The Greens, China and Australia’s Geopolitical Reality

Australia, Politics

Joe Humphreys

The Greens need to come to terms with Geopolitics.

On July 1, 2020, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that an imposing $270 billion would go towards Australia’s defence in the next decade to meet the strategic challenges of the Asia-Pacific region in the increasingly uncertain post-COVID-19 world.

A large portion of Canberra’s additional commitment of approximately $70 billion on top of the existing $200 billion defence budget is set to go towards improving Australia’s regional strike capabilities – with $800 Million used for purchasing American built Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM), $9.3 Billion on R&D for long-range, potentially hypersonic, offensive weapons as well as a potential investment in anti-missile defence capacities.

On top of this, Mr Morrison announced that significant funding would also go towards cyber and information warfare capabilities, and importantly, pledged $7 billion to go towards developing an independent Australian satellite network.

This significant increase in the Australian defence budget, now 2% of national GDP, is a watershed moment in the history of Australian strategic policy. Past governments have laboured under the illusion that U.S interests and hegemony will always ensure stability in the Asia-Pacific, negating the need for Australia’s force projection capacities.

In the third decade of the 21st century, Australia is waking up to the reality of a United States that is asleep at the wheel as it pitches about in a storm of social, political and economic turmoil.

Although the bellicose anti-China rhetoric of U.S president Donald Trump may make it seem that the United States is ready to meet the challenges of a coercive and uncooperative Peoples Republic of China, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The United States is paralysed by a chaotic, inept and objectively absurd president who is now expected to guide the not-so-shiny city on the hill through a new age of great power competition. The United States couldn’t be less prepared.

What this means for an Australian perspective is simple – we are not in Kansas anymore.

China seeks to remake the global rules-based order in its image, asserting its power over its neighbours – namely in the South China Sea – as well as exhibiting increasingly expansionist tendencies. In tandem, China has also increased its efforts to undermine the credibility and regular operation of democracies around the Asia-Pacific, Australia being a prime example.

It’s difficult to ignore the apparent influence China has over Australian universities, as well as the episodic embroilment of Australian politicians with Beijing backed businesspeople.

Nor is it easy to turn a blind eye to the tariffs and school yard bully posturing made by Beijing after Australia called for an inquiry into its COVID-19 response and apparent displeasure at the prospect of Australia providing a safe haven for some 3 million eligible Hong Kong residents fleeing the central government’s slow strangulation of the once great autonomous zone.

Now more than ever before Australia must find the wherewithal to defend both its interests and the rules-based order in the Asia-Pacific.

Social media has already lit up with commentary from the Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt and Senator Larissa Waters criticising such a massive increase in the defence budget during a period in which Australia is enduring growing unemployment and economic downturn, cuts in government spending on tertiary and TAFE education, housing unaffordability, ongoing bushfire recovery, and the ever-pressing need to make a real effort to mitigate carbon emissions and stimmy the progress of climate change.

These are valid points of concern. The amount of money the Morrison government has devoted to the defence of our nation is truly staggering.

Spending billions on weapons while many Australians are struggling to keep their income and attain the quality of life we’ve come to expect is a hard sell.

Despite this, the Greens characterisation of the decision to increase defence spending at the expense of the social wellbeing of the Australian people is simplistic in nature and ignorant of the precarious position in which Australia finds itself.

By refusing to acknowledge the significance of Beijing’s militarisation of its near abroad, its efforts to undermine the integrity of neighbouring democracies and the prosperous, diverse, and vibrant life Australia enjoys, the Greens relegate themselves to a position of impotence in geostrategic debate.

With or without the input of the Australian Greens, Australia will rise to the challenge posed by a coercive Beijing. Green political thought could feasibly play a critical balancing role in Australia’s defence policy, promoting alternate paths to security beyond missiles and submarines, perhaps overlooked by the political right.

An excellent example of how green thinking could have aided Australia’s national security is the massive (and much needed) proposed transition towards a 100% publicly owned renewable energy grid.

Developing an advanced native renewable energy industry could defibrillate Australian manufacturing back to life, driving our economy past its structural dependence on commodity exports, and in doing so, reduce our reliance on China.

Furthermore, had the Greens had success in the 2019 federal election, and had their policy of heavily subsidizing tertiary education succeeded, Australian Universities dependence on international students would be lessened, thus reducing Beijing’s influence over our higher education sector.

In the past the Greens have shown themselves capable of providing constructive, alternative perspectives on defence policy.

In his detailed historical account of the Australian Greens, editor of the Monthly and political biographer Paddy Manning recalled that the Greens under Bob Brown was a party not entirely opposed to interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brown and the Greens made a valuable contribution by emphasizing the need for any intervention to be led by the United Nations, in accordance with international law, and with the explicit consent of the Australian people.

The Greens have long argued that Australian foreign policy should be more independent from Washington, and it is with some irony that the Australian Greens are now lambasting this latest increase in defence spending, which only increases Australia’s capacity to act outside the strategic umbrella of the U.S.

Independent foreign policy it seems may come with a $270 billion-dollar price tag.

The ‘green voice’ in politics has a valuable place in national security discussion and has the potential to act as both an alternate perspective and moral conscience, providing  policymakers with outside-the-box thinking and serving as a reminder of Australia’s commitment to the rules based order and its duty to protect human dignity above all else.

For it is precisely the Green’s vision of purer democracy unbeholden to corporate power and a tolerant, progressive, and sustainable future that will provide Australia with the moral clarity it needs to negotiate the ideological dimensions which lay at the core of our competition with China.

Without this moral rejuvenation, Liberal democracy will fail to appeal to nations caught in the middle of two otherwise immoral systems.

Make no mistake, a genocidal, authoritarian regime, actively engaged in stamping the life out of the pro-democracy movement in Honk Kong and on campuses around the world is not one which the Greens can allow to remain unchallenged.

The moral and strategic battle that is being fought with China is not something which the Greens can allow to become the preserve of Australia’s political right.

The Peoples Republic of China is, in almost every sense, the antithesis of Green thinking.

With China’s militarisation of Australia’s strategic backyard, growing proclivity for belligerent “grey-zone” coercive methods which blur the lines between war and peace, the need for Australia to fill in the glaring gaps in its regional strategic capabilities can no longer be ignored.

Canberra’s efforts to ensure Australia is able to provide a comprehensive response to regional threats will render Australia a less attractive target for coercion, ensuring that we are able to stand up for both our own interests and those of our allies in the Asia-Pacific.

If the Australian Greens desire to revise the Morrison government’s latest defence plan, they need to also provide an engaging and credible alternative to counter Beijing’s influence.

More to the point, despite the COVID-induced difficulties faced by Australians at home, the Greens cannot allow themselves to fall prey to the same form of insular thinking that produces such meaningless slogans as “Make America Great Again”. The Greens must understand that the domestic interests of the Australian people extend to foreign shores.

The Greens cannot allow themselves to fall by the wayside in our competition with China. The worst outcome, both from a Green perspective and for Australia more broadly, is that the rational, humanist voice of the Greens party will go unheard as debates rage over the future of Australia’s security.

Ultimately the party itself will have to find the wherewithal to strike a balance between its own ideological opposition to military spending and the realpolitik demanded by foreign policy.

The so-called ‘Long Peace’ which developed nations have enjoyed since the conclusion of the Cold War is at an end, as the Morrison government’s defence plan shows. The challenges posed by a violent and revisionist state, committed to controlling and dominating our global neighbourhood must be met by the Australian Greens, if not for the good of Australian society, then at the very least for its own political viability.

 

How to fix the NBN

Australia, Politics

James Calligeros

It’s finally 2020, and as the NBN rollout starts to wind down now is a good time to take stock of just what the flipping heck happened over the last 10 years. We were promised in 2009 that by the end of this year we would have an all-fibre access network to replace Telstra’s and Optus’s dilapidated twisted pair and HFC access networks. Instead, thanks to some absurdly transparent political manoeuvring around 2013, what we actually got was… Telstra’s dilapidated twisted pair and HFC access networks under new management. And while this was good for my Telstra shares, it was and still is an absolutely diabolical, unforgivable, politically-charged sabotage of objectively good national infrastructure, intended to do nothing more than prop up Rupert Murdoch’s crumbling media empire and to Fortnite dance and then piss on the political legacies of Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy.

Since this change in strategy, even mentioning the NBN in less technical circles gets nothing but an exasperated groan and tales of incessant dropouts, slow peak hour speeds, and a government agency intent on flatly denying that there’s a problem. This, as has already been discussed, is by design. But now that the rollout is finished, what can be done to actually fix the problem?

Opacity

The biggest problem with the NBN right now has nothing to do with technology. With the change of government in 2013 came a new board for NBNCo, one that the company’s two shareholders (being the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Telecommunications) knew would carry out their will without question. Gone was Dr Mike Quigley and his corporate ethos of transparency and accountability and in came Ziggy Switkowski, an ex-Telstra executive with ties to the government. According to Switkowski and his new board of ex-Telstra executives, the first and foremost priority for NBNCo was to immediately redact all commercial documents pertaining to the rollout. From September 9 2013 until mid 2014, after the company’s “independent strategic review” was completed, no internal document was available for viewing. When they became available again, most details that interested parties had become accustomed to having access were redacted and deemed to be “commercial in confidence” – information such as fault incidences, revenues and services connected. This included most of the strategic review itself, including its frames of reference and key assumptions made when coming to the decisions it recommended (which conveniently enough for the government involved doing exactly what their election manifesto promised). During this time, all construction work was suspended, and an undisclosed sum was spent on rebranding the company with all references to NBNCo being replaced with nbn™. A worthy use of taxpayer funds from the Strong Economic Managers.

By the time the FTTN/FTTB/FTTC/HFC/anything-that-isn’t-FTTP rollout was underway, this corporate culture had become entrenched. Even nbn™’s customers, the ISPs, were left in the dark about most operational matters to the point where they were entirely powerless to deal with end user complains about slow speeds and dropouts. ISPs would refer customers to nbn™ who would deny any problem on their end and flick them back to the ISP. This is a problem that persists even today, despite the ACCC’s intervention forcing RSPs and nbn™ to publish speed data and refund customers unable to achieve the speed tier they’re paying for.

In virtually every HFC deployment around the world users are allowed to access their modem’s statistics page, which gives extremely important information about the quality of the signal entering the home. On the NBN, access to this page is disabled as soon as the CM8200 gets its configuration parameters from the remote end. There is absolutely no reason to do this other than to obfuscate problems with the HFC network, problems which the company denied for 3 years until they became so widespread and so disruptive that they were forced to put the entire rollout on hold to deal with them. This “pause” as they called it took the better part of a year and still problems persist in certain areas on the HFC network. Had these network metrics been available for public viewing (as they should be) the company would have been forced to act much sooner. People only noticed because Telstra Cable and Foxtel share the same network infrastructure, so those services were also impacted by nbn™’s activities.

