Monday, 22 October 2007

Kevin Rudd's muddled "digital divide" reality

It should come as no surprise to anyone closely following what Kevin Rudd has been saying since becoming Labor opposition leader that he muddles his facts about things numerical yet again.

I know I sound like a broken record but he really is an incompetent on matters of the economy and seems to have little affinity with things numerical, of which his recent gaff on tax thresholds is but one example. I have likened his understanding of economics to that other disastrous Labor leader of the past, Gough Whitlam, and nothing I have seen subsequent to making that judgement has changed my mind.

In releasing Labor's "me too" tax policy, which simply mirrors the Coalition's commitment, Kevin Rudd and his treasury spokesman Wayne Swan chose to differentiate their policy with a $2.3B education tax refund.
The Labor leader says the 50 per cent education refund would bring tax relief to parents of primary and secondary school students.

"If you have a child at primary school, then each year if you are eligible for Family Tax Benefit A, you'll be able to submit a claim for a 50 per cent refund up to $750 worth of outlay," he said.

"The second part of it deals with secondary school, where the same parents would be eligible for up to $1,500."

Mr Rudd says Australia needs to advance the cause of building prosperity beyond the mining boom.

He says a 50 per cent tax refund for working families will provide an investment for their kids' futures.

Mr Rudd says items like laptops, computers, internet costs, educational software and books will all be eligible to claim.

He says computers, "are the toolbox of the 21st century".

"We want to make sure that every Australian kid in the future has an opportunity to get themselves wired and computer literate, information revolution literate," he said.

"Because let me tell you in the future in the digital economy this is going to be fundamental business."
Now, there's no doubt that we live in the Information Age and that maintaining a position near the front of the technology curve will help us compete more effectively.

It's also fair to say that the government has been slow to achieve broadband speeds and coverage that other countries have over the last couple of years. There are two reasons for this: the battle with the new management at Telstra; and the physical size of Australia compared to the size of its economy. Thus, comparing us to countries in Europe that are smaller than Tasmania is not appropriate.

Leaving aside the fact that, according to the CIA World Factbook 2007, Australia has 14.6M Internet users in its population of 20M, Kevin Rudd seems to believe that Queensland is somehow lagging in its use of the Internet.

While being interviewed at the press conference to release Labor's tax policy he was asked who would actually benefit from a subsidy to purchase a computer. His response was that a "digital divide" existed and indicated that in the "People's Republic of Queensland" things were pretty grim.

On that last point there seems to be some self censoring going on. I saw the clip a few times and Rudd clearly says "People's Republic of Queensland" but here's what's on the ALP website:
JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

RUDD: I’m not quite sure what universe you’re inhabiting. Where we come from, people who grew up in Queensland, let me tell you, it’s different. You know.

SWAN: There’s a digital divide out there.
The question really wasn't inaudible. As mentioned, the journo clearly states that he, like most Australians, has a laptop so who's actually going to benefit from the policy? Obviously, the ALP is embarrassed by the "People's Republic of Queensland" line.

Back to the issue - so how grim are they in the state that advertises itself as "Beautiful one day. Perfect the next."?

The following table shows that - far from being disadvantaged - Queensland has the 3rd lowest number of people per Internet subscriber (lower is better) and is better than the national average.

If you're someone with sharp numeracy skills and deep understanding of the subject such as Peter Costello or Paul Keating then you're going to have a fairly good 'educated guess' when you need to wing it.

Kevin Rudd really needs to stop making stuff up as he goes along and rely on expertise within his team of advisors.

However, there are two problems he faces.
  1. Labor has focused on making this a Howard vs Rudd US Presidential style election so Rudd has to be the front man on all issues
  2. Labor lacks expertise from within its shadow front bench so Rudd's policy that he will be the front man on all issues works against him as, unfortunately, he's not as smart as he thinks he is and simply can't learn everything he needs to in order to get away with talking off the cuff.
(Nothing Follows)


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