Proof everyone is NOT doing their bit for the 2014 Budget

Tonight, the Australian Govt budget was released.  To see the number of organisations being interviewed afterward almost in tears was quite devastating to watch.  The CEO of St Vincent De Paul put it eloquently:

‘There’s nothing admirable about humiliating people who can’t find work, nothing good about building the economy on the backs of the poor, and nothing smart about making it unaffordable to see a doctor’.

Out of the 20 or so interviews I watched on ABC News 24 this evening, there was only ONE person who was positive outside of the lot, and that was the representative of a Corporate Australia group.  Unsurprising?  Now who knows, maybe that’s bias, but lets look at the facts.

I have heard a bunch of rhetoric around “everyone must do their bit” to fill this budget deficit, as an answer to the deep cuts. For the moment, lets set aside the stuff that Labour and Greens keep talking about in terms of whether we really do have a problem or not (or whether the problem is as big as Liberals say it is), just because we have a Triple A credit rating, better than the US (blah, blah blah).

What I want to know is, when a representative of Corporate Australia smugly says “we’ll cop it, we’ll do out bit for the good of the country” – is it a FAIR ‘bit’?  i.e. are corporates/companies copping a proportionately fair amount of either cuts to services or additional taxes?

I don’t have exact figures on this, it has got some assumptions and worked backwards from this pie chart which shows a breakdown of tax contributions by segment to the Australian Govt annual revenue.  It’s 12am and I should be sleeping before an 8am catch up in the city and not writing a blog but I need to get this out!

Tax-Mix

So based on this, lets assume Corporate Australia (or at least companies) make about $153 billion in revenue post-costs (as company tax rate is 30% and that’s 3 times 76.6 billion) and according to the budget, they’re going to cop a $500m reduction (+ some other minor millions for certain key industries such as the auto industry).  That’s a 0.3% contribution based on total company revenue.

Australian citizens on the other hand, they’ll pay a total of $138m for an average of 6.9 visits to the doctor annually, plus $400m from the “top earners” paying a short term 2% extra tax on any amount earned above $180k which is already taxed at 45 cents in the dollar – (in the mean time, companies pay 30 cents in the dollar despite earning billions).

Lastly add to that the losses, the cuts of $80 billion across Health and Education (forget the investment into Medical Research…$20 billion is nothing in the world of Pharma – if a cool $20 billion was all it took to cure cancer as Joe Hockey tried to sell, trust me, it would have been done).  So, we add the taxes and the losses together for the average Aussie citizen and we get a total of $80.5 billion.  That’s a 13%  “contribution” by Australian citizens who let’s say earn an aggregate of $600 billion in wages minus tax deductibles (again I’m guessing based on working backwards from the total tax bill).

Let me repeat and make clear: 13% effective contribution averaged across ALL Aussie citizens verses 0.3% effective earnings contribution from companies. So I think we can safely say, that corporate Australia is happy for a reason…because they have in fact, not come even CLOSE to putting in their fair share for these services cuts and new taxes.

In the mean time, companies like Apple are being investigated for massive tax evasion (they paid just $193m tax on $27 BILLION REVENUE – that’s right kids, close to 10 BILLION worth of the 80 billion budget cuts being made could have been covered by the tax bill of the company you bought your last iPhone or iMac from).

Then there is the LOST revenue of the carbon tax which was going to be over $4b a year – now resulting, instead, in cuts to health and education when that could have been borne by business.  Instead, Aussie’s were worried about it hitting their pockets through high electricity bills.  Well guess what, its hitting their pocket anyway…and its even worse than the electricity bill.

In the mean time, a single mum with 3 kids has just been told today she’s going to need to shell out an extra $7 every time she takes one of her kids to the doctor…and then more at the pharmacy…and then more when she fills up on petrol…

Now, I’m not a maths whiz by any means…nor am I anti-corporate or company.  I have 3 start ups and I run my own business!  But I am also a citizen of the world and it seems to be, something is seriously, seriously wrong here.

Let me put it this way:
– Apple pays their outstanding tax bill and keep that money comin’ in for another 2 years ($24b)
– Australian companies pay an extra 5% in tax for ONE YEAR – I’ll happily sign up for that to save my friends and family affected by this ($7.6b)
– Abbott govt DOESN’T scrap the carbon tax for 3 years ($12b)
– Abbott reneg’s on his ridiculous purchase of military fighter jets ($12b)
– Top earning Aussies contribute 2% of earnings for 3 years ($1.5b)

And that’s already $57 billion over a 3 year period.  Budget problem solved. Hehe.

Obviously I am oversimplifying it, I get that.  But, sometimes looking at things simply, can help gain perspective.  One of my startups had a business model with a very complex formula, and today the business valuer found an error because he checked the math doing some really simple backward calculations.

In my very humble opinion, we live in a highly symbiotic relationship – businesses, and individuals – particularly in the way our capitalist society with socialist elements has been set up here in Australia.  That means that any major structural changes…to either side, can be highly damaging.

You can’t just take from one segment, you must take in proportional amounts, and those proportionate amounts must take into consideration the fact that equal contributions may not be enough (i.e. company profits go back into the company but profits are not forced to be distributed into new labour hire so i.e. more money for companies doesn’t automatically equal more jobs. Often they go to shareholders in dividends, and people who can afford to purchase company shares, are not those living on the poverty line – which means companies could AFFORD to bear a greater financial burden, and yet instead they are currently being asked to be just a fraction of it).

To shift the cycle, the cuts MUST be done so carefully as to have a proportionate negative effect.  Are cuts necessary – may yes, maybe no – that’s actually beside the point.  The point is, for the cuts not to wreak havoc by potentially causing other issues (e.g. low education and health standards in research is always correlated to low GDP contribution and low employment rates…etc), the negative effect must be carried fairly by the variety of parties who currently make up the tax revenue for the Australian government.

Alright time for bed.  I just hope others can find the time and patience to do a bit of sense checking themselves, and come to an informed conclusion, rather than hearing and believing whatever is they hear on TV (regardless of which political party its coming from).

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What a REAL democracy in Australia would look like

WThe Real Democracy: People Powerhen a democracy can’t be called a democracy, or its definition must be changed to fit current circumstances, then its probably time to rethink our approach!

Democracy comes from an old Greek word that literally translates as “People Power” (they were the brains behind the basis of the whole Democratic system).  Athens had about 250,000 residents at the time and all citizens had an open invitation to a regular forum which allowed them to have direct input on all issues relating to their society, that is: they did not go via representatives like we do today.  Our current system is more like an oligarchy than a democracy.

Not everything was perfect about their system (women and children were not considered citizens and you needed to have TIME to go to these meetings which often meant those more well off were more likely to be involved), but it was the truest form of democracy humans have had in all recorded history.

James Madison

James Madison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now such a system was just not possible when the constitutions of countries like America and Australia were set up.  The land masses in which citizen lived were enormous, populations vastly larger, there were no means of communication like telephones, televisions, radios and there was certainly no internet!  So there were lots of very sound reasons why James Madison and other US political thinkers of the time came up with the fair system of representation that Australia drew inspiration from and that we still have in place today.

But guess what people…times have changed!
We now have instantaneous communication with mobile phones and SMS, we have web infrastructure that allows for the calculation of information in mere nanoseconds and can be supported to withstand millions of visitors performing activities at the exact same time.  In fact, 88% of Australians have access to the Internet and use it regularly.  Back during the Howard Government days, this still wouldn’t have been possible, but it is all technically possible today.

compsSo here we are with all this new fandangle technology, but we’re still plodding off to the polls.  In the intervening 100+ years, no one’s thought to re-evaluate the system based on new capabilities.

Is there a fair and economical way that each Australian could get an actual say in the policies and workings of government?  Is there a way that we could bring back power to the people and end political apathy in this country?

I believe the answer is YES, and there has never been a better time to make these changes because we have the technological capability to do it.  Of course, our representatives won’t give up their power so easily so I believe a new political party would need to be formed to push for governance with the knowledge that the first thing they would change is the constitution and ultimately dismantle their own representative rule over time.

Below are a list of concepts that would underpin the proposed new democratic framework in Australia (and these same concepts could work for any society where democracy already exists and internet penetration is higher than 80%).

GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE & OPERATIONS


The new framework would keep the government split into two “houses”, but the basis of the houses would be different:

  • The Upper House (the Senate), would become the Peoples Representative House – which has representatives from each electorate.
  • The Lower House, would become known as the Knowledge & Wisdom house – in which each representative Minister is an expert in administration, policy and the area of their portfolio (e.g the Minster of Health must have prior direct administrative experience in the health industry).
Parliament House Canberra, Australia

Parliament House Canberra, Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Psychologically it makes more sense that the UPPER house, who are generally the reviewers, are representatives of the people, while it is the Australian people themselves (through voluntary policy voting) and portfolio experts who define the policies themselves. The Upper and Lower house most speak and interact much more regularly and freely than they currently do.

Checks and balances on the government in power
An overarching third body would be created that can hold the government accountable for its actions.  This would replace the role of the Governor General and Queen who have only ever intervened once), it is important that the role is more than symbolic.

In matters where the will of the people will impinge on the human rights of those locally or in another country, this overarching third body has the right to intervene.

Checks and balances on the people
An independent body called the Council for Science, Well-Being, Economics, Psychology (COSWEP) provides support services to the government in power and the Opposition. If the Opposition strongly oppose a bill through The Peoples Representative House or the Knowledge & Wisdom House, they can request review from the council.  If the council deems their point of view valid, their concerns must be addressed by a new joint policy, which both parties work jointly on and then it goes back for final vote to the people.

The new role of the Prime Minster
The role of the Prime Minister will be split into two.  The Prime Speaker will be the leader of the House of Peoples Representatives, and they will be the prime speaker for and on behalf of the people of Australia, including being Australia’s delegate internationally.  The Prime Minister will be the leader of the House of Knowledge and Wisdom and will be responsible for organizing all Ministers in the creation of sound policies and pulling together information to inform policy based on the will of the Australian people through policy votes.  They will also be responsible for ensuring there is cohesiveness in parliament between the two houses.

The role of the Opposition
There are no PHYSICAL sides in parliament. A mix of ministers (those in power and those in opposition) will sit together.

For freedom of information, all incumbent government data and pricing or economics models driving policy must be made freely available to the Opposition and to the public.

The Opposition is not necessarily a party, but a group of minster by minster opposition, there to provide alternative policies to the incumbent government, and to question existing policies: not to be roadblocks but to play devils advocate to the government and the Australian people.

Map of the Australian states / Mapa dels estat...

Map of the Australian states / Mapa dels estats australians (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

THE RE-IMAGINING OF STATE AND FEDERAL RESPONSIBILITIES

1. Councils and senate electorates are aligned, so instead of 150 electorates and 564 councils, there are simply 250 Councils.  The responsibilities of councils remain the same, but they work directly with ministerial electorates and because of this new alignment, enjoy much better communication and speed of necessary change.  This will also increase the size of the House of Peoples Representatives.

2. State government in its current (constitutionally separate form) is dissolved because we assume that people’s new power to vote on individual policies will ensure that the states are properly represented without the need for a separate government.  This will also ensure much better alignment and billions is administrative savings.

3.  Instead, there will be a state based minister for every portfolio.  The federal government is then responsible for the creation of policies that were formerly state based activities (e.g. health and education), but the state based representatives are responsible for state level input into the plans and for the implementation of those plans.

4. Voting for Council, State, House of Knowledge & Wisdom and House of Peoples Representatives all happen at the same time (or at least within the same month), to ensure best alignment of the values of the people.

aupeepsVOTING: EMPOWERING THE PEOPLE
Voting in the House of Knowledge and Wisdom is for a MINISTER, not for a political party.  This means we no longer have situations where people without knowledge of the area are chosen simply because they have been working in party politics for a long time.  Political parties may present a list of all ministers, but they must go through a process to verify those chosen ministers have the required experience in order to run for that house.

However, there are no special skill requirements to run for election into the House of Peoples Representatives.

1. Online voting is made available for all citizens.  Citizenship kiosks are also set up in places where few people have the internet.

2.  Votes can be cast online over the period of 1 week, however home based voting lasts for 6 days which ensures that if the internet is not working on the final day (where there would be a rush), those people have the opportunity to attend a kiosk based voting booth.  Voting online will provide 500k vision impaired Australians the right to a private vote, something they have not enjoyed to date.

3. Before voting, every Australian must spend 30-40 minutes reading about the ministerial candidates (this is the time it takes for most Australians to go to the voting both today any way so this time is simply being re-appropriated to their education instead).  They can also complete a survey based on personal values and wants – system will suggest candidates and political parties based on these.
Parties may not provide “how to vote” cards.

4. In online voting, candidates will be randomly presented in each different voting session to prevent effects of donkey voting and rogue “how to vote” cards.

5. Federal government voting occurs in two stages, the first of which is mandatory:


STAGE ONE
(Mandatory)
– Voting individuals in to the House of Knowledge and Wisdom.  People can choose OPTIONAL PREFERENCING both “above” (to parties) or “below” the line.

– Voting individuals in to the House of Peoples Representatives.  People must vote for a local candidate who may or may not be a part of a political party

– Voting for a Prime Minster and Prime Speaker candidates.  People can nominate any number of minsters (in preference) for those roles.  The top 5 candidates are presented to the representatives who ultimately win the HoR and Senate seats and those people then vote on the nominated candidates in their own preference.  This is how the Prime Minister and Prime Speaker are chosen.

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

STAGE TWO – ONGOING POLICY PARTICIPATION & VOTING (Voluntary)
I would propose that all ISPs and email providers, provide the current email address for their Australian customers – the Australian government obtains an exemption from the SPAM act allowing them to email all citizens and provide them with an opportunity to register for Policy Voting.  Here’s how it would work:

1. All Australians are provided with and opportunity to take part in parliament policy.  The government subsidizes up to $35 per hour up to 2 days per year (16 hours) for any registered voter who engages in the voluntary system.  This would cost approximately $3billion dollars per annum; a small price to pay for true democracy (in comparison, our welfare system alone costs $316 billion).

2. Once the registered voter confirms they would like to be involved, they must fill out at online profile that:
a) goes through their personal details, if they change jobs, family situation, income…etc

b) confirms their personality type

c) confirms their politics type (eg authoritarian, libertarian, center…etc)

d) confirms their education and fields of expertise

3. Citizens may input their recommendations for community and national priorities into their profile (although certain priorities are guarded where small portions of community have big impact e.g. agriculture)

4. Portfolio ministers must request policy submissions from citizens once a year – all citizens can be notified when these are being asked for, orthey can switch all off except those that are related to their field of expertise.  This ensures citizen input into a yearly planning process.

5. Yearly policies are then pulled together by: Knowledge & Wisdom Ministers, groups of experts, citizen panels and citizen reps (each citizen can apply to be selected for types of panels and will be selected representatively and randomly by geography but no person can be selected more than once in 5 years). Separately opposition ministers come up with other alternative policies, they become the “red team”, who don’t see policies until they’re done and can help point out any holes or provide alternatives to fill gaps.

6. For major policies, all citizens may be provided the voluntary opportunity to vote. A completely independent body will prepare:

–       An overview of suggested policy

–       A comparison to opposition policy

–       A standard template that shows financial AND social or environmental impacts

–       A full version of the policy which die-hard participators can suggest amendments to on the fly.

–       An easy to understand video will be created for each policy so anyone can understand proposed changes in 5 mins.  ($10m allocated for 200 a year to these type of communication materials).

7. Each voluntary policy voter must read the material and prove understanding by answering quiz questions on the policy before voting on the proposed policy. They are also able to input amendments.
8. At the time they vote they can also see what others are saying on social media and traditional media in a real time feed if they choose. (more research would need to be done on this in terms of whether this may create “group think” problems.)
9. Votes are auto-recorded and amendments are mass-analysed by computer to find common themes for further investigation.  Once the policy has been reviewed and updated based on amendments from all parties, it goes to all party Minsters and People Reps to take the final vote.

10. Votes by Senators in the House of Peoples Representatives are also recorded

11.  If a House of Peoples Representatives Senator vote does not match the people they represent, a mandatory vote will may be asked for from people of that area whom the senate leader represents. If the senate rep fails to match the people in their area 3-5 times, the people can request a re-election for the minister in that area.  If the Senator defaults 10 times, an automatic re-election for that Senator is called.

