By Kyran O’Dwyer
Never before have we been in this situation. Of course, we have had bad governments before. But never like this.
We have had governments that are ‘out of touch’ before, seeming to act contrary to public opinion. Remember Vietnam and, more recently, Iraq wars? Public rallies were held and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest. The governments of the day simply ignored the substance of the protest.
We have had ‘incompetent’ governments before, where billions were squandered in the pursuit of a short-term political ‘sugar hit’, or a ‘nation-building project’ (or ‘nation protecting project’, as they are so often defence associated), often leaving unjustifiable debt embedded in the nation’s budget.
We have had ‘naïve’ governments where the rights of we, the people, were gambled against the prospect of future dividends, like the workplace ‘reforms’ of the 80’s and 90’s, sacrificing rights without ensuring the guarantee of the promised resultant benefits.
There are many historical examples of ‘bad governments’ evidenced across many spectrums of measurable outcomes. No matter the ‘measure’ (economic, social, environmental, etcetera), the long-term result of their poor performance is not only found not to have been to the benefit or advantage of we, the people, but their poor performance is established as having been to the detriment of we, the people. This is usually after the bad government has been discarded and the extent of their folly is fully discovered.
It’s difficult to recall any government being as woefully bad as this mob. They have not only managed to tick all of the above boxes, but they achieved it in their first year of government. Has any first term government failed to pass its first budget in full? Has any government failed to pass any of their budgets in full in successive years? With a change of leadership and a DD election, they ventured to the edge of the political abyss, nearly achieving the unthinkable. A first-term government getting voted out of office. In the House of Representatives, they gambled the 90 seats won in 2013 and were left with 76 in 2016. A one-seat majority. In the Senate, the cause of their discontent, they gambled the 33 seats won in 2013 and were left with 30 in 2016.
A salutary lesson, indeed. Don’t gamble with gambling, and only gamble what you can afford to lose.
The hubris of this mob is manifested when they not only indignantly ignore and/or reject their own incompetence but add abuses of power to their transgressions. Unsatisfied with that, they then add abuses of privilege and entitlement to their transgressions. Unsatisfied with that, they then add a complete and utter disregard for any semblance of accountability to their transgressions.
It is a further problem that we have a partisan media that not only ignores these transgressions, these assaults on our intelligence and decency but condones them (both covertly and overtly) in their superficial discussions of the identities behind the decisions, rather than the substance of the decisions themselves.
It is a further problem that we have government departments and agencies who actively pursue the political agenda of their ministerial masters to the detriment of the people they were designed to serve.
But this mob have now taken it even further, which is a cause for greater concern.
Can anyone recall any previous government that has so actively and doggedly pursued ideologies that we, the people, are overwhelmingly opposed to?
A majority of Australians believe that climate change is real, having long since tired of the distraction of how much of its accelerating impact is caused by ‘man’. The majority of Australians have more trust in the scientists (of whom more than 95% believe climate change is real and are working on solutions, with varying degrees of optimism) than in the rabble elected to represent us.
The majority of Australians believe the national broadcaster is an essential service for a free and vibrant democracy. In Australia, we have a further peculiar reliance. The vastness of our land, the dispersal of our people and the savagery of events such as fire, flood and cyclones, has meant our national broadcaster has had a further dimension as an emergency broadcaster, with many rural Australians reliant on it for so much more than entertainment.
The majority of Australians have been surveyed over the years on many and varied issues and have been consistent in their responses. Health, education, our First People, our homeless, those in need of assistance, even on our governance, to name but a few.
Traditionally, even our previous bad governments paid lip service to the wants and needs of the majority. Not this mob. Having initially decried such results as ‘mere populism’, they don’t even bother with that any more. Never before has a government said ‘Yeah, Nah, well, just Nah’.
And the media have given up any pretence of doing their job. The sacred Fourth Estate panders to these ideologically crazed muppets either by repeating their lies or ignoring their failures.
There are some exceptions. Greg Jericho alluded to the current situation in his piece “All care, no policy: Liberal party pretenders exposed” which reveals this fundamental problem.
“But really, all this talk about the ABC from Abetz and Dutton is just a continuation of the long run of the Liberal party being disingenuously concerned about things it is actively against.”
It’s dire, by any measure. It can come as no surprise to anyone that the calls for a Federal ICAC have been rising to a crescendo across all sectors of society, increasing in volume and frequency in recent years. Two parties have even expressed support for this oversight, yet watched on while existing forms of oversight and scrutiny have been disembowelled.
Our government has said ‘Yeah, Nah, well, just Nah’.
Our society has real issues to face which cannot be addressed with superficial tokenistic enquiries. There was a time when an ICAC would have, at the very least, been a start. Now it is a case of waaayyy too little, waaayyy too late. What do you do when those in power show such abuse of their power and privilege, making rules that they, themselves, have no regard for?
It was back in 1887 that John Dalberg-Acton penned those cautionary, if not prophetic, words;
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
It is not until you read the full passage that you realise we have not only ignored the prophetic caution of the past to our own detriment, we have entrenched the sanctity of power and ignored the inherent corruption when power is absolute.
“But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do agree thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King, unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III of England ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.”
That there is any attempted justification for double standards, two sets of rules, is an indecent proposal.
That those double standards would hold those without power to a greater standard of scrutiny and accountability, is a shameful proposal.
That those double standards would hold those with the greatest power to little, if any, scrutiny, and accept their poorest behaviour as reasonable, is an obscene proposal.
Yet here we are, more than 150 years later, faced with the apparent repercussions of our apparent complacency. We should be the most knowledgeable and enlightened generation of all time, yet we continue to not only suffer fools but give them privilege, status and stature for no other reason than their ‘title’. We then indemnify and excuse any transgressions of the law, let alone any communally acceptable standard of decency, for no better reason than their ‘title’.
“There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”
We have surrendered all manner of hard-won freedoms and advances due to these fools doing what those at the top have always done. Create fear and division amongst the ‘masses’, with their ignorant arrogance being offered as the only apparent remedy.
“… the end learns to justify the means.”
Sally McManus, 16th March 2017, was written up in The Guardian:
“McManus was asked whether she supported the rule of law, to which she said yes.
Presenter Leigh Sales asked if the ACTU would distance itself from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, one of its affiliates, for more than 100 court cases in which it was accused of breaking the law or contempt of court.
“There is no way we’ll be doing that,” McManus said because the CFMEU had been fined for taking industrial action.
“It might be illegal industrial action according to our current laws and our current laws are wrong.
“It shouldn’t be so hard for workers in our country to take industrial action when they need to.”
Do you remember that? It was rated as a ‘tour de force’ on the part of Ms Sales and an abject failure on the part of Ms McManus. Our intrepid leaders were all but apoplectic in their zeal to decry this absolute pearl, this gift, from the mouth of Ms McManus. Their glee and enthusiasm soared when Ms McManus expanded on her consideration.
When Sales challenged how McManus could say she believed in the rule of law, the union leader replied: “I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right, but when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”
Manna from the heavens rained upon those with the reins, their inalienable right to reign newly assured. ‘The peasants are revolting’, they cried, delighted with the snide cruelty of their double entendre. Such flagrant disregard for the law cannot be tolerated in any decent society, they cried. Anyone possibly linked to support of such lawlessness, however tenuously, must be immediately challenged to categorically refute such a notion and disassociate themselves from any such link.
“Asked about the comments, Shorten said: “I just don’t agree.”
“If you don’t like a law, if you think a law is unjust, use the democratic process to get it changed.
“We believe in changing bad laws, not breaking them.”
And so it came to pass. If a law is unjust it is as simple as using the democratic process to have it changed. The Peasants desire for change has been satiated, the grip on the reins of those reigning strengthened by a media, breathless in its support for the status quo.
Can you see it yet?
Using our democratic process to change unjust laws is all well and good if you have access to our democratic process. Saying that you can vote every few years for the least worse of the available options, and trusting them to act and behave honourably for the remainder of their tenure, is not Democracy. It’s politics. Particularly when there is no requirement for a ‘politician’ to act honestly, let alone honourably. A politician is reliant on the trust of their constituents to get elected. When that trust is consistently rated at 12-20%, it is an indecent proposal to say you are acting with the trust (let alone confidence) of your constituents. As for listening to your constituents and acting in their interests, well, that’s simply a bridge too far. Exhibit A; A Postal Survey on equality.
We can dig into history for examples of where constituents have been denied justice under this illusion, loosely defined as democracy. This will invoke the usual criticisms of living in the past, of unfair comparisons, of how we have changed, of how things are different now.
It is the fifty year anniversary of the murder of a recidivist lawbreaker (oddly (and co-incidentally) engaged in protests about sanitation workers pay and conditions at the time of his murder), Michael King. Better known as Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr King (Jr) styled himself on another recidivist lawbreaker, Mahatma Gandhi, and both are still held in high regard by proponents of change, particularly when faced with entrenched and institutionalised legal injustice. It’s not as if we don’t have our own examples, such as Charles Perkins, whose Freedom Rides highlighted the systemic injustice and racism meted out to our First People. Looking at those and other examples of protesting unjust laws by breaking them, it is hardly a successful model. Fifty years later, human’s civil rights protections have not advanced, whereas corporate protections are now embedded in every facet of our society. Even less likely is the hope that our legislators will heed our protests and avail us the access to their democratic process. We are often told voters are averse to change, which is odd when all of the lived experience suggests it is the legislators who are resolutely averse to change, particularly if it threatens their, or their benefactor’s, privilege, as opposed to their constituents interests.
