Friday, April 29, 2011

Invalid syllogisms

The Wikipedia entries classify post hoc ergo proctor hoc and cum hoc ergo proctor hoc as logical fallacies, but I suspect this itself is an error.

The categories "true" and "false" belong to statements, while the categories "valid" and "invalid" apply to arguments.

In my recent writings on customer service and attending an event on the same I've been fascinated with the efforts that show a correlation between a measure of customer satisfaction and a measure of profitability. This is especially true when that measure is something like number of products purchased, or lifetime value.

The correlation itself is unsurprising - after all if I had decided to buy more would I say I wasn't satisfied. The question though is one of causation. Is there some magical process whereby I can "manipulate" your satisfaction and this then causes you to buy more?

the answer is clearly no. In reality the two measures are probably correlated because they have common causes.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Open letter to "asmith"

Interesting responses to my itNews column.

The very first response I got was by way of a feedback e-mail (to itNews) from the man at Harvey Norman, Gary Wheelhose, that read;

Hi David
Just a quick note and thanks for the feedback re the presentation last week. It's always good for us to do those events as the feedback afterwards is so valuable. I use social personally for my own service issues - two recent ones with telcos and one with BMW - so I think i know what works for the customer too.
Enjoyed your article and thanks again!

The comments section on the website scored one from a customer who actually said his provider (one notorious for high TIO stats) was getting better.

This was followed by one from someone in the telco industry. I think the name "asmith" is anonymous but I'm not sure. If it is the author is probably in breach of his own company's media policy. It read

The author of this article knows full well that the numbers reported by the TIO are fictitious and the number of real actual complaints that have any investigation by the TIO is less than 20,000 per annum. Using these numbers to justify the position is a very shaky foundation.

This has been picked up by almost every submission regarding the TIO and ACMA inquiries and also by independent academic research.

Yet for reasons unbeknown to the public but well acquainted within the Telecommunications industry, Mr Havyatt continue to bag Telcos without supporting evidence or true cause.

The new CA code will make things worse for consumers. Amongst many other things, it proposes no service delivery during cooling off periods, etc.

Do you think people want to wait 21 days for their DSL service to be connected?

Come on David, there's two sides to this story, and you know it. The populist route of Telco bashing is wearing thin.

I've placed a long comment on the itNews site. What I want to address here is the accusation that there is some reason why I would want to "bag telcos" - and that that reason would be well known to people in the industry.

I can only think the reason suggested is that I feel I have been thwarted in my more recent career aspirations. This is not only offensive, but just like the comment itself comes from within a heavily filtered world.

I went to the trouble of including the CHOICE presentation, the comment from David Jaffe, and the history of "telespeak" to try to provide some basis for my comments. In my post here I added the link to the submission I made to the ACMA to try to more fully explain why the market alone isn't a solution.

In case "asmith" or anyone else from a telco is listening I'll add to that theoretical piece.

Consumers who are constrained from making the “rational” decision expected of them in theory because of a lack of necessary information are said to exhibit “bounded rationality”. In a recent theoretical work Bounded Rationality and Industrial Organisation, Ran Spiegler modelled a market in which firms were able to induce bounded rationality by “obfuscation”.

His conclusion was that increasing competition (by increasing the number of firms) either retained or increased (depending on other assumptions) the economic surplus retained by the firms. In the best case the firms were making an excess profit of half what a monopolist would obtain.

I really hope "asmith" takes up my offer on itNews and gets in touch with me. I don't think I am engaging in telco bashing - I think instead I'm identifying why the industry solution of "let us compete" is not a sufficient response to those who say "regulate".

Let's be clear I think direct regulation of customer service would be WORSE than what we have. But the industry needs to do something different.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Telco Customer Service

I get stuck into telcos on the subject of customer service in my itNews column today.

I don't think this will win me many friends, might even alienate some I already have who work in "Customer Experience" functions.

I don't really doubt the will and intent of all the people in telcos from CEOs down who are stating the importance of customer service, striving for customer-centricity and implementing various programs with these goals in mind.

What I do doubt is that they really acknowledge the depth of the issue. The starting point isn't they are good and can get better than everyone else, it is that they are bad and until the industry as a whole improves no one will notice their efforts.

There is a very imprtant economic issue - more correctly game theory issue. In the presence of high information asymmetry the market will not value good customer service.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Higher Ed in Oz

The Australian Higher Education sector ultimately continues to be in dramatic turmoil. This is really nothing new. The system has undergone ongoing change since the original expansion by Menzies, the initial abolition of fees by Whitlam, the Dawkins reforms of a unitary higher ed system and then HECS ending with the strangulation under Howard, driving Universities to other income sources (primarily fee paying international and postgrad students) and depriving student bodies of compulsory levies.

On the research side there has been an ongoing centralisation of research funding under both the ARC and the NH&MRC, that not only centralises the dispensation of funds but also establishes "rankings" for journals to assess the worthiness of published papers. The latter has seen various groups I'm involved with (the TJA and heterodox economists) lobbying on getting the journals they are associated with higher up the rankings. Meanwhile the funding process draws more and more universities together into cataclysms otherwise known as Cooperative Research Centres.

The latest round of stories just today tells us that the collapse in inbound overseas student numbers threatens University budgets, that postgradsuate coursework students don't get value for money and that young researchers want careers in academe.

The collapse in international students is firstly a classical problem of exposure of export industries to currency fluctuations, but also a response to the tightening of immigration laws. It is the sort of thing prudent business management includes in the risk profile of the business. But at the same time the Australian universities should consider how they have been treating their own brands. Not one has really pursued the idea of the Australian degree being "prestigious". They have also wasted huge amounts in competing domestically - why does almost every university have a "campus" somewhere in the CBD of Sydney?

A lot of the latter has been the proliferation of ever more esoteric Masters by coursework, much of which would be better administered within professions rather than at Universities. My parents graduated with Diplomas of Dermatological Medicine from USyd but that has been replaced by the Fellowship of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. Academic studies suggest that MBAs now have a negative NPV as an investment.

Finally, the young Wannabe academics say there aren't enough jobs and the salary is uncompetitive. My understanding is that the whole research funding mix also now means young academics bear all the teaching responsibility and the profs do the research. It is a disastrous outcome for all.

A lot of the latter is the consequence of the research funding model. Only the stars get funded. It is very hard to do any research of your own to make a name in Australia.

The consequence is that while we export education we perpetually try to import skilled workers. This isn't a TAFE/apprenticeship problem, as "Recent patterns of job creation underscore why it is so important that more young Australians be given the opportunity to get a degree. Between 2000 and 2009, nearly one-third of total job growth in Australia was in occupations classified as professional."

The economics has always been pretty simple, there is an externality in education. The social benefit of education is greater than the private benefit of education - there are spillovers of the benefit. The same is true of research. Both need to be better funded and funded under a model that encourages Universities to be responsible for their own decision making, and to spend more time building their brands by performance rather than by their success in form-filling or "marketing".

