11/06/2008 - 22:00

Politics leaves the public cold

11/06/2008 - 22:00


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Politics leaves the public cold

The Carpenter government's bungled handling of the lobbying sector and the opposition's failure to suggest constructive reforms suggests Western Australia's major parties are unlikely to ever offer a steady stream of competent public policy administrators.

And that's almost certainly because the party machines attract and cultivate individuals who not only lack basic administrative skills, but show no desire to learn and master them.

None of the party machines truly values individuality, preferring instead to constantly emphasise party loyalty, that is, follow leaders who simply criticise the other side.

It's always about factions, wheeling and dealing for personal gain, and other careerist considerations that so easily sneak in ahead of what's good for WA.

The predominance of such over-arching and stultifying characteristics has meant those who value good governance and despise such behaviour avoid politics.

So many talented individuals prefer instead to make money in the private sector and embark on hobbies and other interests.

Compounding this is the easily ignored tendency by politicians to high-tail parliament for other careers following relatively brief terms in government.

Here one must name names.

Consider, firstly, the Liberal side.

Why did such relatively young men as Barry MacKinnon, Bill Hassell, and Richard Court, leave parliament when they did?

One doesn't have to be Copernicus to realise that, if they'd remained, their party would today be begging them to be leader.

And if any of these had been leading their party to the February 2004 election - which Labor won by just more than 1,000 votes - that man would now be premier.

Nor can the Labor side be ignored.

State Scene has no doubt that if former deputy-premier Mal Bryce, one-time senior Labor minister Keith Wilson, or former Labor leader Ian Taylor, were still MPs, they'd be exceptionally strong contenders for executive posts.

So, here are six individuals with well over 100 years of parliamentary and administrative experience. Both individually and together, they could offer markedly better governance and public behaviour than we're presently receiving.

Yet all departed the political scene well ahead of time.


Is it because the MPs' superannuation is too generous?

Is it because experienced MPs get thoroughly sick and tired of the low standard of political participation in their respective parties which, unfortunately, are now subsidised by taxpayers, thereby making them even less responsive to voters?

Is it because our entire parliamentary system of governance is stale, uninspiring and not truly democratic?

State Scene suspects it's all these plus several other less obvious reasons.

Surely it's time those controlling our dilapidated party machines got together and launched an informal - non-taxpayer funded - inquiry into this crucial question.

If that's not done, WA will continue to bungle along in the way it's been doing for decades, lurching from one administration to another. Then, after each four- or eight-year period, voters are forced to revert to a former unresponsive dilapidated team now manned by more inexperienced individuals.

And so on, and on.

For that reason, State Scene has urged that parliament should look at introducing a far greater degree of democracy right across public life.

Starting at the top, this would mean electors having at least a confirmatory vote on who becomes governor, after which Buckingham Palace would be asked to give its nod if Australia remains a monarchy.

This could be done with premiers continuing to nominate governors but the chosen individual would not take up the vice-regal post until after there had been a binding state-wide confirmatory referendum.

Such a procedure would compel premiers to seek out people acceptable to a majority of voters at the ballot box.

If a nominee failed to attract 50 per cent plus one vote, the premier would need to go back and try again.

We also need to thoroughly overhaul the way judges are appointed.

Presently, attorneys-general get a bright idea on who they'd like to put onto the bench and that's basically it - that person becomes a judge.

Why aren't such nominees compelled to face an upper house judicial committee where they're thoroughly quizzed before their nomination is confirmed or rejected by a vote of the entire Legislative Council?

That's how US Supreme Court judges are appointed.

If that happened here many of the ongoing silly, indeed, quite outrageous, decisions our judiciary hands down would more likely be expunged.

Too many judges are living on cloud nine.

Unfortunately, our upper house is too lazy and unimaginative to opt for this reform.

And there's also a desperate need to infuse greater voter involvement into lawmaking in general.

The only way to do this is by adopting Swiss-system direct democracy, which subjects politicians to constant oversight by voters.

All legislation that would be passed by the parliament under such an arrangement would firstly sit on the lower house's table for 100 days before being sent to the governor for Royal Assent.

During those 100 days, between 3 and 5 per cent of electors would be required to sign a petition calling for a state-wide binding referendum to decide the bill's fate.

State Scene's guess is that this would probably spark two or so referendums a year.

Such a direct democratic procedure would firstly force politicians to be in regular consultation with voters in ways they've never done, in an attempt to avoid a referendum on a particular bill being called.

Such close and ongoing voter consultation would automatically lead to better and more responsive law making.

There would undoubtedly be instances where the required number of citizen signatures would trigger referendums, which would be good since the adjudication would fall upon the people to democratically decide what would or would not be the law of the land.

Among other things, this would mean our dullard party machines could join the fray to compete for support for laws.

Suddenly these dull entities would begin becoming more relevant instead of remaining inward-looking conspiratorial and careerist machines.

Variants of direct democracy exist in a large number of American states.

Direct democracy places and keeps elected representatives in a secondary or a more responsive role permanently since bills deemed, initially by a minority of voters, to be unacceptable could come to referendum involving all voters.

Not widely known in Australia is the fact that voters in 18 American states have the right to bring on constitutional amending initiatives; voters in 21 American states have the right to actually initiate laws that politicians either refuse or don't think of enacting; and voters in 24 American states can veto laws politicians seek to impose upon all electors.

Direct democracy transforms voters into bosses - with politicians having a secondary but still important role to play.

The absence of all this was recently noted by an Australian academic who wrote: "Australia's party system still echoes the dying call of the old European class wars.

"Too many ALP branches are private clubs dedicated to the production of endless resolutions deploring everything (or expressing woolly solidarity with phony liberation movements).

"And many Liberal party meetings, so rumour has it, resemble Masonic lodges dedicated to the interests of local small business people.

"No wonder most Australians (other than property developers and union functionaries) avoid [political] parties like the plague."

Oh, how true.


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