Sunday, December 30, 2007

Abolish the States?

In the SMH on 28 December (Sidestepping the seven-year itch) David Humphries wrote “This is not an argument for the states' supremacy, or their abolition, a constitutional nonsense given the effective impossibility of removing the states by referendum.”

I've heard lots of similar commentary over recent times, and would first claim that just because something is hard doesn't mean it is impossible - effectively or otherwise. It is possible that a requisite referendum could be past in every State.

However, there really is a relatively easy way to abolish the States, amend s51 of the Constitution so that the Federal Parliament isn’t restricted about the fields they can legislate in and slowly the States can be eroded into irrelevance. The operation of the provisions about Federal law having precedence over State laws mean the Federal Parliament can legislate the States out of "effective" existence.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Property Rights

There is a strand of economists who would generally call themselves institutional economists who place great store in the concept of property rights. This theory runs both a developmental perspective - that economic development can only occur once prpoerty rights are protected - and an environmental perspective - following the Coase theorem that all externalities can be efficiently resolved by the market if all property rights are fully allocated.

There are, however, many flaws with this approach. Firstly, the Coase theorem has as an assumption that transaction costs in trading the properyy rights are zero. Secondly, many argue from the efficacy of the allocation of a property right to the presumption of its allocation. So a polluting firm claims that the property right in air quality (or water quality) is already theirs so they are the ones who need compensation if they are to stop polluting.

Joshua Gans writing in his blog Game Theorist has written a neat short review of Bee Movie. He says the movie as an allegory about property rights and concludes:

The message for the kiddies is you might have property rights but that enforcing them may cause others harm, so think about that one. Now think about that people who might be downloading Bee Movie rather than dragging everyone to the cinema.

It is an interesting thought for those running the property rights line at some of our biggest corporations. Take for instance Telstra who argued a case (decision pending) in the High Court that the access regime was unconstitutional as it was an unjust taking of property. I haven't fully read the transcripts, but one of the arguments is that if you choose to be a telecommunications carrier you choose to play by these rules.

It is an interesting argument because in a separate case Telstra and Optus won a case against local government authorities who wanted to charge the carriers for the above ground and underground space they occupied with cables. They won that case on the basis that the Federal telecommunications power did enable the over-riding of the State laws.

But it does seem to be a little like the Bee Movie analogy - you don't know where a property rights argument might end. Are the Council's being deprived of a property right by the Federal law, and therefore be entitled to compensation from the Commonwealth? would the Commonwealth raise this from a tax on the telcos?

This is not meant to be a legal argument here - just an argument of consequences. A similar matter also emerged in the case, that the asset of the network was always encumbered by the power of the Commonwealth Government to regulate prices.

Those who are resorting to property rights arguments might find out they have less than they ever imagined.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

John Valder

John Valder in a letter to the SMH tries to argue that the Maxine McKew campaign was nothing special and that the ALP could have won in Bennelong in 2004.

There was an excellent repy today from young Tim Quadrio under the heading A Good Clean Win. He makes the three points that Maxine ran a positive campaign - not the slurs Valder wanted to rely on; that Maxine won with the national average against the incumbent PM ; and that in 2004 the election overall was such a disaster for Labor nothing would have secured an extra 5% in Bennelong.

For the record my own unused contribution was:

The beauty of time is that we never can know what would have happened if we had done things differently. That allows each of us the luxury of our own alternative view of history. John Valder (Letters 18 December) thinks that the ALP could have won Bennelong in 2004 if only they had taken the seat seriously. His reasoning is the influence of the ‘Not Happy John’ campaign and the candidature of Andrew Wilkie for the Greens.

My experience working polling booths on election day at this and the previous election is that the approach of ‘Not Happy John’ and the more recent incarnation ‘GetUp!’ delivered wavering votes back to the Liberals, specifically Mr Howard. As a former Liberal it is easy to understand that Valder thinks negative campaigning works, but it usually doesn’t. Its few apparent successes are masked by the more powerful effect of incumbency.

The outcome in Bennelong was primarily different because of the outcome nationally. The national two party preferred swing was 5.45%, while in Bennelong it was 5.53%. The significance of the Bennelong campaign was more in the uplift in spirits it provided across the ALP and Maxine McKew’s softly, softly model was ideal for that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What Gerard has said lately

I tried sending a letter to the SMH in relation to Gerard Henderson's 13 November column but I clearly no longer have the knack of being published in that journal. Only Crikey and the AFR and a few telco industry rags seem to like my stuff. Of course, the beauty of the blog is that I am my own editor - albeit for a far smaller readership.

His 13 November item was headed Truck of truth hits a few potholes. This was a column written during the election and in it he started with a criticism of then candidate Maxine McKew contrasting some comments she made with future outcomes during the last election.

His purpose was to "out" behaviour where participants in public debate label their opponents liars when “they really mean they recall events in different ways, disagree on current matters or have contrasting views about the future”.

This is fascinating because Mr Henderson has a reputation for writing detailed letters to correct what he claims are untruths said about him. He also has a reputation for pursuing the “Sydney Line” (as incoming Quadrant editor Keith Windshuttle calls it) of absolute truth.

So his column made interesting reading. Hopefully this new found belief in relativism means we can call a truce in the “history wars”.

More troubling is his claim that “inaccurate predictions” do not constitute a lie. I can accept that an inaccurate prediction based on a full analysis of such observations and explanatory theories as available is not a lie. But I think it becomes a lie when the person making the prediction consciously chooses to ignore factors in making that statement. For example, to make a three year prediction about interest rates which no market economist would dare contemplate.

The same applies to a wilful failure to obtain additional information that was readily available, such as occurred with the children overboard scandal, or to consciously avoid “intelligence” that runs contrary to one’s pre-determined course of action, as happened with Iraq.

We needed more than just a truck of truth this election; we needed an injection of integrity. And in the end it seems like we got it - with the formidable Senator John Faulkner appointed as Special Minister for State with just such a brief.

But dear Gerard Henderson has again today inspired me to write. His contribution Failed policy strong on sentiment was an attempt to claim that the idea of minimum "living" wages is a fanciful affair that works against the interests of the economy at large and hence people in it.

There are two specific matters that I want to challenge. The first is that he manages to cover the early history of the Harvester Judgement without mentionuing why it was that Justice Higgins was required to rule on what constituted a "fair and reasonable wage". The reason was simply that in the era of protectionism the idea of protection was to protect employees as much as investors, and so the law stated that a firm would benefit from the protection (by exemptions from excises) so long as employees were paid a fair and reasonable wage.

The policy was itself entirely coherent if the assumption of protectionism was accepted, and it was not Higgins fault if the parliament's drafting was so woolly and vague. The fact that the first case required the development of a definition and a whole series of other parliamentary and judicial actions perpetuated the concept should not be laid at the feet of poor Justice Higgins.

