[Or: My Cynicism and Gov 2.0]

I’m feeling a little vocal today, and given two blog posts, one from James Dellow of Headshif and the other from Acidlabs’ Stephen Collins, I feel inclined to throw my two cents in.

Yes, this probably is a wing from me, but I think its a bit justified. Two things make me feel like there are caveats on this open government thing.  The main caveats seem to be about doing things cheaply and it being enough to service the majority.

The first one is to do with the Accessible Voting trial that took place at the last federal election.  On the 16 March 2009 the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released an interim report which included a report that the federal government not continue to pursue accessible voting for those who are blind or visually impaired. (See the Blind Citizins Australia website)

..the threshold issue for the committee is whether the improvement in the quality of the franchise for electors who are blind or have low vision who, by using electronically assisted voting were able to cast a secret and independent vote, should be continued given the significant cost incurred in providing this service

In Australia we don’t actually have a right to vote. (We have no explicate rights and very few implied rights) Voting is actually an obligation of the citizen through the requirements of compulsory voting.  In other juristictions, where voting is a right, there would be considerable weight added by having a right to cast a secret and independent ballot, and rather than abandoning such systems finding a way to produce a cheeper solution would be an imperative.

At the end of the day it really feels like the committee has put it into the “to hard” basket.  It’s worth reading the report to see what other States and Territories have done.

Two side notes on this:  Firstly, I tried to use the accessable voting system, and was told that as the trial was not operating in my electorate I would be unable to do so.  Secondly, it’s worth noting I emailed my local member on this topic, and received a response from the committee chair in writing through the post.  Given I had stated I am Legally Blind, why did they send me a printed response?

Finally on this topic, the Committee says its open to pursuing other cheaper options, but that feels like lip service.

(Note: I did think about writing some of my feelings about not being able to cast my own ballot, but I think I’ll leave that for another time if people are interested)

The second issue is with respect to the Gov 2.0 Task force.  If you care to look at the post Official Issues Paper Released, you will see a conversation in the comments, primarily between myself, Stephen Collins and Peter Alexander.  I’ll leave it to you to read the conversation rather than reproduce it here, instead I’ll highlight key points.

My comments was with respect to the issues paper, which was released in various formates, most of which are reasonably good, acessability wise.  However, I downloaded the PDF version, and found it untagged.  I expressed by disapointment.  Mr Alexander pointed out that the governemtn doesn’t think PDF is suitably acessable.  At the end of the day PDF is supported by and ISO standard which specifies quite a number of accessability features.  The problem with these features is that they do have to be taken into account when the document is created.

Rather than looking at this as an issue to explore, Mr Alexander proceeds to quote a peice of HREOC research which, to my memory, dates from quite a number of years ago.  Indeed searching the HREOC site right now I can’t actually locate the document in question.

If I lived in almost any other country I would actually have rights surrounding this kind of thing, but given Australia’s lack of a Bill of Rights, we deal in a system of liberties.  We have almost no guarantees of anything.  Some will argue that this system provides us with more flexibility to adapt to a changing society, and that may be true, but it only seems to work that way if you fall into the majority.

At the end of the day I still feel totally dissatisfied with the committee’s response to my comment.  If we’re looking at creating amore open government, and a more open society, then quite clearly we’re failing miserably at this point.

And quite honnestly, given these kinds of responses I hardly feel encouraged to try and participate any further.