Monday, September 26, 2005

"Unrepresentative swill"* (Part One)

Do you vote? Well, if you're Australian you probably do; it's mandatory. I got fined $50 because I overlooked a bloody local council election.

But citizens of other countries don't always vote. Indeed, the Iraq election got a greater turn-out than a typical American presidential vote. Really, what's the point of going to all the trouble to have a democracy in the first instance if citizens don't vote? Voting is the purpose and power of democracy.

So let's assume you do vote. You're Australian. You've voted for the local Federal member who got elected. It's your local member, right? Your representative in the national government. Elected to represent the desires and aspirations of the majority of people in your electorate, right?

Well, let's talk about political parties. Not the kind where high rollers put on lavish digs and have the pollies in to try to influence them, but the kind that actually determines who runs the country. John Howard's Liberal (which, for those non-Australians is actually conservative) party and its coalition partner the Nationals have held control of the government for over 10 years.

And woe betide any member of his party who failes to toe party line; sort of like the stereotypical communist party. And the ALP opposition pretty much demands the same of its members. In party politics Australia, independent thinking, sorry voting, is only allowed in extraodinarily rare and politically difficult "conscience" matters. In almost every case (or so it appears to this admittedly casual observer) voting proceeds pretty much strickly along party lines. Unlike, I might point out, America where crossing party lines is pretty much a routine affair. Indeed, for years the Republican party punched way above its weight because of the regular support of the Democrats from the South.

So, your "representative" will abide by the demands of the party, pretty much regardless of the desires and aspirations of the people who elected her. Your representative does not represent you at all; she represents her party. In party politics, the dominant philosophy of the party determines the way the whole party votes.

That doesn't sound real democratic, does it? But since all of us are voting, it probably all works out to the wishes of the broad electorate, right?

Well, you'd better bloody hope so. Because I read some (if true) absolutely astounding details in the SMH this last weekend. This was in the comment column by Mark Latham's biographer ( It has nothing to do with Mark Latham, so whatever you feel about that subject, check those guns at the door now.

The shock to my politically nervous system was this quote:

"Perhaps the biggest change in politics in the past half-century has been the dramatic shrinking of party membership. Parties are reluctant to acknowledge numbers any more, but Latham estimates the ALP now has only 7500 active members. This is terribly few, and the Liberals would have fewer."
So, if you have millions of Australians voting, and either the Liberals or the ALP control the government, notwithstanding all those voters, you have a party of maybe as many as 7,500 members running the whole show, kit and caboodle.
* "Mr Paul Keating recently became the first Australian Prime Minister to be censured by a vote of the Senate, after publicly describing the Senate as an unrepresentative swill."

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Blogger Davo said...

Um, yer, I voted ..but the Dems seem to have disappeared from the landscape.. erk.

26 September 2005 at 8:07:00 pm GMT+10  

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