After the marriage equality decision, Rob Idol looks upon the recent history of democratic rule-bending and casts a no confidence vote.
I don’t think I’ve ever truly understood our political system. It has the illusion of a democracy, but every now and then we are slapped in the face with a reminder to highlight how little say we have at all. Many, myself included, were shocked over the Rudd/Gillard debacle for example; one day we had one Prime Minister, the next day another. No vote from the Australian public; no say whatsoever from the democratised masses.
That, however, is the system in this country. We don’t vote in leaders, we vote in parties. We try to choose between the lesser of two evils at election time and hope that the particular institution that jangles the keys won’t be the one to walk us straight into Hades. When the Labor Party decided to remove Kevin Rudd and replace him with Julia Gillard, many learned for the first time that any affinity we develop for a member of parliament, even a leader, is secondary to the will of a party that has its own agenda.
The thing is, it’s not sold to us that way. Candidates are sold to us based on their personality, their values, and their alignment with the local constituency. Sure, the parties themselves sell their overall package, but many votes in this country are cast because we feel some level of trust in our local MPs who adorn our front yards with their smiling faces, leave us auto-dialler messages on our voicemail and door knock on our Saturdays.
This week we received another slap in the democracy by way of the Liberal party not allowing a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality.
The Liberal/National coalition decided that your local MP does not get to vote on this polarising issue based on their conscience, or even the conscience of the constituents that they represent. Many, myself included, were not surprised by this announcement at all. Tony Abbott has been very clear in delivering his opinion on the issue, and the longer he is in power the more we are learning that what Tony says, goes, whether or not it’s in the interests of the community or even his own party.
What did surprise me, however, was the manner in which this was decided and the manner in which the decision was justified.
Worried that fellow members of his party would not support his stance, Abbott invited members of the National Party to contribute to what many in the Liberal Party believed should have been an internal matter. Knowing that the mood within his own party indicated at least that a conscience vote should occur, Abbott stacked the deck to ensure his personal agenda won the day.
As Christopher Pyne indicated this week (on Adelaide ABC Radio), the Nationals already had a position on the issue of a free vote. It is fair to assume, then, that their inclusion could only serve to further Mr Abbott’s own agenda. The man famous for his disastrous “Captain’s Picks” decided to take it one step further and rig the game. Not in the interests of the community, not in the interests of his party, but in alignment with his personal views on the matter. He allowed himself a conscience vote and denied it of his fellow party members.
To add insult to injury, his justification for this decision was that voters would feel dudded if the Coalition changed its stance on the issue prior to another election. Make no mistake, this has already happened. The Coalition have been more than happy to change their stance, time and time again, on a bevy of issues since being elected. We were handed down a budget that reeked of austerity last year due to the “dire” state of the economy and then had it replaced with a nice soft, voter-friendly one this year. Tony Abbott has clearly broken far more promises than he has kept.
Putting my personal opinions on the matter aside, I can understand the need to break election promises from time to time. After all, circumstances change in the modern age a lot quicker than the time it takes for an election term to come to a conclusion. Adjustments, sometimes major, are required to keep the country on course and keep the government in line with public opinion. After all, that is the idea of a democracy, for our elected leaders to be at least somewhat in alignment with public opinion.
As a “compromise”, Abbott alluded to a future plebiscite that could put the matter to the public for a popular vote. Ignoring the fact that this is a matter of legislation that puts the discussion firmly in the responsibility of the parliament, this future plebiscite is nothing more than a transparent attempt to placate those opposed to him with the promise that one day, in a manner and at a time yet to be determined, we might finally deal with the issue.
People in many electorates in this country would rarely feel that the government is acting in their best interests. The best they can hope for is that their local MP, who by design is supposed to be there to ensure the interests of their local community are heard. We see the rhetoric on campaign flyers, through door knocks and via press conferences. Our MPs are there to give us a voice in the political machine, but only if that voice is in harmony with the leader of the party and those to whom they must pay their dues.
Our political system is irrevocably broken.
Well, broken in the sense that it does not even resemble the democratic process that we were promised. Australians are varied in values, gender, culture, sexuality and religion. The closest thing to democracy that we can hope for is that our local members are able to vote on major issues based on the community conscience of their local constituency without fear of reprisal. They can’t, and the result is that we truly have no say at all. If their vote counts for nothing, how could we possibly believe that ours counts for anything?