What is wrong with our democracy?

The Hon Dr Barry Jones AC 

Barry Jones has never been lost for words.

It is therefore understandable why he is less than impressed with the language and rhetoric used by current Coalition and Labor Party members.

"I am increasingly dismayed by the poverty of language on both sides of politics, including Tony Abbot's repeated mantras and Bill Shorten's 'zingers'," he said.

"Our politicians all sound as if they are reading from a card- the card for the day- to make sure they stay 'on message'."

The Hon Dr Barry Jones AC, a graduate of arts and law from the University of Melbourne, renowned quiz champion, former Federal Minister for Science and member of State Parliament, and Australia's representative at UNESCO, was guest speaker at Melbourne Law School's alumni seminar on Wednesday.

"It is a disturbing paradox that as the proportion of graduates increase in the Australian population, the quality of political debate demonstrably falls," he said.

"The quality of debate in the Commonwealth Parliament is not only banal, it is also toxic."

However, statistics showed 80 per cent of electors still voted for the two major political groupings.

Dr Jones said the current convergence from Government and Opposition on issues such as asylum seekers or foreign policy meant Australia had some elements of a one-party state, in which "Coalition and Opposition are essentially two wings of the same bird".

"A central failure in the current political debacle has been the pursuit of populism, fearful of serious analysis of the major ongoing problems which face societies like ours," he said.

"Both the Coalition and the Opposition are at fault in this."

Dr Jones put to the audience his dilemma: who should an 82-year-old self-described radical vote for if he wants to reform the world on issues ranging from military to environment, population growth to education?

"You tell me," he said.

Dr Jones, who led the campaign against capital punishment until its abolition in all states by 1975, also spoke about the impending executions of Bali Nine members Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, and of Indonesia's campaign to save its own citizens sentenced to death in other countries.

"Currently, 229 Indonesians are under sentence of death in other countries. On February 16, President Joko Widodo announced that Indonesia would be campaigning vigorously to save them," he said.

Dr Jones criticised Widodo's stance on the death penalty and, in this instance, lack of knowledge of the individual cases.

"(He) keeps repeating that the executions are just routine, all a matter of law enforcement and that he is just upholding the law," he said.

"But it is far more than that. There has been a complete failure of consistency about the Indonesian way of death for decades. He is remaking the law, almost casually, by whim."

"Nobody comes out of this tragedy well."

For more information on the MLS Alumni Seminar series, visit the law school website.

By Andy Walsh