The coming together of two visionary ideas…..

As regular readers of this blog will realise, I am a great admirer of the Federal Government’s NBN policy – one of the most visionary policies I believe from the Federal Government in recent memory and one which has the potential to greatly change the way we operate as a society for the better.

Some of you also may not realise that I am “an old Asia hand” ie someone who has lived and worked in Asia for almost a decade in my career, so I was delighted to see the Government initially commissioning their “Asia and Australia in the 21st century” White Paper, and releasing it so competently over the weekend. Having now read it thoroughly, I think the authors have done a great job, and deserve due consideration on both sides of politics, as well as in academia and the media.

Imagine my horror today, when listening to the ABC at lunchtime, when the government has allowed themselves to be marginalised by the vested interests on this issue, particularly on their commitment to Asian languages and the line from the opposition “it means nothing without extra funding”.

This is a nonsense. The extra funding comes from the NBN. Sometimes I wonder whether the Government even realises what a revolution they have started in this area.  They certainly did not explain it as they should, something they also have  a habit of doing in other areas of policy.

It started off this morning in “The Age” with one Professor Adam Chen suggesting the commitment to Asian languages “will cost billions”. This was followed up during the morning by the usual procession of vested interests with their hands out (of which as usual the Teachers Unions are the most vocal with their baseless breast beating about class sizes echoed by the Federal Opposition).

Education is the sector, along with Health, which will be most profoundly affected by the NBN. In 10 years’ time, when the NBN will be fully implemented, education will be profoundly changed.  Teaching at universities will be largely done online, when the most important things  for them will not be the size of their campus, but the quality of their teaching and the prestige of their Brand. The NBN will provide virtually unlimited capacity to teach. Rather than a university lecturer being limited to the student numbers dictated by the size of the lecture theatre, it will be restricted by the size of the demand as these services will be delivered via a limitless capacity on the internet.

As with universities, the same will apply to schools. An excellent teacher of Mandarin, rather than being restricted to a classroom, will be able to take regular classes with unlimited capacity via a very fast broadband. It will revolutionize schools, and greatly improve teaching standards to all sectors of society in all subject areas.

It is possible the Federal Labor Government would prefer to take “stick” from the Opposition, than to have to explain this fact to their constituency in the Union movement, most of whom do not appear to understand this profound change (along with most of the Press). Nevertheless, it is coming down the track, and will greatly expand the policy options for government in all sort of areas, not least Education.

In my view, it will be a revolution even more profound than the internet itself.

The Real Tony Abbott…

For all those who are interested in interesting debate, good governance, and for Australia to continue as a tolerant, inclusive, civilised society, I highly recommend you read this article…

http://m.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/a-thirst-for-power-lies-at-the-heart-of-abbotts-agenda-20121022-2818x.html

Written by ex diplomat, senior public servant, and political insider Bruce Haigh, it gives an insiders view of Abbott dating back to his undergraduate days right through to his present persona. It explains more clearly than I have seen elsewhere why Abbott behaves as he does, and why he is incapable of modifying his current self destructive ways.

It also spells out very specifically why we must all work (on both sides of politics) to ensure Abbott never becomes Prime Minister.

Tony Abbott just does not get it….

Given Tony Abbott’s latest remarks dog-whistling Julia Gillard about not understanding children, I’m beginning to believe he simply has no idea what is sexist and what is not. Otherwise, given his greatly weakened political position post the now famous Gillard speech, why would he deliberately go out of his way to continue to confirm the main point of the speech ie he is sexist and mysoginist.

I am now convinced he can not distinguish right from wrong in this sphere, and continues to put his foot in it because he can not tell what is acceptable and what is not. After all, we must all remember that Tony Abbott’s personal advisors on social policy are George Pell and Alan Jones –  hardly bastions of socially progressive thought. Indeed it goes a long way to explain why Abbott to many Australians appears to be a throw back to 1950s Australia. Now we all remember Abbott’s political hero is John Howard, and Howard himself championed at times the “values” of the 1950s (remember the “white picket fence” imagery), but Howard, although himself socially conservative like Abbott, never sought to thrust his opinions onto the Australian electorate in this area. For Abbott, this is his modus operandi.

