As a longer term goal, we need to question and modify many assumptions about the mechanics of our democracy. Reconsidering the division of powers and funding between the three levels of Australian government (local, state and federal) should be foremost amongst these. With the advent of advanced electronic communication systems, it should be easier to move back to a more direct democracy whereby:
- Individuals could choose to vote on issues in parliament for themselves or nominate a representative for them. This wouldn’t even have to be one representative, you could nominate the politician or party who best represents your views on any issue or type of issue
o You could, for instance nominate Labor support on education, Green support on the environment and Clive Palmer support for farming.
o This would further act to break down the party allegiance for the most active citizens, who could instead split their preferences as they go – with the ability to change them online as required.
The fundamental problem with such a system is the question of IT security for people to engage in secret ballot functions that require no connection between a specific person and the way they voted. This could be achieved using a smart card system whereby a card is issued to anybody who has the right to vote, then used in a polling system to interact electronically to cast a vote; each card can only be used once per election. Then a completely separate system tracks that each person only votes one time. Any completely online electoral system would attract a lot of attention from people wanting to subvert the process, so a slow migration using the current process as a starting point is warranted.
Another approach to consider is the current Swiss system of ‘direct democracy’ whereby they vote directly on issues at all three levels of government multiple times a year. Instead of trusting entirely to representative democracy, this ensures that political outcomes really are the will of the people. This approach makes the government a far less attractive target for corporate attention as the people can easily overrule an unwelcome decision. Issues can be raised by the government or by the people if they produce a petition signed by more than one hundred thousand citizens within a period of 18 months.
Both of these new approaches could also make votes on regional issues carry far more weight if we redesign the scope of states to focus on areas of common interest. For instance, everybody who makes use of the Murray-Darling river system for farming and water supply generally has a common interest that crosses many current states. This could be turned into a different kind of electorate such that the people with the common interest and understanding can work together directly to achieve results; rather than waste time fighting across party political and state lines. These regions of common interest could also be diverse, for instance mining leases held across the country could become an area of common interest for anybody to join, comment and vote on.
This is intended to be the start of a greater discussion on the topic of direct vs representative democracy and how to achieve a balance to give the people a greater say in the nation’s future instead of trusting it to greedy politicians with a view to short term personal profits at any expense.