The History of Strategic Non-Parliamentary Political Commuication

The History of Strategic Non-parliamentary Political Communication in Australia 1960-2004
The well-documented rise of image politics and media spin within the major political parties communication methods is weakening established democratic relations. With the growing importance of media within politics, there is also increasing attention to political communication by other political actors, such as lobby groups and non-government organisations. This study will chart the evolution of non-major-party political communication within Australia with the goal of developing a typology of tactics utilised (communicated through a book and online archive). Innovation in political communication by non-government groups is reanimating the Australian democracy through a series of highly persuasive communication tactics.

Community organisations with limited budgets who aspire to convey their concerns to broad constituencies often have to contend with large media organisations with equally large fees for service. This enquiry into the history of political communication within Australia by non-major-party political organisations will reveal how many of Australia’s most persuasive community organisations, embedded within significant new social movements, have communicated within the public sphere. The findings of this research, that will present some notable case studies utilising significant post-war media artefacts, will be a vital resource for those involved in the community sector or for those with an interest in shifting democratic power relationships.

With an emphasis on exploring the historical significance of non-parliamentary political communication (in terms of technical and tactical innovation and in terms of historically locating the political efficacy of their innovations within the broader media and political system), this project will chart the political course of a number of groups within five new social movements through the lens of their communication strategies. The social movements are, 1) Workers Rights, 2) Gay Rights, 3) Aboriginal Rights, 4) the Green Movement, and 5) the Anti-Corporate Globalisation Movement. These social movements are worth studying because they all went on to have significant lasting impacts on Australias political and social system. They offer a wide historical span and are not just event specific as the Anti-Vietnam movement and are fertile ground to purposely sample the communication methods utilised within them. Given the mounting emphasis on media within politics, this is a timely project to understanding the contribution that lobbying makes within an increasing asymmetrical political communication system.


To analyse the evolution of the lobbying and communication tactics utilised within social movements in Australia in the post-war period. This history is underrepresented in the history of political communication and a historical typology is yet to be devised and fully examined. Archival historical research (policy documents, newspapers, and communication artefacts), coupled with eighty oral interviews, will uncover the trends in non-parliamentary political communication, gauge its changing power relationships within the broader media and government, and will contribute to our understanding of the tactics used by non-major-party political actors within our present communication system. The major component of the research will be presented as a scholarly book of approximately two hundred and fifty pages in length that will be divided into chapters that reflect the typologies devised and examined.

To create a permanent body of five hundred significant examples of non-parliamentary political communication within an inventive online knowledge space. The digital artefacts will include historical descriptions, as well as the ability to be searched and rearranged within the analytical typologies examined. The artefacts will also be contextualised evocatively by oral history recordings and transcripts.

In recent decades, democratic processes have become increasingly mediated by and dependent upon the electronic and print media. This poses many challenges for democratic participation in the public sphere, as our political communication system is increasingly being manipulated by elite political and media insiders to advance their own influential positions and wealth. As Sally Young points out in her recent history of political advertising in Australia, the big media spenders are undermining democratic processes by advancing a system where costly media gloss campaigns for elected positions are actually becoming more persuasive than the particular policies, ideologies, and party affiliation of the candidate or incumbent. Thus democratic power relations are shifting from a seemingly transparent parliamentary process to a backroom media manipulation process increasingly removed from the Australian voter. This poses great challenges for the electorate as well as for the non-major parties, non-government organisations, and lobby groups who wish to drive, or participate in public debate. Media advertising is expensive, especially with television (the most important political communication medium), and many political groups, unable to participate on economic grounds, have thus developed their own means of communication. It is this surprisingly little known history of past strategies and an emergent fundamental engine room within the Australian democracy that this research seeks to explain.

The aims of the project are:

1) To research the communication tactics of non-major party political groups in Australia and create and examine an historical typology.
2) To research the role of political communication within social movements and in particular its contribution to: a) agenda setting in the major-media, and b) policy formation.
3) To research the evolution of non-parliamentary political communication within the broader history of political communication and its regulatory framework.

