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Are you being served?


Democratic governments provide two fundamental functions in the service of a single overriding responsibility. When a government, through the performance of its two functions, betrays the single responsibility it holds, it has lost its mandate to govern. There is a case to be made that our current Coalition government is in exactly this position.

The raison d’etre for democracy, without which the very concept of democratic government would not exist; is to provide a means for the community as a whole to configure the kind of society in which they wish to live. Inevitably this involves winners and losers: government exists primarily to put checks on the powerful and support the weak. Governance is thus about promoting equality. The cut and thrust of politics is about thresholds – how much is too much? How much is too little?

Governments fulfil this basic purpose through the actions of their two primary functions: legislation and national defence. Legislation allows a government to protect its citizenry from internal threats; national defence protects us against external threats. Since coming to power, Tony Abbott’s Coalition government has continued a long history in Australian politics of continuing and sustaining Australia’s military, and in this way the government is carrying out its remit for national defence. Good for them.

In the field of legislation against internal threats to society, their record is not so good.

The Big Bad: the Food Industry

There is a growing recognition amongst public health bodies that food manufacturing and marketing in Australia, and the west in general, is promoting unhealthy eating habits and contributing materially to public health issues such as obesity and diabetes. History has shown us that industries acting counter to the best interests of the people eventually face opposition and attempts at control and harm minimisation by societal groups, and that eventually governments come to the party and assist in such opposition. The tobacco industry is the cause celebre but alcohol and junk food are both likely to follow. It is in this light that on 14 June 2013, COAG – the Council of Australian Governments – announced the implementation of a packaging labelling scheme in Australia. This was the culmination of a long discussion and negotiation process beginning in December 2011.

The Front of Pack food star rating scheme is a compromise solution painstakingly agreed and laboriously (and expensively) developed over two years. COAG is the federal council that brings together Australian state and federal governments in a single body. The scheme, initially intended to be voluntary, will provide consumers an easily understood guide to the nutritional value of their foods. The scheme was brokered between COAG and the Public Health Association with ongoing consultation with the food industry. The food industry, represented by such bodies as “Australian Public Affairs” and the Food and Grocery Council, has cooperated in its development despite being trenchantly opposed to the scheme and seeking any means possible to delay its introduction.

The Abbott government has been accused of deliberately delaying the introduction of the scheme until after State elections in South Australia and Tasmania on 15 March, for exactly this purpose, hoping that the composition of COAG would change sufficiently to allow the cancellation of the agreement. Cancellation or amendment of a COAG agreement requires the majority of State and Federal governments and the current makeup of the council is narrowly in favour of the food labelling scheme.

Included in the star rating scheme is a food ratings website that is intended to provide consumer advice on the nutrition of packaged foods. The website also includes a calculator for food manufacturers to use to calculate the star rating for their packaged foods for voluntary inclusion in labelling. The website was completed and went live on schedule, on February 5 2014. Many public health groups and industry groups were expecting its arrival and awaiting its commencement and it seems a minor miracle that such a website, developed over two years by the public service in conjunction with the Public Health Association, should have been completed on time.

Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash personally intervened to have the site taken offline by 8pm the same night.

Nash’s publicly stated reasons for pulling down the website is that “the website will be confusing for consumers as it uses a star rating that is not yet ‘up and running’.” She has also claimed that it was a draft put online by accident. But it was her chief of staff, married to the owner of the business lobby group Australian Public Affairs, who personally intervened to have the site unilaterally taken offline.

Protecting the interests

This is not the first example of Ms Nash protecting the interests of corporations and business lobbies at the expense of public health or public interest initiatives. It’s tempting to make personal judgements that Ms Nash is not an appropriate candidate for the position of Assistant Health Minister, but she operates within a government with a strong track record of supporting business interests rather than public good regulations that limit them.

Democratic government is designed to serve the interests of the People – not individual people, but the community as a whole. Conservative governments are wont to argue that making life easier for businesses allows them to create more jobs and thus serves the interest of the people, and there is some justification for that; however, there are cases where public interest and corporate interest clearly come into conflict. These include areas of workplace health and safety; of environmental protection; and of protection of public health against goods which, in excess, can be harmful.

In a capitalist society, companies are fighting two major opponents. The first major opponent a business faces is its competitors. Companies need to compete against other companies to turn a profit. The role of government in this is simply to be even-handed; to not preference one company at the expense of others. The litmus test should be whether any proposed change operates across the board. If competition is seen as a public good, then sympathetic treatment may be justifiable towards the underdog. The second major opponent a company faces is the community.

Companies are beholden to the public that buys their goods, but are not above manipulating and mistreating those customers. Marketing might sometimes be righteous – if people have an identified need, promoting a product which can meet that need is perfectly legitimate. But in our materialistic society with many competitors for the purchaser’s dollar, much of marketing is about creating the need prior to seeking to fulfil it.

In the context of coercive or manipulative commerce, government’s role should always fall squarely on the side of the People’s interest. Regulations and laws exist to put limits on what companies can get away with, because it will never be the companies themselves that impose limitations.

An emerging pattern

The cancellation of the food star ratings website is a clear case of corporate interests being favoured at the expense of the People, and a clear abrogation of the politician’s responsibilities. However, it is merely the latest in a long line of government actions from the Abbott government that favour the interests of corporations rather than the People. Prominent examples include:

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is the grand-daddy of corporate interests into which both recent governments, Labor and Coalition, have been driving us headlong. Whole articles can be written about the TPP – and indeed they have been.

The National Broadband Network. It has been convincingly argued that the main reasons for the Coalition’s opposition to Labor’s model for the NBN is that it will do harm to entrenched corporate interests.

The mining tax. To attempt to redistribute some of the wealth of the largely overseas-based megacorporations involved in strip-mining this country and put it to use across the community and small businesses makes logical sense, but it goes against Coalition ideology of protecting the corporate interests of those who make profits.

An internet filter. The idea of an internet filter is not new; Steven Conroy was rightly excoriated by the left for this idea that is tantamount to censorship. George Brandis’s vision of the filter, however, is not so concerned with protection of children and our moral virtue; it is aimed directly at protecting the existing media corporations, in the guise of protecting copyright. Whilst this is an issue with some justification, you might think we would have learned by now that protecting the rights of intellectual property holders by draconian regulation always hurts both the eventual consumers of media products as well as innocent bystanders who want to use file sharing for legitimate purposes.

Attacks on unions. The Abbott government’s ideological crusade against trade unions is not really about corruption and they are not really friends to the honest worker. The primary and overt aim of the coming Royal Commission is to damage Labor – both its reputation and its source of funding. But the chief outcome in any conflict between corporations and the unions which exist to protect workers and the community from the corporations’ excesses will always be to the detriment of the community. For evidence of the government’s allegiances in this field, look no further than the recent case of SPC, where the government attempted to push SPC to reduce staff conditions to the minimum allowed by the award before any assistance would be possible. In some strange way, this equates in the government’s mind to being “best friend to the honest worker”.

Credit where credit is due

It must be said that the Abbott coalition government seems to genuinely believe that promoting the interests of corporations will be for the good of Australia; they are not being deliberately harmful to the people they govern. But there does not appear to be any kind of “public good” test being applied to decisions. Corporations have the ear of the government through lobby groups and donations, and it certainly seems that the government’s ear has been turned. But when both government and public opinion can be swayed by the corporations that government ought to be protecting the public against, the very purpose of democracy is being subverted. Whether or not the coalition government (and its predecessor in Labor) are being malicious or merely unduly influenced, whether there is corruption or nobly-held ideals, it is the community that suffers. The only question remaining is how far the imbalance will go before the people wake up to the fact that the People and the Corporations are not on the same side?

