-trade deals with larger, more powerful nations and get handsomely screwed; pull out citrus trees by the thousands so we can import Californian lemons; let our precious resources get pillaged by overseas corporations for peanuts and watch our productive and residential land get sold to foreign investors.

Let's imagine a scenario where conflict in the Middle East and the South China Sea closes the shipping lanes to and from Australia. Now we have no choice but to be self-sufficient.

The Governor General forms a one-party Save Australia Government, headed by the very few politicians with brains, including Nick Xenophon and Julie Bishop, and the GG also gets Greg Combet and Lindsay Tanner out of the political wilderness.

State governments are simultaneously reduced in size and interstate legal differences are eliminated – especially those covering the now-critical manufacturing and transport industries.

The new Federal Government, in stark contrast to those of recent times, is committed to running the country, not amusing itself with trifling side issues and party-political rubbish that everyone is sick of hearing.

Now the fun starts.

Overseas-owned Australian land is resumed.

Sacked politicians’ entitlements are abolished and Fatso is forced to get a proper job, like he’s been suggesting everyone else should do.

Nationalising grocery chains allows profits to be redirected to farmers, letting them hire help like they used to do before ‘free’ trade.

Local manufacturing - downsized by successive governments since World War II - is ramped up and priorities are food, clothing, vehicles, powertrains, tyres and fuel. Real jobs, not mythical government-spin jobs, are created.

Although governments have let local truck, bodywork and trailer makers fight subsidised imports for many years without assistance, the nation is suddenly grateful that Kenworth, Iveco and Volvo/Mack have some truck manufacturing ability and that our struggling bodybuilders and trailer makers can still produce the goods.

Sure, axles, brakes and suspension bits have been largely imported, but there's enough skill and machinery left to allow us to copy these designs. Engine production is trickier, but three sizes are selected and the necessary manufacturing equipment is built.

The Holden, Ford and Toyota plants are also nationalized, because the Big Three have already said they don’t want them anymore. Existing, excellent, Australian-made cars continue to be built and development of a much-needed 4WD wagon, ute and light truck range is begun with urgency.

In no time unemployment vanishes, because we’re a self-sufficient country once more.

Natural gas export ships, in port when the balloon goes up, are seized and used to transport liquid gas to Australia's capital cities, where it's sent to service stations on all major roads. Petrol and diesel engines are rapidly converted to LNG operation, using existing technology.

Coal is converted to lubricating oil and diesel fuel, using the Fischer-Tropsch process that the Germans used in WWII. Renewable energy projects, including the windmills so hated by disgraced ex-PM Abbott, get top priority.

Iron ore mine trains are shifted to the interstate rail network, shouldering much of the line haul burden by using our tragically underemployed rail lines, and road trains are allowed on all of the nation's four-lane highways.

It’s a shame that it takes a global conflict to stimulate national self-sufficiency, but the Diggers would be proud.

What about Burke and Wills

Posted by Allan Whiting

We've just driven on the 'roads' around Innamincka, doing prototype tyre testing.

We chose the area because mining vehicles and the contractors who supply the Cooper Basin gas and petroleum endeavours have destroyed the roads we used to love touring. We were looking for the stoniest, worst-abused roads in Australia and we found them.

When you're driving a 4WD on roads that have been corrugated by heavy vehicles it's very difficult to find a safe, comfortable cruising speed. Light vehicles make short-wave corrugations, but heavy vehicles make long-wave ones.

We saw plenty of evidence of light vehicles literally falling to pieces on these roads, with the worst example being a sheared-off tow-ball.

There's been a recent announcement that the South Australian and Commonwealth Governments may tar-seal the entire Strzelecki Track, but the SA Transport Minister made no mention of the historical significance of the area; it's all about roads for mining revenue.

Ask school kids to name an early Australian exporation effort and I'll bet they'll say: "Burke and Wills". Although this ill-conceived and poorly-led expedition ended with the deaths of its leaders it has passed into Australian folklore. Near Innamincka are the famous 'Dig Tree' and the graves of Burke and Wills, 'protected' by the Innamincka Regional Reserve.

It's a Heritage Listed Site that's lost the feeling of remoteness. I can't imagine an Aboriginal Sacred Site being treated in the way the Burke and Wills historic site is being mismanaged.

When the Strzelecki was a sand track through arid country you gained an impression of the despair that must have been felt by Burke and Wills when they arrived at Cooper Creek and discovered they'd just missed the southward departure of their colleagues.

