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Tag Archives: Parliament

What do our politicians do?

What, exactly, do our politicians do?

Today, Monday 18 April 2016, the Turnbull government took the almost unprecedented step of recalling all of Parliament for a three-week “emergency sitting” to debate and pass – or, hopefully, fail to pass – two specific pieces of legislation.

Much has been written about the government’s real motivations behind this recall and debate. With the repeated defeat of the ABCC “productivity” bill, Malcolm Turnbull has his double dissolution trigger. But before the vote, with its commonly expected outcome, the Senate spent a large portion of the day discussing the bill.

I had the pleasure of listening to Senator Scott Ludlam’s speech on the subject. Senator Ludlam’s speeches are almost always worth listening to – go on, listen to one or two right now, we’ll wait.

If you just took the opportunity to watch some of Ludlam’s speeches, or have previously done so, beside the clear speaking, reliance on facts and withering irony that he brings to his every contribution, the other notable feature of Scott Ludlam’s speeches is that the chamber is almost invariably almost empty.

It would seem fair to assume that on a matter of such national importance that Malcolm Turnbull would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring “nearly 150 MPs and their staff… back to Parliament from around the country”, that said MPs would want to listen with avid attention to the speeches in response. Presumably the job of an MP is to attend sittings of Parliament, engage in the discussions and debate there, and form an opinion on the subject at hand prior to casting their vote.

One might make that assumption, but one would evidently be wrong. Any cursory viewing of either Parliament or the Senate will show the real situation – wide swathes of benches, primarily governmental and opposition, clear of occupants. That is, until the bells are rung for a vote.

Debates in the Parliament and the Senate, it seems, exist for the sake of posterity and inclusion in Hansard, not to inform the level of understanding of those about to decide on the future of the country. Is it any wonder Question Time so often descends into farce? The stakes are so low, with all – or at least most – MPs already set in their intended vote, that they need to pass the time somehow. The result is a system of government too easily interrupted by process – filibusters, suspensions of standing orders, points of order, and political games such as tying unpalatable bills to legislation of clear national and popular importance, forcing MPs to vote against the good to prevent the bad, or to vote for the bad to achieve the good.

So if they’re not spending their time in their seats in the Chamber, what do our politicians do?

They don’t write their own articles.

They don’t even fact-check, or apparently have very much knowledge about the subject matter of their portfolio. Scott Ryan’s recent snafu with plagiarism is only the most recent of a continual string of egregious failures. Sometimes it seems that if politics were a school class, most Australian politicians would get a failed grade on account of not bothering with even the most rudimentary editing of their copied work.

They don’t rely on expert witnesses.

Greg Hunt, apparently the closest thing the Coalition has to a climate expert, went no further in his research than to visit a wikipedia page. Relying on Wikipedia would bring a failing grade for a student’s essay; why should we accept it from our elected leaders?

They don’t appear to have much knowledge of party processes that fall into their direct remit.

Nor do they seem to take an active involvement in running the companies of which they are the directors.  Sometimes it appears that politicians spend more time disavowing any knowledge of things happening in their own department than it would have taken to simply be aware in the first place. It helps that they seem to have such fallible memories. Even if they know something now, they almost certainly won’t know it by the time it becomes the subject of an inquiry. This is a peculiarly specific talent that seems unique to our politicians.

What our politicians do appear to spend plenty of time doing is sledging. Almost every federal politician in Australia, a refined product of the political system, is well-versed in holding the party line, spouting off talking points and heckling during whatever speeches they don’t manage to avoid being present for. Some might consider these to be lower-order priorities than the activities that might actually lead to better legislation.

