What have you been wrong about?

Ignominious isn’t it? You get invited to the 2020 Summit as one of the (cough) ‘best and brightest’ and they ask you just a few questions, and the leave the hardest till last. What have you been wrong about in the last 10 years?

I could say that I was wrong in expecting that my beloved Colliwobbles would get creamed by Geelong in last year’s preliminary final – we only lost by a kick. But they want more. It’s not as if the question isn’t a good one – one that brought forth a torrent of good things when it was asked of a large number of the world’s seriously high fliers at Edge. But I’m a bit stumped. I’ll have to give it a bit of thought.

If they said ‘what has surprised you’ I would be able to say lots of things. Web 2.0 has surprised me. But what have I been wrong about – well no doubt any number of things, but concrete predictions that turned out to be wrong, and that are interesting. Well I’ll just have to keep thinking.

Actually I know. I was against the war in Iraq from the start, but I thought it might turn out well. Might be one of those miraculous events, like the fall of the wall of the release of Mandela, that didn’t happen because anyone’s clever management deserved it, but happened nevertheless. But my expectations were so unclear, that it doesn’t really count as being wrong, any more than the alternative happening would have counted towards my being right.

I also expected that by now we’d have broken our run of steady economic growth. But we haven’t – yet – and we may not for a good while. Perhaps that’s the problem – all these predictions were probabilistic and I think they’re after something more clear cut than that.

I definitely thought those sunnies that make you look like an insect would have gone out of fashion by now. But I don’t think they want that. I was wrong that John Howard would (surely!) retire when his number came up. But that’s not very interesting either.

Anyway, I’m open to suggestions. Serious or less so, about what you’ve been wrong about – or me – in the last 10 years.

Postcript: the actual question is “What is one issue over which youve changed your mind in the past 10 years?”  But I’m still stumped. Perhaps I could offer this: that competence in government and interest in policy seems to be more important than ideology.  Though I didn’t vote for it, I thought a change in government in 1996 might work out well, but it didn’t take long before it became clear that, as had been the case in the late 1970s, the right of centre parties in Australia were not particularly interested in policy.  But that’s not really a policy idea. . . .  Back to the drawing board.

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29 Responses to What have you been wrong about?

  1. Yes, this was a very difficult question for those of us who get it right first time! I thought of using Iraq too, but like you my assessment was probabalistic and in any case it is not a debate that I have ever participated in. In the end, I chose an issue (school choice) where I have changed my view about how to go about it, though not on whether or not it is desirable.

  2. Patrick says:

    I also couldn’t use Iraq, because whilst I was wrong, I can’t identify a meaningful way in which I changed my mind.

    I changed my mind about refugees twice in the last ten-years-and-a-bit. From ‘let them all in’ to reasonably generous quotas (such as we have now) to ‘let them all in but invest a bit in their integration (english etc)’.

    I changed my mind about the welfare state – I’ve gone from seeing some form of welfare as a necessary evil to the greater good of democratic politics to seeing it as a public good, albeit a readily misused one capable of frustrating its own aims quite easily.

  3. David Rubie says:

    Reluctantly, nuclear power. In the trade off between production of nuclear waste and C02 emissions, nuclear power seems like a better bet. It’s a tough one to let go though – all that left over 1980s anti-nuke weapon stuff is a mighty blindfold.

  4. Niall says:

    Appears to be a particularly mindless sort of question as a filtering medium.

  5. NPOV says:

    Second David on that one. I used to be enormously grateful that Australia had kept out the bogeyman of nuclear power. I now think it’s foolish to rule it out as an option, and recognise that coal-fired power is arguably more dangerous (not just because of global warming), even though I’m still skeptical nuclear power makes all that much sense economically in Australia (depending on what technological developments occur in the next couple of decades). But we should absolutely be doing our bit to encourage its use in parts of the world where it does make sense – including potentially accepting nuclear waste. Which is not to say that I don’t worry about the environmental and health risks of current uranium mining practices.

