Re-inventing Politics – The Cameron System

On Twitter this afternoon I made a crack about how the two-party system we have in Australia is, I believe, fundamentally broken. Someone asked me how I would improve it. This is what I came up with on the fly. This isn’t something I’ve given any thought to previously, so it’s probably full of holes as big as Barnesy’s mouth, but you know me, I’m a shoot-first, think-later kinda guy. I’m certain it isn’t even slightly original. It’s probably discussed in Politics 101 at university but as I didn’t go to university, I missed out.

Let’s scrap all of the political parties.

In fact, let’s scrap elections completely.

Why couldn’t it work like the jury system.

We set up an online Bill submission system. Citizens, businesses, lobby groups, etc, could all enter in their submissions for new laws they want enacted.

Public servants would then arrange for 50 or 100 citizens to be selected at random from the community, jury style, to hear the arguments for and against each submission. After they have heard the evidence and debated it in private, the jury will vote to see which submission deserve further investigation. Two small committees will then be established from the public service to examine the merits of each submission – one for and one against.

Once the committees have their presentations ready, another “jury” will be called to hear the respective arguments. They will hear the “for” argument and the “against” argument, just like hearing the prosecution and the defense in a legal case. Again, this “jury” will deliberate in private and then vote either for or agains the bill.

And so on and so forth.

And we treat being a member of one of these juries with the same seriousness and legal ramifications as we do being a member of a jury today. Tampering with a jury carries maximum penalties.

The benefits? Here are some off the top of my head.

  • even if we fly everyone to Canberra for the deliberations, it’s going to save the country millions of dollars a year. The 2004 Federal Election cost $120 million. I have no idea what it costs us every year to run the MPs, but it can’t be pretty. In my system, it would be legislated that the jurors would get leave from their employers at full pay while they were on jury duty. Small businesses (under $10 million in annual revenue) would be compensated for this expense.
  • we would get rid of professional politicians for good and all of the problems that this system entails. Lobby groups wouldn’t be able to buy off anyone, because juries would rotate constantly. Nobody gets to retire from politics and become a director of a mining company as a reward for Bills passed or get paid $US500,000 per speaking engagement.
  • we’d get rid of party politics. Hooray.
  • it won’t just be the wealthy members of society making the decisions. Federal backbenchers now get paid $127,000 pa plus benefits whereas half the households in Australia have a pre-tax income of less than $80,826. And that’s leaving out the politicians who are already insanely wealthy such as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull.

So – as always feel free to tell me where I’m wrong. You know I love a good debate.

(photo by tassie303)

16 thoughts on “Re-inventing Politics – The Cameron System

  1. Hmm. Might work for a lot of stuff.

    But who runs the country? Decides what to do in the event of war? Plans the strategic long-term stuff?

    (Oh yeah, the current system probably isn’t doing too well at that…)

  2. I’d say the same people who do now:

    War? – the military prepare for it, make recommendations, and the people vote. Of course, there should be emergency powers made available to someone for situations where we are being attacked, etc.

    Long term stuff – it follows the system above. We govern through laws and where we spend the money. These are all decisions which are effectively made by public servants. The only difference today (that I can see) is that the “for” and “against” argument are made by professional politicians and often they argue purely for “point scoring” or ideological, party reasons. In the new system, individuals will be called in to listen and vote.

    Who runs the country? The people. Wouldn’t this be a more refined form of democracy than the current form of representation?

  3. That’s LUDICROUS! As if the people know what’s good for them! As if the people know what they really want!

    Oh wait … yes, yes they probably would know 🙂

  4. It’s not ludicrous at all! It’s called DEMOCRACY… and I don’t mean the USA or the Roman kind, I’m talking about the Athenian kind!

    What you described, Cameron, is very basically how Athenian democracy worked. Any citizen could come and put in their two cents.

    The results were actually very interesting…
    1) a very aggressive, bellicose state (HA! to all you who believe democracy breeds peace!)
    2) you had an elite ruling class anyway (yes, only a small percent of people actually cared enough to show up to the meetings… just look at voting turn out in modern countries and you’ll get similar numbers)
    3) albeit parties didn’t exist, there still existed cohesion between groups with similar political beliefs… based mostly on short term gains
    4) things went well in Athens when people of character and integrity had the upper hand…

    So, my conclusion: leadership and character is the silver bullet of politics. We should create political systems that will limit the damage that idiots can do when they get power (which they will eventually will).

    Just remember: in a democracy, people get the government they deserve.

  5. Damn those Athenians for beating me by a mere 2500 years!

    While you’re right, of course, there are some similarities between the systems, our modern system wouldn’t just involve males with citizen parentage.

    And I think giving women an equal say in the process is a critical difference. Would a state governed with men AND women be as bellicose and aggressive?

