|Issue No 122||07 December 2001|
Downer's Sticky Wicket
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has spun himself into this week's Tool Shed with some work that would do Bishen Bedi proud calling for Australian IT jobs to be exported to India.
Now, we all expect our Foreign Affairs Minister to keep up good relations with other countries, but we suspect that giving them our jobs might be taking things to extremes.
Whatever, Downer's gushing release of a report about India's thriving software industry should send alarm bells ringing through Australia's technology industries and workers. India's software marketers are everywhere, but we would expect our government to exercise some judgment.
Australia software developer Tony Healy points out several naive parts of
Why the DFAT report is a D Minus.
1. There is an extraordinary naivety in purporting to advocate benefits for business, yet not being aware that software development is also a business. What the report is doing is pushing the short sighted interests of one section of business, being dumb old-boys business.
2. There are large numbers of smart Australians for whom software development is the business, and they're asking why a pro-business government would attack a business that's essential for future national prosperity. Even the conservative Australian Computer Society questioned the report on 2GB.
3. Many IT disasters can be traced to communications problems between business and IT departments. Such problems would be exacerbated by moving development and IT offshore, and will increasingly have more drastic consequences as additional services and data are entrusted to online systems.
4. In defending the report, its author said that Australians are good at producing ideas, and that cheaper programmers will make it easier for these people to build businesses. This is wrong.
i) There's no evidence Australians are better than other nations at producing ideas. Our patents per population are much lower than comparable countries.
ii) The notion that important new technology ideas will be produced by people outside the technology community was a popular myth perpetrated by business schools and shot down in flames by the dot.com bust. In the US, the term "MBA business plan" is used derisively to refer to a particularly worthless technology business plan. We don't want MBA business plans in Australia.
iii) The people who produce worthwhile and valuable ideas are the people who understand technology. There will be fewer of these people in Australia if our development work is shifted offshore.
5. Another defence the author gives is that the car industry imports parts from overseas, and that by analogy programming is just a car part. This defence is flawed in failing to understand that software development is an important strategic business. If the government offers substantial incentives to keep car plants in Australia, why doesn't it do the same for software developers?
6. In cultural terms, the report is a biased attack on a particular industry segment, IT and programming, that's too new to have started defending itself. Why, for example, does the report not advocate using cheap Indian lawyers and accountants?
7. The Indian software industry is extremely aggressive in marketing itself, for which it receives strong government backing. It has been doing this since the early 1990's, and has embarked on a new round of aggressive marketing recently. The DFAT author has been sucked in by this marketing. It's as simple as that.
8. Banks such as ANZ have been using Indian firms since the late 1980's but only for routine stuff, and with very strict controls for quality reasons. The DFAT author has misinterpreted their description of "routine" as applying to all programming, which is wildly wrong. On top of that, of course, I would prefer that even routine programming was done locally.
The irony of the position should not be lost: the party of entrepreneurs is kicking its core constituents in order to suck up to big business.
Interestingly enough, the Department of Foreign Affairs report carries an interesting little credit at the bottom of the page "thanks to our sponsor BHP Biliton'. What this? A government report with a corporate sponsor? See: http://www.dfat.gov.au/publications/india_new_old_economy/index.html
What should be exported to India is not Australian IT jobs, but Australian IT products and expertise, and the culture of fairness and respect for workers' rights that contributes to the high standards of living in first world countries.
Efforts to help workers organise collectively and raise baseline wages and conditions have begun through Union Network International and will become increasingly important for all IT workers over the coming months and years. But Downer's corporate-backed intervention does nothing to promote these type of venture, instead equating inferior wages and conditions with competitiveness.
Downer is a Tool for endorsing this report and he's a bigger Tool for not even realising the damage he was doing to Australian workers.
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.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005