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Reframing democracy: OUR VISION FOR A HEALTHY DEMOCRACY AND WHY THIS MATTERS MORE THAN EVER.

MORE PEOPLE TODAY live in democracies than any other time in history. But throughout the world, there are widespread concerns about how democracies are functioning to protect the things that matter most--the wellbeing of people, planet and future generations.

In Australia, our democratic system has failed to safeguard our landscape from climate damage and habitat destruction, even though most Australians are concerned about these crises and want action. Political discontent and disempowerment are steadily rising with record low levels of trust in politics and political representatives across the country.

ACF is embarking on a new campaign to reform our democracy. Our vision is a democracy where power resides with the people, where we can participate in a fair and clean process in an active and meaningful way, and where decisions and decision-making are made in the interests of people and planet.

To understand our starting place, we asked prominent stakeholders from across Australia to share their perspectives on the ideal democracy, and articulate where the system doesn't work for us. Participants included academics, journalists, economists and law-makers. They acknowledged Australia's democracy is fundamentally strong on some long-standing principles--fair elections, strong institutions and a free and robust media. But almost every person we spoke to saw serious deficiencies in Australia's democratic system.

Their ideas and input contributed to our understanding of the obstacles to a healthy democracy and helped shape the list of 10 principles for a better democracy we can all work towards, and around which democratic reform efforts can be organised (see principles over the page). Here's what some had to say.

ROBYN ECKERSLEY

HEAD OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE.

Inequality is a driver of democratic dissatisfaction.

"The best way you can invest in democracy is to invest in education. We are seeing growing inequality and an increasing class system, so these are big structural problems. You can't have cooperation in a democracy where there is extreme inequality because people aren't taking any concern for their compatriots. Countries with strong democracies have a much narrower band between the richest and the poorest, so widening inequality is bad for democracy. It's also really bad for cooperation, it's really bad for social cohesion, it's really bad for the undered-ucated and closes off opportunities of all those that are going to be unemployed, under employed and facing precarious employment. It can lead to resentment, class warfare and cultural wars."

HUGH PE KRETSER

HONORARY PRINCIPAL RESEARCH FELLOW, RMIT UNIVERSITY. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS LAW CENTRE.

Fundamental human rights are recognised and protected. Human rights include freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, which includes the right to impart and receive information. Human rights include the right to vote and to run for office and take part in public affairs.

"Some of the biggest democratic freedom flashpoints have occurred on issues which are politically or ideologically sensitive for governments, like environment or refugee policy. It's clear that government attempts to suppress criticism in these areas have harmed our democracy. One particularly concerning trend is governments throwing the cloak of national security over these issues. So you have Ministers refusing to disclose basic information about what the government is doing to people who are fleeing persecution on boats, even detaining people incommunicado on the high seas. And you have law enforcement and intelligence agencies spying on environmental activists."

JOAN STAPLES

HONORARY PRINCIPAL RESEARCH FELLOW, RMIT UNIVERSITY.

Democratic processes must have integrity and be honest. Money and power do not have undue influence over policy and politics. Citizens trust their elected representatives, democratic processes and institutions.

"We have a disparity of wealth where those corporations having financial power have used it and have basically captured our government... One of the critical things Howard did was that he changed the donation rules and he made it much easier for large donations. As well, there are donations through other entities, which are set up to hide donations. I think the reform of donations is one of the most critical things. It is a core factor that has allowed capture of government to occur."

CHRISTINE MILNE

GLOBAL GREENS.

A two-way flow of meaningful information between civil society and representative government offers transparency and allows both sectors to make informed decisions.

"We need to highlight the fact that once we had a public service that gave free and fearless advice. Now we have a ministerial service and there is no way for the community to know what has led to a decision being made. Informing the Minister is on a need to know basis. Plausible deniability means no-one tells the Minister and he says he wasn't informed."

TIM NELSON

CHIEF ECONOMIST, AGL. ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR GRIFFITH UNIVERSITY. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS LAW CENTRE.

Decisions and decision-making are transparent and accountable to the people.

"People can lie and there are no consequences from that lie... If people can lie and there are no consequences from that, you are starting from a long-way behind. Everything that is eroding democracy around climate change is the absence of consequences when people lie. On environmental issues it's about restoring the importance of science in the middle of it all, environmental issues are a science-based issue."

It's time to reframe democracy in Australia. We can see that a key obstacle to policy reform needed to protect people and planet from climate damage, and restore nature, is the failure of our political system itself. Democratic reforms can unlock the potential of our democracy to deliver important outcomes for our environment, and therefore our future.
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Publication:Habitat Australia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:920
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