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Can you beat a stacked deck? (Part 2)

By Steve Laing

The changes in the senate rules were actually a good thing. A very good thing. By allowing a much reduced below the line preferencing, it made below the line voting realistically possible for the majority of voters for the first time. Sure, the DD plus those changes created four (now three) One Nation senators (although I’d suggest that we’d possibly have got 2 anyway – given the collapse of Palmer United, and the disaffected were always going to go to the next party of protest), but this change is the first step in what really must be the next logical step to democratize the system – getting rid of above the line senate voting. Imagine what that might do amongst the ranks of the right wing crazies where their senate seats are pretty much guaranteed through ensuring they are kept top of the list. I believe that most Labor and Greens voters are smart enough to be able to vote below the line (and indeed did so to great effect in Tasmania), but right-wingers? Not so much – the simpler the better for them (and that’s how the party members like it).

Labor’s opposition to the senate voting changes at the time was entirely political, and completely short-sighted, particularly given that up to that point they had been fully in support of such changes. Fortunately in this situation, the Greens supported the government and the legislation passed. The old rules actually suited the right wing much better. The only reason that the cross-bench didn’t support the government more in the last government was that Tony Abbott is a complete klutz (as indeed were most of his cabinet – hell, that lot couldn’t even manage to form a government in 2010 when all they had to do was convince a couple of right-leaning independents!) – Malcolm would have smarmed that cross-bench with ease. The new cross-bench, bar the faux Liberals of One Nation, is more than a little bit trickier for Mal. He has managed to get bills passed, but they have been nowhere close to the legislation he wanted to pass. Moreover once you start tinkering with one rule, you’ve actually admitted that the system is improvable, and that opens the door for more changes. By not supporting the change, Labor have given the Coalition a stick to beat them with if Labor propose any new changes in the future. Once again short-sighted politics may end up delaying essential long-term progress.

Now there is a very, very good chance that Labor will win the next election through playing the game by the current “rules”. And they will probably do it without the Greens in the lower house – though it should be noted that they may not do it without Green voters, nor Greens senators. Sure, they may have to continue bending towards the centre to get elected; continuing to prop up private schools, continuing the lie that private health insurance makes financial sense, that propping up foreign owned coal miners is acceptable, even continuing offshore detention as they have now tied themselves to the Coalition’s “stopping drownings at sea” narrative.

But so what? If Labor don’t have the power to make any decent policies stick long-term, (as you can bet they will be repealed when the Coalition get back in again), what is the point? Labor policy enactment is increasingly an exercise in hope and futility.

What Labor (or if I may be broader – “progressive politicians and their supporters) need to do is not just look to how to win the next election, but to win the next election such that they can make the necessary changes in the rules, such that they stop favouring those on the right getting back into power so they can look after their mates at the expense of the majority of the electorate. If Labor don’t change the rule-book, sure they may continue to win an election or two, but then what? Because as far as I can see, much of what has been achieved by Labor governments over the last fifty years has been wound down, or is under attack. So have they really achieved much? Or has it simply been that democracy as it exists in the Westminster system, is an illusion designed to keep the majority compliant, whilst the elites remain very much in control, their capital and power expanding at the expense of everyone else’s?

And finally if we haven’t already passed the point of no return on climate change, we are going to very soon, so structural changes in governance need to happen soon. We simply cannot afford for another government like the muppets we currently have being given the reins again. This isn’t to say that I don’t want the perspectives of those from the right being either heard, and in certain cases enacted – contrary to what those on the right think, promoting diversity includes being tolerant and inclusive of those with diverse views (except the intolerant views – there really is no place for such). If we are to have a future that is people, rather than money, centric – changes in the way we are governed must occur. Even the Silver Bodgie says so.

So here is the big question. Are those of us who consider our viewpoint progressive, who are more concerned about the needs of the many than of the few, going to push those in the Labor party (given they are the ones most likely to get the next chance to be in the big chair), but indeed any party, who truly believes in a truer and fairer democracy, to make the necessary changes to help us break out of a system that continuously fails to deliver for the citizens that it is supposed to be working for? Or do we continue to play the role of compliant pawns, providing the veneer of democratic respectability to an increasingly brazen kleptocracy?

