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  Issue No 122 Official Organ of LaborNet 07 December 2001  




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Reality Bytes

Labor's IT spokeswoman Kate Lundy on how a third Howard Government will hurt the IT industry.


Senator Kate Lundy

What will the election result mean to the IT industry?

I think there is a real turning point confronting the IT industry. For many years they have struggled under the Coalition, who have had no real insight or no understanding of the importance of us growing our own IT industry. The industry has been subjected to absolutely absurd IT outsourcing policies that have done more to undermine our local capacity and promote the interests of multinational companies.

And now we are confronting a situation where the government, reinforced by Treasury, has the view that it is just fine to be a consumer of technology and not necessary in fact to be a producer. This has a number of flow on effects.

One, looking at some of the big economic measures like the IT trade deficit, mean we are effectively overriding what we earn in exports from a whole range of traditional industries including gold and wheat and wool and so forth. We could actually be building up a sustainable sector in what is still a very important enabling industry sector. The other influence of that is our community capability to use information technology. We know we are good users but it is not being put to good use in employment terms.

And the latest business regarding the Howard Government's advocacy of outsourcing to other countries I think just reinforces the whole concept that they are happy for Australia to become a branch office of multinational companies at the expense of growing our own businesses; having the research and development here; developing an entrepreneurial culture; fostering innovation; and having some economic credibility as a country participating in a globalised economy.

They are the sort of things you would expect a Liberal government to actually support - particularly the entrepreneurial culture. What is the response from IT entrepreneurs that you speak to since November 10?

You are quite right. The mindset of entrepreneurs in IT is not exactly the antithesis of what the Liberal Party is all about, so I think from their part - those individuals - there is a lot of confusion, frustration, anger. They think the political party that should naturally represent them has just completely lost the plot in supporting the interests of the big end of town at their expense.

I think there has been a real chasm emerge between entrepreneurial thinking people and what the Liberal Party is actually saying and doing. Too slowly those individuals are actually realizing that the political party that they would assume would be their natural orientation has actually done very, very little, and has indeed worked against their interests for the last five and a half years.

How has the tech wreck changed the lay of the land over the last 12 months?

The tech wreck has done a number of things. One, it allowed all those people that had been the tech skeptics - who had all written their articles before the actual market crashed - to claim vindication of something they didn't understand in the first place. There was a lot of "I told you so's" racing around the place, with I think, very little thought into understanding what in fact the bubble consisted of.

So, from my perspective, I think there has been obviously a reality check, but also a consolidation of what technology means to society - that it certainly isn't something that is going to go away, or that is beholden to the corporate sector, or indeed the market. It is something that is as much a means to an end for many people in the social environment, in a work environment, in an education environment. And those people who have kept their eye on what technology is for, i.e. a means to an end, are setting about finding their technology solutions in ways like they did before.

What has changed is that you now need a compelling reason to look at the Internet and information technologies to do something better than the way you could do it before. People aren't going to explore it just because someone thinks it is a good idea, or that there is money to be made. There has to be a compelling reason, and I think that is going to have a consolidating effect on why people use technology in their day-to-day lives. Whether it is in a workplace, at home, at school, in their business.

You were one of the key architects in the Knowledge Nation document. Are you disappointed at the way that was received by both the media and the broader public?

I certainly was in terms of its launch. I felt that the document itself warranted a much deeper analysis than it actually got in the media. I think that the concept of the Knowledge Nation embodied far more than just the knowledge economy and what would change in our economy, and sought to tackle, I guess the foundations of how a future society is going to actually be constructed - and went back to basics like education and the environment as forming part of that foundation for an equitable society in the future.

And I think a lot of that pretty heavy philosophical stuff about the future was completely ignored and it was all too hard for a decent level of analysis. I also think that our messages could have been a lot sharper and I think it is a level of the immaturity and the inability of the Coalition to grasp the debate, that the only way they could deal with it was to ridicule the whole concept.

What has that process taught you about getting new ideas out in a political context?

I guess the way that I have always approached that is to talk about things as they evolve, and actually participate in the public policy debate as ideas emerge and evolve. There is no doubt there is a time for sharpening up the actual policy solution for a given problem, but there is a real need to generate a strong and meaningful momentum around new sets of ideas as they start to form a cohesive message.

And I think that is what happened with the Knowledge Nation. The Party tried to package it up in a way that detracted from what was a really very strong and conceptual school of thought about what needed to be done about Australia's future. I guess we were responding to a market, if you like, or to demands and expectations of the public, that was looking for big news. Part of our strategy was less about whom we were actually trying to communicate with and the people through which were the means of communication, i.e. the media strategy perhaps overrode our dialogue with people, and the people we were actually trying to reach and talk to about this.

So how do you think you can keep those ideas as part of Labor's ongoing platform, without it being regarded now as old policy next time around?

