Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A new Reality TV Show - Parliamentary Island

Wow! It has been a month since my last entry. Time flies. But I have been busy working so I can help keep the Government coffers overflowing. In reality, like the majority of New Zealanders, I have a mortgage on the house so I can keep paying tax, so the Government can run a surplus. Seems a bit topsy turvy to me, but that's another blog.

An idea that has been in the back of my mind for some time is to operate Parliament like one of those annoying Reality TV Shows. This occurred to me back when there was debate about televising Parliament, and the politicians wanted all kind of rules that would prevent the viewing public from seeing the 'reality' of a Parliamentary debate.

If we have to have 120+ MPs and the Westminster Parliamentary System, then let that be so. But let's make it do something productive. Let's make television out of it. 'Parliamentary Island' hopefuls should have to audition for their place. Put the MPs in the debating chamber and point television cameras at them. Just like the tv shows, viewers get to vote off one participant a week, based on their performance. (If there is a tie, then all those who are tied in the voting have to go.) Participants can be granted 'immunity' by undertaking tasks set by the smarmy presenter. The first week's task is "Draft a piece of legislation that could not be covered by 'It is illegal to be stupid'". The Parliamentary session is ended when all the participants are voted off.

Simple. Even those of the meanest intelligence can understand that (they are the ones who watch Reality TV Shows) and even the poorest in society can afford to vote by texting from their prepay cellphone.

Okay. This is ludicrous. Maybe not so.

Why do we not have electronic voting in New Zealand? It was suggested as a means to increase the turn out for the recent Local Government elections. Maybe texting would be a bit of a stretch, but Internet voting is a definite possibility. Similarly, setting up a network of voting kiosks, similar to banking ATMs, is technically feasible. Civil libertarians wouldn't want us to go down this track, because we would all need an identity card. However, they would be "cutting off their nose to spite their face", since the reality of electronic voting would bring about the possibility of more frequent referenda.

What was that? Instead of voters just voting once every three years in a "winner takes all" General Election we could have more frequent referenda. In the 1984 Election the eventual "winner" did not actually propose any policies. It was a snap election, and I think it caught even the Politicians off guard. The New Zealand Party campaigned vigorously to oust the incumbent National Party, but I do not remember the Labour Party espousing any concrete policies. Because of the 'wage/price freeze' that Muldoon had imposed, I suspect that winning the election was a bit of a 'hospital pass'. But we had the new Prime Minister going round saying "we have a mandate from the people...." Judging by the subsequent reaction of the electorate and even members of the Labour Party to the reforms under "Rogernomics" and then Lange's eventual "pause for a cup of tea" the "mandate" did not extend to everything in their Manifesto.

Here's my point. Just because the majority of the electorate vote for a political party, does not mean that they agree with everything in the party manifesto. The supposed "mandate" needs to be tested on a more frequent basis than once every 3 years. Because political parties put together policies on a wide range of issues, from economics to law and order, education, etc it is extremely unlikely to find any voter who will agree with every letter of the manifesto of the party for which they eventually vote.

So we should have more frequent referenda on all manner of issues. The recent experience with Prostitution Law Reform, Civil Unions and the Anti-Smacking debates have shown how "out of touch" the politicians are with the voters. Petitions to Parliament are as effective as a "chocolate teapot". Having a cobbled together majority of like minded MPs has enabled a government to push through legislation against the wishes of the people.

I think the only reason that electronic voting is not on the agenda is that the politicians realise that it would undermine their power base and would prevent politicians being able to operate an agenda of social re-engineering. People would get to have an effective voice on all manner of legislation. The number of MPs would decline as well.

Think about it. Banks are the most risk averse and electronic security conscious institutions in the world. They transact millions of dollars electronically on a daily basis and even transact via the Internet. There is no security reason for not having an electronic voting system for General Elections and referenda. The reason we don't have it today is political. And that reason is 'undemocratic'.