There can be only one.

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

Why don’t we get the politicians we want?

Political difference is as varied as people in society.

By electing only one member from each electorate any candidate who has the practical objective of winning the seat must fight over the lowest common denominator centre ground of political views. No candidate competing for this centre ground can well represent the views of all but a small minority of the diversity of political views held by the voters of that electorate.

As a result voters are forced to choose the candidate who represents their views least worst. For most voters no viable candidate will come close to adequately representing their political views.

The tired rhetoric of left versus right reflects this problem. The idea that the variety of political views can be represented as a position along a line with ‘far left’ at one end and ‘far right’ at the other is so simplistic as to be meaningless.

Political left versus right is sometimes meaningfully defined as the attitude towards distribution of wealth. Some people believe that society is best served by wealth being equally distributed to all members. Others argue that when wealth is inequitably distributed total wealth is greater and society overall is better off. Of those holding the latter view there is a spectrum of belief as to where the ‘sweet spot’ is between wealth equality and a single person owing all wealth.

With this revised definition of left versus right any member of society can be placed somewhere along a line with perfect equality at one end and one individual owning all wealth at the other. Although this position on the line is now meaningful it far from represents the whole political view of that elector.

Centralisation is another type of political difference. It can be argued centralisation gives government economies of scale which make it more efficient. Others believe society best served by decentralised government where more government is required but the same issue can be decided differently in different places due to local variations. Again any person has beliefs somewhere between the two extremes.

A different but sometimes related range of views applies to totalitarianism versus libertarianism.

A Swiss acquaintance says that the problem with Switzerland is that everything is either illegal or compulsory.

Some people believe that government should tightly control almost every aspect of society, others believe government should be as small as possible, classically only providing defence, law and justice. Anarchists believe that we should have no government at all. Every citizen thinks that the best option lies somewhere between the two extremes.

Conservatives want little or no change; Radicals want lots of change; Reactionaries want change to the way things were in the past. Every citizen will think that the rate of social change should be somewhere in this range.

We have noted four different independent spectra of political views. Although centralisation and totalitarianism are related decentralisation and libertarianism are not always. There are many more political spectra but these are of the most divisive.

Even within each of the four political spectra discussed many people have different positions depending on the particular issue. A farmer may think that strong government regulation and enforced distribution of income is appropriate for agriculture, based on the ‘essential’ nature of farming, but think governments should not similarly interfere with industry.

Claiming political difference is just ‘left’ versus ‘right’ does not pass simple analysis.

This all leaves candidates for a House of Representatives seat, who are serious about winning, struggling not to say anything controversial. In the unlikely event that they well represent your views they would be going out of their way not let you know for fear that it would alienate many others. They have to say maximally uncontroversial things which place them just on the positive side of the 50% line of lowest common denominator policy.

We, the voters, are left voting for the candidate we dislike least.

The Senate does somewhat better. States, which each elect six Senators, allow ideas only best supported by 17% of the electorate to be represented. This encourages candidates representing a much wider variety of ideas to try their luck. After distributing our preferences we still elect someone who least worst represents our ideas but does so much better than in the House of Representatives.

The structure of our political system determines the results we get. To elect the politicians we want the system we use to choose them must change.

Possible solutions for the problem identified above will be discussed in a series of following articles the first of which is “How about Direct Democracy?”  which is followed by “There can be only one.” which discusses having a single electorate of the whole country.

Copyright John David 2015

What a TV election debate should look like


Check it out – there are more than two people!  This is what you see in Sweden, but is typical of any proportional representation system of elections. These are parliamentary party leaders – yep, they have this many political parties sitting in their parliament. And you wonder how these guys achieve good policy outcomes? Perhaps having more than two views at the table would be a good start.

In Australia, and indeed the United States and the United Kingdom are plagued by the familiar sight of the political debates:





 All looking a bit limited compared to Sweden, eh?


OK, I’ll admit that the UK has 3 people at the podium. But how did that work out for the LibDems anyway? The debate was really between the two men facing us in this photo.


Even in New Zealand we see the following recently (in addition to a two major party debate):

6a00d83451d75d69e2015393385369970bNot quite to the production quality of our other contenders, but nonetheless.