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Democracy.



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The Australian Greens

 

Democracy

 

 

 

1. Constitutional reform and democracy

 

2. Local government

 

3. Community participation in government

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Constitutional Reform and Democracy

 

1.1 Principles

 

 

 

The Australian Greens believe that:

 

a)  Parliament is the central authority of representative and responsible government;

 

b)  each person should have one vote, that all votes should be of equal value, and that proportional representation best reflects the wishes of the electorate in the composition of Federal Parliament and State and Local Governments;

 

c)  each citizen has both the right and the responsibility to participate in the processes of government;

 

d)  Australia’s constitution and democratic structures should help to build an ecologically sust ainable and socially just society, with a global consciousness and a long term perspective;

 

e)  Australia’s constitution should express our aspirations as a community and define our rights and responsibilities as individuals and as members of the communit y, as well as establish the powers and duties of government; and

 

f)  Australia’s constitution and public institutions need fundamental change, which should be brought about through an ongoing participatory process.

 

 

 

1.2 Goals

 

1.2.1 The Parliament

 

 

 

The Australian Greens will:

 

a)  work to re-assert the authority of the Federal Parliament by

 

 

 

·  making it more representative of the range of opinion within society through the use of Proportional Representation (PR) to elect the House of Representatives; and

 

·  strengthening the capacity of the Senate to act as a house of review;

 

 

 

b)  propose that vacancies in any House of Parliament (Local, State or Federal) should be filled by a member of the same party selected from a list submitted by the political party concerned;

 

c)  propose fixed terms of parliament with fixed election dates and, in the case of the Senate, that there be an alternate half-Senate election on that fixed date; and

 

d)  propose that section 44 of the Constitution is revised so that me mbers of parliament and candidates in elections are allowed to retain their government employment, being on leave without pay during the time of political activity.

 

 

 

1.2.2 The Republic

 

 

 

The Australian Greens:

 

a)  strongly support Australia becoming a republic;

 

b)  consider 2001 to be a symbolically appropriate time for the change to a republic;

 

c)  believe that the role of the Head of State should be purely ceremonial, and that the power to dismiss the Prime Minister should reside in the House by exp licit vote; and

 

d)  maintain that the Head of State should be elected by a special majority of a joint sitting of Federal Parliament; nominations should come from an independent commission of non-politicians appointed by the elected Constitutional Convention (see below).

 

 

 

1.2.3 Constitutional Reform

 

 

 

The Australian Greenssupport fundamental reform to the constitution and other structures of democratic governance.

 

The process we support for ongoing constitutional reform is that agreed to at the Constit utional Convention:

 

If a republican system of government is introduced by referendum, at a date being not less than three years or more than five years thereafter, the Commonwealth Government should convene a further Constitutional Convention. Two-thirds of such Convention should be directly elected by the people. The agenda of such Convention would be to:

 

a)  review the operation and effectiveness ofany republican system of government introduced by a constitutional referendum;

 

b)  address any other matt er related to the operation of our system of government under republican arrangements, including:

 

 

 

·  the role of the three spheres of government;

 

·  the rights and responsibilities of the citizenship;

 

·  whether the Commonwealth should have an environment power;

 

·  the system of governance and proportional representation;

 

·  whether the mechanism for constituional change should be altered;

 

·  constitutional aspects of indigenous reconciliation;

 

·  equal representation of men and women in Parliament; and

 

·  ways to better inform people and involve them in the political processes.

 

 

 

The Convention should be preceded by an extensive and properly resourced consultation process, to commence within twelve months of the passage of a referendum to establish a republic, in which ideas and responses on the above matter would be actively so ught by the Government and Parliament

 

 

 

1.2.4 Australian Constitution

 

 

 

The Australian Greens will work to include in the Australian constitution:

 

a)  a preamble which incorporates

 

 

 

·  recognition and acknowledgement of the original and ongoing occupation of Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;

 

·  recognition that Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders have continuing rights by virtue of their status as Australia's indigenous peoples;

 

·  principles for reconciliation with the original settlers of Australia;

 

·  recognition of Australia's cultural diversity;

 

·  reference to the people of Australia having agreed to reconstitute our system of government as a republic;

 

·  a provision allowing ongoing consideration of constitutional change;

 

·  affirmation of the equality of all people before the law;

 

·  recognition of the need for gender equity;

 

·  explicit expression of the core values of our democracy;

 

·  a commitment to social equity and environmental sustainability in Australia; and

 

·  a statement of our obligations to the global community, in relation to protection of the environment, equity and justice;

 

 

 

b)  principles of participatory democracy, including that all votes will have equal value;

 

c)  a Bill of Rights and Respo nsibilities;

 

d)  recognition of local government;

 

e)  clear definition of the roles of the different spheres of government;

 

f)  amendments to section 51 giving the Federal government explicit powers in relation to issues of national and international im portance such as race relations, the environment, corporate law, industrial relations and communications; and

 

g)  environmental due process provisions, including the right to know and the precautionary principle.

