This text was kindly provided by Maureen Hickman, Editor of the Royal Commonwealth Society ACT Branch’s Newsletter. A fuller report will be available in the next issue: see https://www.rcsact.org
‘WORKSHOP AGREES DEMOCRACY NEEDS REPAIR IN KEY AREAS OF TRUST AND PARTICIPATION
The challenges facing democratic systems in the Commonwealth was the subject of a Workshop at Government House, Canberra, in March, attended by 32 students from 13 Commonwealth nations including Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia, hosted by the Governor-General, the Hon. General David Hurley, to mark Commonwealth Day in 2021.
The Workshop, on ‘Mending Democracy’ was organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society’s ACT Branch and led by Professor Carolyn Hendriks of the Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU and Professor Jolyon Ford of the ANU Law School. ‘
‘Although emphasis on various aspects of democracy varied according to particular conditions in participants’ home countries – all of which have endorsed the principles of Democracy, Rule of law and Human rights that underpin their Commonwealth membership – there was unanimous agreement on trust and inclusion as the main areas needing ‘repair’.
In developing countries in Africa, aspiring MPs were said to be ‘visible for two months leading up to the election and, after handing out gifts of T-shirts and sweets, then disappearing for years until the next election’. As another student put it, why do politicians value 50 million ‘likes’ on Facebook when most of their people don’t have access to the internet, and where young people – representing up to 60 per cent of the population – have no jobs and no education in the political process that would motivate them to vote?
All this, together with long queues on voting day, play their part in eroding trust in a political system, which, without local community engagement, is opaque and inaccessible to the vast majority of people. ‘
‘At the plenary session, Professor Hendriks, pointing out that these were big issues, asked for ideas of how they might be achieved. The answers ranged from reviving the ‘protest culture’ of previous generations to reforming ‘the institutions’, described as ‘the source of most problems due to them not working well’.
As the Workshop drew to a close, the Governor-General played a major role in the summing up, concluding that Democracy is nor a finished product and would evolve.