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est


Great item in Crikey today on lobbying taken from DragOnista's blog.

There are two important themes in the item, the first is that lobbying is strategic (meaning long term) and that it is both good for democracy and poorly understood.

On the strategic nature, it highlights that lobbying is multi-faceted.

Effective lobbying is based on an exceptionally good working knowledge of three things: politics, policy and business. That’s why most lobby groups have experts in each of these areas.

Even more important for effective lobbying is an understanding of how these three elements can align, interact or conflict.

Lobbyists use knowledge of this dynamic to ply their trade. In an ideal world, the policy they are lobbying for should satisfy the minister’s need for smart politics, the department’s need for sound policy, and their own members’ need for a continued license to operate.

Getting all three to align, good politics, good policy and good for business is often hard. It is made harder when the sponsor of the lobbying can only think of their own interest - like the old GM line "what's good for my company is good for the country". Telling politicians and officials that a certain line is important for your ability to make a profit is not usually a winning strategy.

That said both the politics and the policy credentials of a position can be fashioned over time. The frustration most lobbyists suffer from is clients or employers whose request begins "I need this now", but have no answer when you seek their view on how they want the external environment structured in three years time.

And lobbying isn't just by business - it comes from many sources.

The profession of lobbying is certainly not rocket science, but it’s a nuanced practice nonetheless. It’s an activity that admittedly occurs under the radar, but which bears little resemblance to the media depictions of shiny suits trailing into ministers’ offices threatening ad campaigns if they don’t get their wicked way.

A final important point to remember is that lobbyists represent a much broader range of interests than just big business. Equally large and influential lobby groups also represent pharmacists, teachers, independent shop owners, superannuants, and the environment movement for example.

Lobbyists have a legitimate part to play in a vibrant democracy such as ours. This would be better accepted if the media made a greater effort to understand it.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

NBN Champions

The distressing fact about the NBN remains the fact that whether we need it remains "contested ground". Malcolm Turnbull continues to make inroads by repeating that no one can tell him why every household needs 100Mbps. He might like to reflect on the fact that when he first ran OzEmail and all customers used 300bps he probably couldn't have imagined why anyone would even need 1Mbps.

News today that the Government is planning a campaign based on twelve NBN champions. Pity that one of the names, Rosemary Sinclair, has already resigned as CEO of ATUG.

The item continues;

Details of the campaign are expected next month, when the government is set to unveil a strategy for turning Australia into a ''world-leading'' digital economy by 2020, when the network is due to be nearly complete.

Under the national digital economy strategy, the government has pledged to introduce policies that will help households and businesses make the most of the network, as well as providing a "road map of what an NBN-enabled world will look like"

This is a much looked forward to announcement planned for late May by Senator Conroy. This is the next stage following the string of Digital Economy initiatives. The current foundation stone of that is the document Future Directions of the Digital Economy.

I have a distinct disagreement with the government over the definition of the Digital Economy, and as a consequence the correct policy response.

The Government defines the Digital Economy as;

The global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.

As a definition this at best defines part of the economy. Its limitation is the failure to recognise ICT as a General Purpose Technology (GPT) and hence that ALL economic activity is impacted or enabled in some way. A farmer who uses the Bureau of Meteorology website to access a weather forecast to decide when to plant or harvest is engaged in a digital economy activity.

To see the distinction imagine if we defined the Industrial Economy as the global and social activities enabled by the steam engine, internal combustion engine and electric motor?

The change from an agricultural society to the modern industrial society that accompanied these technologies has not just been one of degree (i.e. of productivity), but of kind. Both capitalism as we know it, and democracy as we know it were products of the industrial revolution.

Phillip Bobbit's thesis is that ICTs were one of the two defining technologies (along with weapons of mass destruction) that brought the long war from 1914 to 1990 to an end. The question he then poses is what does the "constitutional order" of the market state look like.

There is plenty of evidence that the societies that work out the constitutional order for new epochs (to use Marx's term) first are the most successful.

The Government in its strategy states;

The key elements to a successful digital economy are a Government that is digitally aware and enabling; industry that is digitally confident, innovative and skilled; and a community that is digitally empowered and literate.

To that needs to be added "a Government and society that are prepared to examine the implications of the digital economy on the organisation of the economy and to react positively to the change."

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Rule of Law

I don't know why I read the columns of Henry Ergas in the Oz, because I know they will just make me cranky.

Today he opines that what we need from regulators is "rules, not roulettes".

He lost me though in the rest of that para when he says;

Nowhere is that need greater than at the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission. With Graeme Samuel's departure, it's time to bring to the ACCC disciplines the Rule of Law Association of Australia has long called for. (emphasis added)

The Rule of Law Association of Australia which also calls itself an Institute) was founded in September 2009! I've never thought nineteen months "long" especially in policy terms.

Strangely his first complaint is that the ACCC under Graeme Samuel hasn't been a particularly active litigant. He dismisses the ACCC argument about the way judicial interpretation has hamstrung the operation of the act by citing cases that were mostly determined before the relevant High Court decisions.

He criticises the ACCC over the delays in the A&R/Borders merger saying " the ACCC initially claiming those booksellers, since destroyed by internet shopping, faced little competitive constraint." As I've written previously the ACCC actually erred in permitting the takeover because the Borders business model was "category killer" which is another word for "monopolising". Competition in bookselling would have been stronger letting Borders fail than by letting A&R buy it.

{One could go on a diversion about the ACCC decision to block the Foxtel acquisition of Australis, the latter then collapsed, the outcome was probably better than the merger as the assets of Australia then got distributed between Foxtel, Austar, Optus and TARBS).

The criticism though of Samuel that follows has nothing to do with the "rule of law". He is actually criticised for his role as a "policy player" - where he goes along with policies that Ergas happens to disagree with (FuelWatch, GroceryWatch, the NBN). And here there is a really interesting distinction - because I guess if Samuel was opposing policies that Ergas agreed with he'd be criticised for straying from the "regulator" box.

The ACCC is subject to the rule of law, all decisions are reviewable under the provisions of the ADJR and a large subset fall into the Australian Competition Tribunal.

There are, however, many problems with the law Samuel is responsible for. Misleading and deceptive conduct is one classic area where the concept of a "reasonable man" is at the fore and one judge recently concluded that something in advertising is unlikely to be misleading because the customer is required to enter into a one year agreement and a reasonable person would read that agreement.

(at para 19
It also needs to be remembered that ordinary and reasonable consumers, who might be expected to take some care of their own interests, are likely to do more than simply rely upon these particular television commercials in deciding whether or not to sign up to the respondent’s plan. These types of plans typically involve a contractual commitment of a year or more in duration and are invariably the subject of terms and conditions which relate to matters of detail of the kind that the applicant’s complaints focus upon.

The concept of "competition" in competition law depends on a judicial interpretation that is the complete opposite of the concept in economics, it thinks of competition as rivalry between firms rather than for customers. As more like tennis than golf. The definition specifically allows for the kind of "strategic interaction" assumed away in the theory of competition in the orthodox mindset.

