The Modern Republic
The promise of the Prime Minister to convene an assembly of the people and to have a commission of experts advise them on the issue of climate change and the manner in which the previous Prime Minister was replaced raises the interesting question of what form of governance is best suited to the modern democracy.
There are several outstanding models but one that seems closest to our present practise is the governance of Iran.
There are three features that parallel developments in Australia.
The first is the Assembly of Experts. In Iran, the responsibilities of the Assembly of Experts are to appoint the Supreme Leader, monitor his performance and remove him if he is thought incapable of fulfilling his duties. Only clerics can become members of the assembly. The assembly is based in the holy city of Qom and there are affinities with our true believers and Sussex Street. On the other hand, for climate change, many would argue that the ANU and the surrounding academies are the equivalent of Qom with grand Ayatollahs such as Ross Garnaut able to denounce the government for deviations from the Scripptures. No doubt our proposed Assembly of Experts would be drawn from the believers and would then be capable of putting the Assembly of the People in its place.
The second is the Guardian Council that has to approve all bills passed by parliament and has the power to veto them if it considers them inconsistent with the constitution and Islamic law. This looks like a combination of Cabinet and the “gang of four” with perhaps some of the functions of our Senate.
The third is the Expediency Council, an advisory body for the Leader with an ultimate adjudicating power in disputes over legislation between the parliament and the Guardian Council. The Supreme Leader appoints its members. Our parallel would be the office of the Prime Minister where young advisers appointed by the Prime Minister would assess policy, polling and publicity to determine how to set the direction of government for the next twenty-four hours.
The innovation that our Prime minister has made is to point out that Parliament is not well matched to the will of the people on contemporary issues. Only an assembly of the people, drawn presumably at random from the electoral rolls, will reflect real community attitudes and would present a receptive ear to the advice of the Assembly of Experts. It is clear that members of parliament selected by their party organizations and having led lives of limited experience cannot reflect the wisdom of the people.
There are two institutions on earth that have had a far longer lifetime than our systems of government. They are the Church and Universities. Both are having problems coping with contemporary issues. Perhaps the Prime Minister should consider how the election of the Professor of Poetry at Oxford was brought into the age of the internet. Those who are entitled to vote must have a Master of Arts degree from Oxford. This is not necessarily a great distinction but a number of Prime Ministers and leaders of the opposition may have qualified to vote but until this year could only vote in Oxford. The innovation was to introduce electronic polling so that all MA’s, no matter where, could vote.
This is where a new Prime Minister should be moving the country forward into the age of the internet. Our national broadband network should allow every citizen a chance to express an opinion. Better still why not follow California and put propositions to the people for a direct electronic vote? Unfortunately the Assembly of the People is an echo of the Ideas Summit. It shows limited originality and is really following Groucho Marks who said that he had learned from his mistakes as he could now repeat them perfectly.
However, will the people respond to innovation? Of the tens of thousands of Oxford MA’s, only 2,455 actually voted for the Professor of Poetry.
So much for innovation on behalf of the people!