Federation Fail and Constitutional Reform

Imagine if you will that the final report of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry was presented to the Australian Banks and financial services industry rather than the government, and it was then left up to the industry and industry players to design and implement the recommendations.  Would it not present a problem, a conflict of interest, to task those whose behaviour was adversely highlighted to decide which recommendations to implement and how.

If it is a conflict to ask the banks to write the rules around their governance, incentives and behaviours, why is it not an equivalent problem to permit our political representatives to do the same thing when the misbehaviour is theirs?

There have been repeated failures in parliamentary remuneration, expenses, decision making, culture and governance, yet it is left to the parliament and parliamentarians to police and regulate themselves.  Self-regulation some might call it.  Parliamentarians are quick to jump when it comes to regulating the conduct of businesses and citizens.  Sadly not so quick when it comes to regulating their conduct.

How many times have questionable uses and abuses of Parliamentary entitlements been responded to with “it is within the rules”, this notwithstanding the parliamentarians writing the rules?  How many times have retired minsters and senior public servants moved quickly into roles where they have prior direct and confidential knowledge.  Perhaps there is some superior morality and judgement within the parliamentary and bureaucratic class that protects them from normal human failures and biases.  Perhaps not.

Unlike parliaments regulating business, to change the rules around culture and remuneration of parliamentarians not only requires the consent of parliamentarians, but it also requires their active co-operation and participation to write laws that may adversely impact them.  And at the Commonwealth level, to change the constitution to limit the powers of government first requires an act of parliament to put a resolution to the people.

It may be difficult to get the necessary majority of votes in a majority of states to change the constitution via referendum, but it would likely be much, much harder to get the parliament to pass the necessary legislation to constrain itself – its conduct, its powers, its remuneration, its perquisites.

It is all well and good for parliamentarian to claim that their ultimate accountability is through elections, but it seems that there is a unity ticket on preventing changes to parliamentary culture, remuneration and governance.  And given the size and scope of Australian Government, anywhere between 35 and 45 percent of GDP depending on how it is counted, poorly behaving government has much greater impact  than a poorly behaving financial sector.  From bad decisions taken to decisions delayed or not taken at all.  From laws influenced by rent seeking insiders to laws that should have never been passed in the first place.  From eroded confidence in democratic institutions to unconstrained regulatory expansions.

Given now is the season of the Royal Commission, banks, pink batts, aged care and the disabled, perhaps a Royal Commission into the design and operation of government is worth considering; including consideration of the third rail of Australian politics, Commonwealth-State-Relations.  And rather than the recommendations of such a Royal Commission into Government design and conduct being presented to Government, how about they be automatically put to a referendum, thus bypassing the vested interest buffet.

One such reform to be considered would be a significant expansion in the number of members of the lower house and a significant reduction in the number of senators.

A little known fact about the US Constitution is that the draft US bill of rights put to the US congress (after the ratification of the US Constitution) actually had 12 proposed amendments; and the original intended first amendment was not related to freedom of speech and religion and the original second intended amendment was not related to the right to bear arms.

Had they been ratified, the first amendment to the US constitution was about diluting the power of the congress and the second amendment was about the management of the remuneration of parliamentarians.

The unratified first amendment to the constitution was:

After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.

Were this amendment in place today, the US Congress would have 6,000 members not the current 435.  Were such a provision in place in Australia, the House of Representatives would have 500 members rather than the current 151.

The additional members would allow for greater diversity of opinion and talent and importantly could dilute the power of vested interests and political parties.

In Australia, such a reform could be easily accommodated and financed by eliminating the cabal of staff that members and back benchers have (including chiefs of staff, media minders, electorate officers, drivers).  Efficiencies could also be achieved by mandating video parliaments.  Hey.  Was not one of the cases for the NBN to allow medical and education services to be provided via the internet.  Well, let parliament operate the same way with constituents sitting with members in their constituencies while debates and votes take place.

Citizen initiated referenda.  Recall elections.  Balanced budget amendments.  Commonwealth-State relations.  Election by sortition.  Citizen juries.  The list of tools available to improve government and to return power from the governors to the governed is endless. But unfortunately requires the prior consent of the governors.

Ultimately if referendum questions are poor, then the people will be left to decide without the need for the prior review and veto of vested interest political parties.

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35 Responses to Federation Fail and Constitutional Reform

  1. Karabar

    ” let parliament operate the same way with constituents sitting with members in their constituencies while debates and votes take place.”
    The solution is at hand.