The second point in the article to challenge is Henderson's derision of the proposition that if an employer can't pay a "fair and reasonable wage" then it would be better that they not be in business. Actually, a neo-classical view would be that it is indeed better not to have the firm in business if it cannot pay the genuine cost (a decent living) of the hire of labour. There are an array of reasons why labour might endure such conditions, but it is economically wasteful to consume something for less than the cost to produce it. Continuing to make the employment available "below cost" (subsistence) results in other ventures that might identify an available labor force from establishing or it results in labor not relocating when it should. This is an argument from simple economics, not from some social justice doctrine.

And what if the consequence is enduring unemployment? Well, the Keynsian response is still the right one. Generate growth in the economy by Government expenditure, either simply by the payment of unemployment relief, or far better by taking the opportunity to use the excess labour to undertake "nation building" projects. And in the process pay them a "living wage" because then we really could be accused of living in a fascist state as the workers on government projects dropped dead from malnutrition.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It gets worse - journalism that is

You can't blame journalists for the headings that sub-editors choose but "A Ruddslide that never happened" is how The Australian heads an article by Brad Norington.

The article makes the observation that as the count has continued more of the doubtful seats have gone to the coalition, and that the ALP holds a lot of seats by very slender margins. This is used to start a claim that the ALP didn't win a thumping victory. If one thought that newspaper was into running agendas you'd think it was an attempt to de-legitimise the ALP's "mandate".

Last time I looked (thirty seconds ago) the AEC website had the ALP on 52.86% 2PP with a swing of 5.60%, as oft repeated the third largest swing ever. It is no surprise that following a change of Government that the new Government has a lot of close marginals, because usually those seats have seen strong local defence campaigns by well known incumbents with the generous parliamentary resources of incumbency. Let's face it the coalition ran the mother of all "defend the marginals" campaign this election.

So let's not get confused. The win was huge and awesome. No one in the ALP had dreamed they could pull it off till about March, and even the move to Rudd was interpretted as desperation Mark 2 not a winning plan. And finally the former Prime Minister's so called political genius and direct connection with the Australian people has been revealed for the chimera it was. He won 96 because the coalition lost in 93 (i.e. the public were waiting with baseball bats). He really lost in 98 but won due to the effect of Govt held marginals. He won in 2001 because, as John Howard is quoted in the recent biography, the ALP misunderstood 1998 and he won in 2004 because the ALP campaign dissolved in the yawning gaps between Mark Latham and his campaign team (reminiscent of the ALP in 96 and the coalition in 2007).

And come the next election there will be a swag of local ALP members with all their resources, and who will have been doing their Kevin homework in their electorates.

Getting Policy Objectives Right

Peter Hartcher in the SMH has given the new Prime Minister suggestions on five key policy areas in which he needs to make progress.

I won't address them all here, but what I want to show is how shallow this kind of thinking and writing is. His first goal is for the new Government to show it is serious about fighting inflation and calls for the Government to run a higher surplus than the 1% commited to by Howard and Rudd in the election. He chooses 2% - not I think based on any science other than it is bigger than 1. This begs the question of what the Government is supposed to do with this surplus - they have no debt to pay off, they have almost already fully provisioned for the public service super and we have higher education and health endowment funds.

Perhaps Hartcher needs to ask whether there are other ways to divert cash into savings rather than expenditure. A really good way would be to get back to work on lifting average employees super contributions to 15% of income - not just politicians (in the post Latham rules) and public servants. One way is to divert some tax cuts into employees super funds. So we can still tax but not spend but make the saving in the name of the taxpayers not the amorphous Government.

Hartcher's second policy area is education, where he generally joins the crowd who want to beat up on teachers and education unions. His first call is to adopt national standard curricula. Memo to all commentators: this is a good policy almost everywhere other than NSW where we still have a fairly substantive curricula. Uniformity in itself isn't always necessarily good. He then turns his attention to literacy and numeracy standards asking the States to insist that the results of the national standards tests be released school by school when conducted. This is such poor policy, because it makes the assumption that the school is the only factor determining the result and ignores other socio-economic factors. I'm all for reliable data, but what we need is data on the school "value added". That is, for each school how good is the phalanx of Year 6 results against the results that the same students (wherever they were then) scored in Year 3 (or whatever prior comparison years are available). That is the measure of the school.

As for demanding "explicit mechanisms for improving levels of numeracy and literacy" I don't know of any State education system that doesn't have that as a goal and indeed have matching strategies. Does Hartcher really imagine it is otherwise?

On the third policy area - health - Hartcher really squibs it by saying "All you have to do this year is set the detailed performance targets for the states to meet" While that is simply repeating what the ALP said in the campaign, anyone will tell you that the problem in health policy is actually knowing what good looks like. For example, if hospitals have success in improving recovery times and reducing hospital stays (usually with the application of expensive high-tech capital equipment) they get criticised for reducing the number of bed-days in the hospital.

Public policy planning I think is a little beyond the capability of Peter Hartcher.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Great call on talkback radio - what the Liberals should do for leadership "Have one last look for Harold Holt".

Since K_Rudd said on saturday that he'd celebrate with a strong cup of tea and "an iced Vo-Vo" we went out on saturday to buy ourselves a pack of what we now call "Kevin biscuits".

Great item today in the AFR by Pamela Williams about Peter Costello, and the Liberal campaign in general. It stood out to everyone but the Liberal party eighteen months ago that they should change leader. That they didn't is their collective fault.

I hope they realise that if they'd changed leader the ALP wouldn't have...and that would have made all the difference.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Help please

I am currently a "gentleman between engagements" and today had the experience of a large professional services firm telling me they weren't going to hire me on the basis that "there was growing concerns about the risks to them from my political views which are widely known". In discussions this, my blog, had been raised.

Apart from my blog I contribute letters to the AFR, comments in Crikey, comments in an industry journal Communications Day and have contributed two Opinion pieces to another industry journal called Exchange. What would you find from reading this lot?

Well from this blog it is pretty clear that I'm leftish. I have blogged about my experiences of working with the ALP, I've talked about my experiences with the Howard fund-raiser at Kirribilli House. Like many Australians I've expressed concern about the treatment of David Hicks - but mainly by praising his US lawyer.

I've also commented on rugby, netball and bridge. On rugby I had a throw away line about John Howard not being able to welcome home a winning team - and I note now he didn't seem to bother at all about our wonderful netballers winning the World Championship.

If I go back further I find a whole catalogue of slightly leftist commentary, but very little that is overtly political. I have been critical of truth in Government and I suspect I will be when the Government changes. I was specifically critical of a reaction I got from some Liberal staffers to some comments in Crikey. I was also generally critical of the approach of the Liberal party in an item headed "No small l in Howard's LiberaL party" which was actually a note about how I thought my Optus colleague Paul Fletcher would have made a good candidate in Cook.

