Monday, November 22, 2010

On the QT: O tempora, o mores!

The best article of the day was that by Dennis Glover who wrote on the value of oratory and posited that had Kevin Rudd been able to make some decent speeches he would still be PM. Now yes you could argue that if he had been a bit better at listening to Cabinet Ministers he might have been ok as well, but Glover is right when he states: “good speech can both make careers and change the world, for good or ill”.
It is true – oratory will convert sceptics, convince doubters and strengthen supporters. But while this is nice, what truly matters to people is also what is said – oratory is only important if it delivers (or fails to deliver) good policy.
Rudd’s oratory was woeful (the only bit of rhetoric he mastered was rhetorical questions), but crucially what he was saying was just as bad. Oh it would be lovely if we were to have a Cicero walking the carpet of Parliament House in the guise of our Treasurer, but that is not the case, and no amount of my wailing that I wish Keating were still with us will make it happen, so let us focus on what is said, if we can’t always improve how it is said.
Oratory – and how an argument is put – is important because the Rudd Government failed miserably selling both the CPRS and the RSPT. The first failed because Rudd’s treatment of the issue in speeches was woeful – it was always about the end of the planet, the destruction of our way of life etc etc – and not only that Rudd also wanted us to believe it would be solved by something that wouldn't involve any increase in the cost of living. Now yes the CPRS might have been the personification of “flawed policy”, but at no stage did Rudd, or others in the Government charged with the responsibility – yes, Penny Wong, I’m looking at you –  explain just why and how the CPRS would affect the economy and thus help the environment.
When the RSPT came round, the job was done marginally better by Swan, but once again Rudd missed the point. He seemingly spent the entire time talking about increases in superannuation and infrastructure, which was all nice and good except it didn't help anyone understand why the RSPT was a good idea. A tax is either good or bad because it is either good or bad, not because of what expenditure may be spent with the revenue.
Since the election, Julie Gillard has pointedly changed tack on the merits of a price on carbon – it is all economic: the price of electricity will go up – that’s the point. It is much more effective, and while the Opposition will bleat about her having broken her promise, the point is that she is selling it well because she is speaking well about the issue – not falling into Ruddish speak about the ephemeral benefits.
Which brings us to the National Broadband Network.
The Government is in danger of stuffing this up – not because of whether or not it is a bad policy – but because of how they are selling it; how they are talking about it.
In Question Time today the wonders of the NBN were spruiked by every Minister who had been able to finagle a Dorothy Dixer – Garrett on education, Roxon on Health, Gray on openness of Government (yeah, you heard me!). We were back in Rudd world, where the NBN was good because of what it would bring.
If the Government keeps going down this line they will lose the debate.
People know the NBN will bring all manner of goodies. They know that there are things in the future that we have no idea about today which in ten years time we will look back and think, how the hell did we do without this. We live in 2010. Any adult can remember a time when email was not commonplace. And adult can remember when a site like YouTube would have been pointless because it took 3 hours to down load 3 minutes of video. Any adult can remember when you weren’t able to book a seat online, print out the boarding pass and show up at the airport 1 minute before boarding.
We know this – the Government does not need to sell us the wonders of the future.
It needs to sell us the wonders of the NBN. It needs to sell us that the NBN is the best way to do it.
Now everyone knows it is not the “cheapest” way to do it – because the cheapest way is to let Telstra do it, and we all know how good that has worked out so far – ie don’t live in a low density area more than a mile from an exchange. But then why is the Government doing it the way it is doing it? Why is the NBN in and of itself good? Why is the NBN in and of itself better than the way Malcolm Turnbull is suggesting?
You see talking about the benefits of e-health and e-education and e-open government is a waste of time and words.
A complete waste of time.
A complete waste of words.
Why? Because Malcolm Turnbull will say he can deliver exactly the same thing – only cheaper.
So there are two arguments here (and neither of them have anything to do with the glories of e-education): the technical and the economic.
Whenever any mention of benefits flowing from the NBN, it must be explained clearly in small, memorable, but non-focussed grouped-sounding words why the NBN will do it, and why Turnbull’s vision of a wireless glory land won’t.
Now that’s the easy part of the argument – the laws of physics are very helpful here.
But the economics? Ain’t got nowt to do with kids and their desks doing book learning over the internet.
It all might sound wonderful; it all might sound like a great idea for education – but what’s the cost? And why are we paying it? And why shouldn’t we pay a bit less and still get much the same?
The last question is really the only main bit of the economic argument tied up with the technical aspect – it needs to be hammered: will Turnbull be able to deliver essentially the same to everyone as would the NBN? If not, tell us clearly, brutally, and repeatedly why not. After this debate, if nothing else, every voter should have a much better understanding physics than they did before. The Government needs to package up a physics lessons on IT that voters can take with them down to the pub on a Friday night and use to refute anyone who says, “Yeah but Turnbull reckons he can give us the same for less cost”.
