Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Gormless Oz political bloggers

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-06


I just got a quickly-put-together personal email from a nice person inside finance.gov.au that included data damning most of the Oz blogosphere that make comments about politics, society, and have opinions about what our direction should be.

All but 19 readers of this blog or those reading/authoring posts in my blogroll or Technorati faves are too apathetic to comment on the future of citizen engagement with the government, where it really matters, but happy merely to preen themselves in public on blogs.

The response by the Oz blogosphere was disgusting, even though the consultation went for months, closing in December 2007.  Most of you should hang your heads in shame.

Back in September 2007, Gary Nairn (one of the few Liberal MPs I had time for) tried to get feedback on how the citizenry could contribute ideas and feedback to government as they develop policy, via a Consultation Blog Discussion Paper (since moved here as at 2008-11-23) that asked very good questions, after providing very good background, and asked for additional comments, about what we should be doing to improve decisions by our politicians.

The email I received detailed just how hypocritical most Oz sociopolitical bloggers and lurkers are:

Unfortunately with this consultation most people did not provide permission to publish their submission, so we did not publish anything. We received only 20 submissions in total and with the exception of yours and one or two others the submissions largely [merely] answered the questions.

The questions weren’t exhaustive, nor were they "closed", and general comments were explicitly requested.

However, AGIMO and Finance are still trying hard to improve things.  Even under Howard, the AGIMO folk were impressive, but it’s now looking even more optimistic.

There [are] however, exciting things happening in this space with the new government (Petitions Committee as a first example) and I look forward to developing the policies that support a way ahead in improving citizen participation in democratic processes. I trust you will continue to provide your highly considered feedback to government.

Well, at least I know my efforts weren’t wasted, and are indeed appreciated, even though I’d hardly consider myself one of the "best and brightest" who should be part of Rudd’s 2020 gabfest.

How come so many blog authors, far exceeding me in intelligence and authority, are unwilling to actually contribute to the debate in the fora that matter most – our parliaments?  I cannot figure it out!

Perhaps it is reasonable to allocate speaking time at Rudd’s 2020 gabfest based partly on how much each attendee has demonstrated their earnestness in contributing to the national (or state) debate?

Hopefully, my j’accuse will get some of you doing the right thing in the future.


Notes / See Also:

  • My submission to the inquiry as HTML via GoogleDocs or as PDF via WordPress.
  • Robert Merkel of Larvatus Prodeo and The View From Benambra is not a hypocrite, as I know he contributed.  Thanks Robert!
  • From an emailed conversation with Jacques Chester of Club Troppo, I suspect he is also one of the "good guys" and wrote in.
  • You can see an outline of my earlier submissions here.
  • Earlier posts encouraging people to contribute to this particular consultation include:
  • Gormless:
    • Etymology: From English dialectal gorm + suffix -less. Originally from Old Germanic *gaum-, ‘understand’. The ‘r’ found in this spelling is a vowel-lengthening device common in non-rhotic dialects of English
    • Meaning:
      1. (chiefly UK, of a person) Lacking intelligence, sense or discernment, often implying lack of capacity of will to remedy the condition.
      2. (UK) Inexperienced, naïve, innocent to the point of foolishness.



2007-11-29 Submission to the AGIMO inquiry about the Australian Consultation Blog

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22 Responses to “Gormless Oz political bloggers”

  1. First I’ve heard of it. Did the deservedly defeated former Special Minister for State make the effort to send this invitation to any actual bloggers? I flatter myself that I would have made the cut if he had done so in a competent fashion.

  2. Jacques Chester said

    Don’t get too excited. I pretty much dashed off a very quick few paras because I was prompted by your “last call” post.

    It would probably have been useful, as Will says, to have done some more outreach directly to the bigger blogs — Surfdom, Blogocracy, LP, Catallaxy and of course Troppo. Still, nothing stops people expressing their views, surely? I’m sure Nick Gruen would be happy to give AGIMO chapter and verse of his views.

  3. Guy said

    To be honest, I can actually recall whether I ended up contributing something or not. I hope I did. :p

    Regardless I think you make a point worth making – it’s a pretty pathetic collective response and quite embarrassing for the Australian political blogosphere.

  4. Dave Bath said

    Jacques:
    OK, between you, Robert Merkel and I thats 3 out of 20, or 15% of bloggers. I’m pretty sure I left a note about it at ClubTroppo, LP (in a Satuday Salon) or both.

    Crowingly, yours truly can now say "at least 15 percent of Australian citizens demonstrably engaged with the federal government on e-Democracy issues read Balneus", or 20% if Guy put something in, or perhaps more if other contributors were prompted by the CT/LP comments.

    So, knowing that there HAVE to be more than 20 people who would have at least grokked the existence of an inquiry from the hordes that read CT/LP, the response is still pathetic.

