Democracy

 

1. Background

The Science Party believes Australia's Westminster system of parliamentary democracy has served extremely well over the course of the 20th century, and its core features should be retained for the foreseeable future.

However, as a party focused on the years to come we also believe in the need for incremental reforms to enhance our democratic processes, and equip Australia with a more representative, equitable and functional system of government.

The Science Party would implement all of the following policies if elected to office. However our priority would lie on those reforms we consider both most urgent and most achievable – specifically, in the first instance we would implement the changes that can take place without holding a referendum, which is an expensive and time consuming process that history has shown needs broad popular and partisan support to have any chance of success.

 

2. Governor-General and the Australian Republic


2.1. Policy: The Governor-General will be elected by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of both houses of parliament. Formal ties with the Queen, and the Royal Family, will be terminated.

2.2. Discussion: The Governor-General should not be a representative of the Queen, but a representative of a democratic process. The Australian government should cut all official ties with the Queen and the Royal Family. There is no good reason why we should still have a monarch with powers over us through her representative and in the constitution. Leaders chosen through monarchs are relics of the past, which Australia needs to end as it moves towards the future.

Similar to the way that the Prime-Minister is elected by the House of Representatives (lower house), the Governor should be elected by a joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The name 'Governor-General' should be maintained, and the Governor-General should not be directly elected.

While it may be tempting to change name the 'Governor-General' to 'President', this name change contradicts what is typically seen as a role for the president. Presidents are typically the primary leader and the decision maker of a country. The Governor-General is typically a ceremonial role, with a few important constitutional duties. The term governor does not necessarily imply a royal control. States in the United States of America are governed by a 'Governor', yet they have no connection with the monarchy. To change the name to ‘President’ would misrepresent what the role entails.

There are two primary reasons why a Governor-General should not be directly elected:

  • The Governor-General is is a role which is largely ceremonial. Plebiscites (popular votes) should be reserved for important electoral positions and issues.
  • By voting for a Governor-General, it will politicise the position. If people vote for someone, it will increase the expectation that the Governor-General should play an active role in the manipulation of the democratic system.

The Science Party believes that although the political system needs reforms, changing the role of the Governor-General is of low priority with less demonstrated benefits than other proposed changes to the political system.

 

3. House of Representatives: multi-member seats

3.1. Policy: The Australian House of Representatives to become a multi-member seat system. The number of seats in the Parliament should be maintained as it is now. Electoral areas are to be combined to have 3 seats per electoral area. Each political party can hold 1, 2 or all 3 of the positions for a seat. All positions are up for re-election on every electoral cycle.

3.2 Discussion: The House of Representatives is a house that is supposed to represent people by the location in which they live. Currently, each area (called an electorate) is represented by just one individual. In order to win the seat, an individual only needs to win  50% of the votes and preferences. Consider a hypothetical party that attains 30% of the vote in 10 seats. In every single seat, this party is beaten. If it were left to the popular vote, this party would receive 3 of those seats. A system with multi-member seats would allow for a more representative system (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation).

Multi-member seats have 3 primary advantages:

  • It allows smaller parties that hold a significant vote to be represented in parliament. The current system prefers the creation of a two party system.
  • It is more representative of the proportion of people who vote for each political party.
  • It prevents 'swing-seat' elections where the majority of areas are ignored during an election because they are considered 'safe'. Such swing-seat elections simply pander to a small group of people while not considering the wider implication of policies on the 'safe' areas.

Such a system would preserve the local representative nature of the lower house while also better representing the electorate’s true vote.

Choosing three candidates per seat has several advantages if the current number of representatives (150) is maintained:

  • Currently, there are approximately 146 666 people per seat (based on a population of 22 000 000). Three candidates per seat give seat sizes of 440 000.
  • The number of representatives per person would be roughly maintained, such that:
    • Tasmania would get two seats with 3 representatives each in parliament (6 representatives, currently only 5)
    • The Northern Territory, with a population of only 230 000, would get one seat of 3 representatives (3 representatives, currently only 2)
    • The Australian Capital Territory, with a population of 373,100, would get one seat of  3 representatives (3 representatives, currently only 2)

 

4. Senate: a single national electorate

4.1. Policy: To make the senate more representative of the will of the people, all 76 of the senate seats should be voted on by all Australians using proportional representation. At each election, 38 senators will come up for election, and serve 2 consecutive three-year terms.

