Tag Archives: government

Young Australians are engaged in political issues, but unsure how democracy works

The Conversation

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Research shows young people are passionate about issues like marriage equality, but many do not understand how governments are formed and prime ministers elected. Shutterstock

Zareh Ghazarian, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Monash University

The importance of Australians having the knowledge and skills to participate as active citizens is always a prominent issue. But in the past few months, it has been at the forefront of public discussion.

Recently, the federal government announced significant changes to citizenship laws, which includes a tougher test. It argues that more care is needed to ensure all new migrants understand the rules and responsibilities associated with becoming an Australian.

However, it’s not just new arrivals who may be unsure about the workings of Australia’s system of government and democracy. Many of Australia’s more established citizens may also be in the dark. With several federal MPs waiting for the High Court to determine their eligibility to remain in parliament, it appears that even some of our politicians are unsure of what the rules actually are.

This links in with questions about whether young Australians are being taught enough about our system of government, especially as little is known about the formation of political behaviour of young Australians.

The latest results from the National Assessment Program for Civics and Citizenship show that less than 50% of Year 10 students across the country achieved the Proficient Standard. New South Wales was the only state that achieved a passing grade at 51%. Tasmania and the Northern Territory scored a very low 32% and 20% respectively.


Further reading: Giving voice to the young: survey shows people want under-18s involved in politics


Civics and citizenship education in Australian schools

In recent decades, successive federal governments have sought to improve Australians’ knowledge and understanding of their citizenship responsibilities.

The need for Australian students to become “active and informed citizens” was recognised at a meeting of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs in 2008, and adopted the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.

Civics and Citizenship is part of the Australian Curriculum and is taught to students from Year 3 to Year 10. The assumption is that if children learn the principles of government and democracy at school, they will be engaged and active citizens when they can vote at 18.

But it seems many young people still aren’t sure about how Australia’s system of government works by the time they leave school. And they may also not have the skills to confidently participate in the political process.

In our research, we have been speaking to Australians aged 18 and 19 about how they learnt about politics, and if they feel ready to participate in democracy. Their accounts are interesting, if somewhat worrying.

A common concern of these young people is that they feel ill-equipped to participate in the political process. They expressed uncertainty about the powers of state and federal governments, and were unsure about the roles of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Many also felt perplexed by the voting system, to the point of lodging donkey votes or even informal ballots if they did not have parental guidance. How governments are formed and prime ministers selected also puzzled many.

While many were passionate about issues in the political debate such as marriage equality, they felt their limited knowledge hindered their ability to truly grasp the intricacies of the process to change the rules.

These young people, however, had an appetite to learn about the Australian system and wished they had done a compulsory set of classes on the subject. For example, many wanted to have learned about the different voting systems when they were in upper secondary school.

A national problem

There is consensus about the importance of having a population that has knowledge about how their system of government and democracy operates. In particular, an informed citizenry is able to participate in the democratic process and better hold decision-makers to account.

The stories of the young people we’ve spoken with indicate that it’s crucial for Australians to know about how their government works if they are to make informed decisions at the ballot box. If they do not possess this knowledge, they cannot vote with confidence or clarity.

How young people learn about their nation’s democracy is at the heart of this issue, and is something that must be examined by state and national governments.

The ConversationOtherwise, in a country that has compulsory voting, this shortfall in knowledge not only deprives young citizens from having a meaningful say about their nation, but also works against building a more inclusive political system.

Zareh Ghazarian, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Monash University; Jacqueline Laughland-Booy, Research Associate in Sociology, Monash University, and Zlatko Skrbis, Senior Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Explainer: what is a ‘hung parliament’, and how will a government be formed?

The Conversation

Adam Webster, University of Adelaide

Neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Bill Shorten was able to claim victory on election night. With uncertainty surrounding whether either party will be able to secure a majority of lower house seats, talk has now turned to whether Australia will again have a minority government and a “hung parliament”.

So, what is a hung parliament? And what is the procedure for determining who will form the next government?

What is a hung parliament?

The party (or coalition of parties) that has a majority in the House of Representatives forms the government.

There are 150 seats in the House of Representatives. To form government in their own right, the Liberal/National Coalition or Labor requires 76 seats. If neither can form government in their own right, we have a “hung parliament”.

