Telstra split and Brendan Nelson: 2008 predictions revisited

Sol Trujillo: photo courtesy Telstra

I’ve read so much about the Telstra break-up this week, and written and spoken about it so much, that my brain’s still fizzing. But here’s one thing: I predicted this more than a year ago!

On 2 January 2008 I wrote, as part of my Predictions for 2008:

Telstra will be forced to separate its wholesale and retail businesses. Meanwhile the Sol Trujillo-led management team will continue to play nasty with the government, causing them to be increasingly sidelined — especially over the Rudd government’s new broadband rollout.

OK, I got the timing wrong. But it does seem that I was reading the signs correctly.

Looking back at those predictions, I’m saddened to see that former defence minister Brendan Nelson hasn’t been investigated for his role in that deal to buy $6 billion worth of Super Hornet fighter aircraft — even if someone has since pointed me to their potential use in an electronic warfare role — but has instead been made ambassador to the EC, NATO, Belgium and Luxembourg, and special representative to the World Health Organisation.

Not quite the outcome I was after, unless some Eurospook’s going to give the good Dr Nelson a thorough probing in Brussels.

If that happens, I don’t want pictures.

So, I’m updating my 2008 predictions score to 56.25%, which is now a pass instead of a fail. That’s fair, right?

[Photo: Former Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo, courtesy Wikipedia. I’m so thoroughly confused by the implications of the licensing on that image and a recent Creative Commons report on how people define “non-commercial” that I’ll just say this post is licensed by whatever Creative Commons license it needs to be to shut everyone up. FFS write in Plain English, people!]

Bonus links: This week’s writing about Telstra

On political reporting

Crikey logo

Crikey‘s Bernard Keane has written a magnificent 2000-word wrap of the year in Australian politics, 2008: Dashed dreams and mouldy political compromise. Every sentence is worth reading — but especially his observations about the links between politicians and the media.

Politics is more or less based around people of high principles and good will discovering that the obtaining and exercising of power involves doing bad things, distasteful things, amoral things, involves unpleasant trade-offs and not just the famous half-loaves of compromise but stale, mouldy crusts. And it’s all the more that way because its symbiotic partner, its Siamese twin the media, dislikes complexity and nuance, in favour of the same simple narratives, repeated with an ever-changing cast of characters but the same plots and moral lessons over and over again. That’s what sells. And what gets votes.

It’s the media’s job, or one of them, to make much of little and it has done that expertly for much of the year, as it does always. History suggests that, barring incompetence on an inordinate scale, Labor will be in power for several terms, but that’s not going to attract many eyeballs. Instead, the most minor political events are forensically analysed, with each tiny feature placed under the microscope so that it looms large to the viewer despite its irrelevance. Recall The Australian’s concerted push for Peter Costello mid-year, undoubtedly motivated not just by a sense of mischief-making but by the moderate inclinations of the obvious alternative to the failing Nelson. After more than a year on the backbench, not a scintilla of evidence has emerged that Peter Costello ever intended to do anything other than what he said, which was to remain on the backbench until he found a job outside politics. And yet we — as in all of us — devoted many pixels and column inches to his imminent ascension, or the unlikelihood thereof.

Afterwards, we forgot all about that, and probably hoped our readers did too.

Never forget the media has a vested interested in convincing you something is happening even when precisely nothing is happening — indeed, particularly when nothing is happening. It is thus wise – and I’m possibly not telling you anything you don’t already know here — to retain a strong scepticism about all political reportage and analysis, no matter the source. We’re all selling something.

OK, I’m biased. I write for Crikey every now and then. But this is why I’d buy it anyway.

How were my predictions for 2008?

The Christmas decorations are in the shops, people are having Christmas parties, the current affairs programs are off TV, so the year has ended, right? What do you mean, your calendar has something called “December”? Bah! This is the 21st Century! One-twelfth of the year is just thrown away!

Back in January I made some Predictions for 2008. Since 2008 has already ended, let’s see how I went.

Continue reading “How were my predictions for 2008?”

Super Hornets are Go

Photograph of US Navy F-18E Super Hornet aircraft

Defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon has announced that the controversial purchase of 24 Super Hornet aircraft will go ahead.

The review of the Howard government’s decision to buy the aircraft — at a total cost of $6 billion even though the RAAF hadn’t wanted them — reached some damaging conclusions, including:

  • There has been a lack of sound, long-term air combat capability planning decisions by the former Government over the course of the last decade.
  • The retirement of the F-111 was made in haste but is not irreversible. The cost of turning the F-111 back on would be enormous and crews and skills have already moved on.
  • The former Government’s decision to leave Australia’s air defences in the hands of the Joint Strike Fighter project was a flawed leap of faith in scheduling terms and combined with the quick decision to retire the F-111 early, allowed an air combat capability gap to emerge.
  • The subsequent timetable the former Government put on the acquisition of an interim fighter left Defence planners with no choice but to recommend the Super Hornet. No other suitable aircraft could be produced to meet the 2010 deadline the former Government had set. One year on, that is now even more so the case.

Cancelling the order would still incur a financial penalty and create “undesirable tensions”, and the final conclusions is that “the Super Hornet is an excellent aircraft… and is the only aircraft which can meet the small delivery window created by the former Government’s poor planning processes and politically-driven responses.”

As a shareholder in Australia Inc, I’d like to know why the former “board members” allowed this to happen. When company directors are negligent they become personally liable so why, given the report’s damning conclusions, does Brendan Nelson not become personally liable?

Continue reading “Super Hornets are Go”