In Defence of “Abbott’s Form of Social Engineering”

Image by mad

Image by mad

My recent piece “The Abbott Form of Social Engineering” seems to have struck a chord with a number of people. Mostly the comments have been positive however some observations have been critical. This of course is to be welcomed because none of us has an ownership of righteousness. So writers at The AIMN welcome considered critique. As an example fellow writer Dan Bowden, whose work I have much respect for, said this about my piece.

“We’re all social engineers. Labor engages in social engineering as much as anyone. It all depends on one’s socio-political ideology as to whether we like it or not.”

We went on to have a short exchange.


“True Dan. It is however a question of degree and intent and of course what serves the common good. I think one has to search ones conscience to find where that is.”


“Oh, I agree with that totally. Complications arise, however, with respect to things like the notion of “common good”. There being no objective way to define such a thing, there will always be a battleground on which differences of perspective will fight for supremacy. Life is, in many respects, a battle of values. Questions of ethics of engagement with regard to “war” have always haunted humanity and will continue to do so forever, I suspect. What we’re seeing from the Coalition currently gives us a bit of an insight into how far they’ll go to win.”


“If I might clear one thing up. The title of the piece is “Abbots Form of Social Engineering”. The title itself acknowledges other forms. Dan is correct in saying it is practiced by other political ideologies, corporations, institutions ourselves and even the advertising industry. I used the term “Common Good” as a thought of demarcation. If Labor’s form results in National Health, Superannuation. Marbo, Equal pay for women, an apology to our indigenous people, equality in education, sexual equality and Disability Insurance. Policies that serve the common good. Then that form of social engineering is worthwhile.”

Then I read some rather extensive comments from a person by the name of Mitch. Who Mitch is I have no idea and generally speaking I prefer talking to people who identify themselves. At least it gives them credibility of identity. Mitch’s comments are abusive in so much as he mixes his criticism of the substance of my piece with personal invective.

Normally I don’t respond to tirades from unidentifiable morons, but I have always believed that sometimes one has to stand on one’s dig and speak up. What follows is the full text of Mitch’s comments with my response in bold type.


Is this article not a piece of social engineering unto itself?
Stating that social engineering is a realm confined only to that of politicians/political parties is the first piece of misinformation you are enacting that reinforces the notion that this article is indeed your own (somewhat limited attempt)at social engineering. More over social engineering is a tool often associated with those seeking to use psychological manipulation to commit fraudulent acts. Quite fitting when reading this article. For mine this article reeks of hypocrisy as ideologically it seems evident that you feel that your political stance (extrême-gauche) is the only one that holds true to modern Australia. I’m not too sure how this fits into your definition of “democratic”.

Obviously Mitch did not take the time to read the companion pieces to this one, otherwise he would have a broader grasp of my argument. Nowhere in my piece do I state that social engineering was the sole domain of politics. The title of the piece itself suggests there are others. Perhaps Mitch skipped the title and didn’t read people’s comments.

Why is it so irresponsible for the government of the day to discuss the notion that debt, in an uncertain global economic climate is something that they ideologically believe might leave Australia vulnerable structurally to changing headwinds? Why is it so offensive to mention boat arrivals and border security in the same sentence? Why can’t we have a discussion about cost of living pressures and seeking to implement measure to ease such pressures (if you don’t feel there are cost burdens on families these days then I am afraid you are simply a pseudo academic who is not in touch with reality)? Seemingly your point of view is the only one that has any merit moving forward, all the while implementing rhetoric to reinforce this and perpetuate your gross manipulation. The phrase social engineering springs to mind.

1. Nowhere do I say it is irresponsible to discuss debt. I was pointing out the hypocrisy of the government condemning debt on the one hand and raising it at the same time. 2. I didn’t tie boat arrivals together with border security. I simple said that it is silly to suggest that our thousands of miles of coastline are under threat from a few unarmed asylum seekers. 3. Yes I said Australians have never had it better. That includes this pensioner who is grateful for the rises that ONLY Labor has given us. Perhaps Mitch is confused with the cost of lifestyle as opposed to the cost of living. 4. I will skip the personal inflection. Often our opinion are based on our values rather than our understanding and the difficulty is separating the two.

A theme of this article appears to be that Abbott Co are seeking to implement some form of class warfare aimed at breaking the backs of lower and middle income earners through adjustments to various mechanisms of social welfare whilst ensuring high income earners are given tax benefits that would befit the tea party. Further to this noting “when the commission of audit reports I should think the assault on the middle and lower income earners will be on in earnest” A blatant attempt to create a perceived fear of something that may never occur. Social Engineering?

I supplied the evidence to suggest this is the case. You use the expression ‘’ adjustments to various mechanisms of social welfare’’ I was talking wages. You are just making words up to fit your argument. There has been much talk of this in the media. Perhaps you missed it all. And it’s reasonable to assume based on the evidence thus far that whatever cuts occur, they will not be directed at the rich or big business.

Commentators such as you seem determined to spell out a yawning divide in the Australian political spectrum, when in fact I think any informed/rational individual would take a more moderate approach that in general terms we all sit slightly left or right of centre. But invariably are open to crossing the floor depending on the subject matter, personally for me gay marriage is a “no brainer” and should be legislated ASAP as to move on to other pressing issues. Individuals such as yourself however seem adamant that Armageddon is about to ensue because a moderate conservative is our prime minister and you are more than happy to use misinformation and deception to convey your opinion. This is social engineering.

If you think Tony Abbott is a moderate conservative leader and that the LNP are the parties of bygone years then you must occupy some sort of time warp. Robert Menzies would turn in his grave at the doctrine of neo conservatism. Malcolm Fraser describes him as the most dangerous politician in Australia. You don’t identify my misinformation and deception so I cannot comment. Now isn’t that deceptive.

Your most blatant and insidious manipulation of the truth is “The very premeditated, deliberate government induced exodus of GMH”. This is by far the most unashamed attempt at Social Engineering by trying to influence the attitudes of the masses through pure fallacy. This statement is simply not true but further to this why is it our responsibility as tax payers to prop up an industry that has not and in all likelihood will never be profitable? I would have thought these funds would be better used to initiate structural change to ensure the viability of our economy on a holistic level as well as creating sustainable industry meaning improved job security for an entire nation. Not throw good money after bad so the saying goes. But more importantly this was clearly not the decision of the government. This aside you seem to be very forgetful of what the previous government did with Ford and Mitsubishi.

1.You were obviously not watching question time on Tuesday 10 December when the treasurer and the Deputy PM both unashamedly suggested they go. This was well documented by the media. Perhaps you don’t read or watch the news. 2. I never mentioned the rights or wrongs of the argument. You have.3 The decisions of Ford and Mitsubishi to leave our shores were made during the tenure of the Howard Government and executed during Labors term.

I think an underlying life principle that you do not seem not to understand is that if you cannot afford something, you simply can’t afford it. NBN is a prime example of this. It was poorly costed, poorly implemented and poorly run. Why is it so shocking when something that is going to cost as much as the NBN does for the government to say “wait a minute this is too much we can’t afford this”? This in comparison to the “there will be no carbon tax” lie is comparing apples with oranges. The former being an honest appraisal and to say otherwise is to go to the fraudulent nature of this article. This is social engineering.

