Tag Archives: representative democracy

The End of Representative Politics?

The Conversation

John Keane, University of Sydney

The following notes on the future of democratic representation were inspired by Simon Tormey’s The end of representative politics (2015), launched at a Gleebooks event organised by the Sydney Democracy Network (SDN), May 15th 2015.

Camping in Barcelona, 21 May 2011. Julien Lagarde

Whatever is happening in the field of party politics within the old parliamentary democracies? Why is mass membership of political parties a thing of the past? How come politicians are so disrespected, turnout rates volatile and elections often treated as pay-back moments by angry citizens?

A handful of clues is provided by the 2015 UK General Election, whose dynamics and results have attracted great global attention and floods of commentary on such matters as the break-up of Britain, the possible exit of Britain from the European Union and the dismal failure of the Labour Party to win over those parts of the middle class convinced there’s no alternative to the mean clampdown politics of austerity. The 2015 election was undoubtedly a media event extraordinaire. For a few days, it even featured robust debate about the failings of a first-past-the-post electoral system that awarded only one seat each to UKIP, which won 3.8 million votes, and to the Greens, who won 1.1 million votes.

Voter Turnout, United Kingdom General Elections (1950 – 2015) UK Political Info

By contrast, media assessments of the ocean of public disaffection on which the ship of Westminster and its parliamentary elections are now floating have been rare. During the days following the election, for instance, I rummaged in vain to find within the British press commentaries on the steady decline of voter turnout since 1950 (the United Kingdom now ranks 76th in world turnout rankings). I also couldn’t find any analysis of the number of citizens who actually voted for the return of a Tory government now blessed (thanks to the electoral system) with a thumping absolute majority in the House of Commons. I was forced to do my own calculations, to discover (on an overall turnout of 66.1%) that a mere 24.4% of adult citizens actually cast their vote for the new Conservative government.

Journalists and public commentators wilfully or blindly ignored such figures and long-term trends. Some did lament the way television broadcasters successfully managed to push ‘horse-race’ coverage, for instance by emphasising just how close the contest was between the Conservatives and Labour, why a Labour/SNP coalition government was a real possibility, and whether or not such a government could handle the fragile economy. Other commentators chose instead to bang on about the surprise result, and why it happened. Or they noted the end of Duverger’s Law, which states that first-past-the-post systems typically produce two-party systems.

Missing in these reports was any sense of the several ways, slowly but surely, parliamentary democracy in Britain is drifting backwards, heading towards a 21st-century version of late 18th-century politics. By this provocative analogy I mean to highlight the way present-day parliamentary politics is coming to be dominated by such 18th-century facts as the capture of government by the rich, the weakening of independent parliamentary powers and the near-collapse of mass political party organisations. The regressive trend includes as well cuts to welfare support for permanently poor people (1 in 5 of the UK population, 13 million people, now live below the official poverty line). Elections that bear more than a passing resemblance to pork-barrel plebiscites, widespread public mockery and disaffection with politics on high and tough law-and-order measures designed to spy on and control ‘harmful activities’ are also part of the same backsliding.

Rough Music Politics

These are mere tendencies, yes. But they’re to be found within many other parliamentary democracies, and that is why, to extend the 18th-century simile, ‘rough music’ politics is everywhere returning to their streets, parks and fields. In practically every existing parliamentary democracy, the disaffected and excluded are expressing their annoyance in unconventional ways. Once upon a time, as Edward Thompson famously pointed out, the 18th-century poor and powerless and pissed off expressed their indignation through ritual, revelry and riot. Raucous ear-shattering noise, unpitying laughter and the mimicking of obscenities were the weapons of the weak. In France, such practices were called charivari (Italians spoke of scampanate; the Germans Katzenmusik), while in late eighteenth-century Britain the protests paraded under such strangely obsolete names as ‘shallals’, ‘riding the stang’ and ‘skimmingtons’, rowdy parades expressing moral disapproval featuring effigies of the proxy victims.

William Hogarth’s depiction of rough music during a skimmington ride. Baldwin & Craddock, 1822.

The end of representative politics

Today, in the much-changed, media-saturated circumstances of the 21st-century, rough music assumes different forms, as Simon Tormey convincingly shows in his newly-published work, The end of representative politics. The book is a precious gem. A genuinely original contribution to the field, it’s a beautifully crafted slim essay with a big thesis: we are living through the end of an aura, says Tormey, the slow but sure decline of legitimacy and vibrancy of party politics and representative government. ‘We are moving, remorselessly, away from representation and representative politics towards styles and modes of politics that engage us immediately, directly, now.’ Symptomatic is the world-wide flourishing of what Tormey calls ‘immediate or non-mediated politics’: flash protests, occupations, hacking, boycotts, Facebook- and Twitter-led campaigns, circles, pinging and micro-parties. Concerned active citizens, he says, are no longer patiently prepared to wait until election time to express their concerns. Harnessing state-of-the-art media ‘they seek to make their views, anger, displeasure, known immediately, now.’

Simon Tormey (2013)

Tormey examines the causes of the declining aura of representative politics. He’s right to say that the peccadilloes of politicians and the politics of enforced austerity are not the principal drivers of the trend. There are multiple deep causes, including such peculiarly modern factors as the collapse of old collective identities, like belonging to a working class community, individualisation and the spread of globalised capitalism. The weakening of parliaments by the massive expansion of executive state powers and the outsourcing of political decisions to corporate and cross-border bodies might have been added to the list. A more thorough analysis of the rapid contemporary growth of communicative abundance would have been helpful as well. But these oversights are minor blemishes in an outstanding book that most definitely is on to something of epochal political importance.

Its potent analysis naturally prompts the curly question of whether, as the title suggests, we’re living through times that count as the end game of representative politics. ‘It’s the end of the paradigm, the “metanarrative”’, answers Tormey. ‘Much of the enthusiasm has gone for the classical model of representative politics and all the paraphernalia that went with it: a belief in the essentially benevolent or well-intentioned motives of those who would represent; a belief that our deepest needs and interests are best off in some other person’s hands than our own; a belief that joining a traditional mass party will prove the best use of our time and energies as engaged citizens. The props fall away; but the superstructure is still intact.’

History matters

The words are wonderful and the core thesis of The end of representative politics is both daring and consequential. The book offers important insights and prompts intellectual and political questions; it also triggers doubts, as every adventurous book does. We should thank Tormey for forcing us to ask after the book’s wobbly sense of history. From when dates the collapse of the paradigm of representative politics, we may ask? Through the examples he cites, Tormey leads us to think of the collapse as a pretty recent phenomenon, one that stretches back no more than a couple of decades. There’s admittedly mention of the Zapatistas and the World Social Forum as instances of the end of representative politics, but by and large the book depends upon very recent examples of what he calls DIY politics: the M-15 movement in Spain, Occupy Wall Street, Tahrir Square and the 5-Star Beppe Grillo phenomenon in Italy. They’re all good and interesting examples, to be sure; but they have the effect of obscuring the fact that since 1945 every major public issue, from civil rights and nuclear weapons to feminism, environment and disability, has been activated, publicised and pressed home by civic initiatives, networks and movements outside the zones of formal parliamentary politics.

The point is historical, and it’s important, if only because it reminds us that those who neglect or misunderstand the past are prone to misrecognise the present. The point is this: politicians, governments, parliaments and political parties have been under pressure for much longer than this book implies. The decline of representative politics has been coming for a generation, which implies the need to see the sea change noted by Tormey as connected to the near-collapse of parliamentary politics during the first half of the 20th century (a point developed at length in The Life and Death of Democracy) and the birth, during the 1940s, of a brand new form of democracy that I call monitory democracy.

Do Political Parties Have a Future?

