The policy race to “fuck off, we’re full”

This morning’s astounding announcement from Opposition Immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison on asylum seekers policy affirms we’re the land of “fuck off we’re full”, not the land of compassionate treatment of those in need with “boundless plains to share”.

This is not my Australia. These are not my beliefs. I despair for my nation and the state of our polity, as we descend ever further into this unpleasant, adolescent approach to empty policy designed to appeal to an ignorant, uninformed minority. Labor is little better, and I often wonder how sick to the stomach many of the people in parliament across the political spectrum must feel as this race continues to descend ever lower. Surely this was not why they entered politics? Surely it’s only a matter of a little time before the camel’s back breaks and a revolt among parliamentarians occurs.

Back when I did refugee work for the Department of Immigration, there was a model (based on the then Canadian approach, and similar to that currently proposed by The Greens) that was known to work, encouraged people to be compassionate, quickly identified genuine refugees, and kept us to our Convention and Protocol obligations. Then, the government at the time introduced mandatory detention and things went downhill from there, driving me and many others from the department.

We could have a working, compassionate refugee program, but successive governments have chosen not to in order to appeal to a deliberately uninformed, scared minority of mostly white people in socioeconomically depressed marginal electorates.

Current refugee policy in this country, and many others (NZ, UK, US and a lot of Europe) is no longer about managing refugees, and is entirely about politics and power.

If the LNP Coalition comes to power on September 7, we will get at least three years of hateful government beholden to focus groups and big business who will govern for power not for the good of the nation.

The temptation to leave the country of my birth behind and take my family somewhere that hate is not the norm is strong. The right thing to do, of course, is stand up against this and other policies that are awful. I now quite regret not acting on my instinct to stand in the current election.

What now for Australian politics?

My personal politics are fairly well-known, I don’t seek to keep my allegiances too close to my chest. However, this post is about politics more generally, and what I’m thinking about as we, in the words of my wise godfather, Michael Pusey, “slide down the razor blade of life towards our inevitable end”; that end being the impending federal election.

First, I’d argue the polls, multitudinous as they are, lack meaning without discussion (which is why the media polls are provably without point; you can do the statistical and uncertainty analysis on them, and they rarely influence or shift opinion), so long as we all remain cogent and adult, and discuss policy over personality. I think there’s little hope of that happening given the execrable state of our media. Even the nation’s flagship nightly current affairs program has abrogated it’s responsibility when Leigh Sales asks incessant questions about leadership speculation rather than dissecting policy and seeking for truth.

This weeks’ machinations, those of the past, and the equally innumerable shifts of leadership on the other side of the House make little difference to me. They simply firm my view that both major parties have abandoned policy platforms and a desire to make a difference to the nation, in favor of personalities and overweening, cold-eyed ambition. A change of leader, for any party, won’t change my vote. As a policy wonk from way back, I’m interested in what parties will do and stand for, over personalities and the misleading construct most of the voting public seem to have been fooled into – that they vote for (and in any way influence) the choice of Prime Minister. Go back to 7th Grade and re-do basic Civics! (oh, we don’t have a decent Civic curriculum in this nation…)

I’ve been asked if my vote will change this week in order to seek a better outcome for my business. If we all voted in the best interests of our businesses, we’d probably largely vote Liberal in this country. However, my vote is always in context, and there are a wealth of other considerations – social policy, foreign relations, climate, environment, and the generation of what’s generally referred to as “social goods” by progressive economists like Umair Haque (I recommend you read his New Capitalist Manifesto and Betterness).

For me, these things are far more important overall than immediate policy benefit for acidlabs. I’m a firm believer in doing good work with and for people you believe in and that the benefits come.

For those critical of the functioning of the 43rd Parliament, I’m not certain you can justifiably call the current parliament dysfunctional. It’s passed more legislation than any previous parliament. Those calling it ineffective on the basis of a minority government and the need to ensure equitable legislative agendas in order to gain passage on the vote of cross-benches, aren’t paying adequate attention.

This parliament and similar ones elsewhere, such as northern Europe, where either grand coalitions or equitable agreements are necessary in order to pass legislation, are almost universally successful in prosecuting legislative agendas that achieve the best results for the majority of the populace.

