Bartlett's Blog

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. This blog started in 2004 and reflects his own views, independent of any political party or organisation.

Following what your politicians do

Another welcome development in the task of making it easier for the public scrutinise the work of their parliamentarians, with the launch of the Project Democracy website by the folks at GetUp!  The Project Democracy site taps into the Open Australia site which I wrote about in this post.

Jason Wilson, who previously worked at QUT examining and encouraging citizen journalism, recently started working at GetUp! to develop projects such as this. It should help move GetUp broaden their work beyond the ‘sign this e-petition’/‘give money for this advertisement’ NOW type of campaigning into one which better encourages and enables people to get more dirctly engaged themselves.

The big drawback in the Australian political system is the fact we have a higher degree of rigid party discipline than virtually any other democracy on the planet. This reduces the value of following individual MPs and Senators and trying to hold them personally to account for their individual actions (except for the few Independents), but I still think it is something worth doing. Indeed, unless we try to do more of this we’ll have little chance of braking down that rigid party discipline and getting MPs to take more personal responsibility for the way they vote in Parliament.

It is a big contrast to the USA, where the voting records of individual politicians are a meaningful way of identifying their personal views and judgement.  Sites like On The Issues lists the record of a whole host of  political leaders – fir example, Vice Presidential candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin – on a wide range of issues, from the environment to tax to immigration to guns to abortion. At the moment, such a site in Australia would have far more limited meaning, as you may as well just list party positions and policies, as they would be identical for every MP from every party in all but a very few cases.

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6 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Censor This

    Being able to personal views and judgements of MPs will be good in holding them to account. It’ll be interesting to see how the Project Democracy site develops.

  2. al loomis

    getup is the obvious vehicle to force democracy on the unwilling political caste. one campaign to establish citizen intitiative, and thereafter, instead of ‘protesting’, the people can act. you’d think ‘activists’ would figure this out, but there is deeply implanted in the national character a sense of unworthiness, a permanent adolescence which has opinions, but is terrified of responsibility.

    there are signs that democracy has not been entirely bred out of ozzies, but time is short: impending ecological disaster has been created by parliamentary rule, and is unlikely to be met effectively until real democracy makes significant change politically possible.

    garnaut’s equivocation about goals points out the problem: an essentially medieval political society, ruled by an elite, will not move fast enough.

    in the end, the lucky country will be profoundly unlucky.

  3. Censor This

    Al, websites such as Project Democracy aren’t designed for force democracy onto people – but rather to make democracy more accessible to those who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in politics.

  4. Blair Bartholomew

    Dear Andrew
    “The big drawback in the Australian political system is the fact we have a higher degree of rigid party discipline than virtually any other democracy on the planet”
    Any sensible suggestions from a failed alternative viz the Democrats?

  5. I’m not totally sure what you mean by your reference to the Democrats Blair. It’s true that the Democrats had less of the rigid party discipline and more scope for individual responsibility than any other Australian political party in Parliament. It’s possible that played a part in enabling the Democrats to be more successful at federal level than any other independent third party in Australia (so far). It certainly had nothing to do with the party’s eventual demise.

    Other than continually putting forward reasons why I think it would be good for MPs to act less like cogs in a party machine and to take more direct responsibility for how they vote, I don’t have any great suggestions I’m afraid.

    Perhaps the strong results for Independents like Rob Oakeshott in the Lyne by-election yesterday is some indication that the public is prepared to be supportive of this – I’m not sure.

  6. Hi Andrew – thanks for the positive comments on the site!

    I guess we’re aware that, as you say, party discipline in Australia means that individual parliamentarians are likely to toe the line a lit more frequently than in the UK. But of course, as you suggest, that doesn’t absolve individual pollies of responsibility for the way that they vote.

    Another motivation was that, as I’m sure you’re aware, there are a great many Australians who have a limited understanding of what their Senators do, and what their Senators’ responsibilities to them are. It was important to us to try to make the Senate less remote.

