Thursday, February 25, 2010

There should be more of it

It was good to see that Prime Minister Rudd took the time to visit the insulation workers who were protesting outside the parliament yesterday and to also announce a $41 million fund to tide them through as the revised scheme gets underway.

This is recognition that the Government was at fault and acknowledgement that he accepts responsibility. This is a much better outcome that we ever got under the Howard government which stonewalled through every bad decision - and there were plenty of them.

I think the Australian people will be willing to accept that from time to time governments get it wrong - if those governments are prepared to admit it - and then deal with the issue. It's good to see PM Rudd has accepted that his environment minister got it wrong with the insulation programme and is now dealing with it.

I am glad that he has dealt with Minister Garrett's mistakes now he needs to do the same with Senator Conroy's.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Competent Government

On December 13th 2007 - I wrote this article about "Competent Government".

Little did I know that in February 2010 that same line up of politicians would become an "Incompetent Government"?

I don't care if they are stressed out or have a big workload - they need to manage their portfolio's competently and they need to lose the *arrogant* factor that seems to have taken over their political lives.

Both Garrett and Conroy need to go - and soon.

I can't believe that Peter Garrett seems to have such little control of his portfolio. His senior bureaucrats also need to go - they clearly can't look after their minister. What on earth is wrong with the Department that they can't properly resource a simple program like rolling out insulation and solar panels? This is a joke - and these people need a serious kick in the backside. Put people in place who know what the real game is.

And Conroy needs to take a large dose of "humble pie" as he is pushed out the door. This Minister has taken arrogance to a new level and needs to come down a peg or seven. I can't believe that he seems intent on "bluffing" his way through the current crisis - clearly he thinks that he is above it all. Get Gordon Brown to recall him back home to the UK and make him chief dustbin inspector for West Leeds.

Of course none of the current problems are the *fault* of these two Ministers.

In the case of Garrett, the States are the problem - after all they have licensed the builders, the electricians and everyone else who touches houses - so why did they allow such a crappy situation to develop? Oh I forgot - the States are about issuing licenses - and taking money for them - they aren't interested in actually delivering anything - especially anything of quality.

In the case of Conroy - I just give up. He just doesn't "get it" - a bit like in the same way that Facebook users don't get email. Or twittering politicians don't get *trust*. That last bit is a joke Joyce.

Anyway, it might be that Kevin is pushing hard and some of his Ministers can't hack the pace. Those who can't need to put their hand up now and move slowly and quietly to the backbench. The rest of them need to take some "humble pills" and get on with it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Here is the Challenge

This is the challenge to Senator Conroy.

You say you want more and better quality local content on AU television - here is how to do it.

Instead of rebating $250 million worth of license fees to the commercial television broadcasters - where you know that it will quickly migrate to the pockets of the moguls - use the money to fund some excellent local content.

Do it this way.

* Set up an "Investment Fund" to distribute the money to producers.

* Make sure it is run by competent people - no bureaucrats or jobs for the boys - no ministerial oversight.

* Don't let vested interests drive the process - and keep the States and the major stations away from it.

* Put rules in place to ENSURE that the "product" result is excellent local media content for local consumption.

* Encourage lots of producers to compete for the pool - advertise widely.

* Encourage a large pool of ideas - with no restrictions on ideas.

* No single grant takes all the cake - maximum grant is 1% or thereabouts of the pool.

* Award dollar bonuses to producers who exceed both output quality and quantity.

* Don't dictate content - let the market determine what “excellent local content” is.

* Let the television stations "bid in competition" to take the content - and display it on their channels.

* Their "bid" can be anything - *peanuts*, *dog biscuits*, *ugly pills* or real money - but the highest value bid wins the content.

And then tell us all why this isn't a better option than pushing a quarter of a billion dollars this year into the already bloated pockets of the media moguls?

South Australia Mining Boom

It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that some politicians will go to push a pet *project*.

Take the much vaunted "Mining Boom" that Premier Mike Rann has been spruiking for 8 years now and which apparently is set to become the centrepiece of his campaign for re-election in 2010.

