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The origins of Victoria's Westminster system of parliamentary government lie firmly rooted in 13th-century England. Parliament, therefore, has its genesis in the technology of the early period of industrialisation: in expanding networks of roads and horse-drawn transport. In essence, therefore, this Report concerns itself with technological change and its relationship with our democratic ideals, traditions, institutions, principles and aspirations K.

Grover, Submission No. The Report is not, fundamentally, about technology, but about the role which technological changes over recent years have had in shaping the future of Victoria's democratic system. The Terms of Reference of the Inquiry are both narrow and broad, specifying that the Committee investigate:. From the outset the Committee determined that it would consider the political impact of new technology in a very broad sense, based on the core concern: to what extent will new technologies impact positively and negatively on the four key democratic principles outlined above.


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With specific regard to the Terms of Reference, the Inquiry has been given responsibility for examining both programmatic additions to Victoria's democratic practices e. Specific practices in the field of electronic democracy that should be adopted, rejected or monitored for future consideration as advantageous to the practice of democracy in Victoria. Developments in the political use of technology that should be regulated in the public interest to ensure fair participation in government policy making and public life.

Structural issues regarding the management of technological innovation in government to facilitate openness, inclusiveness, accountability and participation by the widest number of people available.

Therefore, rather than assume a "steady state" or " status quo " approach whereby electronic democracy, if implemented, serves to maintain current practices and levels of public participation and engagement , the Inquiry considered areas of democratic practice in Victoria that could be improved through the application of new technology. With a diverse geography, economy and population, the State of Victoria has experienced a long history of stable democratic governance.

Unlike some nations, the Westminster traditions of parliamentary government across Australia have proved to be enduring, without any significant periods of political instability or breakages in the succession of democratically-elected governments. In general terms, it would appear that Victorian citizens retain confidence in the primary system for political decision making, formal elections, with more than 93 percent of Victorians participating during each of the past three State elections Victorian Electoral Commission, a [3]. While the Committee recognises that compulsory voting may overstate popular satisfaction with our political system, survey results from the Australian National University's Australian Electoral Study of indicates the majority of Victorians are satisfied with the democratic system in Australia, and remain engaged in the processes of government through an interest in political affairs Table 1 and Table 2 , below.

Source: McAllister, I. While these results support the current political arrangements for our State, the Committee observes that participation in elections and general acceptance of our political traditions and structures do not necessarily indicate the heath of our democracy per se.

1. Introduction

As indicated in Table 3 , Table 4 and Table 5 , Victorians' assessments of the motivations and probity of political representatives, parties and the Victorian Public Sector remain mixed, but are generally less positive than Table 1 would indicate. Corruption amongst politicians Corruption amongst public servants. These findings appear to be in accordance with trends in many established democracies around the world, which indicate a declining level of public confidence in political participants such as politicians and members of the bureaucracy.

In his opinion, these observations should be interpreted as indicating a continued respect for the formal institutions of democracy elections, the Parliament , but dissatisfaction with political parties and candidates. This view is reflected in Table 6 , which shows that, at the Federal election, Victorians were far less likely to engage in formal political activities such as those of political parties , than private ones with friends, family and colleagues. While these findings appear to present a negative view of Victorians' attitudes towards public affairs and their willingness to participate in politics, Professor Ian McAllister of the Australian National University ANU urges caution in accepting what some call a "crisis of democracy", arguing that these findings can represent normal social changes in the way people relate to existing political participants.

For example, the development of mass media and pervasive personal communications technologies have replaced many of the functions of political parties such as being the major provider of political information , which has flowed on to change public attitudes towards these forms of public associations. The Committee recognises that it is difficult to compare levels of political participation longitudinally, as the statistical evidence available to the Inquiry was incomplete, and notions of what counts as "political" activity varies over time [5]. Of specific interest to the Inquiry, however, was formal policy process: either the legislative work of the Parliament or the processes of developing and administering government programs Executive Government.

In this context, it is possible to identify that Victorians, in the main, retain a connection to political action as opposed simply to monitoring and being informed about political issues and events. Table 7 , below, illustrates the level of political activity of Victorians; a finding that shows at least half of the Victorian population have engaged in some form of political activity in the past five years.

The Committee does not consider that disengagement from public political life is inevitable, nor is it a function of modern society per se.


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  7. There is some evidence to support the proposition that the right mix of policy initiatives can foster positive public engagement with government. Recent data collected by the Department of Human Services cited in: Department for Victorian Communities, a indicates a modest increase in the number of Victorians responding positively to the question "Do you feel there are opportunities to have a real say on issues that are important to you?

    This indicates that, while the political outlook for Victoria continues to be of concern, strategic policy interventions such as the adoption of a community strengthening agenda can have positive impacts on community engagement and participation. Overall, therefore, the Committee rejects the proposition that radical electronic democracy initiatives, such as rolling online referenda, should be introduced as a counter to declining levels of public trust in our political system and to encourage greater levels of public participation.

