Stoush – a democracy for Australia

Anyone who follows – still follows, which might be a smaller number – my twitter feed might have noticed a recurring argument with some friendly Labor types on the subject of Australia adopting a multi-member electorate scheme and thereby having a parliament that didn’t disenfranchise 30-50% of the electorate.

It’s a fairly complex argument to have in 140 character snippets, so I’m setting up a thread here to discuss it.

What I’m saying, in essence, is this:

  • It’s a fiction to claim that someone is meaningfully “represented” by an MP they voted against.
  • As a result of single member electorates, on average 30-50% of the electorate ends up with a local MP they didn’t vote for. Someone who votes in parliament quite contrary to their views. How is a Liberal voter represented by a local Labor MP? How is one of the 1.5 million Greens voters represented by their local Liberal or Labor MP? These MPs claim to represent all of their constituents, but a single MP can’t possibly represent all the different views in their electorates.
  • Put another way, picking a single “winner” in each electorate creates an unacceptable and unnecessary number of “losers” – “losers” being defined as any Australian without a representative for whom they voted.
  • With multi-member electorates (of which proportional representation is the purest option – one electorate for the whole country with 150 members), the parliament would match the views in the electorate. If 12% of the population votes Green, the Greens would have 12% of the seats, and 12% of the population would be represented in parliament exactly with the appropriate level of power. If 10% of the population voted for Fundies First, they’d have 10% of the seats, and 10% of the power. You know – democracy. Hopefully, once the barriers to entry of new parties are reduced, there’d start being some real competition to represent various groups. Your socially liberal former Liberal voters would start a libertarian party to represent their views. Your socially conservative Labor voters might start a… well, they’ve got the ALP already. Your socially progressive ALP voters might start a centre-left social democratic party that represents a pro-union progressive perspective but isn’t focused on the environment like the Greens. Basically, voters would have CHOICE.
  • The parliament that results would probably be one where no party has a majority – which is good, because no party represents the views of 51% of the population now, and yet one of them gets power with support on certain issues that it uses to win votes on issues where its position is actually a minority one. It would probably be a parliament of 4-5 main parties with 20-30% of the seats each. They’d form different coalitions depending on the issue. Your social progressives would join together on social issues, despite disagreeing on economic ones. And then on economic ones the majority position would involve a different grouping.
  • Who’d be Prime Minister? Well, the Parliament would appoint a spokesperson, as now. His or her power would be limited, as now. No-one would confuse them with being like a President – as they do now – because they would be just the spokesperson for the Parliament. The parliament could pick a new spokesperson at any time.
  • Ministers? Again, the parliament would vote for new Ministers to head Departments, Departments that would manage public services as they do now. Quite likely the MP who becomes Treasurer might be from a different party than the one who becomes Minister for Education – if there was a conflict, parliament would choose who wins. With a vote.
  • How to explore complex issues? Parliamentary committees, as now.

It’s not really all that complicated. It’s democracy. A parliament that represents the people. Unlike what we’ve got now – a dodgy fix that redirects people’s votes to big old parties so that they have no real representative at all.

UPDATE:

Keep in mind that these viewpoints are represented by particular MPs now. For example, there are socially conservative ALP MPs, and socially progressive ALP MPs, and socially conservative Liberal MPs, and socially progressive Liberal MPs. But the present system separates this from real democracy in two ways:

  1. There’s no way for the public to choose between different types of candidates in a big party – they’re presented with one local ALP and one local Liberal candidate, and if they’re from a faction with which the voter disagrees, stiff bikkies. So the mix of those factions within the party is almost completely unrelated to their actual support in the community.
  2. The various factions still have to vote within the big party. So socially progressive Liberals have to vote with socially conservative Liberals even on social issues, rather than with progressive ALP MPs. And vice versa with socially conservative members of each party. So the ultimate result on certain issues doesn’t even match their support in the parliament itself.

If instead of big parties with factions, we had smaller parties, then their numbers in the parliament would really match their support in the community, and they could vote on their actual views, not against them.

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36 responses to “Stoush – a democracy for Australia

  1. You would still end up with a dualistic system since ONE party would become more effective, and then ANOTHER would form to oppose it.

    My idea is much more effective, but you are not ever, ever, ever likely to give it credence. Or even wish to understand it.

    Because you (and your ego) are always more important.

    http://invig.livejournal.com/365946.html

  2. “You would still end up with a dualistic system since ONE party would become more effective, and then ANOTHER would form to oppose it.”

