[This article was originally published in Crikey on Tuesday 17 February, but behind the paywall. I think enough time has passed for it to sneak out â€” particularly as one commenter called it “the most unworthy article Crikey has ever published”. Thanks.]
Cool newcomer. Rising talent. Thatâ€™s Greens Senator Scott Ludlam as described by Crikeyâ€™s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane last year. Heâ€™s right, too.
Yesterday [Monday] I explained how Senator Stephen Conroy popped out of his lair, announced (some of) the ISPs in the internet “filtering” trials, and scurried away — leaving everyoneâ€™s questions unanswered. Perhaps he hoped the story would be buried by discussions of bushfires and the stimulus package. But no.
In an op-ed piece for ABC News yesterday, Senator Ludlam nailed why. “The interwebs never sleep,” he reminds us.
Within minutes of Conroyâ€™s 5.25pm media release, Twitter was, well, aâ€™twitter with speculation and then analysis. Within hours, without any central control, a consensus emerged about what the choice of ISPs meant. With its focus on small business-oriented ISPs, the trials wonâ€™t reflect the realities of home internet usage, and the government can string out the process just a little bit longer.
“Senator Conroy is trapped by something akin to a virtual hydra,” writes Ludlam.
“Every time he ‘responds’ to one piece of criticism, numerous other more refined, more powerful and more targeted arguments arise from all sides.”
To paraphrase The Guardianâ€™s social media strategist Meg Pickard, who spoke in Sydney last week, the audience is now smarter than you are because they have more time and thereâ€™s more of them.
Government ministers no longer own the conversation. Nor does anyone else, for that matter. While Senator Conroy may assert that “the Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech”, no-one actually cares what the governmentâ€™s view is. The conversation has its own life. And Conroy has bailed out. Heâ€™s ceded the field.
“Heâ€™s acquiesced his leadership role in this debate, relegating himself to the status of a mere observer, allowing his critics to run the show,” says network engineer Mark Newton, one of Conroyâ€™s most credible and persistent critics.
“I couldnâ€™t care less what Conroy does next, because heâ€™s an irrelevant loser in the wider context of this debate … Every time heâ€™s [made public statements] heâ€™s inevitably been embarrassed by the responses of an army of online correspondents who have fact-checked him into oblivion.”
Conroy, whoâ€™s presumably used to getting his own way as a Labor Right head-kicker, has sulked off to his room, slammed shut the door, turned up the music REALLY LOUD AND I HOPE YOU WILL ALL JUST GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY I HATE YOU!
Conroyâ€™s left his poor media advisor (who Iâ€™m reliably informed is a nice guy who deserves better) to post the passive-aggressive notes on the fridge — sorry, to answer all questions by copying and pasting boilerplate from the media release.
Not a good look.
Not what youâ€™d call “leadership”.
Not what youâ€™d call “being in control of the issue”.
Iâ€™m guessing Senator Conroy is secretly very happy that the Great Imploding Opposition is providing a useful distraction from his own performance. For now.
Meanwhile that Greens senator bloke is making sense, eh?
“Weâ€™re all in vociferous agreement about what wonâ€™t work. But what will? Can this enormously empowered campaign speak with one cogent voice about what weâ€™re for?” he asks.
“How do we empower parents … and law enforcement agencies…? Is there a way to adequately prepare children to understand other threats such as cyber-bullying, without asphyxiating the greatest information sharing tool in history?”
Any suggestions, Senator Conroy?
Youâ€™ll have to come out of there eventually, Senator.