Citizens, Career Politicians and Public Governance

For more than a century, political parties of both Right and Left have presided over a steady shift in power away from citizens towards large corporate and state institutions

Over this time, the two major political parties in Australia have ceased to be mass participation civic organisations and become instruments through which corporate, institutional and provider interests exclude citizens from public decision-making.

The membership of both Labor and Liberal parties is now in sharp decline. In place of mass civic participation, both parties have developed a managerial culture in which an ever diminishing number of professional operatives use a combination of taxpayers’ money and the donations of corporate interests (increasingly property developers and gaming companies) to sway electoral opinion as required every three years in what they now call the ‘electoral cycle’.

A professional political class, comprising operatives in both machines, now acts like every other specialist professional group, erecting barriers to entry by non-specialists and non-professionals, and widening the gap between itself and ordinary citizens. Membership of parliament is now largely restricted to union officials, political staffers and labor lawyers on the ALP side, and political staffers, commercial lawyers and consultants on the Liberal side. Both machines collaborated in 1923 to make voting compulsory to ensure that even the most disillusioned voters are still required to turn out and vote against the machine they dislike the most.

The result is that political power in Australia has become concentrated in the two major political machines in ways that would be unimaginable to the writers of the Commonwealth Constitution and the architects of the Westminster system of government. Parliament is no longer a forum for public decision-making:  it has become simply a venue for the ruling political machine to announce its activities, and a soapbox for the opposing political machine to declare its opposition until the next election comes around.

The Sensible Centre aims to tackle the key elements of this malaise in Australian public governance: the phenomenon of the ‘career politician’; corporate funding of political parties; compulsory voting; and the absence of citizen adjudication in key areas of decision-making.

Starting Points

tick The role of Parliament and public institutions is to serve, protect and strengthen civil society, the rule of law, and the common good (the century-long shift in functions, resources and authority from citizens and civil society to the state should be steadily reversed).
tick Members of Parliament should be drawn from the full body of citizens in the Commonwealth (and should reflect the diversity of Australia’s people, not narrow unrepresentative sections of society)
tick The role of a Member of Parliament is to represent and serve their electors for limited periods of time (it is not a career or profession)
tick Political parties have an important role in supporting and facilitating civic participation and parliamentary representation (it is parliament and parliamentary representatives that determine governments, not political parties).
tick The jury system of citizen adjudication can and should be applied to a range of public decisions to ensure de-politicised non-partisan decision-making (such as adjudications on political advertising, political appointments, and parliamentary allowances).
tick The Australian head of state should be an Australian citizen appointed by a jury of citizens selected by lot (to avoid a partisan politicised head of state that would result from either parliamentary appointment or popular election).

We support

1. Introducing a limit of three terms in office for lower house members of parliament and two terms for Senators.

2. Establishing a unit within the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct Citizens Jury processes on public matters referred to the Commission for adjudication including:

a. approval or rejection of government advertising to ensure it is free of party political content;
b. approval or rejection of party political appointments to government posts;
c. approval or rejection of expense claims and electoral allowance claims by politicians;
d. approval or rejection of pork-barrelling claims in government expenditures. citizensjuryIn these processes, the AEC will select citizens by sortition (random selection) and train them to adjudicate on matters referred to the AEC for adjudication by either of two methods: a vote of either House of the Commonwealth Parliament, or public petition by a certain number of citizens. Decisions of Citizens Juries in these matters will be binding on the Government.

3. Introducing a lifetime ban on retiring ministers of the crown from trading on insider information and connections by accepting a paid appointment to a company board or a paid advisory or consulting role with corporations or governments following their service in parliament.

4. Prohibiting a member of parliament from retiring in mid-term except for reasons of ill-health. Where a member of parliament retires in mid-term and forces a by-election, the costs of holding the by-election will be billed to the retiring member.

5. Prohibiting donations from corporate entities to political parties. This would include companies, trade unions, and foundations. Permit only individual citizens to make donations to political parties, up to a yearly maximum of $10,000.

6. Removing public funding for political parties and candidates to force them to rely on their members and community support – those without community support should not be propped up by taxpayers’ money.

7. Supporting the establishment of an Australian head of state appointed by a jury of 24 citizens selected by lot by the Australian Electoral Commission. The head of state would serve for a period of five years, and must be an Australian citizen. The AEC would oversee a public nomination process, and present nominations to the citizens’ jury.

8. Removing the fine levied by the AEC on citizens who are not sufficiently inspired or motivated by candidates and parties for public office to vote in elections or attend a voting place.