The people’s vote


This week in The Spectator Mike Ryan revived the idea of the citizen-initiated referendum. This is a welcome suggestion and it recalls the memory that in 1987 the Centre For Independent Studies published a very well researched book on the various forms of the citizen’s vote, including the provision for recalling politicians who don’t take any notice of their constituents.

This is a review that was published in a little magazine in Tasmania.

Walker’s most telling arguments in favour of the CIR system concern the decline of representative democracy and the rise of the party system and the capture of the politicians by special interest groups. Members of the lower houses of Parliament come from defined electorates but they no longer serve their constituents as they may have done long ago.The are servants of the party and their loyalty has be to proved all the way from preselection to the division in the House.

Traditionally the members of Parliament were supposed to debate the motions before the House, then cast their votes in line with their stated principles, the interests of their constituents and the public good. But the rise of the party system ensures that the debate preceding the vote is an empty ritual that does nothing to change anyone’s vote. It merely fills in time and enables the more witty speakers to score debating points. The politicians have been captured by the party system and the parties have been captured by interest groups who threaten to turn the tide of elections by mobilizing blocks of votes in marginal seats where a handful of votes can decide the result.

The CIR system would enable the people to defend themselves from predatory interest groups by exerting the power of veto over legislation that hands out special favours to sectional interests. It would also revive confidence in the right to have a meaningful vote, at least some of the time. For the majority of people in “safe” electorates there is no sense that their vote makes a difference. There is also the frustrating situation where none of the major parties have acceptable policies on some issues. Walker wrote:

An educated electorate finds it increasingly frustrating to be given a choice only between two packages of personalities and policies when it might prefer to elect certain invidividuals but reject some of their policies.

Up the the First World War Australia was one of the leading countries in democratic reforms such as universal adult suffrage and the secret ballot. Walker reports that:

“The Australian Labor Party, from its earliest days in the 1890s, accepted the principle of initiative and referendum (and later the recall) not merely as policy but as one of the primary objectives of the party.”

Legislation for CIRs passed in the Labor controlled Queensland lower house in 1915 but it stopped at the conservative-dominated upper house. After this no serious efforts to promote the people’s vote occurred for many decades and Walker reported that in 1963 the Labor Party dropped it from the party platform.

Walker identified three strands of thought which are hostile to the principle of the people’s vote; these are the doctines of legal positivism, Parliamentary sovereignty and political elitism. Legal positivism sees the essence of law as a product of the power of the state, in contrast with the view that sees the law as a formalisation of conventional norms and popular consciousnes which is merely administered and enforced by agencies of the state. Legal positivism has dominant in academic circles for some time and it provides the basis of the theory of Parliamentary sovereignty. This was expounded by A V Dicey in his classical work The Law of the Constitution which dominated constitutional thought for almost a century. According to this view the British Parliament has absolute power to pass statutes as it sees fit, regardless of popular customs and morality. Walker claims that this has been taught as a dogma in law schools and has been carried by lawyers into Parliament where it is a very congenial notion. It is not generally noticed that Dicey changed his mind on the omnipotence of Parliament and spent the rest of his life campaigning for the people’s vote.

Despite all these adverse influences, local interest in CIRs resulted in numerous submissions to the Constitutional Reform Committee making the case for the people’s vote. The Committee even suggested that voter-initiated reforms should be introduced for changes in the Constitution but it recommended that wider use of the system should be deferred until it is tested in constitutional referendums. [That recommendation did not proceed].

https://www.spectator.com.au/2023/04/recall-election-legislation-is-desperately-needed-for-rogue-politicians/


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Petros
Petros
May 3, 2023 4:43 am

It certainly seems that Switzerland benefits from having CIRs. The elites here would detest them. It is somewhat comforting that there are so many independents in the NSW lower house now, even if many are brainwashed morons. At least the general public are coming around to the idea that the major parties are rubbish. One small step for non-stupid mankind.

Diogenes
Diogenes
May 3, 2023 5:27 am

It certainly seems that Switzerland benefits from having CIRs

They certainly don’t work in California, where special interest groups have captured the process.

John Brumble
John Brumble
May 3, 2023 7:13 am

Sure. Right up to the point where the authoritarians dilute the voting security (restrictions to only those in the electorate, number of votes, eligibility, etc.) such that there’s no integrity and boot out anyone they don’t like.

