Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cyber-bowling in groups

Mark Bahnisch (of blog Larvatus Prodeo) had a nice piece in Crikey today (but behind the paywall).

He notes the consequence of Saturday being the talk of party reform within the ALP. He takes particular aim at the suggestions built on Putnam's Bowling Alone that the collapse of "social capital" means you can't build an active party.

He says there are two problems, it’s not true and it avoids rather than engages with the problem.

The data actually shows there’s no lack of interest in political issues among many Australians, particularly among young Australians. But existing structures don't engage that interest. He draws attention to a UK Fabian Society report, Facing Out Online: How Party Politics Must Change To Build A Progressive Society and "the disjunction between frozen institutional structures and activist impulses."

He suggests that now is the time to engage with the issue by experimenting with new structures, including considering the kinds of things covered by Gov 2.0.

Certainly a better policy discussion can be had online in a forum than in a dusty school hall. Members can be engaged with the movement every day, not just once a month.

The ALP in NSW experimented with a "Central Policy Branch". The next step should be the "Virtual Branch". Active participation in the (or one of the) virtual branches should give you just as much right to vote in preselections etc as central policy or real branches.

Thanks Mark (and yes - if you want to read the whole original I'd back Mark and recommend a Crikey subscription).

PS And cyber-bowling in groups does happen - its just different kinds of games.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

KM in the Oz

Kevin Morgan in the Oz today tries to neatly dust off a diatribe delivered through the pages of Communications Day yesterday. He seems to forget what he battled for all those years ago at the ACTU - which was Government control and social outcomes - and to have instead thought his mission was to preserve the behemoth Telstra.

The so-called "world wide" trends Australian governments followed in our deregulation cycle started in the UK, NZ and Australia. We were in the vanguard not the cravan. Just as we are now.

The single biggest achievement of the NBN policy is the structural reform of the industry that was not completed prior to privatisation - largely due to a union backed campaign by Telstra. Conroy to his credit has pursued this single mindedly. It was the one thing Telstra under Sol demanded be dropped to secure Telstra's participation in 2008, and Conroy, unlike every Comms Minister for the last fifteen years stood up to Australia's largest totally domestic corporation and chose consumers and public interest over thuggery.

In response to his longer piece in Comms Day I have written and submitted the following.

It is disappointing that my fellow student of telco policy history Kevin Morgan is prepared to be so wrong in his recollection of the seventies – and indeed the eighties.

We can ignore little things like Telecom getting a monopoly in the “1976 Act” when the Act was 1975, the same year Telecom was formed and Telecom2000 saw the light of day. The single biggest technology change that the report missed was not the growth of wireless but the development of the PC. While it did see a broadband fibre based future it was in either a circuit switched or broadcasting mode.

In his prelude to discussing the Davidson Inquiry, Kevin writes “Telecom could no longer rely on the Budget to support investment plans”. Unfortunately he is one of the few people who I know knows that Telecom had seen no support from the Budget for anything since 1959, the year that the PMG was required to become self-funding. The entire $4.5B debt of the PMG was assumed by Telecom Australia.

He is right to note that the Hawke Government did increase the interest rate payable by Telecom on that debt. Unfortunately for his argument though the discrepancy between the 13% and 7% is entirely explained by the difference in the applicable Government Bond (or risk free capital) rates then and now.

He goes on that “As Telecom became capital constrained in the late 1980s the fibre vision waned.” The fibre vision however at that time had been extinguished by the successful lobbying by the free to air television moguls against Pay TV. Pay TV only re-emerged on the policy horizon – according to Mark Westfield’s The Gatekeepers – at the insistence of Richard Li, then still working for his father at Hutchison. He told the Minister that there was no interest in bidding for AUSSAT if they couldn’t do Pay TV.

Finally, I was left confused by the foray into laws of physics and laws of economics. Wireless isn’t “challenging the laws of physics” – it is actually conforming to them. No part of standard electromagnetic theory has yet been challenged by the development of wireless, and even the information theory of the Shannon limit isn’t even tested.

The non physical laws of relevance are Moore’s Law that the capacity of microprocessors doubles every eighteen months and Cooper’s Law that the capacity of wireless systems doubles every thirty months – wireless capacity keeps falling behind demand which is why there are ever greater demands for more spectrum. The CEO’s of the three mobile networks – Thodey, O’Sullivan and Dews – are all on the record stating that wireless networks cannot meet the bandwidth requirements of citizens.

As for the economics of monopoly, there are plenty of examples where one technology has monopoly characteristics but inter-modal competition can be sustained. We have one electricity distribution network in our suburbs, and no one suggests we duplicate it. We have in some places one gas network, and no one suggests we duplicate it. But they compete to carry energy to premises, energy that has different features and characteristics (or strengths) just as fibre and wireless do.

Kevin started his piece with the saying that if you can remember the seventies you weren’t there. The real saying though is about the sixties and is variously attributed to Grace Slick, Robin Williams and others. What does it say about me that I too have a bookcase full of reports from the era, but my copy of In the Court of the Crimson King is a CD (a girlfriend used to own the record).

NOTE I hope to have a copy of Telecom 2000 up on the DigEcon website in the next day!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nice to be noticed

Sometimes it is the small things that count. I've been writing my columns for itNews since November.

This week I've been nominated fin the Best Columnist category for the Microsoft IT Journalism Awards 2010 (aka the Lizzies).

I'll let you know how I go!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

More on Robbo and a bit on Eddie

Many thanks to Chris for providing me with this link to Paul Keating's famous letter to John Robertson in 2008 when he replaced Michael Costa as an MLC.

As the party meanders to the conclusion that seemed to be ordained months ago, let's repeat some of his prophetic words;

When I came to see you about the Iemma Government's electricity privatisation proposals in April 2008, you will remember me telling you that reckless indifference by you and Bernie Riordan to the Government's fortunes, may see the Government destroyed and for which, you and Riordan would be held accountable. ...

And if the Government goes down, the lethal tally of men and women who will have lost their seats will be to your account and that of the Party officers who were complicit in the melee; namely Riordan, Bitar and Foley. ...

Let me tell you, if the Labor Party's stocks ever get so low as to require your services in its Parliamentary leadership, it will itself, have no future. Not a sherrick of principle or restraint have you shown. You have behaved with reckless indifference to the longevity of the current Government and to the reasonable prospects of its re-election.

It may be a novel concept to you, let me say that the conscientious business of governance can never be founded in a soul so blackened by opportunism.

(Commas are all PFKs own work!)

Robbo's supposed claim to fame is the orchestration of the campaign against Work Choices and the proposition that he, not the ACTU nor Federal Labor, brought John Howard down. He seems to be the only person in history with a claim to destroying both a Liberal and a Labor Government (though I think Billy Hughes came close).

Meanwhile Eddie Obeid has attempted his own spin that the factions had nothing to do with how the NSW Parliamentary Party behaved.

Interestingly he is, to a degree right. Because factions tend to imply groups of people bound together by a common goal, usually philosophically based. In the NSW ALP the split between the original Left (the Steering Committee) and the Right was about the centrality of the socialisation commitment in the platform. What Obeid was up to had nothing to do with this. It was all to do with his personal ability to weild power and influence.

Three paragraphs reflect it all;

At that point, there was a loss of confidence in the leader. The Centre Unity faction wanted Thistlethwaite and Rees out.

Even so, Rees wasn't tapped on the shoulder by caucus but by Thistlethwaite. Thistlethwaite told me, ALP president Bernie Riordan and Tripodi in Joe's office that he'd told Rees to step down, with a vote on the new premier to be held the next morning. That was the first we'd heard of it.

We advocated Kristina Keneally; head office supported Sartor. There were no recriminations. So it's nonsense to say factions run the show.

Why should the General Secretary be briefing the President together with Eddie and Joe in Joe's office? Why does he think that Rees was going to "step down" because Thistethwaite tapped him on the shoulder? (In the end he didn't - he had to be thrown out by the Right - including Eddie and Joe - voting against him and for a spill).

To show exactly how vacuous this man is, his last para reads;

The party will rebuild itself. There will be many new faces. We can rebuild but we need to listen to the community and advocate the policies they put forward.

How about having a philosophy of your own?

