Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Kevin Rudd and the Right on the ALP

Launching yet another book on the current malaise of the ALP Kevin Rudd has provided his own analysis. Much of this is confused, and what he calls for is indistinct.

He starts by asserting a distinction between Labor good and the other side evil as;

A Party that has painted most of the nation’s history on a wide and expansive canvas; its economic reforms, its social innovation, the centrality of the environment, the place of indigenous Australians, as well as Australia’s independent place in the affairs of the world.

And just as we have painted this great canvas for the nation, the conservatives’ historical mission has been, wherever possible, to erase it.

Ours, a positive agenda of building the nation. Theirs, invariably a negative agenda to tear down what we have built up.

Because in the end, our creed is about the rights of the many – theirs being about the privileges of the few.

This is blatantly not true at the level of history - a good many of the reforms were introduced by conservative governments, and very few reforms have ever been torn down. Even the great reform of arbitration is only occassionally demolished by conservatives.

But secondly, the conservatives (Rudd's term - as previously discussed the non-Labor side are not always conservative) often just place a different emphasis on the order of redistributing wealth and growing it (to use Button's description that Rudd does). They regard this as a positive agenda of growth, and are especially wary of central planners.

Rudd is right to say that open debate lets the sunshine in. But the enemy is not the factions as such, there will always be groupings, but that the factions align around the way to exercise power not philosophy.

Rudd notes that there are three areas for reform;

It is time therefore for an open debate on the Party’s future. Its values. Its policies. And critically, its structure.

He places great store in "direct election." He doesn't go as far as the call Sam Dastyari is now making for membership election of the State Parliamentary Leader, though in a later interview he says he has an open mind on it.

People who favour this option should look to not only the recent disaster in the UK where they got the wrong brother, but read Alison Rogers The Natasha Factor and see the consequences of trying to impose on the Parliamentary Party a person other than the person they would choose to lead themselves.

Unfortunately on values Rudd is full of the same weak waffle as Gillard. He quotes his own Chifley Research speech.

The speeches are rendolent with talk of opportunity and fairness. At least Gillard's speech talked of the collective orientation of Labor, while Rudd saved this for his spray on neo-liberalism.

The backdrop of the current ALP malaise is a declining membership. However, this is not really a novel issue for the Labour Movement. In 1890 in Queensland there were 54 unions with 21,379 members, which by 1894 had declined to 9 unions and 780 members (McMullin The Light on the Hill P.26). Ten years after that the movement celebrated the (brief) first ever national Labor government in the world.

The history of the ALP is always fascinating reading, filled as it is with larger than life characters like Watson, Hughes, O'Malley, Scullin, Theodore, Lyons, Lang, McKell, Curtin, Chifley, Evatt, eddie Ward, Clyde Cameron, Whitlam, Cairns, Keating , Hawke, both John Cain's, both TJ Ryan's.

An enduring theme in that history has been the tension in the party between electoral politics designed to achieve power and a wider policy aim that variously goes under the name "socialism" but isn't recognisable as socialism in most other parts of the world. It is a very individualistic kind of socialism - a socialism founded more on the assumption of egalitarian values than of attacking the powerful "class".

These debates raged in the early years of the party, especially Federally. But the same debate can be identified as what - until the 1990s - divided Left and Right in NSW. The Left wanted purity of philosophical position, the Right any position that achieved power.

Labor has been at its best when this debate has been allowed to flourish, because it creates the idea of both short term and long term goals otherwise missing from politics. Labor has been at its worst when - like the Victorian ALP post split - it was able to be painted as just a socialist idealist party. Labor has been at its worst when - like NSW Labor over the last decade - it has imagined that politics is all about focus groups and mirroring back to people what you think they want.

The other part of Labor history is the role that early unionists and party members played in education - they took to their fellow workers the concept of unionism, of collective action, of the ideals behind socialism and the need to constrain capital. The rot seems to have set in once the movement could afford paid organisers, rather than merely to start paying existing organisers. Today an "organiser" in a union or the party is an organiser of numbers for internal battles and disputes - rather than an organiser focussed on education and motivating support.

The relationship between the political and the industrial wing of the Labour movement has always been tense. From the very earliest elections where Labor candidates were successful those representatives have found themselves caught between representing the interests of their electors and the interests of the unions. Different states resolved this in different ways - but NSW at least decided at itts conference in 1893 that the Trades and Labor Council that had formed the party would not control it (McMullin P.18). It was not until a 1916 NSW conference that the industrial wing gained control (McMullin P.105). Five years later the socialist objective was written into the platform.