So whilst I am more than happy for Labor to have policies to get the economy under control, create more jobs, put more money into healthcare and public education, and the rest, the absolute priority has to be to make changes to the system to make it more representative, to make it less combative, to implement better processes to improve problem solving and build solutions that are not only effective, but also collaborative, and most importantly will stop them being unwound by the next group of lobby controlled puppets of the 0.1%.

This means the Westminster system, and the way that its members are elected, need to change significantly. If Labor truly wants to stop the populist backlash to right-wing politicians who will promise them the world, but will actually deliver very little, they need to find ways to give voters much greater choice in the candidates they can vote for, as well as ideally also have some direct input into voting for the countries leader. The current situation whereby self-invested cabals decide who will be the representatives that can be voted for, and then ultimately who the leader of the country will be, is increasingly being recognized for the sham that it is. We already know that Coalition members are entirely self-interested, but what about those on the left? Is there loyalty to the people, or is it actually primarily to the party?

Changing the processes of government to improve the problem solving process (which is really what government are there to do) is actually not that difficult. Don’t simply announce the legislation, but involve other parliamentarians of other parties in the process of developing it. Remember they all represent some part of the community. Such that when you do present the legislation into parliament you’ve already got some support outside the party, identified potential issues and have recognized mechanisms to deal with them. Sure, the Coalition won’t play ball, but at least the public will get the opportunity to see that. They may be “in opposition”, but they are still paid by the people to do some work on their behalf, and work they should.

If we don’t, we will continue to get the same kind of clusterfluck that was the Backpacker tax. Seriously, if that is how parliamentarians of all persuasions believe is an appropriate manner to resolve a minor problem, then we really are right royally screwed in believing they are capable of determining a decent solution to a major one. Of course, the right are more than happy to continue to do things this way. It plays to their limited abilities, safe in the knowledge of the cash rewards that will be put their way when they finally leave. They truly don’t care that the country will keep spiraling downwards as they do – as long as they are in power, and Labor aren’t.

And changing the election system to give the voters not only a greater say in who their representatives should be, but also encouraging more of the many capable people there are in Australian society to stand as candidates who are genuine contenders without having to sell their soul (and loyalty) to a political party first, is also entirely possible. If electors can work with below the line senate voting, we can truly change how elections are run, and significantly take away the advantages in the rules that those on the right rely on to give them the whip hand.

How do I know? Because as a problem solver, I’ve come up with a new election process that is more representative of the electors wishes, but also has mechanisms of government that adapts how legislation is developed to include a much wider range of perspectives to improve the quality and also the acceptability of such to the general public. Now at this point, I know the system I’m developing isn’t perfect, and whilst I have already recognized some of the possible issues, know there will be more that I haven’t considered. Fortunately I happen to know this online community that I am sure will be willing to help with critical feedback and more ideas. And I WILL get round to finish writing it up, as long as I can keep away from the bloody gaming, of course.

Of course, I should end this article here. But I found that I can’t. You see perhaps my biggest concern is that the necessary change, the “progress”, simply won’t occur. At times it seems to be that Labor politicians, and indeed perhaps even the Greens, are actually more invested in the process than the outcome. Is the enjoyment of playing the game; the personal power, importance, and celebrity that comes with being a federal politician; not forgetting the not unpleasant salary and perks; actually as big, or perhaps a bigger motivator than the outcome that they are supposed to be trying to achieve? How many have been seduced by “Canberra”?

Sure Labor certainly look like they want to win the next election, and their clever antics in the chamber are certainly moving things in that direction, but in the meantime the country is going to the dogs and who knows what tricks the Coalition will have up their sleeves for the next election. And I already see this commonly in forums and comments sections, where Labor supporters attack Greens supporters, despite the stated intention that the most important thing is who is kicked out, not who actually gets in. Replacing one tyranny with another of a different colour is but a temporary solution, and if we progressives can’t recognize this, then meaningful change simply won’t occur. And if the world indeed is going to get better, that critical change has to take place must be in the key institution that is meant to look after us, the one that our progressive forebears; the chartists, the trade unionists, the suffragettes, the AAF and FCAA, fought and sometimes died to achieve our representation at – our democratic parliament – and it is our right and duty to ensure that it works to properly represent the rights of the people of this country rather than the desires of the few. And when it doesn’t, to change it till it does. The evidence is plain to see that the current rules are not in the favour of the many, but of the few, and the few are prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it that way.

