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Re-imagining the Australian state: political structures and policy strategies

Marsh, I 2008 , 'Re-imagining the Australian state: political structures and policy strategies', in J Butcher (ed.), Australia under construction: nation building - past, present and future , ANU E Press, Canberra, pp. 147-171.

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Can the State reasonably pursue the task of nation-building if governments are not prepared to adapt the machinery of State in step with the evolving nature of society and emerging challenges? Australia’s present political system was conceived in, and designed for, the very different social conditions that existed in the early nineteenth century. At that time, the two major parties broadly articulated a real social divide and developed organisational machinery that effectively mobilised the surrounding society: that provided opportunities for debate of emerging issues, engaging activists and providing cues to their followers about how to judge issues. Now the social base of the political system has been transfigured. Domestically, the community is pluralised and differentiated, class identity has decomposed and variety of new issues has undermined both the older collectivist identities and the autonomy of domestic politics. Consequently, the public agenda has expanded, differentiated and become more complex. Over this same period, the party organisational machinery that formerly mediated citizen and activist mobilisation and engagement has been jettisoned. No compensating machinery has been developed. As a result, the public conversation about major emerging issues languishes. How, then, can governments hope to chart a path for nation-building? What institutions will we require to support a truly ‘national’ dialogue about the meaning of ‘nation’ and the kind of society we’re trying to create? I argue that a reconfigured Parliament might engage citizens and interest groups in ‘government by discussion’. For that to occur public disaffection will doubtless need to attain new heights, and new political entrepreneurs will be needed to champion the message that there is another way.

Item Type: Book Section
Authors/Creators:Marsh, I
Publisher: ANU E Press
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© 2008 ANU E Press

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