How about Direct Democracy?

In recent elections the Australian Electoral Commission has allowed limited internet voting. Assuming this system is secure, it is practically possible to allow every Australian to vote on each bill before parliament.

The two existing houses of Parliament could create and pass bills with voters providing an effective third ‘house’ of parliament which must pass all bills before they go to the Governor General.

Clearly our much cherished compulsory voting would have to be foregone for the ‘third house’. It is too much to ask every Australian to vote on every piece of legislation before parliament. Some theorists, however, believe that voluntary voting would improve our democracy.

The ‘third house’ would not require constitutional change; it could be implemented legislatively provided both houses of parliament pass the enabling legislation and agree to abide by the process. This approach has benefits and risks. A government disrespectful of voter’s will could, if the Senate agreed, ignore or remove the system. Alternatively, if the system failed for some unforeseen reason the parliament would be able to rectify the failure.

The ‘third house’ would allow voters to block unpopular legislation but not allow voters to create popular legislation.

In the United Kingdom the People’s Administration Direct Democracy Party has a more ambitious agenda to remove the House of Representatives and the House of Lords from the legislative process. They envision an internet based system for proposing, discussing and voting on government policy with two stages of off-line opinion poll checks to detect process manipulation. Comprehensive telephone access would be offered for voters without internet access. A flow chart for their proposal is found on their web site.

The process proposed by the UK’s People’s Administration Direct Democracy Party for creating legislation could be added to the first option to allow voters to directly create as well as stop legislation without constitutional change.

Switzerland introduced voter initiated constitutional referenda is 1848 along with a requirement, similar to Australia’s, that all constitutional changes be passed by referendum. A petition for constitutional change signed by 50 000 citizens required the government to put the proposed change to a referendum.

In 1874 Switzerland extended its petition and referenda process to allow voter’s to create legislation or to stop legislation passed by the parliament from being enacted.

The Swiss system is more correctly people’s initiated referenda, which will be discussed in a later article, than direct democracy but it builds on the near direct democracy established in the Cantons in 1513. The Swiss have two levels of government rather than our three; their Cantons are large Councils or small States in Australian terms. Before the internet, or even telecommunications, the Swiss system was as close to direct democracy as was practical.

The current Swiss federal system is well summarised here. A history of Swiss democracy is found here.

Switzerland shows us that radical democracy does not lead to social failure. Direct democracy is shown to be compatible with a prosperous functional state.

In Australia the Online Direct Democracy party (formerly the Senate On-Line party) proposes electing members who agree to vote according to the clear (70%) majority will of Australian voters who register on their web site. If no clear majority is established then the representative may vote with the majority, or the majority of their electorate, or must abstain.

In 2013 the Senate On-Line party achieved 0.07% of the national Senate vote down from 0.14% in the 2010 election.

The two major objections to direct democracy are that it is impractical and the “you can’t handle the truth”, voters can’t handle power, refrain.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 83% of Australians had home internet access in 2012-2013. Smart-phones have pushed that continually rising number higher. The cost of enabling direct democracy for Australians without internet access is not great and constantly falling. Direct Democracy is a practical option.

The “you can’t handle the truth” objection is code for not trusting democracy. Charitably, the idea is that democracy is good in parts but potentially dangerous.

My article “Why don’t we get the politicians we want” shows the Senate as the more democratic house of the Australian parliament. The Australian Senate moved to proportional representation in 1948. In 1955 two minor party Senators were elected and 1962 saw the first independent senator. Non-major party Senators peaked at 8 in the 1970 election falling to two by the 1975 election. Since then Senate diversity of representation has risen steadily to the current 18 non-major party Senators, except for a jump when Senate numbers were increased in 1984 and a dip in 2005 caused by a demise of the Australian Democrats.

The history of the Senate since 1948 shows that Australians are cautious and responsible in using new democratic tools.

Direct democracy is the best way for government to reflect the will of voters. Swiss experience shows increased democracy drives prosperity; the Senate demonstrates that change would be stable.

Senate On-Line party’s 0.07% vote reflects Australia’s aversion to radical change. Jumping to direct democracy is not practically possible. If we want to increase democracy in Australia we must do it in small steps.

This is the first in a series of articles outlining options to solve the problem identified in my article “Why don’t we get the politicians we want?”. The next article in this series “There can be only one.” discusses a single electorate of the whole country.

Copyright 2015 John David

Waleed Aly “Politics is about persuasion but both parties neglect the public’s views”

In a damning article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Waleed Aly laid waste to the two major parties “both of whom are plumbing historic depths of unpopularity and disapproval”. He goes on to discuss the extremes of the policies enacted by both sides while in government, which ultimately end in naught as they are largely unwound either with fanfare, or through the slow erosion of funding – here he cites Gonski, WorkChoices and others.

Waleed Aly.

Waleed Aly.

Unfortunately he does not seem to offer any solution, merely criticism of the internal ALP process during conference and so forth, and that the coalition parties tend to lack persuasion and instead prefer to “bludgeon” their arguments – citing gay marriage, renewable energy and Q&A.

The link that is unfortunately not drawn is blatant and extraordinary misrepresentation of the public will that is on display within our parliament. This occurs on many issues, but the most obvious and clear-cut recent topic is that of marriage equality. Around 70% of the public polled were in favour. 80% of the coalition party room are against.

As David Marr said on Insiders on Sunday 4th – “Who do these people represent?” These are the same ones instigating wind farm commissioners, and opening coal mines in prime agricultural land for overseas mining companies. Again, who do they represent?

This is where Waleed Aly needs to focus his attention. It is not the machinations of either major party that is the problem, it is the fact that there are only two parties in the first place, despite voting intentions. In a nation where an electoral system exists that awards 15 seats to the Nationals with 6.8% of the vote, and 1 seats to the Greens with 8.4% of the vote in 2013, and too many other examples to cite here, it is clear that the system itself is the cause of the problem.