You see in my opinion there was one trump card that Labor could have played at the last election that would have been enough to get the extra votes they needed – to push for a Federal ICAC – an opportunity to drain the swamp, as Trump would put it. One thing I do know talking to people of almost every political persuasion, is that they all believe “pollies” are at it. We know that Coalition members wear their entitlements almost as a badge of honour, but Labor? Well Labor’s lack of commitment to the creation of this one critical institution suggests that they either have stuff to hide, or perhaps they have really just become another part of the “few”, publicly fighting the good fight, but quietly enjoying the perks and the prestige, seduced by the glamour of the historic institution, and slowly institutionalized into a process that is increasingly unrepresentative of the wishes of the people it is supposed to look after. Have they indeed, become part of the problem? And if Labor haven’t realized that the rise of Trump, of Hansen, and Brexit aren’t due to policy, but a fundamental and growing distrust in the system and the “elites” that are in it, then they’ve learned nothing from the last election at all. Without wanting to improve those critical systems of government, and make them more democratic and inclusive, I’m afraid that like it or not, they are part of the problem, more interested in winning the battles, but continuing to lose the war.

Steve LaingSteve Laing – Steve is unaligned to any particular party, but cognizant of the reality that people are our biggest asset, so it makes sense to look after them. Uncomfortable with the ineptitude that permeates our current government, and yet sees such as the prevailing condition in our political system. Over the years Steve has worked for a number of different businesses, both corporate and small, and has experienced good and bad “policy” development and decision making, and seen the outcomes of such. Steve also has his own blog:

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  1. Jaquix

    A very thought provoking article Steve. Good point re promising an ICAC – definitely would get huge support from voters. If they put a limit of, say, 3 years for investigating past years, and made sure their act is squeaky clean lean from now on – ig effort fromeveryone, and if Malcolm doesnt act on clarifying the rules and reporting systems which he has ignored for a year, then they could institute their own Labor politicians Charter, so voters know they mean business. Therecis a lof of anger and disappoibtment ouf there, whichvcould be hafnessed before it turns to Pauline’s lot. A peoples’ Bob Hawke type Summit/s to thrash out ideas like this could go a long way to create progressive voter engagement, and trounce the incompetents from office.

  2. Ella Miller

    Whilst we are dreaming…why not get rid of political parties altogether?
    Fund individuals who are community minded and have some ethics …to stand for election.

  3. Steve Laing -

    Shorten announced Labor supporting an ICAC would have been, in my opinion, a lay down misere (sorry, back to gaming again). So why they didn’t really concerns me. But I’m glad that this is being talked about again – though O’Dwyer’s stating that its on the Coalition list, but they haven’t got round to it yet is pretty hilarious given we know that the senate have been twiddling their thumbs. It’ll never happen – two many Coalition politicians grifting in this space.

    I hadn’t realised until I did some homework, just how few days our pollies actually have to be in Canberra. The official numbers are here
    But it seems to average about 60. That’s 12 weeks work! What do they do the rest of the time? Compare that with the UK, where they seem to average about 150.

    There is a decent article on Crikey about it, which shows just how bone idle our politicians are, both state and federal. With all that free time, no wonder they need to spend our money keeping themselves amused. Seriously, what a joke!

    And still politicians don’t seem to understand why people don’t trust them. It is really quite astonishing, isn’t it.

  4. helvityni

    “This is the most exciting time to be Australian”

    Is this still true for you, Malcolm?

  5. Steve Laing -

    Ella – this is but the prologue. I think you may enjoy the main course 😉

    Helvityni – apparently Malcolm is really enjoying being PM, but I’m not sure if he is excited – and nobody seems to know where he is to ask him!

  6. Andreas Bimba

    Shorten did offer a Royal Commission into the banking and financial services sector and offered to scale back the negative gearing and superannuation contribution concessions for the wealthy, which were popular and very worthy proposals. I think he also offered to scale back the entry of temporary visa workers.

    Yes adding a federal ICAC would also have been popular and repairing our current warped democratic process and mass media that has been hijacked by the money men is absolutely vital.

