Earlier this afternoon Western Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam resigned from his positions in the Australian senate and the Greens deputy leadership. The resignation came following the discovery that he had never formally renounced his New Zealand dual citizenship before running in the 2016 federal election. With Ludlam’s departure, the only voice the Australian games industry had in anything close to federal government is silenced.
For the last decade, the Australian games development scene has been kicked around by more than one government that hasn’t fully understood its true worth. Uninterested in technology, the arts or the jobs that are created in an industry with the kind of reach that games development has, the last two Coalition governments have worked quite hard to cut funding to the sector entirely and leave local devs scrambling to raise whatever capital they can to complete their projects. Prior to their ousting in 2013, the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments took steps to ensure the continued growth of the local games industry, only to have their mandates torn down around their ears by party infighting.
Ludlam has been a vocal proponent of the local games dev scene almost his entire political career. A prolific social media user, data privacy advocate and self-professed fan of tech, Ludlam went out of his way to seek the opinion of those closest to the industry to better know how he could help them. Imagine our collective astonishment when Ludlam would take the problems and concerns that were expressed to him, work with his team to formulate smart, innovative and cost-effective solutions on his own initiative and then take those solutions directly to the Senate floor. Whether his motions got up or not, it was just nice to know that we had someone who was willing to step up to the crease for us.
Ludlam’s dedication might seem like an outlandish concept in a country as politically jaded as Australia but, at least in the circles that Aussie video game devs and hobbyists run in, it was startling to see a politician that would hear people out and then visibly work to do something about it. As a subsection of the already neglected Australian entertainment industry, it was always a surprise to see that someone in government not only gave a shit about Australian devs, but never gave up on them either.
In 2017, Ludlam spearheaded one major gaming-focused initiative from within the Greens. Called Level Up WA: Our plan for the videogames industry, the initiative looked to follow the Victorian State government’s lead on sensible arts funding for independent Australian developers in Ludlam’s home state of Western Australia. The plan sought to reintroduce the Australian Interactive Games Fund (or AIGF), a program providing funding for smaller indie devs to help get their projects off the ground. The AIGF had been among a raft of arts funding scuppered in the 2015 Coalition budget.
His latest moment concerning video games policy, however, was a June 14 speech called Playing Games for 411 days, a direct prodding of Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield on his lack of response to a motion tabled by the Greens 411 days prior. The question was simple — Would you please tell us what you are planning to do to help the Australian video games industry grow? The Minister never responded. Ludlam had followed up on the issue several times without success, eventually convincing the Senate to move to have the Minister produce a report detailing their plans. Well over a year from the date the issue was originally tabled, the report had still failed to materialise. Ludlam took to the Senate floor to publicly and officially express his frustration. It was a moment that produced a lot of sombre nodding of heads, particularly throughout the local development scene — a reflection of the industry’s frustrations with the Coalition’s oblique approach to technological policy.
Ludlam appeared at consecutive PAX Australia conventions to sound out attendees on issues that concerned them directly. In 2014, he made a surprise appearance in the Diversity Lounge to talk about the government’s then fledgling plans to introduce data retention laws, a policy to which Ludlam remains fervent in his opposition.
In 2015, Ludlam wrote an op-ed for Kotaku Australia explaining his reasons for attending the show a second time, this time to talk about the dismay surrounding George Brandis’ then-recent gutting of the AIGF. At the same show, he appeared at a live game of the popular Australian RPG podcast Dragon Friends, playing Dungeons and Dragons with the cast. He returned again in 2016 to walk the Expo Hall floor and speak directly with developers in the PAX Rising indie pavillion.
How many other politicians do we have who are out here talking to people who love and make games, who is playing those games, seeing their worth and then going to bat for us? Literally no-one. There isn’t a single other politician in government or opposition today that is thinking about the things that Scott Ludlam has been thinking about. For those Australians who work every day to create art, labours of love specifically for others to enjoy, the significance of Ludlam standing up for us can’t be overstated. We’ve lost a valuable ally in the long fight for a fair go today.
While we’re sure we’ll see Mr. Ludlam making a ruckus in the not-for-profit sector before too long, we at The Iris would like to take a moment to thank him for everything he’s done for the Australian video games community during his tenure. We wish you well in whatever you choose to do next and sincerely look forward to seeing you as a punter at PAX Aus 2017. Don’t feel sad, be proud of what you accomplished, of your successes and your failures. And don’t think for a moment that you’ve let us down because you never, ever have. Find us at the show, friend, first beer’s on us.