Concentrated pockets of voters are given disproportionate levels of representation – a fact evidenced recently in the UK elections, where again due to the nature of the electoral system, UKIP (whatever you think of their policies) attained 12.5% of the vote. The SNP attained 4.7% of the vote. UKIP got one seat, the SNP 56 and ultimately, of course, the Conservative party won with a majority of seats on less than 37% of the primary vote. While they have first past the post and we have forced preferences, the result is much the same because at the heart of it, the system relies on single member electorates.

And heck, I won’t even start on the United States.

I’ve noticed that for some peculiar reason, the English speaking world has this adversarial approach to politics which is imbued with a two-party culture of politics. Presumably we can blame the Westminster tradition of debating style. Either way, the recent rise of minor parties has increased disproportionality and along with it voter disaffection. There is a large proportion of the population that are not represented fairly or not represented at all, while others are over-represented.

The easiest way to see this is simply by taking the number of votes divided by the seats won. Its quite shocking. This is for the House of Representatives in 2013.

Liberal Party Room  Votes Seats  Votes/Seats
Q LP  687,853 16
LP  3,392,460 58
CLP  36,613 1
 4,116,926 75 54,892
National Party Room
Q NP  244,871 6
NP  487947 9
 732,818 15 48,855
Labor Party Room
ALP  3611178 55 65,658

Which is all well and good (although not great, hey ALP supporters?) until you consider those pesky minor parties.

  • Katter’s Australia Party – 107,017
  • Palmer United Party – 595,216
  • The Greens – 898,410

In short, our representatives are not representative. 36,613 votes to elect one MP, 898,410 to elect another. So one MP has 24 times fewer votes than another.

And before I hear you bleat – “but what about the Senate?”. To this I would answer, “Where is government formed and where do money bills originate?”.

One vote one value!

The key is electoral reform. Change this and you begin to accurately represent the community, create inclusiveness in the political process, foster proper public debate, destroy the power of the lobbyists, blow the lid of secrecy and, y’know, generally end the tyrannical rule of the two party system.

So to provide an answer as to why the major parties are ignoring the public’s views, perhaps it is simply because under our electoral system, they are not sufficiently scared of losing their seats. Listening to the public is not a requisite skill or necessity – attaining funds for advertising is.

Letter to Mr Gay re Westconnex

Mr Gay,

I’m writing an article on WestConnex and Port Botany’s freight transfer methods and had some questions.

In relation to WestConnex and Port Botany’s freight transfer methods, I note that road freight transfer rates are currently at around 86% (without a new motorway to increase capacity and reduce costs).

What is being done to reduce the costs of rail freight transfers at Port Botany to intermodal transfer stations and therefore reduce the volumes of container trucks on the roads? A report done by the NSW State Government in 2011 appears to identify the problems.

“2.1 Inefficiency of Rail Service Quality
Factors that affect the performance of the train operation in terms of service quality include:
– The misalignment between the rail paths and the stevedores’ time windows that creates difficulties for rail operators scheduling services via the port.
– The insufficient rail capacity at the port terminals caused by the lack of rail infrastructure, the limited rail sidings to service rail at the port and insufficient lifting productivity.”

With the West Connex emerging at St Peters near Newtown rather than Mascot, how will the WestConnex reduce the already high volume of container trucks in the Mascot/St Peters area?

Will the business case and supporting documentation be released prior to awarding of the contract? Today Clover Moore asserts in an SMH article that it will not be. If that is the case, then outside of “commercial interests”, what reason would there be for this? The natural assumption reached in the community is that there is something to hide – like the unprofitably of the proposed funding split between public/private as was reported in the AFR yesterday? “Westconnex will be a disaster: Greens“.

Thanks,
etc

Letter to NSW Govt re Westconnex

I sent a letter to Duncan Gay, NSW Minister for Roads, asking a few questions about WestConnex.  I recently received a reply, text and images available below.

 

 

 


 

Ray Williams MP
Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads NSW Member for Hawkesbury
Dear x,

Thank you for your email to the Minister for Roads and Freight about WestConnex and Port Botany’s freight transfer methods. The Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The full WestConnex business case was submitted to Infrastructure Australia in September 2014, as per the new Abbott-Truss Government’s request. Information on the project was also supplied to Infrastructure Australia for assessment, at the former government’s request, as the business case was being developed.

It is important to note Infrastructure NSW and Infrastructure Australia work closely together on developing and assisting in delivering NSW’s infrastructure program at best value for the taxpayer in a way that delivers on NSW’s freight and transport needs. WestConnex has now been recommended as a critical project for NSW in two State Infrastructure strategies. To this end, Infrastructure NSW has regular meetings with Infrastructure Australia in relation to WestConnex and other major projects where the Federal Government is contributing funding. We value the strong and proactive working relationship between these two agencies.

An Executive Summary of the WestConnex business case was released when the Government approved the project. The Parliament of NSW also requested information on the project through a Standing Order 52, which was complied with in full. Additional information on Stage 2 of the project, the M5 East duplication, was also released when it was announced in November 2014.

Each stage of the project is also required to undergo a full publicly exhibited environmental impact statement, which describes the project need in full. Consistent with our view that the community needs to be well informed about WestConnex, further information will be released as we deliver the next phases of the project.

WestConnex Delivery Authority (WDA) has conducted extensive community consultation on the project, in the lead-up to tho business case, and hold 23 community information sessions. Moro than 380,000 community update brochures have been distributed to residences and businesses. In addition to regular updates in the general media.

