17. Pre-Elections


Now before I continue, this is a big chapter, both physically, but also in the concepts presented. It has a number of new ideas in it.  I would recommend reading it, thinking about it, then perhaps re-reading again. If there was a good time to offer your thoughts, this is the one!

The foundation of any representative democracy are elections.  As we’ve previously discussed, this is our opportunity to elect the people who will represent our needs at the local, state and federal level.

And as we’ve also discussed, this is essentially a recruitment process where we are the employers.  Having looked at the delegation of responsibilities in the previous chapter, let’s focus purely on how we might put in place a system that facilitates our country getting the leaders and the Members we want, rather than simply getting to choose from those the political parties decide we can vote for.  How we get wise political leaders who realise that the public is more interested in government than in politics.

So how might a party free election process work?  We’ve recognised that we, the electorate, would actually like to have more influence in electing our prime minister.  They lead the country, so we would like that privilege, rather than handing it over to a political party who, as we’ve witnessed, are highly likely to change leaders half way through.  Now let us be very clear here.  I am not proposing a presidential system as they have in the U.S. – our American cousins have got problems enough with that set-up to suggest it here!  The system of governance I’m suggesting is significantly similar to what we already have, with a few key tweaks to make it more representative of OUR wishes.

First things first

So in the last chapter we looked at how Government 2.0 will look.  Lets face it, it is very similar to the current set-up, and that is a good thing.  Too dramatic a change is difficult – evolution not revolution.  The major difference is that without parties, MPs and Ministers are going to have to work just that little bit harder because they will no longer have the protection blanket that their party provides them.  Simply following orders will no longer be an option.  However, on the positive side of the ledger, they will no longer have to schmooze the local party machine, no longer have to attend fund-raising events, and no longer have to sell out their principles in order to get the party candidacy.  Ideally we will have replaced the party automatons, the lobby fodder, with valuable, thinking, creative, problem-solving, networking managers.

However we still have to work out the overall direction that we want the country to be lead in, and get enough local members that buy into that strategy to help ensure it can be delivered.  The last thing we need is the situation in the U.S., where the current Democratic President cannot further his agenda due to a Republican congress and Senate.  These additional layers of government, very much like the Senate here, are supposed to provide a house of review, (and this isn’t a bad thing given the massively skewing effect that party politics has, providing Prime Ministers “mandates” in regards to the lower house seats that they win, which in reality they simply don’t have when you look at the dispersal of votes overall).  However, in a party free system, this review should, and can, take place in the lower house as the legislation is being developed, not afterwards. Enacting legislation in one government, only to have it removed in the next purely on ideological grounds, is a hugely wasteful exercise which we need to avoid going forward.

I admit to liking the idea of a different type of politician to add to the mix, we can call them senators if it helps keep things simple, but given that their current role seems often to significantly overlap with lower house members I’m rarely convinced that other than keep a watch on governments who promise one thing before an election only to try to deliver something entirely different after an election.  However rather than try and fix a symptom, we need to fundamentally understand and fix the problem.

The problem starts at the top, where increasingly parties are imposing leaders who are either not fit for purpose, or who have taken on such a significant amount of baggage (real, or conjured up by the media) to have got to that top spot, that the electorate cannot trust them.  It is very clear that political parties determine leaders who suit them, but not us.  This must change.

Candidates for Prime Minister

Let’s imagine that it’s six months before election date.  At this point, we ask those MPs that might wish to, to put themselves forward to be the next Prime Minister.  Now when I say Prime Minister, it would probably be more accurate to say, the Prime Ministerial team, because let’s face it, no leader is an island.  So let us suggest that it is a candidate and their core team.

Chances are the current incumbent will stand again, though perhaps they’ve decided to retire, and it is time to pass on the mantle to their deputy.  And chances are the Leader of the Opposition will stand.  So far, this is pretty much the same as we have already.  But imagine if at the last election, instead of it just being Kevin Rudd against Tony Abbott, those politicians that were popular with the voters had been allowed to stand too. What if the more liberal Malcolm Turnbull had stood? And perhaps Anthony Albanese too?  And, of course, we might have a strong contender from those MPs of a more environmental persuasion or someone whose interests are particularly country based.  The point is, prime ministerial candidacy shouldn’t be through the anointment of a party, but available to anyone suitably qualified (i.e. some parliamentary experience), with some support from their peers (i.e. at least a team of backers in parliament), a vision for Australia, and a plan as to how it will be achieved.

As I’ve said, good leaders are rarely one-man bands.  Most will rely on a small key team, and from my team experience I’d suggest that four or five is ideal.  At this point in proceeding, other than the leader and perhaps a deputy, the other team members don’t need a job title – no need to get ahead of ourselves yet! – but the make-up of the team will give us, the voters, an indication of how they will conduct themselves, their capability, and their alignment.

