Electing our MPs can be farce or a game of chance

Dinah Arndt says: It was a short conversation, but it got me thinking.

The chat started with the questions that many chats with strangers do. What's your name? Where are you from? What do you do?

My profession interested the trio who were seated next to us on a long, wooden table at Hobart's Taste Festival.

"Do you think they (referring to politicians) have any idea?" the father asked me.

"I mean, most people don't care for that sort of stuff."

It's a sentiment many others would share.

People feel removed from the political system; and believe that their feelings and needs aren't reflected in our state and federal Parliaments.

It was his adult daughter's comment, though, that got me thinking.

She said back in Roman times someone could be tapped on the shoulder and dubbed a politician.

That they didn't get a say in it but it was just a matter of citizens wanting them so, hey presto, this is your new position.

I'm no historian, so I'll leave it up to others to verify the factual history of this account. It's an interesting idea, though.

What if, instead of elections, that was how we picked our politicians: with a tap on the shoulder?

Say, you were walking down the street and saw your local butcher.

Great guy, you'd think.

He is responsible in running a business, good with the accounts and not afraid to get his hands dirty.

So you stop him, smile, and point your finger at his chest.

Bang! He is now the representative of your community.

More than likely, however, it wouldn't be the butcher.

It would be someone a little better-known; a little more popular.

There is absolutely no doubt that Ricky Ponting would be dubbed premier of Tasmania as quickly as his fans could scream: "Punter!"

Meanwhile, a movie star like Russell Crowe or a musician who tops the charts like Wouter "Wally" De Backer (aka Gotye) could be prime minister in no time.

Don't ask me how on Earth everyone would co-ordinate such choices. Guess an election would be easiest.

The main problem with our elections is that most people don't have a say in who the candidates are; just which ones are picked.

Anyone can chose to run - but try competing against the party machine and its dollars when it comes to campaigning.

You can join a political party, but even that doesn't guarantee that you will have a say in the selection of candidates.

Most often those decisions are left up to a small group within a political party.

The Tasmanian ALP has dabbled with a more democratic process.

It has trialled a preselection system in which people who register as Labor supporters voted on who they would like to have as a candidate for a particular seat.

The results were tallied with the votes of unions, but rank and file ALP members still had the most say.

However, are even those votes relevant when factions within the party still vote as a bloc?

The other strange thing about political parties is that you can have an annual conference where the policy of the party is decided.

And then you can have elected MPs of that party ignore such policies during their reign in public office.

Where is the democracy in that?

Back in Rome, the consuls weren't expected to know everything. They were advised by a Senate which was made up of leading citizens who discussed new laws and issues.

Which sounds nice, but Senators were usually from rich, noble families and most of the decisions they made were in favour of the wealthy.

Still, it couldn't hurt to say to your butcher that you'd think he'd make a great MP.

It never hurts to have someone who is experienced in the use of knives. 

Dinah Arndt is The Examiner's chief political reporter.

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