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Fixing our democracy

One thing most people would agree on is that they don’t trust politicians – and with good reason.

A summary of ‘Truth in Political Advertising Legislation in Australia’ published in 1996-97 succinctly explains one major reason why our democracy is failing.

“The potential impact of misleading or false statements made in the course of electioneering is undoubted. Such campaigning obviously has an adverse affect upon the public interest. It may distort election outcomes, divert voter attention from substantive issues and may even discourage qualified individuals from seeking election.”

Yup. But it goes on….

“The notion that the law should provide for truth in political advertising is misleading. Any such law would be unworkable. Who is to say what is the ‘truth’? How could such a law be enforced? Instead, when the argument is put for truth in political advertising legislation, it is really being suggested that the law should penalise electoral statements that can be shown to be false or misleading. No law could require that such statements actually be ‘true’.”

And further…

“The rise of practices such as push polling has perhaps been a factor in what some have seen as the deepening cynicism of the electorate towards the political process and highlights the need for ethical standards in electioneering.”

But it’s not just the electioneering process that lacks integrity.

Our system of bestowing power on one side of politics has been abused by governments becoming increasingly secretive about their actions.

There are constant court cases to withhold seemingly innocuous information. Reports to government are suppressed. Advice from departments is ignored without explanation. Contracts and grants are awarded without tender.

If, as has been suggested, it is too hard to get politicians to tell the truth either by legislation or a call for ethical behaviour, then we must change the system.

One way to ensure the electorate hears the truth would be to have a multi-party executive based on proportional representation.

Our preferential voting system could still elect local MPs, but the Cabinet should represent the first preference voting patterns of the nation.

If we had a 24 person Cabinet with 10 Coalition members (7 Liberal, 2 LNP, 1 Nationals), 8 Labor, 3 Greens, 1 Centre Alliance, 1 One Nation and, say, Andrew Wilkie, we would be a lot closer to representing the nation and it would be almost impossible to lie or obfuscate. Decision-making would be transparent.

We really should be putting a lot more thought into the design of a Republic because democracy is not well served by the current system.

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  1. Uta Hannemann

    Too right: Democracy is not well served by the current system!
    Kaye, I like your idea how this 24 person Cabinet would be a lot closer to representing the nation.

  2. Aortic

    We will never get the truth from those in power as is it innately ensconced in human nature, not just in politics but across the board, that protection of the position of your self, party and/or business colleagues is paramount in everyones thinking. This at the expense of the truth or public interest des not even enter the milieu of self preservation. The names Pyne, Mirabella amongst a horde of others come to mind and let’s not forget those wonderful bastions of truth and honesty, the banks and insurance companies.

  3. Matters Not


    Who is to say what is the ‘truth’? … No law could require that such statements actually be ‘true’.”

    Yep! When it comes to determining political ‘truths’ we are (usually) not talking about the application of Mathematics or Logic – which (given certain assumptions) produce ‘truths’ which can be proven and are enduring objective truths. But putting aside those two disciplines, what might seem so obviously ‘true’ from a particular point of view (perspective) falls away when viewed from another. Then we have truth in the eye of the beholder.


    should be putting a lot more thought into the design of a Republic

    Agree. One of the fundamental problems we have with democracy in Australia currently is that there is no Separation of Powers. By way of example, we have Dutton intimately involved in the legislative process (he is powerfully and crucially involved in determining the nature of laws to be enacted). Then he changes hats to becomes the Minister responsible for executing those laws. And of recent times he’s moved heaven and earth to ensure that the judicial dimension is made impotent.

    (As an aside – on The Drum a few nights ago, Kathryn Greiner argued strongly that – in the final analysis – a government has to be able to govern. And she is right – but (good) governing is built on a separation of powers – where no one individual becomes the font of what is all good and valuable. Good government is NOT about Dictatorship – a One Person rule. The sad outcome was that no other panelist had sufficient understanding of Democracy to ‘pull her up’).

    Not suggesting that the Separation of Powers Principle is the end of our woes – but at least it’s a starting point.

    (I remember Joh when questioned about Separation of Powers made a complete fool of himself. Perhaps Dutton might be so exposed?)

  4. Matters Not

    Aortic re:

    never get the truth from those in power as is it innately ensconced in human nature , not just in politics but across the board, that protection of the position of your self, … is paramount in everyones thinking. innately ensconced in human nature ..

    Are you sure? If so, then how do you explain a mother’s behaviour when it comes to the protection of her offspring? When she sacrifices herself to save the child – is she going against human nature ? More generally, is it against ‘human nature’ to be altruistic? If that’s your belief, then Ayn Rand would in in agreement.