So I'm interested in any help any of my few readers can give me in telling me how my obvious politics would be a risk to a major professional services firm.

If they've read more widely over recent days they might have seen some items in Crikey like the one referred to in today's blogging. There was also a reference to ASIO and the Izhar Ul-Haque case in which I questioned whether the AG should perhaps undertake further investigation. Then there was a reference to remuneration at Telstra. This comment was meant to be about the use of comparative statistics but I did go over the top a little. But just as interestingly I spent that morning at an AICD workshop on "Directing Today for Tomorrow" in which many thought the correct action of the Telstra remuneration committee was to have told shareholders they would resign as Directors if the "non binding" vote was lost - it probably would have had a better outcome.

Elsewhere I recently had two letters published in the AFR backing the so-called Birdsville amendment (which I can't link to because AFR content is no longer available). I've also had a recent exchange in Communications Day backing Telstra's plans to cut the copper in its FTTN plans (which I will link to once they are in their archive).

Apart from that this year I've been a candidate for the Democrats at the State election before being unsuccessful in seeking Senate pre-selection. I'd never have thought that the Australian Democrats constituted a radical anti-business party.

So - as they say - live and learn. Or as they also say - what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. "They" are very wise.

WiFi and all that

Readers of Crikey might have seen a series of rather sad comments flying between me and another Crikey contributor over the health effects of WiFi that one observer close to me referred to as like a pair of eight year olds arguing.

For the record the sequence started with a contribution to Crikey
about WiFi
, in response to which I submitted a contribution to Crikey's comments section.

This scored a response from the original author (which misspelt my name). I came back with a curtish reply which logically got another bite, this time accusing me of being a spin doctor and not revealing my identity.

By this time Crikey was getting sick of it but allowed me a last reply. They actually asked me to edit down my original submission which I did.

The bit I ommitted for space reasons was some further analysis of the work of The Bionitiative Group. This was in relation to one of the chapters of their study which had used studies of seamstresses to claim health effects from low magnetic fields. The research pointed out these fields came from both motors in sewing machines and transformers. This posed the obvious question that if we believe in this risk as well we should presumably be concerned about the tranformers driving the power supply of PCs, printers, scanners and modems far more than the WiFi.

We could of course be wrong, but as far as I can see we are still far better worrying about the number of people killed on roads than worrying about health effects that haven't been observed from some very old technologies.

Friday, November 02, 2007

How slow is the AEC

Nominations were declared at 12 noon today and draws for ballot positions conducted immediately - so how come at 7:22pm there isn't a list of candidates on their website?

Have they all gone home and we have to wait till Monday?

Sunday, October 07, 2007


Oh crap! The Wallabies were defeated by England...seriously depressing.

But on the good side;
1. The All Blacks got done;
2. John Howard won't be able to welcome home the World Cup winners; and
3. George Gregan didn't get a miracle send-off (and, on my observation, he partially cost us the game - it was the slow ponderous George on display, and the forwards didn't adapt to it).

More bad news. The Melbourne Rebels are in the final of the inaugural Australian Rugby Championship. If they win how insufferable will they be - as they won the last A-League, the Storm won the NRL and Geelong the AFL.

Friday, October 05, 2007

ICT Policy Debate

This morning I attended an Australian Computer Society breakfast entitled “Australia - The Next Wave or Just A Backwater?“. (Who invented the business beakfast?) It was a policy debate between Senators Conroy, Coonan and Allison on ICT policy, excellently moderated by Peter Blasina.

It was a remarkably well attended and worthwhile exercise. However, the audience was quite subdued, only coming out with unsolicited applause once (more on that later). Perhaps that is due to the IT industry at least being notorious night owls – breakfast isn’t their best time.

The debate covered fairly expected territory – everyone agreeing on doing more on broadband but disagreeing on how. Everyone agreed on the need for innovation and skills development but disagreed on how.

Senator Coonan showed the benefits of incumbency with a briefing book covering all the various aspects of policy, including a plethora of various grants. Intriguingly she said the need was to bring these all together into a coherent plan, which sort of begs the question why she wasn’t doing that already.

Of course we know, as the Ex Cathedra column I had published in today’s Exchange newsletter said, we have had a piecemeal approach to policy to get the various big changes – especially Telstra privatisation – through.

Only Senator Allison mentioned the SS – structural separation – in her speech. She was also the only one to get spontaneous audience applause – I think as reaction to her answer on a later question on separation. Conroy and Coonan were both, shall we say, guarded. Though Conroy grabbed a few laughs when Coonan was talking about "being afraid of Labor and picking technologies" and Conroy interjected " like opel" (It is an nteresting point because all the money Labor and the Democrats wanted to spend on the CAN to enable dial-up will be required for FTTN - you can't run broadband over pair-gains either).

The question I would have liked to ask, but didn’t get the call, was about other actions needed to get widespread adoption of Broadband. It is one thing to have the network, it is another to have a PC and application software. The question is “Should the Australian Government support a version of open source operating system and application software to reduce the costs of ICT for all Australians?” After all every new PC just increases the ICT trade deficit including a very hefty slice to Seattle.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Labor and Business

The election draws closer and the prospect of an ALP win grows ever more real. The combination of the Liberal attack on the union affiliation of the ALP and a misinformed media is drawing attention to the question of how business can work with the ALP.

Jennifer Hewett in The Australian has attempted to describe the Labor party front bench as business friendly (Conservative Kev and worldly Wayne will keep the radicals under control 12 Sept, 2007), but in doing so has undersold the ALP frontbench and, presumably unwittingly, spread untruths about at least one of them.

First it should be understood that the Howard Government itself is not really a business friendly Government. In fact it is a big business friendly Government, and in this regard is looking more like the discredited United Australia Party than the “broad church” Liberal Party that Menzies created.

When business approaches Ministers the first thing we seek is understanding, because our interests are seldom well aligned to any philosophical stance. In this regard the ALP front bench is often better equipped than the coalition. Individuals with a predominant experience in industrial advocacy in my experience tend to understand the real business world better than a group of lawyers, even if those lawyers had a practice in commercial law.

In that regard the ALP front bench is more experienced and “business friendly” than the incoming coalition front bench of 1996. And let there be no mistake the ALP fully understands the relationship between a healthy economy and the need to do “good things”. This is a point understood as well by the left as the right of the ALP, no matter how hard the Hewett’s of the world try to draw comfort from the fact that Rudd and Swan are of the right. The only risk to that would be to continue to deny the ALP the opportunity to govern until we again encountered a wave of frustrated neophytes like we did in 1972.

On the specifics, Hewett claimed “[Lindsay] Tanner put many people off while as shadow telecommunications (sic) spokesman”. As the Head of Regulatory Affairs at one of Australia’s leading telcos in that period I can assure everyone that Tanner did, like every Minister and shadow, put Telstra “off”, but the industry as a whole saw a spokesman willing to grapple with issues and advance policy positions in the interests of all Australians. I believe the media industries that he also was dealing with as communications spokesperson shared the same view.