Asymmetric speeds? What the hell are they? In six months the drawback of asymmetrical speeds needs to be as clearly obvious to the non-tech voter as is the difference in the fuel economy of different cars.
Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan, Anthony Albanese, Stephen Conroy – you’ve got 3 minutes to tell me why the NBN is the most effective and efficient way to deliver high speed broadband to the nation and you’re not allowed to mention the benefits of fibre. Go.
It’s hard isn’t it? The Government is trapped into talking about the benefits, when the debate is shifting to the economics. Assume people know the benefits, assume people agree with the benefits, and go from that starting point. 
Rudd thought if he convinced people of the nice booty that would come from the RSPT they would not care about the RSPT. It was a futile way to go about it – people know infrastructure is all nice and lovely – but they'll wonder why can’t you just cut something else to provide for it. Bring in a new tax, and you better be damn sure you can explain why we need the tax –and your argument better be deeper than because we can then spend a lot more money.
Today in Question Time the Government tried to have some fun with the fact that Turnbull has invested around $10m in “Melbourne IT”, because it is a company that makes its money out of the internet and will obviously do well out of the NBN.  Gillard and Albanese got up and had some fun – coming up with the line “put your mouth where your money is”.
But seriously, who gives a shit? It is a minor, nothing of a sideshow. Turnbull hasn’t invested in NBN Co; he’s invested in an IT company (a company which as Malcolm Farnsworth pointed out o Twitter charges exorbitant prices – $75.70 for what GoDaddy will sell you for $12.15). The ALP’s argument is like saying if Turnbull invested in a trucking company that means he supports the way the Government is spending money on roads. image
It was the type of oratory that Costello would indulge in, and which would have the press gallery in orgasmic raptures.
It reality (like much of Costello) it was petty, puerile and pointless.
The opposition was asking stupid questions all ending with “the Government has lost its way”, but that doesn't mean the ALP needs to respond by being equally as pathetic.
What the Government should be more concerned about is that people are wondering why the Government won’t release the business case on the NBN till after parliament has risen. Joe Hockey dopily asked Gillard if she had read the business case and if so why can’t everyone else. She was far too dismissive in her response – he had in fact given her a perfect opportunity to explain the reasons and essentially use Hockey as a punching bag. Instead she gave a one sentence response. (She was much better slapping Abbott away when he was asking her about the “deal” done with The Greens on the sale of the NBN – she pointed out it wasn’t any deal at all, in fact nothing had changed).
I have no idea, but I wouldn’t mind betting she hasn’t read the business case yet – after all it would have been presented to Conroy. He would be the one reading it, studying it and getting multiple briefings on it, and he’ll be the one who then takes it to Gillard.
Most likely it is being released in December because that’s how long it will take for the Government to work through it bureaucratically and politically (in Cabinet). They would be dopey to rush it through – Government is about incumbency, part of which making sure you only go public when you’ve got everything sorted. But the timing in this case is not fortuitous. The NBN business case should be something the Government is excited about – it should be as looked forward to as was the Orgill Report into the BER (a report, which anyone who was at all across the entire context of the BER, rather than merely focussing on the stuff ups, knew was not going to hurt the Government). 
The NBN like every damn thing in Government comes down to economics. The Government needs to win the economic debate and needs to get damn hot on the business case. Possum tweeted re the business plan “Grow balls & recall the Senate in December post-release”. This is unlikely to happen, but the Government does need to get its argument in order. Because of the timing it can’t afford to take a December holiday form politics – and unfortunately most of the public will have.
Boring speeches, boring oratory, and far too many sights of slogans – three words and others – have left the public completely disengaged. I haven’t given one damn about any poll put out since the election – the ALP is behind 49-51? Who cares. It means nothing at the moment.
I am a political junkie and I hardly even bother with the 7:30 Report or Lateline anymore, so why on earth would I expect those more saner people who don’t live and breathe politics to care in the slightest who or what the Government is doing. 
It has been this way since Oakeshott and Windsor made their call. No one – politicians, media or public wanted things to start up again. Everyone just wanted a break. Since September everyone has been looking to the Christmas break.  It is why I believe all future elections should be held in November. In 2007 Rudd won, then we went on a break and in 2008 everything started afresh. Nothing since the 2010 election has been “fresh”.
Unfortunately for Gillard and Co this makes it all the bit harder to make their case on the NBN: to convince people they first have to get them to listen.
And to do that they’ll need more than to be told Malcolm Turnbull has made some money investing in shares…


