Let voters not bureaucrats choose MPs

Listening to some public intellectuals speak I often get the impression that the only right voters have is to turn up on election day (in Australia a duty and not a right) and cast a vote for either the Coalition or Labor, and then await developments. Further that it is somehow legitimate for established parties to restrict the entry of minor parties – in the private sector creating such obvious barriers to entry would be illegal, yet in politics it is somehow acceptable.

I’m sure if challenged that these public intellectuals would argue they have more nuanced positions, but still I hear and see this viewpoint quite a lot.

This morning we have the (usually) very sensible Gary Johns making the argument:

It just so happens that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, chaired by Liberal MP Tony Smith, is itching to give the minnow parties, including PUP, a nice little touch-up.

By that read: reduce the capacity of the minor parties to win seats, either by not allowing them on the ballot and/or making it hard for voters to vote for them.

Then we read this:

The Australian Electoral Commission sets out guidelines for parties to be eligible for federal registration.

When granted the privilege of party registration, candidates are entitled to run under the party banner. Clive Palmer, as is any other citizen, is free to contest a seat. Using the guise of a party, however, to enhance the chances of others is stretching the meaning of political party. Taxpayers should not support this device.

In other words, it is the bureaucracy that gets to determine who runs for public office and consequently sits in the Parliament, and not the voters. This is okay, because …

This opens up in to a next great threat to democracy – public funding of politicians. We’ve seen all sorts of silliness in NSW with politicians taking bribes, giving bribes, resigning over bottles of wine, and the like. At heart I suspect this is a story about campaign finance.

Anne Twomey had a piece in the Drum last week:

The reporting of the many allegations being made in the ICAC has given the false impression that property developers, politicians and parties have simply managed to avoid the application of NSW election funding laws by behaving in particular ways.

In NSW property developers cannot make donations to political parties. From this distance it isn’t clear to me why their right to participate in public life is uniquely proscribed but I suspect comments in the thread will tell me about corruption. So what? There are existing laws against corruption that should be deployed to deal with that problem – if it exists.

The end game here is full public funding of politicians. Anne Twomey is more or less arguing against that position, but I fear it is a losing battle. In the end, to “protect” voters from corruption we’ll see full public funding of elections. To “protect” voters against dodgy minor parties we’ll see stricter registration limits, and so on.

This is all consistent with George Stigler’s theory of regulation – incumbents creating barriers to entry to maintain their own positions of privilege. To be clear – I’m no fan of Clive Palmer, but I prefer him to the Greens overall and many, many ALP MPs too.

All these problems would go away if, as Gary Johns suggests, in a different context, “Taxpayers should not support this device.” People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing. The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious. If anyone cannot convince their friends and neighbours to finance their ideas why should anyone else vote for those ideas?

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51 Responses to Let voters not bureaucrats choose MPs

  1. Rococo Liberal

    Brilliant post, Doomlord.

    MPs shouldn’t be paid by the taxpayer either.

    We need to restrict government from becoming the danger to liberty that it is becoming. That is happenning not so much through cogent plans as the need to keep expanding so as to justify the existence of and prestige of the fonctionairres and the politicians.

  2. The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious.

    Or perhaps they are broke.
    It costs plenty of dosh to run a campaign (at any level).
    Should being impecunious prevent any citizen from seeking public office?

  3. ar

    From this distance it isn’t clear to me why their right to participate in public life

    Because Labor is a stinking cesspit of incompetence and corruption and developers are just as likely to donate money to Liberals…

  4. rebel with cause

    I suggest an Athenian model:

    Selection by allotment for MPs. Election of senior officials on the proviso that any funds under their control found to be embezzled will be recovered from their personal estate.

  5. Blogstrop

    Recent shenanigans indicate that the bar for entry of minor parties is way too low. I need to be convinced that they do something constructive. Politics has reached a sorry state when Labor are not even on the side of the national interest, while the minors faff around doing nothing of value.

  6. Joe

    Rubbish.
    Any given MP only has to campaign in their own electorate.
    Parties on the other hand require money. Abolish political parties and force MP’s to vote how their electorate wants and things might get better. i.e. make the electorate the MP’s caucus.

