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Crikey logoI’ve commented on Australia’s federal Budget for Crikey every May since Labor took power in 2007. This year will be no exception — but how will I top last year’s rant?

Why do politicians and their groupies always go on about the budget “sending a message”? Can’t they just use Twitter, email and the phone like we all do? But there is indeed a message in the budget: the government has no real vision for transforming Australia, and isn’t particularly interested in developing one with us.

I talked about the $240.3 million allocated to new IT systems for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); $43.7 million for upgrades at the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC); adding a further $233.7 million to the $477 million already spent on the National e-Health Initiative; $198 million for an “aged-care gateway”; $17 million to “enhance” the MySchool website; and so on. And then I concluded:

Why, in a cashed-up nation that is, or was, renowned for its eagerness to develop and adopt new technologies, is all this stuff just mouse nibblings at the edges, buried under the dull plod of business as usual? Sometimes I just want to cry.

To see how I approached the topic in previous years, check out the summary I wrote last year.

So once more I’ll be up early local time — I’m currently in San Jose — to knock out something before or perhaps in between conference sessions. Are there any particular angles you think I should look out for?

[Update 25 May 2013: Crikey decided they didn’t need my input after all. Rather than waste my notes, today I wrote Australia’s Budget 2013 keeps us stuck in the past.]

I’ve commented on the Budget for Crikey every May since Labor took power in 2007. This year will be no exception. But what will I say?

In 2008 I criticised Rudd’s slow digital revolution.

Dig into Budget Paper No. 2 and there’s a frustrating lack of detail and commitment.

Of $4.7b promised for the National Broadband Network [this was the original 12Mbps fibre to the node policy], only 0.16% has been committed: $2.1m this financial year and $5.2m next for “establishment and implementation”. The remaining 99.84% — you know, actually building the thing — is all “nfp”. Not for publication. We’ll get back to you…

The rest? All. Too. Slow. And. Vague.

In 2009 I complained that the machinery of Australian government is as outdated as the steam locomotive and the electric telegraph in The Budget? How quaint! They’re just made-up, you know.

Here we imagine that once a year we can produce a Big List of Numbers that’ll cover everything our “modern” nation-state will need to deal with for the next 365 days.

We proclaim it Good or Bad for this or that self-interested sector of the community on the basis of a quick glance, a gut reaction, and the need to create a narrative that’ll attract an audience or justify a pre-existing political zealotry.

We pretend to believe numbers like “$20 million over four years” when only a tiny part of that might be committed in the coming financial year and the rest, still to be confirmed in the next Budget, is therefore nothing but wishful thinking.

The reality, of course, is that the world moves faster than this. We experience a sudden global financial crisis, and must immediately tighten our belts by … um … giving away $900 cash to everyone.

In 2010 I complained of More NBN vagueness, border control and cyber-safety re-allocation. It’s not a bad read, but I’ll leave you to click through to that one.

And by 2011 I was clearly over the whole thing, writing Ritual shenanigans, but hey, this is government.

Riddle me this. What is the actual point of the federal budget process and all the lock-up shenanigans that go with it when the biggest bucket of money related to the technology sector by far, that National Broadband Network thing, isn’t even on the books?

What is the point when the way that NBN money is being spent – and is it $26 billion or $36 billion or $43 billion or that $50 billion scare-number that Malcolm Turnbull pulled out of some random orifice and keeps repeating unchallenged? – it is all SEKRIT thanks to those magic words “commercial confidentiality”…

What is the point of this annual ritual – built on the assumption that we can publish a set of numbers in May that will, in this complex and rapidly changing world, still be meaningful six months down the track – when the government has to respond to changing circumstances? Such as urgently building a fibre-to-the-premises network? Or responding to a global financial crisis? Or starting a land war in Asia? Or handing to every taxpayer $900 because, um, oh, shut up stop asking questions and buy a new TV.

I went on about “$20 million in suck-up-to-Tasmania funding” and “Labor’s half-arsed internet ‘filtering’ policy” and “loud-mouthed entrepreneur Ruslan Kogan” and noted:

Just be aware that all of this could be changed in an instant, budget process or not, if a minister gets on a plane with the Ranga-in-Chief with a few numbers scribbled on the back of an envelope.