I suppose if he talks about it often enough then the local "world class" media will run lots of stories about it and that will result in their audience assuming that it must be true - and then giving Mike and crew a tick in the box on polling day. Or that is the plan.

Here is what Isobel Redmond said in the Age last week.

"The South Australian government is misleading the public by spruiking a mining boom that doesn't exist. Mining production was slow and even mining exploration in the state had taken a hit as a result of the global financial crisis.

We all know this is a resource-rich state and we want to have a mining boom, but thus far what we've had in this state has been an exploration boom - and that has gone backwards in the last 12 months".

"We are second bottom, only with Tasmania below us, in terms of the value of mining as an industry in this state."

This is what I said about the "Mining Boom" in September 2007 - and the story hasn't changed much since.

But if you "Google" "South Australia Mining Boom" you will get about 154,000 hits - most of which are talking it up - which just goes to show why Mike needs all those media staff on his team - to generate the "blurb" to support his *project*.

South Australia probably has a lot of mineral wealth and it might even be a good thing if some of that were dug up and exported - and the process of doing it might even create a few jobs.

But talking about it and wishing it were true does not mean it is true - irrespective of a looming political deadline.

Some basic knowledge is needed

The only reason that charlatans and politicians can get away with their often outrageous commentary is because Australians are so poorly informed on most matters of substance.

Our national media does a pathetic job of educating and informing the population about significant things - preferring to concentrate its efforts on sport and scandal. And Senator Conroy wants to give them even more money for doing such a great job - but that is another story.

And with an absence of knowledge about facts it becomes easy to influence small non-curious minds with ideas, thoughts and comments that pander to their ignorance and bias. Politicians and snake oil salesmen know all this and build their products and offerings around it.

The new/old *blues* leadership have been running around recently telling all and sundry that the Australian government debt position is serious and Barney even said that if things keep going the way they have then "the government" may even "default" on its debt.

Fortunately the Governor of the Reserve Bank has shown that to be the nonsense it is when he fronted the Senate this past week.

And all we really need to do is check out the attached graph to see the real debt story. This clearly shows that "government debt" and "personal debt" are miniscule in the scheme of things.

The real worry is "mortgage debt" - yep the same mortgage debt that is being accumulated by those people who are on their way to becoming "real estate millionaires" - because they just know that house prices never retreat and they are such smart and savvy investors.

My only question is this. "What makes them think that they are so smart and savvy with their real estate investments - when they are so dumb and ignorant about what is being offered by their politicians"?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Senator Conroy needs to explain

It astounds me that after only two and a half years in government Senator Conroy has personally created two major issues that have a monumental smell about them - and which he refuses to explain with any detail. Those few thousand of us who are outside observers call this "a stuff up" of monumental proportion. Is he looking for an excuse to retire - or be sacked?

Firstly, his Internet Filter. Where is the compelling evidence supported by robust science that demonstrates the need for his Internet Filter? He refuses to provide any detail of his rationale or logic and thinks that it is OK to stonewall and bluster his way through - in an increasingly arrogant fashion. Well, all this does is reinforce the view that his scheme is a result of "shonky deals" done behind closed doors with the "religious right". Does he think it is OK to pander to the interests of "the disconnected few" which then disadvantage "the connected many"?

Secondly, his TV license rebate. According to his press release of 7th Feb - "The Government will protect Australian content on commercial television by offering licence fee rebates to broadcasters in 2010 and 2011. Licence fee rebates will be 33 per cent in 2010 and 50 per cent in 2011 to ensure that commercial broadcasters can continue to invest in new Australian content.”

And yet there is no new requirement for these broadcasters to invest in "new Australian content". This looks like a blatant attempt to "buy favour" with the commercial TV broadcasters in an election year. Surely he knows - his boss definitely knows - that trying to buy favour with the Australian right wing media is an exercise in futility. They will take the money - but they won't deliver the goods. And anyway there are better ways to get a result - that don't involve selling your soul.

