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<update> Rudd's response/summary is here</update>

I was one of twenty people who subscribed to the Prime Minister's blog and commented on his climate change post that were selected 'randomly' to participate in a Web chat on the topic. While some have expressed some doubt about the randomness, my inclusion would seem to argue in its favour …

The raw transcript of the chat is here; Rudd has summarised the chat in an email to blog subscribers, but as yet I haven't found it on the web … will link here when I do. One of the participants has blogged it already (and notes Kevin Rudd's typing skills), as has Craig Thomler on his eGovAU blog.

My take?

First, given the low baseline, I'm reasonably happy with Rudd's attempts at 'social media' – it's a bit of a trick trying to keep a conversation with the nation's leader from getting out of hand, so I understand the restriction on participation, and the moderation. These are early steps, and I hope Rudd is watching the success of Kate Lundy's efforts in the same direction (although it's probably easier for Kate than Kevin, given the relative profiles/workloads!), because I think that direction will ultimately bring greater results.

Second, I was pleasantly surprised that the chat itself didn't descend into either a spin-fest or an all-out brawl – there were elements of contention (not a bad thing) and some 'party line' stuff from Kevin, but all in all it wasn't too problematic. Given the time limits, there were understandably some questions and statements "baked earlier", most of which were worthwhile and took advantage of the chat being recorded for later reference. Once those were out of the way, there was more of a discussion between the attendees, with Rudd manfully attempting to keep up, despite that lack of typing skill :).

Third, I think there were some good ideas surfaced, and I think Rudd can take a couple of things out of the discussion:

  • our performance/commitment at Copenhagen is symbolically important, and the outcomes from it are practically important
  • the necessity for action on climate change is not universally accepted in Australia
  • the arguments for taking action should focus more on benefits of a lower-carbon lifestyle, rather than the cost of the transition
  • the science is still important, but we know enough to justify action to reduce carbon emissions (this is probably the most contentious point of the discussion)

There are some criticisms:

  • as Graham Readfearn pointed out in a tweet today, Rudd avoided any discussion about coal
  • he seemed inclined to bring the discussion back to energy efficiency (possibly because that's where the Government has some stories to tell) – not a bad thing on its own, but the conversation covered much more ground than that
  • there has been some suggestion that the participation was weighted towards those who support action on climate change rather than sceptics – I don't know whether the "random" selection was, and I don't know what the proportion of sceptics to believers is in the general population, so I can't comment either way. What I do know is that my selection argues randomness, and there were sceptics involved, so it wasn't a "climate change love-in"


I will confess that I was as interested in the "open government", "social media" aspect of this chat as I was in the actual climate change discussion (I said I must have been a random inclusion!) – and I think it was a great attempt at opening up the conversation. Could it be better? Yes, but Rudd seems to realise that these are essential steps to remaining relevant to the public, and I hope he has been encouraged to take some further steps – my advice would be for him to talk to people like Pia Waugh (currently assisting Kate Lundy's effort), Stephen Collins, James Dellow, Craig Thomler and a bunch of people involved with the Gov2.0Australia discussion group.