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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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December 10, 2008

We have a government blog. woo hoo.

Conroy and Tanner want to know what we think about the future of the digital economy.

We plan to release a draft of the paper for detailed feedback shortly; but in the meantime, it seemed logical to us to use one of the key communications platforms of the digital economy—blogs—as a way to engage with you and your ideas.

Very sensible. And there's some interesting stuff on the way.

Some of the themes that we will explore in upcoming blog posts include:

What does the digital economy encompass? How do we maintain the same 'civil society' we enjoy offline in an online world? (this is the post that touches on the issue of filtering and we welcome your feedback about the issue in response to this post) Is there a benefit for the digital economy from open access to public sector information? Does Australia's regulatory framework need tweaking to enable a vibrant digital economy in Australia? How can the digital economy respond to environmental concerns? What should Australia do to ensure that our businesses and citizens have the necessary skills to participate fully in the digital economy? How can we measure the success of Australia's digital economy?

The second point is an interesting one. What, exactly, is meant by 'civil society', let alone 'same civil society'? This is where we have a say about ISP filtering, so I wonder whether it's defined in terms of governance rather than prevailing values. If you were to theorise it you'd have to start thinking about the different cultural norms in on and offline settings, and risk upsetting people who claim nothing new is happening. Anyhoo, we'll find out when the post arrives.

Dave Bath is seriously pleased, but warns it's in the trial phases, "a trial run of a prototype component of a suite of improvements to mechanisms allowing two-way consultation between government and citizens", which probably means we should be nice if we want it to continue. Although,

Indeed, the more you want to be able to criticize (and make suggestions to) government, the more important it is to help get these incoming tools sanity-checked, by as many eyes as possible, before the tools are set in stone, rolled out across all agencies, and we are stuck with something awful that allows governments to ignore us (or even have deniability that they can hear us).

Robert Merkel is a tad skeptical,

I’m not entirely convinced this is going to work. Governments around Australia have become increasingly paranoid about being “on message” - not without justification, since Oppositions and media outlets pounce on the slightest deviations from uniformity as the indication of a government in disarray. Such a climate makes it very difficult to hold a substantive two-way conversation about policy.

It's a good point. You and I will be over there doing the citizen thing, but the opposition and its friends in the press will also be over there rooting around for ammo. In theory that's the right and proper democratic thing to happen, but it's also likely to ensure that it's a fairly bland exercise.

I haven't read the moderation policy yet, but it should be interesting to watch how that pans out. It will be a tricky thing to get right, but let's hope it doesn't descend into a manipulative farce.

Off to a running start. 230-odd comments on Lindsay Tanner's welcome. In the first 10 pages (most recent on top), two comments don't mention filtering and two support it. The rest are a large mob of very angry people. Plenty of IT types patiently explaining why it won't work, but mostly people upset about censorship.

There are whopping great chunks of the population who only ever use the net for banking and reading the news, but the trend is towards more adventurous stuff like networking and blogging. These are the spaces where newcomers get their introduction to the wilds of the intertubes. It also looks as though this kind of thing is where business use and our future digital economy are headed.

If banking and newsing mums and dads with porn surfing kiddies support filtering while they're only using these narrow spaces, you have to figure that won't last long.

| Posted by Lyn at 8:52 AM | | Comments (13)


where's Conroy? isn't he the Broadband Minister?

If there is going to be participation by citizens in the Future directions paper for the digital economy (a roadmap for Australian businesses, households and government to maximise participation in the digital economy) don't we need a basic discussion paper?

sheesh. We're having a massive spam attack.

If I were Conroy I wouldn't go within cooee of that blog right now. I'd be hassling some staff member to come up with a way for me to back down on the filter and save face.

They say they're releasing a paper but are interested in what people have to say anyway. I don't know how they'd get a discussion going that wasn't drowned out by the filtering issue, which is fair enough. The future direction of the digital economy will be partly determined by whether we get filters or not.

There's also the NBN determining things.

well they are getting the feedback on mandatory filtering that's for sure. Few are in favour of it.

Nan, that's an understatement. I'm surprised at the response. Surely you'd expect that the pro-filtering mob would have marshalled the forces by now and be doing the flying monkey thing they do so well? Where are the religious organisations and their pretend feminist satellites?

What does this mean from an analytical perspective? Can this be understood as the unorganised rabble meeting up with the organised organised in a space which suits the unorganised rabble better?

I never thought of it before this, but what would e-democracy look like for such groups?

Nan: There WAS a substantive discussion paper, and an excellent consultation process, run by AGIMO back when Nairn was minister. Tanner has picked it up and is running with it... VERY enthusiastically.

Yet, only 20 individuals made submissions to the AGIMO inquiry (this isn't including those in focus groups), despite calls at LarvProd, ClubTroppo and my own blog.

Lots of links on my post you mention point to relevant discussion papers, principles for citizen engagement, summaries of views from the original consultation, yada yada yada.