There is nothing in the Constitution to deal with the situation in which neither side can form a majority government. Instead, these matters are resolved by “conventions”. These conventions are the unwritten rules, practices and procedures that Australia inherited from the United Kingdom, upon which our system of government is based.

Forming a minority government

If neither side has a clear majority, a minority government might be able to be formed with the support of minor party and independent MPs.

For this to occur, one side would need enough minor party and independent MPs to agree to vote with it to ensure the budget supply bills can be passed, and to support the minority government in a vote of no-confidence. This was what happened after the 2010 election, when the Gillard government received the support of Greens MP Adam Bandt and three independents to form a minority government.

While a hung parliament might seem like a relatively common phenomenon in recent times, historically they are more unusual. The 2010 election result was the first hung parliament since 1940.

If Turnbull ends up falling short of a majority but receives the support of enough minor party and independent MPs to form a minority government, he would inform the governor-general that he believes he has the confidence of a majority of the house and would seek to remain prime minister.

If Shorten were able to gather the support of the minor party and independent MPs, then Turnbull would need to resign and advise the governor-general to swear in Shorten as prime minister.

If it’s unclear which side has the support of the majority of the House of Representatives, the governor-general would in all likelihood allow the incumbent prime minister – in this case Turnbull – to remain in the position and to test whether he has the confidence of the house, on the floor of the parliament.

If there was a successful vote of no-confidence against Turnbull, he would then need to resign, and the governor-general might then swear in Shorten as prime minister.

Does a minority government mean parliament will grind to a halt?

While a hung parliament does mean a minority government will need to negotiate with independents or minor parties to pass its legislation though the House of Representatives, it does not necessarily mean it will be prevented from governing.

The Gillard minority government, for example, passed more legislation in its first 700 days than the Abbott government did in the same period.

Perhaps this reminds us that the challenge for any government – whether it holds a majority in the House or Representatives or not – is still going to be getting legislation through the Senate.

What effect will this have on a joint sitting?

After a double-dissolution election, if the Senate again rejects the bills that were used as a “trigger” for the election, the government can ask the governor-general to convene a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and the Senate to consider that legislation.

With the election result being so close, the chances of a joint sitting now seem less likely.

Even if the Turnbull government is returned with a slim majority in the House of Representatives, it may not be enough to give it a majority in a joint sitting of both houses if there are a large number of crossbench senators, as appears likely.

The ConversationAdam Webster, Lecturer, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permision). Read the original article.

 

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Review: Political Amnesia – How We Forgot How To Govern

The Conversation

Nicholas Barry, La Trobe University

The importance of history and memory is at the heart of Laura Tingle’s stimulating new Quarterly Essay, Political Amnesia: How We Forgot How To Govern. Tingle’s central claim is that a lack of historical knowledge is one of the main problems in contemporary Australian politics.

This “growing political and policy amnesia”, Tingle writes, is a key reason for Australian politics becoming:

… not only inane and ugly but dangerous.

Why has this happened?

This amnesia is the result of a variety of institutional changes, including the declining influence of public servants on policy formulation and the increasing power of ministerial advisers.

Tingle points out that the presence of ministerial advisers is not in itself a problem. In the Hawke government, for example, advisers had an important role. But the relationship between ministers and the public service was more balanced and effective:

Hawke insisted his ministers should have bureaucrats in their offices, specifically as chiefs of staff. It kept open the links with the public service in both directions. Ministers’ offices understood the public service. The public service understood their ministers.

Black Inc

However, various other developments have upset the balance between ministers and public servants. Senior public servants do not enjoy the security of tenure they previously did. Tingle suggests that the Howard government’s “night of the long knives” – when the new prime minister sacked six departmental secretaries – was a crucial turning point.

In addition, public servants now more frequently face attack in parliamentary committees. The end result is a “toadying culture” in a “cowed” public service.

Even if public servants were in a position to be giving “frank and fearless” advice, though, it seems unlikely that ministers would welcome it. Tingle quotes a former senior public servant who describes the Howard government’s approach to the public service in its later years as:

We’ll do the thinking, you just implement it.

The result is that ministers make decisions without the benefit of proper advice.

These developments have been exacerbated by a loss of expertise and institutional memory in the public service as a result of cutbacks, redundancies and contracting out. One indication of this is that “the median length of service of ‘ongoing’ public servants in mid-2014 was 9.4 years”.

