Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rudd Plagiarism

The Courier Mail today has run a story accusing Kevin Rudd of plagiarism of 26 words in his essay for The Monthly.

The story doesn't acknowledge that this as first reported by The Oz on Monday. The difference between the two stories is that the Oz noted that the 26 words were indeed quotes that the two pieces shared in common, and the Courier Mail didn't acknowledge that the "research" was conducted by the Liberals.

So let me repeat the comments I made in Crikey on Tuesday.

Clearly the Liberals are sniffing the chance to hang Rudd with the same complaints that were made against Julie Bishop. This would be a great political win, and provide the deputy Liberal leader with some much needed cover. But we are then breathlessly informed "both men produced identical quotes from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Qishan to demonstrate the weaknesses of the global financial system."

So what is the charge -- that both accurately quoted the original? Or that Rudd "cheated" by quoting the same sources. Claiming this is plagiarism is like suggesting two students cheated because they both quoted the "To be or not to be" soliloquy when writing an essay on Hamlet.

Far worse for their case though is the implication that the Liberals have already subjected the Rudd piece to the "Google test" of typing whole phrases into the search engine and looking for a match. If this is all they have found they should shut up about it. All they would do now is just highlight how egregious the plagiarism on their side of the House was.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Of Devils we Know

The second part of the story about the departure of Julie Bishop from the shadow Treasurer's gig is what happens now to all those stories about a succession in NSW. Crikey and others have been full of the stories of various machinations to ensconse Joe Hockey in NSW, be it via Jillian Skinner's seat or some other.

These stories have been fed by the simple observation that the Liberals in NSW under Peter Debnam were unelectable, and that despite all the promises they don't look much better under Barry O'Farrell. There seems no prospect of jolly Joe making the transition now! So where do the desperate NSW Liberals turn now - on their form it is inconceivable that they'll run to the election without turmoil.

Meanwhile the three-fold shift in personnel hasn't done anything to improve the coalition front bench. Senator Coonan will be monumentally out of her depth in Finance, and will be no match for Tanner in a head-to-head on Lateline (and has anyne else noted how odd it is that she and her Senate leader now have officially swapped their jobs at the time of the last Telstra privatisation in Opposition). One wonders why the coalition weren't more adventurous and at least promote Andrew Robb to Finance. Does Robb now have a "lean and hungry look". Julie Bishop will make no impact on Foreign Affairs - but that is no change, either for Bishop or the coalition in Foreign Affairs. That leaves the only hope that Joe works as Shadow Treasurer. But looking at his form it is unlikely. In Government he was a good "Mr Fix-It", he is personable on the telly, but over does the senorious critique. But he has no record of really getting down and dirty in policy analysis - which is what the coalition has been lacking in economic policy.

Similarly the choice of the squeaky clean (or lean and squeaky) Chris Pyne as manager of opposition business seems strange. Tony Abbott might not be everyone's choice as their dinner companion, but his determination and mongrel could be expected to put some more spine into tactics.

We know they opposed the stimulus package, we know they sort of would like to see tax cuts brought forward. It isn't the job of Oppositions to promote alternative policy as such, but it is there job to create a framework around which their criticism is based. This was the lesson of the Beazley inheritance - no amount of looking serious and attacking a policy works unless the people you want to nod their heads as you make these points can really understand what difference you would make.

As the NSW Liberals are starting to realise there is a big difference between getting the punters unhappy or uncomfortable with the current Government, there is a big step in converting that into a positive belief that the alternative can be better rather than simply the general resignation that Government continually fails us. The benefits of incumbency are many, but the biggest of them all is "better the devil you know".

Harrassing a Minister

The serial pest Stilgherrian had another comment in Crikey about the Internet filter.

I posted a short comment on his blog but also a longer piece that Crikey hasn't yet seen fit to print. The shorter piece tried to highlight the fact that Conroy is being attacked for spending too much AND too little on the trial. Stilgherrian in his reply tried to repeat the argment that a trial wasn't warranted because there wasn't a policy being trialled - which was the same technique used by Howard to kill the republic.