I get a similar feeling of despair today, after duelling with road trains on stony, smashed-up roads that are hideous scars on the landscape. It's not the truckies' fault: the ones I spoke to hate the bloody roads.

Innamincka used to be a welcoming oasis, but now it's a road-train parking lot and the historic pub and general store are fringed by unsightly accommodation huts.

Australians with more than half a brain know that our resources are being exploited by local and overseas mining interests and, like the boys who loved that friendly girl down the road, when they've got what they want they'll be off.

However, while they're at it in the Cooper Basin they're making a nice old mess of what used to be pristine desert country.

What's needed are separate corridors for mining supply and tourist vehicles. Let the mining contractors have a bitumen road and give us a dirt tourist road, out of sight of the disfiguring exploration activites. There's enough land - it's a big country, you know.

Australia - according to Douglas Adams

Posted by Allan Whiting

This is how Douglas Adams, the authour of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, viewed Australia and Australians:

Australia is a very confusing place, taking up a large amount of the bottom half of the planet. It is recognizable from orbit because of many unusual features, including what at first looks like an enormous bite taken out of its southern edge; a wall of sheer cliffs which plunge into the girting sea Geologists assure us that this is simply an accident of geomorphology, but they still call it the "Great Australian Bight", proving that not only are they covering up a more frightening theory but they can't spell either.

 

The first of the confusing things about Australia is the status of the place. Where other landmasses and sovereign lands are classified as continent, island or country, Australia is considered all three. Typically, it is unique in this.

The second confusing thing about Australia is the animals. They can be divided into three categories: Poisonous, Odd, and Sheep.

It is true that of the 10 most poisonous arachnids on the planet, Australia has 9 of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that of the 9 most poisonous arachnids, Australia has all of them. However, there are few snakes, possibly because the spiders have killed them all.

But even the spiders won't go near the sea. Any visitors should be careful to check inside boots (before putting them on), under toilet seats (before sitting down) and generally everywhere else. A stick is very useful for this task.

The last confusing thing about Australia is the inhabitants.

 

A short history: Sometime around 40,000 years ago some people arrived in boats from the north. They ate all the available food, and a lot of them died. The ones who survived learned respect for the balance of nature, man's proper place in the scheme of things, and spiders. They settled in and spent a lot of the intervening time making up strange stories.

Then, around 200 years ago, Europeans arrived in boats from the north. More accurately, European convicts were sent, with a few deranged people in charge. They tried to plant their crops in autumn (failing to take account of the reversal of the seasons), ate all their food, and a lot of them died.

About then the sheep arrived, and have been treasured ever since. It is interesting to note here that the Europeans always consider themselves vastly superior to any other race they encounter, since they can lie, cheat, steal and litigate (marks of a civilized culture they say), whereas all the Aboriginals can do is happily survive being left in the middle of a vast red-hot desert, equipped with a stick.

Eventually, the new lot of people stopped being Europeans on 'extended holiday' and became Australians. The changes are subtle, but deep, caused by the mind-stretching expanses of nothingness and eerie quiet, where a person can sit perfectly still and look deep inside themselves to the core of their essence, their reasons for being, and the necessity of checking inside their boots every morning for fatal surprises. They also picked up the most finely tuned sense of irony in the world, and the Aboriginal gift for making up stories. Be warned.

There is also the matter of the beaches. Australian beaches are simply the nicest and best in the world, although anyone actually venturing into the sea will have to contend with sharks, stinging jellyfish, stonefish (a fish which sits on the bottom of the sea, pretends to be a rock and has venomous barbs sticking out of its back that will kill just from the pain) and surfboarders. However, watching a beach sunset is worth the risk.

As a result of all this hardship, dirt, thirst and wombats, you would expect Australians to be a dour lot.   Instead, they are genial, jolly, cheerful and always willing to share a kind word with a stranger. Faced with insurmountable odds and impossible problems, they smile disarmingly and look for a stick. Major engineering feats have been performed with sheets of corrugated iron, string and mud.

Alone of all the races on earth, they seem to be free from the 'Grass is greener on the other side of the fence' syndrome, and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence. They call the land "Oz" or "Godzone" (a verbal contraction of "God's Own Country"). The irritating thing about this is they may be right.

There are some traps for the unsuspecting traveller, though.

