As many have observed, politics has overtaken policy in this country, and the Abbott version of the game has taken us to the gutter.
When he played cricket, his only skill was sledging. When he played rugby, he thought throwing the first punch made him best and fairest. Abbott brings this same style, this same lack of expertise compensated for by bullying intimidation, to government.
This would not be tolerated in any other organisation. The behaviour shown in Parliament would not be acceptable in a schoolroom. The lack of transparency would not be accepted in any company. The personal vilification and abuse would be considered domestic violence in a home. The lies, obfuscation, and misleading statements would be considered perjury in a court of law.
The central purpose of government in a democracy is to be the role model for, and protector of, equality and freedom and our associated human rights. Government leaders must set an ethical standard for the people to emulate. Saying entitlements are within guidelines is exactly the same excuse big business has used not to pay tax. Legality should not replace morality.
Government economic responsibility is also linked to protection from the negative consequences of free markets. The government must defend us against unscrupulous merchants and employers, and the extreme class structure that results from their exploitation.
Governments argue that people need to be assisted with the economic competition that now dominates the world. But the real intent of this position is to justify helping corporate interests , siding against local workers, consumers and the environment. Big business should be forced to adhere to their license to operate by paying the appropriate taxation, treating their workers fairly, and protecting our environment. It is the government’s job to enforce this.
Another general role of government, related to the need for efficiency, is the organization of large-scale projects. It is for this benefit that we accept government involvement in the construction of society’s infrastructure, including roads and railways, telecommunications, and water, sewage and energy utilities.
Further, giving government charge over these utilities guarantees that they remain in public hands, and solely dedicated to the common good. If such services are privatized, the owners have a selfish motivation, which could negatively affect the quality of the services.
That such assets should have public ownership is expressed in the idea of the “commons.” They should be owned by and shared between the members of the current population, and preserved for future generations, not sold off to make a one-off difference to a balance sheet.
In a democracy, government is only one element coexisting in a social fabric of many and varied groups such as charitable organisations and churches, environmental and community groups, business associations and labour unions, and the media.
In an authoritarian society, virtually all such organisations would be controlled, licensed, watched, or otherwise accountable to the government. This is what we are witnessing now as the government seeks to influence the national broadcaster, remove charitable status from environmental groups, disband and defund scientific organisations, silence humanitarian groups and aid workers, deny the right to protest, and invoke laws to spy on its citizens.
We have laws, police and a judicial system to protect us domestically and the military to protect from external threats. It is not a government’s place to create fear and division but to reassure its citizens that they are safe.
It should not be Abbott’s decision alone to elevate our defence force into a strike force by spending hundreds of billions on defence materiel that is extremely unlikely to ever see active service. Our military plays a respected role in humanitarian aid, disaster relief, search and rescue, evacuation, rebuilding and peacekeeping. It is hard to see what submarines and jet fighters can contribute to this effort.
We’re currently spending over $1 billion a year detaining approximately 1500 asylum seekers offshore. That’s more than five times the United Nations refugee agency’s entire budget for all of South East Asia which is used to cover over 200,000 refugees, half a million internally displaced people and nearly 1.4 million stateless persons in the region. In 2014 the UNHCR spent $3.72 billion worldwide with which it did its best to respond to the needs of around 46.3 million refugees, internally displaced people and stateless people under its mandate.
Clearly, if the money we are wasting on detaining, deterring and turning back asylum seekers was channelled into improving protection and achieving solutions for displaced people overseas, it could help to resolve the issues which compel asylum seekers to undertake dangerous boat journeys in the first place.
Public officials in a representative democracy hold office in the name of the people and remain accountable to the people for their actions.
Government must be accountable because of the severe consequences that may result from its failure. As the outcomes of fighting unjust wars and inadequately responding to critical threats such as global warming illustrate, great power implies great responsibility.
The Abbott government has shown themselves incapable of handling either and are actively removing scrutiny and silencing criticism.
We, the people, must resist this attack on our democracy and remind our government of their responsibilities. Our society is not for sale. We must demand better.
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