    Um, why? “More effective” in what way? Once voters get used to the idea that they can actually have representatives in parliament, parties that actually agree with them and don’t oppose their views half the time, why would they go back to voting for a contradictory “majority” party?

    “My idea is much more effective, but you are not ever, ever, ever likely to give it credence. Or even wish to understand it.

    Because you (and your ego) are always more important.”
    WTF?

  3. While no system is perfect, I do like the MMP system used in NZ. It improves proportionality and also mantains a link with local electorates. Living in a city that has done away with the ward system, having nobody as your “local” representative is frustrating, and so I think that an electorate link is important, with the list method making up the proportionality.

    Interesting that the system in NZ has increased the number of parties, but in Germany, a similar system has resulted in the consolidation of parties. Would be an interesting experiment to see how it would go here.

  4. Look at the conversation we had in the comments of my linked piece. You were unable to grasp the mechanics of my idea – preferring to remain solidly behind your simplistic notions of ‘ideal democracy.’

    “My ideal situation would be for there to be about four main parties, representing the four quadrants of a left/right social/economic scale, so your economic conservatives don’t have to vote for fundamentalist religious policies and your religious fundamentalists can still support public services. Parties can form coalitions on particular issues, because it’s a fiction that agreeing on one area of policy means you agree on another.”

    Parties will always form, and will tend towards a duality UNLESS the system is designed SPECIFICALLY to upset that tendency.

    Representation is bullshit. There is ONE reality – NOT four ‘quadrants’. Policy must deal with ONE reality. We need a system that disrupts parties forming so that policy continues to reflect the best thinking on how to address reality.

    I reference the current parliament. Disrupted = innovative policy.

    NOTE if you respond WTF to anything I say here, it is your decision to not understand, not my communication that is at fault. That is what I mean by saying your ego prevents you understanding an idea that challenges your (I repeat) SIMPLISTIC assumptions.

  5. “Living in a city that has done away with the ward system, having nobody as your “local” representative is frustrating, and so I think that an electorate link is important, with the list method making up the proportionality.”

    Maybe. I’m yet to be convinced of the usefulness of a “local representative”.

    “Parties will always form, and will tend towards a duality UNLESS the system is designed SPECIFICALLY to upset that tendency.”

    Parties are fine. But why would they “tend towards a duality”? People’s views don’t tend towards a duality.

    “There is ONE reality – NOT four ‘quadrants’. Policy must deal with ONE reality.”

    There’s one reality, but many views about it. The four quadrants was just an example of how two parties are completely inadequate to represent the varieties of view out there. Obviously there are more than two possible axes – you could have an environmental one, or a religious one, etc. But most issues break down into social/economic left/right.

    “That is what I mean by saying your ego prevents you understanding an idea that challenges your (I repeat) SIMPLISTIC assumptions.”

    If you insist on being a rude, unpleasant prick I just won’t approve your comments.

  6. I can only see one ego in attendance here, Ben. 🙂

  7. Ok, and I will see if you are able to comprehend more than you currently do.

    To explain why politics tends towards duality, one observes any new democracy. Many parties. Many diverse interest groups vying for power.

    Given time, one party will become dominant – because they have access to better people, money, arms, or other sources of power. Or they might just capture a zeitgeist perfectly. They might just be really nice, genuine people that everyone wants to be friends with. However, what do the rest of the people do? The ones who would suffer in any order that this dominant party would bring into being? They join forces (because they must). Become the opposition. Thus you have duality.

    For this reason the Greens will NEVER become a dominant force to displace Labor (employees) or Liberal (employers) – they simply do not represent a strong enough power base. If you have large electorates, Green-voting people will end up choosing Liberal or Labor should their interests become sufficiently threatened – and the Greens will return to extreme minority regardless.

    I am saying that if a system is created such that SOME people in SOME electorates are NOT GIVEN the CHOICE of the two major parties (for reasons I outline explicitly in my original post) then alternative parties will arise spontaneously. Most likely (as we have seen from the three independents) they will be LOCALLY based initially, but some NEW IDEAS will also arise as space is made available for genuine ‘SAFE SEATS’ for these parties.

    Sure, alliances will be necessary to form government, but they will remain short-lived since every new election brings incredible risks to any formalised coalition. This forces a permanent situation where minor parties and independents have a voice in policy making. This is preferable to one based upon “simplistic” ideas (Left/Right/Green/Libertarian) since reality is COMPLEX and policy must be similarly complex. Having independent thinkers in the policy creation arena (rather than slaves to simplistic agendas) allows for policy to become complex and nuanced.

    The fact is that, while democracy is a good in theory, people must specialise. Professional policy makers have the skill and time to make good policy. Your average employee/employer/greenie/lunatic-nerd-libertarian does not.

