Australia’s democracy was founded on the notion that the community should be able to elect the best person to represent their interests in the Parliament.
The constitutional aspiration for our democracy is not being delivered by our electoral system.
Politics in Australia is dominated by a small number of political parties. The electoral system structurally reinforces this dominance. There is a structural failure to ensure or support effective political competition thereby undermining democracy.
The dominance of the major parties in particular sees politicians adhere to party policies and party loyalties ahead of the electorate they are truly supposed to represent. This is how they guarantee preselection.
The result of this dominance by a small number of parties has led to an electoral system that, in effect, causes the community to elect the parties’ representative to the parliament rather than their own representatives.
We have seen a bastardisation of the electoral system by a political culture that is engaged in collusion and genuinely anti-competitive behaviour that would be prosecuted in the commercial world without question. This has resulted in the emergence of political class in Australia, a ruling elite in what is supposed to be a class-less society.
The preferential voting system is being openly manipulated through collusion between parties and individuals. This is particularly evident in the results of Upper House contests in several jurisdictions where parties control how preferences flow without transparency or the voter’s knowledge. This would be prosecuted in the commercial world.
Our democracy is in crisis as elections outcomes are increasingly influenced by the funds that flow to them as opposed to a genuine contest or ideas and issues within an electorate. Similarly, vested interests are channeling significant resources into the major parties that are likely to form government to effectively “buy” influence.
Lax rules around truth in advertising see superficial campaigns that look good in the media with little or no genuine policy detail. Electoral rules have failed to keep up with technology and continue to be abused by an increasingly unethical political culture.
It doesn’t matter if political parties and their campaigns are backed by, union, big business, or by foreign or domestic oligarchs. Any significant flow of funds by anyone or thing with vested interests to one or more parties ultimately distorts the political process.
It is essential that any financial support is transparent. Further to this it is becoming more important now to limit the amount of money that can be deployed by any candidate or party in an election
Overlaying the problems with false or misleading advertising, party pre-selection processes and lack of transparency around political funding, there are significant issues with polling day culture.
Pre-polling procedures are farcical as people commence voting in some instances before any announcement of policy or campaign priorities by any candidate or party. This clearly undermines the notion that voters should, or should even be able to, consider any candidate on their merits.
Pre-polling should be a legitimate process that enables people who are genuinely unable to vote on election day to participate in a poll. Pre-polling should not commence before the end of the campaign advertising window.
The presence of party or candidate representatives attempting to influence voters at polling booths is increasingly uncomfortable. It has become somewhat farcical as people run the gauntlet at polling sites while political agents swoop on them like seagulls on a chip and try to force political propaganda into their hand. Furthermore, this method of influencing voters clearly favours large parties with an ability to mobilise a large number of booth workers.
Voting is a personal decision and people should be allowed to vote in private without interference of any kind.
Candidates should only be able to provide printed voting materials to voters via single table provided and maintained by the AEC at polling. There should be no direct interaction between voters and candidates or their agents to influence the voters’ intention at polling sites.
The purpose of these reforms is to improve genuine competition that an election can and should deliver. It is essential to the democracy that voters in every seat have a genuine choice and that the election process safeguards the integrity of the election process to which our constitution aspired.
In this context the CountryMinded will pursue policies that:
- Cap electoral spending per electorate with generic party spending apportioned to individual candidates
- Abolish tax payer refunds of election expenses for parties and/or candidates
- Abolish non-voter presence at polling booths
- Limit pre-polling to genuine hardship to attend polling booth on polling day and limit the timeframe of pre-polling to after the commencement of the advertising black out
- Apply the same rigour to political advertising as applies to commercial sector advertising.