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.