  7. Rabz

    In NSW property developers cannot make donations to political parties.

    Labor’s typically heavy handed response to their being bought and paid for by various corrupt slumlords – and I won’t name any names – and don’t think that these donations have been stopped either. You’d have to be very young and naive to believe that.

    … why should anyone else vote for those ideas?

    How many voted for a carbon dioxide tax in 2010? It’s all very well to describe politics as a contest of ideas, but there need to be serious proscriptions for politicians who lie to the electorate, either directly (as Gillard did in 2010) or by omission, as the liberals did last election.

  8. James of the Glen

    “People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing.”

    Absolutely right.

    Couple this with voluntary voting (attendance at the polling place); if candidates cannot create enough interest in their policies why should mindless drongos be forced to attend or encouraged to make mindless marks on the paper.

  9. fhb5

    How is it that unions can donate money to the Labor Party while property developers can’t. The corruption arising from union donations are clear for all to see, as laws were enacted to specifically favour unions.

    Here’s hoping that the Royal Commission bans union donations. The unions could still funnel funds to the Labor Party by giving members a union fee deduction holiday and recommending that the funds be donated by the members to the Labor Party. This would have the added benefit of giving the members a choice, i.e. Liberal voting union members would not be contributing to the party they may instictively be against.

  10. Demosthenes

    So what? There are existing laws against corruption that should be deployed to deal with that problem – if it exists.

    Good point. Look to the enforcement of current laws before you make more in a panic of “doing something”.

    People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing.

    That would mean only the rich and well-connected could run for office. More so than now, I mean. This was the argument for paying MPs a salary in the first place.

    I think Joe is right – it’s political parties that are the problem. Like every institution, they become reasons unto themselves, self-perpetuating at all costs, morphing into a machine for finding resources for its own growth and little else.

  11. I am the Walrus, Koo Koo K'choo

    When granted the privilege of party registration …

    This is the most concerning part, for mine.

    Since when, in Australia, was it a ‘privilege’ to form a political party?

    Freedom of association means you and Jo Bloggs can form any party that you like.

    It it should be so, anyway.

    These people really are appalling. I think highly of Tony Smith, I hope he understands what is at stake here.

  12. Driftforge

    That would mean only the rich and well-connected could run for office.

    If that is the case, it means that electorates are too large.

    Is there an optimum population for an electorate?

  13. .

    Sortition with a recall vote option.

    One term only in the house for five years.

    The senate is appointed for 10 years by the house but turns-over half of its members each cycle, but subject to the same recall rule.

    Appointment of chief of state and chief of government would be another matter, but once again involving approval voting, subject to recall and with other checks and balances. The chief of government could be like a CEO with an unlimited term and the chief of state like chair of a board subject to a term limit.

    Obviously we need a strong bill of rights constricting what the state can and cannot do.

  14. Token

    People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing. The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious.

    Any such rules must be accompanied by laws about Unions or else we’ll end up with a democracy like California where laws banning donations from everyone except public sector unions mean those organisation control the democracy.

  15. Token

    Sortition with a recall vote option.

    Palmer and his crew are giving us a tease of what we’ll get under sortition.

  16. Tim Neilson

    fhb5
    #1430017, posted on August 26, 2014 at 9:46 am
    Members get a tax deduction for payment of union fees to the union.
    The union is tax exempt so doesn’t pay tax on that fee.
    The union then gives the money(or what’s left of it after the troughers have maxed out on corruption and luxuriousness) to the ALP .
    The effect is that a donation to the Labor party becomes in effect tax deductible, which otherwise wouldn’t have been deductible, just by being laundered through a union.
    We need a law saying that, to the extent a union gives to a political party, it loses tax exempt status on an amount of its income sufficient to ensure that the donation comes from after-tax money.
    The same applies to employer associations, though at least people aren’t press ganged into membership of those.

  17. Token
    People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing.

    That would mean only the rich and well-connected could run for office. More so than now, I mean. This was the argument for paying MPs a salary in the first place.

    Predictable class warfare pap which tactically ignores all the evidence about slush funds which have emerged over the past 5 years.

