This article first appeared in the May 2018 edition of the IPA Review. PDF available here.
A recent university study found that public satisfaction with our democratic processes and public trust in the politicians we elect are at some of the lowest levels ever recorded. Meanwhile, Australia is experiencing sluggish economic growth as businesses struggle under the burden of red tape, and the federal finances are out of control as we trend toward a national debt of $1 trillion by the 2030s. It’s time to consider new and disruptive options to revitalise our democracy and expand the scope for freedom.
IT’S TIME TO CONSIDER NEW AND DISRUPTIVE OPTIONS TO REVITALISE OUR DEMOCRACY AND EXPAND THE SCOPE FOR FREEDOM.
MORGAN BEGG: EXPAND THE NUMBER OF STATES
The question of the ideal size and number of the States deserves more attention than it receives. This is because changing the composition of the states to be smaller and much more numerous could fundamentally improve Australian governance and bring power closer to the people.
MORE, AND SMALLER, ELECTORATES, WOULD ALSO ALLOW MPS TO BE MORE ATTENTIVE TO CONSTITUENT INTERESTS, AND MORE ACCURATELY REFLECT THEIR VIEWS IN PARLIAMENT
By establishing new states, we would be more likely to see the benefits of jurisdictional competition. In a federal system, lawmaking jurisdictions attempt to develop policy which best meets specific policy goals, but risk pushing people and businesses into other jurisdictions if the rules are too onerous or oppressive.
In Australia, the low number of states minimises the diversity of rules across the country, which cuts the potential for competitive policy making. Increasing the number of states from 6 to 10 or 15 could potentially see the development of business friendly regimes and even tax havens, much like Delaware has in the United States.
More states mean smaller states, and this is inherently more democratic. Genuine democratic engagement thrives in smaller jurisdictions. People will be more likely to respect the law if power is closer to them. As Chris Berg noted in 2016: ‘The idea that the people rule is more believable when it is possible to imagine ourselves as one of those rulers – something which is less likely in a giant unitary nation than a small community’.
DANIEL WILD: RECALL ELECTIONS
Canberra is dysfunctional. The elites are out of touch. And the public is losing trust and faith in our parliamentary democracy. One way of fixing this is through recall elections. Recall elections allow voters of a particular electorate to remove an elected official via a vote before that Member’s term has officially expired.
Recall elections would involve a certain percentage of voters (say 10 per cent of eligible voters in an electorate) petitioning for a recall election to take place. If that percentage is met, then a recall election would be held. If a majority of voters vote for the Member of Parliament to be expelled, then that Member would be removed from Parliament and a by-election would be held to determine who would take that Member’s place.
ONE OF THE GREAT BENEFITS OF RECALL ELECTIONS IS THAT VOTERS DON’T HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL A GIVEN TERM IS FINISHED BEFORE THEY CAN REMOVE A MEMBER FOR MISCONDUCT OR SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOUR.
Recall elections are used in a number of countries around the world, including in certain Cantons (provinces) in Switzerland, some states in the United States, and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Recall elections are an important mechanism for keeping politicians closer to the people. In an age of expert-rule, technocracy, and the administrate state it is more important than ever that politicians are held to account. One of the great benefits of recall elections is that voters don’t have to wait until a given term is finished before they can remove a Member for misconduct or scandalous behaviour. This would be one small step that could be taken to rejuvenate Australian democracy and encourage Australians to be more involved in our political processes.
MATTHEW LESH: FOR-PROFIT SCHOOLING
For-profit schools would increase school choice, improve student outcomes, and reinvigorate our education system.
Australian education is in dire straits. Despite the billions thrown at schools in the stimulus and Gonski funding, last year the UN ranked Australia’s schools at 39 out of 41 high and middle income countries. The OECD has found that 20 per cent of Australian 15 year olds cannot read a petrol gauge and 14 per cent are functionally illiterate. We need to seriously re-think how we deliver education.
As it stands, for-profit schools cannot receive public funding, and new for-profit schools are banned in Victoria. Nevertheless, we allow public funds to flow to for-profit entities in other educational pursuits – private colleges, training centres, childcare, preschool, and tutoring. For-profit schools should have the same access to public funding as the non-profit sector.
Across the economy, profit signals deliver higher quality at a lower cost. We don’t bat an eyelid when a GP makes a profit Why is education any different? Why shouldn’t we reward quality educators in the same way we reward quality doctors? For-profit schools have a proven track record in the harshest of circumstance. Professor James Tooley of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne has documented the emergence of thousands of for-profit private schools across the developing world – form the shanty towns of India, to Somaliland, and Sierra Leone. Tooley found from testing 24,000 children that for-profit schools outperform public schools.
Extremely poor parents are choosing to spend on for-profit schools over free public schools because of higher educational quality. Australian parents should have the same choice.
GIDEON ROZNER: ABOLISH THE MINIMUM WAGE AND MODERN AWARDS
Centrally-determined wages have been an article of faith for the Australian left since the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration established the ‘basic wage’ over a century ago. Since then, Australia’s statutory minimum wage has soared and is today one of the highest in the world. But at the same time most occupations are covered by so-called ‘modern awards’ which mandate wages above the statutory minimum, driving wages even higher.
While high wages are welcome news for those fortunate enough to have a job, they pose a barrier to entry for those who do not. Artificially high wages make it more expensive for businesses to take on new staff, locking thousands of Australians out of employment. Low-skilled workers are particularly disadvantaged, as demand for them is relatively elastic.
Abolishing centrally-determined wages would allow employers and employees to negotiate directly on pay and conditions. It may be that some workers will choose to offer their labour for lower pay, particularly if they have little experience and are seeking to get their ‘foot in the door’ when it comes to the job market.
There are over 700,000 Australians who are looking for a job, 1.1 million part-time workers seeking additional hours, and many more who are out of work and have given up on looking altogether. The abolition of the minimum wage and modern awards would give these Australians the chance to enjoy the dignity of work.
SIMON BREHENY: INCREASE THE NUMBER OF PARLIAMENTARIANS
Increasing the number of federal electorates in Australia would help weaken the vice-like grip the executive wields over the legislature.
In absolute terms, Australia’s parliament of 226 representatives is small compared to other Anglosphere countries. The United Kingdom has 650 in the House of Commons alone, the United States Congress is made up of 535 MHRs and Senators, and Canada has 443 across its two houses of parliament. Only New Zealand has fewer MPs, with a total of 120.
One of the consequences of Australia’s small overall parliamentary numbers is that the executive wields more influence over the parliament than in comparable democracies because around a third of all MPs are members of the executive or the shadow executive. This concentrates power in the hands of a small number of decision-makers at the top of the two major parties.
If the size of parliament was increased, backbench MPs would be able to band together to influence policy-making because of a more substantial threat to a government posed by a backbench revolt. MPs would be better able to represent their own constituencies and do what they know to be right in situations where their position is at odds with their own party.
More, and smaller, electorates, would also allow MPs to be more attentive to constituent interests, and more accurately reflect their views in parliament.