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, March 28, 2011


As a follow-up to my earlier post I want to compare and contrast the two leaders - BOF and KK.

Interestingly for those like me who think the political rot starts with "professional politicians" - BOF is one whereas KK came later to the game.

KK was impressive with her energy though there is no leader in ALP history - other than perhaps Mark Latham - who hasn't been just as committed and eager throughout the campaign. But it really has been a bit rich for KK to talk about the people of NSW not leaving the ALP, but the ALP leaving them. She was, after all, a part of the sub-factional nonsense. Though, if memory serves me right, on the fateful day of Rees decline it wasn't a question of if he was going as who was replacing him and that Frank Sartor thought the prize was his till very late on the day.

But to endorse Walt Secord for the Legislative Council, when there isn't even a current vacancy - only the rumoured one of Eddie Obeid - is reflective of the same degenerate culture that brought the ALP to this place.

All the talk is now of KK heading to Canberra with even Bob Hawke joining the fray. (though there was the antithesis of the Latham/Howard handshake just before polling day, Hawke with Kenneally where you were pretty sure all he was thinking of was bonking her). Why it would be good for either I have no idea - and the words "Carmen Lawrence" should be enough to dissuade everyone of the idea.

And as for BOF. His strength was in getting the Liberals to focus on their opponents not themselves, on being prepared to make unprincipled decisions (electricity, school league tables) for the political value, and to stick to the plan of keeping the message simple.

It is notable that BOF thanked Mark Textor in his speech. So much of the NSW campaign was reminiscent of the last Federal campaign from the Liberals, including the concept of a "contract" with voters and the simple five point plan (previously critiqued here).

This formula has been frighteningly successful and Labor needs to start now thinking of ways to defeat it. The contract part overcomes any amount of counter ads about "real plans". It comes down to the fact that when you are in Government you should talk about (a) your record and (b) how you plan to build on it.

That might have been a problem for NSW Labor, but Bob Carr's piece talked about much of the good they did early. On Saturday KK chose to talk with pride about what had been done for people with a disability.

The ALP needs to fix its internal problems, but also learn the error of the Federal Party in 1996. The job starts now of building the story of a successful Government that got tired.

As Poll Bludger wrote today in Crikey "It has been more than three decades since a government stood before the people asking for an advance on 16 years, something that -- despite Bob Carr's audacious claim to the contrary yesterday -- seems objectively impossible to achieve in modern politics." The public does punish longevity, they want a change, but give them reason and they will come back.

The other thing we know about Mark Textor's campaigning is that in Government he runs a good fear campaign. So in 2015 expect lots of dragged up ads about the perceived disasters of the last four years. The ALP can and must start now convincing voters that really Labor wasn't "so bad" - even good. They need to make that their sole focus for the next six months and largely ignore BOF - the less like an opposition they look, the more he will over-reach (which means the Liberal play book of cut services).

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

What to make of it - and what now

The NSW election has delivered - mostly - the results expected. However, as Imre Saluszinsky succinctly reported in the Oz, the result was still more a vote for the Centre than extremes.

Pauline Hanson failed miserably to attract support - though her 1.85% was still double that of the remnant Australian Democrats. More interestingly the Greens again failed to win an inner-city lower house seat. Their nearly 11% Upper House vote includes large slabs from those seats on the North Shore where the Greens out-polled (by as much as double) the ALP.

But the real story was the destruction of the ALP - and a 2PP vote of about the 35% forecast in the polls.

Bob Carr provides an interesting account describing the route as a "work of genius" - but not by O'Farrell but by the ALP itself. Carr's take is that the ALP failed the "McKell model", saying

It was a symbolic repudiation of the McKell model, the style of NSW Labor since William McKell (premier 1941-47). McKell's moderate ethos was based on middle course policies which gave the party support in the bush as well as the city.It was possible because the machine supported the parliamentary leadership, the premier of the day. This pattern prevailed under Joe Cahill, Neville Wran and me.

Rodney Cavalier in Power Crisis (reviewed by me here) places the blame here the other way round. Under the McKell model the Parliamentary Party took the party with it, not, as Carr suggests, was the party machine always merely the lap-dog of the parliamentary party.

It is naive of anyone to ever believe that in a stoush between the parliamentary party and the party organisation that the parliamentary party will win. It is untrue of a party with the pledge like the ALP but ultimately is unsustainable even in a party like the Liberals (or more pertinently the UAP).

It isn't even hard to find divergent views on KK. ALP General Secretary Sam Dastyari wrote;

The one figure whose stature rose in everybody's eyes during the campaign was Kristina Keneally. A talented and polished performer when she rose to be premier, she excelled as a campaigner. Her energy and her will to fight to the end impressed voters across the spectrum. People kept telling us, again and again, that they admired how she stood up for what she believed in. That attitude and commitment needs to be the spirit of Labor in opposition.

While former Howard CoS Arthur Sinodinis wrote;

Kristina Keneally has proved to be a major disappointment. It is doubtful she has any real future in politics, state or federal. She may be a feisty and attractive campaigner but there is no evidence her political skills during the campaign added to Labor's vote. But her actions before the campaign proper began showed the absence of mature political judgment.

First and foremost was her failure to support Nathan Rees who at least was attempting, if only at the 11th hour, to reform the worst excesses of state Labor. Keneally gained the premiership over Rees's dead body. She was the revenge of Sussex Street power brokers on a reforming premier...

Her botching of the electricity sale to satisfy the ambitions of her Treasurer - and the treatment of parliament in that process - convinced the public that re-electing this government would change nothing. Indeed, there was a danger that rewarding bad behaviour would only encourage it.

The latter is a telling statement. There seemed to be no real benefit in pursuing the electricity privatisation so close to the poll - other than to let BOF off - he'll just say "oh terrible deal but too hard to undo". It would have been good to see the man who voted down the original proposals have to deal with the issue in the next four years.

Equally it would have been interesting to see the ALP vote with Nathan Rees having the full run. Mind you, even more interesting would have been John Watkins replacing Bob Carr instead of Morris Iemma.

The question is - what now. Predictably John Faulkner has called for factions and individuals to put the party first. In that he wants support for party reforms recommended by the 2010 Review.

The review report contains nice sentiments like;

The Review Committee believes developing a modern and meaningful role for members within a democratic party is the fundamental challenge facing the modern Labor Party.

For Labor to effectively develop and articulate a modern reform agenda, it must stay closely connected to the broader progressive community, and our connection to Australia’s youth must be revived. This is best done by ensuring that we are open and authentic about our values and committed to involving members and reaching out to supporters. Labor must reach out to the progressive movements which already exist in Australia and which previously have provided the Party with innovation in policy and ideas. ...

The Review Committee believes that the Party should also explicitly adopt an organising approach to growing the Party membership. ... The Party should also formalise training activities through the creation of a national organising and training institute or academy. This body would be responsible for organising classes and courses for members and supporters on building the
Labor presence in local communities, as well as becoming a new home for the Party’s campaign training initiatives.

While seeking a "modern and meaningful role for members", the report backs the current 50/50 representation between branches and affiliate organisations (unions). While it makes some recommendations about reducing the rorting of the 50% from members (by including in it parliamentary representatives, young labor etc), and electing Presidents from the membership, it doesn't address the fact that members know they are irrelevant at conference. And the key party position - just as it was for Joe Stalin - is General Secretary, not President.

The view of the review that Labor "must stay closely connected to the broader progressive community" can be contrasted with the view of those from the academic (and indeed Socialist Alternative) left. Rick Kuhn has recently opined that "the relationship between the ALP and the working class is certainly much less intimate now than it was a century or even fifty years ago." He builds on work he has done with Tom Bramble in their book Labor's Conflict which was also summarised in an article in the Oz last year.

In both these pieces there is reference to " low-working-class combativity" leading Kuhn to conclude;

On the other hand, a revival in workers’ combativity may lead many of them to conclude that their own actions could challenge the logic of production for profits and the structures of Australian politics, both embraced by Labor, that create their immediate problems.

This analysis provides one of the alternative narratives about the ALP - that it is either doing too much or too little to (a) embrace all progressive movements or (b) focus on its blue collar base.

