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Back September 16th, 2013 Forward
On Elections and Referendums and Policies.

Apparently the Liberals are claiming the recent Australian election was a "referendum" on the various policy packages of the major parties, and that as they won the majority of seats in the lower house of parliament, they therefore have the right to implement all their policies (even the ones there's strenuous opposition to for practical reasons, such as their NBN-on-the-cheap one).

Let's just break this down a bit. If an election is a referendum on policy, then clearly these policies should be readily stated in detail, adequately debated, and fully costed, and all of these details supplied to the public at the beginning of the campaign. As it stands, neither of the major parties supplied all of this detail to the public even by polling day (and the Liberal party was by far the most egregious offender in this regard - there were more and better costed policies from the Greens than from the Liberals).

In a referendum, the winning answer needs to get a majority of votes nationally, AND a majority of votes in all the states. Referendums, being voted on yes/no questions, don't go to preferences, because they don't need to - it's straight first past the post all the way. Yes, there are a majority of Liberal and National party members in the House of Representatives at present (if we're going to be continuing with the "referendum" analogy, presumably they'd count as "yes" for the Liberals, and "yair" for the Nationals), and there are more of them than there are members for the ALP (who are presumably the "no"s in this analogy). But where does this leave the Greens, the Palmer United Party, and the other few Independent MPs in the chamber? They don't readily analogise to a straight yes or no response.

As regards to the majority of the states, the composition of the new Senate is still being decided (further complicated, of course, by the fact that only HALF the senate seats were up for contest in this election, so we still have a senate which is being half-decided by responses we made to questions asked back in 2010), but it seems likely the Liberals and Nationals won't have a clear majority there, and will be required to do some horse-trading with the various minor and opposition parties in order to get policies passed. Or, in a return to our referendum analogy, the Liberals did NOT get a majority of senators in all the states... and thus the referendum doesn't pass.

The Liberals don't have a simple "mandate" for their entire policy list. Particularly since at least some of their policy list is stuff which is disputed even within the party itself.

Now, if the Liberal party really does want each election to be a referendum on policy rather than the current popularity contest, here's a suggestion for how it would need to work. Firstly, the parties would be required to have their policies worked out, costed, and ready to defend at the beginning of each electoral campaign period. These policies would need to be summarised into single line items, and each line item policy would be placed (with its costing - no costing, no consideration) in a list, with tick boxes at the end of each line - one for yes, one for no.

Incidentally, this could be a big saving, because it would mean only a single ballot paper for both the House of Representatives AND the Senate, and only a single ballot paper Australia-wide. Yes, that does mean people in Melbourne and Sydney would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people in the rest of the country. On the other hand, the rest of the country would be voting for and against pork-barrel measures aimed at people living in Sydney and Melbourne. Just think, winning Federal policies would most likely be the ones aimed at the entire country, rather than the ones aimed at winning individual seats.

In each seat and each state, the respective yeses and noes would be added up. For the House of Representatives, the candidate for the party whose collection of policies best conformed to the wishes of the voters for the seat would be chosen as the member for the individual seat. The current parliamentary convention of the Prime Minister being the parliamentary leader of the party with the greatest number of members in the House of Representatives could still apply. In the senate, the votes would be counted at a state level, and as each constellation of policy choices which matched a particular party's platform reached a quota, a senator from that party would be elected.

In addition, the AEC at the end of the day would have the ultimate opinion poll on which policies were supported and by which percentage of the population - and they could basically hand this to the incoming government with instructions that THIS is what they have a mandate for. Each individual member could also be given the same sort of run-down for their individual seat as well, thus indicating which way they were mandated to vote by their electors.

It would certainly change the How-to-vote cards.

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