Wednesday, March 28, 2007

ALP Fair For Families campaign

The Federal Opposition continues the militarisation of cyberspace. Julia Gillard, the Shadow Deputy Leader and Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has set up a website here for people to register their objections to the Government’s WorkChoices legislation. The announcement comes 12 months after the introduction of the WorkChoices legislation and I have no doubt that the public input will feed Opposition campaigns. With a new Forrester report saying that 79 per cent of Australians are actively using the Internet, this is a sound strategy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Australia's ABC buys an island in Second Life

Australia's ABC has bought an island as part of a new R&D venture. You may ask how the ABC can afford to do this with taxpayer dollars. Don't worry, the island exists in Second Life, the virtual world of three million people run by Linden Lab – with its own currency and opportunities for social and financial interaction.

The move by the ABC's innovation division involves New Media manager Abigail Thomas assuming a virtual identity, or avatar, on Second Life as Abi Goldflake. The ABC’s island will feature streamed local content, exclusive events and other activities. Total business done on Second Life is estimated at $840,000 a day with the overall 2007 GDP estimated to be between US$500 and $600 million. Second Life has faced issues around child pornography and legality of business deals but virtual worlds are one of the fastest growing areas of the Internet.

Interestingly, a recent ABCTV Four Corners program on virtual communities did not mention the ABC’s purchase of the island in Second Life. When I spoke to Four Corners, they advised that production of the program was commissioned well in advance of the SL island purchase. Is this just an omission or a sign of healthy commercial nous in the new business areas of our ABC?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Minister Santo Santoro resigns: another one bites the dust

The Minister for Ageing, Senator Santo Santoro, announced his resignation from the Howard Ministry at a doorstop interview in Canberra today. Senator Santoro cited his misreporting of the ownership and sale of shares in biotec company, CBio, as the reason.

There was no mention of his donation of the proceeds to the charity, Family Council of Queensland, Inc. As Tim Dunlop and many others say, it isn’t a charity. It’s a rightwing lobby group whose associate director, Alan Baker, just happened to be the person who offered Santoro the shares in the first place.

Aged care is an increasingly hot issue, especially for baby boomers, so the choice for Santoro's replacement will be critical to Howard and the coming election.

Is this is a bad case of boomerang shaped mud?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Garuda Yogya crash: memorials & Morgan Mellish blog

This week has seen the return to Australia of the remains of the Australians killed in last week's crash. The familes must have been through hell. I even felt for Minister Downer as he visibly struggled to cope with the loss of people who were either working for him or covering his visit.

This Friday I will attend the AusAID memorial service for Allison Sudrajat to be held in the Great Hall at Parliament House. I only knew her from work at AusAID and from the Indophile crowd but I am going to show support for her family and friends and for the many AusAIDers and others who have been affected. The crash could have taken so many more lives and sometimes you should mark the occasion when people who move in and out of your life are lost - and appreciate the privilege and sacrifice of these jobs.

For a wonderful record of the love and respect for these people, check out the blog set up in memory of Morgan Mellish.

Double Australia's population or perish

I used to claim that Australia needed to double its population if we are to survive, compete and thrive in our region. Now I have found a guy who actually can back up the population expansion claim with a pretty sensible argument.

Check out the podcast and speech by Philippe (Blue) Legrain from his recent address to the Sydney Ideas Forum.

It’s time Australia regained its Good International Citizenship

Something to warm the soul and fire the heart...

"After a decade long deterioration in Australia’s international reputation, it’s time Australia regained its Good International Citizenship..."

Bring it on...for the complete speech, find it here.

- Robert McClelland, Alternative Foreign Minister, Lowy Institute, 14 March 2007 -

Australian IT innovation and embarassment

Last night the winners of the Secrets of Australian ICT Innovation competition were announced by Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information and the Arts. The Minister’s announcement comes at a time of increased pressure around community level ICT issues, such as broadband access. The Australian reports that many small businesses outside the big cities and in remote areas are anxiously waiting for the federal Government to reveal its revised rural broadband subsidy scheme, which will influence the success or failure of their businesses.

