The Rules of Government

 

1. Government will reside in two sorts of elected assemblies, a national parliament to attend to issues of national significance and local governments to attend to all others, in accord with the principle of subsidiarity.


This would provide for national policy making with local implementation. The well-developed administrative machinery of government, already structured into appropriate regions for services such as health, water supply, police etc., could easily and economically be made responsible to local governments, which would jointly supervise each regional administration, subject to national policies. This arrangement would allow the national government to act on national issues and local governments on local and regional matters. The highly centralized state government administrations would be able to concentrate on the management of the metropolitan areas in which they are based, supervised by local governments, rather than by state parliaments. The unincorporated areas of the country would need their own scheme.


In line with the expectations we derive from our democratic tradition, such a re-arrangement of governments would only be acceptable if the federal parliament were to be reincarnated as a body representative of the Australian people, rather than representing the major political parties. Only then could the state parliaments be retired from their role of balancing the power of the federal government. A major reform of the national parliament is proposed below.




2. The national parliament will be the paramount instrument of government, assuming a role as a virtual head of state. 


It would seem reasonable for the Parliament to appoint a President, backed up in the usual way by senior and junior Vice-Presidents, for a six-month stint in each position. The main role of the President would be to welcome his or her counterparts visiting from other countries. The value added to the national estate by these positions would not appear to justify additional remuneration.




3. The national parliament will consist of a single assembly elected from forty electorates of about equal numbers of people, each represented by five women and five men.


The aim of this specification is to establish a parliament representing the main interest groups in the nation, in particular, women. If the Parliament were to be representative, in fact rather than name, then one chamber would be sufficient.


Electorates returning five men and five women would allow significant minority groups to achieve representation in the parliament. Voters could choose between candidates from the same party, reducing the pertinent risk of a take-over of that party by extremists. A parliament composed of equal numbers of men and women would allow each sex to act in accord with its nature, neither being constrained to imitate the other. Such an arrangement would put an end to the “blokey” image of Australian parliaments.




4. Any citizen over 25 years old may be elected to the parliament for a single term of five years.


A mature and competent adult should be able to make his or her contribution as a member of parliament in five years and then make way for some one else. A single term of five years would provide a unique opportunity for a prospective member, which would be highly valued by most candidates.  


In setting an age limit, the aim is to include candidates who are mature and responsible. The crash rate of motorcar drivers is used as a parameter for maturity. Drivers older than 25 appear to have a significantly lower crash rate than do younger drivers; the same age category is used to predicate an acceptable level of maturity.


Our parliaments today are dominated by career politicians, who hope to have long terms in office and interesting, well-funded retirements. They are very well rewarded, influential, and privileged. Consequently, the longer they stay in their positions the more detached they become from the lives of the ordinary citizens they are supposed to represent. After a few terms, they learn enough double-speak to convince their electors, and sometimes themselves, that they actually earn their rewards and privileges.




5. All citizens over the age of 20 years may vote.


In other words, any citizen of 21 or more years would be able to vote. Voting would not be compulsory, because it is better that people are not forced to make decisions in ignorance or doubt. A mature and educated electorate is an important factor in achieving good government, in the sort of democracy proposed here.


This proposal would allow drug addicts, lunatics and convicted criminals to vote. If there were enough of these classes of people to make a difference, then it would be high time that their votes were counted. Otherwise, it would not matter. The world-wide fashion of allowing children to vote appears to be related to their sexual maturity rather than their grasp of civic affairs. Hence, the traditional age of adulthood is retained in these proposals.



6. For each electorate the five female and five male candidates who gain the largest numbers of votes, each voter selecting one female and one male candidate, will be elected.


Each voter would be required to choose only two candidates. For those who choose to vote this is a simple request, which could easily be met by most voters using their knowledge of two or more of the candidates and of the world around them.


The reckoning of votes would also be simple, responsive to wishes of the electorate and transparent.


Under the current compulsory, preferential voting regimen, we voters are supposed to have enough knowledge to rank in precise order, the very large numbers of candidates found on our ballot papers. That supposition is patently ludicrous. When it is coupled with the preferential or proportional allocation of votes, it strains our understanding.


