Join us for our 2016 End of Year Picnic in lovely Sydney Park

A photograph of someone looking out at the water at Sydney Park Wetlands

Sydney Park Wetlands, City of Sydney photograph.

To celebrate all our achievements in 2016, and all you great people who make them possible, we’re having a little party on Sunday the 11th of December in Sydney. We’d love to see you there!

While some of the biggest contributors to OpenAustralia Foundation projects are spread across Australia, unfortunately a national tour is not on the cards—this year :)

We’ll be at lovely Sydney Park Wetlands, behind the big hills of Sydney Park, from 11:00am to enjoy some sunshine. Bring along something to munch on and a drink or two. Here’s the details for your calendar:

OpenAustralia Foundation End of Year Picnic
Sydney Park Wetlands (south-east side), St Peters, Sydney
Sunday, 11th December 2016, 11am on.

Please RSVP on meetup.com

You can read more about the facilities at Sydney Park and about the award winning wetlands on City of Sydney’s website.

Getting there

A maps with a star showing our spot on the south-east corner of Sydney Park Wetlands

Our sheltered picnic spot on the south-east corner of Sydney Park Wetlands

Sydney Park is just across the road from St Peters Train Station. There’s also a number of bus routes that pass the park, and heaps of free parking around Euston Rd.

You can enter an address in Google Maps using this link to get directions to the spot.

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There’s no better way to learn how easy FOI requests are than to make one

Meme from Yes Minister TV show, stuffy minister saying “Freedom of Information?! What on earth for?”

Yes Minister Meme by CryptoParty Sydney organiser Gabor Szathmari

Most people I speak to about making Freedom of Information requests think it’s too difficult to waste time on—it’s for lawyers, not them. When I’ve seen our FOI system presented in a teaching context, the clear message is ‘FOI is too hard, too slow, and too expensive’. The message has sunk in, including with journalists, lawyers, researchers, and activists, many of whom have decided not to worry with it.

This assessment doesn’t ring true with my experience, or what I see in the 2500 requests made through Right To Know, our best public record of our FOI system. The results you get vary wildly depending on what you’re asking for, which public body you’re asking, and who’s processing it for you on their end. In my experience, FOI is often free, fast, and easy. I’ve taken to popping in a request on my phone at lunch when an interesting question comes to mind (#lunchtimeFOI).

The prevalence of the idea that FOI is too hard might explain why each year people in Australia only make roughly 3 FOI requests per 100,000 people, compared to about 70 by people in the UK (an amazing stat Henare calculated). We’ve got some work to do.

There’s no better way to discover how easy and useful FOI requests are than to make one yourself and experience it.

Workshop with CryptoParty Sydney

Picture of Luke Bacon presenting to a group of people at laptops about FOI requests

Luke presenting to the wonderful gang at the OpenAustralia Foundation/CryptoParty Sydney mashup event

Last Tuesday, Henare and I ran a workshop with CryptoParty Sydney to help people who care about privacy and security learn a new way to get the practical information they want from our governments using FOI requests.

CryptoParty attendees are inquisitive people who want real, detailed information. The event was packed out with people keen to learn how to get it.

We ran the event in two sections. Henare kicked things off by introducing everyone to our Freedom of Information rights and system in Australia. He showed how you can use FOI to learn about what’s happening in your local area, or to reveal information that impacts all of us. He also demonstrated why the OpenAustralia Foundation’s Right To Know website is the best way to make requests.

I then lead an hour long workshop for everyone to make a real FOI request. To make the process straight forward, we walked through four simple questions to generate ideas and narrow in to specify the documents we wanted:

  1. What are you interested in?
  2. What do you want to know about that?
  3. Which documents have that information?
  4. Who has those documents?

We created some boilerplate request text for everyone to use (and you can too):

Dear <Organisation with the information>,

Could you please send through <documents with the information you want>.

If possible, please treat this as an administrative/informal request. Otherwise please proceed with my request as a formal information request under the Act.

Yours faithfully,

<Your name>

By the end of the night over 30 requests had been made, with more coming through the week. We were really impressed by everyone’s attitude and great ideas.

