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Bring back the toga and lose the House of Representatives!

April 21st, 2009 · Greg Atkinson · 8 Comments

It appears to me that the form of democracy we have in Australia (and other parts of the world) is really starting to struggle now in the 21st century. After all, we are basically using a form of government that is now a few centuries old and has been responsible for just as many blunders and failures across the world as it has successes. So maybe it is time we started to think about giving our system of government an overhaul and I believe we can learn a lot from the Romans.

The Roman Empire is rarely given any favourable treatment by Hollywood and sadly this is the source of many peoples knowledge about all things Roman. However if you dig a little into Roman history it is hard not to be impressed by what they achieved from their conquests and engineering skills to their role in laying the foundations for much of western civilisation as we know it today.

But the Romans also managed to govern themselves fairly well even in spite of a few nasty civil wars and a number of pretty unsavoury emperors. They bounced back a number of times from impeding disaster and for all their faults they still reigned as the world’s premier super power for hundreds of years.  If you are interested in knowing more about the Romans then the online Illustrated History of the Roman Empire is a good place to start. (sometimes it is good to get away from reading dreary research reports and business news)

Anyway I have lamented before about the pretty ordinary standard of politicians we have in Australia in: Politicians: we get what we deserve and I cannot see the situation changing unless we do something radical, so here it is: my plan to deliver better government.

1. Abolish the House of Representatives.

I know in theory that the House of Representatives is suppose to be our voice in government but honestly does anyone really believe this is true? Try writing to your local federal member and the chances are you will get a form-letter type reply (probably written by a staffer anyway) and if you do not agree with their response and write back again, then most likely you will never hear from them again.

In any case we  have State Members of Parliament (and local councillors) so surely they can handle local/regional issues and refer matters to the Federal Government as needed.  How many representatives exactly do we need to pay to cut ribbons and kiss babies?

The other function of the House of Representative is to review legislation before it is sent to the Senate which is a bit like having a committee to develop a proposal which is then approved and sent for a further review by another committee. This other committee can then send back proposals to the original committee so that changes can be made and then sent back to the other committee again ( the Senate) for final approval. So it is no wonder it takes a long time for anything to happen in Canberra!

I know there are other duties that Federal MP’s perform but most of these would be best handed out to the public service or passed up to the Senate.

So in one move we could remove a layer of duplication and save on the salaries, allowances and pensions of 150 MP’s and other associated costs such as travel, accommodation,administration and staff expenses. I would guess that there is easily a $100 million in savings to be made per annum..at the very least.

I know some people will say that the House of Representatives acts as a balance to the Senate but this is hardly true if the Government has a majority in the Senate, so it is a flawed system anyway.

2.  Make the Senate the centre of power.

Let’s learn from the Romans and make the Senate the place where the voices of the people can be heard. Instead of a an Emperor we can have a directly elected President and like the U.S system he would not be required to get down and dirty with the day to day antics of the Senate. He/she can make appearance every now and then to give updates on how the country is moving along and to launch grand plans to improve the nation from time to time.

We are then left with 76 Senators and therefore we can afford to pay them much more because they will be working harder and have greater responsibilities. This will result in there being more competition when it comes to being elected since there is now only 76 elected positions available in Federal politics.

In addition the extra workload on Senators will mean they will be quite busy and so if they want to play political games, they will have to squeeze that it into a busy day. Mind you we would allow each Senator to have a few more staff and perhaps assign them some dedicated resources from the public service.

In addition, I have no problem with giving the new type of Senators a significant pay rise linked of course to performance, and based on the fact they they must stand for re-election every four years. They could also be sacked for incompetence or misconduct (as determined by an independent authority) or removed by popular vote if the public calls for their head. (Similar to the recall provisions that had Arnie elected in California)

Senators who also hold a Cabinet position (these positions would be reduced so we get rid of the silly minor Cabinet roles) would get an extra allowance on top of their base pay. Thus it would be possible for Senators to be on salary packages of around $300k or more.

