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Introduction - Curriculum Corporation.rtf

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									Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? - Focus question 4: How do the people rule in
Australia?


Activity 3: Voting
3a In other countries, such as Britain, Frederico would be the winner. In Australia, Emily would win.
Which system do you think is the fairest?

3b Complete the activity on preferential voting on the Parliament at Work CD ROM.

3c When have you had to vote for something? Describe what happened in one case.

3d Do you think it was a good way of reaching the decision? Explain why.

        Direct democracy in Australia
        Although Australia is a representative democracy, there are occasions when we use direct
        democracy. That is, the people are asked directly whether they agree with a proposal for
        change rather than the decision just being made in a parliament.

        Changing the Australian Constitution

        When the Australian colonies agreed to join together to form one nation, a constitution was
        written to set out how the States and the new Commonwealth would be governed. The
        Constitution sets up the Commonwealth Parliament and the federal courts.

        The Constitution can only be changed by a referendum. In Australia a referendum is a
        process where the parliament proposes a change to the Constitution. The people then vote
        on the proposal. A majority of voters and a majority of States must agree to the proposal for it
        to become law. In 1967 the Constitution was amended to include Aboriginal people in the
        census and to give the Commonwealth Parliament power to legislate on Aboriginal affairs.
        However, only 8 of 42 referendums have been successful.

        State-initiated referendums

        Some people say that the States should be able to initiate a referendum to change the
        Constitution. The suggestion is that the rules would be something like:

        more than half of the State Parliaments would have to agree to the suggested change

        the populations of the States proposing the change would have to be a majority of the
           Australian population.

        If these two conditions were met, the suggested changes would need to go to the Australian
        people to vote on as a referendum within six months.

        The argument for this is that the States are an important part of the Commonwealth and
        should be able to propose changes to the Constitution.

        Changing State and Territory constitutions

        Each State and Territory has its own constitution. How these are changed depends on the
        State or Territory. For some changes to constitutions in some States and Territories a
        referendum may be necessary but in many cases these can be changed by a majority vote in
        one or both Houses of Parliament.

        Asking the people about a particular issue

        Direct democracy can also be used in Australia when governments want to ask the people
        directly their views about an issue which is not a change to the Constitution. This is called a
        plebiscite. A plebiscite was held in 1977 about the national anthem. Australians were asked to
        choose between 'God Save the Queen', 'Advance Australia Fair', 'Song of Australia' and
        'Waltzing Matilda'. 'Advance Australia Fair' won after preferences were distributed and
        'Waltzing Matilda' came second.
Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? - Focus question 4: How do the people rule in
Australia?



Should there be more direct democracy in Australia?
Some people believe that people do not get enough say in our representative democracy. They say
that voters only get a choice every few years about their member of parliament and about a package
of policies or promises that the member will put into practice if they become part of the new
government.

These people argue that citizens cannot directly propose or oppose laws except by putting pressure
on their member of parliament and that we should have more direct say in particular issues of
decisions.

        Citizen-initiated referendums
        We cannot all go down to the local town centre as the ancient Athenians did. Our nations and
        our states are too big for that. Citizen-initiated referendum is one way for citizens to have a
        direct say in government decisions where there are large populations. Two of the things
        citizen-initiated referendum can do are:

       allow citizens to propose a new law

       allow citizens to vote against laws passed by parliament.

        Some countries that have citizen-initiated referendum have one of the above and others have
        both.

        Citizen-initiated referendum in three countries

        Switzerland
        The Swiss have had citizen-initiated referendum for over 100 years and in that time have
        voted on more than 300 issues. In 1977 the people rejected a proposal by the government for
        a new kind of tax. In 1984 they rejected another government proposal to reduce the working
        week from 42 hours to 38 hours.

        United States
        In the United States many states have some form of citizen-initiated referendum. In California
        during the 1990 elections, voters had to deal with a ballot paper with 20 referendum questions
        and 144 pages containing arguments for and against each referendum proposal.

        In the 1960s the Californian government passed a law that real estate agents and owners of
        apartment houses could not use racial discrimination against people who wanted to rent or
        buy apartments or houses. The real estate agents initiated a referendum to overturn this law
        so that they could discriminate against people in this way. The real estate agents won.

        Four states have voted to bring back the death penalty through referendum. Anti-gun laws
        have been introduced in several states.

        Italy
        In Italy the citizens can only initiate a referendum to vote against a law passed by the
        government. They cannot initiate a referendum to propose a law. In 1991 Italian people voted
        to remove a law which prohibited divorce.

        How citizen-initiated referendum could work
        This is how citizen-initiated referendum could work in a state or a nation:

        Step 1
Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? - Focus question 4: How do the people rule in
Australia?

         Some people in the community want a new law or to remove an existing law. They collect a
         number of petitions of registered voters and take them to the electoral office (say 1 per cent of
         voters in a majority of electorates in order to move to the next step).

         Step 2

         Parliamentary officers prepare a proposed law.

         Step 3

         The proposed law is debated in the parliament. If the parliament does not pass the proposal,
         it moves to Step 4.

         Step 4

         A referendum is held and if a majority of voters in a majority of electorates support the
         proposal, it becomes law.

         Computer voting?
         In an age of the televised debate, phone-in casting of votes and computer technology the
         possibilities for more direct citizen say and involvement in popular debate are certainly here.
         But some say that there is no way to ensure that people are able to cast their votes in private
         and without being influenced by other people. So the will or views of all the voters cannot be
         known by this means.

         What other problems might be associated with this? What might the positive aspects be?

Figure 5 Should Australia have more direct democracy?

Arguments against more direct democracy                Arguments for more direct democracy

People already have a choice between members of        People have more say about particular issues.
parliament and the government programs they            Sometimes politicians of opposite sides agree
support.                                               among themselves on a policy they know the
                                                       people don't support.

People already have to vote for federal, state and     Electronic media allows debate and voting among
local governments. They don't want to have to go       large populations without any need for people to
to polling booths more often. Electronic voting is     come to one place.
not a realistic option; it has too many problems.

People have an opportunity, apart from elections       Governments and parties can still play a role as
through community and lobby groups to influence        they do today.
governments and governments are often guided
by opinion polls.

Citizen campaigns can more easily be led by            Politicians are not the only people who are expert
people or groups with money - meaning wealthy          in making decisions for the nation as a whole. As
groups have too much influence. Individual             people become more involved they become more
citizens or groups of citizens who propose change      expert.
may not have the interest or the ability to make
proposals in the best interests of all the different
groups in the country or state.

Representative governments should look after the       Representative governments have not always
interests of minorities as well as the majority that   looked after the interests of minority groups.
voted for them. The people may be more
influenced by prejudice or less concerned about
minority rights.

Once the people had voted on a citizen-initiated       There is no reason to think that citizens will be
Lower Secondary – Should the People Rule? - Focus question 4: How do the people rule in
Australia?

referendum it would have to become law. There     any better or worse than governments.
would be no opportunity for the parliament to
review the proposed legislation or make changes
before it became law.

								
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