A few of the interesting requests were for NSW Police’s guidelines for protecting the privacy of those in custody, the Department of Education’s process for deciding that a student can be exempted from their Unique Student Identifier system, and discussions at the Attorney-General’s Department about banning forms of encryption.

You can see our slides if you’re interested to read more about our process.

A huge thanks to Gabor Szathmari of CryptoParty Sydney for partnering with us and making the event so smooth. Thanks so much to everyone who came and made it a great night!

“Friendly, easy to understand and welcoming.”

Judging from the feedback we received, and the number of requests submitted, I think this was a really successful workshop. One attendee commented that the process was “Friendly, easy to understand and welcoming.” This is the exact opposite of the scary reputation that FOI has in Australia—this really warmed my heart! One person who works in youth support services told me that a lawyer at their organisation asked why they were going to something about FOI, saying “it’s too hard”. Their experience in the workshop completely changed their mind and now they want to empower the kids they work with with this skill.

Sounds exciting?

This is the first time we’ve run a workshop like this to walk people through the process of asking our government for information. There are lots of communities and civil society groups formed around issues like local planning, music, art, human rights, the environment, education, etc. . You might be part of one. If you are, and you’d like to discover how useful and easy it is to make FOI requests, we’d love to talk with you about running more workshops like this in 2017.

Posted in Event, RightToKnow.org.au | Tagged , , | 1 Response

Our look at Australia’s current draft of its first Open Government National Action Plan

On November 13, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) wrote to the Australian Government

http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/Australia%20-%20Steven%20Kennedy%20-%20November%202016.pdf

“This letter is to inform you that, the Government of Australia has now acted contrary to the OGP process for three consecutive action plan cycles (2014, 2015 and 2016).”

Australia is now at the final stages of preparing an action plan. It’s been a long road and we’re only just now really getting started. Let’s hope that we do a better job with our finalised action plan.

“As you are aware, the OGP Articles of Governance state that all participating countries are expected to: Make concrete commitments, as part of a country action plan, that are ambitious and go beyond a country’s current practice.“

The Open Government Partnership is a partnership between civil society and government to work towards open government, reducing corruption, improving transparency and improving participation.

In this letter the OGP clearly reminds the government that the action plan needs to be ambitious in these areas. The Australian government needs to go beyond our current practice here, beyond business as usual.

So, let’s take a deeper look how the draft action plan measures up according to those criteria.

“Make concrete commitments”

There are a number of examples where the national action plan makes vague statements of intent that have little specific outcome.

The Open Government Partnership Anti-Corruption Working Group points out our failure to be specific in this area:

“Overall, Australia’s anti-corruption commitments within the nation action plan are considered to be consistent with strategic areas identified at international events and have the potential to be transformative in the long run. However, most commitments are composed of milestones that stop short of catalysing institutional, policy or behavioural change against corruption. It is our belief that Australia can and should be able to include additional milestones that will ensure meaningful steps forward in the fight against corruption.”

In the current draft national action plan, reform on Beneficial Ownership transparency says “We will consult with the corporate sector, non-government organisations and the public on a beneficial ownership register for companies.”

Promising to “consult” is not a concrete commitment. It is an intent to follow a process that could very easily end up with no beneficial ownership register at all. Yet by this measure it would have “succeeded”.

A concrete commitment with a measurable outcome would say:

“We will establish a beneficial ownership register. We will work with civil society, the corporate sector and the public to do this and we will make the register publicly available.”

For Open Contracting the draft says “We will undertake a public review of the Australian Government’s compliance with the Open Contracting Data Standard.”

Again, this is not a concrete commitment. It’s a fluffy promise to have a look at something. To be a firm commitment, this should instead read:

“We will make Australian Government publishing of tender contracts compliant with the Open Contracting Data Standard”

The Australian Open Government Partnership Network’s review of the Action Plan contains more examples where promises to consult are stated over promises of action.

“That are ambitious and go beyond a country’s current practice”

The National Action Plan in its current form is largely comprised of commitments that have already been made outside the Open Government Partnership, before any “co-creation” took place with “civil society”. The OGP process can add value to these if they stretch the ambition of the existing commitment, and if civil society has a concrete way to hold government to account for their implementation documented in the milestones.

If government isn’t at least little uncomfortable, then this plan isn’t ambitious enough.

