Last night's "surprise-filled" move to surplus Budget announcements from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison's confirmation we will go to the polls in May are small signs of life in an otherwise sick system, which continues to see a revolving door of leadership, politics trumping policy and women remaining significantly under-represented across the Australian parliamentary system.
Only 31 per cent of Australian Federal parliamentarians are female and the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks Australia at 50th in the world for female representation; behind many Scandinavian, African and Latin American countries that boast over 40 per cent representation in their lower houses. For the record, New Zealand, France, Spain, Germany and the UK are also batting way ahead of us.
At our recent girledworld World of Work Summit 2019 at the University of Sydney we asked teenage girls to 'Redesign Democracy for the Real World' using #DesignThinking. Our Industry Challenge Partner was Women for Election Australia represented by Licia Heath and Sonia Palmieri who set the challenge context for the teenage girls on the day.
We thought the solutions the teenagers came up with were worth sharing.
Politicians take note: The below is a verbatim summary of what a smart, committed cohort of teenage girls designed in a single day.
Imagine what our system could look like if we adopted even some of these recommendations....
1. Cross the Cultural Divide: Driving diversity and multiculturalism.
a. Scrap the current Dual Citizenship rule to open access to politicians with diverse backgrounds, experience and cultural histories including ethnicity, regionality, social-economic status, sexuality or profession. A more diverse parliamentary composition will change the behaviour on the party floor and within the entire parliamentary system.
b. Promote opportunities for multicultural groups to participate in the system by identifying, encouraging and sponsoring high potential local community leaders to run, thereby ensuring a better representation of cultural majorities and minorities within parliament.
c. Develop political education campaigns in multiple languages to encourage awareness and greater participation from diverse cultural sectors who may have language barriers to entering politics / being part of the system.
2. Access Education: Career Mentors and Pathways to Politics.
a. Politics is not accessible and the basic mechanisms, design and processes of democracy are misunderstood by most Australians. We need to introduce compulsory education classes for students across Australia so they can familiarise with political vernacular, election processes and policy making systems to better understand the workings of democracy.
b. Target Year 7 - Year 10 students in all high schools across states and territories and develop and deliver a democracy mentor system to enable (non-political) representatives to provide seminars and workshops to students in schools, supporting their education.
c. Encourage early exposure to and education about the viability of career pathways in politics plus provide job descriptions for students so they can make informed choices about courses that may accelerate their opportunities to participate in the political arena (across local / state / federal positions and career pathways).
d. Develop open source and self-paced digital education modules to enable all students to understand the Australian political system / party structures including the implications of policy making, the preferential voting system and effects of political short-termism.
3. Plain Label Politics: Prevent revolving door internal party power struggles and ego-driven politics over policy.
a. Remove labels and titles in politics to create flatter party organisational structures and prevent ego battles that waste party and public time (media vortex and factional infighting).
b. Labels create hierarchies and funnel single representatives to the top of the party system which skews the public debate. Parties should have multiple and diverse leadership team spokespeople who can swap in and out and be specialists across issues, and provide the public with a range of representative members.
c. Stop time-wasting, juvenile internal power struggles and bear pit rants by setting a standard code of conduct with expected transparency of behaviours to ensure elected politicians are accountable to the public (and face public consequence for misbehaviour).
4. Equal Playing Field: Break down economic barriers to open gates.
a. Introduce measures to lower the associated costs of running campaigns to get elected by allocating a public fixed budget allowance, mentorship and support for potential candidates to equal the playing field.
b. Lower the barriers to entry for a diverse range of potential candidates by developing an educational campaign about the process of entering politics/parliament to ensure more diverse and representative people would consider running.
c. Set a standardised and transparent financial system whereby all candidates and parties must submit a full public ledger of advertising and associated costs (pre-selection and election campaign) and will forfeit the right to run if they overspend mandated fund limit.
