Did I really vote for that?

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At the OpenAustralia Foundation we’ve been working hard to throw some light on the day to day reality of our democracy and help make connecting with our communities; our neighbours, politicians & people who work behind the scenes in the public service just a bit easier.

More than 800,000 Australians have used OpenAustralia.org to follow what politicians are saying in federal parliament, or examined a politician’s official register of interests online.

What ultimately counts with Politicians is not what they say in our name but what they do in our interest. And what they do is make changes to the laws of our land by presenting bills before Parliament which outline new laws and amendments to existing laws. Yet, finding out how a politician has voted on these bills in parliament remains surprisingly difficult. The Hansard,  the official transcript of parliament, contains information on how all the members voted on a single bill, but its tedious looking for this information there. It’s deep and difficult water to steer in if what you really want is a clear overview on a politician’s votes over time, if their votes reflect a party line, or to see their declared external interests rather than the community’s interests.

We at the OpenAustralia Foundation would like to make it  easier for anyone to scrutinise those important votes, to read and analyse the behaviour of our political leaders. But building new applications takes time and money. Fortunately, the Foundation recently received a generous donation from Google Australia, and we’re putting it to work by building Australia’s first ever parliamentary vote tracker so that Australians will for the first time be able to learn exactly how politicians voted during their time representing all of us in parliament.

By making politicians’ voting records and patterns easily accessible to everyone, we hope to open up the process by which laws are created to public scrutiny. When it comes to the Federal election later this year, we will have a much better grasp of electorate in Australia’s history.

Google Australia’s support comes on top of their long-standing support of the OpenAustralia Foundation and their $40,000 donation will allow us to pay technical people to find a way to take the existing Parliamentary vote records and turn them into machine readable information so we can look at the resulting data in a variety of different ways. We’ll also engage political researchers to untangle the names of bills and policies into information we can all understand, without colouring the issues.

Why do we need to do this? Well, bills coming before parliament can have long winded names which don’t always help understand what they are for, or how they relate to the policies which candidates pledged allegiance to during their last election campaign. To help untangle their actions into the true story of their time in office we need to give these bills descriptive names and relate them back to policies.

This is the beginning of work on our (as yet unnamed) vote tracking project. We hope that you will follow the progress and become involved. As usual, all the work will be open source and available to all for free.

As it’s the beginning of the project this is also a fantastic opportunity to help shape the project at its infancy. We want to hear from you on how we can help so please add your comments below.

  • What would like to see from a vote tracking website?
  • How would you like to integrate it with other sites and services?

So, whether you want to view your politician’s real views on the site, share with friends, interest groups, write a blog or squish the information through the fat vote-o-matic machine you’ve been dying to build, we’ll give you all the data you need, so you can do just that.

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