Transparency is a necessary facet of accountability and right now nbn™ are doing all that they legally can to avoid being accountable to anyone. The simple fact is that operational transparency highlights the great flaws in what has been deployed when compared with what was meant to be deployed.

The problem with this pathetic attempt to save the Liberal Party’s face using taxpayer money is that it leaves consumers and ISPs totally powerless to resolve disputes with nbn™ unless nbn™ deems the dispute to be “reasonable”. Currently, the criteria set by nbn™ for a “faulty” FTTN service is either a downstream sync speed lower than 20Mbps or 16 (yes, sixteen) dropouts per day with no more than 1 hour between dropouts. If a service syncs at 21Mbps or only drops out 15 times a day, it is considered to be within spec by nbn™, regardless of whether or not there is actually an issue with the connection. The company’s contempt for the end user and their own customers is on full display here. The entire corporate structure exists not to facilitate the rollout of a National Broadband Network, but to actively frustrate that process.

The only way to get the NBN truly back on track is to simply demolish the entire corporate structure and return to a positive culture of operational transparency and accountability, free from the influence of ex-Telstra corporate stooges with deep links to high profile members of any particular political party. Like any government body, nbn™ should be accountable not only to its two shareholders but to everyone in the nation as it used to be. The NBN is being run in a manner similar to Home Affairs and ASIO which is quite simply disgusting for a national infrastructure project that’s been forced on us through legislation.

Productivity (but only for me and my mates)

Public-private partnerships are a spook. And in the case of the NBN, they’re a bigger spook than the bogeyman. There’s not a lot to say here except for that the NBN is being built by layer after layer after layer of contractors, each one taking their cut off the top before passing down what’s left until the guy actually splicing the fibre on the street is on barely above minimum wage. This was a decision made in the very early days of the rollout, as it was decided that amassing and training a workforce would be too costly and take too long. This decision, however, was a poor one. The only reason the private sector was so quick to get going was quite simply because they cheated.

There are people working on the HFC network right now who failed to demonstrate the basic competency of crimping an F connector yet were given their ticket to perform work by dodgy RTOs in exchange for a case of beer. These same RTOs also give their students the answers to the theoretical components involved in becoming certified, leading to a fundamental misunderstanding of standard practice or how various network elements are meant to behave.

The contractors themselves are complicit in this workforce deficiency, too. In order to cut costs (not to save the Government money, but to increase profit margins), most contractors exclusively subcontract to 457 visa holders. There have been instances of fully qualified Australian citizens being fired simply to make way for temporary work visa holders. There has been at least one instance of this occurring because the citizen refused to ignore workplace health and safety regulations where his 457 colleague did not.

The NBN was meant to see Australia return to a publicly owned last-mile access network, as we had until Telstra was privatised. Before said privatisation, Telecom Australia had an entirely in-house workforce of highly trained professionals building and maintaining their network. Such was the quality of this workforce that industry giants such as Ericsson, Siemens and Alcatel would frequently visit Telecom Australia’s various training facilities around the country and take our practices back to Europe to share with the world. Telecom Australia literally set new world standards in telecommunications practice. nbn™ on the other hand is barely capable of meeting existing ones. The company has virtually no quality control measures in place and is entirely at the mercy of cowboy contractors just looking for a free ride on a government gravy train.

Now that the rollout is ostensibly complete, and as the various contracts nbn™ has with its contractors start to lapse, the company must shift towards an internally trained workforce of linesmen, engineers and technicians in order to properly service (and upgrade) this monstrosity they have built with at least a modicum of quality control. Being a telecommunications technician was once an honourable and respected career path for young men, and Telecom Australia was one of the country’s most enjoyable companies to work for. There is absolutely nothing stopping nbn™ from carrying forward Telecom’s legacy save for a boardroom and government entirely hellbent on transferring wealth from the taxpayer to their mates.

High standards (for 1995)

During Dr Quigley’s tenure at the top of the NBNCo corporate structure, the company actually did look something like a true heir to Telecom’s legacy. Hundreds of millions was invested in research and development, and from this came new standards for large-scale FTTP rollouts. NBNCo was instrumental in popularising the adoption of “skinny” fibre, ribbon-like fibre optic cables that are both cheaper to manufacture and easier to deploy in the field. NBNCo also innovated on removing the need for a Fibre Distribution Hub, instead replacing it with a more compact multiport joint closure which fits inside a standard double-length Telstra pit. By April of 2013, the average cost per premises of deploying FTTP had dropped from the initial $2,400 during the rollout’s infancy to a meagre $1,100 in brownfields – already existing homes. Interestingly, as soon as the government changed this figure seemed to increase by precisely 4 times to conveniently make it more expensive than the average cost per premises of FTTN (which now costs over $5,000 per premises in some cases). But I digress.

With the change of rollout strategy, no longer was it necessary to continually innovate or spend money on creating new standards. Telstra had all the standards handily ready to go. In the case of the HFC network, such is the legacy of Telstra’s standards that the brand new tags used by nbn™ to label customer drop cables and outside plant refer to Telecom Australia with the orange and blue T, branding which has been defunct since 1995.

nbn™ were also happy to spruik the latest innovation in HFC technology, DOCSIS 3.1. Despite DOCSIS 3.1 being objectively good, it will never live up to the company’s expectations. Since remedial work on the HFC network started, the company has been deploying ARRIS 1GHz and 1.2GHz rated equipment in the street – a requirement for full DOCSIS 3.1 compliance. However, inside those countless millions of beige nbn™ boxes and grey Telstra boxes on the sides of homes lives one of the many weak links in the HFC deployment – the isolator. When Telstra first rolled out the HFC network, the original DOCSIS specifications used only a small portion of the available bandwidth on a coaxial cable, and as such built the network to a lowest common denominator specification of 750MHz. And despite nbn™’s insistence on activating DOCSIS 3.1, they continue to use the Telstra-prescribed 750MHz isolators in almost all brand new installations simply because this was Telstra’s accepted practice. While DOCSIS 3.1 will work across these isolators, nbn™ will find themselves running into problems as they try increase bandwidth across the network past 750MHz for “Full Duplex” operation. The most insulting part is that Telstra’s HFC network was second-rate even in the 90s compared to most of the world, so nbn™ are relying on decades-old standards that weren’t even standard in their heyday.

As if “adapting” these standards wasn’t bad enough, how about outright plagiarising them? When shifting to a mix of technologies, it was necessary for nbn™ to create documents outlining and explaining the various technical intricacies of this new bastard network. One such document is the Authority to Alter, or A2A, which details what parts of the network on a customer’s property registered cablers are and are not allowed to mess with. Every version of this document, save for the most recent, was a simple copy-paste of Telstra’s old A2A documents, most of which date back to the early-mid 2000s, when Telstra stopped deploying new network assets. In the grand scheme of things this is pretty minor, but it illustrates just how determined nbn™ are to be as wholly unremarkable and ambitious as they possibly can.

nbn™’s entire corporate structure is arguably the biggest problem with the rollout post-2013. A government enterprise sworn to secrecy by its shareholders to obfuscate the utter inadequacy of its “Cheaper, Faster, Better” network. A government enterprise hijacked by the Liberal Party and their Telstra cronies to transfer wealth from the taxpayer to their private contractor friends. A government enterprise so blatant in their goal to simply continue on with Telstra’s mediocrity that they go so far as to reuse and outright steal Telstra materials and documents from 20 years ago. Sure, there are technical problems with the NBN that we will to, but these all stem from the deficient corporate culture imposed on the project by the Liberal Party. Even with the multitude of technical failings wrought upon the nation by the socioeconomic vandals in the Liberal caucus, by putting an end to the absolute rort that is the public-private partnership, increasing internal transparency and resuming the in-house development of work standards and methods, the NBN could slowly and steadily become something that Australia can actually take pride in. We were once leading the entire world in telecommunications, pushing the boundaries of connectivity and setting trends in the industry globally. We can return to this role, or we can continue playing court jester to countries like Romania and Kenya.

Part 2: This time, it’s technical

Having now fixed nbn™’s culture problem (and re-rebranded it to NBNCo), we’re ready to get into the minutiae of actually fixing this travesty of a network. We’re going to make some key assumptions that will make this process a lot less painful.

  • The NBN is put on budget as a national infrastructure expense (it is currently ostensibly paid for with government bonds)
  • The Statement of Expectations has been altered to remove the profit motive (at least for now)

Basically, we’re assuming that money is no object. With the NBN now on the Government’s budget, it can direct funds directly to the project. This is currently not possible, and NBNCo has to ask its shareholders (currently Mattias Cormann and Paul Fletcher) for cash injections. This doesn’t work when the Government’s core election promise was to achieve a budget surplus, and doubly doesn’t work when they don’t actually care about the NBN.

Altering the SoE allows NBNCo to just plough money into the network with no expectation of making a return on it. Some good the expectation of a return is doing now anyway, the company only recently posted a record $2bn loss. Good news is that this doesn’t have to be permanent, and as part of the technical solution for fixing this steaming pile, we will also be looking at how the NBN makes money.

Considering the needless complexity of the current rollout, which precludes a simple catch-all solution, we will be going through each current rollout technology individually. We will briefly discuss each technology, why it sucks, and what can be done to make it not suck.

Fibre to the Node: The fifth horseman

By now, everyone in the country should be aware of what a mess Fibre to the Node (FTTN) is. Originally touted by Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull to be a cheaper, as-good alternative to Labor’s Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) network, the technology has been nothing short of a spectacular failure. Such was the magnitude of its failure that very shortly into its rollout, NBNCo (and PM Turnbull) were forced to drastically change tack, and began casing out the possibility of eating up Telstra’s and Optus’s old Cable networks.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, the current NBNCo chair, fronted a 2003 Senate inquiry into the state of broadband access in Australia. It was at this inquiry that he declared Telstra’s phone line network to be, “Five minutes to midnight,” basically dead in the water (sometimes literally). It is this same Dr Ziggy Switkowski who was charged by the Liberal Party to roll out an FTTN network utilising this same Telstra phone line network.

FTTN is really only suitable for short lengths of copper. Fibre is run to a box somewhere in the neighbourhood, in which DSL line cards are installed and connected to the various phone lines running to houses. The flavour of DSL used in FTTN drops in speed precipitously with distance from the node, performing around the same as traditional ADSL 2+ at around 1km of line length from the node, assuming the line is in good nick.