    People do not necessarily know what is good for them individually, let alone what will make their society function well for everyone.

  8. “Given time, one party will become dominant – because they have access to better people, money, arms, or other sources of power.”

    Wait, what? Not in a democracy where different views are represented. One party will never represent a majority of views, because a majority of views do not coincide. As long as people are voting for representatives, what you describe will not happen.

    “However, what do the rest of the people do? The ones who would suffer in any order that this dominant party would bring into being? They join forces (because they must).”

    They stay as separate parties and vote together against whatever they don’t agree with.

    “For this reason the Greens will NEVER become a dominant force to displace Labor (employees) or Liberal (employers) – they simply do not represent a strong enough power base. “

    There shouldn’t BE a “dominate” force. There should be a parliament filled with the different views of the electorate in proportion with their support.

    I don’t want the Greens to “rule”. I don’t want them to have 51% of the seats. I want them to represent the 20-30% of us who are socially and economically progressive.

    “People do not necessarily know what is good for them individually, let alone what will make their society function well for everyone.”

    Oh yes, and who does? The self-appointed ruling class?

  9. I am not able to continue this conversation if you refuse to disassociate “Representation” from “Power”.

    Votes can be gotten in many and varied fashions. Look at the Tea Party – they have been convinced to vote against their own immediate best interests by rich people who don’t want to pay tax. Look at the Mining Industry scaring people with an advertising campaign.

    If you cannot or do not wish to change your assumptions, we are wasting each other’s time.

  10. Jeremy, I’ve been out of the house and I’ve got a bit to do today, but I intend to return to this one—let’s just say in the meantime that I salute you for bringing an argument out of twitter, to their natural home: the blog comments thread.

  11. Democracy is a spectrum broadly covering rule of law, free speech and representative government. We are not talking about “democracy” or “not democracy” here. The system we have is democratic and the proposed system is democratic. The discussion is about the best system of government for Australia.

    Funnily enough supporters of minor parties favour changes that will give them more power while supporters of major parties seek to retain the status quo.

    In the UK recently the public was given the choice of going to a preferential voting system but chose not to do so, presumably because they preferred the devil the know. This is a very logical point of view and is the very reason these discussions are academic.
    Given the general distaste most voters feel for the Greens and the disastrous consequences of giving them even a little bit of power in this grotesque coalition government there is absolutely no way people will vote for a change that gives more power to the Greens.

    “ I am not able to continue this conversation if you refuse to disassociate “Representation” from “Power”.”

    This distinction does seem to be lacking from the discussion. The point of voting is first and foremost to elect lawmakers and to elect and executive. In our system there is a limited separation between these two arms of government, so we have one election to determine who our leaders and lawmakers are.

    In a system where one party governs the electorate can expect consistency form the government, rather than a buggers’ muddle of shifting alliances and shady deals. Most people are happy enough with the current system as it provides a stable and relatively predictable government.

    However, the current Red/Green provides an insight into the practical the workings of a system which fails to allocate power to one side or the other. It has provided Gillard with the opportunity to cynically break her opportunistic promises, it has produced independents who are widely hated in their electorates because they have betrayed their voters and it has allowed the government to ram down the throats of the electorate a tax which the vast majority of voters voted against at the last election and which about 60% of the electorate continues to oppose. That is a mockery of the concept of representative government.

    There is no prospect that any changes such as those suggested by Jeremy will occur. This is due in no small part to the woeful performance of the current hybrid government and the fact that the electorate now knows more about the way the Greens operate.

  12. I’m sorry, Splatterbottom, but that’s not true.

    The vast majority of us didn’t vote against a carbon tax. Carbon tax for or against was not on the electoral role. What we voted for was a political party to take on all these decisions and responsibilities for us. So none of us voted against it, because it wasn’t an option.

    What many people did, was choose a party they thought would represent their views in Parliament. Some of us may have done so based on the likelihood of that party bringing in a carbon tax. Others not so much. For me, it was more about the whole internet censorship thing and a decent policy towards refugees.

    Then once the political parties are sorted and in their alloted places, they decide what policies we get. We don’t get to vote on those, and in most cases we don’t get much of a say.

    While I like Jeremy’s representational idea, I’d have to go one step further and suggest we aren’t going to get any real idea about democracy while we have a political system that revolves around parties. There’s too much effort expended in ensuring that elected people keep to the party line regardless of what their constituency wants. Which in itself can be quite diverse – as discussed.

