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‘Spring clean’, anyone?

By Kyran O’Dwyer

There is an old adage, “Lie to me once, shame on you. Lie to me twice, shame on me”. Day after day, I, like every other Australian, am assured, or reassured (depending on my disposition), by our ‘leaders’ that everything’s alright. No matter the problem.

Day after day, politicians parade themselves in front of an ever-compliant media, with ‘photo-ops’ supported by nothing other than a slogan, to assure me, or reassure me, that everything’s alright. No matter the problem.

Those in government assure me nothing is wrong and those in opposition say they can fix anything that is wrong. Everything’s alright.

I’m losing my mind.

These ‘people’ are not just self-confessed liars, they wear their dishonesty, their duplicity, as some sort of badge of honour. It’s hard to believe that it was once requisite of a politician to resign for failing to disclose a teddy bear. That was 1984, and came off the back of the Fraser government losing two ministers over a colour TV.

As with all matters relating to erosion, there is no defined ‘start date’ to this dishonesty.

Whether the erosion started in 1975 with Fraser’s duplicity is hard to say. It remained incumbent on ministers to accept responsibility for their actions after that event. It was, however, the first time in Australia’s history that political ambition was blatantly promoted over the good of the nation. That the good of the nation was unashamedly discarded, even as a pretence, so easily is troubling.

Then along came John Howard. On his second try at leadership, in 1996, he went into the election offering all sorts of things. After the election, he wasted no time in reneging on many undertakings.

In his defence, he explained that he gave ‘core’ and ‘non-core’ promises. In his defence, he stated he didn’t know how bad things were until he got in. In his defence, he stated he had not lied, he just hadn’t told the whole truth.

Whilst the erosion may have started before then, he ‘normalised’ it. It has never been acceptable for politicians to lie. When caught, the process required they at least acknowledge their dishonesty. But that was prior to John Howard. To this day, I have not heard or read a report of John Howard saying he lied. He was misled. He didn’t understand the question.

More often than not, apparently, I didn’t understand the answer.

Often clothing the lies in nothing other than a veil, ‘the national interest’, he made questioning of any deceit un-Australian.

And it worked. It wasn’t until 2005 that Don Watson produced a dictionary to explain this phenomenon, with very specific regard to John Howard:

Weasel words: “A weasel word, or anonymous authority, is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that a specific or meaningful statement has been made, when instead only a vague or ambiguous claim has actually been communicated. This can enable the speaker to later deny the specific meaning if the statement is challenged. Where this is the intention, use of weasel words is a form of tergiversation. Weasel words can be used in advertising and in political statements, where it can be advantageous to cause the audience to develop a misleading impression.”

He and his ministers wasted no time in implementing programs that they had not disclosed prior to the election. Whether it be the Industrial Relations ‘reforms’ emanating from the waterfront dispute in 1996, the introduction of a GST in 2000, the ‘Tampa’ incident in 2001, the ‘Iraq War’ in 2003. The NT Intervention in 2007. To name but a few. The pattern was set. It became a matter of daily occurrence that politicians would lie and deceive. Any occurrence became subject to manipulation to satisfy an increasingly ideological agenda. Policies were often made to suit the opportunity, rather than the need.

Their constant assurance, or reassurance, was that everything’s alright. They didn’t lie, it was just that the answer was beyond me.

That I, like most Australians, was deprived of any opportunity to clarify any aspect of his answer was of no consequence.

It was, after all, the job of the media to make such enquiry. To question and to clarify the answer. The Fourth Pillar of Democracy.

Whether it was coincidence or conspiracy, there had been a shift in our media over the previous decades. The Fourth Pillar had started to see themselves as a part of the political landscape, rather than an independent pillar supporting democracy. The transition from objective reporting to subjective reporting was every bit as stealthy as the political transition. Over a period of time, reporters went from genuinely teasing out a proposition to merely reporting a proposition. It was no longer requisite that a reporter test the validity of what they were told, they would simply report what was said. Then it shifted, ever so subtly, again. Their language would offer endorsement, both overt and covert. They became compliant. That media morphing is still underway. They now not only offer endorsement, but wilfully engage in the ridicule and belittlement of any detractors. Our media has now become complicit in perpetuating institutions and practices that no longer have any pretence of serving the public good. Their sycophancy is now on full display, without even the pretence of concealment.

