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Why backing the favourite can be a high risk strategy

By William York - posted Tuesday, 9 November 2010

3 November 2110

The Melbourne Cup

Dear Tom

It is sometime since I sent you a message through my time-warp bottle, but the running of the 250th Melbourne Cup reminded me that I should explain to you how Melbourne became the dominant city in Australia.

First I should say that the race itself was quite splendid. The crowds at the course are very much smaller than in your day but that is because of the remarkable development of three dimensional action-sports-cover. It is now possible to sit at home and with 3-D action binocular vision find yourself behind the jockey of your favourite horse.

So the young go to daytime discos with their communicators, the punters go to the turf for the feel of it and the rest of us have a holiday.


Anyway, the Cup is a major world-stopping event. About fifty years ago an Indian television mogul tried to get the running of the Cup moved to the early evening so that he could command one of the largest TV audiences on the planet. However the Australian Prime Minister intervened in the national interest so that we could all continue to have the afternoon off.

The reason Melbourne has attained its lead over other Australian cities is a fascinating story of science, technology and politics. In the early part of the twenty first century Australian politics was in turmoil. A Green fever had swept up the voters who responded to whatever was thought to be the present danger by wisely electing hung parliaments.

So there were years of minority governments, almost all led by women prime ministers and premiers. This so upset the Premier of West Australia that at one meeting where all the women were dressed in stylish trouser suits, he appeared wearing a kilt.

A consequence of this turmoil was an endless stream of inquiries where much store was put on expert opinion. In the swirl of claim and counter-claim of global warming, the CSIRO produced the results of computer modeling that showed Sydney Airport would almost certainly be inundated by a forecast rise in sea level.

The startling images that illustrated this evidently bore a resemblance to images of New York produced in a film for the disgraced and derided Al Gore. (Many of us now consider him much inferior as a novelist to his cousin Gore Vidal).

The then Prime Minister, who was not from NSW, seized on this prediction and through administrative processes starved Sydney Airport of any ability to expand. The next generation of 1,000 seat luxury airliners all had Melbourne as their prime destination. Investment bankers and those others used to flying at the front end of aircraft found Melbourne so attractive that over twenty years many business headquarters moved to Melbourne.


However in the 2030s, none of the CSIRO forecasts of the end of agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin, the flooding of coastal towns in Victoria or the Sydney airport runways sinking below the waves were showing any measureable signs of occurring.

There was a Royal Commission into the CSIRO which recommended its dissolution. Amongst the debris of a disgraced and disbanded organization was the computer code of the original climate modeling. Analysis showed that one numerical constant had been entered in error at ten times its correct value. This had led to the projected sea level rises that were five times larger then contemporary measurements suggested but not as extreme as those of Al Gore and a scientist, James Hansen.

However, the damage to Sydney was done. There were a subsequent interesting series of court cases brought by a now long forgotten subsidiary of the financial utility, the National Pacific Commonwealth and New Zealand Bank. They had bought the Sydney Airport in good faith and sued the Commonwealth and CSIRO who of course pointed to the disclaimer at the opening of all their reports:

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About the Author

William York likes to find the funny side of life. He used to write for BRW back in the late 1980's.

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