Either is simplistic. The "progressive" cause is too broad to provide a cohesive base - just ask the Australian Democrats. The 'blue collar base" is too narrow, representing something less than 20% of the workforce.

The alternative is to redefine a philosophy of the left to give new meaning to "the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange" to not focus on ownership but instead on purpose. The enemy is not profit, but the idea that the "purpose of the firm is to create shareholder value". The latter is not only bad political philosophy, it is economically and historically incorrect.

Finally let us return to the Dastyari analysis. He writes that;

We need to address the factional system at a state parliamentary level. In the past this served Labor and the state well as it brought internal discipline and clarity to the party's thoughts and actions.

He needs to look closer to home. The factional system pervades Sussex St, and every other organ of the party. If he really wants to make inroads he needs to first prohibit the “show and tell” voting arrangements used to ensure factional discipline.

Secondly he needs to show real commitment to rebuilding the party by returning it to a truly democratic party in which decisions ultimately come from members who chose to join the party. That means cranking down union representation at conference to where it was when the party was founded, zero.

Unfortunately the parliamentary party is expected to select the former head of Unions NSW as its new leader. As Morris Iemma is says "Robbo becoming leader is not a good start".

What do Unsworth, Costa, Della Bosca and Roozendaal have in common? They were either former General Secretaries of the party or heads of the NSW Union movement. Oh, and they were monumental failures in parliamentary politics.

(Mind you Costa is quoted as saying "In my opinion Robbo has neither the intellect nor the political courage required to be an alternative premier." Problem is that was true of Costa as Treasurer too. Too little has been written about the role of Costa as Treasurer in canning the original North-West rail proposal and backing instead the ludicrous "metro line" that cost about $500M.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cultural Confusion

Julia Gillard's observation that it is hard to understand Western literature without an appreciation of the Bible has resulted in claims that by extension the PM should back changes to the proposed national curriculum to include "the Roman conceptions of individual rights under law, the role of Christianity in shaping our values as well its role in education and hospitals, and the development of liberal democracies and capitalist society."

The link is clearly untenable. I could argue that an understanding of medical illness helps to understand criminal behaviour, but that would not result in the need to include psychology in an ethics course.

More generally, Gillard's position as a social and cultural conservative has been positioned as "in conflict with" her position as an unmarried atheist.

The reality is, as Christpoher Hitchens and others show, that you can find far more evidence of the Christian religion - especially Roman Catholicism - as being an opponent of democracy and the rights of law as you can of it being the source of our "values".

It was Roman law as applied by Christians that took the position that "evidence" from a commoner could not be regarded as reliable unless it was delivered under torture!

It is indeed nice to see in Julia Gillard a poster child for the idea that there is NOT an essential link between "conservative morals" and a religious disposition.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Customer Service, Social Media and the Cluetrain Manifesto

It was fascinating to read earlier this month that;

Vodafone Hutchison Australia CEO Nigel Dews has admitted that the company could have handled social media feedback much better in the early stages of the company's highly publicised network issues late last year.

In presenting evidence to the ACMA's Reconnecting the Customer inquiry on 27 November 2010, Cormac Hodgkinson, Director for Customer Service and Experience for VHA said (in part);

We need to remember when we talk about customder service that it is not just contact centres. We do a huge amount of servicing through our retail channel, through self-service channels and also through social media which is growing. So whenever we are looking at a review of standards for customer service we need to take that into account because there are thousands and thousands of customers a day who are walking into a retail store, be that Vodafone or 3, and getting servicing (sic).

He went on;

the numbers calling the centres pale into insignificance when you look at the amount of servicing that goes on through self-care. ... From a service perspective there's huge investment we're committing to next year in terms of what that self-service capability is. We've actually got a new product coming at the end of November - My Vodafone - which significantly increases the capability for a customer to self-service.


The growth in social media is huge and we've also had to have a dedicated team set-up to deal with that, be it Twitter, Facebook,.. We've got a team of ten people. We think by the end of next year that could well be in excess of fifty people because that's the way customers are choosing to do their servicing interactions.

That's not the view that Mr Dews thinks they took though, the article reporting;

The telco boss said that the company had originally approached social media as another means of selling; however, now the company had taken the approach of "service first rather than selling first"..

Today there is news that Vodafone is "creating its own social forum".

That's something vividwireless did fairly soon after launch. It was really driven by the very splendid Sandra Davey but landed in my lap for a while. It created great consternation when for a while it was a place where negative comment on coverage gathered. But the good news was it meant we really could understand the impact of network performance on customers.

The motivation for the forum though really came from the desire to support the unsupported - when something happens that involves the interaction of equipment and the network it can often be other end users who can sort out the issue.

It also was a recognition that customers are going to talk about you whether you like it or not. This is one of the core observations of the Cluetrain Manifesto. The first of their 95 theses is "Markets are conversations."

While the idea of 95 theses is probably to trigger the concept of reformation it is too many to digest - and actually a bit repetitive. Sandra Davey is a great fan of this and crunched the 95 down to thirteen. I have worked from her list to come up with a far briefer ten (also published here):

1. Markets are human conversations
Markets are conversations, they consist of humans who sound human. The tone of your voice is as communicative as the words that you speak.
2. The internet has made the network the dominant form of organization
The internet is enabling conversations that make the network the dominant form of organization, replacing both markets and hierarchies. The people in these networks are changed fundamentally – they are getting smarter, more informed and more organized than they were in markets or hierarchies.
3. People rely on their network not authority
People have figured out they get better information and support fro their network than from vendors. There are no secrets, the consumers rapidly know more about the product than the vendors.
4. Principles need to replace positions, and be at the centre of the conversation
Corporations’ homogenized voice that has been used to “motivate” the staff and “enthuse” the market sounds flat, hollow and unconvincing. Companies need to “lighten up”, not with affected humor but by adopting big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. They need to replace “positioning” with adopting principles.
5. Loyalty is built on honest two-way communication
Brand loyalty is like a marriage and we forget that “divorce is always surpriseful” at our peril. Our partner can leave us before we know what we’ve done. Companies need to pay attention to all the clues their customers and staff provide. Companies can’t afford not to be honest with those they profess to care about.
6. Corporations need to belong to a community
Human communities are based on discourse – the conversation defines the community. Companies need to decide what community they want to be in and engage in the conversation.
7. The market and the company are not separate – they are one
There is not an external market and an internal hierarchy, there is one network of people playing multiple roles.
8. Marketing is not a mediator between the customer and the company
Customers and workers want to talk to the company that we’ve kept hidden behind a smokescreen of flacks and hucksters. Both want the same kind of open conversation with a partner they can trust. The customers want to be involved in all the conversations of the company, not just those mediated by “marketing” or market research.
9. The customer-centric organization is dead
The customer can’t be put at the centre of the organization, they need and want to be at every part of the organization.
10. The revolution is happening.
Responding to it is not a matter of strategic choice, it is a necessity.

Note: The author still owns shares in HTAL.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

I missed it

The wonders of having a unique identifier like "David Havyatt" is that Google Alerts finds you stuff about you.

Like this blog post about two AFR letters included scanned pages (probably breaching copyright) - the first page included a letter of mine that I thought the AFR hadn't used.

The letter was published 28 Feb and reads;

Your editorial highlights Australia’s recent productivity decline and reaches for the old grab bag of reducing business costs and enhancing supply-side responsiveness. (‘Productivity lift needed now’ AFR 24 Feb).

You manage to completely miss the recommendation of the Siemens report that “productivity improvements through the adoption of technology and innovation will alleviate this pressure”. The Grattan Institute also noted “slippage in Australia’s take-up of productivity-enhancing technologies.”

The Australian Financial Review’s response to the innovation challenge has been opinion pieces over recent weeks criticising the key infrastructure project identified to facilitate technology adoption and promote innovation, the National Broadband Network.

Senator Stephen Conroy has perhaps been too busy responding to the idiocy of the idea that a wireless or hybrid-fibre coaxial (HFC) solution could be a viable alternative to prosecute his other role as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity.

It is time the Financial Review dragged itself out of the 1980s and 90s agenda and confronted the twenty-first century.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, March 21, 2011

Elections and Political Parties

NSW saw the absurdity of the modern campaign when married to fixed four year terms when the ALP held its official campaign "launch" yesterday - just six days from the election.