  6. Nico says:

    This is a difficult one for me, as ten years ago I was 18…

    …let’s see. My views on the legalisation of drugs, America, the welfare state, and military intervention have changed.

    (Along with my views on loud parties, music festivals, and what constitutes a good meal).

    But, I seem to remember, the first time I heard Bill Clinton say “I did not have relations with that woman”, believing him. So nothing I say should be taken seriously.

  7. Well I certainly didn’t believe Bill C when he said that. The whole thing looked so shifty. Why did he say ‘sexual relations’? Then again I wasn’t 18!

  8. Nabakov says:

    Hey Nick, John Button just died.

  9. Kris says:

    I was wrong on Matthew Hayden’s abilites, but feel my faith in Justin Langer evens it out!

    Other things that I can concede: I wrong on my judgement of Thabo Mbeki’s ability/inclination to influence Mugabe; wrong on Mark Latham’s abilty to get over his own ego; wrong in my lack of critique of Cuba and human rights; wrong in my criticism of the NATO intervention in Serbia in 1999; and wrong in my assumption that Sydney would never win a flag with that god-awful style of play they have showcased under Paul Roos!

  10. wilful says:

    I was wrong about forestry. I once thought it was a great evil – turns out it’s our most sustainable primary industry.

    I was wrong about the GST – I thought it would have greater impacts on poor people.

    I was consistently wrong about the popularity (or at least electability) of John Howard. I was particularly wrong about Latham’s electability.

  11. NPOV says:

    “Foresty” is a bit of a broad term surely? I’m pretty sure there’s still a fair bit of logging that goes on in this country largely out of pressure from forestry unions as opposed to it making long term economic and environmental sense.

  12. wilful says:

    Of course there is better forestry and worse forestry, NPOV. just like there’s better and worse mining, agriculture and fishing. In the broad sweep of things though, while people want to build houses, they should be building them out of Australian timber, not out of other materials or imported timber.

    Thinking about it, I’ve been wrong on any number of things. But do you count things that you were mislead on, or not fully informed about?

  13. NPOV says:

    I suppose the issue I have is this idea that environmentalists think that forestry is some great evil, just because they chain themselves to trees etc.
    If you believe the anti-green libertarians, the WWF and ACF and their ilk are out to destroy Australia’s forestry industries, with no thought towards what the likely consequences would be. But both institutes have worked quite closely with industry to help improve logging practises, and have been instrumental in exposing the corruption of governments in deliberately favouring the logging industry, something that surely libertarians should be just as opposed to as hard-core greenies.

  14. wilful says:

    NPOV, the WWF and ACF are reasonably responsible actors in the debates. Respect to them. That’s why I’m an ACF member. But the Green Party and the Wilderness Society are out to destroy Australia’s forest industries, to replace them with what is the question.

    I certainly don’t identify with any anti-green libertarians. Libertarians are in my view are best left on the internet where they can do no harm.

  15. shouldvebinthere says:

    WILFUL, just for the record the Greens (at least Greens WA) are certainly not out to destroy Australia’s forest industry. Both during and following the old growth forests debate Greens WA worked closely with WA foresters, (and collaboratively with those open to it), to find a way forward with the timber industry. While there is still work to be done, things are a lot better than they were – plantations are coming online, parallel and complementary industries are emerging, and hey, timber is still being produced.

    One issue that clouded proceedings was the forest companies rushing to mechanisation that was shedding jobs which they weasled into blaming on the Greens. It was the employers selling out workers, not Greens.

    Notwithstanding, there have been some ill-advised actions on both sides of the forest industry debate – let’s hope we can keep on seeing past them to make the way forward. The forest industry is a sophisticated and competent one that can sensibly produce the timber our society needs – nobody needs to trash old growth forests or significant natural heritage.

  16. Jacques Chester says:

    I argued that Labor shouldn’t switch to Kevin Rudd.

  17. shouldvebinthere says:

    Got swept up in the forestry thing I forgot to say…I’ve been so wrong in believing that at the moment of voting Australians are capable of thinking beyond the hip pocket….result – the interminable Howard government term ended by it’s own inertia and the emergence of an alternative sufficiently attuned to the voters’ hip pocket paranoia. Will I never learn?

