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Tag Archives: Democracy

Fixing Our Society

Does anyone remember that we once proudly described ourselves as an egalitarian nation? Just after World War II, the Australian government wanted everyone in the world community to understand that Australia was a socialist democracy. Evatt at the UN, then later Gough here at home, were simple expressions of the majority opinion.

We were hugely proud of the fact that we were a country, where the population were the ones in control. We wanted a level playing field with ample public services for all. What happened?

We hear all the time that our democracy is broken. In virtually every debate relating to the big picture issues facing our society, just about the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that our democracy is broken.

The pattern is obvious. The inequalities and disaffections entertained by a particular part of the citizenry are identified, listed, and then widely and loudly discussed. (Think about women, Aborigines, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, homelessness, rural services, health services, the environment, etc etc etc).

Then, having identified a range of obvious and dire problems, we implement some half-arsed idea and publicly forget about it all until the next time we again jointly and collectively fail to fix the very same problem.

Pay gap widening. Rich getting richer. Homelessness growing. Great Barrier Reef going white and crumbling. Cannabis illegal, yet super strong legal heroin widely available. Cities outgrowing their infrastructures. Housing, twenty-years plus, unaffordable. Huge concentrations of corporate power in every segment of society. Electricity ever more expensive. Workers ever falling behind bosses raking it in and vacationing in Europe.

Let’s for a moment step back from these ‘intractable’ social problems and ask ‘why?’ Why can’t we seem to address any of these problems? After all, it is not that we have not already had our best minds consider these matters and give their opinions. Sometimes endlessly. Anyone can go to the internet, right now, and track down a thousand articles and discussions relating to any of these topics, with many containing a range of rational responses, sometimes from the best minds of our generation, discussing how we might begin to tackle all of these problems.

Of course, I am not saying that any of these long-standing difficulties and faults in society can be easily fixed. But why no progress at all? Especially since it is relatively easy to also gauge the opinion of the Australian population regarding any and all of these matters. We want these matters addressed: yet nothing continues to happen.

Note that not all social problems are a difficulty. In situations where the interests of the corporate sector and the interests of the majority are aligned then we do seem to get instant government response which is sometimes incredibly effective. Think about littering, smoking, the road toll, child sexual assault, gay rights, sewage and stormwater control, etc. Aussies like a cohesive and safe urban environment and, in the main, so does the corporate world.

I despair for our current social discourse. It has become stupid, mean, and corporate. It simply does not represent the Australia that I know.

Why did our governments sell off all of our electricity and water services? Why did they sell off the Commonwealth Bank? Why did they dismantle the CES to replace it with a huge corporate sector that costs four times as much? Why do we give away all of our mineral wealth to a group of rich men? Why does none of our corporate sector pay any tax? Why are the rich getting so much richer? Why aren’t the workers getting more?

After twenty-five years of our entire mainstream media being owned and run by corporate apologists, these questions are simply not being addressed. The people who ask these sorts of questions are now sneered at and their questions absent. What did we expect?

We allowed all of our social services and structures (in media, banking, retail, health, electricity, etc) to be privatised and sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders (and every one of them with a friend in Parliament). All generally against the wishes of the majority of the population. Now we sit around griping about the rising cost of everything like a bunch of whimpish three-year-olds. We just gripe. It’s pathetic. It’s now too late. The baby-boomers have utterly stuffed up ‘our’ democracy.

Ask any mainstream politician in our land and they will tell you that the most important thing in their universe is to make sure that Australia has a ‘healthy economy’. This is simply because, for the last quarter of a century, every media outlet in our country has been unabashedly expanding their ‘business’ section to cover the entire social realm.

Until now, in our modern age, every political decision has to be ‘economically feasible’ rather than merely being socially equitable. Moreover, to point out this gross capture of democracy is no longer even considered rude. It is celebrated.

I have to accept that we no longer live in a socialist democracy. Our ‘society’ has become an ‘economy’. In other words; the bastards have won. Both major parties take their marching orders directly from the big end of town. Everyone now talks about our country as if it is a big shopping centre. WTF?

Once upon a time, there was at least the need for a modicum of stage-craft. The politicians had to at least pretend that they were acting in the interests of the majority of the people in society. But no longer. Now we have a merchant banker in charge of our land and the leader of the free world is a bigoted property developer from New York.

