Yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald article on the rise of eDemocracy — a growing online movement devoted to keeping people informed about what their elected representatives are doing — strangely omitted any mention of Australia’s first eDemocracy website, OpenAustralia.org.

Readers of the article “Plugged-in politics hits our shores” could have been forgiven for thinking that websites devoted to publishing the proceedings of parliament were non-existent in Australia. The story, penned by online activist group GetUp’s Acting Executive Director Ed Coper, opened with an anecdote about the UK eDemocracy website TheyWorkForYou.

In fact, the only Australian website mentioned in the SMH article belongs to the author’s own organisation, GetUp. The new site, Project Democracy, was slated to launch today, and ironically uses software and data from the OpenAustralia.org website.

Inspired by TheyWorkForYou, the volunteer group behind OpenAustralia.org launched its website in June. It publishes Australian Hansard in a searchable format, and allows users to look up their local representative and see what their MP has spoken on in parliament. Earlier this month it also added Senate proceedings from 2006 onwards.

Coper defended the omission of OpenAustralia.org from the SMH article, saying that while the article was about the rise of eDemocracy in Australia, the SMH editors had been more interested in the story about the effects of the UK website, and GetUp’s Project Democracy.

“TheyWorkForYou are really the groundbreakers in this area. They were more interested in TheyWorkForYou and the effect it has had on the parliamentary process in the UK.

“Originally the article didn’t mention Project Democracy at all.”

OpenAustralia.org co-founder Matthew Landauer told Crikey that GetUp’s forthcoming Project Democracy website uses OpenAustralia’s software engine and data.

In an email to the Sydney Morning Herald last night, Landauer said:

We’re happy to celebrate the launch of GetUp’s project democracy website but Ed Coper should have made it clear that a site like the British e-democracy site TheyWorkForYou already exists here at OpenAustralia.org.

Open Australia provides exciting new tools for citizens to monitor and get involved in Australian political debate. It is based on the TheyWorkForYou model and software and like the UK site Open Australia has been put together by Australian volunteers.

Ed Coper and GetUp are aware of this because Open Australia is also providing the software engine and data for GetUp’s project democracy.

We want to see all sorts of organisations building on the work we’ve done but we’d also like to see Open Australia acknowledged as the source.

Coper said that GetUp had met with OpenAustralia.org in the planning stages to discuss the possibility of working together, but that OpenAustralia.org had preferred to remain non-partisan and not associated with GetUp. This was another reason he’d elected not to mention them in the SMH article, he said.

Project Democracy had been slated to launch today but GetUp has delayed the launch until Monday. GetUp was planning to show the Project Democracy website to OpenAustralia.org organisers before it launched, said Landauer.

“We have always planned to promote OpenAustralia on the Project Democracy website,” said Coper.

“Our relationship with OpenAustralia is a good one and we’re continuing to work with them. We’ve had an open dialogue with them from the start.”

Peter Fray

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