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Thread: General/Opinion

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When in doubt, tell the truth. -- Mark Twain

I Think I Feel An Election Coming On


Chronogical Blog Entries:



Date: Mon, 02 Aug 2010 18:19:52 +1000

Once again, it is that time of the electoral cycle ... The time when citizens have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. Since the middle of last month, there have been reports, in our mainstream media about Australian politicians ... Holding babies! ... For those of you who don't pay attention to politics or current affairs, this is always a sure sign that an election is imminent.

Note: This was one of several posts related to Internet Filtering -- Click here to see the Index page.

In previous elections, "IT and communications" have not figured prominently in the campaigns of either the major parties. And, if they have their way ... They won't be issues in this campaign! Two of the big-ticket items for IT and communications would have to be "The Internet Filter" and "Broadband" (or although in Australia that issue would more correctly be described as "pitiful broadband" and in the case of our poor cousins in the bush -- "total lack of broadband").

The government has endeavoured to take the issue of the Internet Filter off the table altogether ... Apparently it's all just too hard ... So they will defer consideration of it ... The opposition won't even mention it. (Note: But now they have --- See Update below).

In fact the opposition leader seems to have struggled with his own inner daemons ... Or, as ABC Drum blogger Annabel Crabbe described it, early in the election campaign ... His "inner parrot" ... A bird of bothersome disposition that sits on his (right) shoulder and from time to time squawks embarrassing home truths whenever topics like industrial relations or abortion are mentioned.

Whether or not the opposition leader's "inner parrot" is a galah or a budgie and whether or not it speaks the truth ... Is entirely a matter of your own political preference, dear reader. However, your humble blogger must opine that the little birdie has squawked loud and long about several non-issues ... Like "Boat People" ... Considering the remarkably small number of them (boat people) in absolute and/or relative terms ... This should be the most insignificant non-issue of all time. Without a constant supply of oxygen from certain hysterical right-wing elements in the media, this little birdie would have been an ex-parrot long ago!

A week or so before the campaign began, Tim Colebatch, economics editor of The Age, wrote an opinion piece, titled Reality Check, in which he discussed the Boat People. The hysteria and loud clamour coming from those certain elements has grown in volume this year ... Because the number of arrivals has tripled!

Gosh! That sounds pretty alarming doesn't it, dear reader? ... But that meant (Mr Colebatch, continued in his opinion piece) that Boat people comprised 1.5 percent of all arrivals in this country ... Yes, you read that correctly, dear reader ... 1.5 percent! ... Although readers of certain tabloids could be forgiven for imagining that it was more like 95 percent.

Nevertheless, this trivial non-issue seems have become a red-hot election issue! The parrot on Ms. Gillard's shoulder has started squawking in sympathy and perfect harmony ... Almost as if it was singing from the same song sheet! Although lately there are signs that debate about new arrivals may start to focus more on the other 98.5 percent of new arrivals that we actually invite here ... And whether or not we can stop inviting them ... Which would be a more honest debate! ... Although, so far all participants have failed to address the fact that we have structured our real estate, banking, tertiary education and our information systems around the premise that there will be a constant stream of new arrivals! Your blogger looks forward to hearing some genuine debate about these issues ... But is probably going to be disappointed.

However, dear reader, your blogger is getting off topic ... Something which he does on occasions ... So, to return to matters of communications and IT ... There are at least two issues which should concern voters who are interested in the issues:


Internet Filtering

Should we be surprised that neither of the major parties has seriously discussed the issue of Internet Filtering? There has been a small amount of debate about the Internet Filter. But most of it has been about the merits of the filter. Which overlooked the much more important issue of feasibility.

In an effort to defuse what looked like a complex and difficult issue, the government has announced that they will defer consideration of the proposal until after the election.

Some of the confusion that exists in the minds of politicians is exhibited in their public utterances on the issue. Most notably, Senator Conroy, who in his own stumbling, mostly incoherent mumblings, seems to have borrowed, improvised and "improved" on a concept that was first floated in the sixties. This is the idea of "RC" or Refused Classification.

