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At the risk of repeating myself … it’s about our bloody democracy.

Monday 26 February 2018

Those of you who follow my daily political mutterings will probably know that first and foremost I am passionate about thwarting the decline in our democracy and the corruption that accompanies it. Amid the daily enraged voices of doing over one’s opponent, there must be people with a genuine desire to change the way our democracy functions.

Since John Howard came to prominence, and in the time since, especially under Abbott, the practice of politics now repulses people. We have been so let down by leadership that you would be hard-pressed to find 10% of the population who “trust” our politicians.

I have long felt that the political establishment, and a few key players, has taken ownership of a system that should serve the people, but instead serves itself. It is self-indulgent, shows no respect for the people it serves and lacks transparency. The thoughts that follow, I know might challenge established political thinking. They may even be controversial, but politics, as we currently practice it has no future. I believe ardently in fixing it.

I have posted three or more articles on the subject and I’m always hesitant to post more lest I bore people. However, I recently came across a piece written by a writer I respect, Lenore Taylor, in which she quotes some research on the subject.

‘’Many have given up on the show altogether, according to new research that builds on the picture emerging from polling over several years, with different questions by different pollsters providing a slightly different vantage point.

In January, for example, an Essential poll 2017 found 40% of the electorate agreed with the statement “the system needs to be fundamentally changed”. Agreement was highest (52%) among voters who already supported “other” parties but also a sizeable 44% among Labor voters, 43% for Green voters and 41% for Liberal National supporters.

The Australian National University’s post-election poll, based on surveys of 2,818 people over three months beginning on the Monday after the 2 July election, found 40% were not satisfied with democracy in Australia – the lowest level since the dismissal of Gough Whitlam in the 1970s – and only 26% of people thought the government could be trusted, the lowest level since the poll began this measure in 1969.

Last year the Lowy poll found that only 61% of Australians thought democracy was preferable to any other kind of government, a figure that dropped to 54% among 18 to 29-year-olds. The poll didn’t ask people what kind of government they considered preferable.

‘’A majority – 54% of respondents – agreed with the statement that “the current Australian political system is a broken system and isn’t working” and only 39% agreed with the statement that “the current Australian political system, where we elect representatives to form a governing body, is the best system there is”. Just 32% agreed that “the current Australian political system delivers positive and fair outcomes for the majority of Australians”.”

The gist of what she is saying is that Australians are looking for a better representative democracy because they have lost faith in the one we have. They really do want to shake up the dying excuse for the democracy we have now. If we don’t, we are in danger of stepping into the American experience. And very few Australians want to take that path.

What follows are my views on this most urgent topic. Views that politicians should be concerned about, but are more engrossed with their own self-interest.

In the recipe of what a democracy is, there are many ingredients, but simply explained it is a political system where like-minded people come together to form ideas that become a philosophy. They then become the foundation of political parties.

These ideologies pull in different directions in a quest for majority approval by the people. It is far from a perfect system that has variations all around the world. It is elastically flexible, (we even have democratic dictatorships), unpredictable and at worst they’re violent and extremely combative. At its best, it is noble, constructive and generally serves society well. It is very much better than the next best thing and accommodates diagonally opposed competing ideas, extreme or otherwise.

All in all, it’s an imperfect beast that has served us well. Yes, it is a government for the people by the people. Common to most Western Democracies (and in the absence of anything better) it has a capitalistic economic system which is at its best when fairly regulated.

In Australia, the right to vote 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.

A clear indication of an Australian Democracy in decline is the fact that people are giving up this voting gift, literally saying: “A pox on both your houses”. Three million did so by not voting in the last election. Our political system is in crisis because our politicians fail to speak with any clarity on issues that concern people.

Today we find ourselves in a situation where by any reasoned standards we are being governed by a party at war with itself, that finds itself in daily crisis: a party that has lost its identity and is devoid of any leadership yet, according to the polls, could win the next election.

Moreover, an enlightened democracy should provide the people with a sense of purposeful participation. It should forever be open to regular improvement in its methodology and its implementation. Its constitutional framework should be exposed to periodical revision and renewal, compromise and bi-partisanship when the common good cries out for it.

