Democracy Opinion

Dutton's nuclear plan can only exist in a broken democratic system

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Dutton's nonsensical foray into nuclear energy reminds Australian voters again of the issues prevalent within this country's Constitution and democratic institutions, Dr Klaas Woldring writes.

WE HAVE RECENTLY experienced the nonsense of the "No" vote by the official Opposition against the highly sensible proposal by the Albanese Government to introduce an Indigenous Voice in the archaic Australian Constitution.

The Dutton Opposition then made use of the staggering ignorance of the voters about the white Australian Constitution. Now it is preparing to drag Australia into the creation of unnecessary nuclear energy plants which would be developed in seven safe conservative electoral seats.

The use of the single-member electoral system is now planned for an energy system that is not supported by the majority and is indeed widely rejected for several important reasons. It should be noted now that the planned use of single-member districts for this purpose is, in fact, a further negative of that system.

The role of the Opposition Leader to develop opposing policies – the Westminster function of an Opposition leader – has now resulted in quite unnecessary threats to endanger society.

David Crowe in the Sydney Morning Herald has already pointed out 'two black holes before getting to countless questions about secondary details' — the cost to build them and to run them for decades, as well as design.

Above all, Australians surely can generate plenty of solar and wind energy. The need for nuclear power simply does not exist in Australia at all.

To try to use safe conservative seats for that negative purpose is to further abuse that electoral system. That two-party system is altogether no longer providing an effective democracy.

We have had a gut full of pork barrelling, of neglected safe seats and of the fact that only a handful of seats are decided on the first count, the rest on compulsory preferences. Let's stop pretending that this is a fair system, nothing could be further from the truth.

Australian voters have already turned their back on the Liberal Party, voted strongly for Independent women and the Greens in 2022 and, by doing so, essentially said goodbye to the two-party system.

However, further reflection is needed as to what that means and what will replace it.

The major parties may be reluctant to replace the single-member electoral district system with a much more democratic system.

Although it had a marginally positive election outcome for the ALP in 2022, as it still delivered its majority government despite a very low primary vote of 32.6%, it is further proof that major electoral system change is in fact long overdue.  

The single-member district system with compulsory preferencing has strongly, but quite unfairly, favoured the major parties. The outcome also still resulted in severe under-representation of the Greens in the House of Representatives even though they ended up with four seats.

Proportionally, they should have gained around 18 seats. A Proportional system naturally is based on multi-member seats. Still, the somewhat unusual 2022 Election outcome does not mean that the electoral system has changed at all.

The Oppositionist culture will continue — clearly a potential threat to unity and progress in Australia. However, this may not be the preferred way of Prime Minister Albanese either.

His stated preference is for cooperation — also for fairness and democratic representation. Really, here is his opportunity. The Westminster legacy of Australia's inherited parliamentary and electoral systems is no longer really fit for the purpose intended.

Even in the UK and U.S., this is widely recognised. Certainly, the Greens and most – perhaps all of the Independents as well – will now reflect on campaigning for a more democratic electoral system.

For nearly half the voters – culturally diverse – the system is altogether of questionable value. Therefore, it is high time to move away from the two-party system and the single-member district electoral system that produces it.

Governance and political education have to be a much more prominent part of the longer-term reforms, but the electoral system can be changed straight away. A new electoral law can be developed right now. The Parliament has the constitutional power to make electoral reforms. That is stated in several clauses.

Multi-member electoral systems (MMP) could be 15 of, say, 10 MPs for the Federal House of Representatives. This would yield a national multi-party system and more Independents.

The nonsensical need for Opposition leaders to dream up unhelpful alternatives against the government party would disappear forever. The emphasis would be on cooperation rather than Opposition, a major step forward in the nation.

The recent political history in Australia demonstrates that the need for system change is urgent. The new electoral system should be national, not based on based on federal-state boundaries.

Of course, similar system changes should follow in the federal states as well.

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former associate professor at Southern Cross University and former convenor of ABC Friends (Central Coast).

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