  2. Rex Mango

    Only one way to fix Australia constitutionaly and that is to return all taxation powers to the states and let a mendicant Federal Government go to COAG each year, cap in hand to beg for money.

  3. Driftforge

    It would be far simpler and more appropriate to present such matters directly to the Governor General than to have them presented via referendum.

  4. Kneel

    First order of business then, is to go to secret parliamentary voting – with a record of which pollie votes for or against each motion, act etc, too much power is invested in the parties and it’s too easy for our representatives to be bullied by their “superiors” – let all parliamentary votes be “conscience” votes!

    Second order of business is sunset clauses for all legislation that fails to meet its own pre-determined targets – eg, “renewables” legislation that fails to reduce anthropogenic CO2 output – or worse, increases it; Aboriginal support programs that don’t improve outcomes for Aboriginal peoples; road safety programs that don’t reduce death and serious injury; the list goes on, and all these need to be dumped, elided, purged, burnt and the ashes strewn widely, etc etc.

  5. woolfe

    The additional members would allow for greater diversity of opinion and talent and importantly could dilute the power of vested interests and political parties

    Rubbish they would be quickly assimilated and vote themselves into the gravy train.

  6. Jeremy

    Tell him he’s dreaming.

  7. Roger

    What we need is a citizen’s voice in parliament that scrutinises and advises on legislation that impacts upon citizens.

    I suggest we invite politicians to a symbolic gathering and threaten to throw the Constitution into sea if we don’t get it.

  8. Shy Ted

    Turning a $35m “profit” into a multi million $ loss – will heads roll at ASIC or will it be promotions all round?

  9. Iampeter

    What’s needed is knowledge of political theory.
    Nobody in politics or discussing politics today knows what the proper function of government is and why, nor how to even approach the subject.

    Until this changes there’s no basis for proposing any kind of reforms.

    It’s all just random nonsense.

  10. Chris

    What we need is a citizen’s voice in parliament that scrutinises and advises on legislation that impacts upon citizens.

    Liberty quote!

  11. jupes

    Nobody in politics or discussing politics today knows what the proper function of government is and why, nor how to even approach the subject.

    Only one person on Earth has this knowledge. And we are blessed with the great Iampeter on this blog.

  12. jupes

    How many times have retired minsters and senior public servants moved quickly into roles where they have prior direct and confidential knowledge.

    Australian politicians’ one great skill is to legalise corruption.

  13. Entropy

    The Artist Formerly Known As Spartacus
    #3132203, posted on August 15, 2019 at 11:08 am
    We have a citizens voice. They are called mps

    Whoosh!

  14. Dr Fred Lenin

    Limit representatives to one term in a lifetime in any government ,fed,state ,local, one term and you are out for ever. No taxpayer funds to political gangs ( sorry. Parties) . Limit political donations to $20 per year per ,person or organisation . All donations to be taxed at top company rate . All proposed laws to be subjected to referenda

  15. Nob

    We have the same problem with the legal industry.

    No wonder so many politicians are lawyers.

  16. Nob. Genuine ask. Can you please elaborate on the legal industry similarities.

  17. Mark M

    A good place to start would be one law for all.
    The crime is the same, the accountability not so …

    1. “Ordinary bloke who works at a pub, goes to his local ATM to withdraw some cash after his shift.
    He pulls out $200, despite it saying “transaction cancelled”, then pulls out more money and before you know it he’s living it up as a millionaire.
    “I think the money and the general good time made it bearable but I always knew something, someone would come or something would happen,” he told Today Tonight.

    Eventually the law did catch up with him — but only after he outed himself to the bank and newspapers about what he’d done, the program reported.

    He was charged with obtaining money by deception — $1.6 million — and sentenced to a year behind bars in 2015.”

    https://www.couriermail.com.au/lifestyle/aussie-man-jailed-after-atm-glitch-to-pocket-16m-has-no-regrets/news-story/c0cf00dbfa2483fac58cf1fca4715576

    2. “National Australia Bank chairman Ken Henry privately told consultants in the midst of the Hayne royal commission he was “confident” the bank was selling products that ripped off its customers and would eventually trigger compensation.

    Dr Henry, a former Treasury secretary, made his comments five months before his disastrous appearance at the Hayne royal commission in a confidential meeting with EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young).”

    https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/henry-admitted-nab-was-still-selling-rip-offs-while-royal-commission-raged-20190801-p52cz0.html

    >> You can not steal from a bank, but, a bank can steal from you. With impunity.

    Dr Ken Henry is still walking around, free.

