#Digicitz 9: Politics & Digital Activism in the Social Age

Tomorrow night I’ll be hosting a panel for Digital Citizens on Politics and Digital Activism in the Social Age. The panel has a fascinating and diverse group of people:

  • Penny Sharpe – Labor Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads
  • John Bergin – Director of Digital News for Sky News
  • Steve Hopkins – from Ai-Media
  • Thomas Tudehope – Director of Engagement and Strategy for SR7

These panel members are all active in social media and each is a practitioner at the coalface of digital activism. They have some remarkable stories and experiences to share about the changes that the digital revolution has brought to the political and activist worlds. And each panel member brings a unique perspective of politics and digital activism.

YOU CAN REGISTER HERE
The venue for this event is the Shelbourne Hotel, 200 Sussex Street, Sydney, doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start. Tickets are $10 with 50% going to charity Sydney Cats and Dogs Home – who shelter over 4,000 lost and unwanted animals each year.

If you can’t make it tomorrow night then please consider donating to the Sydney Cats and Dogs Home Parched March fundraiser.

Twitter turns 5: will it rule? via @stilgherrian

I had a chat with Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) on ZDNet’s Patch Monday along with Open-source software advocate and developer Jeff Waugh (@jdub) and James Purser (@purserj) from Collaborynth, a consultancy that develops collaboration tools for business, government and not-for-profits.

You can listen to our discussion on this nifty embedded player:

http://www.zdnet.com.au/blogs/podcast/embed/22540003/

Australia and the secret sauce of western civilisation?

Historian Niall Ferguson, in his Civilization: The West and the Rest, notes that:

“For 500 years the West patented six killer applications that set it apart. The first to download them was Japan. Over the last century, one Asian country after another has downloaded these killer apps — competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Those six things are the secret sauce of Western civilization.”

In the light of this it is interesting to consider how Australia fares in relation to these key elements.

1) Competition
The competitive landscape in Australia is challenging. Due to the small market size we tend towards duopolies; but regulated appropriately that can provide sufficient competition. Also it is difficult to get sufficient scale for wholesale competition. While competition at the retail end of the market is much easier to encourage. Issues around cartels and price fixing remain problematic, with our regulators unable to address this effectively through the courts.

Australia is doing better at competition than it used to in the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s but we still have a way to go. The banking industry is probably the poster child for how much more there is to do regarding effective competition.

2) Modern Science
Australia has always ‘punched above its weight’ in science as well as in sport. But with funding cuts and dearth of opportunities for career scientists we are in serious danger of losing this critical advantage.

Also recent research shows that Australian universities are not performing well in relation to international research rankings:

“…few [Australian] universities performed above the international benchmark – only 12 in total which average in the top three ratings at world standard, above world standard or well above world standard.

Behind that is a very long tail, with 29 institutions averaging below or well below world standard.”

Source: Uni research report a blow to big-noters 31 Jan 2011

The other side to modern science is how our society treats science and scientists. Do we still believe in science? Do we still trust what scientists say?

Regarding vaccines – one of the genuine life saving scientific discoveries – we have many well educated people within Australia rejecting them. The anti-vaccine movement seems to be gaining momentum and we are in danger of losing the benefits of herd immunity that earlier vaccination programs gave us.

And then there is the area of climate change. With significant proportions of the Australian population (led by Tony Abbott) believing that nothing has changed and that there is no reason to make any changes to our collective lifestyles or economic choices as a result of climate change.

Also the number of well educated people who are privileging scientifically untested remedies and treatments over scientifically tested ones is increasing. This was discussed well recently by Tanveer Ahmed in Alternative medicine, superstition of our age.

However, I think that, at present, the people who believe in scientific ideas, approaches and solutions still prevail in Australia (for the time being).

3) Rule of Law and Private Property Rights
On this front, thanks to our common law heritage and continued independent judiciary, Australia continues to do well. Our legislative environment is relatively stable and decisions tend to give businesses and private individuals certainty. The rule of law seems safe in Australia for the time being.

I’ve often joked that private property is one of the sacred truths to which we hold dear in Australia. And, apart from the odd geological survey or government resumption of land, private property seems safe here.

