The political guide to the internet

It is crucial that all Australians can access political news, information and a range of views. But a content analysis of Australian newspapers found that some of the most popular newspapers devote less than ten per cent of their space to political news.

On commercial TV, the situation is even worse. Executives fear that any more than a few minutes of political coverage in each nightly news bulletin will turn off those viewers who just want to get to the sports coverage! This means that political comment is often reduced to just a sound-bite each from the major party leaders.

To put this into some perspective, consider these figures:

During an election campaign:

  • only 5% of Australian will attend a political meeting or rally in their life
  • only 16% will pay a 'good deal' of attention to newspaper or radio reports about the election
  • more (26%) will follow the election campaign on TV

On the Internet:

  • 50% of Australians who have access to the Internet won't use it to get news or information about the election campaign
  • 10% will use the Internet to search for information on the election campaign (but half of these will only search once or twice)

This tends to confirm what an experienced political pollster recently estimated – that only around 10% of the population in Australia takes an active interest in politics.

But an election campaign tends to separate the people who have a very keen interest in politics (often called 'political junkies' in the US, or 'political tragics') from those who are less keen, but still interested, in politics. So the situation is not quite as bad as it might seem at first glance. Outside of an election campaign, 49% of Australians report using the Internet to get information about politics or issues in the news, and 51% have looked on government websites.

The glass is both half-full and half-empty: it's encouraging that half of the population has looked up political, government or news websites, but it's also vital that we expand these numbers.

The amount of space and time that's devoted to politics in mainstream media outlets in Australia is not nearly enough and could shrink even further as media ownership becomes more concentrated.

The ability to go online for political information is an important alternative and the creation of new media options that focus on political news, views and information should be celebrated.

So to mark the beginning of New Matilda, and in the spirit of surveying the field (and hopefully creating more political tragics), I offer below a guide to what I think are the best top 40 political websites on Australian politics—starting with the newest major player.

With some of these sites, you can bypass media accounts and go straight to the source. Others will give you news, opinions or information, encourage discussion, let you have your say, or raise a chuckle.The sites are broadly listed in category order (rather than order of recommendation).

Although it is a long list, it is by no means comprehensive. There are many other sites that could go on here and this one undoubtedly reflects my own political interests and tastes. (The usual disclaimer to Internet sites applies: the addresses were current at the time of listing them; listing a site doesn't mean that I approve of its content; and I don't accept responsibility for information or services on any of the sites listed.)

Not satisfied with sound-bites? Can't get enough of politics? Want more?

1. New Matilda promises to sing a 'different tune' than the mainstream media. A weekly online magazine that starts up on 25 August, it promises to include independent political commentary and encourage public participation.

2. If you want to know when the 2004 election will be, The Poll Bludger has some clues:

3. The ABC's Australia Votes: Election 2004 site is a vital resource for any serious election watcher:

If you want to start with a general guide to Australian politics first
4. This is very comprehensive:

5. This guide is a bit lighter and has some fun bits:

6. For insider gossip and behind-the-scenes political information, Crikey is controversial, sometimes breaks stories and is often compared to the US Drudge Report.,

7. For a healthy dose of online opinion and debate:

8. The Parliamentary website is a must if you just love reading Hansard transcripts, want to read your MP's biography or see what our politicians do at work:

9. Want to talk to your MP? (Bear in mind though that not all of them are internet-friendly. Studies have shown that some don't respond in a timely fashion or even at all!):

Bypassing the media: the best government sites

10. The gateway to government information

11. If you can't get enough of Dorothy Dixers and the drama of Question Time, you can watch live broadcasts of Parliament:

If you find media accounts too brief, these next two sites are where you can read what the party leaders' have to say uneditorialised and in full. These are the sites that many media accounts draw on and if you read these throughout the day, you'll probably know more than is contained in the average news report on Australian politics.

12. Often the TV news snippets of John Howard come directly from a news crew filming his radio interviews and talkback appearances. On his PM site you can read transcripts of what he said in those interviews as well as all of his speeches, other media interviews and press releases:

13. Even without the extensive media monitoring resources of public office, transcripts of interviews and press releases are also available from the Opposition:

14. If you want to find out who the parties' other constituents are – their financial backers – you can look up who donates to the political parties here (new annual disclosures are released every year on 1 February):

15. If you'd like to check that you are enrolled to vote and your details are up-to-date:

Political party sites

There's obviously the major parties

16. The ALP

17. The Liberals

18. But there are many more. For a full list of Australian political parties:

19. If you want to jog your memory about what the parties were promising last time around, the National Library has an electronic archive (called Pandora). You can look back on what specific candidates or parties said in 2001: Advocacy (anti-Howard government) sites

Following in the tradition of Mike Moore in the US but also the use of anti-government websites in Australia (such as the Victorian site, there are two major sites already up which are critiquing the Howard government:

20. established by Margo Kingston following on from her best-selling book of the same name.

21. a controversial site which has made the news over allegations that it is in breach of election laws and questions about whether it was associated with the Labor Party. Research

22. Want to study politics at university?

23. If you'd like to talk to some real political tragics, you can find a political scientist either through their university (go to the website above) or through their professional body:

24. If you want to see whether Australia is really as democratic as we'd like to think, check out:

25. Want to know what your fellow citizens are thinking? Aside from the opinion polls which flood out mainstream media accounts of elections, the Australian Election Study is a long-term study conducted after every election since 1987. It has detailed surveys of political behaviour and attitudes (including the figures listed at the start of this article). The 2001 results available from:

26. Want to get an historical context and impress people with your knowledge of Australian Prime Ministers?

27. A psephologist's dream site. For all the numbers, statistics and pendulums:

Want to see what other countries are having elections and how Australia compares?

Interest groups

30. Want to find pressure groups, lobby groups or NGOs?

31. Want to be one of the 5% who attend political meetings? The Australian Fabian Society is one of the few organisations left that hosts regular events and discussion nights that you can actually, physically, go to and converse with fellow political junkies: sites

32. The morning paper is out of date by mid-morning. Get updates all day from their websites. You can find online Australian newspapers from here

33. If you don't have time to read all the papers in the country but want to see how (or whether) a newspaper is covering a specific topic or story that you're interested in, try the search facility on the parliamentary website (select the 'media' collection if you just want media items). A fantastic resource that is always remarkably up-to-date.

34. Want to avoid the mainstream media entirely? Try

35. Want to hear about the issues that go on behind the news? The Media Report is on the radio weekly and transcripts are available from here:

36. Keep up to date with political news, listen in or get full transcripts of some of the most important agenda-setting political programs on the ABC such as AM, PM and Lateline:

Have some fun

37. Take a quiz to see which party suits you best:

38. From the team behind CNNNN, The Chaser News

Still hungry?

39. This site has enough links to keep political junkies happy for a while:

40. This site has political resources on the internet sorted by country:

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