This is a little story about why I hate the Westminster system.

The other day, I had an idea. It was about paid parental leave.

Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott have PPL plans.  Gillard’s offers the same amount to everyone, is more affordable, but means that incentives differ based on different base wage (ie. it’s easier/more appealing for someone toward the lower end of the economic scale to have a baby and take PPL than for someone at the top).  Abbott’s plan paid people their salary, up to 150k/year, which is obviously problematic in that it gives MORE money to the wealthy- never a good idea.

So I had a little idea. Instead of reducing the corporate tax rate to 29%, make that reduction a tax credit, only available to companies that, as part of their employment practice, match the difference in salary between the Gillard plan and the employees base salary.  And then offer government risk pools to small businesses to share risk of maternity leave, so it’s still a financially viable decision for small businesses.

So here I was, laying in bed, pretty happy with this nice little idea that, I think, solves a number of problems at once. And then I thought, what do I do with my idea?

And I realised, there was nothing.

I couldn’t call my local member. PPL policy is well outside the bounds of her JD. I couldn’t call write a letter to the minister, because I’m not in their district, so they have no cause not to ignore me. Same with the opposition.

If I were in a system that were more open, like the American system, I could suggest it to my local member, and they could write a bill. If they ignored me, I could run in the primary against them, with that is a key policy platform. I could talk to my senators, because they can introduce bills too.  I have a number of options available, so that I could, at least, FEEL as though my idea has some chance of being heard.

But instead, I languish in a system in which I do not feel remotely empowered, and in which the only way I have to make my voice mean anything is to join a party. And where the only outlet for my ideas is my blog.

It’s hardly an ideal of democracy…

4 Responses

  1. Interesting post. I take issue with your assumption that you have more options under the US system though.

    Surely under the Westminster system I could still suggest it to my local member and they could introduce it to parliament as a private members bill. If they ignored me I could run in the next election against them as an independent. I could also talk to my Senators who can also propose a private members bill. In addition I can still write to the Minister responsible even though I am from outside their electorate. Surely just as many options are available here?

    I am interested why you think an American congressman is any more likely to listen to your idea than an Australian MP?

    1. Privates Members Bills are the exception, rather than the rule, and aren’t nearly as common as they ought to be.

      And my observations come primarily from my own experience- I interned in US Congress, and found they were far more receptive to speaking with constituents.

  2. Being heavily involved in the political process I kind of have to disasgree – i often have to respond to letters to the environment minister, and he responds to any and every letter he gets, regardless of the author’s address. Incidentally, he also responds to people from overseas.

    The appropriate minister will probably ignore you. But you can write to them and you will get a response in writing within 4 weeks. I agree that the real problem here is the party policy issues, but you are free to communicate any and every thought not only to your local member but also to the appropriate minister.

    1. Em! It’s been ages. I guess my real problem with that is that they are not electorally accountable for that response. Ultimately, there’s no way to provide the most fundamental form of democratic feedback- a vote- in response to the minister’s actions. It means the feedback loop isn’t effective.

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