My Big Idea is that Parliamentarians should be sat according to their constituencies – so neighbouring MPs should be sat next to each other, regardless of their party, to promote understanding of local issues while reducing petty party politics.

Parliament seating plan changes to diminish adversarial politics and foster collaboration

Parliamentary buildings contribute to the formation of political culture. Winston Churchill recognised this when, as UK Prime Minister, he insisted the British House of Commons be rebuilt (after wartime bombing) in a similar size and configuration to maintain its adversarial nature, which he believed was responsible for creating the British form of government (the two-party, government-oppositional system). In his words: “We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”.

Current seating plan The configuration of seating affects interpersonal communication on conscious and subconscious levels. The current positioning of our Parliamentarians is oppositional (facing each other) with the government on one side of the chamber and the opposition on the other. The current seating plan encourages Parliamentarians to overlook the fact they’re there to serve the public, not the party. The moment you’re a member of the opposition, you’re duty bound to disagree with the government regardless of the merits of their proposal.

Current political landscape Adversarial politics is a well entrenched feature of Australian parliamentary democracy. Australian voters have become increasingly cynical, watching politicians play games for mere point-scoring in Parliament, call each other childish names and lie with impunity. With these theatrics on full display when Parliament is sitting, is it any wonder that more and more Australians think the current system isn’t working? We need to modernise our political debating chambers and understand that, in the modern world, the traditional Westminster seating plan is reducing governmental effectiveness and dis-enfranchising voters.

My Big Idea We need to re-configure the current seating plan of our Parliament, moving from an oppositional plan that promotes adversarial politics, to a plan that symbolizes and fosters collaboration and acknowledges ideas on their merits.

My Big Idea is that Parliamentarians should be sat according to their constituencies – so neighbouring MPs should be sat next to each other, regardless of their party, to promote understanding of local issues while reducing petty party politics.

Some minor building renovations may need to be done, but largely the existing seating can be retained, with MPs being seated according to their geographical representation to encourage more constructive working and debate. It is a simple solution to a problem that has been recognised by the public, the media and politicians themselves (albeit the major parties would be against such a change). This Big Idea can be piloted over a sitting week in Parliament or can equally be applied to State Government parliamentary seating.

Voters would see MPs from neighbouring electorates sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. This has the potential to have a number of powerful knock-on effects, including the opportunity for: - relationships and rapport to be built between MPs that may otherwise not have occurred - future ideas to be shared and discussed, rather than shouted over or shot down - compromises to be reached that may otherwise not have been brokered - Australian voters to re-engage with our political process by witnessing our politicians working for their constituents and national interests, not party interests

Parliamentary reform in Australia may be as simple as re-shaping the chamber in which it resides. The likely resistance to this change from the major political parties should be testament to why it is so critical to implement. Let’s tell the Australian public about this Big Idea so the debate can begin!

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