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You can help bring Direct Democracy to Australia

You can help bring Direct Democracy to Australia. To vote on this campaign go to

John Marlowe first wrote an article about Direct Democracy late last year on 17 November 2010, the same day as an excellent episode of Rear Vision about Direct Democracy was first broadcast. Today, I made a suggestion to GetUp that they conduct a campaign for the Australian constitution to be changed to include Direct Democracy as it is currently practised in Switzerland. It is easy for anyone who agrees with the aims of GetUp to join in order to vote for my proposal. What you can do.

The article below, except for the What you can do section, was originally Posted to GetUp on 15 August 2011.

GetUp should run a campaign to make provision in the Australian constitution to include Direct Democracy as it is currently practised in Switzerland. The recent experience of Swiss direct democracy and its broader history was described in the excellent 17 November 2010 episode of the ABC Radio National Rear Vision program (see for transcript, podcast is here.)

A proposal for a new law, an amendment to an existing law or repeal of an existing law could be launched by a group of concerned citizens in a way similar to campaigns now run through GetUp.

However, if Australia had Direct Democracy in its constitution, the campaign would most likely end with the proposal becoming law, provided that a "double majority", that is a national majority of voters and majorities of voters in a majority of states, (or 'cantons' in Switzerland) votes for it at a referendum.

The number of signatures required to have a national referendum put is 100,000 of Switzerland's population of 7,860,000. (see The equivalent proportion of Australia's current population of 22,677,40 is 288,278, so a more appropriate rounded number of required signatures for a national referendum to be held in Australia could be 250,000. (Given that many of Australia's people live further apart from each other than do people in Switzerland a still lower threshold could be justified.)

Under the laws of Direct Democracy, if the required number of signatures are obtained, then the proposal must be put to the Swiss people at the periodic multiple national referenda that are held in Switzerland. If the proposal is voted for by a double majority, then it becomes law.

Direct Democracy differs from the way representative democracy is practised in most countries formally labeled 'democratic'. I believe that few of those countries, notably Australia, can be described as truly democratic in the sense of "government of the people by the people and for the people". If those countries adopted Direct Democracy, then they could become truly democratic.

On many occasions, in at least the last four decades Australia, has experienced Parliaments which have inexcusably ignored the clear wishes of the Australian people.

A probable reason why Australians have quietly accepted this is subtle indoctrination through the mass media. The mass media markets the questionable idea that politicians as a whole, having the best interests of their constituents at heart, are better able to judge than their [implied] mostly less educated and less knowledgeable constituents what is truly in the best longer term interests of those constituents.

In fact, the record shows that on nearly every occasion on which politicians have over-ruled the wishes of their constituencies, their judgment has not been better, or that they had been putting the welfare of powerful vested interests above the welfare of their constituents.

Often decisions which have harmed both our national prosperity and the interests of the least wealthy Australians have been reached against the known views of the majority of Australians. Sometimes there has been no electoral mandate and, on some occasions, decisions have actually run counter to specific promises made in elections.

On many other occasions, whilst decisions may not have been opposed at the time by the majority of Australians, neither would a majority of Australians have been in favour. There certainly was no informed consent.

Examples where the known wishes of the Australian public have been disregarded include: the privatisations of Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, the State banks and State insurance offices, the abolition of protection for Australia's manufacturing which commenced during the years of the Whitlam Labor Government, John Howard's Goods and Services Tax (GST) and "Work Choices", the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq.

Few other privatisations -- railways, other public transport, power generation, roads, water -- have not been imposed contrary to the known wishes of the Australian public. Certainly almost none have been done with the informed consent of the public.

Examples of actions, which were certainly taken without the informed consent of the Australian public, include: the floating of the Australian dollar and the financial deregulation of the early years of the Hawke and Keating Governments, Malcolm Fraser's emasculation of Medicare, Malcolm Fraser changing investment laws to allow overseas investors to buy up Australia's mineral wealth, the Whitlam Government's failure to legislate to index taxation scales in line with inflation, Australia's participation in the invasion of Afghanistan, the attempted use of mercenaries to break the Maritime Union of Australia by John Howard in 1998, the privatisation of retirement income, otherwise known as "Superannuation", by the Hawke government.

If Direct Democracy had been law in Australia for the last four decades, little of the harm described above would have occurred. Where Governments may have succeeded in having legislation detrimental to the public interest initially passed, more than likely, the damage would have been quickly undone through the provisions of Direct Democracy.

What you can do

  1. If you are already a member of GetUp, vote for my proposal that GetUp launch a campaign for Direct Democracy. If you are not a member, join GetUP;
  2. Please tell your friends family, neighbours and all other contacts, including community groups, you are a member of, about Direct Democracy and ask them to also support my proposal and vote for it;
  3. If you have your own blog or web-site, please post information about Direct Democracy onto it. Feel more than welcome to post this article, parts of this article and links to this site and to my GetUp proposal onto your site;
  4. Write a letter to your newspaper editor in support of Direct Democracy. Be sure to send us a copy;
  5. Ring up talk-back radio and tell them about Direct Democracy and be sure to also tell us;
  6. Post Direct Democracy material onto any on-line discussion or mailing list in which you are participating where you think others are likely to be interested;
  7. Post your thoughts about Direct Democracy, including any you may have expressed elsewhere, onto this page;
  8. Consider writing articles about Direct Democracy for candobetter or other publications which support truth and democracy;
  9. Post notices about Direct Democracy onto any community notice board that you can. These could be in your sports club, local library, college school, church, community hall, university or local shop.
  10. Contact your local, state or Federal representative and let him/her know of your wish for Direct Democracy;
  11. If you are a member of the Greens, the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, the Australian Protectionist Party or another minor party, ask your elected representatives to speak in favour of Direct Democracy in the Council, State Parliament or Federal Parliament. Move resolutions in support of Direct Democracy at conference or at your local branch. If you are an office holder put a motion in support of Direct Democracy to your committee;


What We Want!

Direct Democracy instead of representative democracy

I couldn't register a login at Getup but I posted this link to Facebook:!/ajburchell


Under the laws of Direct Democracy, if the required number of signatures are obtained, then the proposal must be put to the Swiss people at the periodic multiple national referenda that are held in Switzerland. If the proposal is voted for by a double majority, then it becomes law.

Direct Democracy differs from the way representative democracy is practised in most countries formally labeled 'democratic'. I believe that few of those countries, notably Australia, can be described as truly democratic in the sense of "government of the people by the people and for the people". If those countries adopted Direct Democracy, then they could become truly democratic.

On many occasions, in at least the last four decades Australia, has experienced Parliaments which have inexcusably ignored the clear wishes of the Australian people.

I am not the only person and not the first to to have proposed a campaign for Direct Democracy to GetUp. Others include:

The following has been adapted from a comment I posted to the GetUp suggestion: Stop the privatisation of Publicly owned asserts... any such actions should be put to a referendum., referred to in my previous comment:

Telstra would not have been privatised if we had had Citizens Initiated public referenda. When the Howard Government privatised Tesltra that, by my recollection, it was opposed by 66% of the Australian public. (You may find of interest, the site which I maintained and which has now been archived by the Australian National Library at - I intend to resurrect it as - because someone else grabbed the domain .)

Even though the Liberal and National Parties were formally for privatisation in 2004, all of them, including Pime Minister John Howard, were very quiet about it in the 2004 elections. In fact, more Coalition candidates spoke against the privatistion of Telstra than for it in that election campaign. (See my article "Coalition victory - a mandate to privatise?" of 31 October 2004 at That didn't stop them from voting for the privatisation of Telstra in 2006. If Senator Barnaby Joyce had kept his 2004 election promise to oppose privatistion, it would have been stopped. (See "An open letter to Senator Barnaby Joyce" of 12 Sep 2005 at

What power do democratic elections forgo?
When we cast our vote for governments under our so-called representative democracy, we are mislead into believing that our interests in how our nation is governed are to be delegated to the political aspirants based upon their electoral promises.