It’s not as if we don’t pay our politicians enough. Even the most obscure of backbenchers [not] sitting in the pews at the back of the chamber is earning six figures – twice. If you’re reading this, almost certainly every federal politician earns more than you by a number of multiples. It has been said that “if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”, as if that were a defense of exorbitant parliamentary salaries, but research has shown that the benefits of lifting politicians’ pay start to even out once the level of remuneration reaches a comparative middle class wage. Middle class wage is approximately the average full-time wage, or just under $81,000. Clearly we pay above the curve. Politicians and economists are wont to point out that if you pay less, you won’t attract the people you want into politics, or keep them there. Amanda Vanstone has argued that Australian politicians earn much less than company directors and others in big business. This brings us to the corollary. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys; if you pay a corporate salary, you get businessmen. Oddly, people rarely seem to question whether businessmen make the best politicians.

So, whilst Parliament and the Senate spend the next three weeks in Canberra having already voted down the extremely critical piece of legislation the Government absolutely needed to have passed, just remember they’re earning a bare minimum of $11,483 for their efforts. And keep that number in mind when you see pictures of empty seats. You’re paying for them to not be sitting there.

Parliament Would Be Better If We Banned Election Campaigns And Appointed People Randomly For Three Years

abbott-asleepTurnbull said something that I agree with.

Now, as you know, I’m no fan of Turnbull’s. Mainly because he reminds me of an assistant principal who used to imply privately that any unpopular decision was the principal’s fault and, if it were up to him, he wouldn’t be implementing that particular measure.

However, when Turnbull said that the public was sick of the way politics has operated over the past few years, I had to agree. Certainly, I’m ready to start talking about what we should be doing and not what should have been done. When we bring up what the various parties have done in the past, we’re talking about different leaders, and, for the most part, a different group of politicians.

Yes, I thought, let’s get back to discussing the merits of individual ideas and not worrying about where the idea has originated.

Turnbull’s stolen Shorten’s innovation and science focus. Excellent! Hopefully, Bill will come up with a few more good ideas that he can steal. Better than relying on the Abbott regime’s ideas.

Actually, did they actually have an idea?

Mm, yes, they “stopped”, they “got rid of”, they “eliminated”, but I’m struggling to actually come up with an idea they had while in government.

But rather than embrace Turnbull’s positivity, we find the same predictable carping. The same negativity.

Yep, it seems that the Liberals just can’t help themselves.

Apart from the whinge from Kevin Andrews, who felt that he should have kept Defence for the good of the country, we have Tony Abbott. Tony felt it necessary to tell everyone that Scott Morrison had misled the Australian people. Apparently, neither Bishop nor Morrison warned Tony about the possible leadership challenge.

What was it Mr Abbott said in his concession speech? Ah yes:

“My pledge today is to make this change as easy as I can. There will be no wrecking, no undermining, and no sniping.”

Just an assertion that my trusty colleagues are liars. Well, I guess one has to set the record straight. Mr Abbott had no warning about the potential leadership challenge.

Apart from the ones printed in the newspaper a day or so before. Oh, that’s right – that was just insider gossip and he wasn’t going to play those games.

As one British politician remarked, “No, my boy, those people are the Opposition, When I said ‘the enemy can be vicious’, I meant the people on this side of the chamber!”

 

This Reprehensible Rabble

If anything was patently obvious from the events in Canberra last week, it is that Clive Palmer thinks he is running the country and the media seem to think so too. They are all over him, relegating Tony Abbott to the role of a bit-player. It is also patently obvious that the government’s negotiating skills sit somewhere between pitiable and non-existent.

The repeal of the carbon tax is only the beginning. There are still budget bills to be passed as well as the mining tax and Clive Palmer appears intent on maintaining the chaos. It is conceivable that Tony Abbott will soon be cornered into either giving Palmer everything he asks or calling a double dissolution. At the moment he is vacillating and his weakness on this issue will expose him for what he really is. His pre-election bluff and bluster has dissolved.