I have heard that while Stephen Conroy, the Shadow Minister for Communications and Information Technology, has not yet provided a title for his speech next week to the National Press Club, it is said that broadband issues will be a major part of it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Australian Democrats: Stop the Access Card now campaign site

The power of the 'puter just keeps on growing. The Australian Democrats have announced their passionate embracing of modern technology to boost their campaign against the Government’s proposed Access Card. The announcement said that the Stop the Access Card now campaign site features an e-petition; downloadable flyer and poster; and a range of relevant links.

The next bit is what caught my eye. It says "Democrats’ Privacy spokesperson, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, was one of the first politicians to have an email address and a website, and was the first to table an e-petition." I assume she means Australian, oh and federal, politicians. Does anyone know whether this is true?

Kelvin Thomson, Australia's Alternative Attorney-General forced to resign

Kelvin Thomson, Australia's Alternative Attorney-General, has resigned after it was revealed that he provided a letter of reference for Tony Mokbel, a drug king who is on the run, when Mokbel was applying for a liquor licence in 2000.

As Tim Dunlop points out, one of many weird things is "Mr Thomson said he did not know Mokbel and had not even heard of him at the time, but his office provided the reference as a matter of course, based on information given to them that Mokbel had no criminal record over the previous eight years." How many MPs provide references as a matter of course? I am sure there is more to come.

Australia: the global citizen returns

It's the ALP's foreign policy message month. A couple of crackers from Australia's Alternative Prime Minister and Alternative Foreign Minister on our place in the world.

Alternative PM Kevin Rudd in a speech to the Global Foundation in Melbourne today: "We should not fulfil our citizenship of the world by sending just arms to fight, but rather sending aid to foster growth and development, and extend the hand of friendship. We should be a more proactive supporter of debt relief and coupling aid funds with social, economic and institutional reforms. We should also be looking at the underlying causes of poverty."

Alternative FM Robert McClelland: on 14 March at the Lowy Institute, in his first major speech as Shadow Foreign Minister, Mr McClelland will discuss Labor's determination to regain Australia's reputation as a good international citizen. He argues that over the last decade Australia's international reputation has declined as the Howard Government has moved away from multilateralism and has failed to effectively address the issue of weak states in our region. Mr McClelland will argue that a new focus on good international citizenship would further the national interest.

"Government is a place where people come together." (PJB, WW S1 E12)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Eddie Perfect: Gay people shouldn't get married

I was a bit on the fence when it comes to gay marriage until I saw this Eddie Perfect video posted on Club Troppo. How could I have been so naive? Of course gay people shouldn't get married. For the Family First fans ;)

Jimmy Wales to visit Australia: do you know what Wikipedia says about you?

In potentially one of the most exciting new media visits, the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, will visit Australia next month. Wikipedia is the world’s largest online encyclopaedia. According to itself, Wikipedia is operated by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organisation supported by donations, and has over six million articles in 250 languages, including 1.6 million in the English edition. It is the 12th most visited website in the world and the 10th in Australia and often appears in the top five entries in Google searches. Wikipedia is produced collaboratively by volunteers and its articles can be edited by anyone with access. But many have raised concerns about accuracy, credibility, control, fraud, vandalism and bias - one example is the recent scandal involving the fabricated identity of a Wikipedia editor.

For any individual or organisation seeking to explore online communities and their perceptions, Wikipedia is a great place to start. Do you know what Wikipedia says about you?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

PM announces Australian Broadband Guarantee

The Prime Minister has just announced the Australian Broadband Guarantee, to ensure that all Australians have affordable access to a high-quality Internet connection. Under the ABG, the Government will commit $163 million to provide subsidised Internet access for Australians currently unable to gain a reasonable access to broadband service in their home or small business. According to the Alternative Minister for Communications & Information Technology, Stephen Conroy, the Broadband Guarantee is doomed to disappoint because it fails to deliver the serious investment desperately needed in the sector.

In the (NSW) Liberals - starring Peter Debnam

On a lighter note, here is a cracker video on Peter Debnam and the NSW Liberals - made by the National Union of Workers (NSW Branch), .

