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85 responses to “Why we have Labor leadership spills and stoushes; and how to avoid them”

  1. Oz

    Personally I think that direct election of the leader will be inevitable. The movement towards restricting donations to individuals and caps on campaign spending will force parties to increasingly rely on party members and volunteers for campaigns. Unless you give them a real say, people won’t get involved. Once a major party does it and wins, there will be a contagion effect.

    I’m not sure if a directly elected Prime Minister would be that good if you plan to keep a parliamentary system. Israel tried it in the 90s and reverted back.

    I used to be amenable to MMP but since last year I’ve changed my mind and now think that Hare-Clark should be adopted instead. It provides the accountability and cultural change needed within political parties, allows multiple strands within political parties and gives the voters a real say over MPs.

  2. Sara

    Hear hear.

  3. leinad

    Solid diagnosis, Mark, but I don’t see how MMP (which is a fine electoral system, don’t get me wrong) resolves any of points 1-7.

  4. Oz

    For MMP to encourage more openness and variation within the parties, it would require both an open list, no above the line voting and a rotating order so whoever controls the party machine cannot impose a ticket order.

  5. Peter Murphy

    Mark: anothe thought-provoking post. The big problem is: how does one convince the big parties to kick the majoritarian habit? Going by the Newman government, it seems to be more addictive than heroin.

  6. leinad

    I’m not sure people would find the multiparty coalition politics guaranteed by MMP any more responsive – a 5+ party system would introduce a lot of inter-party inside baseball that while representing a wider range of interests isn’t neccessarily going to be any more representative.

    Nor would it neccesarily resolve the problems bedevilling democratic politics everywhere – the disembedding and professionalisation of politics, the blurring of ideological boundaries etc etc – all of which I’d argue are present in polities with MMP and aren’t amenable to electoral and constitutional fixes as proposed.

  7. Fran Barlow

    I would take a quite different view. I’d like to move the whole business of governance away from a focus on leaders and in favour of a focus on parliament as an assembly that actually decides policy by forming working groups based on a democratically conceved broad brush management plan.

    Perhaps this is the egalitarian and anti-elitist in me speaking but it seems to me we’ve had way too much focus on emotional intelligence, charisma, “leadership” and such like and not nearly enough on matters of substance.

    I don’t care who is in charge provided they are competent and focused on something like optimal policy goals — self-evidenly equity, inclusion andall that goes with these things.

    I don’t believe in heroes or heroines. I don’t need to see my life narrative in them. I just want inclusive governance and competence.

  8. Ambigulous

    Thanks Mark.

    One nit I’d like to pick: how would the system deal with an election result where the directly elected PM was from Party A, but the majority of MPs were from Party Z?

  9. leinad

    a focus on parliament as an assembly that actually decides policy by forming working groups based on a democratically conceved broad brush management plan.

    What does this actually mean?

    Parliament is a representative body, it includes by definition a lot of people who don’t agree with each other about very much, and therefore probably wouldn’t sign up to a ‘democratically conceived broad brush management plan’ before we got to the question of what these working groups do or how they get appointed.

  10. Hoa Minh Truong

    Dear Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd !
    People elected you to take care the economy, public and national interest, but they don’t vote to both for challenging the leadership and top job. Since the coup of Gillard on June 2010, the Labor has been transforming from national affairs to individual job competition, then inside Labor party being fought ceaselessly by the rivals and union wings from Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd support, the cabinet divided. How long does both famous Labor’s politicians stop for the job fighting?. Please return to people and national services as soon as possible and Labor Caucus let’s stop fighting each other, the tax pay doesn’t waste for whoever to find the personal position.

  11. Fran Barlow

    Leinad:

    What does this actually mean?

    Exactly what it says — parliament really does in practice what it is supposed to do in the legal fiction.

    it includes by definition a lot of people who don’t agree with each other about very much, and therefore probably wouldn’t sign up to a ‘democratically conceived broad brush management plan’

    Perhaps they’d not have a choice as the management plan might be the product of a plebiscite voted on directly by the public. They could try amending it and inviting the public to agree, but perhaps the public would say no, or vote to amend it in ways that only a minority of the parliament supported.

    The working groups could be convened by the executive, though there’s be nothing to prevent them forming without executive approval and seeking support outside parliament for their activities.

  12. Martin B

    Mark, with respect, there seems to be a touch of “here’s a lot of reasons I don’t like Julia Gillard, but anyone who disagrees needs to do it on another thread” about this post. Point 4 in particular does not seem to have a lot left in it, once you cut out the material relating to the current leadership question, which apparently we aren’t discussing.

    As it happens, I don’t entirely accept a number of your propositions, at least in the way that they are framed. I have no doubt, as a descriptive matter that the personality of leaders is significant for many voters in making their decision. (Whether it has “never been more important” seems to be a more contestable claim but I’m happy to put that to one side.) I do very much question that as a normative claim. Without quite getting into Fran’s parliamentary working groups, nonetheless I do find it slightly disturbing on a left-wing blog that policy and legislation are seen as unimportant but the authority of a leader channelling the will of the people is (if indeed that is what is being done here).

    As I see it party leaders have inevitably used their personal authority to stifle internal dissent and ensure that any leftist sentiment that remains in party policy is placed firmly off the table. Certainly I struggle to think of an occasion when a leader has used their personal authority to impose a more progressive position than the party preferred. (Well actually I can think of one, but it involved a Liberal leader and it didn’t work out so well.)

    Nor do I think it is a matter of ‘self-congratulatory’ ‘delight’ in ‘chastising’ to point out the way our current system works. As I have just said above and will say below I have all kinds of reservations about our system and I would like to see a lot of changes. But to describe how the system actually works, and especially to describe how the people who are actually managing it understand it to work is not an exercise in condescension, it is a matter of intellectual consistency.

