Senator On-Line – I Have My Doubts

I have been hearing a bit lately about “Senator On-Line“, Australia’s first internet based political party. The way it works is this: is a SOL candidate gets elected to the Senate, they will put up a website for every Bill being presented to the Senate, covering the arguments for and against the Bill, and then we all get to vote on it. They commit to voting in the Senate in line with how the majority vote on their site.

Can is work? Are we ready for this kind of participatory democracy? How much time would you be willing to spend each week learning about Bills in front of the Senate? I think it’s a huge step for democracy and something that should be completely supported. This could be the beginning of the end of “voting along party lines” and politicians promising one thing during the campaign and then reversing their position once they are elected. The public are truly in control of how SOL votes, Bill by Bill.

I’ll be fascinated to see how this works and how many people are really willing to participate in how their country is run. I wonder if SOL have a candidate running in my electorate?

They have a Facebook group as well.

The founder of SOL is Berge Der Sarkissian. A quick search on BDS brings up his less-than-perfect track record.

From ASIC’s site October 16 2002

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has accepted an enforceable undertaking from Mr Berge Anthony Der Sarkissian, a former proper authority holder.

Mr Der Sarkissian offered the enforceable undertaking following an ASIC investigation into suspected breaches of the Corporations Act relating to the Telstra 2 Public Share Offer.

As a result of ASIC’s investigation, ASIC formed a view that between August 1999 and October 1999, Mr Der Sarkissian was involved in making 420 applications for Telstra 2 Instalment Receipts (T2IR) using names that may have been contrived.

Further, ASIC was concerned that Mr Der Sarkissian caused 26 transfers of T2IR’s from names that may have been contrived to another person who was associated with DB Management Pty Ltd, in order for these T2IR’s to be sold in the future for the benefit of the company.

ASIC was concerned that Mr Der Sarkissian had engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive, in respect of his dealings in the T2IR’s. ASIC was concerned that Mr Der Sarkissian may not in the future, perform his duties as a representative of a dealer or an investment adviser, efficiently, honestly and fairly.

To his credit (and very Web 2.0 of him), BDS seems to be up-front about the incident, for on his personal website he says:

I was wrong to have made multiple applications in order to get a better allocation in T2 than I otherwise might have got. This poor decision had significant costs and embarrassment. More than the personal humiliation was the shame I felt for causing embarrassment to my wife and children.
I regret the decision I made, I remain embarrassed about it and I am sorry for it.

Throwing out a mea culpa once you’ve been caught and punished isn’t really a great act of contrition though. And while I don’t expect politicians to be saints, you have to question whether we need another political party run by someone who has deliberately tried to mislead and deceive in the past.

The other concern I have is one of whether or not SOL truly “get” the net or not. Check out their website. Wouldn’t you think an outfit positioning themselves as “Australia’s first internet based political party” would have email addresses, IM details, Skype addresses, blog details… ANYTHING… so you could talk with their candidates? Their site has the mandatory “Contact Us” form, but nothing that makes them truly available. I think that’s a sign of how much they really get the idea of openness and transparency.

14 thoughts on “Senator On-Line – I Have My Doubts

  1. Hi Cameron,

    Our main candidates now have facebook profiles – so that is a great way to contact us via messages, or leave wall posts etc. My Facebook profile is: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=721543012

    We also have some YouTube videos on the way.

    Also – we have SOL candidates running in each mainland state. This means you can vote 1 SOL above the line on the senate paper.

    Thanks for your interest in the party, have you registered for updates?

    Thanks
    Ben

  2. Cameron, I think Australians don’t give people a second chance. In the US you need to fail a couple of times to earn your stripes – here if you fail, you are kicked to be kept down. Still, telling fibs to get extra Telstra shares or whatever it was – not the brightest star in the sky. or crayon in the pack.

    He looks pretty young (FB foto)- and grew up in the 90’s (FB group)- so he would’ve been what, 21 at the time?? Young and silly. Made mistakes, took bad advice. I just wish the mistakes had been truly business ones, and not ethical ones.

    OMGosh, they are ALL starting to look young now. Except you, Cameron – you and me are looking ancient shall we share a zimmer frame, dear? 😛

  3. There exists currently NO digital identity or security system that can do this even remotely reliably. Even the Dutch election quantum cryptography news is all security theater.
    Until we get a peer-to-peer ‘dynamic’ (not static fingerprints or eyes) multiple-challenge biometric public key-exchange identity layer; I don’t buy this digital voting crap.
    It’s just too easy for one passionate person to hack the system and enter multiple votes otherwise.
    With paper voting; each transaction has many eyes on it through the life of the transaction. The distance between transaction points is large enough to be inconsequential in small numbers of voting hoppers. This works.

    It really pisses me off seeing this kind of ‘stunt’. Seriously; how difficult would it be to send out a bot and infect Australian computers to make them vote on a site like that? As easy as spam. Would you trust voters to secure their computers from that? Yes they use end-to-end encryption, but if they encrypt a bot vote, who’s to know?

    You like comment spam don’t you cam? 😉

    As for the wisdom of crowds: I think the TV worm would become how we vote… unless some religious group summoned the followers. Inevitable… and I don’t think it would be a balanced vote, at least not the first time around. It would only drive passion and hatred in latter votes with those groups that felt an injustice. The mayhem would be fun to watch though. 🙂 Political instability always has that effect…

    SOL’s small scale, single senator approach may not be enough to drive the passionate hackers into action, but if more were to do this I’d rather not think about the turmoil.

