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Friday, 22 January 2010 23:31

Lundy plays good cop to Conroy's bad cop

By
Much has been made, both in December and recently, of a blog post by Labor Senate member Kate Lundy, a backbencher, in which she appears to differ with the party's policy on internet filtering.


It tells us a lot about the degree to which people are inured to spin that the moment a politician does something that would be considered eminently sensible if done by an ordinary citizen, the masses tend to think that the politician has had some kind of Damascene conversion.

Public memory is woefully short so let me provide a reminder here: politicians are interested in winning elections and staying in power. The moment they come to power, their thoughts are focused on the next poll. In the period in-between, if they can do something worthwhile, they do so. Else they just put off doing anything until the next election rolls around.

Once one realises this, it is easy to see Lundy's post for what it really is. It's the old Mutt and Jeff routine. Or the good cop/bad cop approach. The old type of spin.

It's fashionable for every man and his dog to have a blog these days. (Due to this, we have a large number of howls of protest from idiots who do not understand how blogs have come to be part of mainstream media and what their function is; these idiots equate a blog in a mainstream media publication with their own publication and regularly shout out WTF!).

Lundy gets marks straight away for being "modern". Then she gets even marked even higher for accepting comments, some of them pretty robust. Her IT policy adviser, Pia Waugh, makes the whole thing look even better with a bit of spin here and there among the comments.

Last week at the annual Australian national Linux conference in New Zealand, Waugh, a former self-styled open source advocate, was using loads of  tired bizspeak to promote the so-called open government policy  - but she avoided saying anything about the filter. (edited - see first and second comments below).

Meanwhile, yesterday, at the closing ceremony of the same conference, the other half of the family, Jeff, was urging people to black out their avatars on their social networking sites to protest against the policy.

He has set up a site called The Great Australian Internet Blackout - the domain is registered in the name of his business, Waugh Partners - calling for a blackout from January 25 to 29. Incidentally, January 26 is Australia Day - or as some say Invasion Day.


It's interesting indeed when government policy is thrown open to the public, ostensibly for a debate to seek feedback on how the policy in question goes down with the masses. Most people misinterpret this to mean that the government is serious about wanting input from the great unwashed.

This is a great myth that is prevalent even today.

It’s something like the various ombusdmen set up in some countries to provide an outlet for the public to complain when they feel shafted by companies in some sectors - telecommunications and banking, for example.

Giving a person a chance to vent their frustrations provides a form of release. The ombudsman makes a pretence of listening - a very good imitation, I may add.

In the end, one gets little or no redress unless there is something really wrong going on and the original decision stands.

The same happens with government policy. Some bright spark decides on some policy to garner votes for the next election from a section of the populace which normally does not vote en masse for the party in government. The internet filter policy is aimed at attracting the right-wing vote, something Labor has never managed to do.

The best way to pretend that it is being done in consultation is to ask some other person in the party to invite a discussion - these days, that is done mostly on the internet. In years gone by, it was by issuing a white paper and then inviting people to write in with their suggestions, support or objections.

And this person is asked to take a stand that is a wee bit more rational.

The original policy always includes a little wiggle room, concessions which the government is willing to give anyway. If the public does demand some concessions, the government then gives in on ground which it never wanted to enforce.

The public feels quite good about its activism and celebrates the ground it has gained. The government laughs all the way to the poll.

If the government is unable to get the policy through parliament because it lacks a majority of its own, then it concedes certain things to the opposition and certain others to the public. The wiggle room is always built in to the original draft.

In February, the legislation will be introduced and, unlike other bills, it is very likely to pass and become law. The main opposition Liberal/National coalition cannot oppose it as the bill caters to a constituency which they call their own.

Blacking out the internet will be noticed, certainly, but it will have no effect. Politicians are interested in vote banks and staying in power.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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