How ‘We the People’ Lost Control of Our Own Country

March-In-March-State-LibraryForget media censorship. In Australia, there is a gravely concerning relationship between media ownership and public opinion censorship. What do I mean by that? I mean that while members of the public may have the right to choose what media to watch, generally, they’ll watch the most popular one or two. So freedom for other media entities to exist is excellent (and better than many less lucky countries), but it doesn’t change the fact that the largest of them will be the ones whose message is heard by that same majority. The more circulation (eyes and ears) a particular media entity controls , the more control they have over the TOTAL public perception and opinion. They control what is important, and what is not. March-in-March-Melbourne-2014-32Think about it like this. You’re an employee at a company and your boss sets a meeting agenda. She or he has the power to control exactly what to talk about during that half hour meeting. Even if you disagree with what’s most important, unless you can directly convince your boss otherwise, that agenda stays the same – how they want it. Which means that all the other colleagues at that meeting, believe that whatever is on that agenda, is what is most important. As a protestor in the “March in March” in Melbourne, my sense of deflation after the event at the lack of media coverage quickly turned to curiosity. I asked myself…”How could the Australian media ignore such a massive turnout? I was THERE! I saw it. My parents and my partners parents were there. THEY saw it. Sure there were some fringe hippies, but the majority of attendees seemed like completely average Aussie’s to me. There were tens and tens of thousands there. Why the post-protest radio silence?”. Now, I think some of it had to do with the lack of organisation from the protest founders – they didn’t exactly make it easy for the media to report. Secondly it was probably difficult for the media to put the protest into a neat box, when those who turned out were protesting everything from immigration policy to climate change to a general vote of no confidence in government. But, something tells me that’s not the whole story… Research has shown that media ownership is perhaps the most important impact on modern public thought and opinion. So then, lets dive into the concentration of media circulation in Australia. This is just an example using Newscorp. I’ve taken from a number of different sources to find their ownership across a variety of media to estimate what their potential TOTAL audience could be. Nine, 7 and APN Radio Stations, while they may stack up in numbers (eyes and ears), would not have the same number of people who see their news segments as Newscorp’s media entities combined.

Owner TV PayTV Newspaper Commercial Radio Internet Total Potential Eyes & Ears
AU Preference 90% 30% 10% 62.50% 40%
20,412,000.00 6,804,000.00 2,268,000.00 14,175,000.00 9,072,000.00 22680000
Newscorp 0% 63% 57% 0% 25% 7,847,280

This means Newscorp has the power to control what could be upward of 25-30% of those peoples voting preferences (with just over 14 million Australians voting at the 2013 Federal elections. Based on the two party preferred voting results, the “swing” between the parties was approximately 412,000 people. That’s just 5% of Newscorp’s total potential audience! Still think it’s not possible for a media entity to be able to help swing an election? March in March 2014What I find concerning is that the March in March, unlike other protests about specific areas of concern, was basically a march against a particular leader and a particular government, not just one particular policy decision. There has been nothing else like it in Australian history. Something to be concerned about? I’d say so! 112 thousands Australians got off their lazy asses on a Sunday, instead of signing a Getup or Change.org petition. If that’s how many people were willing to get out of bed for this, how many more were thinking it. And yet there was barely a wink of coverage on it in the media. How can the complete degradation of trust in the government from its citizens NOT constitute a media story? Or here’s another question, is a democracy really a democracy when protests don’t end in any political interface or conversation? (see outcome below)

Issue Protesters Year Outcome
March in March (Anti AU Govt) 112,000 2014 None
Climate Change Rally 60,000 2013 None
Occupy Melbourne 2,500 2011 None
Marriage Equality 5,000 2010 None
Industrial Relations (Howard) 250,000 2005 None
Iraq War 200,000 2003 None
Industrial Relations (Kennett) 150,000 1992 None

