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Feeding the Monster

By Stephen Fitzgerald 

I’ve spoken previously about the lack of human rights protection in Australia and now we might have a look at the reasons for political resistance in what we can call the egregious illiberal democracy.

An outstandingly bad illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, hybrid regime or guided democracy, is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of transparency, civil liberties and human rights. It is not an “open society”. There are many countries that are categorised as neither ‘free’ nor ‘not free’, but as ‘probably free’, falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes. This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties or freedoms does not exist.

José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International reminds us that:

“Only where there is freedom of expression, transparency in all political processes and strong democratic institutions, can civil society and the media hold those in power to account and corruption be fought successfully.”

2018 showed that around the world systemic corruption and social inequality reinforce each other, leading to popular disenchantment with political establishments and providing a fertile ground for the rise of so-called populist politicians. 69 per cent of the 176 countries on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 scored below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean), exposing how massive and pervasive public sector corruption is around the world. This year more countries declined in the index than improved, showing the need for urgent action.

Corruption and inequality feed off each other, creating a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth. As the Panama Papers showed, it is still far too easy for the rich and powerful to exploit the opaqueness of the local and global financial and political systems to enrich themselves at the expense of the public good. In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.

Corruption needs to be fought with urgency, so that the lives of everyday people improve. Grand corruption cases, from Petrobras and Odebrecht in Brazil to Ukrainian ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, show how collusion between businesses and politicians denies national economies of billions of dollars of revenues that were siphoned off to benefit the few at the expense of the many. This kind of systemic corruption violates human rights, prevents sustainable development and fuels social exclusion and inequality. It’s starting to sound very familiar and very close to home.

As soon as we see a resistance to human rights and civil liberties protection, limiting or manipulation of the press and one-sided journalism, lawyers weakening the judiciary in favour of the wealthy, escalating inequality and poverty, corporate exploitation and, politicians governing for themselves, we start to seriously question the system. Many are now turning away from the major political parties and looking towards independents who promise to change that entrenched system and break the cycle of crony capitalism.

Implementation of and, technical fixes to specific anti-corruption legislation are a start but, not enough. What is urgently needed are deep-rooted systemic reforms that even up the growing imbalance of power and wealth by empowering citizens to stop the widespread impunity for corruption, hold the powerful to account, and have a real say in the decisions that affect their daily lives. These reforms could also include the disclosure through public registries of who owns what companies and who donate what to election funds in return for political favours.

Corporate and political collusion and corruption is systemic across the western world and is the key factor destroying 21st century democracy. The indicators are lighting up to show that Australia is far from exempt. Countries at the bottom of Corruption Perceptions Index are characterised by widespread impunity for corruption and poor governance. Something that we are seeing in Australian federal politics right now.

The base of support of the Australian Liberal National Party have always been the wealthy financial elite and this must now ring alarm bells throughout society. This is collusion, corruption and cronyism staring us in the face. The outcome is that segments of the population are willing to trade the rights and lives of the poor and marginalised for their own economic prosperity and, traditional parties and politicians also refuse to acknowledge their own roles in creating and feeding the monster before folding themselves into his arms.

When monsters run rampant

Countries around the world, from Hungary to Turkey to Cambodia and the Philippines, have turned to noisy leaders who promise instant renewals and silver-bullet solutions under the banner of a right-wing, nativist “populism”. The preferred term of cohort and controlled media outlets, even though the key constituencies backing these candidates comprise the nations’ elite. So, it’s about propaganda and should be viewed as another flashing red light to democracy. Like the LNP calling themselves ‘liberal’ is a lie and a flashing red light.

In São Paulo, people joined the largest women-led protest in Brazilian history, as women and LGBT people who feared Bolsonaro’s history of racist, sexist and homophobic statements urged Brazilians to vote for anyone else. “Ele Nāo,” they yelled ― “Not Him.”

