Discuss about the Health of Australian Liberal Democracy.
The presence of political parties is essential to the success of a democracy. It has been observed that the more is the involvement of political parties in the political progress of a nation the greater are the chances of the country to move towards a democratic direction. In the context of democratic developments it must be noted that the fate of a liberal democracy is largely decided by how actively the political parties are participating. This truth is applicable to the liberal democracy of Australia too, but in reality the truth has not been turned into practicality. Time and time again it has been proved that the two-party system has failed to contribute to the overall success of Australian liberal democracy, primarily because it has turned the political arena of the country into a biased one incapable of appeasing the interests of the majority of the populace. Hence, it must be argued that the existence of the two-party system is not at all essential to the health of Australian liberal democracy.
Australia is a nation that embodies elements of both liberalism and democracy, and even though the structure has its origins in Western Europe and particularly in Britain, Australia has been able to develop some of its own unique political features (Irwin, 2016). Among such features is the predominant two-party system. The existence of political parties is due to representing the interests of different groups and individuals who constitute the citizenry of a nation. As the needs and demands of the citizens are varied, there must be the existence of multiple political parties to represent the diversity. This principle has not been thoroughly followed in the political system of Australia, the political domain of which is dominated by two major political parties despite the presence of several other minor parties and independents (Parliamentary Education Office, n.d.). The two major political parties, the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) (Desai and Boreham, 2016) has, till date, been able to maintain the political imbalance that has put at stake the well being and welfare of the populace. It is to be noted that proper voting system is the backbone of every democracy and this is true for Australian democracy too. In this respect it is noteworthy that to maintain the dominance of compulsory voting it has become mandatory for the Australian political system to resort to the two-party system (Harmsen, 2016). But time has come to alter the system. Unlike nations like Britain, Canada, or New Zealand, the traditional political system of Australia is reliant on the obtainment of majority of votes by the two major political parties, and as this has become a political tradition that has contributed to the weakness of governance over the years, it is high time to look for an alternative multi-party system within the Australian political realm.
A liberal democracy must be based on collaboration and not on contradiction. Though differences and contradictions are often needed to come to a conclusion that is beneficial for the majority, the Australian political sphere, owing to the dominance of the two-party system, has only been able to add to the confusion. Too much contradiction between the two major political parties has rendered inefficacy to the system of governance in Australia. It is a fact that the two-party system has brought about extreme polarization in different levels of government (Reference.com, n.d.). The two major political parties in Australia have opposite views on almost everything, and when the two get hold on the governance at the federal and state levels, problems only aggravate (Woldring, 2012). It can be pathetic to learn that while in most of the representative democracies, multiple parties seek cooperation to form majority government, in Australia, the system of governance is hampered primarily due to the time wasted by the two majority parties in finding fault in one another (Woldring, 2012). Moreover, there are other issues to add to the problem that is created by the two-party system in Australia. It is to be noted that, “Membership of the major parties is at all time low. Politicians are recruited from an extremely small number of people. Combined with this is the fact that, in a large number of seats, candidates are elected on well below 50 per cent of the vote in their single-member electoral districts” (Woldring, 2012). And all such facts are not at all beneficial for the health of Australian liberal democracy. Furthermore, it must be taken into account that the Australian liberal democracy was supposed to be based on some basic tenets, but the prevalence of the two-party system has contradicted the supposition. Australian democracy was supposed to be open to popular participation and was also supposed to be characterized by genuine competition for political office (Kane, n.d.). But the dominance of the two-party system has confined the political system within the reach of powerful few, and this is an unhealthy proposition indeed. The two-party system has only been able, to a large extent, to bring about factionalism and sectionalism. And in this respect it must be noted that, “Australian parties did little to encourage greater consciousness of specifically democratic norms serving merely to express and channel sectoral interests” (Kane, n.d.). Another interesting fact is that, the two-party system has given rise to a vicious political cycle of election and re-election. The Australian two-party system has paved the way for the existence and dominance of a preferential voting system combined with single-member electorates, and this, in turn, has made it almost impossible for the minor parties to gain hold over the lower house (Murphy, 2013). In this respect one may note that, “Until an electorate gets to the tipping point where a minor party comes at least second, as in the seat of Melbourne in 2010, the preferential system means minor parties vacuum up discontented voters to deliver back to one of the major parties” (Murphy, 2013). Such a system is, in its true sense, quite an antithesis to liberal democracy.