This long-term transformation of democracy that began in the 1940s has decentred and de-territorialised elections, politicians and parliaments. The trend has naturally posed challenges to political parties, and raised questions about their fate. Do political parties have a future? On this point, Tormey is ambivalent. He mostly sides with the ¡Democracia Real YA! position that ‘the democracy of the representatives has come to be regarded by many as not only a rather pale imitation of the real thing, but a mechanism for preventing ordinary citizens exercising greater control over their own lives.’ But there are moments when Tormey admits that the party isn’t over. At one point he says that contemporary politics resonates with ‘the sound of anti-political politics, anti-representational representation’. In saying this, he has Podemos, Syriza and the SNP in mind: ‘Recent initiatives’, he notes, ‘suggest that even the most horizontal of activists now see that under representative or post-representative conditions the “horizontal” may need to be combined with the “vertical” to leverage alternatives for citizens during elections, to provide a focus for specific campaigns and demands.’

¡Democracia Real YA! (‘Real Democracy Now’) poster by the Mexican art collective Lapiztola Stencil.
Rosario Martínez Llaguno and Roberto Vega Jiménez

In these and other passages, it’s as if Tormey is neither for nor against representative politics, but just the reverse. His vexed ambivalence is entirely understandable, especially because a straightforward return to mass-membership political parties seems most improbable. During their heyday, as Robert Michels famously pointed out in his classic Political Parties (1911), political parties were powerful patronage machines. They offered paid-up members and supporters significant benefits: jobs, financial support, literacy, promises of one-person one-vote and access to state power and its resources. Parties today are ghostly silhouettes of their former selves, which raises the question: since for the foreseeable future political parties will remain indispensable conduits of access to such state resources as taxation revenues, law-making powers and policing and military force, which kind of political party has the greatest chances of success in getting out the vote, attracting the support of citizens? Are slimmed-down and flatter political parties using multi-media tactics and Google-type algorithms to turn heads, inspire hearts and to mobilise the vote viable alternatives to the old mass-membership party analysed by Michels? Or might party forms of the 21st century instead come to resemble accountancy parties (let’s call them). Might there in future be more of what we have now, so that organised parties resemble firms of well-advertised accountants and tax advisors hungry for business? Drab firms that nose-pinching citizens conveniently hook up with from time to time, when the need arises (elections), to do what they have to do (deal with the state), to submit their returns (by casting their votes), then to resume their everyday lives, at a distance from the party system, all the while complaining about the performance of politicians and poking fun and spinning crabbed jokes about the sad and boring rituals of all parties, including the party for which they’ve just voted?

Hobbes and Rousseau

Tormey doesn’t declare his hand on this point. In part, I suspect, this is not just because the task of building distinctively 21st-century parties is very much unfinished, speculative and highly challenging business; or because his whole approach (as he puts it) is ‘weakly normative’. Something else is at work here: it’s called gut contempt for representation. It’s a pity the book doesn’t attempt a fine-grained genealogy of the plural meanings of representation, but enough is said to confirm that Tormey typically understands representation in its originally Hobbesian sense of substitution. In plain English, representation for Tormey is a con. It’s a deceptively ideological practice whereby those who exercise power over others falsely claim themselves to be identical with those whom they rule. Put abstractly, representation (‘Trust and respect me, I am your representative’) is supposed likeness, matching and direct correspondence. It is unity through identification, congruity, alleged similarity. The representative claims to be the self-same or twin of the represented, a Doppelgänger, a facsimile or carbon copy of the represented, a chip off the old block.

From Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil (1651)

Tormey’s provocative image of representation as illegitimate ruling, as a vertical relationship between leaders who lead by claiming falsely that they have the interests of the led at heart, helps to explain his repeated insistence that representation is the opposite of ‘horizontal’ citizen participation, and that the task of radical politics is ‘to connect rather than represent’. Inspired by Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), who despite their substantial differences were agreed that representation is ruling others, Tormey strikingly concludes that 20th-century Communist Parties were ‘a quintessentially representative discourse and representative form of politics’.

The Principle of Disappointment

To my mind, this understanding of representation as unification through ruling is one-sided. It downplays the way the brand new idea and practice of representative democracy, as it emerged at the end of the 18th century, contained within it the principle of popular rejection and rotation of leaders. When measured by the ancient Greek standards of democracy as self-government by the people, for the people, representative democracy was of course a defective form of government. That was Rousseau’s strong objection. Government under conditions of representative democracy nevertheless rested, ideally speaking, on the premise that ‘the people’ are ultimately ‘sovereign’. It followed from this formulation that while perfect accord between representatives and the represented couldn’t ever be achieved, steps towards self-correction could and should always be taken. In the lonely hour of the last instance, ‘the people’ must always have the final say in determining who governs. Vox populi, vox dei. But in striving for mimesis – a closure of the gap between citizens and their representatives – representative democracy, according to its own standards, constantly chased after the unattainable. Its self-inscribed, openly declared lack of perfection stemmed from the fact that it embraced the principle of disappointment: the recognition that representatives and citizens are ultimately not identical.

In the life and times of modern representative democracy, the disappointment principle was often seen as its fundamental weakness, as proof of its reactionary incoherence. Today, as Tormey correctly emphasises, public disappointment with representatives is fuelling deep disaffection with parliamentary politics. The odd thing is that defenders of representative democracy (from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Dahl) consistently saw the disappointment principle as its greatest strength, certainly in comparison to tyrannical regimes that boss and bully their subjects into submission. They hailed representative democracy as a practical new method of publicly admitting differences of opinion and apportioning blame for the poor political performance of leaders. It was seen as a brand new way of enabling citizens to complain publicly and to let off steam about their leaders and, thus, to chastise them with threatened or actual rotation of leadership, guided by such criteria as merit, performance, responsiveness and humility.

Put differently: from the end of the 18th century, champions of representative democracy thought of it as a new and livelier form of humble government. It was seen as a novel way of creating space to enable not only individuals but also groups and dissenting political minorities to defend their interests legitimately, and to control those who governed them by means of an open competition for power that enabled elected representatives to test their political competence and leadership skills, in the presence of others equipped with the power to trip them up and throw them out of office, if and when they failed, as surely they would in the end.

Hanna Pitkin (1931 -)

The founding principle of representative democracy was both original and powerful: ‘the people’ do not govern but they do make periodic appearances in elections in order to judge, sometimes harshly, the performance of their representatives. Electors are entitled to throw the idiots out. That is how, from time to time, they solve what Hanna Pitkin famously called ‘the paradox of representation’: that citizens have to be absent in order to be re-presented but also present in order to be re-presented. Seen in terms of the deep tension that is inherent in the process of representation, this is the whole point of elections: they are weapons for periodically cheering up the disappointed. If representatives were always virtuous, impartial, competent and fully responsive to the wishes of the represented, elections would lose their purpose. The represented would be identical with their representatives; representation would lose its meaning; the animating disjunction between what ‘is’ and what ‘can be’ or ‘ought to be’ would consequently collapse. However, since representatives are rarely (if ever) like this, and since, in the eyes of the represented, they never quite get things right and are never so worthy and persuasive, often behaving like idiots who get things badly wrong, elections function as a vital means of disciplining representatives for having let down their electors. Through elections, the friends of representative democracy concluded, electors get their chance to throw harsh words and paper rocks at their representatives – to chuck them out of office and replace them with popularly elected substitutes.