 

 

 

1.2.5 Spheres of Government

 

 

 

The Australian Greens:

 

a)  recognise the need for redistribution of powers amongst the spheres of government, generally to strengthen the power of the federal and local/regional spheres;

 

b)  support the eventual abolition of the States; and

 

c)  will actively pr omote debate on the definition and roles of local, bioregional and federal spheres of government and organisation and on the need for global citizen- based democratic structures.

 

 

 

1.2.6 Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

 

 

 

The Australian Greens support the general principle of a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities to preserve and enhance the fundamental rights and responsibilities that are essential to human dignity and co-operation and recognise the need for community consultation and participation in the development of such a Bill for the Australian people (see Appendix 1).

 

 

 

1.2.6.1 Areas to be covered in a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities

 

 

 

The Australian Greens propose that the following areas be enshrined in a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities for Australian people:

 

a)  Civil and Political Issues

 

 

 

·  life, liberty and security;

 

·  legal recognition and equality;

 

·  voting and standing for election;

 

·  privacy;

 

·  police custody;

 

·  that relating to an alleged offender;

 

·  standard of criminal procedure;

 

·  that relating to the victim;

 

·  property;

 

·  procedural fairness;

 

·  that particular to a child;

 

freedom

 

·  of religion;

 

·  of thought, conscience and belief;

 

·  of speech and other expression;

 

·  of association;

 

·  to peaceful assembly;

 

·  of movement and residence;

 

·  from discrimination;

 

·  from slavery; and

 

·  from torture, experimentation and treatment;

 

 

 

 

 

 

b) Economic and Social Issues

 

 

 

·  education;

 

·  adequate standard of living;

 

·  work;

 

·  legal assistance;

 

·  freedom of family structure; and

 

·  adequate child care.

 

 

 

c) Community and Cultural Issues

 

 

 

·  living in a safe society;

 

·  collective and individual development;

 

·  that particular to indigenous peoples;

 

·  culture;

 

·  environmental protection and conservation; and

 

·  ecologically sustainable development.

 

 

 

1.3 Short Term Goals

 

 

 

The Australian Greens will:

 

a)  support the creation of an Australian Republic by 2001;

 

b)  initiate legislation to adopt PR in the House of Representatives, State lower houses and local government;

 

c)  initiate legislation to establish a directly elected Constitutional Convention to consider fundamental reform of the constitution by 2005;

 

d)  propose the development of an international Framework Convention on Sustainable Development which is made more precise by the addition of protocols, for example dealing with environmental health, indigenous peoples and the environment, and environmental due process;

 

e)  oppose attempts to undermine the domestic implementation of Australia’s international obligations arising from the rati fication of treaties, whilst working towards a process for domestic ratification of international treaties;

 

f)  support the right of people from the age of 16 years to vote and to hold public office, in recognition of the increasing awareness of and respo nsibility towards current issues of young people (see also policy: Young People);

 

g)  introduce rules such that people who are found to have acted in a corrupt way be barred from ever holding public office again and as well, that they forfeit any superannuation payments they may have made while holding that office and that they lose the right to any termination payments for which they would otherwise have been eligible; and

 

h)  work for appropriate and adequate consultation to better gauge opinions on iss ues of concern.

 

 

 

2. Local Government

 

2.1 Principles

 

 

 

The Australian Greens believe that fundamental changes to the structure of government are vital if we are to achieve true democracy in this country. If government is to be of, for and by the people, it must start at the local level and it is at this level that the power must remain.

 

Local government should be recognised in the Australian constitution.

 

Whatever the final shape of the reorganisation of the Australian system of government, the Australian Greens recognise and support the preservation of a system of local government which reflects the desire for local community identity and self-determination. We believe that power should reside in the most localised sphere of government that is able to deal with the issue.

 

The Australian Greens condemn:

 

a)  large-scale enforced amalgamations;

 

b)  unelected commissioners replacing elected representatives;

 

c)  councils being used as vehicles for implementing economic rationalist policies based on the T hatcherist model;

 

d)  the reduction of councils to the level of enabling authorities; and

 

e)  councils moving away from the provision of services towards merely deciding who will win the tenders to provide these services.

 

The Australian Greens are conce rned at the present nature and rate of privatisation and corporatisation of local government services including:

 

 

 

·  waste management;

 

·  water supply;

 

·  sewerage; and

 

·  electricity supply.

 

 

 

While the number of women involved in local government is greater than in other spheres of government, their participation is limited and should be increased.

 

 

 

2.2 Goals

 

 

 

While the Australian Greens support local autonomy, we also acknowledge that giving unbridled power to local councils could lead to further p roblems, especially irreversible environmental ones.

 

The Australian Greens propose:

 

a)  a Code of Ethics and a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities based on green principles to ensure that, among other things, local activities are socially advantageous an d environmentally benign;

 

b)  a review of local government electoral processes, with a view to recommending proportional representation;

 

c)  a review of the revenue base of local government; and

 

d)  better coordination with other levels of government to avoid duplication and unnecessary waste of resources.