The problem with competition law is the law, not its implementation.

That said I mostly agree with Ergas' conclusion;

Rather, we need effective checks and balances, including chairs appointed for a single term only, consistent disclosure of financial interests, more stringent parliamentary scrutiny, periodic Productivity Commission audits, and merits review of major decisions.

That there are important choices Australians would rather vest in independent regulators than in politicians is fully understandable. But the trend to government by the unelected is itself fraught with dangers.

Unaddressed, those dangers could lead all too readily to the rule not of laws but of political convenience. Leaving our regulators unregulated should no longer be an option.

But this was a ball the Howard Government badly dropped in the Uhrig review that lumped regulators in with other agencies in consideration of governance. Hence when the ACMA was formed the debate was whether it was governed by the CAC Act or the FMA Act. What is missing is the "Independent Regulators Act" that establishes all the principles that Ergas refers to (though I might use someone other than the PC - technically the Commonwealth Ombudsman brief is better suited to oversight of administrative action).

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Nonsense in communications land

Grahame Lynch, the publisher of Communications Day, has written in the Oz today on the NBN. He opens;

If one can't get one's history right, then one probably can't be trusted to get the future right.

The basis for his assertion that Conroy can't get the history right is that NBN 1.0 was cancelled because "the non-Telstra bids were all rejected because they lacked 'value for money'". But asserts that Conroy never referred to the compensation issue.

Lynch is wrong.

The Minister released an extract of the Expert Panel report with the decision on 7 April 2009. In that, the panel noted a range of reasons why none of the proposals represented value for money, and these included the fact that the development in technology meant FTTN was no longer a cost-effective half-way house to FTTH, that no one really met the coverage requirement and a cost risk that was described as;

As well, providing such access to a party other than Telstra runs a risk of liability to pay compensation to Telstra. The Proposals have this risk remaining with the Commonwealth but they have not addressed the potential cost to the Commonwealth of any such compensation. In any event, the Panel considers that no Proponent could accept the cost risk and continue to have a viable business case.

I suggest Lynch and the "many informed observers" should get better at reading actual documents rather than what they choose to believe.

As for NBN 1.0 being fully costed at $9B, the fact is it was on the assumption that Telstra would participate. After all, why not accept $4.5B in outside investment to replace your access network, retire your class 5 voice switches and expand the broadband market? The only reason you wouldn't would be if you were Sol and Phil.

I actually maintain there were two fundamental errors made by Conroy's Department in the whole exercise.

The first was that they continued the Howard Government approach of thinking the best value was achieved by a contest between Telstra, the G9 and any other bidders. The phrase "competitive tension" was used repeatedly - and even approvingly by the ANAO report. But the "loser" of the tender had to become a customer of the "winner"? That is not the standard for a competitive tender. Actually the Department needed to drive Telstra and the G9 TOGETHER rather than apart.

The second error was the failure to be clear enough that one of the objectives was structural reform. The tender document itself simply listed the extent to which the proposal delivered separation as one of a number of (unweighted) factors that would be used to make the decision. As a consequence Telstra thought they could get it removed as an objective.

The stoush leading to the shortened bid included Telstra effectively demanding that separation be taken off the table before they would bid. They should never have been able to think that was an option. It was the structuring of the tender document and the inability of the Department to really say it was non-negotiable that left Telstra believing it could be achieved.

Phil Burgess on Four Corners talked about Telstra's reluctance to hand over their confidential information;

PHIL BURGESS: Our proposal was real, it wasn't brochure aware, it wasn't just a spin, it was something concrete on which we'd spent hundreds of millions of dollars. We were not going to turn all those plans over to the Government without guarantees. They want us to open the kimono on everything that we had done without any guarantees that our intellectual property would be protected.

STEPHEN CONROY: Well look, Telstra knew what the rules of the tender were. Everybody else supplied thousands of pages of market sensitive information, and Telstra took their decision under their former leadership that they were going to in effect call the government's bluff.

The reality was that Telstra's concern was that the information they would provide would have facilitated the Government's implementation of a separation decision. It wasn't about the IP in the plans themselves, after all that was mostly Alcatel-Lucent's anyway!

Meanwhile lurking in the middle of the whole story was the real policy change no one has noticed. Phil Burgess says of negotiations with the ACCC (in 2007);

Graeme Samuel just arbitrarily marked things off. He didn't base it on studies, he didn't base it on expert opinion. When you have a rogue regulator that doesn't play by the rules, when those kinds of things happen then the taxpayer ends up footing the bill.

The substance of that complaint was that the ACCC would NOT AGREE to Telstra's request that ULL pricing be nationally averaged. Yet a key part of Conroy's NBN policy is a nationally averaged wholesale price. That is the truly amazing policy shift and as yet totally unremarked in the commentary.

Anyhow, taking Lynch's opening line at face value, I now know that he doesn't expect me to put any credence on his forecasts.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Ayn Rand philosophy based in fiction

I've been known to let off steam about the idiocy that is Ayn Rand and her "philosophy" that she called "objectivisim."

The forthcoming film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged has seen an excellent column in today's SMH by Paddy Manning titled Ayn Rand's hatred of humanity drove ideology based on fiction.

Apart from the need to put what Manning calls a "clunky, drawn-out book, running to 1100-plus pages" into three films, I'd really like to know how the screenwriters dealt with "unreadable, 60-page speech on objectivism by the godlike protagonist, John Galt".

Manning does a neat job of vilifying Rand for her careless view that the deaths in one scene are effectively pay-back for the characters inadequacies, writing;

She then walks the reader through the train, listing the ideological flaws of the passengers, mostly women and intellectuals - a professor who would abolish private property, a schoolteacher who held the majority was always right, a ''snivelling'' playwright who insinuated ''all businessmen were scoundrels'', a housewife who believed she had a right to ''elect politicians of whom she knew nothing'', a worker who believed he had a "'right' to a job''

This is strangely reminiscent of the list of jobs of people on the "advance party" in the HHGTTG series - but that was merely the likes of hairdressers, advertising execs and phone sanitisers. And it was in jest, and they weren't slaughtered - not even fictionally.

I first read Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged twenty years ago on the recommendation of someone in business. The books themselves are a sorry reflection on how many in business see themselves. I hate to confess that they are also incredibly seductive - I spent a number of years being even more uncaring than I normally am on the justification of the characters even though I rejected the philosophy.

Unfortunately the tea-party set in the US will love the film. Enough said!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Thursday, April 14, 2011


It is that time of year again - getting close to Anzac Day - where the skirmish in the so-called "History Wars" where the significance of the Dardanelles campaign aka Gallipoli is debated.

One side - let us call it the left - argues the whole of WWI was a disastrous consequence of the pathetic European escapade to form global empires, and that the campaign in the Dardanelles in particular was a folly and that it represented the worst of imperialism (as so many tropps came from the colonies) and of the class system (the troops were regarded as expendable).

