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An election that’s also about our restoring our democracy

There is no greater imperative in Australian society today than the restoration of our democracy. It cannot happen in a year or two. It will take almost a decade.

Labor needs to win the upcoming election by as many seats as to make a second term a certainty. Then it needs to govern in a refreshingly wholesome way that would make a third term attainable.

During this time it should change leader (a woman would be preferable) and declare our democracy stable.

What needs to happen?

After Christopher Pyne’s thoughtless interview with Barrie Cassidy on Insiders Sunday 10 February I could only conclude that he had rather stupidly and hysterically insulted the process by which logical thinking takes place.

He doubled up the following day lamenting the state of our parliament and our democracy.

I agree our democracy is in a bad way, but not for the reasons Pyne outlined. His seemed predicated on a vague sort of bromance. A bromance is a close, emotionally intense, non-sexual bond between two men. In this case Malcolm Turnbull.

The rise of narcissism, inequality, the demise of compassion and the absence of truth illustrates the state of our democracy.

My view is that it is not broken beyond repair but if we are to save it we might begin by asking that at the very least our politicians should tell the truth. We have to ask ourselves if we have reached the point in politics where truth is something that politicians have persuaded us to believe in, “alternative facts” rather than truth based on factual evidence and solid argument.

Democracies are formed when like-minded people come together to form parties that then compete for the public’s attention within a democratic voting system. The parties have differing political philosophies and can vary throughout the world. We even have democratic dictatorships.

The Australian polity at its best is elastically flexible, unpredictable and at its worst, violent and extremely combative; it accommodates diagonally opposed ideas, extreme or otherwise. All in all, it’s an imperfect beast that has served us well. Yes, it’s a government for the people by the people.

In the absence of anything better, we have a capitalistic economy and a compulsory voting system. The right to vote, imperfect as it is, is the gift that democracy gives and people are free to vote for whichever party (or individual) they support but overriding this is the fact that people cannot possibly believe in democracy, if at the same time they think their party is the only one that should ever win.

Evidence of a democracy in trouble is when a sizeable proportion of the population gives up this gift and says to its politicians “a pox on both your houses.”

Millions withdrew their right to vote in the last election. 15 676 659 are currently registered to vote in the 2019 election, whilst 816 000 estimated eligible Australians aren’t enrolled.

This compares to an estimated 1.22 million in 2013. Many have been added from the vote on same-sex marriage.

Australia’s form of democracy, as robust as it is, has until recently served us well. However, when self-serving “leapt” ahead of “the people” in terms of why people sought to serve in our democracy, it went into decline.

Pinpointing the genesis of this is difficult but it was most definitely in John Howard’s tenure and Tony Abbott made it flourish doing untold damage.

Of course, the repair of our democracy will not come about unless we understand what is happening and why.

The system finds itself in this predicament because our politicians fail to speak with any clarity on issues that concern people. So the people have no sense of any purposeful participation.

Any democracy, including its constitution, should be exposed to periodical revision and renewal. Ours is not.

It should forever be open to regular improvement in its methodology and its implementation. Its constitutional framework should be exposed to, compromise and bi-partisanship when the common good cries out for it.

Logic calls for deeper thought about what influences government and how to restrict these influences be they lobbyists, the media, big business, Unions or secular interests etc.

Led by Howard, and then followed by Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison, Australian democracy experienced a monumental shift in our politics to the right.

This came about when American Tea Party conservative politics insinuated itself on the right of our politics and was adopted by the conservatives and fringe groups like One Nation.

So we have become a top-down hotchpotch democracy that exists to serve only the rich and privileged. One that is self-serving, that believes in unregulated capitalism.

I am not a political scientist, historian or a trained journalist. I write this because the democracy I grew up with has been lost in the longevity of sameness.

Conservatives have gone down the path of inequality with a born to rule mentality that favours the rich.

Still resonating with me is Tim Dunlop’s article from 2014, The right hates the society it has created, in which Tim said:

The whole logic of the “lifters” and “leaners” rhetoric so favored by the current Government is a distillation of the idea of that there is no such thing as society, that we and only we are responsible for our own circumstances”.