There is little evidence of substantial new reform in this action plan that the government didn’t already have other reasons for committing to.The Interim Working Group should clearly identify if and how goals have been “stretched” by connecting them to the OGP process.

Civil society have a strong desire to make commitments concrete and ambitious. Since t the OGP refresh after the federal election, the government, did create an Interim Working Group. Government then talks about a spirit of genuine collaboration. It’s true that there are reform commitments in integrity that were not being considered previously. However the whole action plan creation methodology has a way to go before you could really call it co-created by government and civil society.

And that’s ok. Kinda. For now.

A Deeper Dive: Genuine Participation and Concrete Change?

The idea behind commitment 2.2 “Build and maintain public trust to address concerns about data sharing” seems to be that the general public has a problem trusting government and that the general public’s trust need “fixing”.  Government characterises the problem being simply about their concerns with personal data being held by government & being shared within government. There’s no recognition that the public might have good reason be concerned, or that these issues should be addressed.

This is a stark example of missing the point of engagement entirely. In the commitment on building trust, the language used communicates government’s needs and position, as though government is right, and people are wrong. How can you have a dialogue with people if you think you know better and your job is to convince them they are mistaken?

How absurd and condescending is it, when there are very real problems in government systems, to state this matter as a trust problem, and then to outlaw practises that could help find real problems.

We’ll dive into this reform commitment in a bit more detail to unpick some of these criticisms with the current draft.

The Australian people have every right to be suspicious and wary of government’s ability to secure its data. The government has a duty-of-care to ensure that people’s privacy is maintained. This complex issue needs constant attention and continuous improvement.

However, there is nothing in this commitment that indicates that government acknowledges that any of these concerns are warranted. Let’s for a moment look at a small selection of data breaches in recent years in Australia.

  • Changes to the retention of names and addresses in the 2016 census caused widespread concerns amongst privacy advocates and the general public. These were largely dismissed by the ABS by saying that “little had changed”.
  • During the same census the online system failed during what should have been its peak use. This exposed the lack of technical competency of the ABS staff and its inability to manage and vet the vendors that actually carried out the work.
  • In September 2016, university of Melbourne academics discovered that it was possible to reidentify doctor ID numbers in published Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) data. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/09/28/privacy-commissioner-to-investigate-medicare-data-breach/. Government responded by proposing to make it illegal to de-anonymise data.
  • In October 2016, the personal details of over half a million Australians who donated blood through the Red Cross was accidently posted online. As well as names and addresses this information included whether the individual had taken drugs or engaged in risky sexual activity.
  • In December 2013 it was discovered that the information of over 600,000 users of Public Transport Victoria’s website was accessible online
  • In 2014, the personal details of almost 10,000 adults and children held in detention centres was inadvertently released by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
  • In November 2015 it was revealed that a security problem in myGov exposed taxpayer records

This list is enough to make a simple point. There have been a number of very serious data breaches in recent years.

However, this is not a blame game. Securing people’s information is genuinely difficult. The government will only get better at this stuff if it takes a proactive and honest approach. It needs to understand its own failures, not point fingers at a few “bad apples” or blame something on “human error” and it can’t cover up its own failings with legislation.

And of course it’s important for the general public to trust government with its information. However, the only way to truly build trust is to be honest and open – that includes with failures. Every time a data breach happens and the government says “just trust us. It won’t happen again” it’s not surprising that people don’t believe them.

So, we recommend that this draft commitment is amended to include detail and associated milestones that:

