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A blueprint for Australian democracy: this moment and the renewal of parliament, government and elections


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Sheikh, S, Marsh, I, Belgiorno-Nettis, L, Coghill, K, Costar, B, Jones, K, Lyons, M, Mack, T, McAuley, I, Orr, G, Rozzoli, K, Sawer, M, Williams, G and Yencken, D 2010 , A blueprint for Australian democracy: this moment and the renewal of parliament, government and elections.

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Saturday’s political earthquake demonstrates Australians do not like the way their political system
is working. This is a critical message. Community distrust and cynicism are bad for the major
parties and bad for public policy. Australia faces many big challenges – a three speed economy,
a second round of the resources boom, skills shortages, infrastructure deficits, climate change,
refugees, indigenous recognition, to name only a few. But the past election campaign did nothing
to crystallise choices or to build an informed public opinion on any of these issues.
As has happened in Britain, Canada and New Zealand, a political system that was designed in
the early twentieth century must now adapt to the very different conditions of the twenty-first
The formal political and policy process – covering the workings of parliament, the legislative and
budget process, and the general effectiveness of parliament as an arena for communicating
national choices to the wider Australian community – is the single greatest influence on the
wellbeing of all Australians. Circumstances create contexts. But the political and policy process
determines how clearly these choices are understood - and how informed are the community’s
Most do not recognise that there is an instructive precedent for the present moment. In the 1901-
1909 period, three groups – Protectionists, Labor and Free Traders – vied for power. The result
was perhaps the most fertile and creative period of policy development in Australia’s political
history. In that time, before the emergence of the two party system in 1909, the foundations of
modern Australia were established.
That time, along with more recent thinking about fair electoral processes, suggests how both
policy making and electoral regimes can be re-configured to engage Australians much more
effectively in politics and policy making. The world that spawned the ‘strong’ two party system –
an Australian society that broadly split along binary lines – has past. Our Australian community is
now more differentiated and regionalised, with gender, sexuality, ethnicity, the environment and a
host of other cross cutting issues now dividing and pluralising public attitudes and aspirations.
In this context parliamentary and electoral processes need to be progressively re-cast. There is
an immediate agenda. But, as experience accumulates, broader longer term changes also need
to be introduced. After all, the political and policy making system is our single most important
piece of politico-economic infrastructure through it public choices are crystallised and support
for action is mobilised. The following blueprint will allow its relevance and effectiveness to be
renewed and our democracy strengthened.

Item Type: Report (Other)
Authors/Creators:Sheikh, S and Marsh, I and Belgiorno-Nettis, L and Coghill, K and Costar, B and Jones, K and Lyons, M and Mack, T and McAuley, I and Orr, G and Rozzoli, K and Sawer, M and Williams, G and Yencken, D
Publisher: GetUp Australia
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