Last week’s circus in the senate was inevitable and it will happen again. The closer you get to your enemy, the sharper you need to be. Clive Palmer has been around long enough not to trust anyone and knows since the day Joe Hockey delivered the Budget that the Prime Minister’s word has little or no value.

kerry

Image by The Sydney Morning Herald

Palmer probably remembered Abbott’s comments when interviewed by Kerry O Brien a few years back. “The statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth are those carefully prepared scripted remarks,” Abbott said. In that interview Abbott revealed that he sometimes went further than he should when making a promise. I’m sure it was no surprise to Palmer when the wording to the amendment on the bill to repeal the carbon tax wasn’t quite what it was supposed to be.

If the Coalition think for one moment that they can put one over Clive Palmer, they are deluding themselves. But, given Abbott’s penchant for verbal dishonesty they will probably keep trying and in the process, expose themselves for the utterly reprehensible rabble that they are.

That is not to say that Palmer will not acquiesce when it suits him. He is unpredictable and, I suspect, delights in keeping the government, the opposition and the media guessing. But as time passes (and it can’t come too quickly for most of us), the interaction between him and the Prime Minister will further expose Abbott’s difficulty in negotiating to a point where even his most steadfast supporters will have had enough. The government couldn’t even get their amendments right. A double dissolution could see him lose office or at best see his lower house majority whittled down to one or two.

The senate result could be worse with a strong chance that both major parties would lose numbers to the PUP. If for some reason the people go against PUP and vote to restore some sanity the result will likely favour Labor and the Greens. Either way, Abbott is in trouble. Doubtless his party’s electoral engineers are doing their sums and would be weighing up the pros and cons. The advice given to them by outgoing senator Ron Boswell to stand up to Palmer is the right advice but they appear unwilling to take it.

promises

Image by BBC.com

For the electorate, the greater issue here is honesty, or lack of it. The budget exposed the Coalition to be utterly dishonest, something they brought on themselves; an own goal. They can no longer claim the moral high ground. Their claim to have a mandate is, and always was, spurious. There is just too much evidence out there to show that they have treated the electorate as fools. Clive Palmer has realised that as the self-appointed defender of the underdog, his political future has promise. He will not want to betray his image and backtrack on anything he has said to the pensioners and the battlers who have crossed over to his side.

By way of comparison the government is showing signs of cracking under the pressure. Tony Abbott’s speech to the LNP annual state conference in Brisbane on Saturday bordered on the bizarre.“You and we are rescuing our country . . . it is only us who can rescue our country right now,” he said. Rescue from what? His attack on Bill Shorten was equally weird and suggests he is beginning to lose the plot.

election

Image by news.com

His upbeat display of confidence was in direct contrast to the events in Canberra and the reality of the situation as it unfolded. He referred to the events in the senate as “a lot of colour and movement.” It was chaotic. Under Abbott’s leadership thus far, the Coalition has lost all the support they had at the election and then some. Their only way forward is to replace their leader and try starting again. That is unlikely for now and things are only going to get worse.

 

 

For The Sake Of Unity Why Don’t You All Agree With Me?

A couple of months ago, I read an amusing post on Facebook which basically said that the Left should stop fighting among themselves and work together to defeat the Abbott Agenda. The writer then went on to say that Bill Shorten was hopeless and the Labor was gutless for not forcing a DD.

Presuming that by “DD” he meant Double Dissolution, I calmly pointed out that there was no way that Shorten could “force” a Double Dissolution and that it seems strange that a call for unity should be followed by an attack on the Labor leader.

To which he replied that it was people like me who just posted on Facebook who were the problem and that we needed to do something instead of just talking about it. I resisted the temptation to point out that he was also posting on Facebook, and decided that I’d do my bit for unity by ending the discussion there before he ended up telling me that I was a nazi who was trying to limit his free speech by disagreeing with him.

Now, I don’t have a problem with anyone criticising any of our politicians. As far as Shorten is concerned, I think the jury is still out. As Leader of The Opposition, there’s always going to be a limit to what you can do. Some will argue that he should be making more of a fuss about this or that. Even when he’s said quite a lot about this or that, but it’s been buried on page 9 of the newspaper and not reported on the nightly news at all. Even when Labor is riding high in the polls.

