Political Advocacy in Clubs

One topic that often gets discussed when it’s near election time is whether clubs and societies should be “political”. Some organisations are limited in what they can do, for example in some jurisdictions religious organisations can theoretically lose their tax exempt status if they advocate for one party. In practice any organisation that has a wide membership will have a variety of political views represented so a policy of directly supporting one candidate or party is likely to lose some members.

A common practice among some clubs is to send questionnaires to parties before elections. This might cause a policy change in the parties that do whatever it takes to get votes (as opposed to the parties who devise policy based on principle). But it also provides members a list of how the parties compare on the basis of the criteria that matter to the club.

I think that organisations such as Linux Australia [1] and the Linux Users of Victoria [2] should send such questionnaires and publish an analysis of the results. I previously suggested a few questions that could be asked [3], the last one received some negative comments for being too tabloid but the others got some agreement. But obviously there would need to be some discussion about which questions are in scope and how they should be asked. Such a discussion would take a while and would need to be started well before an election was called, I think if we start now we should be able to get it done before the next federal election is called.

There is one Australian political party that has a consistent record of having IT policies that are in line with the general aims of Linux Australia and which also has policies that meet the social standards that are generally agreed by most of the membership (EG opposing discrimination). But I know that there are some members of the Linux community who advocate various forms of discrimination and would vote accordingly so advocating for that party would get some negative reactions. But if someone wants to vote for a party that advocates discrimination against minority groups I don’t think that there’s any harm in providing information to allow them to vote for a pro-discrimination party that has a reasonable IT policy. In any case it doesn’t seem likely that we can get most of the membership of an organisation like Linux Australia to agree on what parties are unacceptable, so sending a questionnaire to all parties avoids that debate.

I would like to see this sort of thing done by LUGs for all state and territory elections. I will be involved in the process with LUV for the Victorian elections, but I have to just hope that my blog posts inspire people in other states and territories – if anyone has already started on this then please let me know. I will also be involved with getting this done for the federal elections with Linux Australia, hopefully this post will help get people interested in that.

3 comments to Political Advocacy in Clubs

  • Franco

    Calling some general people in your community names intended to frame them (“you support discrimination111!1!”) without naming such people is (and highlighting such behaviour) is, well, come on you are better than that!

    Apart from this I agree on the rest, a poll would be a great idea. The problem with your poll, in my opinion, is that it is nothing more than a corny push-poll. Example:

    “In these difficult economic times there is a great interest in keeping jobs in the country instead of sending money overseas. To what extent do you support the use of free software that is installed and managed by locals (keeping the money in the economy) instead of importing software at great taxpayer expense?”

    I hope Bill Gates and Microsoft will never relocate to Australia, or your question would then have to become:

    “In these difficult economic times there is a great interest in keeping jobs in the country instead of sending money overseas. To what extent do you support the ban of free software, which support chain is often located in another country (India, etc.), instead of local, made by Australians for Australians, proprietary software?”

    Bottom line: the poll is a great idea, question should be as neutral as possible (which would in my opinion increase the likelihood of getting an answer / increase the likelihood of getting a truthful answer).

  • etbe

    Franco: If I name a person in a blog post then the post will be about them, I didn’t write this post to address specific types of discrimination but to cover issues of politics. My local LUG has expelled one member for racism, we have had issues with other members of the FOSS community advocating all manner of discrimination, it’s well known that there are people who are bigoted and there’s no reason to expect such bigotry to stop before they get to the ballot box.

    As an aside I think it’s a little hypocritical that you demand that I name people when you are commenting anonymously. If you want a real-names discussion then you can start by using your real name.

    You should read the Wikipedia page about Push Polling. Basically it involves an attempt to trick voters into supporting particular policies in the guise of polling them. What I am suggesting would be a questionnaire from a named organisation that makes no secret of it’s agenda, the questionnaire would be targeted at senior members of political parties who would not be tricked even if someone tried it. Members of the parties do take such a questionnaire as an indication of what the clubs in question will send to their members, so it’s a clear statement that people who have an audience will deliberately try to influence their votes.

    In regard to MS moving to Australia, that wouldn’t make any difference. They are a multinational corporation based in the US. MS profits go to the US and to wherever there are low tax rates, never to Australia.

    In regard to the issue of Australian companies producing proprietary software there is the issue of open data formats and the ability to use data in the future. All the MS-Excell format data on will be difficult to read in a few years time, if it was in CSV or some other open format then that wouldn’t be a problem.

  • Brendan Scott

    I ran some of these questionnaires for OSIA in the mid 2000s. Results were published on the OSIA website, but have probably been lost in their website revamp. I would have them on file somewhere. When I stopped, no one else took up the baton.

    Parties are typically responsive to the questions.