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The Forum > Article Comments > Is our federal government democracy's weakest link? > Comments

Is our federal government democracy's weakest link? : Comments

By Dino Cesta, published 23/1/2015

Of much greater concern are citizens' anaemic level of confidence in the institutions of Churches, Unions, and Federal Parliament, receiving an abysmal 11%, 6%, and 6% respectively.

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The article assumes that democracy is a good thing, whereas the point of departure - popular lack of confidence in the government and parliament - is evidence that it's not. So perhaps Dino, you should have checked your assumptions.

You ignore the possibility that what people don't like about democracy, are things that would be made worse by the reforms to federal parliament that you advocate.

If we assume that government is a kind of machine for producing a kind of goods, then making the machine more efficient will be good.

But if it's a kind of machine producing a kind of bads, then we don't want it to be more efficient at producing bad things.

Federal parliament and the federal government are, as concerns the federation, the core democratic institutions par excellence. One reason for the popular lack of satisfaction in them may be that democratic institutions are not as good as Dino assumes.

Democracy actually makes for the most unlimited government power ever. Attila the Hun never presumed to tell his subjects how they should wash the dishes. Genghis Khan never presumed to dictate what kind of light they could use in their own home, or what to put in their children's lunches.

What enables this concept that government's legitimacy is limitless, is that in a democracy, the people are indoctrinated by compulsory state education during their formative years, to believe that "we" are the government, and the government is us. This means that governments can and do claim that anything they do, automatically and intrinsically represents the popular will, by the mere fact of them being elected.

It is this blatantly untrue premise explicitly and implicitly trotted out at every occasion, plus the fact that a government is, legally speaking, a monopoly of fraud, that brings the federal parliament and government into low popular esteem, and which Dino's proposals would do little or nothing to improve.
Posted by Jardine K. Jardine, Friday, 23 January 2015 8:17:11 AM
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Democracy is unquestionably good.

I sympathise with the sentiments behind points 1-3 and 6, but apart from supporting a Commonwealth ICAC, I disagree with the other mechanisms suggested for implementing them.

The problem with enforceable codes and rules about election policies is that they impose another legalistic structure between the people and their representatives. The process of enforcing either mechanism would be slow, bureaucratic, and partly unenforceable. How do you judge, legally, whether a representative has been sufficiently open and accountable? Isnít this what we all assess at election time anyway?

These processes would simply add the opinion of another set of unelected officials to the opinions we all hold anyway. And if you think judges support honest conduct, then I invite you to re-live my 33 years in legal practice. You would conclude they are no better than our politicians.

Fixed terms for Governments and elected representatives create other barriers between the people and their representatives. Why shouldnít an electorate be permitted to re-elect a member if he/she is performing satisfactorily? And all Parliaments have maximum terms.

A better solution than points 1, 3 and 6 is to add a voter-recall provisions to the Constitution. Apart from six months after an election and six months before, voters could opt to trigger a by-election. Then the decision would then be made the voters, not unelected officials.

With fixed terms, the better solution is in the Advancing Democracy model. Currently early elections are triggered by the exercise of royal power. The Prime Minister or Premier advises the relevant Governor to dissolve the House, and it must cease its sittings and go to an election, regardless if that is what the House wants. Why should such a power exist? The Advancing Democracy model transfers the power to dissolve Parliament early to Parliament. A PM wanting an early election would have to get his/her own nervous backbench to support the move by a resolution of the House. The proposed provision is here: http://www.advancingdemocracy.info/cmspage.php?pgid=125&pid=8

Thank you for the article. It helps to know Iím not the only one who frets about these issues.
Posted by Philip Howell, Friday, 23 January 2015 8:52:45 AM
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This govt; in particular has shown more self interest than most. At the expense of democracy. This govt; wants to take money from medicare and save it up for a 20 billion medical science programe.

It is so sure of that will happen that they already had an account opened for it.
So much for the news that we can not afford medicare. The savings from medicare was going into a futures savings account, along with savings from university funding cuts.

Why arenít we told the truth. A reform of govt; should be to govern for Australians, without self interest.
When we have elections, advertising should be banned, as of the time an election is called. They need to be judged on performance and not swayed by advertising.

As Abbott says he will be judged on performance, you could say the people have already passed judgment, so why does the party persist in flogging a dead horse. He says partyís that change leaders donít get reelected, his only defense, you could say more self interest.
Posted by 579, Friday, 23 January 2015 9:10:25 AM
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Jardine, it was ancient Sparta that had the most unlimited government power ever, and that certainly wasn't a democracy.
Posted by Aidan, Friday, 23 January 2015 10:03:16 AM
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I congratulate the writer on a Brilliant piece of writing coupled with the analysis of the widespread discontent in the current Federal [and State?] models of parliamentary 'protectionism'. However 'We the politicians intrinsically know best once we are elected and will only consider the views of those that we managed to convince [con?] to elect us as their representatives when it suits us - not some 'stupid?' democratic notion that we should be accountable, individually and/or collectively, 'Heaven forbid', during our entire terms. What a dangerous idea it would be to the sancrosanct 'rights of the great elected' who often act as if they were demi-Gods!
The sooner a model similar to what is proposed is adopted the better. I would certainly consider voting for any person who stood for this policy platform - Independent or not. "Prevention is always better than cure!" [At present the only remedy is via the 3-4 year or so ballot box mechanism which often just reguritates the same tired, hackneyed policies and politicians to snuffle in the collective trough of taxpayer-funded luxuries. Politicians should be held in the highest esteem - not given a status of those who play the piano at a brothel or sex industry men's sexual health comfort centre/ retreat/establishment or purvey the 'relief' that some married men need to be able to apparently operate half sensibily even though they 'love' their partners and any resultant kids. [With apologies to Rahab the prostitute who was in the lineage from which Jesus Christ was born - though there is some doubt whether she was a prostitute or innkeeper in those times.]
Posted by Citizens Initiated Action, Friday, 23 January 2015 1:22:00 PM
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I don't agree that our democracy as we know it is a good thing, it's time it evolved. It's a 19th century institution that needs to move with the times. The issue is, the reason for it's failure lies in humanity. We should never have abdicated leading by appointing others to do it, there-in lies the flaw no amount of regulation will ever overcome. I prefer the Libertarian Socialist model of "laws without leaders". If we survive, I assume we'll eventually morph into something resembling that. Professor David Graeber has more reading on that model.
Posted by Valley Guy, Friday, 23 January 2015 5:27:03 PM
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