Published on Monash's mojo on 2 August, 2013.
This article is the second in mojo‘s series about minor and niche parties running in the 2013 Federal Election. Senators Online will allow its constituents to have their say on issues debated in Parliament by voting online. The party says it will change the way Australia’s political system works.
by TONI BRIENT
“The government is the most important thing we’ve got,” says Senators Online founder Berge der Sarkissian. “I just thought there must be a way where we can use the internet to make government better.”
Senators Online (SOL), registered on the Australian Electoral Commission since 2007, is proposing to do just that. Its elected MPs and senators would adhere to a new model allowing the public to vote on Bills tabled in Parliament using the internet. The party says its model would increase transparency in government and promote “direct democracy”.
“The party line is that you have to vote in accordance with your constituency,” says SOL NSW Senate candidate Karel Boele.
“People can log in and vote on any Bill. At the third reading (in Parliament), I will look at the vote. If the majority have voted in favour then I vote in favour.”
The party says voters will be able to access detailed information for each Bill they vote on, enabling them to make informed decisions.
“Part of the ideal in this model is to allow people to be involved in government more than they have been,” says Mr der Sarkissian.
Political commentator Malcolm Farnsworth suggests the idea is good in theory, but may not translate easily into practice.
“It’s unworkable to expect Parliament to operate this way.
“It’s a fantasy to think the electorate wants to do this, let alone that it would produce sensible legislation, stable government, or evidence-based public policy.”
But the party says voters would not be required to contribute their time to every Bill.
“Will we every get 100 per cent connectivity? I doubt it.
“You will always people who are apathetic.
“I could set a notification to say please notify me when there are Bills about superannuation because that’s what I’m interested in,” says Mr Boele.
In fact, SOL aims to make use of voters’ interests and expertise to collectively draft Bills online. Mr der Sarkissian suggests the process would be overseen by professionals employed by government and contracted specialists like university researchers. However, Mr Farnsworth suggests the model creates the potential for skewed results.
“These ideas would inevitably result in domination by small groups seeking to impose their will on the populace.
“Imagine giving the anti-abortionists, the anti-fluoridationists, and the shooters access to this kind of thing.”
SOL says its model will account for skewed results with a voting threshold of 20 per cent in each electoral division, or 100,000 nationally.
“But really it’s other parties having to work with us, because we’re the people.
“If our vote in Parliament counts, then they’re going to have to look.
“One or many, we’d be using the Senators Online model.”
But, Mr Boele predicts that some of his potential parliamentary colleagues would be reluctant to adopt the model.
“Tony Abbott would not be where he is, he would lose power immediately,” he laughs.
“I don’t think you’ll get the major parties taking it up.”
Stay tuned for next week’s party profile, when mojo speaks with No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics.