Expert panel draws up 15 recommendations to renew Australia’s democratic process

Photo of Parliament House, Canberra
The 15 policy reform options outlined in ‘Reforming our Democracy’ apply to the following categories: parliament, elections and political parties, operations of government and parliament, a national conversation to build consensus and ‘get things done’, and Australian federation.

The University of Melbourne School of Government, in partnership with the newDemocracy Foundation and the Susan McKinnon Foundation, has produced a new paper entitled ‘Reforming our Democracy’ outlining a list of 15 reform options designed to improve the Australian democratic process.

Melbourne School of Government Principal Fellow Nicholas Reece said the policy reform options included in the paper had been written, reviewed and endorsed by signatories from diverse political backgrounds.

“The diversity of the political backgrounds of our signatories and the experience of our experts shows that this list of reforms is not only practical and realistic but implementable,” Mr Reece said.

“They will not solve all the problems of our democracy, but we firmly believe that Australia’s democracy will be significantly improved should the next Australian Federal Government adopt some these 15 recommendations.”

The newDemocracy Foundation Executive Director Iain Walker said the 2019 federal election presented an opportunity to rekindle a spirit of ingenuity that once earned Australia the reputation as a world leader in democratic innovation.

“It has been a long time since we have seen any innovation or renewal of Australian political practice and ideals – we should be open to trials and then seeing what earns the community’s trust and support,” Mr Walker said.

“Australia has been a democratic innovator before with ideas such as the secret ballot. But that was over a century ago, and with these ideas we can earn that reputation again.”

Susan McKinnon Foundation Director Sam Mellett said the undertaking aimed to provide the Australian public with a stronger voice in the national debate.

“Public confidence in our system of governance is in worrying decline,” Ms Mellett said.

“In the same way that the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership has generated national discussion about our expectations of political leaders in this country, these reforms aim to enhance trust in government decision-making and improve confidence in Australian democracy.”

The 15 policy reform options outlined in ‘Reforming our Democracy’ apply to the following categories: parliament, elections and political parties, operations of government and parliament, a national conversation to build consensus and ‘get things done’, and Australian federation. The full paper and list of signatories can be found here.

Representatives from the Liberal Party of Australia, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens have been consulted on the document and indicated their support for a number of the initiatives.

“This is not intended as an election time scorecard on the parties, rather it is the start of a bi-partisan conversation about practical and achievable reforms which can be made to improve our democracy,” Mr Reece said.

The 15 reform options for renewing democracy in Australia include:

  1. A review of parliamentary terms
  2. A truly independent speaker and president
  3. New seating arrangements in the House of Representatives and the Senate
  4. More ‘free votes’ in Parliament
  5. Campaign finance and political party funding reform
  6. Greater reporting transparency from political parties
  7. Candidate information packs at elections
  8. Citizen input into elections and our democracy
  9. Truth in advertising during election campaigns
  10. Professional training of ministerial staff, MPs and ministers
  11. Stronger regulation on lobbying
  12. Executive appointments
  13. A major trial of a citizens’ jury
  14. Updating the Australian Constitution
  15. A commitment to a better Federation

The Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne is designed to inspire and equip individuals to make a difference on a global scale. Through rigorous research, teaching and debate, we convert shared knowledge into collective wisdom, influencing politics and decision-making to improve future outcomes.

The newDemocracy Foundation is a research organisation that aims to help parliaments make trusted decisions. The Foundation is focused on running practical trials, including a role for randomly selected people to participate in a meaningful way.

The Susan McKinnon Foundation is a non-partisan organisation committed to working with all sides of politics to find common ground and practical pathways to solve some of Australia’s major challenges.