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Princelings

January 15th, 2006

Martin Ferguson’s comments in support of the Howard government’s bogus climate forum[1] remind me of why I dislike the hereditary principle in politics. Australian politics and the Parliamentary Labor party in particular is full of people who are there only because their fathers (or, more rarely, mothers) were politicians themselves.This wasn’t true, or not to anything like the same extent, thirty years ago.

A few of these hereditary princelings have made a reasonable contribution, but on the whole, they’re a dead weight, and Ferguson is a prime example of the latter category. If he’s done anything to justify the positions he’s held, I’m not aware of it.

The core of the problem is that the membership of the major parties has collapsed to the point where an extended family and its retainers can form the basis of an effective sub-faction, capable of winning preselections. Short of radical changes in both politics and society, it’s hard to see this changing.

One possible response would be to move to a primary system for preselections, on the US model. This hasn’t, of course, stopped the operation of the hereditary principle there, but I think that there is less of a cult of political celebrity here – I can’t imagine that names like Downer or Ferguson command many votes among the Australian public.

fn1. The derisory contribution offered by the US Administration (a budget request for $52 million, equal to about 0.0005 per cent of US GDP, which will probably not be delivered anyway) is an indication of the seriousness with which the US took the meeting, as is the fact that (as far as I can tell) it wasn’t even reported in the US press. The same is true, from what I can see of the other participants. The whole thing is, in essence, window-dressing to cover the Howard government’s failure to ratify Kyoto.

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  1. Ugly Dave
    January 15th, 2006 at 11:28 | #1

    “One possible response would be to move to a primary system for preselections, on the US model.”

    Prior to 1949, in NSW at least, ALP preselections were open to any paid up union member ie. you didn’t have to be also a paid up member of the ALP to vote.

    So there isa precedent in Australia.

  2. January 15th, 2006 at 13:46 | #2

    artin Ferguson’s comments in support of the Howard government’s bogus climate forum[1] remind me of why I dislike the hereditary principle in politics.

    Prince Charles is an example of the “hereditary principle in politics”. There is probably no more ardent conservationist, in matters both natural and cultural, in Western public life than this Prince. I would have thought that this might earn the hereditarians a brownie point amongst the Greenies.

  3. January 15th, 2006 at 17:44 | #3

    Are we in a parallell universe? For years Martin Ferguson sprouts wild rubbish, suddenly he speaks sense.

  4. January 15th, 2006 at 17:54 | #4

    Ugly Dave, that was the case in Queensland prior to Federal intervention in the State ALP in 81. But the system was notoriously rorted, with union officials filling in hundreds of ballot papers on their members’ behalf.

  5. January 15th, 2006 at 19:26 | #5

    JQ, this mistaken at two levels. One is that it confuses nepotistic practice with the hereditary principle – you are right about the problem but misdiagnosing it. (I’m not intending to imply “corrupt” when I write “nepotistic”, either, just referring to the ills you point out.)

    The other level is that these people are the analogue of upstarts, in a precarious position and still with short-termist outlooks, and so not able to bring the true benefits of the democratic character of the lottery of birth to bear (as I may have mentioned before, in the UK I met a few peers of the realm socially, e.g. in pubs, before I ever met an MP – their interests are more diverse than self-selected politicians’).

    The other mistake is not appreciating what the hereditary principle actually does, at a pragmatic level. It walls off the would-be nepotists by licensing them in a small degree, so long as they pay the price of kicking the ladder away after them; it seeks to substitute a less virulent strain for one that has no interest than to shoot through. It’s a working principle, not an ethical principle. The Bunyip aristocracy idea failed because there was no group in place needing to be bought off that way, then.

    But history has shown the harm that was done by abandoning these pragmatic things under the influence of democratic myths like the one that has misled JQ into thinking there is no gain from it. For instance, the second Lord Stansgate could never have done as much harm as Tony Benn achieved; the system had spotted someone to sideline in the form of his father, and had tried to do so, but busting that pragmatic settlement introduced thinsg like the British Nuclear Police (one of the first forces without adequate supervision and control built in), and the premature destruction of large swathes of British industry, notably Clydeside.

