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Weekend reflections

November 18th, 2007

Weekend Reflections is on again. Please comment on any topic of interest (civilised discussion and no coarse language, please). Feel free to put in contributions more lengthy than for the Monday Message Board or standard comments.

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  1. al loomis
    November 18th, 2007 at 08:23 | #1

    wouldn’t it be nice if we could vote directly for each minister? saint bob as minister for resources and environment, comrade gillard as minister for industrial relations, kevvie for treasurer, and me as minister for saying ‘no’ to the yanks. (i speak the language, and say nooo! every time i watch lehrer’s news hour)

    let’s go all the way: wouldn’t it be nice if the would-be minister had to lay his/her plan and budget before the public, and deliver it?

    ahh, democracy! i loved her when we were young, then discovered i lusted after a phantom, constantly heard, but never actually seen.

  2. Ikonoclast
    November 18th, 2007 at 08:42 | #2

    I would not usually quote Churchill but he did come up with a pithy saying about democracy. “Democracy is the worst system of government… except for every other system.â€? This is suggestive of the many faults, failures and inefficiencies of democracy whilst reminding us how terrible the alternatives are. However, some democracies or very poor imitations of democracies like the USA are far too self-righteous about their assumed democratic nature and hence their implied right to dictate terms and conditions to other countries in all sorts of matters.

    For a start, we ought to point out that a democratic nation state is only democratic within its own borders. Outside its borders it can act as a tyrant towards other peoples if it has the requisite economic and military power combined with the political will (read selfishness and arrogance) to do so. If we carried a real ideal of democracy in our breasts we would be very restrained about the exercise of national power abroad except in the most benign and cautious ways as such power is always by definition tyrannical.

    The claim of the U.S.A. to be a genuine democratic nation state does not bear up to any serious scrutiny. The low participation rate in elections is only the start. The absurd collegiate process used to elect the President has “gerrymander� written all over it. Such a process must always be seriously compromised and dubious compared to a direct popular vote. Why such layers would be inserted by the framers’ of the constitution unless there was an ulterior motive is a very good question. There really can only be a few possibilities. The framers’ of the U.S. constitution were either stupid, misguided or intentionally devious. The only other possibility is that the provision might have made sense once but is now hopelessly anachronistic.

    This problem is compounded by the excessive executive power of the US President. The Bush presidency has highlighted this once again though other Presidencies come to mind also. The executive power of the U.S. President is so extreme that he is essentially (if he is so minded) dictator for four or eight years. The second term election, compromised as it is by the collegiate system, is some check but not a sufficient one. The US President is sole Commander In Chief of the Army and thus can send his army abroad without check as if he were an Imperial Emperor. In his second term, Bush has consistently defied and vetoed Congress attempts to limit and wind-down the Iraq war and bring the troops home. Congress arguably best reflects the democratic wishes of the American people and yet it seems nigh on powerless in this situation and unable to limit the essentially dictatorial power of the U.S. President. Impeachment processes are sadly lacking in genuine impact if they fail to rein in such a situation and indeed are not even invoked. The proof is in the pudding.

    Too little attention has also been given by the popular media (owned as it is by the corporate moguls allied to the military-industrial complex) to the blatant electoral frauds which enabled Bush to steal both Presidential elections. If anything analogous had occurred in another country (particularly in Asia or the Middle East) the self-righteous outcry from the Anglophone West about rigged elections and tyrannical dictators would have been almost deafening. Yet, most of us, commentators and general public alike, seem to have a huge blind spot to what the U.S. really represents.

    Now please don’t take this as a sign that I support China or Iran or other such outrageous regimes. Of course I do not. How could I when democracy is to me an ideal? Genuine democracy is a rare and endangered species on this planet. Fortunately, in Australia, we seem to have a reasonably democratic system though still not without its faults. Bring on the general election!

  3. November 18th, 2007 at 09:13 | #3

    Yes, and they would all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. A directly elected cabinet does sound nice, but doesn’t sound practical.

    What is needed is incentive compatibility: the government of the day can select anyone it likes as a minister… but every position can be subject to a recall initiated by the public.

  4. November 18th, 2007 at 09:26 | #4

    On an unrelated note… has anyone heard of the ‘Focus on Australia Foundation’? They’ve been running election ads (claymation!) promoting mature age places in universities, union ballots eating people, and the economy turning into a dodo if Workchoices is abolished.

  5. November 18th, 2007 at 09:43 | #5

    actually, alp, they do have directly elected ministers in california, and the swiss cabinet is made up from different parties. i think they get along because they are working for the people, and are watched, and are fired for incompetence, by the people.

    our way is much tidier and more efficient. if, that is, the prime motivation of government is to stay in power.

  6. jquiggin
    November 18th, 2007 at 14:16 | #6

    As a general observation, al, I’m surprised by the contrast between your vociferous denunciations of representative democracy in Australia and your apparent belief that relatively modest reforms, in place in California and other US states for many years, would fix the problems.