Whether it’s fair or not, I think Shorten can expect to be criticised for whatever he does or doesn’t do over the next few months.

However, when people start to suggest that Labor is “gutless” for not forcing a Double Dissolution, I start to worry about the general public’s knowledge of our parliamentary system and the history of 1975.

I’ll start with the idea that Labor (with help from other parties in the Senate) could block supply. Let’s ignore the obvious hypocrisy of Labor blocking the Budget after their rhetoric when Fraser did it 1975 and argue that was a long time ago, so who cares? When it happened in 1975, it didn’t immediately force an election. Whitlam tried to tough it out, and it was only when Kerr dismissed Whitlam and appointed Fraser as caretaker PM that Fraser was able to go back to Parliament and dissolve both Houses. There is an argument that if Labor had acted quickly they could have gagged Fraser – they still had the numbers on the floor of the House of Representatives – and moved a motion of confidence in Whitlam.

At the time, the Murdoch press was pushing for an election and supporting Fraser, arguing that these were “extraordinary circumstances”. Can you imagine the media today supporting a Labor blocking of supply? Or would it be blamed for a downturn in consumer confidence or jobs, the shutting down of shops, increased obesity and any droughts or flooding rains in the weeks after?

Even if supply had been blocked by the previous Senate, Abbott would have still had the option of waiting for the Senate that took control from today. Palmer’s PUPpets and the Independents would have no wish to go to an election any time soon. After all, they do have considerable bargaining power at the moment. Would they be prepared to risk it? Can you imagine Ricky Muir giving up his moment in the spotlight? Mm, wrong example…

But even assuming that the Senate did continue to refuse supply, that alone wouldn’t force Abbott to an election. In all likelihood, he’d just blame Labor for any problems and wait for someone else to blink. The idea that Labor or any combination of the minor parties could “force” the government to the polls is just wrong.

Frustrating the government’s legislative agenda to the extent that they choose to call an election, however, is a possibility. But given the government’s standing in the opinion polls it’s fairly unlikely at the moment.

As many of you already know, a double dissolution requires a trigger. A Bill must be rejected by the Senate, then after three months rejected again. Bills that are rejected can then be used as the basis for the double dissolution, and if they are rejected again after the subsequent election, the government can call a joint sitting of parliament and try to get them through that way. (This was how Whitlam succeeded in setting up Medibank and passing a number of other things which had been blocked, until after the 1974 Double Dissolution). While there may be others in the near future, at the moment, the only trigger that I’m aware of is the Clean Energy Bill.

Abbott would only be likely to call a double dissolution under two circumstances:

  1. If there were a number of Bills he wanted passed AND he thought he was a good chance of winning the election.
  2. If Turnbull looked like getting the numbers to oust him.

So, by all means, criticise Bill Shorten and the Labor Party for their policies, for their lack of cut-through, for their hairstyles, for their poor behaviour in Parliament (they’ve been thrown out a hundred times more often), or their factions.

But please don’t criticise them for not calling a double dissolution. It’s just not something that’s in their control.

Assaults on democracy

Parliament House - the centre of our democracy (image by holam.com.au)

Parliament House – old and new – the centre of our democracy (image by holman.com.au)

There are at least two fundamental requirements for a functioning democracy. In various ways, in recent years, we have seen political parties in Australia attempting to subvert and limit these requirements. This is an assault on democracy itself. It may not be deliberate – political parties, like business entities, will work within the constraints of the law to achieve their ends, and loopholes and aggressive tactics are a part of the game. But dress it up how you may, attempting to coerce the workings of parliament and the electoral choices of a population is anti-democratic even if done within the limitations of the laws of that democracy.

In the business sphere, there is an overarching structure to act as a check and balance. The courts, and above them the legislature, ensure that eventually businesses that exploit loopholes to the detriment of the community can be brought back into line. Through the testing of legislation in the courts, through the drafting of new laws and regulations, there are means to help ensure that the system is fluid and no entities can subvert the intention of the regulations to which all businesses are subject.

