There is a mystery surrounding the unusual name of the candidate for the Online Direct Democracy party in Fisher. He addresses the question with a wry smile; it has been more than 15 years since he officially became LB Joum but even today, people regularly ask him “how do you spell it?”
Joum, formerly known as Jamie Willis, decided to change both of his original names during a particularly tough period of his life: his divorce with his ex-wife. “When I was married, I had four stepchildren,” he says. “They began to call me Joum and I really liked the name.”
But behind his first name, LB, lies a whole book he wrote called Life, Being, which he says is a philosophical reflection about the state of being. Started in 1998, the 138-page book was published in 2000 and turned out to be a revelation for Joum, helping him build a new connection between himself and the world. “I’m a thinker,” he says. “After having a marriage break up I was really trying to work out what everything means, what was my direction in mind. And writing was part of the process.” Travelling around the Sunshine Coast in a transportable house manufactured by his own hands, Joum finally settled again in Mooloolah, a small town in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Writing Life, Being, as well as changing his name on official papers and adopting a hippie lifestyle, marked the start of his philosophical journey, which ultimately led to politics. Introduced to political thinking when he was working for the management committee of the Eumundi Markets, Joum said he then decided to take a step forward by engaging in politics with the idea that technology could benefit democracy. “I am an inventor, I am passionate about technology,” he says. “I love remote control, flying things. I have got helicopters and drones with cameras on them, but I need more time to play around with them.”
And it has been the case since his childhood. Catherine Matheson, his little sister, remembers her brother would love to invent things. “He used to ask questions about everything, more to understand things than to create arguments,” she says. “It’s just in his personality.”
She runs a dance school with their mother in Caloundra, and like the rest of their family, she supports her brother’s political involvement. “When he announced to us that he was going to be one of the candidates for the federal election of Fisher, we thought it was a fantastic idea, we all jumped on board,” she says.
Combining alternative lifestyle and technological advances, Joum’s home, were he lives with his partner of 13 years and her children, has solar hot water, composting toilets and solar power. “I thought, there must be a way to connect the internet into our parliament and have it work,” he says. “Then, I came up with the idea that if a politician got elected with the promise that they would follow the instructions given to them through the internet from voting Australians, then we could change politics”.
So Joum created a Facebook page called ‘Occupy Politics Australia’ in reference to Occupy Wall Street, a large people-powered movement protesting against the economic system that benefits the most powerful people and organisations. “It was aiming to occupy Australian politics, but in a virtual way,” Joum says. When the Online Direct Democracy party, formerly Senators Online, came out of hibernation for the 2013 election, Joum realised their ideas were overlapping and he joined the party.
One of the main goals of the worldwide non-profit organisation Online Direct Democracy Party is to engage people in political decisions by voting using online platforms. According to the party’s website, Parliamentary Bills would only be adopted if the clear majority of Australian voters were supporting them.
This concept differs from the traditional political system as it only has one policy: to represent in government the wishes of the clear majority view. Despite the small 209 first preference nominations for Senator Online obtained in the 2013 election, the Online Direct Democracy party is developing. An online voting platform, PollyWeb, was launched at the beginning of 2016.
Joum emphasises the fact that he has none of the promises others candidates can have, because the whole concept of the Online Direct Democracy party is based on connecting the internet into politics, allowing citizens to enter political debates. “The only thing I promise to do is to follow the instructions of the Australian people,” he says. “I could be the biggest idiot; it is a job that anyone could do.” To the question about the 14% of Australians who do not have access to the internet, Joum answers that they would be able to be supported by friends and family.
Although the party he runs for is still in its early stages and the nomination of candidates is made on a voluntary basis, Joum is driven by the challenge to improve the system that runs society. In an interview from 2005 about his experience supervising the Eumundi Markets and his personal journey, he said the world was heading towards a dead end, urging the necessity for people to get involved in the process of political decision-making. “I am not running for politics because I think I will be elected, but because we need to work out a way that people can feel like they have an ability to impact on the decision-making process,” he says. “I think if you look at the planet, the environment, and the way things are going, you can only say it is getting worse. If humans don’t change their ways and it keeps getting worse, then at some point, it is going to finish.”
Although the Online Direct Democracy concept needs to be tested, Joum believes that it will eventually change politics to the point where politicians would not be needed anymore. “It has the potential of doing that,” Joum says. “This is a brand new possibility for society.”