Do not, under any circumstances, suggest that the beer is imperfect, unless you are comparing it to another kind of Australian beer.

Do not wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Religion and Politics are fairly safe topics of conversation (Australians don't care too much about either) but Sport is a minefield.

The only correct answer to "So, howdya like our country, eh?" is "Best (insert your own regional swear word here) country in the world!”

It is very likely that, on arriving, some cheerful Australians will 'adopt' you on your first night, and take you to a pub where Australian beer is served. Despite the obvious danger, do not refuse. It is a form of initiation rite. You will wake up late the next day with an astonishing hangover, a foul taste in your mouth, and wearing strange clothes.

Your hosts will usually make sure you get home, and waive off any legal difficulties with "It's his first time in Australia, so we took him to the pub," to which the policeman will sagely nod and close his notebook. Be sure to tell the story of these events to every other Australian you encounter, adding new embellishments at every stage and noting how strong the beer was. Thus you will be accepted into this unique cultu

 

Typical Australian sayings:- 

G'Day.       She'll be right, mate.       No Worries.

 

 Tips to Surviving Australia:

Don't ever put your hand down a hole for any reason WHATSOEVER.

The beer is stronger than you think, regardless of how strong you think it is.

Always carry a stick.

Air-conditioning is imperative.

Do not attempt to use Australian slang unless you are a trained linguist and extremely good in a fist fight.

Wear thick socks.

Take good maps. Stopping to ask directions only works when there are people nearby.

If you leave the urban areas, carry several litres of water with you at all times, or you will die.

Even in the most embellished stories told by Australians, there is always a core of truth that it is unwise to ignore.

 

How to identify Australians:

They waddle when they walk due to the 53 expired petrol discount vouchers stuffed in their wallet or purse.

They pronounce Melbourne as "Mel-bin".

They think it makes perfect sense to decorate highways with large fibreglass bananas, prawns and sheep.

They think "Woolloomooloo" is a perfectly reasonable name for a place, that "Wagga Wagga" can be abbreviated to "Wagga" but "Woy Woy" can't be called "Woy".

Their hamburgers will contain beetroot.   Apparently it's a must-have.

They don’t think it's summer until the steering wheel is too hot to handle.

Will react in horror when companies try to market "Anzac cookies".

They believe that all train timetables are works of fiction.

 

 

Let's slow down the electronic race

Posted by Allan Whiting

We all have our favourite electronics-failure horror stories and here at Outback Travel Australia we've had our fair share of dramas, with our own vehicles and with road-test machinery.

Self-locking 4WDs are great fun: we had to use a two-metre length of eight-gauge fencing wire to tease up a door lock button in a Jeep, after it self-locked with the key in the ignition. We forced the wire through a gap between the tailgate glass and its frame.

That couldn't work for the poor bloke who lost his Discovery key at Purni Bore in the Simpson Desert. After a search for the key turned up nothing, he needed a tilt-tray to get the vehicle to a Land Rover dealer and there aren't many of them in the bush anymore. Cost thousands and ruined his holiday.

We had drama with our own Discovery 3 and when we sold it we warned the new owner what he might face. Its favourite trick was losing power on one particular hill near our home. After a stop and engine restart it was fine again. It did this from new; Land Rover couldn't fix it and refused warranty on the problem after 100,000km.

There were other issues too, like the time the remote locking stopped working. The cause was flooding of the roof-lining-mounted sensor when the sunroof rain gutter drains blocked with dust. Land Rover fixed it, but an hour later, after rain, the new sensor died. Then they removed the blocked non-return valves at the base of the sunroof drain tubes - why not take the damn things out in the first place?

Let's not pick only on Land Rover. Lose both keys of a modern vehicle and you can be up for a new computer, as well as a set of keys. Pencil in hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for this exercise.

Our mate has a Mercedes-Benz ML and his horn stopped working. (The horn in the car.) No problem, said the dealer: just give us a couple of grand and we'll put on a nice new steering wheel! The horn failure can't be fixed any other way.

Get a dose of dodgy fuel in the tank of a modern, electronically-injected diesel 4WD and you'll not only be stranded, but up for thousands of dollars in repair bills that won't be covered by warranty.

Trigger an airbag release by hitting a 'roo and your vehicle will most likely be immobilised, where it is.

For those of us who venture into the semi-unknown the quirks of vehicle electronics are no joke. We think it's gone too far, too soon and some system redundancy or safeguards against a stranding need to be incorporated.

