Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

MOADOPH Democracy 100 review

Democracy playing cards were designed by ThinkPlace and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis. Supplied: Museum of Australian Democracy.

Geraldine Doogue, Democracy in 2017 needs fewer stunts and swords, more genuine discussion, ABC News, 25 August 2017

It’s been a month of burka stunts and citizenship chaos, in which door-stopped politicians have been bluntly asked: is our democracy broken?

But amidst the chaos, perhaps we need to ask ourselves: what are democracy’s values? In Australia, 2017, that is. A trip to ancient Greece isn’t necessary.

Just mosey on down to Canberra and Old Parliament House, now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD), which this year celebrates its 90th birthday.

As part of the anniversary, a bunch of us — 100 to be precise, including Dick Smith, Kerry O’Brien, Warren Mundine, Susan Ryan, Jenny Brockie — were invited to participate in a glittering occasion last week, called Democracy 100 You Can Make a Difference.

We heard ex-prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard muse out loud about our democratic future, in an intriguing interplay dubbed a “multi-partisan conversation”, brokered by Annabel Crabb and broadcast on the ABC.

Then, at the end of our Greek-inspired menu with beautiful wines from the Canberra region, the invited guests at 15 tables were exhorted… to play a game!

You could almost hear the quiet groan. Please, no role-playing, with partygoers asked to be senators or parliamentarians, fulminating on some confected set of issues. Luckily, the game turned out to be considerable fun.

Cards against democracy

We were distributed a deck of cards in three different colour sets, devised as part of a complicated process undertaken over the last 18 months by the museum and the University of Canberra’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

They’d questioned 1,244 Australians recruited at random, and 10 focus groups, about their attitudes towards democracy.

Out of that arose some consensus, which was very broad in nature.

And as part of the game we were asked to put ourselves through a mild form of House of Representatives tension and rank the ideas raised by the survey participants in order of importance.

We were asked a number of questions: What do you think are Australia’s most important democratic values? What should the responsibilities of champions of democracy be? What could be done to strengthen our democracy?

In the “values” category, I wonder how you would choose between the ten options offered to us?

  • Religious tolerance
  • Social equality (a “fair go”)
  • Compulsory voting
  • Separation of powers
  • Rule of law
  • Freedom of speech and assembly
  • Free and fair elections
  • Parliamentary system
  • Human rights
  • A free press

We had an extra wild card on which to write down our own idea as a group.

Mr Howard, who was at our table, nominated “listen to the mob”, which I didn’t agree with.

It reeks of anti-thinking in my view. But guess what? I lost the argument! Just as politicians who don’t manage to persuade their confreres do. Welcome to their world, I thought to myself.

In the “how to strengthen democracy” category, these were the options culled from the focus groups:

  • Longer parliamentary terms
  • Abolish the states
  • Become a republic with an Australian head of state
  • Increase options for citizen participation in decision making
  • Make “civics” compulsory from primary school onwards
  • Introduce proportional representation based on background and real Indigenous representation
  • Abolish the Senate and replace with a randomly selected House of Reps
  • Encourage more women to enter Parliament
  • Introduce a Federal ICAC
  • Thirty per cent of MPs should be under the age of 35

Again, I don’t know how you would answer. But that is surely the point of our system. We are entitled to our own views, our own rankings and to argue with each other — but to use words, not stunts or swords.

One first-time voter from the surveys nailed it, in my view:

“We need to get more involved but they don’t have time for us and our views. Apart from election time. Then they’re interested in us. Maybe that’s what needs to change. They need to be as interested in our views when they’ve been elected.”

Without a doubt, the times demand we talk — rather than yell — more.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.