Now that the over the top scare campaign on the carbon tax has been revealed for what it was – a great big new lie – Abbott now has very little to fall back on except campaign on his very conservative social values which are so out of touch with the mainstream Australian electorate,  he is continually found out on them. Eventually, he will self-implode and the LNP will be left with no choice but to replace him.

And wouldn’t that be a relief to us all.

15 minutes which changed the game…..

In my lifetime, there have been a few outstanding political speeches: Paul Keating at Redfern; John Howard’s speech after the Bali Bombings; Gough Whitlam’s “It’s Time” policy speech; and Barack Obama speech to the 2004 democratic convention. All these speeches in profound ways changed the course of history,and are testaments to the power of words and the how great ideas, properly communicated, change people.

Julia Gillard’s recent speech in the Australian parliament was such an occasion. It is worth watching  it again in-full to appreciate its impact, power and skill. Not only did it get her back into the political game, it demonstrated to many people, both supporters and non-supporters, or simply those who have been indifferent who are probably the majority, that here we have a woman of substance as prime minister; a woman of strong beliefs who is prepared to advocate them forcefully and very effectively. (By the way, for those who think Gillard has no sense of humour, check out this vignette from David Cameron, the British Prime Minister).
Before this, it was as though she had been on a leash, which led many to think the she was diffident and incapable of making sound decisions, and especially was unable to communicate her program effectively. Such was the power of the speech that I predict it will change the political landscape. How? First, it will greatly impress those ex labor voters who have defected to the Greens over the course of her term in office, both male and female. Secondly, those inner city left leaning voters, especially women, will now be more inclined to join the Gillard camp and advocate more forcibly for the Labor program. Thirdly, the inner city female voters inclined to vote conservative but liberal on social policy (the so-called “doctors’ wives”), will not only be hugely impressed but many I think will see in their prime minister reasons to now support her rather than voting conservative while holding their noses with having to put up with the aggression and misogynist behaviour of Tony Abbott. Fourthly, the unaligned general public, men and women, could not fail to be impressed by the competence, guts, intellect and tenacity of  the PM in full flight. It has not been seen before since she came to office, and if continued will rapidly change the negative perception of her and her government.

An interesting sidelight of this is the press and public reaction to the speech. In Canberra, amongst the Press gallery, mostly made up of  men aged 40+, the analysis was on the rights and wrongs of the Government seeking to defend Peter Slipper and to allow him to keep his job. They all totally missed the POLITICAL implications of what they were seeing i.e. for the first time as PM, Gillard was on the front foot and displaying the skills and aggression which put her in the job in the first place. Slipper was irrelevant to this larger narrative.  Thousands of people around the country who had supported Gillard when she came to office, and had become disillusioned with her and her government’s political competence, were turned around by this brilliant 15 minute speech. This was all about the PM not only gaining back the confidence of her party and her rusted on supporters, but also the wider public.  Many people from all walks of life now saw a formidable and capable figure, whereas before they tended to support the Abbott narrative of an incompetent and bungling government. I suggest that has now changed, as will the polls when they come out next week.
The result of all this will be by Christmas Labor will head the Coalition in two party preferred vote, which will result in chaos in the conservative parties as recriminations fly as to how Abbott managed to potentially turn victory into defeat. By March, Malcolm Turnbull will be Leader of the Opposition and will sweep into power at the election at the end of 2013 with more than 60% of the vote, giving him such power that he will be able to lead not only a socially progressive government, but one which will be committed to making the hard economic decisions and undertakibng a new round of badly needed economic reforms. In the meantime though, we can anticipate with Abbott gone, political discourse will return to a more civilised and constructive form, with more emphasis on policy difference, and less on personal abuse.

It will not be before time.

Why Muslin Demonstrations are Different

It is very disturbing and very disappointing to see the over-reaction of Muslim youth in many countries to what was an incredibly stupid movie posted online about the Prophet. As a firm non-believer, it is difficult for me to understand such religious fervour , but what I can say is I can appreciate the reasons for the revulsion of the general population to such violent demonstrations, when such revulsions are not as apparent in other religions’ over reaction in to slights on their beliefs.

The problem with the public face of Islam is it is almost always predominantly male, young and thuggish. The other religious demonstrations, for instance, the Christian reaction to “The Life of Brian” , which was in many ways equally insulting to Christ, but the reaction was peaceful, predominantly female, and middle aged. It also saw the humour in it, which these young thugs singularly lack.

