Friday, 22 March 2013

Heart and Soul Draft Policy online

Public governance, parliament and politicians - please comment on this draft policy
For more than a century, political parties of both Right and Left have presided over a steady shift in power away from individual citizens towards large corporate and state institutions.

In government, Labor and Liberal have administered legislative and regulatory regimes that favour large corporations over small business; providers over consumers; professionalised and incorporated entities over informal associations; funded quangos over self-help and mutual aid; and impersonal litigation-prone rules and regulations over personal and communal responsibility.

As the administrators of these regimes, the two major political machines (Labor and Liberal) have become instruments through which powerful corporate, institutional and provider interests uphold and preserve their dominance over society.

Our aim is to reverse these processes and undo this pattern of power. We aim to develop a new pattern of social and political governance in which power is dispersed as widely as possible to individuals, families and associations in civil society.

As power has shifted from individual citizens to large institutions, the two major parties have ceased to be mass participation civic organisations. The membership of both Labor and Liberal parties is 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 spin, media advertising, and corporate donations (largely property developers, gaming, alcohol and tobacco 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 the general citizenry. Membership of parliament is now largely restricted to union officials, political staffers and labour lawyers on the ALP side, and political staffers and commercial lawyers 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 venue for the opposing political machine to declare its opposition until the next election comes around.

Our governance reform policy 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.

Our principles in governance reform 

1. The role of Parliament and public institutions is to serve, protect and strengthen civil society and the common good (the century-long shift in functions, resources and authority from civil society to the state should be checked and steadily reversed).

2. Members of Parliament should be drawn from the full body of citizens in the Commonwealth (and should reflect the diversity of the general citizenry, not narrow unrepresentative sections of society)

3. The role of a Member of Parliament is to represent and serve their electors (it is not a career or profession)

4. 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).

5. 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).

6. 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 will: 

1. Establish the role of a member of parliament as one of service to the community, and not a career, by replacing the existing salary, pension, superannuation, allowances and retirement benefits with a Living Allowance of $100,000 per year, plus an Accommodation and Travel Allowance. The Living Allowance of $100,000 would be a fixed amount, without additional remuneration for leadership or ministerial roles.

The purpose of this Living Allowance is to discourage career politicians and encourage limited terms of service from citizens who want to contribute to civil society and the common good.

2. Superannuation benefits would be set at the standard citizen rate (currently 9%) not the current special politician rate of 15%.

3. Parliamentary pensions for life for retiring members of parliament will be abolished, along with retirement benefits such as travel passes.

4. Special allowances and benefits for retired ministers and prime ministers will be abolished.
5. Prohibit a retiring minister of the crown from trading on public information by appointment to a company board or to an advisory or consulting role with governments for a period of 5 years after their retirement.

6. Prohibit 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 met by the retiring member.

7. Prohibit donations from corporate entities to political parties. This would include companies, trade unions, and foundations. Only donations from individuals will be permitted.

The purpose of this proscription is to remove the corruption of the democratic process where corporate entities with vested interests seek to influence the stance of parties and governments through political donations.

8. Apply the jury system of citizen adjudication to a range of public decisions to ensure non-partisan non-party political decision-making in matters including:

Approval of government advertising;
Scrutiny and right to veto political appointments to diplomatic posts;
Scrutiny and right to veto political appointments to public boards such as the ABC;
Approval of allowances to members of parliament.

In these cases, the Australian Electoral Commission would select by lot a jury of 25 people from the Australian Electoral Roll, subject to the same qualifications as currently apply in the use of juries in the legal system.

9. Support the establishment of an Australian head of state appointed by a jury of 25 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 Australian Electoral Commission would oversee a public nomination process, and present nominations to the citizens' jury.

10. Remove the fine levied by the Australian Electoral Commission on citizens who are not sufficiently inspired or motivated by candidates and parties for public office to attend a voting place in elections.