The Talking Point: Is Australian Democracy Broken?

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?


Portrait of Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser (1930–2015) served as Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister from 1975 until he resigned from federal politics in 1983, after 28 years as the Federal Member for Wannon. He held several ministries during his time in Parliament, including Minister for the Army, Minister of State for Defence and Minister for Education and Science.

Portrait of Margaret Simons

Margaret Simons

Margaret Simons is Associate Professor in the School of Media, Film and Journalism, Monash University. In 2015, she won the Walkley Award for Social Equity Journalism. Her recent books include Six Square Metres, Self-Made Man: The Kerry Stokes Story, What's Next in Journalism?, Journalism at the Crossroads and Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, co-written with former Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Fraser. The latter won both the Book of the Year and the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2011. 

In addition to her academic work, Margaret regularly writes for the Saturday Paper, the Age, the Sydney Morning HeraldGriffith Review, the Monthly and other publications.

Portrait of Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull was elected the leader of the Liberal Party and 29th Prime Minister of Australia in September 2015 and was re-elected as Prime Minister at the Federal Election in July 2016, leaving Parliament in 2018.

Malcolm and his wife Lucy live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and have two children and four grandchildren.


Portrait of Lindsay Tanner

Lindsay Tanner

Lindsay Tanner was the minister for finance and deregulation in the Rudd-Gillard governments, and held the seat of Melbourne for the ALP from 1993 to 2010. Having retired from politics at the 2010 federal election, he is now a special adviser to Lazard Australia, and is a vice-chancellor's fellow and adjunct professor at Victoria University. Mr Tanner is the author of several previous books, including Politics with Purpose (2012) and Sideshow (2011), also published by Scribe.

Portrait of Fran Kelly

Fran Kelly

'Let me remind any women of any generation still worried by the tag ... feminism is about equality, political equality, economic equality, cultural equality, personal equality, social equality. That’s it, it’s as simple as that.'

Fran Kelly is one of Australia’s leading political interviewers and commentators. She has earned a reputation as an intelligent, informed and balanced journalist who has been a key contributor to the nation’s political and social debates for the past 25 years. In that time she’s been the ABC’s Europe Correspondent based in London, the political editor for The 7.30 Report and the political correspondent for the prestigious AM program. 

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