How to conduct future elections in Australia

The 2013 federal election is over (well, almost – there’s still a bit of complicated counting to complete).

I am yet to hear anyone claim that the election campaign was palatable or productive for the nation. The politics of personalities, endless debates about the financial cost of policies rather than their intrinsic merit, and the assumption that Australian voters were kindergarten children left much to be desired.

I believe that our electorate is possessed of far more wisdom, curiosity, and critical thought than is widely assumed. I also think that most of our politicians are intelligent women and men who are capable of much more thought and debate than present opportunities allow.

So in reflecting on this election campaign, and the abysmal quality of political debate in the last twelve months, I have tried to imagine a better way. What follows is idealistic, and many details would have to be worked out to avoid totalitarianism or censorship in an election campaign, but I’d much prefer it.

1. Performance Review: Begin the election campaign with a proper review of the performance of both government and opposition in the previous term. Let’s look at the initiatives the opposition blocked, the reviews the government didn’t implement, and hold them and ourselves to account.

2. 10 Theses: Give every political party standing for office the opportunity to set out ten theses – one sentence per thesis, no more than one page in total – being the principles that its members will follow in making decisions, whether to set strategy or to respond to crises.

3. Hypotheticals: Hold a weekly publicly broadcast hypothetical in which parties are given a scenario and asked to work through what they would do, by applying their principles. What if climate change turned out to be much slower or faster than anticipated? What if Darwin were invaded? What if the bottom fell out of the Australian property market? Make this a team effort rather than a leadership debate so we can see how the whole team performs, not the leader, applying their expertise to their portfolios, and giving the electorate the opportunity to see how they work together. Get rid of the worm and replace it with a survey monkey at the end emphasising whether they stuck to principles, and assessing whether the results were effective. The ABC has provided the means in Vote Compass. 

4. Promises: Take the focus of election promises, and keep it on the principles. If promises are inconsistent with principles, haul the parties over the coals in the media for genuine hypocrisy. If the promises can’t be kept when a party is in government, check the action against the principles instead.

Oh, and let’s get rid of above-the-line-voting and bring in optional preferential voting for the Senate.

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1 Comment

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One response to “How to conduct future elections in Australia

  1. Dennis Webster

    There is no doubt that the Senate voting procedure needs an overhaul. I’m going on a Sunday night “Last Night at the Proms” haze at this point, but I think that the reforms of 1948 and the subsequent “above the line voting” during the Hawke era needs serious reform.

    I think the results (reading the transcript of the exclusions in the Victorian Senate) is a case in point (and NSW around the 42nd exclusion being a case in point). By allocating preferences at 3 or 4 to what seems a ‘harmless’ party, we suddenly have a previously unheard of party elected to the Senate. Primary votes enough would suggest that the quota received, down to the 4th decimal place, that this is seriously wrong.

    I grew up under the Herr Clerk system (with the Robson Rotational Amendment), and do understand the proportional vote system, but the vote above the line is seriously flawed.

    One university commentator last week suggested we should increase the amount of members criteria and party fees ($20,000 instead of $500)…not convinced of that, but the proportional voting preference of allocating 6 or 12 (depending on half or full election) would be more appropriate.

    I think part of this call reform is right-the second part, for sure. I’m not convinced about requiring minor interest parties being excluded by means of fiscal requirement. I think that acts against democracy in favour of the wealthy (stealthy).

    Personally, having arrived at #40 on the ballot of #97, I was lost in terms of where to put the numbers. The form was unwieldy and baffling.

    The Greens have called for reform. Surely, an intelligent government concerned about the House of Review (senate) should also be looking at what can be done to embrace the the spirit of the Federation and the Constitution.

    May this election bring about change now in the interests of clear democracy, and not be a knee jerk reaction against the minor parties. The increase in the informal votes (already at 5.9% compared with 5.1% [2010]) suggests this is imperative.

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