Victorian Senate Group D: Senator Online, and probably Tweeting during Question Time

Senator Online bills itself as ‘Australia’s New and National Online Political Party’, and adds “I care about our future.  Now I can vote directly on laws that affect us.”

We’ll get to that bit later, but in the meantime, I have to share with you my joy about their Senate ticket.  Remember how I was speculating on how far down the ticket one could get without hitting a major party?  Well, it seems that Senator Online was wondering that, too, because their ticket wanders merrily through a list of tiny and slightly mad parties, leaning somewhat to the right but starting with the Bullet Train for Australia and the Animal Justice Party (both of which this perverse blogger is looking forward to *immensely*, it must be confessed), before finally reaching the Greens at 82 on the ballot paper (a mere 9 places after ‘Stop the Greens’, which suggests an ironic sense of humour), then moving on to Labour, Liberal and the Nationals last.

This is, in fact, the party of small parties.  Of the three minor parties that are large enough that they might actually risk getting a senator up, I regret to say that Family First is at 31-32, followed by One Nation at 40-41, we then head down to the Democrats (remember when the Democrats were a major party?) at 44-49 and the DLP at 56-57.

About all that we can learn from this is that Senator Online doesn’t like major parties and is either a bit to the right of our current equilibrium, or doesn’t actually believe that any of the mid-grade parties are going anywhere and is in fact marginally preferencing Labor.  In other words, we know nothing.

So, what about their policies?  Well, this is where it gets interesting, because they don’t actually have policies at all – they are relying on us for that.

It’s a pretty interesting premise for a party.  Essentially, the public can vote for free on bills at any time while they are in the house of Representatives and the Senate, the website will publish the results of the poll, and the senators will then vote in accordance with the public vote.  Democracy in action!  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, a few things, actually, but let’s start by being fair and noting that one does have to register to vote, and that votes will be checked against the electoral role, so in theory, at least, one can’t keep voting again and again, unless one can think of a lot of other people to be.  Though they do promise excellent security.  One would certainly hope so.

Initially, they will simply create an App and a Website for direct voting, but after their first term, their plan to create a Wiki for the public to collaboratively develop and vote on bills for submission to Parliament.  Eventually, the public would also be able to vote for party leadership and candidates.  Which sounds a lot like… voting for one’s representative at an election.

This is a party for people who really, really *love* voting.

OK, I have to just pause here and express my immaturity, because they keep on referring to themselves as the SOL party and it’s making me giggle like a hyena, because Senator Online is not the first thing that comes to my mind when I see that particular abbreviation.

Right, I’m done now.

Here’s what’s good about this system:

In politics many decisions are made in accordance with political pressure, doing deals or vocal minorities. SOL will stand candidates to give a specific voice to the majority view. SOL’s main objective is to endorse candidates at federal elections to give  specific voice to the majority view. SOL’s premise is that the majority (but certainly not all) of Australians are logical, considerate and compassionate and given access to unbiased and concise information would be a valuable input to any government decision. Accordingly, there should be a specific and separate voice given to the majority view in Parliament.

And here is what is bad about this system:

In politics many decisions are made in accordance with political pressure, doing deals or vocal minorities. SOL will stand candidates to give a specific voice to the majority view. SOL’s main objective is to endorse candidates at federal elections to give  specific voice to the majority view. SOL’s premise is that the majority (but certainly not all) of Australians are logical, considerate and compassionate and given access to unbiased and concise information would be a valuable input to any government decision. Accordingly, there should be a specific and separate voice given to the majority view in Parliament.

Spot any similarities?  Here’s the thing.  On the one hand, it’s absolutely true that the current political process favours the (perceived) views of people in marginal seats above the views of the rest of Australia.  And that is not right.  But on the other hand, the majority can also be horribly, horribly wrong – consider historical views on slavery or women’s suffrage.  For that matter, consider the fact that until fifty years ago, indigenous Australians were classified as fauna and forbidden to vote.  The majority opinion is not necessarily the ethical or true opinion, and when this is the case, it is the role of the government to show leadership rather than to pander to prejudice.

Senator Online proposes an online forum in which bills and issues can be discussed freely.  I am not certain whether this would be anonymous or not; requiring real names would tend to undermine the notion of the secret ballot.  On the other hand, anyone who has ever visited the comments thread of any news site is probably well aware of how much fun it is in an unmoderated comments section full of the anonymous and the opinionated.  There would be a very real risk in a forum of this nature of driving away more vulnerable sections of the population, and that would be a pity.

My third problem is perhaps a petty one, but given that this is a political party that intends to conduct all its business online, I think it’s fair to mention it.  And this is the question of what will happen when the site doesn’t work?  How will senators vote?  There is absolutely no indication of this.  And lest you are thinking that surely this site will be robust, well, yes, it probably will be, but I spent half an hour this evening attempting to access the section of the website where it tells me who my local candidates are, and was unable to do so.  They’ve fixed the problem now – actually, sometime in the last five minutes – but it’s a potential concern.  And speaking of access, I’d also like to know what they are doing about making their site and App accessible to the visually impaired or people with other disabilities.

Altogether, this really is an interesting party with a premise that deserves more consideration than I can give it here.  While I have pointed up potential flaws, it certainly could work, and it would be fascinating to see it in action.  I do rather wish they had one or two actual policies, though.  I’m a bit concerned about voting for anything quite as nebulous as ‘what at least 55,000 Australians want at any given time’, which is effectively what this policy would amount to.

Come to think of it, depending on how passive the electorate is, this could also wind up being minority rules.  And depending on the nature of that minority, the rest of us could find ourselves SOL…

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