But above all its function should be, that regardless of ideology, the common good should be served first and foremost. A common good healthy democracy serves the collective from the ground up rather than a top-down democracy that exists to serve secular interests.

One that is enforced by an elite of business leaders, politicians and media interests who have the power to enforce their version. That is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Every facet of society including the democratic process needs constant and thoughtful renewal and change. Otherwise, we become so trapped in the longevity of sameness that we never see better ways of doing things.

Unfortunately, Australia’s particular version of the democratic process has none of these things inherent in it and is currently sinking in a quagmire of American Tea Party Republicanism.

I am not a political scientist, historian or a trained journalist. I write this as a disgruntled and concerned citizen because it seems to me that the Australian democracy I grew up with no longer exists.

The demise of Australian Democracy has its origins in a monumental shift by both major parties to the right with the result that neither seems to know exactly what it is they stand for. They are now tainted with sameness.

The Liberal Party has been replaced by neo-conservatism, actively asserting individual identity against a collective one and old style Liberalism no longer has a voice. There is little or no difference between the Liberals and the National Party as they are currently demonstrating now, seem irrelevant as a political force and should really go their own way.

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

“The whole logic of the “lifters” and “leaners” rhetoric so favoured by the current Government is a distillation of the idea that there is no such thing as society, that we and only we are responsible for our own circumstances” (Tim Dunlop, The Drum, 4/7/2014).

The Labor Party needs to rid itself of outdated social objectives and invest in a social philosophical ‘’common good’’ instead. And recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile pursuit. The major parties have become fragmented with Labor losing a large segment of its supporters to the Greens whilst rich populist extremists on the far right are undermining the LNP.

In terms of talent, both parties are represented by party hacks of dubious intellectual liability without enough female representation and worldly work-life experience. Both parties have pre-selection processes rooted in factional power struggles that often see the best candidates miss out. Both need to select people with broader life experience. Not just people who have come out of the Union Movement or in the case of the LNP, staffers who have come up through the party.

Our Parliament, its institutions, and conventions have been so trashed by Tony Abbott in particular that people have lost faith in the political process and their representatives. Ministerial responsibility has become a thing of the past. Question time is just an excuse for mediocre minds that are unable to win an argument with factual intellect, charm or debating skills, to act deplorably toward each other.

The public might be forgiven for thinking that the chamber has descended into a chamber of hate where respect for the others view is seen as a weakness. Where light frivolity and wit has been replaced with smut and sarcasm. And in so doing they debase the parliament and themselves, as moronic imbecilic individuals.

Question time is the showcase of the Parliament and is badly in need of an overhaul and an independent Speaker. Our democracy suffers because no one has the guts to give away the slightest political advantage.

Recent times have demonstrated just how corrupt our democracy has become. We have witnessed a plethora of inquiries all focusing on illegal sickening behaviour. There is no reason to doubt that the stench of recent NSW corruption doesn’t waffle its way through the corridors of the National Parliament and into the highest offices. Corruption weaves its way through all sections of society including Unions, Business, and Politics.

And our democracy lacks leadership because our current leaders and their followers have so debased the Parliament that there is no compelling reason to be a politician. Well, at least for people with decency, integrity, and compassion. I cannot remember a time when my country has been so devoid of political leadership.

In recent times we have had potential but it was lost in power struggles, undignified self-interest, and narcissistic personality. The pursuit of power for power’s sake and the retention of it has so engulfed political thinking that the people have become secondary and the common good dwells somewhere in the recesses of small minds lacking the capacity for a good public policy that achieves social equity.

Our voting system is badly in need of an overhaul. When one party, The Greens attracts near enough to twice the primary votes as The Nationals but can only win one seat in the House of Representatives, as opposed to eight, there is something wrong with the system. Added to that is the ludicrous Senate situation where people are elected on virtually no primary votes, just preferences. It is also a system that allows the election of people with vested business interests with no public disclosure.