    I would also add an ambitious clean energy and critical infrastructure investment proposal that is on a larger scale than the Snowy Mountains Scheme and that is funded by running a larger deficit. The MMT economists who understand macroeconomics the best, realise that such funding is actually free (not funded by tax or loans) but even if we choose to believe the classical economists, at the current low interest rates borrowing the sums needed is also very worthwhile. Critical infrastructure would cover many areas such as public transport, rail freight, public housing, improved urban design, important roads, improving energy efficiency and water use efficiency, schools, hospitals and so on.

    Another bold proposal Labor could make that would take back votes from One Nation and NXT is simply to promise to investigate the possibility of manufacturing electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles locally and thereby retaining our car manufacturing and design capability. Labor’s weak willed acceptance of Abbott’s and Hockey’s forced exit of our car manufacturing industry is very unpopular and they could have used this issue to strongly attack the reckless Conservatives. Manufacturing does have a future and is a vital part of many advanced economies like Germany, Japan, South Korea, China and even the U.S., many of which have higher labour costs than Australia.

  7. Wun Farlung

    I would guess he’s on a “study tour” investigating the Cayman Island’s taxation system

  8. Steve Laing -

    Andreas – I agree that there are many worthwhile policies that would help Labor, or indeed any progressive party, be elected, but without fundamental changes to the system, it is largely in vain. The key is changing the system, but I’m not sure if Labor, or its supporters, really understand that yet.

    After Dubya, I thought that was about the worst that Republicans could throw at us. But the gaping holes in the US rulebook has legitimately resulted in Trump. Here in Australia we got Abbott, and when Turnbull is deposed, we will be saddled with yet another undemocratically elected Prime Minister – which will be the fourth in less than 10 years! Surely that alone reveals just how badly f*cked up and undemocratic our political system is? And unless progressive politicians, and progressive voters, are prepared to push and indeed vote for changes, all we will continue to do is write articles where we point out issues that are as plain as the noses on our faces, but which achieve very little.

    One of the biggest problems as I see it is that the only party that seems to truly champion changes to the system are the Greens, and thus Labor will fight to ensure that this doesn’t happen, purely because it believes that it will result in less power for them. And sometimes it seems to me that they are more worried about being third, than they are about winning. Labor took exactly that approach in Britain, and in doing so totally alienated what they believed was a rusted on support base in Scotland. That arrogance brought about an almost total fall from grace, and their voting base has converted to a party that have more chance of delivering the policies that Scottish people want over the long term. The SNP are pursuing fundamental legislative change to stop the democratic will of the Scottish people being constantly denied by the conservatives in south east England. Big, bold change is difficult, but its not impossible. Otherwise accept that we will forever ruled by the right.

  9. Ella Miller

    Steve Laing….OMG…still have tears in my eyes …just listened to Obama’s Legacy Speech.
    How can we get his speech in print?
    He said;

    The constitution has no power,it is the people who give it power,

    The most important officer of democracy is the citizen,

    If something needs to be fixed then lace up your shoes and start organising,

    What ever our politics the speech is an inspiration…..a guide as to how to protect our democracy.

    I’ll show my coloures,

    we are loosing from office someone special…not perfect …BUT Special.

  10. kerri

    Ella Miller I am totally with you and have suggested a partyless parliament before!
    After the election lock all MP’s in until they come up with a cabinet voted for by ALL MP’s.
    No travel no going home until ALL ministerial positions are filled. Just like a jury!
    That way we get the best from all parties and instead of people blindly, stupidly revoting for idiots like Pyne, Ley, Tudge, Christensen, Bernardi and all the other bloodsucking leeches just so Malcolm gets a tilt people would actually have to engage with their representative and vote according individual performance.

  11. wam

    gaming is your strength, steve.
    shorten has chosen misere because he has contracted not to take a trick.
    Indeed it is not hard to see he has labor’s cards exposed and is trying for misere ouvert.
    For that a deck is not necessary.
    As for the system, as long as state, judiciary and religion are separate there is nothing better than westminster. The current crap on women’s weaknesses will show you cannot legislated against human nature which runs on input by other human endeavour which currently uses the computer(with some disastrous results) but the computer will soon be the user.

