Innovation Policy or Zedonk Redux

I don’t claim the writing or oratory skills of Don Watson – former speech write for Paul Keating and others.  But I could not have written a better case study on the lessons of Australian government industry policy, the most recent of which is PM Turnbull’s Innovation Plan.

Writing for the Australian a few days ago, Watson recounts the tale of the Victorian Zedonk – a cross between a zebra and a donkey, and the Government grands provided to stimulate tourism off the back of the zedonk.

Now Watson was writing more about the corruption of language that is our current political and bureaucratic establishment (perhaps they got this from the coaching and training Judith Sloan wrote about yesterday here), but I wait for the next Government sponsored boondoggle.  Whole Watson piece here, but the initial tale follows:

Oh, for some oratory not mired in mantras When you mate a donkey with a zebra you get a dear little useless thing with stripes and big ears called a zedonk. Sometime in the 1980s, when tourism was held out as the nation’s saviour and governments were inventing their first mission statements and learning to put “value­adding” and “leverage our competitive advantages” into every speech and press release, a chap in the Otway Ranges value­added his donkey into a zedonk and leveraged it into a “tourist attraction”.

To help him along with his start­up he got hold of several thousand dollars from the Victorian Economic Development Corporation, which had been created by the Cain Labor government to provide venture capital to entrepreneurs with this sort of vision and get up and go.

Labor scraped home in the 1988 election campaign, but had the story of the zedonk got out it might have lost.

For the handful of people on the Labor side who knew the secret, every day of the campaign was overhung with dread that the media would hear of it, and there would be sneering headlines and humiliating pictures — of the zedonk eating bundles of taxpayer dollars, for instance.

Well, the headlines never appeared and the zedonk seems to have gone down the gurgler with the VEDC? and, for the time being, along with them went the old Keynesian belief that free markets are better for a little government intervention here and there.

What sport the zedonk would have made for the economic rationalists, what an emblem for their gospel.

I’d forgotten the zedonk until Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation statement last week brought him clip­clopping back.

Curious though it is to hear neoliberals speaking with no apparent shame of picking winners and admitting the mighty market’s need of coaxing and manipulating, I am a patriot and will not hear a word against innovation. Or optimism. I’m on the team.

And as much as I enjoyed the late 1960s, and a lot of the 80s and 90s, and 2009 for some reason, I will not cavil when the PM insists that these are the best times ever to be an Australian, even “the best times in human history”.

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12 Responses to Innovation Policy or Zedonk Redux

  1. Habib

    I’d say the story was “dissapeared” in the Escuadrón de la Muerte sense by a compromised and compliant meeja, which if anything has gotten worse since then.

  2. Kingsley

    C’mon guys who here is going to tell me with a straight face they wouldnt take their kids to see a Zedonk?

  3. Robber Baron

    Watson is very clever. He was actually describing Turnbull. Turnbull is the zedonk. A Layba donkey dressed in “liberal” stripes. I think he’s nailed it.

  4. Des Deskperson

    ‘Watson is very clever. He was actually describing Turnbull. Turnbull is the zedonk. A Layba donkey dressed in “liberal” stripes. I think he’s nailed it.’

    Watson is a ‘Labya’ man, all his opinions, including on economics, are Labor corporatist orthodoxies . He was a Keating courtier, he’s told us over and over again how much he admires Keating and that he will be a Keating man ‘until the day I die’. Following a reported rift in the early oughties, he’s spent the last decade, publicly and presumably privately, trying to get back into Keating’s good books. He has even eulogised Suharto, presumably as a way of sucking up to Keating.

    He’s sneering at Turnbull because Turnbull is a Keating wannabe but who will never equal the great man. In that sense, I suppose, Robber Barron is right.

  5. mareeS

    Whatever his politics, Watson is a classy writer.

  6. Habib

    Whatever his politics, Watson is a classy writer. When did this transformation occur?

  7. Mr Wason, you might have mentioned SA wind power or all those unused desal plants. I know zedonks are funny, but so are Mick Gattos unused cranes at the unused Melbourne desal.

    Here’s an agile innovation for patriot optimists: nice new USC coal power plants, just like foreigners use for burning Australian coal – because they hate wasting money and coal. Now Australia should have them. (I like the Hitachis, but that’s just me.)

    Since we’ve got centuries supply of the best Permian black lying in our backyard and the world is racked with brawls over energy supply, pipelines, sea lanes etc, I thought this would be the very first thing to pop into clever patriotic heads. Having a civilisation to maintain and all that.

    Mr Watson, we know Turnbull is a zedonker (and what rhymes with it) and his stripes are green. But unlike Turnbull you can finish a sentence once started. Are you and your Labor mates on the civilisation team? Because just “clever” isn’t doing it any more.

  8. Rabz

    Anyone who supports or represents layba is 100% pure donkey.

    Accept no substitutes.

  9. Linden

    He could get a movie actors part playing Hitler, just have to stick a ‘mo’ on him and it would pretty much a done match.

  10. Des Deskperson

    ‘Whatever his politics, Watson is a classy writer.’

    In which cased, he’s let himself slip badly with this effort.

    The last two paras in particular have a sort of confected, self-conscious drollery that is annoying and tedious.

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