Will Rudd's 'adios' threaten NBN funding?

Will Rudd's 'adios' threaten NBN funding?

Summary: As the knee-jerk defensive responses to Rudd's "adios" subside and Australia moves on, has Rudd made Australia that little less appealing to the overseas investors he desperately needs to fund his NBN?


Of all the things one might have expected to happen in the wake of Sol Trujillo's departure, a public furore over claims about his racist treatment would have been one of the least likely.

But that's exactly what our illustrious Prime Minister brought onto himself with a single word uttered on hearing news that Trujillo had left the country.

As happens with just about everything these days, allegations that Rudd's "adios" comment was racist quickly became political fodder. Victoria's Premier John Brumby — Labor, of course — joined everyone from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) to Irish-born Qantas CEO Alan Joyce attacking Trujillo's comments as sour grapes. And, as if on cue, Nick Minchin offered his own opinion, labelling Rudd "contemptuous, rude, sneering and entirely inappropriate for an Australian Prime Minister and former diplomat."

All were reacting to the somewhat spurious conclusion that observers quickly reached — that Trujillo, in reacting to Rudd's claims, was calling all Australians racist. In fact, it's ridiculous to say that all Australians are anything, since as we all know Australia is a culturally rich and diverse country with a huge variety of philosophies.

Was Rudd's comment racist? You bet it was. Consider whether he would have used the same word if [Irish-born] Joyce had been leaving.

Yet was Rudd's comment racist? You bet it was.

Consider whether he would have used the same word if Joyce, for example, had been leaving. I think not. Rudd's choice of a Spanish word — an unfittingly contemptuous, wisecracked choice that belittled him and ceded the moral upper hand — reflected his underlying perceptions about both Trujillo and his ethnicity. By treating Trujillo in a different way than he would anybody else, just because of his ethnicity, Rudd was speaking in a racist way.

Trujillo, meanwhile, returned to a country where 11 per cent of the population are native Spanish speakers and a much larger percentage speaks the language; where a person being of Hispanic origin is as unremarkable as an Australian being of English stock; and where a Hispanic American, Puerto Rico-born Sonia Sotomayor, was just named as Barack Obama's nomination to the country's Supreme Court.

By contrast, Trujillo — who, by the way, was born not in Mexico but in Wyoming, the home of big skies and big cattle (just think of the scenery, if not the plot, of Brokeback Mountain) — was labelled as a Mexican throughout his tenure at Telstra. It was there in the constant news coverage of his "three amigos"; there in the chronic mispronunciations of his name (it's "true-hee-yo", folks, not "true-jill-o"); there in news headlines like "Mexican stand-off on Sol" and "Adios, amigo, to the man who enfeebled Telstra".

It's there, perhaps most worryingly, in the embarrassing political cartoons (like this and this) marking Trujillo's departure. The tone of public portrayals of Trujillo soured so much in the days before his departure that I'm surprised nobody found a way to blame him for the Mexico-originated swine flu.

Perhaps much of this can be explained away by Australia's tradition of irreverence, as can the constant harping on Trujillo's salary be explained by our well-acknowledged endemic case of tall poppy syndrome. Yet the media should perhaps take a moment to seriously consider the unnecessarily racist brush with which it painted Trujillo. We may not have agreed with his policies, but his character or ethnicity were never germane to the discussion.

After all, do we refer to Rudd as being an Irish Prime Minister? And does he make a point of it, at least any time other than when he can score political points on St Patrick's Day?

Rudd needs to have his charm offensive in top form to garner overseas investment in the NBN

That Trujillo was being paid a healthy salary doesn't make racist overtones any more right, and it doesn't minimise the potential consequences of such treatment. After all, with just one word, Kevin Rudd shaped the public discourse about Sol Trujillo — but more importantly, he presented a dangerous precedent for investment in Australian telecoms going forward.

Rudd needs to have his charm offensive in top form to garner overseas investment in the NBN, if he is to deliver on his grand vision without the government having to foot the entire bill. Perceptions that Australia wants overseas money but will not tolerate overseas CEOs, or outside perspectives, will not go down with the foreign investors that will be necessary to fill out the balance of the $21 billion or so in private investment that Rudd is hoping to attract.

Those who think that much investment can be found from exclusively Australian sources may need to reconsider: the only way to raise that much locally would be to give Telstra a disproportionate stake in the new NBN company, which would be a disastrous and backwards step.

