Only The Sangfroid

Mark is of fair average intelligence, who is neither perverse, nor morbid or suspicious of mind, nor avid for scandal. He does live in an ivory tower.

These are his draft thoughts…

What will grow crooked you can’t make straight… but you can play with electoral systems

One of my favourite conservatives was Lewis Carroll.  Sure, it’s mostly because he gets all grumpy old man about Euclid, but it’s also because of his depth of thought regarding his conservative ways.  It’s not the nasty, petty, moral panic conservatism that’s far too common today.

But one of the other reasons I love him is because of his ideas about democracy.  Possessing a remarkably analytical mind, he wrote a few amazing pieces on electoral processes.  I wrote about his views on preferential voting here.

He also wrote about constituencies which were represented by several members of the lower house.  While thinking about the history of elections in Australia as a sad history of Simpson’s Paradox, I wondered if multiple representation might be a way out of the puzzle.

I’ve been trying to work out how it could work.  At each election (and increasingly so lately) about half of the population ‘misses out’.  Liberal supporters in the Federal seat of Melbourne, for example, preferenced Adam Bandt.  It seems unlikely that he is representing their views in Parliament.  Similarly, ALP voters whipped into a panic about the threat of the Greens preferenced the Liberal Party, only to find their elected candidates trying to wreck good policies and making asinine comments about homosexuals (oh wait… both parties are doing that).

The problem I have is that I don’t want to end up in a situation where one candidate has overwhelming support and another candidate gets a seat based on, say, 10% of the vote.  Also, I’m keen to avoid the hideously unrepresentative swill of the Senate election system where some turkey gets in on the back of preference flows (see: Family First, One Nation, Greens).

So, I say: Why not halve the number of constituencies and double the number of members per constituency?  Candidates nominate themselves and a secondary candidate.  Once the preferences are distributed, if the candidate has more than (say) 75% of the two party preferred, the secondary candidate takes the other available seat.  Otherwise, the second last contender takes the seat.  It’s not a perfect system, but it does improve representation.  Plus, the voters have a better chance to see for whom they’re voting.  The real risk from this process is more hung parliaments…

In related news, I was discussing the upcoming republic debate with a friend of mine.  I like the current system and I’d vote against becoming a republic.  I don’t think that the head of state should be a political position (as it is in the U.S., for example).  The presidential system enshrines privilege into the political system at a time when we’re trying to break that down.  The failure of the last referendum is entirely the fault of the Australian Republican Movement: they couldn’t decide on a model which would protect the Australian people from egomaniacs.

Plus, the thought of Warney as President of Australia made me cry.

To my more progressive friends, I offer the image of John Howard as President.  To everybody, I offer the image of Kevin Rudd as President.

Okay, I’ll stop saying horrible things now.

But a model I would support is one which does not strictly and slavishly follow the ‘separation of powers’ dogma (but, given the Westminster system doesn’t have much truck with the separation of powers, it’s no big deal).  Why not take the ceremonial powers (which includes the incredibly useful power of navigating parliament through Hang Times) and give them to the Chief Justice of the High Court?

Our current system works so well because it’s all a giant gentleman’s agreement.  Nobody becomes too powerful because it’s uncivilised to do so.  Giving the executive powers to the head of the judicature might make political purists cringe, but it maintains and reaffirms the apolitical nature of both roles.  Plus, it is enormously helpful during Hang Times to have one of the best legal minds in the country as the Head of State, there to hit the reboot button if it all goes hideously wonky.


One response to “What will grow crooked you can’t make straight… but you can play with electoral systems”

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