12. For smaller, minor legislation changes – only those affected (based on their demographic info) will be automatically invited for input or vote. Others can always provide amendments but not votes.  If they contest this and wish to vote and there is more than 0.5% of the population (or 100-200k requests), the vote is opened up to those requestors.

13.  For policies where people whose lives may be affected can not be properly represented, their carers may vote on their behalf and/or Not for Profit organizations may be able to provide some voting power as true representatives of that sub community.

14.  A separate committee is required to assess and report back on the outcomes of each legislation every year. In addition to this, an Annual Happiness Survey is also conducted for all voluntary policy voters. This report is then provided by email to each and every citizen.

15. Ministers positions can be reviewed officially on a yearly basis (post release of the above report).  The people can request an inquiry into any minister at that yearly review. Enough votes will get the minister reviewed and then a new candidate must be chosen in a by-election. i.e individual ministers can be voted OUT of office by the people if the Australian people deem them to be failing in their role.

16. People can also request direct challenges, audits or inquiries into any capitalist institution, which, if there is significant interest (e.g. 5% or more of voluntary voters), the government must carry out.

This participatory form of government will, for the most part, be an automated system, which sends out invitations when a Minister uploads and publishes a policy document and then automatically aggregates results for review.  There would need to be rules around the release (e.g. it may need to be released on a Tuesday afternoon (which is the most likely time Australians will open emails).

OTHER FRAMEWORK CONSIDERATIONS

  • Mandatory citizenship education must be provided for all Australians between years 3 to 12.  This must have practical elements that empower them to begin their involvement as early as practicable.
  • Young children from 10 and older get a say: particularly in decisions that will affect their future (like protection of the environment…etc). Their vote does not count toward wins, but it is recorded, reported on and it allows young people to appreciate and participate in the system from an early age if the choose.  It also provides government ministers with a strong sense of the thoughts of young people and how to cater for them as they enter into official voting age.

 

EDUCATION OF POLITICIANS
There is a big gap in Australian politics at the moment: education.  Society accepts that to get a job you must finish school or university or an apprenticeship.  To get finance for a new business idea you must show a lengthy business plan, yet there are no specific requirements when it comes to people choosing to represent the views of their people and communicate on a national scale and have responsibility for decisions on multi-billion dollar portfolios and millions of lives.  This is simply not good enough.   In the new democratic system I would propose:

All politicians elected are required to complete a mandatory 3 month intensive course prior to a parliament role: history, citizenship, law, leadership, media training and parliament etiquette and day to day operations.

FAIR AND REASONABLE STRUCTURE REQUIREMENTS FOR NEW POLITICAL PARTIES & ELECTIONS

Political Parties

1. Before registering as a new party, the party must have a website and a clearly defined policy on every portfolio area available for view for all members. Only after that, will 500 members be counted and then party can apply to be accepted as a registered party.

2. Once the party is accepted, to run in an election, they must complete mandatory political skills training.  This training must be completed 1 month prior to the election date or they will be disqualified from running in the election.

3.  All party policies must be in place and online (same for all minister plans) 4 weeks before the 5-year election date.  Each policy must be LOCKED IN during the election period.  Which means, once the election campaign begins, the party may not change their stance unless it is to match what another political party is already providing.  They may not remove an item already on their priority list.

Elections
1. Elections move from 3 years to 5 years (as individual ministers can be voted out on a yearly basis after a review).

2. Elections are called at exact same time every five years: Feb – 2 month campaigning (Feb and mar) last week of March is election. Then April, May and June, all new politicians are getting up to speed. Incumbents work with any new ministers to hand over and provide insight so there is a much smoother handover of work and responsibility. The last month is to provide intensive training for any new politicians.

Obviously this is all blue sky stuff…but its also all possible right now.  What do YOU think?  Which bits do you agree or disagree with?  And which bits are most important?

What happens when State and Federal Governments fight

While I was doing a bit of random research the other day, I started seeing a patterns of disagreement between the State Government and the Federal Government.  It’s probably not something that has been thought about too often.  Actually, I can’t find a detailed analysis of it anywhere. I did find an article about Federalism in Australia vs. the Unity system in the UK.  Just as a quick refresher: In a country running with a federal system, the power of the State and the National governments are constitutionally divided – i.e. one is not the boss of the other!  Oh and they look after different things – the Federal govt deals mainly with tax, immigration, law and justice and the states look after education, health…etc.  The main leverage the Federal Govt has is that it control the budget and decides how much money to give the states for their stuff.  There’s pros and cons to the system.  Some say a federal system provides competition between the states and as a result more choice for people in terms of where to live, or get a job…etc – and more choice = better freedom (according to the proponents of the system).  On the other hand it makes for a bloated bureaucracy and the potential for serious communication breakdown…not to mention the fact that most people don’t actually get the difference anyway.

So anyway, back to this issue of states arguing with federal government…most of the articles I could find suggested these disagreements amounted to “healthy debate” based around issues whenever federal government sticks its nose into State based business and issues (like health and education and local government).  I’d like to suggest something different…

For instance, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and WA Premier Colin Barnett vs. Julia Gillard on the proposed changes to the constitution allowing the federal government to give funding directly to local governments without having to go via the state.  Another example: QLD Premier Campbell Newman vs. Julia Gillard on the proposed Gonski reforms.  Now, at first glace, you could put this down to the fact that both these issues were about Federal verses State control.

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes these are both examples of areas where federal government is trying to control more of what is within the State’s remit – but you’ll also notice that in both cases, The Gillard Federal Govt was a Labor government, and each of the Premiers disagreeing were Liberal/Coalition. And what of the other states?  Why was it that in the only Barry and Colin that seemed to disagree with the then Federal Government with the local govt reforms?  Well, because every single other State Premier was Labor.

So that got me thinking a bit more…how deeply does a divide in party focus or values between State and Federal Governments affect the ability to pass legislation? So I put together a list of every Prime Minister since 1901 and then put it against every single State Premier and their respective party.  You can download it here.

Findings – Times of Communication Struggle

1.  In 1975, Gough Witlam’s first and only term with Labor in Federal govt, almost other major state was under a Liberal government and in his final year, WA went back to the Liberals too.

2.  Between 1993 and 1995 during Paul Keating’s last term, he also had to deal with all-liberal party states except for QLD.

3.  Between 2002-2007, the Howard governments last terms – every single Australian state was controlled by a Labor government, while Liberals (John Howard) were in federal government.

4.  Julia Gillard struggled with a complete split in governance of the states, in 2011 when after years of Labor state government, both NSW and VIC voted for a Liberal Party govt, and this worsened in 2012 when QLD joined the crowd.  Joining WA who were had voted the Liberals in back in  2009 – now every major, powerful state was under Liberal control.

English: Portrait of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies...

Menzies

So it seems that in times when there the Federal Govt is working against states governed by a different party…they’re usually  headed for their final term.  Which causes which (if at all)…I’m not sure.  The only exception to this pattern is Robert Menzies – the guy had staying power, through a time when the states were fairly evenly divided in terms of party governance.

Findings – Times of Unity

1.  1927 – Labor Prime Minister Stanley Bruce’s last year in government provided complete governance unity across federal and state.  However, in 1927…I’m not sure how much that would have mattered given media access, transport…etc.

2.  1932 – Liberal Prime Minister Joseph Lyons’ first year enjoyed almost complete Liberal control of Federal and State affairs (excluding SA)

3.  1946 and 1947 – Labor Prime Minister Joseph Chifley got the same in reverse – all Labor control of Federal and States (excluding SA)

4.  1969 and 1970 – Liberal Prime Minister Grey Gorton had party unity across every single state for two years (before that 1965-1970 enjoyed fairly majority control under Harold Holt and John McEwan)

5.  1976 to 1981 – Malcolm Fraser had a pretty good run with major states (minus TAS and  SA) under Liberal party control.  In 1982, every state was under Liberal governance.

6.  2008 – Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd got a dream Labor scenario.  With one of the highest popularity votes AND state unity – imagine what he could have done if he hadn’t caused all that internal disunity!  They could have been an absolute force to reckon with.  Between 2009 and 2010, there was more of the same.

Now I’d need to look at each of those times more carefully to find out whether relatively speaking there was much more agreement and it was easier to get legislation in those years, while harder in those others – but that would be my hypothesis.  Also, we’d need to consider the make up of the senate in any one year to be completely sure of any results.