    This is why I don’t believe in the wisdom of crowds. People are idiots. Give me a benevolent dictator for life and paper voting until the identity issue is sorted. All the best companies and governments have them.

  4. I agree with Craig that this idea is technically flawed. This system is just waiting to be gamed. The current system has less credibility as a voice of the people, than a paid SMS poll on the morning TV news. I’ll be watching, but not voting for them. I want to vote for a party with technical smarts.

  5. Well considering just 2 minutes ago I submitted a response to the “Open Forum Survey: The Australian Government Consultation Blog” (http://www.openforum.com.au/Survey) with a strong opinion against the idea, I’ll express the relevant shared portions of that opinion here in response to this SOL concept.

    In short? No – I don’t think we are ready for this what you’ve labeled Cam as “participatory democracy”, although participation is implicit in the democratic model of government … but anyway. At least certainly not online. The only way I believe to make people consistently behave sensibly and offer considered and constructive feedback via the Internet is to enforce and verify identity, so they can’t hide behind a wall of anonymity and just hurl stuff across the void that is clearly not well thought out and often obviously designed to provoke others.

    I admit that particularly over the last few days I’ve got a thing about flame wars and anonymity because I’ve come across several instances of such on YouTube and Facebook that have just infuriated me.

    Perhaps if the process to be involved in contributing to and voting on bills was so complex that only really dedicated and interested people would go through with it then that might be ok, but certainly I wouldn’t want to be reading through hundreds of pages of that sort of material every week; I’d be looking for the sorts of high-level summaries that Creative Commons put on their legal licenses.

    But I still say that if the Government is truly interested in public participation there are better methods and techniques for getting that feedback offline through focus groups, interviews and surveys … where “moderation” is more than just the Delete Comment of the online forum.

  6. Cam – from their website:

    The poll member registration process will include but will not be limited to:

    * confirming personal details, including date of birth, home address and middle names, against the Australian Electoral roll and
    * issuing a user name and password which the poll member must use when voting.

  7. Nat – I didn’t label this “participatory democracy”, I asked if we were ready for this KIND of participatory democracy, one where we get to vote on each Bill, instead of just electing people to vote on our behalf. I suspect most people would shy away from having to read and get their head around most Bills. So only a small percentage of the community would end up voting. This probably would be okay if this small percentage represented a good cross-section of the community, but I’m not sure it would.

    We would probably end up with each Bill being presented in 10 second soundbites like the current campaign advertising… “Bill L459280-2 will let your country get over-run by immigrants. Do you want your job stolen by immigrants? Say NO to Bill L459280-2.”

    One question in my mind is how do we get away from our current two-party system? How do we develop a broader range of parties who each get a decent number of votes? I’ve been reading up on The Netherlands recently and wondering how we move closer to their system…

  8. Ah sorry about the “participatory democracy” misread. But yes, if bills pending presentation before the Senate were to be summarised, who would be (actually and seen to be) politically impartial who could pull out the “guts” of a bill for easy access to the public who want to vote on them? The Worm with the recent debate was meant to be politically impartial – yet it’s come out now that it wasn’t. A Government department or agency? Sure, should be and perhaps in many cases are apolitical – but would the public believe that and trust their assessments? Perhaps give people who have the time to read the full bill to provide their own summaries and assessment for others to read – just like product reviews on Amazon or something.

    The example you just gave of hypothetical bill “L459280-2” – obviously has a Liberal spin on it 😉

  9. As an independent QLD Senate candidate in the coming election, I had already been thinking of a similar idea when SOL then sprang up. The first priority of an electronic voting system should be to sort out just who is representing who in each state – the current method of election means that at least 14% of state electors, and 33% of territory electors, are not represented in the final mix. This is a joke, and only through the discarding of a set 76-member Senate can we start to even think about direct democracy. Once people are allowed to determine whether they want a politician representing them, or want to do it themselves, that is half the battle won. You then have a multi-faceted approach to legislation and election: an individual can choose to legislate if they wish (which realistically would be no different to how the Senate works, except you wouldn’t pair off with a discordant opponent to not vote if you weren’t around or able to vote), or if they have handed over responsibility, they can monitor their Senate representative to see if indeed that Senator is acting in their interests. Where a small failure occurs, you can at regular intervals manipulate your vote to send them a message of displeasure. Where a critical failure occurs (like a Santo Santoro type event), then you can boot them out and install someone else.

    Fixed terms are a sham at all levels of politics, and by starting with the Senate, we can correct these issues in future to have the brighest, most thoughtful Senate possible, that is genuinely representative of the people. SOL’s idea is simply a widespread conscience vote, not a hardwired electronic mandate as I believe it should be.

    Of course there are major security issues that need to be resolved for such a system to work, and I think realistically the concept will need a closed system within the workings of an offshoot of the AEC. SOL’s idea is more suited to them being the administrators of the hardware and software, as opposed to them actually being Senators (I have raised this with Berge).

    David Alan Couper
    Lead candidate, Group N unendorsed, QLD Senate ticket 2007

  10. Thanks Cam, I was wanting to get the low down on SOL and hear the issues and concerns people have. So was great to find your posting the subsequent discussion. Personally I think this is the future, but exactly how it will work is going to take time to sort out. And as with most Internet based technologies, it will include a lot of trial and error. So I’m impressed to see the experimental process begin. Good luck SOL.

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