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.
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.