Are you sick of the election or are you enjoying it so much you can’t wait to put your vote into the ballot box on September 7? It seems as if we have a polling day almost every day these days. There’s Newspoll and the Fairfax poll and the Galaxy poll just to name a few and now you can go on a website and put in a bucket load of information about your likes and dislikes on policies and politicians and it will tell you where you sit in the political landscape. You can poll yourself.
Vote Compass was launched the day the election was called and it had a hundred thousand voters log into it after one day! It’s now attracted nearly one million. The creators are flabbergasted by the numbers using it. It’s much more detailed than most phone polls and the sample is so large you could say it is truly representative of the whole nation. It asks you where you stand on a range of issues and then places you on a grid where you can see which party best suits you.
Is this the way of the future? Will you soon live in a world where you get an email every now and again or even every day asking for your thoughts on a particular issue? Should we send troops to Syria if that situation deteriorates further? Or should we raise the GST to 12.5 per cent? (Please answer this honestly as it comes with a promise that the Government will balance the books, lower personal income tax and put more money into health and education. Log in with your secret password and please email before parliament sits again.)
The GST was so hated 20 years ago that it helped Paul Keating to his “sweetest victory of all”. If John Hewson had been able to email the nation he would have discovered there were so many voters opposed to the GST he may have considered dumping it and history would have been very different. He lost and John Howard won by promising never to bring it in and then did with the help of Meg Lees and the Democrats. It’s now accepted as a tax you have to have. It is a consumption tax that ensures even the tax avoiders have to at least chip in a bit for the roads they drive around on and the hospitals they use when they get sick.
Back in 1970 a film called The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer starring Peter Cook, John Cleese and Arthur Lowe looked at a world where the ordinary citizen took a direct role in every aspect of government. There was no internet back then but there were telephones and telephone polls would become the keys to Michael Rimmer’s rise to absolute power. The plot foreshadows the poll-driven era we live in today. Rimmer appears out of the blue at a struggling advertising agency. He takes over the business and turns it into Britain’s top polling organisation, becoming the nation’s top polling commentator. He uses this new knowledge to succeed in politics and become PM. But he’s a sociopath and he eventually polls the nation to the point of apathy and exhaustion.
Imagine continual referenda on pieces of policy down to the last detail of, say, the size of a desalination plant. Some people would love it but eventually the bulk of the population would hate it and in the film they do. The final phone poll is a vote to hand over all decisions to Rimmer. The people, by choice, give away all their democratic rights and Rimmer becomes supreme ruler.
Now this vision of polling a vast cohort of voters on a public website could work. A utopia for us and a dystopia for the politicians. They would all be totally answerable to us. Perhaps the first mass email should be about the GST and the NBN. Now wouldn’t that be interesting to know what a sample of a million Australians think? Then the pollies would truly be pollies in every sense of the word!
Ian Henschke can be heard in the morning on ABC radio 891.
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