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Democracy lost?

By Steve Laing

Another government, another coup. Since the final Howard Government of 2004, the last three governments have been characterized by having a different Prime Minister at the start than at the end of each term, and with those in power at the end elected not by popular vote, but by the decision of a very small political class. If evidence was required that we have quietly moved from a democracy to an oligarchy, the jury is now emphatically in.

Commentators note this instability, and suggest solutions that would make it harder to remove sitting Prime Ministers. Labor, the original overthrow experts, changed the way they appointed leaders in an attempt to diffuse the constant, often media-inspired, pressure to change the parties leader to a more popular one. No sooner than Malcolm ousted Tony, the media focus moves to Bill’s popularity with not an iota of embarrassment.

However this entirely misses the point, which is that the general public consistently takes a different view of the leaders and potential candidates, than those within the party who actually make the choice. Moreover, the dialogue that occurs around the times of these transitions as reported in the media can significantly impact public perception of the new leader (though this has been stirred up somewhat by opposition parties looking for weak points on which to attack their rivals).

The reality is that the party based system is very insular, and to a significant degree tyrannical in nature. Dissent and loyalty appear more important that competence, which worryingly means that bad leaders may actually be maintained longer than perhaps they should!

It is very clear that the now deposed Tony Abbott is the example that proves the problems of the system. Clearly elevated beyond his ability, he was unpopular with the electorate from the beginning of his prime ministership, and never recovered. Lauded in sections of the media as Australia’s greatest opposition leader, his hyper aggressive style masked a total lack of foundation with regard to the policies needed to move Australia forward. And in two years, his government has wrought enough damage to put Australia back ten years or more.

For many of us casual observers, it was clear that the LNP were policy lite, but spin heavy coming into election. Yet the mainstream media and our “astute” political commentariat somehow appeared to miss that vital component. In sports, the term is ball watching, more interested in the human drama of the election than analyzing the few policy ideas communicated prior to the election and dissecting them. Tony’s gold plated parental leave scheme was one such nonsense, dumped finally for being too expensive (it was probably, in reality, simply an attempt to try and grab woman’s votes), the impact it would have had on business, particularly small business, would have been extremely disruptive. But nobody seemed willing to think the impact through.

Tony Abbott leaves behind an economy teetering on recession due to his team constantly talking it down, a community where racism has again become mainstream and acceptable, a vastly expensive white elephant broadband scheme that will be obsolete before rollout is complete, a renewable energy industry that is teetering from lack of support, a defunct car industry, a nervous tertiary education system, no concrete plans for tax reform to help rebuild our economy, and no vision for the future post-mining boom. He has stacked the boards of our public institutions with sycophants, blundered into international diplomacy like a bull in a china shop, signed trade deals that we hope will benefit our nation (though with no precise plans as to how), and at vast expense incarcerated for an indefinite period a number of migrants whose only crime was to try and find a better life for themselves and their families, but who now have to endure conditions which we would not only reject for our animals, but indeed have made such a situation palatable for our citizens through propaganda and cover-up.

So can we expect a postmortem for this disastrous political experiment? Who is to blame for putting a person clearly incapable of this vital role into that position (and how are they still allowed to run the country!)? How was an electorate so easily duped into supporting him? Why did the media fail to provide the required due diligence that they claim to provide on our behalf? How can promises made prior to an election be dropped so quickly afterwards with no recourse bar the next election three years hence? And at what point did the electorate hand over the rights to the political parties to decide who should be eligible to become prime minister?

The Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott will not be remembered fondly, but the very least that we, the voting public, the actual employers, should be allowed, is some guarantee that such a situation will never be foist on us again. Until we recognize that our system is no longer a democracy, and do something to ensure that it becomes one again, then it is our fault if we allow our country to be hijacked again. And if any further incentive is needed, just remind yourself of who has quietly positioned themselves to be lurking in the wings . . .

About the author: Steve Laing is politically unaffiliated, but politically astute. A believer in social justice, but also properly regulated free-markets, he believes that the current political system is moribund and broken, and that if it doesn’t get repaired soon, the world will return to a modern feudalism run by capitalist barons (before destroying itself by not addressing climate change…). He believes that features of the current Australian system actually make it well placed to evolve to fix the problem IF people were given an alternative to the current party driven approach, and that using more of the best practice techniques used in business to be innovative and flexible in resolving problems, would result in a more dynamic and prosperous environment for Australians, and through example, thence the rest of the world. He is documenting his thoughts on www.makeourvoiceheard.com where he has so far outlined the problems, and is starting to outline solutions.