The Changing Ecology of Representation

Well, that’s the old orthodox theory. In our times, for the variety of reasons outlined in this wonderful book, ideals are being crushed by practice. Tormey makes a stimulating and persuasive case for a new democratic politics pitted against mainstream political parties. In opposition to felt injustices and mounting inequality, he is right to champion new forms of public clamour. He calls for a ‘politics of resonance’, a renewal of the sense that democracy has been kidnapped, and that it needs to be reclaimed, and lived anew within everyday life. Trouble is that the new ‘immediate or non-mediated politics’ forms of democratic politics he has in mind are everywhere, and without exception, instances of representative politics. Their lack of structure and formal leadership and avowed rejection of representation (‘United, the people do not need parties’ was the cry of protesters from Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, five years ago) are only apparent. Their reliance upon mechanisms of representation is too often disguised, or denied. Truth is they rely upon mechanisms of representation, if by that word is meant what the earliest champions of representative democracy meant: acting on behalf of others, in their name, subject to their consent.

Michael Saward and others have recently pointed out that in this sense all politics involves claim making on behalf of others, and it therefore follows from this wider definition that in the age of monitory democracy the politics of representation is not confined to elections and parties and parliaments, that is, formal parliamentary politics in the narrow sense. Often in opposition to mainstream political parties, unelected and non-party representative politics is flourishing. That’s a key reason why mainstream political parties are feeling the pinch. They increasingly find themselves competing in fields of power with other bodies claiming to be representative of their constituencies. The fundamental point is that we’re not witnessing the end of representative politics but, rather, we’re living through times in which the ecology of representation is changing, becoming more complex, and ever more dispersed. Tormey agrees, and that’s the principal insight of his excellent book: within human affairs, the central political struggle is no longer, or primarily, the battle for one person, one vote. In the age of monitory democracy, the central struggle is to establish the principle of one person, many votes, multiple representatives, wherever power is exercised.

The ConversationSeen in this way, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Greenpeace are just as politically important as any political party on our planet. So, too, are citizens’ efforts to blow the whistle on institutionalised racism, or to extend rights of representation to indigenous peoples, disabled citizens and the poor. Which is to say that rather than witnessing the end of representative politics, we’re now living in times faced by a double democratic challenge: the challenge of breathing life back into political parties as trusted representatives of the wishes and needs of citizens considered as equals, and the difficult, potentially complementary struggle to extend the principles of representation into every field of power where arbitrary rule currently mangles the lives of people and their environment.

Simon Tormey (centre), Geoff Gallop (left) and John Keane (right), Gleebooks, May 15th 2015. John Keane, Professor of Politics, University of Sydney

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

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The professional model of representative democracy

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Edmund Burke on deliberative representation

‘Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices to your opinion….Government and legislation are matters of reason and judgement, and not of inclination; and, what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?’

Reference

Edmund Burke, ‘Speech at the Conclusion of the Poll, 3 November 1774’, in W.M. Elofson and J.A. Woods (eds) The Writings and Speeches of Edmund Burke, Vol.III: Party, Parliament, and the American War 1774-1780, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996, pp.68-70.

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Australian politics explainer: the writing of our Constitution

The Conversation

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The British parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act in 1900. Museum of Australian Democracy

Ryan Goss, Australian National University

The Conversation is running a series of explainers on key moments in Australian political history, looking at what happened, its impact then, and its relevance to politics today. The Conversation


Since coming into effect in 1901, Australia’s Constitution has shaped – and been shaped by – our political history.

The Constitution is the highest law in Australia. It shapes the laws the federal parliament may pass, how it administers those laws, the way our courts work, and how the federal government interacts with the state and territory governments.

What happened?

In the late 1800s, there were six British colonies on the Australian continent. These stand-alone colonies had their own parliaments and governments, their own colonial constitutions, and even their own militaries.

When travelling from one colony to another, people had to pass through a customs check before crossing the border. And they had to pay taxes on goods they were carrying.

In the 1880s and 1890s, representatives of the colonies began the discussions that would lead to federation. They wanted to join together to create a national government while maintaining political power for each colony’s own government.

These discussions, which culminated in the Constitution we have today, were driven by many factors. Among these were the need to make trade easier within Australia, a desire to control immigration, and to improve defence arrangements for the continent.

In part, the Australian Constitution’s drafters were inspired by the United States and its Constitution; the structure of our Constitution looks quite similar to the Americans’.

But, crucially, Australian Federation did not involve a revolution against Britain. Instead, at Federation, Australia would maintain close links to the parliament in London, the British courts and the British monarchy.

Aside from some discriminatory provisions, the Constitution would not include acknowledgement or recognition of Indigenous Australians. Our system of government became a mixture of British-inspired elements, American-inspired elements and uniquely Australian elements.

Voters were asked to approve the draft Constitution at referendums held in all the colonies. All the colonies eventually voted in favour – though some only narrowly, and with most women and Indigenous Australians excluded from voting.

After being passed into law by parliament in London, the Constitution came into effect on January 1, 1901.

Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin are considered founding fathers of Australia’s federation. National Library of Australia

What was its impact?

All this history has shaped our Constitution, and continues to shape our political history. Our Constitution establishes:

But it’s also important to remember that much goes unmentioned in our Constitution. Many key elements of our system of government don’t appear in the text of the Constitution. The prime minister, for instance, doesn’t rate a mention.

To help make up for the omissions, our political and legal history has been guided by rules known as constitutional conventions. These conventions are shaped by British history and by Australian history, and have occasionally proven very controversial.

Unlike many constitutional systems, Australia lacks any form of comprehensive bill of rights protections. Instead, Australia’s constitutional system was built on the principle that:

… the rights of individuals are sufficiently secured by ensuring, as far as possible, to each a share, and an equal share, in political power.

Nonetheless, the text of our Constitution shapes what our governments can do, and the way in which they can do it. The Constitution affects how governments spend money, the position of Indigenous Australians, and policy in areas ranging from industrial relations and marriage to the environment and asylum seekers.

Significantly, the Constitution also protects our role as citizens in choosing our representatives and in holding them accountable.

What are its contemporary implications?

The Constitution is hard to change. The federal parliament first must approve any proposed amendment. The amendment must then pass a referendum by a “double majority”: approved by a majority of voters as well as a majority of voters in a majority of states.

In 116 years, 44 attempts have been made to change the Constitution. Only eight have succeeded.

The failed attempts have included efforts to switch parliamentary terms from three years to four years, multiple efforts to protect basic civil rights, and the unsuccessful republic referendum to replace the monarch with an Australian. The last time the Constitution was successfully amended was in 1977.

Some may see this inflexibility as a strength: the Constitution is stable and enduring. But it also makes the Constitution very hard to update in response to changing times and changing values.

As a result, the Constitution is a document that reflects the priorities of the late 19th century more than the early 21st century.

Unsurprisingly, after 116 years of federation, there are many contemporary debates about the Constitution. Some are about how we should interpret the Constitution we have. Others are about finding ways to update our system of government without having to amend the Constitution.

But there are also debates about changing the Constitution, such as whether Indigenous Australians should be recognised in symbolic or substantive ways, whether the role of local government should be enshrined, or whether to replace the monarchy with an Australian head of state.

Or should we undertake a much more serious overhaul?

These questions reflect our history, and the answers to them will shape our future. But they also raise broader questions for all Australians: what do we expect from our politics? And what do we expect from our Constitution?

Ryan Goss, Senior Lecturer in Law, Australian National University

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

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Voters’ dislike of politics makes fixed four-year parliamentary terms look appealing

The Conversation

Jamie Fellows, James Cook University

Liberal MP David Coleman plans to introduce a private member’s bill to bring in fixed, four-year terms for the House of Representatives. Currently, our federal lower house is elected to serve up to three years. As Coleman notes: The Conversation

Since Federation … the average term has been a little more than two-and-a-half years, as prime ministers have wide discretion to call an election at a time of their choosing.

The House of Representatives is the only lower house chamber in the Australian parliamentary system with non-fixed three-year terms.

