Opinion: Robert Ollington
How can we support one, but not the other?
Government by opinion poll or plebiscite (‘direct democracy‘) is not something to be taken lightly. While the Australian Democrats are one of the few (if not the only) political parties in Australia that fully supports participatory democracy within the Party, we understand the dangers of this form of democracy on a national scale.
The originators of democracy, the ancient Greeks, did practice direct democracy, where all members of the electorate voted on all major decisions. But it must be noted that the electorate consisted only of wealthy (male) land owners and merchants from a single city. With such an homogeneous group, direct democracy worked for them. But with a wider and more diverse electorate, direct democracy suffers from the “tyranny of the majority“, where the needs and wants of minorities within the electorate are consistently ignored.
Now before you say: “No problem, I’m not in a minority”, think again. Suppose we held a plebiscite on where to build a new, multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art public hospital. If you’re not in Sydney, you are in the minority. Now imagine the same process for every decision that government must make. It’s easy to see that this form of democracy simply could not work in Australia.
While we welcome public participation in the democratic process, the Australian Democrats do not rely on majority opinion. We support policies that are backed by solid evidence and align with our values. Of course on any given issue there may be several policies that meet these requirements. When this happens, our members vote to choose between them.
We value freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression (and I believe the majority of Australians share these values). Same sex marriage supports these values, ‘banning the burqa’ does not. In other words, the Australia Democrats support same sex marriage because we believe it is the right thing to do, not just because the majority of Australians happen to agree with us.