Public Scrutiny in Australian Politics
Politics has always been considered as the art of governing the state and arranging numeral issues and problems related to the society. Despite various political regimes, parties, and programmes that politicians try to fit to current social demands, the main goal of politics as governing tactics has always been an improvement of human life. This question is possible to fulfill in a case of honest relationships between authorities and people if to base it on trust.
However, in contemporary election campaigns political parties of Australia excessively control the campaign and protect candidates from media and public scrutiny. Therefore, the task of this essay is to find out the reasons of public scrutiny and explain its positive and negative sides.
First of all, it should be outlined that there are three types of voting systems in Australia. They are: first-past-the-post voting, preferential voting and proportional representation. The first type of voting means that the winner is the candidate who gets more votes than other candidates. Nowadays, parliament in Australia is chosen on the basis of two variants of preferential voting and two variants of proportional representation. Preferential voting represents a majority system which requires a candidate to gain the biggest number of votes. According to proportional representation systems, seats in a parliament are divided in underneath the percentage of their overall vote.
A key feature of Australian democracy is that parties offer packages of policies for government and these are tested frequently at elections. Parliament expires three years after its first meeting, while an election can be held up to a couple of months after the expiration. In practice, general elections are held when the Governor-General agrees to a request from the Prime Minister, who can pick the occasion to begin a campaign. Since the first Parliament opened on 9 May 1901, the average life of parliaments has been about two and a half years (dfat.gov.au, 2008).
Speaking about close public scrutiny, it is important to know that in many cases it is focused on the price of election campaigns and financial support of political activity. The electorate is very often worried about the source of costs spent on the pre-election advertisement, donations and other expenses. People understand that candidates possess considerable sums of money. If they hide the information about where are this money taken from, it makes people think that politicians are not open and sincere to them and want to be elected in order to lobby their own interests.
In this case, political parties are forced to protect their candidates from public scrutiny. Of course, it is not a sign of their dishonesty and attempt to deceive people trusting them. The thing is that nowadays election campaign is quite a serious and complicated process. A single declaration of candidate’s programme on TV is not enough. Hence, in the context of fierce competition for the limited number of seats in parliament, Australian candidates have to remember about themselves to electorate over and over again. Advertisements on TV and billboards, as well as meetings with electorate need money.
At the same time, there are good reasons why interest advocates might be unwilling to support public deliberation, for example: they might be afraid of losing power over ‘their’ policy issue; be reluctant to expose their arguments to public scrutiny; refuse to engage with their opponents; fear marginalization or co-option (Hendricks, 2011).
The brightest example of media persecution and public scrutiny was the scandal happened with Campbell Newman, leader of Australian Liberal National Party, which participated in parliament elections and won it.
The current prime-minister of Queensland was blamed for having too much money together with his intention to win elections and have the majority of seats in the parliament in order to be able to protect his own business interests and lobby laws beneficial only for him. Numeral personal attacks were acknowledged to be dirty tricks of his unsuccessful opponents, but these very blames attracted attention of electorate and broke their trustworthiness and belief in this candidate. It is important to point out that the mass media possesses more methods to manipulate humans in their thinking and decision making. People working in mass media have information that they can present in the most beneficial way for those who pay for it. And electorate is the target for which the particular information is prepared to swallow. If mass media declares that one candidate is rich and not worth of trust and attention, most of people would react to it immediately. Consequently, the candidate would know the taste of public scrutiny.
Politics, or so it seems, is not all that it was once cracked up to be. Despite its near global diffusion, democracy motivates a seemingly ever smaller proportion of the electorate to exercise its right to vote in the states in which that right has existed the longest. Moreover, despite the bitter, often bloody and almost always protracted struggle to acquire the right to vote in free, fair and open elections, levels of participation in the new democracies are scarcely less depressing (Hay, 2007).
Campbell Newman suffered both from media and public scrutiny. Needless to say that the reason why such interest towards his personality and income appeared was political tactics of his opponents or, it would be better to say, rivals. If political power is the prize of the game, participants usually use wrong rules to play and do not pay attention to the possible consequences of their actions.
The financial interest of Newman’s family was in the center of hot debates. The Liberal National Party took measures in order to protect their leader from such detailed scrutinizing. This case proved that not only political leaders can be scrutinized but their close relatives, as well as it happened with Newman’s wife and father-in-law who suffered from public attention and attacks.
The Liberal National Party supported Campbell Newman as it could. They needed much time and effort in order to undergo blames of the opponents and convince electorate that there were a lot of families in Australia., In accordance with Ms Bligh’s words, Newman was eager to take care not only about his own family. Public scrutiny is a convenient method other politicians use to compete with candidates of opposition. Mistrust that is caused by dishonest sources of information in Australia has a great impact on election process and rating of the candidates. That is why the overwhelming majority of political parties that take part in elections are always attentive and careful in order to be ready to protect their representatives from personal attacks of media or public scrutiny at any moment.
