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    THE DEMOCRATIC ASSEMBLY -- DISCUSSION ONE -- MAKING A START

    flag australia

    The Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country ranked in terms of its total land mass and adjoining area.

    Australia is described as a federation, a constitutional monarchy, and a parliamentary or representative democracy. (See "Background Information")

    In this discussion, are our opening thoughts in our quest to find a solution to a better form of government in Australia, and the factors involved in seeking a new method of governing ourselves, if such a thing is desirable or even possible.


    First things first.  If this is your first venture into our discussion, then please acquaint yourself with the blog rules of discussion, and the preliminary items about how the present government system works, if you need to be updated with the way government works now. 

     (Learn more here)

    This is important, because we want to encourage you to join in the discussion, and to do so you need to be aware of the way the present system works.


     Australia is described as a "Representative Democracy".

    This means that the whole population of Australia, have given the right to make decisions about all aspects of their lives and wellbeing, to another person. This person is supposed to represent  each individual, and make decisions for them in a government house. 

    In Australia, "Government House" can mean at Local Council, State and Territory, or Federal level.


    To have an example of the questions we are looking at here, let us have a look at the people of the Cook constituency in Sydney who are "represented" by the present (January 2020) Prime Minister  (The Honorable) Mr. Scott Morrison.

     Division of COOK 2016 

    Scott Morrison
    Liberal

    51 year-old Morrison is a former State Director of the NSW Liberal Party and former Managing Director of Tourism Australia.  In 2007, Morrison was given  glowing references from Liberal figures as substantial as Prime Minister Howard, but despite those references, Morrison failed to win local pre-selection for Cook ahead of the 2007 election. Someone else was preferred locally.

    It turns out that the Liberal  party bosses  in Menzies House, Barton, A.C.T. were unhappy with the candidate chosen by the local  (Cook) Liberals, who had selected a low profile candidate.  Reasons  were found  to depose that candidate and appoint Morrison in his place.

    After getting elected in Parliament, Morrison had a very high profile in opposition as spokesman on Immigration and Citizenship, leading the attack on the Rudd and Gillard governments' failure to stem the growing number of asylum seeker boats arriving in Australia.

    Later, In government, Morrison gained credit for stopping boat arrivals before moving to the Social Security portfolio where was credited with negotiating the passage of tougher eligibility criteria for retiree benefits through the Senate.

    Morrison declined a last minute offer of the Treasury portfolio from Tony Abbott and was instead awarded the portfolio when Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott as Prime Minister. When the numbers finally aligned to depose Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister in August 2018, Morrison emerged as the new Prime Minister after he and his backers outflanked Peter Dutton. All the foregoing had very little to do with the opinions and needs of the people of the Cook constitutency.

     

    scott morrison

      In the 2016 Census, there were 140,454 people in Cook, 67,499 males and 71,568 females. Approximately 25,000 of these people are under the age of 14 years, which leaves a balance of approximately 115,000 people aged 15 years and over.

    In the 2019 Federal election, 59,895 (43%), people voted for Morrison, and 34,128 (24%), did not want Mr Morrison to  continue to represent them. 

    Reading the above information, one can see that the original selection of Morrison as candidate, and then as Prime Minister, were political jaunts, unrelated to his suitability for the people he represents, and more about one party seeking power for itself, which on the face of it, has nothing to do with benefits to the population of Cook at large.

    These election figures infer that twenty four percent of the people in that area, are not represented. Or at least, are not being represented by the person who they thought was best for them.

     In a sense, those thirty four thousand people of Cook, were disenfranchised, and have to put up with Mr Morrison as their "Representative".

    This brings us to a very important factor to be considered in this search for an alternative system of government. 

    What constitutes a majority? How fair is a simple majority?

     How many people make up  the major part of voting on any issue? 

    In the corporate world of companies and businesses, a majority is a vote of anything over  half  ( 50%), of the people entitled to vote.   This rule applies to many other forms of organisation, and is called "first past the post".