In March 2016, Queenslanders voted in a referendum to adopt fixed, four-year terms for members in the state’s lower house. Although the result could hardly be described as a landslide endorsement (53% yes; 47% no) the victory is a salient message to those in the federal parliament. People are likely to vote for longer parliamentary terms. They want fewer elections and are dissatisfied with politics.

Pros and cons

In Queensland it was obvious proponents of longer parliamentary terms relied on voter dissatisfaction. They claimed, among other things, fewer elections would:

  • “prevent summer holidays being interrupted by an election”
  • remove uncertainty for “families who like to plan their travel”
  • “for regional and north Queensland, it means the election period is taken out of the wet season”.

To be fair, arguments in support of longer parliamentary terms have merit. They include benefits such as:

  • certainty about election dates
  • removing the strategic and political advantage of snap elections
  • cost savings due to fewer elections
  • confidence in the business community
  • improvement in public policy outcomes and government decision-making
  • consistency with the states and territories.

The chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and boss of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry claim longer terms create stability for business.

Naturally, there are also arguments against extending parliamentary terms. These might include:

  • fewer democratic opportunities and loss of voter control
  • more complacent governments and politicians
  • politicians’ job security ahead of voters’ rights
  • no guarantee of better planning and policy.

Hurdles to overcome

Journalist Mike Steketee has described federal four-year parliamentary terms as being the “bridesmaid but never the bride”. This is because the idea of longer federal parliamentary terms never actually reaches the “political altar”.

Even though the “bridesmaid” is much closer to the altar these days, there are still several potential hurdles to overcome. One major hurdle relates to the constitutional difficulty associated with referenda.

Parliamentary terms for the Senate (six years) and the House of Representatives (three years) are established in the Australian Constitution (Chapter 1, Parts 2 and 3). Any alteration to these constitutionally entrenched arrangements must comply with section 128. This requires a referendum in which a majority of people in a majority of states and territories must vote for the change.

Referenda in Australia have traditionally not fared well. Only eight out of 44 have passed.

The next impediment relates to private member’s bills – what Coleman plans to introduce. Private member’s bills are notoriously difficult to pass without overwhelming support from other members.

Support for the bill might also be required from the crossbenchers. It would be difficult to know how the Greens or independents might cast their votes.

Since Federation in 1901, around 20 private member’s bills have become law – out of more than 450 that have been introduced. Support for the bill might be easy to attract this time, though, given politicians are being asked to vote on their own longevity.

This issue may not get too much traction federally due to differences between state and federal areas of responsibility. Voters might not tolerate a longer time to cast their vote as they would on certain state or territory issues.

For many, Indigenous constitutional recognition, same-sex marriage, taxation reform, asylum-seeker policy and the National Disability Insurance Scheme – to name a few – take precedence over certain state and territory issues.

The question now is whether federal politicians are prepared to force the Australian people to vote on whether they have an extra year in the job (or possibly two years in the Senate’s case).

A cynic might say the best way to secure longer federal parliamentary terms at a referendum is to follow Queensland’s approach: adopt complete bipartisanship, say very little in the media, and harness the discontent of the electorate.

Jamie Fellows, Lecturer in Law, James Cook University

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

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The curious power of hate propaganda in open societies

The Conversation

Cherian George, Hong Kong Baptist University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was:

… more terrifying than mere torture or death.

But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.

Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.

The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump’s rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the “pants-on-fire” category.

This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness”, referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right – even though it definitely isn’t.

Right-wing conservatives on every continent have long mastered the art of weaving simple, comforting ideas into a security blanket against a complex and diverse world they perceive as threatening to their values and way of life.

Who needs to think when just feeling is enough?

This tendency toward self-delusion might be largely harmless but for the fact the untruths being circulated often vilify other communities. And the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them.

Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.

These twin tactics – the giving and taking of offence – meld into a potent political strategy that I call “hate spin”. Its practitioners manipulate the visceral, tribal feelings of their audience in order to mobilise supporters and defeat opponents in their quest for power.

Mobilising intolerance

Hate spin is distressingly common – and effective – despite its ultimate reliance on half-truths and even pants-on-fire lies.

In the US, a small network of misinformation experts have pushed extreme claims about Muslims from the loony fringe into the edges of mainstream discourse: American mosques are terrorist training centres; the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government; Barack Obama is a closet Muslim.

Although under 2% of the American population is Muslim and there is no lobby urging US courts to recognise Islamic law, several states have enacted statutes or constitutional amendments to protect against sharia. Such has been the power of Islamophobia agents to whip up paranoia about Muslims.

In India, Hindu nationalists use hate spin to consolidate the country’s religious majority into a dependable vote bank that transcends the internal divides of caste, class and language.

This group has tried to make fundamental a faith that is inherently eclectic and fluid. They have chosen to take violent offence at the killing of cows and the eating of beef, as if Hinduism ever treated such prohibitions as strictly as the Muslim injunction against pork.

The Hindu right claims Muslims – through their polygamy and a “love jihad” conspiracy to convert Hindu girls – will turn Hindus, who currently make up 80% of the population, into a minority in India. This fantastical projection has somehow seeped into the political discourse of a civilisation renowned for its mathematical prowess.

Just another piece of misinformation in a democratic marketplace of ideas.
Andy Herbon/flickr

Demographic delusions seem particularly popular among hate-spin agents.

Indonesia has hardline Islamist groups that claim to have uncovered a conspiracy to Christianise the country. This would be quite an accomplishment, considering Indonesia has some 200 million Muslims – around as many as the five largest Arab states combined. They account for almost nine in ten of the country’s population.

Constitutionally, Indonesia upholds belief in God, but not exclusively Islam. Protestantism and Catholicism have explicit status alongside Islam among Indonesia’s religions.

The central government and Supreme Court have upheld the right of Christians to build churches. Yet local hardline groups have blocked church construction in some localities for years, exploiting religious frictions to extract protection money from Christian congregations.

What’s striking about these cases of hate spin is that they are occurring in established democracies with strong traditions of press freedom and intellectual debate.

The US, India and Indonesia are nowhere near the Big Brother totalitarian regime Orwell described. Each has its own vibrant, noisy marketplace of ideas. It’s just that the market does not seem to value truth as consistently as it should.

Faced with the real harm that can be inflicted by hate propaganda, it’s no wonder that many reasonable people wonder if there should be more restrictions on speech.

Prohibitions on incitement are sometimes warranted, in line with international human rights law. But censorship is not the answer in most cases. Hate spin is more prevalent and dangerous in countries with less freedom of expression, not least because such countries usually have less regard for the equal rights of vulnerable minorities.

Instead, we should begin by recognising that a free marketplace of ideas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Truth’s victory over hate propaganda is neither automatic nor preordained. It requires a commitment to equal rights and norms of tolerance that is at least as determined as the uncompromising hate of demagogues and fascists.

The ConversationCherian George, Associate Professor of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University

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

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Election explainer: why do I have to vote, anyway?

The Conversation

Lisa Hill, University of Adelaide

Before too long Australians will be heading off to the polls. As usual there will be complaints from those who object to being required to vote when the majority of Western democracies remain voluntary.

Yet almost of all those voluntary settings are battling escalating turnout decline and, with it, the slow death of representative democracy. Australians continue to enjoy turnout levels that are the envy of voluntary-voting regimes the world over.

Why have compulsory voting?

Australia has one of the oldest systems of compulsory voting. Queensland was the first Australian state to introduce it in 1914, but voting did not become compulsory at the federal level until 1924.

Compulsory voting was adopted to tackle the problem of low voter turnout. At the time, it hovered below 60%.

It turned out to be an extremely decisive and well-accepted remedy. After its introduction, turnout surged dramatically to more than 90% of registered voters. It has stayed that way ever since.

Compulsory voting can therefore improve turnout by up to 30 percentage points. Conversely, when a well-established democratic system abandons it, turnout drops steeply by between 20 and 30 percentage points, as happened recently in Chile.