Of course, we are all at times disappointed that a Minister or shadow might not decide to pursue the course we individually promote. But the way you judge the person is whether your views were heard and considered. The only gripe I had with Tanner was when he “went soft” on the structural separation of Telstra on the verge of a House of Representatives inquiry called by then Minister Alston and subsequently abandoned. I believe Telstra on the other hand had been mightily “put off” that Tanner had advanced the option at all.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

APEC Bush and all that

As the time for the US President's arrival draws closer it is time to make a few comments about APEC.

The first is about the extraordinary security measures taking place in Sydney. In 1966 I stood (as a nine year old) on an awning of a Sydney building waving US and Australian flags to welcome LBJ - I still have the badge from that day. In 1991 George Bush Senior visited Australia and I recall a US consultant we were using at the time commenting on how fascinating it was to go watch Bush in Sydney because you could get much closer than you ever could in the US.

Today we have a riot proof fence through northern reaches of the city and multiple clearway routes for the President's arrival. Did the "world change" on 11 Sept 2001 or did we (or they) do something to change it.

One theory would be that global prosperity simply emboldens and provides the tools to the protesting/revolutionary groups. That is what Schumpeter would argue at least. An alternative theory is that the corporatised world, of which the US is the pre-eminent symbol, talks a lot about people, choice and democracy but in its concern for the atmomised ideal Individual has lost site of all the real individuals.

Now on to the second question, much asked on radio, "What are the protesters protesting about at APEC?" One answer is, of course, that they are the "anti-free-trade" crowd - a body that believes the object of free trade is the agrandisement of corporations and their share holders. But APEC isn't really a free trade group as such.

While I can't see any real reason to protest about APEC I can see lots of reasons to protest to many of the "economies" (as they are called in APEC lingo) in the grouping;
Brunei Darussalam - dictatorship (the worlds last sultanate), deforestation
People's Republic of China - human rights, pollution, workplace safety, death penalty
Hong Kong (see PRC)
Indonesia - deforestation, death penalty,endemic corruption
Japan - whaling, agriculture protection, not teaching the trutyh about WWII
Republic of Korea - workers wages and rights
Malaysia - arresting opposition leader, harbouring terrorists
New Zealand - holding the Bledisloe Cup (but that's about it)
Papua New Guinea - corruption
Phillipines - harboring terrorists
Russia - nuclear rearmament
Singapore - death penalty
Chinese Taipei (see PRC)
Thialand - dictatorship
USA - everything but start with Iraq, global warming, corruption, death penalty

I didn't tink of anything for Chile, Mexico or Peru - perhaps reflecting a lack of knowledge of the Americas - or Vietnam. In the case of Vietnam any problems they still have we can probably blame on someone else!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pauline's Back

Oh my god, not only is Pauline back but she can make a mess of journos - typically Karl on Today.

While evidently Karl apologised the next day for the interview, interviewing Hanson by attacking her is the wrong way to go. She needs to be asked harder questions, not belligerent ones...such as what are the imports that are damaging Australia's farmers? Does she think the price of food (or anything else) should go up.

That's the way to deal with her.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Day in Court

Today there was a directions hearing in the matter (File number NSD1515/2007) of Telstra taking the Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts to court to have almost all the documents involved in awarding the Broadband Connect funding to OPEL. Telstra's biggest gripe seems to be that the value available for tender was increased through the process and that they didn't get the opportunity to bid for this amount.

Having nothing else more important to do I went and had a squiz. Proceedings started with Justice Graham explaining to the court that he holds Telstra shares and T3 installment receipts, and that he has in the past represented Helen Coonan in an honorary capacity. He left it open to parties to file motions in relation to these declarations.

Counsel appeared for Telstra and the Minister, but also for OPEL who indicated that the documents applied for had a great deal of OPEL confidential information, and that OPEL may want to be heard on the question of relief or, if relief was granted, the terms of the access by Telstra to the documents.

The judge early in the proceedings asked of Telstra's counsel whether there was any likelihood of the application being amended, to which Telstra's counsel replied that the application had been subject to detailled preparation. The judge however still included in the timetable a time by which Telstra can submit an amended application. To the untrained observer it looked like a big hint that the terms of the application had been written too broadly and would fail as a "fishing" expedition.

The next question on timing was whether at hearing there would be evidence introduced or not, and the suggestion for counsel for the Minister that this might involve cross examination. Telstra indicated its only evidence would be the affidavit by Paul Smith filed by Telstra. This affidavit is not currently available to anyone other than the parties (until it is "read" in court) and Telstra also indicated it includes Telstra confidential information. (Note there are eleven Paul Smith's in Telstra - the one who has sworn the affidavit is probably Manger, Business Development & Support, Telstra Country Wide).

For the record, Telstra is applying under Order 15A rule 6 of the Federal Court Rules. These read:

Discovery from prospective respondent

(a) there is reasonable cause to believe that the applicant has or may have the right to obtain relief in the Court from a person whose description has been ascertained;
(b) after making all reasonable inquiries, the applicant has not sufficient information to enable a decision to be made whether to commence a proceeding in the Court to obtain that relief; and
(c) there is reasonable cause to believe that that person has or is likely to have or has had or is likely to have had possession of any document relating to the question whether the applicant has the right to obtain the relief and that inspection of the document by the applicant would assist in making the decision;
the Court may order that that person shall make discovery to the applicant of any document of the kind described in paragraph (c).

A lay reading of this is certainly that Telstra will need to more closely refine the scope of the documents to which access is sought. That would include outlining a little more clearly what the action they think they might be bringing might be (while I have some notes on this from today's proceedings thet didn't make sense in the end).

There is a whole sequence of orders - but the bottom line is that the hearing itself starts on 13 September and 3 days have been set aside for it. Oh what fun!

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Arts of Islam/Australian of the Year

My wife, Marg, and I nipped in to the Art Gallery of NSW today for the Arts of Islam exhibition. It was an interesting exhibition, nothing particularly stunning.

However, one important observation we made is the extent to which the exhibition demonstrated the multi-cultural facets of the arts. Not surprisingly really, since even Mohammed himself started out as a trader, and the subsequent Islamic empires reach into the sub-continent and Europe.

Marg made the observation that really all civilisations have been "multi-cultural", at least the ones under which there has been progress. Contrast the French uniculture under Louis XIV with the blossoming England in the period 1650 to 1750. (There is a book review I want to write here on a book called "The Last Revolution" - I'll get to it!).

When we sat down for lunch I collected some of those free postcards they distribute at places like that. One was an ad calling for nominations for Australian of the Year. I asked Marg if she could think of anyone worth nominating. While she was thinking I started "But I can't think of anyone who has done something for..." and paused, and Marg completed it by saying "humanity", which is exactly what I'd been thinking.