    Having said that (rather grumpily), there is certainly quite a lot that I do agree with and support. Certainly I support the idea of opening up leadership matters to a broader electorate, although not because I think the type or quality of leader selected would be significantly different. Rather I think this kind of move would tend towards restoring at least some level of influence of extra-parliamentary politics – and policies – to the parliamentary party. And clearly I would support MMP or full proportional systems in the lower house. (That would seem to make the Senate politically redundant, not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

  13. Lefty E

    I also think the current circus obliges us to look at wider political reforms.

    I could go for MMP, or Hare-Clark. Both will end undeserved majoritarianism (by ‘deserved’ I mean 50% PV, which is still perfectly possible in coalitions) and will minimise leadership cults by routinely forcing multi-party arrangements on leaders.

    MMP can be sold as retaining our current system for district seats and adding list seats. Hare-Clark (which I prefer by a nose), can be sold as Australian.

    But the first thing Id do is reform the upper house to get rid of above-the-line ticket voting. What an abomination it is – its low hanging fruit and we can cull it.

    In one fell swoop the death of preference deals that dont directly rely on the voters’ expressed wishes. This is freak-in-the-attic of Australian democracy.

    Going more broadly, we could look at marvellous Latin American innovations like participatory budgeting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budgeting

  14. Alan

    I agree we need PR in the lower house. MMP would need a constitutional amendment, MMP needs ‘balance seats’ to work. In NZ, Germany etc where a party wins more district seats that its entitled to, apart from the list seats, you need additional balance seats to make up the difference. The current NZ parliament has several additional MPs (above and beyond the list MPs) to bring the party strengths into line with the popular vote. You can’t do that in Australia because the constitution fixes the size of parliament and because the constitution also requires a fixed distribution of seats by states and territories.

    On the other hand we have long experience with STV in Tasmania, the ACT, the Senate and most state upper houses. Why go for MMP when we have a better system that we are used to?

  15. desipis

    Fran, that sounds like what parliamentary committees do now.

  16. David Irving (no relation)

    Mr Hoa, both Rudd and Gillard have managed the economy much more responsibly that the govt they replaced (Howard), and their probable successor (Abbott). They’ve both also done a reasonable job of looking after the national interest (again, in stark contrast to their predecessor and likely successor).

    Did they get us involved in military adventures in South Asia and the Middle East? No, although they didn’t have the guts to extract us.

    Did we (unlike just about every other developed nation) suffer significantly from the GFC? Again, no, because Rudd had the good sense to listen to Ken Henry.

    I think you need to attend to the real world.

  17. leinad

    Exactly what it says — parliament really does in practice what it is supposed to do in the legal fiction.

    Parliament is supposed to provide the warm bodies for working groups outlined by extraparliamentary plebiscites? This is news.

    Perhaps they’d not have a choice as the management plan might be the product of a plebiscite voted on directly by the public. They could try amending it and inviting the public to agree, but perhaps the public would say no, or vote to amend it in ways that only a minority of the parliament supported.

    The working groups could be convened by the executive, though there’s be nothing to prevent them forming without executive approval and seeking support outside parliament for their activities.

    Oh hello. Now we have the questions of who draws up the management plan, when and how does it get to plebiscite and what is the point of a parliamentary-derived executive if it isn’t in a position to oversee policy formation, and parliament itself can be bypassed.

    As a thought experiment, Fran, I’d like you to consider whether you’d be in favour of this system if the plebiscites and ‘outside support’ turned out to be in favour of things you’d consider abominable.

  18. Fran Barlow

    desipis:

    Fran, that sounds like what parliamentary committees do now.

    Except that in practice, the party blocs can ignore them.

  19. Martin B

    Well I seem to have hit the spam bucket.

    I will await the wise moderation, but will make a short note about another matter that is not very central to the discussion but was directly raised in the OP.

    There is – IMO, but I think I am on very firm ground – a big difference between a question like “If an election was held tomorrow, which party would you vote for?” and “If person X were leader of party Y, which party would you vote for?”.

    The former certainly is hypothetical in that there is not an election tomorrow (usually) but otherwise requires people only to reflect on what they have experienced in order to answer. The latter requires people to imagine a counterfactual and either fill in missing details of history or ignore them altogether in making a decision. Given that if person X does become leader that missing history will certainly happen, and will no longer be ignored by the respondent, these latter kinds of hypothetical have a somewhat wider uncertainty.

  20. Andrew Elder

    Mark, I address your points with your numbering as follows (where I omit a number or an issue, I don’t necessarily accept it but will not be contesting it here and now):

    2.

    Social media provides a respite from the centrality that polls have come to adopt in the broadcast media. It provides a space in which one can explore political matters such as what the passage of particular legislation means from a policy perspective – what has been delivered and what might yet be. It also gives space to other issues that arise from reporting, such as those arising from Nicola Roxon’s career and personal values in resigning in order to care for her daughter (and what the exercise of those options means for others).

    Such a space is not provided by the broadcast media, or if you like the MSM. It is just not true that MSM-generated polling has, through the alchemy of statistics, an integrity that MSM-generated journalism simply and increasingly lacks. Politicians who represent themselves as mere vessels of the popular will are almost certainly up to no good, unelected marketing boffins pushing their products on that basis usually are too, and why pollsters should not be similarly scrutinised is unclear.

    Social media provides a space for others to contribute to up-down discussions, but its role in diluting their importance cannot be understated. The Gillard-doomed-Abbott-inevitable thing is a staple of broadcast media, but only on social media is it called for the partisan position that it is.

