In parliament where laws are made you only need support of slightly more than half the votes to make a law, or repeal one. In theory, each parliamentarian is representing the will of the people - but in the real world we know that is not the case. They also represent themselves – keeping one's highly paid job and perks will affect their judgement . They are also expected to represent not only their party but their particular faction within that party. Only then comes their electorate - which is just one small piece in the enormous jigsaw that is our country.
When it comes to making laws there exists little incentive to consider the will of the actual majority of the people let alone the population of this country as a whole.
So how do we decide whether a law is good for all citizens of the country? Perhaps by agreeing on a way each law can be tested.
For god knows how long the test for validity of elections has been a simple one – they should be free and fair.
According to Bryan Mercurio and George Williams (http://apo.org.au/node/664) there are four principles of free and fair elections - put simply as equal opportunity to participate, voting with free conscience, an accurate report of the outcome and voter knowledge about the process and candidates in an election.
So if it works for elections, as the free world has agreed that it does, why not as a test for lawmaking?
Two simple questions,
- Does the law take away the freedom of our citizens?
- Is the law fair to all citizens of the nation ?
If the answer is yes to the first question and no to the second – then the law is bad and should not pass.
Take the proposition to change the law so same sex couples can marry. Does it take away anyone's freedom? No. It means more people free to marry. Is it fair to all citizens? Of course – no one is disadvantaged by the change in the law. So same sex marriage passes the test with fabulous flying colours.
Federal legalisation of cannabis passes also. Australian citizens have a new found freedom to grow plants in our backyards and smoke them to our hearts content. Fair? Absolutely (currently only the denizens of South Australia and the ACT can do this, which is bloody unfair to the rest of us).
Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes it unlawful to commit a public act that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people based on their race. Takes away our freedom? Yes – our freedom of speech. Fair to all? No way. If I can lawfully state that “women shouldn't be allowed to drive” but not ”Asians shouldn't be allowed to drive” then it's not fair to all. So 18C goes.
Ok so it's not so easy to test all laws this way – applying it to the Seafarers Safety and Compensation Levies Collection Bill defeated me. But try it yourself on any of the contentious Bills before Parliament - you may be surprised at the outcome.
Remember you are free (and try to stay that way).