Senator Scott Ludlam at The Fifth Estate’s Sustainability Salon.

On what Scott Ludlam told us about his viral video and what it tells us about the New Feds

6 March 2014 — When we started a phone interview with Senator Scott Ludlam at mid-afternoon on Thursday, a video of his final speech to the Senate ahead of the half-senate election in WA on 5 April, had received 280,000 hits. By the time we posted the article, it was far more.

So what’s going on?

Ludlam says that perhaps he just got lucky.

The short seven-minute video shows something else. Ludlam isn’t just economical with words: he’s deadly.

There’s also the intriguing manner: calm, considered. The voice is soft and the tone soothing, one that could never frighten the mums and dads watching the evening news.

But listen to the words and contrast the power of their meaning with the delivery.

Ludlam is devastating in the way he pings the current federal government for a series of destructive actions on climate change, housing, transport, but providing a “blank cheque” for culling sharks.

Some of the impact has hit the property industry hard and Ludlam, as we discovered in our Perth and WA Sustainability Salon, is closer to understanding the property industry than probably any other federal politician. He’s campaigned back-to-back with the Property Council on numerous issues such as the cities agenda, transport, housing and planning.

So what’s been the reaction to the video?

Ludlam says: “The single most interesting reaction, apart from the scale, is the number of people sharing to friends and family, prefacing the video with, ‘I’m not a Green but you should have a look at this.’

“I didn’t set out to make a Greens statement. It came very much from the heart about the direction this country’s been taken. If anything, I’ve been really encouraged it’s spread across political lines; it gives me hope.”

But why does he think it went viral? Some observers have suggested it could have the impact of the misogyny speech by Julia Gillard, which has unleashed a slow-burning storm of reaction from women across the nation.

Ludlam says maybe he just got lucky. But others have suggested it could be a tipping point.

Certainly there’s a lot of anger, he says.

“We’ve not seen in my political experience this degree of aggression and extremism in the Prime Minister’s office. There are Liberal members who would rather see Malcolm Turnbull as PM; there are Labor members who wonder when Labor will stop sulking and be an effective Opposition; and there are others who can’t be bothered with any of it.

“So in a sense there’s a great variety [of frustration] across the political spectrum. Maybe I just got lucky and said what a lot of people are thinking.”

Ludlam thinks one of the biggest problem the government has is its apparent confusion between what’s okay in opposition and what’s okay in government.

Among the biggest mis-steps here is to continue to blame nearly every economic problem on the carbon tax, which was a highly effective strategy in opposition, he says.

That seems apparent from the roll of companies that have announced closures in Australia but which pointedly said this was not the result of the carbon tax. The latest in this line up is Qantas. But news this week embarrassingly suggested that the Treasurer Joe Hockey had bullied Qantas into placing at least some of the blame for its plan to slash 5000 jobs on the carbon tax.

The carbon tax furphy is “government by deception”, Ludlam says. “They got away with it in opposition because everything they did at that stage was hypothetical.”

With a “backdrop of thousands of people thrown out of work”, it no longer works.

“You can’t govern a country of 22 million people by slogan.”

And the slogan that the carbon tax is at the root of all problems is “becoming inconvenient and starting to make them look like idiots”.

Ludlam’s fan club is growing. And in the most unlikely places. In a Reddit online social network AMA or “ask me anything” forum on Wednesday night more than 1000 tech-savvy people left questions and comments for the senator.

Ludlam said the IT community was now turning up the dial in its reaction to the growing authoritarianism of the government, especially in the Attorney General’s office where “anything can be kept secret and anything can be perpetrated as long as the words ‘national security’ is used”.

But Labor, too, is annoying people by not taking up the fight on refugees for instance and by comprising their position on climate change, Ludlam says.

“People are looking for new directions and to do something fresh.”

This will play into the built environment space, he thinks. The big issues that the federal government has pulled back on: a cities agenda, infrastructure, housing and transport, are precisely the issues that people want to become involved on and get action.

The ditching of the Major Cities Unit, he says, is “dumbfounding”.

Canberra is also proposing to legislate to compromise the independence of the Infrastructure Australia and subject it to political interference, he says.

“It sends shudders through the community and sends backwards long term projects worth billions of dollars with very long life spans”.

Ludlam says it’s hard to see what’s going on with these issues or why the big pull back. But with coal and gas it’s much more straight forward.

“The Libs and Nationals take very substantial donations from coal and gas so their advocacy is now driving policy and unfortunately in a state like WA it’s a similar priority.”

The renewable energy sector is now a real threat to the fossil fuel industries and is seen as a direct competitor.

“All this talk of deregulation and free markets is turned inside out when it’s proposed to pull apart the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and to hobble the [renewable energy] sector.

“It’s simply a protection racket.”

Emissions Reduction Fund

The proposed Emissions Reduction Fund is not hitting the right note with the banks either. The property industry’s hope is that financiers will jump in to help aggregate programs that take a while to pay back, but that’s a hope that’s fading fast. Among the complaints is that the five-year time period of the ERF is not long enough.

The big concern though, in Ludlam’s view, is that the ERF is designed by people who “don’t care if it works or not”.

Other big issues, he says, include the ditching of a housing minister, “capitulation” on transport and energy and abandonment of a program for homelessness.

“We’re nowhere on housing,” he says.

“It’s one thing for the property sector to lose that centre of gravity provided by the Major Cities Unit but another for a person on the edge of homelessness to know there is no service to help them.”

So will Scott Ludlam win his seat back in the half Senate election for WA?

According to political observers this week Labor looks set to shore up votes for more than two seats while the Greens can manage less than one. With Labor announcing it will preference independents instead of the Greens, that leaves Ludlam in a very vulnerable position.

But after this week, that might not be so sure.

See the full transcript and video:

By the way the video hits are now at 344,881 as of 6.21 pm

If you want an update, better go live, here.

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