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  1. Kyran

    Seems to me the politicians and the media really do believe in some nonsensical/mystical notion that if you change leaders mid term you have a new government. Of course, a new government gets a honeymoon period to flesh out their ‘new’ policies.
    Today has been a shining example of a confected new government trying to ‘reset’ the discussion, with the same constraints on the discussion the last incompetent imposed. In their world, it’s ‘work, save, invest’. In the real world it’s just a question. Where are the jobs?
    As for policy, muddled malcolm has already said he agrees with all of tiny’s policies.
    Seems to me we get a shot at democracy every few years. Until there is genuine accountability for these mutants, I suspect democracy, if not lost, is taking a long walk off grid.
    Thank you Mr Laing. Take care

  2. Roswell

    A fine piece. Enjoyed it.

  3. Glenn K

    Hi the nail squarely on the head! Stating the bleedingly obvious. Thank you Steve. I would suggest that we are already living in within a modern feudalist system run by capitalist barons – most people don’t see it because our basic needs of food, housing, and security are met; and we pursue the distractions of a nicer home, a better car, fashions shoes, the latest smartphone, etc etc. distractions to keep the masses happy and compliant. I am sure the people of Ukraine, Syria, etc were similarly distracted before the house went up in flames and the game players at the baron level made their “strategic” decsions around wealth and power.
    We are only one generation away from being in the same boat.

  4. Graeme Henchel

    VYour analysis of the disaster that was the Abbott government and the shortcomings of Abbott himself are pretty much spot on. However I don’t share your concern about the ability of party room to change a leader as somehow a reflection on a lack of democracy. The ability of a party room to remove an unsatisfactory leader, whether in government or opposition is a great strength of our system of Government. The removal of Tony Abbott was the right thing for the Liberal party to do. The removal of Rudd was also correct and Labor would have got away with it to were it not for the faux outrage of Abbott and real revenge of Rudd. A leader may be effective in opposition and campaigning as Abbott and Rudd undoubtably were but if they can’t effectively lead whilst in power then the only recourse other than another election is for their own party to remove them. Mostly this removal is for self serving political reasons, like the survival of the government at the next election but it also could be necessary if the leader is either seriously incompetent or dangerous. Abbott was both. Malcolm Turnbull is right to argue that his transition to leadership is a result of normal party room processes. Pity the conservatives and the commentariat did not allow Julia Gillard and Labor the same right. The ability of a party to remove their leader exists for good reason and our polity is the better for it. The hypocrisy of the liberal party and the mainstream media in the way the Turnbull ascension is being portrayed compared to the labor episodes is completely consistent with the appalling standards set in recent years. Is there a lack of democracy in the process? I think not for two reasons. Firstly one of the prime drivers of party room concern about the performance of a leader is the reading of the electorate provided by opinion polls and Abbott’s polling was disastrous like his government. Secondly the party room ballot is a secret vote of members and it takes a majority of members to dislodge a leader. All this talk about Gillard, or Rudd, or Shorten, or Turnbull “knifing” their opponent as if they were Brutus attacking Ceasar is just rubbish. A leader can not be deposed unless they have lost the support of the majority of the party room.

  5. Jeanette

    Great article and agree with everything. The damage to Australia will take years to recover. Our international reputation is in tatters with the undisciplined Abbott. So far nothing from Malcolm has convinced me that he can do any better expect spin a yarn with big words that many will believe or simply be bamboozled by. Morrison’s first press conference shows overspending but to compensate for this not as yet mentioned anything about Tax Reform particularly aimed at the rich. The plight of refugees is a cancer that will poison Australia forever.

  6. Matters Not

    While the sentiments may be sound, the argument is poorly advanced, and at so many levels. Indeed it’s contradictory at times.

    Sorry to rain on the tea party. But really. This is not a good article.

    (Ducks head and runs away).

  7. RosemaryJ36

    Matters Not: I suspect you will be in a tiny minority.
    I agree with Graeme in relation to the party replacing its own leader but otherwise would not fault Steve’s analysis.

  8. Glenn K

    Hi the nail squarely on the head! Stating the bleedingly obvious. Thank you Steve. I would at that we are already living in within a modern feudalist system run by capitalist barons – most people don’t see it because our basic needs of food, housing, and security are met; and we pursue the distractions of a nicer home, a better car, fashions shoes, the latest smartphone, etc etc. distractions to keep the masses happy and compliant. I am sure the people of Ukraine, Syria, etc were similarly distracted before the house went up in flames and the game players at the baron level made their “strategic” decsions around wealth and power.
    We are only one generation away from being in the same boat.

  9. Matters Not

    RosemaryJ36, it may be true that I am in a tiny minority but can I question a couple of points?

