Freesteel Blog » Where’s the Australian Public Whip then?

Where’s the Australian Public Whip then?

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 11:18 am Written by:

A colour clone of TheyWorkForYou.com has appeared, calling itself OpenAustralia. I have had a little snoop round and found evidence that they’re going to need to get the video streams included as there appears to be a degree of editing of the transcripts going on. For example, there is this bizarre exchange:

Mr Garrett: about rebates for energy-saving insulation or about accelerating energy efficiency. Instead, we have had scaremongering from the Leader of the Opposition and symbolism from the member for Flinders, who in June last year presented two Wollemi pine trees to the King of Sweden — a gift that was described by the former government as ‘a symbolic gesture of action being taken to tackle climate change’. Wollemi pines became fig leaves when you examine the former government’s attitude and delivery on climate change.

Australia now has a government that is taking a new direction, taking responsibility for tackling climate change, taking responsibility for sound economic management and taking responsibility for ensuring that Australians have a sustainable future.

Interjection

Mr Hunt Mr Speaker, I ask that the minister table the statement from which he was reading word for word, including any evidence about the destruction of the solar sector.
Interjection

Mr Albanese Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. That was an abuse of the procedures.
Interjection

The Speaker The Leader of the House makes a valid point. That is why I ignored all after the request for the tabling of the documents. It is not a precedent, but I ignored it. Minister, were you reading from a document?

Interjection

Mr Garrett I was.

Interjection

The Speaker Was the document confidential?

Interjection

Mr Garrett Yes, Mr Speaker.

Interjection

The Speaker The document was confidential.

This section began at 2:30pm and the next section begins at 2:35pm, so there isn’t much room for things to have happened, but I am sure there are longer off-the-record intervals.

Anyways, that’s a set of work that can be done later, provided that they start archiving the video streams now.

The parsing doesn’t look like it was too desperate, as the pagination happens at the debate boundaries, rather than every 40 or so paragraphs with the Westminster Hansard. So the large-scale chunking is already done for them.

They also had it easy by the fact that the speakers are hyper-linked, so they don’t have the issue of name matching for Honourable Members. It would help, however, if they constituency-matched phrases such as

I remind the member for Sydney that she has been warned.

In fact, a simple tweak could add the constituencies into the text beside their photographs so that we could decode these to some extent ourselves from speeches in other parts of the debate.

Also, they are given hyperlinks to the Bill being discussed. Wouldn’t it be nice if Westminster did this for us too.

Detecting the ends of speeches needs more work, such as here where the final line of a speech shows up as:

Opposition members interjecting —

These run-ons are easy to deal with when you isolate all the different formulations of words and regexp them out into their own sections.

Where’s the heck is the Australian Public Whip?

It seems the pattern is repeating itself. While all the cool people are having a good time getting all the kudos diddling around with the speeches, the votes that matter are being completely ignored. After all, in Westminster there are 40 Honourable Members (known as Whips) whose job it is to police the votes. No one cares about the speeches, so long as the members vote the right way. Which is why the political class won’t have a problem encouraging everyone to be distracted by this entirely fruitless endeavour that everyone thinks is cool.

It took some time to find where they put the votes. I could tell some kind of decision was made in this debate, because it followed the pattern of a Westminster Second Reading debate, with an amendment proposed:

Christopher Pyne: I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
notes

(a) that the increase to the Passenger Movement Charge is an unfair slug on Australian working families;

(b) that the Government has shown itself to be both tricky and cavalier in its attitude to Australia’s border security by cutting Australia’s Customs Budget by $51.5 million in real terms next year, while at the same time announcing a measure that will raise $459.3 million over four years, allegedly to offset ‘the cost of a range of aviation security initiatives’;…”

Then the debate ends with:

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Pyne’s amendment) stand part of the question.

Somewhere there was a vote, which doesn’t occur in the original transcript. In fact you’ve got to look hard for it to get to the Votes and Proceedings which summarizes the debate, without the distraction of the speeches.

The order of the day having been read for the resumption of the debate on the question — “That the bill be now read a second time”

Debate resumed by Mr Pyne who moved, as an amendment — That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: “whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:…”

Debate continued.

Question — That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question — put. The House divided (the Deputy Speaker, Dr Washer, in the Chair) —

AYES

Mr Adams Mrs D’Ath Mr Hayes Mr Price
Mr Albanese Mr Debus Mrs Irwin Mr Raguse

NOES

Mr Abbott Mr Haase Mrs Markus Mr Secker
Fran Bailey Mr Hartsuyker Mrs May Mr Simpkins

And so it was resolved in the affirmative.