4.2. Discussion: The Australian Senate is supposed to be the house of review, where 'the will of the people' determines whether legislation passes or not. The Australian Senate is comprised of people elected according to the following numbers:

  Senate seats Population size Senators per 1 000 000 people Normalised Voting Value
New South Wales

12

7,247,700

1.66

1.00

Victoria

12

5,574,500

2.15

1.30

Queensland

12

4,513,000

2.66

1.61

Western Australia

12

2,387,200

5.03

3.04

South Australia

12

1,645,000

7.29

4.41

Tasmania

12

511,700

23.45

14.16

Australian Capital Territory

2

370,700

5.40

3.26

Northern Territory

2

232,400

8.61

5.20

The current system goes against the principles of 'one person, one vote', and certainly does not represent 'the will of the people'. Voters in Tasmania get roughly 14 times the voting power of people in NSW, simply because Tasmania gets the same number of senate seats as NSW.

While this system reduces the 'local vote' power of the smaller states, the 'local vote' power is transferred to the smaller states through the house of representatives by increasing the number of representatives per person in those regions slightly in section 3.

 

5. Open government

5.1. Policy: All non-personal, non-sensitive government communication should be put online and in a format that is easy to find, easy to search, and in a format that allows information to be extracted easily, including by humans and computers. All government produced intellectual property should be put into the public domain.

5.2. Discussion: Democracy is only as useful as the information that informs the choices of the voters. Given the ease with which electronic information can be copied and made available, the government should increase electronic access to all government held information where a violation of privacy and national security is not a risk. Knowledge about the operations of the government must be accessible to all people.

As citizens of Australia, we have already paid for the services provided to us in tax. Intellectual property produced by the Australian Government should be created for the benefit of all Australians. Putting this intellectual property into the public domain means that all people can make full use of this intellectual property produced.

Federal Anti-corruption Commission

5.3. Policy: Establish a federal anti-corruption body, with the following characteristics:

  • Three Commissioners;
  • Coercive powers and a broad mandate;
  • Independence and separation from the mechanism of government; 
  • Oversight in the form of a Parliamentary Committee and an Inspector;
  • A small group of enforcement officers with policing powers;
  • Data custodianship and processing to be performed internally.

5.4. Discussion: All Australian states have their own anti-corruption body and each territory has agreed to establish one, but we lack a federal watchdog. The Science Party is in favour a federal watchdog modelled largely on the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Under this model, two out of three commissioners must agree to instigate a formal investigation, preventing power from being concentrated in the hands of a single individual.

Government data (e.g. emails, departmental accounts) should be considered government property and should therefore be accessible to a Commissioner without a warrant. Access to private data and private premises should require a warrant provided by a judge.

Whilst the commission’s enforcement officers would be required to work with other policing bodies, they would also be able to act independently under warrant by the commission.

A federal anti-corruption commission should not report to any Minister or be under any externally imposed directives, and therefore parliamentary oversight in the form of a committee and the Office of the Inspector would be essential.

 

6. Whistleblower protection

6.1. Policy: Enact strong legal protections for whistleblowers who act in the public interest.

6.2. Discussion: Corruption is a hindrance to development and fair competition in the marketplace. While some corporate secrets are necessary to protect market advantage to allow companies to succeed, some secrets exist only to protect the illegal or unethical actions of companies or individuals within those companies. Likewise, what is considered to secret government business may in fact simply be a way of the government to lie to the public, or engage in illegal and corrupt behaviour.

A whistleblower is someone who breaks the rules of their organisation and possibly the law to publicly disclose information that will expose such corruption. A lack of strong whistleblower protection is harmful to both the private sector and to democracy. Australia should enact strong whistleblower protection to ensure that people in the position of becoming a whistleblower will not fear doing the right thing and exposing corruption and crime.

Read more from The Australian Collaboration (PDF).

 

7. Secularism

7.1. Policy: The government should not be involved in funding religious organisations, religious events or religious instruction. The government should not endorse any particular religion, and this should be reflected in the use of government funds and its processes.

7.2. Discussion: The government should remain free of influence from any religious stance at any time. Secularism is vital to ensure that all people are allowed to practice their beliefs freely without fear of retribution for the beliefs they hold, and is therefore a value people should embrace regardless of their own beliefs or lack thereof.