Meanwhile in the SMH we read that;

Today the Parliamentary Budget Office is due to release its audit of the government's election promises, but not those of the Coalition.

The Coalition has refused to submit its costings to the office, choosing instead to hire the former NSW auditor-general Bob Sendt. It is understood they will be released as late as Thursday, allowing as little as two days for scrutiny.

There is NO DOUBT that O'Farrell is running your classic promise nothing substantial campaign. His latest ad "the contract with NSW" ends with "most important of all - we'll be accountable". he doesn't tell us what that means, and really he will be just as accountable as the ALP - in 4 years time we get to vote.

But O'Farrell is pulling the same stunt as Tony Abbott in not getting his promises "costed" by a body with not only the skill, but also the resources to do so.

The issue for me is that we've completely changed our political system with fixed terms, public funding and the publication of party names on ballot papers and party replacement of upper house MPs without doing much more than requiring 500 membership forms to be submitted.

We really need a slew of reforms, covering party form, published platforms, longer campaigns and independent assessment of platforms.

The first is creating a legal entity called "political party" - so they don't have to decide whether to be limited liability companies or associations. They should be granted limited liability status in return for full disclosure of their financial position. The party rules must be entirely democratic - no party can be controlled by an individual (a la Hanson mark 1) or external bodies (the ALP) - in fact only people who take out membership can vote and it is one vote one value except in so far as the party can make its own rules for how the membership is "subdivided" except that geographic boundaries for election to governing bodies must be based on State and/or Federal electorate boundaries.

The register of political parties provides for a platform to be lodged with Elections NSW (Electoral Commission of NSW). This should be mandatory, the party deemed not to be registered for electoral purposes if it does not publish a platform.

The campaign times are currently designed with the idea of quick elections because they used to occur at times of hung Parliaments or Governments that had lost confidence of the Legislative Assembly. The haste of under three weeks from nominations closing to polling day does not suit fixed terms. Six weeks is a more reasonable timescale for nominations to close.

The cut-off for platforms being submitted would then be the five week period before the election. If the party hasn't submitted by that date then the party loses all other rights of being a party for the election (including invalidation of any nominations lodged by the party as a party).

The Parliamentary Budget Office should be replaced by an Electoral Proposal Assessment Commission to be made up of five commissioners elected using proportional representation from the Legislative Council ( which should result in the fifth person at least representing divergent views). One week prior to the election it is required to produce a report evaluating the budgetary implications of each platform and reporting on the relative "completeness" of the platforms lodged. It cannot evaluate anything promised by a party beyond that included in the registered platform, though it can comment on completeness of the platform in the context of the rest of the campaign.

That way we'd force political parties to start taking elections seriously.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mobiles across the ditch

I'm going to quote at length from TUANZ's e-mail TUANZ This Week because I can't seem to find it as web content.

It’s been a busy week with two of the industry’s biggest challenges being tackled within hours of each other.
First up we had a two-day conference on that most enduring of topics – mobile termination rates (now called Mobile Termination Access Services because why have a three-letter acronym when you can have a four).
A quick search of Computerworld’s archive talks of MTR way back in 2005 but by then it was a already festering sore.
This week should be the last nail in its coffin. The Commerce Commission has been given the remit to regulate, it has recommended that it should set the price, the Minister has agreed and the parties are now all jockeying for position.
The two-day conference was really the last chance for everyone to make clear their views on the matter at hand. The Commission’s draft report recommends moving to pure bill and keep (BAK) for TXT messages (that is, each company sets the price and bills its customers accordingly and keeps all the money rather than sharing with the other network if the TXT goes to another network), and a low level of roughly 4.5c/minute for voice calls (down from what is currently on a like for like basis about 18cpm) defined as being “cost based” (more on that later).
There is to be no glide path down to these rates (even though overseas that is typically the way it’s done) and there’s no difference to be had between calls from a mobile phone to a mobile number and a fixed-line to a mobile number. This is a good thing because it leads to nonsense with telcos routing calls oddly for best pricing.
The conference really came to life, however, around one extra element – on-net pricing.
In its submission, 2degrees called for a ban on on-net pricing for the two big guys Telecom and Vodafone. Its rationale, and one I think merits extra investigation, is that because of the huge difference in pricing between on-net and off-net pricing combined with the market share each telco has in various regional areas (2degrees calls them regional monopolies) then any new entrant has a double hurdle to clear. Not only does it have to offer sharper pricing, it also has to compete with a bigger problem in that individual customers can’t move to a new network because all their on-net friends will find they’re off-net and stop calling them.
The Commission put up a draft clause that could require the telcos to charge exactly the same for off-net calling as they charge for on-net. They’d be free to set that rate, but they wouldn’t be allowed to discriminate between calling types.
This caused immediate uproar from Telecom and Vodafone who went in lawyers blazing and if this clause is included in the final recommendation, I’d say we’re sure to see one or the other telco call for a judicial review.
Legal shenanigans aside, it’s an intriguing point. If I want to move to 2degrees (and I have) will my on-net buddies stop calling me from Vodafone (I use Vodafone because I’m based in Auckland where, according to various figures, Auckland’s share of voice traffic is over 70% and TXT is over 90%). If they do stop calling, there’s nothing 2degrees could offer me at that point to entice me over – those incoming calls (amusingly called “call externalities” by the industry) are too important for me to miss.
In our submission, TUANZ called for a different approach to TXT because of concerns around spam (we’d like to see some small fee retained – I’d originally thought a hybrid BAK system would work but Graham Walmsley from CallPlus said that would prove to be costly and complex so why not go for a low price point, say a third of a cent, and leave it at that. I quite like that and if Graham’s happy then that might work well).
On call pricing I’m happy with the drop and not too concerned about a glide path (Vodafone suggested that the glide path should be in there over two or three years if only so the Commission could look to see whether or not consumers are seeing pass through benefits from it. I like that, but I’m absolutely sure the telcos will pass on the savings to us because if they don’t we’ll vote with our wallets and I’ll put them on the wall of shame. So no to a glide path).
As for on-net price differentials, there’s definitely something there but having a morning’s chat about it at the end of the MTAS process doesn’t feel right to me. I’d rather we had some robust metrics, some clear understanding of how it would work in practice (and how long we would keep it up for) and its impact on the customer. Would we see Vodafone immediately withdraw BestMate and Family (and TalkZoneZero, it’s business calling group plan) or would it open them up to non-Vodafone numbers as 2degrees suggests.
Telecom is doubly unhappy because it sees its any-net regime as giving it a competitive advantage in XT and certainly having to not think about on-net and off-net is a big win for their customers. Telecom also suggested that such a decision would be open to other companies playing silly buggers with pricing – while they didn’t call 2degrees out on it, they’re clearly referring to 2degrees’ TXT ME race which has seen customers programming smartphones to spam the Telecom network and is costing Telecom tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Interestingly, 2degrees’ submission says that while on-net pricing will be banned for Telecom and Vodafone, it wouldn’t for … 2degrees! In Europe apparently it’s not uncommon to find regulators who will ban the incumbents from doing something but not the new entrant. So perhaps we’ll see 2degrees doing Best Mate while Vodafone can not.
If I was a betting man I’d say we’ll see about 4.5cpm for voice (the median figure or 25th percentile but definitely not 75th percentile for those that are following closely), a commercial deal between carriers for TXT backed up by a watching brief from the Commerce Commission (probably about one third of a cent per TXT) and a clause banning the differential between on-net and off-net for a three year period with annual reviews. Telecom and Vodafone will put in for a judicial review and that will go against them but make them look like lumbering giants behaving badly.

It is always hard to know where things will land in NZ. But I'm an absolute believer that on-net pricing is destructive of the formation of effective markets - if only because it makes it so hard to price compare. Also there is no justification for differential F2M and M2M rates - a matter I think the ACCC is considering. And the price should be "cost based" - but the more I think about it the more the original Gans and King proposition of marginal cost pricing not average incremental cost makes sense. That brings the number lower than 1c/min - not even 4.5c/min (though that 4.5c is in New Zealand zlotys).