    Kicking upstairs works, and it’s not the same thing as nepotism even when you make it hereditary as a further precaution. But the condemnation of what is actually going on is spot on, just aiming at the wrong target. The hereditary system is actually a cure for this disease, though politically impractical here.

  6. rog
    January 15th, 2006 at 21:00 | #6

    All ALP memebers are heroes until they broach the party line, then they and their forebears are condemned.

  7. January 16th, 2006 at 02:10 | #7

    Exactly rog. Malcolm Fraser is a prime example. Oh, hang on, he wasn’t in the ALP …

  8. January 16th, 2006 at 02:18 | #8

    CS: He is now

  9. January 16th, 2006 at 02:20 | #9

    QED

  10. jquiggin
    January 16th, 2006 at 07:46 | #10

    Rog, I think you’ll have to dig a fair way back to find ALP hero-worship on my part, particularly in relation to Martin Ferguson. See here, for example.

  11. Peter Evans
    January 16th, 2006 at 09:27 | #11

    I don’t think there’s anyone inside the federal ALP who doesn’t think Marn’s an utter log. Patronage is a tricky thing to handle well and he’s cleverly wheedled himself into a placeholder position for actual power (I reckon the federal Libs would think exactly the same about Downer). He should be punted, someone with talent and experience in the real world should take his place, but it won’t happen.

    The narrowing of the base is destroying party politics, everywhere.

    -peter

  12. stoptherubbish
    January 16th, 2006 at 09:33 | #12

    ‘Marn’ Ferguson is exactly like his brother Laurie-a complete waste of space and time whose sole contribution to Australian politics has been to ensure that ‘being there’ is the highest principle to which one can aspire. The Ferguson dynasty should have been allowed to rest after Ferguson senior retired as NSW Deputy Premier under Wran. He at least stood for a very old fashioned sense of service to his Party and the Office he held while he was there, and served with devotion and distinction. His sons unfortunately, have an outsized sense of entitlement supported by little native talent and a complete absence of any drive other then to survive in the offices they have carved out for themselves, usually by taking the lowest common denominator position on everything in order to ensure their own survival. ‘Marn’s’ service in the trade union ‘mooment’ was as undistinguished as his brother Laurie’s has been in Parliament.

    The pair of them shows exactly what is wrong with the hereditary principle which ever way you cut it. Marn and Laurie should put be put out to pasture-fast. They are ‘yesterdays’ men in every sense of the word.

  13. January 16th, 2006 at 09:37 | #13

    John, I’m a big fan of open preselections – I made a submission to the Hawke/Wran inquiry arguing for it. We pointed out in Imagining Australia that a system in which

  14. conrad
    January 16th, 2006 at 09:52 | #14

    “Short of radical changes in both politics”

    I vote for this. It isn’t really surprising that political party memberships of both Liberal and Labor parties have declined over the years when the average parliamentary session looks like a group of 13 year olds heckling each other. If you wanted to argue about politics (or just have an intelligent discussion), why would you do so with such a group, even if you could ?

  15. January 16th, 2006 at 13:08 | #15

    I doubt that Mark Latham will be remembered for much, but I’ll remember him for this:

    Seven Government MPs are the sons of MPs or, like the Kemp brothers, the sons of high-ranking Liberal apparatchiks. Two (Alexander Downer and Larry Anthony) are third-generation parliamentarians. If Tony Abbott thinks that Labor has too much political cloning then he must think Downer is Dolly the Sheep.

    - the Member for Werriwa, Lunch, Burke, 1 Fb ’03.

  16. Stephen L
    January 16th, 2006 at 13:24 | #16

    I know many children of MPs who are politically active. The funny thing is, that almost without exception the ones who are any good are in a different party, or a different faction, from their parents. Some of them have politics very similar to their forebearers, but the shifts of time have placed them in a different grouping, and it has meant they have had to forge their way largely on merit.

    Those who are in the same faction as their parents usually have the sense of entitlement you attribute to the Fergusons, and are often straight-forwardly corrupt.

