On the House: Feeding the chooks

It doesn't take a political mastermind to know that these are the issues that will dominate the mainstream press in the run-up to the election. With press gallery journalists building up to their usual pre-election frenzy and with politicians of all sides playing their favourite game of "feeding the (press gallery) chooks", how many column inches can we hope to see devoted to critical analysis of the IT policies of the major parties?

It is sobering to realise that in the 20 years since ALP national secretary Barry Jones has been a Member of the House of Representatives, neither house of parliament has ever had a serious debate on the subject of information as a form of wealth.

Jones, who stepped in to deliver the keynote address to the Seventh International World Wide Web Conference (WWW7) in Brisbane in April after Information Economy Minister Richard Alston backed out, doubts there will be one in the next parliament.

Certainly Jones told delegates that both major parties now had an uneasy feeling that we had lost opportunities to face up to policy issues and that time may be running out. Yet Australia remains an importer of smart products, forced to buy dear and sell cheap. Current government policies consistently pay lip service to the notion of supporting local SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) while actually lining the pockets of powerful multinational corporations. Many believe those multinationals are even dictating terms to the prime minister. And no one in a position of power and influence seems to be making sufficient effort to understand the implications of the World Wide Web for major issues like privacy, individual freedom and democracy.

Looking at his track record since coming to power, it is hard to escape the feeling that John Howard's nostalgia for the ‘50s is fuelled at least in part by his own bewilderment about the technological revolution that has occurred since his childhood.

And now we face the very real danger that politicians from all sides, running scared of the Hanson phenomenon, will become so enslaved by Pauline's agenda, that such issues will be buried.

Hanson purports to represent the information poor, yet her policies could destroy any hope we might have of becoming an important player on the IT stage. The Hanson phenomenon feeds on the deep sense of alienation experienced by many of those who have been left behind by globalisation and the information economy. But industry protection and the politics of nostalgia are no answers for those who fear being left behind by the information age.

Instead, politicians from all sides need to focus on ways to help those who otherwise risk being left behind by the information economy. They must decide once and for all whether we have missed the boat on the opportunities on offer, and if not, find ways to capitalise on them.

Above all, they must reject the politics of alienation and nostalgia that Hanson represents, and rather than pandering to her supporters in the hope of capturing their preferences, explain to them why her policies would be certain to directly harm their futures. It is the nation's future at stake.

Sue Bushell is a Canberra-basedpolitical correspondent

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