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Dumb things about the calendar

The Letters section of this morning's SMH had one of those really dumb letters claiming some feature of the calendar was really rare and we should "savour it".

The letter was really short so I'll quote it in full.

By way of sustained research and learning I have discovered that July this year has five Fridays, five Saturdays and five Sundays. This happens every 823 years so we should savour it.

In reality July has three Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays any time that the 1st of July is a Friday. That happens on average once every seven years.

We can be more precise about when the next one occurs as the only variable is leap years. The 1st of a month progresses one day each year (as 365 = 52*7 +1) except in leap years.

The exact numbers are (starting where we are), when you are two years before a leap year, the 1st of July will next be on a Friday in 11 years, when you are 1 year before it is 5 years, when you are in a leap year or three years before it is 6 years. The average of these is 7 as we'd expect.

Where do these nonsensical ideas come from?

(Note: The above analysis does fall down on centuries which are not leap years unless the number of centuries is divisible by 4 as 2000 was.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Politics 2 - Federal

Last night the PM graced Q&A. As the transcript shows she did a remarkable job on handling the climate change/carbon tax question.

I'm actually glad you asked me that question because it gives me an opportunity to explain and I do want to talk to the Australian people about what I said in the last election. Now, I did say during the last election campaign - I promised that there would be no carbon tax. That's true and I've walked away from that commitment and I'm not going to try and pretend anything else. I also said to the Australian people in the last election campaign that we needed to act on climate change. We needed to price carbon and I wanted to see an emissions trading scheme. Then we had the election and the 17 days that were and we formed this minority government. Now, if I'd been leading a majority government I would have been getting on with an emissions trading scheme. It's what I promised the Australian people. As it is, in this minority parliament, the only way I can act on climate change by pricing carbon it to work with others and so I had a really start choice. Do I act or not act? Well, I've chosen to act and we will have a fixed price, like a carbon tax, for a period and then get to exactly what I promised the Australian people, an emissions trading scheme. Now, when I said during the election campaign there would be no carbon tax I didn't intend to mislead people. What I believed then is an emissions trading scheme is right for this country. I believe that now and we will get to that emissions trading scheme.

I think technically though she didn't lie! When she said there wouldn't be a carbon tax under the government she led she really meant "if I have an absolute majority". I think it is perfectly reasonable for her to say "my interpretation is this is the what the Parliament will support, and the Parliament is the expression of the wishes of the Australian people".

She also did an admirable job of explaining that the point of a carbon tax is to change relative prices not to increase costs.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Prime Minister, isn't the whole point of having a carbon tax to affect the prices that consumers pay? If there's no change in consumer behaviour, you're not going to achieve what you're trying to achieve to reduce carbon pollution. So if it's compensating households, aren't you simply undermining the effect that your tax is going to have and ultimately make no change?

JULIA GILLARD: That's a very perceptive question and I think a lot of people are thinking about his, about how does it work? If I'm getting compensation, what's actually changing? Let me just explain that. The carbon price affects the big polluters. Yes, they will cause some price impacts for consumers. That's true. We will then assist consumers and I can understand why people then intuitively go, well, how does all of this work? Isn't, you know, sort of money going in and money going out? What's the effect? Well, the effect is that in the shops when you come to buy things, products that are made with relatively less carbon pollution will be cheaper than products that are made with more carbon pollution. So you're standing there with your household assistance in your hand. You could still keep buying the high carbon pollution products if you want to or what you're far more likely to do is to buy the cheaper, lower carbon pollution products. That means that the people who make those things will get the consumer signal, gee, we will sell more, we will make more money if we make lower pollution products. That drives the innovation. So I want you to have that household assistance in your hand but I also want you to see price effects which make cleaner, greener things cheaper than high pollution commodities. That's why it works.

Meanwhile Tony Abbott seems to get off still saying carbon dioxide isn't the enemy, but having a policy of direct intervention to reduce it.

His policy is to incur massive Government expenditure on these programs - but not to raise taxes. Presumably he will just cut expenditure on other things.

But also, you and I don't get the choice. It is not then determined by how we are prepared to modify our behaviour but what young Tony and his guys decide.

It is mighty odd that it is the ALP that is promoting market mechanisms and the coalition that is promoting centralist planning. It is mighty odd that it is the ALP promoting a budget neutral approach and the coalition proposing massive public expenditure.

Meanwhile the Assange question was just pure unadulterated nonsense. Yes, the Australian government does share information with other Governments about potential security risks that might involve Australian citizens. We WANT IT TO DO THAT.

Meanwhile Dennis Atkins has dreamt up Labor's ten time bombs. They are:

1. Selling the carbon tax.
2. Selling/finalising the mining tax.
3. The tax summit promised to Oakshot.
4. The May Budget.
5. Finalising the Feb 13 health agreement.
6. Offshore processing centre.
7. Managing the onshore detention problem.
8. Same sex marriage.
9. Debating taking back cacus' power to appoint Ministers.
10. Managing/controlling K Rudd.

Actually written like that without the prose they aren't much at all. The PM in the first term rolled back work choices and ran education - including national testing and my school.

For Julia that is simply a "To Do List" - not a list of "time bombs."

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Politics 1 - NSW

I have long been a fan of Cyril Pearl's book The Wild Men of Sydney.

Writing on The Punch today David Penberthy says:

To this day, it captures the language of Sydney, the culture of government and business, the sense of entitlement which colours the conduct of so many MPs in this State. ...

It’s a culture which revolves around a strong sense of mateship formalised through a robust factional system, the profanity-laden denunciation of opponents internal and external, covert deal-making with threats to ostracise or destroy anyone who challenges or exposes the deal. ...

Little has been done over the years to change the political culture of Sydney. ...

Come Saturday week Barry O’Farrell will be Premier and my tip, based on the culture of this State and, particularly, city, is that we’re in for four years of pea-hearted inertia.

There is nothing remotely brave about Barry O’Farrell. ... Some of the most senior members of his team are the most long-serving and this doesn’t reflect a reassuring depth of talent and experience, rather an inability to recruit.

The factions are still run by old stagers such as the small-l liberal Michael Photios, and the vitriol which emanates from the capital-c conservatives over religious hardliners such as David Clarke suggests that, in government, O’Farrell will struggle to maintain discipline.

Right now though every member of the Liberal Party knows that all they have to do is keep their heads down and they will romp it in. The magnitude of their victory will be amplified by the fact that they should have won in 2007 but didn’t, for the simple reason that they were a rabble with no policies. They look less of a rabble now. Policy-wise they remain a mystery as O’Farrell has made himself such a small target that he has avoided big ideas.

A crueller analyst would say he’s ignored big ideas because he doesn’t have any. If he does, he is keeping them to himself. I don’t know anyone who could identify the one big thing an O’Farrell Government would do, other than not be a NSW Labor Government.

And there you have it in a nutshell.

Let's go through it in more detail. Labor is "on the nose" because of some very low level corruption that it has dealt with, and the fact that it seems to have personal scandals extruding from it like sweat from a triathlete.

Let's look at the claims in the "real change for NSW" ad.

They are.
1. Cut taxes and provide more help for families with the cost of living.
2. We'll provide more beds and more nurses.
3. We'll fast-track public transport and road projects.
4. Our jobs action plan will create 100,000 new jobs.
5. We'll hire 900 extra teachers across the State.

There is precious little explanation of how this miracle of cutting taxes and increasing services will be achieved. The coalition's Jobs Action Plan doesn't appear as a separate policy on their website. The downloadable copy of their Action Plan seems to suggest the full extent of the Jobs Action Plan is to cut payroll tax on jobs added by an employer.

The finance detail seems to be entirely built on a premise that the coalition can and will increase the growth rate of the State economy, hence creating increased government revenue and hence increasing services.

If this sounds familiar it is because it is - it had a name in the 1980s - Reaganomics.


The 2011 election really should be like the 2007 election. Neither option is particularly good, but maybe the devil you know is better than the devil you don't.

(Note: A good deal more of the economic mumbo-jumbo in the O'Farrell plan is about a "decade of decentralisation" and the "regional kick-start package" - the latter is about paying people $7,000 to relocate to regional NSW and spend 30% of infrastructure funds in regional areas. You know a power station to provide power to Sydney is infrastructure in a regional area!