“People like Paul Kelly might yearn for a better society, but they miss the fact that the modern woes are a by-product of the neoliberal program they champion.

Might I suggest that the right is given to govern for those who have and the left for those who have not? So this upcoming election is important. Crucially so.

It is not just about the competing forces of left and right. If you think about it politics governs almost everything you do. Well except what you do in bed and some would like to control that.

This election is about the structure of our society, about our democracy, the rules and conventions under which politicians can conduct the affairs of the nation.

About the people eligible to serve. About our constitution and whether it needs a major face-lift. This election offers a choice as to if we should become a republic.

All these things need serious thought and it is incumbent on the young to become involved. After all, they are the future custodians of our great nation.

Our Parliament, its institutions and conventions have all felt the destructive hand of Tony Abbott and others. We don’t trust our politicians anymore. To say that we are ambivalent about our them is an understatement. Now we are ashamed.

Is it any wonder? Recent times have demonstrated just how corrupt our democracy has become. We have witnessed a plethora of inquiries all focusing on illegal sickening behaviour.

In this election, your vote is not just about left versus right or a swing to independents. It is also about what restoring, repairing or reappraising what we want our democracy to be in the future.

Next time: How to fix it.

My thought for the day

If we are to save our democracy we might begin by asking that at the very least our politicians should tell the truth.

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29 comments

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  1. Keitha Granville

    Yes to all of the above.
    I can’t wait for how to fix it, as the very people who are the problem are the ones needed to fix it.
    Until one of the groups decides to be truthful, decides to stop the right of entitlement to untold wealth for the few, there will be no change.
    I wish the Labor party would make some of these powerful statements – they would romp into the next house with a massive majority

  2. Kaye Lee

    For a democracy to function properly, the electorate must be told the truth. We must understand the challenges we face and prioritise them. By all means, offer alternate approaches on how to deal with issues, but STOP THE LIES.

    The example of Linda Reynolds shows how bad the situation has become – firstly in her silence on bullying being bought by a promotion, but far more humiliatingly in her interview with Speers where, when she thought she was responding to a quote from Shorten, she completely disagreed that suppressing wages growth was a deliberate strategy but when she was told the quote came from Cormann, in the space of 16 seconds she did a complete backflip to say she absolutely agreed with it.

    “During an untidy television appearance on Sunday morning, the newly minted cabinet appointee was asked whether she agreed with the sentiment that flexibility in wages, and keeping wages at a relatively modest level, is a deliberate feature of Australia’s economic architecture to help drive employment growth – a point the finance minister made last week.

    Believing the observation was an argument being put by Bill Shorten in his economic messaging, Reynolds initially flatly rejected it, and blasted the Labor leader for making it.

    “No I don’t believe that – absolutely not – and for Bill Shorten to even suggest that, I think, shows a fundamental lack of understanding about economics,” Reynolds said.

    When it was pointed out to her that the argument was actually Cormann’s, not Shorten’s, she promptly declared her colleague was “absolutely right”.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/10/linda-reynolds-stumbles-on-wages-growth-in-tv-interview

    Then we have Abbott, who is looking increasingly unhinged, signing up to the Paris agreement as PM, then calling for us to pull out when Turnbull was PM, and now going back to staying in because we have a new PM and Energy Minister. “We had an emissions obsession that needed to be broken, and it has now changed,” he lamely offers as his excuse for his very obvious political maneuvering. Bugger the truth, bugger the environment, what will get me some votes, seems to be Abbott’s approach to anything.

    The media has an obligation to hold these people to account so the voters can make decisions based on truth rather than the drivel we are fed by self-serving politicians whose opinion is not based on what’s best for the country but solely on what’s best for them in their quest to keep their job.

  3. Denis Hay

    I agree with what you say, John. At the moment it seems that Labor is scared to be too radical for fear of being wedged by the LNP. I am torn about who to vote for this election, but I am assuming that Labor will win. If they win with a significant majority we will soon see how compassionate, and how supportive they are for social justice and equality for all.

  4. terence mills

    Mark Latham was made for One Nation :

    “Australians are sick and tired of seeing people with blonde hair and blue eyes declaring themselves to be indigenous, when clearly they have no recognisable Aboriginal background and are doing it solely to qualify for extra money.”

