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Our Democracy: What needs to be fixed and why

In my last piece; “Our Democracy is a work in progress for Social Progressives” I talked about the decline in our Australian democracy and who was responsible. The comments on my post ranged from “we don’t have a democracy” to “it is beyond repair.”

In that piece I had asked:

“Suppose you are, as I am, a socially progressive democrat: You are sick to death of the destruction that male conservatives in Australia and abroad have done to democracy. Their acquisition of the techniques of narcissism, sexism, intolerance, racism and lying as political tools for purchasing power or its retention has to be regretted.”

Now I would like to move onto what needs to be fixed.

1  The constant gibberish that is uttered by proponents of the mantra that small government and markets will save us has been demonstrably proven to be laughable.

2  The 40-year experiment of Neo-Libertarian Economics has got to an end, and that end should be now.

What does a business do whenever a crisis hits? They yell for the Government to bail them out! The time has come to acknowledge that Government has a central role in how a country runs; there can be no shirking that responsibility.

If the Government made a bold strategy and increased the Public Service and delivered more services then the knock-on effect of that would be enormous, and given the state of our public services, you can’t tell me that it wouldn’t have a positive impact on the economy.

3 Our Constitution should be open to constant oversight by a group of retired judges who would form a standing committee that could recommend any changes to both the government and the opposition.

For example, they might recommend our First Nations people be rightly recognised in our Constitution with a unique preamble.

To overcome partisanship, the committee could put its recommendations to the people in the form of a referendum at the next election.

4 Bill of rights:

“A statutory Bill of Rights would encourage Australia to become a more rights-focused society. In such a society, people would be more likely to learn about and rely upon the rights to which they are entitled, and, as a result, the Government would face more pressure to uphold them.”

5 The Common Good: 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 its people is currently trapped in a quagmire of indifference.

As corrupt as it is, the current Government controls everything you do by way of the law, political, economic, cultural, religious, and social activities. A 10-point list (as a suggestion) of common-good caveats should be attached to every policy, and legislation must meet these standards.

I am not a political scientist, historian or a trained journalist. However, putting any perceived left-wing allegiance aside for a moment, it seems to me that the Labor Party needs to rid itself of outdated social objectives and invest in a social philosophical common good instead. They need to recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile pursuit.

6 Pre-Selection: Both major 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 are lawyers or from the union movement for example. Or in the case of the LNP, staffers who have come up through the party. Parties should be comprised of 50% each man and women. Only when suitably qualified people are unavailable could one of the opposites be considered.

The major parties have become fragmented, with Labor losing a large segment of its supporters to the Greens because they are not left enough. At the same time, the LNP is undermined by wealthy populists like Clive Palmer using Trump-style politics.

Party hacks of dubious intellectual talent represent both parties without enough female representation and worldly work-life experience in terms of talent.

7 The Peoples’ Parliament: Since the election of Tony Abbott the Coalition has trashed our Parliament, its institutions and conventions that people have lost faith in the political process and their representatives. Ministerial responsibility has become a thing of the past. Recent sexual revelations of rape and orgies suggest it resembles a place of ill repute than a place of debate and decision.

8 Question time is just an excuse for mediocre minds who cannot 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 other’s view is seen as a weakness, where light frivolity and wit has been replaced with smut and sarcasm. And in doing so, they debase the Parliament and themselves as moronic imbecilic individuals.

Question Time is the Parliament’s showcase and badly needs 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 and Royal Commissions, all focusing on illegal sickening behaviour. There is no reason to doubt that the stench of recent corruption meanders its way through the National Parliament’s corridors and into the highest offices.

It now weaves its way into all sections of society, including unions, business, religion and politics.

9 Leadership: 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 we lost it in a recipe of ill-concocted power struggles, undignified self-interest and narcissistic personality.

The pursuit of power for power’s sake and its retention has engulfed political thinking that the people have become secondary. The common good dwells somewhere in the recesses of small minds lacking the capacity for sound public policy that achieves social equity.

10 Our voting system is badly in need of an overhaul. When one party, the Greens, attracts nearly as many 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.

11 The purpose of the Media: One cannot begin to discuss the decline of Australian democracy without simultaneously aligning it to the collapse in journalistic standards and conversion from reporting to opinion-making.

