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The Australian government e-democracy trial unleashes a blogging flood

Steve Hodgkinson | Dec. 17, 2008
Citizens have leapt to the digital barricades what now?

Online consultation is a hands-on activity the only way to build skills is to jump in and give it a go. The challenge for governments, however, is to structure the passion of bloggers into constructive dialogues. After a period of deep thinking, the Australian government is now taking its first steps towards the Web 2.0 world of online policy debate which is to be commended.

Ovum logoDespite the fact that the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, is himself an experienced blogger, it has taken the Australian government a while to launch forth into two-way online dialogue with its citizens.

In this regard, Australia is somewhat behind its counterparts in other jurisdictions, many of which now have extensive experience with politicians blogs, online consultations and e-petitions.

The first of a series of online consultation trials was launched last week. This follows a year of policy debate that culminated in the release in June of a report entitled Consulting with Government online.

The first trial is a policy discussion blog launched jointly by Minister Tanner and Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. The blog is hosted by Senator Conroys department, and will address a range of policy topics relating to digital economy future directions.

Tanners experience with his own personal blog means that he is under no illusions about the no-holds-barred nature of Web 2.0s so-called architecture of participation. The government has gone into the trials with its eyes open.

Citizens have leapt to the digital barricades what now?

After the first week the blog received over 1,200 comments, spanning more than 120 pages. While it is difficult to scan all the posts, it is readily apparent that the overwhelming majority, approximately 8090 per cent, are negative comments regarding the governments proposal that all ISPs must provide clean feeds or online filtering to block inappropriate content such as pornography even though this was not one of the discussion topics suggested.

There is a scattering of constructive comments relating to improving the blog and other elements of digital economy policy, and quite a few comments commending the blog initiative, but the overwhelming feel of the dialogue so far is that of an impassioned rant a flood of emotion and opinion about ISP filtering.

The governments challenge is to architect a dialogue out of hundreds of monologues

I remember hearing Clive James, the Australian writer and wit, once say on radio that a dictatorship is characterised by thousands of monologues conducted in silence behind closed doors. Democracy, in contrast, at least attempts to bring monologues out into the open so that they can become public discussions.


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