Roger
Roger
May 3, 2023 8:16 am

They certainly don’t work in California, where special interest groups have captured the process.

Yes, be careful what you wish for.

The break up of the party system offers better prospects.

Roger
Roger
May 3, 2023 8:30 am

The two party system, that is.

Rohan
Rohan
May 3, 2023 9:14 am

This will never fly. The two party system has a vested interest to reject any CIF proposal. Nice cushy salaries with perks see to that.

Special interests are now without reproach. To do otherwise is attract the label of heretic and be cancelled. Rule of law is no longer applied for special interests, the elites and bureacratic enablers. It only applies to the proles, when it doesn’t suit the narative.

This argument is a moot point at best.

Comrades.

Kneel
Kneel
May 3, 2023 10:26 am

“The politicians have been captured by the party system and the parties have been captured by interest groups…”

This is because all votes are “on record” – that is, not a secret ballot!
People will say “I should be able to know how my rep voted”.
I say “No, you shouldn’t.”
Not because YOU don’t have a “right” to know, but because this exposes the vote to the party, meaning they can exercise their power over the members political future. If the party only knows that “somebody” (or “somebodies”) voted against party lines, but not who, then all votes become “votes of conscience” (which is what was always intended!).
Getting this changed is paramount – but also extremely difficult, because the parties don’t want to lose that power and will know who voted “against” them.

Louis Litt
Louis Litt
May 3, 2023 10:35 am

the problem with labor and green is they foist candidates on to their electorates who do not represent them and the candidates loahte their electorates.
How may ALP and Green rep from the so called mortgage belt or industrail belt live in those elctorates – they all move to the leafy suburbs with shops to be close to family eg Mike Rann.

WesternDecliner
May 3, 2023 10:54 am

Great idea, almost impossible to get this implemented as power accumulates at the top for the elites.

Pyrmonter
May 3, 2023 11:14 am

To which is Australia closer – Switzerland – low tax, ‘leave me alone’ (mostly), highly decentralised … or California: centralised government, powerful lobby-groups, strong but arbitrary government, where CIR has entrenched the position of the public sector employee lobbies?

CIR is not the answer.

billie
billie
May 3, 2023 11:23 am

People who are good at getting elected, are not necessarily the ones we want running things

I don’t have a solution to this, however it is an ongoing problem for we, the people.

*I know a lot of people who were horrified when Turnbull was trying to pull off in the first republic referendum with himself installed as President. It should make us all very wary of anyone or any group trying to sway power their own way. Turnbull eventually got power, but hated the election system, still does.

If the “voice” gets up, it will leave us an unhappy place, and might cruel immigration programs once people realise we are not a democracy. Unintended consequences.

Bruce of Newcastle
Bruce of Newcastle
May 3, 2023 11:36 am

Most of the time it works pretty well in Switzerland, but every now and then it faceplants.

Switzerland votes to make same-sex marriage legal by near two-thirds majority (2021)

Swiss theologian John Calvin will be doing somersaults in his grave.

Swiss voters back law behind Covid vaccine certificate (2021)

The latter was really nasty, requiring vax certificates to eat in restaurants, plus other restrictions on the unclean. That’s the trouble with majorities: sometimes they go Nazi on minorities.

Boambee John
Boambee John
May 3, 2023 11:38 am

Kneelsays:
May 3, 2023 at 10:26 am
“The politicians have been captured by the party system and the parties have been captured by interest groups…”

This is because all votes are “on record” – that is, not a secret ballot!
People will say “I should be able to know how my rep voted”.
I say “No, you shouldn’t.”

Many years ago, I picked up a small booklet on this very subject. It might be difficult to obtain now, but the details are:

A Chariot of Fire, Secret Ballots in Parliament
Basil Smith
1992
Jenkin Buxton Printers, 263 Middleborough Road, Box Hill, Victoria 3128

In the early Noughties, I had some time to fill on at Parliament House, so wandered around the Open Day being held there. The “Duty” MP in the Reps was a Liars former Senator, then MHR.

I put the case to him for secret ballots IN Parliament as being equivalent to secret ballots to elect MPS. He rejected the idea. I followed up with an email exchange, but he refused to budge.