Adding to the melting pot the ALP Right has issued its plan for party reform. It talks long on increasing democratisation, but gives twenty delegates on a new National Policy Forum to representatives of affiliated unions chosen by National Executive. When added to the parliamentarians and other officers they dwarf the twenty directly elected rank and file members.

Nothing else in the document offers much hope. More vague discussion of policy ideas, campaigning and engagement without any re-commitment to philosophy. More shadow democracy, and online tools (these exist already - they just don't achieve anything).

The Labour Movement's origins are entirely embedded in advancing the cause of the workers against those of capital. The origin of democracy was in freeing individuals from the arbitrary power and control of others. In the 21st century we suffer from the fact that too many "workers" don't identify themselves as such. A person running a small plumbing business, an owner-operator truckie, an IT contractor, a salaried professional are all workers. They are not capitalists like the old pastoralists. But capital has also changed - the interests of capital are now advanced by a managerial class not by real business owners.

Labor's modern view of socialisation should not be state owned enterprises - we have seen how these enterprises degenerate into the perception that state ownership's purpose is to over reward the worker rather than to constrain market power. Labor's modern view of socialisation needs to be grounded in the idea that no one in society should be able to acquire and exert power over others - be that physical, coercive or economic.

True reform of the ALP can only begin by removing affiliated unions from having any formal role in the governance of the party. True reform of the ALP needs to start by developing a better narrative of what it stands for. True reform of the ALP needs to embrace a return to the struggle to balance electoral success and long term goals, and to embrace the role of the party to educate not just respond.

So far none of the formal proposals from right and left, or the thought bubbles of various people in leadership roles amounts to anything more than mere posturing.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Corporation

In my many and varied writings there is one issue that is central, and that I very seldom discuss directly. That issue is an understanding of the Corporation as an economic and political institution. My understanding of the Corporation informs my overall "socialist" bent - wherein I read the "socialisation of the means of production etc" to not mean social ownership but directed to social not private goals. (see note)

As such I was pleased to see a short item by Lynn Stout in today's SMH. The piece says that it is time to recognise shareholder value as an ideology, not as a legal requirement. She notes that focussing on shareholder value often translates into share price and how focussing on share price may not really be in the interests of "shareholders" once they as a class are properly understood.

All this will be anathema to a modern business executive, especially one who is trained by a leading business school or one who reports to a Board of Directors that responds more to the commentary of analysts than the advice of managers.

Stout's academic writing however addresses much of the history.

In her paper Why we should stop teaching Dodge vs Ford she outlines the US case in which the statement about the purposes of the firm came to prominence. It said;

There should be no confusion ….A business corporation is organized and carried on primarily for the profit of the stockholders. The powers of the directors are to be employed for that end. The discretion of the directors is to be exercised in the choice of means to attain that end, and does not extend to … other purposes.

She outlines three reasons why this statement should not be relied on. First it is an old case, second it was not a particularly expert court that ruled that way, and thirdly the statement in fact played no part in the actual judgement. It was what the lay would call commentary. Dodge vs Ford was not really a case of directors responsibility to shareholders, but about majority shareholders suppressing minority rights.

Stout goes on with some other reasons why it is not good law, but from my point of view the issue is that it is simply not good reasoning.

The history of corporations certainly provides plenty of evidence that the policy intent of enabling incorporation is anything but maximising profit. From the observation of Adam Smith that;

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary.

Governments did not permit individuals to work together in creating "firms."

However, certain activities were identified as entailing too much risk or too high a capital sum, or both, to be conducted other than through the combined capital of many people. So the trading companies were chartered, as were corporations to undertake municipal works. In this early era where a corporation had to be explicitly chartered the first requirement was to demonstrate a purpose that could not be fulfilled other than through a corporation.

And today no corporation is formed by someone going to investors saying "invest in this corporation so I can maximise shareholder value." They go to the market saying "I have identified this opportunity because there is a need we can fulfill, in doing so I need your money and I will provide this return to you."

By both history and formation a business organisation is carried on primarily for the purpose outlined in its "prospectus".

John Kay in his book Obliquity has emphasised that the best way to some goals is to not work on them directly. To make money for shareholders focus on meeting customer needs, not on making money. In meeting customer needs focus on doing it efficiently, not on making money.

