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Open Australia « Previous | |Next »
November 26, 2009

I've been interested in the ideas surrounding, or flowing from, Government 2.0. One of these was Mashup Australia, which was designed to provide a practical demonstration of the benefits that open access to public sector information can provide. I've been curious about how this could help improve my blogging by providing me with greater information.

One example of the potential that can be unlocked when government information is unlocked by pulling together data sets in new and innovative ways is Open Australia, which I stumbled upon yesterday. This is a volunteer run website that helps us to find out what our representatives are getting up to in parliament with the aim of bridging the growing democratic disconnect or deficit that many people feel.

It was always difficult for those outside Parliament to follow debates in Parliament on any issue as it involved scrolling through pages of Hansard record of the day (a pdf) to find the issue. It was too unstructured. The other option, of listening to Senate debates online via a live stream is particularly tedious, especially when the speakers are a bunch of climate change denialists.

Thus we have Senator 'free enterprise' Cory Bernadi's rhetoric about alarmists, leftists, the new religion of climate change, heretics and sceptics, political madness, Orwell’s Big Brother, climate science as a fraud and so on and so on. I just stop listening This kind of content sees climate change through the left-right prism of the culture wars, junk science and delusion in the sense of turning away from reality.

It can be found in the op-eds of Miranda Devine whose wingnut rave is about the heart of the propaganda machine of climate science that has driven the world to the brink of insanity; climate alarmists are dangerous megalomaniacs, foolish, but with enormous power. And so on.

So what does Senator Alan Ferguson, also from SA, who have to say by way of contribution to a public debate.

I am in a rather unique position, having started to make this speech last night prior to any knowledge of proposed amendments and, now, having seen those amendments, I can move on. Can I say first of all that seeing those amendments has not made me any happier. My opposition to these bills remains the same as it was. My position has not changed from last night now that I have actually seen the amendments.

No reason is given for this position. We are offered no argument as to why. It is just assumed that the dismissal of the McFarlane deal is reasonable without giving a reason. Exasperation is my response at the trashing of the values of democratic deliberation and debate.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells from NSW says:

what has troubled me about the current debate is the language and tone of the public utterances. On the one hand, there has been a fervent, almost evangelical, adherence to a view that the sky will fall in if the world does not act on climate change now. Advocates of this position have pilloried those who have dared oppose their view. They have dubbed them ‘climate change sceptics’ in tones reminiscent of the Inquisition and burning people at the stake. Some have stridently and appallingly equated them to Holocaust deniers. Yesterday’s front page article in the Australian, entitled ‘Hackers expose climate brawl’, and the release of emails only strengthen the views of those who have questioned the science. The apparent glee at the death of one such scientist by those holding opposing views is both sickening and appalling.On the other hand, people have questioned the science. We have seen scientists, such as Professor Plimer, offering alternative viewpoints.

After a while listening to this kind of rhetoric about science that makes a virtue of ignorance is just too much. I just switch off. Fierravanti-Wells is basically defending the coal interests in the Illawarra region. Ever more protection for the coal miners is her policy. This is the ground to fight an election on for the conservatives. They do not seem to realize that they would go backwards, or they don't care. It's a long term split.

Open Australia means that the information is now very easy for bloggers and citizens to access what is being said on particular debates by our local members or Senators inside Parliament. So were can see where they are coming from and how much they support a reform process. Thus Senator Birmingham from SA, in speaking on the Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2009 makes the following observation says:

that no number of marketing campaigns, no number of budgets in these areas will enable you to convince or stop people from making what in the end to some extent are free choices to be able to actually decide how they lead their lives. Unhealthy lives we would all like to discourage, but there are limits to how much government should interfere in people’s lives to discourage them from leading unhealthy lives. Government is not some nanny state that is there to hold the hand of everybody each time they go to the supermarket, to tell you, ‘No, you should not put that in your shopping trolley.’ That is not the role of government and that is not what we should be seeing out of these types of preventive health agendas.

Birmingham appears to accept that a preventive approach to sickness is fundamental to any good health system but is concerned that the debate has not actually focused on when we cross the line of unnecessarily telling people how they should live their lives.

As Pip Marlow points out:

the agenda of Gov 2.0, and of the whole project of providing transparency and openness in government data, cannot be met unless we deal with the challenge of finding the “jewels”, the “gems” in the unstructured data itself.

Open Australia makes it possible to access what our representatives are actually saying behind the spin of media releases, doorstops, and media interviews. We can access what hey are saying at work, so to speak.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:32 AM | | Comments (1)


Ben Eltham at New Matilda makes an analogy between communism in the 1950s and climate change today. He says:

In the 1950s in Australia, the issue of communism split the ALP in two and ensured a generation of conservative rule. Climate change now looms as a similar threat to the conservative parties, with the potential to award Kevin Rudd power for the next decade.

There is probably some truth in that.