  17. January 16th, 2006 at 13:48 | #17

    Stephen L: Factions Schmactions, the rest of the country (apart from the political wankocracy) could not care less about factions, someone is either in a party or they ain’t. It is that simple.

    CS: Mark Latham wasn’t really making sense in that quote you cite, hehe, in that case, a you chose a quote which fits him to a “T”.

    The only 2 pieces of real common sense he came out with was (1) The bit about “tourists” and “residents”, to describe the hand-wringing latte-sippers on one hand, and those who actually have to live with reality in the suburbs on the other hand. And (2) Suggesting that it was despicable to gaol Pauline Hanson for politcal reasons, and that in Australia we defeat political opponents at the ballot box, NOT in the court system!

  18. Seeker
    January 16th, 2006 at 13:57 | #18

    stoptherubbish
    Well said. They are good examples of the problems in both major political parties.

    conrad
    Indeed. There is far more honest, intelligent, constructive, and dare I say it, civil discussion on sites like this one than takes place in parliament, especially in the lower house. Although, in fairness, there is some good stuff that comes out of committee work, including public hearings.

  19. Terje Petersen
    January 16th, 2006 at 14:43 | #19

    Slightly off topic but I don’t think that ballot papers should include the names of the political party that a candidate is affiliated with. Parties should not be banned however neither should they be actively encouraged by the system. People should stand on their merit and their affiliation with others is only one factor in that equation.

    If people get to that ballot box and then vote for people they know nothing about, purely on that persons affiliation, then it ensures that we will get dud candidates.

  20. stoptherubbish
    January 16th, 2006 at 15:40 | #20

    TerjeP,
    Nothing could be worse for democracy. People’s affiliations are the whole point. How am I going to know what I am voting for, unles I can be reliably sure how the person I am voting for, will act once they are elected? How will I know who not to vote for? Voter’s preferences are not simply for the individual, but are mostly for who/what the individual stands with and for. Not knowing this in advance robs people of crucial information which they need in order to cast a vote that reflects their real preferences.

  21. January 16th, 2006 at 15:46 | #21

    Heh: You wanna fix the hereditary candidates? Term Limits!

  22. R J Stove
    January 16th, 2006 at 17:16 | #22

    John Quiggin writes: “Australian politics … is full of people who are there only because their fathers (or, more rarely, mothers) were politicians themselves. This wasn’t true, or not to anything like the same extent, thirty years ago.

    Hmmm, I had the impression that nepotists did rather well thirty years ago and more, in all parties, at least in the smaller states. The Downer family is an obvious instance, but consider also the Lyons and the Hodgman families in Tasmania, the former family especially (Joe Lyons having been Premier and his son Kevin having been Deputy Premier). As for bigger states, let’s not forget Clive Evatt, brother of H. V., in NSW.

    These surely counterbalance the instances of more recent Ferguson-style nepotism which others have mentioned?

  23. Steve Munn
    January 16th, 2006 at 17:53 | #23

    Terje can always be trusted to make some flatulent “right libertarian” interjection into practically any discussion. Mate, the next book you read should be Karl Popper’s “The Open Society and its Enemies”. People who want to obliterate the system and impose something new are dangerous utopians, no matter what buzzword they use to describe their philosophy. Hopefully age will you grant you the maturity to see the error of ways. Repent I say. Repent.

    Back on topic, it is a troubling situation that so few of us actively get involved in political parties. To many of us have grown fat, lazy and complacent. Mind you, I say this with a beer in one hand and a fag in the other.

  24. Terje Petersen
    January 16th, 2006 at 22:21 | #24

    Steve,

    It was a contribution not an interjection.

    I suggested that ballot papers should not contain the names of political parties, but rather they should just have the name of the candidates such that the voters will need to think for five minutes to know who they are voting for. Suddenly that makes me a threat to Open Society and a dangerous utopian. Clearly it is not hard to spook you.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  25. January 17th, 2006 at 11:59 | #25

    I don’t like Terje’s idea, but all options should be considered in the mix.

    I have never heard a convincing argument, for example, for why we couldn’t adopt confidential voting for pollies in parliament.