NBNCo found out very quickly that Dr Switkowski was not lying for a change in 2003 and many, many phone lines in this country simply not suitable for upgrading to FTTN. Regardless, the Government made the company forge ahead until complaints of slow speeds and dropouts became so deafeningly loud that they could no longer ignore FTTN’s shortcomings. Today, the FTTN footprint covers about 30% of the population, a far cry from the original plan of around 76% coverage. Around 15,000 premises in the FTTN footprint are unable to achieve even 25Mbps download, the speed that was promised to be guaranteed by 2016, and the minimum speed in the Government’s own SoE. The ACCC recently came down like a ton of bricks on both NBNCo and the ISPs for failing to identify customers who were paying for services they could not achieve on FTTN. Customers were being charged for a 50Mbps service while barely receiving half, or even a quarter of that in some cases.

There’s no two ways around it. The entire FTTN rollout was, and remains, a total failure. There is only one logical solution, and that is to completely tear it out and replace it with FTTP. Given NBNCo’s SoE mandates them to provide a baseline of 25Mbps to all premises in the country, we would naturally start with those 15,000 locations unable to attain 25Mbps downstream. NBNCo have access to the line condition of every single FTTN connection in the country, and as such once the priority sub-25Mbps connections are fully remediated, they can assign crews to overbuild the FTTN in order of line quality from worst to most acceptable.

Replacing FTTN should be the number one priority on NBNCo’s list, given that is absolutely the weakest link in the fixed line footprint and responsible for 30% of the country receiving a subpar broadband experience.

Replacing FTTN with FTTP is the only sensible option. FTTP, due to its use of fibre optics all the way into the home, guarantees that the end user receives the speed they pay for, be it 25Mbps or 2500Mbps. FTTP is also future proof; higher speeds can be unlocked simply by replacing the electronics on each end of the fibre, and current fibre optic technology is capable of delivering a throughput of around 27Tbps (yes, terabits per second) over a single connection. Most importantly however, FTTP is by far the most reliable communications technology available. Unaffected by the weather, power outages or even simply your neighbour’s cheap solar inverter (believe it or not, solar inverters have been responsible for many DSL interference problems), FTTP can remain active pretty much indefinitely with no degradation of service, a welcome change for FTTN users stuck on drop-out prone lines.

With FTTN out of the picture, NBNCo actually has a shot at delivering on its Statement of Expectations, as well as delivering quality telecommunications to a segment of the population which has been totally neglected for the past seven years. With access to the Internet being viewed as a basic utility by most now, it is a disservice to the nation to leave people in the FTTN footprint high and dry with last-century broadband speeds and third world electricity grid levels of reliability.

Hybrid Fibre Coaxial: The most least-shit

In 2015, it became apparent to both the Government and the board of NBNCo that continuing to push forward with FTTN would result in a national uprising. Interestingly, the revelation that FTTN is untenable came at around the same time Malcolm Turnbull usurped the Prime Ministership from Tony Abbott.

Returning to FTTP, as per Labor’s original plan, was simply politically unacceptable. The only other technology capable of delivering high speed, fixed line broadband is Hybrid Fibre Coaxial (HFC), but HFC networks are ruinously expensive to deploy, and in the process of being replaced with FTTP in the rest of the world. Luckily for the Government, the solution to the cost problem was right there, buried under a big T. But first, a history lesson. A very long – but ultimately necessary – history lesson.

In the mid to late 1990s, Telstra and Optus were engaged in a fierce battle over pay TV supremacy. Optus was first to market with an HFC network, carrying the OptusVision service. Telstra followed suit, entering a partnership with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox. FOX would bring the subscription TV content and TELstra would bring the infrastructure required to deliver it. Optus’s network utilised a Motorola-designed system called CableComm to also deliver telephony services over HFC, in a bid to rid themselves of Telstra’s monopoly on communications. Since Telstra had no need for such a system, it designed its network predominately for Foxtel. Optus and Telstra then locked themselves into what amounted to little more than a dick waving contest. Rollout targets were aggressive, and both networks’ footprints expanded massively over the course of relatively little time. In order to meet their aggressive rollout targets, however, Optus and Telstra both elected to cut corners in the design of their networks. These cut corners are irrelevant for the delivery of cable television, but become very important later.

In 1996, the first version of the Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) standard was released, allowing HFC networks, which were at the time used almost exclusively for cable television, to act as a broadband data network. Since that time, DOCSIS has become the industry standard for broadband delivery over HFC networks.

Telstra were able to call Optus’s bluff with their near infinite cash reserves and when the latter was acquired by SingTel, who pulled the plug on further HFC investment, Telstra too saw no further need to continue rolling out their own network. Both networks were left pretty much to rot for the next 20-odd years, with only essential maintenance being performed to keep services running.

Instead of seeing an old, tangled up mess of rotting coaxial cables, NBNCo saw a free lunch. A free lunch that cost them around $3bn when all was said and done.

After purchasing Optus’s HFC network for $800m, NBNCo quickly found out that not only had Optus neglected to perform routine maintenance, but they had also seriously oversubscribed the network in an effort to maintain revenue in the face of relentless competition from Foxtel/Telstra. Contention ratios across the network were usually well in excess of 600:1. That is, 600 homes sharing a single link back to the exchange. Due to the lack of upgrades over the years, this shared link was usually 1Gbps, meaning that each subscriber on a given coaxial segment was allotted 1.7Mbps downstream. Optus’s network in its twilight years was plagued with complaints of poor speeds and poor reliability. After running trials in Redcliffe, NBNCo deemed Optus’s network so far gone that it was beyond cost-effective remediation, and ultimately elected to abandon it completely, to be replaced with yet another worthless stop-gap technology, Fibre to the Curb/Kerb (FTTC). $800m down the gurgler so far.

The company also purchased the Telstra HFC network – this time for an undisclosed amount via a renegotiated $11bn asset lease deal, originally put in place to allow NBNCo the use of Telstra’s cable ducts and pits, as well as space in their exchanges, fees for remediating unsafe pits and compensation for the forced decommissioning of its HFC and PSTN assets. This renegotiated deal instead put in place an asset transfer for the HFC and PSTN networks, and awarding them even more public money for the privilege. Most importantly, it also gave Telstra a spectrum license to continue using the HFC network to deliver Foxtel indefinitely, with NBNCo to foot the maintenance bill for this. It is estimated that the total value of the HFC asset transfer was somewhere between $1.1bn and $1.3bn.

Someone neglected to tell NBNCo that Telstra’s network design was based on two very major assumptions that made it unsuitable for what NBNCo required of it.

  • The network would be used predominately for pay TV.
  • The network would have a takeup rate of around 30% of passed premises

The first assumption allowed Telstra to get away with using lower bandwidth equipment on the coaxial side of the network since Foxtel only uses a relatively small amount of bandwidth compared to the total a regular HFC network would be capable of. The second allowed Telstra to under-provision the network relative to the number of premises it passed. Simply put, these were cost cutting measures intended to allow Telstra to keep up with and leapfrog Optus’s HFC rollout. Telstra were able to get away with providing DOCSIS services since there was so much spare spectrum available on the network on frequencies that their cheap equipment could still work happily with, and services were so expensive anyway that few in the network’s footprint took up said services.

Having not been made aware of these shortcomings, NBNCo gleefully began relentlessly connecting new customers to the network. CEO Bill Morrow said that the purchase of the HFC network would “…shave years off the rollout…” This was before people started noticing their Foxtel and Telstra Cable services starting to sporadically drop out, when previously they had been stable for years.

HFC is a shared medium. That is, end users all share a single coaxial trunk cable back to the optical node. With each end user you add to this coaxial ‘segment,’ you lower the signal level to each of the other users. NBNCo tried taking an HFC network barely suitable for 30% uptake to 100% uptake without making the necessary upgrades to the equipment in the field. As signal levels across the network fell, dropouts, fuzzy Foxtel pictures and slow speeds became more and more apparent until late in 2017, NBNCo announced that it would be stopping all new HFC connections until further notice to investigate the issues.

A prolonged investigation into the cause of these disruptions made multiple significant findings:

  • Telstra had used low quality fittings and connectors, and had not replaced old ones when they had worn out
  • The amplifiers and nodes Telstra used were ill-equipped to handle the frequencies NBNCo were forced to use (Foxtel and BigPond taking the good spectrum for themselves)
  • Telstra had oversubscribed the network, but to a lesser degree than Optus
  • Poor maintenance standards meant that the network was prone to RF noise ingress
  • Much of the network’s declared footprint was not serviceable and no HFC infrastructure actually existed where it was said to

All of these physical shortcomings were compounded as NBNCo went around disturbing the infrastructure and adding connections. NBNCo kept new connections on ice for around a year while they conducted expensive remedial works. This work included installing new nodes, replacing faulty 30 year old amplifiers and taps, fixing noise ingress points, replacing old connectors and fittings and building out the network to fill in the gaps in the footprint. The sales freeze was ostensibly lifted in April 2018, however many were still not able to order a service until around August of the same year. This “pause” in the HFC rollout as it has come to be known cost the company $900m, bringing the total amount of taxpayer money stolen on HFC to around $3bn, with the total rollout cost blowing out to $51bn. This is $8bn more than the projected cost of a full FTTP rollout.

It is accepted in the industry that while HFC/DOCSIS itself is still more than suitable for delivering high speed broadband, when done correctly. The assumption that simply buying Telstra’s and Optus’s HFC would be a silver bullet for NBNCo comes from data on HFC networks in the United States – HFC networks which cover most of the population, have take-up rates nearing 100%, and as such are aggressively maintained and upgraded by their operators. The Australian HFC networks could not have been further from their US counterparts if they tried. The Telstra/NBNCo network is, to put it simply, an obsolete and failing 90s network with some late 2000s quality of life features gaffer taped on to keep it barely functioning for another 5 years at best; good taxpayer money after bad in the Liberal Party’s pursuit of facial salvation.

This failed abortion of a network is currently the designated technology for again around 30% of the population. Unlike FTTN, however, DOCSIS is unaffected by distance from the node, is mostly immune to noise ingress and doesn’t care if Uranus is in retrograde. As such, the service quality is much, much higher and a full FTTP overbuild is largely unwarranted. That said, in its current form, the HFC network will never be able to keep up with bandwidth demand. NBNCo are already having difficulty getting 1Gbps plans on the network, plans which have existed on the company’s own FTTP network since early 2013.