WestConnex is Australia’s largest transport project with a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of well above two. That is, for every dollar invested, two will be returned to the economy. As early as 2002, under the former Labor Government, the M4 East and M5 East were identified as priority projects, but never delivered by Labor. Nonetheless, even now the Labor Opposition is promising to deliver these projects — heralding bipartisan support on the need to build WestConnex.

Anyone who sits in traffic on the M4 or M5, or lives in Western Sydney, supports the project. This is why its BCR is so high and why the project enjoys strong community support and investment from both Federal and NSW Governments.

On the topic of Port Botany’s freight transfer methods, in November 2013, the NSW Government launched the NSW Freight and Ports Strategy. This strategy outlines actions to improve efficiency and plan the expansion of NSW ports, roads and the rail network to cater for the estimated doubling of the freight task over the next 20 years. Further information can be found at (www.freight.transport.nsw.gov.au).

Transport costs for containers sent by rail from Port Botany to metropolitan intermodal terminals are already competitive with road freight costs. This is supported by the existence of successful private intermodal terminals such as those at Minto, Yennora and Cooks River and private sector plans to invest in a new intermodal terminal at Moorebank. By collecting import containers from intermodal terminals, customers avoid Port Botany truck window booking fees and have more timing flexibility.

Work is also currently under way with Port Botany stevedores and the Botany Yard network provider to introduce flexible train window times to better match train arrivals. Less waiting time for trains will reduce costs for rail. Improvements in the productivity of stevedores at the rail interface will ultimately lead to cost reductions for rail.

Improving work practices to make better use of existing infrastructure is more cost effective than building new capacity. There IS room for growth in rail throughput at Port Botany through improved work practices before any new capacity is required.

For more information, please visit to register for project updates, contact WDA on 1300 660 248 or email info@westconnex.com.au.
I hope this has been of assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Ray Williams MP
Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Roads
Member for Hawkesbury
9th Feb 2015


 

NSW Government WestConnex Letter P1

NSW Government WestConnex Letter P1

 

NSW Government WestConnex Letter P2

NSW Government WestConnex Letter P2

Letter to Mr Albanese re Westconnex

Reply to Mr Albanese – 28 November 2014

Dear Anthony,

I appreciate your response and your concern. I have read your letter and op-ed previously, hence my statement saying that community expects more.

Specifically, though, can you answer:

  • Why there has been no official statement/press release from you in relation to WestConnex this year raising the concerns you outline below?
  • What has or is being done with regards to reduce the share of freight moved by truck out of Port Botany from its 86% share (2011)? I have read your comments to the AusRail conference, but this does not adequately address the question.  I also note that while rail makes up 48% of transport Australia-wide, only 25% of freight is moved up the Sydney-Brisbane corridor alongside the horrific Pacific Highway.  Presumably when the rest of the road is upgraded, it will make rail even less competitive, and that 25% share will fall.  Also, decisions to allow B doubles up the length of the highway, and the possible introduction of B triples will further erode the competitiveness of rail vs road.

It would seem to me to be logical to raise the cost benefit of any of these exercises. Surely it would be prudent to take the “low hanging fruit” like rail intermodals that can be developed at a fraction of the cost of a motorway that doesn’t even go to Port Botany. Again, trawling through Infrastructure Australia’s website, I see no document with a table of projects and their expected cost benefit. Wouldn’t a document such as this exist? If it does could you point me to it?

You’ll forgive me if I don’t have much faith in the disclosure of information by Infrastructure Australia. When you search for “WestConnex” on their website, you get 3 unrelated links mentioning the existence of WestConnex. Given that you were minister when WestConnex was announced, where is the disclosure of information for the public to make any assessment of what government is deciding to do?  Where is the effort to engage the community? How can we properly assess how our tax payer money is being spent if there is no transparency?  A $13bn project with no cost benefit analysis, no business case and questionable finances? Why are you not railing against this (excuse the pun) in Parliament and via official press releases?  You can bet that your numbers opposite would have levelled this charge against you, saying how reckless you are with taxpayers dollars etc.

Labor’s stated position in relation to roads and rail is that it “favours neither roads over rail nor rail over roads” (Senator Moore 24th November). I understand, and largely agree, that roads and rail both need investment, and I think the Labor Party’s policy as stated is prudent compared with that of the Liberal (roads only).  However, does Labor concede though that a disproportionate investment has been made in roads vs rail over the last 40 years?  For the forward years the amount of spending on roads vs rail is as follows and I’m afraid makes a mockery of Senator Moore’s statement to the Senate:

State Roads $m Rail $m Rail share %
NSW 32,727 1,273 3.89
VIC 15,074 98 0.65
QLD 16,585 988 5.96
SA 3,121 1.5 0.05
WA 9,886 329 3.33
TAS 896 303 33.82
NT 541 0 0
ACT 294 0 0
Australia 79,124 2,993 3.78

 

You’d have to agree that 3.78% is an awful long way from 50%.  Source: Infrastructure Australia

Here is a great historical example of a road to nowhere as you call it:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_North_Road_%28New_South_Wales%29

 

Sincerely,

etc

 

Response from Mr Albanese – 24th November 2014

Dear x,

Thank you for your email. Sorry for the delayed reply.

I too am concerned about the current proposal for WestConnex which I have described as a road to a traffic jam.

From what has been announced, the proposal to duplicate the M5 and dump traffic at a “St Peters Interchange” is absurd, particularly given that, as you say, the stated objective of any duplication of the M5 was to take freight to the Port.

As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald this month, I have written to Chair of the WestConnex Delivery Authority, Tony Shepherd, and the NSW Roads Minister, Duncan Gay to inform them of my views on this. Here is the link to the SMH article: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/shadow-transport-minister-albanese-rubbishes-westconnex-interchange-plan-20141109-11jbyt.html

I have consistently fought to force the Abbott Government to have the WestConnex proposal independently assessed by Infrastructure Australia, a body I set up as Minister for Infrastructure and Transport to make sure government investment in infrastructure was guided by evidence not ideology.