It might sound good to keeping the salaries of important elected officials as they are, but we would be better off with fewer, more capable and better paid people running the show than MP’s and Senators sitting on the benches that would have trouble balancing their chequebook; let alone having any idea of how to steer the country through a recession. Hopefully we would end up with a Senate worthy of comparison to that during the time of the Roman Republic! (okay, maybe not quite that good)

3. Allow for public officials, business leaders and members of the public to address the Senate directly.

To make sure we all have a voice in the Senate it should be possible for the Senators to request people to address the Senate (such as the head of the defence force, RBA governor,community leaders etc.) or for people to gather enough votes via petition so they can address the Senate directly. You want to give the Senate a dressing down? Well get enough names on a petition and off to Canberra you go!

The idea here is to make the Senate not only a place where legislation is passed but also where new ideas and policies are discussed and debated. It should be seen as the chamber of the people and a place where the public are confident that issues that are important to them are discussed by elected officials who have the power to get things done.

So there is my idea in a nutshell. Would it work…or can you see some glaring faults? I am open to suggestions so please let me know what you think. Oh and by the way, maybe we could also reintroduce the toga into the Senate….on second thoughts maybe not, that is probably going too far 🙂

Finally on a lighter note, what did the Romans ever do for us you say?  Well watch this just this clip to find out!


8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ned S // Apr 22, 2009 at 3:17 am

    There is nothing there I’d see as being a show stopper at all. Two broad comments and then some more specific ones:
    Broadly speaking a) We either have have way more bottoms on seats in Canberra than we actually need (given that they’ll just vote along party policy lines anyway) OR we have way too few of them (if our aim is for them to be achieving truly effective representation of their constituents who they know and to whom they are known) – You allude to that problem when you talk about the inability of most constituents to write any real bio on their reps I think? As does Dan when he says democracy has failed the scaling test.
    And b) I personally question the value of party politics a lot – Because, firstly to me it seems to detract from any real open debate based on having tried to become informed prior to entering the debate (the “they’ll just vote the party line line anyway” certainty) and secondly if there is any real difference between what our two major political parties will do in a given situation, as opposed to what they say they’ll do, then I’m sure having trouble seeing it.
    Some more specific comments:
    * I don’t see “politicians” as adding much value at all – By and large they basically just seem to puff wind to push particular self interest group/popularist concepts (within party policy constraints) – And that’s the best of them I mean – The ones who are even bothering to do that much.
    * No one should be given a paid job to do that on a fulltime basis – In that anyone who actually cares enough can and should and will be doing that for and on behalf of themselves/that list of names on a petitition you mention.
    * While I have not thought it through at all fully, my natural inclination is to probably lean towards a “Decision Making Team” of only 7 people maybe because my personal understanding is that once a group is bigger than that, effective communication between them is difficult. (And in lots of ways, it is probably what is happening now in reality I suspect anyway?)
    * One of that 7 will simply and naturally be elected/stand out/be accepted within that group as “Team Leader/Group Spokesperson” – As a citizen I don’t feel a need to vote for that specific person – If we get the basics right, that person will naturally appear – I think?
    * Sure, have the 76 Senators working their butts off to bring together all sorts of State MPs, Public Service Chiefs, Industry bosses, Private Petition gathering spokespeople (and fully supported by all the rsources of the Public Service) but without voting “rights” – But just maybe with Veto Rights (just thought of that – Might be handy??? Or not? But worth more thought perhaps.)
    * As for payment, if these people are doing a good job then they are worth serious money – The Senators, and the 7 decision makers even more so – I have no issues with it being BIG HEAPS – To “Not Discourage” as opposed to “Attracting” quality people to the jobs perhaps?
    * Not that everyone works primarily for money. But I think that most people recognize it can have its uses – So the Mother Theresa type on the decision making team of 7 will donate most of her BIG HEAPS payment to her favourite Calcutta slums charity (or whatever other charity) – Good for her. But recognize the value of what she is doing and say “Thank you!!! And Oh, do with it as you will please!”
    * The House of Reps is actually quite possibly its own worst enemy regarding its right/need to exist I suspect – Leastways to any one who has ever listened to and/or noted writeups on their point scoring equivalent of lower grade primary school children squabbling. (The more mature upper primary school 11 and 12 year olds are very grown up in comparison – Sadly.)
    * I’m not at all sure just how we achieve something better. But a) it certainly does seem to be necessary and b) it certainly can’t be too difficult given what we are trying to improve on – Because it is simply childish. These are not mature adults attempting to engage in open minded debate as best they can after having attempted to inform themselves to the range of possible community viewpoints and the underlying facts with a genuine goal of attempting to achieve the most desirable possible outcomes – But the equivalent of 6 year olds squabbling along the lines of “My Daddy is smarter than yours” – As in “My Party Policies are best!” That doesn’t sound like it should be too difficult to improve on surely … Over to you – Smile!