Brazil was:

“… already one of the world’s most unequal countries in terms of income distribution, and while the poor unquestionably benefited from the previous Workers’ Party’s policies, including a hike in the minimum wage, the vast majority of the economic gains achieved under da Silva went to the richest 1 percent of Brazil’s population. So even as a new lower-middle class earned more than it ever had, Brazil’s obscene levels of income inequality expanded during the good years” (under a leftist government).

Democracy hadn’t delivered what many expected. 32 percent of Brazilians agreed that “democracy may have problems but is the best system of government.” No other Latin American nation showed less support for democracy, while two-thirds of Brazilians had lost faith in political parties, the presidency and Congress. More than half of Brazilians said they would support a more authoritarian style of government if it “solved problems”. This led to retired military officer Bolsonaro’s rise to power as he declared liberation from socialism!

Oh crap! So, there we have it – Corruption, exploitation and destruction under a left-wing government. Corruption, exploitation and destruction under a right-wing government and, corruption, exploitation and destruction under a military dictatorship. And, what’s the driving force behind this. The driving force is who runs the government to benefit themselves and who screws society with the blessing of the elected government. It’s happening right here in Australia and you can’t call that democracy.

True democracy is an Australian’s birth right

As people become more aware of the nature of the political landscape, each federal, state or local by-election (e.g. Victoria and Wentworth) has become, in part, a referendum on the state of Australian democracy as a whole. Any victory for an elitist conservative figure paves the way for escalation of the anti-democratic process and an escalation in social inequality. This also threatens progressive political opponents who are undermined and denigrated as part of the elitist political strategy. Vehement and vicious attacks on political opponents are another clear indicator of those with intention to undermining democracy in favour of themselves and their backers.

Under Australia’s two party preferred political system we see alternate parties denigrated by the left and right to keep them suppressed. Two party preferred, not three party preferred is the war cry. We see alternate political parties denigrating the left and right to try to carve their way into a position of political power. From where I stand, political parties are not working for democracy, they are working for themselves and once again, the financial elite. So, it’s time to change the system.

What choices do we have? Where do we turn to establish a democracy for the people by the people? If it’s not political parties, what is it? I think now is the time for a monumental social experiment. We are definitely in the mood and we are well on the way so, let’s keep pushing and flood the parliament with independents. Give independents the balance of power in both houses of parliament and we are in with a chance of knocking off elitist rule and establishing our democratic birth right.

20 comments

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  1. Shaun Newman

    Queensland has recently legislated a Human Rights Act that perhaps other States should follow?

  2. Sophie

    How many Independents are Centre-left/Left/Socialist Reps ?
    Most “Independents” are (eventual) Right Wing LNP supporters.

    Don’t believe voting (blanket) Independent will do anything but encourage more Hanson/Hinch/Anning et al to step up and do “Deals” so they can wallow in the Elite upper 10%.
    What good does that do for “Democracy”.
    What we need is a true Democratic, Lived, Emotionally Intelligent, Connected, Caring Leader of the People.

    Sad conclusion to a hopeful article. Failed.

  3. Neil Hogan

    It’s a matter of opinion & not one I agree with!!

  4. New England Cocky

    QUESTION: “What choices do we have? Where do we turn to establish a democracy for the people by the people? If it’s not political parties, what is it?”

    ANSWER: Simple!! Do what we did in Armidale now Northern Tablelands in 1976 (Bill McCarthy) and then again in 1999 (Richard Torbay), in Tamworth in 1988 (Tony Windsor) and again in 2002 (Peter Draper), and New England in 2000 (Tony Windsor).

    .ELECT AN INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE WHO REPRESENTS THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE VOTERS IN THE ELECTORATE!!

    .At the 1999 NSW elections seven (7) Independents were elected. We need more representatives of the voters rather than unelected political hacks accepting political donations in return for legislative advantages.

    VOTE ANYONE BUT NATS

  5. New England Cocky

    Fine sentiments Stephen, but even in classical Athens the people tired of the demands of practising democracy and so lost it.

    The answer lies in taking an active position in the election process; handing out How to Vote cards, ringing around the electorate, talking and LISTENING to people speaking about political matters ….. and not complaining that the government elected in 2019 is NOT what we want or need because the Australian people are pretty good at getting things correct (Bob Hawke I believe).

