Oakeshott, Rudd & Hunt unite in ‘Dome of Conscience’

Posted on September 2, 2010 by

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Whilst the ‘Dome of Conscience’ may sound like a tardis type contraption, it was only a few years back that many thought it was the magic bullet in the quest towards parliamentary honesty and transparent debate. The possible deal breaker MP Robert Oakeshott was on board, as was current Shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage Greg Hunt. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was also involved and voted on the site, before winning Government in 2007. With such a list of names supporting the project, it’s a wonder what happened.

Transport back to the year 2002 and you’ll find countless references to the web voting system donated to both the NSW State and the Federal Parliament by Big Pulse – a company specialising in online elections. It was launched Federally by Greg Hunt, who said in a speech to parliament in September that year the site was “a new opportunity” and “a constructive use of modern technology for information and for insight into our democracy”.

As The Australian reported, the voting system was set up by “Finance guru Ralph McKay” through his company Big Pulse. The objective was to allow MPs to nominate positions on issues important to them and then vote online. It was hoped this would enhance parliamentary debate on key issues, and allow MPs to express their real views rather than tow the standard party line. Members could vote on these positions, most notably, either by name or anonymously.

Mr Oakeshott said in 2002 that the site “provides anonymous polling for members of Parliament” and that it “gives us an opportunity to vote with our conscience.”

“I told the company that I would give it a plug and tell all honourable members to get a password and participate. The success of this venture depends on the level of participation”, Oakeshott informed, “it is about building a bridge with a community.”

The site died a bit of a death after that. The Australian reported the major issue was that not all MPs were on board, a similar sentiment to that held by the site founder Mr McKay.

Although it was up and running during the recent election campaign, neither the Coalition or ALP participated on the site. However, 154 candidates from parties like the Greens, the Sex Party and Family First made their positions known and utilised the technology established by McKay. As Electioneering understands, Mr Oakeshott and the other independents did not.

McKay believes it is time to redirect attention to the site and the process it supported as Oakeshott is now in a position to encourage the major parties to use it.

He said today he was disappointed his $3 million piece of work had fizzed, saying the issue was that the “parliamentarians would not use the site seriously”. He also said there was a disinterest from the media, who “don’t run stories about it because they don’t believe parliament has these issues”.

Although neither party have at any  stage said they were against the site, McKay says that off the record conversations with both major parties suggested they “saw it as a threat”.

A spokesperson for Greg Hunt said the MP would not be commenting on this site or Mr Hunt’s speech to parliament as it was “nearly a decade old”. He said he couldn’t see Mr Hunt “engaging in discussions about this whilst negotiations” were continuing and “critical issues” were being addressed.

Political expert Malcolm Mackerras was another backer of the idea in ‘02. He said at the time he thought it was “a great idea” and hoped “all Members of Parliaments” would join. When contacted yesterday, he said he still thought it was a good idea and anything that “would allow politicians to express their real views” on policy would be a positive for Australia’s political system.

Contact was made with Mr Oakeshott’s office but a response wasn’t received before publication.

Words – Zach Kitschke

Image – Focus Magazine

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