Politics has no such overarching structure. The limits on politics are the various parties themselves – where one party oversteps the bounds, the only bodies that can pull them up on it are other political parties. Some of the time this works. And sometimes it does not.

Given untrammelled power – for instance, control of both houses of Parliament – a government can adjust the goalposts in such a way as to benefit their own interests and continued dominance. When the cycle turns, as eventually it must, an incoming government is then able to either take advantage of the changes the previous government has wrought, or to reverse the changes and implement their own.

The Australian constitution holds various aspects of our democracy sacrosanct and to change these requires a referendum. The basic mechanics of elections and parties and the existence of two houses are not in danger. There are plenty of other ways that a political party can act to extend its own hegemony, and any number of ways that the intent of a democracy can be subverted by the details.

Basic requirements for a healthy democracy include the following.

1. A free press

Or more accurately, even and impartial coverage and analysis of the issues. Fundamentally, Australian democracy is about vision. In a hundred policy areas each government has to balance the requirements of the community and the best interests of the country. In order to effectively judge the promised approach of a candidate government to each of these areas, in order to accurately evaluate the needs of Australia’s present and future, clear and informative reporting is needed.

In Australia, the media environment is skewed. Various reports have pointed to the obvious bias in the large majority of Australia’s news media. Against this bias, only the minority Fairfax and the public broadcaster ABC attempt a more balanced view. Readers of this blog will understand that “more balanced”, to the conservatives, reads as “rabid pinko”. A detailed analysis of the relative bias of the ABC vs News Ltd is outside of the scope of this article. What is not, is that the Coalition is currently openly discussing curtailing the ABC’s power to operate in the news arena.

“He said there was a compelling case to consider breaking the ABC into two entities with the traditional television and radio operations protected to ensure services in the bush and regional Australia, while the online news service could be disposed of.” http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/turnbull-defends-abc-but-colleagues-want-to-preach-it-a-lesson-20131203-2yotw.html#ixzz2mS3lekiz

Of course, the Abbott government has form in the area of suppressing balanced information from the populace. In just a short three months in office, they have disbanded information bodies, restricted the information flow out of government, suppressed information on the grounds of “operational matters” despite said information being available to those not unfortunate enough to live in Australia, and continued the active dissemination of misinformation, half-truths and blatant untruths.

2. Robust representation in the Parliament

In a representative democracy, not every member of Parliament is going to belong to or be sympathetic to the government. Those members and senators elected to represent the opposition and independent parties – even those who do not represent a party at all – are not there to warm chairs. They are not elected to become a part of the government machine and uncritically support any intentions of the government of the day. Instead, they are there to be a dissenting voice, and hopefully through negotiation in the interests of the people they represent, to improve proposed legislation through amendments. The operation of the Parliament and Senate in this regard is a deliberate structure to ensure that all new law is viewed through the lens of more than one stakeholder; to ensure that legislation that benefits one group does not act unfairly to the detriment of others.

Both Labor and the Coalition in recent years – and as recently as the current sitting of Parliament – have taken, and are taking, actions to subvert this function. Such actions include scheduling complicated legislation for debate and passage in unfeasibly short timeframes. For examples of this – on both sides – you need look no further than the carbon “tax”. Labor provided a package of legislation running to over 1000 pages to the Parliament with eight days to read, understand, debate and vote on it. In response, the Coalition has given the repeal of the carbon tax – eleven bills, to be discussed together – just three and a half days of debate. It would be bad enough if it were just the “tax” being debated, but tied up in the repeal are dozens of climate bodies, administrative bodies, funding arrangements, and associated clean energy infrastructure.

Arguably, however, the Coalition has been worse in their abuse of the processes of Parliament. During the previous term of government, they brought few amendments to the house, preferring instead to grandstand, disrupt proceedings with continual calls to suspend standing orders, and in most cases in Question Time to ask not one question relating to their own portfolios. This was not effective representation of their constituents. But the worst was yet to come.

