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20 Nov 2010

The Changing State of Leadership in Australian Politics

I’ve just devoured the latest Quarterly Essay, titled Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era, by political journalist George Megalogenis.

It’s an interesting read – it’s filled in a few holes in my political knowledge (though that’s not too hard to do), and it’s provided an intelligent take on the current leadership crisis Australian politics is facing.

There’s plenty of thoughts from it that are buzzing around my head which I’d like to share – and would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Generational support in the Major Parties

The Greens are building a considerable supporter base within Generation Y – and people often don’t switch parties as they get older, so this could lead to them being a serious player in Australian politics within the coming decade. However, the Baby Boomers are predominantly Coalition supporters. Keeping in mind our ageing population, in our most recent federal election 46% of voters were aged 50 or older.

Then factor this in: the ALP have dominated in the eastern states in particular – and yet there’s a decent chance that all three of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will swich to Coalition Governments over the coming two years.

So: where does this leave the ALP on a Federal level?

Red and Blue States

Another divide is through the middle of the country: South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT all had swings towards the ALP in the most recent election. NSW was rather ambivalent, whereas Queensland and Western Australia favoured the Coalition.

Yes, inner city electorates have always been progressive in comparison to their rural siblings. But arguably this is a little more distinct. How would you go about being a leader for all of Australia?

Lead by Example

Hawke, Keating and early Howard were seen as true leaders – they led by action (ie: reform). Later, Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott have all played by the polls, instead of leading with their own ideals and conviction. The abandoning of the ETS is a prime example of how the second approach failed Labor.

Playing to the polls is not healthy – far better to lead, and bring the country with you. Give them something to vote for, instead of being the least-worst option.

Stick to your guns – people are more willing to forgive you if you’ve got clear convictions. Consider Howard’s GST policy as an example. I’d quote others from Hawke and Keating, but I really don’t have the history chops to be confident in what I’d be saying.

Faster! Faster!

The pace of the media cycle is dangerous – there is the expectation of constant news. Our political leaders must push back against this desire. They need to plan out policy carefully, and not bombard people with a whole lot of small pieces of information.

Depth instead of breadth should be the focus – but that’s a hard thing to manage given our short attention spans. (A curse of the internet, perhaps?)

Be Prepared to Negotiate

This isn’t something from the book, but I think hung parliaments are going to become far more common. The Greens are coming into their own, and the combined ALP and Coalition vote hasn’t come close to 90% since 1993, when Keating beat Hewson. When 15-20% of voters are regularly looking beyond the two major parties, that makes a majority far harder to capture.

Does this all sound reasonable? Are my biases clouding my own perceptions? Is there anything you’d like to add?

12 Jul 2009

FutureRuby and Californian Conflict

Update: Jesse’s talk is now online should you want to watch it.

Before this all fades from my brain in the post-conference haze, I just wanted to post a few thoughts on the final session of the amazing FutureRuby conference in Toronto. Jesse Hirsh delivered an impassioned argument against what he labels the Imperial Californian Idealogy.

As someone who is most definitely left-of-centre, the bulk of this talk appealed to me. A call to action, highlights of the flaws of the capitalism, railing against the environmental destruction caused by the pursuit of wealth – it ticked the boxes.

There were a lot of references to the prominent place in history that San Francisco holds when it comes to mining, wars and weaponry, corporations and politics. I won’t go into those, because I’ll probably get it wrong. I have no bones to pick with that part of the talk, though.

It wasn’t immediately clear to me that he was attacking (some of) the ideals put forward by Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly and Chris Anderson – at first, I thought they were the alternative movement to the old San Francisco elite that was initially described. All three names hold some credibility for me, so that was an interesting twist.

That said – and if we take the points on Anderson’s Free as accurate – then I’m happy to buy into at least some of the criticism, particularly around the push for acceptance of waste. I agree completely that the wasteful nature of people has got us into the current ecological mess. It promotes a very narrow, selfish view, instead of a more holistic approach. Indeed, holistic solutions was the end point Hirsh was driving at.