On the other we have the conservatives who think that the campaign was the making of Australia as a nation, where we came into our own and that it was a noble action as part of a noble cause.

An interesting point is that these two views don't necessarily have to be in opposition. It is just that the conservatives are so desperate to cling to the ANZAC glory story that they cannot admit that the Australian troops may have performed well and learnt a lot from a campaign that was itself futile.

VicN has previously put me on to the truly great The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson. It is an excellent account of the accounts of the war, suggesting in turn that it wasn't as easily avoidable as some might think, nor was it any easier to end. But that its till was monumental.

The latest contribution is from Ross Cameron in the SMH. In a deviation that also seems to want to embrace the "great man" theory of history, his take is to try to defend Churchill's role in the campaign.

It is a trite point to suggest that it was "an empire ending" decision by the Ottomans to enter the war on the side of Germany. An alternative history with the Ottoman's staying neutral probably results in the victors coming down to take them lout anyway, and the decision to side with the Germans was really created by the hostility from the British to begin with.

Both Bobbitt and Ferguson (see earlier posts)label the war that started in 1914 a long war that ended in 1990, it was the war that almost had to happen to end the era of empires, and to decide between totalitarian and democratic states.

The suggestion by Cameron is that if the Dardanelles campaign had been successful, the West could have supported Russia and then the Russians would never have been under the strain that led to the 1917 revolution(s).

The leap that Cameron goes through on communism is extraordinary. To argue that the presence of only 10 people at Marx's funeral in 1883 means that he was an "obscure radical" is to ignore the reality of how widespread socialist and communist organisation was in the first decade of the twentieth century. The revolution in Russia of 1917 merely followed that of 1905. The trigger in both cases was war, but just as France in 1789 ultimately it requires some national pressure to trigger the revolution.

But the fact the Dardanelles campaign failed is the important part, not whether its motives were right. The question is not whether getting relief for Russia was good, but whether this campaign was the way to achieve it.

The short answer is "no". It was a campaign that effectively relied upon accuracy of execution and speed - it failed because it was delayed six weeks waiting for troops from the UK, people were landed in the wrong place and the Turks were able to get defences in place (also in part because the extent of the Turkish defences were under-estimated).

The second planning error was to not have a plan B. What were they to do if they did not succeed in capturing the heights immediately? (That should be plan C because the land invasion was Plan B after the attempt using naval forces alone failed).

Cameron extends his Churchill praise to the calls he made to support the White Russians after the revolution. That intervention had disastrous consequences, as it more than anything else fueled the isolationism that was the hall-mark of the USSR. Leaving the revolution to the Russians was probably the better chance the West had of the eventual government being more democratic and less totalitarian.

Churchill was neither a goose nor a hero. He was a man in history who happened to be in roles requiring decisions, some of which were good and some of which were bad. Even his decisions that turned out good may well not have been the best available.

It is really hard to escape from the conclusion that the British with their empire and US friends were victorious over first the militaristic and imperial Prussian led Germans and then the totalitarians of left and right because of the strength of the idea of the democracies they ran.

Gallipoli was a stupid campaign, but no more stupid than the rest of that stupid war. For better or worse it was the first time the united colonies of Australia exercised themselves as a unified body in an external affairs way (one of the twin purposes of federation) and did okay. They might have done better in a different battle or with different leaders. But the very nature of that war was of pointless endeavour between armies that were able to incredibly damage each other without prosecuting victory.

It should be remembered for what it was - a tragic loss of life.

Note: I think Cameron seriously errs in writing "Three naval-only attempts failed to secure the Dardanelles so troops (principally Aussies and Kiwis at first) landed on Ottoman soil on April 25, 1915." They were Aussies and Kiwis at what is now known as ANZAC Cove but British and others in the main landing at Cape Helles.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est


High Grant has suffered at the hands of the paparazzi and celebrity journalism and has paid back in an article in New Statesman.

On one level it simply feels like payback - a topic on which I'll return to in this post.

But while he's used the tools of payback by secretly recording the conversation he has used the interview to skillfully reveal the moral question at the heart of this. As Hugh Grant says his job is acting not being a celebrity, the intrusions cannot be justified on the grounds that his job is being a celebrity.

The former journalist's other defence is based on the wealth of the celebrities - which feels like it is some kind of "social interest tax" argument. It is the same kind of distorted morality that I outlined in an itNews story on copyright.

As I'm want to actually spend time considering morals, this is an opportune time to consider the theory of "payback".

The biblical adage of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is often used as a justification for an approach to justice that extracts direct revenge. As first introduced in the bible at Exodus 21:24 it reads just like that, that the punishment is to be exactly that.

But it is interesting to note that the verse before basically carries the instruction that (in a case where a woman miscarries due to being injured) the victim (well, being patriarchal, the husband of the victim) can set the penalty.

In this context then Exodus 21:24 can be read as an instruction on the MAXIMUM penalty that can apply. That is, you should not exact two eyes for an eye (or cut off the hand of a thief, etc).

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount used the text in one of his "you have heard it said..." pieces. He repudiates the general tenor and introduces the concept of "turning the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38).

Justice is not retribution. Justice is not about the psychological gobbeledy-gook of "closure" nor about "victims rights". Justice is about the process of getting everyone to follow the rules and having appropriate consequences for not following them. The twin biblical invocations are that the punishment should never be more extreme than the crime, and that the punishment should not be motivated by revenge.

This is the version of "judeo-christianity" that has been successful in building the modern democratic market economy state. But to get there you have to accept that you need a system of rules. That's what the newspapers and their staff in the UK seem to have completely forgotten.

Finally, we return to the question of Murdoch. I've noted the weazel words that News Limited has used thus far. The question remains "did Murdoch know"? If the answer is "yes" he needs to be far more direct about owning up and admitting the error. If the answer is "no" he needs to explain the failure of governance in the corporation and what he is doing about it. But he can't just stay silent.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Prospectus reform

ASIC has announced a review of the regulatory requirements for a prospectus targeting retail investors.

Unfortunately, ASIC still lives in the 20th century - as the prospectus is still envisioned as a document on paper. An electronic format would be so much better - including the use of hyperlinks so that cross-references can be easily made, and financial data in accessible tables that can be accessed for further analysis.

I won't even start on the ASIC model for both lodging and accessing forms relating to companies. Let's just say they haven't embraced Gov 2.0.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I guess

Does Nick Xenophon read my blog? ABC reports he is complaining to the ACCC about the pubs'n'clubs ads.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Right Wingers brains are different?

My daily fix Breakfast Politics of links to good stories today titled one "Science reveals right-wingers brains are different".

I ask,does that give the preferred orientation of the writer away? After all it implies that left-wingers brains are therefore the same...but the same as "what"? The logical conclusion is the same as the author's. Unless, of course, each right-winger's brain is different from each other one while all left-wingers' brains are the same as each other.

