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[As it turns out, my planned Budget commentary for Crikey didn’t happen. I got up early in San Jose, read the budget papers and made notes, but then my as-yet-unwritten article got spiked. This is a quick and somewhat belated post based on my notes, not as polished as it might have been if written for Crikey.]

Photo of Budget 2013-2014 papers: click for official government budget websiteThe problem with Australia’s Labor government is that after having had One Big Idea for a bold new future in the National Broadband Network (NBN), they’ve come up with almost nothing anywhere else. This year’s federal budget was a dull plod. Again.

There was even one move which struck me as remarkably dumb: capping the available tax deductions for self-education expenses at just $2000 a year. Apparently that saves $500 million, and that’ll go to the schools — and schools are good for the kiddies, of course — but that’s half a billion dollars less for people to be able to keep up with a rapidly-changing work environment.

This strikes me as particularly stupid when so many of the people servicing the computers, networks and other technology that powers small business are often freelancers, as are so many web developers and designers.

Two grand a year doesn’t go far when it costs nearly half that just to attend the annual user conference for just one of your core software toolsets — more if you have to add airfares and accommodation — and the rest would soon be burnt up on a handful of reference books.

Back when I used to work in various management and staff development roles, I was told that any organisation that wants to advance its knowledge base should be spending at least 5% of its time on staff development. In a technology field, in my opinion, that should be at least 10%. That’s four hours a week, or a week or so every three months.

That still doesn’t sound very much, but it’d cost at least four times that capped amount. And that’s still not compensating freelancers for the loss of billable hours.

“Business and training groups have already said capping the expenses will stop employers from being able to offer staff new training initiatives. There were reports [the week before the budget that] the government would end up reversing the move, but the budget papers now state the change is locked-in,” wrote Patrick Stafford at SmartCompany.

“The announcement is sure to raise the ire of small business groups. Many business owners also use these deductions for short courses and industry-based training sessions.”

There’s two particularly galling lines in the budget papers themselves. First, the tax deductions are now only available…

…where these expenses are incurred in the production of the taxpayer’s current assessable income.

So you’re discouraged from educating yourself for the jobs that will become available even in the very near future. Why?

The potential for uncapped claims for a wide range of expenses provides an opportunity for some people to enjoy significant private benefits at taxpayers’ expense.

Orly? That’s a bit rich, given that vast sums already given to private schools. Or the “baby bonus” that people on quite significant household incomes still get for extruding another brat. That simply reeks of hypocrisy.

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ZDNet Australia logo: click for The Full TiltThe Patch Monday podcast that I was producing for ZDNet Australia is no more. It has been replaced by a new weekly column, The Full Tilt, appearing every Thursday.

In The Full Tilt, Stilgherrian delivers an undiluted dose of criticism and analysis of the ways digital technology is changing our world and the spin that goes with it. Mostly in words — sometimes in audio or video formats — always cynical.

Yes, this is the sky-shouting column we were trying to name.

The first installment is Australia’s National Security Strategy? Or Labor’s election-year cyber gimmick?, in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard becomes Queen Boudica, saving us from the cyber-Romans, and builders are supplied with amphetamines No Doz [it seems I got edited]. Yeah, it’s a talent.

So why was Patch Monday dropped? It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a media outlet like ZDNet Australia would be under financial pressures. The simple fact is that my written words pull in a bigger audience than the podcast. And from my point of view, the podcast took far longer to produce than a written article generating the same income.

That said, The Full Tilt will include the occasional audio or video piece, though we’ve yet to decide when and why that will happen.

[Update 1900 AEDT: Edited to reflect the fact that article got edited. It’s not such a talent after all.]

My first op-ed for CSO, “The Resource for Data Security Executives”, has just been posted. It’s voluntary ISP-level internet filtering, but a different angle from my Crikey piece earlier today.

After nearly four chaotic years, Australia’s internet filtering scheme is finally coming together in a way that makes sense technically and politically, if not necessarily for effective child protection.

The chaos wasn’t all communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy’s fault. The “clean feed” was announced as Labor policy back in March 2006 by then-leader Kim Beazley. ISPs would filter out the nasties hosted overseas, where they couldn’t be hit with a takedown notice from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

But Conroy’s name was on Labor’s Plan for Cyber-safety published just five days out from the federal election in late 2007, and once in government it was Conroy’s job to explain that plan and sell it to voters. Everyone presumably imagined it’d be a protect-the-kiddies no-brainer.