My main issue? The revolutionary, us-vs-them vibe. It felt implied that we are the elite, the creators, the visionaries. The ones who know best, the ideal internet citizens. There’s enough division in the world as it is. Not that I think Jesse is advocating such an approach, but that’s how the message came across to me. Granted, the Snowcrash references were lost on me, so that didn’t help.

Besides, revolutions are (more often than not) ineffective routes to change. Evolution is the road I much prefer to walk down.

Anyway, I’m off to the afterparty to discuss all this further with other attendees. If you weren’t there, then this probably doesn’t make much sense to you – watch the video, see if that helps.

07 Jul 2009

PublicSphere: Open Government

I’m a bit late to blogging about this (and I realise there’s plenty of other blog posts I should have written over the last few months), but a couple of weeks ago, the ACT Senator Kate Lundy and her advisor Pia Waugh ran their second Public Sphere event. I didn’t really hear of the first one – focused on the national broadband network – until after it happened. The second’s topic was open government, a topic I’m passionate about, and so I marked it in my calendar.

Of course, the event took place in Canberra, and I’m currently experimenting with a location-independant life at the moment, and was in Boston, Massachusetts at the time. However, there was a live video feed for the talks, and the twitter hashtag #publicsphere was massively popular. I was able to listen in for a good part of the day, and throw around some comments with others paying attention.

Reflection

There was a lot of talking. I probably caught about half the talks, and was feeling pretty braindead when I called it a night. I imagine those there would have found it a little tough, particularly with the addition of corridor discussions.

It was great to see not only Senator Lundy speaking, but Lindsay Tanner and Joe Ludwig as well – and generally saying the right things. By all appearances, they seem to understand the need for openness and transparency.

It will be interesting to see how all this talk translates into action though.

The Taskforce

Not that there isn’t action happening, mind you – a good portion of the talks were about what people were already doing. The big announcement from the event was the creation of a Government 2.0 Taskforce, which seems to be made up of some smart people. Mind you, their banner competition seems to be a small token towards the having an open and collaborative dialog.

I’m also hoping they can sidestep the bureacracy that so often ties governments down, and get things done fast and effectively. Given they’ve only got six months to make things happen, there’s a decent chance.

Disconnect

The event gave me some hope where little has been in the past. However, this drive towards open data and transparency doesn’t gel too nicely with the approach of Senator Conroy, who is the Minister for Communication. Why wasn’t he present?

That said, the proposed filter legislation sticks out like a sore thumb, so it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have received a particularly warm welcome. Something needs to change, though – personally, I’d love to see Kate Lundy take over his portfolio, but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, Lindsay Tanner really seemed to have his head around the open government space, and it sounded like that’s been the case for a while – so why are we only seeing actions like this now?

From a Distance

Finally, a few notes on how I found interacting with the event from afar.

  • Having a video feed is fantastic – far better than purely relying on live-blogging or Twitter
  • The twitter stream is great at providing a picture for others’ takes on what is being said.
  • Unsurprisingly, the timezone made it a challenge – I missed out on most of the afternoon sessions (around 2AM local time).
  • I also missed out on the informal discussions, in the breaks and corridors, which is where I feel a lot of the value usually is in conferences and unconferences.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing both recommendations and actions from the Taskforce, as well as future Public Sphere events.

09 Jan 2009

A Guide : Internet Filter Action

  1. Meet with your local ALP MP or Senator.
  2. Have a conversation with them about the internet filter, ideally focusing on The Message (below).
  3. Add the meeting details in a comment – the post will be updated accordingly (please comment if you’ve already met with a politician about this issue).
  4. Spread the word, and encourage others to do the same.

The Goal

To meet with as many ALP MPs and Senators, and share the message below. If you don’t have an ALP representative, then visit a Senator for your State instead. A face-to-face meeting is highly recommended, as it’s far more effective than an email or letter, and you’re more likely to have a sensible discussion, rather than getting a form letter response. If pressed for time, a phone call may suffice, but do everything you can to speak to the politician in question, not one of their staff members.

Even if your member is already listed below as having had someone else meet with them, another meeting with another concerned citizen will help solidify the message that there are serious problems with the Government’s proposed legislation.

I recommend using the message below – obviously some peoples’ opinions will differ, and I sympathise (and agree) with the concerns of censorship and grey lines of what the filter will and will not block. However, we need to find some common ground and try to direct their attention to what we feel is a better approach.