If anything, this parliament has been notable for its success in getting nation-changing policies made into law. Our nation will be a better place for carbon trading, the NDIS, the NBN, education funding reform, and maintaining an economy that’s inarguably the envy of most of the Western world on a subjective basis.

What’s not worked, and will be remembered before the good things, are those issues where rightwards creep, kowtowing to big business, and poll-driven politics has been at play – our unjust, and illegal under our international obligations, treatment of asylum seekers, the continued failure of decent treatment of indigenous Australians and our failure to recognise their presence and rights in the Constitution, our failure to lead the world on delivering marriage equality despite overwhelming public support, a tax on super-profits that the government allowed the rentseekers in mining to gut so they’d almost never have to pay up, and the rampant mistreatment of women not just in politics, but still in many parts of society and economy.

The last three years have seen a very effective parliament, a highly productive economy with incredibly low debt in comparison to our global peers, and many legislative changes to improve society that we should be proud of as a nation.

Think about that on polling day, whatever your politics.

Telstra out of NBN. And deservedly so.

So, in news this morning, it appears that the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, has made one of its few bright decisions for the year in excluding Telstra’s bid from the National Broadband Network. I’m no telco pundit, but as an interested citizen who will be affected by the NBN and any Telstra involvement, I do have an opinion.

News stories at the ABC and Australian IT confirm that Telstra Chairman, Donald McGauchie, is less than delighted. Tough, frankly. The bid was incomplete and trivialised the process as well as the importance of the NBN itself. Telstra’s last-minute, recycled bid was an act of corporate contempt at best. This sort of behavior on the part of big corporates does not win friends and influence people.

The contempt with which senior Telstra management treated NBN was unconscionable and a remarkable display of corporate hubris. It flies in the face of the corporate culture that we in the connected world can see that Telstra people on the ground are trying to foster with the changes at Now We Are Talking and the use of tools like Twitter and @BigPondTeam to really connect with customers.

Good numbers of the workers have made mistakes, learned and moved on from their old ways to a much better, more open and connected organisation. The senior management continues to believe that being, to quote a trading phrase, “big swinging dicks”, is going to get them what they want. I hope that the Federal Court tells Telstra to pull their heads in when the inevitable case comes before the Full Bench.

Interestingly, the cultural changes, which were detailed in a recent article in AFR Boss, don’t seem to be being lived by the senior management…

My friend, Stilgherrian, has more analysis.

Is this among the final nails?

Wow what a picture.
Originally uploaded by scriptingnews

I’d argue it’s possibly one of the most important pics of the campaign. Click through to Dave Winer’s post about it, and then onto the flickr page and look at the full size version. It’s quite the image.

Germany is a longstanding, important, strategic US ally in central Europe and Obama gets out his biggest crowd yet – news reports are saying 200,000!

I wonder who moderate Europe wants as the next US President?

Right now, after Obama’s successful trip to the Middle East and now Europe, John McCain must be wondering what he’s got to do to get a vote.

2020 Summit fails Australia on connectedness

My friend, Stilgherrian, has posted a scathing analysis of the final report of the 2020 Summit. He’s particularly disappointed with the Summit’s failure to address and take advantage of the power of the Internet to build connections between disparate communities and between the government and its constituency.

I couldn’t agree more.

My views on the ongoing failure of government at all levels in Australia to really engage online are public and published here. That said, the 2020 Summit was a real opportunity for the Rudd government to take positive steps in the way it connects people with service providers, policy-linked activity and each other. But, yet again, it looks like failure on a grand and blinkered scale.

I am deeply disappointed, but really not at all surprised. Once again the no idea, safe option has been taken without a gutsy leap forward.

Australian politicians and policy-makers really have no idea about how to use the Internet. Largely, they are stuck in 1995 and interested only in broadcast messages and policy brochureware.

They are certainly nowhere near what the Kiwis and Brits (amongst a lot of other online constituent-linked activity, No 10 has a Twitter account and uses it to talk with people!) are doing and light years from where someone like Texas Republican Representative, John Culberson is, using Twitter, podcasting, blogging and more to, as he says, put “We the People in every room in Washington”.