    “We will tighten the eligibility rules for Aboriginal identity to require DNA evidence of at least 25 per cent indigenous — the equivalent of one fully Aboriginal grandparent.”

    Mark Latham

  5. New England Cocky

    Our Parliament has become corrupted because our MSM is owned by an American national whose friends in high places, corporate and government USA (United States of Apartheid), want to ravage Australia’s natural resources for their own pecuniary benefit.

    The failure has been in the Australian MSM that no longer can “Keep the bastards honest” with investigative reporting while advertising revenues are sliding down. The “free press” has become the multitude of small independent publishers like AIMN, Crikey, etc that perform admirably but to a very small and dedicated audience.

    As every political novice in the Notional$ knows, control what the people are told and you control what people think. That is why the regional media is kept silent about the too many scams being perpetrated in regional centres. Those regional media are protecting their advertising revenue by covering up the many scandals by “the bosses”.

  6. Paul

    “My thought for the day

    If we are to save our democracy we might begin by asking that at the very least our politicians should tell the truth.”

    John, before they can even countenance ‘telling the truth’ they must first ‘answer the question’

    The evasive non answers that are the mainstay of a politician’s discourse is the single most nauseating aspect of politics IMO.

    Scomo is head and shoulders above the rest in this regard hence my continued nausea……

  7. Ian Hughes

    Excellent article John, thank you.

    I am cautiously optimistic about Bill Shorten as PM if Labor wins government. I say this because he has consistently demonstrated a critical trait for a leader ie. the ability to listen. As evidence, I offer his 75+ public Town Halls, held around our nation and open to anyone. By contrast, consider the bricked ears of our “I am a wall” interim PM.

    As a very young manager I was taught “you have 2 ears and 1 mouth, use them in that proportion” and it proved a very valuable lesson right through to my autumn years. So too, “you can’t steer the ship from the engine room”. In this regard I believe Shorten has available to him a front bench of much greater talent the current rabble in government. Once their direction is set he must get out of the way and let Minister’s manage their own portfolios. His ability to delegate will be vitally important.

    I also long for a new set of metrics where we measure the well-being of our nation from a social perspective, rather than just pure economics and the economy is used to serve society. Too often today it is arse about!

  8. Alan Nosworthy

    A good start would be to properly fund C.S.I.R.O. and have a dedicated Science Minister so that objective truth has a portfolio and voice.
    To rebuild the in house capability of the A.T.O. to reduce reliance on outsourcing to the vested interests of the big accounting firms.
    Proper funding, hearing aids and a new set of dentures for the corporate watchdog.
    And, yes, a federal I.C.A.C. to keep/make the bastards honest.

  9. Geoff Andrews

    Terence @ 9.34am
    It’s probably out of context but Latham seems to be saying he’s sick of scamming white bastards rorting a system which has been established to advantage aborigines: a perfectly reasonable proposition I would have thought? Even 25% minimum aboriginal blood seems a reasonable ambit figure. The possibility that it is reasonable almost guarantees that it is out of context.
    I’ve always be a bit bemused when a person with, say, 10% aboriginal blood tries to rort a system, people iike Latham blame the 10% aboriginal part and not the 90% white that has led him astray.

  10. Adrianne Haddow

    Great article John.

    I am heartily sick of the lies and self- serving behaviour of these thugs in suits. If these ministers are the products of the private school industry, these schools need to look to their teaching of ethics, as they are obviously failing.

    The contempt they show for the electorate, and the institutions within our democracy, is beyond belief…..

  11. wam

    Democracy is being ruled by elected parliament. What have we got to restore?

    hahaha have you forgotten that truth is that which one’s believes to be true. So what is your truth, john?? My truth?? The rabbott’s truth? Christian’s truth? Muslim’s truth? Atheist’s truth? A democratic decision on truth? Politicians could be honest like windsor and oakeschott?

    Paul is that your question? Alan jones’ question? trioli’s question? shorten’s question?

    Still a good read, john but a tad of bias is showing??

