Sunday 9 May 2010

Blogger's Blues: Censorship, Militarism and FNQ's fairytale information superhighway

CairnsBlog columnist Syd Walker never fails to get readers enraged, talking and hopefully thinking about the world around them.

Today he raises questions about the Federal Labor government's plans to introduce a national broadband network, militarism and FNQ's fairytale information superhighway. Hang on for the ride, again.

I blogged intensively for a year or so, then stopped when I was unable to invest the huge amount of time needed, on a daily basis, just to keep abreast of the complex topics I was covering.

But occasionally I get drawn into CairnsBlog debates. I made one such contribution back in late April – a brief comment on a story about our local Federal MP Jim Turnour. Editor Michael Moore, elevated my comment to the status of a standalone article, coupled with a photo depicting me flooded-in during the sodden 2008 local council elections. I presume he then stepped out for a few hours. A day at the Blues Festival perhaps?

That was last Saturday, May 1st. By the evening, when blog comments were approved for publication, the notion I might be running at the forthcoming Federal election had a currency I never planned or intended. It was already drawing howls from a handful of appalled readers. Had this happened exactly a month earlier, it would have made a great April Fools prank.

I posted my comment on the article about Jim Turnour on April 31st, the previous day.
I now know that was a much more interesting moment in Australia's internet censorship saga than I ever imagined at the time. But I hadn't kept abreast of that particular debate for some weeks. Nor had I done the research required for a 'feature article'.
This update is, in part, an attempt to remedy the omission.

On April 29th, Murdoch's Australian newspaper had reported “Rudd retreats on web filter legislation”:
  • KEVIN Rudd has put another election promise on the back burner with his controversial internet filtering legislation set to be shelved until after the next election.

    A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday the legislation would not be introduced next month's or the June sittings of parliament.

    With parliament not sitting again until the last week of August, the laws are unlikely to be passed before the election....

So - was the shelving of Internet Censorship urged in my CairnsBlog post already in the bag?

Well, not exactly. Later the same day (April 29th), Ben Grubb reported in ZDNet:

  • Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today said he had "no advice" to suggest that the Federal Government's plans to implement a mandatory internet filter would be delayed until after the federal election, despite a report saying it would.

    At a press conference announcing the Federal Government's "anti-smoking action" this morning, ZDNet Australia asked the Prime Minister about a report that appeared in The Australian today saying that the introduction of the legislation required for the filter would likely be delayed until after the federal election.

    The Prime Minister said he had "no advice to that effect". He later said when questioned if the legislation would be introduced this year: "Look, can I ask that you put that to the relevant minister. I don't have any other advice to what I put to you earlier" ...

    When the minister's office was asked again whether the report in The Australian, which said the legislation would not be introduced in the May or June sittings, was correct, the office said that the legislation would be introduced once the processes mentioned in the original statement were complete. Since then the office has said it is unlikely to be heard in the May sitting.

    So what's the deal? Has the filter been ditched because it's a political lemon? And why won't the government talk?

Good question. What is the deal on Internet Censorship Mr Rudd? It's a question many Australians would like answered. Quite a number of IT companies are interested too. It may well influence their investment plans. Who'd want to be inside a firewall run by utter incompetents if you have a better option?

Ross Fitzgerald's article, published in the May 6th Australian, does nothing really to illuminate us, although it provides interesting commentary on the issue.

So is Conroy's Internet Censorship Folly on or off? Is it off until it's on? Or on until its off? Is Conroy such a twit he can't even orchestrate a successful pre-election back down?

The mind boggles.

Before the last Federal election, I spoke on the phone with Jim Turnour. I was desperate for an upgrade of my internet connection so I could get broadband (As a footnote, it later transpired that I could actually have had ADSL at the time – but Telstra misinformed me about my potential access on several occasions for over a year due to a 'database error' It had me listed under the wrong exchange, would you believe?!)

Jim Turnour's desperation was of a different kind. He was desperate for votes.

Talking to Jim about telecommunications did not instill much confidence – but he certainly tried hard to convert me to his faith.

“It'll be better under Labor” was his only real take-home message. He pleaded for acceptance that a Rudd Government would try much, much harder than its opponents to bring affordable broadband to country Australia. But he could provide no detail.

Nearly three years later, it's not obvious to me that Labor has any more 'detail' about how this laudable objective will be delivered than it did then.

Huge uncertainties remain over the ambitious proposal for a National Broadband Network (NBN). Will it cost more than 40 billion dollars - or just a fraction of that vast sum? Will Telstra be in or out? Rather significant questions such as this hang in the air. But this is not 2008. It's mid 2010. Isn't it getting rather late to be thrashing out the basics? Where's the fibre-optic cable?

Meanwhile, Labor's Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has made Australia an international laughing stock in IT networks. His public appearances to defend the Rudd Government's obsession with censoring Australia's Internet cause embarrassment or mirth, depending on the temperament of the audience. Surely even supporters of censorship squirm too?

THIS is the man we are seriously expected to believe will oversee the successful creation of the NBN - which it ever happens would indeed be national infrastructure building on an epic scale?
Only a real true believer could believe that.

It's getting close to three years since Labor won the 2007 election.

Three years is a long time.

In a similar period of time in Iraq – a country that had been an excellent trading partner to Australia prior to 2003 - it was sufficient time to destroy that nation's infrastructure, allow its intelligentsia to be decimated, trigger civil wars, create millions of refugees, destroy irreplaceable cultural heritage and plunge the society into chaos and despair.

Incidentally, that policy of illegal invasion and subsequent illegitimate occupation - rationalised via a pack of rather obvious lies - was carried out with full bi-partisan support in Australia, cheer-led by every single Murdoch newspaper. So was the Rudd Government's early 'lock-in' of 3% annual growth in military expenditure - a pledge of exponential growth in aggressive capability, whatever happens to the rest of the economy...

A few constructive years, on the other hand, are sufficient for a lot of creative accomplishment.

So what of Jim Turnour's pledge back in 2007 that telecommunications will be better under Labor?

From an FNQ perspective, I can't see the Rudd Government has accomplished anything at all so far. A Perhaps schools have benefited significantly from the Government's recession-busting package? I hope so. It would be good to hear directly from students and teachers. Certainly, if Labor has done anything at all to improve FNQ's telecoms, its supporters might do a better job selling the story here, lest the rest if us never notice.

Three years on from 2007, Telstra still owns all the core telecoms infrastructure in my rural area. There is no NBN roll-out in FNQ. There isn't even a start date for this region - not as far as I'm aware.

Parts of two suburbs in Townsville were recently listed as 'first release sites'. They'll be subject to feasibility studies "to test network design and construction methods". I can't spot anything tangible north of Townsville.

The grand alternative offered by the Coalition, apparently, is to scrap the NBN entirely: kill it stillborn.

That's not much of an option either, from the idiots who first handed Telstra-as-a-newly-privatised-corporation effective monopoly over most of Australia's communications infrastructure - in the name of 'competition policy'.

A quick check today on the Liberal Party's website gives me no other insight into what else the Coalition's telecoms policy might be, if it has one at all.

It's beyond annoying, really.

Enough to make you feel like blogging.

No comments: