Ted Mack was the federal Member of Parliament for North Sydney from 1990 to 1996; the only Australian to ever have been elected and re-elected as an Independent to local, state, and federal government.
In this document, which was originally written as a lecture (entitled "Democracy") for the University of Western Australia in 1992, Mack shows how our current system of government is actually anti-democratic due to its misuse and abuse. Problems include: 1) the major political parties, which are self-serving, power-seeking machines; each run by a political elite, whereby effectively 5 or 6 people determine parliamentary decisions, 2) a system of single-member electorates, which ensures that about 45% of the population are not truly represented, and 3) a bogus "representative" system where Members of Parliament represent - not the people - but the Member's particular party or party faction. A system of participatory democracy is put forward as an alternative to the present mess.
Disclaimer: The republishing of this speech does not in any way suggest or imply that Ted Mack has ever given or offered support to, or is involved with, any Nationalist organisation. To our knowledge, Ted Mack has always made himself independent of all political parties. This document has been reprinted in the interest of furthering the cause of democracy in Australia.
We are all products, to a large extent, of our times and circumstances.
North Sydney is a small area of only four square miles. It is the "future shock" capital of Australia.
In the space of the last 20 years it has developed from virtually nothing to the third largest business area in Australia in terms of commercial offices. In the same time some 10,000 new dwellings have been constructed in what was already a high density residential area.
Some 60,000 people work in the area, 50,000 people and 20,000 cars live there and another 250,000 cars drive through each day.
As might be expected in some ways, there is almost s fifty per cent turnover of residents every two years and the area has possibly the highest rate of admissions to psychiatric hospitals in the country.
That's why some people have said that I'm a good person to represent such a place.
In 1970 I was living on the edge of the commercial area, an architect, minding his own business working exclusively on hospitals during the day, and at night and weekends building my dream home for four children and expecting to live happily ever after.
I assumed we lived in a free and open democracy where governments acted generally in the public interest and that they were often incompetent but generally benign.
You can see what a cloistered life I'd led to that point. The North Sydney Council of 1970 disabused me of my false preconceptions of government and introduced me to the real world.
In 1974 I became an alderman of the Council, in 1980 Mayor, 1981 the State Member and 1990 the Federal Member. The area had previously been a blue ribbon Liberal Party area where elections usually passed quietly and predictably.
Over these years the community sent four main signals.
The first was to councils everywhere - look after your residents and don't annoy them - you never know what can happen.
The second was to the State government - party infighting and corruption will eventually lead to rejection.
The third signal was to the Federal Government that there is no longer any such thing as a safe seat. If nothing else has been achieved, both State and Federal members have all been looking after their electorates a little more assiduously than they otherwise would have.
Fourthly the monopoly of the political system by two or three small groups of people is being judged as increasingly inadequate and deregulation is under way.
But there's a lot more to it than that.
I was elected to the Federal Parliament not only because of dissatisfaction with the political system but also because for a decade the electors of North Sydney had experienced a new and better way of running public affairs.
A way that is founded on the principle that people whose lives are affected by a decision, must be part of the process of arriving at that decision.
A way that delivered a new kind of open, accountable, participatory democracy with expanded public services and reduced taxation.
A way that has no place for secret, centralised decision making by executives of political parties in combination with powerful, unelected, unaccountable interest groups that is now the dominant process in a largely self-serving Australian political system.
These ideas are not unique to North Sydney. They began in the 1960s and are buffeting monopolies around the world, whether they be commercial, bureaucratic or political.
The forces of change and the ethic of participation do not recognise national boundaries. The recent political upheavals of eastern Europe are no accident.
It is also no accident that the present Federal Government is the most minority government since Federation, with only 39.4 per cent of the vote; that the membership of political parties is collapsing; that 17 per cent of Australians voted against the major parties in 1990; that the number of non-party members has virtually doubled at three successive elections in the 1980s in New South Wales; that the Federal Senate has not been controlled by the Government for a decade and probably will never be again; that the first lower House in Australia not to be dominated by one party came into existence in Tasmania to be quickly followed by South Australia, here in Western Australia and New South Wales.
In fact, it is almost incredible to realise that today only four Houses of Parliament out of the fifteen Upper and Lower Houses of Parliaments in Australia are now controlled by the respective executive governments.
