A New Federation, New Republic, a New Hope!

A long time ago in a land far, far away…

Keen to maintain its control of the known universe, the Empire sent some of its worst kind to the distant land of Down U'er, where it imposed its own governing systems that it then used to ‘legally' remove the rights of native inhabitants.

After some two hundred years, an unrest began, led by a sharp-minded rebel seeking to separate this distant land from the Empire’s control. But this promising leader was too impatient for power and despite popular support for the cause, he was outmanoeuvred by the evil Emperor, who tempted him to the Dark Side, whilst anointing him Lord MT.

Yet despite his supposed command of the Federation in this land, it was clear that Lord MT was in turn controlled by the Dark Side, as he renounced the good causes he'd previously fought for.

The natives and their allies despaired, but a new young aspiring jedi knight, of some kindred spirit, believed there was still good in Lord MT and hope for him to participate in a reinvigorated, reforming rebel alliance

- if he could just offer an inspiring vision for a new Federation…. 

The symbolism of this potential new Australian flag is explained further below.
or the pdf file attached below from early 2016, which is better structured than the following somewhat rambling blog that's evolved over time!
However, the following has a few news updates and some additional ideas, particularly for continuous "real-time electoral representation" in the Senate (with "multi-State senators"), and to merge the Northern Territory with South Australia and Tasmania with Victoria.

A multi-issue referendum to protect everyone's rights:
Australia has gone through an expensive survey/plebiscite on same-sex marriage (that unleashed intolerance from both sides), which supporters of the cause (the majority of the population) opposed because of its divisive nature, and a minority saw as a means of thwarting change.  We seem to have lost the plot!  A referendum should be a rallying call for a vision that unites the overwhelming majority of Australians, and regardless of its undoubtable merits, same-sex marriage is an issue focussed on minorities, which fails to achieve that.  Likewise, many other single-issue proposals (such as creating a "republic" or changing the flag) struggle to motivate enough people by themselves.

Personally I think current ludicrous de facto laws - i.e. marriage decided by the government & dysfunctional courts without your choice - do much more to undermine the institution of marriage, particularly the meaning of a willful, publicly-expressed statement of mutual commitment that marriage entails, and should be repealed now they are no longer needed by gay couples for (somewhat lesser) partner rights instead of marriage.  But anyway, for all the angst and waste it brought on, the Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) "survey" didn't really resolve anything, as Parliament still had to argue about the detailed issues that the process failed to address (perhaps including gay parenting) and if the Australian Bureau of Statistics is to retain any credibility it should acknowledge the huge statistical bias in the completed responses (which political decisions prevent them adjusting for), which is revealed by a survey of poll responses & intentions part-way through the campaign (which itself could have inappropriately influenced subsequent votes) showing, "Among those who have already voted, 72% voted yes compared with 26% who voted no", but "Among people who say they will not vote, 64% said they did not support same-sex marriage and just 13% said they did."  These statistics could well give the "no" side a legitimate reason to question the validity of the final outcome, which, being a "survey", rather than a voting poll, is supposed to provide an estimate of overall community views [given the stronger yes vote in earlier returns, I (correctly) estimated the final % of those voting in favour would be 60-65%, which with a turnout of about 77% means the % of the total population supporting SSM may be only slightly above or even below 50%].
I think the public should have boycotted the survey, rather than give it any semblance of legitimacy.  I find it repugnant that anyone's basic rights should be subjected to such a process.  I mean, whose rights will the masses vote on next? The disabled, blacks, Jews?!  (This comment on basic rights, however, is not to dismiss the option of having purely different nomenclature, with "marriage" reserved for a traditional man-woman union and, say, "union" used for gay couples.)

And now it seems we may need a referendum anyway to change the absurd but rather trivial constitutional matter of dual citizenship that threatens the current government (& which the woefully inefficient court system may otherwise take months to consider for all the different circumstances of our MPs & senators - because an audit would almost certainly find more in potential breach).  Moreover, we're also facing further polls before too long on constitutional changes for aboriginal recognition (with bi-partisan support) & potentially republic (the latter cause backed by 2016 Australian of the year & the opposition leader).

So if Australia is going to go to the trouble of a plebiscite or referendum on these issues, then surely we should do them all at once?  Aside from the cost of multiple polls, we can't possibly create a republic and new constitution without recognising the original inhabitants and saying something about Aussie values of equality and a "fair go" - for all genders, ethnic origin and sexual orientation!

Then while we're at it, a new constitution should also include a Bill of Rights to protect or enhance existing constitutional rights (based on common law and the Magna Carta), especially the rights of children (ignored by the Child Support Agency & dysfunctional courtsin contravention of UN human rights treaties adopted by Australia, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the civil liberties of adults threatened by autocratic governments that are increasingly imposing the "tyranny-of-the-majority" in various areas of life, from "nanny state" or "Orwellian" control of Sydney drinking (where if you order a whiskey after midnight you have to add a mixer) and cycling (including forced helmet-wearing even off road, when the evidence favouring it is mixed) to more serious areas such as democratic protestcompulsory property acquisition for unpopular motorways (of questionable merit) and the compromise of basic human rights & civil liberties such as the right to protest or expose government wrongdoing through the politics of fear over exaggerated threats of terrorism and immigration.  Former NSW Premier Mike Baird's proposal to allow Police interrogation of 14 year-olds for two weeks without trial and now Gladys Berejiklian's continued assault on civil liberties, including the right to protest, on top of new Federal laws criminalising the exposing of illegal Government actionsseem to prove Tony Benn's point:

A Bill of Rights vs democracy?

A Bill of Rights could be enshrined in the constitution, which could only be changed by, say, a two-thirds majority of voters.  To avoid grey areas of law being determined by an unelected and politicised judiciary (as the US Supreme Court has become in relation to abortion), the constitution could state that the Bill of Rights only overrides any other law of parliament if determined so with the unanimous support of the full bench of the High Court, thus leaving any ambiguity to be more easily resolved by the elected parliament.  Possibly in addition, the constitution could allow any law of parliament to override the Bill of Rights if that law itself is supported by a 3/4 majority of the Senate (say) or a two-thirds majority of voters in a national referendum.

As JFK said, "there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it".
It does take real courage to resist such actions in face of the fear created by terrorism, but sadly, in response to recent incidents, instead of actually listening to understand those who have turned to violenceAustralian and other global leaders continue with the same moronic slogans, ineffective prevention strategies and the failed "war on terror" that encourages terrorism, whilst curtailing our freedoms (so we essentially hand victory to the terrorists) and ignoring the true causes of terrorism, which is not Islam in itself (or Muslims - who defy ISIS in their millions), although we must support free-speech & listen openly to understand the views of those who see "Islamic extremists" as a problem (but without giving them a platform to incite violence).  Whatever the Quran says (I haven't read it but I understand it is principally a book of peace, at least as much as Christianity in practice), it just doesn't make sense to suggest that an otherwise reasonable person will decide to commit atrocious terror attacks because of what they've read in a book.  Far more plausible causes are decades of resentment built up from things like Western foreign policies that promote arms-sales to tyrannical governments supplying terrorists (which then get turned back on the US), and the long history of the West engaging in or supporting wars/revolutions/regime-changes - killing many innocent civilians, including, appallingly, & with stunning hypocrisy, by using chemical weapons against countries from where Trump seeks to ban refugees (but with little interest from the media compared to the publicity they give to terrorist incidents with lesser deaths in Western democracies).  And we're supposed to believe that the motivation for retaliation is that "they hate our way of life"?!
Isn't it ironic that despite having a monument at Sydney Olympic Park paying tribute to the human rights and multiculturalism promoted by King Cyrus the Great of Persia (now Iran), we've yet to catch up with the world's first Charter of Human Rights he established more than 2,500 years ago? (which influenced Thomas Jefferson & the "self-evident truth that all men (& women) are created equal" in the USA's declaration of independence).
Meanwhile, our politicians waste untold billions of dollars on high-tech "defence" systems that were suited to the wars of last century but practically irrelevant & useless against terrorists and redundant before we've even built them, and then try to justify the expense with absurd arguments about job creation.
I digress...