However, the situation around public scrutiny in relation to Australian politicians began to worry the society itself. Several decades before Australian political world experienced such practice everything had been more simple and trustworthy. Nevertheless, global progress, changes in overall thinking, and numeral social processes faced with new demands have had a particular impact on the development of political goals and tactics. If people were interested in political parties as a whole and their programmes before, political leaders become the center of attention nowadays. Australians confess that they experience a big change in the election environment.
Political experts who are occupied with the problem of personal attacks and public scrutiny of political leaders have found out the source of attack. “While personal attacks in political campaigns are a common observation in the United States, Dr Lundberg says it is much more difficult to get away the same tactics in Australia” (Darling, 2012). At the same time, they hope that campaigning culture of Australia needs considerable improvement and it will become closer to democratic standards in the near future.
It is important to admit that public scrutiny appears not only during election process. It is a constant factor that depends on many cases. However, during last several years Australian politicians were appealed to have more transparency in their tactics and programmes of actions. But as the practice showed, no public openness through social networks is helpful indeed. Real actions and plans are carefully hidden from public scrutiny. This fact makes people mistrust the authorities more and more.
Still the financial side of political life of Australia focuses the biggest attention on electorate. The Australian taxpayer argues that the system of tax payment and the further flow of money the government receives from the taxpayers are too complicated and nontransparent. Ordinary citizens have no free access to such information. The so-called Freedom of Information that exists in Australia allows everyone to get the necessary information through an official request. De facto, this process costs money and needs time, which ordinary people do not have.
In order to protect themselves from public anger, Australian politicians reveal financial reports in media or social networks about spending money received from tax payments. In spite of the fact that they present the important information in details and explain for what need every cent was spent, either to charity or to special interest groups, public scrutiny is not able to find out and control the real funds spending.
During the recent years, the character of public scrutiny in Australia has changed. It became proportional to the amount of hidden information. Transparency of governmental actions and honest reports about the work done would ensure more trustworthiness of electorate to the political parties. Experts say that Internet resources are the cheapest and the easiest means able to resolve this problem. The concept of a virtual system seems to be simple but useful. There must be a special database, which would contain information about taxpayers and the amount of taxes they usually pay. Every taxpayer is allowed to have access to this database in order to control the spending of tax dollars by the government.
Such idea would certainly simplify the relationships between the government and ordinary citizens, as well as reduce the level of public scrutiny against political leaders. In this case, the number of personal attacks would significantly decrease as electorate was ensured about honesty in governmental decisions. This practice is not new, but it works only in several countries. Its application significantly helped to control spending money by allowing public scrutiny of funds. In spite of the fact that such practice increases human trust, it decreases the possibility of governmental corruption and wasting fund money. Furthermore, the special web-site with such information which is proved to be sufficient and useful would cost not much money but would save more costs and trust.
The practice of lobbying of personal interests is one more reason why public scrutiny has become so widespread during the recent years in Australia. That approach is considered to be normal in this country.
Lobbying and associated employment is an industry which exists in the penumbra of formal politics. It exists in the shade of politics without necessarily being a shady occupation. The absence of strong social norms regarding the behaviour of interest advocates seems to play out the significant role (Hendricks, 2011).
Speaking about lobbying in Australian politics, it is important to mention that several decades ago it was not so widely spread. Nowadays, when business is being developed very rapidly it becomes dependent on political support. It follows that the politics requires financial support from business structures. Thus, lobbying is considered to be an integral part of political life and activities.
Lobbying is observed not only in local government but all over Australia. Multi-national corporations need to be involved with politics the most. that is why owners of these companies or their representatives participate in elections in order to be able to protect their own interests, enlarge their business, and enrich their capital. In spite of the fact that the parliament has worked out new legislature concerning lobbyists’ participation, their activity remains quite prolific on different levels of government. Of course, citizens of Australia do not stay indifferent to such situation and express public scrutiny to all politicians and businessmen who are potential candidates for lobbyists.
It is apparent that lobbying caused personal attacks on Campbell Newman during the last elections. He was blamed to protect his own interests and take care only about his relatives and no one else. On the one hand, the business of Newman’s family was an undoubtedly serious background for emergence of such thoughts and sharp attacks. On the other hand, people did not take into account the fact that a person who was able to build and manage a huge business structure would be able to manage government, face and cope with many difficulties in Australian society.
With regard to all said above, it should be pointed out that, currently, political parties really provide their leaders with overprotection. Those actions may be explained as the attempt to protect the candidate from personal attacks of media and the opponents. The cases are known to take place almost during every election campaign. At that time, dirty tricks are applied in order to discredit the opponent and get rid of him as the main rival in a race for power. The only aspect they did not take into consideration is that drastically careful protection might be estimated by electorate as the unwillingness to be open to them. It can also be viewed as the intention to hide true goals. Relationship between electorate and candidates is of great importance as people only choose winner and loser. Nowadays, Australian government expresses hope that future elections will ameliorate the situation and signify reliance of people and openness of candidates.