  18. Driftforge

    From Bolt’s blog.

    “Democracy is worse than homosexuality, worse than sleeping with your mother,”

    Harsh words, but when you look at the African experience since the introduction of democracy, you can see why they would associate democracy with evil. Everywhere it’s gone in Africa, look at what it has birthed: economic collapse, abuse of power, genocide.

  19. .

    Token
    #1430076, posted on August 26, 2014 at 11:02 am
    Sortition with a recall vote option.

    Palmer and his crew are giving us a tease of what we’ll get under sortition.

    The next general election will give the PUPs a taste of what recall elections would be like.

  20. youngster

    Lots of ideological tosh here, but not much recognition of reality. The two party system, for all its faults, gives us some semblance of stability.

    If you remove salaries for MPs, the only people who could afford to be MPs would be independently wealthy rich dudes. Not that a few more successful businessmen in Parliament would be a bad thing, but a Parliament full of them would be a disaster (as is a Parliament half-full of union hacks).

    How about cutting all public funding of elections, removing all donor restrictions except limiting donations to a few thousands dollars per person, and requiring immediate disclosure of all donations over a few hundred dollars so voters can make their own decisions?

  21. Robbo

    “People who run for Parliament should get no taxpayer support whatsoever. Nothing. The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious. If anyone cannot convince their friends and neighbours to finance their ideas why should anyone else vote for those ideas?”

    Hear bloody hear. If people are worried about political corruption then they should be concerned about public funding of candidates for elections. In Senate elections I would suggest that the aim of many candidates is not to get elected but get their snouts into the trough for a handout by obtaining enough votes to qualify for public funding. Does the name Pauline Hanson spring to mind as an example? Getting elected would be a nuisance because it would mean that some work would have to be done.

    I also agree that proscribing particular occupations from being political donors is a bloody nonsense and encourages some to seek clever ways to bypass that law. I can remember a few decades ago there was often comment that real estate agents should not be allowed to stand for election to their local Council. Creating a second class of citizen because of their occupation seemed totally reasonable to some but those same people thought nothing about others who could be elected and were happy to become the paid servants of anyone who wanted a favour. We have good laws to deal with corruption and we should be happy to see those laws used whenever necessary.

  22. Token

    Palmer and his crew are giving us a tease of what we’ll get under sortition.

    The next general election will give the PUPs a taste of what recall elections would be like.

    I get what you mean, but we are stuck with Senators for 6 years so by the time they come up for re-election everyone would’ve moved on.

    All up, we’ve yet to see how the PUPs go over the long run and if we measure their performance (more tax, more welfare, no cost controls) so far they still have done a lot less damage than the Greens would’ve in this time.

  23. Token

    Lots of ideological tosh here, but not much recognition of reality. The two party system, for all its faults, gives us some semblance of stability.

    Stability is not a bad thing. It is a pity that one of the 2 franchise is majority owned by interest groups which represents a fraction of the populace.

    Of course, the useful idiots want more controls on the other franchise…

  24. JohnA

    1735099
    #1429999, posted on August 26, 2014 at 9:23 am

    The lurks and perks of office are so great that if anyone cannot finance their own run at public office they are not serious.

    Or perhaps they are broke.
    It costs plenty of dosh to run a campaign (at any level).
    Should being impecunious prevent any citizen from seeking public office?

    Yes, to the same extent and in the same way that they are precluded from making a takeover offer for a business.

    If you haven’t got the dosh, don’t join the poker game.

  25. .

    youngster
    #1430105, posted on August 26, 2014 at 11:45 am
    Lots of ideological tosh here, but not much recognition of reality. The two party system, for all its faults, gives us some semblance of stability.

    It also gives you one more choice than Communism.

  26. stackja

    Why do political parties run expensive advertisements? No amount of expensive advertisements will convince me to support any leftist political party.

  27. stackja

    Liberty Quotes
    The government is committed to fiscal responsibility and has committed to offset all new spending as part of the budget process. We will be returning the budget to surplus in 2012-13.
    — Penny Wong

    Still some voters elect ALP.