That’s not to say that things couldn’t be different here. They could. I personally know a significant number of smart people, working on the ground in Federal Government departments who get the power of the Internet and could facilitate powerful communication and connection efforts between their organisations and their constituencies if only they were allowed to…

Yes We Can. But can we in Australia?

This is why politics in America is such a hot subject. Passionate, statesmanlike speakers with a real message of change and hope. Beyond that, inspiring others to participate and get the message out. Will.I.Am of the Black-Eyed Peas has put together something special here – I’ve watched it several times and still choke up. It’s very reminiscent of the feelings I get when I hear We Are the World or Do They Know It’s Christmas?, perhaps even more powerfully so.

Barack Obama truly excites me as a politician. He is articulate and inspiring and can write his own stuff – the 2004 Democratic Convention speech that really brought him into the spotlight was his own work. His books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream were two of the most affecting things I have ever read.

But we have nobody in Australia that inspires anything like this kind of passion in the public, nor anyone delivering a message remotely inspiring. Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong both spoke eloquently at the Bali Climate Change Summit, but they were dead boring. Wong’s speech in particular was sleep-inducing – all the right words and no emotion whatsoever.

I hold out hope that the Australia 2020 Summit can bring to the fore some new and inspiring voices for change in Australia.

Laurel also has some thoughts on this issue, as does ServantOfChaos’ Gavin Heaton.

Dumb decision by our new government over ‘Net filtering

Government of any color will never learn – they’re not interested enough in the Internet and its technology to really understand the futility of this at a technical level. Yesterday’s announcement verifying the Australian Federal Government will be mandatorily requiring ISPs to filter the nastiness from the ‘Net is plain and simple stupidity. Not only is it simply not achievable, it’s nanny stating at its worst and significantly limiting of free speech (something we don’t have a guaranteed right to in Australia AFAIK).

I had higher hopes for these people. I thought they were smart enough to realise this was unachievable and bad policy. It’s definitely not Government 2.0 as defined by William Eggers.

My question has several parts, similar to others’ questions. Specifically:

  • what is to be filtered? I’m all for eliminating child porn and unfettered violence against the defenceless, but consenting adults watching others having sex or engaging in Ultimate Fighting is fine by me (even if I’m not interested). Fringe opinion of all sorts may not be tasteful to me and others of a similar mind, but I absolutely reject that there should be protections against expression of that opinion.
  • who decides what is to be filtered and on what basis? The AFP? The ACMA? Some other classification body? Parliament? What are the criteria and where are they published? Is there publicly visible appeal mechanism?
  • how will the filter be implemented, at what cost and to whom? In Australia’s ISP market, the implementation cost is likely to be passed to the consumer and that’s not on. Our Internet costs are already too high.
  • why is the system opt-out rather than opt-in and what happens to the list of those that opt out? This strikes me as a risky approach where those that opt out could be branded as wanting access to inappropriate material rather than wanting open access for legitimate reasons. That is an unacceptable risk.

As a civil libertarian (I’m a member of both EFA and the EFF) who opposes censorship, I think decisions about appropriateness of content ought to be in the hands of the consumer, and not the government. I also believe we should be educating our children about the Internet and appropriate use of it. My 10 year old daughter uses an unfiltered feed at home, however as her parent I (and my wife) discuss with her the fact that there is inappropriate material on the ‘Net and that she needs to be aware of it. We don’t show it to her, but we do discuss it in age-relevant terms and the computer she uses is in a public part of the house. We actively parent rather than letting the PC be a babysitter.

I get why the government has taken this step. It’s good politics. It panders to the masses who don’t understand this is impossible. And it’s bad politics to be lecturing parents that use PCs as babysitters to take an interest in their kids and get involved as parents. That doesn’t get you elected (or reelected).

I’m annoyed and disappointed along with Duncan Riley (also at TechCrunch), Nick Hodge, Mike Seyfang, Gary Barber, Kathryn Greenhill, Jasmin Tragas, James Farmer and Michael Kordahi.

Oh, there’s a Facebook group protesting about the decision.