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The Talking Point: Is Australian Democracy Broken?

Listen to The Talking Point: Is Australian Democracy Broken?

After the extraordinary outcomes of the 2010 Federal Election, Australian voters, pundits and politicians alike are asking the same questions: what happened? Where does this apparent disillusionment come from? What’s wrong with our political system and what kind of constitutional change is needed to fix it?

In this discussion hosted by the ABC’s Fran Kelly, held at RMIT’s Storey Hall in Melbourne, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser joined fellow pollies Lindsay Tanner and Malcolm Turnbull and veteran journalist Margaret Simons to interrogate political leadership and the party machines, candidate preselection and governmental debate, as well as the need for a nuanced, principled approach to moral issues. If Australian democracy is broken, what significant changes must be made?

What transpired was a genial, lively conversation around the ideas upon which our democracy is based on, as well as the political process responsible for enabling them. All panellists criticised the interaction between the media and politicians, with Tanner likening contemporary politicians' behaviour on-camera to theatre, and Simons (channelling the advice of media academic Jay Rosen) proposing that the media take its lead from the public rather than the politicians.

Fraser championed a reform of the party preselection process, recalling an era when more — not fewer — candidates were encouraged to throw their hats into the ring. Tanner meanwhile offered the suggestion that members of the Parliamentary Executive should be made accountable to members of specialist committees, while Turnbull argued that Question Time should be devoted to particular ministers, allowing a more forensic approach to questioning.

The panel also fielded questions from the audience about topics such as Wikileaks and transparency, and the restrictions politicians face in enacting their strongly-held moral beliefs within their parties.

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Is Australian democracy broken? And if so, will the speakers' proposed reforms go some way toward fixing it?

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