I am leveling the following charge against our Australian constitutional system: Everyday Australians must follow the rules, but they cannot change them. Australians have no real say over their own system of government, at either state or federal level.
If this accusation is correct the implication is that Australians are not free, they are subjects of the Elite.
Originally published on the
Image courtesy of smh.com.au
Do we need to change our Constitution? Considering that it is over a century old and not a Constitution for the ‘people’, Matthew Mitchell, in this post says “yes, we certainly do”.
I am leveling the following charge against our Australian constitutional system:
Everyday Australians must follow the rules, but they cannot change them. Australians have no real say over their own system of government, at either state or federal level.
If this accusation is correct the implication is that Australians are not free, they are subjects of .
The obvious reply is that we have the ability to have referendums. Do we really? Even if a large number of citizens wanted a significant change what is the likelihood that change would occur? I claim it is zero. Referendums must first be, thus any proposal is not put directly to the people, it is first filtered and modified, and likely rejected, by our parliamentary political system. The system preserves itself, and is immune to change proposals. The only ideas that even get close to referendum are proposals that entrench the status quo (eg:); increase or preserve the powers of one or another levels of government (eg:), and even if well intentioned may be undermined (eg: ) or seen as coming from a
favoured political group. Thus it is no wonder that referendums usually fail, Australians are perhaps quite rightly innately un-trusting of any proposal that is put to referendum, suspecting that it serves one or another vested interest.
Thus Australians are not free – they have no say over what their political system is, or how it works. They are stuck with a system set up by colonial masters and elite citizens over 100 years ago. This system can only be changed with the consent of those privileged few that control the parliament (those who Govern us, the subjects) and it is highly unlikely – impossible even – that proposals from anyone who is not a member of the political or business elite will get attended to.
It does not have to be this way! In Switzerland the People are truly sovereign – they can force a referendum on any issue they choose, if they get 100,000 signatures. And they do it regularly. Sometimes ! Relevant examples include:
It is claimed that this ability to change the constitution makes Switzerlandcompared to countries like Australia whose constitutions are now well out of date. The fact is that Australia’s Constitution (at state and federal levels) is an undeniable mess, as Peter Olney discusses below (take for example, the ridiculous invention of a Queen of Australia).
If we are going to move to a republic, which really is a concept most Australian’s would support (if they trust the changes), then why not fix the whole constitution and perhaps introduce Swiss style direct democracy at the same time?
There was a vote to federate years ago (which was ) but really there was no choice (for the people) of what constitution they may have. Thus no vote on this, as there were no choices! In any case, if we have at least one proposal that gives us some choice: the old or the new?
However, in this day and age, people trust grass roots movements more than proposals coming from the seats of power, or what are seen as the seats of power. Thus campaigns have more legitimacy than government proposals for referendums on local government or anything else. So a new constitution is more likely to be trusted, and voted in, if it seen to come from the people: a People’s Constitution.
And the truth is that there are already several proposals that could form the basis of new People’s Constitution:
, ;ralia/australia-display/an-independent-australian-constitution,4395">John Skene, and no doubt others also.
And perhaps this new constitution could include Indigenous people like never before and help correct some long standing injustices, such as Indigenous rights and recognition. There are also proposals to this effect such as one by and another on .
But let us beware that in this process, there is a serious danger. It is likely that as discussion of proposals for a new constitution progresses, long brewing issues and injustices will also be highlighted. Make no mistake, there are issues that need to be discussed. They include not only Indigenous rights and recognition but also real or perceived threats to Australian values and culture from immigration and some minority groups (such as associated with the proposal).
But we must be very CAREFUL that we do not vilify immigrants who have come here under our past legal framework in good faith. If anything, or anyone, is to blame for our current situation and predicaments – it is our legal framework that may not allow sufficient democratic say on important national issues and the generations of politicians, lawyers and bureaucrats that have allowed this undemocratic system to continue for so long. In this regard I suggest we also look at writing on the need for constitutional change as well as .
However, there is a degree of urgency in this if we are to address pressing issues, such as growth, immigration and trade (such as ) whilst there is still time. But please let us do this with care, consideration and compassion for all who do, or may, call Australia home. Let Australians set an example of how societies can move forward peacefully – there has already been too much violence in the development of new nations like Australia and America. Time for a change!
[Ten News Sydney] Racist attack on Sydney Bus - 2/4/2013
(David Donovan and Peter Olney are acknowledged for their contribution to this article).