The word democracy is used prolifically and invoked endlessly, but what do we mean when we use it?
The word is derived from ancient Greek and translates roughly as ‘to rule by the people’. But how would you assess or measure it? I think the most meaningful measurement must be representation in parliament being commensurate with the votes of the electors.
In the last election, 12% of voters (1.6 million) wanted a Greens Party representative, which in the House of Representatives of 150 members should have translated to 18 members. In fact the Greens have only 1 member. Australia is NOT a democracy.
We ‘go through the motions’ at election time but representation doesn’t eventuate. I was driven to express this depressing appraisal after hearing a series of news items and comments on an ABC television program. The first was the coup in Egypt, when a democratically elected government was overthrown by the military. Despite the heroic effort of the people to end the dictatorship of Mubarak and establish an elected government, not a word of condemnation came from our government or the US government. We didn’t care.
Then the Australian Electoral Commission released figures that showed that 400,000 young, first time voters did not enrol (=25% of those eligible to do so).
This combined with the figure of 3,000,000 voters (20% of the eligible) who did not vote at the 2010 election begged the question “What has gone wrong with this most sacred institution?”
Finally, a trivial item on The Drum on ABC 2 featuring Peter Reith, Ellen Fanning and Annabel Crabb with their tittering and derision of the minor parties was the final straw. I was seeing a mockery of what should be our most cherished and esteemed institution – our choice of our future.
These 3 events shone a light on the sad truth that we delude ourselves in believing that we have a democracy in Australia. Without proportional representation, where a party or an independent individual is represented in equal proportion to the voter’s wishes, then we continue in this stupor of having only the choice of Party A or Party B, even if NEITHER comes close to representing our views.
So now we have a situation where a narrow range of ideas are represented in Parliament in the most adversarial way. No wonder so many young people see no point in taking part in our farcical 2 party system and this culminates in a jaded population who turn their backs on their opportunity to vote.
If we are required by law to vote, then give us representation. How simple is that? So much enthusiasm, dynamism & originality is lost to the parliament.
When the ink had barely dried on the Australian Constitution, the seemingly simple ‘first past the post’ voting system, which works well if every candidate is ‘independent’, was being made unworkable to create true representation by the development of the first political ‘parties’. The resultant adversarial political landscape blighted and consumed the parliament. A primitive clash of business/landowners versus the ‘workers’ would overshadow politics to today, not because it was a simple reality, but because no other ideas (read ‘parties’) could get a foothold in our black and white system, which has now become a monotonous shade of grey.
Currently we have the absurd possibility, using the ‘preferential single member electorate’ (which behaves like ‘first past the post’ )method of assigning parliamentarians combined with our 2 major party system, where we could have the entire parliament of one political persuasion if 51% of voters returned the same party in each electorate.
Imagine that scenario! A landslide victory of 150 seats to one party, but with 49% of the population opposed to the government. Highly unlikely, but an acceptable possibility.
If we had proportional representation in the House of Representatives, then a diverse range of parties/independents would enter parliament.
The 2 party stranglehold would be broken. Negotiation and compromise would have to occur. That’s democracy.
Ideas and policy would have to be truly debated and passionately argued. That’s democracy.
Consensus would be required. That’s democracy.
And yes, an inbuilt instability and unpredictability would have to be managed. That’s democracy.
We should not fear the direction that a real democracy would take us. It is ‘us’ that would make the decisions. We should instead fear where our current system is leading us… disillusionment, apathy and eventually, rule by tyrants.