The Inside Word

Democracy by any other name

Appropriately and famously on November 11, 1947 (Remembrance Day) in the House of Commons Winston Churchill said that:

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

Not that Churchill was rewarded for his victorious efforts during World War 2, as he was tossed out of office shortly after the war. Ironically for Churchill, democracy in action and an outcome he accepted without consternation. So, how timely for our federal parliament, due to recommence in September, with only two sitting weeks before Australia goes to the polls for a referendum on The Voice to consider our democracy as the backdrop. 

Expect these two sitting weeks to be dominated by cost-of-living issues, the never ending housing and rental crisis and interest rates, but none will be more visceral than the battle for hearts and minds for a Yes or No on October 14. The stakes are high for both sides.

I have written about this subject a few times and continue to be fascinated by the broad debate and arguments for and against, not all worthy of repeating in this article. It’s been 24 years since we last went to the polls to vote on constitutional change and while that referendum failed to achieve the high bar for change, it did end well (I will come back to this). Though it failed, it was not because people were against an Australian as Head of State but because there was a great divide on the method of selection for the Head of State, and if the parliament should be charged with that responsibility. The rest is history, which may not be repeated for some time in the foreseeable future.

But as I said, it did end well, because regardless of the outcome that day the Australian people would always and did accept the result. The next day was very much like the day before where everyone got back to their regular lives and accepted the outcome as legitimate. This is important to note and to emphasise so as not to be taken for granted. 

Only just recently we witnessed quite the opposite in the case of the worlds most powerful democracy, the USA, with the organised and violent challenge by Donald Trump and his supporters in the presidential election result, or the revolving door of bloody coups in the democratic republic of Niger. Both these events should be a reminder for us in the preservation of our democratic way of life, belief in the rule of law, and the peace and prosperity it brings us.

While our democracy is not perfect and we should certainly not delude ourselves, both sides will state their case vigorously in this next two week parliamentary sitting sessions having a captive media and television audience before again hitting the hustings for the metaphoric hand-to-hand combat on the streets taking their arguments directly to the people.

This will be a no holds barred contest with only one possible outcome, Yes or No. But at no time should this debate and ‘fight’ for the hearts and minds of the people descend to a physical confrontation or delegitimisation of the process or outcome as seen in other places.

This is a complex time no doubt with many raw issues at the coalface overriding other thoughts for many ordinary Australians trying to make ends meet. But the capacity for Australians to move to a higher place of debate, argue for ideas, wrestle with concepts and ultimately make the right decision, I believe remains central to our culture and rule of law approach to life and politics. 

Not everyone will be happy with the outcome either way. So, what follows  is our collective responsibility to move forward and improve the lives of indigenous people that on every measure need better from their own country, Australia.

I am not sure what the referendum looks like yet, perhaps that is a problem in itself, but while there will be agreement on Churchill’s democratic perspective, I am certain none will want his fate as their outcome.

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