So we now have our leadership teams decided.  With 150 members, and 5 person teams, we could get 30 leadership contenders, but realistically I suspect that it will be unlikely if we get more than four or five, because reasonably I suspect that tying your colours to a less popular political mast might lead to your political extinction fairly quickly!   Each of these groups will then be given the opportunity to communicate their plans and the policies they would like to enact if elected.  Without a party behind them, this communication will need to be centrally funded, but with communication technology being so much cheaper these days, this could be done without sole reliance on the mainstream media which, as we have already discussed, has a very distorting effect on any election race.  The other important matter that the leaders should decide is where their own preferences would lie.  The value of this is that it encourages different leaders who might support slightly different, but otherwise similar political ideologies to stand, as it stops overall public support for a particular political ideology being split, as would happen in a first-past-the-post situation.   The preferences also reveals to the voters whom those potential leaders believe is more capable of leading the country amongst their opponents. Whilst there may be behind the scenes deals done, these preferences should be captured simultaneously in private, and revealed to the electorate at the same time.

So let’s recap.  The election has been called, the Prime Ministerial candidates (and their core teams) have put themselves forward, and they’ve stated who their preferences amongst the other candidates is.

The first phase of campaigning is focused solely on those Prime Ministerial candidates.  They will be given opportunity to present themselves, their vision, their strategies, their plans.  Treasury will be available to assist with costings for proposed policies, so we get a fairer idea of how policies will be funded.  Ideally we will have public leadership debates too.  During this time there will be a total embargo on opinion polls – we want people to vote on their beliefs.  There is a subset of voters who vote according to popularity, wanting to “back the winner”.

We also don’t want lots of money unnecessarily wasted on this, so wherever possible public broadcasters will be used, but Prime Ministerial candidate teams should also be able to utilise web-based technology to promote themselves too – this is the modern world, and we need leaders who understand it.  How will they fund such?  Well because we are banning parties, funding will have to come from the public purse, but because it can be done so much more cheaply now, the funding costs will be lower.  How much funding should each candidate get?  Well, I would suggest that there might be a private poll of current MPs not within those leadership teams, and the money allocated using the same ratio.  Thus candidates who are more popular amongst their peers (a trait which is vitally important) will gain more financial support and broadcasting time, than those less popular ones.  Privately owned media will need to provide coverage based on these ratios too, or suffer consequences. The days of endorsing one party whilst belittling another must come to an end, as this does not benefit the general public at all (we will return to how we might improve media reporting in a later chapter).

Local Member Candidates

With the leadership candidates (hereafter to be called PM-candidates) determined and their pitches made, the second phase will be determining candidates for each electorate (hereafter to be called local-candidates).

So who can be a local-candidate for MP?  Well, we are a democracy, so pretty much anyone.  Sure, there will be rules.  You must be a citizen (there may be a future debate as to whether dual citizens should be eligible, such as may be possible at state level), you must not be in prison, etc. For the most party, I don’t see any real need to change from what we already have.  Except that you no longer need the endorsement of a major political party if you hope to be elected!

Now how about, just for a start, we have some sort of job description.  These are jobs that aren’t necessarily for everyone, although everyone (bar those exceptions) are eligible, but how do people know without letting them know what will be expected of them if they do earn a seat?  As part of my ongoing research, I recently applied for a role as a local councillor. And to be brutally honest, I’ve applied without knowing exactly what will be expected of me if I somehow win.  How much of my time it will take, what types of decisions I’ll be asked to comment on, what knowledge I’ll be expected to understand.   Is this process purposefully opaque?  Is it designed to dissuade us from wanting to join what may already be a cosy little in-club?  Or is it just that you are expected to know?  The point is, we are asking for candidates to do a job that we are paying for, the very least we can do is provide a job description.

The first, and possibly most important thing a candidate will need to communicate is which of the leadership teams they align themselves with.  They might also want to spell out which of that leaders policies they fully agree with, and which they might not.  Honesty is key.  If we vote for the local-candidate, we want to have some idea that they will do what they say they will do.  And, (and this is different from the current environment), there is absolutely no reason why we might have multiple local-candidates who state an alignment to the same leadership group – indeed that is to be encouraged!  Because each local-candidate may agree with the leader on some aspects of their policies (say economic, health, education) but perhaps not on others (say defence, immigration, agriculture), whilst another local-candidate may be slightly different, though both intrinsically believe that the PM-candidate will be the best to lead the country.   The key is that we should not be limited to what a party decides whom we can vote for.  This is our democracy, not their’s.  In this brave new world, if five local candidates want to support PM candidate X, that is absolutely fine.

What about “independents”?  Well, I believe that even independents must have a preference for PM, and given that we are now tying the electors rights towards having a bigger say in who their PM will be, as well as local member, those candidates who may have no significant political leaning can still recognise which of the PM candidates might be the most appropriate to lead the country.  They may significantly differ from them with regards to all sorts of policies, and as long as they state these up front, it will ultimately be up to the elector to decide if they are the best person for the job.

