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Senator Online

I’ve been asked for my opinion of senatoronline.org.au which claims to be Australia’s only internet-based political party. The claim may be correct depending on what you consider to be “Internet based“. Here is a copy of their platform from their web site:
Senator On-Line is not aligned to any other political party… it is neither Liberal nor Labor.

Senator On-Line (‘SOL’) is a truly democratic party which will allow everyone on the Australian Electoral roll who has access to the internet to vote on every Bill put to Parliament and have its Senators vote in accordance with a clear majority view.

We will be running candidates for the upcoming federal Upper House (Senate) elections.

When a SOL senator is elected a web site will be developed which will provide:

  • Accurate information and balanced argument on each Bill and important issues
  • The vast majority of those registered on the Australian Electoral roll the chance to have their say by voting on bills and issues facing our country
  • A tally of all votes which will then count in Parliament

Each person on the Australian Electoral roll will be entitled to one vote and only be allowed to vote once on each bill or issue.

SOL senators will have committed in writing to voting in line with the clear majority view of the SOL on-line voters.

Senator On-Line will enable broader community involvement in the political process and the shaping of our country.

If you like the concept, please register your details and tell others about SOL.

Now at first glance it sounds like a good idea, the Liberal party (which is similar in all the bad ways to the US Republican party) has demonstrated what happens when a party gets away with entirely ignoring the wishes of the voters.

But there are three significant problems with the Senator Online idea. The first is the issue of providing “Accurate information and balanced argument on each Bill“. We have seen many media outlets claiming that there is a debate about global warming (the debate ended years ago, the vast majority of scientists have agreed that global warming existed for a long time) and now the same media outlets are claiming that there is a debate about whether it will cause any harm to us in the near future (ignoring all the dams that are running low). One of the aims of the democratic process is that representatives who spend all their time working on politics can fully analyse the issues and also gain access to resources that are not available to the average citizen, thus being able to make better informed decisions. The next problem is that it can degenerate into mob-rule. The idea of having a tabloid TV show being able to directly control votes in the senate is not an exciting one. The final problem is how to ensure that each citizen gets the opportunity to have exactly one vote, solving this requires good security and identity checks involving viewing photo-id. The checks used for voting (merely asserting your name and residential address) might be considered adequate for an election, but are grossly inadequate for online voting where one false registration allows many false votes.

I think it would be more interesting to have a populist party started that campaigns for the issues that have the most impact on the majority of citizens. Issues such as the fact that a couple on the median income can’t afford the median house price [1], the lack of job security that is caused by recent industrial relations legislation, the price of health-care, and the fact that any car which is affordable on a single median income (after money is spent on rent and other basic living expenses) will lack basic safety features such as air-bags. While the Green party has decent policies on these issues they have many other policies to consider. A party that solely concentrated on allowing more people to have decent health care, not risk losing their job, own their own home, and drive a safe car would get a lot of interest from people who don’t normally take much notice of politics.

4 comments to Senator Online

  • Anonymous

    People always talk about direct democracy as such an incredibly bad thing, as though people can’t possibly have the right to directly control their government. With a well-written constitution (that requires a large supermajority to change), I think direct democracy would work just fine. Of course that will depend heavily on your definition of “a well-written constitution”; my definition would include the inability of the government to in any way appropriate the property of a citizen. That would prevent the “two wolves and a sheep voting on dinner” problem (which would, for instance, lead to the tax level landing at that point which would have approximately 50% of people paying no taxes and benefiting from the taxes of the other 50%).

  • bi

    Um… in fact, the resources saying that anthropogenic global warming is indeed happening are indeed available to the general public; the problem’s just that there are lots of denialists out there who prefer to ignore what the scientists actually say, and there are a number of bullcrap mills (bloggers, think-tanks) out there which keep churning out lies and misrepresentations and rhetorical bollocks aimed at obscuring the facts.

    That said, I won’t rely on any one political party to provide “accurate information and balanced argument”. That’s definitely not a good idea.

  • etbe

    Anon: We see enough knee-jerk reactions already. I support the idea of direct-democracy (AKA referenda) for certain significant actions (such as declaring war in any situation other than defence from an invasion). But for general laws it’s a bad idea. Getting 51% of the population to agree to removing the right to a fair trial would be just too easy.

    As for 50% of people paying the taxes, a prime criteria for operating a government is to levy taxes, and different people will be taxed in different ways. No matter how you do it some people will claim it’s unfair and a constitution isn’t the document to determine this (unless you want a straight property tax AKA Georgism).

    bi: The problem is that many people believe the lies and we don’t want legislation based directly on such things.

  • bi

    “The problem is that many people believe the lies and we don’t want legislation based directly on such things.”

    I don’t see much indication that Parliament members are necessarily going to be wiser than the general population. On the specific topic of global warming, Gallup polls show ( http://www.gallup.com/poll/1615/Environment.aspx ) that the majority of Americans believe that anthropogenic global warming is happening and are in favour of taking actions to curb it — despite all the utter lies and rubbish that the denialist lobby has been pumping out! Yet the US Congress hasn’t quite caught up with the people and is still dragging its feet on this issue. On this topic, the US Congress already turns out to be dumber than your average US citizen.