In the current term, in addition to electing a clearly partisan speaker to the chair of the House – Bronwyn Bishop, who remains in the party room and is an integral part of the Coalition’s governing body – they have also taken actions that in one fell swoop ensure the failure of any amendments to legislation and disempower any independent voices. The attempt to vote on all proposed amendments as a block ensures that a flaw in one amendment, or contradictory amendments, or an extreme position on behalf of one proposal will knock out all the amendments at once. As Penny Wong stated in parliament, this is procedurally impossible. She might have added, deliberately so – it is a flagrant breach of the intention of amendments. (I am unable to find references online to this abuse of process. If you can provide a link, please leave it in the comments.)

Understandably, governments want to implement their policies. But subverting debate using procedural methods is as much an assault on democracy as is continual sabotage of proceedings using points of order and interjections.

Does anybody even listen to Parliament any more?

The majority of the Australian people remain minimally aware of the vagaries of Parliament and how it operates, far less the way that it is intended to represent the interests of non-governmental political parties. Tony Abbott and some sections of the news media deliberately play to this disaffection as they talk about a “mandate” for the government to implement its policies and report scant, if any, details of the proceedings of legislation through the parliament. Regardless, the details remain critically important. These are our representatives, this is our government, and any attempt to usurp the proper processes of democracy is an assault on everyone’s rights – whether you support the government of the day or not. Accordingly, those who are politically aware and interested need to draw attention to these abuses wherever they may be found. Only by showing that people are watching, and that we care about the concept of democracy as much as about its outcomes, can we avoid permanent and catastrophic debasement of government in Australia.

This is Democracy

Democracy

Image from globalresearch.ca

500 BCE, Athens
This is Democracy.

Each year, 500 names are randomly drawn afresh from the pool of eligible voters. These 500 citizens will serve the next year as the legislators for the city. All citizens of Athens are required to vote on any new law that this body creates. Votes are won by a simple majority: one voter, one vote.

There are some people whose opinion does not count; who do not get to vote. In ancient Athens, these include women, children, and slaves. Modern estimates indicate that of up to 300,000 people living in the region at the time, about 20% have voting rights.

Political literacy is high. The opinions of the people are heavily influenced by the media of the day – political satire performed in the theatres.

There are no politicians.

Democracy is dangerous. It takes power away from those who have it, and distributes it amongst those who may have different ideas. It cannot be easily controlled, only influenced. It equalises and it disempowers the powerful.

Thus, since time immemorial, those with responsibility for administering democracy have sought to control its use by limiting the people who may participate. Slaves, foreigners, women, coloured people, non-citizen residents – they’ve all, at some point or another, been excluded from the processes of power.

The great likelihood is that currently, you who are reading this blog post are amongst them.

It is sometimes asked why, if somewhere between 64% and 68% of the Australian people want gay marriage legalised, the major parties are so intransigently opposed to it, or why with seemingly a high proportion of Australians simultaneously outraged by Labor’s and the Coalition’s plans on refugee arrivals, both parties continue trying to out-hardline the other. (I’ve found it impossible to find an actual figure for the proportion of Australians for whom this is a driving issue. If anyone can point me to this number it would be appreciated!

The answer, of course, is that the seats that matter, the swing seats, do not share the outlook of the whole of Australia. Both major parties spend huge resources polling and evaluating their standing in the swing seats.

Both parties target individual seats for marketing, for campaigning, for pork-barrelling and election promises, and both parties heed the opinions and prejudices of the people in these marginal seats as a matter of high priority.

If a policy is adopted that panders to a swing seat, the parties can do this without fear of the outcomes because they know that the rest of Australia will either vote for them or not vote for them, regardless of actual policies.

Of the 144 seats in the Australian parliament, 74 are “safe” – they require a minimum of an 8% swing in order to change hands. The traditional view of “safe” seats is any seat that requires a minimum of a 6% swing, so I’m being conservative here.