And then along came Tony Abbott. A ‘man’ whose dishonesty was so blatant, he didn’t even pretend to conceal it. Whilst Howard may have been dishonest, he at least had the mental capacity to conceal his dishonesty in a deluge of words. Lacking any such capacity, Abbott only had one approach when his blatant dishonesty proved too much even for the ‘media’ to ignore.

“So what? I lied.”

Shame on me. It’s now 2017. Our politicians have been lying and deceiving for decades now. Our media haven’t been independent for decades now. That does not excuse my shame at being lied to so often. It is nothing more than an explanation of how that shame was created.

That much of this change occurred in ‘affluent’ times is of little consequence. Whilst it may be true that people tend to question less when times are good, it is absolutely no excuse for acquiescence. So many of the protections, fought for and won, over the preceding decades have now been frittered away.

The obscenity of it is that the argument for the vast majority of these changes was security. The great big lie that was peddled was that my security, our security, was under threat from ‘others’. Religious nutters, ideological nutters, or just plain nutters. To be ‘secure’ from them, the ‘Four Pillars of Democracy’ (Justice, Equality, Freedom, Representation), had to be changed, to be amalgamated. That by foregoing access to any, or all, of the Four Pillars, it was strengthening security. It was, somehow, strengthening democracy.

The illusion that ‘politics’ is the same as ‘democracy’ had been created. Agencies charged with oversight were weakened or dismantled. Agencies charged with the protection of any of the ‘Four Pillars’ were amalgamated, the end result being that those ‘Four Pillars’ were merged into one.

Security.

There is another adage about lying. “I’m not upset that you lied to me. I’m upset that, from now on, I can’t believe you.”

It’s now 2017. For decades now we have had a global system of government’s playing a pea and thimble trick, where government money is allocated for the supply of government services through ‘private providers’. The economy, the efficiency, the efficacy of these arrangements can never be known. ‘Commercial in confidence’ has become an impenetrable cloak, impervious to enquiry, let alone scrutiny.

It is, apparently, unreasonable for me, or anyone else, to question the absence of governance. Whether it be the government or the corporate sector, the absence of governance is not a problem, because the ‘market’ will sort out any problem.

Our dystopia is their utopia. One negates the other, evidenced every few years with an appeasement for ‘the people’. An election.

There is much comment about ‘left’ and ‘right’, with their attendant extremes. There is, apparently, a ‘centre’. There is much discussion about the demise of ‘democracy’, yet little thought given to the rise of ‘politics’. Any attempt to extricate ‘politics’ from ‘democracy’ will likely degenerate into a discussion on ‘lefties’ and ‘righties’.

We have now had decades of demonstrable experience. ‘Trickle down’ is acknowledged as somewhere between fanciful and farcical. The ‘rule of the market’ is an oxymoron when the market is reliant on an absence of rules.

Yet it persists as a justification for the status quo. Very large companies have reported a 40% increase in profits, which was predominantly returned to investors. Worker’s wages have not increased in line with inflation, let alone profits. Security of work tenure largely disappeared when the ABN was used as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to introduce a casualised workforce, foregoing access to leave and superannuation entitlements and much needed PAYG tax revenue by reclassifying workers as sub-contractors.

To my knowledge, the building industry is the only industry with any ATO oversight of payments to sub-contractors. Whether the ATO uses that information to enforce the 80/20 rule is beyond me.

What does that have to do with ‘trickle down’ theorem? If companies have increased their profits by up to 40% and wages have not moved significantly, how can any government argue that giving those companies (many of whom already don’t pay tax or pay a miserable rate of tax) a 5% tax cut and further removing workers protections will create more jobs and growth?

Australia has an even more peculiar problem. A relatively small population spread over a huge expanse. With three tiers of government. This enables a constant ‘blame shift’ in both the delivery of service and the manner in which those services are funded. Why do we need education, health, law, judiciary, etc at both a state and federal level? Doesn’t that very system enshrine different standards for Australians dependent only on their geography?

Such a small population, so easily manipulated by obfuscation.

Ironically, at the moment, this is actually a good thing. As the Federal government increasingly relies on ‘regulatory’ amendment rather than parliamentary scrutiny, the states and territories are the last defence against a rampant IPA.