1. I never mentioned affordability. I spoke of inequality. 2. When the former Prime Minister said “I don’t rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism”, “I rule out a carbon tax”, did she actually tell a lie? Clearly she showed an intent to keep her options open. You have been influenced by Abbots social engineering.

The final insult you throw us is to put your name alongside and truly great minds like Thatcher, Lincoln and Roosevelt indicating that you are nothing but an ill-informed narcissist seeking to spread fallacy and singular opinion in your own vain attempt at social engineering. It would appear that you are indeed a hypocrite.

I will leave you to ponder:

You make no mention of my quote and its worthiness or otherwise to stand alongside the others. Instead you attack me as an individual you disagree with. I hear my family and friends laughing at the thought of me being a narcissist. And of course mine is a singular opinion. Is not what you have written, or did you have collaborators?

I welcome differing opinions however, I detest being attacked personally. Alas some people revert to their feeling when they can’t substantiate the facts.

Mitch (whoever you are) I have been as civil as I can be and leave you to ponder a couple of my quotes

“Perhaps a greater understanding of what I am saying might be obtained by exercising a greater willingness to think more deeply”.

“We have so much to gain from people we disagree with that it’s a wonder we don’t do it more often”.

PS: And my thanks to Kaye Lee who so adequately came to my defense in comments.

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Opiate of the masses

There has been a lot of angst in left-wing circles since the election of Tony Abbott and his Coalition into government. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are all agog with posts indicating that Tony Abbott is going to be a wrecking-ball for a wide range of policies, organisations and social expectations. Under the Coalition, employee power will be smashed, unions will be outlawed, annual leave will be abolished, people on incomes under 100K will lose the right to vote, laws will be passed requiring coal-fired power stations to burn brown coal exclusively even when the power’s not needed, just in case, and small animals will be tortured in an attempt to prove that cigarettes cure cancer.

It’s not unreasonable for the left to have some fears about the approach Tony Abbott will take to government now he’s attained it. After all, the Coalition has some hard-nut right wing extremists in its fold, some even in Cabinet. Tony Abbott has been described by Kevin Rudd as “one of the most extreme right-wing conservative leaders or politicians that the Liberal party has thrown up”. The Coalition is on public record as supporting most of the ideology and specific policy suggestions of right-wing think-tank the IPA. And Tony Abbott and his Coalition have single-mindedly pursued one of the most negative agendas in history over the past term of government. So there’s reason to expect that he is now going to go early, go hard, and get many of his less popular initiatives under way while the next election is still far off.

Here’s why I think he won’t be doing that.

The first few actions of the incoming Coalition government – some of them even before swearing-in – have been viewed as the thin edge of a vindictive wedge; the first steps in the wholesale destruction of all we hold dear. But they can be viewed from a different angle, which is perfectly consistent with Tony Abbott’s approach to Opposition, to the election campaign, and now to government.

For this Coalition government, it’s all about perception. Policy and outcomes are secondary. This government knows as well as we do that the fundamentals of our economy are relatively good, in global terms. It knows that its hyperbole about a budget emergency was a politically expedient concept that now needs to be locked away. You won’t hear the Coalition talking about a budget emergency from now on, that concept has had its desired effect, and dwelling on it will raise questions about why the Coalition is not making more significant changes to the budget outlook. The Coalition knows that the NBN is not a huge issue for Australian debt, and that their alternative is inferior, and that the public actually likes the idea of fast broadband delivered to their door, so you can expect obfuscation, reviews, examinations and not a lot of actual change. The rollout will continue apace, and when it’s good and ready the Coalition just might think about a judicious adjustment to bring in some elements of its own model, just so it can say that it’s done something at the next election. The Coalition knows that the Direct Action plan is not going to work, and that the ETS has been working and has not been a “wrecking ball through the Australian economy”; it also doesn’t believe that Australia can have any impact upon global climate change even if it is real. So you can expect the repeal of the carbon tax, as one of the big ticket items on which it swears it got elected, but not a lot of Action from the Direct plan.

The most important priority for this government is not doing things. The vast majority of its election promises are to undo things, after which we’ll be back in a nice pre-Labor state of comfortable hiatus. The Coalition does not expect to make Australia better by making changes. It expects to make Australia better by letting people calm down. As Abbott has said:

“…happy the country which is more interested in sport than in politics because it shows that there is a fundamental unity, it shows that the business of the nation is normally under reasonably good management…”. (Interview with David Koch and Samantha Armytage, Sunrise).

Tony Abbott, the ex-journalist, wants to control the conversation again. For the last three years, the failings, alleged failings, ructions and supposed dishonesty of Labor have been the story. Aided and abetted by a hostile media, the Opposition has made politics continual front-page material, and has deliberately fostered interest and concern in all manner of things. Asylum seeker dog-whistling, budget emergencies, NBN appalling waste, class warfare – none of these things had very much reality to them, and all of these things were blown enormously out of proportion by the outrage of the Opposition and the media’s eternal search for the Story-of-the-Day. The net effect is a populace energised, outraged, horrified, and politically engaged – exactly what an Opposition wants, going in to an election.

The Coalition knew that elections are lost, not won. Particularly in 2013, where the one actual policy on offer from the Coalition (Tony Abbott’s PPL) was roundly debated and opposed even by some within his own party, the Coalition did not win the election on promises to build things. It won the election on its promises to undo the things that Labor had already done. Labor lost the election over the past six years, with a particular emphasis on leadership issues – issues which have no actual bearing on the governing of a country, but which added to the Coalition’s continuing barrage of concern.

Tony Abbott does not intend to lose the next election.

In order to make sure that he does not, the priority is to calm the conversation down. To take things in a “methodical, measured, calm” way. To use rhetoric that includes the words “adult”, “sober”, “calm” and “deliberate” to shape the political conversation, rather than “disaster”, “emergency”, “appalling”. To some extent, this is the transition faced by every incoming government; opposition almost demands the use of hyperbole, and government requires a more defensive approach. But with the Coalition in 2013, what may have been a necessity of politics has become a deliberate strategy.

Calming things down means keeping politics out of the media. Thus, fewer press conferences, no pandering to the 24-hour news cycle, a slower pace (compared to Kevin Rudd, this is almost a given). It means adopting a culturally neutral middle ground – one where the older white men are in charge, where success is measured in a well-turned wife and obedient children, and where men are men, women are women, and small furry animals are kept in the back yard.

Calming things down also means controlling the news. Thus the first actions of the incoming government are not actually about reducing costs or winding back bodies based on the ‘fiction’ of climate change, but rather about controlling who says (and knows) what. The new approach to boat arrivals – in that the Coalition will now give the media a weekly digest, rather than notifications upon arrival – ensures that the story of boat people will wither. The daily news cycle won’t be fed with regular news of boats, and the issue will fade off the front pages. The abolition of the Climate Commission gets rid of the body charged with providing “an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, the international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price” to the Australian people. It saves a pittance – the budget for the Commission was $5 million over five years. More importantly, it deprives Professor Flannery of a source of authority, it deprives the environmental movement of a source of authority, and it deprives the Australian people of a source of information. By itself, it won’t remove climate change from the front pages of the news. But the wholesale dismantling of government climate bodies will have that effect.

