Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Bill of Rights


There are many at present striving to have a Federal ‘bill of rights’ giving our courts a power of review of parliamentary decisions. This view is driven by a limited concept of democracy, seeking an alternative answer in legal provisions to control parliament, overlooking the real cause of the problem, the corruption of party politics, which messes up parliament as a clean-cut decision-making body, and precludes the people from their vital role. Ideologies and the interests of various minorities dominate parliament as a result. A better democracy requires much more ‘say’ for the people. The radical change needed to restore democracy is the adoption of the ballot in parliament for all decisions. Without this simple but far-reaching reform, the mess will continue, with a bill of rights muddying the water, solving little and contributing to a further complication of the already complicated task of government.

Where people in power are able to act with hubris, their decisions fail to reflect the wisdom of the people which the system excludes. Their decisions are essentially unsatisfactory, and deservedly at the mercy of the dissident criticism of the people, with the often urgent need for strong, sensible action repeatedly frustrated.

Antagonism towards government is a primary evidence of a failure in democracy, not proof of its health. A public company could never survive with a board in the constant, deliberate conflict of power politics, like our parliaments.

With independent representatives linking the people to a balloting parliament, which able to appoint and direct the executive, a thorough examination of important far-reaching matters would precede critical decisions, integrating the people in the decision-making process to the degree necessitated by the issues involved. A world-respected democracy would quickly ensue.

Keep God out of our democracy!

In an excellent article, Professor Carmen Lawrence (self-confessed unbeliever), writes (The Age July 2), ‘I listened with alarm as MPs lined up to claim Christian identity while seeking to justify George Bush in the attack on Iraq.’ I share her concern.

We may think that a Christian MP could guarantee honesty, Jim Wallace, CEO of the Australian Christian Lobby, has testified that a Christian MP confessed to him, with tears, how his loyalty to party interests could override and violate his conscience.

Even if religious MPs believe they have access to Superior Wisdom, history does not concur. We know now that the preemptive war in Iraq, insisted on by confessed-evangelical Christian, George Bush, was quite unjustified, almost certainly hypocritically conceived, and was mainly and wrongly supported by our government. Surely, it must lie heavily on the conscience of all its supporters.

Professor Lawrence concludes: ‘Often the very same people who bowed their heads in prayer (to “Almighty God”), were the ones who appeared least constrained by Christian charity. There’s the rub.’ If that be true there’s something radically amiss.

In any case, with this ‘mistake’ thousands of Americans died - with far more in Iraq. Who is accepting responsibility? Politicians retire and walk away apparently untroubled. Meanwhile, those who encouraged them and those who support them bear no responsibility either.

We need to realise that in a democracy we are all responsible for what government does. Avoiding this responsibility only multiplies the problems. Fair and effective democratic government needs the involvement of the people. To this end, an early revision of our parliamentary system is essential, to be based on the ballot, with party rule replaced by parliamentary government and independent representation, so that we can participate and be responsible.

Rearmament - Defence White Paper

The government’s defence White Paper has advocated rearmament, of the navy - doubling of our submarines from eight to twelve, more and bigger warships with missile capacity; and our air force with more powerful planes. Previously we reequipped our army with the latest battle tanks, ‘to deal with terror’! Will this ‘waving of the fist’ make us safer in today’s realities? Surely an aggressive attitude breeds aggression.

We might be an ever-ready partner for America, as these policies strongly suggest, but of the reverse we can not be so certain. The world’s relationships have changed.

We cannot stand tall as a military power, nor should we ever want to, but we can stand tall as a peace-loving nation advancing the cause of democracy, by reforming our own. For example, our constitution could require an eighty to ninety percent free vote in parliament before deploying any military force beyond our shores! Australians could very well vote that in—if we were asked!

Militant attitudes are very easy for government to sell to the public, fear being an easy public button to push, as seen in the ‘communist threat’, and our involvement in Vietnam (and now North Korea), and the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ with our encouragement of America’s pre-emptive strike in Iraq. How easy it is to blunder on, with hawks in our back room and fear haunting our counsels of state. Fear makes intelligent, restrained policies difficult, requiring faith in the virtue of a people-centred stance of helpful, peaceful intention.

It is encouraging that two ex prime ministers have been moved by concern at the aggressive implications of the defence white paper. Both Malcolm Fraser and Paul Keating have embraced these issues from a non-partisan point of view, highlighting the importance of peaceful intention and goodwill respectively. We surely echo their concern.

Superior Merits of the Ballot parliament

It seems all are not convinced of the superior merits of a ballot parliament.
The term ‘ballot’ is taken to mean a ‘secret vote’ by all the members sitting in parliament, a democratic mode far superior to that which prevails, having far better democratic credentials. Why so?

Firstly, we are talking about political power. Who wields it - and who should?
Democracy is government BY the people, OF the people, FOR the people, which means that we, as individuals, are entitled, and have a responsibility, to participate in forming the decisions on matters of public interest and concern. But clearly this means working with others, to arrive at sensible decisions.

Issues can have long term affects on our lives and it is clearly important that facts should govern decisions. But our present system of open voting and party control in parliament results in see-saw governments with important decisions often more influenced by ideology than factual considerations.

Only by a freedom for equality of public input, at all levels, can important decisions be properly subjected to new facts, new thinking and new research.