Crowdsourcing democracy: The Flux Party’s radical plan for Australian politics

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Would you vote for a political party with no policies whatsoever?

With an election around the corner, a brand new political party has been born

The Flux Party has no policies, no platform. Instead, members of the public would vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on each bill before parliament via the Flux app, which would instruct the party’s senator how to vote. 

The party was founded by tech-savvy Max Kaye and Nathan Spataro, who have experience working in the Bitcoin industry. The 500 members required for AEC registration were recruited, largely through social media, in a matter of weeks

"Flux is quite unique,” Mr Spataro said.

“It begins with a level of direct democracy, where every single person, every single voter, is issued with a vote on any particular issue.

However, participants don’t have to vote on every single piece of legislation. They can save up votes to have greater influence over issues they do care about, or trade them with other users. 

Mr Spataro and Mr Kaye think the future of politics might look something like the Flux system, writ large. They say politicians no longer need to have policies of their own when technology allows them to take the public pulse so easily. 

But political scientist and blogger Dr Peter Brent said a model based purely on popular consensus would make parliament sluggish. 

He said leaders often needed to make unpopular decisions.

"The way change usually happens in this country is a government brings it into place - there can be a lot of opposition to it - but by the time of the next election people have got used to it and decided, 'actually, it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be', and they've moved on," Dr Brent said.

The Flux founders believe Australian voters want more influence over their politicians in between elections.

“I think there is an appetite,” Mr Spataro said. “I think it’s more veracious now that it’s ever been”.

Public communications expert Professor Jim Macnamara, of the University of Technology Sydney, agreed that voters were increasingly more interested in individual issues than broad political ideologies.

“Research is showing that people no longer want to sign up to a political platform as such, where you commit to an overall platform that you had not much say in developing.” he said.

For Flux to work, the technology needs to be bulletproof. There are obvious incentives to hack the system and gain direct control over elected officials.

Mr Spataro and Mr Kaye are applying the same technology behind the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, known as the blockchain, to run their app.

The blockchain is a system for managing data where transactions are recorded on a public, digital ledger, shared by a network of computers. Crucially, there is no central authority or main computer that can be hacked. Every computer has a copy of the ledger, enabling them to validate any changes. (This Wall Street Journal video explainer is a good guide for the beginner.)

If the blockchain does prove to be a reliable way to record electronic votes, the implications could extend beyond the Flux app.

Computer security was one of the main reasons electronic voting in Australian elections was rejected in a 2014 report by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by current Speaker of the House MP Tony Smith.

“The Committee believes that it is likely that technology will evolve to the point that it will be possible to vote electronically in federal elections. At that stage the question for a future Parliament, and the voting public, will be whether the convenience of electronic voting outweighs the risks to the sanctity of the ballot,” the report read.

“The view of this Committee is that the answer to this question at this time is that no, it does not.”

Professor Macnamara is an advocate of electronic voting in elections.

“There are security risks ... but at the same time, we manage to run the world's banking system and all our credit cards electronically, so one would think that there’s got to be a time when people don't have to turn up at a hall with a bit of paper and a pencil,” Professor Macnamara said.

“Voting for young people is kind of like something from the past century, or several centuries ago.”

The chair of JSEM at the time of the 2014 report, MP Tony Smith, declined to comment, as did the current JSEM chair.

Some time after the election, Australians will vote in a plebiscite on same-sex marriage that is expected to cost the taxpayer 158 million dollars.

Here too, Professor Macnamara says, a secure electronic system has potential.

“Because of the cost of referendums and plebiscites, we can only do them every year or two,” he said.

“Whereas if we could have voting on issues digitally or electronically, people could have votes regularly throughout the year.”

Political scientist Dr Brent said Flux, like any brand new party, only had a “very very tiny” chance of winning a Senate seat at the upcoming July 2 election. The counter on the Flux website puts current membership at more than 1,600. “If that number moves up to about half a million or so, assuming all those people vote for them … that’s becoming competitive at least,” Dr Brent said.  

But Flux are unperturbed. Mr Kaye and Mr Sparato say they are already looking ahead to future state elections.

According to the so-called ‘preference whisperer’ Glenn Druery, that persistence will be key to Flux’s long-term success.

Mr Druery is best-known for brokering the preference deals between minor parties that installed senators like Ricky Muir on tiny primary vote percentages at the last federal election, and has been working as a political strategist helping minor parties get elected since the 1990s.

"The Flux Party has brought an energy to the minor party scene that I haven't seen in a long time,” he said.

“If they stick here long enough, and they pursue what they're doing with the same kind of vigour I can see now, eventually they'll get somewhere. They may even get elected," Mr Druery said. 

 

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