Prior to the council elections in Brisbane (28/4/2012) I received a number of political flyers in my letterbox despite the fact that I have a 'no junk mail' sign. It seems most Politicians and wannabe Politicians don't consider their flyers as junk mail. But that's another story.
It appears that the people who write such material are aware of the consequences of putting promises in writing which may come back to bite them, so they use terms such as: “I will make the best endeavours to …”, “I will seek to …”, and the one I like to best, “I will do all in my power to…”
I emailed a few of them and asked what were their “Powers”, particularly when it comes to financial matters, and got a variety of responses ranging from: “The 12 Councillors and Mayor are responsible for all income and expenditure that currently occurs in Council” to “Yes, as a former Jimboomba Times journalist I am aware of the limitations of the power of councillors”.
Considering how often Politicians give the reason for not being able to do something is that it is 'outside their jurisdiction', or 'it is handled by a different level of Government', or whatever, it appears that the Power of Politicians is limited. So are they necessary?
It occurred to me that with modern technology we might be able to not have Politicians but still have a democracy, possibly a better democracy. That's why I wrote this.
I always thought that Democracy was rule by the majority with majority being 50% plus one. But it appears my definition is a bit too simplistic, there being about 16 different forms of Democracy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy.
The two broad categories of Democracy for the purpose of this discussion are Parliamentary and Direct. Parliamentary appears to be what we currently have, with Direct being what I am advocating. The Wikipedia page above also lists some elements considered essential to democracy to include - freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, so that citizens are adequately informed and able to vote according to their own best interests as they see them.
What is interesting is that no mention is made of Politicians. So why do we have Politicians?
I don't have any proof of this but it seems to me that we have historically had Politicians because it was too difficult to have every voter vote on every issue which required a vote. It was easer to vote for a person (a Politician) to represent a large group of people (an Electorate) and have that Politician vote in a assembly of Politicians (a Parliament)on our behalf.
Or it could have been that some people wanted to have power over a mass of people and under the guise of democracy said “vote for me and I will represent your interests”.
In Australia we have Politicians because it says we have to have them in our constitution for the Commonwealth, and in our States with State laws requiring State and Council Politicians. http://www.youmeunity.org.au/downloads/1e450bf9d7b1d40f12f0.pdf. The Australian Constitution was of course created by Politicians.
What ever the reasons have been in the past, laws and constitutions can be changed, and with modern technology we could have a full Direct Democracy so eliminating the need for Politicians.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_democracy Direct democracy is where every eligible voter has the opportunity to directly vote on the creation, rescinding and amending of any and all legislation. It would appear that there is no country in the world that has Direct Democracy, with the one coming closest to it being Switzerland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_in_Switzerland . They call it Half-Direct Democracy.
It appears there can be many different forms of Direct or Pure democracy as it is sometimes called. Some have the concept of Officials, who could argueably be called Politicians.
The version of Direct Democracy which I am advocating is where no-one is elected to represent or make decisions, for the masses. The masses initiate, create, amend, rescind and vote on laws and use Officials, equivalent to the present Public Service, to administer and operate the laws and the judiciary to interpret them. Also that the simple yes, no voting on all issues is done, as much as possible, using modern technology.
According to a Crikey.com article (http://www.crikey.com.au/2006/09/15/its-time-to-stop-pretending-about-political-salaries/) in 2006 the then Prime Minister was receiving $336,570 (base salary of $118,950 plus PM’s pay of $190,320 plus electorate allowance of $27,300). But the article goes on to describe the real cost because of other during and after service benefits such as: a car, driver, private plane, travelling allowance, and travel entitlements for family, Kirribilli and the Lodge,entertaining official visitors. Post-retirement there’s free business/first class travel, serviced office, full-time assistant, and car and driver on call for life. More up to date information can found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_Minister_of_Australia#Allowances
That is for the Prime Minister, what about ordinary members. This document will give you some indication as to what non salary benefits they get: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/F2012L00569
HOwever, that is not the biggest cost of having Politicians. Other than having the ability to call on the Public Service, Politicians have staffers. Often, many of them! I have been unable to find out how many ,but I do know that each member of both the Federal and State Parliaments has more than one staff person in their electrical office. Ministers also have ministerial staff and the Prime Minister has quite a number of staff. These staffers are in addition to the public service and, as I understand it, are there to help support the members' constituents. Or to give a more cynical spin, to help keep the Politicians in power. Some Councillors also have electoral offices and staff. Then of course there are all the on-costs and benefits that are associated with the staff of the Politicians.
All these people have to have a physical office and so the cost associated with that need to be included in our discussion.
Then there are the buildings to house Parliaments, Federal,State and Council Chambers. Research showed the new Parliament House in Canberra cost over a Billion Dollars to build and no doubt costs quite an amount annually to maintain.
Tax payer funded general government advertising is a another cost that would be saved if there were no Politicians.
Other than the normal staff supporting Politicians there are the Security Staff protecting them. I know there such staff for the Prime Minister but I am unaware if Ministers and ordinary members have them. No Politicians- no one to protect.
Royal Commissions, Committees and the like are another cost saved by not having Politicians.
Public Election funding is another cost.
Although not a direct public cost, donations made to political parties or independent candidates from corporations or individuals is an indirect cost to everyone. That is because those monies had to have been realized in some way - most likely built in to goods and services purchased by the public.
Then there is the cost of Ections and Electoral Commissions. With Direct Democracy counting would still be required, however, it is just Yes and No's. It would be much easier, and less costly, than the multi - candidate preferential system we have now. Electronic voting could save heaps and even more issues could be voted on at the same time.