Tony Abbott wants you compliant, and comfortable, and happy, and smothered in marshmallow. The last thing he wants is to go making big changes that will upset people. He wants Australia to get used to the dichotomy: under Labor, you get an endless barrage of waste and fear and concern; under the Coalition you get a country that just gets on with it and lets you focus on your own life. So there will be no changes to the GST. There will be no remorseless cuts into health and education. There will be no overt attack on worker’s rights. In three years’ time, when the next election comes around, the only things the left will be able to criticise in the Coalition’s term of government will be that they dismantled the things they said they would dismantle, the things that Labor built.

Once again, the media will be an enormous assistance to the Coalition. Endless, deafening silence will help Abbott smooth the ruffled waters of Australia’s concerns. An appearance of calm and control will likely lead to actual calm, to an improved consumer and business confidence, and to better economic outcomes. The Coalition will be aided in this by circumstance. Just as Labor came to power in 2007 on the cusp of a real budget emergency – the Global Financial Crisis – the Coalition is coming to power just as Australia is showing signs of growing into a new prosperity.

Calm… or panic?

So what is the way forward from here for left-leaning progressives? The Coalition has attained government, and their ideal is to retain power for several terms at least – to be a long term government. They will attempt to do this, I believe, by not rocking the boat; by adopting and retaining many of the structural reforms that Labor put in place; by maintaining some distance from the news cycle and lulling the populace into a drowsy state of contentment. It now falls on Labor to prevent the Coalition succeeding in this. There are a couple of possible approaches that could be taken.

Labor can choose to adopt the same tactics that Tony Abbott pioneered with such success. Endless negativity, endless opposition, endless noise and fury, intended to blow up every little foible and failure of the new government into a thousand thorns of discontent. The strategy is to make sure the Coalition can’t get any clear air. After all, it worked for Tony Abbott between 2010 and 2013. Unfortunately, Labor is at a disadvantage in this battle. The mainstream media is dominated by opinions and owners hostile to Labor’s approach, and success at the Abbott model of opposition requires the involvement of the media. The media is hungry enough for stories that it might nonetheless be a viable strategy, but in a hostile environment it may prove an uphill battle.

Alternatively, Labor could attempt to rise above the example that Tony Abbott set. It could maintain a stately disdain, reserving its ire for any overt missteps or vandalism or ideologically-driven extremes emanating from the Coalition, but generally supporting or ignoring the Coalition for much of its term. Further, it could concentrate on building a new vision for the future, a policy platform that by its successes demonstrates the failures of the Coalition’s status-quo approach. The problem with this method is that it relies on missteps by the Opposition, and Tony Abbott has been astoundingly successful to date with keeping his party in line. There are many on the Coalition benches who would go too far given an opportunity, but with a deliberate don’t-offend political strategy at the helm, they may never get that opportunity. And it is astonishingly hard to win government on the basis of what you intend to do. In addition, three years of stately silence is not likely to be sufficient to prevent Tony Abbott pointing back to the hot air of 2010-2013 and blaming it all on Labor. Thus the Coalition would be bound to achieve another term or two, and this would simply reinforce the impression that ‘everything’s running smoothly, unlike under the previous mob’.

It may sound like heresy to some on this site, but the question must be asked: is it really so bad for us to have a Coalition government at the helm when they’re so intent on not offending anyone?

The answer to this depends on your expectations for a long-term future under the Coalition. To date, Tony Abbott’s opposition and government has shown no practical answer to the two-speed economy – indeed, Coalition policies will undo what little progress Labor has made in refocusing Australia’s approach to this problem. The Coalition is certainly no more supportive of education, of R&D, and of high-technology industries than were Labor. Clever country, we are not. The Coalition’s approach to climate change and mitigation of carbon emissions is well understood, and will withdraw Australia from even what little it has the ability and commitment to do in this field. And by promising to slow or halt the rollout of the NBN, if the Coalition actually intends to follow through on this promise, it is engaging in a deliberate sabotage of one of the most critical pieces of national infrastructure in history. All of these things give me no confidence that Australia’s future beyond the immediate three-year electoral cycle is at all promising.

Are we locked in to this cycle? Does life, the economy, industry and Australia’s status have to slowly stagnate under the Coalition until another inspirational Labor leader comes along with grand visions of what we might have if only? Or is there a third way?


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Give Tony a chance! You’re kidding me!

I quite like the Sydney Morning Herald journalist with the acid wit, Mike Carlton. He’s one of the only journalists left in the country in touch with us common folk and besides, any journalist who refers to Andrew Bolt as Melbourne’s village idiot is worth listening to.

Yesterday he asked that we give Tony Abbott a chance to prove himself as Prime Minister. Suggesting that Tony Abbott entered the job the least credentialed of any in living memory he reminds us that:

. . . history shows that the prime ministership can sometimes have transformative powers, elevating those who attain it. Bob Hawke abandoned his boozy larrikin ways to become Labor’s most electorally successful leader. Paul Keating, with no formal education beyond the age of 15, rose to a dazzling command of the policy heights. John Howard, like Abbott also once seen as unelectable, was the towering conservative figure of his generation for nearly 12 years.

It seems only reasonable to wait and see what Abbott makes of it.

It’s a valid point.

I’ve waited four days. He’s the same idiot. Even the Irish have recognised four days of failure with the Irish Times reporting:

Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott spent the last past three years destabilising the Labor administration at every opportunity, saying it was the country’s “worst government ever”.

For a thousand days there was no respite from the Abbott attacks, which made it seem like the longest election campaign to date. But when the actual campaign began, Abbott suddenly shifted gear.

The tough campaigner who said the Labor carbon tax would ruin the economy (it didn’t), and whose scare tactics warned of Labor’s “debt and deficit”, accused Rudd of being “so negative”.

The Australian public could have been forgiven for saying, “Mr Pot, let me introduce you to Mr Kettle”. But they didn’t notice, or were way past caring.

Days before the election, the “budget crisis” Abbott said was Labor’s legacy was forgotten. Knowing the election was in the bag, he backed away from his promise to balance the budget within one term. Now it was “within 10 years” (by which time the Liberal-National coalition will be on its fourth term of government if it is still in power).

Having secured victory with a 32-seat majority, Abbott and his cabinet were not sworn in until 11 days after the election. The supposed budget crisis was now just a memory and the asylum-seeker boats he had pledged to stop from day one of winning power kept on coming. Seven of them in fact, containing more than 500 men, women and children from Iran, Afghanistan and other troubled regions of Asia.

But the Liberal Party chief has been true to his view that climate change is “crap”. The climate commission, an independent body set up by the previous government “to provide reliable and authoritative” information has been abolished.

Former chief commissioner Prof Tim Flannery is disillusioned: “We’ve just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bush-fire season in Sydney following the hottest 12 months on record,” he said.

Not only an idiot but a powerful one.

But let’s not be candid. Give Tony Abbott a chance and he’ll do what?

In his election victory speech, Mr Abbott promised no surprises. He’s had the chance to prove his word is true but that has already been broken to the detriment of at least one set of disadvantaged Australians. He has also broken his word by not following through with his pre-election commitment to Indigenous Australians.

But it is even more frightening if he doesn’t break his word. True to his form will he succumb to the wishes of the IPA and:

Lower the tax-free threshold from $18,200 back to $6000. This will drag more than one million low-income earners back into the tax system. It will also increase the taxes for 6 million Australians earning less than $80,000.