    On MF’s comments, isn’t he reflecting a quite different issue/malaise/characteristic (depending on your view) in Labor- the influence of particular unions and factions?

    The CFMEU have long been right wing, loaded to the rafters with Howard voters, and riled at environmentalists and other lefties. And I suppose it’s their right to be.

    Whether MF speaking out about an issue that is undeniably his faction’s cause says anything about heredity is questionable. That it points to the heart of the faction and union versus Joe Bloggs member problems in the party is much clearer.

  26. Andrew Reynolds
    January 17th, 2006 at 12:07 | #26

    PrQ,
    The last three times I have had a close look at Liberal candidates for preselection to federal parliament not one of them had been a party member for more than one month prior to the preselection. It may only be in my area of WA, but I think that is a close as you will get to non-hacks getting up. I have not seen any equivalents on the ALP side, save Peter Garret; and a great shadow environment spokesperson he has been.

  27. Terje Petersen
    January 17th, 2006 at 12:54 | #27

    I have never heard a convincing argument, for example, for why we couldn’t adopt confidential voting for pollies in parliament.

    It depends if you see the pollies as delegates or representatives. If they are delegates then confidential voting makes no sence at all. If they are delegates then we need to ask who they are delegates for. If they are delegates for their parties (ie parties feature on ballot papers and voters vote for parties) then their parties will want to see how they vote.

    If they are representatives then presumably they represent the electorate that voted for them rather than any party. In this case there is a slightly stronger case for secret votes. Although how the electorate is supposed to know that a candidate is truely representative of their views when they can’t review how the representative votes in parliament is the catch.

  28. Terje Petersen
    January 17th, 2006 at 12:56 | #28

    Given that Beazley can buy my vote and Howard can buy my vote I want to know why I can’t sell my vote on EBay to the highest bidder. Why is the market artificially constrained?
    :)

  29. stoptherubbish
    January 17th, 2006 at 13:01 | #29

    Why do libertarians want to permit elected representatives to:-

    a. not tell people who they represent when they stand for election; and

    b. Not permit the electors to konw how they vote in Parliament.

    What is it about political arrangments that makes secrecy work better than open and accountable decision making?
    And btw, Marn Ferson’s union background was the LHMU, not the CFMEU. His connection with his old union has long been little more than a small step on his personal ladder of opportunity. He couldn’t give a rats about workers, Howard voters or otherwise. He is the classical ‘hack’-a small but perfect example of the type.

  30. Terje Petersen
    January 17th, 2006 at 13:14 | #30

    Stoptherubbish,

    You are generalising. I call myself a libertarian but I don’t agree with both assertions.

    a) They should represent their electorate not their party. I don’t want party names on ballot papers. If it is necessary for representatives to have a party lable next to their name so that people know “who they represent” then we should also have a comment field so they can list the other more important factors about them that might influence our vote. For instance they should have a comment field where they list their views on abortion, taxation, welfare and foreign policy. Or else all this stuff (including their party) can be put on their advertising material and the ballot paper can be about voting for people.

    b) I don’t support or advocate secret ballots in parliament. The fact that I try to understand the argument in favour of secret ballots in parliament should not be taken as support.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  31. January 17th, 2006 at 13:15 | #31

    I’m not a libertarian, I was just mooting it. And I wasn’t referring to his background, but rather a primary constituent union of his faction.

    Arguably “open and accountable decision making” is a euphemism if people pass somebody else’s vote and not their own. The person who made the decision isn’t the one “open” to public scrutiny…

  32. Katz
    January 17th, 2006 at 13:46 | #32

    I think this thread has revealed the actual political culture of Australia. And it isn’ta pretty sight.

    It shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp the proposition that it’s up to individual parties to decide on the most effective means of relating the wishes of its rank and file members to the actions of its representatives when elected to legislative bodies.

    But it should be noted that the Australian experience suggests that there is no necessary relationship between the power of the rank and file ofthe party and the viability of that party as a political force.