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.

12 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 grassroots society.

Writers with whom they can agree or differ but have the luxury of doing so. As a result, newspapers, in particular, have degenerated into political gutter 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, do nothing to promote proper democratic illumination.

They even promote free speech as if they are the sole custodian of it.

13 A republic with an Australian as our head of state is essential in a modern democracy.

14 The representation of women in our Parliament must be addressed. More so by the right than the left.

15 A Federal ICAC: It goes without saying that politicians have brought this on themselves. In a decent democratic society, it would not be necessary. Another idea is to amend the Criminal Code to allow the operation of “common law offence of misconduct in public office.”

16 Political donations reforms:

“Limiting the amount of money parties can spend during an election campaign would reduce the ‘arms race’ for donations. If parties had less incentive to sell access to donors, senior politicians would have more time to do their jobs instead of chasing dollars.”

17 The election cycle: There is not enough time between elections to debate new ideas in a three-year electoral process and put in the necessary work for democratic reforms. A rethink of 4-year terms is essential.

* * * * * *

Three final things 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 believed that the effect of lying diminished 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 at least devalued it to the point of obsolesce.

The 2014 budget will be remembered for one thing. That being that it approved and 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‘.”

Australians need to take more care when electing their leaders. Before doing so, we need to question their character, integrity, trustworthiness and leadership qualities.

In Australian political history, Abbott’s legacy will be that he empowered a period emblematic of a nasty and ugly period in our politics. It continued and worsened under the hypocrisy of Turnbull, and now with the dictatorship of Morrison.

Secondly, 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 the decline in our democracy with unmistakable anger.

People need to wake up because the Government affects every part of their life (other than what they do in bed – though who knows – that could also change one day) and should be more concerned. But there is a deep-seated political malaise.

We must make those politicians who have participated in the wilful destruction of our democracy pay for it.

Good democracies can deliver good governments and outcomes” only if the electorate demands it. “You get what you vote for” rings true.

Lastly, but most importantly, we need to educate our final year school leavers (the voters of tomorrow) with indebtedness and a fundamental appreciation of our democracy and what it means.

In conclusion, allow me to quote Mark Latham:

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

Next time: What is an ideal progressive democratic society?

My thought for the day

Substantial and worthwhile change often comes with short-term controversy, but the pain is worth it for the long-term prosperity of all.

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19 comments

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  1. Ken

    Well said Mr Lord.

  2. Terence Mills

    Deeply disturbing to find that a NSW Cabinet decision to appoint a former prime minister to chair a climate emissions body can be overturned within one week by a “concerted and ferocious rightwing media campaign led by News Corp”.

    Kevin Rudd was quite right calling for a Royal Commission into the political power of Newscorp.

  3. Uta Hannemann

    This is what NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said on Nine Radio on Tuesday morning:

    “And for someone to be appointed in a government role and not understand the passion and the policies of the government in itself shows they are thick-headed and they are not interested in what is right and good for the economy.”

    Does this mean what is ‘right and good for the economy’ is more important than reducing emissions?

  4. New England Cocky

    Another gem JL but too much common sense for our political class and their mates benefiting enormously from the present malaise.

    I liked this part: “We must make those politicians who have participated in the wilful destruction of our democracy pay for it.”

    I suggest that an appropriate consequence would be life imprisonment without parole on Manus Island without telecommunications or medical facilities or visitors. The trials could reasonably be held under the present terrorism legislation preventing public media comment and indeed comment between family members. A SAS company on rotation could reasonably be despatched as security.

  5. Max Gross

    Among many other obscurantist and crony capitalist constraints, Australia is shackled by the English monarchy. Diderot’s words will never grow old: Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

  6. Keitha Granville

    All of the above, excellent. Can we please add NO to religion holding such immense power in our parliament as it does now? The fact that a cult, that’s all it is, has a majority number in our cabinet is terrifying.

  7. wam

    such a giggle this morning I had to go back to the pool.
    Do you have trouble understand how the senate quota and the above the line system works, lord?
    It allows parties to allocate the preferences and allocates the % needed for a senator. Most assume you need 50% like a member but in a half senate election you need 14% making the loonies over represented in the senate but are elected on labor preferences.
    I will give you a challenge 3 loonies reference from me and you give me your 3??
    bobby killing the bipartisan price on carbon, brandt blackmail and creation of juliar and chrissie giving the rabbott unlimited borrowing?

