Opinion- 15 October 2010

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The More Things Change the More They Stay...



In Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett has Vladimir ask Estragon, 'How's the carrot?' which elicits the sardonic reply, 'It's a carrot.'

Taking a reasonably close look at Backing Australia's Ability: An Innovation Action Plan for the Future one is left with the question just how far the future extends for our Government. Jennifer Hewett in her short article in the January 30th 2001 Sydney Morning Herald opened with the heading, 'There's a long way to catch up,' and continues, 'Mr Howard's package sounds fine, but past neglect means it has to achieve an awful lot. ...While Australia's competitors have been accelerating investment in research and development, Australian business has actually cut back in the past several years.'


The dialogue below is reprinted from the TFW opinion piece of June 13, 2001,  i.e. over 9 years ago.



Vladimir and Estragon are upon us again.


Vladimir (Sitting on the bench and staring at the leafless tree as Estragon enters): You're walking as if you've got a nail in your shoe.

Estragon: I haven't got a nail in my shoe.

V: I didn't say you had a nail in your shoe I said you looked like... oh forget it. Where've you been, the sun's nearly set?

E: Down at the pub, I felt like a couple of cold ones.

V: You're broke, where'd you get the gelt?

E: I don't need money; I'm a consultant.

V: Oh, doing what, helping business people with their Business Activity Statements?

E: No, Little Sunshine, advising on the Knowledge Nation.

V: Wonderful... Who?

E: The Powers That Be.

V: Estragon, what the hell are you talking about.

E: I'm standing at the bar when this Oversized Cherubic looking Guy walks in looking thirsty, leans on the bar next to me, orders a schooner and then says to the barmaid, "and one for Estragon."

V: You knew him?

E: Never saw him before.

V: So, how come he knows you?

E: My very question, Vlad, you're a mind reader... How come you know my name?

OCG: I read a lot, besides you look like you've been waiting for someone who's not showing up.

V: I see, real smart guy.

E: Yeah, all right, but we get to talking and he says...

OCG: What do'ya think of the Knowledge Nation?

V: Well, Estragon, that was a real conversation icebreaker. And as the keeper of wisdom what was your retort?

E: Just keep still for a while and all will be revealed... I say to him, "It's like people I dislike, I seldom think of it."

OCG: What's that supposed to mean?

E: Look you ask me what do I think of the Knowledge Nation and I got no idea what you're talking about.

OCG: What do'ya mean, you've never heard of it?

E: I didn't say that, I said I don't know what your talking about as in I don't know what the phrase is code for.

OCG: The leader of the Opposition has a Web page devoted to it.

E: I've gone through it.

OCG: Well?

E: Load of hand waving and finger pointing, the Australian Democrats do the same thing. You trying to tell me that's policy – come off it.

OCG: That's what Barry Jones' task force was set up to deal with and they've just finished their final draft.

E: I haven't seen it but I'll bet it's light on specifics. And that brings up another matter. Just how much weight do the members of the Parliamentary Labor Party give to the Knowledge Nation?  Personally I think Mr. Beazley will have to pull a fair number of them by the scruff to get them to even look like they support it. For openers how many of them have any better idea of what's meant by the Knowledge Nation than I do?

OCG: You're just being downright negative.

E: You're in good company; Vladimir says the same thing. Mind you he doesn’t say I'm wrong, just being bloody negative. Now you know I've got a cluey friend who does occasional pieces for the learned Fourth Estate and he did an informal survey of odds and sods in the local watering dives and comes in here last week and says to me, "Estragon dear chap, when I talk to people about the necessity to turn this country into one where intellectual activity and eventually intellectual property  are paramount, I run into objections which I'll summarise for you: 'Oh, you want more computers and IT and all that stuff.  Look, we can't live on  nerds playing with screens.  We still need food and houses and vehicles and all those old fashioned things.' "

Now my friend that may be a blatantly short-sighted line of argument but it shows you how the hype for computers and IT have skewed perceptions of scientific activity in particular and intellectual pursuits in general, and it ought to show you that that's what the Knowledge Nation is up against. I'd also make you a wager if I had a stake, that a significant number of Mr Beazley's Parliamentary buddies pretty well look at it much the same way and mutter, "do me a favour, get real."

OCG: You don't have much faith in your fellow man do you?

E: I've got plenty of faith in my fellow man, and I also subscribe to Lord Acton's observation. But more to the point, Mr. Beazley has coined a phrase but seems oblivious to the fact that neither the Australian public nor many of his party give a stuff about the Knowledge Nation. In fact I suspect that a fair number of the ALP see it as so much baggage.

OCG: You're implying that the Coalition are better?

E: No, no, you're missing the point. The Howard government couldn't care less about science, mathematics and higher education beyond, "what's the least amount we can get away with allocating." Now allowing for the baggage that a Beazley government would carry into power, it'd take a man of great persuasive ability to get his party apparatchiks to come on board. And they would be right to be sceptical; Kim Beazley has had five years in opposition but has done virtually nothing to gain the people's understanding of the fundamental importance of a knowledgeable population. There is no passion in his leadership. Hell, Ian Kiernan is streets ahead of him in getting people to volunteer to get filthy up to their armpits every March for the good of the Nation. Seems to me that Kiernan might be just the guy to start a ground swell for a Knowledge Nation. Two years ago three-quarters of a million people turned out to collect 12,500 tons of garbage. Now that's charisma. I don't really think that B. Jones is in the same league when it comes to promoting a cause.

OCG: So you don't think Kim's doing a good job.

E: In selling the Knowledge Nation?

OCG: Yeah, in getting Australians to believe in it's importance for future prosperity, the well-being of all the people and how its perceived by other nations?

E: You think he is?

OCG: I'm asking you.

E: I think he's clueless. I don't think he could get Rocky and Bullwinkle to become fervent advocates let alone the rest of us. And I don't see any signs of him pulling out the stops to get the state of our science and education, at all levels, to be a paramount election issue.

OCG: And I suppose you've got all the answers.

E: Look mate, at least I'd give it a real shake, sure maybe I'd stuff it up, yeah, I most probably would stuff it up, but a least I could walk away and say, "I gave it my BEST shot." I don't think Mr. Beazley can say that.

OCG: Another schooner?

E: Tah, damn sight better than carrots.


Alex Reisner
The Funneled Web