Further thoughts on the Senate

As a result of some discussion recently, I’d like to note down a few more thoughts on the possibilities of reform in the Australian Senate.

It is quite clear to most that the Senate does not function as intended, fulfilling, when it has the power to do so, a function of frustration rather than a function of principle. It is not so clear, nor nearly so agreed upon, as to what the appropriate course of action to undertake to remedy this situation is.

So let me lay out the competing position to the one that I have previously expounded upon (that the Senate should embody a principle, or set of principles, that must be enshrined and enforced if good governance is to occur over the course of our history). This alternate position holds that the successful embodiment of principled consideration of legislation is impossible and impractical, and that the government of the day should have its way in regards to the legislation it wishes to enact.

If we take this to be correct — and it may well be — then what does this suggest for the senate?

Firstly, that if a senate exists, its make up should closely mirror that of the lower house; if anything it should be more tightly aligned to the government of the day than the lower house is. Thus it must be aligned in time; any variation in voting methodology should be to the benefit of the dominant parties of the day; suffrage must match.

First considering constitutional possibilities:

– breaking up the existing states into smaller states, retaining some portion (notionally the state capital) as the ‘original’ state. This would lead to 6 ‘original states’ with six senators, and 14 new states with three senators. At this scale, a Hare-Clarke style system would be quite workable, and lead to the situation where a party picking up a majority of the vote in an new state would pick up two seats out of three, and three of six in the original states. These new states could be composed of and aligned with 6 electorates for the House of Representatives. This would suggest NSW having six new states divided off, Victoria having four carved out, Queensland three, Western Australia one, and South Australia and Tasmania remaining as original states. This is relatively easily achieved under the current constitutional limits, and would afford the government of the day considerable advantage in having legislation passed.

– Working with the states as they stand, senate positions could be awarded to the various parties in proportion to the house of representative results achieved at the federal election, allocated by a preference vote taken against a party senate list, or simply moving down that list.

Once you start opening up options for constitutional change, the possibilities are near endless. There is some suggestion about removing the notion of states altogether; this is possibly the most difficult approach in that the states are actually the sovereign units of our Federation. It would actually be simpler to disband the Federation — in fact, that may well be the only way to achieve that goal. That said the notion of removing the states and ending up with 30 super-councils would in practice look quite similar to the suggestion sketched out above, but with the original states broken into two chunks each and the possibility of ignoring existing state boundaries where they are inconvenient.

To be honest, this final concept rather horrifies me, as it leaves the nation with one legislative body, and that body with no restraint. It would lead to much faster and more disruptive changes to society, and be quite unstable in its nature. All the power of a sovereign vested in a popular government, with no drivers to principle or national purpose. No capacity for differentiation across the nation, no capacity for smaller scale legislative experimentation. I’m not even sure what the advantages are supposed to be, other than the utter concentration of power.

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In tribute

A crystalline silence, an otherworldly plain;
Discarded piles of tribute — all that remains.
Save a single flag, yet flying;
Scarred standard yet defiant.

Lightning flashes through the vision;
Bringing thunder without sound.
Valor true, dragons dying;
Men transformed, mothers crying.

Approach the standard, here ye well;
In awe, yea in abandon, read the solemn tell.
Of one who stands in Glory;
His foe in depths of hell.

Lion Rampant.

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Senate Reform

In the wake of the recent federal election, and the follow up by-election in Western Australia, the need for reform to the Australian Senate is widely recognised — specifically to the voting process, but also the structure of the senate itself. However prior to getting into the specifics of those reforms, it is imperative that the purpose and contribution of the Senate is considered.

The Senate is widely called the house of review. This is quite aimless in and of itself; for review to have value, it must take place on a known and desired basis. The basis on which this takes place, in practice, is completely determined by the differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is more correct to say that a well structured Senate functions to limit the worst excesses of democracy through the protection of the abiding principles of governance from the follies of the day.

Only in to the extent that it differs from the House of Representatives, does the Senate provide value.

The corollary to this of course is that the Senate demonstrates its value when it modifies or rejects legislation put forward by the House of Representatives. For this restraint to be considered worthwhile in the long run, the value of those changes must be greater than the frustration they cause. They must be clearly in accordance with the fulfilment of the principles of difference that exist between the Senate and the House of Representatives. Furthermore, the basic principle of the lower house must be known and fulfilled by that house.

The House of Representatives serves to completely fulfil the concept of ‘one person subject to taxation, one vote’.

Once this is understood, it becomes clear that this principle is near irrelevant to the Upper House. Thus it is not a valid complaint, in respect of the Senate, to point out that Tasmania far fewer people than New South Wales, but the same number of Senators. On the other hand, it is quite valid to point out and redress mal-apportionment on the basis of population in the Lower House. The Senate does not need to address that principle, except where not doing so reduces its capacity to protect the principles it exists to express.