    In my opinion, it’s only through removal of parties, and replacement with people who are elected on their merits as people, rather than what party they are associated with, and backed by, that we’re going to have a decent democracy. And that way those individuals can vote on policy according to their conscience, and not according to the party line.

  13. ‘I am not able to continue this conversation if you refuse to disassociate “Representation” from “Power”.”

    Representation means power equal to that party’s support. It does not equal controlling power.

    There are no parties that have the level of real support that justifies them having the power to pass legislation by themselves.

    “Look at the Tea Party – they have been convinced to vote against their own immediate best interests by rich people who don’t want to pay tax.”

    Who are you to tell them what their interests are? Maybe they’d rather vote for their philosophy, even if it disadvantages them personally. I’m a very privileged Australian. Doesn’t mean I have to vote for policies that are in my personal interest.

    SB>

    “We are not talking about “democracy” or “not democracy” here. The system we have is democratic and the proposed system is democratic.”

    I’m objecting that a system that disenfranchises 30-50% of the population is unworthy of the term “democracy”. Okay, it’s more democratic than a dictatorship, but it’s not really rule by the people.

    “Funnily enough supporters of minor parties favour changes that will give them more power while supporters of major parties seek to retain the status quo.”

    Ah, but I favour changes that will also give parties I despise, like One Nation in the 1990s or Fundies First more power. Power exactly in accordance with their support.

    I’m not proposing the Special Extra Power For Greens Act.

    “In the UK recently the public was given the choice of going to a preferential voting system but chose not to do so, presumably because they preferred the devil the know.”

    Did you see the campaign against it? The outright LIES it was putting in its scaremongering? If you believed the “No” campaign you’d think that Australia was a complete basket case.

    “Given the general distaste most voters feel for the Greens and the disastrous consequences of giving them even a little bit of power in this grotesque coalition government there is absolutely no way people will vote for a change that gives more power to the Greens.”

    You mean the people who vote for the big parties are perfectly happy with Greens votes being redirected through the single member electorate system to the big parties. Wow, well that’s a reason to stop advocating for actual democracy.

    I’m aware that the privileged and powerful will oppose real democracy. That’s hardly an argument against it.

    I love the arrogance of “I disagree with the Greens’ policies, therefore the system should lock out their candidates from parliament, regardless of their support in the community”.

    “In a system where one party governs the electorate can expect consistency form the government, rather than a buggers’ muddle of shifting alliances and shady deals. Most people are happy enough with the current system as it provides a stable and relatively predictable government. “

    So’s a long-lasting dictatorship. China’s fairly stable. The trick is to make it so the people have little to no choice.

    Not a good argument for a system – if “stability” is only achieved by largely ignoring the people.

    “It has provided Gillard with the opportunity to cynically break her opportunistic promises”

    No it hasn’t. Any Labor voter who voted for Labor on the basis of the no carbon tax promise has recourse – voting against them next time.

    “it has produced independents who are widely hated in their electorates because they have betrayed their voters”

    Again, in any democracy MPs can betray the people who voted for them. The recourse is not to vote for them next time. If you want a quicker response, we need more frequent elections.

    “it has allowed the government to ram down the throats of the electorate a tax which the vast majority of voters voted against at the last election and which about 60% of the electorate continues to oppose. “

    Like, say, WorkChoices? Oh, but wait, that was from a majority Coalition government under our present system. Your point again?

    “This is due in no small part to the woeful performance of the current hybrid government “

    It’s still been vastly better than the Howard government.

    “and the fact that the electorate now knows more about the way the Greens operate.”

    In that they advocate consistently for the policies they told their voters they’d advocate before the election? Yeah, I can see why their voters would be angry about that and turn against them.

    jehenna

    “we aren’t going to get any real idea about democracy while we have a political system that revolves around parties. There’s too much effort expended in ensuring that elected people keep to the party line regardless of what their constituency wants. “

    All parties are is groups of like-minded people espousing similar policies.

    Well, that’s what smaller parties are. The big parties are the problem – because they try to cover opposing views simultaneously.

    But I’m more than happy for the MPs who are socially and economically progressive to join together in a party so they can work together. I’ll vote for such a party.

    “And that way those individuals can vote on policy according to their conscience, and not according to the party line.”

    I’d much rather that they be clear before I vote for them on what they’re going to do in Parliament, and that rather than having to evaluate hundreds of different individuals I can evaluate more manageable groupings that are still focused on particular consistent political viewpoints.

  14. Please check the update to the post, too.

  15. Hi Jeremy, you put forward a good argument for proportional voting. Have you looked at the Tasmanian voting system? The Hare Clark system: http://tec.tas.gov.au/pages/ElectoralInformation/HareClark.html, is a Single Transferable Vote (STV) method of proportional representation used in multi-member electorates.