    3 & 4.

    Now Labor knows what Malcolm Fraser went through in terms of legitimacy and getting no credit for what he did. Labor will not be able to do to Gillard what 1980s Liberals did to Fraser, and simply abandon her to history in pursuit of a new political agenda (neoliberalism/neoconservatism) that is handed to them from overseas (Thatcher/Reagan).

    Gillard is a transactional leader, and such leaders cannot convincingly rise above day-to-day politics. Keating was less convincing in his latter years, his aspirations seemed so ephemeral because he had largely given up on quotidian deal-making. Rudd’s quotidian deal-making actively undermined his professed ambitions, which is why the attempt to reinstate him is futile.

    A transactional leader needs time to accrue an agenda, a legacy, and a sense of credibility that others gain from a lifetime of professed beliefs. Gillard has been denied the reflective space in the broadcast media that might have made sense of that time (and given value to the legislation that you disdain in point 6), and its absence has apparently denied her legacy and credibility. We’ll see.

    5.

    People who believe Rudd is the Rightful Leader Wronged should be reminded of his busywork in whittling down and selling out the agenda on which he was elected. The man who rose within the ALP on the assembly of power blocs such as the NSW Right was undone by them.

    Gillard’s success as a transactional leader has largely been in fulfilling the promises that Rudd could not keep. Only in terms of her office has she departed from the Rudd agenda, and this is complicated by the idea of standard political bastardry and whether it being practiced by a woman is exceptional in itself.

    6.

    I agree on the insubstantial appearance of the mere passage of legislation, but in some – such as the NDIS enablement – there is tangible achievement which could well save this government. The lack of that tangible achievement from Rudd – and, I’d argue, from Abbott – is the contrast that Gillard could and should use in making the case for (re-)election.

    I think that Thomson/Slipper serve to highlight the disconnect between what the broadcast media is reporting and what is actually happening. The broadcast media still think they are separate from “the whole show” of which you speak, and the miscalculation of The Daily Telegraph over media laws is another recent example of this: it is galling/laughable for such strategically inept people to be lambasting people in the ALP or other organisations for being strategically inept.

    7.

    It isn’t just party politics that insists on immunity from openness and transparency. The coverage of Craig Thomson re the HSU is, of course, a legitimate story; but the intrusion into the privacy of his home was only practiced by the media once they realised he lacked the means to sue them.

    With openness and transparency comes a spotlight on the shortcomings of individuals. Even politically engaged people do not care equally about all matters that may come before Parliament; there are even some issues which such people regard as boring, or whose significance may pass them by at times of stress or in late-night sittings. This must infuriate people who’d normally support them. Parties provide cover for such people, to gain credit for party loyalty where their own interest and engagement failed them.

    As is often pointed out in defence not only of parties but of factions, like-minded people will naturally gather together to support one another. A regime of openness and transparency must find a way to accommodate those who may not appreciate the importance of issues that others regard as important, the sort of thing that Burke was getting at in his (initially unsuccessful) appeal to the electors of Bristol.

    Finally, I disagree about MMP for two reasons, based on the NZ experience.

    First, it would be astonishing to claim that “the whole show is held in disregard” while at the same time calling for a parliament that would be hung, if not permanently, then as a matter of course. NZ political journalism contains a strong thread of ‘chaos’ and ‘shambles’ that has only recently been apparent in federal press gallery journalism here.

    Second, there is something anti-democratic about party lists which runs against your call for greater democratic structures within parties. It is a regular occurrence in NZ for a politician to lose a seat but to enter parliament on their party’s list, which discredits the list as a democratic instrument and serves only to entrench a political class divorced from a community.

  21. Chris

    But the first thing Id do is reform the upper house to get rid of above-the-line ticket voting. What an abomination it is – its low hanging fruit and we can cull it.

    I think the informal vote would skyrocket if all you did was eliminate above the line ticket voting. Why not instead allow preference allocation above the line which would radically reduce the power of inter party preference deals.

    And when above the line voting is used, split votes evenly amongst all the party candidates, which would reduce the power of factions within parties and make senate candidates directly accountable to voters (they would rely on people voting below the line to preference them to get elected ahead of their fellow party members).

  22. Hoa Minh Truong

    Thank David Irving.
    There is the real evidence about the” both Rudd and Gillard have managed the economy much more responsibly that the govt they replaced (Howard), and their probable successor (Abbott). They’ve both also done a reasonable job of looking after the national interest”.
    However, the John Howard surplus gone and Australia being deficit, actually Mr. Kevin Rudd who eliminated the border protection law of Mr. John Howard, so the tax pay wasted about $ 5 billion for the asylum seeker and people smuggling. PM Julia Gillard is a wonderful leader, she has tried to cover and protect Craig Thomson, despite people knew that is scandal, that is the national interest isn’t it?.
    Although they have not send the troop to Asia or Middle East, but those are the national security. Australia involved many world conflicts as 2 world wars, Vietnam war, Korea war… I am a former army officer, regular army in Vietnam war, I understand the strategy needs to fight enemy from outside, do not let them coming closer. The best defense is attack, if the allies didn’t fight in Asia or Middle East, the enemy would attack and country being threatened. The national interest offshore is apart of economy, US and the European, including Australia need to protect interest outside, so they have to set up the allies, if not the evil would threaten.

  23. Lefty E

    [I think the informal vote would skyrocket if all you did was eliminate above the line ticket voting. Why not instead allow preference allocation above the line which would radically reduce the power of inter party preference deals. ]

    There’s lots of reform options there Chris.

    If ‘ease’ is what we want, optional pref below the line, or even optional ATL prefs.