I think with a bit more study, we’d probably find that the Australian version of the Federal system of internal governance actually undermines the unity of the entire governance process.  At the very least, it must create massive miscommunication issues where in the majority of cases over the past 112 years, party governance is not aligned across state and government levels.  For instance, in sharing information between state and government – there becomes a massive risk of silos that, unlike the promotion of competition BETWEEN states, promotes national disunity between states and government.

I wonder how this effects people’s experience of local vs. national media as well?  For instance, if they live in a Liberal governed state, they’re likely to see a lot of Liberal messages locally, and be confused with any cross fire messages from the National government.   I do wonder if this happened particularly in NSW, VIC and QLD in the lead up to the 2013 election.  If I were Tony Abbott, and really smart, I would have created a whole strategy around playing on the creation of a divide between Labor and the states to build mass confusion for the people and help lead them in the thinking that the government of the day was disorganised.  Obviously if this was an orchestrated effort by the Coalition, its strategy was significantly helped by the fact that at the Federal Parliament level there were some pretty massive internal rifts within Labor already.

On another note, the old corporate world has already gone through the process of accepting that restructure is necessary to cost cutting: breaking down silo’s that exist between departments uncovers massive cost savings, improves communication and basically helps get things done faster and with less frustration for everyone.  Although the restructuring process takes years and humans within it get tossed around in constant change and instability until its done, once it is done, there is an exponentially great ability to be more agile and responsive to the needs of the community (which a modern nation expects from its leaders, because that is how they live the rest of their lives).

And of course the timing differences between state and federal elections don’t help the situation at all – in fact it leads to a gap between the will of the local people and that of government.  At least aligning these election dates within the same month would likely mean alignment based on any changing community views were properly represented from a state to national level.

So…I wonder how the Liberal Federal Government can have a conversation about cost cutting and budget management, without having a good hard think about whether we actually need to relook at the efficiency and effectiveness of our democratic system.  After all, this stuff was made up by people colonising a completely new country, taking bits and pieces from different government set ups (mostly from the US – EXCEPT for the federal system which came from the US and Canada). I mean, can you really just stuff bits and pieces into a constitution based on different ideas from around the world and expect to still work perfectly in 112 years?  I’m gonna hazard a guess: No.

Don’t get me wrong, lots of things about it are great – for instance, we have a mostly dreamy preferencing system (apart from being able to preference votes “above the line” in the Senate), but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve a whole lot.  It’s not like democracy as a system itself has been around for that long anyway, Monarchies are more tested through time.  And back in 1901 when our federal level democratic system of government was formed, corporate national/multinational capitalism, globalisation and communication were not the mega-influencers of the society as they are today.  The country existed in a completely different social, political and technological landscape.

The first step, I humbly propose, is a conversation.  A conversation between Local Government, the States, the Federal Government and the Australian people.  Because the only thing that can be guaranteed to happen in life is change.  Isn’t proactive engagement and discussion a better approach rather than waiting until the system fails us – just like our Senate voting system has in the 2013 elections?

Why Australian’s should care about POLICIES not POLITICS

English: Photo of the entrance doors to the Au...

English: Photo of the entrance doors to the Australian House of Representatives, Parliament House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, it’s the day after tomorrow!  Some Australian’s are ecstatic, others are devastated.  As always, I’d like to to a look at exactly what a new government will mean for Australians.  Because being Prime Minister doesn’t give you the ability to just pop decisions through parliament as you choose.

For political noobs out there (as I was 6 months ago), here’s how it works.  This is what politicians spend more than half of their time actually doing:

– Someone comes up with an idea for a bill – i.e. an idea to change a law that governs Australia (it’s usually one of the parties but it can come from associations or other lobbyists)

– Generally the minister who is responsible for a particular portfolio presents a bill (although any member is allowed to).  The person gives notice that that idea is going to be presented at the next seating (basically a get together of parliament – i.e. a meeting!).  Obviously before they present it, they have to write a draft of the law.  For some reason I can’t find anywhere that actually details WHO does the writing…is it a lawyer, is it an analyst…who?  I don’t know…  ANYWAY…

– There are two “houses” of people who represent Australians.  Once’s called the Upper House/The Senate which is where the “Senators” live – once is called the Lower House – or as you may know it The House of Representatives.  The Lower House is the place where you vote in the government at the prime minister BUT it is not the house that actually has the final say.  The Senate does.  So to connect this all back to YOU:  on your voting card – the Green one was the one that you used to vote in people from your local area to the Lower House, and the white one,  you used to vote in representatives of your whole state to the Senate/Upper House.  Most people know the people on the Green card cos it’s their local area, but generally there’s less of an emotional connection to the white piece of paper – not to mention it takes an hour to fill in the preferences so most people just vote for a party instead of individuals and then let the party decide where to send the other preferences.  Often it’s much easier for smaller parties to get into the Senate than into the House of Reps.

– Alright so…off this bill (idea) goes – get’s presented generally first at the Lower House (House of Reps) although in some cases it can come the other way (unless its any money or tax related stuff).  And just to give you a sense of scale, government usually gets 200 of these proposals a year and about 80% of the actually end up becoming laws (or amendments to existing laws).  Anyway, at this first presenting of the bill, everyone gets a copy.

– No one chats about it or debates it this first time, it just gets presented.  Ministers and members of parliament then have time to go off, read it properly, do their own research, consult experts – basically do whatever they need to do to come to their own decision about whether they want to support it, reject it or amend bits and pieces of it.

– When they meet again, everyone votes in general on whether they want to run with it or not.  If it’s a yes, there’s a public enquiry into the bill and then an opportunity for members to discuss it all in detail, then there’s another vote and if it’s a goer – get gets passed on to the Senate.  The Senate then goes through basically the exact same process.  So they’re kind of like a second pair of eyes that I think tend to look at things from more of a national rather than local community perspective.

If there’s a bill introduced that fails to get through this WHOLE process TWICE, then the Prime Minister can ask the Governor General to “dissolve” both houses of parliament (hence the term “double dissolution”!) and then have another go at the election!

There have been 6 cases of double dissolutions since the federation was formed.  In one case, the bill was dropped, in 2 cases – the government who requested it in the first place lost their power and in 3 cases the the government “won”.  So that’s basically a 50/50 chance of getting back into power…let alone letting the bill pass through!  All in all, you’d need to be a betting man or woman to decide to call one I reckon.

So why would you want to call one?  Often this is if a party won because they won the majority in the House of Reps but didn’t get a majority in the Senate and so they’d call that a “Hostile Senate” – or basically a review panel that rejects the bills the are trying to pass.  BUT…I think to be strategic about it – you’d want to think about whether the bill you were trying to pass is actually worth the risk of a loss.

I think there’s two major reasons why the elected government loses at the time that they call a re-election:

1.  Usually it happens when they are trying to implement a key policy that they promised the people during an election campaign, which means it happens about 6 months after they get into government.  For the average citizen this isn’t enough time for that government to have proven itself or to have really made any positive changes based on their new governance.  It’s not long in government but its a long time in the real world – so people begin to have doubts about the governments ability to do its job and deliver what it promised those who voted for them.  Alternatively, the government has been in for a few elections, slowly losing ground and the re-election is called after 3 years, when perhaps the government hasn’t done as much as the people “thought” it would.

2.  They underestimate the gap between people’s  voting choice and their individual views on certain issues – so if the media reports (as they would) that the whole reelection is around a particular issue that perhaps is more contentious even between people who vote for a party, then people will be more attuned to that issue in particular in the reelection – i.e. they’ll vote almost based on whether or not they agree with that particular bill.  It’s a key psychological shift, but I reckon that’s what happens.

So with that in mind, it got me wondering – I know that yesterday by preferences, Liberals won by less than 6% (apparently that’s a lot in Australia) based on the votes of about 14 million Australians, and the biggest swing was toward independent parties – which showed that lots of Aussies just didn’t like either party but kind of didn’t get a choice since there wasn’t another big enough party in the contest.

So given that…it’s likely people probably disagree on a case by case basis with the actual policies being proposed, which also means there will be a more hostile senate because minor parties have been able to gain more seats than previously…which in turn means, there is more likely to be a scenario where bills get rejected by the Senate and that Tony Abbott will have the opportunity to ask the Governor General for a double dissolution.