Save families $300 dollars a year of Carbon Tax but cost them $2,300 per year in reinstated tax.

Privatise Medibank.

Privatise the Snowy-Hydro Scheme.

Privatise Australia Post.

Privatise the SBS.

Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function.

Privatise the Australian Institute of Sport.

End all public subsidies to sport and the arts.

Privatise the CSIRO.

Immediately halt construction of the National Broadband Network and privatise any sections that have already been built.

Abolish the means-tested Schoolkids Bonus that benefits 1.3 million families by providing up to $410 for each primary school child and up to $820 for each high school child.

Abolish the Baby Bonus.

Repeal the mining tax.

Withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.

Repeal the Fair Work Act.

Repeal the carbon tax, and don’t replace it.

Repeal the marine park Legislation.

Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Abolish the low-income superannuation contribution.

Reject proposals for compulsory food and alcohol labelling.

Reduce the size of the public service from current levels of more than 260,000 to at least the 2001 low of 212,784.

Abolish the Clean Energy Fund (done already).

Repeal the renewable energy target.

Introduce voluntary voting.

End mandatory disclosures on political donations.

End media blackout in final days of election campaigns.

End public funding to political parties.

Eliminate the National Preventative Health Agency.

Abolish the means test on the private health insurance rebate.

Repeal the Alcopops tax.

Means-test Medicare.

Cease subsidising the car industry.

End all corporate welfare and subsidies by closing the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education.

Introduce a special economic zone in the north of Australia.

Remove anti-dumping laws.

Abolish the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Abolish the Office for Film and Literature Classification.

Abolish the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Eliminate laws that require radio and television broadcasters to be ‘balanced ‘.

Abolish television spectrum licensing and devolve spectrum management to the common law.

End local content requirements for Australian television stations.

Eliminate media ownership restrictions.

Give Tony Abbott a chance and he’ll also risk the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. According to The Huffington Post:

“Australia is facing a hard choice right now whether to make a quick buck from coal exports or whether to preserve an economically, long-standing national treasure.

” . . . Tony Abbott could overturn all the steps that have been taken domestically to protect the environment, to instead fast track coal export developments and drastically weaken environmental laws that were created to protect the country”.

Give Tony a chance! You’re kidding me!

Mike, it’s insulting to Hawke, Keating and Howard to be compared in some small way with Abbott. Even Howard waited a few years before unleashing his hunger for power and his pandering to the big end of town. Those three men are intellectual giants compared to our new Prime Minister. They also believed, rightly or wrongly (with the exception of Howard on occasions) that most of their actions were in the best interests of the country. Give Tony Abbott a chance and he’ll show us the complete opposite.

Mike, I also think it’s irrelevant if the prime ministership makes a good man out of Tony Abbott. He won’t be remembered for it. Instead, he’ll be remembered as the bloke we gave a chance to run this country and who blew it. Spectacularly.

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Why Labor Lost


The truth of the matter is that my Party is at times its own worst enemy. For the six years Labor has been in power it governed well in spite of the enormous inconvenience of minority governance. This is indisputable when you look closely at its economic record, the legalisation passed and reformist policy from within a minority framework.

Its problems though did not originate from everyday governance. In this sense, it has been no better or worse than any other government.

Rather its problems stemmed from personality conflict and the pursuit of power. Politics by its very nature is confrontational and uneasy with those with ego who pursue power for power’s sake or those who think they have some sort of ownership of righteousness.

Labor had two formidable intellects in Rudd and Gillard. In fact, combined they would total much of the opposition front bench’s intellectual capacity.

It is one thing to replace a leader but a different thing when the leader happens to be the Prime Minister who the voters perceive they have elected.

Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing so it is easy to say that Rudd should never have been replaced. That Rudd undermined the 2007 election campaign and continued to undermine Julia Gillard for most of her tenure. He never showed the grace in defeat that Turnbull displayed.

So we had two leaders of sagacious intellect. One a ubiquitous narcissist, who couldn’t listen and who couldn’t delegate. On the other hand, we had a woman of immense policy capacity (and history will judge her that way) but would be hard pressed to sell a Collingwood Guernsey to a rabid supporter.

Minority government has enormous, day to day difficulties without having one’s leadership frequently undermined. And we can speculate about a myriad of other possibilities but it won’t change the fact that ego destroyed any chance Labor had of winning the 2013 election.

This is the main reason why Labor lost. Not because they didn’t govern well. As Tanya Plibersek said 10/10 for governance and 0/10 for behaviour.

But because life is about perceptions, not what is, but what it appears to be. We painted a picture of irrational decision making, of dysfunction and murderous disloyalty. Rightly or wrongly that is the perception. In other words, we committed political suicide.


There are of course other factors that contributed to our downfall.

Despite the growing influence of the Fifth Estate the Main Stream Media still packs an enormous punch. In advertising, the success of one’s spend is measured by the resulting sales. The media can measure its influence in the Polls.

Labor was the victim of the most concerted gutter attack ever insinuated upon an Australian political party, from all sections of the media, although one, in particular, News Corp, has gone well beyond the realm of impartiality.

Labor was drowned in an avalanche of lies, repugnant bile, half-truths and omissions. The media lost its objectivity and news reporting. It became so biased that it no longer pretended to disguise it.

The MSM has forsaken truth, justice and respectability in its pursuit of the protection of privilege. They printed and told lies with such reprehensible consistency that a gullible and politically undiscerning Australian public never really challenged it.

As a famous businessman once said.’’ I spend a lot of money on advertising and I know for certain that half of it works’’ Clive Palmer has won a seat because he had the money to promote himself. He proved the power of persuasion with money.

The Fifth Estate (including me) attempted to counter these nefarious attacks but in my view, we are three years away from reaching full potential.

Having said that I plead some degree of ignorance, and I must say, I am absolutely astounded at how many people participate in social media and the voice it gives them.

However, in three years’ time, its ability to influence the younger generation will have risen exponentially. Added to that will be a declining older generation.


Tony Abbott successfully adopted an American Republican-style shock and awe approach in his pursuit of power. Mainstream media hailed him the most effective opposition leader in Australian political history.

This was solely based on his parties standing in the polls and said nothing about the manner in which he lied and distorted facts and science to bring about this standing.

Perhaps they should rethink the criteria they use.

On a daily basis and in the parliament he sought to abuse, disrupt proceedings and tell untruths that normal men would not.

His gutter style negativity set a new benchmark for the behaviour of future opposition leaders. Luckily though, he may be the only one of his characterless ilk, and future opposition leaders may be more affable.

However, the consistency of his negativity had an effect on an electorate in a state of comatose. From the time the election date was announced he portrayed himself as a different person. An indifferent public was fooled by this chameleon disguise. He was and still is by his own admission a liar.

David Marr used these words, to sum up, the character of this would be Prime Minister.

“An aggressive populist with a sharp tongue; a political animal with lots of charm; a born protégé with ambitions to lead; a big brain but no intellectual; a bluff guy who proved a more than competent minister; a politician with little idea of what he might do if he ever got to the top; and a man profoundly wary of change.”

“He’s a worker. No doubt about that. But the point of it all is power. Without power, it’s been a waste of time.”

How one appraisers the reasons for Labor’s loss might differ from individual to individual and there will undoubtedly be many thousands of words written on the subject. For me, it can be rather succinctly summed up in a sentence or two.

A political party, union of workers, sporting team or board of directors is only as good as the total sum of its parts. A good leader facilitates, emboldens and inspires the team, but a leader with self-interested ambition can destroy it all.