  12. Steve Laing -

    Kerri – we are of the same mind! Whilst I all for political movements, the political party system is too inflexible and too open to corruption.

    wam – I like to think that problem solving is my strength, and gaming is just a way of flexing those muscles (though that is probably me just rationalising my time wasting activities) And I totally agree with the separation of powers – I always found it a bit suspect that bishops and judges were part of the House of Lords in the UK! Thank God they didn’t bring that nonsense over from the UK, though I am sure that such was part of Tony’s masterplan. Can you imagine Cardinal Pell in the senate? What a thought!

  13. Jexpat

    In terms of ‘gaming’ -or rather, what I would call: political acumen, the time to have made senate voting changes (and hastening the election, or worse, making a double dissolution, with reduced quotas, more likely) was most assuredly NOT in the midst of an upsurge of far right populism around the world, from the UK and Europe- to the US and Asia to… right here in Australia.

    * It should also go without saying, in general, that DiNatale ill conceived attempt to “become more establishment” was not a very astute play at a time when the mood of voters everywhere was decidely anti-establishment.

  14. Roswell

    Steve, I enjoyed your article. ‘Twas a sound and solid argument you put forward. Whilst I have no real problems with our system of government I still agree with most of what you write.

  15. Steve Laing -

    Jexpat – ahh, so it was just a timing thing. I personally wouldn’t overly worry about One Nation. They are self-destructing faster than Palmer United. If Labor are losing votes to them, then Labor need to work out why that is rather than simply blaming the Greens for changing the rules – being seemingly incapable of pushing for a Federal ICAC, for example, might suggest that they are more interested in their own personal welfare than that of their constituents.

    And I personally don’t care whether DiNatale is trying to do with the Greens, as long as he continues to push for improvements in the system, because that is what fundamentally matters. We need a system where progressive policies can stick, not simply be unravelled when the right get back in again.

  16. Steve Laing -

    Roswell – thanks for that.

    And fundamentally your assertion is right. You either believe the current system works effectively to the wishes of the electorate, or you believe it doesn’t.

    If the latter, how are you going to use the limited democratic powers at your disposal to help make the necessary changes.

    If the former, well I guess you just have to suck it up when the tories get elected yet again through lying and cheating, and hope that whenever progressives do manage to get in they can do great things. But over the years I’ve been politically active, I can’t say that things are getting better.

  17. wam

    haha spot on Steve, problem solving is an higher order intelligence skill.
    Politicians and their departments seem to concentrate on the problems of prioritising solutions often before actually looking at the problem. (welfare-debt??)
    The government’s adviser on Aborigines has sought approval for the government to EVALUATE rather than review Aboriginal projects.
    The evaluation process exposes the problems and can allow for a comprehensive approach to solutions.
    My particular beef is the enormous cost of a ‘bi-lingual education system that requires everybody, except the teacher, to be bi-lingual???

    In my working life, I was called upon to solve unexpected problems, short term fixes(OMG I’m a pynenut) but was never invited to the long term executive meetings. Indeed. I was rarely thanked, much less acknowledged, for my efforts.

  18. Jexpat


    Timing was a major objection that some of us had and advised members and the Greens federal leadership about, but there were also issues about lack of appropriate and sufficient rank and file consultation (grassroots democracy) as well as the failure to secure Robson rotation (eliminating the donkey vote per luck of the draw). In our view, the Liberals/Nationals would surely have folded on that- and it would have been a rational and popular reform that few could have argued with.

    And we did predict that the “fvck you Canberra” vote would be largely gathered up by the lunatic Hansonites, Leyonhjelm and Hinch-like sorts. and that the Bob Day’s would get their reduced quotas, while more responsible Ricky Muirs and Glen Lazarus’ would not.

    We surely agree (and I might have had the courtesy to mention) the federal ICAC -which the Greens have publically advocated for many years -and which would, IMHO shifted enough votes in key electorates to have won the last election, had Labor made it a prominent and emphatic issue.

    Not just some vague “we’ll study it” bit, but a solid, framed, drafted and costed proposal, committed to and ready to be put into legislation at the next sitting of parliament.

  19. Florence nee Fedup

    Heard Trudge used excuse why they haven’t dealt with PM’s expenses yet. Seems parliament had long breaks during 2016, preventing it being dealt with. Long election campaign, followed by waiting months for parliament to sit.