 

 

 

2.3 Short Term Targets

 

 

 

In recognising that local government must play an expanded and more autonomous role while maintaining its accountability if we are to achieve a truly democratic system of government in Australia, the Australian Greens propose:

 

a)  financial support for those elected to local government, in recognition of the part they must play in decision-making;

 

b)  increased involvement of local government at other levels of government;

 

c)  that State of the Environment reporting include c riteria for measuring the environmental impact of developments;

 

d)  that those people who are found to have acted in a corrupt way be barred from ever holding public office again and as well, that they forfeit any superannuation payments they may have mad e while holding that office and that they lose the right to any termination payments for which they would otherwise have been eligible;

 

e)  that local councils require all new buildings, subdivisions and developments to conform to Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) principles;

 

f)  a regular flow of information to the community via community radio, newsletters and noticeboards to give equal voice to a range of ideas and to encourage community participation in local government;

 

g)  that all sphere s of government take immediate steps to familiarise all citizens with their rights and with all aspects of the present electoral system; and

 

h)  that there be appropriate and adequate consultation to better gauge opinions on issues of concern.

 

 

 

3. Community Participation in Government

 

3.1 Principles

 

 

 

The Australian Greens are working according to these principles:

 

a)  the legitimacy of community participation in the making of law and policy should be established as an underpinning principle of all ac tions of governments;

 

b)  all individuals and community groups should be given the opportunity to participate in decisions which affect them;

 

c)  the contribution of diverse groups provides a valuable addition to available information;

 

d)  the needs of future generations should be recognised in contemporary decision-making;

 

e)  decisions should be made at the most appropriate level; in some cases this will include groupings not currently given decision-making status, such as the neighbourhood;

 

f)  poli cies, strategies and frameworks should be developed which enable civic infrastructure to facilitate community participation in the business of government;

 

g)  every effort should be made to give marginalised groups opportunities to be effectively involved in decision-making. This will entail longer timelines and the introduction and strengthening of community development practices. Outreach beyond written submissions and public forum techniques will be required;

 

h)  involvement in community consultations should be recognised as work. Support should be provided to community organisations to participate in consultative processes;

 

i)  community participation in decision-making should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-off event which leaves communities out of reviews and changes to policies;

 

j)  the ability of community groups and individuals to gain access to information which will empower them to participate effectively is crucial to meaningful participation; and

 

k)  governments, of all spheres, sho uld produce and follow guidelines to ensure that the community representatives whom they consult on a day to day basis reflect accurately the views of their constituencies.

 

 

 

3.2 Goals

 

 

 

The following goals are set by the Australian Greens:

 

a)  In the l ong term, wherever possible, decision-making should be based on bio-regional considerations and patterns of social interaction;

 

b)  because of the importance of everybody taking part in political life, the Australian Greens will work for the principle tha t leave without pay is automatically granted for anybody standing in an election for public office;

 

c)  community services and local environmental policy should be provided by the closest possible sphere to the consumers of the services;

 

d)  the federal government's domestic role should be to ensure equitable distribution of resources and information, to coordinate services which cut across state boundaries and to ensure that principles of ecological and social sustainability are followed by local governments; and

 

e)  less formal organisations at the level of neighbourhoods country towns, particular interests and issues, etc, should have access to all spheres of government through formal and informal consultative and review procedures.

 

 

 

3.3 Short Term Targets

 

 

 

The Australian Greens set the following targets:

 

a)  the move towards an Australian republic should be based on wide information-sharing and consultation with all constituencies of Australia's population;

 

b)  processes of policy review and decision-makin g by government and its institutions should be made more open and accessible to the public;

 

c)  Freedom of Information legislation should be widened to make relevant information more accessible and to reduce the cost of attaining information by community groups;

 

d)  those public servants and journalists, etc, who publicise sensitive information of benefit to the community should be encouraged rather than disadvantaged for efforts to inform the public of actions which are not in the community interest;

 

e)  democratically constituted groups which work on behalf of the wider community, or identified constituencies within it, should be adequately resourced to enable them to fulfill their functions;

 

f)  consultative periods should be well advertised and of su fficient length to enable all those interested to participate;

 

g)  relevant documents should be available in places accessible to all members of the public; shopfronts should be set up for this purpose;

 

h)  public meetings should be held at varying times in appropriate places to enable attendance by all affected. In many cases it will be important to provide childcare and transport, as well as access for the disabled for maximum involvement of all constituencies; in some cases, it will be preferable to talk to people in their homes or habitual meeting places rather than to set up a meeting and expect them to attend;

 

i)  information should be presented clearly, graphically and free of jargon;

 

j)  the development of a free-access citizen information and g overnance participation facility on the Internet should be promoted; and

 

k)  existing community networks should be identified and strengthened through community development.