Photographer: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The criticism from the Institute of Public Affairs comes after the senator complains that the site that calculates the voting patterns of parliamentarians is “misleading”
Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg has displayed a “disdain” for free speech that “smacks of autocracy” by threatening to take legal action against a website that purports to explain MPs’ voting records, the Institute of Public Affairs said.
The OpenAustralia Foundation has dismissed Bragg’s threat of legal action for posting his record on their site, They Vote For You, as “ridiculous”.
Bragg this week hired legal counsel to demand that the foundation modify the website “to accurately reflect [his] voting patterns,” alleging that failure to do so may constitute “misleading and misleading” conduct.
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The website uses a mathematical formula to score MPs’ actions, whether they vote for, against or abstain from voting, to generate an assessment between “votes consistently for” or “consistently against” an issue .
Bragg and fellow moderate liberal Dave Sharma have criticized the website for reporting that they voted against protections for LGBTQ people, despite being strong voices in favor of such protections in parliament.
Sharma crossed the floor in parliament to vote with Labor on an amendment to protect LGBTQ+ students in the religious discrimination bill in February, while Bragg signaled he would do the same before it was eventually dropped from the Senate calendar.
Liberal MPs claimed the website was “partisan” and Bragg tried unsuccessfully to strip it of its charity status last year.
After receiving the legal demand, the foundation’s lawyers would have responded that “there was no cause of action” because the foundation does not engage in “business”.
He said he supported his work and that the confusion over Bragg’s voter registration stemmed from problems within parliament itself that urgently needed reform.
Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam said Bragg’s action against the website “appears to be another example of the Coalition’s disregard for the principle of free speech and free political debate.”
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Roskam cited Bragg’s threat and an unrelated complaint by liberal Senator Sarah Henderson about the charitable status of the Parenthood Project as examples of government figures engaging in “arbitrary and draconian overreaction” by attacking groups “for their vigorous opposition to the Coalition”.
“This is not the question of condoning illegal activity. It is about trying to censor political debate.”
Roskam warned that such efforts “weaken democracy” because they set a “dangerous precedent for a potential Labor government to follow by targeting, for example, those who question the effectiveness of Covid control measures or the impact of climate change.” .
“What they are talking about smacks a lot more of autocracy than democracy.”
Bragg rejected the criticism. “You are entitled to your opinion… but I don’t agree with that analysis,” he told Guardian Australia.
OpenAustralia Foundation co-founder Matthew Landauer said he backed the website’s formula for calculating a politician’s support for an issue, which he said was “open and transparent”. He explained that a parliamentarian’s position on a “substantive” vote was weighted more heavily than non-substantive votes, such as minor procedural motions.
“We are confident that our methodology is good,” he said. “It applies exactly the same to all members of parliament: there is no bias in the process.”
Landauer said the site showed how a politician actually voted, not what their public comments or intentions were. He said the stoush with Bragg and Sharma defended reforming the way parliament handled and recorded votes in the chamber, saying that procedural quirks, such as passing a motion “in the voices,” that is, without take a formal voting record, it made it more difficult to track an individual’s behavior.
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“We need to make some kind of concerted push at some level to get parliament to improve its parliamentary voting record. There are so many votes in the voices that you can’t tell who voted each way or if they’re in the room at the time,” Landauer said.
“[This] it is a fundamental problem and a huge gap in the parliamentary record. The work we have done has made it even more obvious to a layman.
“We need a complete record of all votes that lists how each deputy votes on each vote.”
Bragg said the website’s records “do not correspond to the official record kept by parliament.”
“It’s wrong, it’s misleading and it degrades public debate,” he said.
They Vote For You is trying to reduce a very important and complex Westminster system to overly simplified captions and graphics. It lacks any nuance or context and uses hyperbole to further a partisan goal.”
Bragg insisted that consumer law would apply to the foundation, citing its “corporate activities” such as soliciting donations.
Landauer said his legal team had responded to Bragg’s attorneys and was awaiting further response.