    The tragi-comic demise of the Australian Democrats is a case in point. That party came closer to binding the actions of elected representatives to the wishes of its membership than any modern Australian political party.

    http://www.australianpolitics.com/parties/democrats/constitution.shtml#9

    Apart from adherence to a few motherhood statements anyone can join. The balloting system gives a large measure of power to rank and file members.

    All this conforms with the sentiments often expressed on this thread as to what constitutes an appropriatee political party structure for a mature democracy such as ours in Australia.

    Yet the Australian Democrats are a putrid political corpse.

    This suggests to me that Australians tend to pay lip service to one set of politcal values yet live according to another set.

    I believe that mindset is called cynicism.

  33. Andrew Reynolds
    January 17th, 2006 at 13:51 | #33

    Katz,
    The other option is that what is written in the constitution is not always what happens.

  34. January 17th, 2006 at 17:35 | #34

    Terje said:

    I suggested that ballot papers should not contain the names of political parties, but rather they should just have the name of the candidates such that the voters will need to think for five minutes to know who they are voting for.

    Whether you’re a libertarian or not, would anyone disagree with this sentiment if party ‘discipline’ was less solid than it is in Australia? Today we vote for the party, not the person and it sucks. Maybe banning all political parties might not be a bad idea.

    Steve Munn said:

    Mind you, I say this with a beer in one hand and a fag in the other.

    I know this is off topic, but how on earth can you type with both hands full? ;)

  35. January 17th, 2006 at 17:46 | #35

    Alpaca: (still off topic) Speech recognition software has made fantastic advances of late!

  36. Steve Munn
    January 17th, 2006 at 18:10 | #36

    I think party discipline is generally a good thing.

    Without it we could end up going down the American path whereby lobbyists, corporations and so on effectively buy individual politicians.

  37. Tom Dunstan
    January 17th, 2006 at 19:45 | #37

    Re secret ballots: there are competing concerns. On one hand, an open ballot allows the electors to see how their representative is representing them. On the other hand, it does make enforcing party discipline much easier, which I consider a downside on the whole. Perhaps if the ALP were further to the left than it currently is I would consider keeping party discipline to be more important (at least as far as the ALP goes). :)
    How you weigh up those concerns will affect which outcome you consider more appropriate. For publicly elected officials, I consider the voter’s right to see how their MP votes more important than the possible freedom that secrecy might give them. OTOH, when the ALP in SA finally brought in secret ballots, it was heralded (by its supporters) as a great victory for democracy over factional power, as it made it much easier for delegates to vote as they wished.

  38. Mike
    January 18th, 2006 at 09:41 | #38

    I think the general public’s view is ‘A pox on both their houses’.

  39. Terje Petersen
    January 18th, 2006 at 10:41 | #39

    Whether you’re a libertarian or not, would anyone disagree with this sentiment if party ‘discipline’ was less solid than it is in Australia? Today we vote for the party, not the person and it sucks. Maybe banning all political parties might not be a bad idea.

    Why is there always this obsession with banning things. They banned rainwater tanks in Sydney now they force developers to include them. It seems that if its not compulsory it must be banned.

    To ban political parties is to ban freedom of association. It’s an absolutely terrible idea. All I ask is that we minimise the extent to which we institutionalise political parties. That is a world apart from banning them. Let people join them, but don’t make space on ballot papers for the names of political parties or reserve special privaledges associated with parties. After all we don’t put peoples religious denomination, sexual orientation, gender, country of birth or other details on ballot papers.

  40. Terje Petersen
    January 18th, 2006 at 11:26 | #40

    While we are talking political reform what do people think about having more states.

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Altered-states/2005/01/24/1106415528397.html

    http://www.newstates.net/main.html

  41. Ian Gould
    January 18th, 2006 at 17:02 | #41

    Armaniac: I have never heard a convincing argument, for example, for why we couldn’t adopt confidential voting for pollies in parliament.

    “I didn’t vote for that 5,000% pay rise for Parliamentarians and if re-elected I promise to vote for its overturn.”

  42. Steve Munn
    January 18th, 2006 at 19:52 | #42

    I agree with you Ian Gould. Armaniac is displaying striking naivity. Transparency is essential for good governance, including the minimisation of corruption.

