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”

So how should I cover Budget 2013?

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.]

Weekly Wrap 153: Dumb tribalism and a long flight

San Francisco sunrise: click to embiggenMy week Monday 6 to Sunday 12 May 2013 is technically still continuing, because as I write this it’s the start of a beautiful Sunday morning in San Francisco — and I’ve got the day to myself.

But it’s already well after midnight Sunday night in Australia, so here we are.


  • You’ll love the ‘How Fast is the NBN?’ site … until you read this, Crikey, 9 May 2013. The reaction to this article, in the comments and on Twitter, astounded me. By simply pointing out some subtleties in a propaganda website and trying to present Malcolm Turnbull’s arguments fairly — which is all basic parts of a journalist’s job — I was branded a Liberal Party shill, and worse. For anyone familiar with what I personally think and believe, and for Turnbull himself, this must have come as quite a surprise. I hope to write about this soon, because I found the whole experience hilariously funny.
  • Mobile broadband’s false promise, ZDNet Australia, 10 May 2013.

Media Appearances

It’s such a variable thing, this being a media whore. Four spots last week, none at all this week.

Corporate Largesse

The Week Ahead

On Monday we head to San Jose for SuiteWorld, which runs through to Thursday. I’ll then return to San Francisco for some time to myself before flying back to Sydney on Sunday night. Obviously I’ll have to do some writing in there, but I’ll work that out as I go along.

[Photo: San Francisco sunrise, photographed a short time ago through a slightly dusty 17th floor window at the luxurious St Regis Hotel.]

Weekly Wrap 149: Multiple dominations, with spiders

Spider guest, Nicodamus species: click to embiggenDuring the week Monday 8 to Sunday 14 April 2013, I submitted to the cloud and was dominated by broadband. I did some dominating myself, in relation to two SEKRIT matters that I won’t be telling you about.

Reactions to the Coalition’s broadband policy, launched by Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday, made it clear that the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be a key issue for Australia’s federal election on 14 September. I’ll be writing up my reflections on reactions and media coverage, including reactions to my own work, tomorrow. We’ll be seeing plenty more about the NBN in the coming weeks.


Media Appearances

  • On Tuesday I spoke about the NBN with Dom Knight and his guests on ABC 702 Sydney, but I didn’t record it.
  • On Saturday I spoke about the NBN on FBi Radio’s politics show Backchat.

Corporate Largesse

  • On Tuesday I had a few beers at Alcatel-Lucent’s expense. Three Peronis, if I recall correctly.
  • On Wednesday I attended a press briefing about trends in unified communications by Dimension Data, held at the wonderful Flying Fish Restaurant in Pyrmont, Sydney. Check out the full menu and the pre-lunch canapes. There was also wine, but I forgot to grab the wine list.

The Week Ahead

It turns out that I won’t be in Sydney continuously for the next two weeks after all. In the two years that I’ve been mostly based at Bunjaree Cottages near Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, I’ve usually migrated to the proprietors’ family home in Lilyfield during school holidays. The holidays are a busy time for Bunjaree, so it was handy for them to be on-site. But this time they’ve made other arrangements, so Wentworth Falls will continue to be my base.

That said…

It’s already Monday. I had an 0600 conference call — whose idea was that again oh yes that’s right it was mine shut up — and right now I’m on a train headed to Sydney for a lunchtime briefing, an afternoon meeting and dinner with a friend. I’ll be staying overnight for more meetings on Tuesday.

The shape of the rest of the week is unclear, but there’s a bunch of writing in the pipeline, and a bunch of planning. Stay tuned.

[Photo: Spider guest, Nicodamus species, a change from my usual bird photos from Bunjaree Cottages.]

Talking NBN on FBi Radio’s Backchat

fbiradio-75The Coalition’s national broadband policy dominated the media this week. As part of that, I was interviewed for Backchat, a politics program on Sydney community station FBi Radio.

You can listen to the entire episode at the Backchat website, but I’ve extracted the interview here. I’m not sure about you, but I think I sound a bit tired. Which is fair enough, because I was tired.

The journalist was Adam Farrow-Palmer. The audio is ©2013 FBi Radio. Thanks to the three key concepts of Time, Convenience and Irony, we recorded the interview in the foyer of the ABC in Ultimo.

Weekly Wrap 142: Queensland, rain, alcohol and suchlike

Approaching the colony planet: click to embiggenThe week of Monday 18 to Sunday 24 February 2013 began in Queensland, of course, because I told you that last week. It then went to Sydney, Wentworth Falls, Sydney, and Wentworth Falls again.

The latter part of the week included far too much alcohol, but we won’t talk about that.

More importantly, the week was full of rain. Rain in Queensland. Rain in the Blue Mountains. Rain in Sydney. Too much rain.



None. There was going to be one, for TechRepublic, but my recorder died. I am jinxed.

Media Appearances

Corporate Largesse

  • I attended Kickstart Forum 2013, the annual get-together of many of Australia’s technology journalists with a bunch of vendors who pay to be there. There was plenty of largesse. Event organisers: return flights from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast and two nights accommodation at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort including breakfast. AVG ANZ: Information drinks on Sunday evening. Emerson Network Power: a 4GB USB drive containing their media pack. Intel: Sunday night’s superhero-themed dinner (although I didn’t go). KANA Software: a “personal survival kit” containing a Berocca Twist & Go, Panadol (12 tablets), Mentos mints (4) and a branded water bottle. LogMeIn: a spiral-bound paper notebook, a pen and a Berocca Twist & Go. Motorola Solutions: a 4GB USB drive containing their media pack. NEC: audio earbuds in a sensible little plastic case, and an iDual combined stylus and writing pen. NetSuite: Sunday night’s 1980s-themed dinner. Rackspace: Tuesday’s lunch. Symantec: Monday’s lunch, a branded water bottle (not taken) and a blank 8GB car-shaped USB drive. Truphone: a 2GB USB drive containing their media pack.
  • On Wednesday I attended the launch of VMware’s new end-user computing platform, which took the form of a lunch at Altitude Restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney. There was food and wine and a view.

The Week Ahead

Monday is a day of writing, with articles for CSO Online and Technology Spectator. On Tuesday I’ll pop down to Sydney for the lunchtime launch of Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business. The rest of the week has yet to be arranged, but it’s looking like a steady few days of writing and planning. The weekend is completely unplanned.

[Photo: Approaching the colony planet, actually a photograph of the pumpkin and ginger soup at The Carrington Hotel, Katoomba.]