The article itself carried the more revealing title "Left or right: Which side is your brain on?" and led

Yet another study has found evidence linking conservative thinking to fear, and small ‘l’ liberalism to openness.

University College London researchers considered previous research that found “conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty, while liberals tend to be more open to new experiences”.

They decided to look at the brain’s structure to see whether this was reflected physically, and found it was - people who identify as liberal have larger anterior cingulate cortexes while conservatives have larger amygdalas, which is exactly what I always say.

Question though - how revealing is it to conclude that conservatives fear change while "liberals" are open to new ideas and possibilities? Isn't that actually the definition.

The article suggests that on climate change it is the reverse, that fear comes from the liberals. But really it is the conservatives fearing the consequence of any policy change to respond to climate change while the liberals are open to the possibilities.

The question remains open though, which came first - the different approach or the brain difference? A person with large biceps usually exercised them, they didn't just happen!

Meanwhile the researchers are still looking for the brains of the New South Wales Right....

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, April 11, 2011


Just been going through some old blog posts to put Tags on them all (for me really - hate it when I can't find one I know I wrote X years ago).

Came upon this one from May 2006. It was an SMH list of ten top blogs.

All but one seems to be still alive and very good - and one just sold for $315M US.

And another in which I quoted Guy Rundle from Crikey writing of blogs

Those blogs that survive will and are evolv(ing) into multi-person sites, some with collective and decentred ways of uploading, others with hierarchies essentially identical to paper editing. This repeats the birth of newspapers out of the "pamphlet wars" of the 17th century – the latter a product of the creation of a cheap, single operator platen press. This may be the necessary stage of development required to create a media sphere which genuinely overturns the mass media model – one in which a range of well-edited moderate circulation outlets can charge and get subscriptions. Whether they could turn into full newsgathering organisations remains to be seen.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Why does Sheehan bother

Paul Sheehan in today's SMH tried to write something withering about feminism.

One commenter on the article noted;

A derivative article, with ideas lifted from two recent articles in the "New Yorker" magazine on Betty Friedan and Christian Laboutin. You'll have to work harder, Mr. Sheehan. Some of us subscribe to the same sources you pinch your ideas from.

Sheehan himself gave his game away writing;

Academic feminism in the West has turned out to be little more than another flag of convenience for the left, in the way the Greens use environmentalism.

That is he was just trying to bluster about the left ... again.

Apart from some crazy polemic about the fact the fashion industry (continues) to exist the crux of the analysis seemed to be;

All the great recent advances made for women have been made by people - men and women working together. Most of the legislation that seeks to advance the progress of women has been passed by legislatures dominated by men. And no amount of government social engineering is going to stop women behaving badly to women, which happens all the time. Women bully women. Women block women in the workforce.

Of course all the great advances by women have included men in their making - heck it was men who had to vote to give women the vote! And whoever said feminism was about stopping women behaving badly to women? The "sisterhood" is actually a myth of male construction - denigration - to talk about feminism.

The debate is about power - not jobs, or careers or anything else. That's what makes feminism a left issue - it is a challenge to a pre-existing (and enduring) unequal power structure.

PS Why when the SMH publishes Henderson, Sheehan and Hartcher is it usually labelled a left publication?

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

More on the future of the ALP

We are all doing it, writing about the future prospects for the ALP. Writing for National Times a Melbourne lawyer and long-time ALP member poses the question Should the ALP labour on, or is the party over?.

It is probably best described as a classic in its analysis. It trumps out the whole "the market has won" but the ALP has lost its social voice. I think he is right to point out that without an ideology the ALP doesn't stand for anything ... or stand a chance. The NSW Right displaced the achievement of power for any other goal, and so once it achieved power the only thing it knew how to do was to distribute the rewards of power.

But the Left I may say was not much better. Before my departure from the ALP the first time (in the early 90s largely because of time commitments) I had been revolted at the site of Senator Bruce Childs proclaiming to the Bennelong FEC (he was duty Senator) how great two wins for the Left had been. The first was against a broad-based consumption tax and the latter retention of tariffs to protect the Clothing, Textiles and Footwear industry. He didn't seem to get the contradiction between believing the price of goods to consumers should not be driven up by policy and yet advocating protection that drove up the price of goods. It didn't have a coherent economic narrative.

The writer draws on the Fukuyama thesis in The End of History that the great debate of the twentieth century had been settled saying;

The collapse of the centrally planned economies discredited that model of society and vindicated market economies, in which the role of government was to regulate lightly to ensure the efficient function of the market.

However he goes on to express his own reservations with markets and expressed the view that;

Had that direction [of Hawke and Keating] continued, Labor might have produced a coherent ideology for the 21st century, based on the idea that the market is a good servant but a bad master and reserving sufficient scope for government intervention to underwrite basic living standards: capitalism with a heart, if you like.

He goes on to suggest that social policy alone might not be the saviour,

Having embraced the right's economic policies and been wedged out of any meaningful differentiation from the right, can Labor find salvation in social policy? The answer is a resounding ''no'' and the reason, ironically, is because the right has converged with the left on social policy, thereby creating a strong consensus similar to that which prevails in economic policy.

Firstly I think that the conclusion of the victory of market economies needs to be seen in the broader context of Phillip Bobbit's work - in particular Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century. This is his analysis of the issues confronting us now based on his historical analysis in The Shield of Achilles. That work advances what could be seen as a modern rework of dialectic materialism, arguing as it does that the "world" (read Europe and the European invaded world) has gone through a series of revolutionary phases out of which a new system of government has emerged.

The last phase of this was the war that ran from 1914 to 1990 between totalitarianism and market economies (as best described in Fergusson's The War of the World).

But we don't really know what the market state needs to look like, and it is incredibly exposed to terrorism. I'd extend the definition of terrorism though to include "corporate terrorism" by which I mean the actions of Transnational Corporations and their ultimate disregard of social institutions.

One difficulty for the left in all this is finding out what it stands for. One consequence has been a modern version of the "left" that defines itself by opposing anything the USA stands for - and hence will side with misogynist and oppressive regimes in opposition to the US (in particular the left's view of the war in Iraq).

Part of the difficulty is created by thinking that only the left has "compassion", which is not true. It is not even as simple as the left's greater belief in equality over the right.

Ultimately what should unite the left is the concern over power. Unions represent the need to empower workers against the interests of capital, feminism is a response to the power of men in society, the new left concern about the US is a dual concern over its single power as a "super-power" and the economic power of the many TNCs that call it home.

There is a place, indeed a need, for a strong social democratic party. It needs to be internally structured democratically for internal governance, the development of policy and the selection of candidates. But it needs a political philosophy and core set of beliefs that it seeks to promote.

That could be the future for the ALP if it is willing. Or it is an opportunity for an entirely new structure.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

On Gambling

Andrew Wilkie has made his support for the Gillard Government conditional on action on poker machines. The PM is now facing the prospect of an intense media campaign by the club industry, a campaign that Wlikie rightly points out is misleading.