That is a big part of the challenge. There is no doubt the concepts, policies and philosophies that underpin the Knowledge Nation are valid, and certainly in the way this government is shaping up, arguably more so, in how we approach the future.

I think part of it is to engage in a wider conversation. A lot of people have expressed to me the desire to participate in the whole Knowledge Nation development process. So I think there is a fantastic opportunity for us now to indulge in a much wider conversation and build on that philosophical base that is about putting people and their ideas at the forefront of where our future lies, and start putting in place the ideas that will build the foundations to sustain that, and give Australia a genuine shot at being a sustainable society and economy.

Where do you see the new areas of IT policy debate over the next three years?

Looking within my sphere of responsibility and interest, there is a lot that has changed about why people will use technology and what the motivation of allowing it to become part of their lives is. And I think how government actually manage people and support people through that transition is going to be incredibly important, particularly if we want to preserve what is so great about the internet, which is the fact that it is not a controlled environment. Its actual strength is its openness and how we actually create some compelling reasons for people to want to participate in that communications environment, without actually falling into the trap of thinking that there is some sort of superfluous ubiquity in delivery of "a service" that will force everyone to like being online.

I think whatever we do in terms of government service and delivery, or in terms of cultural content online, needs to be meaningful but not contrived or controlling or manipulative in its presentation.

The other thing about closing the digital divide, which is one of the hugest social challenges, I think a level of intervention that tackles the issue from the bottom up is within the capability of your public policy in Australia. One, because we are a small enough population to be able to tackle that question, and two, we have got a challenging enough geography to make those solutions meaningful to other countries who are facing the same huge social dilemma. Part of that of course, is why would people want to use the technology, as well as the actual question of access. So, it is about access, but it is about confidence and participation as well.

Finally, the NSW unions have just established the IT Workers Alliance. What input can you see a representative body like this having into ALP policy?

It is incredibly important because with so much IT policy you hear it from the corporate perspective, or from the industry perspective, or from the organized community advocate's perspective. We desperately need to hear from the practitioners' perspective - the workers - the people who are engaged in this stuff in their day-to-day lives - because their perspective is almost like the missing link in public policy at the moment.

We talk about knowledge workers. We associate IT workers with knowledge workers, but not every IT worker has got a quality existence, so we need to keep challenging what are the sorts of jobs that we are creating for the future, and the sort of work that people engage in and enjoy and get stimulation from and financial reward from. And the only way we are going to not delude ourselves that every knowledge job is a quality job, is to talk to those people themselves and get continual feedback and input about their experiences in the workplace, and how that impacts upon their social lives and their quality of life.


*    Kate Lundy's home page

*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 122 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Reality Bytes
Labor's IT spokeswoman Kate Lundy on how a third Howard Government will hurt the IT industry.
*  Unions: My Way or the Highway
Since 1997, workers employed by Serco/Great Southern Railways, have been locked in a struggle with their employer to have their choice of industrial instrument recognised.
*  Legal: Three Degrees of Contract
Marian Baird argues there is a need to more fully understand what workers, employers and our society expect from the employment relationship.
*  International: Bogota Terror
The assassination of a Colombian unionist has prompted international outrage.
*  History: Freedom or 'Federation'?
Mark Hearn and Greg Patmore argue that the journey to federation was not a one-way street.
*  Health: Wearing the Right Genes to Work?
Matt Brooks tracks the DNA trail to discover genetic testing in the workplace is already here.
*  Satire: Demidenko Releases New Book About Her Life As Afghan Refugee
Controversial author Helen Demidenko has written a brand new novel based on her gripping true life experiences as an Afghan refugee.
*  Review: Can Blinky Bill Save Unions?
Neale Towart browses the kiddies' shelves to find an Australian icon with a union-friendly message.

»  Unions Raise Labor Stakes
»  Standards Breakthrough in Call Centres
»  Hotel Cleaners Told: Bring Your Own Mops
»  Corporate Giant Sponsored IT to India Report
»  New Front in Battle for Compo Rights
»  Progress in Email Privacy Push
»  Christmas Progress on Sweatshops, Truckies
»  BHP Steel Workers Fight for Security
»  Union Concerned At New ASIO Powers
»  Workers Call for Patrons Before Pokies
»  Overtime Deal Helps Rural Hospitals
»  Writers in New Chapter for Unionism
»  CFMEU Backs Standards Inquiry
»  Mining Company Moves To Ban Fiji Film
»  Unions Choir Sings Up Storm
»  2002: Where to Now?
»  Activists Notebook

»  The Soapbox
»  The Locker Room
»  Trades Hall
»  Tool Shed

Letters to the editor
»  Apology to Tim Harcourt
»  Tom is Gobsmacked
»  Who was Gordon Freeth?
»  More Compo Feedback
»  Trains of Treasure
»  The Great Tuckpointer Debate Revived

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