I'm sure there are lots of Australians worthy of this recognition for their work in delivering on human rights - they just don't seem to make the news. The only name I can come up with is Major Michael Mori - but he's an American!

Suggestions anyone!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Only one week to go

I felt a little sad at about 11:15 this morning, when as I was trudging off Brush Farm Park I realised that there is only one week left of regular season netball.

I'd just finished umpiring the little "modified" netball game that I do in winter. For those of you who don't know modified netball is a junior version with a few rule changers - e.g. defending from four feet not three and not standing out of play at a penalty, oh and shorter goal posts.

I decided to learn to be an umpire when my own kids were of that age (8,9) but in those days they played full rules. I was disappointed for them some weeks when their coaches had to double as umpires - so I decided to learn so that when they got to coach it would never happen to them.

So I learnt, but the club I played for was really good and made me go out and umpire! And after a couple of seasons I earnt my ERNA umpires badge. I mostly umpired C grade matches and was OK.

But then my daughters started to get umpiring qualifications and eventually my older daughter was the club's umpires convenor and I got moved to the modifieds, as she explained to the other convenors, she put her oldest and slowest on the modifieds.

Anyway, I still enjoy it a lot and it is the only local level community activity I do these days. There is a segue here to something political but I'll leave that for another post.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Ozpolitics on the net

I've been doing a bit of looking around at Australian politics on the net. I only have two politicians blogs in my blog roll - and I haven't had anyon yet tell me of better ones.

But one of the sites I have found is Oz Politics which is both a blog and as well a web site with a wealth of info. One of the interesting features is the test where the user gets given a series of questions from which an inference is drawn about the respondants position on three dimensions and an assessment of what party best suits you. I encourage you to do it if you haven't already, and if you have or do post a comment about it here.

You can see my results here. Nice to know I belong to the right party! However it is an intriguing result that a lot of ALP respondants are "assigned" to the Dems and Greens by the test - confirming my view that the modern ALP really is a conservative party.

It is a pity therefore that Oz Politics doesn't devote any space to these other parties in its guide section.

Bracks Retires

So Steve Bracks has retired/resigned as Premier of Victoria joining Gallop (WA on health grounds), Bacon (Tas on health grounds), and Carr. It was interesting to note that Steve Bracks' colleagues didn't want him to resign, as well we know Bob Carr's didn't. We also know that Gallop and Bacon's colleagues didn't either, though perhaps they accepted it a little more willingly.

So while John Howard has clung to Kirribilli House - I mean the Prime Ministership - four Premiers have departed voluntarily. And if any of them had used the standard "I will remain Premier so long as my colleagues want me to and it is in the best interests of the Labor Party" they would still be there.

Which just makes you think it is the wrong standard.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

E-mail Joke

Courtesy of Jon Loosli

A worldwide survey was conducted by the UN. The only question asked was:
"Would you please give your honest opinion about the solutions to the food shortage in the rest of the world?"
The survey was, not surprisingly, a huge failure because:

In Africa they didn't know what "food" meant.
In Eastern Europe they didn't know what "honest" meant.
In Western Europe they didn't know what "shortage" meant.
In China they didn't know what "opinion" meant.
In the Middle East they didn't know what "solution" meant.
In South America they didn't know what "please" meant.
In the USA they didn't know what "the rest of the world" meant.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

When is a Political Party not "the opposition"

Yesterday's Crikey reported that while the Liberal Party recently expelled Michael Danby for campaigning for the Christian Democrat Party, two leading Liberals, Tony Abbott and Greg Smith, will be addressing the party's conference.

Now the party itself says "As we look to the future, CDP is seeking to become a strong grass-roots Political Party. This weekend will motivate and inspire you to go back and serve God in your local community through CDP. We will be looking to conference together about the forthcoming Federal Election, and strategise on how to elect our first CDP NSW Senator, Paul Green, into the Australian Parliament." I wonder if any other Liberals are planning to address the party conference of political parties who are trying to knock Marise Payne out of a Senate seat!

Of course we know that Abbott and Smith are leading members of the LiberaL party - the one with no small l. Interesting to see their strategy once the right was unsuccesful in gaining the third spot on the Senate ticket.

It is interesting to note that while the Liberal and National Parties are in coalition I am not aware of any front bencher from one party ever addressing a conference of the other.

Howard's LiberaLs - curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, July 16, 2007

What constitutes a glass jaw?

Crikey today lists a series of media appearances by the PM for which transcripts do not appear on the PMs website.

Now there is nothing saying he should - but it is a bit rough when in the desperate attemps to find something to criticise Rudd for his supposed "glass jaw" in relation to negative media is one of them.

There is no small "l" in Howard's LiberaL Party

Sad news yesterday that my former colleague Paul Fletcher had lost the pre-selection battle for Cook 82-70.

While I think the Liberal party will suffer because (from personal experience) Paul would make a fantastic MP, the geater loss is the extent of the takeover of the Liberal party by the right.

The winner, Michael Towke, won using what is now a well worn Liberal party technique - the branch stack. But it was the modern "stack with twist". Moderates thought the stack was designed to support the incumbent and were surprised at the end by the nomination of Towke and the fact these votes would support him.

This is now familiar ground and follows what happened in Epping and Hawkesbury at the State election; and what happened with Alex Hawke getting pre-selected in Mitchell.

Howard doesn't know which way to turn. This is the party he has created - or rather this is the end stage of John Howard destroying the party Menzies created. The parallels between the Liberal Party today and the UAP of the 1940s are quite large.

It is not how Howard wanted to be remembered.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Strange Bridge Hand

One of my hobbies is playing Bridge. This hand I got to play in Bridge Baron 14, hands were

N | S 9 8 |H A J 9 7 3 |D K 10 8 3 2 |C 6
E | S K 4 3 |H 10 8 5 4 |D Q 6 4 |C K 8 4
S | S A 6 2 |H K Q 6 2 |D A J 7 |C 7 3 2
W | S Q J 10 7 5 |H - |D 9 5 |C A Q J 10 9 5

Dealer North N/S Vulnerable


P P 1D 3C
3D 3NT Dl P

South leads D7 - and can take 12 tricks for 2000 in penalties - enjoy.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Make Poverty History - ZeroSeven

I was given the opportunity today to represent Senator Lyn Allison at the Make Poverty History Roadtrip today. While there seemed to be some confusion with the RSVP I was allowed in.

The first observation is just how heart-warming it was to see so many young idealistic kids prepared to campaign for somthing as esoteric as Make Poverty Hitory. I just hope they have all enrolled to vote!

It was also fascinating to see the reception they gave to Kevin Rudd when he came on stage. He was his convincing yet - but making his commitment of foreign aid of 0.5% of GNI by 2015 was short of what the crowd wants.

Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja put the Democrat position well. We need to commit to the 0.7% - and sooner not later.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Howard's Inaction

Saturday's SMH had two items, by Alan Ramsey and Michael Duffy, both of which point out that the Howard government had been alerted to the sexual abuse ad violence prblem years before.

What made it noteworhy that these writers are typically bastions of the left and right respectively, but on this point they agree - the Howard government move looks like a cynical stunt of the first order.

In today's Crikey Christian Kerr puts the blame on the PM's excessive reliance on Mark Textor. Textor's success over a number of elections has given him an aura of infalibility. But remember Cosby Textor were not successful in either the UK or New Zealand. It is startng to look like he migh be about to experience that in Australia.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

That Country Club

The brewing story of the week has been the appropriateness of the function John Howard hosted at Kirribilli House during the recent Liberal Federal Council.

The event was drinks on the lawn to which were invited all the conference delegates and the business observers. The focus has been on whether the business observers paying their $8,000+ were engaged in a fundraiser.

It is important to note that the Liberal Party did NOT promote the reception as being at Kirribilli House in any of the pre-event publicity. In fact there was blessed little pre-event publicity - I had to ask three times for the forms to be able to register and fork out my dough.

When you come to the function how much of a bait was it to have to queue for buisses from the Westin Hotel at 5pm for a 40 minute trip through peak hour traffic to get the opportunity to have drinks and canapes from 6pm to 7pm and then wind your way back on busses for the dinner back at the Westin. Many of the business observers, while appreciating the opportunity to see the "big house", were really questioning the use of their time sitting on busses for drinks that could have been held in the city.

So maybe the issue is not the imppropriety as such, but the simple lack of judgement. Perhaps it should have been reserved for the good folk of the Party and simply let us professional "hangers on" go home!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Button Up Burgess!

That was the heading of an excellent item by Stuart Corner on his iTWire newsletter site. The item starts "Telstra motor mouth, Phil Burgess, really has gone too far in his xenophobic rantings against Singapore, whose national carrier just happens to own Telstra's main rival."

The xenophobic pitch of Telstra really has gone beyond the pale, but the beauty of this post is that Burgess has had a crack at Singapore because it "executes people". Corner rightly points out that Burgess comes from a country that "executes people" and has just recently invested heavily in a country that "executes people".

What we can learn from this is that polling Telstra has done on Singapore tells them that Australians associate negative comments about Singapore with the execution of Van Nguyen in December 2005. Pretty pathetic really.

For those interested there was a related couple of comments to Crikey by Andrew Maiden from Telstra with a response from me.

You just have to say - Telstra is getting desperate when they call Investec "dodgy African bankers".

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Part 2

On a completely different front - the Menzies Research Centre launched StateWatch yesterday, based on research by Henry Ergas.

The way the paper accompanying the launch, and the presentation, ran the claim was that the State Governments have received a "windfall" in GST revenue as this tax has grown at 7%p.a., that the States have been profligate in spending this as it has almost all been consumed in recurrent expenditure. The recurrent expenditure growth has been primarily consumed in paying higher wages. The higher wages haven't been matched by productivity improvements as we would expect in the private sector.

Which is all a bit strange really. Firstly 7% growth in the GST is not great really - it is a function of inflation and GDP growth.

More importantly, elsewhere the Government likes to claim credit for a 19% real wages growth since 1996. The State Governments as employers have to compete in the same labour market as anyone else and therefore have to follow this growth (unless the claim is the State Governments have led it, in which it is not a Federal Government achievement). So they had no choice where to spend it - the real claim is there hasn't been an improvement in productivity.

But even here we have extremely dodgy statistics. Firstly the measure for hospitals is hospital beds, whereas productivity improvement in hospitals is getting people through them faster...and this does continue to improve. I don't know how you can apply technology or work practices to teach more pupils with less teachers - and anyway reducing class sizes is what taxpayers want. Finally police forces are equally highly labour force driven.

So, nice try - but no cigar!

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Part 1

There has been much public debate about broadband over recent weeks and the Canberra Times ran a story which Helen Coonan latched onto to expose Labor's "Furphy" in the debate.

The central claim being that Labor was overstating the potential economic benefits of broadband by relying on a 2001 study, the bulk of the forecast benefits of which would already be achieved. A few days later we had a flurry of activity when Market Clarity questioned the validity of the broadband league table published by the OECD.

All this reflects how far away we are from the kind of debate that Telstra's Phil Burgess tells us is what he has been trying to encourage. In a speech to the Australia British Chamber of Commerce this week he talked admiringly of William Wilberforce and went on to explain his relevance to fact based public policy. While Phil then tried to provide a speech based on facts, unfortunately I think many of them fell into the categories above. My favourite remains the idea that high speed broadband will make mammography more widely available - cause it appears to me the investment limitter there isn't the specialist staff it is the cost of the bloody machine - but maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully Dr Phil's speech will make it unto Telstra's nowwewaretalking site (see links).

A small aside. The word "furphy" comes from a brand of water cart. These were used by Australian troops in WWI and it was at the cart that people would pick up and spread rumours. Furphy had a slogan on the end of the tanks on the carts that went "Good better best, we will never rest, till our good is better, and our better best" which was also the last brand campaign run by Telecom Australia before the merger with OTC and becoming Telstra!

I do seem to keep using that title though.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Climate Change and the Precautionary Principle

With apologies to Crikey I want to quote in full one comment from last Friday's edition.

Cameron Bray writes: Re. "Liar: Howard backs Bracks into a corner" (yesterday, item 8). There has been some talk about the precautionary principle at play in working out what to do about climate change -- on the basis consequences of doing something and being wrong about climate change are way less than doing nothing and being right. Taking this one step further, Australia is vulnerable if other countries decide to pursue the precautionary principle, regardless of what we do. John Howard's endless wittering about how he won't risk jobs to address climate change is dependent on other countries pursuing his blithe “she'll be right” approach as well. If the international community decides to take it seriously then some of our key industries may be in big trouble. To grab a few examples: There is already some evidence of a global downturn in long distance tourism. If other countries decide to tackle air travel as a way of reducing CO2, then the Australian tourist industry is stuffed, no matter if warmer water destroys the reef or not. As for the coal industry, if the rest of the world decides to pursue drastic change in power generation towards greener options, then our fat dirty brown coal mines will have no markets. And as for the logging industry, if international agreements pursue serious carbon sequestering and make agreements on the purchase of old-growth timber or products that industry is cactus too. So the Howard government’s approach is a double-ostrich stupidity; not only does the climate not have to change, but the structure of trade and markets have to remain as they are now as well.

What Bray is - rightly - saying is that Howard's line about any action being designed not to harm the Australian economy is just that, a line. It is inaction that will harm the Australian economy.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility

In response to a post on Crikey I had something to say on the topic.