    @Sophie: You appear to need more involvement in the political process because in my experience the Independents elected in Northern Tablelands and New England were very much dedicated to improving the lives of their constituents.

  6. New England Cocky

    FYI. The National$ you have for a 19th century future have begun their television advertising political campaign tonight on New England television by getting died in the wool local yokels saying that the Nat$ are good blokes without mentioning any of their “family values” of Adultery, Alcoholism, Avarice, Bigotry, Misogyny, Philandering and Racism … and naturally without any mention of any policies for their voters to discuss. 9I doubt that the ad “stars” would understand policies).

    Now why do women in New England accept these “family values”? Is Tamworth the Country Adultery Capital of Australia??

    VOTE ANYONE BUT NAT$

  7. jaq

    Both sides are working for themselves… a shame people think one is better than the other.. they aren’t

  8. wam

    One shouldn’t laugh at a bill of rights, eh?
    But swill this around:
    ‘True democracy is an Australian’s birth right’
    A bunch of knowall lawyers put birthright firmly in the hands of nz, scotland and whatever country has a citizenship policy.
    It is time to give the flick to the states and replace them with local government.

  9. Matters Not

    NEC re:

    any of their “family values” of Adultery, Alcoholism, Avarice, Bigotry, Misogyny, Philandering and Racism …

    That’s one hell of a good political line. Now to make it a mantra. lol

    (Ps, perhaps dyed? Nevertheless died works well as an alternative – with a different twist.)

  10. helvityni

    Well MN, if you accidentally happen to put on anything woollen (dyed or not) in this heatwave, you could easily die, especially if you are very old and fragile…..and forgetful…

    Family would say: Pop died in his woollen overcoat….

  11. Andreas Bimba

    I agree with Stephen’s article except not necessarily that voting for independents is the main answer. For a start it is very unlikely when offered 10 or 20 candidates to choose from that one independent would gain a majority of votes and for that to occur in a substantial proportion of seats.

    I support more parties and independents entering our parliaments but a lack of proportional representation voting for the lower houses of parliament and now preference deal making for the upper houses of parliament has been proven in practice to destroy the minor parties and independents over time. The Australian Democrats are an example.

    In the recent Victorian state elections the Greens with about 10.7% of the statewide lower house first preference vote won 3 out of 88 seats which is 3.4% of all lower house seats. In the upper house where the Greens previously had 4 elected MP’s they now have only 1 due to preference deals by micro parties and independents. The Greens received 9.3% of the statewide upper house first preference vote but won only 1 out of 40 seats which is 2.5% of all upper house seats.

    The Nationals with 4.8% of the statewide lower house first preference vote won 6 seats which is 6 out of 88 or 6.8% of lower house seats.

    So geographically dispersed parties such as the Greens are electorally under represented and regionally focused parties such as the Nationals are over represented. A voting system like Tasmania’s and the ACT’s proportional Hare-Clark system would greatly reduce such distortions but the duopoly like our current inadequate two party preferred system.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZA6xT0a5kgg

    Get the money out of politics with state funding, ban partisan political advertising campaigns such as those against the mining tax, implement a national ICAC with teeth, legislate for truth in the mass media such as what Canada has done, strengthen the media ownership laws, provide state funding for independent journalism, improve whistle blower protections and compensation, strengthen Freedom of Information laws, greatly increase funding for legal aid and reduce the financial cost of justice, implement a bill of rights that is enforced and introduce proportional representation voting. How much of that can we get past the political road block set up by the neoliberal duopoly and the money men that back both of them?