Of course, new Telstra CEO David Thodey — who would seemingly be more acceptable to rabid anti-Americans but won't necessarily be paid any less — will likely be more used to the Australian way (and likely be embraced by Australians just like the Finn brothers, Russell Crowe, and others before him). He's also likely to have already heard most of the New Zealander jokes likely to be thrown his way by an Australian media contingent that has never been afraid to throw sensitivity and tact out the window in the name of a good poke in the ribs. And that, of course, will make it all OK.

Won't it?

Was Rudd out of line, or is a little bit of racism OK? Did Trujillo have it coming? And what lessons can we take from this furore?

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, Start-Ups, Telcos, Telstra, NBN


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • I expected better from you David.

    David, considering the previous blogs you have posted I find it odd that you'd now be painting Trujillo as the innocent victim, and completely skip over any anti-Singapore comments he made against Singtel which may or may not have directly affected the 10000+ Australian employees that Optus has. You also seemed to have sidelined his recent comments on Australias convict history, and how he believes we have advanced little since those days.

    Regarding the Aidos comment, that wasn't racist, far from it. Rudd could have said "Sayonara", he could have said "Later Mate", he could have said "Bon Voyage", he could have said "Au Revoir", would any of those have been considered racist? I highly doubt it. The only reason Rudd's Aidos comment is even being implied as being racist is because it's said in a language that is the ethnicity of the receiver.

    As for the whole "will it affect overseas funding" discussion. I thought you'd be more switched on than to even consider thinking if that would affect overseas funding. The dollar rules, and so long as people are going to make money it is a worthwhile investment, end of story.
  • R-Sol

    I don't think anyone would agree that Telstra or dealing with it is in any way positive or has improved during the calamity that was the amigos.
  • Ignorance and stereotype more than racism

    I believe the cause of this incident lies more in ignorance and the persistence of stereotypes in people's heads. Think of Mexico and what comes to your mind are images of Speedy Gonzales and the 3 amigos. Even in the northern US, people constantly go back to those "labels". In the case of Australia, the main reference to Mexican or Hispanics come from the US. If you recall the 3 amigos were not mexican. On the other hand, as a mexican australian I can tell you that it's much better to be in Australia, where people have interest in my culture. A few references to Speedy Gonzales are way better than be called a "wetback". I believe racism in Australia is less of an issue compared to the US.
  • Racist? I think not

    I came to offer my opinion, but Terry seems to have done it for me, very eloquently in the second paragraph of his offering. I cannot agree more nor express my feelings better.
  • hyperbole and hipocrasy

    "As the knee-jerk defensive responses to Rudd's "adios" subside and Australia moves on, has Rudd made Australia that little less appealing to the overseas investors he desperately needs to fund his NBN?"

    So you're saying, just as the knees stop jerking, let's give it one more kick for good measure? Read what you write, dude.
  • What a load of mierda.

    Sure, being "racist" means you treat someone differently in consideration of their ethnicity. You're touting the word "racism" in the haughty, holier-than-thou pejorative common to bloggers and the tabloid press the world over.

    We're also being racist for having special taxation and other rules for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders. Rules for us and rules for them. Racist? Technically, yes. But is it BAD?

    If I say "adios" to a good Spanish/Mexican friend, would he turn up his nose at me? No, he'd wave a cheery "Hasta luego" and be on his way.

    Just because someone uses a word from another's ethnicity does NOT imply negative racism, slight or slander. What a load of bollocks.

    This is a sad commentary on the media and the media-hungry, not on Rudd's choice of words. For all we know, it was a light-hearted see-ya.

    Personally, as an Aussie, I'm more embarrassed by "Where the Bloody Hell Are Ya".

    Get a grip. Aren't there some real issues you should be writing about?
  • We expect more our Prime Minister...

    "Aidos" was a wisecrack - what is the real issue (and hardly surprising) is that that our PM took the cheap, wisecracking and media-grabbing headline he knew it was and said it anyway.

    Prime Ministers have done much worse in the past so we can hardly crucify him for it; least of all the print media who are in no position to call the kettle black.

    As for Sol - I think as the former CEO of the country's most influential company he had a right to expect that comments from the PM about his departure would be about his time at Telstra and not his incorrectly perceived ethnicity.

    As for funding...please! A Government "backed" enterprise like this will attract investment from all over the world. A room full of international financiers will have a field day carving up the required debt, even in our post-GFC world.