I don't know what it is about Stilgherrian that makes his near unintelligble prose such appetising content for Crikey. Somehow or other we are meant to believe that Conroy has unanswered questions about his internet filtering trial that he was supposed to "come out and answer" after issuing his press release announcing the first six triallists.

It would be an interesting story if there were an accredited journalist out there who had tried to get comment and was denied it.* But Conroy's media adviser was unlikely to be able to take any serious journalists calls as everytime he makes an announcement the lunatics post Conroy's e-mail address and the media adviser's mobile number on the Internet forum "whirlpool".

Take the post from "Gator" at 5:57pm last Wednesday "Conroy can shove this test where the sun doesn't shine. It's not even remotely valid. Quick – hammer his email. :P". Followed up with " There's his email – feel free to flood his inbox. Make the objections cogent and not just stating the bleeding obvious such a "you are a retarded, moronic self-serving bastige with the IQ of a watermelon and the timing of a lousy comedian on an off night" at 6:06pm.
It was btone at 6:32pm that posted "From the release...aka political death warrant: For further information on the Government's cyber-safety policy, including detailed questions and answers, see: Date: 11 February 2009 Contact: Tim Marshall (phone number given in the post) Heloooo, Timmmmehhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! :)"

These are the people we are led to believe by Stilgherrian are the sophisticated opposition. Do they understand that the only thing guaranteed not to get politician's attention is the unsophisticated message attack? (Oh and by the way that e-mail address and phone number can be readily found on the internet if people really wanted to find them, not sure why the whirlpool brigade need to be given them).

The posts as a whole make interesting reading, as just as many people complan about the delay in the trial as complain about the trial. Well, actually, the same people complain about both. Just as the same people complained about the fact that Conroy only announced trials with small ISPs, ignoring the fact that they also announced they were continuing to work with other ISPs to finalise arrangements. (Mind you when someone pointed out the line about continuing to discuss with other ISPs, basil00 wrote at 10:45pm Wednesday "Yeah, I it's possible. But it's also possible that the above statement is a trick designed to defuse criticism over the exclusion of those larger ISPs :/ Didn't seem to work."

Seems the poor guy can't win - if he announces something its wrong, if he delays someting he's wrong.

Conroy keeps repeating this is a trial to inform evidence based policy. I ask you what distinguishes these internet libertarians from the christian moralists they seek to oppose - because it certainly isn't anything about being grounded in reality.

* Stilgherrian would argue from his post "His office has stopped answering even straightforward questions, and his own response to nearly every question is to ignore the substance of the question and just repeat his prepared statements. That’s not a debate, that’s a parrot. As one journalist put it to me, it’s pointless interviewing him because all he does is read out the media release." Maybe Stilgherrian would like to pay more attention to politics. Has he ever seen a Minister (or shadow) do anything else. It is called being "on message". As an example have a look at Christopher Pyne on Lateline last night.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Trials of an Internet Trial

Senator Conroy probably couldn't have imagined how hard the process of implementing policy in Government could be. Since coming to office the PM has referred to a concept of "evidence based policy", which Conroy has being trying to pursue on filtering by deciding that he won't make propose any laws to implement the clean feed internet policy until after some real trials have been conducted.

But getting to the point of the trials has been troubling. ZDNet reported that the Government had received 16 applications to participate. Telstra and Internode announced they would not participate, Optus announced they would participate in testing the blcklist only, and iiNet announced iot would participate to "prove it wouldn't work".

Yesterday Conroy announced that arrangements had been finalised with six ISPs to participate in the filter trials, and that consultations continue with a number of other ISPs. Good news one might have thought, the Ministr is behind schedule but getting to the point of conducting the trial.

Well, not as far as Senator Minchin was concerned. He saw something dark in the fact that the two biggest ISPs that had indicated they would apply weren't on the list. What is Conroy to do? One would think that the larger ISPs would have more concerns and therefore a more protracted discussion. If Conroy had waited to announce until everyone was signed then the delay looks longer, if he announces progress he gets criticised with who was chosen.

There has been no indication or rumour that anyone is failing to reach agreement on the trial. Yes, it is behind time, but can anyone remember the last time DBCDE or itspredecessor did ANYTHING on time?

Admittedly these triallists (apart from iPrimus) are all pretty small. That, however, is also a good sign because the suggestion was the cost would be prohibitive for small ISPs so presumably these guys are figuring out its worth pursuing.