In addition to the conversation about ‘left’ and ‘right’, there is discussion about a ‘pendulum’ that swings in some mystical cycle between the two. This is the ‘social mood’, which is subject to the sentiment of the voters at any given point in time.

Our ‘politicians’ love this. It allows emotion and sentiment to become the arbiter of their decisions, with complete disregard for fact or reason. Science and evidence are now dirty words, politicised beyond any recognition.

How any semblance of order, with no other intent than the public good, is re-established is a discussion we desperately need to have. How do we restore the faith of people in a system that has done nothing but abuse their insecurity and remove the very freedoms that should make them feel secure.

A Federal ICAC would be a start. A ramping up in both the independence and resources of the AEC, the ABS, the CSIRO, the Auditor General, the Human Rights Commission, and numerous other agencies would be a start. The introduction of a First Peoples parliament for the purposes of establishing Treaty and overseeing the implementation and enactment of ANY legislation effecting them would be a start. The creation of a Bill of Rights would be a start.

Feel free to add your own ‘start’.

How does all of that aspiration relate to dishonest politicians and corrupt corporates?

My contention is that they have been lying for so long now that I no longer believe a single word they say. Even worse, I have not got the slightest interest in what they have to say. As to the media, or the facsimile on offer, contempt is simply too nice a word.

Their collective behaviour over many decades should deprive them of any seat at the table.

We desperately need that discussion. But the participants need to be motivated by genuine belief in government of the people, by the people, for the people. Simply put, democracy over politics.

It’s 2017. It’s Spring. Why can’t we ‘Spring Clean’?

 

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23 comments

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  1. Robert Dodgson

    …the participants need to be motivated by genuine belief in government of the people, by the people, for the people.
    A start might be to find a leader who has that kind of motivation. How?

  2. Glenn K

    excellent piece of critical thinking and obsevation. great article and spot on

  3. Glenn Barry

    Great article, I could not agree more
    The initial 3, from your list
    Federal ICAC
    Bill of Rights
    First Peoples Parliament and Treaty

    The death of Rupert Murdoch may just signal a time for change and renewal in the Media, at least I hope so

  4. Andrew Smith

    I also think our ‘media’ and politicians are in an echo chamber, corner cutting, culturally specific and unrepresentative of younger parts of Australian society and the electorate, especially the lower median age (near 50?) voters.

    Seems to be a concerted effort to drag Australia back to the monochrome 1950s; culturally, politically and socially where youth are not trusted.

    Many British and European friends assume there is still a white Oz policy representing the 1950s, as they do not see any diversity through Australian media, political, sporting or entertainment elites. One has to explain that beyond out ageing elites there is one of the most diverse and vibrant societies in the world….. still waiting…. popped up a bit in the ’80-90s, but wound back again.

  5. Johno

    Spring clean or Arab spring

  6. Harquebus

    Good work Kyran. Pretty much my sentiments also. Our politicians and the corporations that they represent have lost all credibility.

    A society ruled by the elites law and kept impotent by their armed body armored lackeys law enforcement agencies, is not going to change the status quo.

    In my opinion, it would best to let the current system which, is killing all life on our planet, die and rebuild from scratch. I only hope that this happens before it kills us and that there will be something left from which to do the rebuild. One way or another, a day of reckoning is coming.

    “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” — Edward R. Murrow

  7. Ricardo29

    Yep. Good work. The references to Ministerial accountability resonate with this oldie. I remember when Ministers stood up for their departments and fought for improved resources. Now it seems they see their job as weakening, undermining, cost-cutting and heads are chosen for their submissiveness and willingness to comply. No chance of frank and fearless advice, just keep the head down and cut the toes as required to meet the efficiency dividend. What a specious concept, thanks for that PK.

  8. helvityni

    Kyran, I saw Emma interviewing the visiting Irish President, I was envious…can we do a swap, and send Mal and Tones to Ireland…

    NZ’s choice delighted me too, could we ever have a YOUNG vibrant FEMALE as our PM….

  9. helvityni

    Andrew Smith, totally agree with your post; like your British and European friends ,I often lament the lack of yellow, brown and black faces in our political world, media, entertainment etc..Yes but, no but, said someone: we HAD Marcia Hinds appearing on TV….

    Where are they NOW?