For good measure the market oriented Liberals are vowing to introduce "Industry Action Plans" for "high performance and high potential industries". As if that's not been tried before.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, March 14, 2011

Incomprehensible rubbish from the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull

Someone claiming to be Malcolm Turnbull has offered a comment on a story about a radio interview he did. It may well be Malcolm.

If so it is very, very sad. He says:

I think you miss the point about HFC. My simple point is this. If the objective is to provide fast broadband to all Australians at an affordable price then we should try to do so in the most cost-effective fashion. If there is infrastructure which enables us to do that (HFC for example) then it makes sense to use that rather than overbuild it. You make a point about Telstra not being prepared to make it available as a wholesale service, well all of those structural issues can be addressed in the separation of carriage and service which we support. The mistake the Gillard Government has made is never to even ask the question: how do we do this for the least amount of taxpayers' dollars, and instead rushing to what must be the most expensive solution. For example, I was very interested to see in Incheon where there is a new broadband enabled city being built that the fibre runs to the basement of the brand new towers and the service then runs over the buildings LAN, on ethernet. So it is very much fibre to the basement. In Singapore on the other hand the Government is requiring that fibre is pulled through to every apartment. Nonetheless here there is no obligation for Singtel to decommission its copper and no restriction on the HFC network being used to compete with the new fibre. So there is both here and in Korea continuing facilities based competition. So in summary: there is no dispute between us and Labor on the need to have universal fast broadband. We differ on two main points. 1) The cost, we do not accept that this is the most cost effective way of delivering it and cannot understand why they did not follow their stated policy of having a cost benefit analysis, 2) the establishment of a new government owned telecoms monopoly is turning policy on its head and going back to the days of government owned Telstra, added to that preventing facilities based competition runs the real risk that this will result in a more expensive network than a different approach would have delivered.

So on the one hand the Government has erred by rushing hrad long into fibre because it might have been cheaper to use the HFC. But on the other hand the Government is erring by not leaving the HFC in place when it does deploy fibre.

His greatest line is "You make a point about Telstra not being prepared to make it available as a wholesale service, well all of those structural issues can be addressed in the separation of carriage and service which we support.", but he hasn't told us how he would pull off structural reform of the industry. He really should read Paul Fletcher's book.

By the way he says fibre "must be the most expensive solution". This is not necessarily true, because if you believe any other solution is at best temporary till we need to build fibre anyway, then A the expenditure on the temporary solution is wasted. That is what the NBN Expert Panel told the Government - it is there in the documents that were released when the announcement was made.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Who is out of control?

Our media has been full of reports like this that "Kevin Rudd is out of control".

Michelle Grattan tells us that "commonsense" tells you that the PM and the Foreign Minister should be talking directly not through officials. She doesn't say how commonsense dictates which has to make the midnight phone-call, or reflect that each actually have schedules where they are talking to third persons so they don't have unlimited freedom.

She doesn't admit that she's trying to suggest that Gillard should actually adopt the behaviour for which Rudd was dumped, that is, micro-managing a Minister.

But worse I think she misses the real story. She writes;

Meanwhile, an adviser to Gillard was quoted as saying the Foreign Minister was ''out of control'', issuing press releases without running them through Gillard's office..

How come she doesn't notice that the issue here is an advisor by the PM being quoted about ANYTHING to do with the relationship with a Minister. To think that Julia herself built her challenge on the strength of the snub that Alistair Jordan, Rudd's former CoS, was "doing his numbers".

It is the PM's office staff who need better control. A really good first solution would be to REDUCE the number of staff in the PMs office. Quality of staff is far more important than quantity. And office staff let Departmental staff duck accountability.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hard to keep a public sector agency down

The relationship between Government agencies and the radio-communications frequency has always been fraught. It was the needs of Defence that saw Governments worldwide assert their right to manage spectrum. With the move to price based allocation of spectrum it is Government agencies that want access to spectrum so that its cost is not included in the cost of their project.

In 2007 the Australian Communications and Media Authority received a report it had commissioned on Government Spectrum Holdings. That report was in response to calls from various agencies for more spectrum. The report concluded that more effective use of existing spectrum for land mobile should be made by replanning the 400 MHz band.

This work led to a four stage process that was last updated in December 2010.

No sooner does the Government get clarity than two separate projects emerge seeking more spectrum for Government or public service use.

The various State Emergency Services Agencies (ESAs) have been running a campaign for some time to have some of the Digital Dividend spectrum allocated to them. However, work by the Attorney-General's Department concluded there was no case.

Not to be deterred they have used the recent natural disasters to whip up political support for a Senate inquiry on The capacity of communication networks and emergency warning systems to deal with emergencies and natural disasters. The Terms of Reference include;

new and emerging technologies including digital spectrum that could improve preparation for, responses to and recovery from, an emergency or natural diaster (sic).

Of course, no spectrum is actually "digital" - it is only the transmission over the spectrum which is digital - but we know what they mean.

Elsewhere the railways all have decided that they too need their own wireless network and have been putting together 1800 MHz licences (actually the old One.Tel licences). They too are having to go political getting Anthony Albanese to lobby on their behalf.

My difficulty with all this is that
(a) radio infrastructure has economies of scale - a network to support just a few trains in inefficient. Ditto a network for emergency services.
(b) modern technologies (e.g. LTE) can prioritise the traffic, so the public networks could prioritise emergency traffic
(c) the proposed use of spectrum for ESAs limits the utility of the public network services
(d) even if the ESA or railway isn't required to make the transfer payment for use of the spectrum the Cost Benefit Analysis for their project needs to value the spectrum at its next best use - i.e. what they would have paid in a price based allocation.

But you can't keep a good government agency down!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Fatuous bullshit

Senator Conroy has signed another of his Digital Economy MOUs.

This one with NEC is just like the one with Intel. The commercial firm that really wants to lobby Government has agreed that it will lobby Government (oh sorry - "will keep the Government informed about its activities, particularly, in the areas of aged care and intelligent transport systems").

This time it is not as clear what the Government gives - only saying "It further signals the Government's intention to collaborate with industry to deliver an NBN-enabled digital economy.

The Intel agreement stated:

Through the agreement the Gillard Government will:
•provide Intel with updates on progress and development of the Government’s Digital Economy Strategy
•work with Intel as a sounding board on possible initiatives to promote an NBN-enabled Digital Economy
•Share relevant research on an NBN-enabled digital economy.

As I said then how is Intel/NEC different. Isn't every business entitled to know what the Government is doing with the NBN?

I said the last one might be "merely a piece of paper promoted by Intel to the Government signed by the Government to create five minutes of positive press".

Now it looks like these MOUs are going to become fatuous bullshit peddled to every ICT firm.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Ayn Rand "influential"

Ross Cameron writing in this morning's SMH would like us to revere Ayn Rand as a woman of real influence. Before we respond we should consider what that influence has been.

Cameron chooses to label her philosophy “ethical egoism”. Other titles for it as I mentioned in my first Rand blogpost are "objectivism" or "enlightened self-interest". The problem being there was nothing ethical about it, it was a philosophy of pure unadulterated selfishness. It thoroughly rejected the ethical precept known as the Golden Rule and found in every religion of doing to others what you would have them do to you.

If all people live according to Rand’s philosophy none of the essential ingredients of the state to support a market economy, especially the least co-operative enforcement of property rights, can exist. It was not only anti-totalitarian but also anti-capitalist.

She was not only an atheist. Her philosophy is totally inconsistent with any religious belief. You cannot claim to be a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew and also ascribe to her philosophy.

Rand may well have had real influence, but so did Stalin and Mao. Or as was raised in a later discussion here "Of course its an unsustainable philosophy -- Ayn Rand is to the real world as Karl Marx is. They are both idealists."

Rand's philosophy is as degenerate as the worst writings of Marx or Hitler's Mein Kampf. She should not be held up for any kind of praise.