It is reasonable to ask what is it in Islamic upbringing that does not allow a significant portion of their flock to bush these “insults” off as the stupidity they are? The fact that they can’t, or won’t, both scares and alarms large sections of the Australian population, and creates a backlash against a religion which when practiced in its mainstream is civilising, gentle and inclusive.

The elders of the Muslim faith urgently need to look at their education system, their practices and the way they bring up their children to ensure these extremes are marginalised and such behaviour is shunned universally, by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Overseas Graduates – yet another great chance for Australia

Everyone is aware of the devastation which the GFC and now the euro crisis (s) have brough on Europe. These are dramatically illustrated by the trends in youth unemployment across Europe, particularly since Lehmann’s collapse. In most European countries, graduates make up between 20-30% of youth unemployed. Similarly in the US. Unemployment amongst college graduates is the highest in half a century.

What does all this mean for Australia? It means yet another incredible opportunuity.

Australia, through its good fortune to be one of the strongest economies in the OECD, has an unprecendented opportunity to attract the best and the brightest graduates from countries with high education levels and high graduate unemployment rates ie countries like Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and the US. Without wishing these countries mis-fortune, the fact is they have some very smart young people bereft of opportunity and many will become “the lost generation”. Australia desperately needs skilled people to provide the energy and drive for the future. Although a properly structured program would be quite expensive, in the longer term it would pay off handsomely, and would be a sensible way to spend any future surplus to set the country up as a brain driven environment to drive innovation, creativity and wealth creation.

This plays to one of the over-riding but unstated tenents of our immigration policy post While Australia i.e. although the policy is non-discriminatory from race, religions and sexuality, it definitely favours the better educated on the basis it is education which is the biggest driver of assimilation and job security. In an environment where our universities are bursting at the seams, and we can’t get enough of graduates, particularly those related to the sciences, why wouldn’t we take the best and the brightest from abroad. Much cheaper than financing additional Phd places, although that should be done as well.

A related issue to this, it was dissappointing to see that there has been a considerable tightening up on criteria for entrepreneurs from abroad immigrating here. Somewhat short sighted I would have thought.

The inevitable shift in Australian politics

In June I predicted that:

  1. Tony Abbott will not lead the LNP to the next election, and the blood letting that will preceed his removal will make the defence of Julia Gillard during Kevin Rudd”s recent challenge look like a walk in the park;
  2. Abbott will be replaced by Turnbull; and
  3. Gillard will be replaced by Bob Carr.

Whilst i am not now as confident about Carr replacing Gillard, the tide has turned against Abbott six months earlier than I expected. Admittedly, Gillard has improved her performance considerably in the last three months, and the inate contradictions of Abbott’s relentless negativity has been exposed so the electorate now seems to be waking up to it.

To me the turning points in this process have been:

  1. Leigh Sales demolition job on Abbott on 7.30 when he simply could no longer get away with the blatant lies he had been peddling during and after the last election campaign;
  2. David Marr’s latest political epistle in the Quarterly Essay, this time on Tony Abbott (Marr has form; his effort before this was on Kevin Rudd and many in the Labor Party see that piece as the event which lead directly to Rudd’s removal);
  3. the non-event which was the introduction of the Carbon Tax. Voters now realise the sky has not fallen in, and the exaggeration which has accompanied Abbott’s campaigning against it has been exposed as a sham. They are now asking how much of the rest of his overall scare campaign is as equally unreliable; and
  4. the squabbling internally has broken out big time in the coalition about economic policy. The dries, lead by Joe Hockey, and the wets lead by the agrarian socialists which is most of the National Party, as well as the DLP rump lead by Abbott are at each other throats on this. This is where I believe Abbott will ultimately lose it. He is almost illiterate when it comes to economics, and when he does act it tends toward protectionism and picking winners. This is the last thing that the more economically literate on both sides of politics want, as well as the vast majority of the business community.  Once the polls turn inevitably more decisively against him, this will be the weakness which undoes him.

Ride on Malcolm Turnbull. If he gets a chance, he will win in a canter, to the great relief of three quarters of the population. We can only hope!