  18. jc says:

    Libertarians are in my view are best left on the internet where they can do no harm.

    It’s comments like these that make me gasp for air. Are we the only sane one’s left? :-)

    Wiful, not fot nothing but you can say this without blinking:

    But the Green Party and the Wilderness Society are out to destroy Australias forest industries,

    After having said this:

    I certainly dont identify with any anti-green libertarians.

    Did you get turned down by a libertarian or something? :-)

  19. Robert says:

    What is one issue over which youve changed your mind in the past 10 years?

    This is quite a clever question.

    It’s jam-packed with extricating powers. It may be of value to look at it from the progenitor’s point of view, before actually answering.

    It [designed to?] evokes an immediate response – a kneejerk. In several serious ways, no less.

    A few ways it does so, to throw open some scenarios for what they’re worth:

    * By the singular “one” used in the question, upfront, a respondent is forced to prioritise. To prioritise is normally an act of intelligence and balance – and of a managerial quality beyond that. These at that level are all qualities of experience, knowledge and excellence – and the respondent’s professional, trained if not good nature is ever willing. This word so much appeals to that. But this usage in this context eschews that: it serves also to jerk upon the respondent’s prejudice(s).

    * The word “issue” immediately following then seeks to take the respondent’s prioritised prejudice(s) and place that in the respondent’s view of a social, historical, moral, ethical, practical, ideological, political [note: this is just being introduced, subtly] context.

    Four words in, and a respondent is likely willing to provide a picture of themselves which he or she cannot edify, illuminate, expound or expand upon, through the course of that particular question. That’s no problem to the progenitor (they’ve by now got that ‘information’): but possibly only to the respondent.

    * “changed your mind” – again, this appeals to the respondent’s strengths, and then opens up their vulnerabilities. Having struggled for bloody ever for the national good, and with limited or perhaps no voice until now, the respondent is likely to cough it up. Without recourse, edification or qualification.

    * “past ten years” – the respondent is booked into the answer, by now. How big is this hook in this part of the question? This period in the question is seriously political. It’s not a period which defines pre-Howard cum Howard, but is placed ever-so-easily into the scenario of ‘the last decade’: without using that term, mind. Ten years? We can all relate to a ten year period: it’s a normal time period, would you say? Such subtle, powerful, political hook.

    The result: the respondent has now voluntarily laid out their prejudices and vulnerabilities in a way in which they cannot expound or illuminate upon (through this particular question at least), in a seriously political period of our national history.

    That’s a quick call on it. It’s not about negatives, nor necessarily that there’s an ulterior motive in the question. Nor that even if that were the case, it’s a bad thing. Only that it’s quite a clever question, and worthy of a good look.

  20. Robert says:

    – should have added to that comment the “over which” attribute in the question, which could serve to make the respondent feel empowered while coughing it up.

  21. wilful says:

    jc, sorry, excuse my idiocy, I don’t get where I contradicted myself.

    I’ve never met a real live libertarian in the flesh. Most people I mix with are commonsense, middle-of-the-road sorts who believe in things like public education, gun control, drug control and a role for government. While there is undoubtedly a better sort of libertarian around these virtual parts, you are tainted by those you flock with, who come across generally as selfish middle-class gits who have benefited greatly from good government and now want to pull up the drawbridge.

    shouldvebinthere, I don’t know about the WA Greens, I’ll accept what you say. The National Greens Party policy would unequivocally lead to immediate unemployment for tens of thousands of forest industry professionals.

  22. Pavlov's Cat says:

    One thing I’ve been wrong about (which is a separate question from changing one’s mind) is that I would never have believed Hillary Clinton had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting this far. I was sure that someone, somewhere, somehow, would put a stop to the possibility of a woman in the Oval Office (apart from, well, you know) long before now.

  23. FDB says:

    Wilful –

    The National Greens Party policy would unequivocally lead to immediate unemployment for tens of thousands of forest industry professionals.

