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From parliament to the people

By Brian Holden - posted Tuesday, 25 September 2007

There are some issues which should now move away from parliament and over to the people.

In every country there is frustration with the performance of government. From time to time in this country this frustration is reflected in serious questioning of the worth of the middle tier of state government.

Regardless of the absurdity of dismantling a structure which cost countless dollars to put together and the ignoring of the natural law that bureaucracy always expands no matter what the restructuring, there is no reason why our present three-tiered structure should not be made to work in a way that does not frustrate us.


Failing in a fundamental way

  • In a parliamentary sitting, two combative teams glare at each other from opposite sides of a room. Rather than maximising the information and then workshopping what was on the parliamentary table, there is, almost continuous, point-scoring. The objective seems to be not to arrive at the best option for the people but to gain a win for the left or the right team.
  • Representation as it was originally conceived is becoming increasingly meaningless as the cost of campaigning increases. To be a candidate for one of the two major parties is to receive substantial campaign funding. The trade-off is that the successful candidate must be absorbed into his or her party and away from his or her constituents.
  • There is intense competition for seats because to serve two or more terms is highly financially rewarding. A casualty of intense competition is often integrity. Every person who approaches a ballot box has been subjected to manipulation by the political parties. Some of the political sales-pitch is deliberately misleading - but most is wishful thinking dressed-up to sound credible.
  • The personal beliefs of those in power can greatly distort the democratic process. One example was the overruling (through a private members bill) at federal level of the wishes of the people of the Northern Territory that they have legal voluntary euthanasia.
  • The political party in government can simply dip into public money to promote itself. For example: last month all households received, in an expensive magazine format, advice on addictive drugs. It was information that young people and parents had heard over and over again. It was a message delivered by a fatherly prime minister in the run-up to an election - and it was completely unnecessary.

We should not passively accept the above. We should not allow both government and opposition to continue to be self-absorbed in their own importance. We can start with calling the proposed Plebiscites Bill for what it is - which is sheer arrogance emerging from the house on the hill.

The bill as proposed by the Howard Government is designed to maintain the power of parliament. It will still leave the man-in-the-street without any say in the direction this country is heading. Only community groups dominated by sectional interests will be recognised as being fit to submit an opinion. And then there will be no obligation for parliament to act on that opinion.

It’s time to demand limited but genuine direct democracy

The first parliament was made up of men with substantial property who believed that they, and not just the monarch, had a right to determine the future of the country. Then the masses were permitted to have in parliament men who need not be wealthy to speak for them. Then the door opened for female representatives.

That is the structure we have now. It conveniently ignores the facts that the population generally has been educated to well above the general standard of the year 1901 and we now have digital technology. It is intellectually and technically possible for the people to vote competently and frequently on specific issues.

We can have voting machines similar to ATMs. The voter inserts his or her electoral card, keys in a PIN and then presses the Yes or the No button for the issue appearing on the screen. The voting machines could be set up in traveling vans. Once the system was up and going, issues could be put to the people at frequent intervals.


Let us look at a hypothetical case.

If a sitting member is demoted from the front bench, he or she can resign in a huff leaving his or her electorate with an inconvenient and expensive by-election. Why that seat cannot be automatically filled by the candidate at the last election who gained the second highest votes is beyond the understanding of most of us. However, there must be some logic in it somewhere.

For example, it has been decided by government to put to a general vote the issue that there be no more by-elections. Following the announcement, there would need to be a ban placed on any media coverage of that issue. This ban will have to be effective enough to negate the politicians’ traditional mob-rule argument.

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About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

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