Leftist critics of the right like Norman Abjorensen see them as opponents of popular sovereignty. Certainly, in the past conservatives have sometimes supported quasi-democratic upper houses as a way of keeping a restraint on popularly elected Labor governments. Labor responded by planning to abolish upper houses, successfully in Queensland, and didn’t get rid of its pledge to abolish the Senate until 1979.
But over the last 15 or so years there has been something of a role reversal. Conservatism developed a strong populist strain, while Labor governments and their left-wing supporters started thinking of ways to frustrate the will of the lower houses of parliament. This is most advanced in Victoria, where Labor changed the Legislative Council’s voting system to make it difficult for either major party to secure a majority, and introduced a charter of rights, handing substantial power to the judiciary, while reserving the parliament’s power to ultimately over-ride ‘rights’.
The political identity survey suggests that conservatives (combining self-categorised ‘conservatives’ and ‘social conservatives and economic liberals’) are now quite distinctive in their opposition to further ceding power to the judiciary and preserving the democratic system’s role in protecting individual freedoms, though a slim majority of the classical liberals in the survey also prefer the democratic system.
The question read: Do you think individual freedoms should be protected by a constitutional bill of rights/a statutory charter of rights/the democratic system/other. ‘Democratic system’ answers are shown in the chart.
Interpreting these results is difficult, in that it is possible to oppose bills and charters of rights not because of support for greater democratic power but because of concern about damaging the judiciary, by giving it tasks it is not competent to undertake and which will cause it to be the subject of political controversy.
But on the basic practical question of where political power should lie, with elected politicians or unelected judges, among ideologues the democratic option is largely a right-of-centre cause, while the undemocratic option receives overwhelming support from left-of-centre groups.