    I moved away from Tassie two years ago and when it came to voting in SA I was very disappointed at the poor choices on offer. Tassie elections provide greater choice and I always felt more connected with candidates than I have in SA.

    I don’t know if what you have been discussing is the same but I thought I would throw it into the mix!

  16. OK, I see that most others have covered the points I wanted to make.
    What you’re simply not being open to, Jeremy, is the idea of what ‘representation’ and ‘enfranchisement’ actually entails. It isn’t just the idea that the Party you vote for gets around about the percentage on the floor; it’s that also that those people who get elected have specific people they and only they are responsible to. When you assert that:

    a single MP can’t possibly represent all the different views in their electorates

    You’re just not getting what a representative is supposed to do. They don’t have to share your views, even in a PR system, you’re never going to be perfectly represented. Having a local member of Parliament simply means that people from specific geographical areas must be represented in a Parliament—and despite your skepticism of it, that’s a very historically powerful thing. Ask the Americans why they had a Revolution two and a bit hundred years ago.
    I’m not against PR or MMP, by the way. They’re very elegant systems when done properly. I simply don’t think it’s necessarily going to produce your fantasy Parliament of smaller Parties, or shifting coalitions—and both PR and MMP have drawbacks, which have been pointed out to you here and elsewhere, which you refuse to acknowledge.
    You’re also wedded to the idea that smaller Parties are somehow more democratic than larger ones, as if because the Left and Right of the Labor Party, and ditto for the Libs and Nats, choose to live together unharmoniously that it’s somehow an undemocratic imposition on the rest of the Party system. Well, that’s our business, and our voters’ business. Like it, or don’t.

  17. @splatterbottom
    “In the UK recently the public was given the choice of going to a preferential voting system but chose not to do so, presumably because they preferred the devil the[y] know.”

    Not that there’s any point in debating a right-wing troll like you SB, but if you will check above, the post was about [i]proportional[/i] representation, not preferential distribution. They are entirely orthogonal issues. This is a routine fallacy that I hear over and over again, even from professional politicians who you might imagine get handed “Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction” on their first day on the job. Your argument is completely non-responsive. That should embarrass you and give you pause to reconsider your position, but I’m sure it won’t.

    However, to take up your point, the UK public did not reject preferential voting because they formed a rational preference for “the devil they know.” The public rejected preferential voting because the general public doesn’t know the first thing about electoral systems and is uninterested in learning, and when such conditions of ignorance obtain on any issue, any reform proposal has to overcome the natural inertia, complacency and vulnerability to fearmongering that the public always evidences when they don’t understand a policy debate.

    There is a debate about the virtues of proportional representation among policy experts. There is no debate about the virtues of preferential voting; it prevents the problem of “spoiler” candidates and vote dilution in a race, ensuring that the most preferred candidate wins, with no measurable downside. Australia has operated with it for decades and has not degenerated into dictatorship.

    “Funnily enough supporters of minor parties favour changes that will give them more power while supporters of major parties seek to retain the status quo.”

    This is, of course, true. Funnily enough, big international corporations favour rules that give more power to big international corporations, whereas small businesses favour rules that leave small businesses better off. Since we’ve established everyone has a tendency to look after their own interests, now we reach the point where public policy debates actually take off: what, in fact, is the most just policy?

    Let me try an argument that might move you: it’s a competition issue. Have you ever asked yourself: why is it that when you go to the supermarket, you have fifty choices of breakfast cereal, but when you go to the ballot box, you have two choices for Prime Minister? (Of course, you don’t vote directly for PM, you can only indicate your preference indirectly by voting for the candidate from the preferred PM’s party — another deficiency that needs fixing). What we have is of course a duopolistic cartel. It’s “democracy”, in the same sense as when we had only only one telephone provider, Telecom, it was “capitalism”, ie, a hugely flawed and unjust state of affairs, an entirely limited and insufficient form.

    Proportional representation empowers minorities only in the sense that it de-powers the current cartel and allows smaller players into the field. And it’s a reform that’s completely neutral — it would empower Family First and One Nation as much as the Greens. Think about it (but I know you won’t.)