The real cost of having Politicians is difficult to determine. Some people may argue that the decisions that Politicians make, cost more than what it would otherwise. Also it could be argued that all goods and services would be cheaper because the media would not have to report on Politicians so not having to generate the revenue from advertising that gets recovered in the sale of all good and services. Orto put that another way ,most goods and services have as part of their price the cost of advertising. Some advertising income is used to pay the journalists to report on Politicians. If their were no Politicians to report on less Journalists need to be paid so less advertising is needed so prices of goods and services would be less.
Although many people complain that taxes and council rates are too high, some people may argue any reduction in these would not be significant enough to justify losing the right complain about the decisions that Politicians make. People could still complain about all those other people that they consider voted the wrong way. It may feel better that no one is being paid to make the supposed wrong decisions.
It is unknown if better decisions will be made, as no real Direct Democracy currently exists. It is very subjective in many situations as to what the better decisions are.
A arguement put up against Direct Democracy is that the minorities' views are ignored, and those views would be taken into account in a Representative or Parliamentary democracy.
Perhaps it is segmentation of populations, physically, politically, economically and culturally that is the real problem and the form of democracy does not matter.
Even though the Swiss do not have a full Direct Democracy they still are grappling with issues of freedom of speech verses majority rules. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1933893,00.html
If what I am proposing is Direct Democracy then what we currently have must by definition be Indirect. Being Indirect means that the Indirect part, the Politicians, can, and do sometimes make decisions against the wishes of the majority. The fact that the Party in Power changes, it could be argued, means that some decisions were not acceptable to the majority. What is often heard from Politicians is that ' if people don't like what we are doing they can vote us out at the next election'. In some cases that next election can be anywhere from 3 to 6 years away (Senate)
Because of the Party system many people have to make a compromise on single issues, because you may agree on the stance of one party on an issue, but disagree on their stance on another issue.
The concept of Democracy is for one person to have one vote -however with the way the populace is split up over electorates, with not all electorates having exactly the same number of voters, this concept is not achieved. In the past in Queensland the difference, Gerrymandate, allowed one political party to remain in power with less than 30% of people voting for them. With electoral reform this is less likely to happen today, because of population shifts,the number of Australians living overseas and/or continuously travelling, the potential remains for a new kind of Gerrymandate.
The concept of preferential voting also distorts the rule by the majority concept. Where more than two candidates run for an electorate often the candidate that gets the most primary votes can end up losing because the candidate with the least votes second preferences can be distributed to another candidate. A concept that many people do not understand. Voting 'Yes or No' to an issue is simple to understand and overcomes the preferential voting issue.
At the time, the Politicians who drew up the Australian Constitution deliberately allowed Gerrymandering in the Senate where each State has the same number of Senators even though there are large differences in the populations in each State. I suggest that the majority of voters have no idea how the quota system works in Senate voting, so are making uninformed decisions.
It is argued that big business has more influence than voters. Politicians counter-argue that business creates jobs that the voters want. This supposed indirect benefit would not need to exist if there were no Politicians.
To get rid of Politicians and have a full Direct Democracy in Australia would mean substantial changes to the Australian Constitution. The initiation of a change to the Constitution has to come from Politicians.
I don't think that Politicians are going to vote themselves to extinction. Those politicians who created the Australian Constitution were smart enough to make sure their descendants always existed.
As no mention of local Government is made in the Constitution all that is needed to have Direct Democracy at the Local Government level are changes in State laws. This can be done. There are most likely far more council Politicians than State or Federal Politicians so that there could be considerable rate reductions made if they were eliminated. I have used Logan City Council (LCC) as an example:
I attempted to determine what the true total cost was of having local Councillors. I was able to find the wages and on cost they get paid from web sites and the LCC annual report, but, was not able to find what may be ever larger costs such as support staff and administration costs. So I sent an email to LCC and am awaiting a reply. Whenever I have asked any questions of LCC re costs although I do eventually get a reply I have never got the costs. So rather than have this material not complete I have linked the cost part to another page. See Finding the cost of having Local Councillors
I suggest that the vast majority of Rate Payers have no idea of what decisions Local Councillors make (if you want to know, Minutes of Council Meetings are on the LCC web site, www.logan.qld.gov.au/about-council/meetings/ordinary-council). This is evidenced in the published requests that are made to Councillors in areas where they do not have power to make such decisions. It appears to me that Councillors have very little power and what decision making power they do have is of little consequence to their constituents.
As the major issue at most council elections appears to be increases in rates and it is shown above that rates could be reduced if Councillors were replaced with Direct Democracy, then people should be campaigning for that change.
If it is later found to be successful then it could be extended to the State and Federal arenas.
While researching material to write this, I came across the Senator Online party. http://senatoronline.org.au/. This party states that they will set up a web site so that all people on the electoral roll can vote on all decisions made in the Senate. Considering the Senate has the second last say on all political decisions made, it sounds like a good idea. The unelected Governor General has the true final say on all political decisions. Another good reason for Direct Democracy
My first concern was how are they able to tell if someone is on the electoral roll, but I discovered that political parties have access to the full electoral roll, something I was not previously aware of.
My next concern was that that in the basic two party system that we have, they are very unlikely to get elected. However minor parties are more likely to be elected in to the Senate as can be seen by its current status.
My biggest concern is that although heading towards Direct Democracy it still involves Politicians. Although this Senator Online party say they will vote based of the majority opinion as counted on their web site, http://senatoronline.org.au/faq#04, history has proven that regardless of what Politicians say prior to elections, they can change once they get into power.
With the above reservations I do see the Senator Online party as a better alternative than the status quo.