The nonsense of this system is acknowledged by our politicians, resulting in an option where, for some ballots, voters need to tick only one box. Then, presto! When the votes are counted, the back-room preference deals between the political parties are applied by the computer at the electoral office. Unless the voter knows what deals have been made, his tick-the-box is a gamble.



7. Elections will be held progressively at intervals of six or seven weeks, one electorate at a time.


Progressive and separate elections would become routine events. Each election would change the composition of the parliament marginally, if at all, so that they are unlikely to be major media events. In such circumstances, voters could calmly and rationally consider the relative merits of the candidates and vote accordingly, which would be a big plus for democracy.

  

The traditional election campaign creates undesirable conditions for rational decision-making. It has become a feast of misinformation, lies and “non-core” promises. It is a gift to the media and the advertising industry. Naturally, it is the bread and butter of the professional political manipulators employed by the major parties. Indeed, so much bread and butter is consumed that election campaigns have to be financed by taxpayers, who have no say in the matter, and corporate donors, who are seeking favourable treatment by governments.


The distortion and disruption of government caused by periodic elections is widely recognized, but also widely believed to be part of the  price to be paid for democratic government. Progressive elections would reduce that price to insignificance.




8. Voting will be by post or other secure means without the need for voters to attend a polling station. The publication and distribution to each voter of whatever information a candidate may wish will be an integral part of the postal voting procedure. No other material support will be available to candidates from public funds.



Australia has a competent and reputable electoral agency [the Australian Electoral Commission] and an efficient postal service [Australia Post]. In addition, there is a body of skill in the secure management and transmission of data such as votes by computer networks. Already many local government elections are routinely conducted through the post, while in far-away Estonia, votes for the national elections may be lodged via the internet. Polling stations are unnecessary.


The funding now provided to candidates for election campaigns is used to influence voters rather than inform them. An increasing proportion of the elections’ expense is incurred by television advertising, more often than not, in the form of slogans and other inanities. There is no reason to believe that sufficient information on each candidate could not be supplied effectively and efficiently on pieces of paper delivered by the post.



9. Remuneration of members will be set at a level that will enable them to experience the financial constraints common to the Australian people.


If a parliament is intended to represent the people, then it is unreasonable that its members should be paid unrepresentative incomes and other perquisites, which are quite outside the experience or expectations of ordinary people. The theory that good legislators can be bought with large amounts of taxpayers’ funds is not credible. The high salaries, generous allowances and excessive superannuation that parliamentarians have appropriated for themselves have not only lost them the respect of voters, but also failed to attract a flood of talent.


The present basis for setting politicians’ salaries and allowances appears to be the perceived nexus between politicians and the senior executive staff of the public service. In turn, senior public servants tend to compare themselves to captains of industry. Thus, starting from the extremely high rewards that key people in the corporate world grant to themselves, we have a “domino effect” leading to the average member of parliament.


Now, most politicians work very hard, mainly at getting themselves re-elected and abusing the other side. If, as proposed in Basic Law 5, members of parliament were elected for a single term, then they should not have to work so hard, nor deserve as much remuneration as now. If the complexity of government processes can be reduced by having decisions made at regional levels, the work that parliamentarians undertake negotiating with centralized governments on behalf of their constituents will be eliminated.



10. The parliament will elect ten of its members to be an executive government by a proportional voting system.


Under this provision, the executive would be a co-operative association of the major political elements of the parliament. As the parliament would include the more significant political parties, the government would be broadly representative of the voting public.


The election of a representative executive by the parliament would end the “winner-takes-all” discipline that is the current convention. Consequently, because ministers could then devote their time to government rather than attacking their opponents, ten members would be adequate, if not excessive.


Arguably, abandonment of the “winner takes all” discipline would constitute a more significant change to the style and nature of Australian politics than would any other in the democratic lexicon.


It may be difficult to imagine that the sort of ministers we have now could ever co-operate with their political opponents. However, without the victory or death outcomes that arise under the present convention, the tweedledum-tweedledee syndrome would prevail and it would soon be difficult to recall which member is a -dum and which a -dee.