When you have a meeting organised, please add the details in a comment below, so we all have some idea of which politicians have been met with, and which still need a visit.

Don’t forget: both houses return to Parliament in February, so try to organise a meeting before then!

The Message

The goal of the Government’s Internet Filter is laudable. We have no argument with wanting to stop child pornography, and make sure children aren’t exposed to the darker corners of the internet. The problem is with the approach: an opt-out internet filter will not work.

  • There are plenty of legal tools that route around filtering: those who want to seek out such material will be able to.
  • The filter trials have been focused on HTTP traffic, with no attention given to peer-to-peer file sharing or instant messaging.
  • Filtering BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer traffic is not feasible – an analogy is monitoring every single phone call in Australia.
  • It gives the impression the internet will now be safe for children, ignoring situations where children are groomed by pedophiles via chat rooms and social networks, and may potentially meet face to face with these people.
  • It will slow the internet down to some extent.

That doesn’t mean there are no worthwhile solutions that should be investigated, such as the following:

  • Opt-in filter for those who desire it – whether offered by ISPs or as a downloadable tool.
  • Education for parents – via TAFE courses and similar.
  • Compulsory education for children in schools on what to be aware of when using the internet.
  • Increased funding for the AFP.

The Government’s current approach is a waste of money – particularly worrying in these financially uncertain times. We encourage the Government to change their tact for making the internet safer for Australians to use, and hope they employ some of the more effective ideas as suggested above.

Representatives

(Alphabetical by Surname)

  • Dick Adams (Lyons)
  • Anthony Albanese (Grayndler)
  • Arch Bevis (Brisbane)
  • James Bidgood (Dawson)
  • Sharon Bird (Cunningham – NSW)
  • Chris Bowen (Prospect)
  • David Bradbury (Lindsay)
  • Tony Burke (Watson)
  • Mark Butler (Port Adelaide – SA)
  • Anthony Byrne (Holt)
  • Jodie Campbell (Bass)
  • Nick Champion (Wakefield)
  • Darren Cheeseman (Corangamite)
  • Jason Clare (Blaxland)
  • Julie Collins (Franklin)
  • Greg Combet (Charlton)
  • Simon Crean (Hotham)
  • Yvette D’Ath (Petrie)
  • Michael Danby (Melbourne Ports – VIC)
    • Steve Hopkins – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Bob Debus (Macquarie)
  • Mark Dreyfus (Isaacs)
  • Justine Elliot (Richmond)
  • Annette Ellis (Canberra – ACT)
  • Kate Ellis (Adelaide – SA)
  • Craig Emerson (Rankin)
    • Ashley Angell – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Laurie Ferguson (Reid)
  • Martin Ferguson (Batman – VIC)
  • Joel Fitzgibbon (Hunter)
  • Peter Garrett (Kingsford Smith – NSW)
  • Steve Georganas (Hindmarsh)
  • Jennie George (Throsby)
  • Steve Gibbons (Bendigo – VIC)
  • Julia Gillard (Lalor – VIC)
  • Gary Gray (Brand)
  • Sharon Grierson (Newcastle – NSW)
  • Alan Griffin (Bruce)
  • Damian Hale (Solomon)
  • Jill Hall (Shortland)
  • Chris Hayes (Werriwa)
  • Julia Irwin (Fowler)
  • Sharryn Jackson (Hasluck)
  • Mike Kelly (Eden-Monaro)
  • Duncan Kerr (Denison)
  • Catherine King (Ballarat – VIC)
  • Kirsten Livermore (Capricornia)
  • Jenny Macklin (Jagajaga – VIC)
  • Richard Marles (Corio)
  • Robert McClelland (Barton)
  • Maxine McKew (Bennelong – NSW)
  • Bob McMullan (Fraser)
  • Daryl Melham (Banks)
  • John Murphy (Lowe)
  • Belinda Neal (Robertson)
  • Shayne Neumann (Blair)
  • Brendan O’Connor (Gorton)
  • Julie Owens (Parramatta – NSW)
  • Melissa Parke (Fremantle – WA)
  • Graham Perrett (Moreton)
  • Tanya Plibersek (Sydney – NSW)
  • Roger Price (Chifley)
  • Brett Raguse (Forde)
  • Kerry Rea (Bonner)
  • Bernie Ripoll (Oxley)
  • Amanda Rishworth (Kingston)
  • Nicola Roxon (Gellibrand)
  • Kevin Rudd (Griffith – QLD)
  • Janelle Saffin (Page)
  • Bill Shorten (Maribyrnong – VIC)
  • Sid Sidebottom (Braddon)
  • Stephen Smith (Perth – WA)
  • Warren Snowdon (Lingiari)
  • Jon Sullivan (Longman)
  • Wayne Swan (Lilley – QLD)
  • Mike Symon (Deakin)
  • Lindsay Tanner (Melbourne – VIC)
  • Craig Thomson (Dobell)
  • Kelvin Thomson (Wills – VIC)
  • Chris Trevor (Flynn)
  • Jim Turnour (Leichhardt)
  • Maria Vamvakinou (Calwell)
  • Tony Zappia (Makin)