So, without throwing the proverbial chessboard and starting over, how do we fix the HFC network? Luckily, the people who design, and the US network operators who ratify the DOCSIS standards are a little more forward thinking than NBNCo could ever hope to be in its current iteration. Built in to the latest version of DOCSIS are a number of enhancements which prepare compliant HFC networks for the future.

One of the major limiting factors to HFC network performance is the number of amplifiers between the node and the end user. Current best practice is to utilise an N+0 architecture. That is, the Node plus zero amplifiers between it and the end user’s cable modem. The NBNCo network is currently at an N+3 architecture, which makes it largely incompatible with the latest DOCSIS standard, DOCSIS 3.1. This is especially true if you take into consideration that there remain many of the old Telstra/Foxtel amplifiers still in service, as they were deemed to be working to an acceptable level for DOCSIS 3.0. While NBNCo have been progressively enabling DOCSIS 3.1 on select parts of the network, this is mostly due to its efficiency gains rather than for increasing performance for the end user. D3.1’s increased efficiency means that NBNCo can maintain current performance without performing any physical upgrades to the network.

One of the most important and effective upgrades NBNCo will need to make in the immediate future is moving the physical plant to N+0 Distributed Access Architecture (DAA). N+0 takes fibre deep into the HFC network, maximising network performance by minimising the amount of noise-prone and lossy coaxial cable between the node and the user, as well as lowering contention ratios to a level where the shared bandwidth is not even noticeable.

N+0 and DAA go hand in hand. Where N+0 deals purely with the physical side of the network, DAA is an upgrade that fundamentally shifts how the network itself is provisioned. Traditional HFC networks have the Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) and RF combiner located centrally at the headend. The RF “DOCSIS signal” generated by the CMTS is then modulated into an analog light beam and sent along the fibre to the node, where it is converted back into an electrical RF signal. DAA introduces a profound paradigm shift with the Remote PHY (R-PHY) unit. This device replaces the CMTS at the headend, and instead resides in the node itself. Instead of the “DOCSIS signal” being generated at the headend and sent to the node in an analog fashion, it is instead generated at the node which talks to the headend digitally for service provisioning. In other words, the communication between the headend and the R-PHY is fully compatible with PON, the fibre architecture used to roll out FTTP.

DAA has huge implications for NBNCo, as it gives the company a simple and cheap upgrade path to full FTTP for when the time comes. Upgrading an N+3 DOCSIS 3.0 network is senseless, as the fibre component is incompatible with PON, and the whole lot would either need to be duplicated or upgraded in situ, which would cause mass service disruptions. By being fully PON compatible, DAA allows NBNCo to simply attach the fibre equivalent of a double-adaptor to the input of the R-PHY device and bypass it with FTTP while leaving DOCSIS services active and uninterrupted. In most cases, this ‘multiport’ is installed at the time the DAA fibre is installed in anticipation of FTTP upgrades. DAA also allows NBNCo to reduce maintenance costs across the HFC network, which is vital as the company currently has a network-related operating expenditure of around $2.3bn. Removing expensive, old, power hungry and short-lived active HFC equipment can lower this figure significantly. Importantly, it also lowers the cost of deploying FTTP to new developments in the HFC footprint, which common sense would dictate should receive FTTP from the get-go.

In terms of end user outcomes, DAA enables the efficient and reliable delivery of ultra-speed broadband plans in excess of 10Gbps download, whereas there would be no hope of delivering such services over the current N+3 DOCSIS 3.0 architecture. For those users who engage in NBNCo’s Technology Choice Program, it also makes upgrades to FTTP significantly cheaper, encouraging its uptake before even NBNCo are ready to do the upgrades themselves. Cynics would also note that every user-pays upgrade NBNCo makes through the TCP is one less the company has to pay for when it goes around upgrading the network itself.

Fixed Wireless: The ugly stepchild

It’s no great secret that the LTE component of the rollout has been spectacularly mismanaged. Utilising LTE to get high speed broadband access to properties too costly and too remote for wireline technologies was a good idea, however as with all things of this nature, cost cutting has led to a service so broken and so unreliable that many within its footprint elect to retain their ADSL services. Since switching to Fixed Wireless NBN, Whirlpool user Greg Lehey has experienced no less than 288 hours of downtime. Stories like this have emerged all over the country, with people reporting their services simply become unavailable during peak times. This is mostly due to bandwidth constrains imposed by the ineherent design of the NBN LTE network.

One of the biggest oversights in relation to the LTE network is the lack of backhaul capacity from each tower to its respective POI. As LTE is a shared medium, multiple users must share a single link back to the NBN Point of Interconnect, or POI. This is a colocation facility, where user traffic is handed off to the various ISPs’ networks. In order to cut costs, NBNCo elected to underprovision the amount of backhaul from each tower to the POI. Normally, it would be pretty trivial to increase backhaul capacity, as it would simply be a matter of increasing the bandwidth of the fibre optic link to the tower. However, NBNCo’s cost cutting method is so spectacularly stupid that this is simply not a possibility.

Instead of running a fibre optic cable to each tower for backhaul capacity, NBNCo has elected to use a wireless microwave link for many towers in a hub and spoke model. A microwave link is established between the POI and a master tower, which then divides the bandwidth of that link between multiple slave towers, which then connect actual end users to the network. This makes it incredibly hard to upgrade backhaul capacity to each tower, as it involves replacing expensive antennas or increasing the wireless bandwidth used, which often (always) isn’t possible due to extremely limited wireless spectrum available, and legally mandated power limits on wireless transmitters. While NBNCo have claimed that there exists a list of towers and backhaul sites that require upgrading, there is little to no evidence that they have actually undertaken any such work. People are simply being left with the choice of either braving the peak hour congestion, or retaining their ADSL services and thus being forced to spend more than they need to. Regional areas within the LTE footprint are historically underserviced with DSL too, often only being able to get a connection from Telstra.

There are two solutions for remediating the LTE network. Obviously, the most pressing matter is getting sufficient backhaul to each tower in order to alleviate the peak hour congestion and inherent unreliability that comes with using a cascaded microwave link. The only way to do this is to run fibre optic backhaul to each tower. This is an absolute necessity if NBNCo ever hope to make Fixed Wireless a viable solution for regional broadband access, and should have been the only backhaul method specified in the Network Design Rules. Not only will it remove the weakest link in the network in terms of bandwidth capacity, it will also allow NBNCo to free up the wireless spectrum they currently use on backhaul and reallocate it to increasing bandwidth on the consumer side of the network.

Another pressing matter for the LTE rollout is tower oversubscription. Much like with HFC, there are simply too many end users competing for bandwidth from a single tower. Of course, with multiple towers sharing a microwave link back to the POI, this is simply a cascade effect of underprovisioning of backhaul capacity. However, assuming we have now supplied each tower with its own fibre optic link, we can address this issue by splitting down towers, again much in the same way an HFC node split works. Assuming a 1:2 split, this would mean an effective doubling of available bandwidth for each end user between their premises and the tower. This increased bandwidth availability then allows NBNCo to offer faster plans across the network, making the same plans available across both wireline and fixed wireless technologies

Another minor consideration to make is the rising adoption of 5G, and the improvements it brings over LTE. At this stage, such an upgrade would be purely optional, and made in consideration of private competition. The expense necessary to cover regional Australia with 5G for either NBNCo or a private competitor would be ruinous, and so we will not consider this other than to remark that it is a possible (and likely) upgrade path in the medium to long term. With the bandwidth increases we have made above, LTE is still perfectly capable of delivering high speed broadband for some time to come, and any 5G upgrade would either be purely marketing or for increasing bandwidth efficiency to enable a greater number of customers to connect to the same tower.

Part 3: The Economics

One of the major hurdles to the NBN being a profitable enterprise is low Average Revenue Per User (ARPU). The cause for this is multi-faceted, and I make no pretences that I am an economist so this section will be short, however there seem to be two major causes for NBNCo’s money troubles:

  • High bandwidth costs make high-speed plans unfeasible
  • High speeds unattainable over most technologies

The cost of purchasing bandwidth on the NBN is very high compared to other wholesale networks. NBNCo’s pricing structure involves two access charges, billable to RSPs: the Access Virtual Circuit (AVC) and Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC).

The AVC is a per-connection charge, essentially the equivalent of the traditional line rental. AVC is charged based on the link speed between the end user and the RSP’s network and can be considered the “base cost” of providing an NBN service. For example, a 50Mbps downstream/20Mbps upstream (50/20) AVC provided over FTTP or HFC costs an RSP $34 per month. This is not the only cost to the RSP, however. Per the Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA), the AVC charge only covers the speed of the connection between the end user and the handoff to the RSP’s network. Using the plumbing analogy, the AVC charge determines only the size of the pipe between the end user and the POI. The RSP must also pay for the data sent across that connection.

CVC is a very controversial and divisive topic. CVC is a charge billed to RSPs based on how much data they transfer over the NBN, and currently costs $17.50 per Mbps per POI. A few years ago, most RSPs were engaged in a pricing race to the bottom in order to try and capture new customers during their transition to the NBN. This led to many severely under provisioning CVC at the POI, causing excruciating peak hour slowdowns even on FTTP. Again using the plumbing analogy, CVC determines the size of the pipe between the POI and the RSP’s own network. In order to keep costs down, RSPs were under sizing the pipe for the amount of flow, and as such the pipe was continually clogged.

The ACCC eventually intervened, forcing RSPs to advertise the “typical evening speed” for each service, which is a decent indicator of whether or not the RSP has purchased enough CVC from NBNCo. This of course led to RSPs actually purchasing enough CVC, as none wanted to be seen selling 100/40 AVCs which could only realistically hit 25/5 during peak hour. This stopped the race to the bottom price-wise, and now most RSPs offer very similar prices for equivalent services.

Part of this under provisioning scheme remains today, however. One may have noticed that a 50/20 AVC would, naturally, require 70Mbps of CVC to use to its full potential and as such should cost . But the typical 50/20 service costs around $70 a month, not $1,259 a month. This is because RSPs use statistics to minimise the amount of CVC they must purchase at each POI. The key assumption is that not everyone is going to be saturating their connection at the same time 24/7, and so RSPs can provision enough CVC to satisfy average peak demand across a given POI, rather than trying to provision enough bandwidth to satisfy constant 100% utilisation. The average amount of CVC provisioned per AVC across the NBN is around 2.3Mbps, up from around 1.8Mbps during the worst of the pricing war. If we assume a provisioning of 2Mbps CVC for a typical 50/20 service, then the NBN cost-price of such a service is $691. NBNCo are attempting to bring this figure up to 2.5Mbps, however this problem is indicative of a wider issue with NBNCo’s pricing scheme, which is acting as a huge barrier to uptake of higher speed plans.

