"While the case for Senate reform might be ... a strong one, it would only serve to strengthen the politics-as-usual that has both alienated an increasing number of voters and has been the product of declining participation."Labor has long been the worst party for this emerging trend because of its union links, but increasingly Liberal politicians and even Greens MPs are career politicians from a young age. And the rise of professional politicians has been accompanied by a growing sense of the inauthenticity of our leaders -- one of the reasons politicians love to don hard hats and high-vis vests is that such accoutrements of a "real job" lend them -- they think -- the appearance of authenticity, when to the viewers for whom such images are crafted they simply look incongruous and silly. Authenticity in politics is thus prized, especially by the media. Politicians who are "plain speaking" are valued over the horde of polished professionals who stick to the party-issued talking points of the day; those prepared to stand up for their beliefs against their colleagues are celebrated, unless their beliefs are extreme and out of touch with the community. And all the time, the media became ever more critical of the media management of the major parties. But one can be too authentic: both Muir and Lambie, for example, have been criticised for, in effect, being too much like ordinary Australians, although Muir has slowly undergone an image transformation from out-of-his-depth, poo-throwing gull to thoughtful tribune of the revheads, while Lambie has receded into an increasingly Hansonesque combination of xenophobia and economic interventionism. The Senate reform push assumes such amateurs have no place in politics, and in effect endorses professionalisation: politics is a job that one can only perform effectively after sufficient training within the system, preferably within the established parties. Rise within the system, and your actions are treated differently -- one's obstructionism can be tolerated as effective political gamesmanship in service of achieving power, rather than naive populism or stupidity. Senate reform would be a culmination of the tendencies of post-war politics in Australia and other Anglophone countries, in which decreasing levels of democratic participation have seen mass membership political parties increasingly replaced by shell parties operated by small cliques, often for their own interests (think NSW Labor) rather than those of the electorate, and which are resistant to internal efforts to introduce more democracy within themselves. We would thus complete the transition from the mass participation democracy of the post-war years to an outsourced democracy, in which professionally-trained groups organised under brands would tender for the three-year contract to govern Australia. From a quite different angle, the PUP represented another relatively new phenomenon for Australia, of a billionaire deciding to spend his way into politics; for around $25 million of his own money -- rather than the donations of businesses, unions and groups expecting something in return -- Clive Palmer bought three Senate spots and, almost by accident, a House of Representatives seat (which he will likely abandon before the next election). Palmer ludicrously portrayed himself as a political outsider, despite his background as a Nationals staffer and bankroller of the LNP, and was briefly successful until his shark-like need to keep moving politically meant he ended up going in ever-smaller circles, resulting in ever-lower polling numbers and ever-fewer senators. As the PUP's 2013 performance demonstrated, overhauling the Senate voting system is no guarantee that new parties won't be able to break into the system, but they'll probably need the kind of resources Palmer was able to deploy in order to do so. Palmer used his money and profile to draw voters who don't fit easily into established voting groups -- from a limited evidence base, they appear to be the kind of socially conservative and economically interventionist voters, more common in Queensland than elsewhere, which Pauline Hanson appealed to and to whom Bob Katter has tried unsuccessfully to craft a national or at least Queensland-wide appeal. As the political history of the last two decades shows, such voters can be temporarily herded back to the major parties but will make a break for non-mainstream parties if they sense they're viable. They may be socially backward and economically illiterate, but they are deeply unhappy with the broad direction of public policy in Australia in the last 30 years -- the direction endorsed, to varying degrees, by Labor and the Coalition and even, partly, by the Greens. Then there are the disengaged: the citizens, mostly young, who simply stay off the radar despite the efforts of the political parties -- motivated by our ridiculous compulsory voting/public funding model -- to force them to vote, or who prefer to vote informal, disenchanted with what the major parties offer. While the case for Senate reform might be -- depending on your point of view -- a strong one, it would only serve to strengthen the politics-as-usual that has both alienated an increasing number of voters and has been the product of declining participation. Where once parties hoped to reverse or at least halt the decline in political participation in the community, now they, in effect, want a separation, an official establishment of a political profession as the hired managers of civic life.
Senate reform and the outsourcing of democracy
Calls for an overhaul of Senate voting to prevent the election of microparties contradict the growing disillusionment with the professionalisation of politics