I am close to putting Barnaby Joyce on my list of least favourite politicians (Wilson Tuckey, Steve Fielding, Eric Abetz … it's a long list). Climate change denial and a proposal to raise the PM's salary to a million dollars in his latest interview. The reason? So we can attract those big businessmen who gave us the global financial crisis into politics. The public, rightly, is very suspicious, and angry, that politicians have ultimate control over their own remuneration, and the latest 3% rise has raised the usual anger. I don't share that concern. I think many (oh, alright, some) politicians both work hard and do a good job, and their salary should match those of other hard working people in the community like nurses and scientists and aged carers and teachers and police. No question about that, fair's fair.
But what I do worry about is politicians controlling the electoral system of Australia. If you want to see the end result of that look no further than America and Zimbabwe. And they are at it again this year with a review of the electoral system to be carried out to address all kinds of issues, of which only one, possibly two, is valid.
Just to remind you. The most important features of our electoral system are those which make it the fairest in the world. They are compulsory attendance (not compulsory voting) at a polling centre during the election period; preferential voting; a totally independent electoral office; a paper record of every vote cast; a transparent counting and recording of votes; public funding of candidates in proportion to their popularity; some control of the fairness and extent of advertising, and a transparency of its origin. If you were setting out to design a fair election process now you couldn't do better than that, and the absence of many of its features (for example in America and Britain, and Zimbabwe) make elections in many other parts of the world a poor representation of the needs and views of people in those countries.
Beware of people who want to tinker with this. Especially reject the introduction of electronic voting (a disaster for American democracy, notably in the election of George Bush); of the loss of preferential voting (again, first past the post systems are extremely unfair in countries like Britain and the US); of the loss of compulsory attendance (in most countries without this, the tiny attendance and consequent biased voting patterns, ensure rule by the rich for the rich); of the weakening of regulations for fair advertising (if you think there is some bad stuff now take a look at American elections where there is open slather to lie and lie and lie about opponents).
There is a need to have a look at funding for the major parties and how this is recorded and publicised. I wouldn't allow any outside funding, and I would prefer that all parties rely on their own membership fees and public funding. Again, the influence of big money and lobbyists in American politics is not something we want to see repeated here (think NSW politics and developers), and we are on a slippery slope already. Dropping the voting age to 16 is possibly worth discussing, but when I think that at that age I told my grandmother to vote for Menzies it is clear that 16 year olds are too immature to be trusted with the vote.
There is an old saying in the law "cui bono?" "who benefits?" Meaning if you want to solve a crime the best place to look is at those who stand to gain from murder or corruption or robbery. If you want to know what to do about the Australian electoral system find out who would benefit from the proposed changes (and who is against more funding transparency). It is the two major political parties and big corporations. Tell both that we like things the way we are thank you very much, as long as they get money out of Australian politics.
Perhaps if we agreed to another pay rise on condition that Australian elections stay as they are?
All David Horton's earlier writing is here.