So what principles does the Senate encapsulate; what additional principles should it capture?

Currently the Australian Senate maintains differences of greater and lesser effect based upon length of term, proportional representation, and geographic distribution. The principles behind these differences may be summarised:

Federal Law should not change on the whim of the day but with slow deliberation in concert with change in societal values, giving due consideration to what has held true in the past.

Federal Law should be reviewed in the presence of representatives of different schools of thought present in reasonable proportion throughout the states.

Federal Parliament should not easily dictate to a state standards that are not in keeping with its regional mores simply because more other, more populated states have different mores.

I would also submit the following for consideration, that is not captured at all in the current system:

The expenditure of Federal Parliament should be subject to review and approval by representatives of those whose primary income is not provided by the government.

Each of these issues is more or less perfectly (in most cases, less) captured in the current system. If we hold that these principles should be maintained, then every effort should be made to see that they are well captured, and not devolved in practice by the perditious political machinations of representative democracy. In detail:

The longer term nature of Senate seats, both in the term of office and the increased likelihood of seat retention works well in capturing the principle outlined above. The only change I suggest in terms of timing is that Senate elections take place on a rolling basis — one state every six months, rather than the three year half cycle we currently have.

Quite clearly, proportional representation has become unwieldy due to the group voting ticket abomination. The simplest method of resolving this is to adopt a proven proportional system, such as the Hare-Clarke system we have in Tasmania. Adopted as is, with a minimum voting depth of 10 and a maximum of 5 candidates per party, the proliferation of micro parties that is occurring solely to take advantage of the current process would be addressed at the source. Furthermore, technological solutions to increase the timeliness of the result can be adopted. The use of scanning pens in the voting booths that store each individual vote while retaining the existing full paper trail would dramatically reduce the time required for a count, while retaining the same degree of security, privacy, and the same process as currently in use. A process refined over the course of 100 years is not lightly to be discarded, despite recent hiccups.

I was involved in a discussion recently regarding the resolution of the issue of geographic distribution. The result of that discussion was a proposal to excise each of the state capitals and their contiguous urban areas from the original states, reducing the number of Senators for each state to 8 (leading to a total of 100 senators once the territories are included). The lower house would increase to a scale (200 seats) that allowed an even distribution of electors there, resolving the issues of the over representation of Tasmania in the House of Representatives.

Finally, it must be noted that the Upper House does not in any means capture the principle behind the original Upper House, the House of Lords. That is, that those who fund government must have the capacity to limit the expenditure of government —he who pays the piper calls the tune. This principle requires at the very least that suffrage for the Upper House is limited to those who do not depend upon the state for their primary source of income. This constraint is deeply divisive but necessary. It provides a driver for integrity and honour in politics; without it, democracy has a corrosive and corrupting influence upon our politicians first, and our culture second. If that pressure is not borne by the system, it is borne by the individuals within it, a proportion of whom inevitably fail.

If we are to have democracy, it must be properly restrained. What is proposed here is a Senate intended to do just that; comprised of proportionally elected individuals within the the six states, the six city-states, and the two territories. These Senators represent the long term views of the electors in those regions who are not dependant on government for their primary source of income, and review legislation proposed by the democratic House of Representatives on that basis. In doing so, the capacity for reestablishing integrity in politics, restraint in government spending and limits on government intrusion into our private lives can be found, at least for a time, until this structure too, needs reform.

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In recognition of nobility

Nobility is a concept that does not sit easily with democracy. It inherently suggests that there is an order among men; that breeding matters; that all things are not relative.  It rejects the grand misconceptions of this age; that all are created equal, that success is only a matter of effort or lack thereof, that no act has consequences.  So in this age —to allow those falsities to persist — nobility is defamed.

Nobility lost the war against barbarism.

It is not alone in being a concept that has been defiled not because of what it is, but because the losing side in a war held that concept.  Even today, our concept of ‘a noble‘ is a tainted one, and quite distinct from our concept of ‘a noble deed‘.  The contrast perhaps between the attainment of the ideal and the imperfect vessels that sought that ideal? But not only that; the residual effects of combat against those who upheld those ideals.

Democracy is by nature the glorification of the ignoble.

We forget this. In the name of democracy, we have broken up the concept of sovereignty and distributed it widely, claiming that sovereignty stems from the people. We have, in erratic fits and starts, continued to remove the barriers to the exercise of sovereignty to the point today where only children and criminals are denied sovereignty. We have no standards: we rejected nobility as a standard; we rejected capacity as a standard; we rejected leadership as a standard. Sovereignty, rather than being reserved to the greatest, has been dispersed amongst the least, with only the base caution not to commit a crime left as restraint.

To recognise nobility is to reject democracy at a foundational level.