So, what the fuck will I end up writing once the budget papers drop onto government websites tonight? Especially given that my shoulder is “out” and I won’t be able to get it fixed until tomorrow afternoon — my birthday! — and I’m scoffing codeine? Suggestions please!

The 9pm EdictWorld’s most impatient meth cook found in Oklahoma. She couldn’t even wait to get home. Australians are self-obsessed entitled wankers. And won’t someone think of the children? Senator Conroy dropped the f-bomb on national television!

I think he did it deliberately. Watch the video and see for yourself.

Also, Australians are a bunch of wankers with an inflated sense of entitlement.

We are the richest people in the world. And, as Possum of Possum’s Pollytics explained in Crikey last Thursday, we lead the world in everything from decent minimum wages to economic growth over the past decade. Read that article. Please. And while you’re at it, see where you sit on the Global Rich List.

We also hear about the world’s most impatient meth cook.

You can listen below. But if you want all of the episodes, now and in the future, subscribe to the podcast feed, or even subscribe automatically in iTunes.

[Update 16 December 2011: My comments about Senator Conroy’s f-bomb have sparked some interest. If you’re after that bit, it starts exactly 11 minutes into the program.]

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If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

[Credits: The 9pm Edict theme by mansardian, Edict fanfare by neonaeon, all from The Freesound Project. Photograph of Stilgherrian taken 29 March 2009 by misswired, used by permission.]

Over at ABC’s The Drum opinion website, I’ve written a piece that argues the National Broadband Network won’t kill competition in the telco industry.

They did the headline, not me, but I do like it.

The article explains the structure of the telco industry before getting to the key points.

In most parts of Australia, the only CAN [customer access network] has been Telstra’s copper network. The NBN will replace that with NBN Co’s optical fibre CAN — at least for 93% of the population, roughly any location with a population of 1000 or more. In other words, the NBN replaces an ageing CAN that’s reaching the limits of its capacity technically, with a new one that provides vastly increased capacity for the future.

What doesn’t change is the fact that customers, both domestic and business, can still choose whichever retail telco offers the best deal for them. That is, there’s still the same capacity for competition between telcos. The only difference is that those retail telcos are provisioning their services via NBN Co fibre rather than Telstra copper.

[I give a few examples and then…]

[T]o claim that telco competition will end because of an “NBN monopoly” is as silly as claiming there’s no competition in the road transport industry because everyone has to use the same monopoly public-funded roads. Different freight companies use those same roads to deliver different styles of service at different prices, and competition seems healthy enough.

The Australian Communications Consumers Action Network just described it as the most factually accurate piece they’ve seen in weeks. That’s flattering but seems over the top. But I will say that I’m happy the article — particularly as this morning broadcast radio arsehole Alan Jones is claiming the exact opposite. And we know what he’s like with facts.

There’s also an article by Alan Kohler that analyses the Telstra-NBN deal from a financial perspective. Well worth a read.

Bitcoin hit the news this week when it was alleged that an ABC employee had been using their computers to generate the digital currency.

On Thursday I gave this backgrounder to the ABC’s Lindy Burns. And yes, she did pronounce my name incorrectly. Her producer has had words.

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The audio is ©2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but it hasn’t been posted on their website so here it is. In return, I reckon you might choose to listen to Lindy Burns’ drive program next week.

“My preferred term is that we’re governed by Hallucinating Goldfish. No long-term memory, and a world of imagined horrors,” I said last night.

My comment was triggered by a discussion about Australia’s debt-to-GDP ratio, which stands at 6%. Here’s a picture from March 2010, showing that even with the recent rise in debt to deal with the global financial crisis our government is debt still within the usual range historically.

Personal debt, on the other hand… Ahem!

The United States, by comparison, sits at 60%. According to one economist even that figure is wrong. It’s really 14 times greater, and he reckons the US is actually bankrupt.