The original post appeared under the heading "Corporate Social Responsibility: Milton Friedman right again" and pursued the typical line that if corporate execs wanted to give money to good causes they should give their own money, not that of their shareholders - a position advanced by the late Milton Friedman.

Corporate Social Responsibility is about one heck of a lot more than just good works and donations to the poor. It is, primarily, a recognition that everybody is a stakeholder in the business - customers, its neighbours, the communities in which it trades, the environment it possibly pollutes, its employees, their families - not just the shareholders (are you listening Sol Trujillo).

Individual charity largesse by the rich managers is not a substitute for the genuine concern for the sustainability of the business versus the desire to achieve this quarter's targets to get paid the bonuses that got constructed because Milton Friedman wanted to align the supposed interests of managers with the supposed interests of shareholders.

Perhaps someone has noticed the conundrum - the goal of managers is supposed to be to maximise profit which requires minimising all input costs, which must include shareholders returns, but the goal of management is to maximise shareholders returns. If the conclusion is both P and not P, then the premise is false.

As to the original post - the heading should have been "Milton Friedman wrong again" as he WAS with monetarism - no one targets money supply these days.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It's About Us not Them

In his Fitz Files yesterday morning Peter FitzSimons told a great tale under the heading Hooray for Simon.

It tells the tale of how a local cricket comp introduced modified rules to enable a kid with dwarfism to not just play but also compete.

Unfortunately he ruined the good news story by starting his conclusion with, "There are, happily, a lot of these kind of stories out there, but there could be more if our State Government could make the inclusion of disabled kids in sport, where possible, part of official policy."

The pity is that as the story itself showed the outcome sought can and was achieved directly at theclevel of community action - which is really where the exhortation should be directed. Every community sporting group should be taking action like this - like the Eastwood Ryde Netball Association who for years had a deaf team playing (what whistle ump?) or games modified so that individual disabled players are allowed a little shuffle.

Good stuff happens by us deciding to do it, not by waiting for "them" to.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

A Win in the History Wars

William McInnes writing in Saturday's SMH scores (as far as I'm concerned) a small win in the history wars.

Not, of course, that I think calling it the history wars is particularly useful, because at one level only one side is trying to win. That is, those who shout at the other side "relativist" as a form of abuse are trying to win because they think there is "one true history", while the other side is simply saying history is richer than that.

McInnes concludes, after recounting a tale of a caged cockie that says "Hello" to his daughter;

History is many things. For every listener it can be a different tale, just told with the same characters. But it mustn't be bent and shaped to serve the purpose of those who decide that history must be taught.

It can be like a caged bird. Taught to mimic words as a trick. But my daughter is right. History, like that bird, will always try to talk to you. The least we can do is listen.

The piece about history being bent is relevant to both sides of the debate.

For my part I went off to re-read E.H.Carr's What is History? as I got immersed in the history wars (as one does if one is foolish enough to read Quadrant). While the book itself is criticised for its relativism, and hence would be deemed an invalid source by the Quadrant crowd, there are a few points from it that I think are compellingly relevant. These are;

What is a historical fact? There are lots of facts, there is the fact that Adolf Hitler was born on April 20 1889 and the fact that my father was born on 26 December 1921. The former is generally regarded as a historical fact, the latter is not. What makes a "fact" a "historical fact" is that it plays a role in the chosen explanation of the ultimate event - in this case usually something to do with the origins of World War II.

What is historical narrative? A narrative can just be a description of events in order, or it can be a description of events in relation to what caused what. So we have the fact of Hitler's birth and the fact that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919. The historical narrative exists to weigh the relative importance of these (and other) events as causal bases for another event - WWII.

Which narratives are worth telling? There are an endless series of historical narratives that could be constructed. The ones that are worth telling are those that (like science) are useful, that might help us with the decisions we make today. This is the twin of the aphorism about the need to study history to avoid remaking the errors of the past.

These three together explain why history is a relative not an absolute concept, why there is not "One true history" as Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop would have us believe, nor is it just a collection of "facts."

Most importantly, history will always try to talk to you - the least we can do is listen.

Setting National Goals

The Business Council of Australia has published a brochure titled Policy that Counts which sets out reform standards for public policy.

While much in the brochure is laudable, I was struck by its inclusion of a table comparing Australia's ranking on a league table of GDP per capita in 1990 and 2005. This is published because, evidently, "The Business Council has set an aspirational goal for Australia to move into the top-five band of those countries with the world’s highest living standards by 2012."

I have two fundamental difficulties with establishing this as a national goal.

Equity The first difficulty is that I look around the world and I continue to see the horrors of poverty, war and pestilence in other countries. Against that reality I genuinely wonder whether increased relative prosperity for Australians is a worthwhile goal.

I don't want to make a standard "redistributional" argument, that we should be aiming to make others better by making us worse, but I certainly don't think that being in the top five rather than top ten or twenty on this measure is anywhere near as important as raising the absolute level of well being of some of our nearest neighbours. Especially so when the consequence of the latter could well be to advance our own national security. So making the South Pacific a region of prosperity is certainly more important than increasing the GDP/capita in Australia to the top five.

More than GDP Every first year economics student gets taught that GDP is just a measure of output, that it doesn't include some outputs and it certainly doesn't measure happiness in any meaningful way. Discussing this with my wife Marg she told me of a line Little Pattie had used in a recent episode of Talking Heads.

I like it when I feel we're living in a society, rather than in an economy.

Marg I think said it better - when did Australia stop being a society and become an economy.

People actually like "society" - they actually like the sense of belonging, the sense of jointly created stories that is culture and most like family, friends and kinship. And these are things that don't get measured by the GDP, and in fact are things that many feel are under assault from economic policies like a view of the labour market that employeees should treat Sunday as any other work day.

I think if you asked the average bloke in the street which would they prefer - that Australia got moved another notch up in the GDP/capita stakes or that they got to watch their kid play sport on the weekend that they would rightly go for the latter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Prius and Prima Donna

On the basis that I should publish here everything I write I draw attention to another Crikey comment.

This one started as simple praise for Lyn Allison in her determination to obtain a Prius as her parliamentary car, but ended defending her against a ministerial staffer who seemed to completely miss the point.

Credibility Mr Howard

Buying into the whole Sunrise debacle, John Howard has said, "The Australian people will make a judgement about Mr Rudd's credibility in the same way they'll make a judgement about mine," he said.

It is to be sincerely hoped the Australian people will make a decision about Mr Howard's credibility. This is the PM who told us about children thrown overboard and who told us about weapons of mass destruction when neither the act occurred or the weapons existed.

And while Kevin Rudd has shown the poor judgement to deny things occurring in his office without realising how stupid the people are in his office, at least it is far less significant than ignoring 46 suggestions that we should inquire into our wheat trade, as Mr Downer did.