    When a stranger risks life and limb to rescue to a drowning person (whether it be adult or child), is that done for selfish reasons? (So that people might clap?) Or is it done for done for altruistic reasons? Is to risk one’s own life for that of another part of ‘human nature’? Or is it ‘deviance’ – going against ‘human nature’? ,

  5. Matters Not


    Whatever the judiciary comes up with, the government will find a way around it

    No doubt, that’s the mentality. But make no mistake, judges are well versed in the Separation of Powers doctrine. (And they tend to be arrogant, vindictive bastards into the bargain.l.) Dutton would be well advised to stay far away from judicial clutches – because there’s any number **just wishing and hopin **.

    And Dutton knows that.

    By the way, Dutton’s mentality can be traced back to the days when he was a ‘copper’. You know – we arrest the crims and the judges let them off. So we’ll just load em up.

  6. Aortic

    MN, Yeah sorry, I was only referring to the political or corporate hierarchy. Fully appreciate the selfless often unsung people who risk life and limb to assist those in need. I should have phrased it better.

  7. wam

    Democracy is rule by the majority. Why should a voter not be given the opportunity to rank the candidates in order of preference?
    First past the post is the thrust of conservatives and proportional representation is the thrust of the loonies.
    Truth is what is believed and has an individual absolute.
    It easy to lie by telling the truth and only slightly more difficult to tell the truth by lying.
    The concept that politicians find difficult is ‘honesty’. They get around that by making no individual decisions only collective outcomes.
    I have met and talked with many politicians and both retired and defeated ex-politicians. They are nothing special, some good, some not so good one, an ex-lib leader, an arrogant grinning egotist. He embodied the current image of a politician and gave no hint of honesty or trustworthiness.
    Is it different at the party level? My facebook must only have 90%ers because nobody trusts the loonies and I never trusted the diludbransimkims, but they are not in the same league as the lnp whose selection process eliminates those who conservatism is not demonstrably complete.
    Seems odd that a retired copper has amassed $30m

  8. Kaye Lee

    “Democracy is rule by the majority”

    What if the majority of states voted against the Coalition?

    What if the progressive vote exceeded the conservative vote?

    “Why should a voter not be given the opportunity to rank the candidates in order of preference?”

    Perhaps you missed the part where I said “Our preferential voting system could still elect local MPs”.

    What I am musing about is how to make sure that voters have the real information when they are asked to make a decision and how executive decision making can be made transparent and evidence based. The only way I can see that happening is for the information to be available to all and the only way that can happen is if no one party is in control of it.

  9. Florence Howarth

    Maybe we need to take a step back. In my 7 decades & more, I can’t recall a political party that I liked their whole policy. I can’t recall one I took on trust. To do so would be stupidity. Most are like the curate’s egg. Good in parts. Some I have liked. Others not so. Not really important unless they have character defects such as habitual lying that make them incapable of doing the job. A good example is Trump & I suspect Morrison.

    None of them is going to deliver all we want. Mainly because it is impossible to do so.

    A prudent person takes nothing at face value. It is not that difficult in this day & age to take a little time & interest to check out all they promised.

    It is a way of preventing one from becoming cynical which IMO leads nowhere.

    Wringing one’s hands, crying I can’t trust politicians plays into their hands.

  10. David Bruce

    When the bible bashing bastard from the bush in Brisbane faced the Fitzgerald Inquiry we saw the full extent of crime, corruption and crooked dealings of most of the lnp politicians in Queensland.

    Do we have to wait for a similar inquiry before ScuMo and the scumbags get the message we are a bit annoyed? History has a habit of repeating and those who don’t learn from it can expect no quarter. This includes all the Sunday Christians too!

  11. RosemaryJ36

    The problem IS the party system! The Westminster, adversarial system plus an adversarial rather than an inquisitorial legal system are our poisoned inheritance.

  12. Zathras

    A flaw in democracy is that it only takes two idiots to outvote a genius and many voters (like our politicians) only think in terms of immediate self-interest. The long-term future of the country is never considered and like a bunch of reactionaries, they just make things up as they go along, with an eye constantly fixed on the polls.

    Elections are reduced to be exercises in vote-bidding and buying, based on the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and popularity contests and the serious debating of alternatives is controlled by interest groups.

    Countries like China not only have 5 year plans but think in terms of generations, not electoral cycles and we should take heed.

    Democracy doesn’t need to be replaced but it can be made much better in terms of national outcomes. It’s the quality of the politicians and their “owners” that stands in its way.