  28. M Ryutin

    I understand some wish for the libertarian favourite David Leyonhjelm to retain his Senate seat despite the need for reform to the electoral rorts that partly enabled his success.

    But Tony Smith or his committee commits no fault whatsoever if it recommends optional preferential voting – thus probably sending the LDP to future electoral oblivion – and cutting the state Senate ballot paper by 90% at the same time.

    12 Senators required from your State, number 1-12 and forget the rest. No above/below the line needed. Couldn’t be simpler.

    I want to see people forced to vote a cabbage like Lambie into parliament or not to see her there at all.

    Bad luck for David Leyonhjelm, that’s all it is. A better system awaits.

  29. motherhubbard'sdog

    In other words, it is the bureaucracy that gets to determine who runs for public office and consequently sits in the Parliament, and not the voters.

    Wrong. The bureaucracy determines what constitutes a party (by interpreting the relevant legislation). If they determined that PUP was not a properly constituted party, the individuals could still stand for office. They could not do so as PUP members until PUP changed its structure to comply with guidelines for what constitutes a party.

    This affects public funding for PUP, but not its capacity to endorse candidates for public office.

  30. Rollyone

    No to preferential votes, first over the line is the winner. Preferential votes can be used to sort out 2nd place to then go into the senate. I’ve had enough of either Libs, Lab or elected with only 2% of the vote ; the time of entitlement is over.

  31. stackja

    Liberty Quotes
    I strongly feel that the chief task of the economic theorist or political philosopher should be to operate on public opinion to make politically possible what today may be politically impossible.
    — Friedrich von Hayek

  32. Driftforge

    I understand some wish for the libertarian favourite David Leyonhjelm to retain his Senate seat despite the need for reform to the electoral rorts that partly enabled his success.

    But Tony Smith or his committee commits no fault whatsoever if it recommends optional preferential voting – thus probably sending the LDP to future electoral oblivion – and cutting the state Senate ballot paper by 90% at the same time.

    Quite so.

    That said, if David does well over the next six years, he could well be re-elected under an OPV system. Any changes that are made merely take time to be resolved; the players adapt pretty quickly.

    Moving to an OPV, you would see the number of parties contesting collapse. Might take two elections. Having a member in puts the LDP (and FF for that matter) in a prime position to be ‘last men standing’ among the minors.

    You could even see the LDP and FF merge.

  33. Justin

    The current funding of political parties already corrupts the system although not in the ways you describe.

    I entirely agree with your comment that property developers should not be banned from participating in public life including funding the ideas and candidates as they see fit.

    Corruption laws need to be enforced rather than disqualifying entire industries.

    In any event is the real problem the developers or the politicians that can be bought? And what about banning union donations? Is there more a corrupting influence in politics?

    The NSW problems plaguing the Liberal Party stem not from corruption per se but from laundering campaign contributions. Not edifying I agree but far removed from taking bribes to unfairly, unethically enrich the payer.

    Much of the laundering problem comes from the massive inequality in campaign funding. Simply put the Labor Party has significantly greater wealth largely off the back of union contributions. In a two party democratic system significant inequality in party funding can determine the outcome of elections. Would the Gillard Government have scraped back in for a second term if it hadn’t had the capacity to outspend the Coalition conservatively 2-1? I doubt it.

    I have no doubt the longevity of many Labor governments has been enhanced by the power of the purse rather than the policies. This is achieved by the Labor Party using its financial advantage to target relative safe Liberal seats forcing the Liberal Party to divert resources away from the marginals and towards seats they already hold.

    In a democracy elections should not be determined by the size of party wallet but on the ideas, policies, experience and talent they can offer. But this is increasingly not the case.

    The problems in NSW was less because developers were crooked but rather successive Labor governments could be bought and ministers kept getting caught with their hands in the till.

    Echoing the immortal words of Winston Churchill to never let a good crisis go to waste Labor implemented campaign funding reforms to publicly atone for their corrupt behaviour by wiping out a significant source of campaign funds for the Liberal opposition and enhance the relative power of union funding. Genius!

    Public funding of political parties is the lesser of two evils. It might create some barriers to entry as you describe but it is preferable to election outcomes being bought (increasingly with union money).