One cannot begin to discuss the decline of Australian democracy without at the same time aligning it to the collapse in journalistic standards and its conversion from reporting to opinion. Murdoch and his majority-owned newspapers; with blatant support for right-wing politics have done nothing to advance Australia as a modern enlightened democratic society. On the contrary, it has damaged it, perhaps irreparably.

The advent of social media has sent the mainstream media into free fall. Declining newspaper sales have resulted in lost revenue and profits. It is losing its authority, real or imagined. Bloggers more reflect the feelings of grass-roots society. Writers with whom they can agree or disagree, and at least have the luxury of doing so.

As a result, newspapers, in particular, have degenerated into gutter political trash in the hope that they might survive. Shock jocks shout the most outrageous lies and vilify people’s character with impunity and in the process does nothing to promote decent democratic illumination. They even promote free speech as if they are the sole custodians of it.

There are three final things that have contributed to the decline in our democracy.

Firstly, the Abbott factor and the death of truth as a principle of democratic necessity.
I am convinced Tony Abbott and others who have followed believe that the effect of lying diminishes over time and therefore is a legitimate political tool. So much so that his words and actions brought into question the very worthiness of the word truth. Or he has at least devalued it to the point of obsolescence.

The 2014 budget will be remembered for one thing. That it gave approval for an overwhelmingly legitimised lying as a political and election contrivance.

Tony Abbott set a high standard when it comes to keeping promises. On August 22, 2011, he said

“It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.”

We should never forget that, after crucifying Prime Minister Julia Gillard daily for three years, Abbott made this solemn promise:

“There will be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.

This was an unambiguous statement that cannot be interpreted any differently than what the words mean. To do so is telling one lie in defence of another.

In the budget, he broke them all. As a result, a rising stench of hypocrisy and dishonesty engulfed the Abbott prime ministership. When you throw mud in politics some of it inevitably sticks but there is a residue that adheres to the chucker. That was Abbott’s dilemma but the real loser was our democracy.

In Australian political history, Abbott’s legacy will be that he empowered a period emblematic of a nasty and ugly period in our politics. Abbott’s contribution to the decline of the Australian body politic is immeasurable. Our democracy is nothing more or nothing less than what the people make of it. The power is with the people and it is incumbent on the people to voice with unmistakable anger the decline in our democracy.

People need to wake up to the fact that government affects every part of their life (other than what we do in bed and they are currently wanting to oversee that) and should be more concerned. But there is a political malaise that is deep-seated. Politicians of all persuasions must be made to pay for their willful destruction of our democracy.

Good democracies can deliver good governments and outcomes only if the electorate demands it.

‘You get what you vote for’ rings true.

Lastly but importantly we need to educate our final year school leavers (the voters of tomorrow) with an indebtedness and fundamental appreciation of democracy.

A focus group I held at a nearby college revealed two things. One was that our young people are conversant with societal issues and have strong opinions grounded in clear observation. They cannot, however, place them into a logical political framework because (two) they are not adequately informed about political dogma and its place in the workings of a democracy.

We deserve better than what we have at the moment. However, if we are not prepared to raise our voices then our democracy will continue to decline and the nation and its people will suffer the consequences.

Three books have recently been published that address the state of our democracy. The first ‘Triumph and Demise’ is by The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly. In the final chapter Kelly suggests that our political system is in trouble and that, if that is the case, then by definitions so are we. Prime Minister Abbott launched the book, and at the time, fundamentally disagreed with the author’s assertions.

“Paul suggests that the relentless negativity of our contemporary conversation, the culture of entitlement that he thinks has sprung up over the last decade or so, means that good government has become difficult, perhaps impossible’’

“It’s not the system which is the problem, it is the people who from time-to-time inhabit it. Our challenge at every level is to be our best selves.”

In the first quote two words, negativity and entitlement jump out at you. Not necessarily in the context of the difficulty of governance, he was alluding to, but rather as self-descriptive character analysis. He could not have chosen two better words to describe his own footprint on the path to our democratic demise.