    If Oz sociopolitical blog authors are (a) able to google and (b) interested in citizen engagement with government, then I’d expect more than 20 might have tried looking for details sometime over those months with the following google searches:

    “citizen engagement”+”e-democracy”+site:gov.au – Citizen engagement and e-Democracy in any oz gov site

    “citizen engagement” “e-democracy” site:gov.au -site:vic.gov.au -site:nsw.gov.au -site:qld.gov.au -site:tas.gov.au -site:wa.gov.au -site:sa.gov.au – taking away (most states) to concentrate on federal

    I wonder if this reflects the amount of net-savvy?

    Actually, I’d recommend anyone interested in what government is doing in a particular subject area to create google alerts (if you have a gmail account) use the sample queries above as skeletons.

    It’s especially disappointing, because anyone interested in good IT practices, especially from agencies, whether techies or managers with responsibility for information services, should be visiting AGIMO regularly for things like minimal standards for websites (or ensuring underlings do it). Perhaps this is yet another example of the shocking percentage of people in the industry and managers who have the faintest idea what the “authoritative bodies” means. (How many IT types in most places dealing with networks or the web couldn’t expand IETF, for example?)

    BTW: The only decent response I’ve seen from the public was with the (at least) 150 submissions made to the NT Aboriginal Land Grab inquiry (discussed here) in under 2 days and without a call for submissions.

  5. Dave Bath said

    When you do a search for things that link to the paper (this), you find the top one is an article by 3 authors at the ABC News website Club Bloggery pt 1: Consulting bloggers as citizens – hardly an obscure place on the net! The ABC story gave the process a “thumbs up” for the most part :

    This first move might be slightly clumsy, but governments shouldn’t be expected to dive into fully-fledged policy blogging without first dipping a toe to test the water. It’s also fair enough for them to take the trouble to ask citizens whether or not they actually want consultation blogging. The proposal has clearly been developed by people who’ve actually used blogs – commenting and feedback are highlighted as central parts of the proposed design, and the authors have thought critically about how to manage them.

  6. Grendel said

    Sadly I’d missed all mention of this as well – I’m rather disappointed with myself.

    Google alerts time indeed.

  7. lauredhel said

    Looks like the ABC News announcement fell in school holidays, and burying an announcement in an LP Saturday Salon doesn’t seem quite the most effective way to spread the word.

    I have to agree with Mr Bowe – if the government wants to engage bloggers, a few well-placed direct invites might be the way to get the word spreading. Most of us don’t do this for a living; we read what we can and post in the interstices of real life.

    [Who uses the term "e-democracy"? It's one I would strenuously avoid.]

  8. lauredhel said

    And to head off any accusations of after-the-event fibbing, I should probably add to my previous comment, caught in the autospamulator: if I had seen this at the time in October/November, there is every chance I would have dismissed it as an unlikely pile of wank from a moribund government.

  9. Dave Bath said

    Lauredhel,
    e-Democracy is a term that is ugly (I’m sick of all the e-words too), but at least it is instantly recognizable, and thank goodness we have a term for it (at least until Big Brother’s next dictionary removes it from the lexicon). I’d recommend that those netizens interested in democracy have a look at the wikipedia E-Democracy entry which includes the following:

    portmanteau of the words “electronic” and “democracy,” comprises the use of electronic communications technologies such as the Internet in enhancing democratic processes within a democratic republic or representative democracy. It is a political development still in its infancy, as well as the subject of much debate and activity within government, civic-oriented groups and societies around the world.

    The term is both descriptive and prescriptive. Typically, the kinds of enhancements sought by proponents of e-democracy are framed in terms of making processes more accessible; making citizen participation in public policy decision-making more expansive and direct so as to enable broader influence in policy outcomes as more individuals involved could yield smarter policies; increasing transparency and accountability; and keeping the government closer to the consent of the governed, thereby increasing its political legitimacy. E-democracy includes within its scope electronic voting, but has a much wider span than this single aspect of the democratic process.

    Tis a consumation devoutly to be wished.

    Consider known synonyms: cyberdemocracy (sounds like something for avatars), digital democracy (“giving the finger” to politicians?) and teledemocracy (an excuse for pollies to spam-phone you, or, using the tele- root, democracy is far away) are all, IMHO, fuglier.

    This is not to be confused with e-Government, but I do recommend the wikipedia e-Government article as it does expand on the issues.

  10. Dave Bath said

    Lauredhel,

    From your writings at the highly-regarded femo-bolshie Hoyden About Town, I think you’d enjoy a play (written 2500 years ago) about women taking over control of Athens by direct democratic action and establishing a communist state. Have you heard of it?

    The Assemblywomen, a.k.a The Congresswomen, a.k.a. Ekklesiazousai, a.k.a. Ecclesiazusae, by Aristophanes, the same guy who wrote the better-known Lysistrata.

    I’ve actually been toying for some with the idea of putting a blogpost together about this play – and I’m pretty sure that Monty Python’s stoning scene from Life of Brian was inspired by part of Act I of the play. If you want, I’ll put such a post higher in my to-do list.