    The odious bit is sneakliy enocuraging voters to give the vote for surther distribution by unelected hacks. Put that in the bin, and I dont really mind what else happens – provided we keep the proportionality (even though its only proportionality by state, but I doubt we’d get that one shifted).

  24. Martin B

    Defeated member reentering on the list is definitely not a good look, but is relatively easily fixed.

    As to what is ‘democratic’, single member electorates give the appearance of an electoral contest for every member (although in many cases it is just an appearance with the true contest being the more-or-less opaque preselection) but from narrow bases, while PR gives a wider basis of representation but with less of the contest. MMP of course is in between. It’s a balance.

  25. Liz

    I’m sure that all the people who are going to benefit from the recently passed NDIS legislation actually care about it. But, as one wag said, if Gillard found a cure for cancer, she’d be criticised for putting oncologists out of business.

  26. Andrew Reynolds

    Mark,
    For a much simpler and quicker reform why not start with the abolition of the Pledge along with the Liberal’s less formal version? If individual members were more likely to cross the floor on issues, particularly where they felt a legitimate need, we might end up with more actual debate and less of the grandstanding echo chamber we get.
    The simple existence of the monolithic voting blocs has driven this focus on the Leaders and how important they are. If the leaders had to spend more time convincing parliaments we may actually also end up with leaders who were more able to convince us.

  27. Brian

    Liz, towards the end of Whitlam’s term he invited a pack of journalists down to Manly beach. He strode out onto the sea, stood there, addressed them and walked back to the shore, dry as a bone.

    Next morning the headlines read “Whitlam can’t swim!”

    Anyway that’s what I heard!

  28. Paul Norton

    Ambigulous @9:

    One nit I’d like to pick: how would the system deal with an election result where the directly elected PM was from Party A, but the majority of MPs were from Party Z?

    The use of PR (either MMP as Mark proposes, or quota-preferential) would obviate this possibility in all except bizarre circumstances.

    The combination of a directly elected executive PM and a proportionally representative parliament would achieve the virtues of a pluralistic and deliberative legislature which also providing a democratic, expeditious and transparent means for forming a government. What we need to avoid are the extremes represented, respectively, by Queensland’s elective dictatorship and US gridlock.

  29. Katz

    MMP — that is, provision for a multiplicity of parties and interest groups within the H of R — will not influence how individual parties go about the business of choosing their leaders.

    Choice of parliamentary leaders is a matter for the individual parties regardless of how their representatives achieved their parliamentary seats.

    Gillard’s travails are a product of popular expectations of leadership, the ruthless effectiveness of the Coalition’s destabilisation tactics and the ALP’s inability to counter that destabilisation.

    None of that would be any different under MMP.

    The particular genius of the Coalition’s tactics is their ability to groom popular expectations of political leadership and then to pander to those expectations.

    For dozens of Labor MPs around the country staring at the looming prospect of the termination of their political careers, this is the most salient fact about Gillard’s political incompetence. The same sense of doom would motivate MPs condemned to the lower rungs of party lists under MMP.

  30. Terry

    I’m not sure that the “whole show” is held in disregard as much as the current Parliament is an unpopular one, or that the problems of legitimacy are greater in Australia than in other liberal democracies. Indeed, with compulsory voting, you do not get the discourse of “voter disengagement” that so much is heard about in the UK or the US (although, interestingly, that has died down a lot in the US since 2008).

    I would vigorously oppose any proposals to dilute the house of Representatives as it currently stands in favour of MMP for several reasons:

    1. Anything that makes the House of Reps more like the Senate is a bad thing. The fact that MPs have to win over 70,000-odd geographically located constituents on a three-yearly basis enhances democratic accountability. Remember Paul Keating’s “unrepresentative swill” line? How many people voted in Bob Carr, or Arthur Sinodinos?

    2. Part of the hostility to the current Parliament is a dislike of minority government per se. People are perpetually thinking “Who is Rob Oakeshott, and why should I always have to care what he thinks about everything?”. With three-year terms, there is currently plenty of opportunity to hold a government to account for its program of legislation; perpetual review in the Lower House has made the policy process even more murky. The site of the nation hanging on whatever it was that Bob Katter was proposing for the future of media regulation yesterday should be setting off some alarm bells.

    3. Implicit in these discussions is, in my view, an underlying assumption that MMP/Hare Clark/PR would produce centre-left coalitions, with the Greens as a tempering influence on Labor, much as UK PR advocates (such as the late Eric Hobsbawm) generally assumed the Lib Dems would always side with Labour over the Tories. I’m not sure people have thought through the full implications of the LNP being in a semi-permanent electoral coalition with the KAP, Family First, the DLP, Shooters & Fishers, and others.

  31. Chris

    The use of PR (either MMP as Mark proposes, or quota-preferential) would obviate this possibility in all except bizarre circumstances.

    Not necessarily. You’re assuming that people would vote consistently across both elections – and that doesn’t even happen with house/senate voting (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that tries to votes so that the party I think will win government even if I like them doesn’t have a senate majority). With a directly elected PM personal popularity is obviously going to be a huge factor, so its not at all unlikely that we’d get someone elected as PM because of the popularity due to things they have done outside of politics whilst at the same time the majority of the MPs come from a different party.

  32. Chris

    1. Anything that makes the House of Reps more like the Senate is a bad thing. The fact that MPs have to win over 70,000-odd geographically located constituents on a three-yearly basis enhances democratic accountability. Remember Paul Keating’s “unrepresentative swill” line? How many people voted in Bob Carr, or Arthur Sinodinos?