Senators

Australian Capital Territory

  • Kate Lundy

New South Wales

  • Mark Arbib
  • Doug Cameron
  • John Faulkner
    • Elias Bizannes – Nothing Yet Scheduled
  • Michael Forshaw
  • Steve Hutchins
  • Ursula Stephens

Northern Territory

  • Trish Crossin

Queensland

  • Mark Furner
  • Joe Ludwig
  • Jan McLucas
  • Claire Moore

South Australia

  • Don Farrell
  • Annette Hurley
  • Anne McEwen
  • Penny Wong
  • Dana Wortley

Tasmania

  • Catryna Bilyk
  • Carol Brown
  • Kerry O’Brien
  • Helen Polley
  • Nick Sherry

Victoria

  • Kim Carr
  • Jacinta Collins
  • Stephen Conroy
  • David Feeney
  • Gavin Marshall

Western Australia

  • Mark Bishop
  • Chris Evans
  • Louise Pratt
  • Glenn Sterle

Credits

This was inspired by the work of Geoff McQueen and Matthew Landauer. Originally planned as a Google Document, but that doesn’t allow editing by everyone, so this blog post will have to do.

04 Jan 2009

Revisiting Internet Filter Action

So, a bit over a year ago, as we edged closer and closer to voting John Howard out of office, Rudd’s team make the stupid election promise of an internet filter. Exactly a year ago, in anger and frustration, I sent off a letter to Stephen Conroy, the then new Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

Twelve months later, what have we learnt?

  • Conroy is slow to respond to letters.
  • Conroy isn’t particularly good at engaging in reasoned discourse.
  • Conroy is good at staying on message.
  • The internet filter is unlikely to be completely opt-out – there’ll just be two levels.
  • Question Time is a farce and lacking in intelligent discussion.
  • Those passionate about the issue have mobilised, with the EFA, GetUp, Steve Hopkins and Elias Bizannes amongst those leading the way.
  • Trials of internet filters have focused mainly on HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Not IM, peer-to-peer traffic, or newsgroups.
  • ISPs, including iiNet and Internode, are not fans of the proposed legislation
  • The Greens and Liberals aren’t supporting it either. Nick Xenephon seems to be on the fence, and unsurprisingly Stephen Fielding of Family First wants to add legal content to be blocked by the filter.
  • Conroy insists that our filter will be much like those in Sweden and Canada – yet both of those filters, according to the Government’s own feasibility study, are voluntary.
  • There is a live pilot underway.

We’ve had petitions, rallies, phone bombs, emails and letters. It doesn’t seem to be making a dint in Conroy’s plans. I think face-to-face meetings is the best way forward. If your local member is from the ALP, then meet with them. If they’re not, you will have a Senator who is. If you’re uncomfortable about going alone, find some other like-minded souls. A group may well have a larger impact.

If you’re in Melbourne, that’s where Stephen Conroy is based – I’d love to hear some feedback of anyone who has met with him. I’m currently overseas, so I haven’t got around to that yet – I’ve only managed to meet with my then-local member (I’ve since changed electorates), and it was pretty clear that I knew more about the issue than he did.