  12. Kyran

    “What choices do we have? Where do we turn to establish a democracy for the people by the people? If it’s not political parties, what is it? I think now is the time for a monumental social experiment.”
    Our choices at the moment are one of two. ALP or LNP. Whilst the availability of minors and independents is a welcome distraction, a temporary balm, they are nothing more than that. They are simply vehicles for forming ‘allegiances’ where the benefit to the incumbent is weighed and valued in political, not aspirational, terms.
    As for expecting either of the duopolies to advocate for the surrender of their power I wish you well. To expect either one of them to give that up willingly is, as they say, ambitious.
    As Mr Bimba referenced, it seems inescapable that you would turn anywhere other than the people to establish democracy for and on their own behalf. Expecting political parties to do what they have clearly not been bothered with since federation is reminiscent of that truism – Lie to me once, shame on you. Lie to me twice, shame on me. They have had the opportunity for over a century and more lies have been their only response.
    As you point out, transparency and accountability are essential for good governance. All of the makings are already there. We just need to empower them, rather than surrender to the absolute dictates of absolute zealots.
    The primacy of we, the people, must be enshrined in unassailable legislation. We already have Human Rights frameworks, it’s just that our political masters have disembowelled them.

    https://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/human-rights/the-charter/australian-human-rights-framework

    The first step is to entrench that framework away from the meddling hands of vacuous craven individuals.
    Giving our First Peoples a voice is already underway. Leave it with them and await their suggestion. The past few years have seen a resurgence in the confidence of a 60,000 year old culture that has had the crap kicked out of it for centuries. There is no shortage of clever courageous contributors. Let them be and await their response with no other assurance than a commitment to its enactment.
    As for the difficulty of wresting power from the powerful, we are continuously told this is a defect in a dated constitution that is impervious to change, unyielding to the forces of its constituents and beholden to the authority of the states.
    A Democracy Convention could be convened in the blink of an eye and an interest by the people is all but guaranteed. Forget distractions such as a republic, or even climate change, or universal health care and educational facility.
    A Democracy Convention with no other purpose than to reform the various electoral acts and enshrine the independence of the AEC. Redraft the acts on criteria of universal suffrage with equality of votes. Devise electorates based on nothing more than numbers, say one representative for 100,000 constituents. By all means, keep a ‘house of review’, but, for goodness sake, make it representative. Give each electorate a say in their candidates and make it a condition that the candidates attend a series of forums before an election to state their policies. No show? Automatic disqualification.
    Once the nuts and bolts of that are worked out, establish criteria along the Direct Democracy lines that constituents can, by petition, create agenda items, requiring immediate attention in whatever the new parliament looks like. If it be 30 or 40% requirement, so be it. The same numbers in a petition could be used to empower ‘recall’, requiring the incumbent to be immediately answerable to their electorate for any aberrant behaviour or deeds of misconduct, such as failing to advocate for their electorates wishes. Heck, you could even try having ‘recall’ powers for external electorates and call it the ‘Duddo provision’. If someone is so offensive to the interests of the people, create a petition requirement of 1,000,000 from outside the electorate to force a recall within the electorate.
    This then allows the various electorates the unassailable right to demand the constitution be dispensed with and replaced with a document that is a living breathing reflection of the will of the people. Once you have established a democratic electoral system, all manner of change is possible.
    Advocating for the beneficiaries of the corruption we have to be the advocates for its change would be like asking the occupants of a ‘super max’ facility to redraft the penal code.
    As always, an engaging read Mr Fitzgerald and commenters. Take care

  13. Diannaart

    Kyran

    Excellent points.

    Am very much in favour of a Democracy convention. And we are in need of a Duddo provision, such petitions would aid representative government.

    Except.

    Climate change is not waiting for we humans to sort out our democracy.

    We can work towards responsible and accountable government at the same time as investing and implementing environmentally sustainable practices.

  14. Kyran

    Touche, Diannaart. I’m probably pandering to a stereotype, but us old blokes don’t multi task as well as we should. Obviously, with the energy encompassing so many demands for change, there is no restraint to the number of ‘agenda items’ that can be handled concurrently.
    GetUp have released a 2019 Election Survey which was conducted of their members. If that is anything to go by, there is considerable momentum for more balanced and moderate attitudes. If this translates at the ballot box, the landscape may well look very different.
    We can but hope. Take care

  15. Diannaart

    No worries, Kyran.

    Your contributions here are always valued and I always read them.

    That I found a rare note of disagreement, merely indicates my respect for your comprehensive writing.

