Monday, March 31, 2008

Recovering Democracy

How can we recover democracy; to better help the world cope with the problems of the future?

‘The New Democracy - with Ballots in Parliament’

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 and democracy was able to be ‘direct’. The people could vote on every issue. With modern, large societies democracy now depends on government by representatives elected by the people. Is it working well?

No. Democracy has been corrupted by party politics. The representatives do not need the people, so they are largely ignored. As a result, democracy—as a working political system is littered with problems.


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’ says Harry Evans, Clerk of the Senate.

Because party government forces us to vote for party candidates in our elections, independents are rare., and in any case are usually pursuing the power game – like the parties – and are largely helpless or exercising a balance of power in an unacceptable fashion – like the minor parties.

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Rule BY the people has been effectively superseded.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 ministers’ 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’, destroys 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.


Non-party committees are a good idea but are 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.

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 ‘open’ votes.

To restore the power of the people in parliament, through one hundred percent independent representation, party control of voting must be broken.

For this, parliament must be required to decide every debate by secret ballot (electronically) - permanently. We will 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, including 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.

Parliament could appoint an outside person of impressive standing in an important ministry if necessary.

The 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.

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.

. A party to end party politics! – The Secret Ballot Party

(for secret ballots in parliament)