In her Bad or Not-So-Bad Arguments for Shareholder Primacy Stout relays how long running the debate about shareholder value has been. In doing so she notes the protagonist for the view that firms exist to make money for shareholders was one of Berle & Means who had concluded in The Modern Corporation and Private Property that this was not how executives actually acted. Thus was born agency theory in corporate governance and the trend that has seen ever greater efforts to "align the interests of the executive with shareholders" which has seen its practical consequence of ever bigger remuneration to executives - remuneration that is at best only notionally related to shareholder return.

Stout in her writing generally raises the concern that belief in "shareholder value" extends to "shareholder primacy" and then the conclusions from that, like shareholder rights to call EGMs to vote for the remuneration report etc. Stout is generally concerned that these are policy proposals based on misconceived views of the firm.

Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement. (Note Stout also does some great work separately analysing the Efficient Capital Market Hypothesis and why in the premise of heterogeneous investment preferences you will get under-pricing of assets.)

Much else follows once you dismiss the inaccurate representation of the purpose of the firm. Another consequence is an increase in the transparency of the true purpose of the firm - that is active engagement with investors on an ongoing basis on strategy.

Finally, those on the socialist side need to reject the language adopted by Friedman (see the reference by Stout in the Ford & Dodge) piece. Firms are collusive acts of capital, a collusion authorised by the state because of the value that can be obtained by society. That authorisation entails obligations. That collusion creates the right and need for other economic agents to also be allowed to "collude" in their dealings.

Note: It is sometimes unfashionable to refer to "society." I make no apologies.

The film The Iron Lady about Maggie Thatcher will soon be released. She, with Ronald Reagan, epitomises the rise of the "cult of the individual" ... a cult among whose thought leaders was Ayn Rand. Thatcher expressed the view that there is no such thing as society. (full quote below)

Her views really went further and entailed the mutual obligation element, but overall suppresses the reality that humans are social animals. We are "designed" to live in groups, we act co-operatively by nature and we value fairness.

I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand "I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!" or "I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!" "I am homeless, the Government must house me!" and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Canada and mobiles/wireless

An interesting report today that the Canadian Government is considering reducing the restrictions on foreign ownership of telcos.

The article neatly points out how the current ownership limit would impede new entrants into the market. The discussion has some relevance to the yet to be undertaken (or revealed) analysis of competition limits to apply to the Australian Digital Dividend spectrum auction.

I don't know the Canadian market well enough to comment, but from the Australian market perspective "smaller providers" are no longer a reasonable goal. What works is national licences, and few of them.

It is also hard to believe any market still has a foreign ownership restriction on mobile licences. The trend is even towards reducing that requirement on fixed licences.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Friday, November 25, 2011

The NBN and the phone service

Fascinating item in the AFR today (behind paywall) in which the new chief executive of Primus rants about the need for the NBN to do more for phone service.

According to this CEO the NBN only provides for one telephone and to get the existing telephones to work requires "extensive rewiring". That to me is complete and utter nonsense. From the ATA part of the NTU the customer gets exactly the same kind of socket as they get on their existing phones. Connect that up to another socket on the existing wiring - and the phone equivalent of double adaptors are readily available - and all the existing phones will - or at least should - work.

I'd be pleased if some enterprising telecommunications technical bod would tell me if I'm wrong - but I'm pretty sure I'm not.

His second complaint is the $24 access price to get the first service which provides the voice capability and 12/1 of data. He moans that the price needs to be like the "$5" he can get from another provider. Well no - as a non-access network owning provider he can provide voice in one of two ways - buying a ULL and adding voice or buying the Telstra wholesale line rental. The prices for these can be found in the ACCC's final Access Determination. These are $16 per month for the ULL and $22.10 for wholesale line rental. The NBN service includes the ATA which is not included in the ULL price. The NBN price does not result in any additional charges for local calls as occurs for WLR, in addition the provider will receive the PSTN TA charges that currently go to Telstra.

It is a pity that CEOs go out and say these types of things. There is nothing to be gained for the industry by projecting an industry hostility to the NBN - particularly when the statements just don't seem to be accurate.

PS For once I just can't be bothered sending a letter to the AFR. It is about time NBN Co felt mature enough to respond itself.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Australia Post and the Digital Economy UPDATED

Since Maha Krishnapillai announced that he was leaving Optus everyone has been wondering "where is he going?" We were only told it was a commercial role in a non-competing organisation. Today it has been revealed in CommsDay that he is off to Australia Post.

