ICT Election Forum: what questions?

The Australian Computer Society (ACS) is once more holding a Federal Election Forum on ICT issues, with the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy, his Coalition counterpart Tony Smith MP, and The Greens’ spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam.

As you can see from the photos, Australia’s political diversity is once more represented by a bunch of middle-aged men in dark suits.

When I wrote about the equivalent event in 2007, I noted that the Minster at the time, Liberal Senator Helen Coonan, looked rattled and scored a few own goals. Conroy, by comparison, was alert and scored some sharp political points. And Democrat leader Senator Lyn Allison — remember the Democrats? — was quietly confident.

Labor’s broadband promise was a Fibre to the Node network with a “guaranteed” minimum speed of 12Mb/sec to 98% of Australians, costing $4.7 billion. The Liberals were promising WiMaX through the OPEL consortium. From memory, mandatory internet censorship didn’t even get a mention, as both parties only added that little gem to their agendas after the official campaign period had started.

How times have changed…

This year’s moderator is Sky News political editor, David Speers. An odd choice, I must say. Sure, he has the profile and Sky News Business is the host broadcaster. But wouldn’t it have been better to have someone with a better technical knowledge of the portfolio, rather than a general political news reporter? My worry is that it’ll degenerate into political point-scoring rather than analysing competing policies.

So let’s help out Mr Speers. What are the issues this year, do you think? What questions should he ask?

I think we can take a question or two about internet censorship for granted. Please try to think beyond the obvious indignation du jour.

The Federal Election Forum is next Tuesday 10 August 2010 at the National Press Club in Canberra. The debate starts at 1pm Canberra time and will be broadcast on Sky News Business and possibly ABC News 24. [Update 3pm: The Forum will also be streamed live at YouTube’s Australia Votes channel.]

[Photo credits: Stephen Conroy via Wikimedia Commons. Tony Smith via Office of Tony Smith MP. Scott Ludlam via The Greens. This composite image is licensed for re-use under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.]

Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall

Crikey logo

Third Crikey story this week! Today I returned to that evergreen favourite, the idiocy of the Rudd government’s plans to install ISP-level filters on the Internet.

Alas, the story is currently behind Crikey‘s paywall, but it begins:

Is there anyone who reckons trying to filter bad stuff out of the Internet is the right way to go? Or even possible? Apart, that is, from sex-obsessed panic merchants and moral crusaders, politicians with Senate numbers to count on stubby little fingers, shiny-suited salesmen hawking boxes marked “Rooly-Trooly-Safe Internet Filter”, or cud-munching Luddites who just don’t understand anything about the Internet generally?

Those with a clue are getting sick of pointing out the same policy and technical flaws. But Minister for Denying the Bleeding Obvious Senator Stephen Conroy relentlessly continues his warped version of the trials program set up by Coalition predecessor Helen Coonan.

Filters won’t work because no shut up doesn’t matter let’s try again they don’t work no let’s try again they don’t work let’s try again don’t work try try try try … FFS!

The Rudd government says it’s all about evidence-based policy. Maybe this new report from the US Internet Safety Technical Task Force will help. This panel — a who’s who of Internet heavies — was set up by 49 state Attorneys General to tackle the problem of children being solicited for sex online. It discovered there’s actually no significant problem at all.

You can read the whole thing, if you’re a subscriber or take up the free trial offer, at Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall.

My writing must be starting to score some hits, because there’s been two comments today attacking the man and not the ball.

Continue reading “Another nail in the coffin of Conroy’s Rabbit-Proof Firewall”

Liar, Coonan, Liar!

Well surprise surprise! The (former) government’s campaign to promote their dodgy NetAlert filter — it was cracked by a teenager, after all — over-stated the risk to kids on the Internet. And Senator Helen Coonan seems to have fibbed about what was in the government-commissioned report.

One advertisement said a survey had shown that more than half of 11-15-year-olds who chatted online were contacted by strangers…

[Coonan] refused to make the research public, saying it contained personal information. The Age has obtained the research, a survey prepared by the Wallis Consulting Group, under freedom of information laws. It does not contain any personal information…

[The claim] regarding stranger contact does not appear in the government-commissioned research. The question was not posed in this form. Participants were asked: “When chatting online, have you ever been contacted by someone you haven’t met in real life?” More than half answered “yes”.

So, a “stranger” is anyone you chatted with online, even a friend of a friend, who you just haven’t met physically. A “contact” could have been spam. Gee, we all have them, don’t we?

Continue reading “Liar, Coonan, Liar!”

Coonan’s own goals in ICT debate

Photograph of Senator Helen Coonan at ACS Election Forum

Body language is revealing. At Friday’s breakfast forum, two Senators’ body language showed their confidence in their grasp of Information and Communications Technology issues. Alas, the minister, Senator Helen Coonan (pictured), wasn’t one of them.

Coonan’s opening speech was long on motherhood, short on detail. Her opponents, Labor’s Senator Stephen Conroy and Democrat leader Senator Lyn Allison attacked with confidence — and hard numbers. Coonan looked rattled.

When he wasn’t speaking, Conroy was alert. His eyes scanned the crowd, noting tables for heavyweights Microsoft, IBM, Lenovo, Accenture, Fujitsu, Symantec, Gartner … though Telstra were notably absent.

Allison was relaxed and comfortable, sitting back and waiting for her turn, ready to rattle on about quantum computing, laptops in school, IT literacy, and a global brand for Australian IT innovation — something like Woolmark for wool.

But Coonan frowned and ruffled through her papers as if cramming for an exam, nodding as she recognised something. I’ve been told since that she wouldn’t agree to the debate unless she had all the questions in advance — and her answers were apparently scripted.

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Published twice in one day

Scan of New Scientist piece

I’m happy. I’ve been published twice today, thrice this week.

As I mentioned before, Crikey was happy for me to cover today’s panel discussion with IT minister Senator Helen Coonan and her Labor opponent Senator Stephen Conroy. They were joined this morning by Democrats leader, Senator Lyn Allison.

My Crikey story points out that Coonan scored at least three own goals. I’m chuffed that it was selected as a “top story” for subscribers.

My other Crikey story was about Australia’s contribution to the Space Age, published on Wednesday and including my comments about the spaceport we never seem to get.

I’ll do a public version of both those stories tomorrow.

And the third piece was a little snippet for New Scientist, which I sent them on 24 June. There’s a picture (right), but here are the words for search engines to find.

The label on reader Stilgherrian’s Australian-made Starmaid ice-cube trays reassures him that they are “freezer safe” — which he says is “handy”.

But right now it’s Red Wine Time…

Coonan vs Conroy: preparing for battle

Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy and Senator Helen Coonan

As mentioned last week, Friday morning I’m having breakfast with the ICT minister Senator Helen Coonan and her ALP counterpart Senator Stephen Conroy — along with some many members of the ACS.

That’s Senator Coonan on the right. In every sense of the word.

While the discussion will be chaired by some bloke from Channel 7, I’m assuming there’ll be a chance for questions. When I asked on Link last week, here’s what popped up. What would you add?

Continue reading “Coonan vs Conroy: preparing for battle”