  18. Last of all—the drawback of blog comments threads of course is that after you submit you always think of something else—I honestly think your view of how Ministries would work is not realistic and shows a lack of understanding of what Cabinet and Ministers do.
    Governments have Cabinets to manage the day-to-day business of the country or State, because there’s simply too much, by orders of magnitude, to do. It’s a compromise that’s made, whereby an elected body gives its confidence to a smaller group to deal with the everyday, so that Parliament can do what it does best—longer, more in depth discussion of statutory business. Government simply can’t be run by Committee, there’s too much Government. Now I don’t think that sacking Ministers happens nearly enough: if more Ministers resigned or were sacked more often, that’d be incredibly healthy for our system. But it’s a matter of delegation.
    It’s very difficult to silo off issues that Cabinet deals with, and almost everything that goes before Cabinet has a whole-of-government aspect. Take, for instance, since it’s been in the news, asylum seekers. Immigration is the lead Minister, but obviously the Attorney-General will have a view, as will the Ministers in charge of migrant settlement services (Families? Human Services?) as will Foreign Affairs, as will, well, everyone in Cabinet with responsibility for an executive department. If you’re going to give responsibility for policymaking to Parliament, and give it the massive amount of extra work that entails, why bother having Ministers or Cabinet at all?
    It’s important that there’s a level of confidence, or a mandate, that a Government enjoys between elections.

  19. Damn my eyes, I’m breaking the sacred three-comments-in-a-row rule. Bless me, WordPress, I have sinned.
    The 2010 agreement for a Green to enter a State Cabinet as a Minister in David Bartlett’s Government, I think, is an excellent model of how multi-Party coalition Cabinets can work.

  20. narcoticmusing

    While I’d love to see more representational Parliament, I’m not sure I’m convinced by your model J. It looks a lot like Government by committees (where each little group concerned about each thing get together) Government by committee risks no accountability to anyone. Committees will be used, regardless of any laudable intention, as a shield. No one will be personally responsible, it was the committee. You’ll never know if your guy was the one who voted for it or against it, it’ll be the committee.

    I also think there is a risk of tyranny of the majority – where minority views will be excluded as they will not have a significant proportion and thus little to no representation.

  21. Short answer about “accountability” – every MP is accountable to the people who voted for him or her. As now – there’s no way for me to actually vote against the Minister for Immigration, say, because I don’t live in his seat.

    “Accountability” is as much a furphy in our system as “Mandate”. A single vote every three years, for one of two parties, can in no way be taken to represent anything in particular. Does as a vote for Labor represent a vote against workchoices, or a vote against the Liberals’ last term in office, or a vote for the job Labor’s doing, or a vote against same sex marriage, or a vote for the carbon tax, or a vote for Julia Gillard, or a vote against Tony Abbott, or a vote for deporting children to Malaysia? Does a vote for the Liberals represent a vote for their industrial relations policies, or a vote for their lunatic “direct action plan”, or a vote against the carbon tax, or a vote for “family values” or a vote for Tony Abbott or a vote against Julia Gillard? Any of these? All of these? Or something else?

    It’s a complete fantasy to suggest there’s real “accountability” in a two-person system. Voters’ one power – to vote for or against someone – is almost completely crippled by lack of options. And that’s because we have a system that locks in two big parties.

    The way to get real accountability is the same as the way to get real representation and a real mandate – from a system that does not effectively block smaller parties that represent consistent policies, where voters have a meaningful choice that actually indicates the real mandate for which they’re voting (because they could make a more specific choice than “not A” or “not B”).

    There’s no reason a multi-party cabinet can’t work – they do already. There’s no reason why multi-party committees can’t go off to tackle difficult issues – they do already. There’s no reason why a multi-party parliament would dismantle Departments.

  22. “You’re just not getting what a representative is supposed to do. They don’t have to share your views, even in a PR system, you’re never going to be perfectly represented. Having a local member of Parliament simply means that people from specific geographical areas must be represented in a Parliament—and despite your skepticism of it, that’s a very historically powerful thing. Ask the Americans why they had a Revolution two and a bit hundred years ago.”

    Because they had no control over the people who ruled them.

    It’s such bullshit to suggest that I’m represented by Mike Symon because I live in Deakin and he supposedly espouses the interests of Deakin in some vague undefined way. There is NOTHING he does for me in Parliament except vote consistently against legislation I support and for legislation I oppose.

    There’s one person in the House of Reps who meaningfully represents me in parliament, and that’s Adam Bandt, despite the fact I do not live in his geographical electorate.

    “You’re also wedded to the idea that smaller Parties are somehow more democratic than larger ones, as if because the Left and Right of the Labor Party, and ditto for the Libs and Nats, choose to live together unharmoniously that it’s somehow an undemocratic imposition on the rest of the Party system.”

    Please read the update to the post.

    “Like it, or don’t.”

    I don’t. And, along with millions of other Australians, I don’t vote for them.

