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Where are We? What Time is It? #5

Monday, 6 September 2010  | Bruce Wearne

Here are a few questions that we can ask ourselves as we wait to see how the Federal Parliament will be structured as a result of the negotiations that have followed after the inconclusive election:

  • During the recent election, which parties put forward policies to explain to electors the role "conscience votes" should play in parliament? 
  • What prevents parties from formulating a policy about "conscience votes" among all the policies that they put forward? 
  • During the recent election, which parties or independent candidates put forward policies that explain to electors the part played by "party discipline" in the conduct, voting and overall workings of parliament? 
  • What prevents parties and candidates from formulating policies about "party discipline" and its role in good government? 
  • How has our parliamentary democracy developed over recent decades so that "conscience votes" have become a crucial part of Australian political life? 
  • Is our political system incapable of promoting genuine political debate about contentious moral and ethical issues? Could this be why such issues are left off the policy platforms of parties and candidates, or if not excluded entirely, relegated to subordinate status? Does this subordination of such policies help explain how such issues become subject to a "conscience vote" in the parliament? 
  • Why should one political policy advocating public justice be considered more important than other such policies? What reasons are given for justifying the view that some issues are worthy of immediate debate while others are left waiting in the wings? 
  • Is not our lack of principled political discussion about contentious differences of opinion, including ethical differences, in large part due to the fact that we do not usually see these issues as political until there is a crisis? i.e. when, as with our current situation there is a likelihood of a hung parliament or when one political lobby group with views contrary to those of another significant sector of the population, gains parliamentary support for proposed legislation, or when a Prime Minister, after consultation with powerful commercial groups, decides that her/his election platform commitments can be dispensed with "in the national interest". 
  • How should we view "national interest" in evaluating the conduct of elected members of parliament and their voting record in relation to their campaign commitments? 
  • Isn't the loyalty of an elected representative to her/his electors an integral component of how the system of government we have inherited relates to national interest? 
  • What is it in our current way of "doing politics" that challenges the principle that an elected representative should remain loyal to campaign promises? 
  • Why has there been a significant growth in the number of "independents" who have been elected to parliament? 
  • What does the current uncertainty about the election result tell us about the status of "two party politics" as a norm for "doing politics" in Australia? Both Gough Whitlam and John Howard appealed to this norm as basic to their own contributions. 
  • Are we about to enter a new phase in our political history where our political system and our understanding of political parties will have to be re-drawn? 
  • In the meantime, what can we do to ensure that all elected representatives are given all the help and respect they need to, in turn, respect the "consciences" of all other representatives, "party disciplines" of members and duties to electors that are all part of their combined responsibility as a federal parliament mandated to make laws and govern in order that public justice be upheld and maintained for all? 
  • Why has there been only marginal and sporadic efforts to promote a genuinely biblically-directed view of public justice among the Christian citizens of Australia during recent decades? What are the major hurdles that have to be considered when developing a Christian political option?

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