Can a democratic government exist in a system when the only choice is between the preselected representative of two major parties? Unfortunately, this is the voting system for government elections in Australia.
A democracy is a government formed by the vote of the legally eligible population of the nation. People identify and vote for a person as their representative who they expect will represent their needs for a fair and secure life. Making such a voting decision should be based open, truthful and fair information from the candidates as published in the media. An understanding of the structure and operations of the Parliament is also required. Australia does not appear not to endorse this idea of democracy. In fact, I suggest it is moving increasingly to become an oligarchic state.
Australia has a bi-party government of representatives who adopt a united control of government. They arrange themselves into two different groups as government and opposition. Together, without significant public debate, they periodically pass defense spending significantly higher than education spending, together they pass significant restrictions on freedom of speech and trash our human rights and international reputation, in particular with the treatment of refugees, (Australia is very good at removing people off to island prisons). Together these political parties have permitted large media organizations to increase their monopolies by amalgamations of their various forms of media.
When these political parties take different ideological positions, those positions relate closely to the financial requirements of their supporters and donors who gain legislative and financial rewards for their support. See financial donations:- http://periodicdisclosures.aec.gov.au/SummaryDonor.aspx
The current planned changes to the Senate voting system have brought such a division to the parliamentary parties. The result of the proposed changes will severely limit the opportunity of independent Senators being elected and will hinder the establishment of minor parties.
For example, individuals seeking election must compete with at least one candidate representing a major party who is well trained and funded. An unendorsed candidate needs the supporting signatures of 100 people. Hi or she also needs a deposit of $2000 for the senate, and $1000 for the house of Representatives:- http://www.aec.gov.au/elections/candidates/overview.htm
Even so, the most challenging aspect of being an unendorsed candidate is the cost of dispersing information to explain his or her independent political agenda.
To enable the public to analyse the policies of aspiring members of its government during an election campaign, policies must be published and clearly explained. Otherwise many voters, including the poorest and least educated in the community may vote for a party prepared to produce little more than simple slogans. For example, take the slogan of the ‘Axe the Tax’ rallies of the 7th September 2013 election alleging we will be rewarded with much cheaper electricity bills.
As I recall I did get one or two lower electricity accounts, the first including an announcement of ‘this is your lower electricity/gas bill’. However, comparing my April account for 2013, with my April account for 2015, it appears there has actually been an increase in the cost per kilowatt hour. So during a period in which wages have barely increased, and miners can’t sell their produce overseas, electricity prices have actually risen in Australia.
The media is the most important medium of information in a democracy. They have the responsibility to provide full and truthful information about the impact of policies on the range of the voting public. In particular changes to the formation and voting of the houses of parliament needs to be clearly explained. The impact those changes may have on the democratic nature of our government should be clearly understood.
The House of Representatives forms the government based on having gained the majority of elected representatives. They have the responsibility to bring down the national budget. The Senate, need not follow such a pronounced division along party lines. The Senate is the house of review and was formed by the constitution with the primary role of protecting the interests of the states. The Senate is not a ‘nodding’ political partner to the House of Representatives with its political party divisions.
During the 2013 election five or six senators with no experience or tied loyalty and with scant grooming were elected. They were elected with preferences allocated by a number of minor parties. The senators had no loyal to a major party but held the balance of power and thus were able to pass or thwart legislation.
Initially their lack of experience and of major party support resulted in some confusion among them. However, during the two and half years they have been in the Senate they have become articulate and informed representatives of their state. In passing this illustrates how people without a background of grooming or family power can respond to opportunity.
We may not agree with all the independent senators, but it is refreshing to listen to people freely expressing real experiences and ideas. Not party hacks just repeating the party line or ridiculously nodding at the back of some leading figure.
This current Liberal government, under both its Prime Ministers, has made a concerted attempt both legally and with legislation to remove support for candidates who may act in opposition to them. First there was the drawn out and expensive Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption. Union leaders are still being questioned over their practices within the construction industry about conduct alleged to be illegal. Yet, a major example of corruption we have witnessed during this term of the Liberal/National government has been the Liberal Party Minister Stuart Robert’s deals with Paul Marks, a Chinese businessman, and donor to the Liberal party. There has been no comment of Mr. Robert’s possible indictment for corruption although after the case was reported he stood down as a minister of the crown.
The Australian Labor Party was born of the union movement in Australia, as was the British Labour Party in England, to provide opposition to the lawyers and land holders in parliament during the second half of the 1800’s. If funding for the Labor Party by the union movement is considered questionable then business funding for the Liberal/National coalition is also questionable.
Corruption arises in behavior over power and funding falsifications.
Election costs funded by the taxpayer would remove significant temptation for corruption and influence. Since every expenditure by the government has to be rationalized by savings elsewhere, perhaps it could be paid for by reducing some of the salaries, superannuation entitlements and general perks parliamentarians have tied to their positions.
However, given the party lack of control over the independent members of the Senate, the Liberal party is attempting to rush through changes to the electoral system. It appears the new legislation is aimed at bringing the non-aligned candidates under the control of the party system. It will be much more difficult for independent members to be elected to the Senate. This move appears to be in direct opposition to the Australian Constitution. It undermines the independence of the Senate to act as a protection for the states. The Senate should be a state based seat of power in the federal government, not just a servant of the party in control the lower house.
These clear grabs for extended power by the Liberal/National Coalition clearly demonstrates that democracy is not on its mind. By moving to destroy any opposition the Coalition is on track to establish a clearly defined oligarchy. Will compulsory voting for preselected representatives whose priority is their party loyalty be sufficient to obscure our loss of a free democracy?