2016

0
SHARE
Government issues press release, Orwell turns in grave

If, faraway, there is little stirring of the earth in Oxfordshire, in the shadows of the village church in Sutton Courtenay, it is because this is where George Orwell is buried and George Orwell – may he rest in peace – must have read Angus Taylor’s latest press release.

Such is the propaganda from the Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation that its reality-transformative energies may have caused the great essayist to turn in his grave.

Even in his eternal slumbers, Orwell could fear his legacy under threat, that people could forsake the word Orwellian for the word Taylorian.

Here’s a taste:

“Our ability to solve many of the great challenges of our time rests on the effective sharing and analysis of data. As a public good, access to government data can grow the economy, improve services and transform policy outcomes for the country.”

Such elevating prose; almost believable even, were it not for the fact that, just along the corridor, Angus’s colleague Mathias Cormann is busy flogging the nation’s corporate database to a private monopoly operator. Oh, and this data – Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) data – is already the most expensive and therefore most inaccessible “public” data in the world.

Investigation: ASIC fees highest in world, even before data sale

It’s hard to know exactly what is going on. To be fair to Angus, this whole “digital open access” caper is the PM’s baby and he is but “Assistant Minister”. Malcolm Turnbull set up the Digital Transformation Office, a new agency, to oversee the process and there has been a festival of double-talk and newspeak ever since, principally because it is hard to be fair dinkum about “open data” when you already run the world’s most inaccessible “public” data.

The DTO may do some good things but it is clear that public information about the world’s biggest companies operating in this country should be accessible. It’s not. It’s prohibitively expensive to access – or to buy rather – and if privatised, things will only get worse.

ASIC sale: rhetoric versus reality

“Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor has today launched an online engagement process to find out how open data can be used more effectively,” says the release.

Here is some online engagement: while the ASIC sale – or to be pedantic, the privatisation of the service contract to operate the database – persists, this “open data” spiel is gross hypocrisy and propaganda. Perhaps, as the man touted to be a future prime minister, they are toughening Angus up with the unenviable task of selling the notion that closed data is really open data.

Meanwhile, further along the corridors, the Greens have sensibly come out against the ASIC sale but Labor’s position remains a wishy-washy: “Consulting and going through our internal processes”.

The office of Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen was unable to identify, when asked yesterday, when this period of “consulting and going through our internal processes” might draw to a close. The Opposition appears fully committed to robust, open-ended consultation – dithering in other words – as its religious adherence to internal processes – more dithering – has endured for months on end.

What a sorry state of government we have. Rising surveillance of its own citizenry, falling accountability, rising propaganda, falling credibility. An economic policy of weapons-led growth fired up by $70 billion in government spending on manned submarines in an era of manless drones. No opposition there either. Nary a word of debate.