    What is nice about Hare-Clarke is that you can vote out a sitting member of a parliament without having to vote for a party you don’t like. So it makes individual MPs more accountable as they can’t rely nearly as much on the voters who will always vote for their party. Randomised lists (unlike the Senate) ensure that parties cannot give any of their candidates an advantage on the ballot paper which I think would greatly reduce the powers of the factions to control MPs.

  33. Terry

    I think MMP is a solution to a problem that does not exist. There is nothing wrong with loyalty to a party, any more that loyalty to a particular candidate/MP is neither good nor bad.

    Also, the factional system presents a problem only insofar as it generates dud sitting members, and I would humbly suggest there are more of those in the Senate than the House of Reps, not least because the ALP now has very few truly safe seats (none in NSW, WA, TAS or QLD, for instance). Also, factional lines in the ALP are far less clear-cut than they were 20-30 years ago – a bigger issue is those MPs and Senators who are too overtly tied to a particular union power base.

    The ALP badly needs to broaden its recruitment base for prospective candidates for winnable seats, but that is a problem of the ALP, not the electoral system.

  34. Tyro Rex

    excellent article Mark.

    However I think a directly elected executive presidency with an MMP proportional lower house is a more likely outcome.

  35. patrickg

    Nor would it neccesarily resolve the problems bedevilling democratic politics everywhere – the disembedding and professionalisation of politics, the blurring of ideological boundaries etc etc – all of which I’d argue are present in polities with MMP and aren’t amenable to electoral and constitutional fixes as proposed.

    I’m with you Leinad – I think this is driving many of the problems and I begin to castigate myself for my previously naive view that the post-war period represented a permanent advance of democracy against special interests/capitalists or whatever.

    Now I think that period was actually far, far outside the norm, and we are reverting back to what has been the mean of human governance – elitism. It’s a damned shame.

  36. Pappinbarra Fox

    Here is an idea: constitute the state parliament members to come from the mayors of the local councils and, say 5 members from electorates. then make the Federal Parliament all the state elected members. So Fed members would have two jobs – parliament at the state and federal level.

  37. Darryl Rosin

    A few points on MMP and Party processes.

    MMP or any form of PR can be implemented by simply amending the Electoral Act provided that all districts are contained entirely within one state. Each state would then return members in proportion to how that state voted, which is not a bad thing in what is at least nominally a Federation. MMP can also be implemented with a fixed number of seats, at the cost of some proportionality. So no need for any constitutional change.

    I suggest that LE’s complaint about Above the Line voting is really a complaint about Group Voting Tickets, where Senate candidate groups get an above the line box only if they lodge a ticket where all the below the line boxes are filled in, and every above the line vote is treated as if it were completed in this way. You could quite easily change to ‘number all the boxes above the line or all the boxes below the line’

    The method of filling casual vacancies in the Senate is required by the constitution and is just one of a number of methods that could be employed in PR in the House.

    MMP could also be done with an open party list, or a semi-closed list, at the cost of some simplicity. It would be trivial to restrict candidates to either a district or a list, so no one who is defeated can get back in on the list at that same election. The problem here though, is political parties writing the rules that govern political parties and elections, and that’s a tricky one.

    Political parties do not like rules that restrict their freedom to do whatever they want and have no shame in how they go about it. Political parties are, for example, exempt from the Privacy Act, so they can aggregate and exploit any and all kinds of information about voters.

    Here’s a fun fact: there is, nowhere in Australia, a definition of what a political party even *is*. The Katter Party exists solely because a single member of parliament declared, ex cathedra, that the Katter Party now exists and completed some electoral commission paperwork. It doesn’t require a legal structure or any form of incorporation. It doesn’t even require people to sign up and be members.

    Following from this, there are no requirements about how Parties conduct their internal decision affairs, including preselections. It’s entirely controlled by the existing culture and personalities already in a party. The only way I can see you could try and change this externally is maybe by enforcing some kind of common structure and processes on all Parties, but I’ve no idea what that would look like. (And remember who’d be writing those rules in the first place)

    d

    PS nice to see y’all back and to be back. My insincere apologies to all those who’d hoped they seen the last of me. :^)

  38. Martin B

    Daz! Good to see you back.

    Your post reminds me of a point I wanted to make re calls for transparency.

    As I understand it, in the US the law on political parties treats them in some ways as quasi-public institutions (subject to appropriate standards of openness and procedural fairness) and in some ways as private organisations (able to do whatever the fk they want that is not specifically illegal), while in Australia the balance is much more skewed towards the latter of these. The influence of the former of these is IMO a Good Thing and one of the aspects of the US political system that I admire. I would love to see Australian jurisprudence move more towards this viewpoint although, as you say, requiring any legislative framework for this is going to be tricky.

  39. mindy

    Direct elected President – Dick Smith? James Packer? Andrew Forest? Gina Rinehart? Or Rupert Murdoch’s choice? Is that what we really want, someone with enough $$ to run the campaign to win over the voters?

  40. Lefty E

    One of the many good things about MMP is that its much easier to acheive things like adequate womens/ indigenous representation through the list mechanism.

    That said, Im for Hare-Clark. One of the great features of multi-member districts is that nearly everyone gets a member from the party they support. Ok, they’re not quite as ‘local” as seats become larger, but thatss better ‘represenation’; than single member districts offer – allegedly the keynote strength of the our present system.

    Oh, and where’s democratic renewal without increased participation? Once again, I link you all to participatory budgeting, going on in many places around the world for years now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_budgeting

  41. Terry

    Directly elected Presidencies are definitely a financial sinkhole as compared to those elected by the sitting members of a political party

  42. Lefty E

    Yes and FFS dump ticket voting. Try explaining to someone from a democratising country that we here proudly encourage voters, using the lure of ‘convenience’, to give their votes to unelected party officials who then determine its further preferences in backroom deals.