And based on probably the biggest poll run in the country other than the election results themselves – run by the ABC, we can see what people’s views really are (regardless of how they actually voted).  Here they are, and my views on what will happen in parliament regardless of what the Australian people might personally prefer or think:

1.  Scrapping of the NBN:  Men are more likely to vote for liberal, but men are ALSO more likely to be interested in broadband/technology – which suggests to me that a dissolution called on the basis of the scrapping of NBN as currently planned could actually change the re-election results.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Labor voters

2.  Gay marriage: has majority support amongst both sides of voters (liberal and labor).  This hasn’t really been a major focus of the campaign – apart from Rudd saying he’d allow his party a conscience vote on it.  I think both sides should listen to the Australian people on this and call a referendum.  It should not be up to a government to decide this if there is support amongst the whole community because it suggests that community’s overall views are not being properly represented.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians

3.  Asylum seeker policies: are highly divisive and as a result of Labors shift toward a protectionist stance, close to half of all Labor supporters disagreed with Labor on this, but ALSO disagreed with Liberals.  The further people live from the city, the more likely they are to want to turn back boats and given 68% of Aussies live in cities this suggests a high level of disagreement with both parties on the issue.  I think that given Labor and Liberals have aligned themselves on this one – regardless of the Australian population – I’d say any bill on this would get through both the house of reps and the senate.  Which is a shame as again the majority views on the subject are not being properly represented. POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians

4.  Mining tax:  The majority of Australians actually want this! (59%)  So it’s kind of hilarious that this is was what got Ruddster kicked off his perch in the first place (when he should have called his own double dissolution as he was at the height of his popularity at that time).  The liberals are calling for mining tax CUTS despite what the majority of Aussie’s want.  The issue here is, again the Senate – because minor parties are more able to gain seats and Queensland holds a lot of them and I’d say in both Queensland and WA where mining is most prominent, people are much more likely to be “for” mining tax cuts in their industry.  Also now that The Clive Palmer Party (who has is a Billionaire mining magnate) holds three seats in the Senate and could be the deciding party if it was a vote for the tax cuts with the Liberal party, he would likely have significant power in that vote.  So I think the tax cuts will definitely make it through the Senate.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians and particularly Greens voters

5.  Legalised voluntary euthanasia:  A whopping 75% (plus 10%) neutral – want this.  This wasn’t even an agenda with either party – I think perhaps because while people might vote for it privately…its not exactly an upbeat thing to talk about.  But I do hope there is a bill brought in to assist the government agenda and help it reflect the views of the people.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Bad for all Australians if a bill is not presented and even worse if its not approved

6.  Car Industry Support: No one in SA actually cares.  They don’t want their own industry supported and Liberals agree.  So I think this one will be a no brainer as I don’t see the Greens supporting Labor against cutting the support in the Senate.
POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Australians and particularly Greens

7.  Climate change/Carbon Tax:  This one is a really interesting one because overall 61% of Aussie’s think more should be done for the environment.  Also women and young people are more likely to agree with the statement vs male/older people.  (but it feels like most people don’t think the Carbon tax is it – although I’m not sure how many people actually understand it).   So the Liberals want to get rid of the carbon tax (in effect, a negative action against the environment) – and this is the one that Liberals believe is most likely to receive a hostile response in the Senate because it was a deal that both Labor and Greens had already agreed on (although who knows how the Palmer United Party would vote on this…given that they’re in the mining biz – they’d likely side with the Liberals on this…although given how Clive has been treated during the election campaign he may have other plans!).  So anyway, assuming it went through twice and they were unable to get it through, and a double dissolution was asked for – and assuming Australian’s voted in the way of “for or against the tax” rather than for or against the party AND assuming that by that time the Labor had a strong opposition leader who was polling well, then Labor could win back the election. Let’s not also forget that 25% (500k) young people didn’t enrol to vote before this election.  And the number of new young people eligible to vote will go up.  We could assume they would be prompted to enrol if there was an issue at stake they were more likely to care about and the difference of another 200-300k voters plus 50k people will die of old age in that time too who may have been likely to vote “against” the tax.

However if there was no leader and there was significant media surrounding the tax and confusing people into thinking having it is a negative, then Liberals could win back their seats AND win back more of the Senate. Jury is out on this one.  I think there would be a 50/50 chance here.

POTENTIAL OUTCOME VERDICT:  Good for Australians, Good for Labor and Greens voters OR Bad for all Australians

Then its important to look at the likelihood of success to win IF you take into account how strong the hold on the house of Reps or the Senate was at the time the dissolution + re-election was called by the government.

The 1975 Double Dissolution I wont count because it was a requirement for Malcolm Fraser to do this after the Governor General dismissed Whitlam so it was not related to any bill.

Joseph Cook Called Dissolution (1914)
– Liberals:
HoR: 38 Senate: 7
– Labor:
HoR: 37 Senate: 11
CALLED:
1.25 years after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (1): 
Abolish preferential employment for trade union members in the public service
OUTCOME:
Elected Party significantly defeated (it had been fairly neck and neck at the 1913 election anyway), bill not passed

Robert Menzies Called Dissolution (1951)
– Liberals: HoR: 74 Senate: 23
– Labor: HoR: 47 Senate: 19
CALLED: 1.5 years after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (1):  The creation of the Commonwealth bank board which opposition felt would mean private interests would influence bank decisions
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned and also won majority in senate, bill passed

Whitlam Govt Called Dissolution (1974)
– Liberals/NPA: HoR: 61 Senate: 46
– Labor: HoR: 66 Senate: 29
CALLED: 1 month after 1st election
BILL IN QUESTION (6):  Electoral bill (changing how electorates were divided) and same for Senate, Health insurance bill which would provide for creation of universal health insurance with Medibank – now known as medicare) and the establishment or a Petroleum and Minerals Authority.
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned but still no majority in the senate, bill did not pass

Fraser Govt Called Dissolution (1983)
– Liberals/Country Nationals: HoR: 74 Senate: 30
– Labor:  HoR: 51 Senate: 27
CALLED:  3 years after 3rd election
BILL IN QUESTION (12): A variety of Tax amendments, A social services amendment and amendments to tertiary education
OUTCOME: Elected Party lost, Challenger Won, bill did not pass

Hawke Govt Called Dissolution (1984)
– Liberals: HoR: 50 Senate: 16
– Labor: HoR: 75 Senate: 30
CALLED: 1 year after election
BILL IN QUESTION (1): Amalgamate all other govt ID systems to act against tax avoidance, health and welfare fraud
OUTCOME: Elected Party returned but still no majority in the senate, bill did not pass

Ok so…after all that research!!  Based on the above is seems that when a Double Dissolution has been called in the past:

A.  In 4 out of the 5 cases, the bill did not pass

B.  In 2 out of the 5 cases, the party who called the dissolution lost.  Where they did win, in 2 out of the 3 cases they still didn’t win majority in the senate, only in 1951 did the party win and get Senate majority.

C. Both Fraser and Menzies had the exact same majority number (74) in House of Reps and yet one lost, and the other won – which suggests deciding factors are about length of time in govt before the dissolution is called and also the issue itself.

So now lets look at this election IF we assume that a double dissolution is called on Carbon Tax within 6-12 months:

Tony Abbott Called Dissolution (est 2014)
– Liberals: HoR: 89 Senate: 33
– Labor: HoR: 57 Senate: 25 (+10 from greens on this issue) = 35
CALLED: 6-12 months after election
BILL IN QUESTION: Amendment to carbon tax to scrap whole program
PREDICTED OUTCOME: The situation is closest to the Fraser govt BUT, the timing is different.  I still say there’s a 50/50 chance of it going either way.  I think that if held 6-12 months after election, they would be reelected BUT they still wouldn’t get Senate majority.  If held in 3 years, they’d lose.

13 real policy ideas to help navigate Australia through to budget surplus + happy people!

So I took some time to read through the CIS report which you can read here.  I’ve taken half a day to study and research them and decide for myself whether I agree.  So hopefully this can benefit others who can’t be bothered spending half a day but can take a few minutes to read instead.  I’ve included links to my research sources where possible.