Of course Australia does not have any constitutional guarantees of basic human rights nor do we have a nationally legislated Bill of Rights, although some states have legislated independently. But we do have the Australian Human Rights Commission, but even when this body expresses “grave concern” over an issue that does not mean that the Government will necessarily act.

However, there are some concerns regarding the growth in powers sought and granted by government to its agencies to spy on citizens – for example this piece on the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment Act 2010.

4) Modern Medicine
Australia is lucky that a former government introduced universal basic medical care – Medicare – unlike some other countries where many people are unable to afford such care. Due to the availability of good quality food and water together with access to basic medical care (including government funded vaccination programs) our population is healthy. This in spite of increasing obesity and related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Medical research continues – with foundations such as the National Health and Medical Research Council and many other private research groups – and Australia remains strong in this area.

With our education of medical professionals Australia remains strong, in spite of some concerns regarding the number of doctors and nurses.

5) The Consumer Society
There are two elements to the consumer society – the consumer mindset and consumer behaviour. Australia seems to be retaining a strong consumer mindset and this is occupying all facets of our relations with retailers and service providers (even in non retail contexts).

However, consumer behaviour seems to have shifted since the GFC with retail sales slipping. And since Christmas we have seen the panic from local retailers led by the venerable and somewhat cranky Gerry Harvey based on worries that consumers are turning to online retail over going to a local store.

Our society has become consumerist in its thinking. This means that the consumer mindset is transferred to areas of life that were once not seen as consumer transactions. For example, we now see ourselves as consumers of health services not as patients. Or we see ourselves as consumers of local government services, not as ratepayers.

This change also flows on to our expectations of those “service providers”, generally increasing our expectations. When one is a mere ratepayer one might take whatever the council deigns to offer, but as a consumer one can and will demand better service.

I’m not sure that we have really come to understand this powerful change in the shift to a consumer mindset across so many areas of modern life. It also means that the notion of service in return is a dying idea. As a consumer I receive services, not give them.

6) The Work Ethic
Adults have bemoaned the decline in the work ethic of subsequent generations since the days of Socrates. Australia is no exception. For example this recent article: Gen Y too lazy and unfocused to hire – bosses.

In the past Australians worked hard at a single job, saved up until they could afford things and waited patiently until middle age to get a housing loan. But now, we children of the ‘me‘ generation who have been brought up as consumers first have a different relationship work and credit.

We have seen an erosion of the ability to stay in a single job, where you show loyalty to the employer and they return that loyalty. The recession of the 1990s saw many of us watch people we know turfed out with nothing after years of loyal service. We watched the wave of downsizing and the lionisation of people like Al “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap by business leaders.

The Gen Xs who came out of university during the late 1980s and early 1990s found it hard to get work and learned to be suspicious of employers and their promises. This generation watched many traditional jobs, such as manufacturing, head offshore and service jobs replace them.

The old stoic Australian world view, the one where we just took whatever came at us without asking why, seems to be dead. We have been brought up to know that we have rights, even if they are simply moral rights. Rights as consumers, rights as taxpayers, rights as citizens, rights as students, rights as employees.

All of this changes our approach to work. We are still capable of hard work, many of us do not shy away from hard work. And for that hard work we expect reward. Yet some amongst us do not think that we have a right to demand that they too work. Some think that immediately upon starting work they deserve the rewards that accrue to long term achievement. And I suspect that this attitude is tied up with our consumer mindset and the way that so much in modern life does not appear to call for mastery or apprenticeship.

What’s it all mean?
As an Australian I tend to think ‘she’ll be right mate‘. We are a good country, and the preponderance of our people are good people. We are governed under a democracy that works. We have a free judiciary and our people are not oppressed. We have a tradition of a ‘fair go’ for all and we have a long history of helping the underdog.

As long as we refuse to buy into the politics of fear I suspect we’ll be alright.

International Women’s Day – some things to celebrate but more work to do

It is International Women’s Day again and surveying the scene here in Australia for women I find much to celebrate. Yet there remains much work to do for the women of Australia.

Here we see, for the first time, a crop of women in senior political leadership positions.