  12. David1

    Pyne in his remaining years should never be allowed to forget how he attempted to bring down the Speaker of the HOR Peter Slipper and thus the Democratically elected Government of Julia Gillard (of course).

    I am reminded of an excellent AIM article written by our friend John Lord at the time on September 8th 2014. John stated “So we are left with many unanswered questions. If Royal Commissions are fine for the Pink Batt Scheme and Unions, then surely one is certainly warranted for an attempt to bring down an elected government.”

    We are still waiting.The full article is linked here, well worth a read either again, or as a first time. It has lost none of its importance.

    https://theaimn.com/mouth-roared-trouble/

    I conclude with Johns words again ;

    “What is being harmed here is not the grubby reputations of some politicians unfit to serve our parliament, nor the parliament itself, but the democratic process on which our nation has thrived.”

  13. blair

    another problem is the concentration of Media, owned by Murdoch, fix this and we might get “honest” reporting, and real information.
    Bill Shorten never gets more than a disembodied sound bite, while Government Misnisters get tonnes of media time to show how mendatious and downright stupid they can be!

  14. terence mills

    This government holds an important and much sought after seat on the Human Rights Council of the UN but has been heavily criticised for declining to sign an International Women’s Day statement at the United Nations calling for better access to safe abortions.

    It seems that this government, even on the international stage, even for a matter as uncontroversial as this insist on playing politics.

    The only reason that I can see for our government’s refusal to sign this statement is because it happens to align with Labor policy and they just won’t agree with anything that Labor support.

    Pathetic !!

  15. Jack Cade

    Terence. This government fought like buggery to avoid getting the UN seat. Then, like everything else the Coalition resists that Labor advocates, it exploits as much as it can.

  16. Kronomex

    The rot and corruption started with Howard and became well and truly entrenched from 2013 after the RWNJ’s took over. Now we have a RRRWNJ* in charge who would be much happier if elections could be done away with.

    *Rabid Religious Right Wing Nut Job.

  17. John Lord

    Thanks for the comments thus far.

    Terence Mills. Isn’t that just pathetic.

    David1 A lot of corruption passes through the system. This was one that deserved a better hearing.

    Blair. Our democracy will never be cleaned up without a cleanup of the media.

    Ian Hughes. Me too.

  18. Kronomex

    And now The Rupert’s overwhelming greed is coming to the fore yet again –

    https://www.smh.com.au/business/companies/news-corp-calls-on-accc-to-break-up-google-20190312-p513iz.html

    What’s the bet he’ll have words with his little puppets in Canberra to push his agenda.

    Now the gutless wonders in the federal LNP have backflipped yet again.

    https://www.smh.com.au/business/banking-and-finance/government-ditches-hayne-recommendation-on-mortgage-broker-pay-20190312-p513lp.html

    The threat of the loss of donations would be horrible to them.

  19. Carol Taylor

    I concur, this is a great article John. I also agree that our biggest problem as a nation are the lies, which it seems the current legislation can do nothing about. This is a problem with an honour system, what to do when some are decidedly less than honourable?

    To date we have had outrageous lies about asylum seekers stealing not only our hospital beds but our homes as well, Liberal candidates handing out faux cheques while the local representative and community groups (who did all the hard work) are being cut out of the picture, faux ‘grass roots’ anti renewable energy pro-coal groups set up with the aim being to deceive people that these were genuine people and not a multi-national marketing group…and many others..Tim Wilson’s effort in not only manufacturing a faux grass roots anti-franking credit movement while simultaneously signing people up for not only Liberal Party membership but using his position as head of an Inquiry for spruiking his second cousin’s business of which he is a shareholder, is worth a special mention. But guess what, there is not a scrap anyone can do about it because technically no laws have been broken. Which clearly indicates that an incoming Labor government needs to FIX IT.

  20. John Lord

    Thanks Carrol. Lying is one of the biggest problems society as a whole faces.

  21. Andrew J Smith

    By coincidence ABC RN Sunday Extra had an American guest, author of ‘Democracy in Chains’:

    ‘How much power do billionaires wield in the political process?