  43. Will De Vere
    January 20th, 2006 at 12:32 | #43

    Terje has asked: ‘While we are talking political reform what do people think about having more states.’

    I have 3 thoughts: Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! The best constitutional change that we could make is to abolish the states and federation. States are a grotesque waste of money and time. Australia only needs a national and local-regional governments. In a country that only has a population similar to that of Tokyo, we have six unnecessary governments.

    ‘State rights’ can go hang.

  44. MB
    January 23rd, 2006 at 09:05 | #44

    Opening up the ALP to directly-elected representatives would be an interesting move. I think the major obstacle remains the factions, who put loyalty [to the faction] and patronage above the qualities of the individual. Much easier to pick a hack like one of the Fergusons, who is sure to toe the factional line, than a bright, charismatic person who they would regard as a trouble-maker. Its become a cliche but Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam et al wouldn’t win preselection in this ALP. A ban on formalised factions is badly needed.

  45. Paul Norton
    January 23rd, 2006 at 11:21 | #45

    “A ban on formalised factions is badly needed.”

    The problem is that it would lead, not to the elimination of factionalism, but to clandestine factionalism and the use of dishonest stratagems by the current beneficiaries of factionalism to maintain the patronage and control networks within the cracks of whatever new rules were put in place to forbid factions. I think MB’s first suggestion re direct election of positions in the ALP would achieve more.

  46. Terje Petersen
    January 23rd, 2006 at 11:57 | #46

    Will said:-

    Australia only needs a national and local-regional governments.

    How about this then. We abolish the states and transfer all of their powers (plus some federal powers) to local governments. You still effectively have more states.

  47. January 23rd, 2006 at 13:21 | #47

    The best combination package of reforms I’ve found, drawing on individual features that have happened in other times and places, goes like this:-

    - More and smaller states, corresponding to “natural” splits (no rigging to make every state include some of evrything like today’s constituencies, more like Swiss cantons).

    - Unicameral but small state houses, with term limits based on time served in the most recent few terms (to enforce sabbaticals and prevent a political class at that level); no bye-elections, but quorum requirements to trigger a general election when any seat goes below adequate representation.

    - Cumulative voting at that level (this also allows Terje’s proposal).

    - Federal lower house/upper house responsibilities changing round, with lower house becoming house of review with state associations and upper house initiating much of the legislation (the lower house reviewing for acceptability not viability – it doesn’t make the final bill that goes up for assent).

    - Federal upper house to be on the (former) Canadian system, with life senators voted in more or less at large, but with some places ex officio and some by co-option (getting the starter stock by kicking all willing current pollies upstairs).

    - Federal lower house to be a joint sitting of the state houses, with quorum requirements for each state.

  48. Terje Petersen
    January 23rd, 2006 at 13:31 | #48

    - More and smaller states, corresponding to “natural� splits (no rigging to make every state include some of evrything like today’s constituencies, more like Swiss cantons).

    Sounds good to me.

    - Unicameral but small state houses, with term limits based on time served in the most recent few terms (to enforce sabbaticals and prevent a political class at that level); no bye-elections, but quorum requirements to trigger a general election when any seat goes below adequate representation.

    I don’t understand the way in which you are defining term limits. Can you expand on this point.

    - Cumulative voting at that level (this also allows Terje’s proposal).

    Again I don’t understand. Please expand.

    - Federal lower house/upper house responsibilities changing round, with lower house becoming house of review with state associations and upper house initiating much of the legislation (the lower house reviewing for acceptability not viability – it doesn’t make the final bill that goes up for assent).

    If states are smaller and more like local governments then the house of reps would be like the senate in composition. However I am not sure of your exact views on this.

    - Federal upper house to be on the (former) Canadian system, with life senators voted in more or less at large, but with some places ex officio and some by co-option (getting the starter stock by kicking all willing current pollies upstairs).

    Why?

    - Federal lower house to be a joint sitting of the state houses, with quorum requirements for each state.

    Now it is starting to sound like the EU. Although I think that the EU structure has a lot to offer (ie weak central executive kept in check by activist states).