An interesting question is whether such a campaign - though intended to be political - could be argued to be "in trade or commerce" as the real purpose is to protect revenue streams, and hence the misleading conduct would breach clause 18 of the Australian Consumer Law.

Irrespective of that, the real question is how reasonable it is to expect the Federal Government to act. The Productivity Commission report on the matter was commissioned by COAG and the Federal Government's response embraced the idea of pre-commitment saying;

The Productivity Commission found that pre-commitment is the most effective way to target problem gamblers and at-risk gamblers without impacting upon the wider gambling community and that's why the Government has committed to developing a pathway towards implementation for pre-commitment. ...

The first priority for the Australian Government will be to progress a nationally consistent pre-commitment model for electronic gaming machines.

Wilkie's demand is for the Feds to go further.

I haven't read the full PC report. It clearly notes that the biggest problem gambling pool is poker machines, but it is by no means the only one. There are problem gamblers on horse racing. But the prevalence of problem gamblers here might be as much due to their availability as to their inherent design.

It is well known that the reward structure of gambling machines and their venues (frequent low pays, quite irregular, lots of noise to reinforce the win, design of venues to restrict natural light, even hard to find exits) increase the behavioural training to play. But the switch from pass-time to addiction is harder to tell. And ultimately the best solution for any true addiction is abstinence not harm-minimisation.

But do we have to wait till other gambling forms become a problem before we act? Online sports betting is relatively new. In the US sports betting (at least in popular culture) has long been a source of problem gamblers. Now in Australia you cannot watch a sports event without being saturated with adds for gambling, and reports in the commentary of odds - run as if they are information but really they are "advertorial" or "product placement."

The Federal Government is responsible for the regulation of broadcasting. I for one would like to see a complete ban on the advertising of ALL forms of gambling on television and radio, including the images of poker machines in adds for clubs or pubs.

I'm happy to engage in a long banter about the benefits that "clubs" provide to the community, the employment in the sector or that 70% of Australians enjoy a non-problem flutter. Here all I'll say is that even if these are as good as their promoters would argue, they do not make a case against a simple advertising ban.

It would also seem to be a simple suggestion that clubs on-going tax exempt status could be linked to their demonstrating their corporate citizenship by implementing pre-commitment. Unfortunately Governments have already allowed Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs in PC-speak) into commercial hotels.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

How not to admit your mistakes

Heaps of coverage of News International (the UK outfit of News Corp, the publishers of both The Times and News of the World) and its apology and compensation scheme over the phone-tapping scandal in the UK.

It takes some work to find it, but the full release makes an interesting read.

The key para reads;

That said, past behaviour at the News of the World in relation to voicemail interception is a matter of genuine regret. It is now apparent that our previous inquiries failed to uncover important evidence and we acknowledge our actions then were not sufficiently robust.

"Genuine regret" is probably the weakest apology that could be made, and it appears the greatest regret is about their investigation of the matter rather than the tapping in the first place.

The release goes on;

News International’s commitment to our readers and pride in our award-winning journalism remains undiminished. We will continue to engage with and challenge those who attempt to restrict our industry’s freedom to undertake responsible investigative reporting in the public interest.

There is no element here of the words one might expect to see. That is "News International's commitment is to the ethical standards of journalism and respect for the law." Instead it is to "praise" their journalists and to suggest that they are up for a fight on any attempt to restrict them.

News Corp globally, and Rupert Murdoch in particular, would be amongst the first to employ the standard right-wing littany that "rights come with responsibilities". But here they argue that their "rights" should not be infringed no matter how irresponsible they have been.

I hope this release gets a good airing on the ABC's Media Watch, or even the original Media Watch run by Gerard Henderson!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Nice to be part of a winning team

itNews, for whom I'm a columnist, won "Best Title" at the Microsoft IT Journalism Awards on Friday.

They are called Lizzies (I gather from 'lizards of the press') and this is one of the two "Gold Lizzies" though it is actually a hunk of glass or perspex.

Back row (L-R): Canberra correspondent John Hilvert (finalist for 'Best News Journalist'), Telecommunications expert David Havyatt (finalist for 'Best Columnist'), Haymarket B2B Editor-in-chief Nate Cochrane, iTnews advertising manager John Kovacevic.
Front Row (L-R): iTnews scribe Liz Tay (finalist for 'best business journalist' and 'best tech industry journalist'), fellow newshound Ry Crozier (finalist for Best News Journalist and Best Tech Industry Journalist), and iTnews editor Brett Winterford (finalist for 'Best Columnist' and 'Best Business Journalist'.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Caption competition

What was I lecturing former Telstra Group Managing Directors Doug Campbell and Steve Burdon on at the ATUG Gala awards evening?

Other than that I have a copy of the original Telstra SMT Values that is ....

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

NBN Construction

NBN Co has scrapped its construction tenders and now its construction chief has resigned.

Way back when the NBN Co Board was first appointed I noted that the Board was long on deal makers but short on telco expertise and large construction project expertise.

It is not too late to fix it!

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Politics, Economics and Climate Change

Following the idiotic controversy over the comments of Kevin Rudd on climate change it is time for some more analysis of the fundamentals.

Writing in the SMH today Jessica Irvine did a very good job of describing the difference between "income effects" and "substitution effects" of a tax on a specific good, and how you could both impose a tax and pay compensation and hence get a change in behaviour.

She notes that Tony Abbott has said "At best it's a giant money-go-round" but retorts "Sorry Tony, but good economists know better."

In this she is putting more economic theory around the straight-forward explanation that I praised the PM for in her appearance on Q&A.

But is the economics as simple as that? There are two ways of pricing carbon - one is the straight tax, the other is emissions trading. The latter is the ultimate economic orthodoxy on dealing with a negative externality. We lost that because the Greens didn't support it, not because of the coalition.

The Greens have preferred the tax route because they want to spend money directly on climate abatement programs. Gillard has been forced to go the direct tax route because that is the price of Greens support.

All of which makes the slagging off about the Greens and economics interesting. Gillard thinks they "wrongly reject the moral imperative to a strong economy", Albanese says they "tend to be a grab-bag of issues, tend not to have a coherent policy that adds up" while (M) Ferguson says they want to "sit under the tree and weave baskets with no jobs".

Yet the Greens are closer in their policies to the prescriptions of the Henry tax review than anyone else on death duties, health rebates,and higher taxes on super profits.

The criticism of either emissions trading or a carbon tax has a very wide support base - because people just don't understand how it works.

Frank Stilwell in a thoughtful piece outlined a very good reason for this lack of belief in response to price. He wrote;

In the real world market responses can operate quite differently. For example, you would expect to see a market disincentive incentive effect happening now as the price of petrol rises to $1.50 a litre and beyond. However, I don't observe less crowded roads. The availability of good, readily available alternatives to the car is a precondition for getting people to switch. And those alternatives do not just arise spontaneously.

To put it bluntly - for their to be a substitution effect there has to be a satisfactory substitute. In the case of carbon those substitutes will take time to be available.