    Like any modern management process, this cultural change will require careful benchmarking and performance measurement. The Committee considers that, in line with the range of public management performance indicators regularly collected and published by the State Government, an ongoing "democratic audit" should be provided by the Executive to the public.

    This audit should broaden the base for current data collection and reporting practices focusing on macro-level changes across a single axis to provide focused and detailed breakdowns of levels of participation and public perceptions of the democratic opportunities on offer to them, as well as being collected and structured in a manner so as to provide diagnostic information to the Government and Parliament.

    State and society

    Such an audit would build upon initial work currently being undertaken within the "A Government that Listens and Leads" priority action area of the Growing Victoria Together strategic document, and the initial set of indicators developed and collected by the Department for Victorian Communities DVC in conjunction with the Department for Human Services Adams, What this means is that, while the DVC has managed to undertake valuable local-level policy implementations of its community strengthening projects, creation of wide-scale performance shifts have been more difficult.

    Thus, the Committee considers that further data collection at the sub-Statistical Local Area SLA will be necessary to understanding whether localised electronic democracy projects "scale up" beyond their immediate participants or focal policy area. Clearly, a strong working relationship between the DVC and electronic democracy demonstration or pilot programs will be the most effective means of investigating these questions. In addition, data collected at the local level offers the Government the ability to provide important democratic intelligence to Local Governments around the State.

    The Committee notes that the DVC is currently in discussion with each of the seventy-nine municipalities, and recommends that this approach be developed to ensure that data collected is relevant to democracy strengthening activities at the local level, and provides useful State-wide and regional aggregation. The Committee notes that it is now common in Canada for that government to maintain a specific policy unit dedicated to improvements and enhancements to the democratic process.


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    8. The responsible Minister, through data collection and aggregation by the Department for Victorian Communities, in partnership with its key stakeholders in the State and Local Government arenas, should produce a regular statement of Victorians' attitudes to our democratic system and institutions, in a manner which builds upon similar national research and supports the effective evaluation of democratic initiatives at each level of government. This statement should include both descriptive and diagnostic information, and be updated at least once per Parliamentary term, to form the basis for an effective, ongoing agenda of reform and modernisation of the Victorian democratic system.

      The electronic democracy Inquiry was initially begun in , under the 54th Parliament of Victoria. That year, a discussion paper was developed for the investigating Committee and released for public comment, and a delegation travelled to Europe to meet with public officials, academic experts and civil society groups to examine electronic democracy initiatives in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, France and within the political organisation of the European Union.

      Following the tabling of a report of this trip and receipt of twenty-three public submissions, the calling of a State election drew this work to a conclusion. Through a Subcommittee of SARC, the Committee determined to accept and utilise the previous submissions and work undertaken by the previous Inquiry as part of its investigation.

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      Given the time that had passed, a new discussion paper was developed and released, and a further thirty-three submissions were received. A complete list of submissions received by both Inquiries can be found in Appendices A and B. Following a delegation to Canada and the United States of America in August to investigate electronic democracy initiatives in those countries, public hearings were held on February A number of witnesses provided evidence via video- and teleconferencing services, and the Committee regarded this approach to taking evidence as highly cost-effective in some cases, and to be encouraged for use in other investigations.

      As part of the Committee's work, it maintained a centralised website with access to information about the Inquiry, the discussion papers, links and an email discussion list hosted by VICNET's My Connected Communities MC2 Service for members of the public to discuss issues from the discussion paper or other relevant matters of interest to the Inquiry.

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      Members of the travelling delegation also produced a short blog, from wireless devices, while travelling overseas to take evidence. The term "electronic democracy" refers to the use of computing and communications technologies in the democratic process. This term has been used to describe a range of activities, from direct participation in democratic decision making e. Given the formative nature of this area of practice, it must be recognised that a range of partially compatible and competing terms and descriptions have been employed to describe this and related practices.

      Other relevant terms include "digital democracy", "teledemocracy", "electronic governance" and a range of other similar terms. The concept and ideas underpinning electronic democracy are not new. The notion of technologically-facilitated democratic practices has been mooted ever since the introduction of technologies that allow citizens and decision-makers to communicate over great distances. The introduction of the telegraph in the United States in the 19th century was utilised by members of political parties and the Congress to facilitate political communication and deliberation, shrinking the distance between elected representatives and constituents who may have been thousands of kilometres apart Bimber, Each introduction of a new communications technology, from the printing press to broadcast technologies, has similarly had significant political implications, changing the relationship between electors and their representatives and public institutions.

      In considering the broad range of activities described as "electronic democracy", the Committee decided to employ the definition developed by Martin Hagen for the initial discussion paper. It makes it easy to scan through your lists and keep track of progress. Here's an example of what they look like:.

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      Library availability. Yet, sometimes unwittingly, the Victorians did much to create an increasingly inter-connected world, in which some people could speak of co-responsibility to make the world a better place. When Victorians spoke about justice , ending poverty or child-labor and about improving the quality of life, even if their practice was often parochial, their vision was global.