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.