Question — That the bill be now read a second time — put and passed — bill read a second time.

Leave granted for third reading to be moved immediately.

On the motion of Mr Debus (Minister for Home Affairs), the bill was read a third time.

In other words, this crucial information is in a separate parallel thread which is too boring and technical for cool people to be bothered with, but it must be parsed and aligned against the House Hansard debate speeches to make it any use.

If this doesn’t happen, then the party whips and high-performance lobbyists will continue to get their job done by getting the votes, while the public receives only fine political speeches that make us feel good about the process. This is the essence of modern politics — the art of successfully conning the public while selling out the to powerful interests. This website in its current form will help them do just that, because you could have an absolute disgrace of a law being debated in the Parliament, and everyone saying how bad it is, but a bunch of silent MPs come in and vote it through, and none of the people who are motivated enough to read and be moved by those great speeches finds out who the scoundrels are. We lose contact with the chain of events, get confused, and move off with the mere feeling that something has gone wrong, but we don’t know what.

So I wonder who is going to do this job, or if it gets onto their Open Australia development plan. I can tell anyone who does take it on that it’s an absolute thank-less task, because it’s very hard work, and nobody appreciates the results. At least they here in England they don’t.

There are some very important sell-out votes such as this one that I am still trying desperately to publicize, without anyone’s help. That particular one has 443 hits on it on the PublicWhip webpage — none of which come in referred from any environmental or sustainable energy group. Every reader of it has come in through the front page and my appalling web-interface that everyone complains about.

By voting against their government on this issue, 37 MPs sacrificed any chance of becoming a government minister or obtaining future party employment. Observing the so-far lack of any interest in this by the wider community, I’m wondering why they even bothered. They should have made their speeches, and then voted the way they were told to vote.

This web-technology enables you to access the information you couldn’t easily get to before. But it doesn’t mean you’ll go after the information you need. A wrongly interfaced system like this — in its current form — can be a step backward because it’s already filling the niche, and won all the kudos available in that department.

So I’d like to see them acknowledge the crucial importance of a Public Whip project in their system, and could easily propose some designs and possibly some collaborations on code — if they’re interested. Though I’m not sure they are.

Oh well. Nevermind.

11 Comments

  • 1. Matthew replies at 17th June 2008, 12:54 pm :

    “if it gets onto their Open Australia development plan.” <– well, it’s a very low numbered ticket in their system: http://trac2.assembla.com/openaustralia/ticket/10 so I’m sure they are interested.

  • 2. NathanaelB replies at 18th June 2008, 3:07 am :

    So … nothing nice to say about OpenAustralia then? It’s a community project run by volunteers – in fact only 2 people worked on the adaptation of TheWorkForYou for OpenAustralia. A lot of effort went into it and after only 3 days of being live it’s been widely acclaimed as a great step forward in working towards a more accessible, transparent and open government.

    You’re the only person who’s suggested that this project might be a step backward in this goal – and while you make some good points I’m nonetheless disappointed by your negativity.

  • 3. NathanaelB replies at 18th June 2008, 3:12 am :

    By the way, feel free to directly contact the OpenAustralia team to submit your suggestions:

    http://www.openaustralia.org/contact/

  • 4. Michael Koukoullis replies at 18th June 2008, 4:42 am :

    Okay this is the third time I am writing this as the wifi connection keeps dropping out so I hope this doesn’t come across too angry.

    The dudes at OpenAustralia deserve way more credit than you give them. TheyWorkForYou was adapted into OpenAustralia by a small team, in their own time and was unpaid. Not many of us can lay claim to such an effort.

    We need more stuff like OpenAustralia to happen, what we don’t need is more absolutism about ideas. Keep it in perspective next time.

  • 5. Julian replies at 18th June 2008, 9:09 am :

    Thanks for getting in touch. Yes, we’re all unpaid, under-numbered and under-respected volunteers in this business, but that doesn’t mean we know much about sharing knowledge, experience and code with the people who actually do stuff.

    I’m sorry for the disappointment, but in my very long experience of dealing with people, sending nice emails in private never gets the attention it deserves. This is not your fault; it’s mine, since I would always get a better response if I said things better. That’s a logical truism that has gets more irritating every time I hear it.

