Australian parliamentary democracy has its good aspects and bad aspects compared to the rest of the democratic world, but it has been in operation for over 100 years and it could do with some significant changes.
This idea was floated in the lead up to the Congress a few months ago. This post contains a lot more info on the need for having a rough idea what we would like to do to rewrite the Constitution if we got the opportunity.
The way I thought we could address this is to start two separate threads of debate. The first is focused on what exactly is wrong with the way Australian democracy functions. The second is what aspects we would like to see encapsulated in the democratic process if we could re-write the Constitution to our own specifications.
So, what exactly is wrong with the way Australian democracy functions? Below is what stands out to me. It is a conversation starter and by no means complete.
The House of Representatives(HoR) has members for 150 local areas who each elect one parliamentarian to ‘represent’ them in parliament. They do not represent the local electorate, they represent the Party they
campaigned under. This leaves vast swathes of the population ‘represented’ by someone who doesn’t actually represent them.
In the 2013 federal election, the ALP got 33.38% of the vote in the HoR and 55 Seats, whilst the Coalition got 45.55% and 90 Seats. The Coalition got control of the House of Reps with under half of the votes.
If the Seats were divided proportionally rather than by geography, to be elected you would only need 0.66% of the vote to earn a Seat in parliament. This would be more representative of the views of the Australian population.
Another way to look at it is to pose the question, how would you make the local representatives actually represent the electorate? This could be done through local meetings, plebiscites etc. IE the active participation of the local community in decisions. This would make the local representatives play the role of delegates rather than representatives. This has its own problems in that most people don’t want to be involved in politics, so those participating would skew the outcome towards their own preferences, but it addresses the underlying problem with how parliamentary democracy currently functions.
States Vs Nation
There is constant tension between the State governments and the Federal government. The State government is in a lot of ways more distant than the Federal government. There is less focus on state politics in the media. In NSW at least, the state government governs about 7.5 million people, which makes it bigger than New Zealand. This makes it pretty distant in terms of both the population governed and voters understanding of the how the government functions.
Bill of Rights
Our rights as citizens are defined by whatever the parliament decides to make laws about. The constitution has an implied right to religious freedom and the requirement that the members of parliament be decided through a democratic process, but that is about it.
We can be put under intrusive mass surveillance, our right to free speech can be curtailed and we can be jailed arbitrarily without any protection from the state. We need our civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution to protect us from parliament.
‘Listen, strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.’ -Monty Python, The Holy Grail.
The same can be said of hereditary rule. Having the head of state be determined by birthright is lunacy. Not only does it imply that there is a genetic quality to governing, which history shows is not true, it also leads to inbreeding, which makes hereditary rule more likely to turn up mad rulers etc. There is no place for Nobility in modern society.