The second is a disingenuous, even sarcastic swipe at his opponents that leaves no room for self-examination or blame for his own period as opposition leader and later as Prime Minister in particular. And in another indignant self-righteous swipe, he said that Labor was “much better at politics than government.”

Three quotes from Kelly at the book’s launch are worth repeating. Kelly said he increasingly felt there were “real problems” with the mechanics of the political system as he worked on his book.

“I have always believed in the quality of leadership. I have always felt that leadership was fundamental … to the success of the country,” Kelly said.

“I do think the system today makes governing, and in particular serious reform, more difficult, and I think the record does show that.”

I have not read the book but I agree entirely with his diagnosis. In the first quote, I believe he is referring to a breakdown in the conventions and institutional arrangements of our democracy.

The second is a general commentary on the dearth of leadership over the past decade or so. Although he was a Howard supporter and he said this of Abbott prior to his sacking:

“Abbott is governing yet he is not persuading. So far. As Prime Minister he seems unable to replicate his success as Opposition leader: mobilising opinion behind his causes. The forces arrayed against Abbott, on issue after issue, seem more formidable than the weight the prime minister can muster.”

The third quote is a direct reference to the 24/7 News cycle and negativity as a means of obtaining power.

The second book ‘The Political Bubble’ by Mark Latham also addresses the state of our democracy:

“Australians once trusted the democratic process. While we got on with our lives, we assumed our politicians had our best interests at heart”.

He suggests that trust has collapsed. In this book, he freely explores and travels up and down every road of our democratic map. On the journey, he talks about how democracy has lost touch with the people it’s supposed to represent. Like a fast-talking cab driver, he gives a view on how politics has become more tribal with left and right-wing politics being dominated by fanatical extremists.

An entire chapter is devoted to how Tony Abbott promised to restore trust in Australian politics and how he failed to keep his promises. Another chapter is devoted to what can be done about fixing the democratic deficit as he calls it.

“Can our parliamentary system realign itself with community expectations or has politics become one long race to the bottom?”

The third, and more recent book, by Nick Bryant (BBC correspondent and author) aptly titled ‘The Rise and Fall of Australia: How a great Nation lost its way’ takes a forensic look at the lucky country from inside and out.

The most impressive thing about this book, besides the directness of his observations and astuteness of his writing, is that what is being said is an outsider’s point of view. He is not constrained by the provincial restrictions of self-analysis. Instead, he offers his take on what he calls:

“The great paradox of modern-day Australian life: of how the country has got richer at a time when its politics have become more impoverished.”

Another important contribution to the democracy debate is this piece by Joseph Camilleri ‘Democracy in crisis’ I highly recommend this thoughtful article for a comprehensive outline of what ails our democracy.

I have alluded to these works, not as a review of each, but rather to highlight a growing concern over the state of our democracy.

There is no doubt in my mind if one looks at all the ingredients that go into forming a strong democracy, and you make a list of ingredients, the traditional recipe is no longer working. Or inferior ingredients have corrupted it. At the risk of repeating myself, take for example the seemingly uncontrollable bias and market share of Murdoch.


A desire for unaccountable free speech that is weighted toward, extremism.

The attack on the conventions and institutions of parliament by the Prime Minister.

The precedent of invoking Royal Commissions into anything as a means of retribution.

The rise of fanatical right-wing partisan politics and media.

The decline in parliamentary respect and behaviour.

Add to that the right wings dismissive contempt for feminism.

Corporate sway and the pressure of the lobbyist can also be added to the mix, together with the voice of the rich that shouts the voice of inequality.

The idea that with political servitude comes entitlement via financial benefit and privilege.

And you can throw in the power of personalities over policy within the mainstream parties.

Then there is the uninhibited corruption from both major parties. Then there is the acceptance by both sides that negativity is the only means of obtaining power.

But at the top of the list is the malaise of the population. Although we have compulsory voting 3 million people at the last election felt so disgusted with our democracy that they felt more inclined to have a beer at the pub, or mow the lawn than cast a vote for Australian democracy.

Author’s note. The bulk of this was written during Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership. Nothing much has changed since, other than Turnbull’s capacity for unbridled hypocrisy.

