Transparency in Australian politics

I’m very excited to see that OpenAustralia, the local version of TheyWorkForYou is online and in beta testing. Congrats to everyone involved. It’s something I’ve been wanting to see happen in Australia for years.

Reading through the site and its’ associated blog tonight, I discovered a couple of interesting points about transparency in Australian politics, good and bad.

The good was Kevin Rudd’s explanation of the nationwide FuelWatch system he’s implementing, to the chagrin of the opposition. From his explanation in Parliament this week and this release on his website (which is a couple of months old but, hey, I’ve been busy), it sounds like a good system to me. I think providing transparency on the issue of petrol prices is exactly what the government should be doing. It prevents them from interfering in the market by either placing a ceiling on petrol prices or getting more directly involved in competition regulation. They provide information and let the people decide which retailers they will buy their petrol from. It’s pretty hard to argue with. Interesting to see the Liberals *still* siding with the oil companies even after losing the last election so badly. All of the post-election rhetoric about having to change and listening to the people has obviously been put aside.

The bad thing I read was on the OpenAustralia blog where they have been trying to get access to the Register of Members’ Interests. What’s that? According to OA:

As you may know, the Register of Members’ Interests says who or what organisations are paying what to members of the House of Representatives. This is a really important document that explains who is financially influencing your Representatives.

So basically you get to see who is bribing your local MP to send them a favourable vote. You would think that this information would be pretty important in a representative democracy, right? So, where is it? Here’s what OA was told:

Not only, as mentioned before, is the register only kept in one office in Canberra, and not available online for everyone to see, it is not even available in electronic form.

Rather, the Register of Members’ Interests is a set of 7 binders with around 1500 A4 sheets in them, which are continually updated (by hand) throughout the course of the parliamentary term. Supposedly, many of the sheets are handwritten.

In other words, it is being deliberately made difficult for members of the general public to get access to. This has to be changed. We need to start a campaign to build awareness around this issue and get the Rudd government to address it. We all should have the ability to see who is lining our politicians’ pockets. This information should be readily available to everybody.

G’Day World #328 – Stephen Mayne

Stephen Mayne

Today I got to chat with another person I admire – Stephen Mayne. As I’m sure most of you will know, Stephen is the founder of Crikey.com.au. These days he is also running a video podcast “The Mayne Report” where he takes his video crew into Annual General Meetings for some of Australia’s largest companies and asks the questions other finance journalists are too scared to ask. He is also a co-founder of Kwoff.com, an Aussie news aggregation service.

Stephen has been using his media properties for the last decade to fight corruption and incompetence in Australian politics and corporations. He has fought the good fight AND became a millionaire when he sold Crikey a few years ago. So he’s living proof that you can focus on making a positive difference and also make some money along the way.

Today I capture some of that background, dig into the roots of his activism, discover how big business uses fake defamation lawsuits to pay kickbacks to friendly politicians, and learn about Stephen’s plans for his shareholder activism network.

And if you’re wondering who Patricia Piccinini is, check out these examples of her work!

And is it just me, or does Stephen carry a very striking similarity to the famous portrait of Joshua Smith by William Dobell?

The G’Day World theme music:

End of DaysConquest
“Secrets of Life” (mp3)
from “End of Days”
(Dark Star Records)

More On This Album

G’Day World #327 – Puny Humans Must Die

Today I talk about what I’ve learned recently from the following books:

  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2003)
  • The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1988)
  • Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky (2002)

I also talk about

  • an alternative to Hiroshima
  • the Roadrunner supercomputer
  • why a high IQ is linked to atheism
  • my ideas for an Australian version of TED
  • the future of media
  • why science needs a celebrity makeover

Today’s music:

End of DaysConquest
“Secrets of Life” (mp3)
from “End of Days”
(Dark Star Records)

More On This Album

Wolves and WishesDosh
“If You Want To, You Have To” (mp3)
from “Wolves and Wishes”
(anticon)

More On This Album

Study: High IQ linked to atheism

A new study from the UK claims that people with a high IQ are more likely to be atheists. Now I know you expect me to be gloating about this study but really, it’s not that interesting. From my perspective, it’s just common sense that people who have even an average level of intelligent wouldn’t feel the need to believe in the sky bully.

What is much more interesting is to work out why intelligent people *do* believe in him. And not just in God, but in other whacky ideas as well – psychic healing, UFOs, chakras, etc. What’s most interesting to me is how these memes survive in the 21st century when they are completely unsupported by common sense, not to mention scientific evidence.

Someone said to me the other day “I have evidence (for psychic healing), but not scientific evidence”. I went to lengths to explain that any evidence that can be tested, measured and confirmed by consensus *is*, “scientific evidence”. And if you can’t do those things, well… it’s not evidence. It’s just in your head. And while that is still interesting and worth exploring, before we can say something is “true”, we need hard evidence, not just your head.

Microsoft’s Decade of Shareprice Hell

The guy who wrote the MSFT Extreme Makeover blog has hung up his riding boots with a terrific summary post on Microsoft’s woes. After MSFT’s share price being in the toilet for the better part of a decade, Extreme has had enough. I sold my last remaining MSFT shares just before the YHOO announcement sent them into another decline. As Extreme points out, I think we’ve all been patient enough. We’ve given Ballmer ten years to turn the share price around. As Extreme says “stick a fork in its ass, it’s done”.

One paragraph struck me in particular, probably because I said something similar on my blog back in 2004 and it was one of the things that got me into hot water at Microsoft:

As I’ve noted before, Microsoft’s marketing is an embarrassment. Their PR is too, but that’s another matter. Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the failure to respond to Apple’s PC/Mac TV ads, something that Gates denied is having a negative impact as recently as the D conference a few weeks ago. Huh? Earth to Bill, come in. This is the same company that wants to be a leader in advertising, right? And the one spending $300 million to makeover its image?

Back in 2004 I wrote a blog post wondering why Microsoft’s marketing was so ordinary and my manager at the time told me I couldn’t say such things because it would upset the people in marketing. Well duh. He was of the “stick your head in the sand and it will all just go away” school of thought. Here we are, 4 years later, and I think we can all safely agree that they have been in a steady decline ever since.

Why? It isn’t because the people aren’t smart or because they don’t hire great agencies. I think it comes down to this: Microsoft has never had to sell anything in it’s life. For 30 years they had the hottest products since ice cream. The places where they did have to hustle, like NT or SQL Server, didn’t require advertising. They were sold door to door. So they don’t have a culture that understands advertising. But that’s just my 2 cents.

I love Microsoft, I really do. They have done so much good for the world. I just wish they’d pull their heads out of their collective asses and get back on the job.

A clarion call for digital media entrepreneurs

Paul Ryan asked me to write a story for the June/July issue of Anthill about digital media and entrepreneurship. I ended up writing something about how it seems to me that digital media entrepreneurs require a higher code of ethics, a higher vision, than your run-of-the-mill online entrepreneurs. Click on the image below to read the full article.

Who Are Australia’s Top Thinkers?

I’m working on an idea and I need your help. I want to put together a list of the top thinkers in Australia. I mean the really amazing people, the ones with a huge vision for the country or the world or even their industry. The people who are leading from the front, dreaming big dreams and doing their best to realize them. I’m looking for inspirational, amazing Australians.

I’m nominating Peter Ellyard but I’m struggling to come up with the rest. I’m sure they are out there but who are they? Who is on your list?