Critics of compulsory voting often claim there are equally effective, voluntary means for raising voter turnout. But compulsory voting is the only really reliable and decisive means for keeping turnout high. And its effect is immediate.

There are several sound reasons for requiring people to vote.

When everyone votes, governments are more legitimate. People tend to think of democracy as a constitutional form but, really, it is an activity constituted by the political participation of citizens. Unless it is performed it only exists in theory.

There are many ways of performing democracy. But voting is the most-consequential and, arguably, least-demanding method, especially in well-run systems such as Australia’s. Through voting, we sign up to the political community and enter into a partnership with other members so that together we can constitute democracy as it is meant to be:

Government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Because the one-vote one-value principle is embodied in democratic practice and ensured through almost-complete participation, voting in Australia is one of the few activities that allow us to express our equality with other citizens and to exercise our interests equally in self-government and self-protection.

This is why participation should be universal. If only a few participate, the political community is only partially and lopsidedly constituted. All must join with all, not some with some, especially when that “some” turns out to be the prosperous and well-educated as is invariably the case in voluntary systems.

Does compulsory voting do any good?

Compulsory voting regimes have lower levels of corruption.

They also have higher levels of satisfaction with the way democracy is working than do voluntary systems. In compulsory voting regimes – where just about everybody votes – government attention and spending is more evenly distributed across social classes.

More evenly distributed government attention means more even wealth distribution. As a result, compulsory voting settings enjoy lower levels of wealth inequality. It is no coincidence that when compulsory voting was first introduced in Australia there was a dramatic increase in pension spending. When everyone votes, governments are more representative.

Some say compulsory voting causes the electoral process to be clogged with too many incompetent and ignorant voters who vote “badly”. Higher turnout, they say, brings a higher proportion of informal and “donkey” votes that distort electoral outcomes.

Some claim that high turnout elections are characterised by a higher proportion of voters who are incapable of even voting in their own interests.

With regard to the last claim, high levels of turnout actually correlate with governments that are more responsive to the needs and priorities of the entire electorate.

That is, governments are more representative and therefore more democratic when everyone votes. So, somehow or other, poorer and less-well-educated voters, no matter how badly they perform on political knowledge surveys, do seem to know what they are doing.

How bad is the ‘bad voting’ problem in Australia?

Informal voting tends to be higher in compulsory voting regimes. This is because people whose first language isn’t English, less-well-educated, and poorer members of the electorate have been brought into the voting process.

These electors, while clear about how they want to vote, have a hard time casting a valid ballot due to factors associated with their disadvantage.

Yet these informal votes do little harm because they are not counted. Therefore, they are incapable of distorting outcomes.

Also, the donkey vote – where voters mindlessly number their ballots from top to bottom or in reverse – only accounts for around 1% of total votes cast in Australia. This is actually lower than in many systems where voting is voluntary such as the US, where the figure has been estimated at between 2% and 4%.

Compelling people to vote seems to increase their political knowledge. This is partly because voters choose to inform themselves when they know they have to vote and partly because the voting process “imparts incidental knowledge”. And it causes that knowledge to be spread more evenly throughout the citizenry.

Without compulsory voting, Australian democracy would look very different. Turnout would likely drop to around 60% or lower and governments would be less representative. There would be lower levels of satisfaction with the political system. The electorate would be less politically informed. We would also have greater wealth inequality and more corruption.

In any case, the majority (more than 70%) of Australians approve of compulsory voting – and have done so for decades. The nay-sayers continue to be a minority.

The ConversationLisa Hill, Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide

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

 

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The McGarvie Model: a Republican Equivalent of Our Present System of Democracy

Papers by

The Hon Richard E McGarvie AC

Former Governor of Victoria and

Former Judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria

AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION

The Papers These papers identify the strengths and safeguards on which the democracy of our present system depends and outline my model for a republican equivalent of that system of democracy.  They also outline my approach for deciding the republic issue in a way which will not strain our federation.

I do not side with monarchists or republicans.  My deep concern is that with either system we must maintain one of the world’s best democracies which Australians have built.  The papers in Part 1 identify the model for a republic which would maintain the strengths and safeguards of that democracy and those which would not.

Part 1 (Papers 1 to 35), deals with the various issues that had arisen up to and immediately after the referendum of November 1999. Papers 1 and 2 compare my model with the two models which in May 1997 were its rivals, the parliamentary-election model supported by Mr Malcolm Turnbull and the Australian Republican Movement, and the direct-election model of the type outlined in the Report of the Republic Advisory Committee.  Those were the three main models receiving public attention until the Constitutional Convention in February 1998.  Papers 3 and 4 explain what Governors-General and Governors do.  Papers 5 and 6 outline my model and its operation.  Paper 7 identifies the questions which underlie the republic debate and the way of assessing how safe the models would be for our democracy.  Paper 8 outlines the responsibilities of citizens for their democracy.  Papers 9 to 12 deal with what should be investigated in the republic debate and the particular need for business leaders to apply their skills to the issues.  Papers 13 and 14 respond to criticisms of my model made from republican and monarchist viewpoints.  Paper 15 reflects on the task of the Constitutional Convention.  The other papers were written after that Convention which produced four detailed models, the subject of its final decisions.  Paper 16 describes the growing support shown for my model.  Paper 17 explains the main safeguards of our democratic system and looks at the challenges facing it.  Paper 18 outlines the reasons for the likely failure of the referendum in 1999 and forecasts that a model such as mine, rather than one for a popularly-elected President, is likely to be the subject of a second referendum in about 2005 which would resolve the republic issue.  Paper 19 discusses how the courts can continue to do their work, which is essential to our democracy, and surmount the daunting obstacles of next century.  Papers 20 to 27 identify the five fundamental flaws which the constitutional changes of the 1999 referendum would have introduced into the actual operation of our constitutional system, their effect on our democracy and federation,and how to go about resolving the republic issue after failure of the referendum.  Papers 28 and 29 emphasise the importance of the influence of women and business leaders on the outcome of that issue.   Paper 30 shows how the positions taken by government, opposition, media, educators and yes case campaigners deprived Australians of information essential to making informed decisions upon the 1999 referendum.  Papers 31 and 32 reflect on why the referendum package could not gain support, the continuing majority push for an Australian head of state and the safe way of resolving that issue by 2005.  Paper 33 demonstrates that despite failure by government,opposition, intellectuals and the media to expose the fundamental flaws of the referendum package, the ordinary voter was not satisfied that it was safe and satisfactory and voted it down.  The small percentages whose no vote was mainly motivated by insistence on keeping the monarchy,or on having a directly-elected president, are seen.  The fact that Australia is already in substance a republic is shown in Paper 34 to have caused both sides to distort their arguments and usually avoid ever mentioning the McGarvie model.  The paper explains why that model will prevail in the impending contest with a model for a directly-elected president.  It emphasises that the McGarvie model continues the four essential features of the office of head of state crucial to our democracy but models for a directly-elected president do not continue even one of them.  Because this is important to the ordinary Australian voter, the electorate would be confident their democracy would be safe in a republic based on the McGarvie model and be prepared to accept it, but would never accept one based on the direct election of presidents.  In analysing the reasons why 55 per cent voted against the referendum package, Paper 35 draws on opinion polls.  It identifies the process which has the best prospect of building the consensus necessary to enable the issue to be resolved by about 2005.  It explains how that process would be greatly retarded by any political party adopting and promoting a particular model.