What we get though is three or four years of self-serving aristocracy who pursue their own agendas, who treat their electoral mandate as if bestowed a Napoleonic carte blanche - they take us to a war we don't want, sell our public assets they have no right to sell, pursue policies we didn't vote upon, waste public moneys by the billions, and renege on their electoral promises. So-called 'people power' in Australia is only a casual affair once every three or four years - when we go to the ballot. Yet that power is hijacked by electioneering propaganda paid for by millions in political donations, in return for policy favours to the donors. The process is as corrupt as India's democracy. After their term is up we can't get rid of them fast enough and we go and believe the other mob's electoral promises, memory cast to the wind. Such continues Australia's system of government since Federation. Clearly Henry Parkes' vision is not working.

Suggan Buggan
Snowy River Region
Victoria 3885

Hi James,
my goodness I read your proposal, and I have had pretty much exactly the same idea! How do we get it there?
It needs a transitional phase I suggest.
Initially insist on government providing the people with a Tax Portfolio, such that we can allocate (initially) at least a proportion of our tax dollar into issues that concern each and every one of us. This could be from fixing a pot hole down the road, to funding education and health etc. Once every has a portfolio and are actively contributing to how the government spends our taxes, the proportion could increase.

At the same time much more needs to be done to raise the education of the entire community such that we are all willing to start to participate in making government decisions. Then a government ideas/issues and decisions portal could be set up, whereby the community including politicians, lobby groups, corporations etc. can post ideas and issues, and effectively, the entire nations community can vote on it. As an incentive the more time a persons spends interacting and making decisions, their rate of tax could be reduced, as in effect they are now becoming the government. Once again initially limit it to a proportion of decisions, but as the system starts to work successfully, increase the proportion.

These two will almost work in unison, as it will be clear to the remaining parliamentry government where issues lie ( where people are putting there taxes). So issues raised on the portal are more than likely already part funded (through allocated taxes). I am sure such a scheme with this inbuilt feedback loop can work eventually very efficiently. It may require some thought in structuring it, such that issues are not fragmented and repeated. But with word search and data stripping, it is relatively easy for new issues raised to be captured and placed in a group of similar (or the same) issue raised by others.

For this to happen it also requires a mechanism by which current LAWS can be changed. So a mechanism of a higher level of law, that can repeal current laws and replace them. Lets call it a "Commom Moral LAW" for now. So current laws which are causing massive problems for the community can be revisited, such as the Mining Act and many others.

I have just created a couple of Campaigns on Community Run.... (Hidden for now, awaiting to create more on the required STEPS the transition), but I might can them , and join the existing ones... if they are already there!

Thanks for the brilliant blog ! What about Facebook Campaigns ?? etc all other social media ?

Rudy (from Balance R & D) wrote:,

... As an incentive the more time a persons spends interacting and making decisions, their rate of tax could be reduced, ...

Those who put their time and effort into preserving the environment or helping their community are rarely paid for their valuable work whilst those who lobby governments to allow corporatians to profit from the destruction of the environment and community are usually well paid, often through salaries.

This must change. After popular democratic consensus to preserve the environment and community has been achieved and legally enacted, those who have worked hard to achieve that outcome should be fairly remunerated for their efforts and compensated for any financial expenses incurred.

Furthermore, as job vacancies appear in related areas of government, greater preference should be given to those community members who have shown, by having campaigned to preserve the environment, that they have the motivation and aptitude for the work.


The coup of 11 November 1975, and NSW Labor Premier Jack Lang's dismissal in 1932) showed that having the Queen, or her Australian representative, whether Governor-General or state Governor, as the formal head of state, can be used to subvert democracy as you have argued.

Nevertheless, as long as Australia remains formally democratic, there is a limit to how far democracy can be denied. The Fraser Government, which won the 1975 elections, got progressively fewer votes in the subsequent elections of 1977, 1980 and 1983, the last of which it lost. Ten years after Jack Lang was ousted from power, Labor leader William McKell was re-elected NSW Premier in 1941 during the Second World War.