    Whose fault was that? Campaign PM’s choice. Long and expensive campaign period not necessary. Could have waited for normal election. DD achieved nothing. It was the government that delayed resumption of parliament, limiting days they sat.

    I would like to see things go further than ICAC with special division to oversee behaviour MPs.

    I would like to see an independent speaker appointed from outside parliament. Appointed after at least two thirds vote of joint sitting. The speaker would head Speakers department that would have responsibility of the houses. Would set standards expected from MPs. Ethics Committee be under their umbrella.

  20. Florence nee Fedup

    Under our Constitution we don’t elect PMs. Looking back to Federation, that has proved to be a good thing.

  21. Steve Laing -

    Jexpat – whilst I am sure that more consultation is always better, I’m not sure if passing up the opportunity to get decent electoral change was a risk worth taking. As I understand it, Gary Gray was Labor’s key representative on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, and had this to say in his final speech before he retired.

    “As we meet in this chamber today, in the other chamber a debate is taking place on reforms to Senate voting practices. I must say the position taken by my party continues to simply make me sad. The reforms that the government is pursuing in the Senate are not brilliant reforms, but they are 95 per cent of the reforms that were recommended by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. There are no perfect reforms in this area. We cannot make it perfect. But we can make it much better than it currently is, because currently and over the past few years, as we have seen at state and federal level, pop-up parties designed to attract small numbers of primary voters have been manipulated through our system of Senate voting. They have been manipulated by those who have sought to get people and parties elected, sometimes for personal gain and sometimes simply because they could. The interests of our population, the interests of workers and the interests of our society have been ignored by these manipulators.

    Over the course of the last few weeks, there have been many pieces of misinformation spread about the bill that is currently being debated. Some have said that the bill will deliver the coalition 38 or 39 members—a controlling majority in the Senate. That is not true, unless people vote for it. And if people vote for it—and I do not want them to, but if they do—that is how the ballot falls. None of us can predict the outcome of future elections, but all of us should be concerned about future elections being manipulated by pop-up parties being created and by outcomes being confected by those whose interests are not the national interest, are not the interests of the people and are not the interests of our community.

    I strongly support reform of Senate voting practices. I am made sad by my party’s position. I will vote for my party’s position, but I will do it knowing full well that the reforms that are before the House and before the Senate as we speak are reforms that genuinely improve the operation of our electoral act, genuinely improve Senate voting and are in— (Time expired)”

    But Labor were willing to let politics over-ride progress.

    I do find it interesting that the cross bench nutters that were reappointed were the ones with the higher media profile – voter recognition does seem to be a higher priority than policies, and I sometimes wonder by how much.

    Donkey voting is another issue entirely. I wonder if the people who donkey vote knew that just spoiling their ballot could actually be a better protest? I’d like there to be the opportunity for those who don’t wish to vote for any of the candidates the chance to do so, and if possible to get more information as to why they decided not to (e.g. don’t care, don’t like any of the candidates, don’t know enough to vote meaningfully, etc). People don’t seem to realise that if they just tick their name off the sheet, they won’t be fined. They don’t actually need to vote at all (and personally, I’d rather they didn’t). But it would be a good measure of voter dissatisfaction.

    Florence – as I’ve said, the whole DD campaign exercise was purely undertaken because Turnbull believed he was more popular than he was. He thought he would clean out the senate, and it would be replaced with Liberals. How wrong was he! Any improvements to make the parliament proceed better would get my support, but not sure how easy it would be to appoint an independent speaker from outside parliament with a two thirds vote – whilst everyone else might play fairly, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Coalition would never support anyone other than their own candidate, and would quite happily play silly buggers all day long.

  22. Steve Laing -

    Florence – re. not voting for PM’s. Can you explain why you believe that this is a good thing, and how MPs selecting one is better?

  23. cartoonmick

    The trouble (problem) with our electoral system, Steve, is that after every election, no matter how much thought we put into our individual vote, we always end up with a bunch of politicians. Every bloody election is the same. We get a bunch of politicians.

    Now, under normal circumstances that would be okay. But not these days. Nothing is ‘normal’ anymore. The politicians we get these days know nothing of politics, apart from personal political survival. Their performance is proof of that.

