Australian party crowdsources democracy with online voting

People hand out how-to-vote pamphlets outside a polling station in Sydney's central business district on June 27, 2016.
People hand out how-to-vote pamphlets outside a polling station in Sydney's central business district on June 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Growing distrust and disillusionment with the political establishment in Australia has prompted two young voters to create a party that would allow citizens to have a say in every bill that comes before parliament.

Australians go to the polls on Saturday (July 2), with major policy battlegrounds between parties including the economy, immigration, gay marriage and climate change.

Politics has traditionally been dominated by the right-leaning Liberals and the centre-left Labor. But in the running this time is the new Flux party, which has put forward 13 upper house Senate candidates.

Flux, founded by Nathan Spataro, 26, and Max Kaye, 24, has no policies and no platform.

Its key selling point to Australians is that if its senators are elected into parliament, their decisions would directly reflect how members vote on each bill online, rather than toeing a party line.

"We are purely a tool... for people to interact directly with the decision-making process," Spataro told AFP.

"We founded Flux because we think that in the 21st century, it doesn't really make sense for us to continue to use a political model that is more than 100 years old and quite frankly is disenchanting and frustrating to participate in.

"There is something wrong with our system and government doesn't really listen to the views of the people, and really just benefits from the fact that there are these two behemoths (Liberals and Labor) of politics."

Flux's voting process has been developed using blockchain - the technology behind cryptocurrency Bitcoin. A blockchain is essentially a shared, encrypted "ledger" that cannot be manipulated, offering secure transactions.

So far more than 4,000 members have registered, according to the party's website.

With voting mandatory in Australia for adults and turnout never falling below 90 percent since it became compulsory in 1924, Flux is hoping to pick up voters who are dissatisfied with the major players.

Australia's parliamentary democracy has endured a tumultuous period over the past few years, with four different leaders serving since 2013 as parties removed sitting prime ministers.

At the same time, support for the two main parties and trust in the political system has declined, according to various university surveys.

There has been an increase in the number of voters who describe themselves as non-partisan - 17 percent at the last election in 2013 - the highest level since the start of the Australian National University's election study in 1987.

The proportion of voters who have always voted for the same party has also fallen from 72 percent in the late 1960s to 46 per cent three years ago, the director of the study Ian McAllister told AFP.

Trust in government was at the lowest level in two decades, from 14.9 per cent in 1996 to five per cent this year, a University of Canberra survey added.

"For many Australians, political parties are simply failing to capture the political imagination," the university's governance expert Mark Evans said.