This situation was unthinkable as little as three years ago.
Now it would be easy to ascribe these events to the steady slide in social, economic and environmental conditions in the past 20 years; to the increasingly overt nepotism, careerism, cronyism and corruption in our political system highlighted by the Fitzgerald inquiry in Queensland, the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales, the Royal Commissions in South Australia, Tasmania and not the least, your own nightmare here in Perth.
It would be easy to ascribe it to the cynical multimillion dollar advertising campaigns; to the broken promises; to the blatant centralisation of public decision making; to big business, big unions, big government; to the flaunting of wealth by entrepreneurs in the 1980s, the record sales of Mercedes, the officially sanctioned tax rorts; to rising unemployment; to bigger salaries for politicians, free cars all round, more overseas trips with increasing retinues at five-star hotels while the general public is told they are living beyond their means, that they have got to work harder and have to tighten their belts.
But it's much more.
Our traditional political duopoly and administrative structures are failing.
It is not just a problem of a few bad apples.
The system is not delivering and a large section of the community is irrevocably alienated.
The non-major party vote is now running at 20 to 24 percent around Australia. It has grown from about four per cent in the last ten years.
What sort of future does this small country have with nine governments, 15 Houses of Parliament, 855 politicians and their associated overlapping bureaucracies spewing out truckloads of legislation each year-much of it well-meaning but cumulatively self defeating?
It is a shambling structure derived from a century-old parochial compromise corrupted by unelected interest groups, party executives, an elitist private-not public-service, and gerrymandered voting systems.
An anachronistic lunacy which all political parties had a vested interest in preserving, was the description applied to it by our now deposed Prime Minister (Mr Hawke).
He said that in the 1970s before he became part of the problem. He was certainly correct but an increasing number of people now see the necessity for change.
The community is taking the rhetoric of competition and deregulation and applying it to our twin airline political duopoly.
Does anyone really think Australia can be legitimately run by an unelected Prime Minister whose party commands only 39.4 per cent of the vote but 52.7 per cent of the seats? Where seventeen per cent of voters who did not vote for the major parties were rewarded with 0.7 per cent of the seats?
It may be democracy the Bjelke-Petersen, Graham Richardson way but it is a long way from any notion of fairness or a real expression of the will of the people.
Quite apart from the electoral gerrymanders; the Lower House of Federal Parliament, as with any house of parliament in which the government party has a majority of votes, has little public purpose.
Yet parliaments are supposed to exist primarily as a check on the power of executive government.
This failure of parliaments to make executive governments accountable is the fundamental cause of so much corruption in the Australian political system. A former Clerk of the House of Representatives, J. A. Pettifer, said in 1979 and I quote:
"The party system has overwhelmed the Westminster system and destroyed its original checks and balances."
In 1989 the McIntosh study of Federal Parliament confirmed that even 80 per cent of the members of the House of Representatives believe that it is simply a rubber stamp.
Legislation, decided mostly by the unelected in private, is agreed to as a formality. Debate is largely a meaningless charade.
There is no separation of executive and parliament; no real accountability of the executive or bureaucracy, which is fundamental to the democratic system.
Advocates of the reform of parliament have suggested such titivations as additional staff for members, more private members time, procedural reform, an expanded committee system, longer sitting times, more free votes, televising of Parliament, and electronic voting.
As for the latter, the simplest and most truthful system at Federal level would be for only the party whips and myself to vote - and, of course, any party member who wishes to be expelled from the mafia by crossing the floor.
All of these so-called reforms avoid the issue. The issue is unchecked control of Parliament by five or six people through the rigid party system. This was starkly confirmed when only about five phone calls were necessary to commit our defence forces to war in the Middle East.
Parliament was simply called on to rubber stamp the decision some time later.
The issue is centralisation of power and government by special interest and elitism to the point where probably 142 of 148 members of Federal Parliament, and certainly the public, have little or no input into public decision making, except for a little "chook feeding" by way of pacification.
There is, of course, no suggestion that things would be much different if a change of government occurred.
The Opposition is only a more disorganised version of the Labor Party in terms of centralised power.
The fact is that after nine Federal elections in 18 years, the community is learning that government by rejection is comparatively futile. A change of government means more of the same, irrespective of election rhetoric.