Here’s some really interesting take outs:

  • Australia’s welfare system accounts for 65% of government spending and has doubled over the last 10 years from $150 billion to over $300 billion.  A third of that goes to welfare cash payments (like Newstart, Family Allowance…etc) – most of which are more strongly means tested than other OECD countries – but current spending trends are unsustainable and contribute to ongoing dependence.
  • Close to half of all Australia’s welfare payments (over $150m) are accounted for by what is referred to as “welfare churn”, where an Australian (those of incomes higher than $18.2k per annum) pays taxes, and then those taxes come back to them as benefits – generally in kind benefits like education or health.
  • Between the ages of 15 and 55, an Australian’s benefits vs taxes is fairly even (even though it may not be happening at exactly the same time – e.g. students receive education benefits, but then pay for the next generation to receive those benefits with their taxes).  But after 55, there is a huge gap as taxes decrease significantly while welfare benefits increase significantly until the time of death.  This makes the policies around  welfare benefits to the growing ageing population one of the most crucial issues in the Australian Government’s budget.  It’s a $50 billion+ a year issue.  In comparison, that’s double Australia’s defense budget.

    Weekly value of total benefits and taxes

    Weekly value of total benefits and taxes

  • The biological essence of this issue – particularly over the next 20 to 30 years, is that Australians aren’t having enough babies who can grow up to get their own jobs and pay enough taxes so that the previous generation’s age cohort will be properly supported.  The population grew, but now its not replacing itself.  In terms of the environmental impacts of an ever growing world population, this is perhaps a positive, but in terms of the real experience of people living their lives in Australia right now and over the next 30 years (for example, people like me who will be 60 in 30 years), this is a serious problem.

Recommended policy changes

WELFARE CASH PAYMENTS

While there are some really great ideas for more progressive reforms, there’s a big problem with implementing them.  When you change a system that affects generations of people, there is a long period of time in which SOMEONE has to suffer…which means that reforms of that size never make it through parliament, or if they do – they come out the other end so changed that they can never have the effect that was intended – and if changed back by a new power in government, can due irreparable damage to the lives of people in had intended to help.

So, with that in mind, smaller changes, while not completely solving the dependency factor, can slowly reduce it and incentivise people to change over a long period of time, until such a time as major reforms are possible.

  1. Align the age at which someone can access their superannuation funds (60) with the age at which a person can apply for the pension (65) so that people don’t use the intervening 5 years to reduce their means-tested assets to the point at which they can benefit from the pension despite not necessarily qualifying for it 5 years earlier.
  2. Include a persons principal home as part of the means testing process for pensions, which will incentivise people to use their superannuation drawings to purchase income generating assets, rather than avoid them in order to qualify for the pension.
  3. Also link the age of retirement and access to super and pension, to life expectancy.  This is something the UK is considering.  To put this into context, Superannuation was introduced to Australia at a time by the Labor government when life expectancy at birth was 77.38 years.  In 2012, life expectancy at birth was 81.85 years.  That’s a difference of 4.47 years.  Now, I imagine this age would need to change based on the birth year of the child – or perhaps birth cohort of 10 years.  For instance, if 50 years from now, humans were living 50 years longer, it would make absolutely no sense for them to retire and be supported by the state for 50 years.  So if the age isn’t increase in line with life expectancy, then its up to the tax payers to bear the burden of the difference of X years.
  4. A more politically difficult item to implement would also be the limit index pensions to the Consumer Price Index.  Currently it is linked to both CPI and also the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI) – whichever is higher.  The inherent problem I think being called out here is that if government spending on welfare increases at a higher rate than the CPI, then welfare earners spend more, thereby increasing their own Index, and of course since it will be higher than CPI, it will be used to define the exact amount of benefits…basically becoming a self-fulfilling cycle of increases that are instigated by government spending in the first place.  I’m not ENTIRELY sure my line of reasoning here is correct, but that’s what I’ve deduced.
  5. Aged care supports to be means tested just like every other welfare payment is.  So basically providing system consistency to ensure money goes to those who actually need it.

FAMILY WELFARE CASH BENEFITS

  1. Reducing tax churn for middle income earners – by ensuring that again, the benefits are delivered to the lower income families who need it most, but also that some of the savings made are distributed back to the middle and higher income tax payers.   Family Tax Benefits payments have two parts and were originally set up to support families with a stay at home parent.  Part A provides $100 per child per week for family’s with incomes under $75k and Part B provides lesser payments ($70 for kids under 5 and $50 for kids 5-18) for people with family incomes below $150k – so, helpful for anyone with a family earning between 76k and 150k per annum.  Now I wanted to double check this against Australian Poverty lines.  These obviously differ depending on whether you own your house outright and therefore don’t have to pay rent and also on how many children you have.  But line was set this month at $34k a year (Pre tax) for the 33% of Aussie’s who own their own home and have one child, and the line goes up to $79k (Pre tax) for those with 4 kids who don’t own their own home (although average number of kids is 2).  So I think it’s safe to say that households with a family income of $150k – which is more than double the income of a family living on the Australian poverty line, are not the ideal beneficiaries of the welfare system – they are better of having tax credits.  So based on my own research I would also conclude with the research paper that Part B could be phased out over time.   But I would add that Part A should be linked to the Poverty line index, so that as living standards change and the price of living increases, welfare benefit categories are seasonally adjusted.  Because I am sure the government brought the system in based on original poverty line figures…which inevitably change over time.  Based on the calculation of pre tax income, Part A should be increased to include family incomes up to $79k per year (where means testing shows they don’t own their property and have 4 children).
  2. Tony Abbott, Leader of the Liberal National Party Australia

    Tony Abbott, Leader of the Liberal National Party Australia

    The Liberal National Party’s plans to provide mothers with 26 weeks of wage replacement up to a maximum of $150k without means testing or a sliding scale of benefits based on income which the rest of our taxation and many other means tested systems are based upon.  This presents a significant financial concern.  Of course there are ways for empowering people to take paid leave and enjoy the beautiful time that all humans should enjoy in being a parent to a new child – without creating systems that contribute to welfare churn.  For instance, using a tax effective savings vehicle – where Australian’s are all provided with a way to save for education, health and new life creation (having babies!) in a particular savings account and if they do so, are taxed at a much lower rate (perhaps the effective tax saving difference based on welfare with- i.e. 30-40% rate saving – with the extra 15-20% kept to fund those who need it most).  People can then access these funds when they have children – or perhaps if they never do, they could access those funds after menopause??  That’s an interesting thought!  Childcare payments could then be reduced as people self funded time off to spend with their new or recently grown family.  Either way, the current Labor party’s child care benefits scheme is a more financially prudent policy.

  3. The report also suggests that for the above two items (and other family and child related welfare payments) there is benefit in reform across all of them.  The number of children you have is a major indicator of potential new costs, so the suggestion of replacing all these benefits with a non-means tested Child Tax Credit could be an option.  The issue I see there is that it provides more money for those who earn more and therefore pay more tax, and zero money for those who earn under $18.2k.  So, there would need to be some more thought put into how this could be achieved – particularly covering any transition period.  Would the tax credit happen as a part of someone’s weekly/fortnightly wage?  What of people who are paid monthly? Perhaps the tax credit could increase or decrease on a sliding scale based on income and then switch from a credit to welfare payments on the lower end of the scale?  I guess you’d need to do more modelling to check.
  4. CentrelinkThe other major component of welfare payments is within unemployment.  Interestingly 60-70% of people who take up Newstart move back to paid work within 1 year.  One proposal suggests people could use Personal Future Fund accounts to self fund this period…but I think this is a bit of a stretch.  That would require someone to have up to $40k in savings at any time JUST IN CASE they were unemployed for up to a year.  I think that Australian’s would find that a big stretch to agree to.  The other suggestion which I think makes more sense and is something Aussie’s are already familiar with, is to provide those who are recently unemployed with a loan amount that is paid weekly – but which must be paid back as soon as they start working and earning over a certain amount that would allow them to service the debt.  It works just like the HELP fee system so as not to disadvantage those who are unable to get paid work.  I think the debt would probably need to be capped at 1 years of benefits (given that is 70% of the cases anyway), because psychologically, the more someone felt they “owed” to the government, the greater the disincentive to find work because after 5 years they’d owe over $70k to the government which is 1/5 of a house loan – most humans would feel overwhelmed at that obligation.