The heart of the unthinking, shocked reaction to the introduction of an Australian knightly order is a personal rejection of the principles — and in many cases an absence of the capacity to abide those principles — recognised as necessary to be worthy of that title.  A true cultural cringe; a revulsion towards the mere acknowledgement of greatness, knowing that the achievement of that greatness is beyond their scope.  Recognising greatness means noticing its lack.

The Emperor has no clothes.

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Unease in the Working Class

It’s not as though the issue of quite different perspectives and preferences is isolated to the Liberals. A similar study on Labor shows a distinctly different set of votes for those who preference the Greens, to those who don’t.

image002Labor voters who preference the Greens highly also tend to preference the Liberal Democrats, HEMP and the Pirate Party.  Labor voters who don’t preference the Greens highly tend to preference Stop the Greens, Family First and Fishing and Lifestyle / Shooters and Fishers.

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BTL: A tale of two Liberals

Yesterday’s post looked briefly at an overview of below the line voting, with a quick look at the results for those who voted ‘1’ Liberal (or rather, for any one of the Liberal candidates). Today I’m going to briefly look in a little deeper at something noted in passing then; the different sub-groups that feature within those who,regardless of their other votes, picked the Liberals as the first of those who ended up elected (Lib, Lab, Grn, Pup). This is a slightly different group than I showed in short form previously, but one which serves to show the noted split in preferencing clearly.

Within that set, I have then filtered for those who voted Family First in the early half of their vote (Pro FF), and the alternate of those who voted them in the latter half (Anti FF).

To show the difference this test makes not only to the votes for Family First, but also the differences in voting preference across the whole range, these are sorted in order from most difference against FF to most difference for FF.

image001

Significant differences that correspond positively with support for Family First are support for ‘Stop the Greens’ and Andrew Roberts, an independent candidate. Significant differences that correspond negatively with support include the ALP, Pirate Party, HEMP, and the Sex Party.

Notably there is little differentiation on the two groups opinion of the Greens, and a small negative correlation with Rise Up Australia (another Christian Values based group, but one that is notably more extreme).

Now any theorising on the basis of why these differences exist is beyond the scope of this data; most votes don’t indicate why they voted the way they did, and for those which do… well the information isn’t transcribed into the system.

Feel free to speculate .

One final bit of information.  This chart is based on ~8500 votes; ~3500 in favour of Family First and ~5000 against, all voting Liberals as the first of their majors.  

 

 

 

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Below The Line

One of the features of our Federal Senate voting system in Australia is the option to vote below the line. Although there has been some substantial (and well deserved) complaint regarding flaws in the system, it actually forms a pretty good basis for selection that works well while the number of candidates remains approachable.

However, the number of candidates in the Senate, in most states, has long since become unapproachable in terms of the effort required to allocate preferences – in NSW for 110 candidates this time around, and even in Tasmania 54.

In anticipation of this issue, the system was designed with a short cut – you could nominate to vote above the line and pick one of the provided pre-arranged preference lists. Each party is able to provide one such list.

This however has lead to some problems in that these lists are not necessarily — nor commonly — ordered in the way that party members would select if they were to allocate themselves.  This leads to a lot of the fuss that has occurred with micro parties managing to ‘snowball’ a very small vote up to the point where they pick up a seat through a combination of good fortune and good analysis.

Despite the ease of voting above the line, some people choose to take the effort below the line.  In Tasmania this time around, around 10.3% chose to do so. After the election is counted, the AEC publishes the preferences selected by those who vote below the line, naturally without any identifying details. This allows a look at what order people who voted for a particular party actually did use, and thus a comparison with the party’s above the line selection.

A couple notes before looking at some of the data.  Firstly, people have different reasons for voting below the line. A significant reason for doing so is because they don’t like some aspect of the way the party has arranged their above the line list. As such, the arrangement of votes sampled from below the line should not be confused with how those who voted for that party above the line would have voted below the line. Secondly, although the data is nominally by individual, the difference between individual and party results is almost exclusively determined by the order in the party and thus the results can be simplified to party results without loss.

With that said, lets have a look at the results for the Liberal Party.

LibBTLSo what can we get out of this? Apart from the order of preference which you can muse over yourself, there are a couple of interesting features.  One is the shape of the curve; the other the deep spike in the 20 percentile line for Labor.

The shape of the curve illustrates the consistency of response; where there is a consistent response to another party, their point lies close to the diagonal.  In this case it is obvious that the only really consistent responses are for the Liberal Party and the Greens.  The other parties are either not well enough known or opinion is split upon them.  The Liberal Democrats and Palmer United also show a lesser consistency.

Labor’s lower line shows a deep spike down; this reflects the substantial portion of voters who preference Labor very early in their votes, before most of the minor parties. Its not enough to outweigh the much larger grouping who put them last or second last, (see the spike up in the 80 percentile line), but it does reveal the distinct split in votes that occurs.

In my next piece I’ll look at the division that is revealed within Liberal Party voters with a little cutting and slicing of the data.

 

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