The cost of bandwidth is fixed. That is, it costs NBNCo the same whether you download 1GB or 1TB. Thus, CVC is a manufactured cost. CVC was conceived in order to help fund the rollout by minimising the impact on the public treasury and is essentially a bandwidth tax. It also served a political purpose; the Liberal Party would attack the NBN for being an unprofitable venture and so CVC was used to ensure that the network would be profit-making early in its life to pre-emptively quash such an angle from its detractors.

Under the original FTTP plan, the CVC charge was to be gradually lowered and then removed as NBNCo’s costs fell. The key to making this work was that FTTP’s maintenance costs are extremely low, and beyond the initial rollout, overheads would be somewhat fixed outside of upgrades and emergencies. However, in late 2013, plans changed. With the change to FTTN/HFC/FTTB/anything-that-isn’t-FTTP, NBNCo could no longer rely on the assumption of low and fixed overheads. FTTN and HFC are extremely expensive. Telstra’s old copper network alone costs NBNCo around $1bn a year simply to keep running, let alone fault fixing and upgrades.

The reality is that the change in rollout plans has precluded the elimination of the CVC charge, as was originally planned and has locked out much of the rollout footprint from being able to attain even the currently available high speed plans. Broadband prices will continue to remain artificially high simply to cover the inordinate expense of maintaining this failed, dilapidated, stillborn network while also trying to generate the 7% ROI expected of it.

The Blame

Someone has to take the fall for this. Well, not someone, but a group of someones. And over the last eight thousand words, it should be pretty obvious to all which group of someones has to cop it.

Wrath

The government has, with reckless abandon, neglected the needs of Australia for the last ten years. What should have had bipartisan support from day one as a necessary Government intervention (depending on your economic sensibilities, a regrettable one) in a failed private market was instead attacked relentlessly by an opposition fuelled by pure vitriol and hatred, and then dismantled piece by piece by a vindictive Government intent on doing nothing more than erasing the legacy of its predecessor. For ten years, the Liberal Party has been vehemently opposed to the NBN not because of any technical or economic reason. It has been opposed to the NBN because it was Red Team policy, and under the leadership of Tony Abbott, had become obsessed not with holding the Government to account, but with attempting to undermine and destroy it by any means necessary. If the Australian public become collateral to that, then so be it.

Greed

The destruction of the NBN has been, from day one, primarily self-serving. It has long been said that success in Australian politics is predicated on “kissing the hand” of one Rupert Murdoch, Australia’s own exported oligarch. Not only did Tony Abbott kiss the hand, he led Murdoch to the bathroom and gave him a happy ending, in return for a happy ending of his own. It’s no secret that Murdoch felt threatened by the NBN due to the rise of streaming services and access to media outlets beyond his control. In exchange for a free ride to the Lodge, the Liberal Party agreed to gimp and destroy the NBN by any means necessary. So begins this Government’s long and proven record of wanton corruption.

The corporate reshuffle at NBNCo in the months following the 2013 election was of course nothing more than a wealth transfer exercise from the Treasury to Liberal Party supporters. Gone was the original board, stacked with international telecommunications experts such as Dr Quigley, and here to stay was a board stacked with Telstra executives of the Sol Trujillo era – the Telstra era immediately following privatisation. It was during this time that numerous contracts with third party rollout partners were cancelled, and contracts with Telstra renegotiated and expanded to include asset transfers, larger cash payments, spectrum licensing agreements, and maintenance contracts in perpetuity. Dr Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the NBNCo board, was once CEO of Telstra and a board member of Foxtel. Once a vocal critic of Telstra’s copper network, now he champions FTTN and HFC as cheaper alternatives to FTTP.

The one exception to this rule is Simon Hackett, founder of Internode. Once extremely opposed to the Liberal Party’s plan for the NBN, he was appointed to NBNCo’s board by the Government in November 2013. While this obviously wasn’t a decision made to reward Hackett, it was done instead to silence a very high profile critic of its plan, one who was very influential in the telco industry. Hackett took the position thinking he could perhaps influence NBNCo from within, however resigned when it became apparent to him that the organisation had been thoroughly politicised, and no amount of influencing would change either the Government or NBNCo’s mind on how best to proceed with the rollout. Hackett resigned in 2016 and was replaced with Michael Malone, founder of iiNet. Mr Malone stated in 2017 that if he were managing the rollout, he would penalise critics of NBNCo by moving their connections to the “back of the queue” if they complained to the media.

These are the people the Liberal Party sees fit to be running a public utility.

Pride

It should have been apparent very, very early into the post-2013 rollout that the new plan was a total dud. In fact, it was apparent. Rather than admit a mistake and assume responsibility by quietly returning to an FTTP-based rollout, the NBNCo was more than content to help the Government save face by wasting undisclosed billions of taxpayer dollars on technological dead-ends like HFC.

We haven’t really discussed Fibre to the Curb (FTTC) yet. I deliberately left that for this section. Fibre to the Curb doesn’t technically exist. After the unmitigated disaster that was the Optus HFC trial and the eventual unmitigated disaster that was the Telstra HFC rollout, NBNCo were faced with a dilemma. Either move un-fixable Telstra and Optus Cable connections to the inferior FTTN (and face the complaints that come with that), or bite the bullet and deploy FTTP. NBNCo chose neither of these options, instead quietly enlisting networking hardware provider Netcomm to invent a new technology – FTTC. FTTC involves rolling out a GPON network to the street, much like FTTP. Unlike FTTP, however, a box known as a DPU is installed in the pit. The GPON signal is fed into this box, and it outputs four VDSL signals to service homes using their existing copper line.

Take a couple of minutes to really contemplate the significance of this. NBNCo, and by extension the Liberal Government, wasted billions and billions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to do no more than salvage what few morsels remain of the Liberal Party’s reputation. FTTC is perfectly indicative of this. For the sake of a few metres of fibre optic cable up a driveway, NBNCo has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars developing FTTC not for some technical or economic reason but simply to avoid the brief political awkwardness that would come with pushing that few metres of cable up the driveway. If the argument of FTTP being significantly more expensive were true, then this wouldn’t matter as much. However, when you take into account the public money that has gone into developing FTTC, the cost of each DPU, the training of technicians and the commissioning of backend systems, FTTC ends up costing about the same as FTTP. And that’s based on NBNCo’s post-2013 FTTP costs, which in their 2013 Strategic Review (conducted externally by Deloitte and KordaMentha) magically seemed to double for no apparent reason, with FTTP OPEX being classed as CAPEX again for no apparent reason.

To Close

Make no mistake, what the Liberal Party have done to the NBN is simply unforgivable, and is indicative of their wider open contempt for the Australian electorate, its money and its intelligence.

Rather than offer Labor bipartisan support on objectively positive legislation, they elected to obstruct and attack the NBN on every possible turn, aided by Rupert Murdoch and Telstra.

Rather than accept that FTTP is vastly superior in literally every aspect to their own policy, they chose to simply lie about the cost of FTTP, and then obfuscate or redact every single available document that made reference to the cost of FTTP prior to December 2013. This deception continues today; where FTTP costs around the world are plummeting, NBNCo’s internal documents for some reason show costs increasing. NBNCo continues to be accused of artificially inflating the costs of FTTP by industry experts and economists the world over.

Rather than admit that they fucked up with FTTN when it was apparent, they forged ahead with it until the situation was so bad that even the Murdoch press were beating up on the Government for it.

Rather than quietly go back to FTTP, they spent billions of taxpayer dollars – your taxpayer dollars – on short-term distractions like HFC and FTTC for no reason other than to avoid having to admit that Labor was right about something.

The Internet has become a public utility on the same level of necessity as electricity. Greece, a nation known mostly for the corruption and inefficacy of its government, acknowledges Internet access as a basic human right. Australia, ostensibly a free, first-world nation, has a government that has for the last 10 years actively frustrated efforts to bring forth ubiquitous and reliable Internet access; and for what? For some old cunt in New York to sell more newspapers.

Should we elect a government that actually cares about the common good more than it cares about its donors and reputation, it is my hope that at least some of the recommendations made here be acted upon as soon as humanly possible, lets Australia be relegated to economic backwater status in an age increasingly defined by the Internet. The fixes outlined here represent a realistic, achievable and cost-effective way to give Australia a fighting chance at achieving universal broadband access. Sure, it’s not 93% FTTP as was originally envisioned, however the days of that being achievable in the short term are sadly long gone. With these proposed upgrades being a realistically achievable interim goal, hopefully one day soon that dream will indeed be realised.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

1 Note that this is very close to the retail price of many 50/20 plans. In 2018, NBNCo began offering CVC discounts on 50/20 AVCs in order to encourage uptake, bringing the effective CVC price to $10/Mbps for 50/20. However, considering such discounts beyond acknowledging their existence needlessly complicates things. From now, we will assume that all RSPs pay the full price for CVC.

What Are We Celebrating?

Australia, History, Politics

Toby Caro

It is January 24 and the annual outrage of two days’ time is burning expectedly hot. Conversation is stained with the vitriol of disagreement as people condemn each other before they listen to a word.

The usual debate surrounding Australia day is between staunch conservatives who relish the tradition of the celebration, and indigenous voices decrying the hypocrisy of cherry-picking choice parts of colonial history. The contemporary Australia Day represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and such passionate points of view are not easily reconciled.

There is no doubt that it is ridiculous to presume a legitimate and continuous government can celebrate an historic event in part. Things happen and they need to be taken for what they are.

Similarly, it is important to recognise that there are indigenous people indifferent to January 26, apathetic to the celebration, or wholly and genuinely disinterested. There are also many white Australians very quick to appropriate such outrage and laud their own position as a herald of virtue.

That is not to say that there is not a significant population whereby Australia Day 2020 represents anything except pain, violence and exclusion.

Passing over what January 26 means now, with our multitude of retrospectively applied ideas, what does the date actually represent?

To be frank, on January 26, 1788, ‘Australia’ did not exist. For many indigenous, it marked the beginning of their subjugation. For many white arrivals it marked the beginning of their forced exile. There is nothing to celebrate.

The first use of the term ‘Australia,’ an abbreviation of Terra Australis, did not occur at least until the early 19th century, the concept of a nation emerged further on still, and incrementally at that.

It is not unreasonable to trace the birth of the modern government to January 26, but to think this was the dawn of modern Australia is unquestioningly naïve.

The Australian value of a ‘fair go’ was first forged around Ballarat in 1854.

Australian political institutions like the secret ballot and the popular vote emerged in the middle of the 19th century.

The Harvester judgement of 1907 enshrined ideas of community and egalitarianism into common law, and World War 1 saw the international broadcast of Australian mate-ship as the ANZAC Digger.