    It was in order to try and make a better judgement of what people want, that the "preferential" method of voting was invented. (See Note 2 of the post here).


    Let us look at what may happen in the present system of government, using an hypothetical and utterly fictional situation in Cook. cronulla

    Let's suppose that a  commercial corporation proposes to the  Federal government that a good profit can be made from mining and selling sand. Sand is becoming a sought-after and scarce resource globally, for use in the construction and other industries.The insatiable demand of the global building boom has unleashed an illegal market in sand. Gangs are now stealing pristine beaches for profit in other parts of the World.

    Cronulla beach in Cook, has vast quantities of the product, and it is proposed to clear the beach of the sand on it and sell it to a foreign corporation. Gravel from a nearby pit could be used to replace the sand so that people will be able to still use the beach for water enjoyments after the sand is extracted. Because of the enormity and National economic benefit of the project, the State and local council views are sidelined.

    The number-crunchers in the relevant government departments figure that the economic advantages could be considerable, and the project could net a lot of money, so that an assessment of the project is put underway. This will involve a few changes to some established law  and edging around regulations regarding public land etc.

    The project is kept "under wraps" for the time being, but one of the contractors employed in the assessment work, lets a family member know about the intentions for the beach, and a public protest to stop the project gets under way, mainly in the social media. 

    The government advertises a public engagement and request for comments is launched, at the end of which the results, the local council view, and the State opinion, are ignored and dealt with, in favour of the economics of the project.  In the parliament, a deal with the opposition and Senate is reached, by exchanging some other promises relating to future projects, so that offical opposition ends, and the necessary Acts are passed.

    The public protests run out of steam as time passes, and the contracts for sand removal are handed down and signed off by the relevant Minister.

    Contractors have spent a deal of money lobbying for the work, although a formal tender period was set. The main contractor engaged has a family connection to the Minister, although not close enough for scrutiny.

    The views of the people of Cronulla or the Cook constituency are sidelined, because they are irrevelant. The "Representative" for Cook is powerless against the wishes of the party in government, and dare not renege against his/her colleagues. 

    The "party", and the Member of Parliament, ("representative") for Cook, take the brunt of the resultant public unhappiness mainly waged on the internet and general anger at the desecration of a well-used public place, but the work continues.

    This scenario is imaginary and hypothetical,  but similar processes have taken place in  similar ways in too many times and places in recent memory.

    Actions taken by the government,  which seem to many in the general populace unreasonable, idiotic, stupid and/or dangerous to residents, have created anger, frustration,  and resultant stress of the population, which, in itself, is harmful to their health.

    Let us consider an alternative.

    Suppose the idea of removing Cronulla beach is proposed in an Australia in which True or Direct  Democracy exists.   If this was the case, a vote must be taken of the entire voting population to see whether such a scheme could be accepted.

    So, the voters cast their votes, basing their opinions on the available information which presented both sides of the proposal, and the scheme either progresses or not.


    Bear in mind the fact that in our present system, 227 "representatives" in the House of Representatives, and the Senate,  vote on issues presented to them. In general they probably vote without specific knowledge, particularly if the issue content is technical, being secure in the knowledge that they will simply be called upon to vote according to their "Party" wishes.

    Some representatives may debate, and make speeches, but often to empty benches in the House.

    A referendum is a direct and universal vote in which an entire electorate is invited to vote on a particular proposal and can have nationwide or local forms. This may result in the adoption of a new policy or specific law.

    In some countries, a referendum is synonymous with a plebiscite or a vote on a ballot question. In other words, the general population makes the decision, not a few government people.

    There are several factors we have to discuss in relation to this aspect of investigating True  Direct Democracy. They include:

    1. What is a majority?

    2. Who would be  entitled to vote?

    3. How is information about decisions to be made made available to all voters, prior to a vote?

    4, Would such an arrangement of Direct Democracy be too complex and unwieldy to be practical?