    Theyll look at you as if you are insane.

  43. Terry

    An interesting question in relation to the current leadership imbroglio is why exactly can’t Parliament sit during April. I appreciate that an Easter break is appropriate, and that Easter falls on different days in different years, but the idea that an eight week break is required at this time of the year seems hard to justify.

  44. Sam

    Tasmania has MMP and the the Labor Party in Tasmania changes leaders faster than you can say ‘inbred’.

  45. Martin B

    Tasmania has MMP and the the Labor Party in Tasmania changes leaders faster than you can say ‘inbred’.

    They don’t have MMP, they have Hare-Clarke, and the Tasmanian ALP has had five leaders in the last 25 years (a period in which the Federal ALP and Liberals have both had seven).

  46. Terry

    Tasmania and the ACT are not good models for political representation. One is essentially bankrupt, and the other is a toytown government, smaller than some local councils

  47. Paul Norton

    But is either a worse model than Queensland?

  48. Sam

    I hate to hijack the thread, but the challenge is on. Crean is running for deputy on the Rudd ticket.

  49. Terry

    The Queensland model was fine when Beattie had absolute power. The problem was that the punters then gave it to the LNP. Anyway, off to #spill

  50. David Irving (no relation)

    It’s hard to think of a worse model than Qld, Paul. At least everywhere else has an upper house of some sort.

  51. Sam

    It’s funny how some people hate upper houses when they obstruct governments they love, but love upper houses when they obstruct governments they hate.

  52. Peter Murphy

    Sam: when the leader is Newman, Queensland’s model is not just a worse model, it’s the worst model.

  53. Sam

    Peter Murphy: LNP supporters would have said the same about Anna Bligh or Peter Beattie, for totally opposite reasons, of course.

  54. David Irving (no relation)

    Sam, I would like the idea of an upper house even if it were obstructing a govt I approved of (which is unlikely to happen in the near future: I can’t see the Greens forming a government any time soon). Not so much 40 years ago, but I’ve matured and I can see the benefits of forcing an imperfect government to negotiate.

  55. Peter Murphy

    Sam: I know. I hope you guessed I was being a little ironic with my comment.

  56. jane

    @55, I used to think that an upper house was just filled with “unrepresentative swill” to quote a certain ex-PM and unnecessary. I have revised my opinion since and like you would rather have an obstructive upper house even if it was obstructing a government I approve of.

    Queensland under JBP was the reason I changed my opinion. ’nuff said, imo.

  57. Paul Norton

    @55 and @57, agree. Guaranteed parliamentary majorities for one party mean that ill-considered policy ideas that are popular in the caucus-within-a-caucus-within-a-caucus etc. echo chamber get rubber-stamped. Having to persuade someone outside the echo chamber of the merits of the policy should mean (a) that the policy will be more carefully considered to start with and does mean (b) that it will be either changed for the better if it can, or else rejected, once the independents and third, fourth, fifth, etc., forces come into play.

  58. Jason Wilson

    I’m with Terry to the extent that I agree that Gillard’s difficulties reflect changes that are much broader than the Australian political context, but they have their specificity here.

    I’ve found it useful to think about our current situation in terms of Bernard Manin’s idea of audience democracy. Manin says we’ve transitioned from “party democracy” dominated by the forms and institutions of mass poilitical parties to audience democracy, characterised by

    - an emphaiss on marketing, media appearances, and the personalisation of politics diminishing the role and loosening the control of political parties.
    - in a world where governments deal with complexity, a diminishing emphasis on adherence to party platforms and an increased emphasis on a relationship of trust between the electorate and particular candidates.

    I’ve argued in scholarly work that we can see this leadership conflict as an expression of the tensions and contradictions that arise in this transition, which is uneven and is resisted by those with interests in the system.

    Rudd is par excellence a politician of audience democracy – he built a constituency around the party in celebrity media. Gillard is an important and historic figure, and a great political achiever, but she is also the candidate who more resembles the ethos of party democracy. Among other things, she’s been a bulwark against Rudd’s challenge to established interests in the party.

    There are many other complexities in this opposition, not least those around gender, but this is one way of ruminating on it that I find useful and illuminating.

  59. Sam

    Paul 58, your support for the house of review concept wouldn’t, by any chance, be related to the twin facts that a) the Greens derive their power by having the balance of power in the Senate and b) the Greens will never be the Government that has to put up with obstructionism in the upper house, would it?

  60. Darryl Rosin

    Oh, and let’s *not* go Hare-Clark.

    Hare-Clarke uses the Hare quota (largest remainder) with Clark’s distribution of surplus by examining only the last bundle to be transferred to the just-elected candidate. Which was expedient in the 19th century, but now it’s all computerised so why? (And one day it’s going to screw up a 6th or 12th senate seat)

    The Gregory method of distribution is better where all ballots are assessed for preferences and transferred at the appropriate fractional value. And it was also invented in Australia.

    d

  61. Rococo Liberal

    From where I sit, the machine is working very well. The only thing that makes Mark think that the system needs fixing is that the ALP government is currently doing so badly.

    But putting that aside, I have one fundamental problem with all this talk of changing the polity: it assumes that politics is the most important thing in life and that Parliament must be continually passing laws, intruding into more areas of life and somehow ‘representing” minorites. That’s utter anti-intellectual tosh.

