Two things never to discuss with your hairdresser: religion and politics. Why? Probably because our opinions are hard to justify with logic or facts, leaving only emotion leading to passion, leading to punch-ups. In the race to the bottom this campaign, what started out as the least relevant policies for the average voter have suddenly become very topical: Broadband and The Filter(tm). While the two major parties have gravitated towards the centre on major policy, and used scare campaigns about illegal immigrants and trustworthiness to sling mud, and generally ignore the environment, it’s only in the last week or so that suddenly the NBN is being seen as a differentiator between Labor and the Coalition.
On the filter, Labor can see the horse’s carcass but isn’t ready to put down the stock. Meanwhile both the Coalition and Greens favor what all but those with other motives for a centralised filter support: voluntary end-user filtering technology programs. Both have vowed to kill the filter when the vote on policy comes. It’s really only Conroy who still believes in the filter, but Gillard doesn’t understand technology worse than him, so she’s happy to give his rampaging the smile and nod of a mother watching a toddler ‘pat’ a dog.
Meanwhile, there is a stark difference on the NBN. While stones are being thrown at Labor’s Crystal Palace – its cost will blow out, it’ll get mired in bureaucracy and it’ll take too long to deliver – the Coalition’s idea that it’s a very expensive way to build an asset of rapidly diminishing value is probably fair. Which is exactly where their theory that private enterprise will build broadband of its kind any time soon falls down. It also begs the question – if no-one else will build the NBN, then surely the Government should build and own it? Government’s role isn’t to make a profit, but to provide infrastructure the country needs and private enterprise can’t get a reasonable return from. The Coalition’s alternative hodge-podge of OPEL reanimated is laughable, and the Chaser’s take is the best so far. Seriously, is a guarantee of less than half the current ADSL speed max for all Australians going to be enough?!
But, in the end, how we vote on Saturday probably won’t make much difference in the short term to ICT policies. The Filter won’t come up until late in the next term of a Labor government, and not at all for a Coalition one. And when the NBN contracts get the proper read-through by the Coalition, quite a lot of infrastructure will have to get built before that supertanker runs aground. Telstra shareholders probably won’t be too happy with unwinding its deal with NBN co., either.
Single-term thinking is at odds with infrastructure investment and policy reform: you just can’t achieve much in three years, unless you rush things, stumble, waste money and cop a lot of flack. Whichever way the cards fall on Saturday, we will look back on this government as a turning point in a number of policy areas after thirteen years of slow-moving conservatism – and we still probably won’t want to discuss it with our hairdressers.