  11. lauredhel said

    Thanks for the recommendation Dave (and the compliment). I’ll put it on my “to check out” list, though I can’t guarantee it’ll be immediate.

    You’re right, all those alternative words are dreadful. Hm.

    I’d like to see any discussion and planning involving *choke* e-democracy to include the recognition that for the foreseeable future, substantive participation in e-democracy is effectively limited to the privileged. I hope that future governments will recognise this and organise appropriate outreach, and not sit back waiting for consultation to come to them.

  12. Dave Bath said

    Lauredhel
    Actually, eDemocracy is not necessarily limited to the privileged (gmail/internet cafe access is all that is currently necessary), and the AGIMO folk were talking of having user/passwords to allow contributions. It wouldn’t be too difficult for places like Centrelink (and other agencies) to install kiosks with browsers limited to .gov.au sites, which would enable people to search for advice and services that the government offers, as well as submit comments to government.

    Hmmm. Maybe they could have tickets like in baker’s shops for people rather than force them to stand in a queue at Centrelink, then let folk use a kiosk until a “Centrelink Client Service Officer” was available.

    It’s also worth noting that members of the privileged elite often make submissions to government via inquiries, and presumably will do the same in consultation blogs. ACOSS, St Vinnies, etc, etc, come to mind. Not just organizations, but individuals, write in expressing empathy for the underprivileged – - with an inspirational example being the 150-odd submissions (here’s the list of submissions) in 24 hours about the Howard NT Aboriginal Land Grab Bill.

    It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than what we have at the moment.

  13. lauredhel said

    (gmail/internet cafe access is all that is currently necessary)

    I should have explained a little more – by “privilege”, I’m not referring purely to cash in hand and broadband in the loungeroom.

    Online democratic involvement means that you need written language literacy, computer and internet access, a modicum of computer knowledge, the time to do it, a sense that your involvement is welcomed, and knowledge of how and where to get involved online. There’s a whole lot of less obvious privilege packed up in those requirements. Government can’t sit back and expect a disabled sole mother of seven in a remote region who has only a little spoken English to saunter in and compose a few lobbying emails to her local MP, even if there were a terminal sitting in the corner of a Centrelink office.

    Meaningful outreach will remain essential, even in the presence of a “government consultation blog”, and it is very easy to dismiss people’s concerns by saying, “Well you should have gotten yourself involved, shouldn’t you?” The particular episode described in this thread, with many of the very most informed and activist people in Ozblogistan not knowing about this particular “consultation” process, has handily illustrated just how badly governments can get it wrong.

  14. Dave Bath said

    Lauredhel’s points about the difficulties the most unempowered have when dealing with governments are entirely valid. Hopefully time will ameliorate the situation.

    While we progressives can advocate for the most vulnerable in consultations, and make efforts to collect their views and present them to governments on their behalf, a less than optimal, but tolerable situation, there is more urgent need to think about how the underprivileged receive services necessary for their daily lives.

    As eGovernment gets more mainstream, there is the risk that more traditional means of providing information to the underprivileged will become even more limited than it is today, just as the availability of ATMs decreased the number of bank tellers.

    As an indication this, it’s worth reviewing the number of government (and commercial) websites that do not meet the minimum requirements for accessibility. An example of those badly affected is a blind person, dependent on a “braille browser”, who has transport limitations and perhaps difficulty with phone bills.

    eDemocracy is important, and part of what we progressives need to use it for is to ensure that the rise of eGovernment does not make matters worse for the disadvantaged.

    I’m pretty sure, Lauredhel, that there’ll be consultation on such matters sometime. Even without one initiated by government, the new ePetition mechanisms being developed by AGIMO under the incoming government (following the lead by Beattie in Qld) is something you’ll be able to use to raise your worthwhile ideas.

    Of course, this all depends on the blogocracy rolling their sleeves up and putting in real effort, rather than merely salving their consciences with hypocritical vanity publishing.

  15. Dave Bath said

    Next week’s The Economist will have a leader on eGovernment and how governments are stumbling with implementation

  16. [...] Schoolkids feedback to government [...]

  17. [...] See Also [...]

  18. [...] just stumbled across a provocatively titled post from Balneus questioning whether there is sufficient citizen engagement online in Australia to make Open Source [...]

  19. Tim said

    Mark me down as another who would’ve happily participated if I’d heard anything about.

  20. nigel said

    Dam…I was busy saving the planet when I got the message…sorry about that…I did get a senate submission in though (see balneus hall of fame!!)

  21. [...] "Gormless Oz political bloggers" (2008-02-06) discusses the apathy of Oz bloggers when the government wanted advice on how to improve government consultation with citizens via a blog. [...]

  22. [...] "Gormless Oz Political Bloggers" (2008-02-06) points out how few of the chattering netizen classes actually get involved  [...]

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