Technically, every seat in Australia can change hands at any election. At the 2010 election, some electorates swung by as much as 13%. 18 of the 144 electorates swung by over 8% (17 of them in the direction of the Coalition).

At the 2013 election, with the current projected swings based on polling, any seat on 10% or less might be regarded as a marginal seat.

1789 AD, United States of America
This is Democracy.

“We the people”, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, have the right to vote for their Congress. Most major offices in the country, up to and including the office of President, are elected positions and the people can vote for their preferred candidates to hold them. Legislation is passed by the Congress and ratified by the President.

There are some people whose opinion does not count; who do not get to vote. In post-independence USA, these include women, children, slaves, negroes, native Americans, and non-landholding males. Modern estimates indicate that of up to 5.3 million people living in the USA at the time, about 17% have voting rights.

Technically, the United States is a Democratic Republic. There is already, effectively, a two-party system in operation, with Democrats and Republicans making up the two main schools of thought.

The outcome of the feverish focus on swing seats is twofold. It results in two paradoxically opposed effects. It pushes the parties closer together on big-ticket items, and it increasingly leads to class politics in day-to-day governing.

Both parties are desperate to win the votes of a handful of electorates. Electoral strategy revolves around picking your battles and pitching your offer directly at the heartland of the undecided.

With a limited number of seats in contention, and the stakes so high, both parties have incentive to follow the same path. In Australia, at present, this is slightly right-of-centre.

On refugees, on infrastructure, on education, on the economy, both parties are guilty of me-too politics, as clear vote-winning policies are adopted and co-opted. The opinion of the majority of Australians is not the major consideration. This is one contributing factor to the electorate’s general disengagement from politics in recent years.

The other effect is one of separation, as Labor and the Coalition focus their policy development on particular demographics. Electorates vote on the basis of the people who live there, and most electorates have a character, a homogeneity of age and social class.

As Labor continues to court the vote of the young and the educated, they develop policies that suit their safe electorates. As the Coalition continues to pitch to the battlers and the owners of small businesses, they develop a different set of policies that suit their own electorates.

Neither party is operating in a centric fashion with concern for the opinions of the electorates and demographics that they historically have not appealed to and can’t afford to put effort into winning.

2013 AD, Australia
This is Democracy.

All adult citizens of Australia are expected and required by law to enrol to vote, and are eligible to vote in local, State and National elections. Federal elections allow citizens to elect representatives for their local area, who despite election may not be a part of the governing party. All elected representatives may bring legislation to the house regardless of party affiliation.

Everybody gets to vote, but there are still some people whose opinion does not count. In practical terms, residents who do not follow the majority view of their electorate have no effective voice in parliament and their opinions are not important in the development of policy by the major political parties.

If we estimate that the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has been reasonably successful in distributing votes evenly between electorates, and if we assume further that an electorate requiring at least an 8% swing is “safe”, then of 22.3 million citizens, about 49% live in electorates where their vote is actually likely to be courted. 51% of the populace lives in electorates where the outcome is assumed.

The people are largely ignorant about the day-to-day processes of government and legislature, with attention paid to a small number of big-picture policies and ideologies, and most activity of the Parliament unseen and unremarked.

So what is the answer?

I increasingly feel that the two-party system is broken. Has representative democracy had its day? The day becomes ever nearer when we will have the technical and administrative ability to develop policy on the basis of the intentions of the people as a whole, rather than a representative attitude of the people in your suburb.

A time when every major decision is treated as a referendum and every voter’s attitude is counted, even if only in determining the overall intention of law. (Much of modern legislature is far too complex to be suitable for a census of opinion, but bureaucrats and lawyers can argue the semantics of law required to implement the expressed will of the people.)

This may be a pipe dream and unlikely in the foreseeable future. Until then, the best we can do if we want to ensure our voice is heard is to move to live in a swing electorate.

Co-posted on Random Pariah on 31 August 2013.

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