Voters to do Senate duty in shake-up?
With the balance of power held by a 'random bunch' of individuals, Michael Pascoe argues it makes sense to introduce conscription to the upper house.PT4M30S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2vhhv 620 349 October 14, 2013
While various business types call for greater certainty in government, the fate of government policy from next July is to be decided by an even less representative swill than usual. So here's a modest proposal to restore Senate democracy: Stop voting for it.
As we await the circus of the next Clive Palmer media conference, it's obvious the balance of power in our alleged “house of review” will be held by a more random bunch of individuals than usual. Donkey voters rule, back-room preference deals between nobodies can suddenly make anybody somebody. The result might not add up to sound government to the betterment of the common wealth.
The government will have to do deals, including numerous dubious little sweetheart deals, to get its major legislation passed. The ghost of Senator Harradine will live on in the new Senate, and then some. One special interest party's leverage over the public purse can look an awful lot like extortion of the majority.
Holding the cards: Clive Palmer. Photo: AFR
While the government can't afford to alienate the odds and sods it will have to deal with, the good and great of both major parties all claim to like some sort of reform of the Senate voting system to provide more like genuinely representative democracy. And that's their first mistake.
The present Senate regulations certainly throw up random results, but perhaps they are actually not random enough. The iron-fists of the party systems effectively install the backsides of assorted political hacks on the soft red leather seats. The upper house is not known as the home of many intellectual giants.
The original concept of the Senate to be the states' house of review has long since been betrayed. While the major parties in less divisive times might have done some horse trading, the reviewing will now be left to those much-maligned odds and sods with the balance of power.
So to bring balance to the odds and sods, it would make sense to have many more of them and no political parties. Yes folks, it's time to introduce Senate duty – conscription to the upper house.
And that's not nearly as outrageous an idea as it might at first seem. After all, we trust a somewhat randomly selected jury of our peers to decide matters of much greater individual importance – whether someone goes to jail for life – so why not extend that system to the Senate?
The usual basic checks that apply to jury duty would be required, plus the condition that members of political parties and their employees would be excluded. Specifically setting out to be a Senator would preclude that possibility. The Senate's role would become one of genuine review by a broadly representative selection of Australians, rather than a scene of party and special interest shenanigans.
As a review mechanism, Britain's House of Lords functioned reasonably well for a century or so working on a much smaller gene pool selected on a far less democratic basis.
For a couple of hundred grand a year, plus all the weddings they could handle, most citizens wouldn't mind being called up for a single three-year term. We'd be spared the cost of voting for them and obtain a result that couldn't be much worse.
As for the mechanism, we love a lottery, from a chook raffle through to Power Ball. Your Medicare number would do as an entry. It would require some modification, but in a dusty Canberra corner, someone must have stored the barrel from which were plucked the birthdays of hapless Vietnam-era conscripts. This time, those selected would be winners instead of losers.
Oh well, just a thought. Too bad it will never happen – the political parties wouldn't allow it.