Now that we know each candidates basic Prime Ministerial allegiance, we want to know what other skills, knowledge, experience and ideas they could bring to parliament. We want to encourage our brightest and best, and our future leaders too.  We’ve already described the type of people we want, so we, the “employers”, are going to want to see their cv.  We want to know their employment record, which organisations they are, or have been, members of (trade unions, professional bodies, religious groups, charities etc), what their family background is, even what they do in their spare time if they believe that is relevant, or information that might be a conflict of interest (number of investment properties owned, or significant investments in a mining or alternative energy company, for example).  And given we don’t all have the time to do it, we’d like these facts verified – a great job for those in the electoral commission, who can check up on references etc for us.  They can also check on whether they have omitted any facts that might be pertinent…(like omitting to state that you work as a property developer for instance…), and carry out police checks etc.  Why?  Because these things might affect your decision making, and the voters (the employers) need to know.

Thirdly, wouldn’t it be nice to see these candidates answer some questions? You know, like a job interview.  Given that the job is a pressure one, and will require dealing with the public and the media, it would be nice to get a feel for how they come across and present themselves.  There are very good reasons why we interview for most jobs offered, so why not for these highly important ones?  Clearly each voter can’t ask the questions, but how about their possible bosses?

So maybe each of the leadership teams could submit three of four questions, and from these, one from each team is randomly picked. This gives us perhaps four or five questions overall that each candidate will be asked.  In each seat, the returning officer could ask each candidate those questions, with their responses being video recorded.  And once all complete these recordings could be available for viewing by those in that electorate. A degree of confidentiality would be required regarding the questions both at the time of forming them, but also at the time of the interviews, but these are jobs remember, and I’m sure that candidates aren’t likely to help each other out!

Picking you favourites

Now at this point, you might be saying hang on a minute, if you’ve got four or five Prime-ministerial candidates, and in each electorate you might have four or five candidates for each position (or maybe more!), then for a voter you’ve potentially got twenty-five resumes to read, and a lot of videos to watch!   This highlights some of the problems that we very clearly have in our current voting system, particularly highlighted in the senate elections.  And it does need to change.

Let’s recall that in the senate elections, you have two choices on how to vote.  You either put one mark above the line for a particular party, or you have to number every single candidate in order below the line.  If you tick above the line, an unknown series of backroom deals both within and between the parties regarding preferences (which the voters have no information about) can dictate the outcome.  If you decide to vote below the line, you face the highly onerous task of voting in order of each candidate, who although fortunately grouped by party, often represent parties you have never heard of, or what their party stands for.  At the last election, our senate ballot had over 100 candidates, each of whom had to get a number in order.  Is it any surprise that most people vote above the line?  But it’s why we currently have a senator from the Driving Enthusiasts Party in the senate, despite him getting only 0.51% of the primary vote.  That is not representative democracy, that’s a lucky-dip, and a fixed one at that!

The reality is that we only really want to vote for at most a few people, but not the rest.  How can I rank one person above another when I know nothing about them, and (let’s face it) perhaps care even less?   There will be a few whom I will be bothered to investigate and not the others, just as in the recruiting process, you quickly determine a shortlist and then focus more time over those candidates.  Realistically, I’d say we should be allowed to allocate votes for a maximum of five candidates in order, and if we want to chose less, or indeed none, then that is our prerogative.  But vote we must, and the opportunity to vote for none of the above should be allowed, although in return, it would be useful to request some feedback as to why. If we are to make the system better, the least we can do is listen to those who feel disenfranchised.

So let’s assume voters can make up to five votes in order of preference.  They could be all for local-candidates with the same Prime Ministerial preference, or not.  It would be entirely up to you, the voter.  Knowing which Prime Ministerial candidate(s) you prefer will help you narrow down your shortlist, and perhaps voters might be given a day’s holiday (not necessarily all on the same day!) so that they can properly do their due diligence on their candidate short-list.  For those without computer or internet access, some centralised facilities, perhaps at libraries and community centres etc, could be provided.  What we don’t want is a never ending flow of leaflets and flyers coming through the door, although if candidates want to make themselves available for questions from their electorate, or even indulge in a bit of door-knocking, that is entirely up to them.  What is important, however, is that elections should not be about who has access to the most money, but about who is the best candidate for each electorate.


Let’s recap.  We’ve described a potential new system to determine Prime Ministerial candidates, and local member candidates.  We’ve shown how the PM candidates can communicate their visions and ability.  And we’ve shown how changing the process of picking the best candidate would be improved if we treated it more like a job application.   Plus we’ve done it all without any influence from any external “faceless men”, whether from political parties, trade unions or business lobbyists.  The next stage is the actual election.

About Steve Laing

Political observer, free thinker and problem solver, Steve contends that the current democratic processes have neither kept up to date with globalisation nor modern business practices, resulting in increasing dissatisfaction with modern politics. However, new technology could be used to not only reconfigure our system, but give the electorate even greater representation than was previously the case. For more background information on Steve, please check his LinkedIn profile.

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