Crashed Garuda flight GA200 in Indonesia

What a devastating day, another plane has crashed in Indonesia - this time Garuda flight GA 200 from Jakarta to Yogyakarta in Central Java. Garuda has stated that 22 people, including one crew member, had died, while 118 other passengers and crew escaped. This is more bad news for Indonesia after a recent spate of crashes. There is no sign yet of sabotage.

A list of Indonesians on the flight who have been accounted for can be found in various places on Detik while a list of Australians can be found here and here. While I only knew some of the victims from living in Jakarta, I really feel for their friends and loved ones. I can't help but think that it could so easily have been many other people we lived and worked with on the plane. I feel so far away.

Official reports are still sketchy but included in the group of Australians now known to have perished in the crash are Allison Sudrajat (Minister-Counsellor and Head of AusAID Indonesia), Morgan Mellish (AFR and Walkley award winner) and Australian Federal Police officers Brice Steele and Mark Scott. Liz O'Neill (Australian embassy spokesperson and winner of Medal in the Order of Australia) has not yet been identified but is presumed dead. In The Age there is a reference to Minister Downer's confirmation that "an additional Australian on the plane had walked away from the crash uninjured. He said the man, a dual Italian and Australian national, had phoned a friend who confirmed his survival to Australian authorities in Indonesia."

DFAT has set up a Consular Response Centre. The DFAT Hotline is 1800 00 22 14 and the Consular Emergency Centre is 1800 002 214.

Semoga semua teman dan keluarganya aman. Saya mengucapkan belangsungkawa yang sedalam-dalamnya kepada keluarga korban.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

East Timor: Should Australia tackle poverty or governance? Or perhaps leadership?

The recent unrest in East Timor has sparked much discussion about the importance of security and governance. Recently, Susan Cirillo, an honours graduate in Politics and International Relations from the University of New South Wales has produced a discussion paper based on her thesis, 'Australia's governance aid: Evaluating evolving norms and objectives'.

What caught my attention is her hypothesis "that the ‘good governance’ agenda has been articulated by AusAID [which manages the Australian Government aid program] in a way that claims to facilitate the aid program’s binary function; promoting development in recipient countries whilst simultaneously serving the Australian interest. Australia has harnessed the aid program’s governance agenda to provide a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to pursuing Australia’s security and trade interests."

Cirillo also says that "Hence, the argument is that Australia’s ‘good governance’ agenda is primarily shaped by Australia’s foreign policy imperatives. Reciprocally, projects which seek to enhance Australia’s regional security and the proliferation of economic liberalisation amongst current and potential trading partners are justified under the rubric of ‘good governance’."

Cirillo adds that "AusAID exemplifies a liberal conception of democracy given its emphasis on the procedural elements of democracy, rather than the substantive social elements of democracy."

One of Cirillo's most interesting conclusions is that "Australia primarily understands governance in terms of strengthening the state to guard against security threats and maintaining order, rather than focusing on the broader aspects of democratic, accounatable (sic) and equitable development." Although I think that good governance has a important role to play (especially given questions around aid effectiveness), I tend to agree with the security analysis and would point to the $27 million being spent every year on a detention centre in Nauru as a example of this shift.

Most of the young men in East Timorese gangs don't have jobs, they are excluded from the justice and political systems and they face a very uncertain future. Rather than just keep on sending in the troops, we need to look more closely at the underlying causes for the violence - poverty and injustice.

It would be great if we could put the aid emphasis squarely back on reducing absolute poverty, the kind of gut-wrenching, filthy, humiliating poverty that affects more than 1.1 billion people around the world. Our Asia-Pacific region alone accounts for 70 per cent of the world's poor people. But for that we need more political will, public support and funds. This year in East Timor alone, Australia will only spend $43.6 million in aid compared to $332.2 million for PNG and $344.3 for Indonesia.

As a start, the ratio of Australia's total Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to Gross National Income (GNI) for 2005-06 is estimated at 0.28 per cent. PM Howard committed to increasing Australia's aid to $4 billion by 2010 - however estimates are this will be only 0.36% of GNI and will leave Australia ranked 18th out of 22 wealthy OECD nations. Let's commit to the international target of 0.7% of GNI by 2015 - the target date for the Millennium Development Goals. That will send a strong message about how serious we are about tackling poverty. Now that would really be in our national interest...and East Timor's.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Minister Ian Campbell resigns: WA Inc - PM Howard mops up the stain

I have said before that if the meetings with "disgraced" former WA premier Brian Burke are the worst thing that the Coalition can find out about Kevin Rudd then the Coalition government will find it harder than expected to win the next election.

