Welcome back to part two of our series on Democracy of the Hundreds. This is the proposal for the reinvigoration of the modern parliamentary system through the innovation of a focused form of direct democracy. In part one, we talked about the problems of the parliamentary system and explained in broad terms how the Western Australian Parliament operates. In this part, we will be examining the proposal itself. I will begin with a broad outline before examining each element in more detail.
So, firstly, what is Democracy of the Hundreds? Democracy of the Hundreds is a proposal to reform the venerable Westminster-influenced parliamentary system as are extant in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and many other former possessions or dominions of the British Empire. This reform is aimed at providing the citizens or residents of each jurisdiction a direct say in the government of their nation, province or state through the imposition of a third chamber drawn directly from the population that holds the power to withhold or supply consent to any act of parliament.
A Third Chamber (Tricameralism)
As discussed in part one, Westminster-inspired parliamentary systems are generally bicameral. They have a lower house (Commons, Legislative Assembly, House of Representatives, etc.) which is the house of government and can propose money bills, and they have an upper house, which, while it can propose bills, is primarily a house of review. Once identical bills have been passed in both houses, it goes to the Sovereign or their representative the Governor-General for assent. What this proposal suggests is to interpose what would amount to a third chamber between the passage of a bill by the houses of parliament and the assent of the crown (see Figure 1).
This third chamber would be structured in a totally different way from any house of parliament that has existed either currently or in the past. Instead of a single chamber, the third chamber would consist of multiple geographically separated chambers, or as we will call them from here, councils. These councils would in aggregate make up the titular third chamber.
A council would be constituted in every electorate of that parliament’s lower house. In the case of Western Australia (our example jurisdiction), as there are 59 districts or electorates in the lower house, 59 councils would be called to constitute the third chamber. Australia Federally has 150 electorates, so it would have 150 councils. The UK has 650 electorates, so the house of commons would have 650 councils, and Canada has 338 seats, so it would have 338 councils and so on.
Each council would be remotely connected to form a virtual chamber allowing for presentations to be made centrally to each council.
Each council would consist of a hundred members (hence the name) drawn by random lot from the resident electors of each district. A new council in each district would be called for each proposed bill and would serve (as is traditional with juries) until such a time as assent was provided or withheld. The exact time required is hard to estimate but is likely to take less than a week in most cases. Figure 2 shows the expected mean time between a citizen being required to serve on a council by district in Western Australia, which is around five years:
It is important to note that if a citizen lives in a federated nation such as Canada or Australia, they would be required to serve on both state/province councils and federal councils of the hundreds. In the case of an elector in Western Australia, this would result in an average recurrence interval between being called to serve on a council of 3.57 years (5.1 years for state councils, 7.1 for federal).
The powers of this third chamber would be limited to the provision of or withholding of assent to the passage of bills. It would not have the power to amend or propose legislation. In effect, the imposition of a third chamber with the power of providing or withholding assent would be to remove the power of the parliament to legislate in its own right. The parliament would retain a monopoly on the proposition and framing of laws, but the citizens, through their conscription into the councils, would be the legislators.
It seems advisable also that as the citizens are the legislators and the composition of the councils' change on the presentation of each bill, a mechanism should be provided to prevent the presentation of a bill that has been rejected by the councils previously multiple times. This can be conceptualised by the concept of re-run referendums where the public is asked to vote again and again on an issue with the answer not accepted until the people vote in the way the government desires.
To prevent this, I propose the extension and modification of the double dissolution provisions which exist in the Australian Federal Parliament. Thereby, if a bill is presented to the councils and rejected for a second time, a binding plebiscite would be required to be held. If the bill was again rejected by the citizens, then the parliament should be considered to have lost the esteem of the citizens and, therefore, both houses of parliament should be dissolved in a double dissolution election.
The purview of the councils of the hundreds should be absolute in that all bills passed by parliament should be presented to the councils for assent. This includes but is not limited to money bills, i.e. budgets, emergency legislation, declarations of war and peace, etc.
In this post, we have sketched in brief the proposal for the imposition of a third chamber on the Westminster parliamentary system. This third chamber consisting of councils of 100 citizens drawn by lot to examine and assent or not to each individual bill passed by parliament would assume the power to legislate from the parliament. Leaving the parliament with effectively only the power to propose and frame but not to enact legislation without the consent of the citizens on whose behalf they govern.
Part three of this series will dig deeper. In it, we will seek to provide an illustration of the process which the councils of the hundreds could/would follow.
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