The White Australia Policy was not properly dismantled until 1973.

The Mabo land rights decision was not handed down until 1992, and constitutional indigenous recognition remains unfulfilled.

Australia was not even federated as its own country until the twentieth century.

There is virtue in symbolism. But January 26 is no symbol. It represents a British colony of violence and division.

In contrast, the American reverence of the fourth of July, is likewise marked by the irony of its history (of liberation and slavery), but suffers considerably less twenty-first century malice. This is because it actually serves to stand as a reasonable idea. The values that it captures are timeless, and are capable of evolving alongside society. Whilst it is important to remember and to recognise the history that surrounds it, Independence Day can be positively celebrated in the modern world.

This is not the case for Australia Day. Outside of our dominion status, January 26 does not represent a single aspect of modern Australia, or its values. Reactionary claims of tradition almost exclusively stem from ignorance, indignation or insecurity.

Our national celebration should not be annually characterised by such violent disagreement built on such tenuous arguments. Australia Day is a terrific celebration, on an absurd date, and to attest otherwise is to deliberately not recognise the historical oxymoron of its title.

The Shadow of Paul Keating

Australia, Politics

Maxim Salvador Otten-kamp

Since 1996 Australian politics have languished in the shadow of a single man, and the era he ushered in. All the leaders who followed him have been held up to the same standard as a man who never finished high school and never attended university. This is not to say he does not have detractors, but they are overshadowed by his popularity. Now, this is not to say his legacy is not well earned – the shadow he casts is not from an enormous metaphorical statue. Paul Keating had a sense of youth and vibrancy which he brought to his time in government in the highest office. He had a deep passion, and the citizen of Australia were never unsure of where he stood. In regards to his economic and social reforms, Paul Keating defined the last 30 years of Australian political positioning – so too with his stances on encroachment with China, opening the economy and pushing for complete Australian independence.

When Keating won the 1993 unwinnable election, he scared the nation against change, and this was change that arguably would have been bad for the country. However, this was not the Keating strategy: his was to say the transformation of Australia by the Liberal Party was wrong, but the change of the Labor right was correct. Our case concerns the FightBack! document of that year and how it outlined the Liberal Party’s doctrine for the next 26 years. Fightback outlined a series of extreme cuts to all levels of government and at least a sense of a return of social conservatism. All Paul Keating had to do was not rock the boat too severely and scare the Australian people against changing paths. This is the classic argument from power: the party was elected on a certain platform, so why should they work to change the status quo against their original propositions? It is the job of the opposition to push an alternate vision no matter how poorly received or conceived it may be: that is their role – and if anything, the Fight Back document was this alternative. In many ways Fight Back was a change – but a reactionary change, a call-back to a time that never existed and to a time that could never be in the modern world.

We look at the modern politics of Australia and our state of Queensland, and we wonder why the name of the game is slow and steady wins the race? Because that is what has worked for decades now. The parties would adopt different tactics if they felt most Australians wanted massive change, at least if the majority did. There is also another aspect to be considered here: the old guard of parties maintain power over time, especially the ALP. I would attempt to give some analysis of the Liberal-National coalition, but that party do not represent a profound shift in this country besides being conservative business lobbyists. So, the ALP being the vessel of change in this country has seen attempts not to follow this status quo. When Mark Latham ran in the 2004 election, he opted for a far smaller target strategy than that of Kim Beazley, the long-term opposition leader. Then, with Kevin Rudd, he worked with a small target strategy, but it felt different to the electorate, enough that the election victory soared through. There was a sense of change in the air, in the same vein as Barack Obama’s election. It is also worth noting that these two leaders can also be paralleled in that they both represented significant progress and yet did not deliver, either from timidity, or through Third Way posturing until their governments were made immobile or thrown out.

It would be wrong to not admit my personal bias, and suggest that it was not all bad under our Third Way overlords. There were significant pushes for environmental protections, action on Climate change, Education and Health reform. These centre-left governments did make headway in significant areas, but their rule was not the big change that their supporters had hoped for. It was a return to the previous government of the 90s. That style, by the late 2000s, had already become adequate in an ever-increasingly radical world. The Rudd-Gillard governments were relatively moderate entities that pushed some decent policy without a long-term agenda for the nation, then let us pick up from 1996. In some ways, they accomplished this, but they failed to adapt to a newly a-temporal Australia, in that they rejected the very force that had them elected: observing the minor push back against government policies, and steadfastly adhering to propaganda networks sent them into a tailspin. This is most obviously demonstrated by the removal of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2010 – and this is not to say Rudd was a radical of any sort. The party elders merely feared that he was, and that he could cost them an election. I would, however, hypothesise that he was also removed partially due to his erratic nature of policy announcement and grandiose rhetoric. Much like how the lesson from the government under Gough Whitlam was not to try too much too quickly, this too was too much for the Australian public. Despite Gillard being on the left side of the party it was Rudd’s faction that brought him under.

I know this article is meant to be about Paul Keating and his influence on our politics, but we seem to have strayed from any discussion of Paul John Keating. He has appeared in the public sphere several times in the last few years, particularly in his music (which I would recommend giving a good hot go) but also in 2013: when Rudd returned and toppled Gillard, and called an election, whom should he invite to chat? Not Whitlam, whom he admired most, not Hawke, beloved by the country, but Keating, a Prime minister who won an election on fear. What was 2013 election about? Fear. The fear of cuts and the chaos of the Abbott government. And as we were to discover, this fear was not without foundation – leadership challenges, an explosion of debt, massive cuts, and many other gaffes. This year, Bill Shorten again called Keating back into action to appear at his campaign launch, where he made a series of comments that were not necessarily wrong, suggesting primarily that the security agencies’ responses to Chinese influence were somewhat overblown. If Keating is treated as the ultimate authority and all discussion is directed back to him, our national conversation is being held back. It seems that every time he opens his mouth the entire national conversation must return and respond to this one man.

Paul Keating was the neo-liberal treasurer of the 80s, and the prime minister of the 90s. But his brand of neo-liberalism must be defined clearly: it was not like his contemporaries in the UK, USA, Russia or China. This was the slow, pragmatic, progressive pushing of a non-academic candidate who touted what became a successful model of social progress mixed with economic liberalism. Tony Blair saw the Australian experiment and hoped to replicate it accordingly. Recently, however, Keating decided to reveal his thoughts on the current situation facing our nation, which were typical Keating: Australia, as the nation we are, should not rock the boat too much. The Americans’ belligerent reaction to the rise of China is one we can placate through economic cooperation, avoiding military confrontation. This follows the recent comments he made about China during the federal election, and essentially the same story told in the 90s.

Keating, even taking his positive qualities into account, is of his time, and has to be left in the past. He once said that Australia is a ‘weak outfit’ in terms of becoming a republic: “I mean, we are not going to take our republic, we are going to wait till the old lady dies or leaves,” he said. “Of course the next day King Charles and Queen Camilla will be there. And of course, they’ll say, `Let’s give the new bloke a go.” His own situation is the same: we don’t want to take his crown while he’s still kicking. We will just wait until he dies and then laud his (likely mediocre) replacement.

This is not to point the finger at Paul Keating for all the woes put upon Australia. One man can only have so much influence. He had a vision for this country becoming a republic, and something greater than we were. However, that vision must change with the times. The mentality of Keating and his peers, which has influenced a generation of Labor and Australian politics, needs to go away for us to move forward. Paul Keating is 75 years old, and he left office over 20 years ago! Yet his shadow looms large over this great nation. We do not have to diminish his legacy to say it is time for new thinking and to change our ways before it is too late.

Queensland’s Very Own Answer To Gladys Liu

Australia, Politics

Drew Pavlou

Amidst the furore over Victorian MP Gladys Liu’s links to United Front groups representing the Chinese Communist Party in Australia, noted progressive social justice warrior Scott Morrison levelled the charge of racism at her critics. Echoing arguments originally trotted out by the Maoist ultra-left, Morrison sought to portray Liu as the put upon victim of a racist witch hunt against those of Chinese heritage in this country. This is a ridiculous, puerile line of argument, reminiscent of desperate schoolyard debating antics. As should be obvious to everyone following this national debate, one need not be of Chinese heritage to enjoy wholly inappropriate and unwelcome ties to the CCP, a hostile dictatorship pursuing genocide against ethnic minorities at home. Just ask Queensland’s very own answer to Gladys Liu, former National Party leader LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek.

Now, Johnny has never been the sharpest tool in the shed. A quick Google search of his name reveals this gem of a headline: ‘’Queensland LNP MP John-Paul Langbroek Denies Hookers Claim, Vows To Repay Hotel Costs.’’ Clearly, there is no pulsing, throbbing intelligence at work here. Perhaps this is why Langbroek blocked me, a twenty year old university student, on Twitter for simply calling into question the little matter of his close ties to a murderous communist dictatorship. Sadly for Johnny, we do not live in a country where those that criticise powerful public officials like himself can be whisked away in the dead of night to some God-forsaken gulag to be tortured and killed – he will have to suffice with blocking me on social media as I continue to point out his ties to the CCP to anyone and everyone that will listen.

And make no mistake, these ties are quite impressive. As Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of the People’s Republic of China, Langbroek has bravely hosted networking forums designed to allow wealthy Chinese businessmen to connect with local battlers, i.e. Gold Coast LNP MPs. According to the Electoral Commission of Queensland, Langbroek recently accepted a $15,000 donation from Dalian Wanda, a company whose owner is a member of the Chinese Communist Party and delegate to the People’s Congress, China’s joke of a rubber stamp legislature.

Perhaps these kinds of donations are why Johnny took the extraordinary step in September  of throwing a celebratory dinner for Brisbane PRC Consul General Xu Jie, just weeks after Mr Jie earned an official rebuke from Australia’s Foreign Minister for praising the ‘’spontaneous patriotism’’ of those Chinese nationalist students that assaulted pro-Hong Kong demonstrators at The University of Queensland. I was one of those assaulted on the day, struck in the back of the head by masked thugs for supporting the fight for democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong. I was utterly outraged Xu Jie used his status as a diplomatic official to seemingly endorse these attacks. Langbroek’s decision then to use his position of power and influence in Queensland’s state parliament to lend credibility to Mr Jie in the aftermath of this incident sends a powerful message: with the right amount of cash, any elected Australian official can be made to look the other way as the Chinese state operates with utter impunity in this country. It sends a loud and clear signal to the CCP that foundational democratic values like free speech and freedom of assembly are negotiable if enough money is involved. In the face of this, one can justifiably wonder whether Langbroek remains committed to these values at all.