One of his responses during our oral discussion to the idea of members thinking through the issues, and deciding them on their merits was to say words to the effect that if he had wanted to think the issues through himself, he would not have joined the Labor Party. In effect he acknowledged that he followed the Party line without deep thought.

Dot
Dot
May 3, 2023 12:07 pm

In light of Dicey, Petros, Dioegenes and Pyrmonter:

The solution is indeed CIR, but only to strike down bad laws, not pass laws the elected Parliament won’t pass.

Youngster
Youngster
May 3, 2023 2:18 pm

Having lived in California for almost five years, I can advise from first-hand experience that CIR are not a panacea. They’re just another way for special interest groups to buy their preferred result.

I also worked in politics for a decade, and I know first-hand that a lot of the robust debate we all wish would happen in the chamber actually happens in the party room and at backbench policy committees. I’ve seen backbench MPs give ministers an absolute bollocking for proposing or continuing policies that are poorly received in their electorates. The two party system has its drawbacks, but I’m not sure the alternatives are better.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 3, 2023 3:14 pm

Dot> being able to remove bad laws but not able to propose new ones might lead to an endless series of campaigns on issues where a vocal minority is opposed or where funds are available. Not saying there is any easy solution but retrospective CIR could be a new can of worms …

Dot
Dot
May 3, 2023 3:19 pm

No. It will stop bad laws.

If it is an endless process, Parliament can stop passing bad laws.

might lead to an endless series of campaigns on issues where a vocal minority

Then they will lose.

There is no need to be a hysterical big government lickspittle.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 3, 2023 4:34 pm

Dot> don’t assume anyone supports big government. CIR enabling removal of bad laws could be like the worst possible form of the Voice i.e. citizens would have to guard against noisy minorities pushing their agendas in undemocratic ways. Which takes time & money …

Same thing happened in Rome where various assemblies with oversight ended up being run by the wealthy as regular folks could not afford to travel to Rome and/or spend their whole lives on Politics.

Boambee John
Boambee John
May 3, 2023 6:10 pm

Alamak!

Same thing happened in Rome where various assemblies with oversight ended up being run by the wealthy as regular folks could not afford to travel to Rome and/or spend their whole lives on Politics.

The problem with modern politics is the (using old terms) leftard-non-leftard divide.

The leftards have politics, the non-leftards have lives to live, families to love, jobs to do, friends to meet.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 3, 2023 7:18 pm

Too true Boambee John … most folks have neither the time nor the interest in the dirty game of politics while others enjoy it and even make a good living from it.

Wondering also if politicians are more symptom than cause with bureaucracies being the prime issue i.e. “self-licking ice creams” that grow forever and only die when the system crashes.

Woolfe
Woolfe
May 4, 2023 8:34 am

Covid proved that 90% of Citizens are captured by mass hypnosis and do what they are told.

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 8:41 am

Dot> don’t assume anyone supports big government.

Okay, good.

CIR enabling removal of bad laws could be like the worst possible form of the Voice

Then you start with this nonsense. You are running interference for big government and special interest groups people can never vote against.

citizens would have to guard against noisy minorities pushing their agendas in undemocratic ways. Which takes time & money …

Which happens in Parliament ALL OF THE TIME.

Same thing happened in Rome where various assemblies with oversight ended up being run by the wealthy as regular folks could not afford to travel to Rome and/or spend their whole lives on Politics.

This is not why the Roman Empire fell (impossible in the dominate period), it is not analogous and you are talking about Athens. Augustus took power after civil wars. It wasn’t because there was too much oversight of Republican government. How bloody absurd.

could not afford to travel to Rome

Oh and let me guess this is why government spending is not wasteful now?

Stick to defending pedo Joe old mate.

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 8:44 am

Wondering also if politicians are more symptom than cause with bureaucracies being the prime issue i.e. “self-licking ice creams” that grow forever and only die when the system crashes.

Unbelievable. Now we’re powerless, utterly powerless to vote against anything anyway.