    So, where do our pollies get their political knowledge and skills from? Maybe this cartoon will give us a clue . . .

    Editorial / Political


  24. Florence nee Fedup

    Steve if you can explain why voting for PM better. Would change our whole system. More like US. Would give PM much more power than they have now.

    Looking back, my opinion only, all PM’s have limited life where they are productive. Menzies, lesser extent Howard is example where PMs stayed around too long. Both left years political uncertainty and chaos. There is a reason for that, I won’t go into.

    Hawke even Rudd were great PM for limited time. Keating gave new lease life to Labor government. Gillard if given fair go would have done also.

    Sadly Turnbull’s lack guts and IPA control of government has seen him fail. I believe it is him, not system letting us down. Can be fixed by another coup. That is if they have the talent, which I suspect the case to take over.

    A PM is only as good as the policies they produce and government party behind them.

  25. Steve Laing -

    Mick – hahaha! Not quite! Currently the skills you need are to be good at sucking up to your local branch 🙂 After that largely be in a safe seat. As you say, there doesn’t appear to be a job description hence we just get a bunch of lawyers, and those in it for themselves – might not be how they start, but that is where they seem to end up. So that process needs to change for sure! As I’ve said before, I’d like to see the cv’s of the candidates, and a covering letter stating why they think I should vote for them. This does two things – firstly, it lets them know their place; they work for us, not the other way round, and secondly, it allows us to assess their capability. But I also want a wider choice of candidates than the ones provided by the parties – but that’s for another article.

    Florence – that is highly dependent on the election process. It would certainly require some adaptations to our current system, and I wouldn’t propose a presidency as per the US. I do like the idea of having limits on how long they can be PM for too, as much as anything because they do seem to run out of steam (well, its a hard job if you are doing it right, and if you aren’t we need you out ASAP!). I’m going to put forward a process that I think might work, and why, and then let people punch holes in it. With the right system we can hopefully avoid the media turning it into a straight popularity contest between their preferred Tory and the other side, and give the electorate a chance to directly elect the key person – and it really is the key role. But we need a system that gives us a PM whose first loyalty is to the electorate, and not their party, because that is currently what it is. The problem we have is twofold – firstly we are starved for good quality political leaders who have a real, well articulated vision for the future of the country and the people who live in it. Secondly – the system rewards people who are negative, whether the “opposition” or “minor parties or independents” who are elected on very narrow platforms, and are sometimes blessed with holding the balance of power and can hold governments to ransom. Good leaders not only lead well, they have a well established secession plan so that the next person can take over seamlessly. Despite being elected three times, Howard may count himself a “successful PM”, but I would be loath to call him a good leader – as you say he left the party in tatters, with the result we have now. Like Thatcher he was divisive, and was happy to use a divide and conquer strategy to get what he wanted. Hawke was a far better leader in that a much wider range of Australians were behind him – they may have disagreed with his policies, but they recognised that he was trying to look after all Australians, not just those who voted for him.

  26. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    A fantastic effort, Steve, to analyse the inadequacies with the current system and how (largely) the duopoly inadequately deals with it.

    I’m all for our government system being turned on its head, so that all the strangleholds that the right of any party, are turned on their heads too.

    Neoliberalism is another toxin that must be eradicated from the current cesspool of misgovernment and inferior alternatives. Identify it, work against it and build policies divorcing it from our Australian integrity in everything we hold dear and support.

    Until a European-style multi-representative executive is the order of the day, I’m still stubbornly plugging for a combo of the Greens, Left Labor, Progressive micro parties like the Pirate Party and sane Independents to form The ALLiance.

  27. Steve Laing -

    JMS – as long as we can get a government who will agree to change the system, I don’t care how it happens! But I do know that diversity of opinion builds better quality solutions to problems than echo chambers. And the Coalition echo chamber really underlines the research that has been carried out in this area – their self-congratulatory approach simply misses the critical issues that an external viewpoint would immediately identify. Their legislation over the last four years has been a series of train wrecks. Can anyone identify one decent piece of legislation that they have put forward, far less legislated? (and you can’t count removing knights and dames, because that was just a u-turn from their own prior stupidity!)

