Julia Gillard’s gone. What then must we do?

Julia Gillard’s been booted out. After doing Knitting PMall the hard leadership yards.The fact that it happened is not shocking.

 

What is shocking is how many people have swallowed the dominant story in the media, put there and maintained by News.

When I was young, I was forever reminded by adults that “you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers”. Journalists regularly ranked somewhere next to lawyers and politicians in terms of trustworthiness surveys. When did we all become so stupid that we forgot to pay attention? The price of freedom, they say, is eternal vigilance.

You know what would make a real difference?

An angry, informed, deliberate, grass-roots campaign to educate people about politics, the political system, basic economics and civil rights.

That would make a difference to LGBT, to sexism, to the repetitive hoodwinking of the average Australian by the mainstream media (there are people in my social media feeds who don’t realise that there is no carbon tax on them), to the union movement, everyone vaguely left – and some of the wets from the right.

That would make a difference.

Who’s in?

 

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Big Money for Ladies

Dear Ladies,

We need to talk about big money.

It is Thursday afternoon, in a parliamentary democracy. As I twatch the two major parties

thrust and parry to and fro in this afternoon’s question time, I think about how lucky we are to be able to discuss things in the open. Most peoples of the world are not allowed to speak out publicly about what they want from the governments, or be represented, or question their elites. In Australia, we can and do.

This thought leads to the next one, the thought about all the questions that aren’t being asked, and whether that’s because they don’t matter, or because they’re too hard, or because we don’t know what we don’t know.

It is liberating and fascinating when you realise just how much of your life is made up of areas that you don’t know about or don’t understand. It’s like when you find out that Amanda Vanstone can have non-partisan conversations even though she supported some dreadful immigration policies, or when you find out that the guy on ‘Giggle and Hoot’, whose name really is Jimmy, is exactly the same in real life as he is on a children’s television show mostly famous for its lobotomal (neologism) scripts.

I had this boyfriend once who was a pretty good small business man. He was also loaded. He was a generous person but deeply sexist (so not so generous after all), so we parted ways, but not before he passed on his passion for spread sheets. In between almost-daily episodes of unbelievable sex, book-ended by cooking delicious, continental foods, he showed me his numbers. Rivers of dollars eddied into billabongs of income-producing thingummies, swirling around his accounts, into one and out of another, earning more money here, discarding waste there.

Once, we were due to travel overseas. The racehorse in which he held a share was due to run at a small meeting the day before. With a packet of money in the breast pocket of his suit (think it was $1000) he met me for lunch, intending to place specific bets straight afterwards.  The race turned out exactly how he wished it to, and he looked forward to spending the $7000-odd dollars on our trip.

Caught up in the romance of it all, he forgot to place the bets. So, no $7000. He was annoyed with himself for a couple of hours, vaguely disappointed for another day, and then got over it.

The point is, this guy, like so many other fat, entitled, manipulative, macho souls, was used to viewing money in the millions (household money) and billions (what he was aiming for in his business). And there are tens of thousands of other educated, middle class people who also see large numbers every day, including politicians and bureaucrats.

But single mothers, the caring people who help them, and Centrelink staff do not. To a single mother who’s been living on Parenting Payments and a casual customer service job, $100,000 is a lot of money. Most working people think the $20 million lotto jackpot is a lot of money.

How dare she, who works in the supermarket and drives a second-hand Camry, presume to even look at a politician’s budget? How can she possibly bridge the gap between her detailed expertise in running a family close to the bread line, and a government department that could perhaps waste the odd $20 million on an IT contract that didn’t work out?

And why would she anyway? This is a patriarchy characterised by masculine-style market competition for resources, with structures and customs that favour private information for people who are privileged, and which discourages public discourse about technical subjects. Experts are ridiculed, banks are bashed and economists are called self-interested liars. How can the average person ever really understand how three consecutive investment juniors at XYZ fund lost $9,000 of their super during the GFC?

The world I want to live in is one where we approach the financial literacy that Paul Keating thought was possible when he introduced compulsory superannuation, in the era when the TV news bulletins began to run stock market reports and Clem Dimsey’s race reports disappeared from the Channel 10 bulletin.
I want to live in a world where I can discuss funding allocations for Indigenous arts projects over the back fence with my neighbour, productivity at the local supermarket and defence spending at playgroup.

I want Australian women to be capable of questioning and speaking up about a $70 million black hole, seeing this mistake in NLP costings for what it is – a full 10% of the amount of money the ALP has taken away from single mums ($700 million) normally used to pay their living costs, coincidentally, a mere 50% of the amount of  money the government could collect from deadbeat dads via Child Support Agency ($1.4 billion outstanding), but which the mums are third or fourth in line for after the ATO and other creditors.

I want Australian women to be capable of unpacking what I said above without having their eyes glaze over.

I am going to nag you all about it until it gets done.

Hands up who thinks we need ‘earn’ the right to startup in Australia?

(Warning: this post contains massive generalisations, and should not be read as an invitation to start trolling. It is about an idea, not a piece of research, and thus it will be utterly flawed in many respects. So I will delete all nitpicks from comments…)

I found myself out of work recently with no real idea of what I wanted to do next. I did a fair amount of writing, some for me and some for others, but mostly I mooched around thinking my little head off, trying to figure out how to feed my family whilst not risking it all on a pipedream. I’m sure this is something that happens to a lot of people, this process.

