17 March 2009

Not waiting for the world

The Fraser government went to the 1983 election with the slogan "We're not waiting for the world", and lost it. Ever since then, Australian governments have not promoted any policies which might enable Australian producers to get ahead of world-best practice and to create a competitive advantage that could form the basis of an export industry.

Barry Jones was roundly ignored for his serial enthusiasms and attempts to second-guess researchers. The solar energy project at UNSW has generated billions for foreign ex-students and has made Germany, not Australia, the leader in this field because successive Australian governments have ignored the possibilities for a domestic solar industry. In the current environment it would have been nice to have a mature industry capable of employing all those effectively redundant motor and TCF workers.

Lenore Taylor has told us that the government isn't trying to get ahead of the game, not why. This piece could have been framed in terms of giving unemployed people jobs that are sustainable both economically and environmentally - but instead the tone is vaguely whiny as though the only training you need is on the job, or that formal education is something you set aside when you become an adult. Then there's this:
UNIONS have accused the State Government of forfeiting thousands of new jobs and billions of investment dollars by going soft on solar power.

In a pointed letter to the Premier, Trades Hall secretary Brian Boyd said a broader and more generous solar subsidy scheme had the potential to create $2.5 billion in solar investment and 2500 jobs.

"(Trades Hall) is disappointed that the Victorian Government is not implementing policies which will create new jobs around key environmental positions," he wrote.

Like hell it is - all those brown-coal miners and burners are members of unions, whereas nobody is employed in institutions which do not exist. Five years ago, any solar proposition would have had Brian jumping up and down about "our members' jobs". This is why Suzana's friend is kidding himself with this:
"I've got more than 17,000 potential climate change warriors in this state," he said. "There's a lot of green collar jobs to be had if only governments were serious."

Then, there's this from the minister, a 1st century equivalent of having to walk in front of a motor car waving a red rag:
Energy Minister Peter Batchelor has opposed a gross feed-in tariff, arguing that it would be unfair to households that did not have solar panels.

But a solar expert, University of NSW academic Muriel Watt, has studied the likely impact of a gross system in NSW and found it would cost all households 3 or 4 cents a week.

Right now, you can expect some angry ant in the Victorian ALP, probably Batchelor himself, is looking for ways to nobble Watt for apparently shirt-fronting the minister like that.

Rather than simply reporting the backwards-and-forwards of political exchange, focus on growth and innovation and judge government policy accordingly. Australia needs more thabn just the odd change of government now and then, it actually needs a government prepared to punt on the future (including with education and other social measures). It also offers more evidence, if any were needed, that reportage is dead and need not be mourned.


  1. Andrew - I find it funny you say that the solar project at UNSW is exporting expertise. My operating systems lecturer at UNSW was a German, held a PhD in solar cell-related physics (from a German uni), and has only recently spun a company out of NICTA, based, you wouldn't guess, in the USA. How's that for a use of tax-payer dollars? NICTA is worth an article by you - it was a vehicle for steamrolling the central uni admins in the Howard years (give those turkeys money and they'll spend it on the arts faculty), was supposed to seed the local IT industry, and is now apparently going to steer Conway's brave new internet rollout. Heh.

    Near as I can tell Gillard hasn't articulated much in the way of education and research policy. I guess there's not enough argy-bargy in it for the reporters to cover. Who's her shadow?


  2. I think Carr's been doing all the running on research. Shadow Education is Tony Smith, Peter Costello's mini-me. Thanks for the heads-up about NICTA - always wondered what they did ...