So here’s the idea – senators should not be elected, they should be randomly drafted like juries. Thought I’d get that out there while the High Court challenge might put Senate reform back on the agenda.
Why is that a good idea?
- You would get a proper cross-section of society. Maybe not every Senate, but over time it would completely work out and certainly it would be more representative of society as a whole than the current system.
- You wouldn’t have the depth of vested interest that the current party system creates. Senators would be beholden to no one for the their position.
- Senators would only be there for a term, again that minimises vested interests and the continual focus on deals and reelection.
- If you paid senators properly, and for the majority of the population the current pay is significantly more than they get at the moment – and had a generous pension – most people would be happy to do the job.
- It turns out this is a likely way of actually getting the job done well.
Yes, there is increasing research that picking a random group of people to do something will work as well or better than picking a single ‘expert’. The wisdom of crowds is becoming an accepted shorthand for the idea that this works across large groups – random groups can pick stocks or other things just as well as individual hand-picked experts. Recent studies have also shown that randomly promoting employees is as effective, or more so, than promoting people based on supposed merit. And let’s face it ‘merit’ and ‘qualifications’ for the underlying job (as opposed to the political job) are a long, long way from how we pick Senators.
It’s hard to see that randomly selecting Senators would lead to a less effective Senate and there’s a reasonable argument that it would be more effective – as well as being more representative of the population as a whole. It’s interesting to think that when we do market research polls on political ideas we don’t filter out minority groups, or even majority groups such as women, in the way that we do in pre-selecting for parties and electing Senators.
For a house of review, this would be a great way of getting a representative view of legislation and keeping the parties in check.
Now, a couple of people I’ve run this by have had the view that Senators should serve a term and then be ceremonially thrown in a volcano so they are not incentivised to think of what they’ll do after their senate duty is over. But personally I’m more in favour of saying ‘thank you’, paying them a pension, and letting the next group step up to do its civic duty.