The Census: a Failure of National Humility

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Let the Australian census debacle be our lesson about arrogance rather than technology.

Last night, you may have heard, the Australian Bureau of Statistics took the census offline after several malicious denial of service (DoS) attacks.

This should have been expected. Its possibility should have been discussed by the ABS and the government in the lead-up to the census.

The possibility of a kind of failure should have been made apparent at all stages. Instead, however, everyone publicly backed themselves.

Everything we do in technology is a trial of some kind. We base entire project methodologies around the idea of failure. (Look at the Agile and Lean concepts.) It is ridiculous to mix this level of expected and controlled whoopsies with the arrogance of a government prioritising being correct over being careful.

Government has become more about not admitting mistakes than actually governing.

The Schadenfreude you see expressed by libertarians on social media this morning is not a response to technology failing as much as it is the comeuppance of an arrogant government.

Last night the Prime Minister tweeted that he successfully completed the census at his house. Then he offered no further tweets about the problems other people were having.

He offered no comment about the unfortunate people struggling in ABS server rooms or about how great it was to attempt something so bold as a predominantly online census.

Of course he couldn’t do that because we live in a culture where mistakes are treated with excuses rather than ownership and compassion.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Imagine a different scenario: the government publicly treated the online census with caution. In this alteraverse they referred to the project as a “trial” and encouraged people to use it first and, if it failed, to swap to the paper form they were provided.

Maybe we could have supported them, in this other reality, if they had announced a plan to do something inventive and obviously for the public good with unused offline survey booklets:

The different ministries worked together and came up with a plan that conservationists, economists and social service workers universally applauded. The will turn unused census booklets into insulation or construction materials for makeshift housing for our increasing homeless population.

That’s not a real quote from anywhere. It’s a made up alternative universe; a dream; a fantasy.

Snap back to reality

Last night was a failure of our collective attitude towards big projects. We are so scared of being wrong that we would rather see everything come crashing down and do a piss-bolt out of the scene than preempt the possibility of things failing with public contingencies.

This morning’s news overflows with experts saying it was never going to work. That doesn’t help. What would those experts have done if it did work? Would they announce it as a triumph, hooking their trailer onto that passing star? Would they have stayed quiet? I doubt we’d see announcements from them saying they didn’t think it was possible.

We can’t keep dealing with technology issues in terms of absolutes. It does nothing but breed lack of confidence in our leaders and, more importantly, the technology to grow our reputation on an international competitive stage.

Australia: The Cautiously Optimistic Country

We need to get used to saying: “We’re not sure if this will work but we’re going to give it a go. And, by the way, this is the plan we have in place if it doesn’t work.”

Because a clever country plans. We have to stop saying we’re a clever country, stop hoping we’re a lucky country, and actually do the things we constantly pat ourselves on the back for. We need to encourage attitudes of planning, long-term research and revisiting premises.

We need to look beyond tomorrow’s headlines and next week’s opinion polls and beyond the interest of the power-hungry individuals who got us into this mess. They don’t care about us. We should stop giving them the power to hold us back. We’re better than this.

Con men and our antipodean fall

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I’ve been trying to work out why he would do such a thing and the only answer I come up with that makes any sense at all is that Stephen Conroy is an agent of evil.

Evil doesn’t come straight up to you and throw acid in your face and stab you in the gut just to watch you die slowly and painfully. Evil is about control and domination.

Senator Conroy uses intellectually dishonest arguments to confuse the ignorant. The internet filter is not about saving Australian from the vileness of child molestation any more than the free-to-air licence rebates were about bringing more Australian made television to our screens.

Both of these acts are about gaining control over the information we receive. The rebates are a bribe, plain and simple. They are incentive for the media outlets who act as our major source of news to report favourably when it comes to the current government.

Of course there are journalists, reporters and news gatherers who won’t be swayed from their unbiased stance, but they are the rare few and they will become largely irrelevant in this fight.

The organisation has already been corrupted. The hand-outs and ski chalet rendezvous have already infected the head and it won’t be long before the pus seeps down to send the rest of the body septic.

This is the start of a very dark time for Australia. Once we were called the ‘lucky country’ but soon we will be seen as the first country to fall. It will be our own fault because we revelled too long in comfort with our good fortune. We were blinded by our luxuries and we will say that we never even saw it coming.

At first, when the internet filter was proposed, those against the idea were all but equated with child pornographers. The beginning of the intellectual dishonesty was the insistence that this was a black and white issue.

The internet filter will stop child pornography as effectively as customs agents stop junkies dying in the toilets of Flinders St Station.

This filter is about controlling information. It’s about stopping the post before it arrives and blacking out certain phrases. It’s about removing our ability to think for ourselves, make choices for ourselves and maintain control over our own lives.

We are told that filtering the internet will reduce the chances that our children stumble upon unsavoury websites. If parents are concerned about what their children are doing on the internet they can take a more active role in monitoring their access.

While active parenting may seem like a foreign concept to the self interested arse-sucking ladder-climbers at parliament house, it’s not to those who understand that building a family is about responsibility.

Unfortunately the corruption of the family unit already started with the last government and their money bonuses for having children and buying bigger houses.

Senator Conroy, saying that the internet is not special, tries to convince us that we are not blessed with a system that has the potential to unite the citizens of the world for the first time in history.

Incarcerating Galileo didn’t change the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun. It just delayed the message.

The internet filter is part of the propaganda machine to make Australians feel like our government is protecting us. They are actively taking away our rights we are expected to thank them.

John Howard’s Liberal government embarrassed us on the international stage with their treatment of refugees, involving us in unjust wars and crippling our development as potential environmental and technological world leaders.

Rudd’s government was elected on the ideas that we would be able to climb our of Howard’s despair pit with ecologically sustainable policies and the promise of optic fibre rolled out to give us internet speeds and access to once again make our nation competitive in the global arena.

Behind Kevin Rudd’s perpetual condescending smile is the mind of a conservative control freak as bad as our last.

Beside ol’ K-Rudd are his minions. Standing tallest among them is Senator Stephen Conroy, who takes pride is playing us for fools.

He uses sleight of hand, misdirection and misinformation to distract us while he sacrifices another piece of our democracy to his power god.

The internet filter may never be used in the same way as China’s great firewall, but the potential is there. That should be enough to warn us away from such a beast.

Just because a rottweiler may never harm the baby doesn’t mean we should leave them alone in the same room.