Of course, in the case of the Federal elections of 1983, the Labor Party, led by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, had become corrupted to be no more than a tool of international corporations, bent on inflicting disaster capitalism on Australia. This was facilitated by Paul Keating removing Federal Government controls over the economy commencing with his decision, made in 1983 without any electoral mandate whatsoever, to 'float' the Australian.

As hard as that may seem in 2103, it still remains possible, in a formal democracy, for voters to oust the heirs of Keating, Hawke and Howard, who are now serving the ruling elites at our expense and replace them with decent politicians.

James and Rudy,

You raise some more problems here. I like the idea of tax deductions for participating in democracy. I like the idea of achieving agreement on conserving the natural environment (not just the built environment and clean air, I hope).

I wonder how you would go about getting agreement on the latter since religious and state schools and the mass media (government and commercial) have apparently succeeded in totally confusing people about the importance of and pleasure in the natural environment. It is as if Australians are a bunch of white lab mice who started out foraging for themselves but who were then convinced that cats were so dangerous that they should rely on Lab Techs to transport and supply food, live in cages and learn to press buttons to obtain pellets. So now all the Lab Techs (the mainstream media and the government and the schools who are of course aligned with and receiving money from the Cats) have to do is say, "If we don't teach our children to press buttons and if we don't press buttons harder and harder, the whole system will fall apart." Those cage-bred mice don't even realise that they were born to forage, be active in government and generally hang out in clans and do stuff.

So how are we going to get them to see 'nature' and 'freedom' instead of 'buttons' [top down organised employment and routines], so that they can vote against more high rise cages and demand real food and fields instead of buttons?

It seems to me that this is what is about. Of course, we cannot do it all ourselves, but despite our limits, I really think we are in some ways leading the way in far ranging dialogue on reform on democracy, environment, population, land use planning and energy policy that can be written to any level of comprehension, up or down - encouraging participation from anyone who can string a few words together to people who are into very sophisticated dialogue.

But we need more understanding of the power of such internet concerns. We are striving for this.

Rudi mentions Facebook and twitter etc. My own problem is that I fear that these forums are too invasive of privacy. Some of the people who use them seem so easily manipulated and facebook seems not to try to take precautions to protect them. If anyone knows how we could expand into those areas I would encourage them to talk about it on - as comments and as articles.

The problem with a lot of formal organisations claiming to represent the environment or political ideas etc is that they get highjacked by the government and corporations. You can practically be sure that any registered or incorporated organisation has been taken over, unless they remain poor, unnoticed by the press and have few (but tenuous) members. I am afraid that this is what happens with facebook etc. It gets highjacked by the professionals. Please educate if you know differently. I am open to this.

I would emphasise that the principles of reforms in democracy, environment, population, land use planning and energy policy seem to be very servicable and would recommend confining discussion to them. You can talk about anything at all under those headings but linking your subject back to them seems to exercise the intellect to good effect.

Apologies for this rather crudely composed reply which does not cover the field, even for me, which I am posting without rereading, in some haste because I think this whole subject needs attention.

Direct democracy cannot be brought about overnight, for it to work properly it really needs years or decades, as it requires the establishment of major changes in the education system. For it to be truly democratic the majority of citizens must be involved, well informed and able to participate and make sound ethical judgement and decisions that form outcomes.

It also requires to some extent freely available means of communication to the machinery of government.

{Telstra taken back under the wing of government and made free (cost covered by taxes)}

This would allow... A dynamic constant referendum on all decisions of government. (Very do-able)

Similarly the privatisation of many government assets and services needs to be reversed. These need to be owned by the community once again....

Finally the direct democratic community cannot include the corporate community.....

Individuals in corporations can vote.... but the corporation itself cannot !

There are ideas gathering on:

It appears that you need a Facebook account to view this page. You can get a free account from the Facebook home page. - Ed

The TinyURL link at top ( is broken. Not a good start. Fix it (fast ;-).