But opposition parties here in Australia screech that 6% is “out of control” — even though, as Ric Hayman reminded me, it’s only a few years since one of their own was congratulated for settling things down to 6%. It was acceptable then. But now…

A debt ratio at 6% of GDP is nothing, of course. To use the traditional analogy, it’s like a household with a combined income of $100,000 taking out a loan of $6000. Quite manageable. Families regularly take out loans of 500% of their GDP to buy their own homes and it’s considered normal, even admirable.

Yes yes, if they spent that money on cocaine instead then might be different, but that’s not the issue here. Anyone who tries to equate stabilising a national economy so people can keep their jobs with a drug habit is in my opinion nothing more than a blind political tribalist. If such comments are made here I shall mock and insult you personally.

This is all part of what my Crikey colleague Bernard Keane calls the Perpetual Present of politics, “in which what happened two days ago, let alone two years ago, is forgotten”. But my preferred term is Hallucinating Goldfish

That must’ve struck a chord, because when I mentioned it last night my comment was retweeted around 30 times. I therefore pointed people to my original post, Post 801: Kill the Hallucinating Goldfish.

I was also reminded that political journalism fails to cover the vast majority of what happens in Parliament and government.

As Tim Dunlop put it, here’s “some stuff you might’ve missed if you relied on the media for all your information.” Like the House passing 29 bills, the Senate 16, and 11 bills passing both houses. Nothing important there, eh?

Quite.

Now my original Hallucinating Goldfish post now seems quite dated, and I haven’t posted anything in the Hallucinating Goldfish category in most than two and a half years. I reckon we need new examples. This is where you come in.

Please help me identify more Hallucinating Goldfish. Where are policies being proposed, or decisions being made, based on a paranoid fantasy worldview and ignoring the lessons of the past?

[Photo: Goldfish by Helga Birna Jónasdóttir, used under a Creative Commons attribution license.]

The 9pm EdictA criminal is dead, and Australian media dances on his grave. Another man dies after being chucked out of the country — but he’s a criminal too, so who cares? And something about a volcano and aeroplanes.

After a ridiculously long break, here is episode 11 of The 9pm Edict. Enjoy.

You can listen to this episode below. But if you want them all, subscribe to the podcast feed, or even subscribe automatically in iTunes.

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For more information about the topics covered in this episode, check out how the Victorian government may have to pay compensation for the death in prison of Carl Williams, the bizarre case against Christine Nixon, the federal government’s changes to refugee processing, Tony Abbott’s border protection truck, how Australia leads the global economic recovery, and the sad tale of Andrew Moore.

If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

[Credits: The 9pm Edict theme by mansardian, Edict fanfare by neonaeon, all from The Freesound Project. Photograph of Stilgherrian taken 29 March 2009 by misswired, used by permission.]

The 9pm EdictGoogle takes on China. Internet heavies and clueful people rip into Australia’s mandatory censorship plan. And Senator Conroy says he will release the NBN report… in May.

Here is episode 8 of The 9pm Edict.

You can listen to this episode below. But if you want them all, subscribe to the podcast feed, or even subscribe automatically in iTunes.

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For more information about tonight’s rant, you can check out my story for Crikey about Refused Classification, the Facebook sacking of Chelsea Taylor, a Google News search for Google versus China and Tony Abbott’s victory speech.

And here’s the story about the National Broadband Network report which I didn’t cover.

If you’d like to comment on this episode, please add your comment below, or Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

[Credits: The 9pm Edict theme by mansardian, Edict fanfare by neonaeon, all from The Freesound Project. Photograph of Stilgherrian taken 29 March 2009 by misswired, used by permission.]

Stilgherrian’s links for 08 November 2009 through 18 November 2009:

See what happens when you don’t curate your links for ten days, during which time there’s a conference which generates a bazillion things to link to? Sigh.

This is such a huge batch of links that I’ll start them over the fold. They’re not all about Media140 Sydney, trust me.

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Stilgherrian’s links for 30 September 2009 through 13 October 2009, gathered automatically but then left to languish for two weeks before publication.

There’s so many of these links this time that I’ll publish them over the fold. I think I need to get over my fear of the link being published automatically without my checking them first, and my concern that my website won’t look nice if the first post is just a list of links.

Maybe I should just stick these Delicious-generated links in a sidebar? Or do you like having them in the main stream and RSS feed?

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