GOVERNOR GENERAL & STATE GOVERNORS
Quentin Bryce – Governor General
Marie Bashir – Governor of NSW
Penelope Wensley – Governor of QLD

POLITICIANS – FEDERAL
Julia Gillard – Prime Minister
Nicola Roxon – Federal Minister for Health and Ageing
Jenny Macklin – Federal Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
Penny Wong – Federal Minister for Finance and Deregulation
Julie Bishop – Deputy Leader Federal Opposition
Christine Milne – Deputy Leader Federal Greens
UPDATE: Kate Ellis, Minister for Employment Participation and Childcare and Minister for the Status of Women (thanks to Tom Voirol)

STATE PREMIERS
Anna Bligh – Premier of Queensland
Kristina Kenneally – Premier of New South Wales
Lara Giddings – Premier of Tasmania

I’m sure I’ve missed some of the women in politics – do please let me know of any additions  to the lists.

It was interesting to note that all states except South Australia have had a female Premier and that these female Premiers were all from the Australian Labor Party:

  • Carmen Lawrence, Premier of Western Australia (12 February 1990 – 16 February 1993)
  • Joan Kirner, Premier of Victoria (10 August 1990 – 6 October 1992)
  • Anna Bligh, Premier of Queensland since 13 September 2007
  • Kristina Keneally, Premier of New South Wales since 4 December 2009
  • Lara Giddings, Premier of Tasmania since 24 January 2011.

But when we turn our attention to the corporate world in Australia there is a real dearth of women at the helm. Of course, there’s Gail Kelly at Westpac – but which other women are running large public companies in Australia? As the Business Council of Australia noted recently:

“Currently only 10.7 per cent of senior executive positions are held by women and just 2 per cent of CEO roles. Women chair 2 per cent of ASX 200 companies and hold just 8.3 per cent of board directorships.”

It makes me think it might be time for board quotas for women. We’ve been asking nicely for a long time, and if women were going to get board appointments on merit it would be more prevalent by now.

Then there is the sad state of affairs with women’s financial independence. This coupled with continuing pay inequity that is experienced by many women means that women are entering retirement with substantially less savings than their male peers.

The paid maternity leave scheme that was introduced by the current government is a huge step forward for women and equitable financial treatment.

Also it remains a matter of grave concern that the level of domestic violence against women remains stubbornly high. As noted in a Crikey article in 2010:

“It’s simple; domestic abuse and sexual assault against women are community issues impacting our wives and partners, mothers, daughters, friends – everyone.

One in three women over their life times will be physically assaulted. One in five will be sexually assaulted. The cost of domestic violence to the Australian economy was $13.6 billion in 2009.”

The report card for women in Australia is along the lines of:

A good effort so far; but more hard work is needed.

It’s time for women to reclaim the word feminist and continue the good fight. There remains much work to do.

Freedom – the price and the value #Libya #auspol

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Oscar Wilde, in Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892)

It has been fascinating to watch the progress of the various revolutions in north Africa and the middle east, in particular the travails of the Libyan people trying to oust the long-standing dictator Gaddafi.

Unlike the other countries in the region, the Libyan dictator has a strong army and he is not afraid to use the full might of his arms against his own people.

In Libya we are seeing people rise up against a tyrant and face arms to achieve their freedom. They are weighing up the price and the value of their freedom in important ways.

It has got me thinking about how one might value freedom and what price one might be willing to pay to achieve it.

In Australia we are divorced from harsh realities like this. We live in a wealthy nation with high levels of education, low levels of unemployment and a working democracy. For many of us our main problem is what kind of plasma television to get next time. These are first world problems.

Our politicians argue about relative trivialities. And now we have both sides of politics in Australia polarising and calling for so-called Peoples’ Revolution.

I think that this kind of polarisation is one of stupidest ways to attempt to create a positive future for Australia. We need to create shared values and agreed common ground in the middle. We need to build consensus and have our politicians work together on that common ground in a bi-partisan way.

This current political climate of negativity, anger, personal attacks, slurs and invective does help us to create a positive future for Australia. Nor does it model good behaviour for our young people.

It’s time for the moderates to stand up and be counted.