    🦋

  16. Mark Needham

    Being Ruled by committee.
    The sort of article, that can be commented on, with 4 words?
    Maybe, some merit there?

    Huh?
    Mark Needham!

  17. SteveFitz

    HUNDREDS OF FEMALE ‘YELLOW VEST’ PROTESTORS HAVE PEACEFUL FRENCH DEMO
    https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/world/hundreds-of-female-yellow-vest-protestors-have-peaceful-french-demo/ar-BBRStbE?ocid=spartandhp

    The “yellow vest” protest movement, which has now seen protests on eight consecutive Saturdays, was initially triggered by anger over an increase in fuel taxes but, it has since morphed into a campaign against the high cost of living and the government of President Emmanuel Macron, seen by many as arrogant and beholden to big business.

    ANGRY PROTESTS SUM UP EUROPE’S POLITICS
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2018/12/18/how-two-angry-protests-sum-up-europes-politics/?utm_term=.2064670f893f

    The mass demonstrations that rocked two European capitals Sunday told a continental story. An illustrative arc that begins with populist ire and anti-migrant sentiment and ends with disillusionment with an increasingly authoritarian status quo.

    THOUSANDS PROTEST AGAINST FAR-RIGHT PARTY IN AUSTRIA’S GOVERNMENT
    https://www.thelocal.at/20181216/thousands-protest-austiras-far-right-coalition-in-vienna

    Thousands of protesters in Vienna braved snow and icy temperatures Saturday to protest Austria’s ruling coalition between the conservatives and the far-right.

    What we are seeing here is democracy being stripped away by the rich and powerful to favour the rich and powerful. As pointed out above, nothing has really changed since federation. Democracy hasn’t started to disintegrate in the 21st century. We have just become more aware of what’s going on. The democratic system has always been manipulated by the wealthy, by the powerful and by corporatioins to favour themselves.

    What has changed is technology, with the advent of the internet and instant communication. People are starting to wake up to what’s going on and are demanding their rights, being: “Freedom and democracy!” There is a challenge we now face in the modern era and that is, how to win back democracy or, if we never had it in the first place, how to establish a democracy in the true sense of the word.

    As an independent, Kerryn Phelps is a guiding light but, possibly a rare and precious exception to the independent political norm. I feel Andreas Bimba is right on the money with an outline for a comprehensive overhaul of our political and social system:

    “ Get the money out of politics with state funding, ban partisan political advertising campaigns such as those against the mining tax, implement a national ICAC with teeth, legislate for truth in the mass media such as what Canada has done, strengthen the media ownership laws, provide state funding for independent journalism, improve whistle blower protections and compensation, strengthen Freedom of Information laws, greatly increase funding for legal aid and reduce the financial cost of justice, implement a bill of rights that is enforced and introduce proportional representation voting. How much of that can we get past the political road block set up by the neoliberal duopoly and the money men that back both of them?”

    So, I guess it’s back to banging drums and trying to push towards a true democracy one small step at a time. The first big step, of course, is knowing how the system works and, I think we see that with a fair degree of clarity. Never give-up, never say die and never surrender.

  18. SteveFitz

    In a democracy we vote for politicians assuming they will govern for the majority and do what’s best for society. What we are getting though, is politicians governing for the elite and themselves. It’s a monumental bedrail of trust and something we would not tolerate from friends or family or those we do business with.

    Instead of lies and deceit and the need to buy votes, what we want are politicians who do the right thing by society and earn their votes with trust. Only at election time can we take a big stick, to the bad eggs, and drive them out of government. Getup are on track with a national “Let’s vote out the hard right” campaign. https://hardright.getup.org.au/

  19. Diannaart

    Steve

    Signed and forwarded

    Then dived into Twitter rabbit hole, another hour of my life I’m not getting back 😋

  20. SteveFitz

    Thanks Diannaart – It’s worth it. There are one million Australians on board to force out corrupted politicians on the far-right. We may just be in with a chance to push for alternate energy, avoid catastrophic climate change and build a true, just and fair democracy.

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