It was an interesting way to find out - given that the only other news coverage in the AFR and The Register seems to also have been sourced from Comms Day.

The only direct quote from Maha in the story is;

I’m genuinely excited by the transformation opportunity at Australia Post, and the opportunity as part of that in terms of their communications products and services strategy. The thing that really appealed was that [Australia Post CEO] Ahmed Fahour is a really interesting character.

I know the opportunity sounds counter-intuitive to some, because that’s what a lot of people have said to me… ‘are you going back to the public service, is this going back to PMG’? But it’s actually none of those things. It’s a pure commercial role, and that’s what appeals… [to] explore the potential for Australia Post in communications products.

So all we are really told is that the role is "to explore the potential for Australia Post in communications products", to which Maha's new colleagues might say they already do "communications" and what you mean is "telecommunications".

Comms Day goes on to speculate that Post's new strategy will encompass three areas - but how much of this is speculation versus information from Maha is hard to know. But I suggest that if Post was a listed company the CEO and company secretary would be having conniptions right now about the way strategy was being briefed to the market. I suspect (as I mention further below) that the shareholding Ministers in Australia Post might be having them anyway.

But let's assume for a moment that CommsDay is accurately describing the strategy. They say it has three elements;

1. Develop strengths in e-commerce….linked to parcel delivery.
2. Adding to the financial service and banking portfolio.
3. Opportunity to become an SP leveraging “massive distribution, trusted brand, logistics advantages and easy-to-use payment systems”

The first two of these are really better described as Digital Economy initiatives - they are how Post needs to respond to the overall economic transformation that is spurred by the fourth phase (telegraph, telephone, network computing, broadband IP) of the communications revolution. (also see below on history).

I've actually heard from elsewhere that there already is an Australia Post manager who has worked on the model for leveraging posts parcels business and looking for an executive sponsor. Hopefully he and Maha will hook up (and the person who told me that reads this blog so hopefully he'll make sure it happens).

The second area is a bit vague, and there are plenty of reasons why Post should not build its own bank - just as there were when the idea was raised in 1910. The Kiwi post office would also have a view. More importantly why cut off all that agency revenue just to try to make some margin between borrowing and lending.

Australia Post is an interesting case for the whole strategy thing - do you diversify or do you stick to your knitting. I think I've written previously about the strategy bit that said "the railways thought they were in the train business but they are in the transport business" - this is the stuff Telstra has grappled with, are they in the telco biz or the comms biz or in the converged "media comms biz".

Post is in the collecting and delivering business. To do that they've had to have shopfronts. They have leveraged the shopfronts to generate agency fee revenue and to sell products to create demand for the collecting and delivering business - presents, stationary etc. These activities bear some of the fixed and common costs incurred in running stores. The agency business in part grew by accident - as the collection of telephone bill payment went from core PMG business to agency Australia Post business.

There is a great deal of value that AP can add to e-commerce by providing an identification certification business - that could extend to providing to individuals encoded USB sticks that could be used by Centrelink recipients to establish their online credentials.

However it is in the area of actually getting into comms and perhaps seriously considering being a retail Service Provider of the NBN that is a worry. There are plenty of consu;tants (notably Ovum and Venture) promoting the idea of non-telcos getting into the NBN service biz. They all cite Tesco in the UK as a model. But Tesco is a service brand, post is a delivery brand. The bigger value for AP is getting large scale delivery business as part of NBN Co - creating drop points for collection of hardware by installers for example, or guaranteeing delivery of the hardware through offering the kind of "where is my package" service.

But the bigger issue is that AP has two shareholding Ministers who happen to be the shareholding Ministers of NBN Co. To allow AP to get into the RSP business would blow the whole separation plan out of the water.

But, all we really have is CommsDay's speculation that this might be the AP strategy. My sense is that it won't be for long.

(see below)

A history note:

Both Maha and Grahame Lynch in CommsDay touched on the history note of the fact that as the PMG telecoms and post were integrated and whether this is a logical step. They get a bit of the history wrong.

The PMG that was formed in 1901 was simply the amalgamation of pre-existing state based PMGs that existed prior to Federation. The model of an integrated post - telegraph - telephone behemoth dates from the middle of the preceding century. How the PTT model evolved in the European countries and their colonies varies from place to place - but Eli Noam in Telecommunications in Europe proposes the position that revenue from the monopoly "royal mail" in all European states was one source of revenue that was not subject to Parliamentary approval. Preservation of that monopoly was paramount and extending the post office role to the telegraph and then telephone was a process of preserving the monopoly and its rents.