  10. John Lord

    Great writing KYRAN.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Can only agree with you, John.

  12. Harquebus

    Sumpin’ I jus’ read. Lookout theAIMN. The powers that be will include you too, eventually.

    “The leading political force in this campaign [to suppress free speech] is the Democratic Party, working in collaboration with sections of the Republican Party, the mass media and the military-intelligence establishment.”
    “as countries in the West discuss potential Internet restrictions and wring their hands over fake news, hacking and foreign meddling, some in China see a powerful affirmation of the country’s vision for the internet.”
    “Since Google announced plans to bury “alternative viewpoints” in search results earlier this year, leading left-wing sites have seen their search traffic plunge by more than 50 percent. The World Socialist Web Site’s search traffic from Google has fallen by 75 percent.”
    “In one “democratic” country after another governments are turning to police-state forms of rule, from France, with its permanent state of emergency, to Germany, which last month shut down a subsidiary of the left-wing political site Indymedia, to Spain, with its violent crackdown on the separatist referendum in Catalonia and arrest of separatist leaders.
    “The greatest concern of the ruling elite is the emergence of an independent movement of the working class, and the state is taking actions to prevent it.”
    “The destruction of democratic rights is the political response of the corporate and financial aristocracy to the growth of working class discontent bound up with record levels of social inequality.”
    http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/18/pers-o18.html

  13. Kyran

    The intent of the article wasn’t to so much to focus on what is wrong. Goodness knows, sites such as this articulate that well. It was intended more as an enquiry as to how we got here. It is heartening that so many people understand that.
    Along the way, I formed the opinion that we, as a community, cannot rely on our elected leaders to remedy a situation which rewards them so richly for their complicity. To expect that there will ever be sufficient political will is, in my opinion, unrealistic. They have had their chance and they blew it.
    To expect that there will be some change advocated by participants in the ‘free market’ is also unrealistic, in my opinion. They have had their chance and they blew it.
    To expect that the MSM will actually hold either of those groups to account is also unrealistic, in my opinion. They have had their chance and they blew it.
    These are the groups that have unashamedly argued for the right to subject ordinary people to scrutiny beyond any level ever seen before, whilst concurrently dismantling any means for scrutiny of their behaviour. It is not just that this is so blatantly dishonest and hypocritical, but it ignores the reality that these are the groups perpetrating the most egregious damage.
    That there is such consensus on our situation is a good thing. These groups and their vested interests have put paid to their own credibility.
    If you accept that as a definition of the problem, the solution is not that difficult. Governance, oversight, transparency, accountability. Nothing more than what these groups insist we, the people, should live by.
    Micah White conducted a veritable autopsy on the anatomy of protest.

    “Consider, for example, the global anti-Iraq war march on 15 February 2003. This was the largest synchronised protest in human history. Ten million people worldwide went into the streets with a single demand: “no war!” And yet, a month later, the Iraq war started despite global opposition. The anti-war movement was effectively destroyed.”

    “When citizens of nominally democratic governments protest in the streets they are performing the foundational myth of democracy: the faith that the people possess ultimate sovereignty over their governments.”

    “Here we have in simple terms the core myth that motivates all of contemporary activism: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, wrote the American revolutionaries in their Declaration of Independence, justifying insurrection. Or, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by United Nations general assembly in 1948, “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”. Our misplaced faith in these statements is the crux of the crisis within activism.”

    “Contemporary protest is broken because the will of the people is no longer the basis of the authority of government. Put colourfully, the people’s sovereignty is dead and every protest is a hopeless struggle to revive the corpse. It is time to try a different method.”

    “The authority of government accrues to whomever changes the existing regime militarily or electorally. If activism is to stay relevant, we must apply our techniques of protest, and social movement creation, to either winning wars or winning elections. Neither approach will look the way you expect it.”

    “Moving forward, as activists we must radically challenge the roots of our discipline and embark on a period of wild tactical experimentation oriented around capturing sovereignty. Let us no longer tolerate those within our movements who stifle collective reflection on our failures. Only a total rethink of protest will lead to the emergence of newly effective methods of revolutionary activism.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/29/why-are-our-protests-failing-and-how-can-we-achieve-social-change-today

    Ms White advocates for activism through political participation and presents a powerful argument. Not through our conventional political system, but by seeking the similarities in all of those disparate disenfranchised groups and harnessing their collective energy, with the sole intention of creating a voice so great it cannot be ignored.
    We cannot wait for the next leader, not when that expectation is for an individual. We can stand shoulder to shoulder, based on nothing more than what unites us, and be our own leader.
    It is sites such as this that allows such a prospect to be considered a possibility, rather than a dream.
    Thank you AIMN and commenters. Take care
    PS Harquebus, the foregoing seems eerily similar to what you have described. Mr Taylor’s recent cyber attack, perchance?