Trump proved your mindset was totally wrong he repealed a lot of Federal regulation in the US. The Whigs as another example repealed four fifths of the statutes on the books in England. The major parties agree with their political appointees in the public service. That’s why they have their jobs.

robert beatty
May 4, 2023 12:19 pm

CIR will work as it has in Switzerland since 1291
My thoughts at CIR-Australia.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 4, 2023 1:37 pm

Dot> you might benefit from reading stuff with more care before lashing out against your imagined enemies.

Same thing happened in Rome where various assemblies with oversight ended up being run by the wealthy as regular folks could not afford to travel to Rome and/or spend their whole lives on Politics.

The above is one case for not adding CIR. Its nothing to do with the fall of Roman empire and that ending was not mentioned. It’s possible to discuss the pro/con of solutions without being locked into any particular side of the debate. Or it should be.

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 2:51 pm

The above is one case for not adding CIR.

That’s absurd and you’ve argued against Parliamentary democracy where subsidiarity does not exist.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 4, 2023 3:04 pm

That’s absurd and you’ve argued against Parliamentary democracy where subsidiarity does not exist.

Do read again and try to stay with the argument you initiated by saying CIR should only remove bad laws. Are you with me?
😉

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 3:20 pm

You haven’t made a decent argument at all.

citizens would have to guard against noisy minorities pushing their agendas in undemocratic ways. Which takes time & money …

If the proposal is unpopular, it will get blasted into orbit and the noisy minority will lose their money and be exposed as cranks.

You are totally ignoring that unpopular laws are passed as part and parcel of representative democracy being subject to the median voter conundrum. Why can you ignore this reality instead of a tangential case of special pleading against a check on the errors of Parliamentary democracy?

That’s absurd and you’ve argued against Parliamentary democracy where subsidiarity does not exist.

Yes, I was correct to assert that. If there was subsidiarity it wouldn’t matter and the exact problem you outline occurs today in Commonwealth and State Parliament. You have ignored this and not given a reason why that can be ignored.

Do read again and try to stay with the argument you initiated by saying CIR should only remove bad laws. Are you with me?
?

You can’t even keep up with yourself.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 4, 2023 4:50 pm

Dot> You haven’t addressed what was written. Once more, if CIR was enacted we’d face the threat of laws passed potentially being subject to endless opposition by minorities against which we’d have to spend time/money/energy fighting a process that does not exist now.

Kind of like the Voice being a new veto on government policies if “YES” vote happens. The difference, for CIR and the Voice, against current democratic process is that a “3rd” way of implementing changes would exist. Subsidiarity is not relevant as this is a new addition to democratic process with its own risks (and benefits)

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 5:03 pm

Your argument is fallacious, eminently stupid and has been pulled apart several times.

The idea of “endless” unpopular referenda with infinite money to fund them is dishonest and unrealistic.

There is absolutely no valid comparison between the Voice which by definition excludes 96% of the population and allowing the entire citizenry to vote as a whole to reject an unpopular law.

Subsidiarity was brought up because, you tiring halfwit, the “argument” you make about the population being able to vote down a bad law due to minority pressure groups is valid NOW (as part of the median voter problem) for Parliamentary democracy passing new laws, not striking them down and is more likely to happen the larger the jurisdiction is as more interests and heads of power are involved.

You are not in touch with reality. Responding to you has made me more confident my idea is good because your psychotically oppositional tantrums are on the very edge of the lunatic fridge and semi-literacy.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 4, 2023 5:48 pm

Hmmm. You’re not very good at addressing questions, just throwing off insults and referring to other, unrelated concepts which are not connected. The more negative and unrelated comments you throw the more it seems you just can’t, or won’t, engage in a rational discussion.

Anyways, one last time.

There is absolutely no valid comparison between the Voice which by definition excludes 96% of the population and allowing the entire citizenry to vote as a whole to reject an unpopular law.

Except that the effects of both CIR/Voice could be that ordinary people have to spend precious time/money fighting against veto/repeal of laws which were democratically processed. True or False?

Dot
Dot
May 4, 2023 6:03 pm

There is nothing at all “rational” in your talking points but they are horribly deceptive and support the will of the tragically ill-named “elites”.

What would happen is ordinary people could democratically vote down laws passed by their representatives against their wishes.

The idea that the democratic process should end with Parliament is authoritarian in this regard and the notion that referenda to strike down laws passed by Parliament are undemocratic because the process can possibly continue as a check on Parliament’s power, is absurd.