Here is the link to my opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph in May, calling for proper planning and assessment of WestConnex and other roads projects: http://anthonyalbanese.com.au/tony-abbott-is-taking-the-roads-to-nowhere-path-opinion-the-daily-telegraph

In government we invested $3.4 billion in freight rail, including building or rebuilding 4,000km of track. We also delivered more investment in urban public transport than all other federal governments since federation combined. Here is the link to my address to the Ausrail Conference earlier this month outlining the positive agenda you are calling for: http://anthonyalbanese.com.au/effective-rail-and-the-importance-of-integration-ausrail-conference-speech

I have raised questions in the Parliament about the Government’s failure to consult with local residents about WestConnex.

I have also raised directly with Mr Shepherd and the WestConnex Authority, the flaws in the current proposal and their failure to be transparent and properly consult with the community.

I will continue to argue for real solutions to Sydney’s congestion issues, which as Infrastructure Australia has identified, must include public transport and not just roads.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Albanese MP

 

Letter to Mr Albanese re WestConnex – 11th November

Mr Albanese,

According to your website, you have not issued a press release on Westconnex this year.

http://anthonyalbanese.com.au/media-centre/shadow-ministerial-media-centre/shadow-ministerial-media-releases

As a member of your electorate where we will see untold ramifications on local residences (albeit some told) and local businesses as a consequence of this “development” , and given your position as Shadow Minister for Cities, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, with due respect I would have expected some official statement from you to state your party position.  Again, with due respect, while an important step, your electorate certainly expects way more than a letter to the so-called “WestConnex Delivery Authority”.

Could you please answer the following?

  • What is the official position of the Federal Opposition in relation to WestConnex?
  • What is the view of the Federal Opposition about the positioning of the exit for Port Botany – the whole rationale for the WestConnex – being so far from the Port, and so close to areas like Newtown and Marrickville that will no doubt severely impact on the liveability of the area?
  • With road freight transfer rates currently at 86% (without a new motorway to increase capacity and reduce costs), what is being done to reduce the costs of rail freight transfers at Port Botany to intermodal transfer stations and therefore reduce the volumes of container trucks on the roads? A report done by the NSW State Government appears to identify the problems:

Capture

The stated rationale and design intent for the WestConnex was to connect Port Botany and reduce the numbers of trucks on surface roads – but the proposal as put forward ON MELBOURNE CUP DAY does nothing to address this.  The areas surrounding this “St Peters Interchange” will be swamped by trucks that could be easily replaced by rail, at a fraction of the cost of building this massive white elephant of a motorway.  It will most likely turn an already overburdened King Street into another Parramatta Road disaster.

I honestly fail to understand why the Federal Opposition is not taking an official position on this horrendous piece of transport policy funded by the Federal Government.  This clearly fails to address the design intent of the original proposal, making it just another motorway – but in this case a motorway to an already congested, high density area that will make living and working in the area intolerable.

We would expect from you and your party condemnation of this proposal, and for you to take whatever measures you can to at the very minimum return this unnecessary motorway back to the original design while at the same time promoting a positive agenda to reduce costs and increase efficiency of rail.  There is no justification for 86% of freight being moved by road in the middle of an already congested city – the Labor Party should advocate policies aiming to increasing the share of rail freight transfers to intermodal terminals to 100%.

US Voter Discontent at Record High

Based on research released by the Gallup company in the United States, US voter discontent is at a record high, with 42% of the respondents surveyed not identifying with either of the major parties.  The GOP, set to retain control of the US Congress and win the US Senate, are at a record low of 25%, a full 6 percentage points behind the Democrats at 31%.

Throughout recent history, voter support has been split between the major parties and independents evenly, but since the horrific consequences of Bush II’s  Iraq War II, the GOP has slid from the the low 30% to 25%, and they appear to be on a downward trajectory.

Party Identification, Yearly Averages, 1988-2013

This is of course a shocking number and points to how increasingly dysfunctional the US electoral system is.  In fact, it almost perfectly seems to mirror the rise in dissatisfaction that is echoed throughout the internet across the globe.  No wonder a bunch of marauding thugs in a desert in the Middle East think that the United States is weak.  Ideologically, its true.

A mere 56% of Americans believe that their government represents them.  I say this because the grand total number of independents in the US congress since 1877 have been 111.  The two major parties have total control over representation in the country.  They are effectively saying that they can adequately voice the concerns of the entire populous, despite the common view that the GOP are essentially a party of rich white men – a view that lead the GOP to issue this ridiculous campaign entitled “Why I’m a Republican”.  The ad was a brutal and obvious ploy to try to court minorities to the Republican cause.  I wonder how that’s working out for them.

The biggest joke is that now that the major parties level of representation nears the 50% mark, the whole reason for the war of independence becomes a bit laughable given the slogan around the time and the primary reason for grievance was “no taxation without representation”.  Perhaps this explains the pervading view that government should tax less and play less of a role in society.

Instead the view should be – how do we make these people accountable to the voter?  How do we bridge the gap shows that 42% of the population have less than 1% representation?  Why do we keep electing these corrupt people?  How come there are only a handful of senate and house races that are actually contests?  Why do we have a system that allows for wholesale gerrymandering?  How has our partisanship eroded our democracy?  What is the effect of lobbyists in maintaining the status quo?  How can two parties possibly hope to represent the complex views and opinions present in society?

Well the answer to the last one is easy – they can’t.

