Among the Federalists: a Weekend in Hobart
No soft sand running at Maroubra this weekend, or reading the Russians. I am in Hobart attending a conference of the Samuel Griffith Society, named after Australia’s first chief justice. Strange? Let me report as it goes.
Right now listening to Paul Pirani, a legal officer of the Australian Electoral Commission. I am reminded of how superior Australia’s system is from that of a comparable federal democracy, that of the USA. On these enlightened shores an independent body over which the relevant minister has no control supervises elections. Not so in America where a state cabinet member – that is, either a Democrat or Republican – will make decisions about allocation of voting machines or validity of ballot papers. Here in Australia these decisions are the responsibility of an independent commission.
Even more important is the redistribution process, or reapportionment as it is called in the US. Every 10 years, armed with the latest census data, it is the state legislatures which determine the boundaries for House of Representative, or Congressional, districts. So there are partisan squabbles on the floor of state legislatures as politicians draw federal boundaries. That is, Democrat and Republican politicians draw the boundaries. They have been making seats safer for their federal colleagues. Fewer contestable seats, less need to appeal to the centre, more need to appeal your own base.
In Australia you don’t have state MPs draw federal boundaries. Instead the process is run by the Australian Electoral Commission with transparency and independence. Arms length from government.
The most useful democratization of the US electoral system would be a replication there of our own commission. And wrenching the right to draw Congressional boundaries off state legislatures.
Former Treasury secretary John Stone has just risen to say that my comments along these lines are irrelevant. What matters is the possibility of fraud here in Australia. In replying to this staple argument of the far-right, Pirani points out that interestingly the 2010 federal election which produced a hung parliament produced no close results. There is, in addition, no evidence of fraud.
The Australian electoral system is one of our nation’s proudest attainments.
Now Professor James Allan is slamming Australian High Court activism on electoral laws. The court is not interpreting the law but stating its own preference in respect of prisoner voting rights and other matters. Very amusing. He is one of my mob – an opponent of imposing a charter of rights and more judge-made law on Australian parliamentary democracy.
James Allan refers to the game-playing, second-guessing, supervisory role that judges assert for themselves when they move into activist mode.
One judge at this forum – not one of the two High Court members who is present – told me he is an opponent of a charter of rights precisely because he knows what judges would do. What they would get up to.