Part 2 (Papers 36 and later), concentrates on informed, fair and effective process for the early resolution of the head-of-state issue and the plan of the Corowa Peoples Conference 2001 to initiate such a process.  Paper 36 explains how the move to federation was given fresh momentum when stalled in 1893.  It draws on that experience to point to the practical process that would give fresh momentum to the presently-stalled move to resolve the republic issue, and lead to early resolution.  Paper 37 elaborates on the practical process for early resolution of the republic issue indicated by the experience of federation and the 1999 referendum.  Paper 38 explains how the Corowa Peoples Conference 2001, to be held on 1-2 December 2001, aims to recommend a process which would restart the stalled move to resolve the head-of-state issue.  Paper 39 shows the categories of people to be invited to the Corowa Conference.  Paper 40 remains relevant only to show the Draft Proposals referred to in other papers but now contained with slight amendments in Paper 47.  Paper 41 explains why the Corowa Conference is limited to process and aims to operate in a non-partisan way, and how the process proposed for consideration would work.  Paper 42 responds to an editorial in Quadrant which criticises the holding of the Corowa Conference. Paper 43 explains the need for early resolution of the head of state issue and a process for consideration by the Corowa Conference that would achieve that. Paper 44 outlines the practical advantages of that process and the weaknesses of other proposed processes. Paper 45 explains the final design of the Conference and how it will operate. Paper 46 is an executive summary of the process proposed in Paper 47. Paper 47 sets out the process proposed by Richard E McGarvie and Jack Hammond QC for consideration by the Conference, which would resolve the head of state issue for the whole federation. Paper 48 deals with the position of the states if Australia separates from the monarchy.

Resolving the Republic Issue

My interest grew from the request, while I was Governor of Victoria in 1993, to give my views to the Republic Advisory Committee on the minimum changes necessary to achieve a viable republic which would maintain the effect of our current conventions and principles of government.  I realised that our democracy is so good that it must be preserved, that the less the change the higher the prospect of preserving it, and that evolution in Australia since 1788 has taken us to the position where we are almost a republic and only minor change is necessary to make us one.

The Queen is the formal head of state but the Governor-General and Governors are the operative or de facto heads of state of the Commonwealth and each State.  They exercise the few remaining head-of-state powers that belong to the Queen, and the other head-of-state powers that now belong to them, on the advice of their Commonwealth or State Ministers. The Queen has no authority, control or veto over the Governor-General or Governors whatsoever.

In my model the positions of the Governor-General and Governors would continue unaltered and under the same names.  The model would transfer to them the remaining powers, functions, rights and attributes of the Queen and the Crown so that they become the formal as well as the operative heads of state of their constitutional units.  That makes legal changes but no operative changes and leaves them operating as they have for a century.  Conventions are binding because the ordinary operation of the system provides practical penalties for their breach and, as the system will continue to operate in the same way and provide the same penalties, all conventions now binding will remain equally binding.

The Queen’s one remaining active constitutional duty, appointing or dismissing Governors-General and Governors, will be done in each system, on the advice of the Prime Minister or Premier, by its Constitutional Council of three experienced Australians automatically designated by constitutional formula under the Commonwealth or State Constitution.  They would be persons retired from non-political positions of high constitutional responsibility and not over the age of 74.  The earlier age limit of 79 was abandoned after criticism at the Constitutional Convention. There is now no minimum age requirement.  Retired judges are eligible as members only if they have at least ten years’ service as a judge. For example, if my present model of the Constitutional Council for the Commonwealth system had been in operation at the time of the Constitutional Convention, the three eligible members would have been the two most recently retired Governors-General, Sir Ninian Stephen and the Hon Bill Hayden,and the former Governor of Queensland, Mrs Leanne Forde, the most recently retired State Governor.

It would still be the Prime Minister or Premier who would choose a new Governor-General or Governor and the Constitutional Council would be bound by convention to appoint or dismiss as advised.  A Council neither suggests nor chooses a new Governor-General or Governor.  Its only duty is to appoint or dismiss as advised.  It would do no more and no less than the Queen does now and do it in exactly the same way.

Because it would operate in the same way and retain all its strengths and safeguards, democracy would be as safe in a republic under the McGarvie model as it is now.  With the model in operation in the Commonwealth and each state system, Australia would be entirely a republic.  Australia would then have no Queen.  No monarch would have any formal or other part in any of Australia’s constitutional systems.  As Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the monarch of the United Kingdom would have the same relationship with Australia as now exists with Commonwealth countries which are republics, such as India and South Africa.

My approach is that the republic issue should be resolved in a way which would result either in the whole federation becoming republican together or all systems remaining monarchies.  That can be achieved under ss.128 and 51 (38) of the Commonwealth Constitution and s. 15 (1) of the Australia Acts 1986 by requiring a referendum to be passed by a majority of Australian voters and a majority in every State, and a request from each State Parliament.  While at first sight that seems a difficult process, it has to be remembered that, before federation, every State voted for it in a referendum; since federation seven of the eight successful referendums, all that have passed since 1910, have been carried by a majority in every State; and that if every State voted for a republic, their State Parliaments would be highly likely to make the request.

The scene changed and a new start was made at the Constitutional Convention.  Detailed models were put forward and I refer to each of them by the name of the delegate moving its adoption.  My model is outlined in vol.4 of the Report of the Constitutional Convention 1998, at pp. 838-9.  To comply with the decision of the Convention the head of state is there called ‘President’  In the model that I advanced before that decision, and advance since the Convention, the head of state of the Commonwealth of Australia will still be called ‘Governor-General’ for reasons which appear from these papers.  What I said at the Convention appears from vols 3 and 4 of the Report at pp. 27, 40-2, 137, 142-3, 345-7, 394-5, 516,696-8, 838-845, 870, 936 and 1000-1.  The Turnbull model for parliamentary election attracted most votes, though not a majority of delegates, my model was next, followed by the Gallop model then the Hayden model, both models for direct election.  The parliamentary election model and both direct-election models differed from the forms of those models previously advanced.  They are set out in vol. 1 of the Report of the Constitutional Convention 1998, pp. 44-5, 47-9, 124-30.  They all abandoned dismissal by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting of Parliament and substituted other methods of dismissal.  The Turnbull model added a committee representative of the community to prepare a short list from candidates nominated for President by citizens or community organisations.  The Gallop model and the Hayden model added provisions to restrict those who could be candidates in an election.  The Convention attracted a great deal of public attention and brought home to the community what the shallow debate had not previously revealed – that some models carry risk for the democratic system.

There are four essential features of a head of state in a system such as ours which a model must be structured to produce because they are crucial to the strength and quality of the democracy of the system:

1. Chosen in a way that gives no mandate to encourage rivalry with the elected Government;

2. Liable to prompt dismissal for breach of the conventions to (1) exercise powers as Ministers advise, (2) not speak politically and (3) not collaborate politically with the Opposition;

3. Chosen by a method and operate within a setting that provide a respected person who remains above partisan politics and exerts a unifying influence; and

4. In a position to exercise effectively and impartially the fail-safe mechanism of the discretionary reserve authority.

The first three requirements exist because our kind of head of state is a nominal chief executive with the legal right to exercise at will or refuse to exercise great constitutional powers at the centre of our system of government; and with numerous opportunities to speak or act against the Government on political issues.  Effective democratic government depends on the system having inbuilt mechanisms to ensure that the headof state never becomes a political rival of the elected Government. Several mechanisms presently combine to achieve this in the case of the Governor-General and Governors.  For example, the Governor-General,being selected by one person, the Prime Minister alone, is given no mandate or power base to encourage rivalry with the Government.  The Governor-General must comply with the three constitutional conventions, which are made binding by the effective penalty of prompt dismissal for breach.  The Prime Minister, in the interest of his or her own reputation, has every incentive to select a respected person likely to remain above politics and exert a unifying influence.  Such persons are not discouraged from agreeing to serve, by the prospect of public objection and character assassination in the process of selection.