 

More reading:

The High School Debating Team in Parliament

I have a theory about the cause of the state of political dysfunction – and stick with me on this: school debating teams. Particularly those found in places containing the use of the following words to describe them: exclusive, private, and boys. Having gone to one I’d also add: detached, from, and reality. If the school was a bubble, the debating team was a bubble in a bubble. The cause is the Westminster tradition and the debating techniques adopted with relish by pubescent boys with a simple outlook on life with whom there is only an affirmative and negative. This unfortunately imbues the detached political classes with the same approach through to their seemingly inevitable spells in parliament, which of course are met with a knowing grown from the populous, recognizing that inevitability. They understand the way it works now. Be rich, powerful, well connected and send your boy (hey, I’m addressing the gender ratio of the front bench here) to an institution to foster and ingrain the principles of conflict and cheap debating tricks to confront complex and serious issues.

The good news for the boys of the debating team is that they can go to a good university – one made of sandstone – that continues the tradition of debating via the poisonous, vile vehicle of student politics. Orientation day is fertile recruiting ground for our little debating team, fresh from school and no doubt seeking to do something positive rather than show off their excellent debating skills from their excellent debating team from their excellent private school. So they find their affirmative and negative debating action first amongst themselves with their petty factions, and then when they reach the zenith of their debating talents, publically against the another team.

Exciting stuff! They can now join the party and get involved with Young Laboral (if they were remiss and didn’t apply at age 16) and have even more debates full of false dichotomies! What’s more – they can now pass resolutions and send letters to the important people in the party.

Now we’re making a difference, one debate at a time. Insert visions of debating in parliament. Insert montage. Now you see him (yeah, the gender thing) in Parliament. I don’t need to name anyone, but there are many examples. Far, far too many.

The method of presenting complex issues in three, or now two word slogans I don’t believe to be the fault of the media directly – they lap up simplicity and conflict as good for television, and don’t those high school boys from the debating team sure love the attention. You may as well be blaming the existence of television or capitalism or vanity on this state of affairs. Naturally a media proprietor wishes to make money by attracting audiences, and if you have to show politics, you might as well show a bit of biffo – the punters love it.

Anyway, now I have your attention with all that private school boy stuff (not that I take it back).

The principal problem with all political debates in Australia is the simple fact that there are only two major political blocs that in both houses that manage to gain disproportionate levels of representation in elections at the direct cost of any other party except for, you guessed it, them. Where it suits, the incumbent political classes gang up on newcomers in a move to protect their position of status and power.

And what better way to protect your position than to belong to a major party with a diminishing membership base that is now smaller than the waiting list for the Melbourne Cricket Club. Just setup a system of elections that transfers “wasted” votes to a winner, and just disregard their choices – this is what our Electoral Act does. Well, I say it is impossible to have a plural debate without decent representation.

Take this one bit of objectivity: the difference between the percentage of votes received and the percentage of seats a party obtains is a measure of how representative a parliament is. Run the calculations and Australia historically runs a disproportionality of between 8 and 15%, with an average a little over 9%. The trend, however, is increasing disproportionality; from 1949-1974 the average was 7.5%, while the period 1975-2013 averaged 10.5%.

The cause? Many – unfortunately they cannot be adequately explored in 800 words. Principally I would point to a decline in public debate and the despondency that results. Take examples like the budget, or in a bizarre sighting in the same sentence, gay marriage. The cause of the decline is the rise of the detached political class, the resultant decline in party membership and the display we see daily on the news.

It’s a cycle that we must break before the dysfunction gets any worse – after all, we the public employ them. I think it’s time the parliament truly represented the people by adopting reform of the electoral system. This will break the grip of major parties, drive reform, and provide a voice to those not represented in parliament. And best of all? By nature it would get rid of those pesky high school debating antics. Who knows, they might even end up treating us like adults.

For the record, I was not a member of the school debating team. Ick.

Toward a new Electoral System

Currently I live in three different government areas.  One for each tier of government.  Each with different boundaries.  This makes for blurry lines between whom is responsible for what.  And why?  It is totally illogical.  Why would each member of parliament have such markedly different areas to administer?  Sure, there are fewer federal parliamentarians than state, so naturally their boundaries cover more people.  But casting all that aside, how could we create better accountability for parliamentarians by making it clear to all whom is responsible for what?

Map Of Confusion

I term this the “Map of Confusion” or “So, Who is Responsible?”. Good luck remembering too, they change all the time.

As part of the ongoing work of the site, we strive to change Australia into a true democracy – and a key part of this is changing the way we perceive and organize power structures.  What we propose is something that changes government from top to bottom, creating proportionality and accountability, with clear lines of responsibility and demarcation between areas of government.

Imagine this crazy idea.  You live in a council area.  It comprises roughly 150,000 people.  Your neighboring council also comprises 150,000 people.  As do all of them.

You have a local member of parliament.  Their seat has the same boundaries as the council.

You have a national member of parliament too.  How does this work?  This is known as the party list vote, because you pick your party.  The party then gets a greater number of national seats if they have a disperse vote to counteract high concentrations of one voter. It also has the handy ability to counter any possibility of gerrymandering.  And your vote isn’t wasted if you live in a safe seat.

An alternate system of government. One where  you have one government area.

An alternate system of government. One where you have one government area.

 

At the end of the day, this means that if 10% of people vote for XYZ party, then XYZ party will obtain 10% of seats in either local or national level. Simples.

Second Sydney Harbour Rail Crossing

More NSW Government Transport Chaos

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Another favourite plaything of the two major parties at a state and federal level is public transport and a great example is the debacle of the debate surrounding the second Sydney harbour rail crossing. There are extreme ideological differences between the approaches taken by either side of the political coin when it comes to funding roads vs rail.  Labor funds and supports public transport, albeit begrudgingly when there is a state Liberal government as we saw in the run-up to the 2013 federal election.  Liberals support roads, roads, roads, for example with Abbott scrapping federal funding for the Melbourne cross city rail project and diverting funds to the new toll road tunnel project.  Barnett, the liberal premier of WA has scaled back the implementation of the hugely successful rail and light rail projects in Perth and again diverted money to roads.  The history of many transport projects is mired by this ideological division, and in the case where there should be no disagreement – say a new airport for Sydney – somehow becomes a political wedge driven down from federal through to state and even down to council level.  Inaction is costing our economy due to capacity constraints, not only in freight, but also simply in terms of the wasted hours spent each day commuting through our cities.