Our two-airline adversarial political system not only is failing to deliver, but also is working consistently against building public support and consensus for the necessary restructuring of Australia.
Dr Ian Marsh of the Australian Graduate School of Management encapsulated the position when he recently stated:
"... issues can never be discussed short of a challenge to the competence of the current government. Parliament can never debate major strategic issues without partisan allegiances coming to the fore."
Parliamentary committees in other democratic countries can initiate major structural changes on a consensus basis. Here such committees are mostly husbanded to relatively minor tasks by ministerial advisers with the blessing and manipulation of Sir Humphrey and his legions.
Two-party adversarial politics creates an almost overwhelming imperative for oppositions to pander to sectional selfishness and, as a result, constrain themselves should they gain the government benches.
Incentives to oppose are multiplied, differences are magnified and spurious choices are falsely propagated.
The reversal of party positions on the consumption tax issue is a stark example of the sterile and hypocritical nature of the adversarial system.
Truth is almost irrelevant. The primary aim of oppositions is to gain government and the primary aim of the government is to stay in power.
The welfare of the public is a distant second.
The duopoly of the two-party adversarial system creates many distortions.
The fiction that members can represent their electorates when ultimately they can only represent their party executives.
The exclusion of most of the community from many key positions in the Public Service and in parliament as those positions are remorselessly filled with groupies, family and former ministerial staff.
The fiction that Ministers can also be local members as I'm sure the residents of the electorates of Wills in Victoria and Fremantle would be aware.
The fact that ministerial competence is largely accidental, given the present selection process with the ability to become a minister largely unrelated to the ability to be a minister.
The increasing propensity of the political parties to fund their private activities from the public purse.
The continual faction and leadership struggles.
The relentless stalking of Hawke over the last year has debilitated and affected the whole process of government but it is only an example of what has been happening throughout Australian political history in both government and opposition.
In recent years we've been spectators to the McMahon-Gorton contest, Snedden-McMahon, Calwell-Whitlam, Howard-Peacock, Peacock-Howard, Hawke-Hayden. Not to mention the countless ministerial and shadow ministerial internecine sniping.
In truth the personal ambitions inherent in the Westminster system are cancerous.
The majority of members of parliament have one driving motivation on entering parliament. How can they become or stay a minister or shadow minister, and for a substantial number, how can they become the leader?
A few years of the ends justifying the means and ethical collapse is inevitable. Truth and public interest mostly finish second.
There is no doubt that a considerable amount of the total time of politics is spent on such matters. The process is usually hidden from public view unless a Wilson Tuckey inadvertently lifts a wet brick.
The Westminster system is plainly inadequate in its mechanisms for obtaining leaders and for dispensing with them.
At all levels of government the election and removal of leaders by secondary representation, that is by politicians, is mostly vicious and machiavellian.
It would be a vast improvement if we took these matters out of the hands of politicians and elected our leaders directly and democratically.
Most leaders never know when to go in both government and private organisations. The recent removals of Margaret Thatcher, Bob Hawke and John Howard were examples of the destructive procedures inherent in the Westminster system.
I believe the community is served better by political systems which incorporate the principle of limitation of office.
The primitiveness of our democracy has been shown by the events in Russia. When a group of plotters attempted the coup against Gorbachev the people took to the streets. In Canberra a small group changed the Prime Minister and we all meekly accept their decision.
Increasingly, governments are out of touch with the community.
The multi-function polis, large-scale public asset disposal, woodchipping of native forests, the failure to stop major drug promotion and exploitation, foreign ownership, immigration policy, endless overseas junkets and economic rationalist fundamentalism are but a few examples of where Government policies do not have majority support, irrespective of the merits of such policies.
The point is that policy can no longer be driven by special interest and elitism.
It can only be effectively arrived at and implemented by public participation in the decision-making process.
The common and cynical assumption among the elite is that the necessary hard decisions for change can only be taken against the popular will and must be taken by stealth, and taken early, so that the public will have time to either forget them or appreciate their inherent wisdom before the next election.
These assumptions show contempt for the public and the democratic system and it just does not work.
Reform must commence with the acceptance by government and its bureaucracies of the fundamental principle of democracy, which is that a decision made by the whole community will be right more often than a minority decision taken by an elite group, no matter how wise or altruistic.
No group has a mortgage on wisdom or values.
