While the notion of direct democracy epitomises the true will of the people, the impracticality and inefficiency of this system has lead to the majority of the world’s democratic nations being vested in the elected representative. Online Direct Democracy is an Australian ‘micro-party’ with the purpose of re-introducing the uninterrupted voice of the people back into our elected governments.
‘Micro Parties’, more commonly referred to as minor parties, exert their influence by holding the balance of power in Commonwealth and State Parliaments. They work to minimise the dominance of the 2 Australian major parties and in scrutinising the government and proposed legislation, particularly in the Senate. They usually represent a limited or singular political stance or special interest. In Australia, it’s not difficult to decipher where the interests or politics of the ‘Help end Marijuana Prohibition’, ‘Outdoor Recreational’ or ‘Australian Cyclist’ parties (just to name a few) would lie. The Online Direct Democracy party is similar in that they remain true to their name in following their one prime policy. This is described by party Leader Francois Crespel as ‘Providing the people with a direct voice in parliament between elections’ and in doing so ‘minimising parliament from acting in accordance with their own desires’ rather than that of the people they represent.
The execution of such a philosophy may seem fanciful on a larger scale, however can credit the technological revolution and the internet for its success on a smaller spectrum. The elected representatives of this party vote in parliament directly in accordance with the will of the people. This ‘will’ is determined by posting current bills and proposed legislation online so that people have a chance to directly vote on the projected policies themselves. A clear majority in an online poll is required before the elected representatives in the party go to parliament and cast their vote reflecting this will. If no clear majority is reached online on a particular piece of proposed legislation, the representatives abstain from voting in parliament on the bill. Thereby directly mirroring what the people want. Crespel believes that the internet has rapidly become an integral part of our lives and that it is ‘the future of democracy, especially for young people’. It is the widespread scope and unique execution of their purpose which simultaneously distinguishes them from the narrower political views and actions of their counterparts.
The minor party movement in Australia however, is currently under threat. The Turnbull government recently passed laws making it almost impossible for minor parties to get elected into parliament. It requires voters to place preferences in all 6 boxes above the line on their ballot papers. Previously voters could place as many or as little preferences as they wanted in these boxes. This meant that where voters put preferences of 1 or 2 parties above the line, the preferred parties could then negotiate and exchange preferences with the minor parties in order to obtain a majority of seats. In this way the minor parties could win seats in the parliament and contribute to the legislative process. The new legislation is particularly advantageous to our current Liberal government as the Labor party often relies on this exchange of preference to gain majority come election time. Crespel says that the new legislation is likely to have a hugely detrimental impact on the influence of Online Direct Democracy and of all other Australian minor parties in the parliament. He states that ‘The major parties in Australia don’t want the minor parties to hold the balance of powers’. This allows them to maintain their dominance and makes it potentially easier for them to pass laws consistent with their ideologies.
In one perspective, dis-enabling the exchange of preferences has made the government more democratic, as it prevents minor parties who have not directly been voted in by the people from winning seats. However, it also means that there will now be almost no representation of minority views in our parliament, and diminished scrutiny and accountability of the government and legislation. In Crespel’s view, ‘the current state of democracy in Australia has been lost’. In response to new laws passed by the NSW government preventing students the right to peaceful protest, he feels that ‘we are losing many of the basic civil rights that we have fought so hard to gain in the past’. The Turnbull government’s new legislation will no doubt make it ever harder for minority voices to be heard in parliament, and for revolutionary and modernised means of direct democracy to be realised in Australian parliaments. However Crespel continues to build awareness of their plight through the internet and hopes to reconnect the youth of today with the things that really matter.