If Senator Conroy was a student of political history then he would realise that his approach in these matters is a recipe for widespread electoral unrest and potential disaster for his team. But my guess is that he wouldn't appreciate the subtlety and meaning of that. He seems to be a "crash through" or "crash" kind of guy.

I don't actually know why he is doing this - and apparently neither do the other 99.99% of the population. Surely, even the dumbest and most arrogant of politicians would realise that they need to "explain themselves". But apparently not this Senator from Victoria.

PS - Senator Conroy on ABC radio Thursday morning - here. He seems to have a well polished skill for evasion and obfuscation.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Education, Innovation and Technology

So here in Australia there is a feeling that we have somehow escaped the major effects of the GFC and business is almost back to normal.

Small business in particular are enjoying the fruits of the Federal Government handouts - running around in their new 50% discount 4 wheel drives and enjoying Kevin's multiple handouts for insulation, computers and other "investment incentives". They are laughing all the way to Bali - or New Zealand.

It has become so bad that both large and small business now have the expectation that government will continue shovelling cash at them. Apparently all they need do is exist and hold out their hands - and the cash will continue to flow. I see and hear about it every other day.

But elsewhere - in the United States where the GFC has had a major adverse impact - there is mammoth effort going into modernisation and innovation and technology and education - because they have escaped the bullet and recognise that they need to do something before the next one demolishes them.

This is an example of what is happening there - and what should have been a major part of the investment mix here.

But hey why build a "NextFab" when you can have a new 4 wheel drive on the Government.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Evidence Based Policy - where is it?

I don't mind any brand or colour of politician - providing they act in the best interests of their constituents and use evidence as the basis for their dialog and decision making.

Particularly when their decision making has the potential to impact many of us and to change the "rules of the game" in ways that disadvantage some of us.

A couple of examples:

Many state politicians are wringing their hands about the over representation of young adults in road fatalities this year. Who knows what they will come up with - but it won't be evidence based - simply because the evidence doesn't exist. Or rather it does exist but it hasn't been collected and analysed effectively. State governments have not done the work to understand the "root cause" of these road fatalities - and so the only way they can come up with something that is effective - is by *accident*. This is an example of a problem that has been so distorted by the political process - and other imperitives (state revenue raising) that there is zero chance that we will ever get a good outcome and reduce the risk of young adults being hurt. This is one policy area that is crying out for a paradigm shift.

The other example is with Senator Conroy's Internet Filter. Where is the benefit/cost analysis and the large portfolio of evidence that is needed to justify his actions? The answer is no-where because this is a political decision not one that is based on evidence.

A small subset of our community with particular religious values, perspectives and ideas has so objected to some of the content that is available on the internet that they have been moved to try to influence Senator Conroy into implementing a "internet filter". They don't have any actual evidence of it's harm or "relative badness" they just object to it - and they are both vocal and powerful. And so the rest of us will have to wear the consequences - particularly the "unintended consequences" which will be both wide and far reaching. Especially for those who work at the leading edge of technology in and around the internet.

Of course there hasn't been any rigorous "evidence based" analysis of the effect of this filter because those in charge know what it would show. And they are quick to refer to the great unwashed who think that an "internet filter" is a good idea - despite not knowing anything about it or it's impact.

Unfortunately policy development across state and federal governments of all colours and persuasions is far too often undertaken like this.

These are the things we need to highlight, debate and change leading up to elections.

Since when does mass opinion equate to good policy?

I only ask because today we discover that "A new poll has found overwhelming support for the Government's internet filter."

Yep - and there are pink fairies at the bottom of Senator Conroy's garden too.

Of course it is possible to get the result you want by asking the questions that people will respond to - and which pander to their inbuilt bias or prejudice or ignorance.

It is much harder to ensure a scientific based poll where respondents are properly informed about the subject before being asked the question.

There is a sad trendency in this country to rush to develop public policy based on the results of these "polls". And all that means is we end up with dud policy. Just like we will with this issue.

Now if these "pollsters" had informed their "respondents" that the "filter" will be based on a blacklist that is secret and that legitimate content will be "filtered" along with all the bad stuff - then many would likely have a different response.

