Something nice about our political system

If it seems I’m a bit harsh about our system of democracy, a bit of a relentless critic, regularly complaining about it and pointing out its many flaws (single member electorates that undemocratically lock in big parties regardless of how little they represent their voters; a ballot system in the Senate that gives voters either no control over their preferences or requires them to number some 80 boxes of independents and cranks they’ve never heard of, for starters), perhaps it’s worth mentioning that there’s also a lot I love about it.

And foremost among those aspects is this: that, at a grassroots level, we have a system in which even the most vigorous opponents can debate civilly with each other.

It warms my heart every time I volunteer at a polling booth and have invigorating, friendly debates and discussions with the volunteers from the Labor and Liberal parties, despite the fact that the only reason we’re there is to improve our parties’ positions against each other. Irrespective of the fundamental – and very serious – competition in which we’re engaging, it is wonderful to see that these are all genuine people who have in common that they, we, are all there to try to make the country a better place. Even the volunteers for the Liberal Party.

That this can happen not only without bloodshed, but with good humour and even camaraderie between ostensible foes is incredibly rare in human history, and it’s still far from universal in the modern world.

I love living in a country where the most bitter political debate can still be cheerful and good-natured. It might not be a perfect system, there might be plenty of room for practical, realistic, important improvements – but there’s a lot to be said for the way that what we have is practised by ordinary Australians, regardless.

10 responses to “Something nice about our political system

  1. I recently read about a refugee staying with an Australian, who was trying to explain Australian politics. ‘Slowly it dawned on [the refugee]: “You mean you can change governments without having to kill anyone?”‘

    It’s freaking fantastic!

  2. weewillywinkee

    I’ve had the same experience. There has only every been one sour grape in all the years I’ve handed out how to vote cards. It was the last Federal Election where the Family First person categorically refused to speak to me. All of the other volunteers were very happy to have a chat and we even made each other coffees. Indeed when it came to the Family First person they did not make me a coffee … *sigh* but alas I did make them one lol!

  3. How very Christian of you. 🙂

  4. It is not really a mystery why this is the case in Australia, but impossible in other regions in the world. Australia, despite the diversity, is essentially an egalitarian society. In an egalitarian society that practices a form of democracy, factions will split along ideological lines; left-right-left right out.
    In a society that is diverse and has large minorities, and which practices a form of democracy, factions will split along sectarian lines.
    It is difficult for instance for your average Kurd, Sunni, Hindi, Tamil, Shiite, to engage in left/right ideological politics; except as it pertains to their own group, and is restricted to their own group. There are exceptions, but that is generally the rule.
    We should celebrate our egalitarianism, but be conscious that it is by accident rather than design. The level of immigration ensures that newer arrivals assimilate and progressively change the society at the same time.

  5. I forgot to add that democracy is essentialy an adversorial political system, goverment vs opposition.

  6. We’re supposed to have representative democracy, where it’s more about a parliament that represents, roughly proportionally, the various sentiments and perspectives in the community. The single member electorate system has corrupted this to a false choice between two big but unrepresentative parties, but it’s not irretrievable.

  7. only the naive think power actually changes hands

  8. Not while people keep voting for the status quo parties, of course it doesn’t.

  9. I voted postal last week but I was walking past the local AEC office on Saturday where they were conducting early voting. The Greens volunteer went to hand me how-to-vote material and I said “No need, I’ve already voted. And it was Greens all the way.” The Labor volunteer chimed in with the best whiny 5 year old voice, “Awww, Whhhyyyy!?” Then everyone laughed – Liberal, Labor, Greens, even Family First.

    And I had the same thought as in your post. Despite the many valid complaints we can make about the system, it’s ace that there’s a level of respect and civility, that everyone has the opportunity and duty to vote and that it’s accomplished without cheating or violence.

  10. Pingback: Volunteering on Polling Day « Le Rayon Vert

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