Rather than looking back, let’s look at the intervening period. It was March 2017, when Ms McManus uttered the unutterable.
“I believe in the rule of law when the law is fair and the law is right, but when it’s unjust I don’t think there’s a problem with breaking it.”
Since March 2017, unions have been raided and workers have been fined for protesting over the death of workmates; ‘wage theft’ is a ‘thing’ that is illegal, albeit un-prosecutable; an RC into institutional abuse of children has handed down its final report; we have had a postal survey into a matter of basic human rights; we have a new RC into financial institutions uncovering illegality on a daily basis (increasingly ignored in MSM); we have environmental reports on a regular basis showing our governments wilful ignorance of the reality; we have had a (state based) RC into child detention (which is unlikely to go any further than ‘Oops, sorry, kinda’); we have had deaths in custody, onshore and off; we have had a new ‘Home Affairs’ ministry established against all expert advice; we have removed most oversight of spending on our defence budget, which appears to have no objective other than a commitment to spend 2% of GDP; we are building a ‘defense industry’ that will sell to anyone. Many issues have been omitted, not because they are unimportant, but because the list is simply too long.
All of the above issues have at least some component of lawlessness in them, ie people or institutions acting outside the law. In breach of the law. A worker, hounded and pilloried for illegally protesting over the death of a workmate, is lawless. Particularly if they are part of a union. The clergy, corporations, institutions, government agencies and personnel, power companies and miners (who befoul the environment and ignore ‘requests’ for environmental repair) have also broken the law.
It seems odd to note that the penalties for breaking what could easily be argued an unjust law, are far more significant and frequent (and personally directed) than the penalties for breaking what could easily be argued as a just law (usually with far more significant damage resulting from the breach).
And all of this is fine, ‘cause we got ourselves a Democracy.
“… if you think a law is unjust, use the democratic process to get it changed”
Now can you see it?
More than 100,000 people took to the streets in Melbourne on Wednesday, the 9th May, in support of the ‘Change the Rules’ campaign.
“We need to change the rules to give all working people the basic rights they need to improve their living standards.”
There is a slightly more detailed list of the changes needed not just to the rules, but to the underpinning values and aspirations of those rules, relating to job security, wages and conditions, contained in another ACTU blurb.
In the interests of a pretence of balanced reporting, it is only fair to mention that one of the Employer’s Unions have unleashed a campaign, titled ‘Strong Australia’, “Business Council of Australia to ramp up role in politics”.
“The Business Council of Australia (BCA), the lobby group representing Australia’s largest companies, has decided to do politics.”
This seems to infer that the BCA (and other Employer unions) haven’t ‘done politics’ previously. Hmmm. Anyway, like the ACTU, it represents a massive membership and struggles for funds.
“7.30 understands the peak business lobby group is asking its 130 members to pay $200,000 each towards a fighting fund for the campaign.”
130 x 200,000 = $26,000,000. Hmmm. Anyway, like the ACTU, it will campaign to Change the Rules.
“It is now spending big on political advice and political campaigning and is targeting marginal seats.
It argues it has no choice but to take on groups like GetUp and what it sees as a destructive, anti-business sentiment rising in the community.
“To not do that means we will surrender our country to, I think, an inevitable set of very poor policies which will be bad for the country and to be honest, bad for the poorest people, not the richest people,” the BCA’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott said.”
Hmmm. Ok, it won’t campaign to Change the Rules. It will campaign to ‘Keep the Rules the Same and Stop Calling us Names’. The ACTU must be cowering, terrified of the mighty force it has provoked, in trepidation of the inevitable mobilisation of its members.
“The BCA has announced a television advertising campaign which it says will “focus on two basic truths — business provides and generates jobs, and big and small businesses rely on each other to be successful“.”
Hmmm. Ok, they won’t take to the streets. They’ll buy a TV show and a presenter (who will allegedly bring with him credibility and gravitas).
In the interests of a pretence of balanced reporting, you need to compare the pair. Both of these organisations are referred to as ‘umbrella groups’. Their ‘members’ are entities, as opposed to people, even though the entities are represented by people. Admittedly, the ACTU is a peak body for 46 affiliated unions. As such, you could argue that it also has a small membership. However, they represent about 2 million Australian workers and their families. About 14% of the workforce. Of which, only 100,000 took to the streets, or 5% of the workers they represent.
The other peak body has nearly three times the membership of the ACTU. From the BCA membership section:
“Our membership is made up of the CEOs of Australia’s top companies.
