Like many, I was shocked by the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the U.S.A. Throughout the campaign, he had shown deeply disturbing traits of character that would normally have excluded his candidacy, let alone a win.
Much analysis has been done to try to explain what happened but I think that the underlying problem has been missed.
America, like Australia, is not a democracy.
We have heard again and again that America leads the ‘free world’ because of its strong democratic heritage. But what is ‘democracy’?
Is it the ability to turn out occasionally to tick a box on a piece of paper to ‘choose’ a candidate to represent us in the machine of government?
Then nearly all nations are ‘democracies’, but we know instinctively, viscerally, that this is not true.
I would suggest that democracy is a system of government that transparently represents the ‘will of the people’, but how can the ‘will of the people’ be captured and given voice? Only when the parliament reflects the diverse views of society. This can only happen when the parliament is ‘populated’ by parties and independents that give voice to as broad a range of voter opinion as possible.
Donald Trump tapped into a deep seam of resentment in America. The jobless and working poor have been left behind in a society where wealth distribution has failed, leaving a small percentage of the population having the majority of wealth and resources.
To these angry folk, he proclaimed “I am your voice!”
Quickly he amassed an army of loyal supporters who came to hear what they wanted to hear, without any concern for the irony of the person who was delivering the message. Without compulsory voting, he has gained executive power with less than a quarter of the eligible voters support, and less votes of those who did turn out, than his opponent. Strange world isn’t it?
I have seen a lot of comment on how this phenomena could relate to Australia, put simply “could something like this happen in Australia?”
Of course there is little in common between the American model of government and the Australian version of the Westminster system. Both major parties that dominate our political landscape, have reacted swiftly to say that they will work harder to engage with those that feel disaffected in our society.
But they miss the point. Until we have parties and independents that can directly take the views of disgruntled voters to Parliament we are trapped in the ongoing, internal ‘party wars’ which have plagued Australian politics, destabilizing government and largely been conducted behind closed doors.
Only with proportional representation can we get new parties and independents into the House of Representatives and it is from the House of Representatives that Government is formed.
This would not require a change to the constitution but only an act of Parliament to change the voting methodology. The Australian Electoral Commission simply needs direction from Parliament to make it so.
People need to see their views represented in Parliament in direct proportion to the numbers of votes cast for their choice. What would be the result?
Initially the House of Reps would resemble the groupings we see in the Senate. Shock, horror… a chamber filled with Liberal, Labor, Nationals, Greens, One Nation, Nick Xenophon team, Family First and independents. And with each passing election, more parties and independents would come in, with some disappearing.
So be it, if that is the ‘will of the people’!
Would it be chaos? No.
Debates would be more lively and less predictable but the results would be constrained by the majority.
No better example of what I mean occurred on Wednesday the 9th of November in the Senate. I heard the debate on ABC radio. Senator Pauline Hanson put forward an amendment to exclude legal aid for a youth charged with terrorism related offences. Senator Hanson was allowed to air her opinion and arguments, respectfully, by the chamber. Senators representing other parties stood to explain their opinions, with Senator Hanson being able to respond, and finally the amendment was not supported. A seemingly mundane end to a morning session in the Senate.
But what a strange and wonderful situation to hear the Greens Senator Nick McKim in ‘furious agreement’ with the Liberal Senator and Attorney-General George Brandis!
This was Parliament at its finest… calm, considered, respectful and finally conclusive. This was a template for what could be achieved in the House of Reps. Strident and confronting views need to be given an authentic voice in Parliament, but it is then incumbent upon proponents to articulate their ideas and persuade their fellow members.
Our current system of voting, using preferential voting to deliver a single successful candidate per electorate does not allow new parties and independents to ‘break into’ the House of Representatives. Yes, it sometimes happens, but it never reflects the voting pattern when viewed across the nation. The Senate does have a form of Proportional representation, so we have seen the likes of the Democrats and the Palmer party, come and go, and now One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team have made their mark.
This is a good thing! Don’t be confused or bluffed by the old parties’ lines of ‘chaos’, ‘instability’ and ‘hung parliaments’. This is just self-serving and hollow propaganda when judged against their records of government.
Even the use, at election time, of the term ‘two-party preferred’ to analyse polls and election results, makes me shudder and raises the logical question, ”can’t we have more choice than A or B?”
Nothing will change until we adopt proportional representation for voting in the House of Reps. If we don’t, then it is only a matter of time before either of the old parties is ‘white-anted’ by extremist factions who will throw up a Donald Trump type leader (or worse).
And yet we are so close to having a democracy that would be a beacon of hope across the globe in these dark times when democracy and associated freedoms are in retreat. It is time for Australia to be the leader of the free world.