Non-Parliamentary political communication and technological innovation:
In his history of technology in the evolution of political power, Bruce Bimber justly points out that political communication is intimately connected to the history of technological innovation in mass communication. Political actors have always adapted the communication mechanism at their disposal whether it be radio, television, newspapers or the Internet. Recent innovations in information and communication technologies (ICTs) are no exception and have been a catalyst for the rise of trans-national mechanisms of communication that can obviate the traditional geographical boundaries of political communication. The geographically bound political community is now augmented by a dialogue that transcends place and encompasses networks of groups and individuals that may share common political aspirations and identities. Newer technologies have provided the opportunity for the grouping of trans-class and trans-national constituencies such as the recent anti-corporate globalisation movement.

New social movements and political communication
New social movements have been one of the most powerful non-parliamentary political actors in the post-war period and offer a fertile historical site to explore the ascent of non-parliamentary political communication within the Australian political communication system. Since the rise of the new social movements in the early 1960s, through movements such as gay liberation, the green movement, the womens movement, and Aboriginal rights, social movements have become an important way in which broader democratic processes are imbued by progressive community concerns. Many fledgling social movements have later become politically powerful institutionalised discourses, such as the green movement, womens rights and indigenous politics. The considerable political trajectory of social movements and their intrinsic communication tactics is often disregarded in the broader study of our political communication system.

Research questions directly addressed by this project include:

1) How have groups within new social movements evolved their communication strategies overtime through utilising the communication technologies at their disposal?

2) What is the relationship of non-parliamentary political communication to broader media-agenda-setting and the formation of government policy?

3) How has the remarkable growth in digital technologies since the 1980s changed the political communication strategies of groups within new social movements and to what ends?

Just like the major political parties, political actors on the margins of the political mainstream have been required to play the media game to further their political objectives. Many groups have influenced broader political decision making processes through communication tactics that have set a political agenda then pursued by the mainstream media or within the parliamentary system.

Another illustrative example is the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and their use of wilderness photography in the Franklin Dam campaign in Tasmania in the 1980s. Through a combination of protest, political advertising, and intense political lobbying the Tasmanian Wilderness Society spearheaded a campaign that resulted in the halting of the controversial Franklin River dam.

Through political communication tactics such as this one, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society altered the popular notion of wilderness from an exploitable and undervalued badland to one of essential natural inheritance. I will offer analysis of the Wilderness Societys political communication methods and (through a combination of oral interviews and archival research) assess their relationship to broader major-media agenda setting and influence upon policy formation.

1) Research: Agenda Setting and Policy Formation

The initial research for this project will involve the examination of the communication methods used within a number of highly persuasive lobby groups within new social movements (such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, and the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group).

I plan to interview eighty individuals that encompass the broad political spectrum and diverse communication methods. I will interview leading government policy advisors and journalists and editors in the major media as well as the activists themselves.

This method will uncover trends in political communication processes that can be historically assessed in terms of their impact upon media-agenda-setting and on government policy formation. For instance; what role did non-parliamentary political communication strategies play in Tasmanian Gay Law Reform How effective were the communication tactics at agenda setting in the broader media and what were the policy outcomes (We can historically assess the policy outcomes and media-agenda-setting tactics through archival research, oral interviews, and media research).

What can this tell us about the nature of non-parliamentary political communication and its evolving role within the broader political communication system?

2) Technology Research: An online searchable typology

A key outcome of this research project is the formulation of an online archive of five hundred significant examples of non-parliamentary political communication within Australia. This digital component, separate to the book, will be a vital element, locating the primary evidence for the books thesis. The site will exemplify contemporary publishing innovations within the humanities through drawing upon best practice in the field of humanities computing (and other digital preservation investigations within agencies such as the National Library of Australia, the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia, the Victorian State Library, and the Science and Technology Heritage Centre at the University of Melbourne). The scholarly exploration and implementation of online publishing standards will insure that the objects collected will be freely available to a broad public indefinitely. This project is innovative; it combines both the traditional academic codex with newer elements of electronic expression. The site will be searchable and re-arrangeable by the non-parliamentary political communication typologies generated through the research. One software tool that has been successfully applied to a number of heritage projects and will be adaptable to the needs of this project was developed within the Arts Faculty at the University of Melbourne.