Without changes like those proposed here, the existing trend of the executive government toward unprincipled and destructive oligarchy will continue until the parliament would lose the little that is left of its authority.



11. The parliament will also elect by a proportional voting system, ten members to each of four executive standing committees, to:

[a] Ensure that the civil service, the military service and the judiciary, are able to provide excellent service to the country and independent advice to governments by managing the appointment, recruitment and subsequent development of the officers of these services.

[b] Investigate and disclose improper administration by governments or their agents due to illegitimate and immoral practices,

[c] Maintain conformity of financial reporting by governments with standards set by the committee and effect audits of governments and their agencies; and

[d] Provide an interface between the national parliament and local governments and supervise government services in the unincorporated areas.


[a] This committee [the Head-hunters] would supervise recruitment for the three services, including local government. Removed from day-to-day government, it would be able to take a disciplined, long-term approach to recruiting and maintaining public services of the highest calibre.


There is a tendency for governments to appoint to influential and senior positions, people whom they believe will share their beliefs. The recent history [in April, 2006] of debacles due to public officials being “oversensitive” to the beliefs of the government, in spite of the facts, is an outcome of that tendency. In 2007, senior officials of the our state and federal governments  know that, if they do not express support for the beliefs of their government, they risk being sacked.


[b] Ensuring integrity and accountability in our public institutions is too important a matter to leave to the uncertainty of informal processes, nor to the same governments that are possibly implicated in impropriety. The valuable ombudsman services of the various state, territory and federal governments are much better than informal mechanisms. This proposed Whistle-blowers’ committee would enhance those services by providing national authority, continuity and certainty to the investigation of malpractice in government institutions. It could provide an effective “proper channel”, one step removed from the executive government.


This committee would become responsible for the existing ombudsmen [?] and seek to adopt the best of the existing legislation.



[c] The Bean-counters committee proposed here would absorb the office of the Auditor General and establish standards for reporting the finances of government departments and agencies and monitor their achievement.               It would evaluate and report on the effectiveness of government expenditures both direct and via agencies and subsidised organizations. It would make recommendations on the basis of its findings.


The proposed committee should aim to have all government financial reports, including the Budget, presented in a clear, standardised format that can be understood by citizens with ordinary skills.  A good starting point would be to follow the financial reporting requirements imposed on public companies under the corporations legislation devised by our parliaments.



[d] The main role of this committee would be to recommend to the parliament the rates of taxation necessary to finance local government under Basic Law 22. The experience of the committee in this role would allow it to act as an advocate or intermediary for local government.


Australia has vast, sparsely populated areas that are outside the local government system, which are “unincorporated”. The committee would take on the role of a local government in these areas, so that appropriate infrastructure and social services are available.



12. Members of the government and executive standing committees may hold those positions for not more than eight years. When their normal term of office as a member of parliament expires, a new member will be elected to replace them in the parliament.


In order to maximize the possibility of good government it is desirable to limit the terms of executive office holders. A long time in office tends to exhaust the potential for constructive achievement. The period of eight years is set because it accords with the terms of office of many political leaders in the western world over the last fifty years. It is the maximum period in office of the presidents of the USA.


Leaders who enjoy long periods in power tend to develop dynastic pretensions or similar delusions of grandeur, which are antithetical to all forms of democracy. It could also be argued that many of the “great” figures of history may have died with enhanced reputations if they had retired after eight years in power. Perhaps the Roman republic would have survived the Ides of March if Julius Caesar had retired sooner.



13. On the occasion that a member of the executive or a standing committee should cease to hold that office the parliament will hold an election for all positions on the executive or standing committee.


The fairest way to preserve the representative nature of the executive and standing committees is to re-elect the whole body whenever a vacancy occurs. Such a procedure gives the parliament an opportunity to make other changes that it may feel are desirable, but would not otherwise justify an election. In the circumstance of an immediate re-election, the term of office of the re-elected committee members would be regarded as continuous.