    A two horse race demands a degree of parity for there to be competition. If you saddle down one of the horses with dead weight all you do is fix the result. Labor understands this.

  34. Joe

    Democracy is the very definition of corruption.
    To get elected, the electee must bribe enough of the electors to win.
    End of story!
    Aristocracy is too dependant on the ruler and the ruler has too many powers.
    Communism/socialism runs out of other peoples money and has too many powers.
    Democracy is corrupt and runs out of other peoples money and has too many powers.

    Sortition (random selection of ruler) to fixed limited power positions for a fixed term – once only – with recall elections and treason charges for malfeasance is a possible solution.

  35. Dr. Sir Fred Lenin

    One five year term in a lifetime,no political parties,recall elections,three monthly referenda of proposed laws,volutary voting,no preferences, all candidates stand in first round ,two with most votes run off for seat, politics a part time job with own super ,staff supplied by PS,no senate just a National Assembly,president and PM chosen by assembly for the five year term,may be removed by voters in referendum.
    Migrants must pay income tax for ten years before eligible for benefits or citizenship. Migrants unemployed for three months deported ,that would clear a lot of bludgers off the books.

  36. Peter

    Why does Sinc – an economist who supposedly puts value on what WORKS – so steadily advocate a change to the voting system that has not produced noticably superior results anywhere it has been tried? Does anyone truly think that the American electoral system , with its optional, first-past- the-post voting has produced a more workable, free and beneficial system of government over the last half-century?

    I don’t.

    What we SHOULD be advocating are changes that make politicians more accountable to their electorate. Recall elections and Citizen-Initiated Referendum would be a good start. Limited terms in office would be another. Not only would that reduce huge superannuation at taxpayer expense, but it would also limit the degree to which politicians could insulate themselves from the consequence of their own decisions.

    One notion is that the superannuation for any retiring pollie be voted on by the constituents at the subsequent election. Think of the incentive to please their constituents!

    Yes there will always be problems…… but in trying to fix those we have, look for something other than measures that have already failed.

  37. .

    Peter
    #1430335, posted on August 26, 2014 at 5:03 pm
    Why does Sinc – an economist who supposedly puts value on what WORKS

    Who says it works? Or doesn’t need refinement?

  38. .

    Does anyone truly think that the American electoral system , with its optional, first-past- the-post voting has produced a more workable, free and beneficial system of government over the last half-century?

    NSW has optional preferential voting (but voting itself is at least in theory, compulsory).

    Compulsory voting is, and always will be, an authoritarian curtailment of liberty, and does not create a true participatory democracy.

    If the US Presidency was based on a popular, optional preferential vote nationwide, or similar optional preferential votes in each state for EC votes, it would work exceptionally well. Obviously voting would not be compulsory, as it is here, which is a rather bizzare quirk for an apparently free nation to have.

  39. Ellen of Tasmania

    I think a federal politicians job should be only part-time. We only need a handful of ministers dealing with national stuff. More work for the states and even more for local councils. Local councils are more answerable to the people they represent, less resources get ‘redistributed’ and people learn to be more responsible for themselves and their own communities.

    But that might be because I’ve watched too many Yes Minister episodes.

  40. .

    That would require a constitutional change to work.

    Grant funding is a joke unto itself. If a small council gets a $500k grant, you would not believe how many labour hours, costed out at a great rate, are wasted at all three levels in administration.

    Anyone who thinks grant funding or political control of education is a great idea, has not seen this from close up, even as an outsider.

  41. Dianne

    I’m sure it has been mentioned, but I think they need a bit of a touch up. I really believe that we are seeing an abuse of powers in the senate. Someone (it may have been Gary Johns) highlighted it & I think they need to be bloody pulled into line.

    The senate is a house of review – they don’t get to do what they are doing at the moment.

  42. Tel

    Sortition (random selection of ruler) to fixed limited power positions for a fixed term – once only – with recall elections and treason charges for malfeasance is a possible solution.

    You would need to make sure the entire public service also has strict term limits, so there would be no such thing as a career bureaucrat. If you have a randomly selected short term parliament, then lifelong public servants can learn the tricks to get around those guys.

