Howard’s latest lie: state budget “deficits”

Commonwealth/State Budget Balance Graphs

Are two posts about John Howard in one day too many? Maybe. But he is Prime Minister and we are in the lead-up to a federal election — and he is “playing the game” for all it’s worth.

And besides, what I’m about to explain is such a classic example of Howard spin — though I must thank Christian Kerr at Crikey for this one — though it’s subscriber-only content.

Here’s the deal. It’s likely that the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) will raise interest rates on 8 August, and John Howard reckons the state governments are to blame.

“These are Labor government deficits, they’re not Liberal Government deficits,” Mr Howard told Sky News. “The Federal Government is not out there borrowing money… and putting upward pressure on interest rates, but state governments are.”

Alas, the RBA’s own graphs (shown right) tell a different story.

As Christian Kerr explains, “[the graphs] show that state governments have been increasing their surpluses for seven straight years [and] the surpluses have been increasing in recent times, rather than deteriorating.”

Using further graphs, which I won’t bother with here, he also shows that in every year since 1991-92, the state government sector has had lower debt and then moved to accumulate assets earlier than the Commonwealth government.

But, you know, John Howard and truth… they don’t go well in the same sentence.

Leader of the (digital) Pack

Today I answered a survey question which reminded me that so many organisations still don’t “get” the Internet. Or is it only a reminder that I’m one of the digital elite?

In total, about how often do you access the internet across all locations at home, work, and elsewhere?

The most frequent option listed was “daily”.

Daily? I “access the Internet” many, many times a day. So often, in fact, that I think of the Internet as “always there”. Just like I think about electricity. Or running water. Or air. When I think about it at all, that is. These are all things I take for granted.

In total, about how often do you use electricity across all locations at home, work, and elsewhere?

Electricity is always there, keeping my home warm, my vegetables cool. Those wires bring me a constant supply of energy. And those other wires bring me a constant supply of information — and pipe information back to the world too.

That survey question is stuck in the past, where “the Internet” was a special place that you “logged on to”. That attitude is reflected in another survey question:

What do you mainly use the Internet for (choose one)?
Software downloads
Travel information and bookings
Downloading videos
Web surfing & Experimenting
Adult entertaintment
Banking/Financial services
Business and business research
Community forums and discussion groups
Health information
Instant messaging
Information search
News and reference
Self education (independent of schooling)
Researching product information

Well, I don’t know. Try this question instead.

What do you mainly use electricity for (choose one)?
Health Care
Home maintenance

How on earth do you compare the relative importance of these things?

OK, perhaps I’m being harsh. It would seem that for most people the Internet is still a “special activity”, somehow different from the rest of their life.

That’s continually reflected in research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Just recently they pointed out that while 47% of American households have broadband, 15% still don’t have any Internet access or mobile phones at all. In Pew’s classification, I’m an omnivore, a group which represents the “top” 8% of Americans — and presumably about the same proportion of Australians.

Omnivores embrace all this connectivity, feeling confident in how they manage information and their many devices. This puts information technology at the centre of how they express themselves, do their jobs, and connect to their friends.

At the other end are those who are “off the network”:

Some 15% of Americans have neither a cell phone nor internet access. They tend to be in their mid-60s, nearly three-fifths are women, and they have low levels of income and education. Although a few have computers or digital cameras, these items seem to be about moving digital information within the household — for example, using the computer to display digital photos that they take or others physically bring into the house.

I don’t have ADSL2+ yet, nor a 24-inch monitor, so it’s easy to forget that I’m in the elite. It’s easy to forget that 70% of the people on Planet Earth have never made a telephone call, let alone sent an email or created Facebook pages.

Test and compare your Internet speed

This is seriously fucking cool. tells you the actual speed of your Internet link. So, for example, my 1500/256kb link with People Telecom (formerly Swiftel) currently delivers 1267/206kb. Not too shabby.

And even better, Crikey is now running the totally unscientific national broadband test — so send your results to I’ll be very interesting to see what they discover… stay tuned!

[Update 20 minutes later: Actually, it’s not that cool. There’s a serious methodological flaw. The “compare your results” bit doesn’t take into account one important datum: the rated speed of your Internet link. For example, it shows the “New South Wales average” as 3680kb per second — but that’s over twice the rated speed of the link I have. Without scaling the results as “percentage of rated speed”, the comparisons are meaningless. Still, it’s a pretty site, and useful.]