When the press conference was called on Friday, immediate expectations were that Greens Senator Scott Ludlam would be there to slam the government’s announced plans to crack down on encrypted communications.
The issue is entirely in Ludlam’s wheelhouse, and no one in the Parliament is better across technology issues, and how they intersect with national security and surveillance than Ludlam. But the “important announcement” in the media alert seemed more ominous than usual, and late on Friday afternoon, from his home town in Perth, Ludlam announced he was resigning immediately after he discovered he never gave up his New Zealand citizenship before running for Parliament, thus making him ineligible to be a senator under the constitution.
“It’s a thing,” Ludlam tweeted, much to the derision of some of the older press gallery journalists who claimed it showed Ludlam wasn’t taking it seriously. “Only a Green could tweet his resignation from parliament like this,” Tony Wright said.
You mean, like a person who uses the internet and isn’t a personality-free politician?
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Since entering Parliament in 2008, Ludlam campaigned on many of the Greens’ heartland issues — environmental conservation, indigenous land rights and action on climate change — but what set Ludlam apart from the rest was his understanding of technology issues, and the internet.
Back in 2008, Ludlam was one of the few politicians to call the then-Rudd government’s proposed mandatory internet filter what it was: censorship. From there, he made a name for himself on tech issues, from the NBN to mandatory data retention and the crack down on piracy. He has been a thorn in the side of both of the major political parties when they have attempted to pursue anti-technology policies. You only need to see Attorney-General George Brandis’ comments on Ludlam’s resignation on the weekend to see that he got under the government’s skin:
“Now, you know Mr Ludlam was a very ungracious colleague, he was extremely mean spirited I might say towards Bob Day when Bob Day fell into Section 44 problems, so I don’t think we should shed too many tears over the consequences of Mr Ludlam’s own negligence.”
Ludlam has been Julian Assange’s staunchest advocate in Parliament, and Assange has been tweeting his support for Ludlam in the days since his resignation.
A video of Ludlam welcoming then-prime minister Tony Abbott to WA in early 2014 as Ludlam fought for his political life in the WA Senate election re-do (which he ended up winning) has close to 1 million views on YouTube.
Unfortunately, Ludlam departs at a time when — it appears from the lack of detail given — the government appears intent on legislating maths and cracking down on encryption. And, not wanting to be wedged on national security, Labor again appears intent on waving the legislation through Parliament, as it did with mandatory data retention (albeit with journalist warrants the AFP have already ignored).
“I don’t accept the proposition that it’s too hard for internet companies to co-operate with security officials to try and keep Australians safe,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said on Friday.
It seems an unusual oversight that Ludlam — who has lived in Western Australia since the age of eight — had failed to check his citizenship, particularly when the matter has come up with other members of Parliament in the past. If one good thing comes from Ludlam’s departure, it is that it could lead to a complete audit of candidates when they run for Parliament. And, oddly, it forced Tony Abbott on Friday to clear up a long-running internet conspiracy that the former PM had failed to give up his British citizenship. Not that the more hardline theorists believe the documentation, but still, it is interesting that Abbott sought the documentation in January 2015 (curiously weeks before Labor MP Terri Butler wrote to Abbott asking him about the matter) but didn’t publish it at the time.
Other MPs will probably be at least checking that they’ve renounced their dual citizenships in the coming weeks before Parliament returns in early August.