And there is some history behind this concept ... Well, in fact, it is a rather long, lamentable, sometimes ludicrous history ... The Commonwealth Of Australia has been diligent about protecting its citizens from "corrupting influences" ... Some would say too diligent ...

It (sort of) came to a head in 1946, when Robert Close, an Australian author who had gained considerable international recognition, was imprisoned for the crime of "obscene libel". He had written some rather saucy literature and it deeply offended those elements of our commonwealth who had taken upon themselves the onerous task of protecting the rest of us from such corrupting influences ... It was tough work ... But someone had to do it! These days far saucier material could be found in a "Mills and Boon" novel ... But back in Ye Olde haughty forties (some) people were outraged. The prison sentence, even though brief, lead to a slow "Arts Rebellion Down Under". Over the years (especially in the sixties) a growing wave of protest from writers and artists made things difficult for censors in Australia, who appeared increasingly ridiculous and out of touch with contemporary values. Eventually, in the seventies, the Whitlam government got rid of censorship (almost) completely ... Instead, films or books were examined by the Office Of Film And Literature, which would issue only a "certificate of classification".

As a legacy of bygone days, there remained the case of a few items that would still be "Refused Classification" ... And without a certificate, they could not be exhibited or sold in Australia. The idea of "RC" has been with us ever since. Of course things have changed a little since the seventies, when the "RC" concept was introduced ... And by that, your blogger means things other than the flairs, wide ties and "Afro" hair styles ... Images and language that would have been quite shocking several decades now feature in mainstream cinemas (and on our TV screens). And the number of "distribution" channels has multiplied considerably.

An even bigger problem is the fact that there is now much more material to be classified and less personnel to do the classifying. It's a serious problem because this quaint and antiquated system will only work if it is capable of classifying (almost) everything!

In the case of the Internet, these difficulties increase by several orders of magnitude. Classifying all the content on the Internet is a very difficult task and requires massive technical resources. Some of the most advanced computer systems in the world are engaged in this task and even the most well-known and successful, such as exists in the the Googleplex in California, have only succeeded in searching a fraction of the total Internet, which in fact consists of billions of websites serving up trillions of webpages, that are changing minute by minute.

And yet the pilot study in this task, conducted by Senator Conroy's own department, came up with a restricted list of only 1000 ...

If we are to believe that it was The List, then it would been akin to putting all of Australia's beaches through a filter in order to filter out a teaspoon of specific grains of sand ... On the other hand if they managed to classify only a tiny fraction of the Internet --- Because it was only a pilot -- Then this poses a problem for the full scale project! They will have to classify the entire Internet a million times faster -- Or it might take half a million years or so to actually complete the classification task!

And even if one has the technical resources for such a project, there is a need for human resources. Even countries like China and Iran, which have large numbers of police and officials checking up on what their citizens view, hear and discuss, find it difficult ... Such is the workload that the Internet presents!

Could it be possible that the geniuses who work in Senator Conroy's office have solved the technical problems? And what about the logistics and human resources?

None of these technical issues can be reduced down to a thirty second sound-bite about making the Internet safe for our children. And that's why neither political party is mentioning such technical details.

To date, politicians have continued to discuss the issue as if it is only a question of whether the government (or one of its instruments) should or should not filter the Internet. None of them have seriously addressed the issue of whether they are capable of filtering the Internet.

And the truth is dear reader, that they are not capable. Many Australian government departments are not even capable of putting together a useful website to conduct their own business ... And you only have to do the math ... Even if ACMA had half a million years to classify the entire Internet, they don't have the human resources to enforce an effective censorship regime, and thankfully they never will.

If a nation like China, which devotes so much of its human and economic resources to trying to control what people say, hear and view, cannot filter the Internet, you can be sure that Senator Conroy and his merry men will not do any better. Despite the great firewall of China, which is ostensibly in place to protect their citizens from (they say) pornography and computer crime, China is rapidly become a renowned major centre for both.

