Cool newcomer. Rising talent. That’s Greens Senator Scott Ludlam as described by Crikey’s Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane last year. He’s right, too.

Yesterday I explained how Senator Stephen Conroy popped out of his lair, announced (some of) the ISPs in the internet “filtering” trials, and scurried away — leaving everyone’s questions unanswered. Perhaps he hoped the story would be buried by discussions of bushfires and the stimulus package. But no.

In an op-ed piece for ABC News yesterday, Senator Ludlam nailed why. “The interwebs never sleep,” he reminds us.

Within minutes of Conroy’s 5.25pm media release, Twitter was, well, a’twitter with speculation and then analysis. Within hours, without any central control, a consensus emerged about what the choice of ISPs meant. With its focus on small business-oriented ISPs, the trials won’t reflect the realities of home internet usage, and the government can string out the process just a little bit longer.

“Senator Conroy is trapped by something akin to a virtual hydra,” writes Ludlam.

“Every time he ‘responds’ to one piece of criticism, numerous other more refined, more powerful and more targeted arguments arise from all sides.”

To paraphrase The Guardian’s social media strategist Meg Pickard, who spoke in Sydney last week, the audience is now smarter than you are because they have more time and there’s more of them.

Government ministers no longer own the conversation. Nor does anyone else, for that matter. While Senator Conroy may assert that “the Government does not view this debate as an argument about freedom of speech”, no-one actually cares what the government’s view is. The conversation has its own life. And Conroy has bailed out. He’s ceded the field.

“He’s acquiesced his leadership role in this debate, relegating himself to the status of a mere observer, allowing his critics to run the show,” says network engineer Mark Newton, one of Conroy’s most credible and persistent critics.

“I couldn’t care less what Conroy does next, because he’s an irrelevant loser in the wider context of this debate … Every time he’s [made public statements] he’s inevitably been embarrassed by the responses of an army of online correspondents who have fact-checked him into oblivion.”

Conroy, who’s presumably used to getting his own way as a Labor Right head-kicker, has sulked off to his room, slammed shut the door, turned up the music REALLY LOUD AND I HOPE YOU WILL ALL JUST GO AWAY GO AWAY GO AWAY I HATE YOU!

Conroy’s left his poor media advisor (who I’m reliably informed is a nice guy who deserves better) to post the passive-aggressive notes on the fridge — sorry, to answer all questions by copying and pasting boilerplate from the media release.

Not a good look.

Not what you’d call “leadership”.

Not what you’d call “being in control of the issue”.

I’m guessing Senator Conroy is secretly very happy that the Great Imploding Opposition is providing a useful distraction from his own performance. For now.

Meanwhile that Greens senator bloke is making sense, eh?

“We’re all in vociferous agreement about what won’t work. But what will? Can this enormously empowered campaign speak with one cogent voice about what we’re for?” he asks.

“How do we empower parents … and law enforcement agencies…? Is there a way to adequately prepare children to understand other threats such as cyber-bullying, without asphyxiating the greatest information sharing tool in history?”

Any suggestions, Senator Conroy?

You’ll have to come out of there eventually, Senator.

Peter Fray

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