Industry has argued that it won't make the investments in the alternatives until there is certainty on the price for carbon. But as Henry Ergas has neatly argued (yes I said that)there are reasons why investors should not have faith in the price for carbon being increased to reach the desired levels.

There is nothing in the mere fact of introducing an MBM that irrevocably commits to steadily and progressively increasing the implied tax on emissions. Moreover, it would not be rational for a potential investor in technology development today to assume such an increase in the implied tax rate would indeed occur.

This can be seen by considering two broad scenarios.

In the first, the technologies needed to dramatically reduce emissions do not become available in the relevant future. In that event, it is implausible that governments, merely so as to honour commitments made many years earlier, would increase tax rates on emissions to levels that would cripple their economies. Rather, the likelihood is that any commitments made would be revised or ignored, so that effective tax rates on emissions would remain low.

In contrast, in the second scenario new effectively decarbonised technologies become available at some relevant future date. In that event, governments could, if they so chose, abide by commitments to substantially increase the tax on carbon; however, it is still unclear whether they would do so.

This is quite simply because once those technologies are available, even a modest tax will suffice to create an incentive for their deployment in the marketplace.

While much of this is the kind of reasoning Jessica Irvine pointed out explains why an economist will not bend down to pick up a $100 note (if it were really someone would have already picked it up). But it does flag the fact that there are plenty of reasons why the tax MAY NOT (rather than will not) have the desired behavioural effect on R&D investment.

The error here is probably in thinking that the solution has to be exclusively one or the other - either pricing carbon or merely regulating industry, or regulating down output while compensating for investment in alternatives (the latter being as best I can understand the Abbott alternative).

It seems to me that the best outcome is a bit of everything.

Oh, and one final point for the "we shouldn't act unilaterally brigade". Irrespective of climate change the world's fossil fuel reserves continue to decline. Investing now in creating new energy industries from Australia's abundant resources is the way to building new comparative advantage for the future.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Memo to ALP 2 - State

Every man and his dog has "come to the aid of the party" with their prescription for curing the troubles that ail the NSW Branch of the ALP.

Ultimately there are two issues in play. The first is the Right's definition of the objective, and hence how you approach the game and what you do with it. The second is that the Left doesn't know what it stands for.

The Right's position was best described in Eddie Obeid's recent attempt (in the SMH) at denial of the role of factions. His piece concluded;

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.

That is the path to power is to reflect to the community the community's wishes. It is not to pursue a philosophical line, but to merely do - in Graham Richardson's words - "whatever it takes" to win power.

Writing in the SMH David Humphries nailed it as;

Rather than serve the ALP, Obeid was determined for it to serve him. Essentially a policy-free zone, his skills were limited to the assiduous pursuit of those vulnerable and hapless souls whose ambitions in politics far outweigh their talents, and to enforcing the consequences of disloyalty (that is, anything short of craven obedience) towards him and his clique. He who must be Obeid, went the line.

Humphries went on to recount a Michael Egan story that typifies this version of the right;

Another guest speaker was Mark Arbib, then the ALP assistant general secretary but later a Labor kingmaker and assassin, and a minister in the Gillard federal government after helping to elevate, then destroy, Kevin Rudd.

His speech to all those bright-eyed bushy-tailed kids was that they should follow the example of Joe and Reba and devote their time to endlessly recruiting numbers. ...

It struck me ... that Arbib had not once mentioned any policy achievement of any Labor government, or anything about the philosophical and policy differences between the Left and the Right.

A consequence of this tribal approach is then the nepotism that is so easily displayed. If you don't stand for anything other than the numbers, then you have to look after your mates.

The Left of the party is not much better. NSW avoided the split of the 1950s, but this really meant that the party remained in the control of the anti-communist Industrial Groups. To ensure an ongoing focus on the socialist objective a group formed inside the NSW ALP called the Steering Committee whose objective was support of the socialisation objective of the party.

In response to the Steering Committee the Right, under the name Centre Unity, organised to battle to keep this left suppressed. But technically at least the left formalised the factionalism first.

At some point (I'd need to check my Fruedenberg history) the right and left reached an "accommodation" that saw the spoils of the party distributed in a kind of proportional manner. Hence the Premier came from the Right, the Deputy from the Left. The General Secretary from the Right but an Assistant Secretary from each of the Left and Right. Similarly tickets for Senate and Legislative Council had their mix. A Senate ticket typically went Right, Left, Right, Right.

Having been accommodated the left largely then "went along" - they would ritually whinge and moan about annual conference, but would also do deals to ensure there was no great stoush. One memorable event though was over the stupidity of the way the power sharing rules meant that the Left's John Faulkner was not number 1 on a Senate ticket. It was also why with the departure of Carr the logical choice of John Watkins was not pursued.

Critics from outside the party interpret this "philosophy free zone" in different ways. Rick Kuhn has made another contribution urging Labor not to push unions away and to stay close to its working class base.

He writes of the proposed reforms of the party from the National Review;

These measures and the other recommendations won't lead to an expansion of the party's declining membership, largely a consequence of Labor's pro-business, racist and homophobic policies in government and opposition.

Over decades the ALP's connections with the working class have become more and more tenuous. A quarter of Labor's local branches in NSW have dissolved over the past 16 years and many that have survived are close to comatose. The ALP's working-class vote has not only contracted, it has also diluted. ...

The recommendations in the National Review will reduce the most important remaining connection between Labor and the working class: the role of affiliated unions in the party.

As I've noted before an issue for Labor is the decline in the numbers of that "traditional" working-class base. This is more so if, like Kuhn, you reject the idea of the validity of white-collar workers (including academics) as part of the working class. [See note below] In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels indeed drew the circle very wide;

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage laborers.

And it has always been an error to conclude that workers are not themselves "racist and homophobic". Let alone the massive conflict the ALP finds with environmental policies that can be seen as attacks on the jobs of the working class.

As I've said before the ALP needs to stand for something. It needs to stand for the (relatively) powerless in society. In doing so it needs to reflect to the "aspirationals" the reality that they may be successful but they are still not powerful, they might own shares but they are not capitalists.

It needs to go beyond the woosy words that Julia Gillard uses of being a party for a "Fair Go". Work Choices was battled against because it attacked the right of labor to organise while not attacking the right of capital to organise.

It needs to more explicitly state that it stands for empowering those who are powerless, that the socialisation objective is not anti-business but it is opposed to the narrow orthodox view that companies exist to create shareholder value.

It needs to stand for the rights of all groups that are otherwise powerless - that is what unites workers, gays, ethnic minorities, indigenous people and the environment itself.

There is no point in reforming the mechanisms of the party if you don't give people a reason to belong.

Note 1: Since writing the post I have been informed that Rick Kuhn's view is that white-collar workers are certainly part of the working-class. I mistook the paragraph below from an earlier article as suggesting that the party lost its worker focus with the influx of white collar workers.

After the split the blue collar membership of the Labor Party fell. In the late 1960s and 1970s this was offset by an influx of white collar workers and members of the professional middle class.