In the Australian context the newly Federated Post Office did not operate at all well in its initial years (a position that in part was built on interstate rivalries that remained in Telecom until the Divisionalisation move of 1987). This resulted in a Royal Commission that reported in 1910. The report and its record of evidence make interesting reading, not least because the issue faced was that the PMG was restricted to be able to spend only as much on capital as it could raise from revenue in each year - there were no "taxpayers funds" employed.

The other was that it was the postal service that was profitable. Indeed within the two loss making services the Director-General of the Service Robert Townley Scott revealed in his evidence;

Q:Then the telegraph and telephone systems are non-payable?
A:I do not think the telephones are non-payable. Sometimes a very considerable profit is made on the lines run on the condenser system.
Q: Generally speaking, the telephone system is a payable one?
A: Yes, with regard to the trunk lines and condenser system.
Q: what is to stop the Department from further reducing the telephone rates?
A: I think that would be a mistaken policy. Take a case in point. One can speak by telephone over a distance for 2 [pennies] for three minutes, which would cost one [shilling = 12 pennies] by telegram.
(Paragraphs 358-360 Interestingly the evidence at this point goes into Scott's proposal for a Post Office Savings Bank).

The Post Office never received much taxpayer money, and from 1959 on it only received Government funds as loans. When the Post Office was split into Australia Post and Telecom Australia in 1975 a basis of it was that the former was a labour intensive business while the latter was a capital intensive one.

{This para has been amended} Grahame Lynch writes that "international services were excluded" when telecom and post were formed in 1975. This construction could give the impression that the international services were part of the PMG at that time. Instead the history of overseas telecommunications is far richer. OTC was formed in 1946 when the previously privately held assets of AWA and Cable & Wireless were nationalised. It was a recommendation of the Vernon Commission into the Post Office in 1974 that OTC be merged with Telecom, but OTC saw off that threat. The story of the final merger of Telecom and OTC has really only been half told - Professor Steve Burdon at UTS threatens to write a tell all book one day.

Finally the carrying value - that is cumulative unrecovered funds - invested in Telstra before it was privatised for some $60B was precisely zero.

For avoidance of doubt, I think CommsDay did a brilliant job in getting this scoop. I have referred to the AP strategy as being "speculation" on CommsDay's part since they preceded it "CommsDay understands". However, I assume, like every other reader would, that CommsDay actually got this from Maha. I do think that that is a strange way for AP to brief its strategy to the media, and I do wonder what the shareholding Ministers would think of AP being an RSP.

Also the history note says that CommsDay gets the history "wrong". While there was one specific error (since amended) the import of this note is that the relevant history is far more interesting and richer than the potted version provided by CommsDay would suggest.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Digital Economy, Globalisation and Change

I gave this paper at CPRF 2011 last week on Competition Policy for the Digital Economy. My core thesis was that policy makers refer to "competition" as a policy goal with little understanding, and what understanding they do have needs to change.

The paper traces the evolution of "competition policy" from its anti-monopolisation US origins, through the regulatory state of the post-Depression (and post-War) eras ending with the pro-market orientation of the 80s. I note that these three phases were triggered by economic events - the rise of economies of scale and scope in the late 19th century, the depression and the oil price shock of the 70s.

I then outline a conception of the Digital Economy which regards it as the transformation that flows from a General Purpose Technology. I explain how that impacts economic organisation and indicate ways competition policy needs to change.

I found a nice connection between it and a column by Ross Gittins today which the SMH titled Change is workers' only certainty, but Chris Wallace at Breakfast Politics called linked to as Why Qantas is a warning to us all.

Gittins places his piece with this introduction;

The greatest force driving structural change is technological advance: the invention of better ways of doing things, new things to do and countless labour-saving machines. Globalisation has been driven partly by government policy, but mainly by the information and communications technology revolution, which has hugely increased the speed and reduced the cost at which information, money and people move around the world. ....

The trouble with structural change, of course, is that the benefits go to the customers - new products, wider choice, lower prices - while all the problems go to the people working in the disrupted industries.

He goes on to (correctly I think) intimate that the problem at Qantas is the need to change created by the marketplace changes. He notes that this necessarily involves changes affecting workers.