  18. Dr FredLenin.

    You can see the elected voice of the people in Westminster with the MP Brexit haters defying their constituents tthe career polliemppets defying the will of their employers for their own agenda , as Nigel Farage says politics is broken beyond repair by the ones the people trusted to uphold democracy.
    The calibre of politicians today leaves a lot to be desired ,the qualificatioons for the job are far too low ,just take a look at them ,a good question ,would you employ thhem and pay them what they get now from your own money?

  19. NuThink

    Watching Katie Hopkins giving a talk at the Oxford university society, and if I recall and heard correctly, she asked how many in the audience had voted for Brexit. No hands.
    She then remarked that as 52% (?) in the general populace had voted for Brexit, that those at the talk at the uni were not at all representative of the population at large.
    I would say that the same applies to politicians.

  20. Nob

    TAFKAS, lawyers make the rules for lawyers. They make their money from resolving conflict, therefore it’s in their interest to promote conflict.

  21. Roger

    We have a citizens voice. They are called mps.

    You missed the sarcasm in my comment.

    Or have I missed the sarcasm in yours?

  22. Fred Lenin:

    You can see the elected voice of the people in Westminster with the MP Brexit haters defying their constituents tthe career polliemppets defying the will of their employers for their own agenda , as Nigel Farage says politics is broken beyond repair by the ones the people trusted to uphold democracy.

    Yes.
    Our politicians refuse the guidance of the peeples, because they know better. Any attempt to bring the politicians and the bureaucrats to heel must fail because there is no mechanism to do so.
    If we cannot use the ballot box, then our only alternative is to take to the streets.
    Remember why the US has their second amendment.

  23. Boambee John

    Kneel at 0926

    First order of business then, is to go to secret parliamentary voting – with a record of which pollie votes for or against each motion, act etc, too much power is invested in the parties and it’s too easy for our representatives to be bullied by their “superiors” – let all parliamentary votes be “conscience” votes!

    More than 10 years ago I had a discusdion of this with my then local (ALP) MP. Having pointed out to him that one reason we have secret voting for MPs is to ensure that the citizen could vote without being open to bribery, and without fear of repercussions, either at work or in the community, I was rather surprised when he responded that secret voting by MPs would enable fraud and corruption.

    On reflection, I have come to the conclusion that his definition of “fraud and corruption” was not following the party line.

    His other comment, when I suggested that secret voting would allow MPs to study the issues and vote according to the wishes of their constituents was along the lines that, had he wished to make up his own mind about issues, he would not have joined the ALP!

  24. NuThink

    Nob
    #3132546, posted on August 15, 2019 at 5:19 pm
    TAFKAS, lawyers make the rules for lawyers. They make their money from resolving conflict, therefore it’s in their interest to promote conflict.

    Precisely Nob.
    I naively suggested to a lawyer acquaintance of mine that he write a book on conflict resolution.
    He said “no way”, and then he added that he makes his money out of conflict.

  25. Phill

    Iampeter,
    If nobody in politics or discussing politics today knows what the proper function of government is, then where should I seek enlightenment? Just curious.
    I mean, don’t ask me. Not my thing. I note however that any one person’s definition of the proper function may diverge, at the margins, if not in its entirety, from some other person’s conception. Its hard, for example, to expect say Thomas Jefferson and Pol Pot to agree on this question.
    Unless, of course, there is some universal formula, method or set of rules that has one, and only one possible answer. Is that what your comment is saying? That there is one, and only one proper function of government? If so, wonderful. Most of the world’s problems suddenly evaporate.
    But wait, didn’t you say that “Nobody knows”. Damn. My hopes are dashed.
    Yes, I guess I am just not clear on what you are saying. My working assumption that your comment would at least flirt with coherence may be wrong. Oh well.

  26. Bunyip Bill

    One way to fix ,what goue on in parlament. BAN any and all electronic media advertising completely,
    Make sitting members and aplicants appear at your door or stand on the back of a truck on street corners to give account for themselves in asking for your vote. It was done up to the introduction of T. V. IN this country and it worked. They were asked embarrassing questions, ridiculed thus humbled, and forced to think quickly, thus showing their inteligence. If you look back to that time you would be impressed with the quality of candidates and policy.

  27. Crossie

    All previous comments are well and good but everyone forgets the elephant in the room – the media. They are just as complicit in the deception of the population if not more so. If the media did their job the others would be shamed into doing theirs. However, no politicians, journalists, academics, lawyers or bankers mix with the general population any longer. The class divide is now almost complete and bridges are being burned to enforce isolation.

