Tuesday, 11 September 2012

NBN Co faces wireless tower backlash

The National Broadband Network Company is under fire for an alleged lack of community consultation as it rolls out fixed wireless infrastructure across parts of regional Australia, with local councils expressing frustration at what they say is an ‘apply first, consult later’ pattern of behaviour.
In June NBN Co announced it was constructing fixed wireless infrastructure across 42 local government districts in Victoria and Tasmania. The Dorset Council, based in Scottsdale in north-east Tasmania, on August 20 rejected, seven councillors to two, NBN Co’s application to build a 35-metre high wireless broadband tower on the town’s golf course. NBN Co will be appealing that decision at the Tasmanian Planning Tribunal.
Read the full story at Delimiter 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Journalism 101 - SYN Radio

On the 16th June 2012 I did an hour-long show for the Experimental Hour segment on SYN radio in Melbourne. I talked first with Margaret Simons, Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne about journalism education. I next spoke with media writer at The Australian Nic Christensen about getting feet in doors. They were followed up with a long chat touching on almost everything, including political journalism, with host of ABC's Insiders, Barrie Cassidy.

Podcast is here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Group of Eight proposes to scrap contributions cap

The national Group of Eight (Go8) lobby, which makes representations to the government on behalf of Australia’s most prestigious universities, last year released a paper (or ‘Policy Note’) suggesting the government cap on individual student contributions be scrapped.
The report noted that students whose parents paid to put them through independent schooling in the hope of increasing their chances to get into university “benefit disproportionately from public subsidies” and concludes that parents are “unable to contribute more to the cost of their education, although in many cases they would be willing and able to do so.” 
An increase in individual student contributions may free up government money which, in light of the recent policy change allowing a theoretically infinite number of students to enrol, universities claim is desperately needed. Seeming to anticipate this shift, the government was urged by the 2008 Bradley Review of Higher Education to provide a 10% per student increase in funding to universities. Mike Teece, the Director of Policy at the Go8, said the government had conveyed to him that “the cupboard is bare,” partly due to the governments’ insistence on returning to surplus in the next financial year. 

While declining to give his opinion on student contributions, University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis told Farrago: “We have to be cautious about imposing high taxes to support higher education on lower income Australians who don’t get the direct benefits of higher education. There is a case for public support, but it must be sensitive to the private benefits of higher education.”

Anxieties about the egalitarian nature of publicly subsidised tertiary education were high on the minds of students we approached. These concerns are predicated on universities providing some sort of incentive for parents, who despite their wealth may be unwilling to increase their level of contribution. 

Sebastian, a first year Bachelor of Arts student who attended private school “as a family tradition thing” despite an average single-parent income, said: “It’s a slippery slope – next thing rich families might be able to pay out the uni so their kids can attend. Where do you draw the line? I think everyone should pay the same amount, so it’s equal.”

This concern was shared by Jared, who while relaxing on the South Lawn hypothesised: “I can just imagine people would be allowed to have certain things that the rest of us couldn’t because they would be willing to pay the extra money, kind of snowballing … into some sort of elite class.” 

“In a lot of countries what happens is if you are paying more tuition fees … the government in return gives you tax benefits,” explained Shantanu, a Masters of Development Studies student from India. Shantanu also made the point: “The money that [parents] spend, when they give more fees, will be used for their own children’s benefit, in terms of more infrastructure in college and university."

Amardeep, also from India, proposed: “The money [government] saved can go to more scholarships, and maybe those students who actually can’t afford it, their fees can be reduced because of that.”

These ideas would undoubtedly draw ire from those who see it as invoking redistribution of private wealth. 

The Department of Innovation, which deals with tertiary education, did not respond before deadline.

This article was originally published in Farrago.

Malcolm Turnbull - the divine leader?