Ultimately, Langbroek’s sycophantic fawning over a government known to execute political dissidents for their organs shows that the rot goes far deeper than Gladys Liu and has nothing to do with ethnicity whatsoever. There is no Chinese-Australian third column in this country – powerful Australians of a diverse range of backgrounds, professions and political persuasions have developed highly problematic ties to the Chinese state with no heed for its atrocious human rights record. This is a great tragedy for our nation and our democracy, one we must urgently confront without lending credence to the CCP’s race-baiting propaganda. The future of our open society is at stake.

Making Peace on Australian Campuses

Australia, Brisbane, Politics

Drew Pavlou

In recent weeks, menacing Chinese ultra-nationalist rallies have convulsed Australian university campuses and city streets. Peaceful pro-democracy Hong Kong demonstrators have been bullied, assaulted, abused, and subjected to doxing and death threats online. Against this backdrop of tumult and unrest, in part encouraged and spurred on by Chinese diplomatic officials in Australia, it is easy to lose faith in the ability of peaceful debate and discussion, those hallmarks of liberal democracy, to help us find a way out of this mess. My personal experience as an Australian student involved in the pro-Hong Kong democracy movement at UQ tells me that we must not be so quick to despair.

The other night, an improbable meeting of minds occurred beneath our university’s Lennon Wall that reinforced to me the enduring power of free deliberation and dialogue. Hubert introduced himself to me as a twenty year old International Relations student from Southern China. He already knew who I was, having seen the posts circulating about me on Chinese social media. He was taking a courageous risk in reaching out across the divide. We soon got to chatting, speaking for hours as the brilliant purple sky above Saint Lucia burnt to night.

Over the course of our friendly exchange, we discussed a wide range of topics frankly and openly. Hubert described his family’s experience of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution while speaking with great pride of China’s stunning economic miracle. I shared his sense of awe at China having lifted some eight hundred million people out of poverty in a single generation, an achievement of world-historic magnitude. We bonded over a shared respect for Chinese literature, culture and civilisation. Throughout our conversation, I was struck by both his erudition and his kindly and thoughtful demeanour.

We also talked about the pro-democracy rally at UQ I helped organise on July 24th. During that rally, I was assaulted by a co-ordinated group of masked pro-CCP heavies. If I am honest, I was surprised he was present among those Chinese nationalist demonstrators that sought to disrupt Hong Kong students peacefully expressing their concerns on campus. Hubert did not participate in the violence and I know he did not condone it. Still, what led him to support the nationalist rally?

He explained his concerns and I tried to understand and respond to them. As the discussion broadened, he helped me see that Chinese students share the same anxieties and fears as Australian and Hong Kong students. Where we feared persecution for our political beliefs and views, they did too. Alone in a foreign country, Chinese students could rationally fear Australian protests critical of the CCP would contribute to the creation of a McCarthy-like atmosphere of paranoia and mutual distrust. Who could blame them, given Australia’s long history of anti-Chinese racism?

Profound contrasts in the political culture of our nations served to stoke misunderstandings that inflamed passions on both sides. Hubert explained to me how China’s nationalist education system encouraged citizens to conflate the CCP-led state with the very nation itself, so that Chinese students at UQ would interpret criticism of the state as criticism of the Chinese people. This definition of nationhood is obviously radically different to how we conceive of the relationship between a state and its people in the West. Where I intuitively draw a distinction between criticism of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and criticism of my identity as an Australian, Chinese students at UQ interpreted our opposition to the policies of the Chinese state in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong as opposition to the Chinese nation and people.

I fundamentally disagree with this vision of political life as it seems to underpin a blood-and-soil authoritarianism that brooks no criticism of human rights abuses. I think this is an idea we must rationally challenge and break down. Were it not for my productive discussion with Hubert, I would not have understood the need to reformulate future protest messaging to clearly respond to this distinction. He helped me see how vital it is that we show Chinese students our opposition to the current policies of the Chinese government do not entail an objection to them or their presence in this country.

Ultimately, Hubert and I still came away from our dialogue with fundamental disagreements. But leaving aside those differences, it was a productive, educational experience. And that is the power of free debate and discussion as hallmarks of effective liberal democracy. Through peaceful dialogue, we overcame differences, clarified misunderstandings, and tried to bridge the divide between ourselves. That night at UQ, two twenty-year-old kids from vastly different worlds and cultures got together to try to understand each other a little better, and I think they came away slightly better people. That is the beauty of discussion and peaceful attempts at mutual understanding, and it can underpin a new peace on Australian campuses and city streets.

The Ageism Epidemic

Australia, Philosophy, Politics, Society

Lachlan Green

Disclaimer: Names have been changed at the request of those involved for the sake of privacy and dignity.

Jodie is an incredibly talented artist. Her rural landscapes dot the walls of her villa and her bedroom. The intricate details of the country settings are made even more incredible when it is discovered that all the locations are painted from Jodie’s own memory. Her modesty means she adamantly refuses to take any compliments about the works, preferring instead to criticise the tiny imperfections that only an artist can see.

Jodie is also in her late-70s and living in a residential aged care facility. In fact, her talent for painting wasn’t uncovered until she had her first art therapy session in the facility, in which she showed off a talent she hadn’t explored at all through the years. A major part of Jodie’s life has been her involvement in her local rugby league club, where she was heavily involved in team management and business operations for many decades. She maintains an undying love for her footy team, and frequent visits to the club show that she’s still a familiar face and her significant contributions are often celebrated.

On one standard Tuesday, Jodie had to catch a taxi into Brisbane city for a regular hospital appointment. When the taxi arrived, Jodie saw that it was a larger, van style, Maxi Taxi. Due to age-related complications, Jodie has limited mobility. On this particular day, the taxi driver refused to call Jodie a smaller taxi and refused to assist Jodie into the back of the taxi. After some time, Jodie hauled herself into the back of the cab and they were off.

On arrival to the hospital, the taxi driver remarked that she was slower than most people and asked her to get out of his vehicle. Jodie sat for a moment and asked once again for assistance, this time, clearly upset with the time all of this was taking – the driver finally agreed. Briskly opening the side door, grabbing Jodie roughly on both arms, and applying enough pressure to make Jodie feel like she was being pulled out onto the road. Jodie showed me the grab marks on her bruised arm that persisted. Jodie made one comment to the driver before leaving, “When you’re my age, I hope that no-one treats you the way you have treated me.”

While a more extreme example, this is just one way that ageism (age-related discrimination) manifests in our society. Ageism is surprisingly rife in western society and although many people would claim it does not affect their daily thinking, it pervades culture in interesting and unrecognised ways. Simple, “harmless” generalisations about older generations and assumptions about older peoples’ abilities are basic ways in which discrimination manifests and paves the way for more sinister forms of ageism. For instance, the taxi driver’s intolerance of Jodie’s impaired mobility could most likely be attributed to a sub-conscious belief that, as a younger person, he was superior to her. Current ideas regarding ageing implicitly perpetuated in the West centre around people becoming less capable and more worthless as they grow older. This is demonstrated by the countless stories of people unable to find work once they get to the later stage of the “middle-aged” bracket.

Of course, the most extreme manifestation of ageism is elder abuse, one of the most globally prevalent forms of abuse. Elder abuse merits an article to itself, but it is safe to say that stories of physical, sexual, financial and psychological abuse and neglect are not hard to find. Evidently, the mindset of many perpetrators of elder abuse is based in ageist stereotypes and judgements of the older victims.

As with other forms of discrimination, ageism can be questioned philosophically. The big question is, what part of human reasoning causes ageism? Many people have provided a range of answers, all of which probably hold some degree of truth. Some would say that the common perception that older people are a ‘drain’ on society and on public resources, causes people to treat older people with disregard. Yet, this perception itself is inherently ageist. Many older people do contribute economically and the generalisation that all older people do not serve any purpose in society is central to the problem of ageism (and is nothing more than a gross stereotype). In fact, in many instances where older people are not contributing, it is because of younger people in the workforce refusing to work with them.

Another interesting, and perhaps more philosophical answer would be that older people are treated poorly because of a human fear of growing old. While I am not in any place to deny or confirm that answer, I do not see fear as a valid reason to treat someone as less than oneself.

The story of Jodie is not unique, it’s not even especially remarkable. The taxi driver was reported and is pending disciplinary action. Jodie claims that she’s okay but she has stated, “I don’t feel like I’m comfortable going out on my own anymore.” Yet, it’s the words that follow that floor me, and in the many instances of ageism that I’ve been informed of over the last 4 years of working in, or close to, the aged care industry, these words always seem to follow. “Don’t worry, it’s just how it is.”

Works Cited

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/face-facts-older-australians#fn7

http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/3222.0Main%20Features12006%20to%202101?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3222.0&issue=2006%20to%202101&num=&view=

http://www.agediscrimination.info/international/

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs381/en/

UQ Campus Heated as Anti-CCP and Chinese-Counter Protesters Clash

Australia, Brisbane, Politics

Nilsson Jones

UQ’s Market Day at the St Lucia campus was hijacked by mid afternoon as tensions boiled over between Chinese and Hong Kong protesters. 

Market Day was an opportune time for anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and pro-Hong Kong protesters to join together and get their message out to students. 

Drew Pavlou, an organiser for the anti-CCP protests promoted the event on Facebook in the days leading up to Market Day.

Mr Pavlou has been a vocal student on the persecution of Uighur Muslims in mainland China, as well as the controversial relationship between UQ and the Chinese Government – regarding international students bankrolling the university and the presence of the Confucius Institute on campus. 

On Wednesday morning, Chinese students contacted Mr Pavlou and encouraged him to cancel the event, as it would cause unnecessary and unwanted damage to the broader Chinese-Australia relationship and implicate students who wish not to become involved. Some sent Mr Pavlou death threats.

The event went ahead at midday, beginning as a peaceful sit-in with students holding signs that criticised outgoing UQ Vice-Chancellor, Peter Hoj for the Chinese Government’s supposed influence at UQ. 

Pro-CCP students then gathered directly across from the protesters at the entrance to the great court near Merlos, as a form of counter-protest. 

This is when the day got interesting. 

The counter-protesters arrived with speakers loudly playing the Chinese national anthem on repeat as students joined in on the singing and chants that were endless throughout the afternoon’s ‘festivities’. 

Both groups screamed and chanted at each other until tensions boiled over when Chinese students began tearing up pro-Hong Kong signs and pushing the protesters away. 

The violence then escalated when Mr Pavlou, amongst others, was assaulted, being repeatedly punched then pushed into a group of students sitting down. 

