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”.