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…. 

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 (possibly with "multi-constituency members"), and to merge the Northern Territory with South Australia (as it was in the past) 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's unleashed intolerance from both sides), which supporters of the cause (the majority of the population) oppose because of its divisive nature, and a minority see 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 de facto laws (which gay couples have to rely on instead of marriage, but with lesser rights) do much more to undermine the institution of marriage - particularly the meaning of a willful, publicly-expressed statement of mutual commitment that marriage entails.  But anyway, for all the angst and waste it's brought on, the current Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) "survey" didn't really resolve anything, as Parliament will still 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 (a survey of the the survey!) part-way through the campaign (which itself could inappropriately influence 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 (with a stronger yes vote in earlier returns, I (correctly) estimated the final % of those voting in favour would be 60-65%, and with a turnout of about 77% the % of the total population supporting SSM may then 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?!

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 inevitable audit now will find more).  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 & now by 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 the rights of children (ignored by the Child Support Agency & dysfunctional courts, in contravention of 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 and cycling (including forced helmet-wearing even off road, when the evidence favouring it is mixed) to more serious areas such as democratic protest, compulsory property acquisition for unpopular motorways (of questionable merit), inconsistency in abortion laws across States, and the compromise of basic human rightscivil liberties 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 seem to prove Tony Benn's point:

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 (it's not Muslims, who defy ISIS in their millions) such as Western foreign policy that promotes arms-sales to tyrannical governments supplying terrorists, 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).
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.

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:
  • 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).
  • And finally, we can to all practical purposes effectively shift the national capital to Sydney with a very 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!
    (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, 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 (see more ideas for parliamentary reform below).

Real-time electoral representation with multi-constituency Senate members:
One more idea, while we're redesigning our constitution & democracy - 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?  
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" becomes so short (the next Board meeting) that the CEO has to focus on longer term measures, reflected (in theory) by the share price.
Public elections could adopt a similar model with continuous or near-instant/"real-time" electronic voting (which has bipartisan support), where voters would allocate their support to a given party and could change this at any time of their choosing.  Elected party reps could then form the equivalent of a corporate "Board" - aka the Senate - which could elect the Prime Minister (PM) and replace him/her at any time (with the weight of senators' votes changing in real time according to electoral support).  The PM would then nominate a governing executive team (the Cabinet) to be endorsed by the Senate (similar to other non-"Westminster" systems around the world), 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).

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 uninformed tyranny of minorities by the majority.  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 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.  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 a political government service!).  I also think we should, as part of broader tax reform, allow everyone to choose what services 1% (say) of their taxes should fund (e.g. health, education, defence, or a chosen mix?), which would not only directly allocate a small fraction of funds directly in line with community wishes, it would also encourage service agencies to provide better public information to justify this funding and provide 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 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) 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 other 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.  However, this still suffers from local parochialism.

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 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.

A new Australian flag, and anthem?
Anyway, 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 (maybe 26 May, the current National Sorry Day, or the first Monday in February, rather than "Invasion Day" of 26 Januarywhich only became a consistent national holiday in 1994 anyway, or as Ian Macfarlane advocates,1 March, commemorating 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.
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 so much the words (if you ignore that "fair" originally meant "white"!) but it really is a dirge; the "tune" just feels lame!
It's tempting to steal Land of Hope & Glory off 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