Limited Government And Economic Freedom Undermined
The Western Democratic Tradition by LJM Cooray (1985)

Recent decades have seen however an increase in the size and power of government. This is inimical to individual freedom and the western system. The other problem for modern democracies is that the MPs are becoming less concerned about the will of the individual and more concerned to appease interest groups. This is a dangerous aberration in a democracy because it invests such groups with a power and influence quite out of proportion with the size of their constituency.

The balance between liberty and restrictions on liberty has in recent decades been undermined. The current in the last half-century in western democracies had been flowing again in the opposite direction - increasing centralisation of State power. The limited gains of liberal and representative democracy are being lost. The tide has again turned in the opposite direction towards accumulation of powers in the hands of the executive, with the substitution of the Government for the King. And the Government which is accumulating power, is very much more powerful than the feudal King ever was, and is, in addition, equipped with the products of modern science and technology and able to impose restrictions on individuals and groups.

Representative democracy is the only form of democracy which is viable in the larger and more complex societies of today. The irreducible minimum of representative democracy is the responsibility of the government to the people. In the Westminster system this responsibility is maintained by the principle of collective responsibility of Cabinet to Parliament and the accountability of the members of Parliament to the electorate at periodic elections.

In a representative democracy, it is both proper and desirable that the legislature and the government engage in the widest possible consultation prior to taking decisions affecting the public. However, decisions must remain the responsibility of the legislature or government as the case may be. Whatever consultation the government engages in cannot absolve it from the responsibility of submitting its actions to the electoral test. But this is not the only important requirement of a representative democracy. A meaningful democratic system requires the elected government to have regard to the mandate it has received and to generally act according to the wishes of the electorate. The duty of an elected government is not only to submit itself to periodic elections but also to conduct the affairs of the state in accordance with public opinion. The elected representatives must therefore be responsive to the opinions of those who elected them.

In recent times these principles have been subverted by governments. The strategy of these governments is to make their policies work by making deals with powerful interest groups such as trade unions, big business and special interest groups like the environmentalists, feminists and peace groups. This is the basic strategy of the "government by consensus". On questions of policy vitally affecting the public, governments have repeatedly chosen not to consult with the electorate as a whole but with groups which despite their power and influence, fail to represent the views of the vast majority of Australians. The government has thereby set up alternative consultative processes which circumvent the traditional institutions of democratic government.

Economic policy in many western countries is effectively determined by a process of trade off between big unions, big business and the government. What passes for consensus are deals which accommodate the special interests of union bosses, big economic conglomerates, pressure groups and the ideological goals of the government. The public is led to believe that decisions are made by public consensus whereas the truth is that they only reflect the interests of the powerful and the influential.

This type of corporatism, when institutionalised, threatens to undermine representative democracy.

Big government through taxation and excessive regulation has weakened the effectiveness of the private enterprise system in the western world. Modern governments have over regulated, over burdened and over controlled not merely private business, but all areas affecting the life of its citizens - the home and the garden, the professions (including the doctor patient relationship), education and private education, the arts, culture, sport, charities, clubs and all forms of social activity and also human relationships (including a fundamental redefinition of the institution of the family).