New federation roles for public service delivery:
So, since the States can't be trusted to protect our rights, while we're pursuing referendums & constitutional change, maybe we should ABOLISH THE STATES too?  Or at least drastically reduce their responsibilities.  This country is over-governed, which means bureaucracy and buck-passing clouds accountability and obstructs reform progress, plus there's not enough talented politicians & public servants to fill the excessive number of places available (basic supply and demand economics).  I suggest we target an 80% reduction in the number of politicians & bureaucrats, starting with the Child Support Agency! (NB. I use the term "bureaucrats" loosely to mean paper shufflers / policy advisers like I used to be, who are needlessly replicated across nine State, Territory & Federal governments, as opposed to the "front line" workers who are needed to actually deliver services.)

Despite some tough competition at times from other levels of government, nowhere is the resulting incompetence more obvious than in local councils, especially in their economically illiterate handling of development controls (such as flood management requirements), which contribute in no small way to a lack of affordable housing.  Although small councils could in principle obtain economies of scale through outsourcing of services and back-office functions, this doesn't give councils the "informed purchasers" needed to manage and ensure the accountability of consulting & contracting firms, who sadly seem only too happy to exploit council ignorance and disregard public benefit if it pays them more.

So, once Sydney's local councils have been amalgamated into fewer regional ones, we'll hardly need the States (and why else would you go through the political cost of forced amalgamations?), because:
  • All roads will also need to become more commercially and transparently funded, as electric vehicles cause fuel excise revenue to dwindle and be replaced by user-pricing.
  • Health, education and family-support/community services would be better managed by competitive Human Services or Primary Health Networks funded by the Commonwealth (which can also be a bribe to get the governance changes agreed).
  • We already have a national electricity market and, after exhausting all other stupid options, we should also soon have a sensible national greenhouse emissions trading scheme.
  • Sport is one area where there is likely to be popular demand to maintain the semblance of States to underpin historic pride and friendly rivalry.  So, heavily-rationalised, residual States could remain to manage sport, along with arts/culture and perhaps other current services of smaller State agencies, supported as necessary by regional councils &/or other devolved entities, with funding from the Commonwealth and/or slightly increased regional council rates replacing States' grossly inefficient stamp duties (which would deliver significant economic, equity and budget volatility benefits).
    • State governments could be aptly rebranded as agencies for Arts, Recreation, Sport & Entertainment, although sadly the acronym has already been taken!
  • And finally, we can to all practical purposes effectively shift the national capital to Sydney with a high-speed train from Sydney to Canberra (& eventually Melbourne & Brisbane), which will help to attract better talent to the Commonwealth Government because public servants and politicians could then still live in Sydney!  It might also attract more normal people too, including a better gender balance, especially if the parliament operated more normal working hours.
    (NB. This benefit of high-speed rail is just a bonus on top of the primary rationale of
    supporting Australia's population growth and addressing its economic & housing affordability problems.)
It would be an impressive achievement of the Reform of the Federation process (I hate to say it but maybe even Tony Abbott could then take some credit), which would deliver massive efficiency and productivity gains for Australia for decades to come, including solving current problems of "vertical fiscal imbalance" - a mismatch between accountability for spending (by the States) and revenue-raising (mostly by the Commonwealth).  Recent proposals to address this problem by giving State's the power to vary & get a share of income tax, to fund cost pressures in hospitals and education, were quickly rejected by SA & Tassie on the basis that "it'd create a lot of confusion across the federation, it'd be very impractical to administer", and dodged by the other States, who of course want the money first, then they'll talk about accountability.  Now that's failed, because the States don't really want accountability for how much they spend, the underlying problem can easily be solved!

