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The democracy brand is badly tarnished, but it's the best we've got

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“Is there a third way between democracy and dictatorship?” The remark jolts me. Placing my coffee cup on its saucer, I notice my hands wobbling slightly. My companion, a gentle and deeply thoughtful young woman, came to Australia as an international student from mainland China, studied Arts/Law at a prestigious university and is now a permanent resident with a high-powered career. She was still in her teens when she knew “from deep inside” that she wanted to taste life outside her homeland.

Look at Trump and Johnson, leaders of the world’s two greatest democracies; blusterers, with big hair and even bigger hang-ups.Credit:AP

We had been immersed in conversation about her experiences here. With fascinating insight, she’d recounted her early struggles with university studies. It wasn’t just the torment of grasping complex ideas in a foreign language - a challenge for anyone. For her, the complex ideas were also foreign. “Law here is the system underpinning the whole of society,” she’d said. “Concepts like the separation of powers in a democracy - these were very difficult to understand.”

It was almost as if her brain needed painful re-wiring before the notion of liberal democracy could sink in. “Sometimes in my tutorials the subject of dictatorship and China came up, and all eyes fell on us Chinese students.

“And eventually I realised we’re all very binary in our thinking. I wondered: is there a third way between........

© Brisbane Times