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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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