But now the infamous WA Inc stain has spread to the Howard government. The newly appointed Minister for Human Services, Ian Campbell, has reportedly resigned. Why? Because he met with Burke and members of the WA Turf Club. According to Catallaxy this has led to opppositon leader Kevin Rudd calling for an early election.

As Ken L said on Surfdom, the point is that neither Burke nor his associates have actually been accused of doing anything wrong other than having the meetings.

Where will this witch hunt end and discussion on real policy issues recommence? Probably in the place where I should be at this hour - my dreams.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Howard vs McKew: we love a bit of biffo

We all love a bit of biffo, here is a brilliant Nicholson perspective on PM Howard vs the ALP's star recruit, Maxine McKew, for the seat of Bennelong in Sydney's lower North Shore.

Important Australian values website

This site rocks. I discovered it tonight when trying to explain to an Indonesian friend how difficult it is to get into Australia.

This shows exactly how ridiculous the Australian values debate has become. If you Google 'Australian Values test' this is what you get in the top three hits - imagine how many people think it is real and even if most don't, it shows that the so-called citizenship test is painfully embarassing. Enjoy

Friday, March 02, 2007

The growing militarisation of cyberspace

The online campaigns of the major Australian political parties are hotting up. Patricia Karvelas in The Australian is the latest to cover the battle growing in cyberspace. Karvelas describes a political onslaught over the internet under a massive increase in online campaigning planned by Labor and the Coalition. She also reminds us that political parties are exempt from anti-spam legislation prohibiting unsolicited emails. I maintain that this election will be the first genuinely contested in the reaches of cyberspace, especially through blogs and online campaign sites. But it would be a surprise for us to see John Howard blog on his thoughts and policies anytime soon.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Expertocracy - a new political system for Australia

I just spent a few days on the farm with my partner's family, who have a property of several thousand acres in a place called Bute, around 140km north of Adelaide, South Australia. Heard of Snowtown? Yup, the bodies in the barrels in the bank vault - near there.

This was my second trip but this time I learned a lot more about how agrarian socialism works in Australia. If I told my partner's family that they would probably stare blankly at me for lefty is a dirty word in Bute. But the interdependence of the families in the area amazed me - the impact each person had on the next. Something city slickers just cannot understand and proof to me why a simplistic approach as let the market rule just won't work.

Maybe it was learning about the young farmer who inherited his land and didn't spray his weeds which were jumping the fence into the neighbour's paddock. Or the people who lived up the road who weren't taking their turn to drive the kids to meet the school bus. Especially the Bute pub which has a new lecherous owner who locks everyone in after 2am and let's them drink until dawn and beyond - bringing despair for poor families at home and worry to parents of local girls working there. Or the experienced farmer who dug up a neighbour's water pipe to discover a water restricter that was put there in the 70s and by removing it saved much in time and dollars. Especially the devastation of the community caused by the fire at the abattoir. Naturally the understanding (yes) of the role of immigrants. And the sheep farmer dependent on the efficient farmer's best stubs of the new harvest to graze his flock. And the terrible roads, internet and mobile phone networks and so much more.

Naturally talk turned to water and climate change, a given in a place where the whole town stood still when the weather came on for a full ten minutes (in my house it was The Bill). The news mentioned the new $10 billion deal for the Federal Government to take control of the Murray-Darling basin system. Some in Bute said the idea of an expert commission was a good one, that the science should dictate the way to manage water, not the politics.

One went further and even suggested that the idea should be applied to our political system. Instead of politicians being elected to parliaments, representatives of key groups would be elected by their members for a six year term (and no more). To get elected in this system of Expertocracy, you have to be a member of a registered, member based organisation, eg the farmers, miners, steelworkers, doctors etc, the people that know how to run the country, he said. The parliament then elects the executive. And why not? Maybe we could use Germain's Generalized Expertise Measure (GEM) to set the standard? At least food for thought.