Here’s an alternative system – perhaps not the best alternative, and maybe not even a viable one, but it’s an alternative nonetheless:
Australia has about 150 elected members of the House of Representatives and 76 elected members of the Senate. They currently comprise members of political parties such as Labor, the Liberal/National Party Coalition and the Greens, along with Independents and members of minor parties.
Under the current rules, parties can combine, such as the Liberals and the Nationals do. The party or combination of parties that have the most members elected become the Government and the rest become the Opposition, or act as Independents or as members of minor parties.
The whole concept of “opposition” bothers me because it seems that, in the current situation, only the Government can come up with good ideas, whilst the Opposition is determined to oppose ideas, even good ones, just because the Government proposed them. If the Opposition comes up with a good idea, it will be unlikely to be accepted and utilised, simply because the Opposition must be composed of arseholes who can’t possibly have good ideas. That’s why they’re the Opposition.
I’m over-simplifying here, but you’ll possibly feel some sympathy for my view. I just can’t see any sensible reason for having an “Opposition”.
I suppose that what I’m proposing could loosely be termed a “business management model”, rather than a political one, in the sense that the process of electing representatives is actually more like “employing” representatives who will best reflect the wishes of the members of each electorate. “Candidates” would actually be applicants for the position of electoral representative and the “interview process” would see candidates publicly describe their perceptions of the needs and wants of the electoral community.
These perceptions would need to be formed following extensive “non-funded” research within the electorate, in much the same way as an applicant for any job “researches” the requirements of the position.
The candidate/applicant who best determines community requirements, and who best shows the capacity to express these requirements in a parliament, would get the job by securing the greatest number of votes at election. S/he would then go on to earn his/her salary by seeking to satisfy the requirements of the electorate (her/his effective employers).
Under such a system, the elected representative will have loyalty only to her/his electorate, not to any political party, or faction within a party. There will be no need to do deals or form alliances, in order to be elected or re-elected, since voters will make their decisions based upon the performance, anticipated or demonstrated, of their representative.
So, let’s take our 150 electorates and have as many independent people as wish to do so, stand for election in each one. Some electorates might have five candidates, whilst others may have five hundred. (We’ll talk about funding the process later.)
Let’s allow the same thing to happen with the Senate. Currently, each state is allowed 12 senators, with the territories having an entitlement to two each. Independent candidates, as many as wish to do so, would nominate for the available Senate seats and the top twelve from each state would be elected, along with the top two from each territory.
Following the election, with the outgoing government acting in a caretaker role, able to deal with daily business and any emergencies but unable to initiate new legislation, the members of each house choose a leader of the house. Candidates for these positions may nominate themselves or be nominated by other members. Each nominee will have one chance to address the members of the house, to persuade his or her peers to vote for her or him.
A first round of voting will enable the identification of the five most popular candidates for leader of the House of Representatives, and the three most popular candidates for leader of the Senate.
The candidates thus identified will each have one more opportunity to address the members of their respective houses before a final ballot elects the two leaders.
The leader of the House of Representatives may be known as the Prime Minister, and the Senate leader known as the Senate Leader.
The Senate’s role will involve the auditing of legislation passed in the House of Reps, in order to ensure that correct procedures have been followed in the proposal, discussion and passing of new laws, and in projecting any possible unforeseen outcomes that might result from the enacting of this legislation.
If any concerns arise, the members of the Senate will have extensive investigatory powers to test the propriety of the process of forming the legislation, and they may vote to return the legislation to the House of Reps for further consideration, and for modification if necessary. Legislation may then be re-submitted to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority will see the laws enacted.
The roles and responsibilities of the members of the new and improved House of Reps will differ enormously from those of the members of the House of Reps who currently create laws in Australia.
|It’s here that I have to put my money where my mouth is, and it’s not easy. It must be possible to delineate numerous excellent schemes for replacing the present farce. I’ve chosen one which seems to me to be at least viable but I’m sure that there would be ramifications for the Constitution, probably requiring wholesale change there as well.
My ideas are somewhat embryonic and since, by even suggesting changes to our laughable political mess, I’m probably urinating into the teeth of a howling gale, I’ve been reluctant to spend the necessary hours and brain energy to produce a detailed and “watertight” proposal.
|So far, in this replacement scenario, we have 76 independent senators who are acting as watchdogs on behalf of the nation, ensuring that the members of the House of Reps abide by the rules of democratic government. (Further on I’ll suggest some specific rules governing the behaviour of members of both houses).
