Australia’s Budget 2013 keeps us stuck in the past

[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.

Continue reading “Australia’s Budget 2013 keeps us stuck in the past”

Goodbye “Patch Monday”, introducing “The Full Tilt”

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.]

CSO: Voluntary filtering removes the controversy

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.

Weekly Wrap 10 and 11

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.]