20/09/2005 - 22:00

Get the network up to scratch

20/09/2005 - 22:00


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One thing I am not an expert on is technology. I struggle with any new piece of equipment and probably only ever use 10 per cent of the capabilities of the gizmos that I own.

One thing I am not an expert on is technology.

I struggle with any new piece of equipment and probably only ever use 10 per cent of the capabilities of the gizmos that I own.

However, even I am aware that other nations are beating us at the telecommunications game.

We often hear that rural Australia lacks a comparable level of service to the cities. I don’t think much has changed in that argument for the past 150 years, but there is certainly a case to suggest that there is little incentive for investment in IT infrastructure beyond what is absolutely necessary right now.

Former deputy premier and current adjunct professor of the knowledge economy at Edith Cowan University, Mal Bryce, is one who believes we are already lagging key competitors with our telecommunications, and this will only get worse.

This is not the first time I have heard this and I have to wonder what can possibly be done to improve things.

Firstly, the privatisation of Telstra would offer a one-off opportunity to spend up big in this area. What a great legacy of the sale that would be. The recalcitrant Barnaby Joyce has already managed to win a big spend in rural Australia. Maybe the Howard Government could go the whole hog and spend up across all Australia to put us at the forefront of telecommunications.

I do worry who will do this if it’s not part of the sale package, however.

A private Telstra is unlikely to want to fund the growth of infrastructure by itself. In some ways it will have a vested interest in making its existing network work for as long as possible.

I hope I am wrong and market forces prove to be a catalyst for spending in this field.

Of course, we can’t just look to the Federal Government.

Imagine if the Gallop Government had committed $1.5 billion to $2 billion rolling out the state’s broadband network instead of building a railway 20 years too early? All those workers in Mandurah might have been able to telecommute instead.

Another look at the Enron saga

THE Enron story might be miles away from Western Australia – let’s hope so – but its one I love for some many reasons.

It’s a colourful story that reminds us that even the market watchers in the world’s biggest economy are capable of being deceived by these scenarios of greed and avarice.

Apart from the remarkable account of the collapse by two Wall Street Journal reporters in their book 24 Days, I recently had the pleasure of watching Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room, a documentary based on a book by the same name.

The movie opens next week in Perth and is well worth watching for anyone who wants to understand something of the drama but can’t commit to reading a book.

The documentary offers a ruthless execution – a fast-paced story-line which cuts regularly to corporate videos and news clips in between a wide range of interviews.

However, if you’ve read an Enron book, like I have, the movie doesn’t add that much more to the story and, in my view, is a little late in arriving under those circumstances.

Given Enron collapsed in 2001, four years seems like a lifetime ago.

Throwing fuel on the excise fire

FUEL prices are a serious issue and it seems that somewhere between $1.10 and $1.25 per litre is where it starts to really hurt business users.

Yet we are forgetting that a serious element of this is a fuel excise, which could easily be removed, albeit temporarily, to reduce the economic impact of this rise and allow users (and vehicle manufacturers) to adjust to a new pricing level.

It must not be forgotten that the excise was introduced to raise the price of fuel to discourage waste. That has clearly been achieved and now risks taking the problem too far in this time of high prices. The excise was never meant to be relied upon as a source of revenue – was it?

At a time when governments are earning record revenue from fuel exports, cutting a tax on domestic consumption would be both possible and justifiable.

Caution on China lost in the rush

THERE is a lot of bullish sentiment about China, with further predictions this year that commodity prices will continue to rise as those emerging from the Maoist yoke drive the global economy to new levels.

It is an easy story to sell.

A resurgent US economy is continuing to take everything the Chinese can manufacture. And, if the US falters, the Chinese represent a new market in their own right as the growing middle class consumers start to numerically represent any significant economy in the world.

It is a captivating picture.

But there are those who are starting to talk things down, suggesting we are putting all our eggs in one basket. It’s a predictable message, often lost in the hype of a boom, but it’s worth taking note.


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