  43. Robbo

    Dr. Sir Fred Lenin
    #1430294, posted on August 26, 2014 at 3:42 pm
    One five year term in a lifetime,no political parties,recall elections,three monthly referenda of proposed laws,volutary voting,no preferences, all candidates stand in first round ,two with most votes run off for seat, politics a part time job with own super ,staff supplied by PS,no senate just a National Assembly,president and PM chosen by assembly for the five year term,may be removed by voters in referendum.

    Well Fred if your idea is ever implemented it would see the entire system so stuffed we would never see any government being able to effectively govern. Do you think that would be a good thing?

  44. .

    The senate is a house of review – they don’t get to do what they are doing at the moment.

    Nope. They are equal in every respect save for money and appropriation bills.

    If this isn’t good enough, then agitate to change the constitution.

  45. The senate is a house of review – they don’t get to do what they are doing at the moment.

    Nope. They are equal in every respect save for money and appropriation bills.

    Quite right. The problems with the senate have nothing to do with it getting in the way of the government; that is what a senate is for. The biggest problems occur when the senate has no capacity to get in the way of the government.

    The problem you are noting is more one with democracy than with the system working poorly.

  46. Habib

    Taxpayers should not only not have to fund these cretins, we should be able to go after them when they inevitably fuck up, up to and including organ harvest. But who’d want a bit from any of these zeta creatures? Numbers, you seem to be getting stupider; seek help, DVA provides heaps at our expense.

  47. Peter

    Compulsory voting is, and always will be, an authoritarian curtailment of liberty, and does not create a true participatory democracy.

    So is the enforced payment of any taxes, enforced participation of children in school, enforced jury duty, enforced military service…. Neither you, nor Sinc have done more than beg the question when claiming that a Right and a Duty are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, it may be argued that we have a duty to act so as to preserve our rights and the rights of others.

    If the US Presidency was based on a popular, optional preferential vote nationwide, or similar optional preferential votes in each state for EC votes, it would work exceptionally well.

    I conside this claim to be both bold, and somewhat naive. We have observed, in the most recent US Presidential election, the degree to which incumbent politicians will pork-barrel in order to persuade their supporters to turn out and vote……. We have observed a similar phenomenon in this country in which campaigns have been based on attempting to frighten voters into believing that the “other party” will take something away, or similarly act contrary to the selfish interests of the constituents.

    Non-compulsory voting does not make for better-informed voters. It merely makes the two camps more partisan.

    It is one thing to argue that our current system does not function as well as it might….. but it is quite another to advocate “solutions” that show no sign of fixing the problem.

    First-Past-The-Post voting either consolidates power between the major parties, creates a situation in which the winner is only supported by a minority, or requires a series of run-off elections to determine who the least-detested candidate is. I could live with run-off elections as the best of those alternatives, but the average Australian is probably sick of elections already.

  48. Demosthenes

    Predictable class warfare pap which tactically ignores all the evidence about slush funds which have emerged over the past 5 years.

    A nod to well-known historical facts is not class warfare. And those slush funds belong to the rich and well-connected, proving my point.

  49. Non-compulsory voting does not make for better-informed voters. It merely makes the two camps more partisan.

    Another gem.
    As observed the other day, they do pop up here occasionally.

  50. Pedro

    I thought Gary Johns was simply saying that party registration ought to have some requirements about control and participation by members, which seems a reasonable position if being a party creates electoral advantages.

    Mind you, I don’t think those advantages should exist. Govt funding should be abandoned (what could be a bigger barrier to entry for new parties) and above the line preferential voting with it. Ditto for donation controls. All voting should just be optional preferential voting and from the perspective of the AEC, party registration should be equivalent to trademark registration.

    If elections were fully govt funded then the first level of battle in politics would be control of the main parties.

  51. .

    On the contrary, it may be argued that we have a duty to act so as to preserve our rights and the rights of others.

    No, you can’t.

    What you are claiming is that all that matters is if we force people to vote.

    Preferential voting is simply run off voting done more efficiently.

    People not voting if they don’t want to is not a problem. It is freedom.

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