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A New Australian Democracy

A Plan to Introduce Far Greater Democracy
into our Current System of Parliamentary Representation

A Discussion on Democracy

The concept of true democratic representation is where every citizen can gather together to discuss and decide issues, to represent their own individual interests.

In a small society, where a couple of hundred citizens can gather together, this sort of self-representation is possible. However, in a large nation, such a form of "direct democracy", for practical purposes, would seem to be impossible. Thus, the next logical step is to create a system of appointing representatives, who can represent the interests of citizens.

However, under our current Westminster system, representative democracy has become a farce. Parliament itself has become a sham of democracy. Instead of being composed of individuals who represent the interests of a particular geographical sector of society, parliament is now essentially composed of party hacks who represent the interests of a particular political party, or even just a particular faction of such a party.

The big political parties are structured in such a way so that the power to decide who shall be chosen as the party candidate for each electorate is often determined by "power struggles" and "deals" between the separate factions of the party (witness the many pre-selection faction deals).

Because of traditional voting behaviour, reinforced by media emphasis on the big parties, and the resulting common perception that only these parties can successfully operate in government, the major parties have a virtual monopoly on the governing of the nation.

Thus, the major parties have become complacent in their governing of the country. They often forget, or deliberately ignore, the wishes and concerns of their constituents (i.e. the very people who elected them). Leaders of the big political parties have spoken of being "elected to govern", rather than being "elected to represent" - this change of phrase shows a big transition in the political thinking of the leaders of the major parties, indicating that they intend to govern according to their own wishes and the wishes of their parties, rather than according to the wishes of the people.

Political disregard for the ordinary voters apparently changes during election campaigns, when politicians are casting about for votes; but all their promises can be forgotten once they're back in parliament, and the system turns back into just another "parliamentary dictatorship" for another few years.

This climate of "parliamentary dictatorship" can be changed by the introduction of some simple measures which have the potential to introduce a culture of true representative democracy to our parliamentary system. These measures bring us a method of "direct representative democracy", which easily surpasses the current system of "political party democracy", as the latter has become merely a form of semi-authoritarian rule by the major political parties.

These much needed reforms are:
  1. Actual-Number Representation for both houses of parliament.
  2. Multi-member electorates for both houses of parliament; at present, only the Upper House (the Senate) has this.
  3. Preferential voting for both houses of parliament; at present, only the Lower House (the House of Representatives) has this.
  4. Citizens' Initiated Referenda.

The Reforms

1) Actual-Number Representation (accorded to representatives elected from Multi-Member Electorates) will mean that, in Parliament, Members will represent the actual number of final preference votes they received, rather than misleadingly representing all of the opposing voters as well. It also means that most voters can be directly represented by a Member of Parliament of their preference (whereas, at present, many voters are - in reality - totally unrepresented, regarding their beliefs and judgements). As well as this - an important point for democracy - every single vote counts.

2) Multi-Member Electorates will be formed by merging three existing electorates into one, whereby any candidate who attracts over 25% of the vote will attain a seat in parliament. This will enable representation for about 80-90% of first preference votes, instead of the low 50-55% under the current system.

So how would a system of "Actual-Number Representation with Multi- Member Electorates" work? Well, first we should look at how our current system operates: In an electorate of 100,000 voters, Candidate A may receive 49,000 (49%) final preference votes and Candidate B may receive 51,000 (51%) final preference votes, which results in Candidate B winning the election, whereby he represents in parliament 100,000 people - but, in fact, he will only be representing the voting preference of 51,000 people.

Under the new system of "Actual-Number Representation in Multi- Member Electorates", the voter's preferences are more accurately represented: For example, in an Multi-Member Electorate of 300,000 voters (if we are to multiply the above example by three, due to having merged three existing electorates into one) Member A would represent 147,000 (49%) votes, and Member B would represent 153,000 (51%) votes; thus giving true, accurate, and fair representative democracy, whereby all of the voters - not just 51% - are adequately represented.

Such a system would also make "gerrymandering" extremely difficult to implement (if not impossible), as well as solving the basic problem of voter imbalances between electorates.

This pro-democracy system is likely to give rise to more candidates outside of the two major parties winning seats in parliament. Thus, the result of an election in an Multi-Member Electorate of 300,000 voters could be: Member A representing 78,000 (26%) voters, Member B representing 93,000 (31%), and Member C representing 129,000 (43%). Hopefully, this system would bring about a rise in the number of independent Members of Parliament, eventually gaining ascendancy over the current regime of government by the two alternating party machines (who have lost sight of the fact that they should represent The People, rather than ride roughshod over them).

Considering the unequal balance of voter numbers between electorates in all of the democratic nations around the world, Australia would be the first modern nation to introduce true "one person, one vote, one value" representative democracy.

3) Preferential Voting for the Lower House of Parliament (the House of Representatives) is the best form of voting, as it allows all voters to have a say in the final choice of a parliamentary representative, and therefore this system should remain in use for Lower House elections.

Preferential voting for the Upper House of Parliament (the Senate) would also be possible with Actual-Number Representation. While - under the current system - elections for the House of Representatives allow voters to give their preferences to another candidate if their first preference candidate is eliminated from the election count (due to lack of votes), elections for the Senate deny this possibility, effectively disenfranchising everyone whose first preference wasn't for one of the major parties (with some rare Independent or Green exceptions) - thus making the procedure a huge travesty of democratic representation.

It would also be preferable to base the Senate upon a nation-wide electorate, rather than upon state-wide electorates, thus enabling wider opportunity for voters to actually vote for whom they wish, rather than limit their choices by constraints of state boundaries (state representation is now basically outdated; although people could still vote for a state-orientated candidate under the new system, if they so wished).

4) Citizens Initiated Referenda can be introduced (similar to the systems currently operating in Switzerland and certain states of the U.S.A.) whereby 100,000 petitioners may demand a referendum on matters of importance, thus imposing the "will of the people" over political inaction, and over the semi-authoritarian style methods used by politicians and their party machines.

A fairer and truer democracy. With Citizens Initiated Referenda enabling more public control, and with Multi-Member Electorates and Actual-Number Representation enabling truer representation, it is to be expected that more independent politicians will arise to represent the people, replacing many of the current crowd of so-called "representatives" who so often only represent their own political party (or political faction) instead of the people.

We look forward to a fairer and truer democracy!

December 1996

Note: In the interests of public education, and greater debate on these issues, this document is free of copyright; and may be recopied; and such copies may be further distributed or sold; on the condition that the original source is acknowledged in full.

Australian Nationalism Information Database