We certainly share the view, however, that the party has been more concerned with "Tammany" than policy.

Note 2: Jack Lang is an often reviled figure in ALP history because he tore the party apart in NSW in the 1930s. Bede Nairn's biography of Jack Lang The 'Big Fella' recounts the tales of the battles for the ALP leading up to the thirties. These were battles between communism, and industrial focus and outright "Tammany" (defined online as "a political organization within the Democratic Party in New York City (late 1800's and early 1900's) seeking political control by corruption and bossism. Lang had his faults, but despite the depiction of him otherwise he was no communist - he was also a vigorous opponent of Tammany. But eighty years later Eddie Obeid has shown you can't keep Tammany down without vigilance.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Memo to the ALP 1 - Federal

The saying "disunity is death" in politics is much over-rated. The masses won't reject you if the disunity reflects a genuine internal debate about policy. Where they will crucify you is when the disunity is about people and personality rather than policy.

So we come to Kevin Rudd, who on Q&A on Monday was asked;

My question is for Kevin Rudd. In 2010 you took the decision to delay implementing an emissions trading scheme; a scheme which had or appeared to have the support of the majority of the population and which contributed to your election of your government in 2007. In the light of the current acrimonious debate over a carbon price, do you regret making that decision?

His reply to his credit was an unequivocal "yes" he did regret it, and in his initial reply he fully owned the decision.

Yet the reporting of this has all the hall-marks of a classic Canberra beat-up of "leadership tension". Take your pick of the reports, but this sample from the SMH typifies it;

Kevin Rudd'S admission that senior ministers influenced him as prime minister to shelve the emissions trading scheme last year has outraged colleagues, who believe he should accept full responsibility for his decisions.

However, there was little doubt inside Labor that Mr Rudd's words were designed to wound the Prime Minister.

If you read the transcript of the show it is pretty damn clear that Rudd was dragged kicking and screaming to say anything other than his initial response - that he regretted the decision he made.

The fact that the leaked Caucus minutes from last year already exist makes it hard for anyone to pretend otherwise. And all Rudd did was to repeat the fact that there were divergent views, that delay seemed sensible given the parliamentary reality but that he now regretted the decision (because he underestimated the direct impact it would have on direct Labor support.

This is only potentially a story about leadership because of the way un-named sources are prepared to go on the record to state that they think Kevin is up to something.

In their fetid little ALP intriguing minds they probably imagine that trying to tag Rudd as a destabiliser damages Rudd, rather than realising the only thing they are hurting is the brand.

Every ALP parliamentarian needs to read the transcript and then go visit their favourite gallery journalist and say "Look, this is a beat up. Kevin clearly wasn't intentionally targeting the PM. He took full responsibility for the decision and added nothing that wasn't already known from the caucus leak. He certainly didn't ask himself the question."

(I will have more to write on climate policy shortly)

Then the next question for the ALP is the question of the national secretary. The Right's preferred candidate has had a rethink and we now hear that former Gillard COS Amanda Lampe is the right's new choice. We also hear that her passage is being blocked by the shoppies Joe de Bruyn.

This reflects so much that is wrong with Labor. Firstly there are lots of questions over Lampe's judgement - some of the low points of the last campaign - real Julia and the people's assembly on climate change - have been publicly attributed to Lampe. How could you then put her in charge of the campaign?

And exactly what value does the man who still belongs in the Industrial Groups of Bob Santamaria add to the considerations of the philosophy and direction of Australia's primary "progressive" or better "democratic socialist" party?

They really need to take a deep breath, decide that the assistant Secretary will act as National Secretary for six months and undertake an orderly "selection process" approach to the job.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Head of the River

My year at Sydney Grammar School did not produce any rowing champions. It did produce the only Australian to have won the America's Cup twice (Grant Simmer on Australia II and Alingi) and Oscar winning cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (Lord of the Rings).

Last Saturday the school won the rowing championship - the Head of the River.

I often embed video here but the formatting cuts off a bit. Today I ask you to follow the link to this video which is truly brilliant. Maybe another Lesnie in the making.

Note 1: But the school probably needs to work on spelling and use of apostrophes as one line of the subtitling through the (Barmy Army inspired I'd say) chant.

Note 2: We never needed that many Police to control us when I was at SGS.

Note 3: what does it say about the world that I only realised SGS won the Head of the River when sometime commentor here VicN sent me an e-mail to tell me - from Singapore!

(and in case you are too lazy to follow the link;

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, April 04, 2011

The prescient Brian Perkins and NBN tale

I had the pleasure of attending the ATUG Gala Awards Evening and Conference last week.

I happened to be talking to last year's Charles Todd Medal winner (The Hon Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for DBCDE), when this year's winner (Macquarie Telecom's David Tudehope) came over to introduce a former winner, AAPT's Brian Perkins.

David rightly introduced Brian as a role model for all the entrants who came after him. But I was able to trump that by saying Brian was also prescient. In AAPT's move from one end of George St to another various documents were being disposed of, but the secretary to the CEO, Rosemary Robinson, knew I liked history and sent some my way.

Included in it was a memo from Brian to AAPT CEO Larry Williams dated 4 August 1993, in which he says he was asked at ATUG what his views were on the Government's plans to initiate a fibre-to-the-home project.

He notes that ATUG submitted to the the ROSA review that Telecom be separated into three companies, but that the Government had opted for accounting rather than structural separation. He writes;

ATUG should propose a stand-alone company whose responsibility is to provide and operate an efficient and cost-effective fibre distribution network which will meet the needs of Australian service suppliers and users into the 21st century.

(Note: The note also makes reference to the troubles AAPT had in getting its 1414 access code configured. Technically the 1991 Act did not require the provision of PSTN Ingress and Egress (as it was then known - hence the PIE model), in fact, the view in Telecom was that to provide it was illegal. This did not stop then Minister Grahame Richardson ringing then GM CCD Sales John Brennan (who had responsibility for AAP as an account) and saying that Telecom had to "fix it or it was your job". Brennan passed it up the chain.)

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Safe Hands?

So the coalition is reported to be "war-gaming" a change in PM before the next election. Nothing wrong with that.

But the memorable quote is;

It is not confining its efforts to the two men most likely to battle for the leadership should Gillard be deposed - Bill Shorten and Greg Combet. It is also focusing seriously on the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, and the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith.

Both now qualify as elder statesmen and the thinking inside the Coalition is that should Labor change again, it would be such an act of desperation that the party would not opt for a raw recruit with a reputation as a machine man, such as Combet or Shorten.

Ummm. Have we forgotten that they were both labelled roosters for their machinations in the Beazley/Crean era?

Have we forgotten that before Parliament they were the State General Secretaries in Qld and WA respectively. They are just as much "machine" men as the other two.

It has been Gillard's and Rudd's strength that their CVs include real jobs, and while they may have been parliamentary staff they were not machine operatives.

The most likely alternative to Julia Gillard is Julia Gillard.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est