  49. David Michie
    January 24th, 2006 at 06:57 | #49

    Has anyone read (former Hawke government finance minister) Peter Walsh’s contribution to the climate change debate in the Oz today?

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17913942%255E7583,00.html

    I expected Walsh would be anti-Kyoto, but this is so extreme it could have come from Piers or Bolt.

  50. jquiggin
    January 24th, 2006 at 07:37 | #50

    Walsh is more extreme than either, and this is in fact moderate for him. He has previously described Kyoto as the greatest threat to Australia since the Japanese Fleet entered the Coral Sea in 1942. I’ve posted on this above.

  51. January 24th, 2006 at 23:44 | #51

    Terje, term limits are well known in US discussion. The most notorious case is that presidents can’t serve more than two terms. The drafting does require a lot of care to avoid loopholes like quitting just before the end of a full term and so on. The idea is to prevent a political class developing, the downside is precisely that when it succeeds you get more democracy and less competence. But which would you rather have, malice or competence? and what are your underlying objectives? These are deep matters which I have not so far gone into for reasons of space.

    Cumulative voting is the most transparent system of voting that gets close to being truly representative. This may be why politicians seem never to have adopted it willingly, though sometimes it has been thrust upon them (or upon company boards), e.g. by the courts. You have multi-member constituencies, and each voter gets several votes to “spend” in a concentrated or spread way as he or she chooses. A six vote/three candidate system is fairly sound from having a good mix of natural ways of splitting things up. Fringe positions can be represented, and parties can be accomodated by having a slate (not necessarily on the voting forms) – yet party hacks can be rejected as individuals and not pushed through by parties (think how senate how to vote lists work in practice). This is largely because what happens does relate to an individual’s intended outcome.

    On the senate/lower house changes, I was aiming for an acceptable tranistion (the turkeys will vote for Christmas – for other turkeys lower on the ladder), and I wanted a good split of control over the ambitious that still allowed them to contribute. The key is never to allow the democratic component to go native and get captured – which means, you cannot have the whole democratic as that only lets the turkeys (politicians) exercise their judgment over what is good and desirable as well as how best to implement things.

    The quorum requirements by state, and the joint sitting of state houses to work as a federal lower house, is intended to eliminate the “tiers of government” problem. Essentially, you have a sort of slantwise cut across the two dimensions of state/federal and upper/lower, so you still only have two lots rather than dozens (that’s from “combinatorial explosion”, if you’ve ever heard of it).

    Objections might be made that there would be too much work for them to handle all of it. Good. That sort of thing is what politicians say once they have gone native, the way Tony Abbott recently pointed out how hard working and committed they are; it’s true but not the point of having them. We would be far better off if they concentrated on reducing their workload.

    That doesn’t mean leaving work undone, merely combatting Parkinson’s Law rather than feeding the beast. As things are now constructed, they never engineer out the need any more than the rat catcher kills all the rats (it would destroy his career). With this incentive structure there are no political careers that need feeding that way, and we wouldn’t get the tendency for “smaller government” to mean “drop them in it without a paddle” – which only an idiot would advocate (I want to get rid of the “it” we could be dropped in). “Happy the land that has no need of heroes” – or politicians. What we need is a few statesmen, and the means and wisdom to keep them honest without becoming as they are in our turn (see Democrats, Australian).

  52. Will De Vere
    January 25th, 2006 at 14:56 | #52

    Terje has said

    ‘Will said:-

    Australia only needs a national and local-regional governments.

    How about this then. We abolish the states and transfer all of their powers (plus some federal powers) to local governments. You still effectively have more states.’

    Not so, sir. The local and regional governments would only need to take care of local issues (the environment etc), State departments would disappear and much useless duplication (in education, taxation, social services, health care etc) would be abolished. Local governments would also have a uniform constitution.

    By abolishing State parliaments, we could save billions just in wages.

  53. Andrew Reynolds
    January 25th, 2006 at 15:32 | #53

    Will,
    I suggest you look at how much the pretty pollies in State parliaments are paid. Saving ‘billions’ would require a lot more parliaments than we have.
    The better option (IMHO) would be to eliminate the duplication – why do we need both state and federal departments of health and education, for example? Get rid of the federal department in both cases and the actual outcomes to the clients would not be affected – net gain results.
    Personally, if we were going to get rid of a level of government, I would suggest the federal.

