Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ministers of Miscommunication

What is it about Australian Federal Ministers of Communication? Invariably, they're absolutely hopeless!

Let's look at what we've had to suffer over the last twenty or so years:

1. Two parallel fibre optic cables running down most streets in our metropolitan cities. The genius behind this utterly wasteful investment in duplicated capacity was perhaps one of the worst communication ministers this country has ever had: Labor's Michael Lee in the Keating government. He decided that, instead of mandating Telstra (government controlled at that time) to build the cable network, he'd structure a bottom up competitive environment and force Optus to build its own cable network if it wanted to be part of the telecommunications game. Ridiculous! Just as the whole copper wire network that our fixed line phones use is owned by Telstra, for legacy reasons, and they simply lease it out to their competitors, so the same rational thing should have been done for fibre optic cable.

Lee's biggest mistake however was probably his decision to begin the sell-off of the whole of Telstra without first splitting it into two distinct parts - the infrastructure development part, and the retail services part. The infrastructure responsibility - the pre-competitive part - should have been kept in government hands and only the customer facing stuff - mobile phone and broadband plans, installing business networks, etc - sold off. Had this been done we wouldn't have the disastrously inadequate broadband situation we enjoy (!) in this country at present.

2. The puerile beating-up on the ABC. Richard (dead eyes) Alston, minister in the Howard government, made belting the ABC an art form. None of it, however, was propelled by any level of intelligence, just a dumb neo-con prejudice against public broadcasting. Alston, whose sole political philosophy was to be 'anti-Labor' (yes, amazing I know, but Alston actually got off on it!) hated the 'left' that he thought ran the ABC, and constantly demanded time-wasting investigations by management into so-called left wing 'bias'. In reality Alston hated intelligent commentary and criticism. He simply couldn't cope with it. He did nothing remotely productive during his long, nine-year term. His successor, Helen Coonan, was hardly an improvement. She spent all her time shirtfronting Telstra, who had by this time become quite annoyed with government policy, as you would!

3. Conroy! Enough said! Current minister Steven Conroy has an amazing record of stuffing up big time in only twelve months in the job. That's sort of hard, but obviously not for this dope. Firstly he continued Coonan's unproductive disregard of Telstra's natural monopoly in infrastructure ownership and development in this country by staging a meaningless 'tender' for the construction of the national fibre-to-the-node broadband roll out, as if any other outfit than Telstra could profitably and efficiently build it. Before bidding Telstra wanted an assurance that it wouldn't eventually be broken up (a pre-Michael Lee option), but Conroy wouldn't give it, a nice piece of irony to be sure! So Telstra said stuff you and didn't play ball. It's sort of heroic for a minister to tell this huge, admittedly arrogant, corporation to play by the rules or go to hell, but that's sort of like telling Qantas, a private company like Telstra, that its domestic and international operations could be broken up in the future, but, by the way, please invest huge amounts of shareholders' money in buying new generation aircraft so Australians can enjoy world class travel. Despite the Rudd government's $4.7 billion broadband subsidy for the winning bidder, Telstra is the only operation with the technical knowhow, connectivity capability, reach into every home and financial heft to do the job before we all die.

Secondly, Conroy has continued the Howard government's pathetic plan to censor our Web access to 'protect our kids from porn'. Well, what can you say! All experts, repeat, ALL, say it can't be done without seriously slowing down our already snail-like access speed, and all, repeat ALL, say that any filter would act far too indiscriminately and block wholly legitimate sites.

Forget the kids for god's sake, you little man, you unappealing combination of the worst of left and right! Leave that to their parents. And if the poor little protected middle class buggers see some in-and-out occasionally, well so what! God, think of the kids in Gaza.

Rudd would do us all a favor if he ended Conroy and installed a minister who could CUT THROUGH all the inherited bullshit and get on with the task of bringing Australia into the 21st century.

Don't hold your breath!

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