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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  1. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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