Reading the Wikipedia page for transport plans announced for Sydney incites despair as your realise the amounts of time and taxpayers money wasted over generations with very little to show for it other than inaction.  When a change of government occurs at a state or federal level, you immediately see the incoming government’s attitudes on display – new transport plans are announced and much rubbishing of the previous transport plan takes place.  No-one is clear who is responsible for delivery of infrastructure. NSW Labor managed to be in office so long they ended up rubbishing their own prior plans.  Here are some of the plans from the last 25 years – for rail alone:

  • MetroWest, 1990
  • Action for Transport, 2010
  • Action for Transport, 1998
  • Bondi Beach railway, 1996
  • Christie proposals, 2002
  • Western FastRail
  • Metro rail expansion programme, 2005 including:
    • Parramatta rail link
    • North west rail link
    • South west rail link
    • CBD rail link
  • Metro, 2008-2031 Sydney Transport Blueprint, 2009
  • Metropolitan Transport Plan: Connecting the City of Cities, 2010
  • NSW Transport Masterplan, 2012

This is another exemplar of how having these two ideological blocs means that nothing ultimately gets done because no sensible middle ground is ever found.

Much of the funding for these large scale infrastructure projects needs to come from the federal government via Infrastructure Australia (IA).  Infamously the previous state Labor government failed to secure funding from IA because the plans were written on the back of an envelope.  If you set aside laziness or incompetence for a second, the success or failure of state based infrastructure projects can rest on which combination of parties is in power at the federal and state level.  The display between Kevin Rudd and Barry O’Farrel during the 2013 federal campaign, or the backlash from state based education ministers against their federal counterpart, or the obstinate blocking of Gonski by the Liberal Queensland and Western Australian premiers against the interests of the community are all examples.  Probably the most telling display from Abbott was his decision to withdraw federal funding from all state based rail infrastructure projects, with the money instead being diverted to roads, for example leaving Melbourne’s much needed cross city rail tunnel in jeopardy.   Ideology should not be able to influence public policy in this way – the pendulum on all policy fronts needs to halted dead in the middle so long term projects can be properly planned, agreed upon by many parties and built without obfuscation.

A Second Sydney Harbour Rail Crossing

There has been much talk in Sydney over the years, and you can see these on display in the transport plans, of a second sydney harbour rail crossing.  All transport planners recognise the desperate need for a second crossing, particularly with the north-west rail link increasing numbers on the already overcrowded Chatswood – Wynyard section of the north shore line.  The tunnel option is an unbelievably expensive solution, conservatively estimated at $5bn at the time of Bob Carr’s premiership, so you could probably comfortably double that number to get an idea of the cost being proposed here.  It is staggering.  One quarter the cost of Labour’s much vaunted NBN scheme depending on whose numbers you believe.  And it seems impractical.  The tunnels would reportedly have to go 80m below sea level, meaning they would need to extend from St Leonards through to Central/Redfern and would be one of the steepest grade lines on the network (side-note, the millennium trains can’t use the existing lane cove tunnel due to the steep grade).

The solution is obvious and right before our eyes.  All we need to do is phone or perhaps send a telegram to 1932.  No need for artists’ impressions – this existed until 1958.  Repeat.  We had a second harbour train crossing.

RIP 1932 – 1958, aged 26 years.
Died of political short-sightedness.

The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930s showing the original arch rail bridge. Second harbour crossing for rail and second platform at Milsons Point shown.

Figure 1 – The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930s showing the original arch rail bridge. Second harbour crossing for rail and second platform at Milsons Point shown.

 

Figure 2 - The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1950s. The arch bridge has now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

Figure 2 – The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1950s. The arch bridge has now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway. The tram line has a kink in it to divert it to the road level – in the original plan the bridge would have met up with the North Shore Line to take 4 lines into North Sydney stationas now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

A Trail of Destruction

Bradfield planned for these kinds of capacities for the rail network over 100 years ago, but typical of the NSW government, the plan became tangled up in ideological crusades as governments changed.  Much of the plan wasn’t built, but some very key pieces of infrastructure were built and were either used and abandoned or never used at all.  The level of waste and lost opportunity is extraordinary.

Used and abandoned or demolished:

  • Rail arch bridge crossing the roadway on the northern approaches to the bridge (demolished)
  • Second platform for Milson’s point station (paved over)
  • Second set of tracks on eastern side of the bridge (removed)
  • Approaches to Wynyard from the bridge have been covered to service the Cahill Expressway
  • Second set of rail tunnels on the eastern side from the bridge to Wynyard, now used as a hotel car park driveway
  • Platforms 1 and 2 of Wynyard station, currently used as a hotel car park.  These sit side-by-side with platforms 3 and 4 (north shore line).  The platform numbering has never been altered, and you can clearly see where stairwells to these platforms from the lower concourse and main concourse have been boarded over.
  • Stub tunnels leading from Platforms 1 and 2 of Wynyard.  These only extend a short distance south of the station, enough to act as a turnback for trams.