Sonia said...

Its going to be a long and boring week of QT. More of the same .My highlight of the day was watching David Speers on agenda interview some people from Woodside who had come to Canberra to try and have a meeting with Gillard.I might just pop in next week and try and have a little chat about paid parental leave shall I. His arguments : they will be staying beside an army base, what if they get out and are amongst us, they are illegal and came through the backdoor. Perlease. Anyway thats how interesting today was my highlight came from a show about politics and one I am growing increasingly tired of.
I do agree about the economics thing and have a question about the mining tax and economics . Surely in a two speed economy wouldn't the best way to slow growth to curb inflation be a tax on the booming sector without hurting the rest of the economy. Surely this is an argument in favour of the tax that would appeal to Joe average if you can make a connection to interest rates. Anyway my only study of economics was year 12 studying Paul Keatings J curve and fiscal and monetary policy so I could be making a complete idiot of myself

jude said...

Oh dear. Sorry situation isn't it? I think you've hit the nail on the head with the bit about the public being disengaged. I have spent nearly 4 decades (including standing on the steps of OPH on 11.11.75)living & breathing politics. Until the last election. It was such a pile of disillusionment. Polls, polls, superficial nonsense, and more bloody polls, and not a skerrick of a decent policy on either side, not to mention the spin and bullshit coming out of mouths. Woeful journalism too. Oratory? Haven't heard any of that for decades. Give us something we can get our teeth into and you just never know, you might start winnning hearts and minds again. She says hopefully.

Anonymous said...

Agree - I've followed it all closely since nicking off from high school at 17 to go the anti-Vietnam moratoriums (moratoria?) in 1970. Worked in Canberra for 25 years, including briefing ministers for Question Time, Estimates etc, but now it has all become so uninspiring.
Did you see Hillary with Hamish and Andy? Now there's a person of substance, wit and intelligence. I think it's time John Curtin was reincarnated to tell her we have a new paradigm and need someone to lead it because we can't seem to find the resources from within.

Leigh said...

Well I'm glad I'm not alone in feeling tired of the New Paradigm already. Watching our current polity is like reading first year essays in Management 101; lots of smartarsery but no substance. The Unhinging will kill me with boredom.

Amos Keeto said...

Yes yes... It was all Kevin's fault...

That whole "bringing down Howard" thing was nothing, really.

He dont speak right... uh ua

Anonymous said...

NBN is the spine, it is replacing a rotten spine. Sort of like a hip replacement.

It will cost every Australian about $110 each over 8 years.

Get a grip.

Neil said...

Agree with most of what you said except about Turnbull and Melbourne IT. For those who do not pay much attention to politics it was effective. Drawing a line between Turnbull investing money in the internet vs what Turnbull said shows a degree of hypocrisy and/or venal behavior. The media picked it up and ran with it.

Want to argue that the Abbot/Turnbull plan is crap. Point out Turnbull is investing millions in a company that benefits from the NBN far more than from wireless.

2353 said...

Melbourne IT may be way more expensive than GoDaddy - but I bet they don't go deleting sites they and hosting (and the backups) without notice.

Ask owners if they would use GoDaddy again.

oldeboots said...

Hear hear! The old paradigm is dead! Long live the new paradigm!

(BTW Sonia, I understand that was Henry's basis for putting forward the RSPT to begin with. Grog's right in saying that it is about economics, but that doesn't mean that the correct economics prevails)

NucMed said...

One of the many things that has been annoying me with the seemingly mentally bereft hyperventilating promoters of "wireless everywhere" is the apparent lack of any understanding of the inverse square law and, by extension, the outcome of their determination to plant towers every hundred metres (which is what will be needed to get even remotely near the lower end of the NBN capability), being the truism, that for any amount of radiation (and let's be absolutely clear, this is what is being generated), there is a non-zero probability of cell damage.

