A positive example of political engagement via the Australian blogosphere

Regular readers of my blog would know I have a strong interest in finding more ways to better engage people in debate on issues that affect or interest them.

I was interested to see the Australian group blog Catallaxy published a guest post by a federal Liberal MP, Dr Dennis Jensen, followed by an online discussion with him through the comments section over a 2 or 3 hour period.

The topic of Jensen’s post was focused on his view that the Defence Department should be buying F-22A Raptor planes, rather than the planned joint Strike Fighter (or F-35 Lightning II). He also said this example was symptomatic of wider problems in the Defence bureaucracy.

The technical aspect of the topic is outside my area of expertise, although I’ve had concerns about major wastefulness in Defence expenditure for sometime.

I’m not suggesting this has never happened before. I’ve seen similar sorts of ‘live’ discussions on some of the ABC’s site from time to time, especially after a screening of shows like 4 Corners. But I found the Catallaxy experiment good for a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s using a forum outside the limited number of mainstream media outlets and engaging directly with the citizenry in the far more diverse arena of the blogosphere.

Secondly it enabled a reasonably technical discussion about a specific policy issue, which is often not possible in a mainstream media context.

Thirdly, it was engagement with a backbench MP who was giving a well-informed opinion about a topic, which can sometimes provide more substance than debates with Ministers who, even if they are well-informed about their topic, often tend to feel they must parrot narrow government talking points rather than genuinely engage on the topic. The blog format also tends to allow better input from commenters with expertise too, so there a more dynamic exchange of ideas and information.

I should state that whilst I’ve called him well-informed on the topic in question, I’m not saying I agree with all his views in the area. Indeed, I’d have to say ever since I read Dennis Jensen’s First Speech, not long after he gave it, which (among other things) equated the notion of global warming with the flat earth theory, I haven’t been a great fan. However, I thought he did quite well on Catallaxy at providing prompt but substantive answers to the points and questions raised in the comments, whilst quickly deflecting the inevitable questions that were just trying to score partisan points (which were even more inevitable given he’s taking a position in opposition to the government’s current plans). In any case, it is good to see a federal MP willing to be directly accessible in such a way, and being part of process which hopefully results in more people having a better understanding about a specific issue.


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  1. I requested an email interview with Brisbane City Mayor, Campbell Newman. The questions were mainly on how the city council dealt with separation of powers. It was knocked back as “the Lord Mayor would have to spend considerable time formulating answers to your questions.”

    Maybe I should forward the questions to the catallaxy folks and get them to send it on my behalf.

  2. Cam, might be a good idea, but someone would have to convince Newman’s press secretary that it would be worth the effort.

    How many votes are in it for the time expended? How will it benefit Newman? At any rate, Newman’s not the one who would have answered the questions.

    By the way (in reference to the results of the political quiz thing), I take Mr Bartlett’s point about embracing the term “democrat” as opposed to Democrat. I was a member of the AD’s many years ago, but I wouldn’t join any party ever again. But being a “democrat” can only be good.

  3. Andrew Bartlett:

    Hear! Hear! If this keeps up there’ll be an outbreak of democracy. And of parliamentarians expressing opinions not authorized and double-checked by party apparatchiks and spindoctors. And an outbreak of parliamentarians hearing the voices of a part of the electorate without them being filtered – usually into silence – by gatekeepers (whether well-meaning or malevolent).

    Blogging, such as that done by you daily and by MHR Dennis Jensen on this occasion, is far from perfect but it’s a lot better than what we had before. Please keep up the good work.

    ((b.t.w., I’m concerned at the Defence/ADF obsession with “flying Opera Houses” when what we need is defence that works every time and that keeps enemies away. And I’m concerned at the habitual squandering of huge amounts of money on extraordinarily problem-ridden defence projects …. and at the attendant opportunities for corruption and rorting.))

  4. Everyone:
    Andrew Bartlett has had this item up on his blog for a week now and yet there have been only four comments so far.

    Here, he has put up another signpost to a significant change in trends in the way Australian politics is done [see his post, few months back, on a parliamentarian who had started blogging] ….. and everyone has gone shy.

    I would have expected over a hundred comments on this thread by now ….

  5. I’ll heed your call to arms Graham – howver I suspect most people simply agree with the notions experssed in the post hecne the few comments.

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