It was Winston Church who said, “Never waste a good crises” and certainly governments of all persuasions and levels in the democratic world have taken advantage of the existing situation. The current corona-virus has seen all sorts of previously freedoms erased from the public arena adding that “this new norm”. George Orwell said, “Once freedom is taken away they will not be given back”.
Quite apart from the current restrictions (and at places draconian) on freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of action and even freedom of thought (Nigel Forage, social commentator from the UK was told by the police he will have to “rethink”) many, many people have been arrested for even questioning such abuses of power. We are not talking about Communist China, Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany, but western democracies.
There have even been attempts of late to control the media. Without a free media and an independent judiciary, freedom cannot be guaranteed. Spirited debate between the ABC and sections of Sky News is as it should be, providing an array of opinion.
There are, however, other proven ways to give the people power which may not be in the interest of governments, who now seem to think they know what is best for us all.
In California at the moment, the Governor, Gavin Newsom, may be sacked by the people. That is because they have, what is termed, the Power of Recall, as do other US States. Recall is a procedure where an elected official can be removed from office before the election by the consent of the majority of the electorate.
Do we need something similar in Australia? Indeed there are two other methods that can be used that gives great decision making to the electorate, much to the chagrin of government. These methods help to ensure the gross abuse of power by those who rule us contained. These are Citizens Imitated Referenda (CIR) and Voters’ Veto VV).
CIR is termed direct democracy, giving power to the people. It works extra well and has done since 1891, in Switzerland. There, citizens can launch a popular initiative to demand a change to the constitution. Any eligible voter can participate. In Switzerland (population in excess of 8 million) when 100,000 valid signatures are in favour of a proposal within a period of 18 months, can initiate a referendum. This allows all eligible citizens to participate in decision-making. The beauty of the system is that the central government cannot refuse the Will of the People; they are obliged to accept the people’s decision. People also have the right to reject certain international treaties. As stated, it works well and despite critics, there is no election chaos. It is well ordered and a referendum can be held at the same time of the local or federal elections.
The other is Voters’ Veto. This gives, again, power to the people. After collecting enough signatures, poorly worded legislation or legislation that is not in the interest of the people can be vetoed. The government then would have the opportunity to put its case forward, but if again if rejected, the government is obligated to honour the People’s Will.
In 1991, Neil Robson, who was in the Tasmanian Parliament from 1976-1992, came close to having Voters’ Veto passed by the Tasmanian Government. He was not successful. I worked with Neil on this project as I saw that if passed, it would give power to the people and stop in some measure the intrigues of party politics.
Each state in the Australian Commonwealth needs CIR and VV although there is a case if we had CIR we would not need VV.
We have to recognise that governments do not necessarily work in the interest of the people; often they work in their own interests. Freedom does not come from governments, nor will (and there are exceptions) politicians go battling for the freedom of citizens. They will do what their Party will tell them to do. Freedom is a powerful urge. People have fought for freedom since we have walked the earth. We have seen countless tyrants over the thousands of year come and go, but go they did. Freedom is not given; it has to be won and once won it has to be safeguarded. Our inherited freedoms such as the Magna Carter, the 1688 Bill of Rights, which sets out basic civil rights, Common Law, our own Australian Constitution and the International Charter of Human Rights - and I dare say many more – have been ignored and abused with many of the people accepting without question that those in charge have our best interest at heart. I can only add what ex-President of the United States Ronald Reagan warned. “The most terrifying words in the English language are, Í am here from the government and I’m here to help you”. The growth of government over our lives is frightening. We, the People, must have ways to control this intrusion.