The sound health of a liberal democracy is usually ensured by political plurality. The more is the participation of political parties, the more are the chance of both majorities and minorities to be represented in an equal manner. But this has not been the case with Australian democracy. The dominance of the two-party system has made it almost impossible for the minority parties to prove their ability to reframe political debate and to bring under light those issues that have been overlooked by the stubborn two-party political system (SBS, 2015). In a liberal democracy the genuine minorities have to be properly represented and for doing so the minority parties should be given the chance to air their voice and show their capabilities. It is only when such plurality will prevail in the democratic arena of Australia that the true health of the liberal Australian democracy would be preserved. Moreover, it is an undeniable truth that a liberal democracy must be capable of addressing diversified problems arising among the masses. And for doing so, the democracy must be equipped with multiple solutions which can only be provided through the presence of a multiparty system in which all the parties, both major and minor, have the chance to get properly represented. The greater the involvement of political parties, the greater the chances of solutions to several cropping problems faced by a liberal democracy (Debate.org, n.d.). Furthermore, it must be noted that the hallmark of a truly liberal democratic system is the confidence of the citizenry in important political institutions like political parties, and if considered from this perspective, it can be seen that the dominance of the two-party system is injurious to the political health of Australia. This can be argued by citing the fact that majority of Australian populace has lesser confidence in the two major political parties. This truth had been revealed through the Australian Election Study conducted in 2010 which states that, “citizens express very little confidence in political parties. Only 31 percent of respondents expressed ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in ‘Australian political parties’” (Martin, n.d.). This shows that the predominance of the two-party system is doing more harm than good to the health of the Australian liberal democracy.
Also, it must be noted that the binary divide that the two-party system in Australia represents actually does not reflect the true nature of the contemporary Australian society (“Political Imagination and a Hung Parliament”, n.d.). Today the communities in Australia are much more differentiated, diversified, and pluralised, and their ideologies and philosophies are also different (Marsh, 2010). Sadly enough, all such diversities are not properly represented by the two-party system and by the leaders of the majority parties.
This indeed is a grave problem which is affecting the health of the liberal democracy attributed to Australian political realm. Moreover, the trust of citizens on political parties is a key to the success of a liberal democracy, but in this respect too, the two-party system of Australia has rendered inefficacy to the system of governance. Owing to the rigid, stagnant, and ineffective two-party system, today, only a relatively small number of voters have remained loyal to the major parties, and “For their part, party organisations have virtually collapsed. They play almost no role in policy development or in activist mobilisation. Membership is insignificant and real power has flowed to party leaders” (Marsh, 2010). And such an outlook on the part of the majority of Australians is a pointer to the fact that the two-party system is not at all essential anymore to the sound health of the liberal democratic political structure of Australia. Besides, the argument should be supported by citing the fact that owing to the lack of interest in the two-party system, according to a study conducted by the Australian National University, there is a sharp decline in the number of Australians who are presently engaged in the democratic system of the nation (Triffitt, 2014).
In conclusion, time and time again it has been proved that the two-party system has failed to contribute to the overall success of Australian liberal democracy, primarily because it has turned the political arena of the country into a biased one incapable of appeasing the interests of the majority of the populace. Hence, it must be argued that the existence of the two-party system is not at all essential to the health of Australian liberal democracy. Unlike nations like Britain, Canada, or New Zealand, the traditional political system of Australia is reliant on the obtainment of majority of votes by the two major political parties, and as this has become a political tradition that has contributed to the weakness of governance over the years, it is high time to look for an alternative multi-party system within the Australian political realm. Moreover, Australian political sphere, owing to the dominance of the two-party system, has only been able to add to the confusions that have hindered the progress of Australia into a more egalitarian society. Too much contradiction between the two major political parties has rendered inefficacy to the system of governance in Australia. Furthermore, the growing distrust of the populace in the two-party system and the lack of confidence of majority of Australians in the functioning of the system have also pointed to the fact that now it is time for the two-party system to get substituted by a more robust system of governance that would be beneficial to the health of the liberal democratic nature of Australian government.
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