    There’s still work to do on the community aspects of the site – we’ll get there over the next few weeks.

    Anyway, thanks again for the comments.

Reply to “Following what your politicians do”

Mini Posts

  • Rhetoric vs reality

    I’ve had a break from writing for a variety of reasons, but the reckless approach the new Queensland government is taking to their spending decisions – and the straightout nonsensicality of some of their claims – roused me enough to pen a piece for New Matilda. Time will tell whether the Newman government will start trying to ensure their statements have some connection with reality – I suggest the way they respond next year to the findings of the inquiry into child safety which they’ve established will be a significant test.

  • End of LP the end of a blogging era

    Back in October, I wrote here about the decline or re-defining of blogs, at least in the Australian political arena.  The relatively few posts I’ve done on this blog since then shows how much less useful I find it to do my own blog than I used to, and as I mentioned back then, a big reason why I don’t read many of the blogs I used to is because the valuable links to many interesting stories, ideas and pieces of information can be found more easily through Twitter or Facebook, sometimes with comment threads which are also at least as good.

    The recent announcement by the Larvatus Prodeo blog that they are ceasing to operate is quite a significant one. I don’t suggest it means the end of independent commentary online – as the last post on LP indicates, many of those involved will continue to do similar things in other ways. But, whilst not quite the end of an era, it is a significant signpost in the evolution of independent political blogs.

    (I know my headline to this post does say it’s the end of an era –  was going to say it’s the end of a blogging phase, which is probably more accurate but frankly makes a pretty lame looking headline)

    http://larvatusprodeo.net/archives/2012/04/10/larvatus-prodeos-last-post/
  • A final comment on Labor’s leadership laments

    Fundamentally, I don’t greatly care about the outcome of Labor’s leadership travails. As my previous post indicates, the bigger issue is that the ALP is being fundamentally damaged by the toxicity of this brawl, and the fact that the brawl is happening in this way is a sign of some much greater problems within Labor. Whatever the immediate outcome, I think those problems are likely to continue.  The outcome of the leadership contest (including the size of what will surely be a Gillard victory) will shape how those problems play out, but they will still be there.

    Not surprisingly, I see this as presenting an opportunity for the Greens to build some support, but more importantly it presets extra responsibility and obligation for the Greens to be a stronger counter to what is a seriously reactionary Coalition.

    But seeing we’re all pundits now, and despite having little inside knowledge, my prediction is that there will be no ‘third candidate’ in tomorrow’s leadership ballot.  Julia Gillard will win comfortably. The instability will not disappear. It’s quite possible there will be another leadership ballot before the election but Kevin Rudd will not become leader then either. No matter how good Kevin Rudd looks in the polls, that polling lead would disappear very quickly if he was back in the PM’s job.

  • The Ups & Downs of Ups & Downs – interview with Greg Atkinson

    I’ve mentioned before my liking for the 80s Brisbane band Ups and Downs. I got a chance to interview their lead singer Greg Atkinson on 4ZzZ FM a few weeks ago. They’ve released a compilation CD of 20 of their best tunes and played a gig in Brisbane earlier this month to promote and celebrate it.

    It was a fairly long interview, but I found it very interesting to hear the views of someone who has been active in the independent sphere of the music industry for so long about what has changed and what is the same.

    You can listen to the interview at this link.

  • Speeches to refugee rally + SIEV-X exhibition

    A local activist helpfully recorded speeches given by myself and by Julian Burnside at a refugee rights rally held in Brisbane last Saturday.  You can listen to them here and here. The rally was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X.  353 refugees drowned when that refugee boat sank on the way to Australia on 19 October 2001.  There is a beautiful exhibition at The Studio on the ground level at the State Library of Qld this week, commemorating that anniversary. It finishes this weekend – I strongly recommend you try to get along for a look if you have a chance. The Library also has a screening of the documentary Hope on Friday October 28 – this film tell the story of Amal Basry, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.