    If Parliament shut down for 2 years tomorrow, Australia would be so much better off. What makes for instability is the constant politicking. We don’t need it. The politicans are all superfluous to requirements. We don’t need more efficient government , we need as little government as possible. We could leave the public servants to administer things and send off the MPs and Senators on a long holiday at public expense and things would be fine. Australians could then just get on with ther lives and stop being scared by politicans telling us bad thingsare or how much everything must be ‘reformed’.

  62. David Irving (no relation)

    Sam, I can’t speak for Paul, but that’s not it at all.

    An obstructive upper house (and, for this govt, a difficult lower house) makes for much better legislation. Compare the stuff this govt has done with the sketched-on-the-back-of-an-envelope-in-ten-minutes-after-an-ill-considered-second-bottle-of-red record of the Howard years.

  63. Paul Norton

    Sam @60, as I held those views before the Australian Greens existed, no and no.

  64. Fran Barlow

    DI(NR)

    Sam, I would like the idea of an upper house even if it were obstructing a govt I approved of (which is unlikely to happen in the near future: I can’t see the Greens forming a government any time soon).

    I’m going to disagree with you and Jane on this. If a government I approved of (or even one I generally disapproved of) were enacting worthy policy, I’d not want any obstruction at all. It’s the worthiness of policy that is key.

    I’m against upper houses. I’m also against having states and local councils. We should have a unicameral Federal parliament and regional government.

    As I said to Leinad (though he missed the point) we should also have a system for ensuring that parliament really is an effective working body that really is a manifestation of informed public sentiment on matters of policy.

  65. jane

    Fran @66, that would be fine if all the policies met with your approval, but if it was a government whose policies were anathema to you, I think you would prefer those policies either to be obstructed or amended.

    JBP was sufficient for me to revise my opinions about an Upper House.

  66. Chris

    Upper houses help limit the rate at which change can occur because it requires a majority of people elected in quite different ways to come to an agreement. This is one reason I don’t want to see the upper and lower houses become too similar in the way they elect members as I think this would result in one becoming redundant.

    Effectively requiring a higher level of consensus means that once changes are made to legislation they are much more likely to stay rather than be reverted on the next change of government. Limiting the rate of change reduces the risk of huge errors being made and allows for my time for review as well as making it easier to revert if required. It does come at the price of making major changes like the GST very difficult, but not impossible.

  67. David Irving (no relation)

    Same here, jane @ 67, and I didn’t even live in Queensland.

  68. Fran Barlow

    Jane:

    Fran @66, that would be fine if all the policies met with your approval, but if it was a government whose policies were anathema to you, I think you would prefer those policies either to be obstructed or amended.

    True — what’s key though is the worthiness of the policy. Rather than trying to cap downside risk by having a blocking house, why not have a shot at getting something most everyone can live with up front?

  69. jane

    Me either DI(nr) @69, but he frightened the bejabbers out of me.

    Fran @70, I agree that negotiation and cooperation is the ideal way to form beneficial legislation.

    Unfortunately, our legislators aren’t always inclined to accept that their legislation could be improved, or should I say mostly not inclined to do so.

  70. Brian

    I’ve got no settled view on an ideal electoral system, but I’d make four comments.

    1. We need to adopt a system where significant minority views cannot be virtually disenfranchised, which happens when the vote in a two-party system approaches 60:40.

    2. Significant minority opinion should have an avenue of expression, as in MMP systems.

    3. Upper houses should not be part of executive government, but should stick to a review function. I’d prefer members not to be part of political parties, but not sure how that could be achieved without installing a conservative bias.

    4. Immanuel Wallerstein once wrote that the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity espoused in the French Revolution had never been incorporated in a political system in equal balance. I think authoritarian personality styles should have no place in the left. Simon Crean yesterday said he was looking for a collegiate, consensual style. Apart perhaps from himself, they are in short supply.

    Meanwhile I’ve posted a link post to a system John D has devised, which is complicated, but embodies many of the principles I’d be looking for.

  71. Martin B

    Daz, I’m a bit disappointed! You need to double check your termnology.

    The original Gregory method, as practised in Tas, ACT, calculates a fractional transfer value only from the last-bundle and as you say is a joke.

    Inclusive Gregory, as in the Senate, is transfer of all ballot papers regardless of their current value in the count and is also ridiculous.

    Weighted Inclusive Gregory, as in the WA LC, is transfer of all votes at their current fractional value in the count and is to be preferred. But HAre-Clark er se can use any of these.

  72. Adrien

    My conclusion from all this is that it’s the political system that itself is broken.

    Because the government is an incompetent pit of vipers prone to glib soundbyte policy and feckless behaviour and therefore it’s the system? And in order to cure this disease which you say is not peculiar to the current federal ALP we need to reform the system. I have my doubts. In the first place leadership spills, whilst in government, are not common. In opposition they’re frequent enough but that is obviously different. It is also obviously not as destabilizing.

    In the second place rolling back Westminister tradition in favour of European and American innovations will not render the system magically transparent; it will render no deracinations on the industrial matrix of strategists and commentators, pollsters and professional manipulators of opinion; it will not change the current culture of ALP power-brokers who appear to value nothing but such brokerage regarding policy as an afterthought and almost entirely in terms of its effect on next weeks’ poll.

    Whatever the merits of mixed-member proportional representation or direct election of leadership the government’s current troubles are not justification for it. The government’s troubles are theirs not ours. It’s them that need fixing.

  73. Darryl Rosin

    I is somewhat mortified, but this whole niche is overloaded with terminology problems.

    You missed my other howler: ‘Hare-Clark’, as used here, doesn’t even use the Hare quota anymore, so shouldn’t we be talking about “Droop-Clark”? (And dividing a jurisdiction into multi-member electorates was Tasmanian campaigner Helen Spence’s idea, not Hare’s. “Spence-Gregory”, would that be better?)