DISABILITY SUPPORT CASH BENEFITS

  1. The Disability Support Pension was an interesting one.  I found this one difficult because there is so much complexity around physical and mental disabilities.  On the one hand there is a social etiquette which dictates we should avoid expecting the same from a disabled person as that of a normally abled person, on the other, there is much that an individual human can gain from positive and meaningful contribution to the workforce.  Of course the degree to which this is experienced is dependent on the individual, the type of disability and the severity.  Now ABS data shows that disabilities that begin in adulthood are most likely to occur in the 45-64 age bracket (prior to workforce retirement) – and those in the 55-64 bracket are the least likely to return to work.  At the moment the payments for DPS (Disability Support Pension) are not aligned to the objectives of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (which provides support for increased workforce participation).  The two programs are at odds – one provides the support, but the other does not require people to look for work in order to obtain benefits, so there is little incentive for someone to go and look for work – even if there is now a program structure to support it!  So by aligning the two – i.e changing the pension to require those with partial working capacity to seek out work, the aims of the NDIS can be carried out and the government can also save money on pension payments as a side benefit.  I think this is a good idea in principle, but it is a tricky one to means test by “working capacity” and might have the effect of causing public outrage – particularly in instances where there are people that may be physically partially able, but combined factors of mental preparedness and also workplace preparedness creates a difficult environment.

EDUCATION SUPPORT BENEFITS

  1. Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens Party

    Christine Milne, leader of the Australian Greens Party

    On Primary education, Rudd government wants to spend more and Abbot wants to spend less or perhaps distribute the balance across primary/secondary and tertiary – both have an impact on the ability of future government expenditure and the ability to pull Australia out of deficit.  On the other hand, the Greens proposal to means test government funding to private schools just pisses off any parent who is currently sending their child to a private school and is unlikely to be a policy that Parliament would accept as a solution.  But that’s not to say the track isn’t right…it just needs to be presented as a change for all that provides new freedoms and opportunities…rather than a new disadvantage for some.  The idea proposed is that the amount of tax money used to pay a public funded school position is instead provided as a tax credit that can be used for education.  The credit could be capped based on the price of attending the closest local school.  Now this still effectively lowers potential benefits to parents with kids going to private institutions – but its much more difficult to compare since now the decisions are being made by the individual, not by the institution. The approach increases competition within schools and raises the bar for all, while still providing education within an essentially socialist framework.

  2. On tertiary education, the current FEE help system takes no account of the earning POTENTIAL of the degree being studied as a means of determining % of HELP assistance available.  For instance, the average earning potential of a teacher is $64k per year, the average earning potential of a lawyer is nearly double that at $123k.  Reforms suggest this earning potential could be used as a means of reducing or increasing government subsidies as needed.  My personal thoughts are that this is a good idea in theory but individual job types and associated incomes vary wildly within particular industries, there are hundreds of jobs, and in some sectors salaries stay relatively the same over time while others go up and down – meaning the system would at least need to be smart enough to cater for all of these intricacies.  Certainly not impossible in the IT age…but important to consider.  Also increased fees for higher earning potential jobs could effectively cut out students from lower income backgrounds.  So I think if the system were to work, it would also need to include family means testing as part of the equation of potential fee help.

HEALTH SUPPORT BENEFITS

  1. MedicareFirstly I think it should be noted there is probably not too many Australian’s out there who aren’t fans of the socialist style medical system we have here in Australia.  Americans would say we are very lucky.  However, if we accept that the point of such a system is to provide healthcare to those who can’t afford it (unlike US where without health insurance, you’re in a real bind), then just like everything else, a socialist system needs to be implemented in a balanced way.  And this means means testing it in the way that practically all other welfare benefits are implemented in Australia.Here’s the issue: because you don’t pay (or you receive a rebate) on visits to the doctor or purchases of prescription drugs, and the doctor and pharmacist don’t lose out either – the system encourages people to use it more, leading to more spending that may be unnecessary – particularly if the same result and levels of population health could actually be achieved for less.  In America, cost benefit analysis is used to make decisions on how to best decide which drugs or equipment to subsidise.  Many suggest that the better approach is another measure: Quality Adjusted Life Year – which is a measure that I think makes more sense for this area where the “cost” is money and the “benefit” is life verses death or disablement so its not as simple as money vs. less final life benefits!  On top of this, means testing as a method of ensuring health welfare benefits go to those who most need it vs. those who can afford health insurance and the price of a visit to the GP seems like a common sense approach.Ultimately, why should someone earning $75k or more get exact same government help on healthcare as someone earning $18k.   Logic would say…well they pay their taxes just like everyone else – so they should get the benefit right?  But if, similar to the other suggestions in the report around tax credits, a percentage of their taxes could be used to go directly to health insurance which was perhaps expanded to cover a % of GP visits depending on means tested income – this, with the savings gained from other welfare areas, could potentially cover costs without any major change for high income earners – making it a more palatable solution for the whole of the Australian public.  Regardless, I think this idea needs more work because our healthcare industry is highly complex and involves many more intricacies in comparison to other welfare areas.

Overall, I think the ideas presented a pretty good – the question is then about implementation.  Change of this type in too many areas at once is not only difficult to achieve, it scares the population into thinking the government is cutting stuff willy-nilly because most people don’t have half a day to spend going through and really thinking deeply about exactly what the proposed reforms mean like I just did today!  So focusing on just one or two areas that would have the biggest impact as part of an election campaign I think would be the maximum that the Australian public could psychologically handle.

On a final note, what I found so interesting about all of this, was that the Australian governments policy attitude toward Indigenous Australians, is actually reflective of its policy attitude to ALL Australians.  Its paternalistic in nature.  But paternalism disguised as public generosity won’t save future Australians from having to deal with the fall out of policy decisions that drive our budget into further deficit, particularly as Australia’s population ages.

Lack of political education killing true Australian choice

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

I don’t understand why in America you don’t have to vote but you are required to learn about politics in school. In Australia you are not required to learn about politics in school but you are required to vote.  And yet the BIGGEST impact a free citizen can have on the outcomes of their country is an informed vote.

Surely if a system places such value on the equality of each citizens opinion that they would force each person to provide their opinion – then that system should be equally interested in informing those citizens about how the system they are a part of works.

Now, I am not saying that the US education system should be copied, nor am I saying that there is no education about politics in Australian schools.  What I am saying is that there is no national standardardised implementation of the study and I see this as a major gap and one of the likely reasons that many Australians profess not to understand how our preferential voting system works.

One of my good friends put this really well in a recent Facebook post:

 The absolute unbiased truth: Vote for minor parties if they represent your values best. Vote for whoever represents your values best. We have a preferential system where YOU choose where your vote goes, all the way through the preferences and it passes on at full value.

In a seat which is a fight between Liberal and Labor the only thing that matters in terms of who wins the seat is which comes first out of those two parties on your ballot paper. They can be last and second last and which ever one is second last will still get your vote AT FULL VALUE. Voting a minor party as 1 sends a message to the old parties that they are not representing your values, and it gives funding to the minor party of your choice WITHOUT HAVING ANY IMPACT ON WHO WINS THE SEAT.”

So…back to the issue of education.  When I was in high school you were able to choose politics as a subject in Year 11 and 12, but it definitely wasn’t “required” like maths or science. And perhaps the only other time it was mentioned was in a couple of SOSE classes in year 8.

In 2014,  the Australian government will bring in required studies of Civics and Citizenship from Years 3 to 10 (http://www.acara.edu.au/curriculum_1/learning_areas/humanities_and_social_sciences/civics_and_citizenship.html).  That’s a huge step forward.  But am I the only one thinking…where the hell is the requirement for study in Year 11 and 12?  So right when most Aussie’s turn 18 and are being asked to now provide their opinion on the governance of their country, most of them haven’t even thought or been in a class on it in 2 years.  That’s a lifetime to a young person!!

It also brings up the question of how much influence any government in power should have over the creation of the curriculum.  This whole curriculum has been created while the Labor government was in power.  What does this mean for the neutrality of the information presented to young minds of the future?

It’s almost like the “ideal” scenario is that there is a third party/non affiliated with the government or other association that actually writes that part of the curriculum. Because science, maths, english are fairly solid in terms of their interpretation and application: But history is written by the conqueror and politics is defined by those in power.

So…what of those of us who are voting in the Australian Elections this Saturday?  Those of us who missed out on essential information that governs our potential to have positive or meaningful participation in the system that has been chosen to manage the country they live in?