I’d also recommend not bothering with arguments relating to civil liberties, censorship or keeping legal access to pornography. While I don’t disagree that these are important and valid, it’s not going to win over anyone. Personally, I try to keep the message about how the filter isn’t going to work, just like past filters haven’t worked, and thus it’s a waste of money and time. You need to express understanding that the Government’s goal is laudable, but the approach isn’t. The ends does not justify the means.

Also have alternative plans to suggest – whether that’s recommending parents stay aware of what their children are doing online, an opt-in filter for those who want it, or something like the previous Government’s NetAlert software. (Although that wasn’t downloaded much at all – so is there really the demand for an internet filter?)

Online action is great, but it doesn’t have anything close to the effect that face-to-face communication does. If you really want to make a difference, get into those politicians’ offices.

11 Nov 2008

Filtering Trial Results

The Australian Government’s contentious ‘Clean Feed’ internet censorship proposal has got some media attention lately – and by and large, it’s been rightly critical of Senator Conroy’s plans. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend you read my letters to Conroy and peruse nocleanfeed.com.

In the middle of last year, the previous Government commissioned a closed environment testing trial. The results of these were released recently, and the values have been used by both sides to tout the usefulness/uselessness of filters. Handily, these results are available to the public, so I’ve skimmed through the extensive PDF – although I claim no solid understanding of it all – to figure out where the figures are from.

Firstly, a few facts:

  • Six different filtering approaches were tried (with the codenames Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Theta and Omega).
  • These trials were conducted on a purpose-built network.
  • The network is similar in scale to a Tier 3 ISP.
  • The trials covered speed changes, the effectiveness of blocking blacklisted material, and the valid sites blocked incorrectly.
  • Most filters were only tested against HTTP and HTTPS traffic. Gamma and Omega were also applied to emails, and Delta skipped on HTTPS.

A full grid of numbers is at the bottom of the post, but let’s go through a few comparisons.

Speed vs Blocking

Speed vs Blocking

The speed results here are really mixed. One (Delta) doesn’t drop much at all, but two (Alpha and Gamma) are horrific. All filters manage to block at least 87% of the blacklist – but only Beta comes really close, with 98% (losing a third of the speed in the process though).

Speed vs False Positives

Speed vs False Positives

Note that the scale on the Y Axis drops a bit, but we still get another set of mixed results. None of them are perfect on the false-positives front, and the closest is Gamma on 1.3% – but that comes with severly limited speeds. And really – there are a lot of websites out there. Even 1% covers a fair chunk of the net.

Blocking vs False Positives

Blocking vs False Positives

Here there’s something of a trend, although you have to be looking for it: better blocking effectiveness means a higher number of false positives. That’s not good, people.

Takeaways?

There’s really not that much to work off here, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. The main things to keep in mind are:

  • None of the solutions are perfect.
  • All had issues with false-positives
  • This was done on something approaching a Tier 3 ISP – will the performance speeds decrease if we applied these filters on a Tier 1 or 2 ISP? My money’s on yes.
  • It wasn’t Conroy who commissioned this study, so it can’t be pinned against him.
  • Delta, which is arguably the only viable filter judging by performance, still missed 9% of the blacklisted sites.
  • None of the filters were tested against newsgroups, IM, or peer-to-peer traffic. I’d imagine HTTP/HTTPS filters are relatively easy, so expecting the same performance and effectiveness for other protocols sounds like a pipe dream to me.

Raw Numbers

  Performance Effectiveness
Filter PPI API CPI BRI OBI
Alpha 92% 16% 17% 90% 2.6%
Beta 99% 67% 68% 98% 7.5%
Gamma 98% 14% 14% 87% 1.3%
Delta 99% 98% 100% 91% 2.4%
Theta 78% 76% 99% 95% 7.8%
Omega 101% 79% 78% 94% 2.9%

Glossary of sorts: PPI (Passive Performance Index) is the relative speed when a filter is attached but not running. API (Active Performance Index) is the relative speed when the filter is running. CPI (Change In Performance Index) is API when using PPI as the reference point (instead of uninhibited network speeds). BRI (Blocking Rate Index) is the percentage of blacklisted sites stopped, and OBI (Overblocking Index) is the percentage of friendly sites overzealously blocked.