Reform must recognise that the system of delegating all rights to a representative or political party every three or four years and then passing judgment on that representative or party is futile.
The growth of education, the information explosion and the rate of change have fundamentally made the representative system ineffective and even unnecessary.
Representative government and responsible government are terms often bandied around State and Federal Parliaments. The truth is our governments are not representative or responsible. Not to people that is.
They are largely self-serving mafia families responsible to those who fund them.
People must be part of the decision-making process whenever it affects them.
We must shift to participatory democracy through a whole range of mechanisms, such as greater use of referenda and acceptance of the people's right to initiate and even veto legislation.
The traditional propensity of government and the Public Service to secrecy must be reversed, with an expansion of freedom of information and openness at all levels of administration.
The Ombudsman's powers should be widened and public scrutiny and accountability improved at all levels of executive and bureaucratic administration and policy making.
The present restriction on freedom of information by exorbitant charges and manipulation of privacy provisions must be eliminated and if you ever hear that public information must be suppressed because of that Greinerism - it's a New South Wales version of Newspeak - called "commercial in confidence" then set the alarms
Almost any form of secrecy in government is self delusion at best.
The smart money always finds out - only the public will be excluded.
The advocates of so-called confidentiality always claim to be acting in the public interest but the overwhelming evidence of history is that it's more likely to be the private interest.
If principles such as these were adopted, effective electoral, parliamentary and constitutional reform could commence. But if change is attempted on its traditional basis of seeking advantage on a party or personal basis, we will continue to create such pictures of Dorian Gray as the Australian Capital Territory Government. Government will continue to be distrusted and harassed at every turn. Unless governments - Federal, State or local - can command public respect and confidence, they are largely ineffective.
Most governments and representatives in Australia are held in increasing disrepute by the community. It affects all levels of administration and it will not be reversed by cosmetics.
It can only be overcome by governments setting an example to the community, by controlling their self-serving nature, the "Taj Mahals", and the constant increases in lurks and perks which have permeated almost every level of Australian society, from the debauched tax system to the ritual overseas junket reinforcing a "greed is good" materialist philosophy.
Local government in North Sydney in the 1980s was judged to be an outstanding success in environmental, social and economic terms.
Its policies were endorsed by an unprecedented ninety per cent of the electorate in the 1987 elections. Unprecedented, i.e. in a democratic election. The foundation of that success was that it obtained the trust of the people.
That trust followed the abandonment of traditional representative government and the moving towards direct democracy where every person could involve themselves in government to whatever extent they wanted.
By developing a fully open, participatory system and ridding itself of the traditional trappings of office, efficiency improved dramatically.
Some thirty-five referenda and 4,000 public meetings were held in eight years. Development, physical and social, private and public, accelerated but it reflected community values rather than those of special interests or elitists.
The basis of democracy is that it must have an electoral system that reflects the will of the people. Since the first Governor of New South Wales was forced to give up autocracy, generations of political manipulators have distorted voting methods and electorates for their own ends landing us with today's electoral chaos at all levels of government across Australia.
This situation has developed because it seems to be almost impossible for electoral systems to be discussed except in terms of partisan advantage.
Electoral reform must be implemented, not on the basis of short term electoral advantage, but on the basis of fairness and one vote, one value.
That means the eventual abandonment of our traditional gerrymanders and single member constituencies which inherently produce electoral distortions even with fair boundaries.
The last Queensland election showed that even the worst traditional gerrymander installed by the Bjelke-Petersen regime paled into insignificance compared to single member seat distortion.
Labor won sixty per cent of the seats with fifty per cent of the vote; the Nationals won three times as many seats as the Liberals with the same vote.
At Federal level even after preference distribution, three minority governments have been formed since 1961, that is we were governed by a party with a majority of seats but a minority of votes.
Single member electorates breach the two fundamentals of fair voting.
The resulting government only reflects the will of the people by accident and the principle of one vote, one value cannot be achieved. If you don't vote for the winning candidate then your vote is worthless.
If you didn't bother to vote it would make no effective difference to the result.
This is the reason why we are governed federally by a group who command only thirty nine per cent of the total vote.
In essence single member electorates can theoretically result in a group obtaining one hundred per cent of the seats with only fifty one per cent of the vote.
