Hi everyone, and I hope you’re having a Merry bit-between-Christmas-and-New Years.
It’s been a busy time for all of us, with shopping crowds and Christmas gatherings to contend with, not to mention some very frightening bushfire moments for many locals. Thank God once again for our many dedicated emergency services workers.
Some of our Hume candidates have a had a little bit to say socially online over the last week (check out this week’s Hume Chronicles) but overall they've all taken the opportunity to enjoy the holiday break, recharge the batteries and put the campaigning to one side for the time being.
Bear in mind we still have no election date and still don’t have a full field of candidates. Labor’s candidate will be announced in February and the election can be any time before November 30.
But while our potential-pollies are preparing for the hectic year ahead of them, and while we are still in Christmas-list mode having only recently reminded Santa what we wanted this year, I thought I might indulge myself with my election wish-list.
It’s not for a politician or a party… it’s for an electoral system. And as much as it hurts to say it, something like the American system would be much better.
I know. As an Aussie I’m meant to always poke fun at Americans, criticise their crap tv shows, their embarrassing approach to cable news, their ridiculous gun laws and the way they have World Series in sports featuring only American and Canadian teams. And I do make fun of those things, and many other things too.
But when it comes to politics, they get a lot right.
Firstly, you can vote for your president.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard people say (mostly on talkback radio) “I didn’t vote for Julia Gillard” when she deposed Kevin Rudd. Forgetting the fact that many who parroted that phrase probably never voted Labor in their life, the simple truth is they never voted for Rudd either. Only the people in his electorate have that opportunity.
In Australia the ONLY votes we get in a federal election are on additions to the senate, and who we’d prefer as our local member. Those local members, once chosen, then elect a leader who we have no say in. Usually, in fact always so far, that leader has been elected prior to the election (without us having a say) and if, as with Rudd, they seek to change leaders between elections they can do so (again, without us having a say).
In the American system, you vote for local members and senators, and also a president (not necessarily all on the same day). They choose who represents them on the international stage. Some local governments in Australia allow their ratepayers to select their mayor, but Australians are denied the opportunity to select a leader at state or federal level.
Secondly, the separation of powers is absolute.
The what? Good question. The separation of powers as a principle or doctrine isn’t given a great deal of thought or prominence in Australian politics and that’s to our detriment.
The American system has three separate areas of power… the judiciary, the legislative and the executive that perform their parts of the equation independently. Judiciary consists of the law courts and legal system, Legislative is the combined House of Representatives and Senate (or Congress) and the Executive consists of the president, vice-president and his cabinet/administration. The legislative makes the laws but doesn’t apply them. The judiciary doesn’t create laws (well except laws of precedent) but does adjudicate and apply them. The executive runs the country through the various portfolios.
In Australia, the judiciary is an independent part of the system but the executive and legislative are merged… ie our local members double up as our Minister of this, Minister of that and of course Prime Minister. People who are supposedly experts at representing a local area, or at least on getting elected, are put in charge of intricate ministries. And that leads us to…
Thirdly, the American “cabinet” is made up of experts in particular fields of knowledge, and not just well performed or especially party-loyal local members.
Think about it. In our system, the person given the role of Minister of Defence may simply be the most loyal supporter of the prime minister with no relevant skills in that area. Likewise foreign affairs, health, transport…
And even if the chosen local member or senator DID have some degree of expertise or skill in some area… even IF… that just means they may be the best of the relatively small pool of people who are members of the federal parliament.
When you consider that the massive majority of Australians AREN’T local members or senators in the federal parliament, that means a huge proportion of people aren’t given the chance to lead a particular portfolio. Mathematically it becomes extremely unlikely that the best person for that job just happened to be one of the 226 local members and senators elected (in fact an even smaller number than that since they won’t be chosen from the opposition).
Can you imagine important businesses conducting competitive job interviews where the strongest relevant skills AREN’T a primary consideration to getting the job?
If our cabinet consisted of experts in particular fields who weren’t local members, it would also free up our local members to do the job they were elected to do. The whole ministerial portfolio thing is really like a type of moonlighting that eats into their ability and time to adequately represent us.
So, in a fairly stretched nutshell, those are some of the advantages of the American system. There are also disadvantages and flaws in their system. Don’t get me started on their constitution and the tragically misinterpreted second amendment regarding the right to bear arms.
But electorally, their systems stands up strongly. We WOULD get a say in our leaders.
It’s too much to ask for, I know. I can’t see that sort of major overhaul happening, but it would be nice. To actually choose our leader? To have local members be just that, local members? To have experts lead our portfolios and not just the best of a very small bunch that may or may not have relevant skills.?Would it be greedy if I threw in the wish for a neutral speaker in the house as well?
In any event, one thing that is already true is that there’s no use second guessing what the rest of the country will do.
You can’t predict which party will gain a majority.
You can’t predict which person will lead a party.
You can't even predict which election promises a party will keep.
The only votes you get in our system are for senators and for the local member.
For those who are rusted on party followers, that means your choice will be easy… see what party the candidates stand for, ignore the entire campaign and vote how you always vote on election day.
For the rest, figure out which candidate most closely matches your values. Or holds the same concerns that you do. Or will deliver the things you particularly want for your area. Or maybe who you just trust will represent you well. Perhaps they just have a lovely singing voice. You can, after all, choose for any reason you like.
But we only get to choose what happens locally. The bigger picture looks after itself and, in any event, we only get a say in our own piece of the puzzle.
Tangent over. That’ll do for now.
In the absence of any press releases, news stories and itinerary items for the last week, I’ll give King of the week to Gerry Anderson who invented not only the Thunderbirds but also Captain Scarlet, Fireball XL5, Space 1999, Joe 90 and many great shows that ignited the imagination of kids (and adults) around the world. Well done Mr Anderson.
See you all next week. I expect it will be another quiet week campaigning-wise but you just never know.