What is Gina Reinhardt Up To?

The acquisition of the Fairfax stake by the  wealthiest woman in the world, and a paid up member of the extreme right wing  “crazies club”, Gina Reinhardt, should be a concern for everyone, not only in Australia, who values pluralist democracy, and who has an inate belief in the civic reasonableness of our society. It is a perversion, that someone who acquires obscene wealth, not from her own endeavors, but from that of her father, can use that wealth to pervert the “balance” of what in many ways is an extraordinarily success society. And why is it successful? Because it is well educated, well informed, tolerant, funny, happy, and progressive. I can’t think of any one of these categories for which Reinhardt qualifies. But it is a devilish dilemma.

Those of us who believe in free markets, who believe in efficiency, and believe in best practice, are caught in a bind here. Markets work because the regulation is about openness and information. But from what we can see, Reinhardt is advocating the opposite of that. She wants to dictate the information from the Fairfax papers to be a mouthpiece of her personal financial interests. So in a way, she is breaking a fundamental markets rule generally addressed by such organs as a Trades Practices Act. In a media sense, she is being anticompetitive. Some insiders believe this is not an investment in media, but a play to drive the Fairfax mastheads into the ground, thereby eliminating a pesky, and annoying instruments for Reinhardt getting untrammelled power.

Now we hear that she wants three board seats (out of 8), wants to be Deputy Chairman, and wants a veto over who is appointed Editors of the Fairfax papers. Why is this not anticompetitive in terms of information? The problem is what can be done about it? The last thing we need is for governments to be dictating who can, and cannot, open newspapers, whether online, or in print. But how do you stop Reinhardt from using her wealth to dictate what rest of us are allowed to read?

Actually, the solution may be in the changes in technology which is presenting this opportunity to Reinhardt  in the first place. There will be many extremely talented journasts out of work as a result of these changes. These same changes present an unprecedented opportunity to write new media. After all, all you need now to write an online newspaper are talented journalists, an internet connection, some internet skills, and a burning desire to succeed. I can’t think of a better environment for these out of work journos to get to work. And we may find we end up with a far more diverse media than we have now, and Rindhardt will have wasted her money (not that she worries about that – she has other agendas).It would make the rest of us feel good though….

Costello, here we go again….

No matter how many times Costello denies it, hardly anyone believes he didn’t “test the water” about returning to politics. Why wouldn’t he? He would probably be PM by Christmas, as virtually the whole country breathes a sign of relief as we all dodge the bullet of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister. The country, eternally grateful….

The problem is, Costello has form when it comes to this sort of thing. The “will he or won’t he” atmosphere which pervaded the end of the Howard government about the endless speculation about a Costello challenge on Howard. In the end, of course Costello didn’t challenge when he realized the perks he would have to give up as a backbencher. Better to have the easy life as the Treasurer, and quietly exit when they lose office.

Costello’s reputation for laziness exhibits all over the place. To go to the backbench, and continuously campaign for the top job, takes energy and guts. Guts Costello doesn’t have. The precedents are endless: Frazer, Howard, Peacock, Keating, Rudd all spent time on the backbench as they organized a successful second challenge after the failure of the first. All of them, persistent gutsy men – and not lazy.

Even though I think Costello would make a better Prime Minister than either Gillard or Abbott (particularly Abbott), I fear he may not have the drive to make it a real success. Still, by far the best option is Malcolm Turnbull. Could Costello (unwittingly) be Turnbull’s stalking horse?


Why Gillard Will fall on her Sword

Why Gillard Will fall on her Sword.

In spite of my writing several weeks ago that I thought Gillard would recover lost ground over the second half of 20012, I’ve now come to the conclusion her political end is terminal. She is unelectable. Within two months, one of the Labor elders, probably Bob Hawke, will tap her on the shoulder and tell her it is time to go, and she will be replaced by Bob Carr. Carr will create a resurgent government, and when the polls put Labor in front, the blood-letting on Tony Abbott will begin, which will make the hatchet job on Kevin Rudd look like a game of fencing. Abbott will be replaced by Malcolm Turnbull in the first quarter of next year. then the fun will begin.

Sanity will return to Australian politics, and we might, just might get some constructive debate, and resume the path of reform which has served Australia so well in the last 30 years.