  8. Andrew Chambers

    Hi John, what perpetually puzzles me is that rational humans like yourself can readily accept the transformation of the economy, the workplace, education, the healthcare system – just about everything BUT our system of Government. No, we DO NOT have a Democracy, that’s a state that existed with some qualification in the classical Greek state. Due to it’s incredible success populations grew so rapidly that the technology was unable to facilitate the essence of Democracy: Discussion, Deliberation and Decision by a vote made by each and every franchised individual on the matter at hand.
    We now have the technology, the zenith of a continual development in technologies to return to that state of personal empowerment. If you use a modern bank you well understand the technology that empowers you “vote” as a consumer in making the choices you want, when and where it suits.
    The often heard retort to the proposition of universal franchise and Democracy is that we will be driven by “the mob”, which is about as elitist and snobbish a sentiment as is possible. I very much doubt that any random selection of citizens could make any worse decisions than the supposedly “representative” people raising their hands in our parliaments at the moment.
    As to the quality of decision making. Yes, ideally it would be wonderful if every citizen took the time and gave the issue the consideration and contribution it needed to make the very best decision time and again. BUT we are human, it would seem we are too often driven to the right choice through the trial of many bad choices that demonstrate the peril of ignorance, greed or whatever motivation grips us. The point is that rather than be smothered by party run interests our nation or constituencies need to make a choice – if not we end up with the deadhand of politics destroying the environment / economy / gender equality….(as we proved in the same sex marriage debate.)
    Let us suppose we did transition to Democracy tomorrow, as we could, all I see is upside. Less expense, less waste, no long tail of entitlement and privilege to a self seeking class, less corruption and More openness, more engagement and intellectual debate, more professionalism in our public services ( I would suggest that rather than electing an amateur to a ministry we would directly elect the senior bureaucrat to each portfolio on fixed terms based on detailed policy and direct, open and accountable implementation.) more diversity in our media and a renaissance in social media where it becomes an active centre for employment and deliberation / contribution at the local level.
    We are heading there but it does take some imagination beyond the myopia that considers two parties and two houses as being the peak evolutionary achievement of human politics, it is not, it is a dinosaur that served a purpose and it needs to evolve or we will all die with it. Our Electoral Dictatorships now represent the single greatest existential threat we face, simply for the fact they have never been less representative of the needs of humanity nor more resistant to the necessary change and purpose needed to meet planetary scale disaster. Happy to discuss the hows, whys and where. https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1TEeRlhjjjNvzxb6tslRwG293_kP7fB9r&usp=sharing #2parties1system0choice – the system is broken.

  9. Bronte D G ALLAN

    Great words as usual John! I agree with everything you suggested except I too would like to see religion confined to churches instead of ruining our government , as Keitha suggested. This country is in dire need of a decent government not the shameless, lying bunch of right wing, flat earth, happy clapping zealots we have at the moment!

  10. Williambtm

    Excellent well-grounded thought-provoking article, thanks Mr. Lord.

  11. Kronomex

    A Bill of Rights is a terrific idea. I can just picture it now:

    “Excuse me PM, but we want to discuss a Bill of Ri…”

    SFx –

    Of dozens of feet running and fading into the distance.
    Creaking of heavy metal.
    Echoing clang and crash of bunker doors closing.

    “Can we talk to the Deputy PM if you’re busy?”
    “What’s that, we can’t hear you?”
    “Is there someone we can talk to about a Bill…
    “There’s no Bill in here unless you mean that Shorten bloke and we wouldn’t let him in here anyway. Best idea is to go away, far away, and come back when you return to your senses.”
    “I suppose I could always talk to the Leader of the Opposition about a Bill of…”
    “Aagghh, stop saying those words you’re upsetting Scott and Peter. Now look what you’ve done, they’re crying. Michaelia, start screeching…”
    “I’m going! I’m going!”

  12. Williambtm

    I introduce this subject matter that deals with the truth and honesty that had been prolific in this once-upon-a-time lucky country.
    Hence, I have introduced a video (with its somewhat austere stage presentation) link below that spells out the purpose, the intention, then the carriage of today’s Howard-inspired no-longer-trustworthy L/NP government in leadership… to denounce or more likely destroy the life and times of many of Australia’s finest and respected professional investigative journalists.

