Apathy and anger: Our modern Australian democracy
The 3rd Henry Parkes Oration: Senator John Faulkner
22 October 2005, Tenterfield School of Arts, Tenterfield NSW
The third annual Parkes Oration was given by Senator John Faulkner in Tenterfield on 22 October. The venue was the original hall in the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts in Tenterfield – the very place where Parkes gave his celebrated ‘Federation Speech’ on 24 October 1889, 116 years earlier. The Orations are given each year for the purpose of promoting discussion and exploring ideas about our Australian democratic system, and the political structures which contribute to its operation.
Senator Faulkner is one of the most high-profile and most highly respected figures in the Federal Parliament. He was leader of the Opposition in the Senate for eight years (1996-2004), and has held a wide range of ministerial and shadow ministerial portfolios, -but is best known to the public for his role in chairing a series of important Senate Inquiries. His probing and incisive chairmanship in pursuit of the truth about the activities of government and the bureaucracy made an invaluable contribution to improving the workings of democracy in the country. Nobody could be better qualified to analyse the current issues and shortcomings of the process, and to advocate constructive new directions.
The title of Senator Faulkner’s Oration was Apathy and Anger: Our Modern Australian Democracy. He spoke of what he perceived in Australian society to be “a dangerous indifference to politics accompanied by a simmering resentment of politicians”, and of a democracy “drowning in distrust”. To assist in restoring some confidence in the system he argued for three areas of reform: greater transparency within the political parties themselves and in particular within the narrow factional groups, vigorous and independent self-regulation of the news media to ensure responsible “debate of ideas” instead of shallow and sensational journalism, and the setting up of a commission on constitutional reform to initiate some long-overdue changes to the Australian Constitution.
The Oration received wide coverage on ABC radio and television, and in national and local press. As if to underscore his arguments, many reports concentrated more on Senator Faulkner’s critical comments, than on his constructive proposals.
The Foundation records it gratitude to the Friends of the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts for jointly sponsoring and organizing the event, in particular Mr Ken Halliday. It appreciates the support of Tenterfield Council and the NSW National Trust for making the superb venue available.