Is Our Political System Broken Down and Dysfunctional?
Australia became a federation in 1901. At that time the constitution was drawn up allowing the six Australian colonies to govern in their own right as part of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The birth of this country is often referred to as ‘federation’. This is because the Constitution created a ‘federal’ system of government.
Under a federal system, powers are divided between a central government and several regional governments. In Australia, power was divided between the then Commonwealth Government and the governments of the six colonies, which were renamed ‘states’ by the Constitution.
This was necessary back then because at the time it could take weeks for messages to get from the colonies to Sydney by ship and weeks for messages to get back. We needed to have decision makers on the ground at all times. Now we have email, mobile phones and the NBN is it necessary to have 3 levels of Government in the 21st century?
We now have 6 States and 2 Territories and even these are divided up into local government areas. In Tasmania alone we have 29 local governments all with different planning schemes and different by-laws. On top of this there are several state run statutory authorities. An example of where these different bodies overlap (and there are many) is parking around the Hobart docks. Areas that are governed by Hobart City Council have different parking times, different chargers and different penalties and this varies from one side of the street to other depending on which area you are in.
An example of where State and Federal governments are working against each other is with the new Royal Hobart Hospital. The Federal Government has promised substantial funding to build a new hospital on one hand but on the other has drastically cut GST revenue to the state forcing the state government to cut hospital staff. Other examples of cost shifting is when a patient is discharged from hospital. The state government will only give the patient one days worth of medication as they are responsible for medication costs whilst in hospital. Once the patient leaves the hospital the patient is then required to purchase the medication under Medicare which is funded by the Federal Government. So the cost is then passed on to them with no regard to the patient who has been discharged from hospital with little medication and probably in no condition to be able to get to the chemist to get more.
All up Tasmania has 29 councils with 12 representatives on each council for a total of 348 Councillors. There are 25 lower house representatives in state parliament and 15 in the upper house. We have 5 federal members of parliament and 12 senators.
A growing number of people are becoming disenchanted with the two party model of politics and this is a growing phenomena worldwide. All major countries that use the Westminster system have hung or coalition parliaments including Australia are New Zealand, Canada, India Ireland and the UK. This is due largely I believe to the fact the system has evolved to a point where it is basically dysfunctional with the opposition parties opposing all Legislation that the Government of the day puts up. It does not matter even if it was the opposition parties policy in the past if the Government of the day puts it up the opposition will oppose it for opposings sake. The oppositions philosophy behind this is that if they can screw the Government of the day down and make them dysfunctional there by screwing the economy that the voters will vote them out. This is not just happening in Westminster systems either where we see Barack Obama is having great trouble getting anything passed in the United States.
Most voters aren’t as stupid as the governments and opposition parties believe and can see right through these tactics. This is why even though the opposition tactics have worked in screwing down the economy and making the Government of the day unpopular, they have also made themselves unpopular. Hence new minority parties and independents are getting voted in and causing hung parliaments.
Another thing that has evolved since the start of federation is the new Presidential style election campaigns in Australia. When it comes election time most people go to the ballot box not even knowing who their local member is that they are voting for. Most are voting for the leader of either of the two parties. Also gone are the days that your local member would cross the floor if they disagreed with his or her party on an issue. This today would be political suicide and career ending. If anyone crossed the floor today they could forget about ever getting a ministerial portfolio. In fact they only have to make a comment in the media and the media will pounce on the Prime Minister. The headlines will read that there is division in the party as if this is a bad thing when differing opinions should be welcomed. Our local federal members are basically useless. All they do is fly to Canberra to vote on Cabinets policies along party lines and fly back out and heaven help them if they even mention a view that is different.
How do we fix this?
Now I am far from an expert in constitutional law so I have no real idea how a new system would or could work but I have a few ideas on how thing could be done better. There are probably some floors in my ideas but hopefully this blog can become a discussion point of like minded people who also have similar ideas to these.
The first thing we need to do is scrap the bottom two levels of Government and just have one. The second is scrap the two party Westminster system. Now I know this has floors in the argument as we need checks and balances but hopefully some readers will have some ideas on how we can do this. Maybe instead of question time that we have now where they all carry on like school children, the people could vote for some people to ask the questions of the Government and it would be broadcast on television. Maybe we could vote for our best journalists in the country to be given the job of keeping the government on their toes. People like Charles Wooley etc could sit down with each minister once a month in prime time TV and ask a series of questions with the format of these questions I will discuss in the coming paragraphs. Maybe even Charles Wooley or whoever has the job could right up a list if questions and everyone could vote on the questions we want answered.
The 3rd change would be to only elect enough politicians to do the work and a few respected journalists to ask the questions and keep them to account. So we would only elect 12 or 15 people into positions for their expertise similar to ministerial positions there are now. These people would not be aligned to parties and would be voted on for their expertise in their field. They would also be paid considerably more than they are today so to attract the highest caliber of person. I would think that each ministerial position would be paid at least 10 million dollars per annum and the Prime Minister would be on around 15 to 20million. This is the average salary of the top CEO’s of the top companies in this country and would attract the highest caliber of people so we could could have the very best people available running the country instead of the circus we have now. I believe in the old saying if we want monkeys we pay peanuts and we certainly have a lot of monkeys in Canberra at the moment.
With this type of attractive salary we could have the likes of Gail Kelly as treasurer, instead of running a bank that makes $6.3 billion profit and growing she would be balancing the Australian budget. Our health minister could be Mater Private Hospital Executive Director Don Murray who has been awarded many times Australia’s best private hospital. This guy knows how to run hospitals why not get him to run the countries public hospitals and pull them into shape?
Elections could be every 4 or 5 years, the longer the better in my opinion allowing the person to plan for the medium to long term. During the election campaign they would need to put forward a comprehensive resume and a 5 year strategic plan for the department they wish to run. All the proposed strategic plans from all the prospective candidates would be posted out to every voter in the country or available to read or download online to save on paper.
Once elected the 15 or so ministers would then elect a Prime Minister between themselves and would set about formulating policy to run the country as a whole. They would put their case for funding etc to the whole group (board) and it would be voted on by the whole board. They would be accountable to monthly and yearly reviews as interviewed on prime time TV by the likes of a Charles Wooley. They would have to demonstrate if they are heading towards attaining their goals in their strategic plan and if not why not. A President would also be chosen by the ministers who would be a figure head similar to the Governor Generals role is today as obviously we would be a republic.
So the whole country would be run similar to modern day business with all the top CEO’s creating a board. The CEO,s would then structure their business the same as any private run business of today which most likely would mean huge cuts to the bureaucracy and savings of many millions if not billions of dollars. There would be no need for the top heavy bureaucracy we have today.
As I said earlier in this article I am far from an expert in constitutional law and I am shore people smarter than I will pick some major flaws in my ideas. But if you like the ideas in principle I welcome any comment and discussion on how this model could be improved then implemented.