The significance of non-parliamentary political communication within the study of the Australia political system has been underestimated because its political efficacy has been down played. In his seminal study of the French Enlightenment, The Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France 1769-1789, Robert Darnton analysed the illegal books and literature of pre-revolutionary France. . Through a critical historical distance, Darnton placed this political communication within a centre of historical significance. Similarly (if a lot less revolutionary), the history of non-parliamentary political communication in modern Australia is important simply because many of the original goals of this communication have now become the political staples of the major parties (such as environmentalism and arguments over indigenous rights). In all forms of political communication, the foremost evaluation of historical significance is its historically-measurable, political efficacy; these outcomes have been overlooked in recent studies of political communication.

A permanent (hypertextual) record
There are certain advantages in the approach presented, as it is the first time that a typology of significant non-parliamentary political communication methods has been devised and offered in Australia. And it is the first time that it has been offered online. By placing the material online in this way, the user of the site is encouraged to view the material from multiple perspectives so that they can find their own narrative explanations within them. History is not simply about facts and dates, but requires the ability to conceptualise historical events from multiple perspectives so as to reveal the complex web of relationships within them. For example:

  • How do groups within new social movements inform one another, when do they work in isolation and what common political efficacy can be determined through historical research?

A user of the site will be able to explore this question through the technical framework that I have constructed. They may find, for instance, that there are a lot of similarities between the particular political advertising approaches of gay and Aboriginal rights campaigners. A digital resource can be categorised in such as way (through metadata) that it can be searched and rearranged for comparative and contingent historical research. This reveals some of the processes of historical research and knowledge construction in the humanities (and does not suggest that historical knowledge is advanced in a simplistic, linear way).

Smart Information use
As previously stated, the project will create a permanent body of material online that will be freely available to future researchers of political communication within Australia (within searchable typologies). The results of the project will remain as recognition of the important contribution that groups within new social movements have made to Australian democracy. I will also investigate scholarly editing practices illustrating the potential of high quality electronic scholarship within the humanities.

Within the humanities our major concerns are discoveries in the techniques for long term preservation of digital objects, access to and categorisation of our common digital heritage, cognitive innovation, and the promotion and sharing of our academic energies. The advantages offered in a hybrid project such as this one are that it expands our communication potential through a deliberate attempt to explore an historical question that cannot be adequately expressed through the implementation of one medium alone. It uses the very media that forms part of the object of research.

Social movements, oral interviews, artefacts, archival research, and policy formation: A holistic approach
Social movements have been described as communities of the oppressed, threatened or disadvantaged that have as a goal to defeat or transform the institutions or values of society. Interior to this definition is the actual political communication methods used to facilitate change. Political communication may manifest in symbolic forms of demonstration designed to attract the attention of journalists or through a political message expressed through a particular medium. The political message may be directed at changing a policy, value, or mechanism of distributing economic wealth or political power.

I propose to interview eighty people from key groups within five post-war social movements, along with policy makers and media professionals. I will interview the leaders of social movements (those who ran the communication strategies of groups within them), and leading government officials and media professionals. This will reveal the broad scope of political tactics used as well as reveal some of the power relationships between the various communities of interest. I will also gather five hundred examples of political communication compiled from the interviews and analyse them according to a theoretically informed thematic analysis derived from a combination of policy and media agenda-setting research. This will reveal the complex relationship of a number of post-war social movements (and their communication approaches), to the broader media and the political communication system. The interviews will form a valuable archival collection in their own right, which I will give to the National Library of Australia after the completion of the project.

I propose that the political communication strategies (of key activist groups) within five of the major post-war new social movements be examined. They include:

1. Workers Rights (Victorian Trade Hall)
2. Gay Rights (Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, Aids Action Council of the ACT).
3. Aboriginal Rights (Land rights groups).
4. The Green Movement (Friends of the Earth, Green Peace, the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Sydney Greens).
5. The Anti-corporate Globalisation Movement. (Pegasus Networks and The authors of

Print Media
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