Give more power to the people
Under our parliamentary style of democracy, the leader of the country who is called Premier must first gain a seat in Parliament. They then must be selected by the majority of the House of Assembly and be able to demonstrate that they command the majority. Under our system, Parliament is supreme. However, the appointed leader must form a Cabinet of approximately 12 persons drawn ostensibly from Parliament, with the addition of possibly two from the Senate.
Although not entirely a separate executive branch, the Cabinet is, in fact, the Government and will meet in a private session among themselves. All other Members of Parliament are either of the back bench or the official Opposition.
The huge reform question would be: how could one change the process of selection of the leader so as to receive the mandate directly from the electorate yet remain within this similar parliamentary style?
The easiest way would be to hold a separate election for the leader of the country during the General Election and have one seat in Parliament reserved for that person. That can be accomplished by either increasing the seats to 37 or removing one seat.
Under such a construct, the issue of “He who commands the majority” would have to be struck out of the Constitution because the leader instead received the mandate from the electorate. It would require fixed-term elections because the leader would have to be given the mandate to govern or lead for a period of time rather than rise and fall with the whims of parliamentary performance, which is the case at present and would be the case anywhere under a system where the leader must command the majority.
Naturally, it is possible under this new construct for a leader who is popular to win the national vote, despite their party being beaten. Indeed, the new leader could be an independent. Notwithstanding, they will form a Cabinet of their choice, which may be predominantly of a group from one party or a healthy mix.
Given that the leader is chosen by the electorate, there would need to be rules of engagement between the leadership, with their role and responsibility to the electorate, as issues of performance and discipline have oversight.
Under our present system, the public have never had any direct oversight over the Premier, nor has even the chairman of the political party had any role of oversight over the leader of the country. The role of oversight is not to limit the effectiveness or ability of the Premier to lead and make decisions, but more so to provide a means for impeachment when they have abused their authority or have such misconduct that brings the country’s leadership into disrepute and disgrace.
The leader of a country is the leader of all the people. Therefore, their actions while in office should be fully accountable not just to Parliament, but to all the people — and not protected behind party constructs or executive privilege.
Having the leadership chosen directly by the electorate will increase the dynamism of leadership and will result in successive governments that will have changed with the mood of the general populace rather than suffer the stagnancy we have witnessed over the past 60 years. Societies do evolve and leadership needs to evolve with it to remain relevant.
The existing construct resembles a cloning exercise where there is a party template constantly being reinforced generation after generation, churning out lookalike leaders. When the leaders have to face the public with their agenda, it is far better than them brown-nosing a handful of delegates and manipulating a small-party machinery or being a pawn of a small-party cartel.
People with a special interest don’t want to hear any of this, particularly when they can control the machinery. Why go through the bother of engaging the whole public when you can manipulate a few people to gain the leadership you want in place?
The moral answer is simple: leadership of every kind affects every member of the public. Therefore, the public have a naturally inherent right and moral obligation to choose what will inevitably affect them.
By process, the next line of leadership, which truly should also belong to the public is the Senate. The Senate in a bicameral format is the public’s second chance at hearing legislation that was previously introduced to Parliament. Even though there are three independent senators appointed by the Governor, instead of the Senate acting as a body where senior and more mature debate analyses issues, it too often has become the ground where unsuccessful party members are rewarded for standing in elections and losing or, worse, as a training ground where rookie politicians reiterate verbatim commands and rehash positions taken in Parliament.
Again, the Senate belongs to the public — you pay for it and these are your instruments that are being usurped by party privileges. Nothing wrong with party politics, except it should not take away a public right. The Senate needs to be elected to be truly accountable to the public.
The electorate pays the MPs’ and the senators’ salaries. The electorate also pays for the buildings where they meet and the civil servants who tend to their deliberations and maintain their records. Yet the electorate has no role in their primary selection, while the parties who pay nothing do.
This is very similar to the “taxation without representation” argument, which preceded the American Revolution. The public are paying for something that only a handful of individuals in a private organisation has absolute control over. How sweet is that deal?
“Oh, but you voted them in,” they will say. But that was the second vote or ratification — the first choice and vote were by a handful or a couple of dozen at best, and that’s the real choice where it all begins. The second vote is perfunctory and merely ritual in some cases because we already know which party will win.