Thursday, 26 August 2010

Why can only the country independents critique our democracy? Why can't we hear from the rest?


How do we keep our democracy alive, well and in ship-shape fashion to serve the people of Australia and the generations ahead in the best possible way?  Democracy has altered across the centuries.  Influential barons of one sort or another have bullied kings and sovereigns of one sort or another.  Civil and international wars have wrought havoc and resulted in something more progressive than human slaughter arising from the ashes.  Democracy is very much like a garden - it needs tending.  It needs to be nourished and nurtured.  Some wise pruning is required from time to time.  And certainly strong and creeping weeds need to be kept out.

I write this because I am concerned that there are only a handful of people currently critiquing our democracy.  There are the three country independents (CIs), the Green Adam Bandt, and Andrew Wilkie.  Well, Andrew Wilkie is a maybe at this stage.  He certainly does not favour the bloc behaviour of the CIs.  It has only just become clear that he will win the seat of Denison and he gives every appearance of keeping his powder dry at the moment.

Now, let me be clear.  I have no objection to the CIs or any other independent or quasi-independent maximising their opportunities for their electorates in the shadow of a hung Parliament.  I think this is a responsible course of action.

As part of the wider electorate whom the members of the House of Representatives and the Senators of the Senate purport to serve, we should be considering our situation too.  We made our judgment for good or ill last Saturday.   We have given a result which requires grave consideration and  a bit of working through.  Part of the working through is discussion about the state of our democracy.  But I ask you, Networkers, have you considered who is doing the talking?

Predominantly, we have heard from the CIs.  The Greens air their views.  Members of the Australian Labor Party, the Liberal Party of Australia, and the National Party of Australia (give or take the West Australians where The Nationals claim to be an autonomous body not connected to to the NPA) appear constrained from speaking out.

There are people in the Senate who could speak - but we aren't hearing from them.  They have freedom to speak - but, if they are commenting intelligently, I don't hear them.  I am thinking particularly of Senator Nick Xenophon - a true independent from South Australia - and Senator Steve Fielding who represents Family First but is their only member in the Australian Parliament.  So I would really like to hear the views of Senators Xenophon and Fielding on the state of our nation and our democracy.

So I have a proposal, Networkers.  I have, in the last 24 hours, emailed various members and Senators with the letter below.  It outlines what I propose.  I am publishing it in the hope that people might use it as a basis or a starting point for devising and writing their own letters to the politicians they wish to influence.  I hope you agree with the sentiment expressed and I would appreciate your comments.  I am particularly interested in hearing from you if you think you can improve on my idea.  But do keep it simple.

I write to express concern that only a few people are passing comment on the state of our nation and its democracy.  My view is that all elected representatives ought to have the opportunity to express their views on our system of government and how it might serve us better.
To this end, my suggestion is that when the ballot is declared by the AEC, the Prime Minister – either Gillard in caretaker mode – or whoever is Prime Minister in his or her own right – should convene Parliament for a debate on the state of our nation and our democracy.  This debate could be along lines similar to a conscience vote debate with one exception – no vote at the end.  People from all sides of politics could be given the opportunity to operate as Acting Speaker.  There would be some additional very clear rules:  no name calling; no blame gaming; no axe grinding.
I want to hear from all our elected representatives.  I want an intelligent all inclusive debate.  What a good start to the Parliamentary term, in the Reps and in the Senate, that might be.
I hope you can give the suggestion some consideration and, if you are in agreement, find a way to promote the idea to a wider audience.

It's up to you, Networkers.  The ball is in your court.

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