Australian Political System: How Its Liberal Democracy Enhance the Well-Being of Its Citizens
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Australian Political System: How Its Liberal Democracy Enhance the Well-Being of Its Citizens

The various constitutional forms of liberal democracy include constitutional republic, constitutional monarchy, presidential system, semi-presidential system, and parliamentary system. Australia is one of the liberal democratic countries that use the parliament system.

Democracy, the best system devised for the political autonomy and the liberation of humankind (Maddox, 2005), is manifested in several ways in different parts of the world. One of its forms is constitutional democracy, a common form of representative democracy more commonly know as liberal democracy. In order to understand liberal democracy, there are several factors to be considered such as globalization, the impact of the mass media, and the shift from government to governance (Heywood, 2002). Though liberal democracy may take various constitutional forms, there are four main principles that bring them together to consensus. Liberal democracy believes that it is the nature of the moral and rational individual to grow and develop with the political art of compromise, that society is a kind of mutual benefit association, based on the desire for order and co-operation, rather than disorder and conflict, and that concentrated forms of power, whether by individuals, groups or governments are suspicious. Theese main principles of liberal democracy state that elections should be free and fair, and the political process should be competitive.

The various constitutional forms of liberal democracy include constitutional republic, constitutional monarchy, presidential system, semi-presidential system, and parliamentary system. Australia is one of the liberal democratic countries that use the parliament system. This paper will discuss liberal democracy in the context of the Australian political system and how it attempts to enhance the well-being of its citizens. Some of the rights and freedoms for citizens under the Australian political system will be included along with a comparison between Australia and other Liberal Democratic counties, particularly the Anglosphere countries that implements parliamentary system, namely the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.

Rights and Freedoms for Australian Citizens

Based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the approach of the Australian government approach to human rights and freedoms is geared towards the intrinsic dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all its citizens. With its liberal democratic ideals and beliefs, Australia significantly contributed to the development of international human rights standards being one the six major UN human rights treaties. Its active involvement in UN human rights mechanisms makes Australia a great help to the improvement of human rights standards among developing countries, specifically by providing significant assistance to promote of democratic institutions.

In order to protect human rights, Australia has a federal structure, independent judiciary, independent national human rights institution, which is the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, strong representative parliamentary institutions, and a strict protection from power abuses and basic freedom denials. Under the Australian political system, the citizens are encouraged to learn about the country’s democratic institutions and participate in it. The major democratic principles and practices include dependable government; legislative, executive and judicial powers separation; the execution of constitutional protections; the rule of law; a visible criminal justice system; rightfully resourced and valued opposition parties; and a free media.

The strong democratic institutions of Australia are balanced by numerous particular legal protections for human rights. As the birthright of every citizen, human rights are not only inherent, inalienable, indivisible and universal; they are also irrevocable. They are all of equal significance and apply to all citizens regardless of their status including race, gender, disability, language, religion, political beliefs, social or national origin, age, and property. In Australia, the observance of human rights profits the security and prosperity of all nations and citizens. Consecutive Australian governments have maintained these systems and principles.

Key to the constitutional system of Australia are the doctrines of powers separation and responsible government. The executive under responsible government is accountable to the parliament and the parliament to the people. The doctrine of separation of powers guarantees the separation and independence of the executive and legislative branches of government from the judiciary. In Australia, the independence of the courts, along with their separation from the legislative and executive arms of government, is greatly significant. In interpreting and applying the law, judges act independently of the government.

Both houses of parliament must approve laws developed by the executive. After passing a law, the separation of powers doctrine requires the parliament and the executive to accept a court decision on a particular law and its implementation. Anyone in Australia, which includes the government, can have the fairness of their actions inspected in a court of law and be held accountable for any activity concluded to be conflicting against the law. It is the professional and apolitical public service that implements government policies. It is the right of every citizen to be given reasons for administrative decisions made about them by government officials. Included in this right is to have those decisions separately reviewed by the administrative tribunal system or the courts. Ombudsmen and commissions can inquire into government decisions and accusations of misconduct. Parliamentary committees, moreover, have authorizations to review a variety of spheres of government legislation and activity.

The Constitution, as the highest law in Australia, particularly protects certain rights and freedoms. This includes trial by jury in specified circumstances, the free exercise of any religion, and just terms for acquisition of property. Moreover, the Constitution provides jurisdiction to the High Court of Australia to hear challenges to the lawfulness of government decisions (Australian Government, 2008).

Liberal Democracy in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom

Aside from Australia, there are other countries that use the parliamentary system, which is a form of liberal democracy. These are Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, which all belong to the Anglosphere countries. These four countries are similar and different is some aspects in the context of liberal democracy. The comparison basically lies on the definition of the term “liberal” in these four jurisdictions.

In Canada, the term “liberal” chiefly refers to the policies and ideas of the Liberal Party of Canada, which is not only the most recurrent governing party of Canada for the last century but also one of the largest liberal parties in the world. In the past, the Liberal Party of Canada has usually maintained a welfare state. Now, however, it is most merely considered a party of the centre-left. Liberalism is combined with more neo-liberal ideas by the Quebec Liberal Party and British Columbia Liberal Party. Free markets and individual liberty are the focus of the Libertarian Party of Canada. While Liberal Party was the first organised political party in New Zealand, liberalism is no longer organized. Nowadays, the term “liberalism” in New Zealand refers to a support for individual liberties and limited government and is generally used for particular policies, such as market liberalism and social liberalism. A more or less progressive liberal position in the spectrum is taken by the left of centre New Zealand Democratic Party but lost popular support. A classical liberal or libertarian party is called ACT New Zealand. In the contemporary United Kingdom, the term “liberal” refers to an ideology advocating broad social freedoms, but less attached to economic liberalism. Liberalism in the United Kingdom is currently organized primarily in the centre-left Liberal Democrats. In Great Britain, the Liberal Democrats generally support social liberalism, while taking a centrist to centre-left, mostly pragmatic view on economics, supporting economic freedom and market competition in principle but often advocating more state or government provision or regulation to support certain policy objectives.

