Questions around Dotcom party

MARIA SLADE
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2014

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OPINION: Seeing Kim Dotcom's rotund face filling the back of a bus is an alarming way to start a day.

But there the internet gazillionaire was, gazing out with a comical expression and proffering a gerbera as hapless commuters sat in the traffic this week.

Dotcom has made an album, you see. In fact, the controversial German has been very busy of late.

His album Good Times (described by Gizmodo.com.au reviewer Jack Tomlin as "genuinely ridiculous") is currently the only offering on his new music streaming service Baboom. As if this were not enterprise enough, New Zealand also awaits the much-hyped launch of his political party.

It is unclear yet what this entity will stand for, other than some vague notions of internet freedom.

The real mystery to me is the people who are taking it seriously.

Derek Handley is a successful Kiwi entrepreneur who sold his mobile marketing startup The Hyperfactory to an American buyer in 2010, and co-founded the recently listed mobile advertising network Snakk Media.

He is a World Class New Zealander, a Sir Peter Blake Trust Leader, and a former Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He has worked with Sir Richard Branson to promote social entrepreneurship around the globe. He believes the Dotcom party is brewing something fantastic for New Zealand.

It will provide vision, Handley argues, on issues such as universal access to broadband, protection of privacy, freedom of speech and human rights in a digital age - a vision sadly lacking among the existing crop of politicians.

Last time I looked, the Goverment was busy rolling out $1.5 billion worth of ultra-fast broadband across the country.

Kim Dotcom is currently suing the police and the GCSB over the unlawful raid on his mansion and illegal spying, so it's understandable he's a bit touchy when it comes to privacy matters. But he hardly has the monopoly on a belief in free speech and human rights.

And while politicians do have a tendency to focus on short term goals such as staying in power, there's a lot more to running a country than having lofty ideals. Much of a parliamentarian's job is prosaic - like setting budgets and sitting on select committees.

Dotcom may be about to "unleash the force of innovation and the internet" but I'd like to see him sit through a reading of the Conservation (Protection of Trout as a Non-commercial Species) Amendment Bill.

Handley bemoans that citizens' initiated referenda are non-binding. Binding referenda would suit Dotcom's style of government - he could force votes in favour of relaxing copyright law, or unfettered German immigration, for example.

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If Dotcom's "outsized personality" will help to turn the game on its head, it's not working for me - I had to un-follow Dotcom on Twitter because his relentless and tedious self-promotion just got too boring.

Where I agree with Handley is that a Dotcom party may give the political establishment a shakeup when it comes to harnessing the power of digital media to create movements, particularly among disaffected young people.

But again, it's not as if no-one's thought of it. Addressing declining voter participation was a key agenda item at the meeting of Commonwealth parliamentary Speakers in Wellington just this week.

Tomlin acknowledges Good Times may be musical satire. "The tracks are so wildly overproduced and all bear such clichéd dance track names that [he may have] created the thing entirely as a joke," he said.

So it may be with the Dotcom party.

If it is a joke it's not resonating, in my view. If it isn't, all I see is an alleged copyright pirate with the threat of extradition hanging over his head pushing his own barrow.

* Maria Slade is editor of Unlimited magazine. maria.slade@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Fairfax Media

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