  13. Stephen Tardrew

    Number one a federal ICAC with teeth and an independent scientific body of experts to review the evidence based upon empirical methodology. Rather than assertive absolutes give advice setting out the statistical reliability of claims to truth with hard facts and evidence. Unless we can get a scientifically literate population the chance of rectifying millennia of victim blame, judgement and retribution based upon fear, resentment and hate will continue.

    At the moment the opinions of the irrational, deluded and dysfunctional are given precedence over the demonstrable empirical facts.

    In such a case there is little hope of developing a rational informed paradigm that exposes politicians and the public to important demonstrable evidentiary facts.

    Until religions willingly adjust their mythical beliefs to fit the scientific facts they are no more than peddlers of miss-truths and rabid opinion.

    The impact of our fear driven autonomic nervous system and the poor connectivity from pre-frontal lobe to amygdala means it demands effort to neutralise compulsive fear, irrational demonisation, hate and victim blame of those who suffer heritable, familial, cultural and ideological abuse and manipulation.

    Point is I don’t see us admitting that true moral intelligence is yet to evolve in a broad meaningful context upon this planet. Our over-inflated opinion of ourselves is, of course, our Achilles heal.

  14. Patricia

    In the current system, and based on the May 2019 election result, almost half of the people who voted do not have a voice in our national parliament. The system suggested by Kaye Lee would better represent the people’s voting wishes but then we know that representing the people’s wishes is not what politics is about. Politics is about power and control over the process that we call democracy but when only a smidge over 50% of the people are being “represented” it cannot really be called a democracy. Primarily because those 50%+ have not been given the correct information on which to base their vote and even if they understand that what happens after the election and during the period of the parliament is often quite different to what was taken to the election. There is much legislation that is passed in parliament that the people were never told about and which they have not been able to make a decision on whether they agree or not and that is the secrecy that most of the people do not understand and unfortunately are not interested in. To say we live in a democracy is fallacious, much of what governments do is withheld from the people and much of it is not in their best interests, hence why it is not communicated to them.

  15. RomeoCharlie29

    No government, in power, is going to change the system, or the way, it was elected even for a system which might be demonstrably fairer. I have Swiss friends who are bemused by our election system. They point out that their country has a multi-party coalition sharing government with the leadership rotating through those in the leadership group. It apparently ensures all government decisions are made by consensus. There is also, I understand, a process where citizens can propose prospective legislation if they can get enough public support. Kaye Lee, I think your suggestion comes closest to this system, but can/could you see the mental pygmies Scummo and his merry band of liars going with it? Alternatively could you see Albanese and his mob doing it either? BTW, I am not saying the Swiss system is perfect , eg their banking secrecy, but it has kept them out of wars and, somehow, allowed them to win The America’s Cup.

  16. Denis Hay

    It seems to me that party politics has corrupted our political system. It’s time to focus on electing truly independent candidates to parliament who are not beholden to vested interests and who stands for all the people who elect them to office. RepresentUs Australia is about supporting independent candidates:

  17. New England Cocky

    Seems like the NZ Hare Clarke (sp?) electoral system has much to commend it. Multiple pray government lost guaranteed, and shown to be very successful since it was initiated in 90s (date?).

    @Patricia: Over 50% of the TOTAL VOTE supported Labor in 2019.

    @Stephen Tardrew: A Federal ICAC is essential but most unlikely because it would expose the presently anonymous donors to all political parties, and the Nat$ might be held accountable for any link between political donations and MDB water theft.

  18. wam

    What great suggestions boys.
    The Swiss made billions out of wars right up there with the septics. Think of the kiwis with all the responsibility for population of the Sydney council.
    I am waiting for the suggestion that we follow the Hutt river system. The rabbott’s only need an extra level?
    How silly is it for a country of 26m to have 7 premiers and two chiefs, 9 ministers of education, 9 for transport etc.
    Abolish the states and the senate.

  19. tyrannosauruswens

    None of it matters without an education in Civics. I was horrified to discover that persons of my acquaintance who voted for PHON had so little understanding of the voting system that they happily believed that “at least I didn’t vote for the coalition”.

    Public education is deliberately under-funded by neoliberals, in my view. They are well aware that an educated populace is generally more progressive and less malleable via fear tactics.

  20. Terence Mills

    I hear that there is going to be a parliamentary enquiry into Question Time and public submissions will be invited.

    Observing the current state of QT and the frustrating and annoying Dixers and the repeated stubborn refusal of government ministers to address straight forward questions (both Houses) clearly there is a need to radically reform this important aspect of our democratic system.

    In the Senate there are supplementary questions permitted, two I think, and this does tend to help focus wayward ministers but even so the default position is to be evasive, misleading and level abuse at the opposition.

    Does anybody have any information on this enquiry, I can’t find anything beyond a report by Greg Brown in the Australian ?

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