    If the funding fails, it will be because the model (assuming one exists by that time) does not stack up - not because the PM inferred someone was a particular race 12 months ago with a cheap comment when he should have known better.
  • @We expect more our Prime Minister...

    "not his incorrectly perceived ethnicity."

    Actually his parents were born in Mexico, so his ethnicity is that of being Mexican. The fact that he was born in America doesn't not change his ethnic background. The same could be said if I lived in America and my son was born over there, just because he was born in America does not mean his ethnicity is American.

    Agree with the comments regarding the PM though, he probably should put a bit more thought into what he says, would have given David the chance to write about something important for example :-)
  • Your "bio" says it all ...

    Your bio needs to be updated. Change "A bulletin board troll in the 1980s" to "since the 1980's" as it appears you still have the gift [the only one?]... but perhaps remove the "Journalist", unless you can include a link to a definition which encompasses this [week old] rant.
  • Adios to the Hispanic

    Get over it. Solomon Dennis Trujillo III never objected to being named the American Hispanic businessman of the year, nor resiled from being Chair of Hspanics for McCain.

    So it wasn't just on his appearance that we identified Trujillo with that ethnic group.

    Was any of the statements referring to "adios or "amigos" stated in a way that assumes or asserts that someone from a spanish speaking background is a lesser person? No.

    Sol and everyone else needs to grow up. Meanwhile we do have some serious racial issues on our University campuses (but nowhere near as much as some of the religious and racial prejudice that exists between races and religions in India and other countries on the sub-continent).

    Finally, no amount of saying "adios" to Sol will make people keep their pesos out of a good investment.
  • alternatively...

    or, you know, maybe he might have said "adios" because the previous telstra senior management have been referred to by everyone - the general public, the press, politicians, communications pundits - as "The Three Amigos" for years.

    but that's so much less sensational than claiming that he's racist.

    personally, i would have said "bugger off and don't come back". and i would have considered that to be as diplomatic as i could possibly force myself to be in the circumstances.
  • Sad Australians.

    David, you are perfectly correct and show honesty when you identify racism in the remarks of Mr Rudd.

    Those who disagree have my sympathy as they either show their ignorance or their racism.

    My appeals to President Obama, Mr Murdoch and the Australian Press Council are as yet unanswered.
  • one rule for telstra and syd another for the rest

    did you also forward your own racist remarks about optus/singapore, penny wong and paul o'sullivan? no. sydney seriously you are a disgrace, as every word you say is motivated by shares/money and nothing else.

    please refer above to david havyatts response which, sums sol up perfectly, i believe.
  • Poor Sydney

    "My appeals to President Obama, Mr Murdoch and the Australian Press Council are as yet unanswered."

    I'm surprised that haven't personally replied to you, I mean what better things could Obama and Murdoch have to do with their time then deal with your complaint. It should be their first and primary priority.
  • @ Sad Sydney, now I know why.

    Sydney I was just over at NWAT, for a little light comedy relief, when I discovered why you are always so cranky.

    Seems according to your bio, you bought the majority of your vast Telstra shares, in T2. So $7.40 ea and they are now only $3.24.

    Maybe it's time to lay the blame at the right people for your losses - Telstra?

    My condolences.
  • Adios

    what's racist about saying "adios" ?
    Would I be racist for saying "au revoir" to a French person or "aloha" to a Hawaiian ??

    HTFU people !
  • Thick as a brick.

    Good Lord Anonymous, are you for real. That is exactly the point. Sol is NOT a Mexican. He was born in the U.S.A. and is a U.S. citizen. Why use the word "Adios"????.
  • good read

    please read david havyatt's comment above sydney.
  • Why is Australia always in the spotlight because of racism?

    No need to say much more...

    Continuos racist words, acts or comments come from down under... Enough I say, you are not the centre of the world!
    There is a say that goes "To speak the truth in the wrong moment is an impertinence!!!! " And aussies need more than a lesson in that matter...!

    I wonder how aussies behave travelling in other countries... Well we all know how....
    In my experience, I have never seen them respecting or adapting any other customs when vacating in other countries with different culture, religion, customs...

    I say, if you want people who come to your country or people vacating within your country to be able to speak your language, please do the same when you visit Europe!!!!! English is just an official language in UK!!!
  • yes but

    maybe, but everyone everywhere would be speaking german if it wasn't for the english speaking nations and that's not racism that's fact, pompous european!!!