He then discusses the transition from an industrial relations system dominated by a central "arbiter" to one based on negotiation and agreed outcome. He picks up the theme that some have suggested that unions should only be concerned with pay, writing,

The goal was a new era of reduced industrial disruption as the parties recognised the great extent of their common interests and put less emphasis on their (undoubted) conflicting interests.

Right on. So I don't think banning debate about management decisions is the smart way to go. That would mean the law advantaging one side, giving managers permission to ride roughshod over the interests and even the opinions of their employees.

Half the trouble at Qantas is the employees' failure to recognise how the game has changed for their company, robbing them of their former bargaining power. The other half is the arrogance of management in their resort to ''managerial prerogative'', in their failure to explain and debate the new realities with their staff.

The subject of technological change is not a new one - maybe its time we dusted off the reports from the 1980s which dealt simply with "computers" and technological change. And at the same time be mindful of the other comments he made (which I previously posted about) that labour markets are of their very nature heavily regulated.

What we need is the ability for management to engage staff in the conversation.

Corporations too often rely upon the rules of the equities markets to argue a need for secrecy in their strategic development. I have a general feeling that management and boards use these rules as ways to deny shareholders information rather than the reverse.

The real question is, is there something in the way we model "governance" that results in secrecy and impedes the ability to constructively engage with employees.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Monday, November 14, 2011

Regulation or Deregulation

I reckon everyone who talks about deregulation of the Labor market should read this Ross Gittins piece.

As he says;

Here's the point: the labour market has always been highly regulated. It remained highly regulated under Work Choices and it's still highly regulated under Fair Work. It's always likely to stay highly regulated for a simple reason: unlike all other markets, the labour market deals with human beings rather than the exchange of inanimate objects.

As a matter of politics, common humanity and common sense, the treatment of people in the labour market will always be carefully regulated. We are, after all, running the economy for the benefit of people.

What changes from time to time is not so much the degree of regulation as the objectives of that regulation. There's a fundamental imbalance of bargaining power between an individual worker and even the smallest employer.

The scope of regulation is about how that imbalance is addressed. The way "the market" deals with it is actually that workers have an incentive to collectively bargain.

The Australian innovation was the concept of conciliation and arbitration as an alternative to simple clashes of collective power.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Sunday, November 13, 2011

PM's Armistice Day Address

I had the opportunity to attend the Armistice Day ceremony at the Australian War Memorial on Friday (at the same time as my number two daughter was on a battlefields tour where her great grandfather Walder fought in WWI).

I finalised the iTnews column by e-mail from my phone just before it started - and would like to think that one day I could write a speech as good as the one the PM delivered.

Unfotunately it appears on the PM's website in the format used to write a speech to be read, so I reproduce it below using paragraphs of more than one sentence....

Your Excellencies

Mr Acting Chief Justice, Ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, Member of the Australian Defence Force past and present, Custodians of the Australian War Memorial,

Friends of peace all,

On May 5 this year, a frail old man died in Perth, the sort of death that happens in nursing homes every day.

But this was no ordinary loss. With the passing of Claude Choules, the final link to World War One has been broken.

Around 70 million people fought in that dreadful conflict. Mr Choules was the last; a mighty bond, worn down to a single slender thread, itself now broken. An age ended; its sole surviving voice forever mute.

Claude Choules was there on this day, 93 years ago. The day the guns fell silent. The day that peace began.

But if November 11 was the end of war, it was the end of innocence too. Never again the ‘laughter of unclouded years’.

The armistice forged that autumn morning was a bitter, partial peace. But then again, it always is, because human nature is weak and the summons to war lies never far away.

That is how this memorial to one war came to be opened in the midst of another. And how hardly a day has passed since 1941 when Australians have not been abroad on active service, half of that time in combat operations.

The truth is we are a good nation in an imperfect world.

A people of peace so often called to war. Fighting other nations; but really fighting deeper foes - tyranny, injustice, persecution and greed. Never for national gain; never for purposes other than what we judged to be right.

Surveying these walls and the immense sadness of 102,000 names written on them, it is right to conclude that our nation – and especially the young people of our nation – have always accepted the cost and burden of war, as seen in Afghanistan this very day.

If we pay that price willingly, we never pay it lightly; because war is a profound responsibility for any nation to undertake.

Is it not surprising that men like Claude Choules and Charlie Mance who saw the worst of war became the most fervent sons of peace, and so often shunned observances such as this. They knew what we only see ‘through a glass darkly’.

