Has party politics become destructive to the public interest and the public good?
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Has party politics become destructive to the public interest and the public good?

It is surely time to do some serious rethinking about the nature and operation of democracy in the modern world. In the United States, Donald Trump has turned the Republican Party upside down by appealing directly to the voters and rejecting many of the principles of the party that he will represent.

Here in Australia, we continue to witness the negative consequences of factional party politics and the corruption of good government by the money of vested interests. The Australian community is disaffected and relatively uninvolved in the decisions which will determine our future.

Donald Trump has turned the Republican Party upside down by appealing directly to the voters and rejecting many of the principles of the party that he will represent.

Donald Trump has turned the Republican Party upside down by appealing directly to the voters and rejecting many of the principles of the party that he will represent.

Photo: Brennan Linsley

And yet we urgently need a government that can take firm decisions, supported by the population, about a number of issues that are being largely ignored. Ian Dunlop, ("Citizens awake – we are being taken for fools") argues that the climate crisis is so important that we need a government of national unity of the kind that we had during World War II, where all parties worked together to help to win the war.

Our elections are instead about short-term appeals to the self-interest of marginal seat voters. Party politics has become all about opposing the ideas of the other party and characterising them as irresponsible or wrong. Our political representatives get to become candidates through becoming loyal servants of the party and of the groups which fund the party and its campaigns.

The system has become destructive to the public interest and the public good.

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In 2013 the electorate of Indi rejected the party candidates in favour of an independent representative, Cathy McGowan, who undertook a range of elaborate processes to understand the needs and aspirations of her electorate and who has continued to run a system while in office that keeps her informed and engaged with their views.

Let's consider Ian Dunlop's proposition for a moment. Why should the people we elect not all play an active role in the evolution of public policy?

What would happen if every electorate in Australia did what the Indi electorate did in 2013 and elected an independent to the Parliament? And what if all elected parliamentarians participated in a vote for the Prime Minister and his or her executive and were free to participate fully in the development of all legislation? Could it work? Would such a system better respond to the aspirations and needs of the whole electorate rather than to the requirements of the all-powerful special-interest lobbies which increasingly influence party policy?

I don't know, but I think we need to have a serious debate about whether the system in place at present best suits our needs and whether it could be modified in ways that would better respond to the serious problems which now confront our nation and humanity at large.

The Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy grew out of concerns voiced by Canberrans in a series of kitchen table conversations and the new body came into being in October 2015. It is holding its first major event in the form of a weekend "DemFest". The theme of the DemFest is "Awakening Democracy". Participants will have the opportunity to share ideas for awakening democracy in Canberra not only in relation to the rapidly approaching federal election but also the ACT assembly elections later this year.

Many Australians have been deeply disappointed at the way party politics has evolved in recent years. Perhaps that is what many Americans are feeling also, and perhaps that is why Donald Trump has so rapidly risen to the point where he could quite seriously become the next president of the United States.

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Bob Douglas is a committee member of CAPaD ( www.canberra-alliance.org.au) and a director of Australia21, which has drawn attention on its website (www.australia21.org.au to a number of the "Elephants in the polling booth" which are not being adequately addressed by our political representatives.

Registration for the DemFest Canberra meeting June 18-19, closes on June 10.

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