This means that governments – and younger and less experienced public servants – lose the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of senior figures who can remember what happened not just under the last government, but governments before that.

Changes in the media have also contributed to the problem of political amnesia. Tingle is at pains to emphasise that partisan coverage and populism are not new features of the media landscape. However, the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the speed with which information can be communicated have led to a focus on immediacy and getting the “inside story” rather than in-depth reporting of policy issues.

This problem is exacerbated by the tendency for press gallery journalists to be generalists, rather than specialists concentrating on a particular policy area.

What effect has it had on politics and policy?

Many of the institutional developments Tingle highlights will be familiar to followers of Australian politics. But her essay demonstrates an impressive ability to tie these developments together to explain recent political events.

Kevin Rudd was criticised for a highly centralised policymaking approach.
AAP/Lukas Coch

One of the essay’s most welcome features is its focus on the deeper structural forces at work. It is easy to blame the leadership instability and sometimes-chaotic approach to policymaking in recent years on the personality faults of the key figures involved – Kevin Rudd’s focus on control, Tony Abbott’s unrelenting oppositional stance.

The greater worry, though, is that our leaders’ personalities are not solely responsible for these developments; deeper structural forces are contributing to these problems. That leadership instability has also occurred at state and territory level, which Tingle does not cover in her essay, seems to add support to this view.

As with any essay on contemporary political events, there are some points of contention. In particular, Tingle argues that commentators were misguided to draw parallels between Julia Gillard’s challenge to Rudd in 2010 and Malcolm Turnbull’s challenge to Abbott five years later.

Tingle highlights important differences between the two cases. This includes the role of relatively inexperienced factional chiefs in the move against Rudd and the speed with which he was replaced, in contrast to Abbott’s more drawn-out demise and that senior Liberal frontbenchers primarily drove his ousting. Turnbull was also able to explain immediately why he had challenged.

Nonetheless, there are also clearly important similarities between the two deposed first-term prime ministers. Given Tingle’s overall argument, these similarities may well be more important than the differences. Both Rudd and Abbott adopted highly centralised approaches to government and were criticised by colleagues for failing to follow proper processes.

These problems reflect the broader trends Tingle highlights, which pre-date both leaders. However, the problems seem more pronounced in the cases of Rudd and Abbott than they did with John Howard and Gillard.

This is not to claim that a thorough policy process was always followed under Howard and Gillard, or to deny that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wielded enormous power under both leaders. But their approach to the procedural aspects of policymaking did not seem to attract the same degree of criticism as Rudd and Abbott faced.

This might be regarded as a small positive. It suggests that the personal approach adopted by individual leaders can still make a difference to the way government operates, despite the structural forces Tingle outlines.

The demise of Rudd and Abbott also highlights the political dangers facing prime ministers as a result of these structural changes.

Prime ministers now have the ability to dominate the government’s policy agenda in a way they previously did not. However, this power is highly contingent on their personal popularity. Colleagues are likely to put up with a highly centralised approach if a prime minister has recently led the party to a major election win and is doing well in the opinion polls.

Malcolm Turnbull has promised a more ‘consultative’
approach to governing. 
AAP

But once a leader’s popularity drops, this ceases to insulate them from their colleagues’ resentment. Their control over the government also means they are likely to bear the brunt of responsibility for major policy failures.

It is worth pondering whether the problems resulting from the structural changes Tingle identifies extend beyond political amnesia to a basic failure to properly think through policy in advance and expose ideas to debate.

The centralisation of power in the PMO, insecure tenure for senior public servants and increasingly superficial reporting in the mainstream media have made it easier for those in positions of power to avoid engaging in serious critical discussion and debate over the policies they are putting forward.

The problem is therefore not simply about a lack of institutional memory. It is a broader failure to recognise the value of debate and dissent.

Debate, serious discussion and deliberation are valued highly in a democracy not just for their own sake, but because they are considered essential to testing the quality of ideas and arguments.

Increasingly, decision-makers in Canberra and beyond seem to have forgotten this age-old lesson of democratic politics. The quality of policymaking in Australia may be strengthened if they begin to remember it.

The ConversationNicholas Barry, Lecturer, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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