Problem was, neither the plan not Conroy’s explanations were clear…

As I say, it’s my first outing for CSO, but if all goes according to plan there’ll be more. And in case you’re wondering, CSO is a job title. Chief Security Officer.

A weekly summary of what I’ve been doing elsewhere on the internets. Well, a fortnightly summary today, because I forgot to do a post like this last week. Sigh.

Actually, a lot of this relates to the federal election here in Australia, so you’d better digest it all now before you vote today. Hurry up!

Articles

Podcasts

  • Patch Monday episode 52, “Media laws dying for digital update” with guest Peter Black from the Queensland University of Technology.
  • Patch Monday episode 53, “Understanding the broadband election” with guest Narelle Clark, a network engineering consultant who’s most recent gig was as research director of the CSIRO’s Networking Technologies Laboratory. She’s also vice-president of the Internet Society of Australia and on the board of trustees for the Internet Society globally.
  • A Series of Tubes episode 115. Host Richard Chirgwin talks with Anup Changaroth of Ciena Networks about gigabit fibre networks, the product life cycle, and the value of Layer 2 carrier networks, and me about broadband policy.

Media Appearances

[Photo: Tights are not pants, Enmore Road. Further proof, Ladies, that tights are indeed not pants. Not even if you’re also wearing heels.]

The Labor Party has removed their pre-election policy on internet censorship from the ALP website, so here it is. Labor’s Plan for Cyber Safety (November 2007) [61kB PDF].

This policy, with Senator Stephen Conroy listed as the author, was a last-minute addition to the ALP’s policies in the final weeks before the 2007 federal election.

(You can also still find it via this Internet Archive snapshot taken the day before the election, but it’s always good to have a spare, right?)

I’m posting this because I’ll be referring to it in various articles over the next few weeks. Stand by.

ZDNet Australia logo: click for story

A report from the Australian Computer Society’s Filtering and E-Security Task Force, the drab-named but quite readable Technical Observations on ISP Based Filtering of the Internet, is going to be a handy weapon in Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy’s battle over internet censorship.

Well, so I reckon.

In a backgrounder for ZDNet today, ACS filter report just what Conroy needs, I run through a quick history of Labor’s mandatory Internet filtering policy, and show how Conroy can use the report to kill the project or kill the criticism — depending on what he needs at the time politically.

Stilgherrian’s links for 31 January 2009, arranged by intensity of floral attitude:

  • Twittering away standards or tweeting the future of journalism? | Reuters Blogs: Reuters News editor David Schlesinger tweets from Davos, beats his own news wires, and then blogs about the experience. If Twitter is changing journalism, his response is “Bring it on!”
  • The LEGO Turing Machine | YouTube: The Turing Machine was a hypothetical computing device created by Alan Turing in 1936 to explain basic theoretical concepts in computing. While very simple, a Turing Machine is mathematically equivalent to any other general purpose computer, if slower. So, these guys have built one using LEGO Mindstorms components. The video has a bonus soundtrack via The A-Team.
  • A radical idea: Charge people for your product | 37signals: The blog post is from November 2008, but the message is current given all the media flutter about Twitter — which has yet to earn a single dollar of revenue. Need income? Um, charge for your product!
  • FORA.tv: “Videos Covering Today’s Top Social, Political, and Tech Issues.” I haven’t checked them out properly yet, so this is really a reminder to self.
  • GoodBarry: These guys provide an integrated “Software as a Service” (SaaS) system for small business, covering eCommerce, content management (CMS), customer relationship management (CRM), email marketing and analytics. All hooked together, and all at good prices. I’m checking them out for a client.
  • Life Matters’ Mandatory Internet Filter Transcript | Off Topic with Ashley: An unofficial transcript of ABC Radio National’s Life Matters program with network engineer Mark Newton and Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby.
  • Mandatory internet filter | ABC Life Matters: On Thursday, ABC Radio National’s Life Matters interviewed network engineer Mark Newton and Jim Wallace, Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby. Audio available for download.
  • The Economy According To Mint | TechCrunch: Mint is an online accounting system for consumers. Tracing their 900,000 customers through 2008 shows how their spending patterns have changed as the Global Financial Crisis worsens.
  • Labor’s “deafening silence” as web censorship trials delayed | theage.com.au:
  • Newspapers Saw the Digital Train A-Coming | Advertising Age: Bradley Johnson points out that the newspapers themselves were exploring digital delivery of news in the 1980s, but failed to do anything about it in terms of reviewing their business models.
  • OpenNet Initiative: “ONI’s mission is to identify and document Internet filtering and surveillance, and to promote and inform wider public dialogs about such practices.”
  • The Unmistakable Smell Of Decay | newmatilda.com: With the NSW Labor zombie army smelling worse all the time, party hacks are considering swapping their front-line cadaver, writes Bob Dumpling.