Members represent a range of sectors including mining, retail, manufacturing, infrastructure, information technology, financial services and banking, energy, professional services, transport, and telecommunications”
So how many workers do they represent, even if only in a de-facto capacity?
Ms Westacott says they will “focus on two basic truths — business provides and generates jobs, and big and small businesses rely on each other to be successful.”
There have been no reports to date as to how many of their workers are proposing to partake in the televised town hall meetings to express their undying gratitude to the providers and generators of jobs and their sincere appreciation of the reliance between big and small business.
Hallelujah, they will sing, in their televised empty town hall. “No big business has screwed a small business and we all got a job” they will chant, as the pigs are loaded up and prepared to fly. They will then sing Kumbaya, as an evocation of their spiritual unity and interpersonal harmony, which will echo hauntingly in their empty town hall. A new reality TV show will be prepared for the newly emaciated ABC.
100,000 in the streets will be no match for the awesome power of the employers union.
Then there’s that other unruly rabble over at GetUp!
“GetUp members come from every walk of life, coming together around a shared belief in fairness, compassion and courage. It is GetUp members who set our movement’s agenda on issues they care about, in the fields of Environmental Justice, Human Rights, Economic Fairness and Democratic Integrity. Our work is driven by values, not party politics.”
For decades now, Australians have been described as politically ignorant, lazy, disinterested, apathetic, and so much more. The membership of GetUp! is about 9 times the combined membership of all of the political party’s.
This article from 2013 states membership of 50,000 for the Liberals, 43,800 for Labor and 10,400 for the Greens. Just over 100,000 Australians are sufficiently motivated to join a political party. Admittedly, that is only the major parties. For the sake of the exercise, let’s assume there are another 20,000 involved in the minor parties. Various wiki pages for political parties suggest interest in them has continued to wane since 2013, while GetUp! continues to attract members.
Like unions, they are member driven. It is the members that create and drive the campaigns. There are well over 1 million Australians participating in GetUp! It does not have a political affiliation but is branded as political by luminaries such as Erica Betz, Corgi Bernardi, Peter Dudone, the BCA and many, many more. It’s passing strange that all of these groups try to replicate the operations of GetUp! and unions but can never get any support. Does anyone remember the Liberal’s ‘Fair Go’ campaign?
“The Fair Go billed itself as a forum to “analyse and explain policy in the context of our shared goals for Australia’s future”.
“We encourage freedom of thought and deliver robust conversations to promote a fair go for all Australians,” it said.”
“It is designed to support the Coalition’s overarching narrative into social platforms and arm supporters with bottom-up perspectives on public policy issues.”
You don’t? Don’t worry. It disappeared up its own fundamental orifice with nary a whimper.
This isn’t a new tactic or strategy. In the absence of any credible argument for their inane ideology in lieu of Policy, they have often sought credibility through the hijacking of a progressive group’s tactics or methods, as if it somehow legitimises their cause. There is good reason to say the ‘conservative’ side, the beneficiaries of the status quo, are envious of groups that can garner public support and keep trying to emulate the efforts.
In the absence of any groundswell of support for their fetid facsimiles, they have gone to the next level. Make it as difficult as possible for these member-driven organisations to continue to exist. Deprive them of legitimacy. If that fails, deprive them of legality.
There is a current crisis in Oz that is neither peculiar to Oz or new. It is not simply that we have a woefully inadequate government in crisis, but that we have an absence of genuine governance that exacerbates the crisis. The thin veil of politics is an inadequate and indecent cover, made all the more indecent when it is held up as Democracy. We have gone waaayyy past any hope that an ICAC will restore any semblance of balance in the disproportionate allocation of power. Those who make the rules have the power. It is groups and organisations that are member driven that are our best defence, until such time as we have a genuine democracy, based on the Direct Democracy model.
“Wolf Linder: I would say you can never export legal instruments or elements of direct democracy as such. You have to develop them in your own tradition, on the base of your own culture and you have to adapt themselves to your own needs. On the other hand, one could say that other people can learn from Swiss democracy. It says that it is possible even in a modern society, or you can see how to avoid some pitfalls of direct democracy. So I think the Swiss case is a good case to look at, and to say, well, we can adapt or we can use this experience for ours.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent” is a line from Richard III, by Shakespeare. It apparently means that the time of unhappiness will soon end. The ‘summer of our discontent’ apparently means that unhappiness is at its highest.
In his “I Have A Dream” speech delivered 28 August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Martin Luther King alluded to Shakespeare’s Richard III when he said: “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”
This is not written out of despair or in capitulation. This is written in appreciation of the millions of Australians who do care enough about their tomorrow and everyone else’s tomorrow. There is no point in appealing to our ‘government’ or their media. But it is time the blame was left exactly where it should be.
“… if you think a law is unjust, use the democratic process to get it changed”
Get Up! Change the Rules!