Should Australia introduce mandatory requirements for biofuel use in transport fuels?

For this section the Institute invites comments from two politicians with differing policy viewpoints. In this November edition of farm institute insights, The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Member for Farrer, Liberal Party of Australia and Senator Scott Ludlam, Senator for Western Australia, Australian Greens, question whether social media has supplanted traditional lobby groups. Continue the discussion on the Institute’s blog.


The Hon Sussan Ley MP

Member for Farrer
Liberal Party of Australia

As a recent empty nester, I tried to phone my student daughter the other day.

Not an urgent matter, mind you, just a quick check-up call on her wellbeing.

No answer.

Ok then, let’s try a text?

Same result.



Status happy… studying hard (sure, thinks mum)… all ok!

For we baby boomers the thought that ‘logging on’ could one day completely unseat the once perfectly reasonable concept of a phone conversation is slightly bewildering.

Then again, I guess it was only a hundred or so years ago early patents of the telephone were dismissed as gimmickry that could never surpass the unadulterated joys of letter writing.

Members of Parliament who are, let’s face it, not traditionally shy, find this astonishing proliferation of ways to express ones views as both a beautiful progression but also, on occasion, a little too revealing for their own political good.

You know, it really was not that very long ago a constituent or organisation with genuine or earnest concerns felt they could not directly approach their MP except by formal postage.

At the top end of Capital Hill, getting the direct attention of a Minister was also often nigh impossible, bar paying a professional lobbyist to smooth the way for an appointment.

Today, all but the most reserved of my colleagues are now available directly via a message on Twitter or Facebook which most will read instantaneously on their mobile phone, completely bypassing any staff or advisers.

And, if a ‘tweet’ is more hostile than thoughtful (sadly, a rising trend), you can be sure it’s already been bounced around ‘twitter world’ and read 100 times before you’ve even considered whether a response is warranted.

Where once a cranky letter or phone call could be privately assessed, not so a cursory mention beamed into cyberspace which sits there for several thousand browsers to see and do with as they wish.

Whether the original comment or claim was accurate, truthful or even warranted is an emerging debate which can be had on another day.

Suffice to say, just as telephone etiquette took many of our forebears a while to master, today’s new communication tools are still settling on appropriate propriety.

As a result, it’s not without cause for my colleagues and I to summarily dismiss tweets or emails from authors with vast address books. We must also sometimes ignore or de-friend repeat writers of nebulous comments on Facebook.

Some of the ridiculous or snide asides which string from the end of a blog or news article on the web, speak for themselves and, through questionable anonymity, not much anyone else.

It is worth noting the apparently revolutionary reliance on social media seems to hold less currency in rural constituencies, where word of mouth and personal repute thankfully hold sway.

Why a handshake still ranks solid in the bush compared to the number of disparate followers or friends you can boast from the web, is uncertain but very welcome.

Especially so when in the more remote parts of this country the arrival of these new, easily accessible, mediums has been a godsend.

Perhaps it is because we still place value on ‘it is not what you say but what you do’, a credo that is yet to be a focus of disposable internet-based commentary.

Social media is the communication channel of a new generation and regarded with fascination and a little bemusement by the rest of us. Mind you we also thought morning newspapers would last out this millennium.

Still perhaps best not to fight it, especially if you want to keep track of how your children are faring.

But has it replaced a polite phone call or request for a meeting with your local pollie?

Not yet and not for a while, I hope.

Sussan Ley’s career path has been wonderfully varied, with odd jobs on the way to a pilot’s license – roles as an air traffic controller, stock-mustering pilot and occasional shearer’s cook followed!

While raising three children on a family farm, 10 years of study led to a senior position at the Australian Taxation Office before she successfully sought Liberal Party pre-selection for Farrer (NSW).

Now in her 11th year of federal politics, Sussan was allotted Shadow Ministerial roles Employment Participation, Childcare and Early Childhood Learning in late 2010.

A truly mass media


Senator Scott Ludlam

Senator for Western Australia
Australian Greens

It used to be that ‘social media’ meant distributing leaflets hand to hand or sending a letter to the local newspaper. Social networks, particularly in small regional communities, meant face-to-face contact and the ubiquitous ‘grapevine’ that passed news and gossip from hand to hand.

While that is still the case in close-knit communities, at a regional scale things have been going awry for some time. Consolidation in local radio markets and the closure of regional newspapers has begun to fray the social glue that helps hold communities together. Australia has among the highest concentrations of media ownership anywhere in the world, meaning a small handful of voices and views have tended to drown out the raucous diversity that characterises healthy public debate.

Rapid advances in telecommunications are beginning to change all this. There is no need to engage in the kind of breathless cyber-utopianism that sometimes follows broadband announcements: social media really is beginning to change the way be communicate with each other. There are elements of the grapevine here – with all the good and bad that this implies – but now the reach is global. We see examples of all facets of the human condition expressed through this medium – care, creativity and compassion, but also trivia, bad taste, bullying and worse. One thing is for sure: there are now many examples of people with creative ideas that sidestepped the old gatekeepers and took their idea to a global audience.

A broadband-enabled society radically undermines the tyranny of distance. While we have been critical of some aspects of the National Broadband Network, there is no question that it is a better alternative than going back to a mishmash of competing technologies where the cities were well served and the bush was forgotten. It is essential that the aim of universal access to rapid broadband survives the 2013 election campaign.

Social media do bring communities back together again, and they can be communities of interest distributed around the world, as well as communities in the traditional geographical sense. I suspect no matter how far these technologies advance, there will never be a substitute for old fashioned face-to-face contact, but I do believe the existence of a global civil society is genuinely new; as we link up with people all around the world we will come to realise how much we have in common, and in troubled and uncertain times that can only be a good thing.

Senator Scott Ludlam is based in Fremantle, Western Australia. He is the Australian Greens Senator for Western Australia, and the Greens spokesperson for Communications, Infrastructure, Housing, Heritage, and Nuclear Policy.

He was elected at the 2007 Federal Election and has represented Western Australian since 1 July 2008. In that time he has been a strong advocate for improving communications infrastructure in Australia, affordable housing, and better public transport.

Readers are invited to continue the discussion on mandates for biofuel use on the Institute’s Ag Forum blog

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