5. Open Door Open Floor Policy: Digitise parliament for public good.
a. Young people and minorities aren’t getting heard or having a chance to air public perspectives and issues during question time and parliamentary process. We need to introduce managed open forums for youth during Parliamentary Question Time via a digital platform, with a live running question prompt (similar to Q&A) and with invited sitting youth representatives who can participate in (managed) active forum debate.
b. Introduce Shadow Youth Ministers for mini-internships during sitting parliamentary sessions allocated to specific portfolios of interest across youth affairs, and where decision making should be consultative across inter-generational frameworks (ie: climate change).
c. Livestream broadcast all parliamentary sessions to the public so they can participate in real-time debate in chat rooms or with parliamentary representatives about policy matters and current issues, and stay informed about immediate policy at hand.
6. Think Big: Commit to addressing long-term global issues.
a. Reduce the short-termism of current Australian election cycles and election-winning policy promising to enable a focus on bigger cross-party long-term global issues.
b. Create a standard cross-party agreement to prioritise/commit to long-term global issues (ie: climate change, terrorism etc) without dropping the agenda from election to election.
c. Stop the public from being ignorant and mis/uninformed by committing to funding educational awareness campaigns (major media, educational institutions, industry sectors) to enable greater participation in debate, decision making and solution design for long-term global challenges that affect the future of all Australians.
d. Leverage current research (university and industry sectors) to enable best practice approach and strategic design of policy and solution architecture for meta global issues.
7. Introducing Politics 101: An Education Strategy for Australia's Schools.
a. There is a huge lack of knowledge about the political system and policy-making process within the education system, and most students don't understand how democracy works unless they study it directly. This needs to be addressed by a government-funded wholesale review of current educational frameworks in order to develop and design an integrated educational curriculum for implementation across Australia (primary / secondary / tertiary).
b. Develop and modularise secondary school career 'pathways into politics' real-world education programs (incorporating elective work experience / experienced party mentors / job descriptions / relevant tertiary courses / online guidance modules / virtual mentoring with current sitting members / local council open days etc).
c. Introduce compulsory curriculum-embedded education about democracy and politics for all students in Year 6 and Year 9 levels.
8. Close the gap: Co-design a system with and for Indigenous Australians.
a. There is a significant imbalance in the parliamentary representation of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia. Aboriginal people and indigenous Australians continue to suffer from a chronic lack of representation in the political system, and a recent report shows unacceptably high rates of incarceration and youth suicide which are still not being addressed as a priority within government.
A dedicated task force should be funded and comprised of a cross-cultural/ demographic/ geographic representation of Australians to pull current data, table the results, and co-design (indigenous-led) a culturally appropriate intervention to address the issues at hand. This should be a cross-party action, with a multi-year commitment to drive a sustainable, consensus-designed approach.
b. Prominent Aboriginal and Indigenous influencers should be appointed as Ambassadors and encouraged/funded to use social media and digital channels to educate the general public about current issues within indigenous communities, supported by current research and data to ensure the general public are aware of the statistics and state of play.
c. Design amplification PR campaigns to celebrate the achievements and elevate the profile of Indigenous Australians to drive greater inclusion, higher prioritisation of Indigenous matter policy making in the political arena, and to bolster more culturally appropriate language and debate within the parliamentary system itself.
d. Electoral and parliamentary reform should be called for allocating designated seats for Indigenous peoples, and the development of separate Indigenous parliaments, such as those adopted by Finland, Norway and Sweden.
9. Minority to Majority: A person's a person no matter how small.
a. Provide more relevant education to specific targeted minority groups (ie: religious, LGBTIQ) about the political system and why they should be represented to enable better policy making outcomes for minorities.
b. Raise general public awareness about the importance of minority group representation in the political system to ensure active and representative democracy (especially given the changing socio-cultural demographics of Australian society through immigration / globalisation etc).
c. Develop and provide refresher courses for politicians to ensure they are across the current demographic/geo-cultural Australian population shifts (states / territories / regions) and make special allowance for implementation of minority policy making frameworks.
d. Develop minority group active role models / mentor networks / ambassadors / spokespeople in targeted areas to address local councils / institutions / industry / general public to provide education, platforms for advocacy and inclusion and a greater public awareness about a diverse cross-section of society, including new and emerging minorities.
Please note the above solutions were designed by 180+ NSW teenage high school students on Friday February 15, 2019 at the University of Sydney as part of the girledworld World of Work NSW Summit in partnership with Women for Election Australia.