There is a misconception that politics is like a football game, the party who wins, even if its by just a few %, should mean that the other half of the country have to take whatever comes. The difference between a political win and a win at footy, is that the footy team only have themselves and their team (who won), to answer to – whereas in an election, the winning team must still look out for the interests of the losing team with the same amount of care as those who voted for them! it seems Australian politicians have lost sight of that. 2014-06-08_19-45-55 There is really further investigation that needs to be done to come to a strong hypothesis around this area but I’d be very interested in investigating the following: 1. Look at the number of people who attended a protest in Australia, and then cross reference that against the number of news articles for the protest, by company type and compare this also to the personal views of its chief controllers. 2. Look at total number of audience by media type, then cross reference against % of Liberal positive articles and then look at election outcomes (across both state and federal elections in the past) 3. The relationship between media coverage and interest in a protest, and the strength of political change brought about as a result of the protest (both in Australia and overseas).

So…how did we the people lose control of our own country? By letting others dictate what is important to our lives and what is not.  Feels like it’s time we as citizens question our own complacency and start to think about how we could regain our control.

In the mean time, my mother took photographs of a variety of rather witty signs from the March in March (whether you’re pro-Libs or not, they’re still amusing). I’d hazard a guess that this is the largest collection of March in March sign photography in Australia!

 

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The Politics of Hormones

For the last two days every human being and animal I’ve crossed paths with has pissed me off.  And I can’t control it.  It was only when my partner gingerly pointed out one day that I seem to want to kill myself (or everyone else) on the same 3 days every month, that I realised that it was overwhelmingly brought on by my monthly hormone cycle.

Double-flowered carnationsThis morning I attempted to make myself feel better by having a healthy breakfast, buying some carnations and painting each fingernail a different colour of the rainbow.  It turns out chucking a hissy fit and have a rage-fueled cleaning spree did the trick instead.  As I was attempting to stuff these beautiful carnations into a ridiculously narrow vase, one of the flower heads popped off and I quickly realised this vase just wasn’t going to work and tension began to build.  I pulled the stems out and briefly glanced around the room only to be struck by the vision capabilities of a vampire, zeroing in on thousands of grotty specs of dust.  The kitchen was a pigsty.  The tension burst.  I screamed and threw the flowers stems across the room like a two year old.  Thankfully no one else was there to witness it.

And there you have it – human hormones in action.  Have too little of one and you become depressed, too much of another and you’re angry.  These regulatory substances that our own bodies produce, sometimes in cycles, sometimes in response to medications or environment, are created and then transported by our blood to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action.  Basically, they’re little chemical messengers that help to keep everything in balance.  Testosterone, Estrogen, Insulin, Oxytocin and even Dopamine as a peripheral hormone – over 50 of them in total.

But as anyone who has attempted to live a balanced life knows…balance is not exactly simple, it’s a constant juggling act.  So here’s my poor female  body, prepping itself to make babies every month while the rest of me has to catch up and balance all its internal chemicals just right to keep me sane.  I’m lucky it can at least do that.

Many of us would like to think we have absolute final control over our actions and disposition, but our predisposition toward certain behaviours or traits are governed by these chemical compounds which are originally a product of genetics or epigenetics, but then subject to change based on our own epigenome and our environment.  For instance, what we choose to eat or not to eat (given foods are also chemicals), will also effect the chemical composition of our guts and our bodies.  Here’s some examples of the power of hormones:

  • Pre-op Female Transexuals take more Estrogen to stimulate breast formation, heightening of voice and change of fat distribution across the body although this cannot change the effects of the androgens (testosterone and others) on the shape of the skeleton. Visa versa for Pre-op Male Transexuals.
  • Men who take more anabolic steroids like testosterone to make bones stronger and muscles bigger can have the side effect of high blood pressure, sharp aggressive moods, increase in body heat and reduced sperm count.Chemical structure of oxytocin.
  • Oxytocin has different effects in men verses women.  In men it improves the ability to identify competitive relationships whereas in women it facilitates the ability to identify kinship.  It is released by the body in high doses during pregnancy and around childbirth in order to ensure proper boding between the mother and the child and it is also released during sex, which is why women tend to interpret sex as having more meaning than males do, because while it can also be released in men – the presence of testosterone interferes with its release.
Cover of "Emotional Awareness: Overcoming...

