Game over for Ludlam: What’s next for Australia’s video games industry?

Game over for Ludlam: What’s next for Australia’s video games industry?

A citizenship oversight has ended the career of a Senator regarded by many as a champion of Australia’s video games industry.

The sudden resignation of Greens Senator for Western Australia Scott Ludlam has been the subject of widespread reporting and commentary. Ludlam, who resigned from the Senate on 14 July, was the subject on everyone’s lips and on their computer and mobile screens. One group that was particularly downcast about the news was the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association. 

In a statement on their website, the IGEA described the news as “devastating” and praised the Senator’s work on behalf of Australia’s games industry.

“Scott Ludlam was undoubtedly the biggest advocate for the video games development industry in Australia,” the statement read.

“His effort and relentlessness was second-to-none. At every opportunity possible, he always strived to support the industry.”

 “From pushing a Senate inquiry into video game development, to keeping the Government accountable for its late response to the report, to liaising and speaking with stakeholders on a frequent basis, he wanted nothing more to see the industry prosper in Australia.”

Ludlam, who left Palmerston North in New Zealand at age three and settled in Australia when he was nine, had failed to renounce his New Zealand citizenship. The Australian Constitution forbids any parliamentarian from holding allegiance to another country, including through citizenship. According to the former Senator, the failure to renounce his New Zealand citizenship was an oversight on his part.

“I was naturalised when I was in my mid-teens and assumed that was the end of my New Zealand citizenship,” he said in a statement.

“I have no wish to draw out the uncertainty or to create a lengthy legal dispute, particularly when the Constitution is so clear.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull did not readily accept Ludlam’s explanation, suggesting that it was “remarkable” that he had stayed in the Senate so long.

Fighting for the games industry

Scott Ludlam was first elected to the Senate in the 2007 election, starting his six year term in July 2008. When he became the Greens spokesperson for Communications in 2011, he began a period of advocacy for the games industry that channeled a long held interest in videogames. When Hyper asked Ludlam where his interest in the games industry stemmed from during a 2016 interview, he pointed to his own history as a gamer himself, dating back to when he played David Braben’s elite which he last played “in about 1986.”

“I’m fascinated by the medium as a new artform,” he said. “These are storytelling tools that put you in the story in a new way, and I think we’re only just at the beginning.” The establishment of a Senate Inquiry into Australia’s videogame design industry was a major milestone for Ludlam, as he was one of the Senators who had pushed for it. Throughout early 2016, the inquiry conducted public hearings and took submissions. As a substitute member for Senator Larissa Waters, Ludlam was active in this process.

When the inquiry presented its final report on 29 June 2016, it revealed itself to be one of very few to reach unanimous recommendations, such as the recommendation that the government start a new subsidy for Australian companies to make videogames, similar to the previous Interactive Games Fund. This, Ludlam told Hyper earlier this year, was due to efforts of all inquiry members to “buy in”

“I was pleased and it was very rare that you get a report like that handed down with everybody in strong agreement,” Senator Ludlam said.

“It becomes less of a surprise (that there was consensus) because the industry put on a really, really good story. People like Tony Reed and Ron Curry and others who just put a really good case forward that the industry was worthy of support, both from a digital arts kind of artistic perspective and also from an industry and economic perspective.”

With the government yet to officially respond to the report more than a year after it was handed down, Ludlam continued to rally around it. In an early June Senate Estimates session, he pressed Communications Minister Mitch Fifeld as to why the government had delayed its response, a line of questioning that revealed that a draft response is currently sitting on the Minister’s desk. At the time of writing, it has not yet been publicly released.

The future

With Scott Ludlam now gone from Parliament, a number of questions remain about who will fill the void-both in terms of the Senate spot he held and his advocacy efforts. Complicating matters is that the Court of Disputed Returns needs to determine whether or not Ludlam’s departure opens a casual vacancy, meaning that his own party, the Greens, will be able to fill the spot. Meanwhile, the IGEA is concerned that the industry will lose representation with Ludlam’s departure.

“With Ludlam gone, it feels like it is going to make things more difficult for the games industry,” the IGEA statement read, “whether it’s trying to get some form of Federal Government support for games development, such as funding or tax breaks, or even just getting the Government to recognise games as a legitimate industry.”

In parliament, the task of pushing for these causes will now fall heavier on the shoulders of other parliamentarians who are passionate about the plight and potential of Australia’s videogames industry. There are some signs that some remain who will take up this burden. In June, a House of Representatives committee recommended that the government start a new fund similar to the Interactive Games Fund. Labor’s Terri Butler was the inquiry’s Deputy Chair. Ms Butler told the House of Representatives “At the time [that the scheme was cut], I spoke out against those cuts and I am pleased that this report recommends the reinstatement of that scheme”. If Australia’s videogames industry is to gain traction in Canberra after Ludlam’s exit, more of this speaking out will be needed.   

Copyright © Hyper Magazine. All rights reserved.

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