'Give me the gist of it': website launch

Brian Walters SC and Hugh Crosthwaite

Sir Robert Menzies once said that Australia would only ever have a perfect democracy when every Australian was educated to their absolute capacity. In aid of this ideal, Liberty Victoria, in association with the Australian Lawyers Alliance and Amnesty Australia, has launched a website called ‘The Gist of It’ (www.thegistofit.com.au).

The purpose of the website is to enhance democracy by making basic information about key policy areas and the institutions of government widely available. Liberty Victoria recognised that this foundation of knowledge is a crucial and often omitted element of political discourse. Liberty decided to create a place where this information could be obtained easily, by all Australians and at any time.

In its first season the website features 12 short videos, each anchored by Mary Kostakidis, and each featuring an interview with a well-regarded expert in the subject area. The website is not designed to persuade the audience member of one political position or another.

The goal of the project is simply to equip the audience member with the information they need to understand political discourse in the Australian context. For instance, whilst concepts like the separation of powers are very much alive in the Australian system of government, the virtues in giving judges tenure until the age of 70 may seem odd to someone who doesn’t understand this fundamental concept.

The subject areas and experts currently available online are:

  • The Courts and Judiciary, with the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CGM
  • The Parliament, with Dr Nick Economou
  • The Executive, with Prof. George Williams
  • The Constitution, with Prof. Cheryl Saunders AO
  • The Separation of Powers, with the Right Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC CH
  • The Health Care System, with Dr Mukesh Haikerwal
  • The Economy, with Dr Beth Webster
  • The Education System, with Prof. Peter Dawkins
  • Water Distribution and Availability, with Dr Tom Hatton
  • Taxation, with Dr Bill Orow
  • Sovereignty and Nation States, with Prof. Spencer Zifcak
  • Human Rights, with Geoffrey Robertson QC

These interviews provide a well-rounded, albeit basic, foundation in Australian civics, delivered by the most qualified of Australian experts. In addition to the videos, the website contains ‘Quick Facts’ reference sheets for those short on time or bandwidth. Following in the philosophy of the project, each subject area is confined to simple language, delivered in point form and on one A4 sheet.

‘The Gist of It’ is a helpful resource for anyone seeking to learn about Australian government, and it deserves to be widely used. The website will be updated regularly to provide further resources and to delve deeper into the Australian political and legal landscape.

Before we can own our institutions of government, we need to understand how our current system fits together. ‘The Gist of It’ is one contribution towards educating and empowering the community to know the gist of how things work.

Brian Walters SC and Hugh Crosthwaite are Liberty committee members.