  • Introduce and enforce, the long awaited Mandatory Serious Data Breach Notification Legislation, show this as a requirement in the milestones.
  • Organise a multistakeholder forum to track success of implementing Serious Data Breach Notifications, including identifying and oversight by relevant civil society
  • Communicate open and honestly in the event of data breaches and:
  • Be open and honest about what happened. (No cover ups, no sugar coating, no whitewashing, just the facts – saying “human error” is not good enough) – Explain without embellishment what set of circumstances and actions led to the outcome
  • Explain what the root causes of the problem were (Saying a human made a mistake is not good enough) – what are the systemic problem or problems?
  • Explain what you are doing in the long term to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future. (e.g. We are standing up a new team to automate the website publishing process so that any private information is automatically processed and doesn’t require staff to manually handle it – this will take six months)
  • Explain what you are going to do in the short term to ensure it doesn’t happen soon. (e.g. Until the long term solution is in place any person publishing content to the website needs to get approval from the security team)
  • Outline timeline and milestones to report on how Government improves, when dealing with and talking about breaches
  • Offer incentives to people to report security problems (bug bounties, etc..) –
  • Not punish people who report problems. Specifically, not introduce legislation to criminalise the de-anonymising of published data.
  • Criminalising de-anonymising data punishes the good guys not the bad guys. Bad guys will never get caught because they won’t tell the government what they’ve done and the government will have no way to find out what they’ve done. The only people that can ever get punished are the good guys that might tell the government about data that has not been properly de-anonymised. So, it effectively silences anyone who might help the government get better at its job. This is not the way to do security and it’s not the way to incentivise the correct behaviour.

A Few Words About Participation

We’ve highlighted specific opportunities in the Commitment on Building Trust to work with civil society on implementing important reform.

What supports our ability to make effective decisions at a national level is a robust democracy with the rights, protections, and infrastructure that help us deal with them. The OGP hands us a powerful platform, with citizen needs at the heart of decision making, implementation and oversight. That’s where they need to be to put these difficult issues on the table and help fix them.

The government already has a comprehensive set of concrete tools to help frame this work appropriately.

In 5.2 “Enhance public participation in government decision making”, the milestones should be amended so that the development of a “whole-of-government framework” is preceded by the development of prototypes in collaboration with the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) in accordance with the Digital Service Standard (DSS). At the core of this process is criterion 1 of the DSS – Understand user needs –  to improve public participation in government decision making by properly understanding what citizens need in talking to government about issues they care about.

The “whole-of-government framework” should only be written after completing user research and all the things have been learned from developing prototypes that were tested on real users.

Conclusion

We’ve highlighted a small number of problems. This is a fraction of the detail we should and could be analyzing in a National Action Plan, with more robust support for civil society’s role in future Open Government Partnership National Action Plans.

The scorecard is A for effort! That’s for everyone government and not government alike for plunging into the clear and magnifying waters of the Open Government Partnership. Taking part in a spirit of collaboration, with all the challenges and sideways thinking that requires.

Everyone can forgive a first action plan for large amounts of govspeak, for weasel words and a big dollop of business as usual?

Why? Because we’ve started, and that’s what’s truly important.

Posted in Announcement, OpenAustralia Foundation | 1 Response

How to send your Freedom of Information request to many authorities at once

Right To Know makes it simple for you to request information from any public authority in Australia. Sometimes you might want to ask the same question but to lots of different public authorities at once. Right To Know can help you there too, with batch requests.

Batch requests let you write one request that gets sent to lots of authorities at once. This is really handy if you want the same document but from different authorities, like this request for the social media policy of different government departments:

Screenshot showing the page of the Social Media Policy batch request on Right To Know

If you have a request you’d like to make to many authorities at once then get in touch and we can enable batch requests for your account too.

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Bums on seats: how often is your representative present in Parliament?

attendance

Attendance levels in Parliament vary a lot. With the 45th Parliament just a few weeks in, our parliamentary vote tracking website They Vote For You is currently listing some federal politicians with 100% attendance and some with as low as 38% attendance.

But what do these figures actually tell us and how accurate are they?

The whole picture?

The attendance figures on They Vote For You do not give us the whole picture. Why? Because our Parliament only records who is actually in the room and voting when a division (or formal vote) takes place. During a division, our Members of Parliament (MPs) and Senators walk to either side of their chamber to show how they are voting. One side is for the ‘no’ voters and one side is for the ‘aye’ or ‘yes’ voters. Their names are recorded and that is the data used by They Vote For You.

However, this leaves a big gap in our records since there are some days in Parliament when no divisions take place. Instead, most voting in Parliament takes place ‘on the voices’, which is when our MPs and Senators shout ‘no’ or ‘aye’ and whoever shouts the loudest wins.

This means that most of the time we don’t know who is present in Parliament and who isn’t. The information we have is limited to when formal votes take place.

