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Old advice for new times

By Damien Hickman - posted Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Reform is never easy.

Just under 500 years ago Niccolo Machiavelli said:

"There is no more delicate matter than to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have as his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new".


For the Gillard Government it's as if this was written last week, even yesterday.

Whether it's the gaming reforms for poker machines, the resource rent tax or the pricing of carbon; the Gillard Government has embarked upon a delicate, dangerous and, if you live believe the polls, doubtful policy path.

Today, one factor making reform difficult is that vested interests can wage public information campaigns with equal or greater effectiveness than the government.

The ability to share information almost instantly across large audience networks means that 'flooding' people with information supporting a particular view is easier now than it has ever been.

With the aid of a 24/7 media cycle that needs to provide anything on something at all times, the internet, blogs, twitter and other forms of social networking vested interests can 'flood' the public debate with information favourable to their cause. This is a much more competitive space in which government has to engage, inform, convince and persuade the public of their reform agenda.

To use a boxing metaphor, the fight to be the peoples champion is no longer one between lightweight and heavyweight, but between two super heavyweights. Super heavyweights with powerful, finely honed skills that can inflict serious, if not lethal, damage in the quest to be undisputed champion.


In the fight over the carbon tax, one super heavyweight challenger is the Australian Trade and Industry Alliance.

Comprised of organisations including the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Minerals Council of Australia, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the Australian Coal Association, the Plastics and Chemical Industries Association and the Australian Logistics Council,it has at least $10 million in the bank as a starting point.

This almost equals the $12 million set aside by the governments for its public education campaign. Just like the government, the ATIA willbe campaigning on television, radio, print, the internet and social media.

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About the Author

Damien Hickman is PhD Candidate in Political Science and proud father of Liesel Grace.

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