  14. Michael Taylor

    Harquebus, they are developments that cause much concern.

    In our situation, the amount of traffic that comes from Google is only about 10% of our daily traffic, and that has remained unchanged for the last year or so.

    Less than 3% comes from the USA, and practically zero from China. Whilst the recent cyber attacks did in fact come from China, our web host advises that there was no pattern in the attacks, and such attacks were carried out because some people just like being arseholes. (His words). To say we were singled out is not a suggestion he is entertaining.

    Those who wish to shut down dissent overlook one thing: if they stop people taking to the keyboard … they might just take to the street.

  15. murdic

    Fantastic piece. Except that lefty’s and righty’s ought to be lefties and righties…. Sorry.

  16. Robert

    Kyran, what the one percent and their kow-towing politicians fear more than “activism through political participation” is for lots of people to wake up to what’s of value in life and stop worshiping at the alter of consumerism. If that happens, superfluous products and activities will disappear almost overnight.
    On the other hand, here’s how the elite win: #BantheInternet

  17. diannaart

    Excellent work, Kyran.

    Although I disagree on the “truthiness” of leaders in times past; they have always lied. However, since mid 20th century, deceit has become an art form, not just in Australia but globally.

  18. Chookgirl

    Michael Taylor, taking to the street may be required. I have not seen much effectiveness in web based action for some time, politicians have become immune to social media. They still don’t know what to do when people refuse to stand down in the face of threats of violence by the state. We must face the reality that change only comes through sacrifice. When we put our bodies on the line in sufficient numbers we can overcome the alliance of power with privilege. We most recently demonstrated that at Bentley in Northern NSW, just a small demonstration in historical terms, but salient nevertheless. The experience of success in the people who took part is transformative, we are stronger and more resilient and ready and willing to stand against the state again when the time comes.

  19. Johno

    diannaart, I agree, when haven’t they lied.

  20. Peter

    We can change back to a democracy.

    Remove your vote from any support of party-based politics, from all parties.

    Support and get involved in organisations like Flux and Mivote and start taking responsibility as a citizen for our body politic.

  21. Peggy Sanders

    It is now recognised that the neoliberal change agenda is being implemented across all Western nations in crony cooperation with the MSM. The domestic arm of the IPA has set the change agenda across nations to implement corporate capitalism, the distribution of wealth to the 1% at the expense of the 99% and to reduce government, governance and public services such as health, education, welfare, defence to a minimum standard and privatised to a “user pays to corporations” set up of a feudal model of government.
    A few people are coming forward calling out neoliberalism for the corrupt rort that it is. Jacinda Adhern, the NZ PM, Sally McManus, Jeremy Corbyn in U.K., Yanis…. the former Greek finance minister, are fearless and straight speaking about the dangerous position the world finds itself in, as war and fascism are a step away.

  22. Aleks

    Forgive my pedantry, but Howard did campaign on introducing a GST. Which is not the same as saying that he was totally honest! But as I recall, the basic timeline was this:

    JWH in opposition claims that mandate politics are rubbish, or nonsense, or some such term.

    Election campaign 1: JWH promises no GST, wins election.

    Election campaign 2: JWH promises GST, wins election by astonishingly narrow margin (may even have lost the 2PP count) and claims he has mandate to create GST.

  23. stephengb2014

    What a terrific article – thank you Kyran.

    Wow.
    Great and thoughtfull comments – thank you as well.

    I suspect that the corptocracy is going to try and silence the Jacinda Adhern, the NZ PM, Sally McManus, Jeremy Corbyn, Yanis Varoufakis, Sanders?

    I fear that war will come soon, the world population is exploding and the elites definitely do not want to share even one cent. I think the elites are psyching us all up for war as its the perfect solution to the pulation explosion and make a vast profit

    S G B

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