Privy to the joyless irony of conflict; that the aim of war is peace – and the price of peace is all too often war. An unbearable paradox witnessed by endless rows of pale, identical gravestones, and mud-soaked fields that even now still yield up their dead.

There are many tributes to war – memorials, wreaths, poems and songs. All of them reaching for the un-sayable; all of them falling necessarily short.

Perhaps the only memorial that fully touches the enormity of war is silence.

It was in silence that so many of our veterans wrapped themselves when they came back. Having seen and done things too awful to ever bring into the sanctity of their own homes; or to share with people who could never understand the things of which there is nothing left to be said. Things for which words and symbols fail, and contemplation remains our best and only gift.

In the wisdom and dignity of our silence, therefore, let us not forget.

It is little enough to ask of us who gained so much, from those who gave so much. So in our still and grateful hearts, let there be only silence. That on this day, and on every day, in every month and season, we will remember them.

Lest We Forget.

Digital Dividend Auction

My column for iTnews this week is based on the ACMA's Digital Dividend Spectrum Tune-Up.

In it I use some data put up by DBCDE to speculate on the values that will be raised at auction. You might recall that I estimated the $A equivalent for the French 2.5 GHz auction at $458M. I also noted the Italian 700MHz equivalent raised abiout 2 and a half times as much.

These are consistent with the ranges I've quoted in my article - of low, middle and high estimates for the 700 MHz of 594, 990, and 2970 million dollars, and for the 2.5 GHz of 308, 870, and 1540 million dollars.

It was a very very good spectrum tune-up.

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Future with High Speed Broadband

The Commerce Commission in New Zealand is an interesting regulator. They have an "inquiring mind" and like to think about the future and what the emerging issues could be.

This contrasts with so much of Australia's policy and regulatory bodies who merely react to events.

The ComCom's latest foray is their study of High Speed Broadband Services: Demand side studies

Commissioner Ross Patterson has made a little video spruiking the conference they are having as part of it.

The conference website is having a few dramas today, but I'm assured it will be fixed tomorrow.

They have some great international speakers lined up and what I consider to be a pretty reliable facilitator/chair (moi!!!!).

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

More on Qantas

As accusations flow about when people were told of the Qantas lock-out it is pretty clear that Joyce was so obsessed with the security risk that he never really made it clear to the Government. Ultimately he was speaking in code.

But Joe Hockey reckons;

(Qantas has) been saying it around parliament house for the last few weeks. They've been saying it privately and publicly around parliament house for weeks.

Perhaps there might be something based on this fact you'd have found about Qantas PR and Govt Relations Head Olivia Wirth if you'd followed the links in my earlier post.

A veteran of the Australian Tourist Commission and its successor, Tourism Australia, Ms Wirth was also an adviser to former tourism minister Joe Hockey and worked for the industry lobby group Tourism Council Australia.

Meanwhile Qantas is reported to have gone inot "damage control mode" as it tries to patch up strained relations with Gillard and Albanese. Ms Wirth was reported to have made a "flying visit to Canberra" to "repair a relationship which insiders now describe as toxic."

This is a prelude to an appearance Alan Joyce is going to make before a Senate committee on Friday. I would like to be a fly on the wall of the preparation session for that appearance. Only the very rare CEO can pull off the kind of beligerent performance Packer made before the print media inquiry.

My own thoughts would be that Joyce should try to drown the committee in facts about the global international air services market. He should take the approach that says he is willing to hear from anybody alternative strategies to save Qantas from the oblivion it faces; to remind them of the fate of other iconic airlines (Ansett domestically, Pan-Am globally).

More importantly he should not make Industrial Relations out to be the core issue - the core issue is the future of the airline, that future is in the national interest not just shareholders interest. The IR policy settings are just part of the "external environment" within which management has to make its decisions. The decision on the weekend was made to bring about an end to the dispute, and the lock-out was necessitated by the safety concerns. Others may have different views, but that was their view as the operators of the airline. (Emphasise more concerned about risks from stress than deliberate sabotage).

Finally note that thought they WERE flagging the possibility of the action they took, but were insufficiently clear in communicating it because they didn't want to inspire the fear. Could go as far as suggesting concerned that the Govt was too close to the unions in the matter.

But first and foremost - go hire a lobbyist!!!!!!! They need the "back-channel".

Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est