29 Sep 2008

Link: Aaron Sorkin Conjures a Meeting of Obama and Bartlet

03 Sep 2008

Link: mySociety » Welcome to mySociety.org

Creators of TheyWorkForYou

16 Jul 2008

Correspondance on Censorship

About six months ago, I sent a letter to the Australian Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (yes, that’s a mouthful), Stephen Conroy, raising some concerns with the ISP filtering the Government was proposing.

A few weeks ago, I received a response. It’s overly long, filled with spin and cruft, but hey, that’s better than nothing. There’s still some questions unanswered though, and new ones raised, so here’s my response to the good senator. Fingers crossed for a faster reply.

 

To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

Thank you for your letter dated 26 June 2008, replying to my own concerns sent to your office in January. I appreciate the extensive details on the current Government’s plans for cyber-safety, although I feel a couple of my concerns weren’t addressed. Namely:

  • The reasoning behind using an opt-out filter instead of an opt-in filter;
  • Acknowledgement that this filter will slow down the internet in Australia; and
  • Confirmation that it is the ACMA, not the Government, that determines what sites are filtered.

Secondly, I have some questions from what you outlined in your letter:

  • Who decides the participants in the Consultative Working Group and Youth Advisory Group?
  • What defines success and/or failure for the ISP filtering pilot?
  • Was there consultation with the industry about the feasibility of the filtering? Or is that consultation limited to how best to implement it?

Again, thank you for your response, and I look forward to the continuation of this discussion.

Kind regards,

Patrick Allan

14 Apr 2008

Pangea Day

Prompted by an email from TED, I watched three videos on YouTube this evening – of residents of one country singing the anthems of another country. It’s an awesome idea, and the different approaches really add to it.

These short clips are inspired from an event that’s happening on the 10th of May, Pangea Day. I’d read mentions of it before (probably in TED emails, again), but I only had a browse of the site tonight, and I’m loving the idea:

"Pangea Day is a global event bringing the world together through film.

Why? In a world where people are often divided by borders, difference, and conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of what we all have in common. Pangea Day seeks to overcome that – to help people see themselves in others – through the power of film."

It sounds simple, but I think things like this are really effective. I’m only disappointed that I won’t be home in Melbourne that day – as there’s screenings at Federation Square and Cinema Nova. Nothing so public for Sydney that I’ve found so far…

(Your regular ruby-focused programming will return later in the week.)

Update: Just found a fourth video – Australia for Lebanon!

14 Apr 2008

Link: Unleashed: Who's reading your emails?

"Even though you had the suspicion that the Rudd Labor government would be, well, a little less suspicious, a little less willing to use the power of the state to keep us all in line, that particular bloom has come off the rose."

15 Feb 2008

Exit Right

(A blog post where Pat cheats and just quotes heavily from the book.)

Another book I managed to get through on my break in New Zealand was the latest Quarterly Essay, Judith Brett’s Exit Right: The Unravelling of John Howard. Anyone who knows me well knows that I was extremely happy with Howard’s loss at the end of last year, so reading about what lead to the downfall wasn’t exactly depressing (unlike the excellent Dark Victory, which covers events around the 2001 election).

As well as pointing out the dangers of groupthink and following the party line (paralleling nicely with Cass Sunstein’s Infotopia), Brett had two incisive descriptions which I hadn’t heard clearly before.

The first was about how WorkChoices had such a strong impact for so many voters.

With its new industrial-relations regime the government was trying to change culture, just as Howard had accused the Keating government of doing. And the culture was resisting. The deep problem for the government was that unlike many other areas of policy, when it comes to what happens at work, people have first-hand experience, both their own and that of friends and family. And opinions based on experience are much more firmly held than those based on media reports or government advertising campaigns.

In the long interviews which Antony Moran and I used for our book Ordinary People’s Politics, there was a discernible difference between the way people talked about opinions based on experience and their other political views. On issues of foreign policy, such as the decision to support the US invasion of Iraq, most Australians have little choice but to trust the government. And if the government gets it wrong, it has no immediate impact on their daily lives. It is the Iraqis who are bearing that cost. Even with the children-overboard affair, the fact that the government lied had no immediate impact on Australian voters’ everyday lives.