Built but never used:

  • Double flying junction stub tunnels to the north of North Sydney station for Bradfield’s proposed northern beaches line
  • St James inner 2 platforms.  This would have serviced the proposed western line and eastern suburbs line on a course down Oxford Street.  These are clearly visible when in the station and the tunnels are obscured by a false wall.
  • St James stub tunnels – these twin tunnels extend a considerable length from the Oxford Street corner of Hyde Park through to the State Library on Macquarie Street and round towards O’Connell and Bridge Streets.  They have been used but only for sidings or turnbacks.
  • Central Station ghost platforms – when the Eastern Suburbs line was built, an additional 2 platforms were placed above the now current subway platform, along with relatively short stub tunnels.
  • Redfern Station ghost platforms – again, a duplication was put in place when the Eastern Suburbs line was built.  The intermediate level above platforms 24 and 25 was the concourse for these unfinished platforms.

Linking the removal of trams with the demolition of the eastern lines over the harbour bridge was unbelievably short-sighted.   When the Cahill Expressway was in full use this may have been understandable, but for the last 22 years the Sydney harbour tunnel has serviced the eastern side of the CBD very well, and according to RTA/RMS the use of the Cahill has halved since 1992. It’s demolition would only adversely affect those coming from North Sydney to the eastern Sydney, for which a new overpass at Berry Street or vicinity or alternatively a new entry into the cross-city tunnel from north to east could cater for.  Fortunately the eastern tracks and approaches could be reclaimed and restored to it’s intended use with minimal capital expenses in comparison with the rail tunnel alternative.  This would deliver the second Sydney harbour rail crossing in comparatively little time by exploiting the existing and abandoned infrastructure and extending it to the original plan.

 

An O' Class tram emerging from the Wynyard stub tunnels approaching Platform 1

Figure 3 – An ‘O’ Class tram emerging from the Wynyard stub tunnels approaching Platform 1

Figure 4 - The south-east rail approach leading to Wynyard platforms 1 & 2. This is now covered by a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

Figure 4 – The south-east rail approach leading to Wynyard platforms 1 & 2. This is now covered by a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

 

Figure 5 - As viewed today - There is a road deck above to bridge the graded track.

Figure 5 – As viewed today – There is a road deck above to bridge the graded track.

Figure 6 - The abandoned Wynyard train tunnels , overhead view

Figure 6 – The abandoned Wynyard train tunnels , overhead view

 

Figure 7 - Stub tunnels for the Northern Beaches line leading out of the north of North Sydney station and have never been used.  They would have led to the Northern Beaches via Northbridge in the Bradfield’s plan.

Figure 7 – Stub tunnels for the Northern Beaches line leading out of the north of North Sydney station and have never been used. They would have led to the Northern Beaches via Northbridge in the Bradfield plan.

 

Figure 8 - St James station - the two unused platforms. You can see the platform edge as a line in the concrete running of into the distance. The tunnels are obscured behind false walls at the end of the frame. Access to the tunnels is via the doors at the end, which are routinely open as the unused platforms are used for cleaners’ storage.

Figure 8 – St James station – the two unused platforms. You can see the platform edge as a line in the concrete running of into the distance. The tunnels are obscured behind false walls at the end of the frame. Access to the tunnels is via the doors at the end, which are routinely open as the unused platforms are used for cleaners’ storage.

 

Figure 9 - St James station - an unused platform visible behind one of those blue doors. Instead of having trains rolling along it, it was decided that mop and bucket storage was a better use for the space

Figure 9 – St James station – an unused platform visible behind one of those blue doors. Instead of having trains rolling along it, it was decided that mop and bucket storage was a better use for the space

 

Figure 10 - Central Station ghost platforms. These are located above the existing Eastern Suburbs subway station underneath Chalmers street. It has never been used.

Figure 10 – Central Station ghost platforms. These are located above the existing Eastern Suburbs subway station underneath Chalmers street. It has never been used.

 

By looking into the past and gaining an appreciation of the vast vision encapsulated in the Bradfield plan while trying to mask the debacle of policy over generations that has followed, you find an ingenious solution to our existing transport headaches.  If only his plans were followed through we would have a vastly superior public transport system in Sydney.  Perhaps if all else fails, trust the guy who had the vision in the first place.  It would seem that his vision extended well beyond his era – it applies today.

Figure 11 - Bradfield's plan

Figure 11 – Bradfield’s plan

Some reasons why this plan should be adopted:

First and foremost – make use of existing infrastructure that has either:

  • Never been used
  • Used but abandoned
  • Used but misused

To reduce cost and speed up delivery of increased capacity for commuters in Sydney.

Why Bradfield’s Plan?