    The speakers in this linked video are but 4 persons who share between them over a hundred years of fact news delivery to Australia.
    Furthermore, you will learn how the formula of truth and honesty had become the enemy of today’s tyrannous L/NP party ministers and their cling-ons.
    An hour in its time-length… while also could be viewed by those with a restless mind, say in 4 viewings of 15 or so minutes.
    I would appreciate comments from persons held among the Hall of Fame writers that remain ever-faithful to Australia’s unique AIMN forum.
    Through this presented video, only then will the ugliest of government tyrannies be revealed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6ghZL3RinA

  13. Josephus

    Max
    Your quote is not by Diderot but is by the world’s first atheist communist , the rural French abbe Jean Meslier , whose passionate revolutionary manifesto or Testament was secretly written in triplicate in the early 1700s while he was serving as the village priest . I have read one of these copies in the Paris Arsenal library and was profoundly moved.

  14. Matters Not

    Andrew Chambers – you seem to be on the money. We don’t live in a Democracy and strictly speaking – if one is talking about the people ruling – and we never have. Even the much lauded Athenian Democracy of long, long ago where all male citizens had equal political rights, freedom of speech, and the opportunity to participate directly in the political arena was partial at best. No females, no slaves, had to have the time, had to be citizens etc to fully participate. That is – to hold the reins of power. To make the actual decisions.

    And yes we now have the technology to enable us to move from what we (laughingly) now call representative democracy to a much more participatory democracy. As you accurately assert, existing technology allows us to transform on an ongoing basis the economy, the workplace, education, the healthcare system and that’s before we even try to develop mechanisms to aid and abet participatory democratic decision-making. It would seem all that’s lacking is the political will.

    Yet we might be ignoring an even greater problem. Plato, the pivotal figure in the history of Ancient Greek and Western philosophy, was not a fan of Democracy at all. Without going into all the details, Democracy (according to Plato) did not facilitate internal unity – that active democracy followed citizens’ impulses rather than pursuing the common good and therefore ruling was best left to those who were most suited. That is, ruling was best left to the Philosopher Kings. An elite. The few who had the capacity and the orientation.

    Perhaps Plato was on the right path after all. Those born with bronze in their hearts and not the gold required to be the decision-makers (to use his terminology) are simply not up to the task of ruling. That is, most of the population, are too limited by their appetites and not mentally capable of separating the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. On this site, for example, we have the constant refrain that the mob (and by that, they seem to imply at least half of the citizenry) are too easily influenced (if not completely controlled) by a media baron who isn’t even an Australian Citizen. And again they might be right.

    Yet if one looks above, there’s a power of evidence that at least some (but far too many) can’t or won’t apply a critical consciousness to what they read – preferring instead to believe what they want to believe and respond accordingly. (Here, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave might be relevant.) So perhaps it’s best, we don’t have a participatory democracy (even though we have the technological means to achieve that) and leave the real decision making to others. Enough!

  15. Jack spray

    Western democracies were designed by the ruling classes to fail in order for them to maintain their power and control, keeping in place the status quo .if voting really changed things they would have gotten rid of it years ago . Look how doggedly they fight if any of their power structures are threaten from the monarchy ,the church their elitist private schools or their corporate structures . The law has always been their domain ,outcomes depending on how much money you have .We have never had a true democracy but a primatiive facade of one just enough to give the illusion to the masses that they are in control .

  16. Andrew Chambers

    Hello Matters Not, Thank you a thoughtful and considered response. My belief is that we should at least try Democracy, if it fails then move onto the dominion of the Philosopher Kings with gratitude that human nature is fully and finally revealed, all prejudices and distrust affirmed and the mob of humanity condemned for being little more than a replicating horde of self interested and ultimately suicidal fools.

    I do not believe that fate to be true though I accept that, much like parliament, we will, collectively, make rash, foolish and ill considered decision driven by the influence of the charismatic or the monopolist. The beauty of Democracy is the ability to swiftly correct a mistake, unlike a party stuffed full of inflexible egoists who’s sense of self is built around their “achievements” no matter the cost to humanity or the planet.