As indicated above, a new agreement on Federal & State roles that drastically reduced States' responsibilities but enabled them (except the NT & Tasmania) to formally remain in place for sport and other smaller services, could reap all the desired efficiency and equity benefits whilst avoiding the emotional barriers of total abolition.  It would then be up to each State to choose how much they rationalise their bureaucracies in accordance with the reduced responsibilities.  Queensland, for example, which already has relatively few, large councils and only one house of parliament, could choose to make little in the way of further changes.  
NSW could scale back its parliamentary representatives to a single house (with voting similar to Federal reforms proposed below), and move them to the aptly titled new Powerhouse (Museum) in Parramatta, consistent with the future planning strategy for Sydney!

A new republic for a new federation:
But getting back to the idea of forming a republic, it would be silly to replicate the US system of conflictual government with an elected President having any significant powers.  We have enough buck-passing between upper and lower houses already and no need to create a position with more powers than the current Governor-General.  Preferably we should just replace the GG with clear procedures to follow in the case of "blocked supply".   There's too much hope invested in individual leaders already; we only need one PM - we don't need a competing President (& if we keep the GG, we clearly need a more transparent and non-partisan parliamentary process for selecting him (or preferably her) than the current one - not since 1977 has a GG performed so poorly at the Melbourne Cup - the consequence of another dismal captain's pick by the former Minister for (sic) Women!).  Or if some ultimate human judgement is required in exceptional circumstances, we should simply copy the proven corporation board model, by giving such powers to the Chair of the Board, a.k.a. leader of the Senate, who would be elected by the Senators - on which, while I'm redesigning Australia's Federation, below are some more ideas for reform of the parliament, constitution & democracy...

A professional Executive overseen by multi-State Senators with real-time public voting:
It's often said that Australia's 3-year election terms promote short-termism, but would 4 or 5-year terms really be much better?  A more transformative reform would be for Treasuries to adopt long-term budgeting practices.
But for elections, paradoxically, it may be better to copy the corporate model of essentially continuous elections, where an elected Board representing shareholders (voters) can change the CEO at any time.  In principle at least, the timeframe for "election" then becomes so short (the next Board meeting) that the CEO has to focus on longer term measures (reflected, in theory, in the corporate world by the share price).

Democratic governments could adopt a similar model with elected Senators forming the equivalent of a corporate board, who could elect the Prime Minister (PM) and replace him/her at any time.  The leader of each elected party could nominate their preferred PM (which could be themselves or another member of their party or anyone else outside of parliamentaccording to their own party rules), and Senators could then choose the PM who would command the broadest support of the Senate (using a transferable preference vote).  Then with electronic public voting (which had bipartisan support) being near-instant, elections could be made essentially continuous, where voters could change which party their vote is allocated to at any time, and the weight of senators' votes (supporting the PM or proposed legislation) would change in real time according to their currently registered electoral support.  The public may still be required to reconfirm their vote on a set date every 4 or 5 years (3 is too short!), or else lose the weight of that vote in parliament (but not be penalised, because abstaining can be an important indicator of the true public feeling about the state of democracy and the choices, or lack of, that they're offered, whereas compulsory voting hides this and can turn elections into a 50/50 coin toss).

Such a system, which in the past might have been thought likely to create instability, could hardly be less stable than the current Australian system!  On the contrary, a PM who is accountable to the balanced views of all parliament, rather than a small bunch of disgruntled MPs in one party, is likely to be more balanced and representative in their actions, and less likely to be controlled or overturned on the whim of a few, as has been the case so much in recent years in both Australia and the UK.
Also, with the PM then more closely representing the collective position of the parliament & people (rather than a single political party), the PM could then nominate a governing professional executive team to be endorsed by the Senate, to form a Cabinet that is not necessarily comprised of elected MPs (similar to other non-"Westminster" systems around the world, although the US system may not be the best example of this because it is so corrupted by money), and the immature pantomime that is the lower house of representatives could be made redundant and scrapped (thus improving the 'supply-demand' balance of quality MPs).