The effect would be that Parliament would pass less of these laws likely to be rejected by the electorate.

Pattmclit
Pattmclit
May 4, 2023 6:21 pm

Rohan,

Comrades.

Snorkel!

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 4, 2023 10:32 pm

The effect would be that Parliament would pass less of these laws likely to be rejected by the electorate.

I agree on that statement – but with a few possible side effects

– We might get referendums passed because the issues are not fully explained and citizens don’t have time & energy to uncover the real effects. More so when big money gets behind a referendum like Voice
– Citizens might vote to cancel policies which are needed but unpopular such as tax reform
– Politicians might switch to other tactics for implementing policies e.g. allow activist legal system to roll out “Voice” when referendum for same fails.
– Endless campaigns for issues people thought were settled

I’m done on this sub-topic .. now reading up on how Romans tried to expand democracy through assemblies etc.

Dot
Dot
May 5, 2023 8:38 am

Another series of boilerplate replies from a big government loving, major party shill and dolt.

We might get referendums passed because the issues are not fully explained and citizens don’t have time & energy to uncover the real effects.

How often are “da issues” explained in legislation or regulation? How often does Parliament vote without all of the MPs even reading the legislation? If it’s too complex to put to a referendum, it shouldn’t be law anyway.

If it requires an unfeasible amount of time and energy to uncover what is in an Act, you are being blindsided, likely ripped off and governed by unelected technocrats.

More so when big money gets behind a referendum like Voice

If the position to repeal is genuinely unpopular and repulsive, no amount of campaigning will make it popular. Those who support something have to put up their own money (which they essentially waste) and before they get there, they’d likely need a threshold of support like 2% of the electorate. Some of the truly fringe issues won’t get 2% nor will some complex legislation people haven’t heard of. (So sunset clauses on everything is probably needed too).

– Citizens might vote to cancel policies which are needed but unpopular such as tax reform

“Needed” – by whom? If the electorate could have voted in Abbott but kept him to his promises, everyone would have been happier, including of all people, Tony Abbott. Parliament might cancel tax reform, then get sent packing in a referendum.

This is why a negative CIR is good. It removes the median voter problem. You could vote for the best party and vote down their bad ideas. The parties would be closer to their ideals or at least their promises.

Yet, you are trying to frame this as “undemocratic”.

Politicians might switch to other tactics for implementing policies e.g. allow activist legal system to roll out “Voice” when referendum for same fails.

This is certifiably insane and doesn’t even make sense. You can’t strike down legislation that doesn’t exist in the constitution and failed at a constitutional referendum.

– Endless campaigns for issues people thought were settled

We have Federal elections every three years. What a stupid argument, you ditz.

I’m done on this sub-topic .. now reading up on how Romans tried to expand democracy through assemblies etc.

Look champ, Rome had regional tribunals (yes) and the issue was….


YOU assert that some goat herder couldn’t make it to the regional one in Syracuse. So what! He was never going to the Plebeian Tribune Assembly in Rome either. Rome did not suffer from having regional assemblies. Greek democracy did have problems such as semi professional jurors becoming entitled and expecting dole payments for finding people guilty with unfair trials.

There are no sources that indicate that Rome suffered at all by checking central authority. That’s generally true because the really bad governance and fall happened in the Dominate.

Alamak!
Alamak!
May 5, 2023 11:52 am

Thanks for the detailed reply. I don’t think you actually addressed the core questions I was asking but its good to understand your “thinking” on CIR and why you believe it could work well.

For myself, I think CIR suffers from same challenges as the current Voice campaign and would need extra measures to stop it becoming another undemocratic arm of the state giving more power to powerful.

Dot
Dot
May 5, 2023 2:47 pm

For myself, I think

No you do not and cannot.

CIR suffers from same challenges as the current Voice campaign

LOL, you idiot.

would need extra measures to stop it becoming another undemocratic arm of the state

…literally, the electorate voting down bad laws passed by the legislature?

You are calling the electorate, voting to strike a bad law of off the books that was passed by Parliament; “an undemocratic arm of the state”. This is delusional Newspeak.

Dude, what ARE you smoking?

You can repeat your bullshit over and over again, but it won’t make it true.

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