Monday, 03 June 2013 02:36

Toward Election 2013: Aus style

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Politics is a difficult subject. Discussions often gets people agitated because, as with religion, we all have our own views and believe that what we think is right. But there is no right or wrong here; simply a diversity of opinion. And this is what makes a democracy - the engagement of a wide range of views in order to formulate a governance which leads to a better management of our nation toward what is best for the National Interest.

Australian Politics 1.01

With the next election looming, we all need to make a decision. Decisions, in order to be well-founded, must be made according to your understanding of a large amount of information. We can look to the past for a candidate’s or Party’s previous conduct, study the policies and philosophies that drive political ideologies, consider those ideologies in order to determine if they represent whatever you hold as the highest standard, and look to the future for what directions you feel our nation needs to go in order to achieve what you consider to be the right direction.

No-one can tell you for whom you must vote, although the major Parties would suggest otherwise. No-one can make someone else’s decision in this vital matter. Yet many will shy from the decision as it all seems too hard.

What makes a Democracy?

Democracy in the Anglosphere is not the truest form of democratic governance. When democracy was first established in Greece (60BC or so) around a five hundred people would gather in an open air amphitheatre and debate at length before votes were cast and a decision made. All participants were independent although factions occurred as some found friends who shared their own views. Factions were volatile with factions within factions arguing interminably. Yet no single leader stood out, although some orators presented their arguments with greater eloquence or persuasiveness and so became de facto leaders, like stars who would outshine all others.

Yet democracy failed in Greece. It is unclear to me why this happened, but civic and military leaders eventually arose and the Senate was dissolved or forgotten through disuse.

There have been numerous other attempts elsewhere. The pre-colonisation Vietnamese system was the quintessence of democracy. They had a supreme leader who consulted with the national “government”, but all questions of governance were referred back to the separate “state” bodies, who referred back to local bodies, who referred back to villages. In the village these questions were discussed and decisions made and these were then referred back up the chain of governance bodies until a final decision was made at the national level, based upon the decisions made at the village level. Thus the central governance was rooted firmly in the village.

This is the most complete and inclusive example of true democracy that I have ever found. Many others have flourished at various times and places, but none has lasted much longer than a couple of generations (the Athenian democracy lasted only around 50 years) and most have succumbed to a leader who wanted to control everybody else – kings and dictators.

In 1215 King John of England was forced at the sword to accept that he could not do just as he wished, and that he too was subject to the law. The law was not a decree as it had been in the past, but became a code of conduct (a bit like the Ten Commandments) that everyone in the nation was obliged to live within. This included issues such as trial by jury and the rights of ordinary people (in this case the feudal lords) to be engaged in the decision making process about how the nation was governed.

Thus did governance become a model system for the world. It was not based upon the Athenian senate or form of democracy. It was founded upon the need for feudal lords to secure their tenure and rights. Hence it was really an Aristocracy or oligarchy. Yet this had, at last, the assent of the King and the force of Law to support it.

Why should we vote?

Gradually, over centuries, the ability of people to vote has been extended to landowners (the criteria for the Athenian Senate), serfs and “others” and finally to women (Australia and New Zealand were among the very first to allow this move) and lastly to indigenous people.

Debates became broader as more people took interest and began to argue effectively for their own interests. Gradually, the self-interest became perceived to be at odds with a new concept – the National Interest. This involves that which is best to provide the best conditions under which we all live.

Now, many feel that their views are the best for the National Interest. Here in Australia we have two major parties, conservative and progressive, which can be separated by their preferred means of achieving the National Interest goal.

  •   Liberal/National Coalition – major focus: business - which can provide a bigger economy  which will, eventually, provide greater employment for the common people and so a better standard of living.
  •   Labor Party – major focus: social conditions – which represents the need to ensure that all live according to a minimum standard and so all can then be enabled to contribute to the National Interest through ability. This is perceived as providing a better basis for businesses to develop and provide in turn a more diverse range and competition between businesses.

Other parties and Independents have major contributions to make, which should not be derided, and add to the diversity of opinion and altogether make our democracy work. As Mr Don Chipp, founder of the Australian Democrats, said when he established his party, his goal was to “keep the bastards honest”.

Now to the question heading above; why should we vote? Democracy functions only as long as people contribute. The more who contribute, the more inclusive and representative a democracy becomes. I have known some, like my stepson, who simply deride the Government and yet refuse to vote or contribute in any way. Certainly this is his right, yet his views remain unrepresented and so changes which might provide him with satisfaction are never made. Therefore he remains bitterly opposed to Government.

In order for a Government to be legitimate, it must have the confidence of at least half the population. Yet, as in all things, this is no black and white matter. Due to a diversity of opinion there are an infinite range or shades of colour (including grey) in debate. No outright “right or wrong”! Hence, at least here in Australia, the Constitution of our nation holds that all must vote in order that our governance should be fully representative.

This was the big mistake made in America. They allowed people to exclude themselves from the single greatest responsibility in the management of their nation.

What is best – plurality or bilateral adversity?

My brother and I had an argument one day. We were making the worst mistake anyone can do on Christmas day. Discussing politics. My brother is a Labor stalwart. Always has been and likely always will be. He believes fervently that we can never have good governance if there are “too many cooks”.

The two party system has led Australia for most of the 20th century. Yet we started our democracy with several parties, including  State Labour Parties, a Liberal Reform Party (when Liberal meant liberal beliefs rather than merely a Liberal name), the Progressive Party, Free Trade Party and Protectionist Party plus some Independents. Gradually these were either absorbed or dropped out.

My opinion is that, similar to many democracies around the world, such as Italy and Israel, the more parties and independents to express opinion and guide decisions the better. In a two party system we have only two opinions. This not real democracy and limits the representation of opinions in the wider public.

Certainly a two party system lends itself to smoother, more certain socioeconomic and financial management as there is less difference between them. Due to the greater number of members they tend to be more homogenous and so their positions become closer through that homogeneity. Yet much is lost and less gained through the constriction of debate as both parties find greater areas of agreement. This might provide some explanation as to why our present politicians seem so childish. They now have so little to differentiate them that they need to find some petty differences.

So who the bloody hell should we vote for?

Only you can tell. For my part, I believe in inclusiveness and representation through meaningful political involvement. I don’t believe that two main parties, can effectively represent the National Interest. A two-party system effectively excludes the diversity of opinion which can make democracy meaningful.

Our recent minority Government has been a very effective experience. It has shown that a greater diversity of opinion can lead to better governance. The two main Independents have made a most invaluable contribution by modifying some of the Labor Party legislation to be more applicable to the National Interest rather than for the benefit of Labor Party membership. The inclusion of the Greens has similarly led to improved legislation more effective for social and environmental values. It has also meant that non-aligned others have at times contributed their values and beliefs.

We must also remember that these independents and minor parties agreed to support the Labor Government because they would not be bought by the offers of Tony Abbott and so supported Labor by default as they were allowed to contribute in a meaningful manner without selling out to dictatorship!

The whole point is involvement. To opt for the status quo of the two major parties though is a lazy choice. Similarly, to support a Government whose policies or conduct you find objectionable implies a lack of will to engage in politics generally, or a lack of information which would allow one to engage meaningfully.

My colleague in this debate, David Edwards, presents this argument differently and I heartily applaud his contribution. I hope that you, the reader, will engage in this debate to and share your thoughts on this and any other blogs or social discussion sites.

I thank you for your patience and interest in this long piece and look forward to reading your comments.

Scott the Ratbag.

Read 5978 times Last modified on Monday, 03 June 2013 23:01
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