    And yet my Greens vote was still transferred to the ALP by the single member electorate system.

  23. Right, I’ve got your update.
    I’d like to vote only for Labor Left candidates too, and it saddens me deeply when my Party puts up reactionary candidates with whom I share nothing. But that’s solidarity in action: we all realise that working together is more powerful than just standing in little bunches alone, and that’s our right. Right wingers probably cry into their beers when candidates I like get elected (I certainly hope so). In its hundred and something years we’ve achieved rather a lot that way.

    There’s one person in the House of Reps who meaningfully represents me in parliament, and that’s Adam Bandt, despite the fact I do not live in his geographical electorate.

    No, actually, he doesn’t represent you, you and he just have similar views. That’s not representation. He represents the people in the seat of Melbourne who voted for him, just as Symons represents you—and all of your neighbours. And there’s a lot more to that than just voting on legislation.
    Let’s say you had a problem with an agency or Department of the Federal Government, or with a process under the responsibility of the Commonwealth—a spouse visa, let’s say. I can absolutely guarantee you that if you went to Symons, or whoever your MP was, and asked “I need you to make a representation to the Minister responsible on this, I think the Department/agency/officer has got it wrong”, that he’d make a representation on your behalf. It’s not a political thing, and he won’t ask you if you voted for him: it’s his job. His electorate office staff spend the majority of their time following up exactly those kinds of queries.
    Or when it comes time for the Education Department to figure out where to allocate upgrade funding, and which schools it should go to. Who’ll get in the face of the Minister for Education whether they share a Party or not? Your MP.
    Or when the Mayors and councillors of the LGAs whose boundaries cross into your electorate need to bend the ear of the Federal Goverment, about say, area assistance funding, who do they go to, who’s under a specific obligation to represent the people of the area? Your MP.
    The great drawback to MMP is just the lack of that one point of representation; that each member of parliament for the area can point at the others to say, oh, well, why don’t you try her/him?

    And yet my Greens vote was still transferred to the ALP by the single member electorate system

    Come up to NSW where we have optional preferential lower house voting in State elections. That solves that problem entirely.

  24. Liam, you must have missed Jeremy’s post from last week, where Symons flat-out refused to meet with him over an issue he had with the federal government. So much for in-touch local representatives, huh.

  25. Jeremy, I get what you are saying and agree with parts of it. However, I disagree with you that accountability is only via elections. It is not practical, cost effective or indeed good for any consistency or planning to have elections more frequently than 3 years. The executive is held to account in a variety of ways, including the Senate Estimates Committee at Federal level and the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (this is Vic, but each jurisdiction has its equivalent). These groups work with the Auditor General’s office etc and publicly hold people that are responsible (portfolio ministers for example) to account.

    When you have a committee instead of a person who is responsible, then everyone wipes their hands and says, ‘wasn’t me’.

  26. Alexis, that’s just refusing to meet, not being unrepresentative. And I’ll bet Adam Bandt similarly refuses to meet all of the people in the Melbourne electorate who think JuLiar is going to put a carbon tax on all products and enforce gay marriages for every child. No MP can meet (or should meet) every constituent, but they are, no matter how bad they are at their job, a representative.
    (And it’s very different when it’s a constituent coming to say “Centrelink’s cut me off”, or “they’re going to deport my wife”).
    Symons is Jeremy’s. Here’s a better way of thinking about it, which is where the system came from—the nineteenth century Reform movement.
    In the UK there was vast underrepresentation of cities and industrial areas in favour of small, rural seats in the pockets of landowners, and a few very bizarre “rotten boroughs” that weren’t on maps, or were underwater, and so on.
    The Reform Bills, of which there were three throughout the nineteenth century, re-drew the boundaries so that people in London and Birmingham and other urban centres had more nearly equal numbers of voters by electorate (voters, not people, with a male property franchise).
    That’s all electorates do. They make sure that Melbourne and Sydney, and country towns, and remote areas, are represented in Parliament as closely as possible to their population. A well-designed MMP system has that objective too, but with drawbacks to go along with it—as I’ve said above.

  27. Liam, could you do me a favour please and explain what you mean by “represent”? Because you seem to think it means “say I speak for people without actually doing anything they want”.

  28. Well, yes. That is the Burkean tradition. And it’s just as democratic, in its own way, as the delegation model you’re proposing.

  29. How? Your definition is completely meaningless! People are “represented” by someone they didn’t vote for (and so can’t vote out) who has no formal obligations to them and can stand opposed to their views and their interests constantly?

    How is that being “represented”?

