Polls track the ebb and flow of popular trust in government, each new reading an occasion for commentators to lament our dissatisfaction with politics and government. However, we would have a problem even if these numbers never moved in the slightest. Because the numbers have always been bad. Go back 175 years to the beginnings of Australian democracy – 50 years before the states came together as a federation – the popular sense of distrust and suspicion would be totally familiar. Thus sensible to ask:
∿What is it about our political system that politicians and governments have never earned our trust and respect?
Famous words of England’s Lord Chief Justice, about 100 years ago, point us to an answer.
∿Justice must not only be done – but must also be seen to be done.
The Lord Chief Justice didn’t actually say this next bit but we can assume he would have agreed.
∿If you did not see justice being done – then assume that justice was not done.
That is our problem with parliament. Whatever it is that we see in parliament, if we could be bothered to watch, it is plainly not a sober and thoughtful search for truth and justice. And, not seeing that, we must assume that parliament does not do us justice.
Now, parliament is a special kind of court; it decides whether laws are good laws or bad laws – just laws or unjust laws. And, not seeing justice done in that court, the Lord Chief Justice would have us assume that the law itself is unjust. The Lord Chief Justice would have us assume that our public servants administer unjust laws and that our courts enforce unjust laws. For as long as parliament conducts itself as it does, we should not allow ourselves to be persuaded otherwise.