Then there is the issue of pairing in both the House of Representatives [218 KB] and the Senate. Sometimes when an MP or Senator knows they are going to be absent, their party will arrange for them to be paired with another MP or Senator who planned to vote the other way. For example, if a Coalition member is going to be absent for a particular division in which they were going to vote ‘aye’, a Labor member who intended to vote ‘no’ may be paired with them. This means the Labor member will not vote in the division either so that the Coalition member’s absence doesn’t affect the result of the division. Pairing arrangements like these are informal and not part of parliamentary procedure. They can last for just one vote or be an ongoing arrangement.

Ministers often have lower attendance rates because their other duties keep them from Parliament. This can also affect members of the opposition who are regularly paired with Ministers and so bring down their attendance figures.

So what’s the point in having attendance figures if they don’t give us the whole picture?

Even the limited attendance data made available by Parliament can tell us a lot about our elected representatives and how well they are representing our interests in Parliament. This is especially true for citizens whose representatives are independents, members of the smaller parties or backbenchers.

Absent politicians cannot properly represent their constituents. The lower their attendance figures, the less likely they are doing their jobs properly. Of course, they may have perfectly good reasons for being absent and may have arranged for a pair so that their absence doesn’t affect the ultimate outcome of a given division. Or they may not have. The only way to know for sure is to draw their attention to their attendance figures and ask them for an explanation.

Without these attendance figures, we wouldn’t be able to hold our representatives to account for their absences.

As the 45th Parliament continues, keep an eye on whose attendance figures are dropping below 50%. And if it’s your MP or Senator, perhaps it’s time to contact them and ask them to “please explain”.

 

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The year is almost over – here’s our plan for the rest of 2016

While our trip to Cockatoo Island a year ago seems like it was an age away, this year feels like it has sped by. We’ve already launched two major projects in 2016 – something I don’t think we’ve ever done before. No wonder it feels like we’ve been busy.

We had our final quarterly planning session for 2016 earlier this week. These last-quarter planning sessions feel different. You’ve already spent the year refining the plan so you just feel like you want to get on and do it. Save the big picture stuff for the new year.

At least that’s how our session started out. We spent a good deal of time reflecting on the last quarter. We were a month ahead of schedule at the start of last quarter. By the end of the quarter we were a month behind. Why did this happen? And why did we feel on the edge of burnout, and what structural changes can we make to ensure that doesn’t happen?

We didn’t come up with any big solutions but it’s good to be talking frankly about it and starting to plant the seeds of positive change. One small thing we have planned this quarter is to spend a bit of time discussing how we can improve the Foundation’s financial sustainability. This is something we need to address in the year ahead.

In August Luke spent a day exploring and hacking on a prototype that gives us feedback about the use and impact of PlanningAlerts. He was happy with what he created but left feeling like he had even more questions and a better sense of what those questions should be. We’ve also seen evidence recently of something we’ve long suspected – that when we don’t work on a project its use and impact can actually drop off.

This shows us that it makes sense for us to try having these days regularly. All this quarter we’ve got a day set aside each month to work on understanding the performance of a project. We’ll focus on a different project on each of the days.

Here’s what else we’ve got in store:

A photograph of our wall planner with what we've got planning from October through December in 2016

What we’ve got planning from October through December in 2016

October

Right To Know

Despite having spent more time on Right To Know than originally planned we’re going to keep working on it all through October. We’re really enjoying working on it and it seems to be having a big impact.

We’ve already gathered all sorts of data on how requests are working at the state and local government level. The next step is to analyse the data and learn what things we can do and what changes we can make to improve that process.

Other things

We’re finally going to do something with the late Civic Tech Monthly newsletter.

Our first ever project performance feedback day will be next week. We really should come up with a snappier name :) It will be dedicated to Right To Know.

Matthew is coming back from holidays and will continue work on morph.io stability. Hopefully we’re only a few weeks off having a much more stable and happy morph.io.

November

PlanningAlerts Supporters has been rescheduled to start in November. We learned a bit in our EOFY donation drive that will be useful in this work. We also need to spend a few days working on Ask Your Councillors so we can add in the recently elected NSW councillors. Our performance feedback day will be on PlanningAlerts.

