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.
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…