Democracy intelligence: creating public value in Australia 

As someone who is infatuated by data and its value, I am puzzled by the information flowing from the Australian Federal Election. I believe democracy is a privilege that must never be squandered. A single vote can help change the lives of others; it can support the most vulnerable in society and raise the standard of living for everyone. I could best summarise the 2 July election like this.

On voting day, despite reading every bit of policy by all parties, reading the budget in detail, looking at economic trends, reviewing historical data and speaking directly to a broad range of politicians (past, current, and future), I still could not decide how best to use my vote. I saw no clear evidence in the data of well-considered balanced policy agenda. In the end, I did what I believed would be best for Australia.

The Australian Federal Election data we have seen to date is symptomatic, in my view, of a federal political system which has become ‘a self-licking ice cream.’ It (the system) creates chaos and confusion; it then responds only to confuse further which in turn alienates the community. There’s no differentiation, just vapid branding and positioning of your opponent. It’s a game that a politician always wins, but the needs, wants, and aspirations of the community are forgotten, and the people lose.

Political apathy is growing due to the perception the citizen and community feel they have little impact on decision making.

At a federal level, few stand for anything anymore except the membership base of each party. Some of the elected reps are the Coke and Pepsi of our polity; branded products which are absolute substitutes for each other separated only by a marketing budget. In the age of digital convenience, demand for consumer-centric services grows, yet the democratic process remains an emotional popularity contest with many becoming indifferent.

The intricate nature of a modern democracy is making decisions at all levels within society more complicated. While vast amounts of data exist in the public domain, assembling these into meaningful insights for decision making is an onerous task. In the end, the community stand little chance of getting to the truth of an issue or validating an election commitment.

The role of a government is to create ‘public value’ and set the conditions where growth, in all forms such as in health, education, social protection, the economy, public safety, the environment can succeed. All governments, at all levels in Australia, have three primary tools to do this:

  1. they can regulate things
  2. they can tax things, and
  3. they can spend our money.

The notion of public value often means spending on items for no real defined fiscal return. Trying to place a return on major public investments is a futile exercise – they will never make sense from the figures alone. Assets such as hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, tunnels and even the NBN are delivered for social outcomes – raising the standard of living and thus creating public value which has a wider flow-on in the economy.

It is also worth noting the task of those in elected public office is becoming harder. The disconnect continues to rise, and good work by some political figures is more often than not overshadowed by sound-bite media grabs designed to sell rather than educate.

The inability of political figures to communicate their message and stand out from the crowd (or their political party) is stifling public value creation through our most important element – democracy.

Many talented and passionate people are choosing not to stand in public life because they are unable to achieve measurable change.

Whatever the final result, when we look at the election on a global scale, we should marvel that not one person has been killed, not a shot in anger was fired. Views have been expressed, and life goes on. In the end, the choice is ours to make; democracy has prevailed, and the result must be respected.

The major parties should look at the data and think very hard about their next steps. Being purely driven by ideology and inflexible to contemporary challenges will always create a vacuum in support. Those able to communicate an authentic message will attract followers, no matter how small or extreme their views are.

Neil Glentworth
Executive Chairman