We have a joint meetup with Sydney CryptoParty in the works and we’ll have our first OAF sustainability session.

December

We’re really disappointed and frustrated with the usability and appearance of our website and donations systems. They’re not the good examples we want them to be (special shoutout to those reading this on a mobile device!). In December we want to see how far we can get in just 3 days reworking the website so it at least works on mobile and generally looks and functions a bit better.

We’ll also start a couple of weeks work on some They Vote For You improvements. We’ll dedicate our performance feedback day to TVFY which will also help feed into this.

And finally, in December we’ll once again have a little celebration with you – the people that have made 2016 possible. Thank you all.

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Happy Right To Know Day – you have the Right To Know, now right across Australia

Photo of Highway 1, Australia stretching into the distance

Highway 1, Australia by Tony Bowden, used with thanks under Creative Commons

Is it safe for your children to swim in the river? How much did your council spend on that fancy new mobile app? Will we be building better public transport? How much graffiti is being reported in your area? What really happened to those stranded whales you heard about?

Australia’s state and local governments create and hold some of the most vital information on your behalf and you have the right to access it. As you can see in the requests above you can use Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to open this government information and answer important questions that help you, your family, and your community.

Now you can use Right To Know to make these requests to any state authority and local government in Australia.

From day one we imagined a single site where you can request information from any government authority in Australia. Today—on International Right To Know Day no less—that becomes a reality.

If you want answers, use your right to know and make a request.

Posted in Announcement, RightToKnow.org.au | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OpenAustralia Foundation responds for your Right To Know

Today the ABC reports “Tax Office imposes blanket ban on FOI requests via Right To Know website”. In the article the OpenAustralia Foundation’s response provides the context of the Australian Tax Office’s (ATO) refusal to process valid FOI requests made through the Right To Know. We hope to see the ATO continue to process your requests, as they have for the previous 4 years, and return to complying with the Freedom of Information guidelines of the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

Here’s the response we sent through to Simon Elvery at the ABC in full:

Up to now we’ve had a good working relationship with the ATO. We’re genuinely baffled by the reasoning they use to justify their refusal to process requests via Right To Know.

Since receiving their first FOI request from a person using Right To Know almost 4 years ago the ATO has helpfully responded to dozens of other requests. From time to time we receive takedown requests from people and government agencies and we act on each and every one of them in line with our clear takedown policy.

In total, the ATO has sent us 5 takedown requests. We give every request serious consideration and have responded to each within a day. We agreed with 4 requests and promptly acted on them to remove the material. One of the most recent requests did not meet our takedown policy so we have not taken it down.

We’ve previously been asked to redact the names of ATO staff due to a processing error made by the ATO which put their staff at risk. We responded within an hour and agreed to take down the material, giving the ATO time to supply correctly redacted documents a few days later.

In this case we have not been asked to redact names. Instead we were asked to remove a request by a member of the public for an internal review into the decision about their FOI request. The ATO claimed that they found it abusive towards their staff members. The ATO’s takedown request did not meet our takedown policy, so we have left the request up on Right To Know.

We work hard to ensure that Right To Know is a safe environment where people can work productively with government on furthering the government’s own goals of being open and transparent. We stand by our community and join their polite and respectful calls to the ATO to start processing the valid FOI requests made to them by people using righttoknow.org.au.

And here’s the ATO’s statement that the ABC provided us:

The ATO’s decision to cease processing requests via the Right to Know website does not relate to one specific case. Rather, this decision was taken due to our concerns about systemic issues with the management of FOI requests through this website. In particular:

  • Publishing all procedural material about FOI requests is not acceptable, nor is having no contact number, address or ability to respond promptly to email requests.
  • We are particularly concerned with the names of staff processing the FOI request being published on the website, when this information is not relevant to the FOI application.
  • We also have concerns that the website takes no responsibility for supervising posts or removing unacceptable material, and the ATO will not be exposing staff to this risk.
  • The ATO complies fully with the FOI legislation. People can make FOI requests direct to the ATO by emailing foi@ato.gov.au or through the paper form available at www.ato.gov.au
Posted in Announcement, Media, RightToKnow.org.au | 1 Response

They Vote For You – Why isn’t there a policy on that?

