Friday, September 14, 2007

Recovering democracy in Australia

Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as Government OF the people, BY the people, FOR the people
’What is the best form of government?? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.’ Goethe 1893
Athens was small so, democracy was ‘direct’. i.e. The people could vote on each issue.
Modern democracy must depend on the representatives who receive the most votes from the people.
So is it working well now?
No, it has been corrupted by party politics.

Political Parties
Political parties appeared soon after the birth of the Australian Federation in the early 1900’s.
“The modern party is a device for ensuring that a government formed by that party is not responsible to parliament”. Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate

Because party government forces us to vote for party candidates in our elections, independents are rare.
Party leaders receive most media attention, initiating the
‘Big-Leader Cult’.
Rule BY the people has been effectively superseded.

The Party system has led to the dominance of the Prime Minister and Executive in parliament. Parliament cannot make decisions. Decisions have already been determined in party-rooms.
Parliamentary debate does not alter decisions, due to executive control and party discipline.
Parliament is virtually a government members’ fiefdom.
The opposition is limited to criticism and obstruction.
A Prime Minister should be ‘first among equals’, but party power creates a virtual dictatorship.
A populist leader’s power, based on ‘handouts’, deletes the power of the people to participate in the decisions.

Powerful minorities, independently of each other, add up to a powerful influence over party government.

A non-party committee is rendered ineffective, as its decisions are at the mercy of party government.

Elections and party politics
Elections constitute the only power the public has to bring party governments to account.
However, party government can delude the public and diminish this power further, by such means as:

  • Secrecy and lies.
  • Allowing concentration of power to media friends.
  • Government funding of political parties.
  • Secrecy of political donations from interested sources.
  • Tax deductibility of political donations
  • Expensive, cynical, pork-barrel campaigns.
  • Government advertising with public money.
  • Election rules favouring political parties, and weakening independents.

What must be done?
To break the party stranglehold over parliament requires a radical change in the way parliament votes.
The key to party government power is the ’party-line’ control of member’s votes.
To restore the power of the people in parliament, through independent representation, party control of voting must be broken.
For this, parliament must be required to decide every debate by secret ballot (electronically), and permanently. We would have a fight on our hands. Obviously, no one willingly surrenders power, especially illicit power. But that is the battle the people must fight to rescue democracy from the cancerous grip of party politics, and its associated interests.

Let the battle begin!
“The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Machiavelli.

Vision for a New Democracy of liberal parliamentary government.
We need good government:

Government OF the people. Strong government, giving good order, harmony and freedom.

Government BY the people. Cooperative government, subject to the intelligent involvement of the people.

Government FOR the people. Caring government, for the wellbeing of all the people.

A new executive
The party executive would need to go, in
a spill of all executive positions, with ministers to be elected by ballot.
Nominations would then be made for all ministries (including the Prime Minister.)
(Members of parliament know well who is best for each ministry, self nomination impressing no one.)
The new ministers would no longer be caught up in party objectives.
The new ministers would be subject to the will of parliament.
The new ministers would be fully responsible for the activities of their departments.
Parliament would censure or replace a failing minister.
Ministers, and members, would be on equal terms in debate.
Responsible ministers would achieve stability of tenure and high standing.
There would be no ministers in the Senate.

A new parliament
Would it work well – for us – with the secret ballot for all decisions?
How would it work?
With conscience voting and all members equal in parliament.
Members would address the Speaker only in debate.
Malice, sarcasm etc. would be unpopular and avoided.

Self-important, time-wasting speeches would achieve no purpose and not be tolerated.
Debate in parliament would be objective and clean, keen and dynamic.
All members, in both houses, would be free to respond to good policy - and delay or reject the rest.
Agenda of parliamentary debates would be publicised, for public discussion
Debates would be televised – live - and in prime time; winning good ratings.

