Our abused democracy

Geoffrey Blainey explains the current perilous state of Australian democracy to a British audience:

The Lesson of Oz

For the sake of democracy, it would have been wise to make climate change one of the election issues, but Gillard announced that her policy was close to Abbott’s. Therefore it ceased to be an election issue. Some weeks after the election, Gillard announced that her policy would be stricter than Abbott’s, because of Labor’s forced alliance with the Greens. So the hung parliament in Canberra has given her a lot of rope with which to hang herself.

The carbon and mining taxes divided Australia into two hostile territories. Towards these opposing groups, Gillard made clear-cut promises from which she has since crept away. Therefore the key principle of democracy is at stake. Are the voters really supreme on the one day that is important for them — the day of the election? Or are they to be extinguished by the post-election bartering, in which the PM is the main dealer? The same dilemma may reappear in Britain if it adopts a new electoral system, especially one, such as the Alternative Vote, that empowers third parties.

It is true that Gillard is new to office. Her difficulties are acute. But within two months of the election, she trampled on two of her major promises. She may try to redeem her failure by initiating a national referendum to approve any legislative changes on the mining and carbon taxes. Australia has a stronger tradition than Britain of invoking a referendum to solve controversial matters, but such a solution has its dangers. All these events constitute a minefield, which Britain should examine in its own interests. After all, it has to wait five years, not three, before its voters can rectify, if they so wish, a previous injustice.

Source: Standpoint magazine

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