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OLO: here's to the next ten years

By Graham Young - posted Monday, 6 April 2009


Any journal can do a retrospective. I've seen plenty of them. But On Line Opinion doesn’t aspire to be just "any journal", so to celebrate our tenth birthday we've decided to do a prospective.

It doesn’t seem like ten years since I sent out an email to my 20 best friends asking whether anyone was interested in setting-up a new journal. In fact, that was probably ten-and-a-half years ago.

Lionel Hogg was the only one who said "Yes", and we then spent some months talking about what an Internet journal should do that a traditional hardcopy one couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

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At last we decided that talk was one thing, but talk informed by practice was much better, and that called for an action research project. We decided to "just do it". So in April 1999 On Line Opinion was born, published using a laptop and Microsoft FrontPage from a location in Coorparoo not too far from where I am writing this.

The first edition consisted of six articles by Bryan Horrigan , Chris Sidoti, David Moore, Nick Ferrett, Everald Compton and me. Three of the articles centred around the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Bush Talks, starting our tradition of features where writers take a variety of opposing positions. The other two were about the future.

Everald Compton wrote about his vision for an inland railway, 10 years on seemingly no closer to fruition, while Bryan Horrigan made 10 predictions about Native Title law.

These last two were emblematic of the fact that we didn’t just want to ventilate current arguments, but to start new ones about what might happen before other media had become interested in them.

So it is only appropriate that in our tenth year we invite contributors (of whom there have been a total of 3,071 to date) to make predictions for the future.

It is also fairly brave, as who, looking forward in 1999, would have predicted where we would be today.

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1999 was the year after Pauline Hanson's One Nation won 22.7% of the vote in the previous Queensland election making it the second biggest political party in the state. In fact, while I did predict that One Nation would burn out, this win was one of the catalysts for initiating OLO as it seemed to me that some Australians were being undeservedly marginalized in debate. The result of this marginalization was movements like One Nation. We wanted a journal where anyone, no matter what their philosophy, could publish, believing that robust debate is the best way of dealing with wrong beliefs.

Will there be another One Nation in the next ten years? I don’t think so, although no-one could have predicted One Nation even a year before it happened, let alone ten. But what I do think we will see in the next ten years is the continuing growth of Independents. This will be as a result of the decline in the standard of candidate selected by the major parties, as well as the network opportunities offered by the Internet. Organisations like GetUp are just the beginning.

GetUp demonstrates that the long tail can be leveraged by gathering a left-leaning disenfranchised demographic together and giving them a much stronger and focused political voice. The next innovation, which has occurred in the US, but not yet here, will be to turn this into actual representation in legislatures, most probably through the opportunities provided by upper houses.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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