Here are the web links I’ve found for 29 January 2009, posted automatically with some manual editing and lubricants.

  • Media 09: I’ll be going to this and liveblogging on 13 February. “Media 09 is a one-day international gathering of the world’s leading digital media executives and entrepreneurs, showcasing global best practice in digital media innovations. Media 09 is designed to assist you shape successful digital media content offerings, business models, and advertising appeal to make the best weather of these turbulent times.”
  • Labor’s Plan for Cyber-Safety | Australian Labor Party: This is the actual text of the ALP’s policy, as it was stated for the 2007 federal election. Note on page 5 that the policy talks about it being mandatory to “offer” a “clean feed”, not make it compulsory.
  • 2007 policy documents | Australian Labor Party: The complete official ALP policy documents for the 2007 federal election are listed under “downloads” on this page.
  • Modern Security Thinkers | Kotare: A list of current thinkers in the realm of strategy and security. Much to explore.
  • SYN: Student Youth Network: Launched in January 2003, SYN is proudly Melbourne’s only independent youth media organisation. SYN broadcasts on 90.7 FM, and has 5 hours per week on Channel 31 community TV. Plus there’s a regular email newsletter and this website. I shall explore further!
  • Netspace’s Government ISP Filtering Survey Results: When asked “Do you agree with the Federal Government’s policy to make ISP level filtering mandatory for all Australians?”, 79% of respondents said they disagreed or strongly disagreed. There were 9700+ respondents, roughly 10% of Netspace’s customer base.
  • Time Line of Mandatory ISP Filtering Proposals 2003-2006 | Electronic Frontiers Australia: An invaluable chronology of the current push for mandatory Internet filtering in Australia. It all really does seem to have started with Clive Hamilton.
  • How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture | AlterNet: Yes, the new edition of the US Army’s field manual still permits the torture of “unlawful enemy combatants”, that strange new category of people invented by the US to circumvent the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

Photograph of Anthony Albanese MP

Here’s my letter to my federal MP Anthony Albanese (pictured), which this very moment is rolling off his fax machine.

I’m hoping that Mr Albanese will be able to have some impact on this because he is both Minister for Infrastructure — the Internet is key infrastructure, right? — and Leader of the House of Representatives.

I know that he understands human rights issues because … well, us Marrickville folks just do understand these things, right Anthony? And you certainly knew how to stick it into John Howard when he demonstrated cluelessness.

Like Mark Newton, I also release this letter into the public domain.

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Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy labelled Cnut of the Week

Last night‘s Stilgherrian Live viewers voted Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured) “Cnut of the Week” by the clearest margin ever. But the actions of his office reported this morning really take the biscuit.

As Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy has been spokesman for the ALP’s policy of ISP-level filtering of the Internet. I’ve written about this before, but it’s back in the news this week because it was discussed in Senate Estimates, as Michael Meloni reports.

Conroy, as in December, was accusing critics of the policy like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam of supporting child pornography — a cheap rhetorical trick at the best of times.

This morning, though, news broke that Conroy’s office had tried bullying other critics.

Internode’s Mark Newton was highly critical of the filtering plan and Conroy’s evidence, but he was speaking as a private citizen. It was totally inappropriate for Conroy’s policy advisor Belinda Dennett to attempt to pressure him via Internet Industry Association board members and his employer.

Last year, Senator Conroy agreed with his Coalition predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan, when she said you get into trouble when politicians start picking technologies. Problem is, the ALP’s “cyber-safety” policy specifies “ISP filters that block prohibited content”. Conroy’s stuck with it. But the filters clearly don’t work. And he can’t be seen to back away from Internet filtering — in a trial program which, ironically, was scheduled by his predecessor — because the ALP needs the votes of Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Senator Nick Xenophon for other things.

Poor bloke. What is he to do?

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