Fortunately, now I have a venture to work on which is viable, easy to grow and based on cash flowing in. It carries no inventory – it’s a service. This service is based on the needs of small non-profits to provide reports to grant-makers and stakeholders. If you’re someone who administers a small non-profit, or you know someone who does, it would be terrific if you’d direct them to this survey. I’m also looking for a beta tester group – so something for nothing for those willing to give feedback.

The important thing is, I arrived at the idea for my new venture only after I abandoned an idea about entrepreneurship that thrives in Australia, an idea so deeply encoded in our day-to-day exchanges and media stories about business that we don’t even notice it. In the words of a once-famous Australian TVC for Palmolive dishwashing detergent: “You’re soaking in it!”

It’s been said over and over that Aussies cut down tall poppies – for those of you reading from the US, the expression means, when Australians see someone standing out from the pack because of their success, they cut them down to size, either out of envy or in a genuine belief that they are protecting them. Australian entrepreneurs who have been wildly successful have taken their cues from their US counterparts of from family and friends who have one-eyed belief in them. There’s been enough said about our tall poppy syndrome. I’m talking about something else here.

Sometimes, just a tiny shift in way you see something can result in an enormous change. I experienced one of those shifts of perception recently.

In the US, if someone needs work and can’t find it, or if he or she sees an opportunity that would pay them more or give them some other benefit, it’s an acceptable thing to start a business. Americans worship startups begun in the garage or on the dining room table, or out of the trunks of cars or doorknocking with their new gadget.

In Australia, we admire these people from a distance, and only in retrospect. We give them the tick of approval after they’ve achieved great success. And even if their success is not that great, but it’s still better than your average job and employs a couple of people, we still don’t admire them. We kind of act like they’re in loser purgatory because the only reason someone would be an entrepreneur is because they’re trying to hit the big time, make loads of cash, right? So someone who misses that mark and makes $200,000 per annum out of his or her slightly different insurance brokerage may as well go back and get a real job, because in comparison to Bill Gates, they’re nothing.

Here’s another one:  just exactly who should be attempting to start their own business? Obviously, a mechanic who’s worked hard in his or her career for two decades deserves a shot at it out on their own, of course. But not setting up business as a pool installer – that would be a bit much, wouldn’t it? There are guys who’ve been working in the pool industry for decades who should be better at that.

And who’s qualified? A guy who decides to retire early, and take a redundancy package, can do two things with it: go on a luxury trip that takes in St Andrew’s fine greens, or start a dynamic new consultancy selling services to his best buddies back in the washing machine industry. A guy who’s been recognised as one of the brightest in his final year at school and topped the class in his MBA must start a business, as a duty to the rest of us.

But what about your next-door neighbour? The lady who keeps cats who chews your ear off talking about the latest craze in kitty bling? Perfect niche internet business. No, she has not earned it. She wouldn’t understand the internet. She’s too old and on the pension. It’s not for the likes of her.

What about your cousin, the guy who invented his own non-processed food regimen and lost 40 kilos (88 pounds)? Perfect coaching/consulting business – might even be a candidate for franchising. He’s been looking for work for years, but nobody wants to take him because of the big hole in his resume caused by his (now long gone) depression.

So here is the thing I saw, that changed a lot for me. This is the crucial difference: in the US, if either one of them said they’d like to start their own business, people would support them, celebrate them. It’s the American way. And it’s the responsible thing to do -that’s right, earning money, by setting up a business, is a responsible thing to do.

In Australia, we equate responsibility with conservatism. So someone on income support shouldn’t register domains and start importing rare motorcycle memorabilia, young people with not enough education mustn’t squander all of our time and taxes on an event company that might fail and single mothers should just shut up and do party plan instead. In other words, we see startups as uniquely irresponsible, in comparison to getting a ‘normal’ job.

This seems like a little thing, but it’s not. To the extent that it’s true – I have no figures, it’s only an observation – it means that a disproportionate number of startup businesses in Australia are started by middle-class people with money and education. Innovation happens there, but not in the outer suburbs, not in the high schools, not in the senior citizens clubs. And when innovation does happen, it’s reined in by all our ideas about responsibility being aligned with conservative choices.

However, how could it be responsible to order only a container load of a new brand of sunscreen at the start of the summer holiday season? Why is it irresponsible to order ten containers? Surely, in the rational mind, the mind that is not hung up on holding back as a lazy means of practising risk management, the correct thing to do is to make the order for ten containers and then spend money telling the market about it. Rather than the Australian way, which is to order one container load and then cut back the marketing budget because you have no hope of building sales volume. Remember, these are gross generalisations and I know that Ruslan Kogan does not fit this mould. Thank God for that.

I wonder how wealthy our country would be if our attitude to small business wasn’t about owning small brokerages, Muffin Break franchises or vietnamese restaurants and was instead about the best ideas, the best market knowledge and the best support systems. And that it was responsible to start businesses and create jobs.