The Internet has always and will continue to defy centralised restrictions. Which is exactly what it was designed to do. The intent of the fledging defence network designed last century was that it would be decentralised and contain sufficient redundancy to be self-repairing and capable of withstanding massive shocks (like nuclear war). Of course since then the Internet has become a conduit for commerce and trade and arguably more fragile. Nevertheless in the absence of universal and effective International agreements, the only sensible place for an "Internet Filter" is on the client's workstation. Filtering the Internet is about as feasible as filtering the entire ocean.

And even though it has been taken off the agenda, the election is an excellent time to make sure that the Internet Filter is "Dead Buried and Cremated", as a certain opposition leader said so colourfully, if achronistically. In fact we should make sure that the ashes are then mixed into concrete and sunk into a deep sea trench!

Furthermore the government's misguided and ill-informed plans to filter the Internet do detract from another one of their initiatives which might have some merit ... And that is the National Broadband Network.


National Broadband Network

The National Broadband Network (NBN) was proposed by Labor after they failed to reach agreement with Telstra. It has been estimated that it will cost 43 Billion dollars.

The opposition say, that if they are elected, they will scrap the NBN.

So, at least in this regard there is a clear difference between the two major parties.

According to the parrot on Mr. Abbot's shoulder the NBN is a huge waste of tax-payer's money. But ... According to the parrot on Ms Gillard's shoulder the Liberal party will "pull the plug" on the National Broadband Network!

And there may be an element of truth in what both of those parrots sing ...

Generally speaking, governments do waste money, especially when spending on large public projects. One only has to look at the extraordinary amount of money that has been allocated and already spent on getting computers into schools and the equally remarkable lack of actual computers so far. Had families or schools been buying the computers, they would have got more computer hardware for less cash.

But there is a good case for the NBN. The parlous state of Australia's broadband has come about because of poor decisions in regard to Telstra. The only way that Australia will get a decent broadband infrastructure is if Telstra's monopoly is broken. And the National Broadband Network should do that --- with a vengeance!

If anything casts a shadow on the NBN, it would be concerns about the competence of the government agencies that implement and/or fund the roll-out. This is especially true of Senator Conroy, who has shown such remarkable ineptitude and poor judgement in regard to the Internet Filter.

But the opposition promise to dismantle the NBN, will take us back to the status quo. That would entrench Telstra's monopoly and put an end to any hope that Australia will have a modern broadband network in the near future ... And for this reason alone the Coalition deserve to be put down the lower end of your preferences (if broadband and communications is a big ticket item for you).


So there you have it dear reader. Possibly the only party that has a clear position on these issues is The Sex Party. Well in any case since they are funded by sections of the "Adult Entertainment" industry, the Sex Party's position is understandable. ... Would that be the missionary position? ... Or perhaps your humble blogger shouldn't go there ...

Probably the only place we will get any genuine debate on these issues is the Senate, so that is where your vote will count dear reader. We can only hope that if whichever party wins the election is still foolish enough to press on with the idea, the senate has the good sense to strangle the Internet Filter at birth rather than cobble together a hideous mutant, nugatory and expensive white elephant that will be just another burden on people who want to use the Internet to make a living.

And in this regard, having made your decision, it is important to vote below the line rather than above the line on the senate ballot paper. Of course it means a lot more work for you and the people who have to count the ballots, and it means that it will take much longer to get a result ... But it is the only way that you will get to truly express your political preference.

For example, if you decided that you like "The Greens" and then you are leaning towards "The Sex party", and then you think you like the "Family First" party ... And then thought maybe "The Liberal Party" ... Well then dear reader, in all humility, your blogger must say you would be one unusual, possibly confused, swinging voter! ... And the only way you would express that choice would be to vote below the line! ... It's a lot more work for you also ... And, you should go back and count all the squares to make sure that you haven't missed a number ... Because if you do, your vote would be invalid! But that's the price of democracy! Eternal vigilance!

