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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.