The most obvious failing of single member electorates is the almost irresistible temptation of the government of the day to manipulate boundaries to their own advantage.
When you have this system combined with the first past the post voting as in the United Kingdom, then huge distortions occur. For many years the Liberal Party obtained twenty per cent of the vote and one per cent of the seats. Regrettably the oldest democratic system in the world is now the most antiquated.
It gets worse, electoral distortion doesn't stop even after elections are finished.
In the current House of Representatives there are one hundred and forty-eight members. Seventy-eight caucus to exclude and render powerless the other seventy who, in a sense, represent sixty per cent of Australians.
But that's not the end.
Through such "obscene blood oath" devices as the faction system and Cabinet and inner Cabinet solidarity agreements, effectively five or six people determine Parliamentary decisions. A similar process happens in state parliaments irrespective of whichever party is in power.
Can you see why even such a veteran of Australian politics, Mr Bob Ellicott QC, a Judge of the Federal Court, a former Commonwealth Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General in the Fraser Government, said recently
"... our country urgently needs a new political agenda. The major political parties and the institutions they run are becoming increasingly irrelevant and unresponsive to the needs of the country and the silent majority of Australians who have long supported them."
After a century of development the major parties have become, to a great extent, mechanisms not for the implementation of political ideals but for distribution of public resources to their supporters.
To return to formal electoral systems, surprisingly Australia does have, almost certainly, an example of the best and fairest voting system anywhere in the world.
I refer to the Hare-Clarke system of Tasmania used since 1908. Not only does it invariably reflect the will of the people, where every vote counts, but it also eliminates how-to-vote tickets, by-elections, the distortion of the donkey vote and boundary manipulation.
It enables the people as a whole to share in party preselection. What this means is parliament as a true reflection of a democratic, pluralist society.
Ironically a proper voting system means the end of majority government and executive domination of Parliament. In a society as diverse as ours no group can or should regularly dominate.
I say ironically, because the major political parties argue that for the stability of the party system and to maintain centralised power through caucasing we need to preserve unfair voting systems.
The answer to the problem of minority government and instability is not to preserve unfair voting systems but to remove the executive government from Parliament and elect it directly and separately from the Parliament which then enables the adoption
of fixed terms of office. Members of parliament can then represent their constituencies relatively free of the temptations of ministerial ambition and a proper separation of powers and the monitoring of the executive can then occur.
The separation of powers between executive government and Parliament is the most important reform needed.
The Fitzgerald Report in Queensland identified the lack of separation in that state as the fundamental cause of corruption. The definitive statement to date on this issue has been produced here in Perth (not surprisingly) in the book Executive State: W.A. Inc. and the Constitution edited by Patrick O'Brien and Martyn Webb.
The increasing non-party vote at all levels of government - Local, State and Federal - over the last decade is the writing on the wall for reform and no amount of public relations or electoral manipulation will stop the trend.
With little public comment the Australian Senate has been transformed. It was created at Federation as a States House but for most of its life it has been a party House. Now it is more representative of the community than the Lower House.
Yet the changing role of the Senate and its conversion to a people's House is marred by the massive gerrymander, with, in the extreme case, thirteen New South Wales votes equalling one Tasmanian vote.
Irrespective of whatever short term benefits exist in this situation, the present and likely future position of a meaningless Lower House and an undemocratic Senate is not sustainable.
A great deal has been said in recent times, as well it should be, about the need for micro economic reform and the rationalisation of the overlapping bureaucracies at the three levels of government.
The need for uniform standards, particularly in respect of transport, corporate regulation, the environment and the reform of legal system are now well recognised. The real surgery, however, is needed for the political and administrative structure.
Constitutional reform will not come by any Whitlamesque version of centralised power imposed from above or dreams of the disappearance of the States. None of the three levels of government will or should disappear.
There is always a national, a regional and a local interest which must be recognised but there is no reason why colonial State borders should leave so many genuine regions of Australia effectively unrepresented or why we need overblown, antiquated Westminster systems at State level.
The level of over-government and over-representation at State level is quite grotesque: 631 members of Parliament and their associated bureaucracies, an array of mouseketeers unparalleled in any other country. Any sensible reforms could at least halve this burden.
Northern Territory has for example some fourteen times as many MPs pro rata as the United Kingdom. Australia as a whole has almost three times as many.