But changing the power relations in the workplace is a very different matter. In trying to sell the changes to an already-sceptical electorate, the government damaged its more general credibility. If they are giving us spin on things we know first-hand, why should we believe them on anything else? WorkChoices may well be the main reason people seemed to stop listening to the government some time i the first half of 2007.

The second was in regards to Budget promises and the lack of expenditure on services.

The core problem of Australian federalism is vertical fiscal imbalance. What this means is that the federal government raises most of the revenue but the states have the most need of it, with responsibility for services including education, roads, hospitals and police, where there is never enough money. Australia’s federal system involves not just a mismatch of money, but a mismatch of accountability, which is why it is so difficult to fix.

There is a structural fracture between the level of government (federal) which bears the odium of raising taxes, and the level of government (state) which claims the credit for spending the money. There is also endless scope for blame-shifting. Why would a Commonwealth government give more money to the states for public hospitals, for example, or for TAFE colleges, particularly when the states are in the hands of the opposition party and when it can’t control the outcomes? Why wouldn’t it give voters tax cuts for which it will get the credit?

Voters keep saying that instead of tax cuts from the surplus they would prefer the money to be spent on health, education, infrastructure, the environment. But most of this is done by the states, and so doesn’t easily provide the Commonwealth with the type of big-bang policy announcements that tax cuts do. And from the perspective of the Coalition, it’s just giving free kicks to the Labor state premiers and helping them stay in power.

Neither point is ground-breaking, but I found them clear perspectives that I hadn’t encountered before.

14 Feb 2008

Link: Australia 2020 - Nominations

"Every Australian has the opportunity to nominate to attend the Australia 2020 Summit as a member of one the 10 critical areas of discussion."

12 Feb 2008

I'm Sorry

A few notes and links on the Government finally apologising to the indigenous people of Australia, prompted by conversations with Ross via twitter and IM:

  • ‘Sorry’ isn’t the be all and end all – but it’s a good start.
  • Howard’s intervention to ‘save the children’ was a load of bullshit bound for failure – top-down approach, handed down from on high, by white people who don’t have a clue.
  • I don’t have any solutions on how to make things better. But as far as I’m concerned anyone suggesting solutions who doesn’t work with indigenous communities should seriously consider shutting their mouth.
  • There isn’t going to be an easy, clear, simple solution.
  • But there are people out there putting forward intelligent ideas. Go read Chris Graham’s article in Crikey
  • While you’re at it, peruse these articles by Kylie Lee and Claire Smith.
  • Also topical and definitely worth reading – Martin Flanagan on Archie Roach

I’m looking forward to tomorrow morning.

15 Jan 2008

Link: With friends like these ... Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian

Sounds a bit conspiracy-ish, but still, just another reason or two to steer clear of facebook.

13 Jan 2008

Link: [AusNOG] Happy new year / New rules forage-restricted internetand mobile content after the 20th ofjanuary 2008

"The many responses to Government enquiries, Senate Select Committees and newspaper letters to the editor from Industry, civil libertarians, technologists and concerned citizens should, after all this time, make it patently obvious to even the most uninfo

04 Jan 2008

Internet Censorship in Australia

The news about the Government’s plan for an opt-out internet filter has got me pretty incensed, so, for the first time in far too long, I’m sending a letter. Yeah, a proper, printed letter, in an envelope. Apparently that raises the odds that I’ll get a response, but these are politicians we’re dealing with, so I have my doubts.

The main target is Senator Stephen Conroy, but I’ll also be posting off copies to my local member, Kelvin Thomson, and the Chair of the ACMA, Chris Chapman. I was inspired by the EFA’s media release (are you a member of the EFA yet?).

Thanks to those who have provided feedback and discussion points – particularly Anthony Richardson and Jayne. Hopefully what I’ve written below will spur others into action.


To the Honourable Stephen Conroy,

With the recent announcement of the Rudd Government’s plans for a mandatory internet filter, there’s been some discussion in the media, but I have a few concerns that I’d appeciate being addressed.

Firstly, the opt-out nature of the filter. Making the filter opt-out is, I feel, implying the Government of this country doesn’t trust it’s citizens. Will people who request to opt out of the service have their details recorded? Why couldn’t this be an opt-in filter?