Any member would be able to give leadership on specific matters.
Parliament would make a finance committee responsible for costings.
Progressive electronic ballots would show up the trend in opinion during each debate.
Electronic ballots would enable a speedy resolution of issues.
Doubtful matters would be referred to committees or to members for follow-up with constituents.
Matters causing public anxiety would not be ignored.
Parliament would not waste time.
Lobbies and pressure groups would no have any influence over the decisions of parliament.
Political pressure would give way to legitimate persuasion.

A new bureaucracy
Ministers would have no power to hire ‘advisers’.
Ministers would liaise with and control the bureaucracy.

Secrecy provisions would be amended to eliminate cover-ups.
Responsible whistleblowers would be protected - and rewarded!

New committees
Committees would be non-party, with their findings respected by parliament.
Committees would be open to all members.

A new accountability
A Victorian Liberal MP was once asked: “What would be the effect of secret ballots in parliament.”
His reply was prompt and unequivocal: “It would make MPs accountable!
But if we don’t know how they vote, how would they be accountable to us??
Party MPs would become estranged from their parties.
MPs would then be all independent.

MPs would need to be available to their constituents in regular public meetings.
MPs would be anxious to respond intelligently, and openly, to public opinion.
MPs would have to render account
to the constituents for any unpopular decision of parliament.
Constituents would be at first ‘alarmed’ then very ‘alert, not knowing how the MP votes’.
Constituents would quickly see that their MPs would need their support, establishing useful rapport.
The public meetings would build people power
People would employ their new power to hold their ‘newly dependent MP’ to account.
The previous vague attention of the public would soon dissipate.
A displeased electorate would make any MP’s seat very hot.
Controversy would be to the meetings as honey is to flies.

A new deal for minorities
Powerful minorities would no longer be able to ‘lean’ on a parliament of independents.
The new parliament would not ignore the real needs of minorities.

The new elections
MPs would no longer have any help from parties to win elections.
All candidates would have to compete on their own merits – as independents.

Seats would only be ‘safe’ if members perform well.
Party MPs would give up, or become independents.
A level playing field would result.
Rival candidates would have already earned respect in their member’s local meetings.
Elections would not have party names on ballot papers, nor activists with party tickets.
People would no longer vote for anyone they don’t know.
Rival candidates, if needed, would become apparent in meetings well before elections.
‘Good’ members could be unchallenged, saving unnecessary elections.
Ex MPs could also resurface from frustrated retirement, to play a new and valuable role.

The new media
Media would help even more, with objective and very pointed scrutiny.
Parliamentary debates on TV could attract especially high interest at times.
Digital TV would provide expanded access, creating technical forums to explore difficult matters.

The new democracy
With all members equal in parliament and free to vote by conscience,
The chain of participation and representation would be complete.
Politics would become table conversation, understood, relevant, effective, never boring.
The secret ballot in parliament would be the most significant advance in democratic thought since the Eureka Stockade.
Political stability would soon appear, with harmony and real public confidence in government at all levels.
A new era of orderly and open government would result.

How can we advance democracy: to better help the world cope with the problems of the future?
A Better Democracy, A New Democracy,

A Republic
There is a recurring mention of the Australian public wanting a republic with an elected president.
For many the reason is probably the desire for an authority that could rein in the power of party politicians. If this is the case there is a problem, as the politicians are elected to govern, whereas an elected president would have a certain mandate from the people which would encourage a control analogous to a leash on a dog.
Clearly the more powerful interests in the community would play one off against the other.
We have seen moderate control by the Senate over the House of Representatives but the minorities had to align with the Opposition to effectively oppose the party government.
In the case of an elected president the situation would be vague, rendering the government bemused without really satisfying the public need for assurance that sense would prevail.
In the presence of balloting legislatures any influence over the responsible parliament by an elected president would be excluded. The president would then fill a role similar to that of the Governor General or the Queen of England – a figure of unifying influence to whom the people could respond, but leaving politics to parliament.

Indian Wisdom

"So live your life, that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and nothing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."
Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation. Printed in Native American News April 9, 1997 issue.