Make a new policy

Firstly, thank you for visiting They Vote For You! We currently have over a hundred policies that you can use to explore how your representatives vote on particular issues. But what if something’s missing that you really care about? And why isn’t it there already?

Here are three possible reasons why we may not have your issue right now:

Maybe no one thought to create it yet

Anyone can create a policy on They Vote For You – including you! Or you can send us a suggestion. Right now we’re actually on the hunt for new policy ideas and would love to hear from you.

So if you do have a burning issue you think should be on the site – no matter how big or small – please let us know via email, Twitter or Facebook by Monday 22 August 2016, before our new Parliament begins sitting.

Maybe there aren’t any divisions on that topic

Divisions

In our Federal Parliament, only formal votes (known as divisions) are officially recorded. These are votes where our politicians divide themselves into two groups on either side of the chamber: one side for the Yes (‘Aye’) voters; and one side for the No voters. Each politician’s name is recorded along with how they voted. We use this data on They Vote For You.

Unfortunately, most votes in Parliament take place ‘on the voices’, which is when our politicians shout ‘Aye’ or ‘No’ and the group shouting the loudest wins. During these votes, no names are recorded so there’s no way to tell how each politician is voting without watching them all closely. With no official data on these votes, we can’t include them on They Vote For You.

We think this is a serious problem and have raised the issue in a recent parliamentary inquiry, arguing that citizens can’t properly hold their representatives to account without their entire voting record. Unfortunately, this is how things stand at present.

Maybe our Federal Parliament doesn’t make laws on that issue

Aus. Const.

Australia has a federal system, which means that some issues are the responsibility of our Federal Government, like higher education and security, and some are the responsibility of our various State Governments, like primary and secondary education and health. The Australian Constitution lists what areas the Federal Government can make laws on and everything else falls under state responsibility.

Occasionally the Federal Government does make laws on state issues, but only if it gets permission to do so from our State Governments – which isn’t easy.

You won’t find any policies on They Vote For You on funding hospitals or building more state schools, because our hospitals and state schools are controlled by our states.

But since our federal system is complicated, don’t let it stop you from making suggestions! Even our politicians get mixed up sometimes and try to make laws outside of their areas of responsibility.

 

So suggest away! We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Edit 04-08-2016:

It’s quite rare for the Federal Government to actually pass laws on subjects outside of their areas of responsibility (as defined by the Constitution), but the issue does come up occasionally. One of the cases that budding constitutional lawyers have to study on this issue is Murphyores v Commonwealth (1976) 136 CLR 1, a High Court case that looked at the limits of our Federal Government’s trade and commerce power.

 

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They Vote For You – What new policies would you like to see?

Policies

They Vote For You now has over one hundred policies to help us keep track of how our representatives are voting on our behalf! They range from whether to have a Royal Commission into banking to whether to legalise same-sex marriage, and you can find them all on your representative’s voting record. For example, here’s a snapshot of our Prime Minister’s record:

Malcolm Turnbull's voting record

We’re very pleased with our current crop of policies – and we hope you are too! – but there are still many subjects that our Parliament has voted on that haven’t yet to make it onto our site. And we’d like to do something about that before our newly (re-)elected MPs and Senators fly into Canberra for their first sitting day.

Tell us what you care about

We want you to get involved and let us know what new policies you’d like to see on They Vote For You. You can do this by:

  1. Jotting down the issues that matter most to you;
  2. Looking up your current representative’s voting record;
  3. Reading through the policies they voted on to check if all the issues that matter most to you are included; and
  4. If any are missing, letting us know via email, Twitter or Facebook before our new Parliament’s first sitting day on Monday 22 August 2016.

I’ll be online each Thursday and available to chat over Twitter and Facebook, so please feel free to join me then to discuss potential policy ideas.

When did you say their first sitting day was?

2016 Sitting calendar Jul-Dec

The parliamentary sitting calendar hasn’t been updated yet, so we don’t actually know when the first sitting day of our new Parliament will be. However, our guess is that  it will be some time after the beginning of the Spring parliamentary season, which starts in late August.

So let’s see how many new policies we can create by Monday 22 August 2016

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

Posted in OpenAustralia Foundation, They Vote For You | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Responses
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