    Sunday 10 March 2019

    A select groups of power billionaires are seeking to undermine government; that’s the ascertain (sic) of US historian Nancy Maclean

    She warns Australian voters about powerful lobby groups using the ” i360″ analytics company to manipulate votes’

    The latter she spoke of a bit, however she spoke more of the Kochs, Dark Money, Tea Party, Gina Rinehart, transnational networks of influence, IPA, gerry meandering etc. and a long game by radical right libertarians, while appealing to Christian conservatives for votes.

    https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/7.30/10876034

  22. Andreas Bimba

    “During this time it should change leader (a woman would be preferable) and declare our democracy stable.”

    Your reasons please John?

    “As every political novice in the Notional$ knows, control what the people are told and you control what people think. That is why the regional media is kept silent about the too many scams being perpetrated in regional centres. Those regional media are protecting their advertising revenue by covering up the many scandals by “the bosses”.”

    A very important observation NEC, something most of us suspected but important to be confirmed by a local. Repair of our mass media must be a high priority and I would even support a government subsidy for independent media administered in some way to minimise political interference and blatant bias and lying. A newsprint arm of the ABC/SBS or just a subsidy for community radio and community print media? Any ideas AIMN readers?

  23. Matters Not

    Let’s (re)start with a fact checker Unit (re)attached to the ABC and have its findings broadcast far and wide at predetermined, predictable times. Devote 10 or 15 minutes every night to broadcast same on perhaps the The Drum. Make the public broadcaster a Journal of Record etc.

    Allow for right of reply and the like but also allow for the fact checker’s subsequent right of reply – and so on. Really rip an ‘issue’ apart. Put serious issues under the microscope.

  24. Zathras

    The stroke or brain injury that Latham is suffering from is getting worse.

    His claim for aboriginal racial genetic testing has been previously considered and shown to be flawed –
    https://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/36-kinship-and-identity/genetic-testing-and-aboriginality

    Despite the scare and smear tactics, there is already a process in place that makes it very difficult to claim and be granted aboriginal heritage and once it’s granted, it’s for life.

    If he thinks that genetic testing is proof of race, what does he think about Pauline Hanson’s 9% of Middle Eastern heritage?

  25. Michael Taylor

    John, more worrying than the lies is the fact that so many believe them.

  26. wam

    Carol the franking credits may be a source of votes shorten may be screaming about the lies but editors are sticking to the words that sell. As for lies the rabbott explained that lies buy time and are forgotten or believed and spread by the faithful. Sadly once believed it becomes true.

    Any amount of evidence shows labor to be the manager of the economy but I have a facebook full of women and men who scoff at such a suggestion and none but one have ever provided any evidence for their TRUTH and his evidence was quotes from costello speaking about himself.
    So spot on. Michael.
    We should not be walking past a labor office without seeing a few easy to remember words telling us how glad people will be when these politicians are defeated.
    ps does the drum ever have a counter to the IPA????

    ps jack, not everything gillard was good but she laid a slimy egg and the rabbott et al wont touch her ‘independent’ quango that would,’t be out of place in versaille

  27. John Lord

    Andreas. Stability, opportunity, possibility.

    Matters not. Budget problems but good idea.

  28. totaram

    Zathras: I said long ago that Latham needs to have a MRI of the brain. There’s a tumour in there for sure and it’s growing. They’ll get positive evidence without the MRI, the day he suffers a seizure.

  29. David Bruce

    The rot started when Gough signed the UNIDROIT treaty and then introduced changes to the constitution based on his expectation that Australians would vote FOR a Republic. We didn’t, so the LNP accepted and adapted the changes into the Australia Act 1986.

    Queen Elizabeth II didn’t assent the Australia Act, she merely “witnessed” the Act by signing at the TOP of the document!

    Our Commonwealth of Australia constitution 1901 no longer applies. The PM appoints the GG, the High Court judges and effectively functions with dictatorial powers (no separation).

    We definitely need to restore our Constitutional Democracy and the Australia Act 1986 needs to be endorsed by the electorate or removed, re-drafted and then endorsed by referendum!

    This will certainly take longer unless the lying, cheating and stealing is stopped.

    My wife used to have a tea towel in the 90’s, which said “don’t lie cheat or steal, the Government hates competition”

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