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Queensland Democrats Senator calls for direct democracy

Originally posted on the Australian Democrats web site on 1 November 2007

Queensland Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett used a visit to the Sunshine Coast to call for greater protections such as the public right to appeal against the lawfulness of decisions that directly affect them and to promote the Democrats' long-standing policies on direct democracy.

"Federal electoral law now allows for plebiscites and the Democrats believe this recent development should be built on," Senator Bartlett said.

"Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Switzerland, 27 US states, Venezuela and Poland all have versions of direct democracy. Australians should have similar rights.

"Noosa is one of the areas most fiercely resisting forced local government amalgamations. The biggest travesty of this process is not just that the affected communities are being denied a direct say in the amalgamations, contrary to previous government commitments, but that any right of legal appeal against the decisions of the Queensland Government or the Local Government Reform Commission is also being stopped.

"This is a blatant denial of procedural and natural justice.

"If a Commission recommendation for amalgamation is not relevantly evidenced-based, it should surely be open to appeal.

"The Democrats used the Senate debate on Queensland Council amalgamations and plebiscites to try to get the federal government to put into place a guarantee of review processes where they are lacking in state or territory legislation.

"Despite all their bluster about basic democratic rights, the Coalition opposed this.

"Election times are a good time to remember that commitments and promises made by major parties can not be relied on.

"At a state level, the Coalition parties are just as guilty of broken promises and denying people a say.

"During the 1995 state election campaign, the National Party-led Coalition made an explicit commitment to hold a referendum on the re-introduction of an Upper House in Queensland. This pledge helped them attract crucial preferences that gave them the seats to gain government the following year but they broke that pledge.

"If an Upper House had been in place in Queensland, the abysmal and undemocratic process surrounding local council amalgamations may well have been stopped, or at a minimum improved. Queensland is particularly vulnerable to and abuse of process and denial of freedoms due to the lack of an Upper House acting as a house of review.

"Australian's need protections in place to minimise the chances of such a denial of basic rights an natural justice from occurring in the future," Senator Bartlett concluded.

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As an independent Senate candidate (Group N on this election's ticket), while I agree with Senator Bartlett's intentions, I think we as a society have the capacity to go two steps further: (a) to move Senate voting towards an electronic format, continuous in its capacity to be altered, powerful in generating a Senator's legislative mandate, and giving the electorate far greater control than what is available; and (b) move to end the role of State governments once and for all.

The archaic remnants of a political system based in 19th Century thinking, states are now redundant in the face of a strong Federal system and the potential for local and regional councils to work together to form the most efficient and productive relationships possible. It is thus no wonder Beattie moved on amalgamation only now, considering the awfully tired feeling in the electorate at the last QLD State election - he sensed that the electorate is wearying of the ineptitude of State government (and opposition), and therefore felt it necessary to solidify power into his own hands, even if Bligh is now in charge (Beattie will still benefit in the coming years as a result of his achievements in QLD politics).

It is utterly important that genuine independents like Cate Molloy at House of Reps level, and young candidates like myself at the Senate level, play a big part in setting Queensland up for a shift to true sustainability. The Greens have the heart in this area ecologically, but I am uncertain as to whether they have the necessary economic future vision to balance their overall political equations. The Democrats will never be a force anywhere other than at the Senate level (if that), which makes it difficult for them to communicate across the breadth of levels of government. The majors and conservative right minors are, or will be, of detriment if allowed to maintain or increase their powers. Independents, if good communicators and good listeners, will always be better in serving the electorate than parties will, and I hope everyone in Queensland can appreciate that thought even for a moment when they vote on the 24th.

David Alan Couper
Lead candidate, unendorsed, Group "N", QLD Senate ticket 2007.