news Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam looks set to be re-elected to the Senate for another six years in Western Australia’s Senate by-election, with projections late on Saturday night showing the technology-focused politician had easily won a full Senate quota.
In early October, the Australian Electoral Commission announced that Ludlam had lost his seat, with candidates from the Liberal, Labor and Palmer United parties elected to the Senate from Western Australia in September’s Federal Election, despite the fact that the Greens took 9.48 percent of the initial vote and the Palmer United Party took 5 percent of the initial vote.
The news came as a blow to the Australian digital rights community, due to Ludlam’s role over the past half-decade after he was elected in 2007 increasingly coming to focus on holding powerful government departments and law enforcement bodies, politicians, corporations and other groups to account for increasing privacy rights violations and the encroachment of telecommunications surveillance in the digital age. Ludlam has also been extremely active in the National Broadband Network debate, in which the Greens have backed Labor’s all-fibre deployment model as well as opposing the privatisation of NBN Co.
However, the Greens and the Australian Sports Party successfully appealed for a recount of the vote, given the very small margin in some parts of the counting (just 14 votes in one place) and the reported existence of anomalies in the count. At one point, Ludlam revealed “hundreds” of misplaced votes had been found.
Ludlam eventually retained his seat in the AEC’s recount, but a permanent decision on the issue was taken to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, with the Australian Electoral Commission and several other parties arguing that the loss of 1,370 ballot papers during the election meant that a new election should be held. The Court eventually ruled the WA Senate vote invalid in the September election, meaning a new by-election had to be held this weekend.
According to the ABC’s election analysis, as at midnight on Saturday night the Greens, with Ludlam as the party’s lead candidate, were projected to pick up 120 percent worth of a Senate seat quota. To do so, at that stage, the ABC calculated that the Greens had picked up 17.2 percent of the vote, representing a swing to the Greens of about 7.7 percent. These figures were calculated based on only 21.1 percent of the vote, but ABC election analyst Antony Green appeared to be quite definite about his projection that the Greens would pick up a WA Senate seat.
The news will be interpreted as a significant win for Australia’s digital rights community, as Ludlam has been at times over the past several years the sole parliamentarian raising issues around data retention, electronic surveillance and Internet censorship, with both Labor and the Coalition taking the same broad approach to the issues of supporting the wishes of Australia’s law enforcement and intelligence community.
Ludlam has been particularly effective at holding the Attorney-General’s Department to account, bringing to light the department’s efforts to revamp Australia’s telecommunications interception powers along lines which many Australians feel breaches their privacy. In February, a new poll conducted by Essential Media showed that 80 percent of Australians disapproved of the Government being able to access Australians’ phone and Internet records without a warrant.
The Greens Senator’s most recent success in the area has consisted of winning support from Labor for a Senate Committee to review Australia’s telecommunications interception regime. The move has kickstarted a ferocious debate between law enforcement and intelligence agencies on the one side and the nation’s digital rights community on the other, about how much access authorities should have to individual Australia’s telecommunications data.
One key factor in the Western Australian support for Ludlam may have been a landmark speech the Senator gave to the almost empty Senate chamber in early March. Addressed directly to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and dealing with a wide range of issues from technology to the environment and human rights, the speech is widely acknowledged to have struck a chord with the public. It has been viewed 850,000 times on YouTube.
Wow. Simply fantastic news for Australia’s digital rights community that the country’s most tech-savvy politician, and the only politician who has consistently spoken out on data retention, electronic surveillance and Internet censorship rights, looks very likely to have been re-elected. It’s also icing on the cake that Ludlam supports a full-fibre National Broadband Network and copyright reform.
If Ludlam hadn’t been re-elected, I’m sure the Greens would have allocated the Communications portfolio to another of its members. But Ludlam is an absolute natural for the role, given his deep understanding of technology issues and his patience at dragging answers on these topics out of Australia’s law enforcement authorities. He’s one of a kind and irreplacable.
There are other tech-savvy politicians who have supported the majority views of Australia’s broader technology community on occasion. On the Labor side, there’s Kate Lundy, Ed Husic, Stephen Conroy, Michelle Rowland and newcomers such as Tim Watts. The Coalition has a handful of politicians interested in such issues, such as Jamie Briggs and Alex Hawke (who opposed Labor’s Internet filter before the rest of the Coalition got on board), and even the Member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, pushes the way the community wants at times (such as in his opposition to the Internet filter and some data retention policies), even if most disapprove of his current broadband policy.
However, none of these politicians have supported all of the dominant views of Australia’s technology community all the time. That label belongs only to Ludlam, and it’s why I’ve written so positively about the Greens Senator. He ‘gets it’ when it comes to technology — more so than any other politician — and is free enough in his Greens role to say his piece constantly on these issues.
If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to read this extended feature article I wrote four years ago regarding Ludlam’s early performances in the Senate. Even at that point Ludlam was focused on technology issues, and his vision has remained remarkably consistent since that time — more so than almost all of the other politicians I have dealt with. At that time he had only a very small popular profile; I think it’s safe to say that his fortunes have grown significantly since that time.
I’d like to pass on my congratulations to Ludlam (assuming no problems in the election counting) and add that I look forward to another six years of watching the Senator grill the Attorney-General’s Department in the fraught Senate Estimates process and working with the Greens (as I also work with Labor and the Coalition, and any other parties I can), to get better outcomes for Australia’s technology community. The future of Australians’ telecommunications privacy and the future of the development of Australia’s Internet space is wholly up for grabs right now. It’s good to see the Federal Parliament’s sole steadfast voice on these issues will continue to be able to have his say.