Putting democracy back in the hands of the people
19 May 2021 at 9:00 am
“Government decisions are not being made in the interests of the community and the planet, but for vested interests, such as the fossil fuel industry”
Community groups have united to present their vision for a fairer democracy, putting forward a suite of reforms targeted at ensuring government decisions benefit the interests of the people rather than big corporations.
A coalition of 20 human rights, environment and health organisations have backed a newly created Framework for a Fair Democracy, which focuses on stamping out corruption, ending “cash for access” in the political system, and levelling the playing field in election debates.
The framework forms part of a new #OurDemocracy campaign – launched on Wednesday by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the Australian Democracy Network.
ACF’s economy and democracy program manager, Matt Rose, said these organisations have come together to make Australian politics fairer and more transparent by helping people reclaim their role in our democracy.
“ACF is a part of the #OurDemocracy campaign because government decisions are not being made in the interests of the community and the planet, but for vested interests, such as the fossil fuel industry,” Rose said.
“Civil society groups that work on issues such as gambling, obesity and gun reform face similar issues because of the way our democratic processes work. This makes people feel let down and excluded from our democracy.”
Proposed reforms include creating an enforceable code of conduct for politicians; entirely banning large political donations; and stopping outgoing ministers from taking jobs in the industries they’ve regulated.
Advocates also want to make lobbying and political donations transparent, by compelling ministers to publish their diaries, and making professional lobbyists disclose who they’ve met with on a public register.
HRLC senior lawyer Alice Drury told Pro Bono News it was “absolutely vital” for the community sector to endorse this framework and get behind the campaign, which she noted came amid fears around increasing restrictions on civil society.
“We need to be really vigilant about our democracy and that includes charities’ ability to advocate on issues that matter most to them,” Drury said.
“And the government proposal to change the [governance standards] for charities is a really good example of that.
“This campaign is about proactive reform to make our democracy stronger in the face of fairly consistent and damaging attempts by the federal government to undermine our democracy.”
Drury said she had a lot of hope that the reforms will win bipartisan support eventually.
“We’re not pretending that it will be easy or a quick thing to do. But it’s pretty clear to the Australian public that these are reforms that we need,” she said.