Voters have a few minutes of illusory power when we shuffle into the voting booth once every 3 or 4 years. Then, for the years of their incumbency a politician has no obligation whatsoever (other than moral and that’s a laugh) to vote according to how she/he campaigned and was elected, or how their constituents might subsequently ask them to vote. Waiting 4 years to vote them out is a very blunt instrument indeed. And, anyway given the party system of candidate selection we’ll get someone equally useless.
After years of campaigning I wonder what’s the point of collecting thousands of signatures on petitions and running rallies and meetings? Massive efforts from so many dedicated campaigners are now effectively ignored. Old growth logging, the Tamar Valley pulp mill, the channel deepening issue, De-Sal, North-South pipeline, and of course SPA have all had well run campaigns aimed at engaging our local MPs and government to at least consider alternatives, but unpopular and unnecessary policies and projects just keep rolling on and over us.
During the Brumby regime Planning Minister Madden ignored the finding of two Planning Panel Inquiries, which recommended against the development of Bastion Point Mallacoota and the Crib Point Bitumen plant. Using “Ministerial discretion” he approved both projects as “shovel ready” - A perfect example of how the party system, representative democracy, and underpinning administrative processes is failing us on so many social and environmental issues.
As Cr. Rosemary West said at the Planning Backlash Rally on 10th June 2009, “Were any of us asked whether we wanted 5 million people in Melbourne by 2030 (now 2020)?” We weren’t asked, and in the case of population growth we weren’t even told it was going to happen. It just happened.
At the very least, perhaps our elected representatives should be required to conduct statistically robust polls in their electorate to guide their voting on issues before them in parliament. Independent Victorian MP Craig Ingram did this on the 2009 abortion reform debate, as he had no firm view. His electorate overwhelmingly supported reform so that’s the way he voted. Other MPs of course proceeded with a “conscience” vote without any obligation whatsoever to consult or inform their electorate. As it stands, for most of the time that is precisely what most of them do – ignore almost everyone that voted for them!
All levels of government in Australia have powers to initiate referenda on any issue. Unfortunately under existing arrangements, in Australia a referendum will only be held if a government or local council determines that a poll should be held on an issue (thus I support Citizens Initiated Refenda). During the 2000s the issue of whether to adopt daylight savings was decided via referendum in WA. In Victoria, local government area referenda are regularly conducted, under the auspices of the Victorian Electoral Commission on the relatively piddling issue of liquor licenses in areas designated as “dry” in the early 20th Century. Clearly it is possible – just not desirable from a politician’s perspective.
What’s more, in the 21st Century we are relying on a voting system from the horse and buggy era - queuing up at the local school to have our names manually ticked off the role. The recent WA senate vote losing incident exemplifies this with millions of taxpayer funds now being spent on another senate election in WA just because 1300 bits of paper were lost. My brother contacted the VEC a few years ago to ask about the prospect of electronic voting. The topic was greeted enthusiastically, with the officer saying it is often discussed, and all that is needed is the legislation. It would be relatively simple to organise electronic voting, as most people now either have internet access via a home computer or mobile phone, or can access a computer via a public library. Electronic voting could be managed by using a unique ID number such as tax file or Medicare numbers. An electronic system could also present the ‘for and against’ argument equitably. It need not be compulsory to vote on every issue, but perhaps it could be organised so that a statistically significant sample is required to decide any outcome.
The way things are at present, we will be fighting many unwanted policies and proposals in future and if nothing changes we will just keep on being ignored and it’s a dead cert we will get what we DON”T want - the environment will be trashed, and those of us running campaigns to protect the places we love will get very depressed and worn out for no sum gain.
I’m still willing to believe that if given the facts, most people are capable of making a reasonable decision and like Tim I’d rather live by a decision made by my fellow citizens than one arrived at by a few politicians who in the main have been corrupted by the Murdoch Press, the corporates and developers (Kelvin Thomson and the handful of Independents being the few exceptions).