There are other big issues here that seem to somehow have been reduced to a simplistic view of what is "good" and "bad". Now this obfuscation might help Senator Conroy get his filter up but it will do nothing for the debate and will probably guarantee that we end up with poor policy.

I remember that many of the people now opposing this censorship scheme were also against a scheme of the previous government - called "WorkChoices". My guess is that the medium term results of both will be similar.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Senior Senator from Queensland

After attempting to emulate soulmate Barney Rubble in Senate Estimates yesterday, Ron Boswell has been called to account today. I won't detail the saga because as usual the MSM are full of it.

"I haven't got a racist bone in my body; I'm certainly not racist." he said.

Perhaps not - but he doesn't have much concern for the environment - or reality ether.

The senior Senator from Queensland has almost single handedly taken on the role of the defender of the "big carbon polluters". Well, that is the conclusion you would have to come to after reading his many pronouncements on the subject - which are here.

And according to his profile "Bossie" has held the position of Leader of The Nationals in the Senate since 1990.

And is the champion of small business against - well just about everyone else.

Apparently he also single handedly defeated Pauline Hanson and fought off the "far right" in Queensland.

But he is most proud of the work that he is doing to defeat that dreaded ETS of the Rudd Government.

Apparently "Bossie" is the defender of mediocrity and the status quo in Queensland and has become quite good at it - after 27 years in the Senate. And if he lives long enough then he will be there until June 2014!

I am afraid that Senator Boswell is one of those "old school" folks that I referred to a couple of days ago - he hasn't worked out that his best moments are behind him and apparently he wants to keep fighting the cultural and political battles of the 1970's - probably all the way up to June 2014.

Senator Boswell should retire early and Queensland should find someone who understands their real interests to represent them in the Senate. Because the issues are only going to get more complex and Queenslanders will want more than a Barney Rubble impersonator putting their case.

Ideas Cloud

One of the projects that I worked on last year was to create an "Ideas Cloud" for a large corporate - allowing their customers to offer up and vote on "Ideas" that they thought would help improve their customer experience.

Now the state of California has grabbed the idea for it's citizens.

“We in Sacramento are not under the delusion that we have a monopoly on good ideas. We would like to channel the energy and enthusiasm of our citizens to help us strengthen how we build and deploy IT in the State of California."

"Let’s ‘walk the talk’ and use crowdsourcing to get a consensus on the popular ideas."

"Using the link below, I encourage you to provide ideas, review and comment on other people’s ideas, and vote ideas up and down. As the tool aggregates our judgments, certain ideas will rise to the top. I would then take the top ranking ideas and further refine them through an interactive dialogue.” said California CTO P.K. Agarwal.

Here is the link to the California "Ideas Cloud".

So tell me again why Australian state governments aren't doing this across a wide range of their services?

Perhaps they already have access to all the best ideas and don't need any new ones!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Main Problem is Dumb

You know the main problem is "dumb" when the *blues* leader Tony Abbott can get away with spruiking sugar coated bullshit to Australians and his opinion poll ratings go up!

Which is what happened this week.

He has the worst of all possible climate change solutions - and a range of other bogan policies - and his approval ratings increase. Duh?

Well it's quite simple really - he is speaking to the *blues* "base" which is mainly comprised of the lower to middle class - and who are mostly grumpy and angry old white men. Did I mention they are also dumb?

They are this way because for quite a while now they have been left out of the decision making process. These are John Howard's "battlers". The dipsticks who respond to talkback radio and who write letters to their local newspaper and who have opinions about and solutions to every problem known to man.

Their solutions usually involve society regressing back to the 1850's with large doses of capital punishment - and digging up more stuff - and creating more environmental problems. But apparently we need to respect their opinions.

They are used to being the people who were listened to by Australian Governments and whose pig ignorant opinions are often the basis of conservative party policies. Since Kevin has been in charge they have been ignored - and they have been getting a bit tetchy.

But Tony has made them "feel good" again - after all he is one of them ;-)

One small problem (for them) is that they are all heading for 80 and all we have to do is wait a bit.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Two Terms are Enough

It is obvious to many of us that the "two term" rule would be an effective way for us to get our democracy back.