But it does make you wonder whether there is a future for "evidence based policy", because the process becomes quite protracted. Just doing things behind closed doors and making big announcements might be better - things like a $10B Murray Darling Basin plan. That's more Senator Minchin's style.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The end of books?

Let's see if I can bring together a number of strands today, that really go to the heart of the concept of the Digital Economy.

The Productivity Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into the parallel importation of books. This is a long running issue, and one which parts of the publishing industry take seriously enough to complain about one of the Commissioners on the grounds of bias.

As Crikey points out itis hard to distinguish principle from self-interest at times in this discussion.

But one wonders if the debate isn't really starting to happen just as the whole book business model is about to undergo the same shift as happened to music.

In the SMH on the weekend Naomi Alderton wrote about her conversion to e-books and how they were in fact a green solution. Her device of choice was an iLiad. Meanwhile Amazon is making books prepared for its Kindle reader to also be available on various smart phones. At the same time Google announced that it was making its vast resource of online books available to mobile phones.

In Australia Dymocks already offers digital books for a number of reader devices. Coming from the other direction Angus and Robertson offers the the storymaker which is their name for the Espresso Book Machine which can print and bind a rare or out of print book while you wait.

It would seem the future will not be about the physical importation or printing of books in any form.

As for me - I'd love to try out an e-book format. The Kindle looks great but only works for the US, while the iLiad offered by Dymocks claims to be able to handle any document you could print frm a PC.


I've mentioned before that our good friends at DBCDE in putting together a Digital Economy discussion paper have talked about access to Public Sector Information. Meanwhile the folks at Crikey provided a really good example of the use of statistics in their video of the day today (see below).

The video is a bit long, but the end of it is fascinating. These guys have started their own public statistics program called Gapminder. Some really interesting data series available and some fascinating tools as well.

Define "expert", define "employed"

I posted a comment to Crikey about a correction that Henry Ergas made to a claim by Crikey. The original statement was "Despite the blatantly partisan nature of his columns, neither Ergas nor The Oz feel inclined to reveal that Ergas has been in the pay of the Federal Liberal Party, conducting Malcolm Turnbull’s own version of the Henry tax review."

Today's AFR has an item that calls Henry Ergas a prominent economist who is "the tax expert conducting the review of the country's tax system for Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull". Meanwhile the Australian publishes another Ergas piece, this time criticising the Rudd stimulus package, with again no reference to the relationship (however constituted) with Turnbull.

PS Until doing this review for Turnbull there is no record of him being a tax expert in any way. His CV he has been the expert on how big business should extract rents.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Ultimately the Digital Economy can be seen as a descripton of the wide set of productivity improvements delivered through the adoption of ICT. This is the most limited view, but it seems to be what the Government thinks it is.

Telstra has released a report and white paper, including its Telstra Productivity Indicator. As expected it has been able to turn this into good positive brand stories. The one in Busines Spectator confused at times the ACIL Tasman white paper with the outcomes of the survey conducted by Sweeney.

The observation that large numbers of businesses don't measure productivity improvement masks the fact that many firms focus is on the creation of new markets and products, which typically makes productivity measurement a difficult task.

Business Spectator also comes up with some extraordinary comparisons of Australian versus US productivity improvement over the last thirty odd years. These numbers don't sound right on the surface. But even if they did, in a choice between the US economy and the Australian economy I guess I'd choose ours.

Similarly the note that our productivity improvement had been concenmtrated in mining and agriculture is described as if it were a negative. The theory of comparative advantage in trade suggests you should work on improving your strengths, so it looks to me like we've ben doing the right stuff.

Also from the UK

The interim Digital Britain report has been released. Initial coverage focussed on the call of broadband for all, whereas later coverage noted that the target was somewhat low at 2 Mbps.

The interesting part was the inclusion of that connectivity target in the report, whereas the NBN was excluded from consideration in our local DE consultation (with filtering), and there has been no reference anywhere to the proposal for a new Communications Service Standard made by the Regional Telecommunications Review.

It is frustraing that we really seem to be in a generally good policy area, but only the cogniscenti would get it because of the fractured policy framework.

The Power of Information

Getting back to where we began, the Government's attempt at a blog on Digital Economy issues. One of the topics they tried to cover was the use of Public sector Information.

A second round of the UK consultations on this has come out, this time a highly innovative initiative of posting the draft report on a website in HTML form only designed to elicit comments on it bit by bit. Personally I find it a frustrating way to try to read the draft, but it would seem to be a better approach than the piecemeal "blog" the Government used on the Digital Economy.

As to the actual content, the recommendations focus on free open access (creative commons licences), but they also note that the online environment continues to evolve.

Once upon a time all State Governments had Government Prining Offices, but they got swept away by technology and outsourcing. In Canberra today the great focus is still on outsourcing, but the creatio of a modern day equivalent of the printing office might not go astray. At least for the purposes of cataloguing, maintaining archival copies, and establishing standards including on tagging and hyperlinks.

The future of investigative journalism

In the rush to embrace the Digital Economy the decline of newspapers and other "mainstream media", is taken by some as a new democracy and reduction in the opinion making power of a few "media barons".

However, as the Toronto Star has noted the collapse of the old media model puts at risk the tradition of investigative journalism. This is the kind of journalism that often rquires an extensive commitment in investment to get the story, deep pockets to fight potential lrgal battles, and often stealth in accessing the whole story before details are revealed.

The Star notes a number of potential scenarios for how to fund this investigative journalism. The first is the suggestion by Nicholas Sarkozy that he will help newspapers by funding every eighteen year old for a subscription for a year to the newspaper of their choice (though in Australia university students can already access very cheap subscriptins). Other models are grants from foundations or a group in the US called ProPublica that is acting as a third party "research house" of stories (a kind of twist on the traditional shared resource newsagency like AAP that mostly distributes event based news).

The other model of course is that familiar in British models of the government funded public broadcaster. There is a feeling in Australia that the years of political attack on the ABC have worn it down and its investigative role is greatly contracted.

The item concludes with an exhortation;

Undoubtedly the list of models will grow. But, in my view, the important need is for the dialogue to begin. At stake could be nothing less than the vibrancy and health of our society.

That might be a bit over the top. But are there other models? Does it matter, can citizen journalism fill the gap?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Doom for the Internet or a piss weak story?

Oh dear, Stilgherrian is pushing another piece of apocalyptic doom in Crikey today (not sure if its behind the paywall or not).

I've provided my response to Crikey as follows;

Stilgherrian has thankfully at last acknowledged that an index based filter of the internet can work without degrading the Internet. He now wants to have us believe that the process of delivering the blacklist to ISPs will bring the Internet crashing down all because of one example from Google.

The first and obvious answer, as demonstrated by his power supply story, is that there are risks in all networks, but the good news is that all networks have in place risk management plans. These processes are what enable networks to handle the outages they get. In the specific case of an index based internet filter the risk planning would include (a) after hours arrangements for communicating list failure with ACMA (b) a alarm bell that would ring if the list file was too big (if it specified as a list of ISP addresses unlike the list of URLs Google was using it couldn't happen from a single slash) (c) alarms that trigger before network traffic "fills" the network. And the actual scenario of the IP addresses the network engineers ned to access being included in the "blacklist" can similarly be dealt with by rejecting the blacklist file if it contains IP addresses required to run the network.

So thanks to Stil for providing the first exercise in risk planning for the implementation of the filter to a network. But it still fails, just like his political censorship and other scare stories, as a reason to not implement a filter.

Meanwhile, Crikey also reports on the consequence of the confirmation of the left-right deal for the effect on the SDA, aka "the shoppies".

As Crikey notes

For such an influential union, the SDA's history is enlightening. Crikey readers would be aware that its predecessor disaffiliated from the ALP in the wake of the 1955 DLP split. For the next 30 years, it functioned as the industrial base of conservative Catholicism until finally re-admitted to the party to shore-up Bob Hawke's base in 1984. However, its legacy remains for the most part undimmed.

That "conservative Ctholicism" used to be an important part of Stephen Conroy's personal power base. Maybe he'll venture to be a bit clearer about his filtering policy now!


Wow - I finally found something that explains the Digital Economy

Or was it