Every time Malcolm Turnbull makes one of his appearances on ABC’s Q&A program there is inevitably a few minutes devoted to a cheeky Liberal leadership question; when will he return to face off the Prime Minister at the dispatch box? The inevitability of this is apparently a universal wish among the young idealists who adore Turnbull.
It took a new turn recently when one whipper-snapper urged him, on live TV, to found a new ‘broad church’-style party to relieve the country, particularly the youth, of the current political malaise. Writer Clementine Ford dismissed the idea, but asked Turnbull when he was going to “take back the rightful leadership of the Liberal Party that belongs to him?”
Earlier in the program rhubarblover tweeted “the sensible and sensitive Malcolm Turnbull drips leadership”. MezOlsen followed up with “you’re my hero Malcolm”.
Turnbull is undoubtedly popular in certain demographics. He has a sophisticated, socially progressive, charming and nonpartisan demeanour that appeals to the young, educated and idealist. This is a complete contrast to the man who stole his job, Tony Abbott. He is seen as simplistic, backward and a doyen of the suburbs, who the urbanites loathe.
But the reality is that Malcolm Turnbull was not always this popular, and his leadership was characterised by a lacklustre opposition, political misjudgement (anyone remember Godwin Grech?) and ultimately party disunity. Abbott, on the other hand, has been a runaway electoral success.
Turnbull was dumped by his party and replaced by Abbott on the 1 December 2009, after party members were increasingly peeling away from Turnbull’s insistence that they allow the amended Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to pass through parliament.
Senior frontbenchers had announced they were resigning, Turnbull declared he could not lead a party that did not share his belief in the ETS and the leadership came to a spill, which Abbott won by one vote.
The commentariat generally agreed that, in his intransigence and inflexibility, he was the master of his own undoing. Leaders need to have a confidence in their decisions and of their convictions. But they also require the ability to negotiate and artfully placate internal divisions when it becomes apparent there is immense disquiet in their party regarding policy decisions. This key political capacity was evidently lacking in Turnbull.
Tony Abbott also divides people, but more in the electorate than inside the Coalition party room. His party are being held in line by their current comfortable standing in the polls, largely due to Abbott’s laser-like abilities to milk the government’s own goals.
Turnbull, who was leader albeit concurrently with the incredible Rudd honeymoon era, was never able to bring home the kind of electoral bacon that would have allowed him to crack the whip in the party room without fear of destabilisation. But crack it he did, and he duly paid the price with his leadership.
Turnbull does not have Abbott’s tack of speaking directly to suburban and regional voters—‘Howard’s battlers’. Aside from the business community, who have more confidence in Turnbull’s ‘capital ‘L’ Liberal’ economic philosophy than Abbott’s populism, Turnbull comes off especially well with youth and the more educated ‘small ‘l’ liberal’ professional class, who see him speaking to them across the partisan political divide.
The Q&A questioner demonstrated this is a strong allure, in days where people are decrying the low standards of political debate. But it is also his political Achilles heel. His inclination to assess policy from the reference points of merit and his economically conservative, socially progressive worldview—instead of from a populist standpoint—means he is far less regular and effective in attacking the government.
Writing in The Australian the day after Turnbull’s deposition, Mike Steketee wrote: “The reason Abbott is Liberal leader today and Malcolm Turnbull is a backbencher is because, in the political ring, Abbott packs a bigger punch.”
Furthermore, the growing disaffection in his own party, mirrored with growing support of progressive minds, was demonstrated in the days leading up to the spill. Newspoll analysis showed that Turnbull was the most popular he had been since the OzCar affair—but among Labor voters, not his own side, who had abandoned him in droves.
Under his leadership there was a less invigorated, indeed often disenfranchised, Liberal base and a blurring of the lines between the two major parties in the wary eyes of the electorate. Tony Abbott obliterates any possible lingering confusion with the sheer force and regularity of his opposition.
But does this unconvincing and lonely depiction gel with the Malcolm Turnbull we are always told about? Descriptions like “combative” and “relishes in confrontation” abound. He was a masterful, if ultimately unsuccessful, campaigner in the 1999 Republic Referendum. It is reasonable to assume he will thrive, as Clementine Ford clearly does, if he were to slide back into the Opposition Leader’s chair.
Malcolm Turnbull is most effective at debate, persuasion and—crucially—politics when it is his own personal passions and beliefs he is defending or promoting.
The catch is that those passions and beliefs are not necessarily shared by the party he once led, and on whom he ultimately depends for support.
This article was originally published in Farrago on 18/04/2012 under the name 'Jacob Aitken' (sic).