    Another government, another coup

    Not sure what meaning you give to ‘coup’ but I am of the view that ‘coup’ suggests a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power. It wasn’t. The demise of Abbott, like his rise, was down to a legitimate internal Liberal Party election. That process of internal party election applies to most if not all political parties in Australia. Both the rise and demise of Rudd and Gillard were down to the same process but If you can provide a contrary example, I will be obliged. (I’ll leave Hawke and Keating out the equation at this moment.)

    Then we have:

    having a different Prime Minister at the start than at the end of each term, and with those in power at the end elected not by popular vote

    Does the writer not understand that the ‘electors’ don’t actually ‘elect’ the Prime Minister? (By the way, I am still reading the first paragraph).

    But he goes on:

    have quietly moved from a democracy to an oligarchy

    Really? Move quietly? When did this (supposed) movement occur? Recently? In the last decade? Longer? Or was it ever anything but?

    While one could go on, can I be somewhat pedantic and cite one example of (whatever):

    simply an attempt to try and grab woman’s votes

    Actually, he was not in the pursuit of (a) woman’s vote but in search of many women’s votes.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    Matters not, maybe you would like to outline why you don’t believe this is not a good article?

  11. Florence nee Fedup

    No PM is elected by popular vote. They are elected by their caucus. When the party in power change leaders, that is PM, they don’t change govt.

    The same MPs elected at the last election, that garnered the votes on floor of lower house, is still same government. They still have responsibility to put in place promises made at last election. A MP represents their electorate. They made promises on behalf of their party. Voters voted according to those promises. The promises are still in play.

    Heard Liberals saying today, this is not so. Claiming because they changed leaders, this is a new government. Is not. It is same government that won at the last election. A leader doesn’t speak on his behalf but on behalf of his party.

    Gillard when she took over from Rudd, continued to put in place what he had promised at the election. it was only after she did this, she began to put forwarded policies of her own.

    One could say, both Rudd and Abbott were deposed, replace by a new leader because they found themselves unable to put in place promised made. Both proved to be incompetent.

  12. Matters Not

    Florence nee fedup, I don’t think I need to respond. Given your opening sentence, it seems the penny has dropped.

    Not that I am endorsing statements such as: A MP represents their electorate, voters voted according to those promises , the promises are still in play

  13. Random

    I agree with Matters Not; I can totally empathise with the sentiments of the article and agree with the analysis of the Abbot experiment, however I don’t agree that Democracy is lost. If anything, it may be on hyperdrive and perhaps good policy is paying the price.

    Voters have more opportunity today to have their voices heard, than they have had in any other political era, and that may be part of the perceived problem of the unsettling leadership spills. I am glad though that the relevant party has the option to replace a leader who may have stopped collaborating with their party or working for the benefit of the electorate. This is a democratic advantage, despite its poor marketing.

    However, the rationale for ‘good’ leadership is being distorted by vested interests, which include the basic voter (who now has an attention span limited to a “like”) appeal, media eyeball competition, and the more nefarious corporate interest. So leadership is driven less by clear thought, and more by knee-jerk reactions to popularity rather than policy.

    Perhaps the answer is ensuring more immediate accountability to promised policy; we certainly need more transparency and less spin from all quarters.

  14. Pilgrim

    Political commentary, be it partisan or not, seems to have become a distasteful stew of highly extended and yet often poorly substantiated verbosity, with large helpings of negative observation bordering on the vitriolic, and a unbalanced feeling as though someone has taken the jam out of some journo’s doughnut… Has intellectual debate fallen to the lowest common denominator – emotional response?

  15. totaram

    No one has mentioned the role of “donors” (aka backers). Parties may promise all the good things that the voters want to hear, and then once elected, proceed to do exactly what the donors want. The Abbott government was a blatant case of this phenomenon, The agenda was that laid out by the IPA, which in turn generates policy as desired by its “funding backers”. This agenda hasn’t gone away. It is pretty clear that the new leader will try to sell these policies by different techniques, compared to the previous combative approach. All the signals emerging from the new cabinet point in that direction.

    I agree completely, with Graeme Henchel and others that contrary to common perception, we do not vote (directly) for the prime minister, and replacing a sitting prime minister is a completely democratic process, which was made to look like some foul deed by the MSM and the opposition working together, when Rudd was replaced. Here one needs to point out that the so-called “free press” is only free to produce what the owners want. Getting more players into the arena would help to solve this difficulty, although technology, in the form of social media, may solve it to a sufficient degree without any further action. It seems the influence of the MSM on the electorate is waning, and that can only be a good thing.

    Finally, the electorate needs to demand “policy” over “personality” in the first instance. Any campaign based on “personality”, “leadership charisma”, etc. should be rejected if not backed by clear policies. And policies need to be appraised in the context of the known backers of the party and their donors, and the “think-tanks” aligned with them. Will this happen? One can only proselytise and hope.

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