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”.


  1. Kipling Kear


    I pretty much stopped seriously reading though at the point early on when you said, “Australians are looking for a better representative democracy….”

    That’s an oxymoron. Representative democracy is the entire problem that has allowed these disreputable self serving grubs access to our tax dollars for their own enrichment, kept them free and clear from any honest accountability and allowed our work force to be have it’s rights diminished significantly.

    This Australian does not want representative dishonest democracy. Nope, the ONLY solution is a shift to a direct democratic model and, most likely, the ONLY way to achieve that will be by taking our anger, frustration and grief to the streets. Mass stoppages and protest are the only way we will get our shift in politics, not via polls, not via social media and, certainly not from anything MSM has to offer.

  2. Shogan

    Great article John & hopefully you sent a copy to our political leaders too because all, no matter which party they belong to, need to read this & understand their part in this failing democracy & decide what they’re going to do about it.

  3. John Lord

    Kipling Kear. Obviously you have different thoughts as to what a representative democracy should be. Could you expand.

  4. Wam

    Hahaha what a great start to the ‘weak’, lord john on democracy and truth. Seemed odd that you said corruption was in the two major parties. Surely the nationals and the grins are not free from corruption of politicians???

    Loved your(and kear’s??) dig that our system should no longer follow the democratic principle of 50% plus 1. Still that is how the senate works and that chamber’s composition represents Australia’s political future. (Funny lord john but the grins have more than their 10%)

    You could look at disingenuous and honesty as the words that threaten. You could look ar the secret pragmatism in the parties or parts of parties.

    If you support a party you could give them the benefit of your opinion to show the way to improve politics and the Australia way?

    Wasn’t it great that the national senators paid their own way to canberra to de-elect barnaby and elect pence’s twin?

    Bridget, loved her tieless suit, was pretty good on insiders and stays as deputy. Loved the closing when mccormack made a little homily on barnaby ‘coming back’, then he left with a ‘just off for a little chat with the PM.’

  5. helvityni

    John Lord, I’m reading Nick Bryant’s book right now; he started with the good bits about Oz and Aussies, and then goes into things that at times have made us a laughing stock of the world….

    Jill Ker Conway’s The Road From Coorain made me understand why this ambitious intelligent woman had to leave Australia, her memoir True North is also excellent…

  6. OldWomBat

    The hell-bent charge by the lnp to privatise anything and everything is another contributing factor to the continuing lack of trust in government. Their latest plan is to privatise the visa application system to offer “premium services for high-value applicants”, different access for those able to pay more, as well as “commercial value-added services”. So again, money speaks so much louder to the lnp than integrity and character of applicants, which in itself is not surprising given that the lnp lacks both.

  7. Keitha Granville

    yes to getting out in the street, protesting. In my younger days there were vocal protests about all sorts – most notably for me the Moratorium marches to bring the troops home from Vietnam. People seem to have lost the interest in protesting – probably because they have lost interest in politics since all politicians seem to be interested in is what’s in it for them.

    Speak up people, write to your MP, take part in peaceful demonstration anywhere you find it. Take an interest, or else . . . .

  8. helvityni

    …just read ABC news online and feeling sick to find out what is happening at St John’s College at Sydney University…

    Read and puke.

  9. Diane Larsen

    Thankyou John for an interesting article my own thoughts re our democracy are that unfortunately the bulk of voters are so immersed in the struggle to survive everyday pressures ie lack of money and time that interest in our political system runs a poor last in their estimation and only when something directly affects their struggle in a personal way do they cry thats not fair. I agree we need to educate our students about democracy and the gift of voting instead of many looking at it as a chore.
    Please keep writing I enjoy your work and others contribution on this site a great deal.

  10. John Lord

    helvityni I found it very entertaining.

  11. metadatalata

    Absolutely we need to change the way Australia is governed but ideological representation is not going to work. Those with money will always find a way to rort the system. The collusion of lawyers, bankers and lobbyists run this country, not politicians.