    Forgive me then if I equivocate…

    The Australian Greens want:

    -recognition of the essential role played by mature forest ecosystems in wildlife habitat, carbon storage and water supply.

    -a sustainable and productive wood products industry on public and private land that maintains or enhances the resilience of natural ecosystems.

    -a high value-adding wood products industry that creates long-term skilled jobs and social sustainability in regional communities.

    -an end to the destruction of old-growth forests and other forests of high conservation value.

    -tax arrangements which do not advantage plantations over other crops.

    -worlds best practice certified farm-scale plantation forestry.

    -a diversity of species in plantations.

    The Australian Greens will:

    -end the export of woodchips and whole logs from native forests.

    -end the logging of high conservation value native forests and wildlife habitats

    -end logging in native forests except, once export woodchipping from them is banned, in limited areas where small volumes of timber can be taken from defined areas under strict conditions and for specialty purposes.

    -prohibit the use of native forests for electricity generation.

    -nominate Australias qualifying ancient forests for listing on the National and/or World Heritage registers.

    -abolish Regional Forest Agreements and replace the Commonwealth Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002 to ensure that forests, plantations and the wood productions industry are treated equally with other activities under environmental law.

    -implement a national wood products industry plan that will complete the transition from native forests to existing plantations, including retraining and other assistance for workers and the development of sustainable alternative fibre industries.

  24. NPOV says:

    That’s what frustrates me about the Greens – I largely agree with their goals, but their ‘measures’ don’t make a lot of sense. No-one has explained why woodchipping needs to be banned – it’s not the woodchipping itself that is threatening ecosystems is it? However, while I can certainly see jobs being lost were such policies to be implemented, I don’t quite buy the idea that they would necessarily leave tens of thousands out of work for any extended period of time.
    Of course any set of policies that causes even a small net decrease in the amount of employment available is surely not a particularly good thing.

  25. FDB says:

    NPOV – w/r/t woodchipping, no blanket ban is proposed. As the stuff above (from the Greens’ website, I should’ve said before) says – it’s an export ban on woodchips (and whole logs) from native forests. The idea being that we could and should meet our own chipping needs from plantations, and only log native forests when it’s small amounts, harvested sensibly, for reasons of unique timber qualities.

    i.e. let’s stop destroying whole ecosytems to make paper.

    “Of course any set of policies that causes even a small net decrease in the amount of employment available is surely not a particularly good thing.”

    Taken alone, no – pointlessly cruel. But… y’know… we could probably justify putting smack dealers and hitmen out of work (to be needlessly hyperbolic, but you get the drift).

  26. wilful says:

    NPOV, it’s measure #3 that is MC Hammer time. The rest of them would certainly devastate the industry and make it uneconomic, but measure three is “you can’t touch this”.

    I for the life of me do not get why ‘woodchips’ = teh evil. Waste, yeah, I understand that. Loss of biodiversity, absolutely. But no one criticises a wheat farmer for leaving 90% of the product as straw, or a miner for leaving 99.99% of the ore as overburden.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the greens, in fact purely for their urban transport policies I am likely to preference them above the majors, but they are heartbreakingly insensitive to the impacts they have on rural communities, and truly are still an inner city clique of naive do-gooders.

  27. NPOV says:

    FDB, sure, but the income earned from exporting woodchips is still useful income, that can be put towards developing more sustainable technologies etc.
    And why should it matter that they’re native forests? Forests regrow. Even old-growth forests are a sustainable resource if not chopped down faster than they regrow (however there is a separate issue of destroying animal habitat – I don’t have a good answer for how we decide just how much animal habitat should be preserved as opposed to converting it to short-term human needs).

    Australia’s biggest forestry issue is surely still governments cozying up to near-monopoly industries. If the Greens can demonstrate that they have a reasonable chance of opening up the forestry industry to more competition, and end the backroom deals, most of Australia’s least sustainable forestry practices would quickly become uneconomic and die out.

  28. jc says:



    Don’t hold anything back. Tell us how you really feel. :-)

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