  54. Katz
    January 25th, 2006 at 16:39 | #54

    The Australian Constitution is a Bill of Rights for the Monarchy and for the States.

    But the Australian Constitution defines no rights for individuals against the desire of government to increase its powers.

    The Constitution prohibits the Federal Government from doing a proscribed list of things.

    Constitutional conservatives prate on about “responsibilities” as a superior basis for civil society than “rights”.

    This prejudice drives conservatives’ opposition to a Bill of Rights for individuals. Janet Albrechtson was banging on about it in the “Australian” today. Her gripe was against giving judges power over parliaments. Well if that’s the case, why have a written constitution at all?

    Frankly, I’d prefer the British formula of the sovereignty of parliament to the jimcrack pretence of constutionalism embodied in our constipated mongrel scrap ofpaper.

  55. Terje Petersen
    January 25th, 2006 at 17:45 | #55

    PML,

    Okay that clears things up a lot. I am pretty sympathetic to all the things you advocate.

    1. Fixed terms. Lets say you can get voted in four times only. On three year terms that gives you a maximum of twelve years in parliament.

    2. Cumulative voting. I want to sell my votes on ebay and let the hightest bidder spend them as they see fit. Maybe. Is that an option?

    3. I like the idea that the house of review should just be a joint sitting of state parliaments. If not that then senators should be appointed by state parliaments.

    4. I agree that politicians have too much work due to their own willingness to engage in mission creep. We need more politicians that are more intelligent and more lazy.

    I also thing that we should have fixed terms for laws. Most laws should expire automatically after a set trial period.

    For example all proposed permanent laws would need support from 80% of the parliament. All laws with a proposed duration of 40 years would need at least 79% support. And for every year knocked off the duration of the proposed law the support required might drop by 1%. And so on until suport reaches 50% where the law is not passed at all. This way we tend to only get enduring laws based on broad concensus, not on a narrow majority.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  56. January 27th, 2006 at 12:41 | #56

    Terje, 12 years/4 terms is too much and wouldn’t avoid careeritis. What might work is being ineligible to run (not “remain”) if a sitting member for more than three years out of any twelve.

    When I said “spend” votes, I meant that as a clarifying analogy to show how theye are used at the polls. A voter hands in (say) six voting slips, which he or she can apply all to one candidate or split among a slate – or informal.

    The time lapse on laws exists already, either when laws are deliberately written with a sunset clause or when they occur under a legal system which defaults to this. It is then known as “desuetude”; you might want to read up on this. It is likely to cause inconsistencies with Westminster practice, although curiously it does (or did) occur in Scots Law.

  57. Terje Petersen
    January 27th, 2006 at 13:12 | #57

    I understood what you meant by “spend”. But I don’t know why the range of buyers should be limited to politicians. I would like to sell my vote to somebody besides Howard or Beazley. I am sure I could get a better offer on eBay.

    Thanks for the reference to “desuetude”. However I was looking for a more explicit system of time limits for parliament made laws. Rather than a legislative process based on majority whim I would prefer one based on a larger body of concensus. I would just live with the executive being based on a simple majority.

    Under my proposal no law would be permanent unless 80% of the parliament (or relavant house) agreed with the proposed law. I suspect that laws against murder and rape would have little trouble getting 80% support.

    Other laws like anti-sedition legislation would probably not get 80% support so they would have to be more limited in duration. If the expected level of support was 65% then under the proposal that I made above the law would need to be framed in such a way that it had a 25 year sunset clause. Of course the 65% majority could evergreen the law by refreshing the legislation every few years. However it would require an active will and continued support to keep such a law in play.

    I look at laws such as the following one and believe it should have been repealed or lapsed long ago. It is unlikely to be repealed because it is not going to catch the attention of the politicians, or the imagination of the wider public. However it still places obstacles in the way of social and economic innovation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Bank_Notes_Tax_Act_1910

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