The Advancing Democracy model is a proposal to reform Australia’s Constitution by placing it on firm democratic foundations.
Prevention is better than cure. At a time of heightened political conflict, the Advancing Democracy model aims to remove from the Constitution - before a crisis occurs - those of its undemocratic features which are most likely to cause instability.
The belief Australians hold that our Constitution guarantees stable democratic Government is a dangerous delusion. We are like a car owner who attributes his lack of car accidents to the quality of the old car he is driving. In reality, it is sensible driving and favourable conditions which have protected him. The car’s lack of basic safety features would be fatal if he or other drivers started taking risks or driving conditions deteriorated. In the same way, our long periods of political stability are not due to the quality of the Constitution. Stability has come from our relative good fortune, coupled with the good sense of our politicians in not always exploiting all the powers available to them under the Constitution.
The Constitution itself is dangerously unstable. It lacks modern safety features. The chief source of the instability is the vast powers of the Crown vested in the Governor-General. These uncontrolled powers can be used to deliver a democratic result, or an undemocratic result. Either result is legal under our Constitution. Adherence to democratic principle is optional.
In 2009, Australian politics returned to the highly polarised state we last endured between 1973 and 1975, when the conservative parties could not accept the results of the 1972 and 1974 elections. This mood may dissipate now that Abbott has been removed as Prime Minister, but it could easily be re-created by a conservative media when Australia faces major challenges which divide the country.
Following the 2016 election, the Liberal / National coalition has a majority in the House of Representatives, but not the Senate. If at any point the Senate becomes hostile to the Government - and who can predict what the minor parties may do? - the Senate may threaten to block the supply of money to the Government.
When supply was blocked in 1975, the Governor-General removed the Government. Our Constitution permits the losers of the last election to force the winners out of office, through a combination of Senate and Crown power. The losers may force the House to an election without the Senate having to face the voters.
Since 1975, Australians have never been offered the chance to move to a more democratic system. They should be given that chance before the next crisis occurs. Before the next Federal election, Australians should vote on a referendum to change the Constitution by adopting the Advancing Democracy model.
The Advancing Democracy model would not remove all the undemocratic aspects of our Constitution. It would remove those most likely to provoke a crisis; those which threaten political stability. It offers a minimum guarantee of democracy while leaving the Senate’s powers unchanged. It would abolish the monarchy, but not because we need a ‘resident for president’. We don’t need a president at all. The Crown would be removed because its residual powers cannot be reconciled with democracy.
Those wanting a brief introduction to the proposal should start with the Summary. The Rationale and its Appendices are like an online book, explaining why we need to change the Constitution. Those who think our Constitution is stable enough should perhaps read Appendix 1 first. It identifies by reference to recent history and the contemporary political situation how, from apparent stability, Australia could quickly plunge into a crisis if certain circumstances coincide. The Advancing Democracy model is described in Chapter 3 of the Rationale. The exact, detailed changes proposed appear in the Proposed Constitution section. The Drafting Principles explain the legal aspects of the Proposed Constitution and will mainly be of interest to politicians and lawyers.