What do Occupy Melbourne want?

Occupy protester

Offering a helping hand

No doubt you’ve heard someone complain that Occupy Melbourne lacks a clear aim. While advocates from many diverse causes are participating in the movement, they share a common concern. The Occupy Melbourne website states:

Our democracy is unwell. Our elected representatives no longer represent their constituents, instead their ears are turned by wealthy lobby groups, whilst the common interests of the people they were elected to represent, are ignored.

This grievance focuses on the lack of truly democratic representation. The passage could be taken as a call for what in democratic theory is known as a ‘delegate’ as opposed to a ‘trustee’ model of representation.

Though models of democratic representation go back much further, the particular distinction between the delegate and trustee models can be traced to conservative political philosopher and British parliamentarian Edmund Burke. As Burke proclaimed in his 1774 speech to the electors of Bristol, ‘Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion’ (1999, p. 11). For a number of reasons, from the physical absence of constituents during parliamentary debate to what Burke considered the sheer idiocy of dogmatically adopting the position of his constituency before the parliamentary debate had been had, Burke thought it appropriate to represent as a trustee—that political power had been entrusted to him by his constituents.

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