The "two term" rule is about limiting governments and their ministers to two terms in power. Two terms pulling the levers seems to be the point beyond which their hubris gets out of control. This seems to be the point where they cease worrying about their constituents and become increasingly interested in cementing their imperious ways in place. It's where they try to manage and manipulate the system for their personal benefit - or where they have become so intoxicated with power that they actually believe that they are the chosen ones and will resort to all sorts of shenanigans to stay in power.

Witness the blatant anti democratic nonsense that South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson has tried on over these past few days. This man is so out of touch that he can't possibly be considered for a third term - can he?

The Rann government is at the end of its second term and seeking a third on March 20th. The spin, BS and manipulation that is going on to get them another four years is hilarious. Media Mike and his cronies have become used to pulling the levers and looking after their mates. They like the job titles and the fancy offices and staff and the big white limos. They like the attention and power and won't give it all up easily.

Unfortunately a combination of incumbency and voter apathy will combine to stack the deck in their favour.

The American founding fathers recognised this problem and limited their Presidents to two terms.

There is zero chance that we will be able to convince our politicians to amend the Australian constitution to similar effect - so we need to be vigilant and do it ourselves - state by state, election by election and seat by seat.

The only way is to treat our politicians like underwear and change them often. I hope you will join me in getting this revolution underway on March 20th.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Blues Climate Con Job

The *blues* released their Direct Action Plan today - which is supposed to be their response to the Climate Change problem and how they will deal with carbon emissions on behalf of the nation.

Having just read their *plan* I can tell you that it is no such thing.

There is bugger all detail and most of their document is devoted to bagging the Government's version of an ETS.

This is the plan you would have if Nick Minchin was responsible for dealing with Climate Change.

You remember him - he is the guy who thinks that Climate Change is a "left wing plot" designed to "de-industrialise the West". He seems to be in charge at *numbnut* central.

Basically the *blues* plan is about re-inforcing the ignorance, bias and prejudice of the *numbnuts* and their followers. This plan is really about the *blues* telling Australians that they can deal with the carbon problem with minor cost and no personal impact - and we Australian's don't need to worry about it at all. Thank goodness for that ;-)

In other words, they are doing the same thing with "Climate Change" that they did with "WorkChoices". They are bullshitting us!

Don't worry Tony says, we know what we are doing, we are looking after (mention big issue here) and all you need to do is leave it to us because we know how to deal with it and will make sure that you are looked after - wink wink - nudge nudge.

The Australian voting population can choose to believe that - or not.

My view is that this is just another *blues* con job - and the passage of time will confirm that - no matter how hard "The Australian" tries to spruik it.

PS - Joshua Gans has a few interesting words to say on the subject here.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mike's Submarines

This morning I nearly choked on my weeties while listening to the radio - when that old crooner "Media Mike" told listeners that he was positioning South Australia to bid for the design and construction of the next generation submarine fleet.

I immediately thought - "My goodness what a mess that would turn into".

Setting aside for the moment the disaster that is the current submarine fleet - all built in South Australia and which have been largely inoperable since they were constructed.

What about those other examples of South Australian innovation, competence, quality and value?

* The metropolitan traffic management system is a relic from the 1950's. I hasn't worked effectively for decades and the state seems incapable of doing anything about it.

* The state water system is in a similar mess - successive state governments have ignored the problem while water quality is now at third world standards.

* A previous state government thought it could create silicon village in Adelaide and ended up destroying 300 small businesses - the majority of which have moved interstate and overseas - taking their intellectual property with them.

I could go on but you get the picture.

History shows us that the politicians who get to pull the levers in the place couldn't run a p*ss up in a brewery. It's a sad indictment of the political selection process down there if you ask me. What on earth causes all these dimwits to seek political leadership in the state?

And it might be politically expedient for "Media Mike" to make this announcement in the lead up to a state election but the reality is that based on his track record and those of his predecessors - he couldn't deliver - and that would be a major disaster for the nation.

Does that actually bother anyone?