Editorial comment: Thanks for pointing this out. In fact, the TinyURL is not broken. The page to which pointed was deleted. The page contained a proposal for a GetUp campaign for Direct Democracy. That page was suddenly deleted, together with all the comments in support, without warning by the GetUp administrators. How an organisation claiming to be for participatory democracy could allow this to happen to any campaign proposal, let alone a campagin proposal for what I would have thought was GetUp taken to its logical conclusion, is beyond me.

Australia is a monarchy. Democracy is not. Calls for the creation of citizen initiative in a monarchy are legally impossible. Law in a monarchy, the activities of government, become legitimate with the signature of the sovereign, even if under instruction from parliament. It is 'her majesty's government,' not the people's democratic republic. Asking for citizen initiative is asking for a transfer of sovereignty, it is revolution, no less.

Thank you for your interest and for this insightful contribution.

You are right to point out that our formally democratic system is flawed. Conclusive evidence can be found on, or linked to by, the pages of candobetter. Much of what has been enacted by Australian governments in recent decades has been harmful to Australia: privatisation, reduction of government services, destruction of our natural environment, population growth and high immigration, wars, including the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and other wars that the Australian government has colluded in, including those against Libya and Syria.

All of this was opposed by the overwhelming majority of informed Australians. On most occasions, this majority also comprised the outright majority. For example, all the privatisations of recent decades were overwhelmingly opposed by the Australian public.

Nonetheless, in spite of its grave shortcomings we still have a stake in preserving formal democracy. The German Communist Party (KPD) stupidly denied this when faced with the threat of Nazism in 1933. Germany and the rest of humanity paid a terrible price with 60 million lives lost to rid the world of the barbarism of Nazism and Japanese colonialism in the Second World War.

The Shock Doctrine - The Rise of Disaster Capitslism of 2007, Naomi Klein shows how the subversion of democracy since 1970 by vested interests harmed the wellbeing of humanity.

The example of John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), even though he was U.S. President for barely 1,000 days before he was murdered, shows that it is possible, even within the corrupted formal democracy that exists in the United States, for a for a kind, courageous and decent person, with the best interests of his constituents at heart, to be elected to the highest office of the most powerful nation on earth. If it happened once, it could happen again.

As horribly deficient as formal democracy has shown itself to be in 2012 it would be tragic if humankind were to draw from that the conclusion that it should be discarded.


I don't think this guy is calling for us to abandon our putative democracy. He is saying that we actually do not have one at all, even formally speaking.

He is saying that because Australia is a monarchy and the Queen has to sign off on every law, it is not possible for citizens (subjects?) to get any kind of law up. They need the Queen to agree to it. He then implies that if she signed off on such a thing, she would be signing away her authority as Queen.

I am not sure if his logic goes to practice, since we already have laws and usually Elizabeth must sign off on them.

My understanding is that we have a system, with or without the Queen, where citizens do not have many rights and where they have never been able to initiate a referendum. With or without the Queen, Parliament would have to vote such a law in. Since political parties regularly abuse power within our parliamentary system, it is very difficult to imagine getting them to relinquish this ability to citizens in the form or citizens initiated democracy.

So the questions put by "Direct Democracy, you read my mind..." still need answering.

Apart from that, yes, we do have a tiny little ray of democracy in the ability to select one of two Mainstream Media appointed political parties to interpret the wishes of the corporate sector and make us dance to their whim.

You are circling the core of the problem: there is no shortage of suggestions on how democracy should be run, could simply start with swiss model, for my money. but the core is naked power. the elected aristocrats of parliament will not hand over power without pressure, possibly might have to show them the gun. not many people in oz are sufficiently enthusiastic about democracy to upset the national cart, so it isn't going to happen on current conditions. but conditions change, and young people may see the need for democracy, so don't give up hope and don't stop pressing for change. democracy is necessary, because hieratic societies are killing the ecosphere. we will have to change our ways someday, better now.