There were reforms that focus on the introduction of judicial appointments bodies in the provinces of Canada in the 1980s, and then in England and Wales in 2005. In terms of the introduction of judicial appointment bodies, debates focuses on the composition of the bodies and selection of members, their function or duties and procedures which vary from body to body. In England and Wales, the Judicial Appointments Commission has a majority of legal members. Their function is to advocate individuals for appointment and they assume an extensive selection process including selection days. The executive can rebuff the recommendations but have to justify. In Canada's provinces, selecting judges is done by judicial appointments bodies since 1988. Candidates are recommended for appointments to the executive branch of government. Accepting recommendations is not compulsory. Similarly, another debate deals with the introduction of judicial appointment bodies that took place in Australia and New Zealand. Neither jurisdiction has introduced such a system. Historically, in all these four jurisdictions, statutory provisions exist for judges’ removal. Unsystematic conduct systems existed until reform in Canada in 1971, New South Wales in Australia in 1986, England and Wales, and finally New Zealand in 2005. All four jurisdictions have executed bodies accountable for investigation and determining disciplinary action for complaints against the judiciary. What the bodies differ in is composition and role.

Conclusion

The Australian political system is a form of liberal democracy called parliamentary, in which the elected representatives in parliament govern on behalf of the people. As a form of indirect or representative democracy, liberal democracy has limits that are placed upon the governmental power by a variety of institutional checks and balances, including the separation of powers.

In some ways, the Australian political system is democratic and in some ways not as the relationship between Prime Minister, Parliament and electorate seems to be the most democratic part of the system, but other features such as bicameralism, federalism, and monarchy are undemocratic (Kilcullen, 2000). Typically overlooked, the division into many electorates in the Australian political system is undemocratic feature. A decision requires a majority in a majority of the subdivisions, which is a qualified or special majority. While a party may get a majority of the popular vote nationwide, a majority may still not be achieved in parliament (Kilcullen, 2000).

In the jurisdictions of England and Wales, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there is a debate surrounding the modernization of judicial appointment and conduct schemes and the ensuing reforms and changes. Direct cross-jurisdictional comparisons are limited as contextual issues, such as differing historical development, parliamentary systems and cultures, influence what is effective in any jurisdiction. Nevertheless, there are four important considerations liberal democracies seek to balance when reforming judicial appointments, conduct and removals systems. These are independence, accountability, high quality judges, a reflection of the general population in their judiciaries.

Until the late 20th Century the jurisdictions of England and Wales, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia all had similar judicial appointment systems. There are two responsibilities that appointment systems tend to contain that are often undertaken as separate processes. These are the selection process for selecting the candidate and the appointment for assigning the post to the person. In these four jurisdictions, the head of state historically made the appointment of judges and the government, often the chief law officer, made the selection. While consultation with the existing judiciary was common, it was not usually protected by the law.

In England and Wales and Canada, significant reforms have taken place. In England and Wales, the Queen appoints and the Lord Chancellor selects judges. Canada inherited the British system following the model of selection by the government and appointment by the head of state. In Canada, reform to the system for higher provincial courts was introduced but not for federal courts in the 1980s. In Australia, judges are formally appointed by the State-Governor or the Governor-General, who is the representative of the Queen on the advice of the Attorney-General. In New Zealand, the Governor-General appoints all judges on the advice of the Attorney-General (Scottish Government Social Research, 2008).

In conclusion, the way the liberal democracy of the Australian political system enhances the well-being of its citizens depends greatly on the structure of the judiciary authorities. An independent and impartial judiciary is essential to the existence of liberal democracy and its operation. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, there are four key issues that affect the judicial institution within the context of the significance of preserving public confidence in the judiciary. These issues relate to the appointment and discipline of judges; judges and freedom of speech; the performance of non-judicial functions by judges; and judicial bias and recusal (Lee, 2011). These four jurisdictions had similar judicial appointments systems where appointments were made by the head of state and selection was made by the chief law officer, a member of the executive branch of government until reforms were carried out in Canada and England and Wales. The debate on appointments systems focuses on the selection of judges by the executive branch of government prone to political patronage, the potential appointments of the dominant ethnic group that may exclude minority ethnic groups, women and those with disabilities, and the covert and unsystematic lack of open competition and the use of consultation.

References:

Australian Government (2008), Democratic rights and freedoms. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved from http://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/democratic_rights_freedoms.html

Heywood, A. (2002), Politics: Second Edition, Palgrave Macmillan

Kilcullen, J. (2000), Democracy in Australia. Macquarie University

Lee, H.P. (2011), Judiciaries in Comparative Perspective. Monash University

Maddox, G. (2005), Australian democracy in theory and practice. Pearson Education Australia

Scottish Government Social Research (2008), Matters of Judicial Appointments, Conduct and Removals in Commonwealth Jurisdictions. Retrieved from http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2008/01/04135549/1

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