While the separation of church and state is most associated these days with atheists and agnostics, historically in the Western world the idea was developed by religious thinkers – for instance one of the founders of Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther – who argued that governments have no authority over a person's thoughts and beliefs, and who sought the freedom to peacefully practice their own faiths alongside others in an era of violent conflict over religion. The separation of church and state has benefits for all people, regardless of the beliefs.

 

8. Electoral Mechanics

8.1. Policy: To move to a hybrid electronic/paper voting system where:

  • A voter is presented with an electronic touch screen that shows the parties and candidates for election. The voter then can order the votes according to their preference in party or candidate.
  • When the voter has finalised their voting preferences, they are asked to confirm their preferences, then print out a paper copy of their voting intentions. This printout contains a serial number, a scannable barcode and the order of preferences. This can be used for cross checking of election results.

8.2. Discussion: Electronic voting systems have the potential to reduce the cost of running elections and increase the speed of returning results for elections. It also has the potential to reduce informal votes by reducing error rates in those votes. What most electronic electoral systems lack is a paper trail sufficient to prevent fraud, and to show the voter that their vote has been cast in the order that they have intended.

The system also allows for testing of systematic inconsistencies in the vote. By choosing a sufficiently large sample of the votes cast, a comparison can be made between paper and electronic votes to determine if there are systematic differences between the votes cast and the results determined by the computerised system. This can ensure that every election has the benefit of being 'double-checked' without the costs of a recount.

 

9. Other Australian Constitutional Changes

9.1 Policy: Repeal Section 25 of the Australian Constitution, which refers to denying the vote to Australians on the basis of race.

9.2 Discussion: Section 25 of the Australian Constitution is as follows:

COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA CONSTITUTION ACT - SECT 25
Provision as to races disqualified from voting
For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.

The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians recommended that section 25 be removed completely. Section 25 is archaic in its presumption that the states have the power to deny Australians a vote on the basis of race. Its continued existence is detrimental to social cohesion.

Section 51(xxvi) of the Australian Constitution also refers to race; specifically making laws on the basis of race. While this section might require amendment, the recommendations from the expert panel were less definite as section 51(xxvi) provides for some laws that redress inequality, such as native title. Therefore, the Science Party supports continued legal research into the amendment of section 51(xxvi) and supports only those changes to section 51(xxvi) which redress inequality of truly disadvantaged groups.

Eligibility for federal parliament

According to section 44(i) of the Australian constitution:

Any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

This section is currently interpreted to mean that dual citizens are ineligible to stand as a candidate in a federal election, and must resign from parliament if it is found that they are a dual citizen during their term.

The Science Party supports a referendum to propose the following two changes to the Australian constitution:

9.3. Policy: A person should not be considered ineligible to serve as a member of the Australian parliament if that person renounces citizenship of any other countries as soon as reasonably possible upon discovering their dual citizenship, and if all of the following conditions are satisfied:

  • they were not born in the lands of the citizenship in question; and 
  • they did not apply for citizenship of that country; and
  • they were not aware of their citizenship.

9.4. Discussion: Case law has established that dual citizens are ineligible to sit in the parliament of Australia. Even so, a number of parliamentarians have fallen foul of section 44(i). But it is arguable whether being a dual citizen truly indicates allegiance to a second country. It is particularly unlikely that a person with citizenship conferred automatically by parentage rather than birth, and who did not know that this citizenship had been conferred, holds an allegiance on account of that citizenship.

9.5. Policy: Australian citizens who are also citizens of another country should be eligible to be nominated as candidates in a federal election and renounce their non-Australian citizenship upon being declared successful, without being in violation of section 44.

9.6. Discussion: Currently, candidates for federal elections must verify that they are "constitutionally and legally qualified to be elected", which excludes dual citizens from not only election, but also nomination for federal parliament. Renouncing citizenship is a very personal decision, and being willing to renounce dual citizenship in order to serve in parliament shows great dedication to one's chosen country. Dual citizens should have the opportunity to stand for election without the need to renounce their second citizenship before being elected.

The Science Party believes a federal anti-corruption body has greater potential than citizenship restrictions to bring to light any foreign allegiance or untoward influences on our parliamentarians.

 

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