We're sure you all have electronics horror stories and if you want to share them, let us know.

Buy Australian wherever possible

Posted by Allan Whiting

In 2017, for the first time in its automotive history, Australia will not be able to produce a motor car.

Yes, we know that several truck makers claim 'Australian manufacture' but all the major mechanical components for these vehicles are imported.

However, Australia still makes many automotive parts and it's vital if we want keep any component manufacturing ability alive in this country we have to buy these items whenever possible.

In the case of 4WDs there are many opportunities to 'buy Australian' when shopping for accessories: ute trays, bars, snorkels, racks and wheels are obvious items. Also, there are Australian-made service items  - filters, springs, shock absorbers, brake pads and rotors - that meet or exceed original equipment manufacturers' standards.

Can we suggest you get into the habit of checking the origin of parts and components and buying local whrever possible, to help keep our Australian industries alive.

Individuals acting in unison can make a difference, as buyers of SPC Ardmona canned fruit proved, driving sales up 50-percent overnight.

Other countries are home-conscious when it comes to buying products. Check out the YouTube video called Million American Jobs Project and substitute 'Australia' whever you hear 'America'.

No more Australian-made vehicles

Posted by Allan Whiting

It's a sad day, but it was always going to happen. Globalisation dictates that production goes to the cheapest labour and infrastructure regions, and to those whose currency is virtually tied to the US dollar. Australia doesn't comply with any of these criteria.

On top of that, vehicle makers around the world are aggregating into fewer, larger organisations and that means excess production capacity.

In the New Order of world business a country of 22 million that's thousands of kilometres from major markets doesn't qualify to have any manufacturing businesses and that's where Australia is headed, if market forces are allowed to prevail: manufacturing oblivion.

We'll just become the 'mine of the world' and when iron ore demand falls away and coal burning is replaced by fusion reaction, we'll be broke.

The only way that situation can be changed is through goverment action. Australia's adoption of a 'level playing field' without protection for local businesses is theoretically efficient, but ignores the fact that in this respect we're on our own.

Other countries have various forms of protection for their own interests - by export subsidies or tariffs on imports - and if we don't reintroduce protection there'll be nothing left.

Why no OTA 4WD of the Year

Posted by Allan Whiting

We've been asked why we don't nominate a vehicle or a number of vehicles for some type of 4WD of the Year Award. The same suggestion has been put with regard to a camper trailer award.

The reason we don't is simple: testing a new 4WD or camper won't tell you anything about its reliability or longevity. Unfortunately, only time can allow judgement of those criteria.

I've been on many 4WD of the Year evaluation panels over the years, for different publications and there's always been the lingering doubt after the votes are cast: will this choice prove to be a good vehicle as the years of use roll by?

Unfortunately, over the years, other judges and I have voted for vehicles that proved to be less wonderful in the long term! That's why we don't have vehicle or camper of the year awards at Outback Travel Australia.

The only guidance we can offer 4WD and camper buyers is to analyse our test results and see if they align with their needs. The next factor to consider is the reputation and after-sales support of the maker.

How many airliners do you see pulled up at the boarding gate with L-plates or P-plates? Easy question, huh? How successful would a cut-price airline be; offering cheap flights operated by P-plate pilots?

Of course you never come across this situation, because pilots are trained by professional trainers and examined by professional examiners. They don't get to fly a plane full of passengers until they've proved they're really good at flying an aircraft and reacting to a series of simulated emergencies.

Contrast that situation with passenger vehicle driver training in Australia, where anyone can get a licence after instruction by a person who may have no professional training and isn't required to prove driving competence, let alone the skill to pass on correct techniques. A clear illustration of this obvious incompetence is behaviour at roundabouts, where nearly every driver thinks that giving way to the right is correct.

The NRMA's recent survey of 624 drivers found that 97 percent of them couldn't give 15 correct answers to 15 road rule questions!

Driver licence tests are a joke, as we all know, without the need for candidates to demonstrate any ability in defensive driving or in reacting to an emergency, such as skid.

Driving a vehicle on and off road is the most dangerous task most people will ever do, yet they're allowed to do it with a level of training that is totally inadequate. Driving should be taught as a school subject and examined as such in theory and practice.

A driver's licence is viewed as a right, but it should have to be earned, with a much higher level of skill and knowledge than is presently the case.