23 July 2010

Keeping your member "local"

One of the downsides of not having a proper civics syllabus in our secondary schools is the fact that Australians know bugger all about their own system. This is a DISGRACE!!!

Our kids learn about civics the same as we did – bits and pieces of it are carved off and farmed out to subjects as unrelated as legal studies, economics and history. And really, it’s not good enough.

So I thought that I’d get something out there that has been bugging me ever since Julia Gillard became PM: Folks, (and I may be preaching to the converted here) we do not elect our Prime Minister.

The first I heard about this, was a few disgruntled souls voicing their opinion that Kevin Rudd’s rolling by Gillard was undemocratic as apparently, Australians elected Rudd as PM for this entire term of government.

As a reminder, again, we do not elect our prime ministers. PMs get the job by virtue of being the leader of the government, normally formed by a group of members of the House of Representatives who hold the majority of seats. When a political party, defined as a group of like-minded people campaigning under a single platform, form a majority in the House, they get to be the Government. Currently, this is the ALP. Their leader, who is elected by the party room, is the one who gets to be the PM.

Likewise, the group of members who don’t consent to join this first group get to be the Opposition. The dominant political party in this group is the Liberal Party, so their leader gets to be Opposition Leader. Funnily enough, I don’t hear a squeak from Australians about supposed democratically elected Opposition Leaders when they get rolled by their party room. Anyone remember when Malcolm Turnbull got rolled in favour of Tony Abbott? Even further back, what about then Brendan Nelson was done away with? Bueller? Bueller?

In other words, elected politicians replacing their leader is entirely democratic within the context of Australia's parliamentary system.

Adding to the noise on this, consider the following.

Julia Gillard as PM is entitled to live in the Lodge in Canberra, as well as Kirribilli House whenever she’s in Sydney. She has since said that she will not move into the Lodge (or Kirribilli for that matter) until she’s democratically elected by the Australian people as PM.

Let’s call this an election promise, because assuming that Labor wins and Gillard sticks to her word, she obviously may not move into the Lodge.

The media also likes to call this a battle between Gillard and Abbott, or as they like to call them, “Julia and Tony”.

(As an aside, I don’t think that a single news outlet in the States would ever, in a million years, have referred to the last presidential battle as being between “Barack and John”)

The simple fact is that punters are ill-educated in this country and they think that this is between two prime ministerial candidates. The best thing that the media can do is be a little more responsible about the news that they put out there.

In reality, as far as the lower house goes, the only electing that you do, is for your local member.

I live in a safe Labor seat and my local member is Jenny Macklin. If I were to vote for Macklin in this next election, I would be voting for Macklin and no one else. Certainly not Gillard, even though her policies would affect my decision making in this regard. I’m not even voting for Macklin in her role as Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, just for her primary role as the Member for Jagajaga.

So again, you vote for your local member. Obviously, this means that it does pay to know a little about the candidates. Nominations don’t close until the 29th of July, so at this stage, I only know for certain that Macklin will be running but even then, it’s possible that there may be a pre-selection battle in the local branch of the ALP that I don’t know about.

Your local member. What does this mean?

Your local member should represent your community. Oh sure, there are many Australians who just see a vote for their local member as a vote for who you think should be prime minister, but those people need to frigging well wake up to themselves and consider who is going to best represent them, because that’s who they’re voting for.

With that in mind, I thought I’d compose a letter to my local MP and ask her what she’s done for Jagajaga during the past electoral term. I may have potentially missed something, but I simply don’t know and I suspect that I’m not too different to a lot of Australians in this regard:

The Hon. Jenny Macklin, MHR
Member for Jagajaga
149 Burgundy Street
PO Box 316
Heidelberg VIC 3084

Dear Jenny,

I do hope that you don’t mind me addressing you as “Jenny” in this letter and not the usual “Minister” as your position befits. I am writing to you as my local member of parliament and not to you in your capacity as a minister of the Crown.

As I’m sure you would be aware, there is an election coming up and I am of the understanding that you will be re-nominating as a candidate for Jagajaga, if you haven’t done so already.

So that I can vote properly and not roll a dice or blindly follow a how-to-vote card like so many Australians do, I thought I’d ask the question: Is it possible for you to send me a summary of what your achievements have been in the last electoral term?

Please note – I am not looking for your achievements in your role as the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, nor am I looking for achievements that the Rudd and Gillard governments have managed. I am simply looking for what it is that you’ve done to benefit the people of Jagajaga specifically during the current term and nothing more.

This list of achievements doesn’t need to be limited to stuff related to your parliamentary duties. For example I note that the Member for Warringah is a member of a surf lifesaving club in his electorate and although he doesn’t get rostered on terribly often, he has a record of turning up to do his shifts. So community stuff would be a pretty nice thing to have written in this list as well.

Although the election is still a little while away, please be assured that I will consider every syllable of your response when I get to the polling booth in August.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.

Yours sincerely,


It would be really good if we all did the same thing with all our local members.


Blamer .. said...

Nicely said.

Your local electorate is deathly quiet. Meanwhile my incumbent ceaselessly bombards letterboxes all year round. Alas it's mostly political advertising - rarely communitee notices or surveys. Never specific requests for submissions on a particular issue.

Advertising works. And it is advertising that the major parties (only) can well afford.

Election time looms so the major parties parade their choice policies around, but those issues don't coincide with the issues that I care most about.

Oh how I long for an independant website that simply lists all my local candidates with what they've done and their position on the issues that I care about.

Vote below the line.

Dikkii said...

Thanks Blamer.

To be fair, I probably have received the odd thing in the mail from Macklin, although I'm more likely to have received stuff in the mail from my state MP, Steve Herbert.

Naturally, like most Australians, I only pay attention at election time.

Dikkii said...

Oh yes and agree - vote below the line.

Do you, perchance, live in a marginal seat? Jagajaga is a totally safe ALP seat.

Sean Wright said...

Is it that a lot of people don't understand how voting works or does it just suit politicians and the media to reduce coverage to a popularity show.

Where is the reporting that compares the policy's of the major parties. I think we have a situation where we have our attention focussed on a two horse race for us, actually thinking about policies is too hard, much easier and possibly more inline with human behavior to reduce it to "who do I like the best" and which candidate do I want to back so I can perceive myself to be on the winning team.

I am not sure that education is the problem - unless you are a first time voter you've seen it all before, you know you don't vote for Julia if she's not in you electorate. I think the process goes more like, hmm I like Julia who do I have to back so he gets in. Hence the uproar over Rudd being shifted, people saw him as Labor and have some personal investment in him being in the top job.

Dikkii said...

I agree that the policy coverage in the media needs to be stronger. Reducing everything to a popularity contest is the sign of a lazy media, and I think ours is certainly quite bad.

It might also be that a lot of people genuinely do know how the system works, but unfortunately I've spoken to well more than a statistical sample over the years that consider that the local candidates are purely incidental to getting their preferred leader into the top job. These people, incidentally, will probably be the first to complain when someone is rolled mid term.

I suspect that my version of events is borne out in reality as well. I heard a story of an independent who was standing somewhere in Queensland last election. Said candidate apparently did lots for a few local sports clubs and was active in one of the commercial clubs - Rotary, Lions, Apex or something like that. Liberal / National / ALP candidate parachutes in and with saturation advertising, win the seat.

This happens all round the country and in these cases, I see no evidence to suggest that the local voters are aware that their member is meant to represent THEM, just the number corresponding to the how-to-vote card of their choice.

Not convinced, and with good reason.