  1. Two new train lines would run through the heart of the CBD, drastically increasing northbound traffic over the bridge, as well as east and western bound trains via St James.
  2. The North Shore line will drastically increase in patronage shortly with the forthcoming opening of the north west rail link that will terminate at Chatswood.  Patrons will then have to change trains to get to the city on already busy services.
  3. Heavy rail with single deck high capacity carriages can move up to 60,000 people per hour per line into the CBD – so with 2x lines 120,000 people/hour, compared with buses over the harbour bridge at a current rate of 20,000 per hour
  4. Wynyard tunnels – the approaches to the bridge on the southern side – are all built but currently have a roadway over them for 1 bus lane to the city and 1 car lane to the Cahill Expressway
  5. Allows for future capacity increases with the completion of the Parramatta – Chatswood line and would open up the opportunity to complete the northern beaches line
  6. Build bus interchanges along all north shore train stations – anyone that has sat in a CBD bound bus in the morning knows that it would be quicker to change to a train than be queued up on an approach to the bridge
  7. Redirect all CBD bound buses to these new bus/train interchanges, particularly the high capacity North Sydney and Milsons Point stations from Mosman and the northern beaches areas
  8. Initially the eastern track could service Milsons Point and North Sydney, doubling capacity.  In medium term, begin tunnelling from North Sydney stub tunnels through to Northern Beaches via Northbridge as per the original intent
  9. Tunnelling from Wynyard stubs on platforms 1 and 2 back through to Town Hall or adjacent area and onto Railway Square and Redfern would solve capacity constraints through the CBD and service the new transport interchange for light rail at Railway Square
  10. Future northern beaches line would drastically reduce the reliance on car and bus travel to the north east, reducing vehicle numbers through Mosman, spit bridge and the harbour bridge
  11. Remove all bus stops and bus lanes around Wynyard as these would be surplus to requirements
  12. York Street would be open to traffic from the bridge, reducing congestion on approach to city
  13. Only one car lane would be lost on the bridge which feeds the now largely redundant Cahill Expressway
  14. The Bradfield Highway ultimately narrows down to 6 lanes, so this would have to occur prior to the restored arch bridge on the north approach, approximately 500m further north than present – this should pose no detrimental effects to traffic
  15. Long term, deal with car capacity issues by duplicating the road deck of the bridge, again part of Bradfield’s original design
  16. The road deck of the Cahill Expressway could be removed, opening up Circular Quay as per Jan Gehl’s vision for the City of Sydney.  In the longer term Circular Quay station could be moved underground to completely transform the harbour and quay.
  17. St James tunnels from the state library to Oxford street are all built, lying abandoned and should be used
  18. St James ‘ghost’ platforms could be utilized almost 100 years after construction
  19. A subway line down Oxford Street, then through to the entertainment district would funnel shoppers up to Paddington, concert and sports fans to the football stadium and SCG and onto UNSW.  Doing so would increase capacity of the network and drastically reduce car and bus traffic during large events that chokes up the journey across the eastern distributor and Anzac parade
  20. Unused central subway ghost platforms, existing above the eastern suburbs line, could service the needs of the Yellow line in Bradfield’s plan
  21. Railway Square subway would be a welcome addition to anyone who has trekked through the Devonshire street tunnel.  This would increase capacity drastically especially given the plans to make this area a transport interchange for light rail and buses.
  22. Although the eastern suburbs line took an alternate path, the Bradfield plan could still be adopted in addition to the existing line
  23. Pitt Street and O’Connell Street stations would reduce demand at Wynyard and Town Hall.  It would also both to reduce interference to the existing operation of the network, but also to reduce the bottleneck that Town Hall station currently is.

 

Figure 12 - Restoring Bradfield's northern approach including steel arch bridge and second platform for Milsons Point station. North Sydney station would run at full capacity with 2 lines direct to the city, with expansion to the North West now and northern beaches in future.

Figure 12 – Restoring Bradfield’s northern approach including steel arch bridge and second platform for Milsons Point station. North Sydney station would run at full capacity with 2 lines direct to the city, with expansion to the North West now and northern beaches in future.

 

Figure 13 - The much shorter arch span in Cleveland, Ohio. This shows a similar construction to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but with a double deck arrangement.  Bradfield envisaged that a second deck could be added to the bridge to cater for future capacity needs.

Figure 13 – The much shorter arch span in Cleveland, Ohio. This shows a similar construction to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but with a double deck arrangement. Bradfield envisaged that a second deck could be added to the bridge to cater for future capacity needs.

Figure 14 - "Double-decker bridge to break the gridlock" - Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2005. http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html

Figure 14 – “Double-decker bridge to break the gridlock” – Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2005. http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html

 

 The part of the plan surrounding the restoration of the eastern line of the bridge and the Wynyard tunnels was being “seriously considered” by the state government in 2001 – They even had a project name “Project Star”.  Once again this plan was mulled over, announced, included in a transport “masterplan” and then quietly forgotten.

Underground; upbeat … Iemma and Frank Sartor say the abandoned tunnels in St James station could be used by the metro. Photo: Nick Moir (SMH)

Figure 15 – Then Premier Morris Iemma and planning minister Frank Sartor saying the abandoned tunnels in St James station could be used by the metro in 2008. The plan was scrapped by the incoming O’Farrell government.
Photo: Nick Moir (SMH)

In conclusion it seems that this option is entirely logical, would have the best possible cost benefit analysis applied to it but has not been properly debated, presumably because of the expected backlash of removing one car lane that leads to the largely redundant Cahill expressway in the wake of the harbour tunnel.  Or because of incompetence.  Or both.  If the government is serious about saving money, or spending taxpayers money in the most prudent manner, surely the above should be seriously considered instead of the far more expensive tunnel option, and if rejected, come with a damn good explanation as to why.  A $5-10bn tunnel, or 1 bus and 1 underutilized car lane – these are your options. We certainly shouldn’t be taking the expensive route if it is to be a public private partnership – the infrastructure for a second Sydney harbour rail crossing already exists, has been paid and should be utilized first before resorting to more expensive options.  It is time for the two major parties to balance their ideology against community interests by working together to enact a plan regardless of which party is in power – in short to act in the best interests of the economy and citizens in general.

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Sources

  • Figure 1 – http://www.flickr.com/photos/state-records-nsw/8368179943/in/set-72157606328090593/
  • Figure 2 – http://www.sydneycyclist.com/forum/topics/cbd-cycling-tunnels?commentId=1321712%3AComment%3A194538
  • Figure 3, 7, 8 – http://www.australiaforeveryone.com.au/sydney/nsw_sydney_citytunnels.htm
  • Figure 4, 5, 7 – http://sydneyforeveryone.com.au/city/sydney/unfinished/abandoned-railway-tunnels-on-the-city-circle/
  • Figure 6 – http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=4800281
  • Figure 9 – Author
  • Figure 10 – http://www.trainman.id.au/photos/nsw/tunnels/
  • Figure 12 – Google Images, edited by author
  • Figure 13 – http://bridgestunnels.com/2012/08/14/clevelands-detroit-superior-bridge/
  • Figure 14 – http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html
  • Figure 15 – http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/tunnel-trouble-wont-hurt-metro/2008/03/19/1205602483747.html