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The Forum > Article Comments > Civic republicanism and active citizenship > Comments

Civic republicanism and active citizenship : Comments

By Bernard Crick, published 22/5/2007

Active citizenship is a duty, not simply a right. We need to cultivate political literacy in our citizens.

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A masterly article by Sir Bernard. There are some constitutional obstacles to the participation that he wisely encourages.

The highest response to his call might be to stand for a state or federal house of parliament. A large section of the Australian population is constitutionally inhibited from doing so, by section 44i and 44v, which prohibit those with dual citizenship or a public service job, from being elected. I have seen guesses that it might be as many as 25%. For example, myself (born in England), all my children, and all their eventual offspring either have or will be entitled to register as British citizens, in addition to their Australian citizenship granted by oath or birth.

Certainly, one can renounce citizenship of another country. But who would want to give up such a birthright, especially in these times of demonstrated gross government failure to protect an Australian citizen from illegal action by a foreign government, notwithstanding an eventual $500,000 ride home.

Certainly, a public servant can resign, and there are some provisions in various acts for re-employment after electoral failure, but why should such folk have to jump through these worrisome hoops?

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to remove or modify both clauses, which brings me to the method of reviewing the constitution itself.

The constitution is a document that purports to regulate the Australian system of government and law, and, in principle, can be changed by the people's vote. However, changes will only be put to the people if the politicians agree, and they, not the citizens, will decide on the text of changes offered.

Not for Australians the Californian approach of putting a proposition on the ballot if enough citizens support the initiative. Children must be ruled.

I hope we are moving into a new era, where many citizens are well informed about those we entrust with high office, and willing to devote time and energy to scrutiny and advice. We have to keep reminding ourselves that WE pay THEM. They are merely The Government. WE must be the governors.
Posted by NickSharp, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 11:18:17 AM
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Active Citizenship is a form of good "self" governance.

Its renewal has as much to do with governments as it has with citizens.

ie: Government ought to be a two way communication process.


1) This "communication" process has broken down. Our institutions have lost spirit especially if you realise that it is;

"Individuals who make up Governments"

As an active citizen who works hard to communcate with government from here in Cape York... my focus is "what are these individuals doing" as workers for the public... exactly?

I am not disrepectful of administrations nor leaders however I am disrepectful of individuals who,

a) Do Not Return Phone Calls

b) Do Not give their NAME nor Feedback with a constructive response.

c) I am highly suspect of those who (NAIFLY) reproduce a "silo" culture at local levels within communities (among the who is who) because they fail to take the time to seperate a few personalities they meet from the democratic need to research diverse -plural interests. Yes, this may take a little more organisation and honest amounts of quality engagement .

Why is this the ISSUE?

You can not "hope" to solve problems, if you do not have ALL the right information.

Good Research Counts especially when the intelligence is sought from rural isolated communities, where the onus of policies promote "citizens must take ownership of their own issues if they are to help themselves".


Empowerment has many colourful forms if diversity is to be understood.

Citizens are not as trusting as they used to be.

The apathy now has as much to do with fear to (technically) speak-out as it has to do with no trust in government processes. ie: Froms of Talk is a Communication issue requiring greater understanding through our everyday language. Those who speak out are not popular... we reject advocation as part of the Aussie Culture... a new phenomenon, as the baggers get to bully everything thing that squeaks.

Crime Prevention programes, as one example, are not as successfully embraced at civic community levels, as a result.
Posted by miacat, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 11:39:51 AM
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national culture is generally not designed, it evolves. the evolution is slow, and frequently inadequate to meet the challenges which arise from nature or other societies.

we should not be surprised if parliamentary society seems not to work very well at addressing the concerns of the people. it wasn't meant to. parliament began as a conference of successful norman warlords for the purpose of settling questions of boundaries and status. people who didn't sit in parliament were not citizens, were barely even people.

parliament has evolved, the seats of the men with swords have fallen into the hands of men, and a few women, who can collect votes from an alienated electorate of people who are rightfully more interested in footy scores than hansard. this is nothing like democracy.

if a person can not know what is going on in parliament, and even if knowing, can not change it- why waste time thinking about it?

one of the advantages of democracy is the greatly enlarged number of people who do learn about and act on public affairs through initiative and referenda. the collective wisdom of the electorate is much more likely to be right than a handful of politicians. better still, their collective motivation will closely follow the benefit of the nation, rather than the short term and personal advantage that a professional politician must seek for his/her own employment.
Posted by DEMOS, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 1:28:22 PM
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A chastening article.
Sure an active discussing proletariat would be wonderful, except there is a short circuit. No information..
Lead by fear promulgated by our civic leaders.
Lies and dissembling.
Virtue of all together passionate nationalistic fervour.
Dissembling and mendacious media.
Politicians who see the way ahead as sycophantic support for the powerful and a media supportive: the way of mega bucks.
A terrorism of largely our own making used as excuse for this and that. Politicians too cowed and dishonest to say otherwise and a media too lazy to fulfil their role as the information source for democratic discussion.
An electorate to self absorbed in the wonders of consumption and trivia to be bothered
Posted by untutored mind, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 6:26:32 PM
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Yes, Constitutional changes or referenda has only been presented to voters when politicians agreed.

However, Constitution s. 128 provides EITHER Senate OR House of Representatives, despite lack of support, despite opposition, from other House the authority to present a Bill for Governor-General to present for voters decision:

Section 128

Australian Democrats refused, or failed, exercise their swinging votes in Senate to force issues onto ballot, eg Telstra,Iraq, other issues. Democrats should have presented their opposition in a bill to use s.128 to resolve the questions.

Democrat reluctance to present such bill questions their committment to accountability, to keeping the bastards honest.

Essential if you believe Sovereign Power does belong to the people.

At Federation the Commonwealth needed work a lot harder to achieve cooperation from States more powerful than today on issues. To obtain State support in creation of the Commonwealth our Constitution required inclusion of protection of rights of states.

State rights and many ideas about same, the Commonwealth with assistance from the High Court has certainly trimmed - to date.

However the Senate was and remains a House designed so as to protect the interests of the States. At Federation probability of conflicts between the Senate and the House of Representatives expected.

In our system built on checks and balances the tool of Section 128 is available to either House Senate or Representatives to achieve, perhaps force, resolution of any such conflict, by demanding a demonstration of support or rejection from voters at large the double majority of voters and States.

A Governor-General perhaps may refuse this request, if wishing to be treated worse than Sir John Kerr; Refusing to send to the ballot would create a far more serious Constitutional issue, an issue this very s.128 establishes to be resolved through voting by the People as The Sovereign Power of Australia to resolve.

BTW, be very interesting to follow High Court responce to whichever House of Parliament presented to argue against such a voting..
Posted by polpak, Thursday, 24 May 2007 11:04:14 AM
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Never mind what the government will have you believe, the greatest threat to political freedom is not terrorism. It's apathy.
Disillusionment is not an excuse for political ignorance.

'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance'. Thomas Jefferson did not mean keeping a suspicious eye on the turban wearing guy across the street. He meant rather, keeping the government under public scrutiny.
Questions are good. Informed argument over issues is vital in divining a way ahead. Partisan politics is necessary in a healthy democracy, and is not something to bemoan. I get nervous when an outbreak of bipartisanism strikes the political scene. America marched into Iraq with bipartisan support.

I actually think the Australian public, by and large, is quite will informed on political issues, domestic and international when compared with other western democracies. Compulsory voting is a great benefit in this regard.
Posted by My name is Dylan, Tuesday, 29 May 2007 7:19:55 PM
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