    But to your main point, yes, I got my Gregories mixed up and relied too much on quick readings of wikipedia in a counter-productive attempt to refresh my memory. And it’s Inclusive Gregory that will one day muck up the Senate result.

    (And the risk of further hijacking this thread, what do you think about the Wright System? We can take this the Overflow if mods prefer, or drop it entirely if you prefer.)

    d

    d

  74. Alan

    Ooops, too early on post button.

    The greatest advantage of this system is that it would make leaders much more responsive tot he people to elect them. The kind of shenanigans we saw in NSW, and that have just been played out again in Victoria and Territory, would carry significant disincentives. The people who vote for a party would be bale to directly influence the election of the party’s candidates by voting a different order of preferences within a ticket.

    Parliamentary leadership would not be the subject of these ambushes of the culprits could be held responsible by the electorate.

  75. Alan

    There is an argument about whether the multimember idea was Spence’s or Andrew Inglis Clark’s. I’d be happy with calling it Spence-Clark.

  76. Fran Barlow

    I’d prefer members not to be part of political parties, but not sure how that could be achieved without installing a conservative bias.

    Deliberative sortition?

  77. Hoa Minh Truong

    Mostly the political party’s rival wing competition is inevitable, whoever want to be leader, therefore the most rival fighting permanently occur in Labor party, likely the extreme left party names communist, the rival fighting to be dyed by blood. In record, after Lenin death, the rivals of Stalin and Trosky fought until the power being in hand of Stalin, but he was not tolerant comrade, despite Trosky fled to Mexico, but Stalin sent agent to kill him. Recently in China, preparing the new leader replaces Hu Jintao, the rival wing had fought, then Mr. Bo Xilai and his group in central communist party has been eliminated and now the wing of Xi Jinping becomes the winner. North Korea has internal fighting too, but the family of Kim Il Sung is strong, probably they extinguished the others, then the communist leadership handled from grand father to grand son Kim Jong Un.
    Eventually, in Australia, the most rival fighting has been occurring in Labor party, this party was formed by many rival group: right wing, left wing, central left wing, union and even though the extreme left wing ( the Communist Party Australia CPA disbanded long time, but its member being into Labor, someone become the politician). The Labor has so many rival group, so they often fight for leadership and also being many scandal as Craig Thomson, Ian Mc Donald and the black fund of Slater & Gordon links to prime minister Julia Gillard…that reason causes the Labor shouldn’t like media, because media releases the bad news for them, mostlly the corruption, so Mr. Stephen Conroy who tried the second times to raise the bill for sealing the mouth of media, but he and his party failed. In the democratic country, the free speech is very important to stop the dictator and corruption.
    The rival fighting in Labor that causes the government often being unstable, they have to fight the external enemy and internal rival. The rival struggle has never stop, that is the radical leadership challenge by its comrade.
    The julia Gillard wing is stronger than Kevin Rudd, so Mr. Rudd failed into the leadership challenge, although he gains the good opinion poll.
    It should be the last chance of Kevin Rudd wing, then his supporters as such as Kim Carr, Chris Bowen, Ferguson…have to get out from the cabinet. The Labor rival fighting has no bloodshed as communist party, because in the democratic country, they have no allow to do, but the strong rival could kick out the other rival member from the most powerful position in government and party.

  78. paul burns

    Mr. Hoa, The CPA was NEVER part of the ALP. It was the VSP (Victorian Socialist Party.)
    Suggest you read :
    Gollan, Robin: Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism and the Australian Labour Movement, 1920-1955
    and get your Australian history right.

  79. Fran Barlow

    Brian:

    We need to adopt a system where significant minority views cannot be virtually disenfranchised, which happens when the vote in a two-party system approaches 60:40.

    I agree, and the fairly modest single member PR system I proposed in the John D thread meets that test easily as well as opening the door to Independents and locals. That said, I also see value in incorporating elements of Direct Democracy in the system so that there is a locus of authentic and substantive power outside of parliament.

  80. Hoa Minh Truong

    Thank very much Paul Burns, your document is right and valuable. I completely agree with you.
    However, I just wrote” the Communist Party Australia CPA disbanded long time, but its member being into Labor, someone become the politician”. that means Labor is a good place for CPA get in, the CPA member couldn’t penetrate to Liberals or National after disbanded. Likely in the political arena, the left wing party could collaborate with the socialist party when they need to form government. In Australia, Labor often work with Greens and Liberals with National formed the coalition.
    One again, thank Paul.

  81. paul burns

    Mr Hoa,
    The CPA re-formed about a year or so ago.
    No self-respecting socialist (or Communist for that matter) would even consider joining the ALP nowadays. Believe me.

  82. Robert Smith

    Excellent discussion; more please!!

  83. Craig

    My suggestion is to add a ‘None of these candidates’ at the top of every electoral ballot.

    Should ‘None of the candidates’ receive more than 20% of the votes cast, then the election for that seat is considered null and void and all the candidates must not stand again in the election for that, or any other, seat.

    The approach will mean more byelections to begin with, but provide a greater level of control for voters, who can effectively choose no candidate rather than selecting the least worst, or wasting their vote with an informal vote.

    Parties would respond to this ‘price signal’ by changing their selection processes to be more democratic and inclusive – which would change the types of candidates prepared to stand and who would be selected.

    Right now Australians can only vote for the alternatives that parties choose to put forward as candidates – and party pre-selection processes have become highly skewed and inequal, ‘gamed’ by party insiders through favours and branch stacking (which gets easier as branches shrink in size).

    Giving Australians the right to reject all candidates in an election moves the balance of power back to the hands of citizens – where it belongs.