We witnessed democracy in action last Saturday as Australia went to the polls to elect its first Liberal government in six years. While I prefer this system to the one where geriatrics rig elections in order to remain in power more or less indefinitely, or authority is handed down by virtue of birth or military might, or the one and only political party decides the ruler of the country for the next ten years, there is still much that can be improved. Despite governing our lives and making life and death decisions on our behalf politicians are usually portrayed as figures of fun and ridicule rather than figures of respect and authority. This can at least be partly attributed to the huge number of ridiculous one policy political parties that appear to have taken root in Australia (and also because politicians seem to say the most stupid things usually at the worst possible times).
Parties I find particularly hard to take seriously include the Pirate Party (they are for the legalisation of music and movie downloads not, as I first thought, for the compulsory wearing of eye patches, wooden legs and parrots on shoulders), the Bullet Train Party (apparently Australia is in such desperate need of a fast train linking Melbourne and Sydney that an entire political party championing that cause is required), the Fishing and Lifestyle (that’s shooting, mate) Party, the Sports Party, the Motoring Enthusiasts Party (apparently they even won a seat), the Sex Party (despite their unfortunate politically incorrect name they actually have some fairly sensible policies such as same sex marriage, legalisation of euthanasia and ending tax exemptions for religions), the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics Party, the Hemp Party (campaigning to legalise marijuana of course), the Palmer United Party (Clive Palmer is an Australian billionaire who is constructing a replica of the Titanic. Can’t wait for that maiden voyage. Apparently they won a seat too), the Wikileaks Party, the Smokers’ Rights Party (should probably be renamed the Smokers’ Right To Die Party), and the Rise Up Australia Party (no country would be complete without at least one xenophobic, religious extremist, anti-immigration party, especially a country founded by immigration). All we needed was the Standing Up The Back And Looking Stupid Party, with its radical policies requiring the compulsory serving of asparagus and banning slavery and we would have been in our very own episode of Blackadder.
While I appreciate democracy’s basic principle that everyone is entitled to vote (except in the case of the ancient Greeks, who invented democracy, where you were ineligible to vote if you were a woman, a slave, a foreigner, a non-landowner or a male under 20) I also believe that we should be entitled not to vote, should we so choose. Unfortunately that is not an option in Australia as voting is compulsory. Mind you I am not sure how much credibility a government has when only about half the eligible voters bother to turn up and only half of those vote for the actual person in power (e.g. USA). Perhaps the result should be deemed invalid unless a critical voting mass is achieved?
Unfortunately, if we look at it closely enough, our democracy really is a bit of an illusion. In most instances we vote for one of two political parties (as the others are generally too minor or too silly to get in) and that is where our responsibility and input ends. Once in power the governing party can do more or less what it likes, pass whatever policies it sees fit and we can do very little about it until we get the chance to evict it in three or four years. Isn’t true democracy about more than voting for politicians? Under the anarchist model politicians do not have policies or power. They exist as functionaries to administer the will of the people.
The Swiss have moved a little closer to this idea with their system of referendums. If a petition gets 100,000 signatures it has to be put to the vote. In this way they almost abolished the army in 2001. Wouldn’t it be better and more empowering if we, the people who are directly affected by the outcomes, voted on things like education spending, whether to drill for oil on the Great Barrier Reef or preserve it as a marine park, what to do about boat people, whether or not to invade Afghanistan, gay marriage, a carbon tax, genetically modified crops and whether or not to allow Ronald McDonald into the country?
Dr. F. Bunny