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AT LARGE: Citius, Altius, Fortius

AT LARGE: Citius, Altius, Fortius

I've always been a big believer in deadlines. Nothing like a do-or-die ultimatum to motivate one to a higher purpose, awaken one's internal giant and all that. The production editor of this publication has an uncanny knack with subtle persuasion and thinly-veiled threats - I highly recommend him as a motivational speaker.

However, to motivate a large group of people, such as an entire industry or a complacent populace, you need an even bigger, scarier monster than Alan. That's why this year has been so great: we've had not one, not two, but three gigantic, scary leviathans frightening the bewillikers out of us, inspiring us into action.

First, there was the year itself. For most of the past decade, Y2K has made the computer industry a centrepiece of government and business financial planning, pretty much the world over. If new computers and software were not developed and purchased, it was foretold that the seas would rise, the sky would fall and the earth would open up to devour us. We're talking disaster here, people, and we're talking biblical.

Whether Armageddon would have arrived or not, we'll thankfully never know. The problem, created by sloppy computer programmers decades ago, was solved. What the computer users of the world gained (in exchange for a small consideration, of course) was more modern computer systems, more stable and more capable of meeting our future needs. To put it bluntly, we cleared out the cobwebs. The cobwebs needed clearing out anyway, but it's hard to see how that kind of money and effort would have been spent had it not been for the big scary deadline.

With that one past, there was the GST. As appealing as it may sound, Australia's exciting new tax system actually represented something of a bogeyman for many. While it promised to free us from the chains that were holding us back, amongst those chains was the ability to do business in cash and just keep everything written on bits of paper. Small to medium-sized businesses, many of which had not updated their accounting systems for decades, were to be dragged, with much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, into the 21st century.

And, almost unbelievably, it happened. Many businesses, unable to make the transition, disappeared. Many others, freed from the complexities of the old tax system, continue to labour under the complexities of the new one. But the undeniable fact is that computer usage and Internet uptake amongst small to medium-sized businesses in Australia has skyrocketed in the past 12 months. And the SMEs themselves, forced to accept new ways, will now become more competitive, more entrepreneurial. All thanks to the big, scary GST.

And the last of 2000's leviathans, the Games of the XXVII Olympiad, is now upon us. I can't honestly say I know how this affected those of you outside the Host City itself, but from where I sit it was huge. Guests were coming, we were told, many guests, and it was well past time to get our rooms cleaned up. If Sydney were to be presented as a proper, fitting city to host the Olympics, there was work to be done.

And here we are, almost at the end of it, and look how everything's changed. From roads, to public transport, to communications infrastructure and on to liquor licences and the laws about smoking in restaurants; everything has been affected in some way. Money has been spent by the bucketload, and you'd hardly recognise Sydney any more. Where before it was a somewhat run-down collection of unfinished building sites slowly recovering from the recession we had to have, now the joint is bouncing. It's all new and clean and well-lit, and all because the Games were coming.

But what happens next? The infrastructure improvements are here to stay, but I have a bad feeling that much of the momentum provided by the year's three deadlines will soon be spent.

And we can't afford to slow down. The Aussie dollar is hovering around 54 US cents. It's still worth about $1.30 in New Zealand. We desperately need something really scary to get the economy of this region going.

Maybe I should sic Alan onto you.

Matthew JC. Powell spends most of his days hiding from Alan Hartstein. Try and find him on mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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