Many Australians are talking about their apathy toward both parties, but with the 2 major parties having $64 million and $67 million in campaign backing verses $1m backing to the next viable party – the average Australian without any particular interest in politics is simply bombarded with two choices: Labor or Liberals.  And no thanks to US Billionaire Rupert Murduch who owns 70% of Australian media, they are getting even less of a choice by being presented with editorial content in newspapers across the country as if it were news.

Without unbiased, consistent education – no society (no matter how intelligent its people) can be expected to make an informed voting decision on country governance.  I just hope that in 2023/2024 – when those in grade 3 next year turn 18, they’ll be able to make better decisions than the rest of us this year.

Australian Politics…chapter 1

Parthenon from west

Parthenon from west (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.1  What is meant by calling the human being a ‘political animal’?

The ancient Greeks used the word Politics to mean something rather different to how the word is used today.  Polis means “of the city”, so Socrates reference to “man as a political animal” was about humans natural state being living in a city or state.

Today, some might say this is incorrect, given that humans are biologically built to live mainly in Hunter-Gatherer societies, and it is only in relatively recent times that we have grown to live in dense cities and urban masses.

Although in some ways, in ancient Greece, the saying was perhaps closer to the truth given that “cities” generally didn’t contain more than 300 or so people and very often were less than 100, while modern cities like Shanghai in China now has over 23 million inhabitants with 6,400 humans per square kilometer. (source)

At the end of the day, anything that describes human behaviour as being either essentially social and city based on individualistic, can only ever be general – given the diversity of human life and thought.

1.2  Must politics always involve conflict or power?

Politics in its simplest form, is the act of managing the state.  Politics involves many elements and both conflict and power are essential ingredients.  However the dynamic of the conflict and power change significantly dependent on the political regime in place.  For example, in a Dictatorship where perhaps the state is often run by military rule (like Egypt from the early 1900’s until the Arab Spring), conflict in the running of parliament is low, and conflict with the people is low until a revolution occurs as a result of low level and ongoing conflict between military forces and the public which builds public resentment slowly but inexorably over time.  In its place, the authority executes the full force of its military power on the people of its society, in order to maintain a state where there is no internal conflict to its own rule.

In a democracy however, the balance of conflict and power are different.  Democracy encourages conflict within its own ranks, between different schools of thought that make up the associations which form parties who represent the general public.  That low level conflict is what ensures the balance of power is kept in check, so that differing points of view have a voice and so that any ruling decisions are thoroughly tested before changes are implemented in society where they will affect the lives of those who choose to live in it.  In a democracy, the power struggle is focused between parties for the love of the people, not forced on the people (although with free press expressing personal view points like Murdoch owned media in Australia, some would argue this is not always the case!).  The power of the state through military force is focused on protection toward outside forces, not the oppression of the internal society.

But in all cases, there is conflict and power at play.

1.3  Is it reasonable to say that politics in some sense always involves the state?

Not always.  In more recent times, politics is used to describe the internal power plays, conflicts, relationships and governance within companies also.  However, if referring just to politics within the realm of the management of a country or nation made up of a collection of states, territories or provinces as is the case with the world today – then yes, the two are connected.  The “state” is what politics as a framework aims to provide protection and advancement for, the members of the state are its existing  citizens and the guests of the state are its tourists, refugees and immigrants – until otherwise officially accepted by the state.

English: One of the symbols of German Women's ...

1.4  How pervasive is “patriarchy” as an explanation of political power relations?

Patriarchy – the power of Fathers – and therefore, the power or rule of male thought, is how most modern Western societies were formed.

Firstly, its important to note that most anthropologists hold that there have been no known matriarchal societies in human history with the possible exception of some small societies from Burma and Native America.  Certainly there have been no major matriarchal civilisations.  Although Matrilineality (where descendant groups and potentially land, culture and other items are based on the mother line) are more prevalent including small society groups in Native America, China, Spain,  Africa and of course those of Jewish belief.  Many of these no longer exist.

What is also important to note is that most of the Western colonial world (USA, Australia, Canada) has been created on the back of expansion from the English, French, Dutch and Portugeuse.  None of these societies had a history of matriarchy nor matrilineal descent.  Given that each of these societies based their system of politics on their known political framework – they only had a patriarchal framework from which to take from!  Even today, while there is a separation of state and Monarchy, England still holds high regard for the family line, and Australia as England’s colonial outpost is not officially a republic and the Governor General as representative of the Queen of England must sign off on all major matters of state.

In democratic societies, the state involves citizens who are able to vote in or out members of parliament.   It was only just over 100 years ago that women were first allowed to even participate in that voting system (longer for countries other than Australia who was one of the first to provide women with that right as a part of the Feminist movement of the time).  And 100 or more years before that, women were under the complete rule of there Father in terms of matters of property ownership, life decisions and more.

So given the political system has existed for hundreds of years and was set up by men before women had any right to be a part of it, this suggests very strongly that patriarchy forms the basis of political power relations.

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912)

Australian Coat of Arms (adopted 1912) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.5  Discuss the difference between rhetoric and democratic politics.

Officially rhetoric is used to describe the discussion of political affairs by ALL members of society – not just politicians.  But the reality is, it has been so often used to describe the empty words of politicians who make promises and never deliver – that the word has lost all power to describe anything else.  Most people think of rhetoric as a ONE WAY speech rather than a discussion.

Discussion, on the other hand, is the heart of democracy.  Without discussing, arguing, engaging and fully testing the idea through debate, it is unlikely that same idea, and any related rulings from that idea, will be able to be accepted by people of different schools of thought.

However, discussion shouldn’t be the ONLY important factor.  Too often (as can be seen in the daily caucus at Parliament in Australia), there is too much talk and debate about things irrelevant to the needs of the people.  We are not a society that lives without access to information.  We live in an amazing age where we can gauge public feedback of thousands within in hours or seconds on social media, where contacting experts from all fields takes a few touches of a button, where scientific research is readily and easily available to all.  So I would argue that when pure rhetoric (without evidence from the people that politicians represent, a range of experts within those people, and research data) takes precedence over informed rhetoric, we enter a dangerous area of non-productive politics which is in fact self serving and undemocratic in its very nature. So often we see Indigenous Affairs ministers who have never spoken to an aboriginal elder or even lived in an Aboriginal community, or Health ministers who have never been doctors or nurses.  If these people are to represent these areas of society and do not have a background in it, then surely they must commit themselves to a learning process through community involvement, traditional study, expert panels, research and more.

1.6  What implications are there for the study of democracy in postmodern analysis?

Post-modernism really just means the following: there is no ONE RIGHT WAY to govern a society.  The idea that all truths can be questioned: including democracy.  Interestingly, never more has this been tested than through the rampant desire of the US to force its concept of democracy on the Middle East.  Or closer to home, the Australian Government’s need to replace the Australian Aboriginal Consensus based decision making system which also placed most power in the hands of elders (both men and women).  And in BOTH cases, the form of democractic rule forced on those societies seems to have made those made situations worse, rather than better.

Societies are very complex, they have taken in many cases, either hundreds or sometimes thousands or tens of thousands of years in their formation: this is particularly the case for people in the Middle East and Australian Aboriginals.  Humans are highly agile and malleable when brought up in a particular way from birth – however fast change forced on an entire society mid-cycle (mid generation) will often end in high levels of conflict or a situation where the state applies a level of power that oppresses the other society into submission.  That doesn’t sound like a democracy to me…

Post modernism in its purest form is academic bullshit.  It’s the realm of masters students and PhD’s who have nothing better to do with their time than deconstruct sentences.  But postmodernism that is grounded in real life respect for cultural, religious, geographical and historical differences is, I think, I highly valid and important perspective.  It is a perspective that allows governments to really think about the potential outcomes their actions may have.  It should never be used as a way to justify the continued existence of oppressive types of government, BUT it should look to accept circumstances where freeing people from such a situation without a valid and COMMUNITY OWNED & VETTED alternative has proven to turn the society into a highly unstable one.    Laughably, this is the definition of anarchy!  It takes time for people to change.  It took hundreds of years for the Western world to create its form of democracy.  Equality for all is a very noble goal, but the seeds of democracy must be sown over time and within the hearts of the people.  Unfortunately, Western governments rule for 3-5 years and time is not something they have a lot of.  So they look to create fast change and in the process, can cause great damage.