We also have 150 independent members of the House of Reps, the law makers. These people are directly responsible, firstly, to the voters of their particular electorates and, secondly, to the whole, multicultural Australian community. They have no allegiance to any “party” or informal group within the House of Reps. There will be no formal alliances allowed in either house, enabling “conscience voting” to be the norm rather than the exception as it is now.
Management “portfolios”, based loosely upon the current arrangement, will be declared for health, education, social welfare, defence, (de gate will only be of interest to swinging voters), federal policing, foreign affairs and so on. Members of the House of Reps will nominate themselves for membership of any portfolio group that focuses upon the particular interest(s) of their particular constituents. This means that voters will have direct access to the parliament via their Local Member.
In the present government (February 2018) there are about 30-35 “major” ministries and about 10 more in an “outer ministry”, so there are plenty of jobs to go round. Members of the House of Reps will join as many portfolio groups as they have time to manage. Each group will elect a leader who will be known as the Minister for Whatever. A deputy leader might also be handy to have.
How would the groups function?
We’ll consider the “Education Portfolio Group”, with 58 members. Let’s say that, following input from voters in his electorate, the Member for Oodnagalabie proposes that public funding to private schools be eliminated.
The issue is debated within the group of 58 and a vote taken to determine if the proposal will be presented to the House of Reps in it’s original form or, after discussion, in a modified form. The Member for Oodnagalabie, on behalf of the members of the Education Portfolio, presents the final proposal to the House for debate.
Following debate in the House of Reps, the 150 members vote to approve or reject the proposal. If approved, the requisite legislation is referred to the Senate to undergo the vigorous audit process and to eventually become law.
The point to notice here is that a proposal has come directly from voters in the Oodnagalabie electorate, via their representative, to the relevant portfolio group. It has been debated and a draft prepared by the 58 members of portfolio group, presented to the 150 members of the House of Reps and a decision made which will determine the fate of the proposal.
Within the parliament there has been no voting “on party lines”, lobbying by paid employees of the private schools, or mutually advantageous “deals” done between politicians.
Yeah, you’re right – total bullshit. As long as arses point earthwards someone will find a way to corrupt the process.
However, in my imaginary world I like to think that, to some extent, we might reduce the incidence of illegal or immoral behaviour. In this scenario, if members of the Senate are doing their jobs, it could conceivably happen. (Coming up, there’s a bit about the expected behaviour of pollies which might make this seem a bit more realistic.)
So that’s a possible process – no influence by “party interests”, no “favour swapping”, no shitfights and point-scoring, no payments to bent politicians – it’s a dream.
In order to make the dream come true, to make any significant improvement to the current system a reality, two key steps need to be taken.
First, and most crucial, is the creation of an independent anti-corruption commission with extensive powers to investigate the political behaviour of candidates and members of parliament, and to identify interference in the political process by individuals or organisations outside the parliament.
Evidence of wrong-doing having been obtained, the offender’s behaviour is referred to the High Court where an appropriate consequence may be applied.
Penalties may range from published censure, to dismissal from parliament, to incarceration when behaviours are found to be criminal.
Second is the elimination of “money and its attendant corruption” from the process. It will cost the taxpayer a lot if this is to happen, but it might well be worth it in the long run.
· The entire election process must be funded by government.
· No person or organisation will be permitted to contribute funds to assist in the election of politicians.
· Every candidate will be given the same amount of public money, known as an “election grant”, to spend on her or his campaign.
· Predetermined amounts only may be spent on television and radio advertising. Other media, including social media, may be utilised.
· No additional money may be spent.
· Comprehensive and transparent records of election grant spending must be kept and made readily available to the public, and in order to facilitate any Senate audit.
· No member of parliament may benefit financially from any “post-political career” associations with any private enterprise with which she or he has had “political dealings”, for a period of at least ten years after ending his or her political career.
· All members of both houses will receive identical remuneration, the amounts to be decided by an independent commission. Those elected to leadership roles will receive an additional salary, the Prime Minister being the highest paid.
· Superannuation entitlements and pension eligibility will be identical to those of the rest of the workforce.
· The financial status of each politician and of the members of his or her immediate family will be open to scrutiny in any Senate audit at any time during or after her or his political career.
That’s it, I’ve had enough! I can’t think straight any longer.
To improve our pathetic political system would be a monumental task, and sorting out the federal scene is only the beginning. After that we’d have to look at disposing of state governments and replacing them with regional councils, thereby reducing by one third, the opportunities for people who would use the political process in order to rip off their fellow citizens.
I think I need to open a nice bottle of Cabernet Merlot and forget the whole bloody thing.