Senators Online?

The Australian federal election is in two weeks. Someone pointed out to me one of the relatively new political parties running for positions in the Senate: Senator Online. It turns out they’re running two Senate candidates in every state.

Here’s the interesting part. They have only one policy. That policy can be summed up as:

For every bill that comes up for vote in the Senate, our senators will vote according to the results of a web poll that we run on that bill.

The fine detail is that this will happen on a state-per-state basis, there is a minimum threshold of registered Senator Online voters to get the senator to do anything, and the web poll result must be a 70% majority otherwise the senator will simply abstain. (And they’re going to be very careful to avoid web poll stacking.) But basically it’s opening up the Australian Senate to what is effectively an Athenian style direct democracy, where very voter has a direct vote in every bill, rather than letting elected representatives decide.

My initial reactions to this, in order, were:

  1. Oh dear. It’s going to end up like California, encumbered under the weight of direct citizen-enacted legislation that has mass-appeal but which is actually economically or socially irresponsible.
  2. Or maybe not. Actually, this is an interesting idea. If there were one or two Senator Online senators elected, it could actually be very interesting. It might shake up Australian politics.
  3. Hmmm. If one of these guys does get elected, will the Parliament let the senator be dictated by the whims of an online poll? They might introduce legislation to make this sort of thing illegal. Although… it’s hard to see what could be inherently illegal about it.
  4. While one or two of these senators might be interesting, if all of our Senate was directed by web polls of the general public, the country would quickly degenerate, with populist but disastrous policies being enacted. You know, thinking about this makes me glad, in a surprisingly non-cynical way, that our government works the way it does, and that our elected representative actually do know more than Joe Q. Public about economic theory, foreign relations, social justice, and other stuff. It’s easy to be cynical about how incompetent politicians are, but realistically, they do a better job at running the country than 90% of people could do, or that would be done by Athenian-style democracy.

Anyway, realistically speaking, it’s very doubtful that Senator Online will get a senate quota in any state. But still, it’s interesting to contemplate.

2 Responses to “Senators Online?”

  1. PTR says:

    I totally agree with your 4th point.

    I am still amazed that people complain when Parliament does (occasionally) do something which is unpopular but sensible. People seem to think that we live in a direct democracy rather than a representative one.

    Unfortunately governments tend to do things which are popular but foolish in order to get re-elected. That’s why I think we should only have elections every 4 or 5 years instead of every 3.

  2. Glen says:

    I am not sure I am completely convinced that they could utterly remove the possibility of government by bot – or just noncitizens with time to kill. In any case. multiply by ten the grip that sensationalism has on your political landscape now (like the hysteria over the boat people issue – which is costing us an absolute fortune by the way – when arrivals of illegal immigrants/refugees by boat is something like ONE PERCENT of the illegal immigration/refugee arrivals we get, and the *actual* problem for Australia is trivial compared to most other western nations).

    In any case, in the senate, I will look very closely at the Secular Party first (will they get in? Very probably not – but they should make enough votes to get the small bit of funding per vote that comes once you get past a threshhold).

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