(And a small aside on copyright. Students of history often wonder how come the British were so naive about Hitler's intentions given he'd laid it all out before hand. The simple answer is that the English translation did not come out till after the war. As copyright holder Hitler refused requests to authorise a translation beforehand - his intended audience was only German speakers.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Beat Up of the Week

Under the headline Books get the shove as university students prefer to do research online the SMH reports today on a process of culling books at the UNSW Library asserting:

The University of NSW is throwing away thousands of books and scholarly journals as part of a policy that critics say is turning its library into a Starbucks. Academics say complete journal collections, valuable books and newspapers dating to the 19th century are being thrown out to clear space for cafe-style lounges.

I suggest the author and the academics wake up and smell the roses. No library is collecting current issues of journals as on-line versions are more accessible and easier to store. Most journals have had their entire archive digitised as either part of their electronic publishing or as part of one of the major archiving projects (such as Jstor).

An electronic journal article gives you a pristine *.pdf, with no need to photocopy if you want to take it with you. You never suffer because the issue you are after has gone off for binding or is simply on a sorting shelf somewhere. You don;t ever have to face damaged or defaced pages.

Some books are also making their way to electronic form.

But libraries have always culled the book collection, though the University of Sydney tends to send a lot to offsite storage rather than dispose of them. I've previously bought books that were being culled from the Macquarie University collection.

And far be it from "cafe-style lounges" being created, if you've visited a University Library you will know that there is always a queue for the computer terminals (though increasingly the library resources are available off-site through your student log-in - but that doesn't work if you are just a visitor).

Of course, large libraries like the NLA and State Library make more efficient use of racking space by using stacks. Macquarie Uni is going one better with the implementation of a new fully automated stack.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, March 07, 2011

Generation C

A good description of Generation C

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

It just doesn't follow

My Friday collection of brief links included one about comments made about the NBN. This elicited a comment from Ian noting he wasn't sure if my reference was sarcasm but that the AFP argument was ludicrous.

For the record, it was, and I agree with the assessment.

But these sort of things abound. Let's also look at the review of the TIO I also mentioned on Friday.

In announcing the review Minister Conroy said;

The recently released TIO statistics show that complaints to the Ombudsman remain at very high levels and this is not acceptable. While I acknowledge the hard work the TIO does to deliver consumers with quick and effective solutions, I want to ensure it has the appropriate tools to deal with complaints.

This got written up by one online journal as;

In a statement, Conroy said he had called for the review, because the number of complaints received by the TIO was unacceptably high.

This doesn't follow. It is at the very least not an accurate description of the Minister's release. If it is a restatement following a discussion, it still doesn't follow.

Why would a high level of utilisation of a service ever imply something wrong with the service? Surely the correct focus is on the providers, as the ACMA is doing with its Reconnecting the Customer project.

Meanwhile Lucy Battersby has done a really good job of looking at the cause and implications of Telstra's move to "per minute" billing.

The item points out that Telstra justified moving fixed line from per second to thirty second blocks two yrars ago to harmonize with mobile billing. But now they are taking both to per minute claiming it puts them in line with "industry standards".

Optus "followed suit" on the per second to thirty second move - claiming the move was to make price comparisons easier.

Telstra goes on to say that of course most customers won't be affected because they are on some kind of bucket plan and don't use the whole bucket.

Unfortunately Chris Zinn from CHOICE decides to hone in on the flagfall charges rather than asking the really obvious question. Since all of the price moves have been justified as simplifying things for customers, including price comparison, why not simply agree an industry standard measure and have everyone stick to it? It really isn't much different to agreeing to measure weight in kilograms and distance in kilometres. Standardisation of units of measure is an important institution that makes markets work!

I know the answer will be about competition and innovation. But it doesn't follow. As the providers own rhetoric shows consumers can't price compare plans using different charging bases.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Friday, March 04, 2011

It is all too much ...

King John wasn't evil, just a bad politician. It was all just made up by the Victorians (those south of 1900 not the Murray River).

The NBN will help kiddie fiddlers because there will be too many service providers for the spooks to watch. And I thought the real problem was the NBn would be too slow because of the "filter".

The Pope seems to think it important to exonerate the Jews over Jesus' death. I never understood the whole idea of "blaming" them. According to Christian theology Jesus had to die on the cross as atonement for our sins. He had to be resurrected for us to believe in his resurrection. If he hadn't been executed he'd have died a forgotten old man.

Time to go watch some rugby. Go the 'Tahs.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

I told you so ...

Writing in itNews in November I discussed disquiet with the TIO.

I concluded;

It seems abundantly clear that the industry that created the scheme either needs to exercise its responsibility to review it in such a way that all the criticisms are resolved, or the Federal Government will need to include the future of Ombudsman arrangements under its forthcoming Convergence Review.

The Government didn't include it in that review but has today commenced a separate review of the scheme.

This is mighty odd given that the TIO Board has commissioned KPMG to undertake its own - much overdue - review. They just seem to have neglected to tell anybody.

(Note: I was a member of the Board of the TIO from 13 Dec 2000 to 12 Dec 2003).

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est


The deal the Government has had to do with Nick Xenophon to get the flood levy approved highlights a great deal of stupidity in public policy and discussion of it.

In summary existing Federal/State arrangements are that the Federal Government pays 75% of the cost of disaster relief. Xenophon has agreed to a levy for the Commonwealth share of this on condition to the rule being amended to the funds only being available if the state insures its risk.

First off we have Kenneth Wiltshire in the Oz bemoaning the fact we now have to pay the levy, writing in part;

Consider the proposed flood levy and the process of its introduction, which reveals all the flaws of our present system.


The result is that the taxpayers of Australia, including those who had already made voluntary donations to the flood appeals, will have to foot the extra bill for the levy plus the cost of the promises made to the Greens and independents.

And, given the Gillard government's appalling record in governance and delivery of infrastructure projects, there is no guarantee that payments from this levy will be administered without waste and corruption.

To make matters more complex, independent Nick Xenophon made his support for the levy conditional on the commonwealth forcing states to take out comprehensive insurance on their assets: a strange requirement that is a denial of the sovereignty of the states in the federation

If the Queensland government is reckless enough to neglect to insure its assets it should simply be held accountable by voters at the forthcoming election.

This spray is used to claim we need a new election because of the power being exerted by the Greens and independents. Let's ignore for a second the question of what programs the Government might have additionally agreed to, and go to the substance.

The first thing to note is that not one cent more of additional money will be spent by the Commonwealth because of the levy. It was always going to fund its share of the reconstruction. The levy does not increase, therefore, any risk of maladministration.

The second is the nonsense about voluntary donations versus the levy. These go to different things. Your voluntary donation helps individuals who lost houses, possessions and income. The levy rebuilds roads.

The third is the repetition of the claim that it was "reckless neglect" on Queensland's part not to insure. This ignores that the size of the Commonwealth contribution is based on the cost (they pay 75%) not on how much the Queensland Government can pay.

But it also ignores the facts as Anna Bligh outlined them on Q&A

These disasters without precedent in Australia's history. We've had floods before. We've had cyclones. But we've never had in any state of Australia all of them at once over such a large area in such catastrophic proportions. The disaster arrangements in Australia that have prevailed under all sides of politics for more than a decade - I think a couple of decades now, are a set of arrangements by which the commonwealth government pays 75 per cent of the cost of restoring essential public infrastructure. Not just state infrastructure but much of what gets damaged in these things are the infrastructure of local councils and what we've got is a great example of it here in Queensland. Many of the councils worst affected are some of the smallest councils in Australia. So the roads that they have are really important to everyone, but they've actually got a very small group of ratepayers and a very small ability to cope with fixing it. And the state government pays 25 per cent. So we've got the money to pay our 25 per cent but it will really stretch our budget. The Commonwealth are saying in order for us to fix something of this scale, not only in Queensland - they've this massive event in Queensland, as well as what happened in Victoria and to some extent Western Australia. They're saying in these circumstances we need Australians to pitch in and help in a way that Australians have done before.

When asked why Queensland did not insure itself she said:

That's a very good question. I'm very pleased to have a chance to answer it. For exactly the same reason that under John Howard the Commonwealth Government decided not to be insured either and that is because it is not cost effective in a state as big as Queensland. We went out to the market about seven years ago. The cost of - well, first of all they won't insure us for roads. They don't ensure New South Wales for roads. They don't ensure other states. You can't get insured for roads. More than 80 per cent of the cost of this disaster is roads. So when we went out to the market and said we are a big state that has a lot of disasters and we want insurance, the cost of getting the insurance as actually more than it was for effectively self-insure. So we are doing the exactly the same as the Commonwealth decided to do under the Howard Government, which is also not insured. What it does is self insure, because it's more cost effective for taxpayers.

