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Three quick lessons for Australian Democracy from the US

The government is currently doing a consultation into how to reform the Australian electoral process.  There are three things I think we should borrow from the US (and other places).

1. Scrap mandatory voting.

Mandatory voting is weird, and it is stupid.  It distorts the results of elections, because people who are uninformed about, and uninterested in, politics are making political decisions. In big numbers. Mandatory voting also means the base is always mobilized.  Parties don’t need to encourage them to get out and vote.  Consequently, efforts go into convincing a small number of swing voters in a small number of swinging districts to vote.  If we wanted a broader range of opinions represented, and if we wanted policies that cater to a broad range of people, we should scrap mandatory voting.

2. Tighter campaign contribution donations

Contributions should be reported instantly, and they should be limited.  It’s shocking that you can donate almost $90,000 to a party ($9,999 to each of the state and territory parties, then another $9,999 to the federal party) without it ever being reported.  And the donations larger than 10k are only reported 6 months later.  In the age of digital communications, this is absurd.  There should be no more than a one-week lag, and we should certainly know who is donating money during a campaign before election day.

3. Open Primaries

Pre-selection battles typically involve a very small number of voters.  Consequently, you have to very much toe the party line to be chosen to run in an election.  Open up the process, and you may well find a broader range of candidates.  Plus, it would go a long way toward discouraging some of the nepotism in Australian politics, and might convince political candidates to engage with a broader range of people.

4 thoughts on “Three quick lessons for Australian Democracy from the US

  1. Donations should be transparent and reported instantaneously: I agree wholeheartedly. If money laundering legislation can require transactions to be reported immediately, then we can do the same for political incentives, err, donations. We also need tighter rules about hiding behind “associated entities.”

    But I think American soft money teaches us another lesson, the folly of too much money in politics. The sum spent on the last presidential election beggars belief. As ridiculous as it sounds, I’d love to import policy from Rugby League and ‘salary cap’ our political parties.

  2. Restrictive, but not imaginative enough!

    I don’t think enough money is spent on election campaigns. I’d draft legislation that creates an “election stimulus package” that forks unlimited amounts of government money out to political candidates and their parties so they can spend more on brainwashing and propaganda. This would also create demand for jobs such as political journalists at news publications because there’d be more going on to report.

    Of course, tax payers would be pissed, but we’ll just launch their taxes sky high into space if they’re brazen enough to commit dissent.

  3. Scrapping mandatory voting is a bad idea. The fact is that the people that most people that are interested in and informed about politics are those with a relatively higher level of education. Those that are uninformed and disinterested are those with a relatively lower level of education.

    A representative democracy should be truly that.. representative. Elected politicians should not just represent those in their electorate with and interest in politics (who you’ll probably find have relatively high levels of education and income/wealth).

    Scrapping mandatory voting leads to areas of relatively low socio-economic status being neglected. This is because voter turnout in these areas is typically very low and therefore, there are not many votes to be won by campaigning there.. this only exacerbates the downward spiral.

    The way to improve the political process is not by excluding those citizens that are uninformed but by informing them. This starts with improving the education system(s) to foster a more active interest in political issues at a younger age so that the next generation of voters are always more informed than the last.

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