Monday, 28 September 2009

This yarn shows why we can’t trust the media. 

Voting online is a good idea. If it was allowed, you could vote on specific pieces of legislation. Knowledge of democratic rule – such as rules governing debate in the House of Representatives – would become much more widely known. We would all benefit.

If people could vote on more issues, and vote in a way that didn’t disrupt their daily activities, public debate would shift to a new level. Maybe politicians would no longer be so widely reviled.

If you were to take up online voting, you would probably not want the pollie who proposed it to be gaffe-prone, however. You’d want the whole enterprise to be conducted professionally and with poise. But The Sydney Morning Herald’s treatment of Paul Mcleay is, to quote a blogger (more below) who tweeted about this yesterday, “shoddy”.

The newspaper says that Mcleay, Member of Heathcote, a NSW seat, has put his foot in it in launching his Gov2.0 initiative at the same time as insulting his premier, Nahan Rees, and the prime minister, Kevin Rudd – both fairly good users of Twitter – and people with Tourettes Syndrome.

In a piece published in ON LINE Opinion last Wednesday, Mcleay said Rees’ and Rudd’s tweeting was done “with the energy of a 12-year-old with Tourettes”. On Sunday, a slow news day, Tourette Syndrome Association president Robyn Latimer said “such comments stigmatised sufferers”.

An unnamed party staffer was also quoted, saying Mcleay was “disgruntled” because he had not been promoted to the front bench.

Macleay somewhat disingenuously denied wanting to insult his Labor colleagues.

The eternal political bridesmaid, bitter at not being made a minister, yesterday insisted his comments were meant as a compliment to Mr Rudd and Mr Rees.

''They are both active users of modern technology and they do it with keenness and vigour,'' he said.

''There are many colourful ways we could have written it - it's just modern parlance … something colourful.

''The Government itself isn't doing full engagement. They're making a good effort but they're not taking it to the next level.

''They're adopting new technologies and spamming and tweeting and doing all this cool stuff but the next phase is when people get to respond back.

''It certainly wasn't meant as an insult or attack. Far from it.''

But all this argy-bargy is beside the point, although it may seem to journalists like a good way to fill the news hole on a slow day.

The point is that Mcleay is doing something remarkable.

The Community Building Partnerships initiative of the NSW state government is a post-GFC stimulus measure. It is designed to create jobs in local electorates. The amount of $35 million was allocated in July. In early October, Macleay wants to open up the Web to decide how the money is spent in his electorate by counting votes from residents.

It’s not clear how they will authenticate online. Authentication is necessary to prevent rorting of the system by individuals – or groups of individuals – who are so intent on securing funding for a project that they vote multiple times.

But Mcleay and his advisors are aware of the likelihood of misuse.

There are random sampling and risk management processes built in to stop people from cheating. Voters must live in the electorate. The Community Building Partnership fund use the electoral roll and other information to allocate the street addresses which must be verified before voters get their votes. There are only a certain number of people per household that the system will hold until in triggers a trip line that will suspend all votes in that household until they are validated. People will be randomly selected to verify their address and number of people in household.

Applications for funding specific projects under the Community Building Partnerships opened in June and closed in August. Macleay says voting in the electorate will start next week.

Matt Crozier, of Bangthe Table, a technology supplier, beat me to the punch by posting on the media panning yesterday.

Its a really sad state of affairs when an MP cannot be mildly critical of Government's record on e-participation without damaging his career prospects as McLeay may have. Paul has done some excellent work sinking his electorate allowance into a project to give his constituents a direct say in the spending of Government funds. This deserves plaudits and deserves more serious discussion in the media. Ironically Paul's initiative is attracting attention and credit internationally perhaps more than it is at home.

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