This is the first in a series. Next week: Labor reform.


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NBN: Redefining Possible

There’s been a lot of noise in certain corners of the media about Rupert Morlock Murdoch and his opposition to the NBN in Australia, which translates to his pulling out all the stops to bury the Australian Labor Party’s chances of electoral victory. It is unknown whether he will be successful in this effort. It’s certainly possible; by the American model of politics, it is possible to buy elections, and he wouldn’t be using such prime broadsheet real estate if it wasn’t at least somewhat effective. It’s also unclear whether the sudden ramping up of hysterical anti-Labor rhetoric is specifically due, as Fairfax posits, to a fear of the NBN’s commercial impact upon Murdoch’s cash-cow, Foxtel, or simply because News Ltd papers have been steadfastly against Labor since day one and the announcement of an election was a bait they couldn’t resist. But let’s, for the moment, accept the former proposition: this is all about the NBN and Foxtel. What a great excuse to examine the potential benefits of the NBN under Labor’s FTTP model.

(Technical note for lay people: FTTP = Fibre to the Premises – wherein NBN Co foots the bill for not only laying optical cable along every street, but also for wiring it to your property, like your current fixed-line telephone cable. Assuming you have one, which is no longer a given in the modern age. The Coalition’s alternative will run the cable along the streets, but it will terminate roughly on each street corner, and if you want to use it you’ll use a connection between your existing copper phone cable and the closest Node to your property, with physical limits on the speed that you can achieve over copper, even assuming it to be in good condition. Alternatively you can pay for optical fibre to be run from the node to your premises, at an estimated cost of up to $5000… ahem. Enough proselytising: we’re here to talk about the plan as it exists now, not the hobbled version of a Coalition future. The costs of the two models, and the technical merits thereof, are beyond the scope of this post.)

Detractors of the government’s FTTP NBN model often make the claim that its primary uses will be for “more interactive gambling or more movie downloads” (Tony Abbott: 2011, and just about every comment troll on this subject, everywhere, ever.) The image invoked is of greasy-haired teenagers in their parent’s basements, only pausing from downloading Game of Thrones and playing World of Warcraft for a quick spot of pornography before moving on to the next map in Counterstrike. If that were all that the NBN offered, I would find myself hard pressed to justify the investment too. (Although I wouldn’t make the continued mistake of calling it a massive waste of taxpayers’ money, seeing as taxpayers are actually not paying for it.) But as some have said, the NBN is a case of “build it, and ideas will come“. We don’t know the majority of uses the NBN will eventually be put to. They haven’t even been thought of yet. We need to have the capacity before people will start thinking of the opportunities it will offer.

That said, it is reasonable to use the leading edge of technology practice today to make some informed guesses about the technological directions that might be in use in the world of tomorrow. A lot of the ideas that follow are already here or just on the horizon. I’m also looking specifically at uses that will affect the everyday user in their suburban home, rather than offices; the need for fast broadband in office buildings is pretty much a given. When the accusation is made that all uses of the NBN will be for trivial purposes, it’s couched in terms of homes, so let’s focus specifically on that environment.


Let’s start with Tony Abbott’s “more interactive gambling or more movie downloads”. It’s certainly one area where current users can benefit from the increased bandwidth on offer from Labor’s FTTP model. The Coalition must have a few MPs with streaming foxtel, because they are certain that “25MB per second will be more than sufficient for most users”. But obviously their MPs haven’t upgraded to UltraHD TVs, which have four times the resolution of standard HD. Personally I’m not intrigued, but if television that eats 25MB/s is already available in the stores, I’m not taking a bet that the next generation of entertainment devices (perhaps holographic? Smellovision?) will require significantly more again. And yes, faster bandwidth means faster downloads of torrented material as well as the legal stuff. But this is hardly forward-looking.

Videoconferencing and telecommunications

Most top ten lists of NBN uses talk about e-Health. Some also list e-learning. A few might talk about videoconferencing. It all boils down to the same thing: long-distance high-speed communication with pictures. Whether it’s high-def imagery of a mole or a wound so your doctor can make an informed decision, or streaming the operating theatre so the surgeon can remotely control the robot arm that’s taking out your appendix, or interactive whiteboards and teleconferencing with your teacher, the possibilities of this use alone are endless. Imagine what today would be like if we were still restricted to the telegraph. That’s how today is going to look from the perspective of the future. (Note that unless someone has a really bad morning before drafting legislation, video content on your phone calls will still be optional in the future.) Videoconferencing is already here and in wide use in business circles. As an IT professional, I can attest to the poor quality currently offered even in an office equipped with high-speed current-generation broadband. At its simplest, this is because the quality of the communication depends upon two things: the quality of the connection for every participant, which is why ubiquity of service is important; and the upload bandwidth available. Most current “broadband” uses a technology that gives reasonably fast download speeds to your computer, but much slower speeds on upload back to the internet. For most internet use this isn’t a problem, all you’re sending is small requests for content. But in videoconferencing, you’re sending as much data as you’re receiving, and current technologies don’t cut it. The NBN is a symmetrical technology, meaning that your upload speeds can be as fast as your downloads, so now the person on the other end of the call can see and hear you as well as you them.

The Internet of Things

This current buzzword refers to internet functionality being built into all kinds of household devices. There is a trend in this direction, with entertainment devices leading the charge, but being followed closely by refrigerators (new models which can maintain an inventory of contents and automatically order replenishments when stocks are getting low) and remote household control of lights, central heating, and checking if you left the oven on. Electricity and water smart meters will require connectivity. Your answering machine will be video capable, connected to your front door camera, and available to stream the video of the Jehovah’s Witnesses leaving that pamphlet on your doorstep despite your “no junk mail” signs. It’s even feasible that you might be able to answer the door or your home phone while you are in the office. None of these applications will require huge amounts of bandwidth or speed, but taken together they add to a low level noise that is always on.


Many people currently work from home. In an ever more connected world, where workers in many fields are continually mobile and supplied with laptops and tablet computers, the maintenance of a dedicated office may become more and more an extravagance. But there are limitations and hurdles to overcome, not least being the requirement for home workers to have access to the resources they need. Often these resources are tangible – computers, printers, phones. But these things can be purchased and are increasingly simple to support and manage from a central location. More difficult are information and data resources.

Internet bandwidth is already a limiting factor for many teleworkers. Architects need to regularly download, work on and then re-upload plans and diagrams. CAD operators, 3D modellers, graphic artists – these creative or information-reliant jobs are the kinds of jobs most suited to working from a remote location, but also the most reliant on the traffic of large amounts of data. Some workers currently migrate from rural areas to the cities in order to acquire the bandwidth they need. Others simply give up on teleworking and base themselves in an office, with all of the impacts on travel time and work/life balance that this entails.

Again, it is upload speed that is often the killer. Information workers and creative experts often spend many hours building, drawing, sketching or designing highly detailed outputs, creating very large files. Hard disk space is cheap. Your personal computer is more than powerful enough to data-crunch rendered 3D animated scenes with aplomb. But getting the resulting terabytes of data back to the office is where it all falls down. The NBN to your home will allow you to send those files back to your office in blinding speed, allowing you to download the next set of files and get back to work quicker. The only thing that suffers under this proposal is your spare time to play with your children while you might have otherwise been waiting an hour for the files to finish uploading.