The fourth requirement is necessary because we have the safety device of a protective mechanism that enables the democratic system to be protected from stalling, damage or destruction in the exceptional circumstances of a constitutional crisis with which neither the political nor judicial processes are able to cope.  When it is absolutely necessary for the effective operation of our constitutional system and its essential safeguards of democracy, that fail-safe mechanism gives the Governor-General authority in the last resort to act independently of ministerial advice and exercise a reserve power so as to refer an exceptional constitutional malfunction to the Parliament or people for resolution.  Because I took it for granted that every model would guarantee that this requirement is fully met, my papers before the Constitutional Convention mentioned only the first three requirements.  Since the Turnbull model adopted at the Convention would have crippled the fail-safe mechanism by giving Prime Ministers instant power to dismiss Presidents, it became necessary to emphasise the fourth requirement.

The present system and the McGarvie model, the only truly minimalist republic model now being considered, both satisfy those four requirements in full.

Australians are instinctively wise constitutional people.  They know that we are trustees of our democracy and federation for future generations and that any constitutional change we make is likely to last for a century or centuries.  The majority of voters in November 1999 were not satisfied that the Turnbull model would meet the above requirements.  The substantial risks to the strength and stability of our democracy and federation which would have been introduced by the changed operation of the system under the Turnbull model and the likely existence of dissenting States, were fairly obvious to most of those who thought about it.  My papers before the referendum predicted that it would fail.

Under the Turnbull model a committee representative of Parliaments and the community would have prepared from persons nominated by citizens and community organisations a short list of those it considered suitable. That was to be considered by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition who were expected to move and second a motion before a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament for the election of a person as President. If elected by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting the person would become President for a term of five years, but could at any time be dismissed instantly by a document signed by the Prime Minister.

It is vital not to consider the model in theory but to look at the way it would actually have worked in practice.  The President would be given the strong mandate and power base of selection by the Short-List Committee and the political parties on both sides of Parliament, and election by all or almost all the members of Parliament.  In addition the title ‘President’ would encourage both the people and the head of state to regard the holder of the office as having a role similar to the President with whom Australians are most familiar, the powerful President of the United States.  This would tempt the President to act as champion of the people against the elected politicians of Parliament and Government, without going so far as to be dismissed.

Because no federal Government for fifty years has had a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting, the Turnbull model would give the Opposition the power, by withholding its vote, to frustrate the Government from appointing anyone as President.  That would leave the office vacant, its duties being performed by a temporary Acting President, and create the impression of a Government unable to govern.

There is general agreement that Prime Ministers of all parties have done well in their selections of suitable Governors-General.  Under the Turnbull model, because peak organisations and Parliaments would be able to nominate candidates for President and because the membership of the Short-List Committee and the selection of candidates for the short list were both to take account of community diversity, the suitability of persons for the office of President would have been likely to become a secondary consideration.  Members of the Committee would have seen their primary task as seeking to ensure that the candidate from the group or category they were regarded as representing be included on the short list.  When the names got to the political party meetings veto and prejudice would have had full sway.  Whatever confidentiality provisions were sought to be imposed, the identity of those being considered would leak from the Short-List Committee and the party rooms.  Baseless allegations of discreditable conduct would be made against candidates and receive wide publicity.  There would be pressure for  as in the case of Supreme Court judges in the United States. There would be media polls and votes which would place great pressure on the political parties to choose the celebrity scoring the highest in public popularity.  Many suitable people of high reputation such as those who have been our Governors-General, would not be prepared, near the end of their careers, to allow their names to be involved in that process and would refuse to be candidates.  People of a different calibre would become President.

At the Constitutional Convention, dismissal by a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting, which would have meant that the President was undismissible in practice and the conventions no longer binding, was abandoned, but the substituted instant dismissal by a document signed by the Prime Minister have inhibited or paralysed the exercise of a reserve power when necessary in a constitutional crisis.

If the referendum had passed in November, it would automatically have converted the Commonwealth system to a Turnbull model republic on 1 January 2001 but have had no effect upon the state systems.  There was a high probability that if it had passed, it would have been supported in only a majority of States and one or two States would have dissented. It would have created real tension between the units of the federation for the people of dissenting States to have been forced into a Commonwealth republic they did not trust with their democracy.  No referendum which has passed since 1910 has had any dissenting State.  Whatever the theorists say, dissenting States would have been under extreme pressure from circumstance and ridicule to change themselves to republics at State level, despite the vote of their majority in the referendum on the Commonwealth. If a State requiring a State referendum to change itself to a republic did not pass it, a most unsatisfactory situation within the federation would have resulted.

Failure of the referendum in 1999 has not resolved the republic issue.  Numerous voters who favour a republic voted ‘no’ either because they realised the effect the flawed Turnbull model would have on our democracy and the potential strains on our federation if the referendum solely on the Commonwealth system were passed, or because they were not satisfied that the package was safe and satisfactory.  The issue will only be resolved when voters are given a clear choice between the present system of democracy under a monarchy, and a republican model which would maintain the quality of that democracy with all its strengths and safeguards: and when the choice can be made for the whole federation.  With the rejection of the Turnbull model, it has become necessary to consider whether a model such as mine,for the republican equivalent of our present system is preferable or one of the models for direct election.  Paper 20 and Papers 31 to 35 indicate how that should be done.

When the two models for direct election are examined, it will be seen that they are quite incompatible with our kind of democracy.  Inevitably a politician under the control of a political party (whether currently a party member or not), the President would have the enormous mandate and power base of the only office-holder directly elected by the whole country. When President and Prime Minister are controlled by the same political party the President’s checks and balances would be ineffective.  When controlled by opposing parties there would be strong rivalry and two competing centres of political power and influence.  In neither situation would the President be suited to act as constitutional umpire.

Under both direct-election models the method of dismissing a President would mean that in practice the penalty of prompt dismissal that gives binding force to the three conventions would disappear.  A President could be dismissed on the grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity by an absolute majority of the House of Representatives under the Gallop model and of a joint sitting under the Hayden model.  An investigation into whether there had been misbehaviour could take as long as the two years the similar investigation in respect of Mr Justice Lionel Murphy took in the 1980s. Minority Governments would have difficulty in obtaining the necessary majorities. A President facing dismissal could prevent that occurring by dissolving Parliament at a time electorally suitable to his or her party.

There is no proposal for any mechanism to replace the conventions which now firmly preclude the head of state from speaking politically or collaborating politically with the Opposition.  It has been suggested that the models could replace the basic constitutional convention which now binds the Governor-General to exercise powers as Ministers advise, with a legal obligation to the same effect.  That would validly and effectively preclude the President from exercising powers without Ministers’ advice but would , in practice, be ineffectual to bind the President to exercise powers whenever advised by Ministers to do so.  Seeking to have the courts enforce that obligation would be as damaging to the courts as to the political process.  A President controlled by the party opposed to the Government could exert an effective veto over the Government by refusing to exercise powers when Ministers advise.  A President with that veto and free to speak politically and collaborate with the Opposition would be a powerful political figure. Democratic government would become unworkable.

Many people with a background and reputation equipping them for the post, such as some of our best Governors-General, would not be prepared,towards the end of their careers, to stand as a party candidate and campaign for election upon their personal qualities or the policies of their party or both.  A President endorsed by a political party, obtaining 35 per cent of first-preference votes and elected with 52 per cent of the vote after distribution of preferences, would not be well placed to have the necessary unifying influence within the community.

When Australians become aware that, in reality, the direct-election models would be worse than the rejected Turnbull model in depriving our democratic system of strengths and safeguards, there will be little support for them.

It would be feasible for us to have a directly-elected President only if we fundamentally changed our head of state from a nominal chief executive to a chief-executive head of state as in the United States or a non-executive as in Ireland.  Even if agreement could be reached to take either of those courses, it would involve a basic recasting of our constitutional system, be difficult, take a lot of time and have a most uncertain outcome.

