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No to marriage equality in Australia - unrepresentative democracy

By Clarrie Burke - posted Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Recently "victory" was claimed by anti-marriage equality protagonists following defeats of amendments to the Marriage Act in the Federal and Tasmanian Parliaments.

But at close examination everyday Australians could be forgiven for questioning what we call "democratic process", as this episode played out in Parliament.

Now it is time to consider the implications of this "victory" for the ongoing "conversation" within Australian democratic society. Put as two questions:


What lessons can be learned from the divisive "conversation" on marriage equality in Australian society leading up to, and including, the recent Parliamentary decisions?

How has Australian "democratic process" served the conversation and decision on marriage equality?


Webster's Encyclopaedic Dictionary explains "democracy" as follows:

Government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them either directly or through their elected agents....a state of society characterized by normal equality of rights and privileges.

When applied to large modern societies democracy has taken the form of government in which supreme power is exercised by the people through their elected representatives in Parliament – by means of representative democracy. In Australia representative democracy has taken the form of a bicameral system in which the party, or coalition of parties with the largest representation in the House of Representatives forms government, or has the majority in the Senate (House of Review).

How did the recent debate/review of the Marriage Act reflect the spirit and meaning of parliamentary democracy (and democratic process) in Australia?


Credibility of Parliamentarians

When new members of both Houses take their place in Parliament their maiden speeches typically include a vow to their constituents who elected them. For example, Teresa Gambaro, after she had won the Federal seat of Brisbane, pledged in her maiden speech that:

I will always listen to your wishes and display the courage to stand up and speak for these aspirations as your federal member. I will work tirelessly on your behalf and be your voice in Canberra.

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About the Author

Clarrie Burke was formerly Associate Professor in Education at QUT. In retirement he has been an executive member of Amnesty International (Queensland) and joint coordinator of the Queensland Schools Amnesty Network.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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