Aug 19, 2010

Rundle: you call this democracy? It’s time to start again

What if a government is formed without majority support? It could be the chance for renewal, writes Guy Rundle.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


There’s two interesting results that this election might throw up. The first is a hung parliament, as discussed by other contributors to this august wossname. Bring it on, I say, even if it means crazy Bob Katter is holding the reins.

But perhaps even more interesting would be a repeat of 1990 and 1998: an overall majority vote for one party, who nevertheless fail to gain a majority of seats. Perhaps we might get the quinella — a parliament that is hung even though either Labor or the Coalition gained an overall 50%+1 against all other parties, but were still denied the automatic first go at forming government.

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30 thoughts on “Rundle: you call this democracy? It’s time to start again

  1. mattsui

    Well done, Rundle. The first time anyone’s mentioned Beazley throughout the whole campaign! Once accused of lacking “Ticker”. What wouldn’t Labor supporters give to have the Abassador to the U.S. on the hustings this week?

  2. [email protected]

    I am puzzled that you do not mention multi-member constituencies as a means of democratisation. Indeed, I am slightly puzzled by the early focus on the voting system as if that lies at the heart of why Australia is a formal but not substantive democracy. And compulsory voting is a positive feature of our formal democracy – it reminds us of our obligations as citizens. Sadly, of course, we have become consumers not citizens, power has become concentrated increasingly at the executive level (and only a few therein), politics has been corrupted more and more by corporate power and and servile support for American imperial policies and war crimes. The list could, of course, go on – the education policies (particularly with regard to school funding) of both major parties secure the entrenchment of privilege while operating behind an ideological screen of choice. It is these sorts of public policies that strip away whatever layers of democracy existed before and leave us with a politics that is completely without soul or even purpose, save the purpose of perpetuating the power elite.
    warm regards
    Anthony Ashbolt

  3. Jim Wright

    Guy Rundle and Bernard Keane are absolute treasures. It has taken a really nasty and messy election to bring back the trenchant and incisive journalism that us older guys remember from earlier years (much earlier years, perhaps!). I personally believe that the current political model is that our MPs do not represent us, but are the local representatives of management groups that pitch for the job of running the country for the next few years. This being so, it would seem reasonable (and following normal commercial practice) for our president, when we get round to having one, to take on the role of trustee. He/she would have access to all government documentation and the reportsof all ombudsmen and so forth. The president would report to the people several times a year, and would opine as to whether the government was doing a satisfactory job or not. This would get around a lot of this “commercial-in-confidence” rubbish that taints so much government procedure. The President could also sack the government (in keeping with tradition!), but unlike Her Majesty, he/she would put their own job on the line and rely on public acceptance of the action to be re-elected.

  4. Meski

    Or rather than a quinella, one party might get a genitalia of seats: Enough to have the other parties by the short and curlies.

  5. S1lverdrg0n

    Hear, hear, Guy!!! It is SO refreshing to hear a call for a debate on the very fabric of how our democracy operates!

    The Liberal/Labor duopoly, with a side of Greens is rotten to the core and does nothing for good policy, only serving to get one side or the other back into power, following opaque back-room preference deals and weeks of puerile mud-slinging that masquerades as an election campaign.

    I, for one, am utterly sick to death of this election and the fraudulent “choice” I am offered between two middle-of-the-road, fence-sitting behemoths (aka the major parties) whose policy offerings are “we’re going to do what they’re doing, only more of it”.

    When will we have the option of a multi-party democracy, where the votes are counted (without “preferences”) and THEN the coalitions are formed? Already two state governments (Tassie and the ACT) have in recent times included members from other parties in their govenments and the sky doesn’t seem to have fallen in.

    However, I tend to believe that Australians have the political system they “deserve” due largely to the apathy to which you refer in your article. The majority of voters, faced with almost a non-choice, almost don’t care who they vote for, short of falling out on vaguely conservative/left-ish lines as a default position.

    Please, bring on a national debate about the state of our democracy, because it is driving me crazy, watching this overblown playground turf-war that is supposed to pass for governance of our great land.

  6. Alister

    I concur with the argument about multi-member electorates. I think one of the biggest problems is that the election’s being run as if it was all about a handful of marginal NSW + QLD seats. We should try a new approach – no safe seats. Anywhere. Even if we had a single seat with five members in Tasmania, and the remaining 145 seats divided into 29 5-seat electorates, this means anyone only needs to poll about 16.6% of the vote to be elected. Each subsequent quota gets you one more position, so that even in the most locked in of major party electorates, they’re still compelled to fight for that third (or possibly fourth) member. And reasonably popular minor parties or independents can still be elected. This is more likely to lead to hung parliaments as a matter of course, which – contrary to received wisdom – would reasonably be expected to lead to better government.

  7. S1lverdrg0n

    Alister, I like your thinking. Could you explain more about how the 5-seat electorates would work? Is it something like there are five seats in each electorate and the parties can run up to five candidates in each seat, but you vote for the party, rather than the candidate?

  8. Peter Evans

    I’m not convinced there’s much yearning for a more enlightened democracy, beyond a tiny portion of the population. You want to talk about democracy, then how about democracy in the work place, democracy in the rewards of effort and sweat and brains. Any representative democratic system that’s only about who gets to raise money from whom and how to spend it is never going to achieve any lasting justice and fairness in society. If that’s not your aim then banging on about tweedle-dee versus tweedle-dum in this election is pointless, gutless, and brainless. I don’t think most people give two shits about a more just society.

    The practical reality of democracy and how it can be in people’s lives has not progressed beyond ideas over 100 years old.

  9. [email protected]

    “I don’t think most people give two shits about a more just society”. Peter, what you’ve just said is a logical impossibility. People are obsessed with justice. Always have been, always will be.

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