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.]

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…

The Citizenship Dog-Whistle

Video of Australian Citizenship Test advertisementAnother week, another big-spending government TV “information campaign”. This one’s for the new Citizenship Test — and gosh, that just happens to be a Coalition-specific policy and it just happens to be running when we’re not in an election campaign, honestly.

And last night immigration minister Kevin Andrews was seen on TV with a bunch of potential citizens — all of whom, by some happy coincidence, had reasonable English and were not particularly unphotogenic. But he was still defending the test.

This TV advert is little more than dog whistle political propaganda. That’s clear for two reasons. First, look closely at the script (below). And second, if you wanted to reach the people most directly affected, mass TV advertising is far from cost-effective.

Continue reading “The Citizenship Dog-Whistle”