Back to getting the politicians we want. My article on why we don’t get them now showed that the Senate provides politicians who better represent us than does the House of Representatives. Electing multiple members from each electorate and doing so using proportional representation gives greater representational diversity. That is the diversity of political ideas represented in the Senate is closer to the diversity of political ideas held by Australian voters than is so for the House of Representatives.
Ideally, democracy is a social system in which every member has an equal amount of power. Clearly this democracy is impossible; however any proposed policy can be measured against it to determine if it increases or decreases democracy.
Like democracy perfect representative democracy is impossible. In an ideal world our politicians would represent the full range of political views of Australian electors in proportion to the frequency electors hold those views.
Double dissolution elections aside each Senate electorate, state or territory, elects at most 6 senators at a time requiring a candidate to represent views held by at least 17% of voters in order to be elected. Or at least it would be the case if everyone voted below the line distributing their own preferences. The vagaries of preference deals and strategic preference denials distort this but the system still works approximately and, to my mind, well enough.
Were the House of Representatives elected from a single electorate of the whole country by proportional representation its current size of 150 members would allow election of candidates who represent 0.7% of Australian voters. The diversity of political views represented in our parliament would closely approximate those of Australian electors and Paul Keating’s taunt of the Senate as “unrepresentative swill” would become, at least for the adjective, relatively true.
What purpose would the Senate then fulfil? Its relatively unrepresentative composure would bias it towards the political middle ground, the problem we are trying to fix, and its six year terms would continue to provide a brake on rapid change. Rapid change has never been a problem in Australian politics. Look at the slow uptake of Senate diversity described in my article on direct democracy. Governments have always been able to release the Senate’s ‘brake’ on change by calling a double dissolution election.
The Senate would provide no useful function and could be abolished.
The Senate abolished, we could increase the House of Representatives to 200 members and still reduce total federal politicians by 26. Candidates representing 0.5% of voters, or 75433 voters, would be elected. On this basis the Nick Xenophon Group would have elected three members just on the first preference votes they received from South Australians in 2013 before preferences were allocated or anyone from other states voted for them.
The Australian parliament would practically represent the diversity of political views held by Australian voters.
Minority government would be almost guaranteed by this system. The better our parliament represents us the less likely any party is to get 50% of members. Even with our present system we elected a minority government in 2010; the Senate is rarely controlled by the government, and States often elect minority governments.
The Gillard minority government was an effective executive and a prolific legislator. The problems it embodied which failed to see its successor (Rudd) government re-elected can, I would argue, be traced back to the demise of the first Rudd government and even further into ALP history. Had the House of Representatives been more diverse Julia Gillard would have had the potential to negotiate a broader coalition for confidence and supply, or renegotiate that coalition, allowing her to manage the ALP’s internal problems in ways which were not available to her.
The ability of diverse parliaments with minority governments to better adapt to change or even to smoothly change government without an election can be seen as a benefit. Had Tony Abbott formed government in such a parliament either his administration would be much different, by time of writing, or he would no longer enjoy the confidence of The House.
Empirically; Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland all have minority governments and usually do. All these countries also have proportional representation in their lower house of parliament and have a long history as stable prosperous democracies.
Not having a local member to take problems to is a common objection. In the electorate of Durack, Australia’s largest, local member Melissa Price’s office is, by road, over 2200 kms from her furthest elector. Fortunately we live in the age not only of telecommunications but of the internet, supplementing the postal system for distance communications.
To my mind having a representative who well represents your views is a greater good than having a representative who is only a 2200 km drive away. Further, with only one electorate we each would have 200 representative to “mix and match” until we found one who would investigate our problem.
As a fellow tweep said:
@oneodverb I live outside a village in FNQ
How much representation would I get from someone in Sydney or Perth?
I can actually answer that myself
About as much as I get from Bob Katter now.
But that’s not really the point.
To my mind, that is really the point.
“What about the bush” I hear Doug Anthony bellow. 11% of Australian voters are currently in rural electorates. If rural issues are most important to those voters proportional representation will provide 11% of representatives, or 22 members, representing ‘rural’ political views.
History shows rural voters will likely stick together. The Country Party, sorry National Party, just won’t die.
Rural voters have led diversity of representation in lower house electorates. Long before the Greens were able to win latte sipping city electorates country voters were electing independent, not minor party, candidates who were honest, competent, pragmatic, moderate and above all rural.
Rural heros like Tony Windsor, Peter Andren, Rob Oakshot and Cathy McGowan appeal much more to city voters than city representatives appeal to the bush. Even if ‘city votes’ bleed to the country at the same rate as ‘country votes’ bleed to the city proportionality would put the bush well ahead.
If this affect were diluted over time then an important rural issue devoloped the following election would see that issue better represented than by the current system. The Shenhua coal mine has more opposition, by numbers, from the city than the country.
A valid criticism is that the ballot paper would be too big and voting too dificult. The Russian Duma elects 450 members by proportional representation from a single electorate. The Russians manage this problem by banning independents and having tough barriers to party registration, solutions not acceptable to me. A future article will discuss use of a ballot booklet and voting method change to make such elections practical and easy without compromising elector control of their preferences.
This proposal is radical change and its implementation requires passing a constitutional referendum. Australians don’t like radical change and rarely pass referendums. This change is not practically possible.
This is the third article an a series which started with the question “Why don’t we get the politicians we want?” and followed by asking “How about Direct Democracy?”. The next article of this series will discuss how close to the proposal of this article we can get without constitutional change.
Copyright 2015 John David