    Note that I necessarily object to initiative, recall and the rest of the Progressive package of reforms, but they don’t seem to me to have made a fundamental difference where they have been introduced.

  7. P
    November 18th, 2007 at 16:46 | #7

    “Not’ rather than “Note” in “Note that I necessarily object to initiative …”?

  8. chrisl
    November 18th, 2007 at 21:32 | #8

    I don’t know if direct elections would work al loomis but I’ve got to say that it is awful living in a safe electorate.We are total bystanders.It is compulsory to vote but our votes don’t matter!We wait in hope of a pork-barrelling scandal.No pork, no barrell.

  9. Peter Evans
    November 18th, 2007 at 21:42 | #9

    chrisl, think of all the trees that didn’t have to die! I understand folks in marginal seats are wading through piles of unreadable verbage every time they near their letterbox. Living in a safe seat, I think I’ve seen three meagre pamphlets the whole show.

    It’s all about trade-offs!

  10. chrisl
    November 18th, 2007 at 21:55 | #10

    I hope it is not too late in the election to suggest a policy initiative to Kevin Rudd and he is not too tired after being grilled by Rove.
    You’ve heard about the draft in football, well I propose a draft in education. Rank the schools(facilities,results) from worst to best,and give the worst schools the pick of the teachers and the most money. A salary cap could be imposed to even up the competition. All I need now is a catchy slogan…..

  11. observa
    November 18th, 2007 at 23:23 | #11

    Don’t you know all schools are equal chrisl, except those dastardly private ones.

    I see the natives are getting restless again. Viva la education revolution.
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,22768910-5014075,00.html

  12. observa
    November 18th, 2007 at 23:53 | #12

    Union rep to recalcitrant worker or small businessman at pub after hours- ‘I’m not here to punch you out as a formal representative of the union, in which official capacity I’m always as harmless as a piece of overcooked spinach.’

  13. observa
    November 18th, 2007 at 23:59 | #13

    Whack!

  14. November 19th, 2007 at 08:11 | #14

    actually, i have no quarrel with westminster monarchy. if that were the choice of the people of australia, so be it. but the only choice they ever get is: “do you want mob a, or mob b”. the people are never asked: “do you want democracy, or oligarchy?”

    i do wonder why ozzies refer to their society as a democracy, when it clearly is not. why don’t they refer to it as a monarchy, when it clearly is?

    i don’t imagine that a democracy would be paradise. but you live in a society that goes to war to protect corrupt wheat contracts, that passes laws allowing people to be scooped off the street and boxed up without judicial assent, and forbids publicity of the event. that should at least make you nervous.

  15. 2 tanners
    November 19th, 2007 at 08:27 | #15

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  16. observa
    November 19th, 2007 at 10:52 | #16

    IMO the current election campaign demonstrates some glaring weaknesses in our current practice of representative democracy. Much of the criticism could be allayed by reversing the way in which we elect the 2 houses. The Reps should proportionately represent the respective parties’ vote, to the extent that a numerical quota can be satisfied. It’s easy to see how doing so would largely eliminate marginal seat pork, as well as allow the parties to select and protect their perceived top talent at the top of their ticket. Think about parachuting in a Combet, or protecting a Turnbull here. The Senate would then be a non-party, seat based house, with rigorous accountability and review powers, as well as representing the different socioeconomic groupings.(Xenophons and Harradines)The place to go(your member)when you’ve got a local or particular gripe about govt. This house could easily be given the task of selecting and firing the GG as well as having the ultimate sanction of a double dissolution. National policy should be decided by consensus and coalitions if necessary, which often might be the case. The predominant party could coopt other minister from other parties as required or desired.

  17. observa
    November 19th, 2007 at 11:05 | #17

    You might also consider the anachronous situation of say a Rudd win, with Howard retaining Bennelong by a few votes and immediately announcing his resignation and a consequent byelection, while a Turnbull loses Wentworth by a handful of votes. This scenario occurred with Latham too. In a proportional Reps, a retirement(or party sacking) could easily be accommodated, albeit the replacement could only come from a candidate listed on the party’s last election ticket(basically you couldn’t run with a particular list and then swap them all with a bunch of unknowns between elections) Branch stacking is clearly redundant as well.

  18. wilful
    November 19th, 2007 at 11:35 | #18

    Observa, a 150 member proportional representation house would have such a low quota that lunatics would get elected, and executive government would ahve to be formed by coalitions, something that lots of European countries have grappled with, but not something I like. An electorate based upper house would be party dominated, 2PP type situation.

    nah, the idea sucks.

  19. gerard
    November 20th, 2007 at 11:52 | #19

    If lunatics get, say, 10% of the vote, why shouldn’t they get 10% of the seats?

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