But even if you have more "normal" preferences, if you vote above the line on the senate ballot paper, you must depend on the deals that the various parties come to about "preferences". It was as a result of just such a preference swap that the Labor Party was saddled with Senator Fielding ... Which surely must qualify as "poetic justice" ... If not as being "hoisted on one's own Petard?

And speaking of Truth, Family First, Sex and preferences (though not necessarily in that order), your blogger must say that there were rumours going around that Family First approached the Sex party about a preference deal ...

A spokesman for Family First Senator Steve Fielding has confirmed a staff member met the Sex Party but also met all other parties to discuss policy and candidates for the election.

-- ABC News Website

Interestingly enough, in a follow-up story that day, a Family First spokesperson stated that they (Family First) had "only rung" the Sex Party in order to "Say Hello" (Reported on RN Morning Show by Fran Kelly) ... Which is really nice and thoughtful ... Your humble blogger thinks that political parties should all ring each other up and say "hello" from time to time.

Later, Family First declared that they had contacted the Sex Party to make sure that they didn't inadvertently preference them ... And actually they were going to put them last!

And here your blogger can't resist speculating that the Sex party rejected Family First's overtures and leaked the details to the media ... And they say that politics makes strange bedfellows? Oh dear! Truth, Sex and politics ... Your humble blogger definitely is not going to go there!


Update 2010-08-06

The Liberal Party have finally made an official announcement about the Internet Filter. On the Triple J Hack program, Joe Hockey announced that they would not support the Internet Filter. In his words he said "The ISP Filter does not work" ... They would "encourage families to take a more active role" in filtering content.

In a previous blog, your blogger discussed the Internet Filter, as a "wedge issue", which was originally deployed by the Labor party in the previous election ... Today, it seems, Labor have been wedged by their own wedge.

The timing of the announcement seems to have been calculated to create maximum damage ... Two weeks before the election, giving the government very little chance of doing a back-flip, without appearing foolish ... The choice of spokesman and venue could hardly have been better (for the Liberal Party).

For the Labor Party, the irony is that, amongst the minority of people who actually support the Internet Filter, very few feel strongly enough about it, or even understand the issue sufficiently, to alter their voting intention because of it ... Most supporters of the Internet Filter will vote Liberal (or Family First?) regardless of Labor's policy.

On the other hand, the Liberal Party policy, announced on Triple-J, by their most "user-friendly" face, is right on target, on exactly the right venue, at exactly the right time of the campaign ... To cause maximum damage.

If the election is as "close" as both sides would have us believe, this wedge issue could give the Coalition a winning margin ... We will find out in two weeks time.


Update 2010-08-10

In the last fortnight of the election, the Coalition has announced their broadband policy. Their plan, which they claim will deliver better value for money, will upgrade portions of the existing back-bone and will rely on private investment and additional wireless technology to deliver the service to customers.

According to the leader of the Opposition, the government's plan is too expensive and they cannot be trusted to roll out such a large project. The leader of the opposition seems to be of the opinion that no government can be trusted to roll out such a large scale project, since they don't want to do it themselves.

Since we have already seen that Telstra can't be trusted, voters are left wondering, who can we trust?

The plan itself is short on detail. It does not mention how it will tackle the elephant in the room which is Telstra. The high price tag on the NBN is the price that we must pay for past mis-management of the privatisation of Telstra.

At last it seems that voters do have a clear choice between the parties on these issues.


Update 2010-08-12

Tim Colebatch, Economics Editor of The Age analysed the coalition budget, allowing for the election promises, and came to the conclusion that they would improve the budget balance by just 0.1 percent ... All that money spent! ... And no NBN!

Also that night, a remarkable documentary by Dick Smith, Australian entrepreneur and aviation adventurer, focussed on the "population question". And asks why is it that neither party seem to want to have a serious discussion of the issue.


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