    5. How secure would such a system have to be in order to be viable, usable and give confidence?


    In this post, we intend to concentrate on the  "majority" question.  "What is a fair and acceptable majority?"

    "Is a simple majority a fair way to decide on important matters?"     

    We seek your opinions and thoughts on this vital piece of the jigsaw.....


    In recent times in Britain, concerning the "Brexit" issue, a referendum was held concerning whether to leave the European Union or not.

    The 49% who "lost", felt, after the vote, that they had been mis-informed, because of factors which came to light after the vote was taken, and 51% had won the vote. 

    This event seems to be food for the argument that Direct Democracy can never be obtained, because people "...are not capable of deciding about important things...". Perhaps though, the counter argument may be that since referenda (or plebiscites) are rare, people were unprepared for this event?  If Direct Democracy were engineered to be the usual way of government, with good human organisation, then the result may have been different.

    brexit

     

     The resultant political "Brexit" fiasco, caused ruptures and anger throughout the British society.

    This is what we would seek to avoid.


    It is true that the 51/49 vote, (sometimes called "First-past-the-post voting),  has been, for 200 years, the way our government has been organised, since the party in power in Australian government has put through Acts and regulations, by virtue of a similar vote... the "Ayes" and "Noes" of parliamentary procedure.

    In some instances in the past, where there has been even votes "for" and "against" a motion, proposals  affecting the entire population, were "carried" by a single representative's (M.P.), vote.

    A vote which was, on occasions, "bought" with some form of political scheming.

      The "Party" system seems to be inflexible, since whatever the cabinet (See Note three) decides, is what individual members (M.P.s), have to follow, or suffer the wrath of their colleagues, and possible exclusion from the Party, which can result in loss of their job, income, pension and benefits.


     In the imaginary example, concerning Cronulla's sand, suppposing that there are 94,023 voters on the electoral roll and they all voted concerning this proposal. 50.1 percent would be 47,105 people, and say they voted in favour of the proposal.

    This would mean that a total of 46,918 people were against the proposal, and would be very unhappy with the result... UNLESS ... there was a general feeling existing  and accepted, that the system was fair and that those people who "lost" the vote would accept the majority outcome.

    Let's see if we can find ways in which such a democratic system could seem to be fair to all.

    First; it is true that the present system of government means that an individual "representative" has to live with the views of whichever party was chosen  to be the governmentat an election.

    Second; the simple majority is the way we have run our system of government since federation in 1901.

    Third; sometimes, any individual may have views against certain issues and in favour of others, depending on the situation, and these opinions may  not align with the party in power. 

    Therefore, in a truly direct democratic system, the voter can exercise whatever view or opinion seems right in those circumstances without party interference, provided that the voter is given all the facts of a matter and can fairly consider them all.

    If this problem can be solved, it would be a great start to our quest.

    A simple majority refers to majority of more than half (50%) of the voters present and voting.

    A special majority could refer to  (for example) a majority of 2/3rd voters present and voting.... .or any other percentage, say, 75% / 25%..


    . In this first discussion proper, we are seeking your opinion of the points raised about majorities :

    Assuming that all the facts of a situation are known, and can be accessed and considered by each voter;

    1. Do you think that the "first-past-the-post (simple majority) method of voting is fair to all in terms of deciding National matters?

    2. Do you think that is a fair method to decide on important matters,or do we need to think about an alternative "majority"?

    We seek your opinions and thoughts on this vital piece of the jigsaw.....


    18th January 2020:

    Judging by the responses, the proposition would seem to be that the simple majority, having served us for 200 years, will be OK to continue with, given that we manage to find a way to establish Direct Democracy for ourselves....

     

    (You are still free to comment on this aspect of the discussion if you wish.......)

     


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    THE DEMOCRATIC ASSEMBLY -- DISCUSSION TWO -- VOTE...
    THE DEMOCRATIC ASSEMBLY -- INVITE TO DISCUSS --...
     

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