    Running the country for the benefit of all current and future citizens needs higher representation in decision-making from science and research-based organisations that can make choices that carefully balance environmental, educational and business decisions based on facts, best knowledge and practices rather than personal benefits.

    Environmental decisions in particular cannot be left to ideologues because it makes no sense to favour a group who imagine there are no problems with destruction of an ecosystem in exchange for short-term profits when it is clear that the long-term damage will have permanent consequences for the future.

  12. Glenn Barry

    So much hinges on the definition of representative and it’s lack or complete absence in our democratic process.
    The LNP have completely jettisoned being representative of a majority, or for that matter even a substantial minority instead attempting to masquerade as caring elites.

    That our democracy is broken is incontrovertible, argument over the degree may be plausible, but worthless whilst the media is so corrupted there will be no accountability

  13. Roswell

    John, someone told me it’s your birthday.

    Happy birthday. Keep on punching. 😀

  14. Wam

    Dear Helvityni,
    Fortunately the overt poofterbashing of the Rabbott’s days have disappeared in St Johns but the respect for women is still at his church level with hunting and bareback riding the undergrad’s normal pursuit.
    Does Conway’s:
    “It chilled me to realise that there was no way to earn my freedom through merit…”
    Still apply?
    ps Lord John It is difficult to follow your whinge(disingenuous?) of National representation their average vote seems to show the nats at 3/400% of the grins??

  15. Christopher

    thank you John. You cannot make anyone do anything they don’t want to. We have to make the politicians want to change and, absent a media capable of reporting truth, it can only happen via mass protest. Each of us is only one person, but together we can take them on. A lot of people understand the power of voting out sitting members and all Australians who give a shit should think about this as a way of mass protest. A hung Parliament is a good way for minority interests to get a say in how things are run.

    Political donations also should be banned completely. That would be a good place to start, yet they all benefit so the chances of getting such a law passed are minute.

  16. Nearly Normal Frederick

    Two American books which provide some context for understanding the situation we are in – The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen and The Republican Noise Machine by David Brock,
    Those on the right side of the USA culture wars have specialized in this argument “culture” for at least 3 decades now. Such that the Republican Noise Machine has now dominated the content and context in which USA politics is now conducted. Their strategy re Barack Obama was to oppose everything positive that he tried to do.
    To me it is completely obvious that in one way or another the mad monkTony Abbott (aka mister NO) deliberately chose this tactic of opposing everything that Julia or Kevin wanted to do.
    He was probably coached and encouraged to do so via the influence of the IPA and its direct connections with the USA Republican Noise Machine. He also specialized in mouthing off deliberately provocative and divisive statements on almost everything .

  17. Kronomex

    Great! Not only do we have two power mad world leaders, Putin and Trump, to worry about now we have Xi Jinping joining the gang. And running around their feet, why it’s Trembles the purse sized yappy dog who also wants to be like the big dogs.

    Anyone else feel the Doomsday Clock tick move closer to midnight?

  18. John Lord

    Thanks Roswell. Yes 77 today. Thanks for your help by the way.

  19. John L

    Jon… feelings exactly. There is no such thing as governing for the ” common good” any more. I’d just about packed it in, politics wise, because what’s the point of voting for the absolute dross put up by most of the parties and caring about society, people and inequality is deemed extreme left wing verging on rabid communism…..
    The election of Jacinda Ardern in NZ does give a glean of hope – NZ has been going through a period of “government” just like Aus. the last 9 years, the country is run down, in most infrastructure areas, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can sustain the hope.
    Kronomex…Putin power mad….only in the eyes of the western MSM. Read something other than the dross that passes for msm in the west.

  20. Matters Not

    John L re:

    no such thing as governing for the common good any more

    You mean there was once such a time when governing was actually about a common good? Could you please advise re when that time was because I must have missed it.

    And given we live in a capitalist common sense embraced by the vast majority, then how is that possible?

  21. Kronomex

    John L, what makes you think I base my views on Putin purely from the main sleaze media? You have made an assumption and I find that rather annoying.

  22. helvityni

    John Lord, my belated Birthday Wishes, and many more to come…

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