The twenty-five Northern Territory MPs are building themselves a one hundred million dollar Parliament House at the moment - no public tenders of course. Northern Territory is only a more extreme case among Australian states.
If it is reasonable for a federal MP to represent 113,000 people, why does a Western Australian State MP represent only 17,500 when they receive almost the same salary?
I am not being critical of individuals, after all imagine what would happen if any group in the community could set their own salaries, responsibilities and staffing levels with little restraint?
The point is, that there are grossly too many MPs, particularly at state level. This in turn multiplies support structures and associated bureaucracy. Conversely, many of the bloated local government bodies on the perimeters of Sydney and Melbourne should be reduced to population units of around 50,000, at which level any real local government ends.
While the recent attempts at so-called "New Federalism" have tended to look like a "rearrangement of the deck chairs", there is a desperate need to redistribute both power and functions between the three levels of government. That redistribution must be based on decentralisation to the lowest appropriate level.
The shift to participatory democracy by such measures as direct election of prime ministers, premiers and mayors; the separation of executives and legislatures; increased use of referenda and citizen initiated referenda; electoral reform; fixed four-year terms of office and proper levels of representation together with maximum open government and public participation to build a consensus is the only possible way to reform.
This program is to some extent that developed at the time of the American and French revolutions and after two centuries is hardly radical.
Nevertheless the American constitution has proved to be the foundation of the most stable and successful democratic systems yet seen.
Our constitution served reasonably well for over half a century. I say that not because of any nostalgia or sentimentality about founding fathers.
It was an uninspired parochial compromise developed by the state politicians of the 1890s in an atmosphere of limited idealism and suspicion. It worked for a while primarily because of Australia's isolation from the word.
It did not have the advantage of the American constitution conceived a century before in an atmosphere of revolution and intellectual debate across both America and Europe.
It also did not have the advantage of people of the calibre of Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and others who drew on the works of such people as Montesquieu and Locke.
We therefore missed out on the superior concepts of the American constitution and their Bill of Rights.
The Westminster system substituted the sovereignty of Parliament for that of the Monarchy, the Americans substituted the sovereignty of the people.
It dispensed with the adversary system - there's no leader of the opposition. It gave the people the choice of leaders. It incorporated a full separation of powers - executive government, legislature and the judiciary - and incorporated checks and balances which limited the power of their presidents and state governors to a much greater degree than our prime ministers and premiers.
Yet this outstanding democratic superstructure has all but failed with the weak foundation of an inadequate electoral system and the corrosive effects of money.
With election funds required by some senators of around $10,000,000 and congressional representatives needing $4,000,000; American democracy is in danger of collapse.
It can only respond to the special interests which fund it and as a result alienation is widespread. The people are rejecting the system with only about fifty per cent bothering to vote in presidential elections and falling to twenty-five per cent at congressional level.
The ever increasing addiction to money of political systems around the world is the most insidious and serious threat to democracy as the Royal Commissions around Australia have so clearly demonstrated.
The present government's restriction on television advertising may be crude and ill advised but a method of limiting total expenditure must be found.
It is an architectural axiom that architecture can never be better than the society and institutions which produce it and that is also true of our political system.
In summary, there is a widespread loss of trust in the nation's leaders and political system and a country edging towards economic and ethical bankruptcy - this is the "big picture" facing our community.
It is a community with accelerating selfishness, hedonism, crime, violence, vandalism, corporate fraud, tax fraud, insurance fraud, welfare fraud and corruption at all levels - a society fracturing into tunnel vision, self interest groups on a survival-of-the-fittest basis, with centralisation of power and money on one hand and a rapidly developing underclass on the other.
Our political system offers us an endless cycle of short term solutions, cynical promises, tax bribes to strategic voting groups; selling the future to pay for today's excesses, ideological leaps into the unknown, futile adversary conflict, and electoral manipulation.
There are no national goals or directions and without these we are rudderless. We need a stocktake and a development of national goals based on common basic values.
These goals can only be reached by the involvement of the community as a whole, by a community that accepts individual responsibility and is willing to change direction and begin the process of reform.
Another interesting speech by Ted Mack is
"Beyond Representative Government", where he promotes the virtues of having a system of open government and of involving the People in the democratic process.
Australian Nationalism Information Database