But there are much bigger problems with democracy than just the period of time between elections, not least the potential for uninformed &/or unfair decisions.  I used to support the idea of direct online voting for all policies, as advocated for Australia by onlinedirectdemocracy, MiVote and voteflux.orgbut it could lead to tyranny of minorities (like gay people) through denial of their basic rights via simple majority votes.  As Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government; apart from all the alternatives".  Perhaps if the constitution protected individual liberties (which, as discussed above, we need anyway!), online direct policy voting could be enabled in certain circumstances, such as if supported by a given number of public petitions &/or senators.  Another approach, advocated by The New Democracy Foundation and people like Nick Gruen, is to have random members of the public selected for a period of "senate duty" (similar to jury duty), where they would be given the information and authority to make or delay decisions.  My suggestion is that 20%, say, of a reformed Senate be comprised of such public members, who would not have a vote on predefined constitutional matters (like electing the governing Executive) but would participate in legislative review committees for a specific new law proposal and vote on this proposed law (only) along with the rest of the Senate.  This would force the regular elected members of the Senate to argue the case on policy merits, rather than voting solely on party political lines.

What we certainly need though is an informed Opposition, which the public service should give advice to, as well as to the Government (it should be a public service, not the government's political service!), which requires repeal of the anachronistic "Cabinet-in-Confidence" secrecy that has become an insult to democracy (with Cabinet papers instead being released automatically by default, unless an exemption is sought & approved by a committee appointed by parliament), and the appointment of government agency board members & CEOs by parliament rather than by Ministers (not least at the ABC), to restore the lost tradition of independent, frank & fearless advice.  I also recommend that as part of broader tax reform (& building on this initiative), voters/taxpayers could choose what services 1% (say) of their taxes will fund (e.g. health, education, defence, or a mix, chosen if/when you submit your tax return on time!).  Not only would this directly allocate a small fraction of funds in line with community wishes, it should encourage service agencies to provide decent public information to justify this funding, and thereby also provide better guidance to government as to how they should allocate the other 99% of taxpayers funds (instead of the rubbish some of them get away with providing to government under cover of "cabinet-in-confidence"!).

Finally, I suggest an alternative mechanism to the current proportional representation (PR) in the Senate, which I call "multi-constituency members":
The problem with PR is that whilst it ensures political parties get members in proportion to their party's vote, it has a very weak connection between individual members of parliament and local voters - with the resulting "unrepresentative swill" most starkly demonstrated recently by the racist bigot Senator Fraser Anning, who not only got in with just 19 direct votes, but then only an hour after being sworn in he also left (or was kicked out of) the One Nation party that got him elected!
But at the other extreme, although single-member constituencies (as used in the lower house) have a stronger local link between individual MPs and voters, this is at the expense of parochial politics (MPs more concerned with local than national interests), "pork barrelling" (especially through poorly conceived infrastructure projects, like Sydney Metro rail lines) and a tendency for elections to give a majority of seats to one party without requiring a national majority of votes as a mandate to govern.

An established alternative to PR in many countries is the multi-member constituency, which has large local constituencies that each elect more than one member of parliament, such that 2nd & 3rd place parties tend to get more members.  The Australian Senate is an example, where each State is a single constituency electing multiple members.  However, this system still suffers from local (State-based) parochialism, and also results in voters in states with low populations (like Tasmania) carrying more weight than in other states.
My proposal for "multi-constituency members" would split up & distribute a "multi-member constituency" across several regional areas around the country, so that each of the multiple MPs elected by a group of constituencies, would have to represent the interests of all these regional areas.  For the Australian Senate, one way of doing this (as illustrated in the attached graphic) would be to group together one local constituency from within each State, so that each multi-State group would then elect multiple MPs for that group, each having to represent the interests of all Australian States.  The result should be a reasonably proportional representation of parties' votes through members of parliament who retain a fairly strong link to local voters, but still have to represent the national interest across all States.  And if each State's constituency has a voter base proportional to the State's relative population, then it would also deliver a more democratic result where each vote has equal value.

These are, in sum, the reforms we need to address our falling faith in democracy and return power to the people, through the Senate.