    I suppose we can always hope for a cataclysmic event like a giant meteor.

  28. DaveR

    A citizens voice in parliament?

    Equivalent to an aboriginal voice in parliament?

    Which has greater weight?

  29. David Brewer

    “…until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor more than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons.”

    Were this amendment in place today, the US Congress would have 6,000 members not the current 435.

    I don’t think so. The proposal says that once 200 representatives are reached, there cannot be MORE than one representative per 50 000 people. But there could easily be less, in fact there need only be 200.

  30. struth

    Yes, I guess I am just not clear on what you are saying. My working assumption that your comment would at least flirt with coherence may be wrong. Oh well.

    Iampeter is like a senior aboriginal who tells other races to come and learn from him.
    He is the holder of the sacred knowledge.
    He is willing to share his knowledge etc etc.
    The reality is he knows SFA, just fairy tales about rainbow serpents, and we already know how to kill and cook a roo better anyway.

  31. Iampeter

    If nobody in politics or discussing politics today knows what the proper function of government is, then where should I seek enlightenment?

    The American Founding Fathers are your best bet.

    I mean, don’t ask me. Not my thing.

    Then why are you on a politics blog?

    I note however that any one person’s definition of the proper function may diverge, at the margins, if not in its entirety, from some other person’s conception.

    So?

    Its hard, for example, to expect say Thomas Jefferson and Pol Pot to agree on this question.

    So?
    The question is which one of these two has the right position, if any, and why?
    Knowing how to figure that out is what it means to know politics. Not how many people are in the house of representatives, or how they do their expenses or something…

    Unless, of course, there is some universal formula, method or set of rules that has one, and only one possible answer.

    Yes. Just like with all other sciences there is a universal formula, method and set of rules to politics and only one possible answer.

    Most of the world’s problems suddenly evaporate.

    You would think. But the number of dishonest people who don’t know how to think straight and think reality should conform to their feelings instead of having their feelings conform to reality just keep perpetuating the worlds problems and blank out the right answers because they wish they’re feelings were right instead.

    You see this all the time at the cat.

    But wait, didn’t you say that “Nobody knows”. Damn. My hopes are dashed.

    Nobody in the mainstream that’s for sure.
    As to your hopes, you’re hopes are that nobody knows so you don’t have to realize how little you do know, so you can keep pretending to discuss a topic you don’t really know anything about and pretend you’re informed.

    We see this all the time at the cat too.

  32. Diogenes

    return all taxation powers to the states and let a mendicant Federal Government go to COAG each year, cap in hand to beg for money.

    Better still…
    Feds use only GST to fund themselves, and states get all income taxing powers (and loose Land/Stamp Duty powers) . That way every time you look at a docket or pay packet you can see how much they are costing you.

  33. Frank Walker from National Tiles

    Citizen initiated referenda. Recall elections. Balanced budget amendments. Commonwealth-State relations. Election by sortition. Citizen juries. The list of tools available to improve government and to return power from the governors to the governed is endless. But unfortunately requires the prior consent of the governors.

    All great ideas.

    Those running interference simply want the system to stay the same because they benefit from the failings of it.

  34. max

    The U.S. Constitution: Tool of Centralization and Debt, 1788-Today
    Gary North

    When we begin with a myth, we have a tendency to expect miracles.

    The Constitution was established in order to strengthen the powers of the Federal government. It strengthened them vastly beyond what the British had attempted to impose on the colonies in the early 1770s.

    The Constitution was deliberately designed to centralize power vastly beyond what the legitimate constitution — the Articles of Confederation — allowed. The Federal government in 1787 was weak. In 1788, it was vastly stronger.

    The anti-Federalists predicted accurately what was coming in 1787. It came.
    There was a conspiracy in Philadelphia in 1787. It was successful.

    To understand the expansion of Federal power in 1788, consider this. In 1786, the Federal government’s total army was 1,200 men.

    The Constitution was from day one an instrument to consolidate Federal power and expand it. The Constitution has proven to be a weak reed in every attempt to slow down the expansion of Federal power.

    There should come a time when the victims of a myth should figure out that they are the victims of a rich and powerful ruling class, which hires the teachers and screens the textbooks to keep the voters docile. But this dawning of enlightenment has yet to come.
    When Washington’s checks finally bounce, the day of enlightenment will come of necessity, not principle. Then we will have a shot at abandoning the myth of the Constitution as a restraint on Washington’s power.

    https://www.garynorth.com/public/7833.cfm

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