Tuning in to a shift of power

In The Web and democracy on August 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

Today I’m writing  this with one eye on the television. Of course, nothing’s going to happen for a while, but here are some post-election (or post non-election) observations. ABC 24’s clumsy but amusing pastiches of campaign highlights have fired my cross-wired mind, and snippets of pollie speak are fusing with the reports some of my classmates have posted about the Jay Rosen lecture. In particular, Rosen’s observations about the shift of power from journalists to the audience is food for thought. Thanks, miss bec, for your thoughtful post on this topic, and also for the link to the Guardian MP expenses claims assessments. (Note the admission of error at the beginning of the article outlining the best discoveries ‘training’ was mistaken, hilariously for everyone but the MP in question, for ‘tanning’. The apology is unmissable, a little different from the corners reserved for corrections in print publications – it was probably a lot swifter, too.)

I wonder how tuned Tony Abbott is into the shift of power? He (rightly, in my opinion) poo-pooed the idea of climate change citizens’ assembly, but in typical Tony fashion he went too far: ‘We already have a citizens’ assembly – it’s a parliament.’ Abbott is indeed out of touch. This being said, in suggesting the assembly, Labor went too far. Perhaps fancying itself as fashionably democratic, as it did with the 2020 summit, it forgot that there is power in numbers. Randomly choosing 150 members of the public to offer their opinion on ‘the greatest moral challenge of our time’ does not earn our respect. While the concept of expertise has changed, we still understand that experts are necessary. I’d propose that what we want is experts, but their claims have to be tempered by the opinions of citizens, in the old-fashioned sense. Of course, when you ask everyone to contribute, you have to sift through a lot of rubbish, but the odds of coming across a good idea are far better, as the Guardian claims assessments showed. (The apparent reliability of Wikipedia also stems from this truism.)

On the topic of expertise, here’s Tony again, explaining his lack of knowledge of his flawed wireless/broadband scheme: ‘I’m not a tech-head’. Of course you’re not, Tony, and nobody expects you to be. But watching both candidates relatively competently canvas questions on myriad topics in the town hall-type meetings, this response was unconvincing. Abbott just doesn’t rate an NBN as a topic worth boning up on. Just as in Tony’s time a rounded education was probably a much coveted thing (he was a Rhodes Scholar and has an MA in politics and philosophy – a degree that would presumably cover a pretty broad range of topics), these days an interest in, and passing knowledge of, internet access and the means and speed with which it is obtained is simply general knowledge expected of any intelligent member of society. Although this moral ‘disconnect’ with younger voters, which in an ageing Australia probably makes no difference, given the lack of differentiation between the it is possible changing his NBN policy may have (definitively) won him the election, the only chance he’ll probably have. (The pundits on Insiders are now debating what factor/s lost Labor seats – I think they’ll move to this complementary topic soon.)

One final note: Wouldn’t it be lovely if the losing candidate takes this as an opportunity to stop the ‘dog-whistling’ and show some real compassion to refugees? One of the Gillard’s questioners on her Q & A appearance clearly agrees. The transcript reads:

TONY JONES: We’ve got a web question that’s come in from Dave Bathur in Erskineville: “I’m hoping/praying your initial missteps on asylum seekers were just to win over the marginal seats and in government you’ll revert to a more humane and sensible approach … If this is the case and you’re not allowed yet to admit it, just look at the camera and say, ‘Moving forward.’ I will know what you mean. Want to send a little coded signal?”

JULIA GILLARD: I can’t send any coded signals. I tried to lay out before the Australian people my whole view here. I think maybe some of it got through, some of it didn’t. Maybe some of that’s my fault. It’s a complex debate but I’ve tried to say to the Australian people let’s be clear about the size of what we’re dealing with here. I’ve specifically adopted Julian Burnside’s words, noted lawyer, that at current rate of arrivals it will take 20 years to fill the MCG. That’s true. So, you know, let’s get a sense of perspective, 20 years to fill the MCG. But even with that perspective, I don’t want to see people get on boats, risk their lives, pay people smugglers to get here. I want to have a better solution than that and that is why I’ve put forward the regional process in play.

With the unprecedented success of the Greens, it seems that some previously muted voices are being heard, particularly on the topic of climate change, but Dave Bathur’s plea underlines what a double-edged sword true democracy is: regardless of how easily we can make our voices heard now, some voices will still be louder.

What’s your take on the election, and Web-enhanced political debate?

  1. Thanks to the net, I rely less on people’s opinions and more on info I can look up on my own. I am less influenced by written opinions, so I can make less better decisions about the candidates.

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