Friday, October 23, 2009

Rudd Uses A Howard Solution

Prime MInister Kevin Rudd this week showed that, under pressure, he resorts to fairly standard political behaviour. The pressure on dealing with boat-people came from the electorate (well, the poll surveys) and the media.

His response, particularly during media interviews was to "talk tough", trying to make the electorate warm to his handling of the issue, use lots of repetition of the "tough talk". Under pressure during an interview with the ABC's Kerry O'Brien, Kevin Rudd retreated into bureaucratese: that language which sounds overly complex, uses confusing language, and is sanctuary under pressure. Even the bumbling, Turnbull-led Liberal-National Opposition managed a few hits; at least until Wilson Tuckey opened his mouth, and let the Prime Minister and other Government members deflect attention.

Today's announcement of $50 million in extra aid to Indonesia to help intercept boatloads of unlawful migrants/refugees has quickly been dubbed "the Indonesian solution", much like John Howard's use of Nauru became "the Pacific solution". I wonder whether the UNHCR will report on Australia's current policies, and practices!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nuclear Poll Reporting

TOday's media are reporting on a Herald/AC Nielson poll about nuclear power. Headlines scream with "More Aussies back nuclear power: Poll" (, "People open to nuclear power: Carr" (, and "Australians embracing vision for fission" (

The stories go on to report that 49% of (surveyed) Australians "said nuclear power should be considered for Australia's future energy needs, while 43 per cent were completely opposed" (SMH) Former NSW Premier Bob Carr was reported by the ABC as saying "There is a shift. People are more open to it again because they can see the damage that carbon dioxide is doing".

There are some problems with reporting on surveys, on-line polls, and market research. Foremost among them is that the media do NOT report that the numbers aren't definitive: they come with an error margin eg ± 3%, or ±5%. The second is that some people who volunteer, or are asked for, comment might have an agenda that is unreported. Bob Carr, for example, is paid by a company that invests in infrastructure. That company might have an interest in building a future nuclear power plant. There is no suggestion that Mr Carr was acting for any other entity when making his comments. Rather, the reporting illustrates that the interests and agendas of commentators are rarely reported. Thirdly, were respondents aware that the best places to put nuclear power plants in Australia is in coastal areas where there is an abundance of seawater for cooling; and close to existing transmission lines? Perhaps Bob Carr is happy to have a nuclear plant near Maroubra? ooooh, (shudder), I can feel the rage in the NIMBY response! In reality, parts of the less inhabited coastlines of SA and WA are more likely places.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to dismiss the building of nuclear power plants in Australia, saying it was, and is still, ALP policy. He then passed the parcel, challenging the Opposition to have a position, reminding everyone that former PM John Howard wanted Australia to have nuclear power plants. It really was a political "hospital pass", knowing that the Liberal party is deeply divided on environmental and climate issues.

Be a bit wary of reports on polls and surveys: the numbers are not definitive, as implied in the reports, and some commentators might have hidden interests. With news, as with advertizing, it pays to be "buyer beware"!


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Telstra Investor: Tell MP's To Help Us

Telstra's second biggest shareholder, Australian Foundation Investment Company (AFIC) , has provided its investors with a letter to send to MP's. The letter hopes to influence MP's to disallow any structural breakup of Telstra, because that might hurt the share price. ie the letter is lobby MP's to protect their investment. Here, I declare that I do not hold any Telstra shares.

The government proposes to force Telstra into separating its retail ('telco') and infrastructure businesses. The reasons for this are:
  • Telstra has long drawn the attention of the ACCC because of its anti-competitive practices
  • Telstra has a significant history of belligerence against the Federal Government (former and current), as it seeks to exercise monopolistic business practices
  • the sale of Telstra "lock stock and barrel" to form a private, largely monopolistic company was always bad policy. (from the previous Federal Government led by John Howard)
  • Telstra made only a token, even mock, tender for the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Its tender deliberately did not meet specified requirements, and it was excluded. It then complained about its exclusion!
  • establishing a separate business entity would mean that Telstra (the retail telco) would be forced to pay similar, or identical, rates to its competitors for access to the infrastructure. It would open the retail telco to more competition.
AFIC's letter seeks to impress upon MP's the need to protect their money (investment). But that is not the role of either MP's, or Government: they have a democratic responsibility to act in the best interests of ALL Australians. I believe that protecting the investment money of a minority by allowing Telstra to set the agenda, would be contrary to the best interests of Australians, contrary to our democratic ideals, and unethical.

MP's should vote FOR the structural reform of Telstra.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Turnbull's Ultimatum

Malcolm Turnbull has publicly put his job on the line. The Federal Liberal Party, and Opposition leader, has indicated that he might "walk away" from the leadership if the Party does not show some discipline (over Climate Change) and support his policy of negotiation with the Government on an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

The Opposition, and the Liberal Party in particular, has been under significant pressure to negotiate, while significant numbers of backbenchers run like media tarts to speak against it. Frankly, it is time the Liberal Party tapped a few MP's and Senators on the shoulder - "it's time to go". Wilson Tuckey springs to mind. The Australian newspaper reports that up to 2/3 of Liberal backbenchers do not want to negotiate with the Government over an ETS.

I think it was politically dangerous for Mr Turnbull to make his ultimatum publicly, outside the party room, and without a henchman. (John Howard had Senator Bill Heffernan, among others, and ruled the Party Room with an iron fist.) Without having a decision made by all members, in a closed party room, Turnbull risks having no decision, no discipline, and a continued procession of media tarts denying climate change. Meanwhile, Deputy Leader Julie Bishop has been polling those same backbenchers, trying to shore up her own position. She is certainly being prepared if Turnbull has tripped himself.