Another student was hit over the head with an energy drink by a pro-CCP student, it was then that a UQ security officer stepped in and was bitten by the Chinese student. 

It is important to note that there were UQ security officers present throughout these events, however, they remained largely uninvolved to avoid the appearance of stifling debate and free speech on campus. 

It was after signs were stolen and students were punched that police arrived on campus and remained there until the groups calmed down and later moved on. 

There was a brief forty minute period where things looked to have fizzled out, the groups had dispersed from the Great Court. A group of students led by Mr Pavlou occupied the Confucius Institute on campus and live streamed from the location. 

Following the Confucius Institute protest, approximately fifty Hong Kong students sat down near the Grassy Knoll. 

Domestic students who were in support of the Hong Kongers, as well as those in opposition to the CCP, huddled behind the students in a showing of support. 

Over the next thirty minutes, pro-Chinese students had re-grouped opposite the Grassy Knoll, with an increasing presence that grew to over 350 as tensions began to rise once more. 

The chanting and singing returned as both sides grew increasingly agitated by one another until the second round of violence ensued. 

Police and media presence was far more apparent at the revived protest as key figures from both sides were interviewed and questioned about the day’s events. 

This violence and motivation to protest did not exist in a vacuum, there were several peaceful Hong Kong student protests at the end of last semester showing solidarity with family and friends back home. 

Similarly, tensions and debate have been present on UQ platforms such as Stalkerspace following the events and protests in Hong Kong in previous months. 

Wednesday’s events will most likely not be a one-off, with a larger protest already proposed on campus for next Wednesday.

Bill Shorten’s Failure

Australia, Politics

James Calligeros 

The Labor Party have now lost two unloseable elections in a row. In 2016, it was the party that had “learnt its lesson” on stability versus the increasingly divided party plagued with a spate of resignations, cabinet reshuffles, and a “cruel and unfair” budget. But it wasn’t, really. It was a contest between the silver tongued, slick, confident Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, who at the time could have been mistaken for a wet piece of paper you’d find in your pants after they’ve gone through the wash.

And now, on Saturday, it was the party with a vision for the future of Australia, with a plan to revitalise public healthcare, to fix the mess that the Liberals made of the NBN, to ensure stability (not necessarily growth) in the housing market, and to end an unsustainable tax loophole costing the budget $6bn a year up against the party of “look it’s just common sense!” The Victorian and Queensland state elections of 2018 saw Labor governments re-elected, with a huge swing towards the red team in Victoria. Federal inaction on climate change had pushed the nation to protests. We saw the divisions in the Liberal Party come to a head with two weeks of utter chaos in late 2018, leading to the deposition of Malcolm Turnbull at the hands of Tony Abbott, who was all too happy to resign the party to almost certain defeat only to satiate his hunger for revenge against Turnbull. The previous week’s election should have been a bloodbath for the Coalition. But it wasn’t.

Policy-wise, most Australians would agree with the Labor platform, which echoed the Hawke-Keating economic reformation but with a distinct modern twist. And yet the party of warring factions, an unstable coalition agreement that was almost torn up only a few months ago, brazen cronyism, infrastructure project sabotage, and a deafness to all issues other than the nebulous promise of strong economic management came up from the rear to form government at 7 to 1 odds.

The blame must lie squarely with Bill Shorten. Modern politics has become less about policy and more about identity and optics. Bill Shorten, since assuming the role as leader of the Labor party, has not once polled above the Liberal leader as preferred Prime Minister. Even during the final days of the Abbott reign when public opinion had turned unequivocally against the old regime, he still polled higher than Shorten. Turnbull, even after fizzling out and resigning himself to playing tug-of-war with the Liberal Party factions, polled higher than Shorten. And now Scott Morrison – ScoMo – even after the absolute joke that was the 2018 Liberal leadership spill, polls higher than Shorten.

The sad fact of the matter is that Shorten was never leadership material, especially not in the modern age of personal politics. And while his party’s loyalty and commitment to stability must be commended, ultimately it has proven to be their undoing at two unloseable elections.

Ask anyone who isn’t a Labor shill what they think of Bill Shorten. You’ll get a response along the lines of: “I can’t trust what he says,” or, “I dunno, there’s just something about him aye.” But that’s the problem. There isn’t something about him, there’s nothing about him.

Bill Shorten has consistently come off as uncharismatic, insincere and out of touch. His oration is reminiscent of a school captain forced to recite a speech for ANZAC day assembly written by a pompous deputy principal; it is clunky, stunted and monotonous. His facial expressions, tone and rhythm all give off the vibe that he either doesn’t want to be there or does not speak with conviction. Neither of these are necessarily true, but it is the image he has put out for himself. Compare this to the passionate almost-rants of Scott Morrison both on the campaign trail and during Question Time, and he comes off as an actual personality, not a text-to-speech bot.

Bill Shorten’s history as a union boss also did him no favours. The Murdoch press was able to leverage this as ‘evidence’ that he was in the pocket of the union movement, and that a Shorten-led Labor government would mean an Australia run by – and for – said unions. God forbid! You’ll hear criticisms of Bill like: “He’s never worked a day in his life,” and these are a result of this press-led anti-union scare campaign. It seems in the eyes of the Australian public, you’ve only worked if you’ve used a jackhammer or worn hi-vis. And despite a multi-million dollar witch-hunt conducted by the Abbott Government into union corruption, not a single shred of evidence was found linking Shorten or his time at the AWU to any wrongdoing. The damage to his reputation was already done, however, and it seems that it was irreversible.

Tying into this is Tall Poppy Syndrome – a uniquely Australian phenomenon where the public, as a rule of thumb, try to discredit and look down upon wealthy and successful public figures. Malcolm Turnbull was a victim of this just as much as Shorten. Both leaders were relentlessly mocked and ridiculed for their failed attempts at seeming personally in touch with middle Australia. Take for example, the ridicule he received for eating a hot dog the ‘wrong’ way, and the equally ridiculous image of him applying sunscreen with his knuckles. The media jumped on to these almost immediately, citing them as examples that Bill had no idea how real Australians go about their daily business, as if it matters how you eat a damn hot dog. And while Turnbull was mocked for living in a big fuckoff Northern Beaches mansion, he was able to use his wit and slick used-car salesman charisma to fend off and deflect criticisms that he was just another elitist member of the Australian upper class. Bill’s lack of charisma and ability to deflect criticisms effectively only solidified public opinion that he was not ‘one of us.’

We saw a radical change in Bill starting around the end of last year. It appeared as if his handlers had given him some coaching as his speeches became more passionate, his wit and charm increased exponentially, and we saw more of a Rudd-esque attempt to get down and dirty with locals in various electorates. His appearance on Q&A was exemplary of this. After 5 years in opposition, however, changing tune mere months out from an election was merely too little, too late.

The Australian public is extremely quick to judge and recalcitrant to having their minds changed. It was apparent even from the day he won the Labor leadership spill against Anthony Albanese that he would never be Prime Minister of Australia. The almost unyielding five year media assault on his personal character and public life only ensured that this would be the case.

That said, would Shorten have made a good Prime Minister if given the chance? Probably. He had the leadership experience from his union days, had proven that he could hold together the various factions inside the Labor Party, had a vision for Australia that most could get behind, and seemed to be making a genuine attempt at becoming more down-to-earth and relatable to the Australian populace. We probably would have seen Shorten come into his own, and maybe even secure a second term come 2022 if he was able to continue on the path he had started down last year and prove that Labor could deliver on the many promises it made during this campaign.

Ultimately, he wasn’t the Bill Australia couldn’t afford. He was the Bill it simply didn’t want.

The Liberal’s Colourless Campaign

Australia, Politics

Toby Caro

The Liberal campaign for the 2019 election is not good. It’s barely a campaign. The Party has been in strife for a long time now, with a slew of issues, and their disorganized drive for re-election is farcical.

Morrison has limited the scope of his campaign to two issues: economic management and personal trust. Passing over the fact that the election concerns distinctly more subjects than that, this is a dangerous and very deliberately ambiguous way to frame major issues.

What even the most minor scrutiny then reveals is a precarious lack of real policy, indicative of a sycophantic breed of politician, one alarmingly common within the ranks of the Liberal Party.

Climate change policy is a perfect example of this. After spending months bickering about the extent of Turnbull’s capitulation to the furthest Right of his party, his National Energy Guarantee was thrown out altogether. The Liberals then continued their infighting, this time over leadership. Finally, having reached the conclusion of a completely unnecessary and petty saga, which saw numerous ministers step down and several MPs decide to not seek re-election, the party agreed to largely forget about climate policy.

The only thing that has sparked backflip remarks and assurances now, is the election and the necessity of a climate change plan for success. Tony Abbott, long time climate change denier, has changed his tune so many times it’s hard to keep up, with his own recent concession being spurned by a challenge to his seat from Zali Steggall who has been outspoken on the subject.

Further to its impediment to productivity, such civil war has been destructive to the Party’s brand. The seemingly constant reshuffling of leaders and cabinet members stinks of untrustworthiness and has completely undermined the Liberal’s idea of united leadership. Indeed Morrison’s declarations of such come off as blatantly hypocritical and frankly unbelievable.

The Liberal Party is currently so toxic that even MPs within the Party don’t want to be associated with it. Jason Wood, Sarah Henderson, Michael Sukkar and Russel Broadbent, all hoping for election within the Liberal Party, have removed any trace of LNP logo or slogan from their election material. It’s incredulous that such an idea of a ‘Liberal campaign’ can exist, when the members comprising that campaign run solo efforts to emphasise a distinction from the Party.

Yet the Liberal Party campaign not only lacks backbench support, but serious challenges to senior ministers like Josh Frydenberg, Tony Abbott and Peter Dutton have left it completely bare. As a result, Scott Morrison has been forced to take the reins almost single-handedly.

The consequence of this is politics at its most cunning.

Morrison has steered his ship in the direction of the one major Newspoll he is winning, the preferred prime minister. The campaign then has become a tool for exposing personality flaws of Bill Shorten whilst bolstering the PM’s image of a local every-man.

Throughout the course of ‘The Bill Australia cannot afford’ campaign, Morrison has used Shorten’s name as an implicit slur, reaching to the bottom of the barrel to invoke the most venomous and hollow style.

It’s ridiculous that Scott Morrison can essentially limit an election race to the personality traits of either leader, and even more so that he then continues to attack and bully his opponent like an upset child.

It’s ridiculous, but it’s not impossible to see why he would, when the rest of the Liberal campaign is a shambles, with no policy, direction or even support. Australia’s political culture has been stagnant and hostile for some time, but this election is surely the apex.