Hurray for democracy

icon_senateballotpaperI like to follow politics. Mostly its a long procession of frustrations, disappointments and failures, but every now and again there’s something positive to cheer about. Today is one of those days.

Back in September 2013 after the last federal election I blogged about the broken Senate voting process, and suggested three ways that it could be improved. Well today, thanks to an epic all-night 28 hour debate in the Senate, my wishes came true, when the parliament passed electoral reform laws that will allow preferential voting ‘above the line’ on the Senate ballot paper, as well as only requiring 12 preferences to be indicated if voting ‘below the line’.

Hurray for democracy!

The only sour note is why on earth the Australian Labor Party were so dogged about wanting to retain the existing system where political parties distribute preferences in complex and opaque ways in back rooms before an election, instead of the system passed today where preferences are decided by the voters, in the ballot box, on election day.

Things I just don’t get

  1. idontgettrumpHow Donald Trump can be the leading candidate in the Republican nomination race for the U.S. presidency.
  2. Why some cyclists (and I saw another example of this just a few days ago) will ride around with a cycle helmet draped over their head, but not buckled on, thereby incurring all the disadvantages of owning, carrying and wearing a helmet, without gaining any of the benefits that a helmet might give in the case of an accident.

Trumped up ignorance

Donald Trump September 3 2015U.S. Presidential hopeful Donald Trump was not too pleased this week when Pope Francis suggested that Trump’s plan to build a wall to keep immigrant’s out of the country was not Christian. The Pope is quite right though – Galatians 3:14 has something to say about dividing walls and what Christ does with them …

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”

But Trump’s response to Pope Francis beggars belief, with him reportedly saying of the Pope:

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.”

Really?? What about Jesus, quite a significant religious leader, who wasn’t averse to questioning the faith of people, particularly the faith of the political and establishment leaders of the time. In response to a disingenuous question from the Pharisees Jesus replies in Mark 7:6 …

“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

And in Matthew 23:27-28 Jesus says …

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

For Trump to say that religious leaders shouldn’t question a person’s faith, demonstrates a profound and disturbing ignorance of the very religious leader that Trump hypocritically claims to follow.

New cycling laws are noise and smoke

cycle10kThe NSW government is introducing in March this year some new laws relating to bicycle riding, including increasing fines and the requirement for adult riders to carry photo ID when cycling. These changes are eliciting varied responses, both positive and negative.

From my point of view as a regular cyclist, commuting to work on weekdays and recreational cycling on the weekends, the practical impact of these changes is somewhere between zero and unimaginably small.

Most times when I cycle I already carry a photo ID in my wallet. The only times I might not have a wallet on me is on a short weekend ride with my son in quiet suburban streets. As for the increase in fines, if you abide by the rules then the size of the fines are irrelevant. But more than that, in my 36 years of driving a car, and 7 years of cycle commuting to work I have never, ever seen a cyclist pulled over to be fined. In fact I have never even heard of a cyclist being fined. No doubt it happens, but the infrequency of it makes all this talk about increased fines a meaningless irrelevance.

But aside from the almost negligible practical implications of these new laws, whenever a change in public policy is proposed, I believe these four questions need to be addressed:

  1. What is the problem that these changes are seeking to solve?
  2. How is it expected that the changes will be the solution to the problem?
  3. Is there any evidence or research that shows that the changes will solve the problem?
  4. What monitoring or assessment mechanisms will be put in place to measure the efficacy of the changes?

It seems to me that these four questions aren’t even being asked let alone answered in the current debate. All in all there’s a lot of noise and smoke, but no motion forward.

If you want to be taken seriously, don’t say ridiculous things

The coalition’s federal budget last week is provoking all sorts of reactions, most of them negative. In my view the budget is a real mish-mash of ideas, from the eminently sensible (re-introducing indexation of the fuel excise) through to the plain daft (slashing foreign aid in order to spend the money building roads that will be congested in a few years.)

Some people’s reaction to the budget is somewhat questionable though. In regard to pensions the Abbott government is proposing to increase the pension age from 67 to 70, and change the indexation arrangement so that pensions are linked to CPI rather than average male earnings. There will be various views as to whether this is a good or bad idea, but for the International Youth & Students for Social Equality to assert in the pamphlet they handed to me at the shops this morning, that this amounts to a “complete dismantling of what remains of the age pension” … well that’s just laughable.

So a little tip to the IYSSE, and for life in general … if you want to be taken seriously, don’t say ridiculous things.
ridiculous

Senate ballot paper madness

I’ve just voted, and despite the temptation to take the easy way of voting above the line in the Senate, I resisted, because I really don’t want to allow my preferences to be decided by the political party I vote for above the line – so I struggled on and filled in all 110 boxes under the line.

At one point as I was sliding the ballot paper side-to-side in the narrow voting booth, the paper nearly slipped down the crack at the side of the booth and disappeared – I rescued it just in time. Additionally by the time I got to number 110, the pencil I was using was in serious need of re-sharpening – there is a non-trivial possibility that some people voting below the line will cast informal votes because of blunt pencils.

It’s pretty clear that the current system is broken and needs to be reformed in one or more of the following ways:

  1. Tighter rules for nominating candidates/parties, to restrict the number of candidates to a sensible level.
  2. Allow preferential voting above the line. i.e. allow numbering the parties (not candidates) in order of preference.
  3. Have a minimum allowable number of votes below the line to cast a formal vote. e.g. like in NSW where as long as you’ve numbered 1 to 15 (or more) then the vote is valid.