If Australians had their way, major political parties would face a revolution including MPs being free to vote against the party line and voters holding the power to recall local members for fresh elections.
A new survey for the Museum of Australian Democracy showed that while Australians of all ages still embrace democracy and value its history of freedom and stability, they are disillusioned with contemporary politics and support radical reform.
"They associate [politics] with untrustworthy politicians," said Professor Mark Evans from the Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra, which designed and analysed the survey for the museum.
Professor Evans said short-term policies dominated by elections, the media and big business have left the vast majority of Australians feeling politically powerless.
"Eighty to 90 per cent of Australians believe they have little or no influence over national decision making," he said.
"It’s a worrying statistic, especially since Australia has gone through a period of relative affluence.
"The view out there is that in order for governments to implement policy, they have to provide concessions time and time again to big business."
We call it the magic kingdom effect – the way politicians think politics is all about what happens in Canberra whereas we all know that policy problems have to be solved in local communities.
University of Canberra Professor Mark Evans
The public also blames the media for focusing on personalities rather than policies.
"Media contributes to politics as an adversarial blood sport," Professor Evans said.
"Political parties come to Canberra to do battle. In my view, and what this survey indicates is, they need to come to Canberra to solve problems and there has to be a much more collaborative approach."
The most popular reforms in the survey included capping political donations and advertising as well as giving MPs the freedom to vote how they choose rather than following the party and enabling voters to recall MPs for fresh elections if they fail to provide effective representation.
Only 8 per cent of survey respondents agreed their MP was a good representative for the local community.
"We call it the magic kingdom effect – the way politicians think politics is all about what happens in Canberra whereas we all know that policy problems have to be solved in local communities," Professor Evans said.
Young people engaged but not in traditional sense
The survey revealed a public appetite for reform with young people leading the way utilising new digital forms of democratic engagement.
"Australian youth are the sails, not the anchor, of our democracy," Professor Evans said.
"Far from being apathetic, they are more engaged than other generations in terms of social media and collective action through the internet.
"They are information activists, sharing information and debating public policy online to a degree that shames our Parliament."
Young people are, however, less likely to engage in traditional politics such as joining the major parties.
Daryl Karp, the museum’s director, said last year young people also recorded the highest ever levels of not registering to vote.
"We have this real tradition of leading the world in democracy [but] it seems to be failing for this generation coming up," she said.
The University of Melbourne’s Aaron Martin, author of Young People and Politics, said social media cannot replace formal participation in electoral politics.
"My concern about social media is that people just continually become exposed to information," he said.
"It’s just really reinforcing pre-existing opinions and I don’t see that as part of a healthy democracy."
The Museum of Australian Democracy will launch the survey results in a new exhibition The Power of One – Power, Powerlessness and Australian Democracy in Canberra on Wednesday.
You can add your voice to their survey here.
The Power of One – Australian democracy survey
Here is a snapshot of the results – the three most popular responses for each category.
|1. What do Australians like about the way democracy works?|
|Australia has had a peaceful and stable political history|
|Australian elections are free and fair|
|Australia has been able to provide good education, health, welfare and other public services to its citizens|
|2. What do Australians dislike about the way democracy works?|
|The media has too much power|
|Politicians can’t be held to account for broken promises|
|Big business has too much power|
|3. How would Australians improve democracy?|
|Caps on political advertising and donations|
|Allowing MPs a free vote in Parliament|
|Right of recall for MPs|
(Source: Museum of Australian Democracy and the Institute for Governance)