    I don’t think you can really claim Athens had an “elite” ruling class, at least in the modern sense of the word. Every male citizen could vote. You didn’t have to own property (like in the Roman republic) or come from blue blood. You had to have completed your military training and come from citizen stock. Limited, yes, but hardly elitist.

    In my model, it would be like jury duty today – penalties invoked if you DON’T turn up to serve your country.

    I think our current system of politics ensures that people of character (well, GOOD character) often don’t make it. The system is weighted towards sniping, backstabbing, back-room politics.

    Here’s my other concern – in a land of professional politics, the people are encouraged to stay out of the way. We’re asked to think about politics once every four years. The rest of the time, they hope we’ll may more attention to the footy.

    In my system, EVERYONE will have to take part in how their country is run.

    Surely that’s a good thing?

    I mean, I’m probably not going to be happy with all of the decisions that are made, but I’m not happy with most of them as it is, so that won’t be a change.

    As for your last point, I agree, however – we also get the government that the elites (and our current system *is* an elitist system) want us to have. A Rupert Murdoch, a Kerry Packer, a Kerry Stokes, can significantly determine the outcome of an election.

  6. “debated it in private” – A lot seems to be going on in private in this system. What about all the hard fought victories for openness which have been won over the last hundred years.

    “online Bill submission system” – so there are 20m people in Australia. I could probably think of 10 bills I’d like to see enacted right now. Give me a few weeks and I could think of 10 more. Before you knew it you’d have several million “bills”. How is a jury of 50-100 going to sort through millions of “bills”. It’d be impossible.

  7. While we’re mentioning Athens: Nobody has mentioned an Athenian democratic process that was essential for their democracy: ostracism, which had a vote to expel someone REALLY annoying from the citystate for 5 or 10 years – but no other penalty. (Many other classical democratic city states adopted the idea – esp Athenian colonies in Asia Minor).

    In the modern world, it would be a “no elected office / ambassador / senior executive in department” for 10 years. Preferential, 3 blank lines on the voting card for you to nominate the pollies you hate, and occuring mid-term.

    I’ve put a longer discussion on how it could work in the modern context here

  8. Hey, that’s a pretty interesting idea.

    Not because I think it would work as it is – forgetting for a moment the issues mentioned above, I think you’d end up with an all powerful civil service skilled at manipulating the opinions of the jury.

    That said, it’s an interesting idea – I’d never really thought about applying a jury mechanism to legislation, and I wonder if there’s not other places where it might fit better.. It’s probably not appropriate for complex issues that require a lot of knowledge (not that politicians necessarily have that knowledge), but it seems like a good mechanism for resolving issues of values and of priority.

    So, imagine a tiered system; a ‘lower house’ based around a jury of sorts that establishes legislative priorities, has veto powers, acts as a values thermometer of sorts, and is able to impeach other bodies in the system. An upper house based partly on elections, potentially with some qualification requirements (diverse criteria so you don’t end up with it being some group’s private monopoly), then advises and formulates details and specialized policy to be ratified by the lower body, and then, possibly an executive chosen by direct election.

    Make jury participation mandatory, fully random, and universal (with caveats for age). With, say, a term of 3 months to make it practical. Possibly with options to extend the term in certain circumstances.

    I’m not sure if this is a big improvement on your idea; I’m more suggesting that use of random selection for participants provides for some really interesting structures – it’s probably a much fairer way of distilling the ‘will of the people’ than the current invested political we have.

    Interesting – you guys should try it – I’ll sit over here in NZ and watch 🙂

  9. Sorry – should have elaborated. I meant use public servants to filter incoming bill submissions so only sensible ones get through to the national jury-like council … all under the pretence of “avoiding duplication” 🙂

  10. Charlie, I think private is important. The debates can be held in public but I think how people vote should be kept private so there is no vilification afterwards against individuals. For the same reason a jury deliberates in private. That said, I don’t think it will make or break the system.

    As for your argument about the billions of bills that would come in – I highly doubt it. There are ways of setting certain hurdles in place to make sure the bills submitted are of a certain standard and not just wasting everyone’s time.

    Trond – from watching “Yes, Minister”, I think an all-powerful public service already exists. 😉 That’s like arguing that “an all powerful legal system exists to manipulate juries”. Yes, of course it does. But that doesn’t mean we throw out the jury system. It works. It isn’t perfect, but it’s the best model we’ve come up with so far. I agree with you (and I thought that was clear in my original model) that random selection of the adult population should be mandatory. And, like jury selection, people should be empanelled and chosen against certain basic criterion (mental fitness, heavily skewed ideological fixtures, etc). I think three months might be a bit long. Not many people or businesses could survive a person being gone for three months. I don’t think bills in the senate get debated for three months at the moment. More like three minutes.

  11. Yes, Minister – precisely the inspiration I’m drawing from; also one of my favourite comedies. I’m not convinced, though, that the civil service can drive policy effectively as once it might have – today, they seem more like a stagnant obstacle than a force with any practical agenda.