And who decides what gets filtered? The Government? Or an independent organisation? Each lobby group and political party will have their own opinions about what should and shouldn’t be blocked by the filter. I’m sure “Who watches the watchers?” is a quote you’ve already heard in regards to this issue, but that doesn’t detract from its relevancy.

Thirdly, the issue of speed. This filter will make browsing the internet slower for Australians – even for those who opt out. Every single request for every part of a web page will have to be checked, first to see if the user requesting the content has opted out, and then if they haven’t, to see if the content requested is censored. Of course, that’s if you’ve got a list of filtered content. If you have some system that determines whether content should be filtered as it’s requested, that’ll definitely be slower.

Let’s keep in mind the fact that Australian broadband is lagging behind the rest of the developed world as it is. Also, the same speed issues will apply even if you have an opt-in service.

Beyond the issues listed above, I also have some skepticism that this filter will be particularly effective. Let’s not forget the how easily the previous Government’s attempt was hacked. And it won’t stop people watching child pornography – they’ll just opt-out of the service. That kind of material is not really a problem for children either – it’s not something they’ll stumble upon.

The (relatively short) history of the internet has shown that it treats censorship as failure, and will route around it (to paraphase John Gilmore). From my questions and concerns above, I think it’s clear that I feel this Government’s (well-meaning) attempt to filter the internet is not only another barrier in the way of decent internet speeds and open content, but also a waste of time and effort.

I look forward to a response to the questions I’ve raised. I would definitely be happy to discuss all this with you in person.

Kind Regards,

Patrick Allan

03 Jan 2008

Link: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Who watches the watchmen?"

02 Jan 2008

Link: EFA Media Release: EFA Attacks Clean-Feed Proposal

"Australia is supposed to be a liberal democracy where adults have the freedom to say and read what they want, not just what the Government decides is 'appropriate' for them.." If you're not a member of the EFA, why not?

01 Jan 2008

2007

Sinfest comic for New Year's Day

I don’t want to bore you all with an extensive recap of 2007, so I’ll keep this footnote of the last year’s highlights relatively brief.

Nullus Anxietas

After a few years planning, we produced the first Australian (and non-UK) Discworld Convention in February – and it was a smashing success. A few hundred attendees, dozens of sessions, a load of fun. We even made a small profit (which is rare for fan conventions) – and we proved the doubters wrong.

Rails and Freelancing

I began the year by switching jobs and finally getting paid to work with Ruby on Rails. Halfway through the year, I started freelancing. I’m really enjoying working from home, on my Mac, using tools and a programming language I enjoy. After far too long wrangling with ASP and ASP.NET, coding is fun again.

RailsCamps

As part of working with Rails, I’ve become involved in the local Ruby communities here in Australia. Through this, there’s been two awesome RailsCamps (and massive props to Ben Askins for leading the way with the first, and helping so generously with the second), and I’ve met a bunch of smart, friendly folk. Networking has become socialising.

Change

The last of my siblings has finished their secondary schooling. My sister’s moving to another state. I’m posting regularly to this blog. Howard’s out – and not much longer to put up with Bush. Climate change is being taken seriously by many governments. There will be a proper apology to the indigenous people of Australia.

What’s next?

For me, 2008 is looking to be a year of travel – to New Zealand for a holiday in a few weeks, and then to Portland for RailsConf, UK and Cambodia to visit friends (and in the case of the former, check out the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and stops to New York and Istanbul will likely feature in there as well.

Freelancing will continue to be challenging as my first big contract ends and I look for new ones, and there’s already plans for more RailsCamps and a second Discworld Convention. I’m looking forward to all of it.

Endless thanks to my family, friends and peers for their support over the past twelve months – you’re all brilliant.

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About Freelancing Gods

Freelancing Gods is written by , who works on the web as a web developer in Melbourne, Australia, specialising in Ruby on Rails.

In case you're wondering what the likely content here will be about (besides code), keep in mind that Pat is passionate about the internet, music, politics, comedy, bringing people together, and making a difference. And pancakes.

His ego isn't as bad as you may think. Honest.

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