There are other options: the remaining members could nominate a replacement, the parliament could elect a replacement for only the vacant position or the members who voted for the former office holder could be asked to select a successor. Each of these and other possibilities either appear open to distortion of the representative principle, or would require too much regulation to ensure a desirable outcome.





14. The parliament may remove a member of the executive or standing committees for good and sufficient reason.


There should be no conditions or list of offences related to this provision, otherwise there would be no point in having a parliament in the first place.



15. In addition to their traditional roles, local governments will provide and administer government services through jointly managed regional authorities, subject to national policies.


Federal and State government services are provided by well-established bureaucracies, organized in appropriate regional administrations. Under this proposal, the functions of government in each administrative region, that are now the responsibility of one of the state or federal governments, would be undertaken by a regional authority. Each regional authority would report to a board of local government nominees for a range of services.


Not all administrative regions cover the same territory, nor do all functions have a useful role for local government. For example, a regional water supply service would cover a region dictated by natural features and would be of singular concern to its residents. On the other hand, services to air transport are concentrated at the hubs of the air transport network and would remain predominantly a nationally managed function with only peripheral involvement by local government. A different mix of local governments would be involved in each regional authority and the number involved would range from all the local governments in a region to none, depending on the function.


There is a working administrative structure, already in place, ready for conversion to regional authorities. Near state borders, the present arrangements may be unsatisfactory, requiring a transitory mechanism for adjustment. Although state and federal government services are provided by departmental administrations or similar agencies over most of the country, local governments do not exist in some parts known as “unincorporated areas”. In these areas, a parliamentary committee would oversee the functions unless or until a local government can be involved.


Whilst being subject to national co-ordination, the proposed regional authorities would be more responsive than now to the priorities of local and regional communities because of their supervision by local representatives. This would be especially valuable in rural areas where the over-crowding and congestion of the cities is replaced by “under-crowding” and a different set of priorities.



16. In local government elections men will be elected in odd-numbered years, women in even-numbered years and  members will hold office for two-year terms up to a total of eight years, subject to arrangements to fill casual vacancies.


Local governments vary significantly in size, in the nature of their responsibilities and in the manner of their elections. By specifying only that male and female candidates will be elected in alternate years, other local preferences and priorities may be played out without restriction.


In local government, two-year terms are common, although a maximum period of service is not. The limit of tenure is proposed because eight years is about a reasonable limit to the period over which an elected representative can be effective.




17. Subject to endorsement by the citizens concerned, local governments and the areas they represent, may be augmented, reduced, amalgamated or split.


It is important that local governments have sufficient flexibility to operate efficiently and effectively, particularly when they are undertaking a revised range of responsibilities or when circumstances change.



20. Taxes will be levied by the national executive government for its own purposes, including those of the parliament, and for those of local government.


Extracting money from the Queen’s Australian subjects is a highly refined art, which would still be needed under a new constitution.  A single specialized agency, such as the Australian Tax Office, is more likely to achieve efficient tax collection than a number of dispersed systems.



21. The national government will be financed by taxes on incomes, by excise, by charges for economic services and by fees for the granting of licences.


Taxes come in several forms; some are designed to avoid distortion of the economy, some to penalize unwanted behaviour or consumption and others to defray the costs of providing services. The range of taxes and other sources of income offered here should provide sufficient flexibility to cover the needs of the national government.



22. Local governments will be financed by taxes on the consumption of goods and services, by taxes on assets, by charges for economic services and by fees for the granting of licences.


Appropriate rates of consumption tax and assets tax for local governments, would negotiated by the local government committee of the national parliament, consulting with local governments, and ratified by the parliament.



23. The High Court will adjudicate on all constitutional issues, those of national significance, disputes over regional and local government boundaries and other matters in relation to government.


The High Court would have an easier task interpreting the sort of constitution proposed here than it has with the existing one, although these proposals would introduce a source of disputes involving regional authorities and local governments to compensate.


The Court would be faced with a new criterion for judgements in considering the distinctions between national issues and others.  However, our High Court judges have a deserved reputation for making creative and constructive judgements on tricky issues.