A new Australian flag, and anthem?
Finally, a new Australian republic will need a NEW FLAG.  Time for us to be bold and show the Kiwis how it's done! (Such a shame they lacked the courage - I do like their proposed Silver Fern flag - but it's perhaps not surprising as their single-issue referendum on just a flag was not matched with any proposal or backing for substantive constitutional change, like a republic.)

So below are my favourite flags for a new multicultural Australian republic, to be founded on aboriginal recognition on a new Australia Day, which should be a uniting day of national celebration for all Australians, rather than the annual insult & mourning for indigenous people that is "Invasion Day" of 26 January (which only became a consistent national holiday in 1994 anyway).  We could keep 26 January as a solemn, commemorative National Sorry Day (currently held on 26 May) and add a new public holiday to celebrate the modern Australian, multicultural nation maybe simply set at the end of summer, on the first Monday in February, or perhaps on 1 March, as Ian Macfarlane advocates, which would commemorate the date in 1901 that the first Commonwealth Government began taking control of many of the functions formerly exercised by the colonies.

The sixth flag below ("Southern horizon", with green & yellow curves) was the favourite design in a recent survey (which included five others I've not shown).  I think Australia's flag needs to include green & gold (unless it changes its sporting colours, which seems unlikely), but I also prefer to keep the red, white & blue for a link with tradition, so in the first three flags below I've taken the 1993 competition-winning design (the fourth flag) and added green & gold borders, which symbolise the sandy beaches and greener coast line of Australia (greener compared to its desert inner, where the red Uluru sits).  The first two versions also add a golden sunrise layer above the red Uluru - symbolising a new dawn for Australia and Aboriginals especially - and a black Uluru shadow to further strengthen the Aboriginal link (which also makes Uluru look a bit like a boomerang, although I'm sure someone could draw it better than me!).  Like the South African flag, the combined six colours - incorporating those of the current Australian & Aboriginal flags - represent unity between original inhabitants and more recent colonising people.

The golden beaches ought to be on the outer edge but I'm not sure how easily that will be seen on a real flag against the sky, so the second & third flags use green for the outer border (but I like the first flag best).  I also wondered about adding a black border, but that would probably be too many borders.  Another potential variation (not shown) could replace the Southern Cross stars with the starred cross of the Eureka flag, which symbolises "justice, multiculturalism, mateship, egalitarianism, democracy, republicanism and the rights of the workers".

The similar, fifth flag below (from here) has a golden sun and some blackness in the blue sky, but I think the sun looks a bit amateurish and the patchy black would be hard to draw (especially for school kids). 
I quite like the Aboriginal art designs but I don't think they'll fly ('scuse the pun; I mean gather broad support), and will also be too hard to draw.  I also think the one that swaps the union jack for the existing aboriginal flag is good, but this is opposed by the designer of the Aboriginal flag, who still holds copyright and wants to control its use.
The kangaroo one below is probably the best kangaroo flag I can imagine without being totally tacky, but it is still a 'roo.  Maybe it could be a good new flag for Qantas?
More flag options can be found herehere & here.

It has been pointed out to me that the 1993 winning design (4th flag) looks like an upside-down Pepsi logo! (see below)  But maybe that's quite fitting - Australia has a lot in common with America, but we can take the good things from there and turn the bad stuff like inequality on it's head - because we're upside-down this side of the world and Australians are proud to give everyone a fair go!

So that just leaves the anthem, and let's face it, the current one is rubbish!  The problem is not just its dodgy (yet short) history and offence to Aboriginals (including that "fair" originally meant "white"); it's also a real dirge - the "tune" just feels so lame!
It's tempting to steal Land of Hope & Glory from the Brits (if they don't become a republic first & adopt it), or I also like "I Still Call Australia Home" (the Qantas advert), but I & others would struggle with the high notes, so I think the only decent option is "I am Australian":
We are one, but we are many,
And from all the lands on earth we come;
We share a dream and sing with one voice:
I am, you are, we are Australian!




- this new flag idea IS-dE(a)d??!

David Thorp,
17 Jun 2016, 20:10
David Thorp,
29 Oct 2017, 02:37
David Thorp,
16 Sep 2018, 02:59