Wednesday, 7 March 2012
In contrast to Britain's democracy, and the Interactive Democracy I advocate, here is a great description of the Australian system, from the World Leader Proposal site:-
"Our system of voting is relatively exclusive to the Australian political system. Most democratic political systems employ the Simple Majority (First-Past-The-Post) system. Our system employs direct democratic representation, preferential representation and proportional representations.
Australia's electoral system is in many respects a shining example of the fulfilment of democratic values. We have been world leaders in many innovations in the provision of democracy. The employment of secret ballots to reduce intimidation has long been referred to as the Australian Ballot and is now seen as ubiquitous with democracy. Not only does it reduce intimidation but negates the practice of people deciding their vote because of a need to be seen as going along with the crowd or a desire to be on the winning side. This was identified as one of the dangers of direct democracy.
Australia led the way with the enfranchisement of all citizens (men and women) over the age of 21 enjoying the privilege (at that time) to cast a vote from 1908. In 1911 after much investigation and debate it was decided that that every single person who is eligible to vote should be heard and that every persons vote has value. This was in response to perceived short comings of the US and British systems whereby the most popular or the wealthiest were dominating politics and that it was possible for a minority of citizens to dictate the electoral outcomes. Hence from 1911 onwards voting became compulsory.
But still there was concern that the will/choice of the greatest majority of the electorate was not truly represented in the outcomes. The solution to ensure that the outcomes were policy based rather than the outcome of the ‘wealth, slick styles and appeal of simple solution to complex questions’, in 1919 preferential voting was introduced to federal politics. This was not just an experiment but as a result of its success and application at a state level and by-elections. All data collected on it showed conclusively that it reflected the desires of the greatest number of the electorate and therefore gave the most detailed indication of majority desire.
As an offset to the possibility of an overwhelming majority giving the incumbent government carte blanche to institute whatever policy they desired the senate was established as a watchdog and arbiter of policy implementation and ensure that the needs (as distinct from their desires) of the electorate were met. We give the legislative assembly a mandate to govern not a mandate to do as they wish. Our senate is elected using a proportional voting system. Proportional voting was introduced for Senate elections in 1949, heralding a new political era where minor parties and independent voices were represented in our parliament.
Proportional voting is used in multi-member electorates. In the Senate, there are 8 electorates: the 6 States and the 2 Territories. The 6 States each return 12 members, whereas the Territories return 2 each.
Being successfully elected to the senate requires winning candidates to secure a quota of the vote. The quota is calculated by dividing the total number of formal ballot papers by one more than the number of Senators to be elected. It is not unusual for a Senate ballot paper to contain anywhere between 30 and 70 candidates. It is more representative of the wishes of the electorate, in that parties win seats in proportion to the percentage of the vote they receive.
The great strength of our political system is its employment of multiple forms of the democratic process. Whilst we in Australia take these for granted and at times show contempt (invariably based on ignorance), it is the reason our economy and lifestyle are the envy of many.
The balance of power has even in recent governments been held by independents. These changes took effect in the Senate on 1 July 2011. More than 14 million Australians were enrolled to vote at the time of the election. The result is a consequence of their choices. A mandate was denied to any one party and reflected a need for compromise between differing ideals as individual parties failed to inspire an overwhelming majority.
The modern democracy that we enjoy is not a form of government reflecting the will of the populous. Our government reflects the trust of the populous in who they believe has the necessary attributes to make informed decisions on their behalf.
Every member of society could not reasonably be expected to have a fully informed understanding of all the issues. How could we distinguish the informed from the mis-informed, ignorant or self interested? Our national policies would be subject to the whims of fashion, propaganda and subversion. We would surely all be anti the cost in money and time that continual plebiscites would demand. Our societies have evolved greatly from the days of ancient Greece. We are not one homogenous people we are a nation of diversity and our political system reflects this.
Our political system is far from perfect and is vulnerable to threats, the greatest threat being poor quality of education of society and undue influence of the media. Democracy’s success depends upon the quality of demands made on our leaders and the quality of their decision making to ensure the improvement of society. If we expect little from our politicians I’m sure they’ll deliver. "