    Either way, my point is that there’s a tendency for such bodies to grab at power, and the system would need to consider that to work. I like the jury mechanism, I just want to ensure that any vulnerabilities it might be susceptible to are balanced by something else.

    You may be right that 3 months is too long – I’m not fixated on that; my suggestion is more that the jury be empanelled not to per issue, but for sessions of sufficient length for them to be practical – and that consequently, jury members would need a wee while to acclimatize to the process and their responsibilities.

    You’d be surprised how long they can spend ‘debating’ a bill, though – everyone has to have their say, and get a few jibes in at the other side while they’re at it. 🙂

  12. Yes, Minister – precisely the inspiration I’m drawing from; also one of my favourite comedies. I’m not convinced, though, that the civil service can drive policy effectively as once it might have – today, they seem more like a stagnant obstacle than a force with any practical agenda.

    Either way, my point is that there’s a tendency for such bodies to grab at power, and the system would need to consider that to work. I like the jury mechanism, I just want to ensure that any vulnerabilities it might be susceptible to are balanced by something else.

    You may be right that 3 months is too long – I’m not fixated on that; my suggestion is more that the jury be empaneled not to per issue, but for sessions of sufficient length for them to be practical – and that consequently, jury members would need a wee while to acclimatize to the process and their responsibilities.

    You’d be surprised how long they can spend ‘debating’ a bill, though – everyone has to have their say, and get a few jibes in at the other side while they’re at it. 🙂

  13. Cameron,

    Good points and I understand your frustrations with the current political systems. I live in two systems: the US and the Polish (US ex-pat living in Poland). Ironically, they suffer from much the same problems despite one is an “old” democracy and the other’s a “new” democracy.

    The problem with professional politicians is that they get involved in the meta-game. I mean instead of doing their job (which I assume would be fulfilling campaign promises and serving the GOOD of the public), they jockey for position, push the debate into procedural and technical matters, and focus on matters like a lapel pin or bogus slander charges. To make it all worse, they complicate matters to make it seems about our heads and encourage us, the voters, to be quiet and “let the professionals handle it”…. and look what good that’s done us!

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you on one thing that may shock you and the others commentators: I DON’T BELIEVE IT’S GOOD IF EVERYONE PARTICIPATES IN A DEMOCRACY. Or, let me put it this way: democracy is about choice and people have the choice to not get involved; coercing them into participating will not yield high quality results. So, if people don’t want to get involved, there’s probably a good reason for it. In a way, it would be a return to 19th century politics in the US where people were drunk’ed up on voting day and sent to the polls to vote… again and again and again. They gave their vote to whoever gave them a drink, not much more thought than that.

    But, I will agree that everyone should be given the chance to participate if they want; they just shouldn’t be penalized for not voting.

    Also, I do believe Athens had an elite ruling class: although everyone’s vote counted the same, “influence” is not only measured in votes. Since we are on elitists, I believe that’s the way the world functions: there will always be an elite group of people setting the trends or making decisions. You see it in seemingly non-political things like music, fashion, art, science, etc. There’s always a small group of people spearheading the progressive ideas and the rest just emulate them. What’s important is that entrance into that elite ruling class be MERIT BASED.

    I like the idea of a republic with representatives. It’s just that this system places a lot of power into the hands of very few with every incentive to take advantage of it. It’s like putting the foxes in charge of the chicken coupe. I like the spirit of you idea, Cameron: lets empower the individual more as a way of fighting the system we don’t agree with (chickens in charge of the chicken coupe, hooray!). And this I agree with you with… decentralization of power is a very good thing.

    I’ll finish this post here… but I do have a lot more to say about the kinds of societies that may arise from highly decentralized models of government. Maybe next time…

    PS: Not sure what effect women would have on a democracy. Maybe it would mellow things out a bit.

  14. Andrew, good points. I’m a little uneasy myself with people having to vote. I don’t believe the State should be able to force people to do anything that isn’t directly interfering with the rights of others. However, isn’t it reasonable to say that if you want the benefits of living in a society, you must partake in the decision making of that society? In the same way we say you have to pay taxes if you want to be part of our society (a concept I also have challenges with but that’s another story).

    BTW, in Australia, it *is* illegal not to vote during elections and we don’t have any of the problems your talking about. I believe the United States’ system of not requiring people to vote is a tool of the elites to better control the outcomes. It’s another mechanism for ingraining into people this idea that they don’t have to pay attention to what’s happening on the political front, to leave it to others to worry about.

    Over the last century we’ve seen a gradual but distinct desensitization of the masses to politics. In the US in particular, politics has become a form of entertainment – FOX NEWS is just the latest platform for it. The US reminds me of Rome around 100 – 40 BCE – politics as a carnival. Whoever has the most money can buy the most votes. I’m just waiting for the inevitable dictatorship to arise out of it.

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