Welcome back to part three of the series on ‘Democracy of the Hundreds’. In part one, we explained briefly how Parliamentary Systems based on the Westminster system works using the Australian State of Western Australia as our example. In part two, we presented the proposal for a geographically dispersed third chamber of parliament sitting in each electorate, drawn by lot from each of the electors to consider each act of parliament. This part will seek to provide, in a narrative form, an example of how this proposal could work in practice.
Once both houses of parliament have passed an identical piece of legislation, the bill would be presented to the Chamber of the Hundreds in order of the bill’s perceived urgency. For you, the process would start as it does with jury duty. You would receive a letter stating that you have been summoned to sit in the chamber several weeks before the sittings are scheduled. As with jury duty, you would be able to defer your initial duty for up to six months to assist them to address any serious inconvenience or hardship (WA Dept. of Justice, 2021).
On reporting for duty, as with jury duty, there would be an orientation where the process would be explained. The first reading of the bill would be made to all chambers via a remote link. Each chamber would then disconnect, and questions could be asked to clarify the meaning and intent of the legislation’s wording. It would be beneficial if legislation was required to be written in clearer language (we will discuss this more in part four). Any questions which could not be answered based on the explanatory documents would be referred to the bill’s sponsors for clarification.
On the next sitting day, any questions from the councils which had been referred to the originator would be answered, and a second reading would be conducted. Again, if there were any questions regarding the meaning or intent of the wording of the bill, the facilitator would answer them based on the explanatory documents and the responses of the bill’s sponsors. There would then be another opportunity for questions to be referred to the bill’s sponsors.
On the third sitting day, once the additional questions had been answered, the councils would be required to indicate if they as a group understood the bill as presented. If they so indicated that they did not, an additional reading and discussion session would be carried out. If they indicated that they understood the bill, the chamber would move on to the presentations.
The presentation would begin with the opponents of the bill presenting their case as to why the chamber should reject the proposed bill. The presentations would be limited to sitting members of parliament and would have to be provided both verbally and in writing to the chambers. Once the opposing presentation had been made, the proponents of the bill would make their presentation. The exact form of these presentations I will leave to others to determine, but they could either be a series of alternating presentations or blocks, with one block where all those against could speak and one block for all those calling for the adoption of the bill to speak. On the completion of the presentations, each council would independently discuss the bill and then recess for the day.
On the next sitting day (it may be beneficial to allow a one or two-day break to allow for consideration), a third reading would be conducted, final appeals would be made by the opponents and proponents of the bill, and a secret ballot would be held. Assent would be provided if a majority of councils in a majority of regions voted in the affirmative. In our example jurisdiction of Western Australia, this would require at least one rural or regional district to vote with the metropolitan districts or vice versa for legislation to be passed. This would have the benefit of preserving the regional balancing, which currently exists in many of the Westminster-inspired parliaments, as well as, at least in the case of WA, providing an approximation of the rule of the majority due to the distribution of population between the six regions (see Figure 1).
This reform would have a laudatory effect on the legitimacy of the parliamentary system. It would provide the electors with a real voice in the government of their nation for the first time. It would be the people who are ruled that legislate, not the politicians. Through regular participation in legislating, each elector could be expected to be more engaged and take more ownership of the welfare of their state, province, or nation.
Furthermore, by in effect removing the power of the politicians to legislate, it would do much to destroy the power of lobbyists and special interests. Corruption would be abated in proportion to the reduction in power of the political class. Finally, as every bill would need to be assented to by the electors (people), it would force the politicians to consult the population far more carefully before proposing legislation.
The vast majority of people I have discussed this proposal with have been supportive of it. However, several concerns or potential problems have also been raised. I will address these concerns in part four.
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