One of the downsides of teleworking is the lack of presence with the team. This is another area where the NBN will unleash potentials. Multi-party videoconferencing with collaborative editing of a document is currently the reserve of advanced companies within their offices. In the future, being at home will be no barrier to being a part of the team brainstorming session or the design project team.

The future of computing

All of the above ideas are currently in practice to some extent. Some are in use in business which can afford the bandwidth and equipment requirements. Others are in their first stages of development into the domestic market. But all of them will benefit from increased investment and phenomenal increases in usability and functionality once they are adopted much more widely. Now we can start to think a bit more ambitiously.

Software as a Service (SAAS)

Recently Adobe Software discontinued the production and sale of boxed versions of their software applications. They are part of a growing trend towards digital distribution of software. But this is old-school: you still install the software on your local hard drive and from that point you run it from your own computer. Even if it requires always-on internet (generally not received very well in internet-challenged Australia) it’s not really SaaS.

Microsoft’s Office365 offering is a much better example of consumer-level SaaS. If you have a license for 365, you can open, edit and save Microsoft Office files from your cloud storage on a computing device with nothing but an internet browser. This includes your Android tablet, internet kiosk computer, or your iToy of choice. You can even use your touchscreen phone if you’re feeling masochistic. The web server does all the work of generating the interface and accepting your commands. There are clear benefits for users in the freedom from dependence upon a specific computer; all you need is an account and an internet connection.

Office365 is late to the game, of course. Google Docs has been doing this for years, allowing users to create, edit and share word processed documents, spreadsheets and other files in the cloud. The recent Chromebook computers that the search behemoth has brought out don’t include an operating system to run Office, Pages or other traditional software. They rely entirely upon internet-served software including Google Docs. Clearly, local hard drives and installed software are not a big part of the future Google sees.

In addition to sending and receiving your working files, though, this model requires regular transmission of the data that forms the applications you’re using. As more and more software companies make the switch to serving their application through the web, rather than requiring installation, fast broadband will become ever more important.

Platform as a service (PAAS)

The logical extension of SaaS is Platform as a Service. PaaS spells the end of the computer as we know it. The idea is driven by the need for control and standardisation. As any IT systems manager knows, IT management is largely a matter of disaster prevention. Computer users have a long and proud history of installing anything and everything on their computers, up to and including a file for showing cute pictures of cats, named “Cat-Haxxor-lmfao!1!.exe”. In order to prevent this, or to easily repair the damage once it’s occurred, large organisations adopt Standard Operating Environments: a set of accepted software from operating system to installed programs. Anything else is not allowed to install, and if disaster strikes it’s easy to wipe the slate clean and reinstall the whole package.

The NBN will allow large companies to control the systems environments of their employees, in the office or at home, by streaming a new copy of the whole package every time you log onto your computer for work. Employees will only be able to log onto the work network with an appropriately controlled and safe computer. With the NBN, a home-based Australian employee of a US company will share exactly the same operating environment as everyone else in the organisation.

It’s not too much of a stretch to see this concept extended beyond the realm of work; where Microsoft or another company will offer a complete virtual computing experience. Windows 8 is already moving down this path; you log on to the computer using your Microsoft account, and your account is synchronised between any Windows 8 computers you log into. When this happens, it really will be the end of the desktop PC. It will probably also be the end of laptops and possibly tablets as well. Why carry a screen with you, when any surface can be turned into a desktop? When every house and every office and every shopping centre has connected terminals that you can log into to stream either your work environment or your personal (play) environment? The recent remake of Total Recall, despite its various flaws, showed this kind of computing future. It may be another thirty years away – it equally might be less than ten. But it won’t happen in Australia if we don’t have ubiqitous fast broadband.


What’s video conferencing and ultra-high-definition holographic entertainment without utilising the sense of touch? There is already plenty of work being done in the area of touch feedback. From sensory gloves to complete virtual reality systems, the ability to add vibrational and motion feedback has good potential to be a major part of future computing. But touch feedback, like video conferencing, requires fast data transmission in both directions: a remote computer needs to sense what you’re doing pretty much instantly and feed back the appropriate response. A delay of even a few milliseconds may be enough to break any suspension of disbelief that working on a remote machine may require. Fast broadband will make all sorts of things possible, from remote driving of mechanical suits in hazardous areas to fine motor control over surgical instruments, to virtual reality and, naturally, a revolution in the experience of online pornography.

3D printing and fabrication

Domestic 3D printing is all the rage these days. 3D printers use detailed CAD plans to build physical objects using a substrate – often a kind of plastic. The technology has been in development for well over a decade, and is now reaching the exponential stage. What are now large, expensive and fiddly machines and processes will become ever smaller and faster and more useful over time. It won’t take too long before 3D printers will be available to buy at Harvey Norman, and not too long after that potentially even embedded into wearable devices. The possible uses of 3D printing are still being discovered, but could easily include assembly parts (from tools to clips and screws; from panels to electronics), 3D models, even musical instruments. People have succeeded in printing their own weaponry. For some kinds of online shopping in the future, you won’t need to wait for delivery; you’ll instantly download a 3D plan and send it to your printer for fabrication. Once again, scads of data transmission is required for every downloaded plan, and if the technology takes off it will add to the ongoing demand for bandwidth.

While we’re talking Star Trek technology, let’s go one step further. If transporter technology is ever developed, it will entail disassembling an item (or a person) at one location and reassembling an exact replica at the destination. Whilst the actual method of accomplishing this is still unknown, you just know that it’s going to require the near-instantaneous transmission of quintillibytes of data. Believe it or not, there are people currently working on this kind of technology. If they succeed, it will be decades before it becomes commercially available. But the thing about the fibre cable that forms the NBN is that it won’t be outdated; it will likely still be around and in daily use.

The future is an exciting place and the technological possibilities seem endless. But life and society will increasingly revolve around fast, ubiquitous, and always-on network connectivity. Labor’s NBN sets Australia up to be a part of this, and potentially to be a leading developer of the technologies that will shape the lives of the next generations.

First posted 9/8/2013 on the Random Pariah.


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The NBN: Worth voting for

We’ve heard every argument for and against the National Broadband Network (NBN) from the moment it was launched. It’s fairly blatant that those who oppose it do so for political reasons, whereas the most vocal support in favour of it comes from industry experts down to just about everyone who knows how to turn on a computer. That’s an argument that has been debated fiercely since the launch of the Liberal Party’s broadband plan – considered by everyone bar Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to be a dud – but with the strong likelihood of an Abbott victory in September we look like inheriting a dud, in more ways than one.

This speech in Parliament by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott on 19 June represents one of the best arguments I’ve heard in favour of keeping the NBN plan rolled out by the Labor Government. His message no doubt fell on deaf ears in the Press Gallery. We in the independent media are not so deaf, so here is Oakeshott’s speech:

There is a view and mythology that loiters in Australia and in the corridors of this place, that the National Broadband Network build is some sort of expensive luxury spend. The urgency of this debate today, proved by a laugh received from a parliamentary colleague, is that this is an urgent, essential item and an investment with a rate of return for the Australian taxpayer. I raise it as a matter of public importance today, not just to make that point again but based on the most respected and most accurate report that comes out on a triennial basis, known as the Cisco Visual Networking Index. That is the global guidance for all governments around the world on global intranet traffic and what is happening with regard to the uptake and movement of data.

