Going into Saturday's Queensland elections, the opinion polls suggested that the ALP Government faced electoral disaster. Even so, the scale of the disaster still came as a surprise.
As I write, the latest electoral figures are:
- Liberal National Party 49.7% with a predicted 78 seats
- ALP 26.6% with a predicted 7 seats
- Katter's Australian Party 11.6% with a predicted 2 seats
- The Greens 7.6% with no predicted seats.
A defeat on this scale creates obvious difficulties for Labor in both being an effective opposition and in rebuilding. It also increases pressure on the ALP Federal Government.
Over on the Lowy Institute blog, Sam Roggeveen's Is there an Australian blogosphere? is, as the title says, a short muse on the existence or otherwise of an Australian blogosphere. The post begins:
'Europeans can't blog', reads the headline from a newly created blog by the Brussel-based think tank Bruegel. One phrase in particular stuck out at me from this lament about the poor state of European blogging: 'Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere'.
It seems to me this might be true of Australia also, at least in the political sphere in which this site operates. The distinction between blogs and the blogosphere is that, on its own, a blog is a platform to push out ideas, information and links to other sources. That's a powerful thing in and of itself, but it's when many blogs form a blogosphere that you get, in Bruegel's words, 'a living ecosystem to exchange and debate'.
We have some outstanding political blogs in this country, but from my observation, the 'ecosystem' is a bit barren.
For their own reasons, the Lowy Institute has a somewhat clunky comment system. You have to email your comment and then wait for it to be moderated. While I understand the reasons for this, it does work against interactivity. For that reason, I thought that I should reproduce my comment here:
Hi Sam. I think it true to say that the Australian blogosphere is fragmented. It’s also true to say that Australian bloggers don’t cross-link as much as they might or indeed should. But it’s not quite as clear-cut as this.
Back in 2010, Dr Alex Bruns released some initial mapping results on the Australian blogosphere. I dealt with it in a post at the time - http://belshaw.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/mapping-australian-blogosphere.html.
If we look at political blogs, you find a clustering effect around main nodes. You also find outriders – the independents – who also link. The patterns change with time, but they are there.
One of the difficulties in the clustering is that, not unexpectedly, the major nodes attract people of common views. A second problem is that there is sometimes very little cross-linking on the major nodes. Yet that said, there are underlying currents that are not always apparent.
The very partisan blogs including those attached to some media outlets tend to attract only the like minded. However, there is a broader and different stream that, while sometimes still partisan, actually focuses on issues. Most of the bloggers in this group either know or know of each other. I call this the village. There are links and interlinks that are not always apparent on the surface.
I was trying to think of the best way of illustrating this. Perhaps one way is to say that I have some ten bloggers who are Facebook friends, another overlapping but different group who follow me on twitter. Then there are those who email me or come through in comments.
I am not an A list blogger, although I have reasonable traffic on my main blogs. My point is that there are a whole series of interactions that have a cumulative impact over time.
There are particular issues that attract major bogging attention. However, a lot of the real work is simply the on-going discussion.
Most mainstream bloggers don’t just blog. They reach out through a variety of channels. We do influence each other, but we also influence the broader debate. The effects here cannot be easily measured, but they seem to be significant over time.
I guess that’s my real point in this comment. Don’t focus on the headline, the grand impact on public discourse. Focus instead on the cumulative effect.
Regular readers will know that the type of issue raised by Sam have been of interest to me for a long time. I blog a fair bit, so its only natural that I should be interested.
I do think that the Australian blogosphere has declined measured by interactivity and cross-fertilisation. I have suggested that this is in part due to Twitter. Twitter is an aid to interactivity, but it also distracts.
There is only so much time. Some of my fellow bloggers put so much time into tweeting that they greatly reduce the time available for other writing or, indeed, responding. Twitterdom has become a community or series of communities in its own right, but it is a very different community.
Turning to other matters, at his place Neil Whitfield's Trundling into the 21st century talks about a new ABC documentary series Country Town Rescue. The series is described in this way:
Produced by Zapruder’s other films, Country Town Rescue is the compelling story of how ordinary Australians come together to save a small rural town whose falling population threatens its very existence.
Filmed over twelve months, this series follows five families who ‘up sticks’ with their kids and move to Trundle, a small town in central western NSW. They are welcomed by a passionate group of locals determined to see the small town not only survive but prosper.
Now in what will seem like an unrelated segue, this photo shows the old mining settlement of Silverton outside Broken Hill.
Once much bigger than Broken Hill, Silverton now is a scattering of picturesque buildings in the middle of the desert.
At school, I was fascinated by Nevil Shute's book A Town Like Alice. This tells the story of Jean Paget, spanning her experiences as young Englishwoman and prisoner of war in Malaya during World War II, then in London and finally in outback Australia. There she sets out to turn a small outback community into a town like Alice.
It wasn't so much the first part of the book that interested me, but the last part, the re-birth of the community. It created an interest in community regeneration that has stayed with me until today.
A Town Like Alice was very popular, generating a film and a TV mini-series. The second was part filmed in Silverton, hence the photo.
The interest created in my mind by the book has really had a profound impact on my life.
Decentralisation and community development was one of the planks I ran on when seeking Country Party pre-selection. It influenced my approach as a policy adviser. It was a factor in the creation of Aymever as a national business headquartered in regional Australia. It influences me today in my writing and in some of my professional work.
I guess that one of my continuing personal frustrations lies in my inability to make some of my ideas stick in a practical sense. I have put my heart, my time and indeed my personal cash into community redevelopment at local and regional level and beyond. There have been successes, but there have been far more failures.
One of the things that I have tried to do in my writing is to get across the importance of the individual. When I look at my own work or the results of my historical research, what comes through time and time again is the importance of individual effort.
If you look at national level, individuals start to blur in the face of broad trends, of the need to summarise and to consolidate. As you drill down, localise, individuals start to stand out. Broad based history, indeed everything that happens, actually comes back to the combination of generally unseen individual effort.
In Queensland, the ALP won't be rebuilt by Party wide election studies, by national or state efforts, although these are necessary. Rebirth will come from the electoral workers who hold the faith and provide the base required to mount future efforts. Individually, each has miniscule impact. Collectively, they are the future. Lose them, and the Party is lost.
I spent a fairly large slab of my life campaigning against the ALP. Yet I never lost sight of the value, indeed the necessity, of those ALP people that I saw on the booths. Often, I had more in common with them than I had with my own party machine. You see, we disagreed but we also cared. As we shared tea and cake and talked, we talked about things that jointly mattered.
In blogging, I talk about the village. It's the same thing.
Sam Roggeveen is concerned with what we might call macro failure, the big picture stuff. My perspective makes me focus on the small, the cumulative. Real change, the best change, generally happens there. It happens because people strive, hold the faith, even though things sometimes seem hopeless.
I went to Parkes (Musings on a visit to inland NSW) for a workshop. There I talked to an Aboriginal woman who had spent much of the last seven years working to improve housing for her community. She was tired as indeed I am tired, yet she kept on going.
As I listened to her, I thought how marvelous she was. Her impact is not easily measurable on the grand scale, nor in our obsession with macro performance indicators. However, to the families that have better housing as a result of her efforts she is far more important than all the big picture stuff. I think that's kind of important.