  • 2 Greg Atkinson // Apr 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Ned S, thanks for the feedback.

    I agree with your comments about political parties and think we would be better served by having shifting alliances based on the issues at hand. For example an alliance could be formed to support certain legislation rather than people being tied to voting along party lines. To do this however we would need to think about how we could support the rise of minor parties and independents.

    I am a little cautious about your decision group suggestion as it would seem to focus a lot of power on a very small group of people. It sounds like a variation of the High Court..or maybe I am getting the wrong idea?

    One thing I am still unsure about is how we would fill cabinet positions and maybe the U.S system is better in that they can draw people in from outside politics to fill these posts. Payment is important, but I guess we need to also make sure we get people who have a sense of national duty and are not just in it for the money.

    Cheers!

  • 3 Pieere B // Apr 23, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    The Senators would have to be choosen not by public election: you would finish with people like Barak Obama or K. Rudd, exellent talker, incapable of original thinking. May be voting by taxpayer only; I am sure you could suggest someway of overcoming the problem of appointment.

  • 4 Greg Atkinson // Apr 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Yes appointments are hard to manage. I like the idea of just having the Senate because it would really make it a challenge to get elected. From each state there would only be a limited number of Senate seats available so that would also keep things nice and tight. I reckon there should also be no preference deals and people should also have the option to tick a “none of the above” box if they thought everyone standing for election was a dud.

  • 5 Senator13 // Apr 25, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Hahaha, nice clip! Bring back the SPQR you reckon, Greg?

  • 6 Greg Atkinson // Apr 25, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Lol..well at least the legions got the roads and aqueducts built. Some of these are still standing and even still in use today!

  • 7 Senator13 // Apr 27, 2009 at 10:22 am

    That is more then what can be said about a lot of our infrastructure lol.

  • 8 Greg Atkinson // Apr 30, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    I just thought of a way to make the senate race even tighter and reduce the power of the major parties. What I propose is that there shall be no preference distribution even amongst candidates of the same party. This means in effect, people would be truly voting for individual candidates and no sneaky little preference deals would get a candidate over the line. There would just be one box to tick (i.e. the person you wanted to vote for) or you could exercise you right and not vote for anyone. (by ticking a box, none of the above)

    Also the electoral commission would be made responsible for maintaining an online database that showed such things:

    1. The policies and pledges of each candidate standing for election
    2. Biography of each candidate.
    3. A senators previous pledges/policies and his/her voting record during his/her previous term as senator. (if standing for re-election)

    In addition the annual remuneration details for each senator would be made available online (including allowances) as would their senate attendance record/activities.

    The online database would be maintained at no cost to candidates and would I believe, level the playing field a little. I would guess over time many people would access this database to help them decide who to vote for and it might even negate some of the big spending by the major political parties?

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