Is anyone else filled with concern over the Queensland state government's website (strongchoices.qld.gov.au
), calling for the public to provide information concerning the landmark People’s Budget project? I don't mean that the website isn’t cross-platform enough to support Safari on iOS (#facepalm - perhaps this incompatibility is caused by budget constraints?), I'm referring to a deeper concern. In a word, gerrymandering.
I hardly doubt the integrity of the request for this feedback from residents regarding how to allocate funding to reduce the current budget deficit, but the wisdom of collecting this data with relevant postcodes
from each Queensland resident choosing to participate is
I'm sure everyone realises this project in no way binds the Queensland government administration to follow any collective recommendations given by residents. Given the distinct lack of guidelines detailing project goals following the data collection phase, it is presumably similarly unbound to make public any data collected by the project (except maybe after requests to release information made in accordance with the Freedom Of Information act, and these are often known to be denied or regulated strictly enough to make difficult any distribution of such releases. For example:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-13/use-and-abuse-of-foi/2710152
Because the People's Budget project website requests the postcodes of participating Queenslanders, there is great potential for much information collected by the project to be maliciously used. This of course would be utterly reprehensible
conduct, but could potentially result in a power grab using the leverage of privileged information. Statistical analysis tools can unfortunately be utilised for evil as well as good. For instance, government-controlled information concerning how discrete areas of Queensland wish funding to be directed gives great advantage to an administration holding power--to supply funding to specific projects of particular areas while simultaneously promoting their efforts to meet community expectations. At worst, this could be used to perform a kind of unethical fiscal gerrymandering. Let's assume in hypothetical seats with incumbent opposition members of parliament, constituents believe funding ought be directed to efforts directly benefiting that electorate’s residents. If this notional funding were denied to those certain initiatives at various government levels, the electorate’s political rivals are free to claim their election would result in funding for those projects.
As historically demonstrated, the goals of any government administration can never be altruistically assumed to be entirely for the benefit of the populace. Cynically viewed, the primary aim of any government administration is to accumulate and retain power
and its trappings. For this reason, open requests for crowd-sourced information when its collection and dataset fails criteria of openness, transparency, verifiability, and accountability must be treated as motivationally suspect. For there is much potential for abuse of privileged information to win and retain votes.
For these reasons, it’s difficult to trust this People's Budget project at face value! Why would a government, with access to every expertise area within and without an entire state of Australia, consult its citizens regarding budgeting policy decisions which historically have been made without any such consultation? With limited to no guarantees on openness, transparency, verifiability, or accountability to such consultation? Do they seriously think we all consider ourselves qualified economic analysts and they will consider our advice accordingly? Really?
Ask yourself: Why do you think they are conducting this project in this way? To give you a sense of involvement in the state’s destiny with one hand, while inevitably removing access to government services representing that involvement with the other? Remember, governments are created by and for their people, never the other way around. Are we meant to be at least content with the overly honest expression of intent to take a hatchet to the state budget? Why was the budget apparently sustainably in deficit with higher levels of government spending for a decade, then with the election of the current administration (which over-represents the wealthy conservative interests of private enterprise), everything involving government finance is suddenly
oh, so terrible? Coincidence, or are there other motives in play? Who stands to benefit most from such sweeping changes to government activity? Could it be those who avidly and avowedly support--and donate--to the party holding power?
Another asymmetric information problem with calls for public participation in projects like this, is people with concerns about openness, transparency, verifiability, and accountability--have no recourse. If they eschew participation because of concerns as outlined, they’re doubly hamstrung, because everyone who believes firmly that the administration in power holds their best interests dear will certainly participate. Additionally, failing to participate virtually ensures their views won’t be represented at all, let alone unfairly represented. If they do
participate, and consequently feel their views are unfairly represented, without proper access to the collected data, those citizens are denied appropriate opportunity to understand why
the current government administration’s policy-making decisions run contrary to their views. The fact is, there is no choice, all citizens must participate, and hope their views are considered then represented fairly. Further, hope information gathered through their participation won’t be abused by the incumbent administration to tighten their grip on the levers of power.
Asking for crowd-sourced participation in government decision-making is wonderful, ethical and must be done increasingly. This People’s Budget project effectively highlights the absolute necessity for openness, transparency, verifiability, and accountability in this and all aspects of governance. We all ought to feel mildly hopeful, yet terribly concerned.
I'm nervous posting this, because it appears to disclose my political viewpoint as strongly unfavourable towards Campbell Newman's administration. I'm sharing my thoughts because evidence shows Intensified stratification of society eventually worsens conditions for everyone. If you don't understand why, may I recommend Chuch Pahlaniuk's Fight Club for further edification. If I'm wrong about any assumptions (openness, transparency, verifiability, accountability, potential for abuse, etc.) concerning information collected by the StrongChoices People's Budget project, I'd really enjoy having how/why pointed out in the comments.