Sadly, none of them seem to "get" that. If only the Government could get someone to explain the physics (and radiation biology) to the masses in a simple manner.

Sadly the preponderance of practitioners of the law in parliament will mean that my hope will remain unrequited.

ernmalleyscat said...

Good luck with hoping anyone might listen or understand if the Government tried to explain.

Turnbull and others are allowed to get away completely unchallenged when they spout '$43 billion of taxpayers' money'. Chris Uhlmann just smiles benignly as the lie is repeated.

ozjust said...

It is not a problem if “Malcolm Turnbull has made some money investing in shares”, but if he will make more money by forcing the government to show its hand.

Crocodile Chuck said...

What if the NBN was the Erie Canal?

Well, the agricultural output of the Midwestern states would not have found a market in Europe nor the UK NB remember the Corn Laws?

New York would not have become the biggest port in the world, nor would Wall Street have become the capital of capital markets.

And all this without a cost justification!

Alistair Baillieu-McEwan said...

I think the word "ennui" better describes the feeling of disengagement I'm feeling as the year draws to a close.
My contempt for much of the media has increased tenfold, so much so that I also no longer watch 7.30 Report, Lateline, Sky or any other program with an element of politics, with the exception of a continued fascination with Q.T. I'm not sure why this is about the last to be binned. Presumably I'm hoping against hope that somehow somebody will say something that is even half-way meaningful.
Grog, even thinking about the current crop of politicians (of all shades) I'm not sure that there is even one who could deliver a speech that would stir people. Don't know enough about Mike Kelly but I'd like to know whether he has any more depth than any of the others.
Today I saw another painful performance by Bill Shorten in QT. He is so pathetic as a parliamentary representative that I cringe when he fronts up to answer a Dorothy Dixer. Most of the time he even stuffs this up.
Why they bother I'm not sure - why I bother I'll never know. Thankfully only two days to go unless I can bugger up the T.V. somehow or discipline myself not to watch.
It's no use people saying we get the politicians we deserve - we certainly do not deserve to have politicians as bad as the current lot.

Greg Jericho said...

Amos, yeah Kev beat Howard - well done, love him for it. But he got Australia through the GFC and yet was unable to explain to the public that going into debt was a good thing. His failure to explain or argue anything was his biggest downfall - and it is important because it meant he couldn't get through policies that should have gotten through.

A B-McEwan. Yes, Shorten was bloody useless. I forgot to mention it in most post tonight, but he really needs to work on his material - the problem I think is that he wants to hit a six off every ball.

Nicholas Gruen said...

Mysteriously, Rudd gave one of the great speeches in Australian history - the apology. Otherwise - nowt.

Maria said...

The government gives the impression of being as over politics as the rest of us. Hopefully, the holidays will help.

So would the entire Labor party suddenly developing the ability to sell what they're doing.

The November election idea is good. Could you also make it so state elections don't happen the same year. I really can't bring myself to care about ours, and could even consider just drawing pictures on the voting slip...

Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree about taxes - most taxes are a priori "bad" - they take away money we could have spent on ourselves. Whatever "good" they do is in what they are spent on.

Possibly the only in situ good taxes are on cigarettes and alcohol as they stop us consuming more of these filthy (but oh so delicious) products.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on with the two arguments: technical and economic.

The problem with the technical is that you very quickly get bogged down in details, technical jargon and physics. That's when the voters' eyes glaze over and they think about how their favourite sports team will go on the weekend.

The problem with the economic argument is that it's an insane amount of money for one specific type of optic network topology (Gigabit Ethernet Passive Optical Network), for which technical arguments can be used effectively to trash it (e.g. why GEPON? Why not AON and get more subscribers/distance in the ODN), but losing everyone not technically minded, much like the scientific arguments used for/against climate change. The same goes for the economic modelling, pros/cons for CBA, reasons for not presenting the business case, etc.

What Labor really need to do is to pick a few points both technically and economically that are simple to explain and hard to refute and run with them. Whenever an attempt is made to sidetrack the issues in pesky details then they need a running sheet on redirecting it back to the simple to explain/hard to refute lines.

It's going to be an interesting 2011!