  28. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    So Steve,

    I think Labor (with the numbers and union backing brawn) will nonetheless come to realise it needs its minor party collaborators to start the change for that better government system that you aptly describe.

    Last election was a woeful lost opportunity. Labor cannot afford to do so again, or it will bleed more previous ‘true believers’.

    The LNP Coalition must be defeated for our environment’s sake and our sakes. But the trick is not to just leave it in Labor’s hands coz they are unfortunately bitten by the same neoliberalist bug of power, privilege and party politicking.

    Ofcourse LNP wanks have not provided ONE bit of decent legislation or bureaucratic process reform. They are parasites. Simple.

    Despite my many, many faults, I have never called the Labor flipsides, “parasites” despite my many frustrations.

    I want change like you and I want those with the connections in Labor and the Greens to give simple people like maybe you and definitely me, indications that those changes are afoot.

  29. Steve Laing -

    Jen – I hope Labor do. I hope they realise that so much of their support comes from Green voter preferences, so not to either take that for granted, and to stop dissing the Greens all the time – it just looks petty and lacking in confidence.

    But I also worry that Labor have become “happy to be second” and as I said are seduced by the glamour of Canberra, pedalling furiously but actually achieving little – because in the current system if you aren’t in government, you are nowhere – which is ultimately a great waste of talented knowledge that is completely unproductive, but we still have to pay for.

    But I do think we are on the same page where the focus must be on the goal – I don’t care how we get there (although anything that promotes working together as you have suggested I personally really like) as long as we end up with a situation where good progressive policy sticks.

  30. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    therefore, I am in furious agreement.

  31. Kyran

    “And fundamentally your assertion is right. You either believe the current system works effectively to the wishes of the electorate, or you believe it doesn’t.”
    Your duology has made for thoughtful reading. Mr Lord wrote a ‘Bill Horten’ trilogy recently. Mr Champ wrote a ‘one hander’ (‘What if we had a better government’) recently. All are based on ‘playing’ within the rules, as we know them, in the hope that we can improve our collective circumstance. Ms Lee has written often of how the rules are played by the designers of the rules, to the detriment of those who have to play by the rules.
    Beating a stacked deck. Yep, that’s unlikely. It’s a bit like the premise that you can ‘beat the house’. As an aside, the only casino owner that I recall going bankrupt whilst owning a casino is trump. Notwithstanding that, Packer, the younger, seem’s hell bent on emulating trump.
    Pardon the digression. The current rule book is a malleable thing, and all of the referenced articles suggest the rules need changing. This will be a time consuming exercise, likely delayed by any of the privileged seeking to extend their privilege for as long as they can.
    What would happen if we made a new rule book?
    Mr Lord’s articles referenced a ‘review of the constitution’. What would happen if we simply threw it out and started again?
    It’s an old document, framed at a time when the population was a bit over 3 million people, when the sanctity of the state’s and territory’s right to trade was more important than their constituents right to exist. An old document, sanctioned and/or created by ‘Mother England’.
    What would happen if the opening chapters of a new rule book enshrined a notion of equality? A notion based on a charter of human rights? Regardless of gender, skin pigmentation, sexual orientation, age, nationality of origin. A simple declaration of human rights, available to all.
    One stone, many birds.
    All of these needless, useless distractions, 18C, marriage equality, etcetera. All gone.
    By creating such a document, the republic, that the majority of Australian’s want, is granted. Any need for a referendum for rule by monarchy, all gone.
    Whilst our forbear’s saw a need for a sanctity of trade between state’s and territory’s, when the population was a bit over 3 million, they did little more than enshrine ‘over governance’ as a managerial tool. In global terms, our population is small. How about the constitution simply defines a federal government’s parliamentary process and requires them to constantly monitor the rights of every person to the universal human rights defined by the constitution? Education. Health. Opportunity. Minimum standards. Rights that can be available to every Australian, regardless of their geography or history.
    State’s and territory’s. All gone.
    Whilst one can never beat a stacked deck, when playing within the rules, there must come a time when you say these rules are wrong. I have deliberately left out any reference to our First People. Bearing in mind how the rules have made every attempt to extinguish their culture, there could be no better authors of a new rule book.
    Thank you, Mr Laing, and commenters. Take care

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