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Re-inventing Australian Democracy

By Adam Henry - posted Friday, 13 August 2010

As the clock ticks down to the 2010 Federal Election what exactly are the major political parties offering Australian voters? Very little it seems. The atmosphere of major party fear and loathing is cause for some serious reflection on the state of democracy in Australia. Isn't it about time that we as citizens start to push for real change and accountability.

That moment has arrived and it is up to us to do something.

In terms of its major domestic and international policies the ALP ceased to be a progressive socialist party long ago. Under the conservative leadership of John Howard (and now Tony Abbott) the Liberals remain a combination of opportunistic economics, populist sentiments and anti-Left wing prejudices. For Australian voters, the choices between the dominant parties have finally become so narrow that many will become increasingly alienated from any active interest in the major political parties.


On asylum seekers voters have a choice between processing refugee applicants on the island of Nauru or in East Timor. The latter is still being held up by some in the ALP even though the Timorese parliament has already voted to reject any such plan. Both sides shamelessly politicize the arrival of refugees by boats to hysterical levels of hyperbole.

Both sides of politics are willing to do their bidding, or backtrack, in favour of the unfettered business objectives of the Australian Mining community. This is tantamount to ceding the sovereignty of the Federal legislature to a handful of billionaire mining CEO's.

On the environment no side of politics is willing to make decisions on climate change and renewable energy that will upset major Australian industries who happen to be major greenhouse polluters. The only idea so far has been to offer these businesses extraordinary amounts of taxpayer funded compensation should any moves be made by the government to lower greenhouse emissions.

Both major parties continue to faithfully adhere to the self designated Australian role of praetorian guard for US foreign policies. Yet neither party explains to the Australian public why our troops continue to fight, kill and die (for the benefit of the Karzai Regime - one of the most corrupt regimes on earth) in Afghanistan.

How might we make our politicians more accountable to constituent views? Let us be quite clear, all successful political candidates are elected to represent their local constituency NOT their own career trajectory. The whole point is that they bring a truly regional expertise that represents their electorate properly.

Here I offer some suggestions in the hope that readers can contribute, refine, critique and expand. Firstly, far more has to be done to address issues of branch stacking, manipulation of electoral rules, corruption, cronyism and political honesty.


The most effective mechanism might be increasingly vigilant citizen pressure and scrutiny. If we are unhappy about the outcomes generated by the maneuverings of our major political parties then we must be prepared to do something about it i.e. petitions, complaint letters and faxes, phone calls, legal challenges etc.

Second the time has come for voters to insist that their electoral candidates are actually bona fide local residents. The concept of parachuting individuals into various electorates as if they are mere play things of the major parties should be totally unacceptable.

Third let's demand political honesty. Repeatedly promises are made to electorates all over the nation by politicians in order to get votes. Repeatedly once elected they ignore these promises and often do the opposite. Voters in any electorate should have the right to hold politicians to account for their actions while serving as their elected representative. Voters should have a mechanism allowing them to censure their elected representative.

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About the Author

Adam Hughes Henry is the author of three books, Independent Nation - Australia, the British Empire and the Origins of Australian-Indonesian Relations (2010), The Gatekeepers of Australian Foreign Policy 1950–1966 (2015) and Reflections on War, Diplomacy, Human Rights and Liberalism: Blind Spots (2020). He was a Visiting Fellow in Human Rights, University of London (2016) and a Whitlam Research Fellow, Western Sydney University (2019). He is currently an Associate Editor for The International Journal of Human Rights (Taylor and Francis).

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