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World's biggest Luddite to retire

Farewell Senator Alston

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There's shock and bewilderment today following news that Australia's Senator Richard Alston, (61) the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, is to retire.

Confirmation of the imminent departure of the World's biggest Luddite was announced today by Aussie PM John Howard.

Commenting on the ministerial reshuffle Mr Howard spoke warmly about Senator Alston. "It will be apparent from those announcements that there is one very senior Minister who will not be in the next Ministry and that is Senator Richard Alston and that is as a consequence of his decision as communicated to me recently that he intended to retire from the Senate in the near future.

"I want to take this opportunity of recording my immense appreciation to Richard Alston for many years of service to the Liberal Party, to the Coalition Government and to the people of Australia. He is a former President of the Victorian division of the Party, he entered the Senate in 1986 on the death of Alan Missen, in Opposition he served in a number of Shadow portfolios and in the last seven and a half years he’s not only been the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate but he’s also been a very powerful and effective Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

"And I do want to say to you Richard, you have done a wonderful amount of work for the Government and for the Liberal Party, you will be missed, his departure is entirely his decision and it is, I know, a cause of regret to many of his colleagues but that is his decision which I fully understand and respect," he said.

However, these kind words barely scratch the surface of the man who we dubbed -affectionately, of course - the World's biggest Luddite.

Only last week Senator Alston was up to his old tricks after an Australian cyber rights group was granted a right to reply in official parliamentary records after complaining that comments he made about the organisation during a debate were "factually incorrect".

But where did it all start? Back in 2001 The Register ran a story in which it was suggested that Senator Alston "may be the greatest luddite the world has ever seen, which is particularly ironic because he happens the be the minister for Communications, Information Technology and The Arts for the Australian government."

It went on: "Rich is behind a number of proposals in Australia that would seem to point to an overwhelming miscomprehension of the Internet. He also appears to view himself as a moral crusader in which he will cleanse Australia while the rest of the world descends into hell."

This assessment was based on the facts that Senator Alston wanted to introduce a law to make online gambling illegal. He also wanted to make forwarding email a crime.

Six months later he was at it again when he rubbished a proposal to roll-out broadband across the country describing it as a "costly waste of time".

Then there was his take on broadband and pornography, and how South Korea had become a leader in high-speed Net access.

He told one reporter: "Well for example, people will tell you that pornography is one of the major reasons why there's been a high take-up rate in South Korea. I haven't confirmed that at first instance but I've been there, I've looked at what's happening."

Still, we know Senator Alston likes to watch sport on TV, which is why he was more than happy to accept the loan of a swish plasma wide-screen digital TV worth an estimated AU$10,000 (£3,600) from monster telco Telstra.

At the time Senator Alston insisted the plasma screen has given him an "informed knowledge" about plasma wide-screen digital TVs. One critic claimed that he was "treating Telstra like his own private rental service, with the taxpayer footing the bill".

In February this year, Senator Alston got into more hot water after he challenged the Australia Computer Society's (ACS) assertion that the jobless rate for IT workers was 11.9 per cent.

Wrong. The real figure is 3.8 per cent, said the politician. Only, being an Aussie politician, he did not put it quite so politely, accusing the ACS of "'blatant grandstanding', using false figures. 'While some might like to claim otherwise, the fact is that it is not all gloom and doom for the ICT sector in Australia.'"

And who can forget the revelation earlier this year that Senator Alston's ministry, The Department of Communications, IT and the Arts (DCITA), spent AUS$4 million on its web site - a mere $3.4 million over budget?

Oh what memories, such happy, happy memories. So, farewell Senator Alston, you will be missed.

But what of his successor, Attorney General Daryl Williams AM QC MP? Well, he's a legal man with a Bachelor of Civil Law degree from Oxford University in 1967, among others. Time will tell if he's able to fill the mighty shoes of Senator Alston. ®

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