  30. Jeremy, the representation you’re describing is delegative representation—someone a group of people sends to advocate for their interests. It’s a strong tradition especially in Anarchist movements (which also generally stress the idea that the delegate should be recallable at will, and immediately accountable to the people who elected her/him.) The drawback should be obvious: a delegate as you say has formal obligations, and is much, much less free to make up her or his own mind than is a representative who’s not a delegate.
    ‘Representation’ can also be simply ensuring that a body of legislators is geographically representative of its electorates, and that there’s as close as possible one-vote, one-value across the country. Our system does that very well. Your electorate is represented—not you specifically, as an individual.

  31. What, Mike Symon is just there to give a bit of “Deakin flavour” to the House?

    That’s such a furphy. He’s an obedient member of the federal Australian Labor Party, not the Deakin Advocates Party.

    As for “one-vote, one-value” – are you kidding? In a two-party single member electorate system? You’re telling me a vote in a safe seat is equal to a vote in a marginal seat?

    You’re telling me the 1.5 million Greens votes were received equal weight to Labor and Coalition votes? Which is why they have 99% of the HoR seats on 85% or less of the vote, and the Greens have less than 1% of the HoR seats on 12% of the vote?

  32. What, Mike Symon is just there to give a bit of “Deakin flavour” to the House?

    Without the cynicism, that’s precisely the idea.
    And lots of electorates take that very seriously—thinking of Lyne, New England, and Kennedy, at the Federal level, and any number of State seats in my State over the years (I’m less familiar with Victoria where you are). Ask Clover Moore, the Independent Lord Mayor of Sydney and MP for Sydney whether her constituents are disenfranchised because of the two-party system you say is forced by single electorates.

    You’re telling me a vote in a safe seat is equal to a vote in a marginal seat?

    That’s a different issue entirely. The votes that elected Tony Abbott have exactly as much value as the votes that elected Andrew Wilkie. It’s just that there are a lot more Libs up in Manly—that’s demographics, not democracy.

    You’re telling me the 1.5 million Greens votes were received equal weight to Labor and Coalition votes?

    You’re entirely hung up on the idea that there should be a direct reflection of the percentage of votes. That’s one objective in designing a fair electoral system, but not the only one. What’s so bad about geography?

  33. To make my point better, here’s a mental exercise for you. At the last round of local council elections in my State, very very few Labor, Liberal or Greens councillors were elected in rural LGAs—in fact, rural LGAs are overwhelmingly dominated by Independent councillors and mayors. Likewise, in the city, nobody, even Party members, got the chance to vote for the National Party; for obvious reasons they don’t bother to run in central urban councils.
    So why shouldn’t we have one single electorate to cover local government services across the State, ie, the NSW Council, which would be much, much more reflective of percentages of voters by Party? On your terms, that would be far more democratic. Wouldn’t it?

  34. Not really, because councils only have power and provide services over a local area. They’re quite different from a national parliament. Also, provision of those sorts of services isn’t really a philosophical, political issue – it’s more just a management issue.

    “You’re entirely hung up on the idea that there should be a direct reflection of the percentage of votes. That’s one objective in designing a fair electoral system, but not the only one. What’s so bad about geography?”

    Because it’s not the basis on which decisions in the national parliament are made. The national parliament decides issues of how the whole country will be defended, will be taxed, will have services, will address national issues. That’s a matter on which voters’ opinions are much more important than their location.

    As for the “demographics not democracy” – no, the reality for any voter is that the practical worth of their vote, and the interest politicians have in securing it, is directly linked to whether the seat is marginal or not.

    In a PR or multi-member system, in contrast, every vote is just as valuable as the next, because every vote counts towards the final percentage. They’re not shunted off to other parties before they can elect candidates.

  35. They’re quite different from a national parliament. Also, provision of those sorts of services isn’t really a philosophical, political issue – it’s more just a management issue

    Why? I mean it, why is a local council any different to a national Parliament, in the fundamental principles you’re talking about—democratic representation? Why is the running of a military or foreign affairs bureau any different to collecting waste or drawing up a local strategic land-use plan? Remembering that the entire population and economy of Australia would fit into California or Texas, and that there are provincial governments (admittedly, not democratic ones) in China much bigger than some of our capitals.

    What you’re talking about is for every opinion to be proportionately represented in a Parliament. Which is a good definition of democracy: just not the only one, or the one we’re working with.

    …And if national interest is meaningful to you, you should read up a bit on mandate theory.

  36. Pingback: Actually, even non-government MPs have a “mandate” – and it’s different from the government’s | An Onymous Lefty

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