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!