The failure of the referendum in 1999 has produced widespread concern.  Republicans who put their democracy and federation first and voted ‘no’ resent that they did not have a fair chance to vote for a viable republic.  Others are concerned that by leaving this emotionally-charged issue unresolved we are taking the path of Canada, where twenty years of continued constitutional dispute is having a destablising effect upon the federation.  There is embarrassment at Australia being seen overseas as having sought ineptly to resolve an important constitutional issue upon a model so obviously defective.  There is a need to abandon shallow debate and have the Commonwealth and States work together in co-operation and with the community to look in depth and identify the workable republic model safe for democracy,and the referendum process enabling a choice to be made for the whole federation together.  It would be practicable in about 2005 to resolve the republic issue on a model such as mine in a second referendum applying to the whole federation.

Since the Corowa Shire Council on 19 December 2000 decided to host the Corowa Peoples Conference 2001, I have not initiated promotion of my model and do not intend doing so until after the Conference.  The papers in Part 2 concentrate on putting in place an effective process for resolving the head-of-state issue, before debating and deciding on whether the federation should separate from the monarchy and the merits of models to replace it.

Unless otherwise indicated, I am the author of the papers on this website.

Richard E. McGarvie
April 2001

Reblogged by permission. Read the original documents here

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Why politics today can’t give us the heroes we need

The Conversation

Mark Triffitt, University of Melbourne

Churchill, Roosevelt (FDR and Eleanor), JFK and Thatcher – depending on your politics, they’re all political heroes.

We place them on a pedestal because their special qualities set them apart. Through far-sighted action, they persevered and succeeded (mostly) in the face of adversity and often ridicule.

It was American writer Joseph Campbell who first alerted us to the perpetual and profound influence of heroes in our daily lives. Campbell’s seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces – written more than five decades ago – highlighted how the “hero” story pervades every culture and creed.

While heroes come in various guises, the underlying themes that make their stories so compelling – daring, vision and strength – are largely the same. Heroes transcend the limitations of our world. In doing so, they give us a glimpse of our own potential and inspire us to achieve more.

For Campbell, such is the ubiquity of the “hero” story that it represents the central narrative of humanity. That’s why everyone – and every system – needs their heroes.

What has become of political heroes?

Much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with our current democratic system. Campbell’s “hero” thesis may provide another guide to understanding this. It may also help us understand how and why we must address it.

After all, who would we say are our political heroes now?

On a global stage, some might point to Barack Obama or perhaps Angela Merkel. But generally the well is almost dry. This is evidenced by opinion polling showing trust in, and respect for, politicians at record lows across most Western democracies.

Kevin Rudd’s record level of voter support was an improbable and temporary state of affairs. AAP/Dean Lewins

In Australia, political heroes are non-existent. From time to time we believe we have one in our midst. Think of Kevin Rudd’s stellar rise to leadership. Likewise with Mark Latham, Malcolm Turnbull, Julia Gillard and even Tony Abbott (before things went pear-shaped for the current government).

The pattern has become depressingly predictable. The “next big thing” steps onto the political stage to intense hope and excitement. Finally, we hope, here’s the political hero we’ve been looking for.

Then they are ripped down in quick time. Some personal failing inevitably emerges, or some skeleton falls from the cupboard.

‘Gotcha’ politics tears down leaders

We blame the declining quality of our elected representatives for this chronically sad state of affairs. Their personal strengths and characteristics have seemingly deteriorated to such an extent that politics has become an arena almost exclusively of “anti-heroes”.

When they’re not ripping off taxpayers with shonky entitlements, they’re disconnecting themselves from the real world with arcane ideological and factional fights. When they should be fixing the big problems of our age, they obsess over childish finger-pointing and three-second soundbites.

Certainly, the argument has merit. Politics has increasingly become an echo chamber where many MPs have only ever been professional politicians, or emerged from a narrow band of professions that lead to politics.

Inside this bunker, individual behaviour and values gravitate to mediocrity and group-think – the antithesis of hero qualities.

John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in Berlin rang around the world, but he may never have become president in today’s political system. EPA

But consider this. What if JFK, with all his charisma and oratory, entered American politics now? How long before he would be tagged as a philandering creep riding into power on the coattails of his Nazi-appeasing father?

And Churchill? Would the English public and press allow the person responsible for the strategic farce of Gallipoli to become their leader in the second world war? And would Australia fight alongside him?

And what about Churchill’s “black dog”? Any sniff of mental instability in today’s political world effectively spells the end of leadership, or leadership ambitions.

Their times were far different. There were no social media or “liar” hashtags. There were much fewer “gotcha” campaigns aimed at carpet-bombing the reputation of rival politicians. There was no internet to instantly cross-reference and fact-check anything and everything a politician has ever thought, said or done.

But that is exactly the point. Today’s media and social environment no longer allows any politician – no matter how well-meaning, smart or brave he or she is 98% of the time – to be put on a pedestal for any length of time.

In this era of hyper-transparency, no potential political hero gets out of here alive.

No time or space for redemption

But heroes are more than just about reputation and credibility. In the hero’s journey, as Campbell highlighted, redemption is a central part of the story. Heroes overcome their personal flaws by acting decisively and strategically to create a better world.

But this means having the scope and time to think coherently and deeply about this future world. It means heroes having at their disposal the economic and social policy levers that they can deftly shift to deliver on their vision. It means taking control of the future by leading the rest of us bravely into a world where we otherwise would not dare to venture.

All this is basically impossible in today’s political environment. In essence, our system – and the politicians who inhabit it – is on the verge of being “de-futured” and “de-levered”.

Our political system still assumes the world around it moves in a comparatively slow way. So it shackles parliaments to drawn-out decision processes, which are meant to give our elected representatives time and scope to decide on policy action.

In the meantime, our hyper-sped 21st-century world passes it by, forcing politicians to retreat into the only sphere of action they can control, namely the short term.

Our system assumes that our elected representatives, despite their flaws, are still the prime decision-makers on policymaking. In the meantime, our hyper-expert world has turned them into comparative dunces.

It assumes that national parliaments will always be the predominant realm that decides what, in terms of policy, will have a major and ongoing impact on the citizens they represent. Yet our hyper-scaled, globalised world turns parliaments into bit players.

None of the assumptions our system depends upon to function make sense in the context of massive changes wrought by globalisation and the internet over the last two decades.

A leader afflicted today by the ‘black dog’ of depression is unlikely to tower over politics like Churchill did. EPA/Facundon Arrizabalaga

So, encased in a system that takes away the ability to act in a heroic way, would a Churchill or Roosevelt of today succeed as they did before? Or would they fail miserably? More likely the latter.

A new model may let heroes emerge

What this underscores is the urgent need to reform our current configuration of democratic politics.

There is any number of potential solutions. These include a shift to deliberative democracy, which effectively gives citizens much more direct input into policy-making. This recognises that politicians no longer have all, or even some, of the answers.

Other solutions include using collaborative, internet-based technology to promote quicker policy decisions that still allow for transparency and significant public input. They also include stronger transnational forums to address the problems of a globalised world, which no single country or parliament can tackle.

Under these proposals, political heroes may no longer come from the political class. What may emerge is a different kind of hero – the citizen-politician. They not only promote change like a Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but are also put into the driver’s seat to enact important policy and turn their vision of a brave new world into reality.

Either way, Campbell’s hero thesis should alert us to why reforming our political system is the most important challenge of our time. A system without heroes diminishes all of us. It is also a system that cannot survive.


This article was co-published with DemocracyRenewal.

The ConversationMark Triffitt is Lecturer, Public Policy at University of Melbourne.

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


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