Bring on the "credibility election" - I know who I'll back to win.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Climate Change Denial Gone Mad

I had the great pleasure to attend an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch yesterday addressed by Michael Hawker, CEO of IAG on how climate change will affect business.

One person got up to ask a question and implied that people like Hawker were only on the climate change bandwagon because they had something to gain. She used the Y2K bug as an example of fear mongering and "nothing happened."

I took the time to see her afterwards - because this is a crock. All firms that I have any direct experience of did find in their extensive remediation programs instances of date coding that would have made systems unworkable on 1 Jan 2000. The preventative work is WHY nothing happened. So far be Y2K a reason for not acting on climate change, it is a reason for acting now.

As to the suggestion that we should be suspicious of self-interest - well that is a whole other issue that revolves in part around the meaning of "profit". That is for another day.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Vale Democracy

Big call I know, but a theme I've run consistently here - that we've lost the sense of what democracy is. There is a whole post I could and should do on the history of "democracy" based on a few great books I've been reading.

But what has really blown me away has been feedback from a lobbyist I use to a couple of comments I've sent to Crikey lately. The first was last week while the second was the one I referred to here. My lobbyist has told me that my comments to Crikey have been noted - with sort of hints that I shouldn't write things like that if I wanted to have access to Government.

Let's just hope they don't read my blog, huh?

Anyhow, another colleague sent me a note saying why do we need Keating! The Musical - we should get the bloke on stage doing stand-up. They covered snippets on the news - but this was the whole show on The World Today. Enjoy.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rudd and Campbell

Lobbyists get a bad press because of the way our politicians choose to do politics. Instead of there being regular frequent open inquiries, most public policy decisions are "announced" after some brief private consultation and usually a political analysis - will the decision either (a) be easy to implement through the parliament or (b) have a rocky road but provide an opportunity for "differentiation".

But as for the wild acqusations that Rudd was somehow involved in a long planned exercise - a dinner on 1 August with an invitation of 28 July is the ultimate in short run events, and is entirely consistent with the Rudd description. The invitations I've received from lobbyists and backbenchers to attend "functions" with front benchers are typically organised much further in advance.

As for the conclusion that it must have been well prepared because Rudd spoke on China - heck the man does that stump speech everywhere, including last year's ALP Business Forum.

The person I feel sorry for is Senator Ian Campbell, who lost his front bench position for just doing his job. Meanwhile, a host of front benchers haven't lost their jobs for NOT doing their job - Downer for not inquiring into AWB, Ruddock for not representing an Australian citizen illegally interned in the US, Peter Reith for not telling the truth about children overboard, etc.

Anyway, all credit (again) to Senator Andrew Murray for his release that highlights the need to change the system if we want different outcomes.

(Addendum. The text of this post was also published by Crikey today, but unfortunately I sent that before I found the useful Andrew Murray media release.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Anything At All

Yep - this post is called "Anything At All" cause otherwise I won't have blogged this month. After such a good late 2006 run something's happened in '07.

The short answer is that it is being the Democrat candidate for Epping at the State election which, together with other Democrat work has kept me away from my blog.

So I'll just make a cryptic note here to my real desire to blog on education policy. Does anyone else think it odd that the Howard government, that blathers on about choice in education, thinks that we need ONE national curriculum. Wouldn't a genuine "choice" in education allow schools to prepare students however they choose and let parents decide between schools. If the Government line is then that parents would suffer what the economists would call an information problem - i.e. how do you assess schools against different standards - doesn't the Government run into exactly the same information problem anyway. How can you judge from aggregate results for a student intake six years ago what a school will deliver for your specific child now. So informed choice by parents is never possible.

The second education curly one is about research in universities. Similarly we expect universities to compete for students and private enterprise investment (in research). Surely the best way to let that choice run is to go back to giving Universities there own control of research budgets rather than one single centralised research funding project.

It all adds up to the single conclusion - the Government doesn't actually understand what "choice" means (or markets are).

Thursday, January 04, 2007


I find Janet Albrechtsen an annoying little commentator. I think my views of her were summed up in the comments she made on becoming an ABC Board member. These included, though not included in that link, that as a lawyer she would help the ABC Board with governance*.

Surely she should have had some better claims than that. Anyhow in her column of yesterday she concludes that we have no right-wing cartoonists because left-wing politics is "an emotional, instinctive, utopian kind of world" whereas conservatism is "more rational, analytical and pragmatic" ("Conservatism is no laughing matter " Opinion 3/1).

It is a strange world indeed where "compassion" can be considered a taunt. It is also a strange world in which the opposites are "left-wing" and "conservatism", and where a philosophy that basicallly says "let's not change stuff" is considered more rational or analytical than the progressives who actually imbue their position with extensive theorising in economics, political science and sociology.

While I did offer the last two paras to the Australian in the form of a letter to the editor, they only published two, I suppose giving some semblence of balance. The first of these letters goes on to make the suggestion that humour can only be made at the expense of the powerful, which may be true, but does not fully explain the pattern noted by Albrechtsen.

My criticism is, however, far more directed at the world view of Albrechtsen than the subject. Like many she has created her own "strawman" of her "opponents", has created a view wherein the actors are far more co-ordinated than is possible and used terms a bit like Humpty Dumpty - to mean what she wants them to mean.

* As a personal aside, lawyers are the last people you want on Board's to help with governance, because their focus is on reducing risk for Board members as opposed to getting outcomes for shareholders (or other stakeholders).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Prior to the commencement of the final Test in the Ashes series I wish to announce that I am making myself unavailable for selection in future Australian Test and one-day cricket teams and all first-class cricket.

This will mean I can spend more time with my blog, and hopefully get around to posting more regularly. I won't make that a New Year's resolution, because I've never kept one of thos in my life.

The Revenge Killing of Saddam

Today Gerard Henderson in his SMH column gives a quick survey of world leader responses and comes to the conclusion that the death sentence on Saddam Hussein has general support. I've previously made my views known, and nothing in Henderson's column changes them.

Henderson notes that Saddam could not be imprisoned for life in Iraq and in response to suggestions he be imprisoned in exile in the same manner as Napoleon suggests this is not viable in the era of terrorists. Perhaps Henderson hasn't noticed the extent to which terrorism has changed from the days of plane hijackings to hold hostages for the release of Palestinians, but it is hard to understand or believe a claim that holding Saddam a prisoner could create any more terrorism than invading their country.

While he is at it Henderson also has a go at the ABC for interviewing Geoffrey Robertson who equates the death penalty to a revenge killing. The complaint is that Robertson's views were presented without any alternative view and the interviewer just accepting his claims. This criticism confuses balance as needing to occur within all programs as opposed to across the whole schedule. As Henderson himself effectively notes the only other sound grabs broadcast in news bulletins were of approving world leaders, and in that sense the short interview with Robertson was creating balance in the ABC's coverage.