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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  1. Jennifer Stone
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Great idea and long overdue. I would like to be able to quickly and easily pull up my local member’s voting history per topic – preferably not listed just in the language of a parliamentary Bill which can sometimes obfuscate content. Maybe use of search by key words?

  2. Glenn Kerswell
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Government has pushed through hundreds of pieces of legislation over the past six years , We really need a list of all the things that we aren’t permitted to do any more before we find ourselves on the wrong side of the law,

  3. Posted July 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    What would be really interesting would be to see when politicians of both houses don’t vote or abstain (if that’s possible) or cross the floor to vote. I assume that my MP will always vote with the ALP because he is an ALP member.

  4. G King
    Posted July 11, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Suggest you consider implementing faceted search via the likes of Solr:

    Also, non-hierarchical tagging of bills e.g. ‘internet’, ‘telecommunications’, ‘privacy’, etc would be useful.

  5. Peter Swan
    Posted July 20, 2013 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    It would also be interesting to know which members were actually IN the respective houses when the Bills are read …. (as opposed to simply abstaining) …

  6. Verity
    Posted August 12, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    This sounds like a good idea. I’m also looking for a simple explanation of how to vote, and who’s involved; their history, goals, and what they stand for etc. feeling a bit lost as I will be voting for the first time. Thanks.

  7. NickE
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    +1 for G King’s comment

    -having the colloquial name of the bill as well as the actual name of the bill would be good, though this makes automation a pain
    -plain english summary of the bill would be good
    -history of voting by member, sort of an ‘activity feed’ would be handy – could even mash up with the hansard feed to give an overall ‘activity in parliament’ feed for each MP
    -specify when MPs are given a conscience vote vs voting with party

    I think if you get the basics right with good API etc. (and I’m sure you will, given OA’s track record!) people will come up with interesting ways to present the info, like voting activity vs. public statements on an issue, voting activity vs. political donations, that kinda stuff.

  8. Paul Waulker
    Posted January 17, 2015 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    What a fantastic idea gurus! Every electorate has a free delivered local newspaper. Imagine if all the member’s votes were printed for all to see. I have always wondered whose side my elected member is on, Google her name and she has more hits under Hillsong than her actual electoral performance.

    This would be of great benefit for all voters within the boundaries; might get pollies to actually lift their game knowing they are under wider scrutiny.

  9. Terry Little
    Posted February 6, 2015 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I see your project as very public-spirited and as an endeavour aimed at improving Australian democracy.
    However, as well-intentioned as the project is, I believe it is misguided.

    The normal and time-proven method of attaining a fair and unbiased result of any ballot (e.g., for election of union officials, for the election of MPs, etc) is the SECRET BALLOT. What you are proposing here is precisely the reverse and I expect that the result would actually be deleterious.

    It is odd that the one place we do not employ the secret ballot is the very place it is probably most important place of all: in our legislative assemblies. This is, indeed, what makes the ‘party line’ a possibility. It is also the very thing that exposes our MPs to pressure from lobbyists.

    More than anything else in our political system, the absence of the secret ballot in parliament surely provides the greatest impetus to corruption. Every vote in the House needs to be a conscience vote if the House is not to be judged dysfunctional.

    I cannot claim personal credit for this observation. The credit should go to a very astute James D’Angelo who recently posted the video entitled “The Cardboard Box Reform – A Crucial Flaw in Democracy & A Five Dollar Solution” on YouTube. I am thoroughly convinced by his argument and am keen to pass it on.


    There is a transcript here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/249039951/The-Cardboard-Box-Reform-Transcript-of-Nov-3-2014-Video-D-Angelo#scribd

    D’Angelo is talking about the U.S. Congress, but the same principle is relevant here in Australia too.

    Terry Little

  10. Dennis Gill
    Posted August 21, 2017 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    provide a normal email address so I can share what was sent to some MP’s

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