Queensland MP Andrew Laming argues for a jet ski in every home

THE jet ski: a modern parable, brought to you today by the World’s Troubles Forum (WTF).

Every so often history experiences scientific, technological or cultural events so significant that the world seems to shift slightly on its axis.

Think of things like the harnessing of fire, invention of the wheel or the printing press, the making of steel from iron ore, the advent of electricity and television, or the election of a US president with the IQ of a house brick.

The development of the jet ski is not one of those ground-breaking events, and yet this week the jet ski was elevated above all others as a line in the sand and important marker in the Australian social landscape.

The jet ski is the new test for inequality, and we have Queensland Coalition MP Andrew Laming to thank for it.

In response to federal Labor’s plan to “tackle inequality”, Dr Laming got all hot and bothered about the “politics of envy”, class warfare and the need for “choice” to keep the Oz dream alive, and produced the following – inequality is “staring over the fence and noticing another guy has a jet ski and you don’t have one”.

Ahem.

The world’s first jet skis were developed by people in the United Kingdom and Germany in the 1950s. I don’t know why. Maybe in the years after the war some veterans on both sides decided it would be useful to let off steam by annoying each other with noisy watercraft.

Who knows?

Anyway, both countries developed little watercraft in the 1950s that are regarded as the prototypes of the jet skis we know today. Australia is listed as a destination point for some of the 2000 200cc Vincent Amanda craft exported from the UK through that time. Possibly one of them is gathering dust at the back of a garage today, along with a whipper snipper that hasn’t worked since 2001, a mountain bike with a dodgy chain, and a leaf blower that’s only pulled out on special occasions – like at 7am after the next door neighbour’s had an all-night party.

But back to our story.

The big shift in jet ski development occurred in America in the 1960s, after a restless motocross racer named Clayton Jacobson II – not to be confused with his father, Clayton Jacobson I or his son, Clayton Jacobson III - fell off his bike at a racetrack, or maybe in the Mojave Desert (Wikipedia is a bit vague on this point).

The big shift in jet ski development occurred in America in the 1960s, after a restless motocross racer named Clayton Jacobson II – not to be confused with his father, Clayton Jacobson I or his son, Clayton Jacobson III - fell off his bike at a racetrack, or maybe in the Mojave Desert (Wikipedia is a bit vague on this point).

As Jacobson wrote in his autobiography – almost certainly self-published and winner of the world’s most boring book title, any year you care to mention, Jet Ski Inventor Autobiography – the idea for a motorbike-like thing that travelled fast on water came to him as he picked gravel out of his wounds after a crash.

He decided there had to be a way to “enjoy the exhilaration and excitement of a motorcycle without the inherent danger of falling onto hard ground at high speeds”.

So he developed a craft that retained the “inherent danger” aspects of high-speed travel, but riders landed on water instead or – and I’m not sure Jacobson thought about this – different, water-specific hard things like piers, boats, other jet skis, surfers or people on inflatable ducks.

(Jet ski death facts – between 2000 and 2012 there were at least 20 reported jet ski-linked deaths in Australia, according to the National Coronial Information System. About half were aged 25-49; victims were evenly split between male and female; two were under 14 years old; drugs and alcohol were associated with 17 per cent of cases; more than one in three involved the rider losing control without a collision; there were about 1.8 jet ski fatalities in Australia each year, and in two-thirds of cases the rider died.)

In Dr Laming’s home state of Queensland in 2014 there were more than 20,000 jet skis registered – or more correctly, personal water craft – according to a recreational vessel census, which might explain why he chose jet skis as the test of inequality in Australia.

It’s either that or he’s a politician on more than $200,000 a year who’s chosen jet skis, rather than something more basic like, say, a roof over your head, enough money to pay the rent, electricity and food or funds to run a car, and his $200,000 a year job and all that goes with it has made him a little blinkered to what life is like for Australians living in the unequal parts of the country.

Laming owns three properties – two in Queensland and one in Canberra – and as a federal politician he is entitled to claim $273 a night accommodation allowance even if he stays in his Canberra residence. I don’t know if he does, but he can – which is maybe the “choice” part of his argument - and that’s more than an unemployed person on a Newstart allowance gets in a week, $267.80.

And whenever pollies start talking about inequality, consider this: federal politicians and their spouses are using family trusts more than in any parliament before them, and at 10 times the rate of ordinary Australians.

And if federal pollies of any stripe answer questions about negative gearing and capital gains tax with platitudes, or dumb statements that don’t even make sense (jet skis, anyone?), remember that nearly two-thirds of MPs own more than one property, which is a rate more than three times the national average. One of them owns 33 properties.

Conflict of interest? Perish the thought.  

In his inaugural speech in 2004 Laming, a doctor, said we were all fortunate to live in Australia, particularly people born through the baby boomer period. He’s right there. And it’s time we boomers eased our tight grip on the nation’s good fortune and started sharing the love around.

This story Our jet ski inequality first appeared on Newcastle Herald.