History To The Present
Our democracy, as we know it, has long been tied to the political ideals of other countries. British Colonialism brought democracy to the country, a land where governance was non-existent outside of the native Aboriginal tribes, the owners of our land. Terror Nullius was proclaimed, as if the land was empty; this of course is wrong and the true terror was the slaughter of Australias rightful owners.
Laws were instated to govern convicts and colonies, and over many years, state/territory constitutions were formed. Miners protests were a leading drive for greater personal rights; the most significant fighting occurred at the Eureka Stockade, during the gold rush. The need for those rights pushed bureaucrats to form the states. Decades later the British Monarchy gave approval for a Federal government, I guess they didnt really give a hoot about our colonial outpost and probably lost the paperwork a few times on purpose. They were just lucky we didnt go to war over our independence (I can feel the US citizens particularly nod in agreement). We were probably too lazy to go to war (we did make up for that quite a few times, since).
The constitution was formed by taking ideas from other established democracies, with improvements made on those ideas. The major influences on Federation were from Great Britain and the United States, however in the matter of constitutional amendments, we went with the Swiss model (we probably took some of their nice chocolate too). This model used a national referendum; Australian citizens would vote over the change.
Through time, smaller influences on democracy have come from immigration, with people from over two hundred countries finding a new home here. Our Labour movement and indigenous policy was once influenced heavily by Russian Socialist thought. Also significantly, most Asian countries, the Aboriginal community and the Pacific region have been an influence on alternative therapies, food, religion, philosophy, trade and tourism. This influence pushed away many colonial/traditional ideas that were based on European thought. On a less serious note, there is also a very strong Greek influence, in a traditionally British arena - the Fish and Chip shops.
Australian Democracy is built on the two party system. One major party is in power, while the other is in opposition, much like in Britain and the United States. As voters internationally are discovering, this is leading to a vote for the lesser evil,' both parties look very similar in terms of policy, ethics and results. Furthermore, because everything revolves around two major parties, the smaller parties and independents are being neglected. Much of the reason for this is advertising; if you are an independent or a small party, how do you get the word out? Supporters can only do so much if your policies are about saving the world more than controversy or big business- supporters with money can make the difference.
A perfect example of controversy giving votes to a small Australian party is One Nation, a party that was nothing until it played the race card. Their policies were about keeping foreigners out of a country that is made up of people who were all from somewhere else to begin with; even our indigenous people came here by island hopping.' They wanted those same indigenous people to fend for themselves. So it was a return to a whiter Australia, with the majority of their voters coming from older European generations. Is there any wonder that younger voters are disillusioned? Particularly with our larger aging population, the emphasis is placed on retirement benefits and retirement homes. There are so many issues the young are concerned about that arent being addressed, more seem to be willing to pay the fine for not voting, but that is a whole other issue. Our young arent standing up to become politicians (myself included) but they arent being educated or encouraged enough either.
Australians voted on their preference for a republic in 1999; this was very embarrassing to many who have longed to cut the ties to the Commonwealth. The election was flawed as many who were supporters for a Republic preferred the direct election of a President rather than an approval of two thirds of Parliament, subsequently their votes joined the Monarchists in a No vote. This need for a direct election reflects our tradition of democratic processes; our history has shown how we demand that power reside with the majority.
Many see the formation of a republic as the final defining act in separating the nation from Britain, insuring we are able to grow further apart with our own head of state, equal in all ways to the power of the British monarchy. An Australian Republic is the next stage of democratic development that the nation requires to be truly independent, defining us as a multicultural nation and emphasizing our focus on Australia-specific innovations and problems. We are a unique country/continent with unique problems, and in a location that pushes us to reach out to the world. Through our diversity, we have connections with so many different countries, with so many cultural backgrounds, that we must be complete as a nation before we can be all we are for everyone who needs us (reconciliation with our indigenous people is an important part of that, Prime Minister Howard!)
For information on the history of Democracy in Australia: http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/home.htm
For more on current Democratic/Australian Studies: http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/ncas/resources/
The republican campaign can be followed here: http://www.republic.org.au/
See Matts blog at: http://lightofthequasar.blogspot.com/
Copyright Matt Holt, 2004