Big Idea Nine: Citizen Initiated Referenda

Recently the plebiscite has had a resurgence to deal with ideas that are difficult to resolve by traditional political means. Queensland had a plebiscite on four year terms of parliament, and the federal government has proposed a plebiscite to deal with the issue of gay marriage. In South Australia the government has also proposed a plebiscite on whether that state should have a nuclear storage facility.

Back in the 1970s, Proposition 13, a proposal to limit the growth in property taxes that was put on the Californian ballot paper, kicked-off the “tax revolt” that resulted in a more efficient government sector across much of the developed world. Switzerland has had referenda enshrined in its federal constitution since 1890.

We know that one of the issues Australian citizens have with government is that they lack control over their representatives, apart from an election once every three or four years. A system where citizens can initiate referenda, provided they can muster a threshold level of support, has the opportunity to revitalise and re-engage the community in democratic decision-making.

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