    In implementing a Democracy there are a few issues to deal with those being:
    Proof of Identity in a digital world,
    Proof of Life,
    Security,
    Privacy,
    Permanence of a Truthful record of proceedings (something that we are consistently proving to be difficult.)

    I would suggest reading the work of the Democracy Earth Foundation for some ideas on how these core problems are solved – http://democracy.earth/ I have some ideas and contributions and am working with others toward implementation, as are the good people at Flux, as well as the very many others around this planet. It is a universal aspiration and it is an inevitable process driven by the technology that has always been driven by the need to improve bi-directional communications to enable a (better) Democracy.

    You may be guided by the philosophical works of the Greeks, the archetypes are a fundamental imprint in us all but we are also an evolutionary organism and we have, as a species, never been more numerous, “healthier”, successful, better educated, better (potentially) connected, peaceful (relatively). However I feel that we are heading toward a dangerous precipice simply for the fact our leadership has not stepped aside, not allowed the blooming of a society that will displace the measure of human existence being one of material acquisition to a world where thought, communication, contribution and ideas become the most valuable and fulfilling currency. We suffer precisely for the fact our governments and law no longer serve the greater good because they are no longer and ever further, from accountability and recall. They actively work to suppress and disrupt any form of beneficial social organisation that challenges the heartless duopoly. I repeat, this institution is the single greatest existential threat we face as a species on a vulnerable planet.

  17. Andrew J. Smith

    Good read, one could summarise glibly by stating that Australia in the past near 40 years has been dragged into the US GOP political swamp or eco-system of radical right libertarian nativist ideology, strategy and tactics; based upon the fear of (nativist libertarian) conservatives ever being able to attain power vs. demographic change, ‘liberals’ and the ‘left’, hence, ‘whatever it takes’.

    According to US literature Kochs (although largely unknown till ten years ago), got to work on a long game (continuing on from Thatcher/Reagan) which included leveraging sympathetic academia, think tanks, media, ageing demographics and enough conservative voters to form a coalition round sociocultural ‘wedge’ issues (masking unsavoury radical right ideology).

    Australia started down the same road when Howard became frustrated in the ’80s with leadership attempts, producing ‘focus group’ research with Asian (west and east) immigration as a hot button issue, hollowing out the Liberal Party (increasing religious members/less Melbourne influence), weaponisation of the IPA, NewsCorp’s ascendancy with hollowing out and centralising of media, GOP trained Crosby Textor (now CTI) on election campaigning, ageing regional electorates, encouraging old ‘Australian’ iconography with Christianity and focus upon ‘prosperity’ or ‘greed’.

    Meaningful change will not happen till Australian voters focus more on ethics, morals and science from leaders versus financial benefits, while broader society and electoral rolls become more diverse (precluding ‘skip’ vs. the rest ‘wedge’), politics and media too; I won’t hold my breath but sometimes things happen fast once there is catalyst.

  18. leefe

    “Firstly, the Abbott factor and the death of truth as a principle of democratic necessity. I am convinced Tony Abbott believed that the effect of lying diminished 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 at least devalued it to the point of obsolesce.”

    This predates Abbot. Consider LJH and his “non-core promise” line. Plus “children overboard” and all the rest of it.

    I was thinking about major procedural changes that need to be made to our system while out walking recently. The biggest that came to mind are
    1) Limits on and complete transparency around political donations;
    2) Advertising standards in politics (including government announcements) to at least match those in the commercial sphere;
    3) Fixed terms (no more early elections called just because the timing suits the incumbents);
    4) Depoliticisation of the AEC and
    5) Proportional representation.

    The major social and structural issues Lord has already largely covered.

  19. Neil Hogan

    Really good article John, but let me clarify the following statement of yours for you…

    “When one party, the Greens, attracts nearly as many 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.”

    Well here’s what is wrong with that argument John and that is the Nationals only stood in 10 seats and received 642,233 first preference votes which averaged out as 64,233.3 votes/seat whereas the Greens stood in all 151 seats for a total of 1,482,923 first preference votes which averaged out as only 9,028.6 votes/seat and that is why the Greens will always have a problem winning seats in the House of Representatives and in reality they were lucky to win one seat.

    The Senate is best place for protest parties like the Greens to win seats and it always will be.

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