Cover via Amazon

I have been reading Emotional Awareness which is a book that covers a 3 week conversation between the Dalai Lama and scientist Paul Eckman (who is behind vast tomes of research on human emotion and, in particular, how it is expressed in minute facial expressions.  His work formed the basis of the TV show “Lie to Me”). In the book they talk about the difference between moods and emotions – where a mood is generally not tied to a specific event or circumstance but has a continuous emotional effect, whereas an emotional episode is much more able to be linked to a trigger event.  In some ways, moods trigger emotional episodes that reflect the mood itself, while emotional episodes are often in response to some sort of external trigger.

When I look at this in the context of hormones, I can see how hormones would often be the precipitants of moods, which would then trigger a variety of emotional responses.  The stronger the hormone and stronger the mood, the stronger the emotional response, and of course like all learned human behaviour, these patterns would continue to strengthen over time if performed again and again and can be how people slip into ongoing depression or aggression.

All this also got me thinking about how religion deals with hormones and their effect on humans.  Two particular instances I can think of relate specifically to women:

  1. In Sharia (Islamic) law, two women must bear witness to a crime in order to be heard in court.  This is stated to be due to the emotional nature of women, although on further research I found the story was related directly to Mohammad wanting to save one of his wives from being stoned to death by being caught all one with another man by a woman.  It seemed he often made up rules to suit his worldly purposes.
  2. In Jewish law, a man cannot touch a woman who is in the bleeding section of her monthly cycle.

Interestingly, there seems to be no similar law governing the display of aggression in men which is similarly a hormone fueled disposition.  Perhaps from an evolutionary perspective this is because the male aggression hormone was highly useful during times of empire expansion and the need to protect land, while the female hormal response in its monthly cycle had no broader benefit (from the patriarchs perspective).

Because for the majority of history, both East and West have lived in patriarchal societies, the best way to look at hormones being a determinant of military and political outcomes is through a male sex hormone like Testosterone.  As an example, research in 1992 showed there was no difference in Testosterone levels between black and white boys during adolescence, but in adulthood, black male testosterone levels were much higher which then directly links to other statistics we see on the number of incarcerations of black verses white males.  Of course there are so many other factors involved including race related discrimination and levels of education…etc but hormones remain a factor.  For instance in contrast, there was significant racism in Western countries toward those of Chinese descent and yet their incarceration rate remains lower.  So if we widen out that thinking from groups to countries, we see the possibilities for testosterone levels in any particular age generation to change and potentially fuel the ability for one clan (or country) to change military outcomes, or to resort to military resolutions over negotiation.  Environmental factors also come into play with research showing in adult male rats that experience short term starvation can significantly reduce testosterone levels.

So here we have a mix of chemicals in our bodies which have the potential to guide us to achieve great good or great destruction and yet we have only scratched the surface in controlling their effects through various hormone replacement therapies that often have many unwanted side-effects of their own.

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer

Fitbit: Wireless Personal Trainer (Photo credit: mrcd@sbcglobal.net)

Interestingly I recently did an interview with Jonathan Teo as part of a Fireside chat run by our meetup group Lean Startup Melbourne.  He led initial investor rounds into Twitter and Instagram and more recently Snapchat and is one of the key people in the tech industry who has been able to predict new technology trends.  One of the key trends being talked about in the tech industry at the moment is wearable tech (being able to monitor body functions insitu) – which is in part being quickly moved forward and expanded by breakthroughs in nanotechnology and size/power of computer chips.

At our last meetup, one of the speakers was from Lab on a Chip in Melbourne who talked about the real possibility in the near future of capabilities being produced that would enable the immediate mapping of genomes and epigenetic markers and then the smart releasing of medications or hormones through a patch (just like a smoking patch…but way smarter!).
Here’s hoping there’s a nanotech-hormone-patch for PMS before I smash a plate….or five.

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?

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.

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.