Incremental Alternatives

Small changes to our current system, mainly focussed on making elections and representation work better.

Now law in Oregon, this concept was originated by Ned Crosby and Pat Benn. This would see random samples of several hundred voters drawn by the Electoral Commission to explore individual elements of policy proposed by all parties and independents.

The group meets over a period of several months and is able to hear from experts as agreed to by the group. The requirement is for them to produce a short explanatory consensus paper on a given issue which is then disseminated en masse to the citizenry. In Oregon, it is included in the ballot paper materials handed out at the polling place. Another option would be to redirect some of the funding currently provided to the major parties for advertising and marketing to allow for mass media publication of the group product.

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This was the major electoral recommendation of the 2009 Citizens’ Parliament which assembled 150 randomly selected citizens drawn from every electorate nationally. (Disclosure Note: this event was funded and operated by the Foundation. Full findings are found here.

In practice, this serves to eliminate preference deals which are lightly understood and (as a result) not trusted by the vast majority of voters. There is no longer an ‘above the line’ vote for Upper House Candidates as voters gain the choice to preference as many or as few candidates as they choose. They gain confidence that a vote for Candidate A does not unknowingly translate into a vote for Candidate B because of a preferencing arrangement that they cannot reasonably be expected to be familiar with.

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or End Compulsory Voting

With elections designed theoretically to reflect the will and voice of the people, this reform would allow dissatisfied and disengaged citizens to be heard while creating a clear distinction with inadvertent informal votes.

The “none of the above” reform is potentially the most speculated upon while being very lightly researched or trialled so its practical impacts are little known (acknowledging the Australian Greens use this in their pre-selection process). It is suggested that the presence of an option which lets a voter disengage entirely would serve as a limiter to highly adversarial behaviour as neither party would seek to shrink the pool of available votes with its attendant funding impact. This is sometimes viewed as a ‘halfway step’ to non-compulsory voting as it reduces the compulsion on voting to one of attendance at a polling place.

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The nature of the adversarial political process results in a number of people with specialist expertise and management talent not making themselves available for senior office.

It is often commented that one advantage of the US system is the capacity of the President to draw respected people of achievement and talent and appoint them to senior roles. As one example, the role of Secretary of Defence is not filled by an elected representative, rather, by nomination by the President – with the recently retired Robert Gates a notable example of an appointment who served until both Republican and Democratic presidents and as a result was viewed by many as ‘above the politics’.

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Similar to the argument in favour of political advertising is that third party donations are a form of freedom of speech . A contrary view suggests that they significantly reduce public confidence in the motives of our elected representatives due to the perception that donations are only made in expectation of a commercial return, rather than as an altruistic contribution to civic life.

Following the 1984 election, the major parties acted in a bi-partisan manner to jointly propose reimbursement per vote with a 10% threshold of votes cast required to earn payment - a hurdle which created a signifant challenge for the Democrats.

The legislation of 1984 was intended to address the high costs of campaigning and limit the role of donors by moving to a purely publicly funded model, but unlimited private donations were still permitted by the new legislation as a trade-off with the Democrats for lowering the threshold to 4%. This threshold remains today.

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Australian advertising entrepreneur John Singleton described election campaigns as the “ultimate one day sale”. This ought not be considered an endorsement.

Arguments in favour of political advertising centre on the theme that it provides voter information and is a form of freedom of speech.

A contrary view suggests that it provides little in the way of information, and that financial limits on freedom of speech already exist in the form of media ownership laws - which set a precedent that we are willing to limit ‘freedom’ where financial power can be used to stifle diversity of opinion.

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Online and by Mail.

As originally suggested in Rethinking the Vote (see Further Reading below) and then expanded by other authors, this seemingly minor change is suggested as improving the deliberative and comparative component of voting.

The emphasis on home voting potentially sees voters armed with quite different sets of materials ranging from a short precis of candidates positions, through to recommendations from Citizens’ Panels (discussed elsewhere among the Alternatives) and less subject to sloganeering and pamphleteering – that is, their decision becomes more reasoned and deliberative.

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Currently, political advertising is not required to adhere to the same guidelines as commercial advertisers under the former Trade Practices Act (now the Competition and Consumer Act) or the Privacy Act. The lack of a requirement to adhere to the TPA prohibition on actions that "have the intent, or likely effect, to mislead or deceive" – coupled with the scale and frequency with which the message is delivered – acts as a severe constraint to reasoned analysis.

This is suggested as having a potentially far reaching impact on the tone of political debate as extreme claims would need to be substantiated and, if found to be deceptive, would result in fines or other penalties. Facing constraints that require evidentiary support (such as those required of the pharmaceutical industry), it is suggested the nature of political messaging would be repositioned due to the parties’ focus on consistency of message.

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As referenced here, today each citizen’s valid vote is worth $4.78 in public funding provided to major political parties ($2.39 for each of the Lower and Upper House primary votes cast).

One unresearched concept put to the Foundation (by recently retired politicians) would aim to break the increasing trend toward “career” politicians by proportionally tying the party funding per vote from the AEC to a sliding scale based on the proportion of representatives elected who were previously party staffers or student politicians.

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