The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney
Notre Dame was well represented at an important political conversation held in Sydney in November. Politics lecturer John Rees reflects on the event.
Just when we are tempted to believe that everything in politics is scripted, fixed, and predetermined, new influences come along that generate elements of unpredictability back into the system. The latest to emerge is the impact of digital media on political participation and communication. From John Howard’s U-Tube policy releases to Kevin Rudd’s Facebook friends, from new groups (both young and old) finding their political voice via the web to a new political party advocating online democracy, the impact of the “digital election” on our political culture is unmistakable.
What enhances the unpredictable nature of this development is that players across the domains of politics, media, business and the community are still working out what to do with digital media and what it means for the politics of the future. Accordingly, conversations about it are open, exploratory, and feature a real diversity of voices. Welcome to the digital media ‘brainstorm’.
On the morning of November 1 2007, I had the privilege of participating in a roundtable discussion on the topic “The Digital Election: Is Australian democracy becoming a conversation?” The event was an invitation only ‘on the record’ breakfast conversation hosted by public affairs consultancy Hill and Knowlton. Conversation participants included senior representatives from the Fairfax and News Limited press, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Lib), Tanya Plibersek MP (Labor), Senate candidate Zoe Lamont (Senator Online), and representatives of digital media initiatives such as iVote Australia, Election Tracker and Vibewire. Facilitated by Jacquelynne Willcox and Steven Noble of Hill and Knowlton, the discussion was as vibrant as it was informative. At times there was consensus on the possibilities of digital media for broadening participation in the political process. Yet there was disagreement on the limits and dangers that come with such a development. Participants added different perspectives, depending on their specialty and interest.
Not surprisingly, significant contributions to the forum were made by representatives of digital media groups. Noteworthy in this were inputs from University of Notre Dame students James Griffin (Politics and Journalism) and Thomas Griffin (Arts Law). James and Tom are two of the founders of iVote Australia, an online initiative dedicated to raising political awareness and participation amongst young people. It is a very successful initiative that continues to receive the moral support of the Politics Program at Notre Dame and of the University at large.
In forums such as the “Digital Election” it is not uncommon to feel as though one has learned much more from the input of others than one has contributed. Yet I also felt well prepared for “Digital Election” brainstorm by the energy and involvement of Notre Dame students like the Griffins and Anthony Mason (iVote), as well as Joel Clark who is involved with the policy online initiative Election Tracker and now a Senate candidate (SA) for the political party Senator Online. Other politics students are actively involved ‘on the ground’ in election campaigns for the major political parties, or involved in community and lobby group activities. Representatives of both iVote Australia and Election Tracker have helped us explore the digital frontiers this semester in the subject PL1001 Australian Politics.
I have learned much from all of these students, which in turn has benefited our education journey together. We are definitely in the conversation.
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Fenech, Elizabeth, "Digital Election" (2007). Media Release Archive. 783.