She then pointed out they put money aside in every budget - $700M in the last one as part of self insurance. As Acting Premier Paul Lucas alluded insurance isn't a "free" risk protection scheme. The insurer needs to make a profit.

And size of risk does matter. There aren't many insurers that can absorb the risk - and the consequence can be the worst of all worlds. You pay your premium and the insurer goes under just when you need to claim.

And the poor mugs who will pay are taxpayers unnecessarily lining the pockets of insurers.

Bad decision.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Harmony Day GOAL!!!!

Tweeted by Kate Lundy, promoting a really important day, but it is the Conroy goal I love!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est


My latest in my series of columns for itNews raises the prospect that NBN Co will have significant hurdles to cross in getting its Special Access ndertaking accepted by the ACCC.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

The US Military-Industrial Complex

It is a long time since the structure of American Capitalism was labelled the "US Military-Industrial Complex." It was used by Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell speech as US President in 1961 saying;

we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex

General consensus is that "we" (meaning all of us - not just the US) failed.

The concept was further advanced by J. K. Galbraith in his The New Industrial State. Galbraith noted that the US was as much a planned economy as the USSR, just the planning was conducted by large corporations.

Yet another Huawei story shows this in operation. Here we have a US embassy official doing his bit to discredit a foreign competing firm.

What is the charge? That the supplier - Huawei - was less than brilliant in following through on a contract.

But let's roll the tape on Senator Conroy's quizzing Telstra at Senate estimates in 2006. He said, in part,

Perhaps I could read to you from a document, a Telstra document marked ‘Commercial-in-confidence’ entitled ‘Alcatel issues’. It is three-pager with an attachment. I will table it. It states:

Summary of Route Causes
In the last 10 years there have been a number of problems with Alcatel projects at Telstra ...
The systematic reasons behind these problems are listed below—

• Knowingly overselling capabilities and timeframes
• Short cuts taken to then deliver sub standard solutions
• Finding clauses in contracts and specifications to avoid obligations rather than delivering working solutions and / or what was sold in the first place.
• Alcatel overcharging Telstra whenever it had the opportunity
• Alcatel Australia inventing specials which then don’t fit in with worldwide Alcatel strategy
increasing the cost of the project and creating a risk Alcatel Australia would exit the project if Telstra did not continue to pay
• Poor software quality and testing—in particular poor exception handling consideration at the
design stage; poor quality processes ie peer review, configuration management and testing
• Poor system integration capability and problems managing projects requiring interfacing to
different components / vendors.

In some respects, issues such as Alcatel’s overselling of their capability in the late 90s were prevalent throughout the whole industry but Alcatel was on the leading edge of this trend.

(The actual document was tabled).

The claims about Huawei being a security threat all seem to be similarly trumped up charges motivated by Western vendors trying to exclude Huawei. To my list in itNews of transgressions by other nations, let's add Ericsson. Why should we trust a vendor from a country that many believe has trumped up charges against an Australian citizen (Julian Assange) to support the US?

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Media ownership

Last Crikey's comments section published the following contribution from me;

The reports on the technical legality or otherwise of Lachlan Murdoch’s multiple roles in Australian media overshadow a potentially bigger story.

The various recent forays including the move on TEN, the presence of Seven in CMH, the strange position of Bruce Gordon in both WIN and TEN, the consolidation of radio, the Seven WAN transaction and the continuing uncertainty at Fairfax would seem to suggest that a group of key players really expect the rules on ownership to change soon.

I don’t think for a moment that there has yet been a deal done with Government. It feels far more like these are the pre-emptive transactions before the proposition is put to Government that the rules must change with the NBN, that globalised content and the long tail mean the existing rules are already rendered obsolete.

It really looks like Seven is preparing to acquire Fairfax and that News is preparing to acquire TEN (more likely that a News Corp/Murdoch family/partially listed company will put together the News print assets and TEN). It’s just that the players have decided that they’ll place the Government in an impossible position first rather than negotiate permission.

To a degree I thought it was just my own fanciful murmurings. But today Senator Conroy has outlined in a speech (not yet on his site) that the Terms of Reference for the Convergence Review are

sufficiently broad to allow the committee to cover a wide range of issues that may include:
* licensing and planning, including broadcast licence fees
* public service programming including Australian, children’s and local content obligations
* protection of community standards including broadcast classification and timezones, accuracy and impartiality of news reporting, advertising standards, internet content
* recognising the rights and interests of consumers in the convergent media age, and
* media ownership and control regulations.
(emphasis added)

Based on that Conroy was very right to go on to say;

I don’t think anyone here today would be under the illusion that this is going to be an easy task...

Decisions will need to be made that take into account all of the many opinions and ideas about where we are heading and what is the appropriate regulatory environment.

I know there are many different views about what the regulatory settings should be, and I am confident that the Committee will lay the foundation for a system that will serve Australia’s needs in this converged media age.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

The story of Australian telecommunications ...

I can't fulfill the promise of the introduction but I can take you yo two really great bits of it. Both are based on items in the issue before the current one of the Telecommunications Journal of Australia.

The first is an excerpt from the obituary for Mel Ward. It tells a story quite concisely of an opportunity missed in Australian innivation and technology.

Mel moved to the Electronic Switching Division in 1967 and soon emerged as a key player in a major research project called the IST (Integrated Switching and Transmission) Project, very advanced for its time, which involved the investigation of two key ideas. The first was the concept of using software-controlled computers to perform the control functions (previously implemented by electromagnetic relays) in a telephone exchange, and the second was the idea of using digital solid-state devices to switch telephone traffic in a digital form. At the time, transmission systems carrying digital traffic were being introduced into the telephone network, but conversion of the traffic back to analogue form was necessary to perform the switching function in telephone exchanges. These two ideas underpinned the dawn of the era of computer-controlled digital telecommunications, an era which continues today although the early time division multiplexing technique of switching has by now, more than forty years later, been largely superseded by packet switching.

Mel’s participation in the IST Project took him and Margaret to Bell Telephone in Antwerp for about six months, starting in June 1968, where he worked with the designers of the new, specialised computers needed to perform switching control functions at high speeds. He returned to Australia as the key designer, together with the late Fred Symons and the late Andy Domjan, of the functional specifications of the IST switch being developed in the Laboratories. This experimental switch, the first computer-controlled digital telephone exchange in the world to handle live traffic, was implemented and finally installed in the Windsor exchange building in Melbourne in 1974, where it carried telephone traffic for many years thereafter.

The world's first "computer-controlled digital telephone exchange" was built and installed in Australia. The question is what happened next - why was the exchange not commercialised, why did Telecom then go on to buy the 10C and AXE exchanges?

Part of the answer probably lies in their experience at the same time of the Common User Data Network (or CUDN) which was an attempt to build a message switching network. (Message switching is more like packet switching than circuit switching but switches the whole message. Ultimately e-mail is a kind of message switching.)

I believe, however, that somewhere in the decision making there was a decision that basically said "We can't develop this we are too small." Yet we bought our switches from a firm in a similar sized economy.

The second is from a great article by the irrepressible Jock Given who delights in delivering short essays on Australian communications history. He relates the story of representatives from Marconi demonstrating wireless telegraphy to politiciand in 1906, and the development of the "National Wireless Network" (as he dubs it).

It is a classic tale of communication ambition, stark political reality and the interaction of the public and private sector. It is well summarised by this excerpt from the article;

Postmaster-General Chapman – the Stephen Conroy of the day – sent a message on behalf of the mainland press to the press of Tasmania: ‘No limits can be set to the beneficent influence of journalism now that the atmosphere has, at the bidding of genius, become its servant.’ (Marconi’s 1906) Chapman had visited wireless stations overseas, including in Italy. He thought people who asked ‘Will this pay?’ needed ‘to look at the matter from something more than the commercial aspect’.

Jock ends the piece (which was originally a speech celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Journal) with:

I could tell a long story about Australian telecommunications, but it may sound like a short
story told many times.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est