UPDATE 1-Flux Party seeks to be the bitcoin of Australian politics


* Flux Party legislators would be controlled by members

* Voting “tokens” could be traded like bitcoins

* Founders say representative democracy outdated

* Australia’s Senate has history of electing fringe parties

(Adds link to bitcoin explainer graphic)

By Matt Siegel

SYDNEY, Feb 17 A new Australian political party
is using the virtual currency bitcoin as a model to replace what
they say is an outdated political system – representative
democracy – with a streamlined new polity for the information
age.

The Flux Party says its goal is to elect six senators. They
will propose no policies and will not follow their consciences,
but will support or block legislation at the direction of their
members, who can swap or trade their votes on every bill online.

“If they didn’t have to be senators, if they could just be
software or robots they would be, because their only purpose is
to do what the people want them to do,” Flux Party co-founder
Max Kaye told Reuters in an interview.

Australia is set to hold an election in September or October
after a period of turmoil that brought five prime ministers in
as many years.

At the same time the upper house, which thanks to the quirks
of its electoral system has a history of returning mavericks and
fringe party candidates, has been hopelessly deadlocked by a
handful of senators, at least one elected on less than 1 percent
of the vote.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last week raised the
possibility of calling an early poll to break the gridlock that
has held up the government’s legislative agenda.

That type of policy inertia is what bitcoin enthusiasts Kaye
and Flux co-founder Nathan Spataro say inspired them to explore
alternative systems that better represent the world of 2016.

Bitcoin is a web-based “cryptocurrency” used to move money
around quickly and anonymously with no need for a central
authority. The technology behind it is called the blockchain – a
massive electronic ledger of every transaction that is verified
and shared by a global network of computers.

To Spataro and Kaye, bitcoin is not just an alternative
financial system: it is the missing link between representative
democracy and Democracy 2.0.

“This ancient system we’ve got of representative democracy,
which at the time liberated us from monarchies and was awesome,
now we’re at a point where it’s become this monster,” Spataro
said.

“We’re in a society now that’s got the Internet and when
democracy in its current form was conceived, you had to sail on
a ship from England to get here. This model wasn’t designed for
this world.”

“DELIGHTFULLY NAIVE”

Bitcoin’s strength comes from its ability to build trust
through ease of verification and by removing human frailty from
the equation, said Dr. Adrian Lee, an expert on bitcoin at the
University of Technology Sydney.

That makes what the Flux Party is proposing both unique and
also potentially fraught.

“I haven’t seen a party which would vote via blockchain,”
Lee said. “If you removed the politician and made it just a
bitcoin machine, then maybe it would work but you can’t do
that,” he said, noting the absence of a legally binding
mechanism to make Flux senators vote as directed.

Although the party’s architecture for calculating and
distributing voters’ wishes to their elected officials uses
highly complex computer code, the overall idea is fairly simple.

Flux members and single-issue campaigners that agree to
support the party at the election are allotted bitcoin-like
tokens that they can use themselves, trade or give to experts or
interest groups they trust to vote as their proxy.

Outcomes are distributed proportionately, so if 80 percent
vote in favour of a bill and 20 against, five Flux senators vote
yea and one nay.

Ministers are not often experts in their portfolio, and yet
they are charged with making critical decisions on issues such
as environmental or fiscal policy. Under their system, the Flux
Party founders say, large blocs of voters could effectively
grant their vote on such issues to a scientist or economist.

“You get sick, you go to the doctor, right? You don’t
self-diagnose and you don’t go and call your plumber,” Kaye
said.

The Party filed its registration papers with the Australian
Election Commission last month after obtaining the requisite
support of at least 550 registered voters. Its website currently
puts its membership at 1,009 people.

Attempting to apply the transformative power of the Internet
to democratic systems is not a new one, said Peter Chen, a
senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney, who
called the Flux Party “delightfully naive people”.

“They’re just the modern version of something that’s always
been around: utopian political system designers,” he said.

“They’re obviously guys who are really focused on the tech
thing and that has always been the problem with the e-democracy
people. They’re often really tech-driven and they need political
scientists at the brainstorming floor to say ‘well, I don’t know
if that’d work’.”

(Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Alex Richardson)

mm

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