The GOOD news is that there are lots of behind-the-scenes discussions (Tanner's staff have called me in to brainstorm, and I'm pretty sure they liased with Rob Merkel [LP] and Jacques Chester [CT] as well). They are even trying to nut out metrics to measure responsiveness of parliamentarians and public servances, to act (down the track) as carrots and sticks. It's a VERY tricky area, and fairly senior hollowmen of Tanner and Conroy DO want it to be world's best practice, and ARE quite switched on.

Mind you, the email from Conroy's office asking for my thoughts was interesting... because it sort-of said (NOT in these words) "yeah, let's acknowledge our differences about the censorship thingy, but work together on gradually getting THIS right".

Who knows, we may get all Athenian and get an annual Ostracism election (yeah... forlorn hope).

Dave, the timing is lamentable. They're asking for participation, but in pushing ahead with the clean feed, demonstrating that feedback will be ignored. Doesn't that undermine the whole thing from the outset?

Conroy's attitude is a betrayal.

I'd like to know exactly what it is they're trying to achieve with the blog without any rhetoric. If it's supposed to be a genuine effort to increase democratic participation, what precisely do they plan to do with the feedback? Can they expect people to take it seriously when Conroy's already said he plans to ignore what people are saying?

We could have hoped for a much better start than this. After all the anticipation it's a major disappointment. For all Tanner's enthusiasm it's collapsing into tokenism.

Conroy and Tanner are representations of the conflicting readings that concern Merkel.
Conroys' reduces to Hitlerian plebiscite and priggish witch- hunts conducted by Opus Dei, etc, sponsored rednecks.
By contrast, Tanner would embody the old Labor conception of civil society in terms of people involved in their society and gaining (self) expression thru an open field or space; a continuation of classical Agora or Forum.
This something most who contribute here and other similar sites would relate to. That is, a notion that embodies in the term "particiption".
Eg, something of a liberating and expanding rather than narrowing, circumscribing function and nature.

I take your point. In this speech Lindsay Tanner says that:

the Rudd Government is also keen to explore the ways technology can be used to establish more immediate and collaborative relationships between government and citizen. As you would all be aware, the rate of growth in recent times of collaborative platforms with potential application for government has been staggering. It is clear that in the long term the kind of output unlocked by Web 2.0 platforms will have a dramatic impact on policymaking processes and the institutions of government.

Greater online engagement---citizen engagement is the word Tanner uses--- is a step towards openness, confidentiality, accountability and responsiveness of government policymaking. Any step in that direction can only be applauded.

Tanner goes onto say that:

Making real gains in this area is not about theoretical or technological development. We have many examples of successful online projects built on collaborative principles. It is plain that wikis, blogs and social networks can be powerful tools for aggregating policy debate and deliberation. The challenge in this area is this: how do we adapt the static and process driven world of the bureaucracy to the more dynamic and innovative world of the collaborative web? This is a huge challenge in terms of cultural change, which can’t be solved through technical solutions alone.

The trial government consultation blog aims to open up an area of policy review to online consultation and engagement . For Tanner, this consultation blog gives the online citizenry a chance to interact with the bureaucracy and make contributions to an area of government policy review.

How will the bureaucracy react?

good point. Tanner is driving the whole citizen engagement thing in the Rudd Government, judging from this speech by Lindsay Tanner.

Lyn is right though. Citizen engagement stands in direct opposition to Conroy's conservative desire for mandatory internet censorship.

I see that The Age is reporting in Bloggers pan Government's 'e-democracy' bid that Simon Edwards, Microsoft Australia's head of government and industry affairs, welcomes the Government's trial of blogging:

as it is a recognition of the ever increasing volume of ideas, opinions and information that is being shared and communicated online.

However, he remain a sceptic as to the capacity of political blogs to enhance knowledge and to inform decision making processes:
such blogs had tended to be not much more than cliques of common interest that reaffirmed partisan positions and denigrated alternative points of view.

I didn't know that Edwards was a prominent Australian political blogger. Maybe Asher Moses, the Age reporter, doesn't know what blogging is, or who are Australia's prominent bloggers?

It does look rather as though Paul is right about Tanner and Conroy. It seems obvious, but I'm having trouble getting my head around the idea that this is happening in the always on message Rudd govt.

Tanner is talking about open access to the sort of info Possum has been longing to get his paws on. In a way, the participating public is already sorted and prepared to go. Though I don't know that taking advice from a Crikey-associated marsupial would be a good look. I'd trust Possum's conclusions over official ones anyway. Possum is used to being publicly accountable and transparent.

A bit over a year ago I would have agreed with Edwards, but we're in a different place now. Bloggers are talking about policy and debating alternatives - being more think tanky than partisan. It's no surprise to find reporters and Microsoft people don't know that, or don't want to know it.

Thanks for the link to the Age article Gary, I was wondering when/whether the MSM would pick up on it.

The Rudd Government is deeply divided between Right and Left. That division is normally covered upby staying on message.