    It’s up to you to decide whether the post above is substantially more useful to your endeavor than just some fluffy acclaim. Perspective is one thing I do have, as well as the certain knowledge that nobody ever gives a damn about my opinion.

    All the same, if you’re interested you can ask me any strategic questions you like about parliamentary parser designs. Or you can just go ahead and waste what little resources you have repeating the many mistakes I have made in my earlier work.

  • 6. » Where’s the Aus&hellip replies at 19th June 2008, 2:49 am :

    […] the Australian Public Whip then? Posted in June 17th, 2008 by admin in Uncategorized Where’s the Australian Public Whip then? Mr Abbott Mr Haase Mrs Markus Mr Secker Fran Bailey Mr Hartsuyker Mrs May Mr Simpkins … And so it […]

  • 7. kat szuminska replies at 19th June 2008, 12:39 pm :

    Well, where to begin? Negatively or positively framed, all criticism is good. That’s what this is about, no? We all believe we have every right to call into account those who are represented to elect us. So it follows that we who take the first steps to facilitate this in Australia, are happily subject to the same scrutiny. Otherwise, its not much of an open process is it?

    While I thank everyone who has supported our endeavor so far, we completely recognise that we are thus far scratching at the surface, and have a bloody long way to go. We had to start somewhere, and this is where we started! We are very publicly endebted to the hard work put in by UKparsing, TheyWorkForYou & MySociety. I don’t know we’d even have tried if it were not for the inspirational launch of TheyWorkForYou.

    We’re looking forward to dealing with the voting issue, the Senate, States, the Register of Members’ Interests, Expenses and yes, anything we can directly use from TheyWorkForYou, MySociety or anywhere else we will do. Similarly, if we manage to do something unique and useful, we’ll be overjoyed if others’ can pick it up and put it to good use elsewhere.

    We warmly welcome all offers of help and/or practical advice in this any any other areas, and I’m not in the slightest put off by cynicism or hard words. You clearly know a great deal and have gone in and had a good look around, so I eagerly await a sensible discussion on how we might put your experience to action for OpenAustralia, if you really want to help that is.

    We’re not reclusive and we do answer email. Please contact us directly.

    Australian Public Whip, yes please!

  • 8. Julian replies at 19th June 2008, 6:08 pm :

    Ah well, when you have time to pick out any of my points raised above (or others) — as they apply to specific features, code or use-cases — please tell me about it. I don’t have time for bland inspirational messages. As I am unable to guess what direction you are going, it’s impossible to volunteer any information that could be useful to you at the moment.

    What I mean by specific features, code or use-cases is, for example, my critique of the “Add your comment” link which appears on every single speech in the debate. It’s the most failed, anti-progressive feature in the whole TheyWorkForYou system, and it’s never going to get any better.

    There are alternative designs that require less bespoke code and don’t have the flaw of requiring everyone to post their valuable content onto your server where it will get lost amongst the hundreds of thousands of permanently blank entries.

    Now, you can either think creatively about features like this and how it applies to your targeted audience, or you can follow the default construction mindlessly and not get anything better than what we have here. Which is a system whose actual political effect is very hard to under-estimate.

    What I am trying to suggest is that you need to start by judging the TheyWorkForYou project extremely harshly so that you don’t waste your time doing a block-copy of all its limitations. The sooner I see some of that, the better.

  • 9. kat szuminska replies at 20th June 2008, 2:12 pm :

    There are two paths to your suggestions here, one of which is ‘think for yourselves’ and one of which is ‘listen to me’. I’d like to begin with the latter and put the time and energy you have already spent here to good use.

    On your point about comments, we’d agree these are problematic in their current form. What are the “better designs” you’re talking about? Let’s hear those specifics then!

    I can keep checking your blog for a reply, but an email or a ticket would ensure we don’t miss your communication. Feel free to add tickets for any bugs, enhancements etc software.openaustralia.org

  • 10. Freesteel&hellip replies at 21st June 2008, 12:49 am :

    […] the Hansard transcripts of the Parliament of Australia. I’ve been winding them up over here […]

  • 11. » Freesteel: Where&hellip replies at 3rd July 2008, 1:05 am :

    […] Where’s the Australian Public Whip then? Posted in June 17th, 2008 by in Uncategorized Freesteel: Where’s the Australian Public Whip then? AYES. Mr Adams Mrs D’Ath Mr Hayes Mr Price. Mr Albanese Mr Debus Mrs Irwin Mr Raguse. … NOES. […]

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