This is the most respected and the most accurate index that we have internationally. It normally errs on the conservative side, and it is indicating in its most recent report that we in Australia, regardless of the policy options on the table, have a problem of congestion that will emerge in the next five years. There is no question that by 2016 our network, if we continue to rely on copper, will be overwhelmed. The idea, the analogy, of pushing a pumpkin down a hosepipe has to start being the driver of policy solutions from all parties in this chamber. That is why this is urgent. This is not some long-term vision splendid and splash of money; there is an urgency about building this now to deal with the exponential growth in data that has been exposed by the most respected and accurate global index that we can get our hands on.

I am not lining up just one side of this parliament. This is going to be an issue for all policy. We should have addressed a failed, redundant, waterlogged, asbestos-riddled network a long time ago. By rolling out the NBN as per the corporate plan and the shareholder minister’s letter we are going to have transition issues on the back end of a 10-year deal, as exposed by this VNI – this virtual networking index from Cisco, the most respected index that we can get our hands on. We will have issues with transition on the back half of the current corporate plan and of congestion in communities which are not yet on the rollout list. That should not be denied and there should be a consideration from the existing corporate plan and NBN Co., right now, on those issues of transition and congestion.

The answer is not to go backwards. The answer is not to continue to rely on copper in any form. That is why this most recent information from the global index really is a call for the Liberal and National parties to reconsider their position on this last-mile copper-to-the-node policy; to look at the exponential growth that is happening in global internet traffic and reconsider relying on copper. That is quote after quote, evidence after evidence, that that policy simply will not work.

The vice president of Cisco global technology, a gentleman called Dr Robert Pepper, currently sits on the board of the Federal Communications Commission of the USA and its UK equivalent, Ofcom. In these roles, he briefs governments and network operators from around the world on infrastructure and what to expect from future data requirements and modes of broadband usage based on the reality of traffic statistics and growth curves. He is an American; he has no dealings in Australia or with Australian politics whatsoever. This is what he said when releasing these most recent Cisco VNI figures. There are about eight items.

He has said that all roads point to the requirement of optic fibre being implemented deep into both wired and wireless networks. He does say the future is indeed wireless but it will be mostly wi-fi and not 4G, and he emphasises that this is complementary to a fixed-fibre network as the skeleton of the communications network in any country. He says that Australian mobile networks will soon have to join the US and the UK in the concept of offloading data onto local wi-fi networks in order to avoid congestion, which is the emerging issue of our failing communications network. He said that, as an example, a 4G mobile user – and there are many in this room – uses 28 times more data than a 3G user. That is part of the lead-in to this exponential growth in data demand. He says that the new wireless spectrum needs to be opened up as quickly as possible. I would say that is urgent to cope with the growth that we are seeing. He says that as much wireless traffic as possible needs to be seamlessly offloaded onto the wired networks to avoid congestion. Again, this is the emerging issue of this moment. He also says there is a huge increase in requirement for low-latency data transfer and high upload speeds. People have been listening to this issue of download speeds.

The issue that has been identified by the experts on global internet traffic is not download speeds; it is upload speeds that are the political and policy issue of the moment. He also said – again, not knowing anything much about Australian politics – that fibre needs to be very nearby every internet connection, whether wired or wireless. Here is the killer blow. Again, talking about internet trends generally – not just in Australia, but really making this point about last-mile copper – he has said that fibre-to-the-node infrastructure which relies on a last-mile premises connection using Australia’s current copper infrastructure – its current HFC networks – or fixed 4G-like wireless will not have the symmetry, the contention ratio, the bandwidth or the latency to keep up with demand by 2016. He makes that point, but under the coalition’s policy within four years the network will be overwhelmed. He makes the point that it will be overwhelmed before it is complete.

That is why this is urgent before this chamber. We have three months before a very significant decision will be made at the ballot box, on a policy difference in how we build our communications technology for this country. There is a corporate plan in place and a shareholder minister’s letter that is currently delivering the rollout. It has a rate of return of over seven per cent. It delivers on telecommunications industry separation, which is long overdue in Australia. It drives an upgrade of the pits and pipes that were identified only a fortnight ago as being absolutely rubbish. This corporate plan actually drives an upgrade of this network of pits and pipes that was not necessarily built by Telstra and maybe not by Telecom, but maybe even by PMG – a long, long time ago. It is rubbish infrastructure that needs to be upgraded before we get into the issues of speed, reliability, pricing and rate of return to the taxpayer.

It absolutely does my head in when I hear members of parliament, who should know better, in conversations with their communities trying to spread the fib that this is a $90 billion spend or even a spend at all. This has a rate of return on investment to the taxpayer. It is an investment, not a spend. It is not a luxury item; it is an essential service for the future of this country. If we do not do it, we are going to have congestion on our internet in this country like we have never seen before. And it is going to be an enormous problem in business and in all forms of communication: health, education, personal, entertainment, whatever. Congestion is going to be our issue from 2016 and beyond.

The current government plan at least tackles it on the back-end of its 10-year rollout. If we allow this last mile of copper to be the winner of the day we are going to set ourselves up as the country that wants to put pumpkins down a hosepipe, that wants to build a one-lane Sydney Harbour Bridge and all the analogies you can think of. What are we doing even having a policy debate on this when the most respected, the most accurate global indices are saying we are going to have exponential growth and are going to hit a zettabyte by 2016? I am scared someone is going to ask me what a zettabyte is. My only response is that it is a lot. And it is a lot more than what is happening now.

A zettabyte, I am told, is over 11 times more than all the internet traffic globally in 2008. That is the type of exponential growth we are seeing. I am told that in 2016 or 2017 alone—depending on who you want to listen to – the NBN will deliver as much if not more global internet traffic than all the years of internet traffic before it. That is the exponential growth. We are becoming more and more reliant on and are grabbing the opportunities that are provided by the internet in all aspects of our personal and business lives.

The best we have got is saying we need to build fibre as deep as we possibly can into the infrastructure. Why are we arguing the toss on what is as deep as we possibly can when we get a rate of return by building it to the home? It just does not make sense that we are still stuck in the bog of a political debate when this is the opportunity for some really good visionary nation building.

I know everyone in every pub talks about what this country should do and what this parliament should do. Why are we blinking? Why are we falling for some sort of argument of max speed of download below what will be the international average speed? Why do we choose to set ourselves up so that by 2016 we will only just be ahead of Africa on the average speeds that are being offered by the Liberal and Nationals parties? We will just be ahead of the Middle East and Africa. We will be rivalling South America but we will be blown out of the water by the US and Europe. Why as a first world country can we not demand better than that? Why are we choosing the African model of fibre to a node that is going to be overwhelmed before it is complete?

Yes, many think this is a waste of money. Yes, many think this is a luxury item that we plucked off some top shelf of luxury items of policy and do not understand why we are delivering an upgrade to a 60-year-old redundant network that is going to blow its lid in the next four years unless we upgrade it. I urge the government to consider all those issues of transition that in my view are not as explicitly dealt with in their corporate plan and by NBN Co. on the back-end of their 10-year rollout. Post-2016 is going to be a problem if the policy settings stay as they are.

I urge my friend at the table, the shadow minister, to really do more to drag your side from blowing up this NBN network, and I give you credit for doing that, but to drag it that last mile of copper and get it to the home. That is what delivers ubiquity, delivers the rate of return and delivers on the issue of congestion that is emerging quickly.

I agree with Rob Oakeshott. The National Broadband Network is worth voting for.


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