I think I have cause for at least mild to medium levels of dark despair and foreboding. If you are poor then, apparently, you have the option of starving to death or working hard, all your life, to just make ends meet, so as to make someone else rich. It’s up to you. After all, we are all equally free to sleep under the bridges in our land (at least out in the countryside where the municipal authorities won’t hose you down).

Anyway, why would you complain? Everyone tells us all, all the time, that we all should simply do what is in our bosses best interests because ‘capitalism won’. ‘Socialism’ was defeated. Greed is now not only good; but right. Just ask our PM, the leader of the opposition, all of the media outlets in the land, and just about every kid (under 25) who are wondering why the hell they can’t seem to make ends meet while all of their parents were able to afford to buy such beautiful homes.

None of our ‘intractable’ social problems can even be approached, let alone addressed because we sold our souls to the idea that everyone could be rich. We have turned our society into an economy and all of our politicians now work for the highest bidder. Now the flower-children are all homeowners, small business people and have generally bought the capitalist dream utterly. They all seem to think that they are sitting on a house that is worth a million dollars. A whole generation has drifted from flower child to shallow corporate schmuck in just twenty-five years. It’s pathetic.

This is why we have ‘intractable’ social problems. In simple terms, in an economy, the one with the biggest wallet always wins. And the biggest wallets in our society are very happy with the way that things are, right at this moment. After all, these intractable ‘problems’ are making them ever richer. The bigger the problem; the better the banker’s holiday. Stuff the reef.

It will now be up to the next generations to fight for the soul of Australia. There is no doubt that our descendants will look back on us and disown us completely. We have lost the plot. The baby-boomers are fools. When the 1% walk away from the smoking carcass of the Australian economy after their twenty-five years of disastrous mismanagement, they will be happy to retire to nearby their money in an offshore haven.

Then we, the baby-boomers, will have nobody but ourselves to blame. Yes, our democracy is broken. We, the smug ownership class, have allowed our system to become corrupt. We surrendered our entire free press and most of our infrastructure to large commercial conglomerates.

Ours is no longer a country run by the populace but rather the corporate sector. We have allowed the concept of our democracy to be perverted. Our children and their descendants will look back on our generation with contempt. We identified all of the problems, and carefully, one by one, totally failed to fix any of the big ones.

We allowed our society and political system to be captured by big money. For all of our constant barrage of self-congratulation, the baby-boomer generation has failed. And now it is simply too late. When our housing bubble bursts and Australia settles into becoming a third-world backwater for a quarter of a century, then the baton will not so much pass-on as be wrenched from our hands.

We have allowed our industrial base to virtually disappear. We allowed multinational corporations to export all the profits of the mining boom. We allowed our public services to be sold off, bit by bit, until we have to pay a toll even to travel from one end of a city to another. We have pissed the opportunity to make a better society, up against the wall. I am ashamed to have been born amidst such a cretinous bunch of imbeciles.

But then the baby-boomer generation have simply carried on the great tradition of mankind. In the last two hundred years, we have consumed voraciously everything we might and done our best to irretrievably damage the ecosystem on every continent, even whilst simultaneously causing a mass-extinction and a climate change event.

Hopefully, our children might do better with the little we leave behind. We cannot hope they will consider us kindly. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is that there might actually be someone still around in another thousand years. It’s a low bar but I think we might just clear it.

Happy Holidays.

Day to Day Politics: It’s bloody simple when you think about it … a Royal Commission, that is

Wednesday 13 April.

1 Labor proposes a Royal Commission into the financial sector. Particularly the banks. The establishment and those of a conservative ilk cry foul. ASIC, a major regulatory body say they continuously investigate crime and have adequate powers. Repeat, powers. In fact our financial institutions are overseen by four regulatory bodies. The harshest in the world, people of the right scream out.

To me it’s rather simple and I don’t profess any superiority of intellect.

A Royal Commission is needed to find out why in spite of the best oversight in the world it is not working. I can’t make it any clearer than that.

I don’t understand why it is at press conferences when the Prime Minister and others espouse what they see as an almost faultless system of regulation, why some journalists with a bit of brain doesn’t ask the fundamental question:

“Can you please explain then why it doesn’t seem to be working?”

Sabra Lane had the perfect opportunity to put the question to Deputy PM on 7.30 Tuesday night but let the opportunity slip.

Mind you it might have some relationship to the reason why the ATO can’t collect tax from multinationals. They sacked the staff collecting it, or conversely it might be, in ASIC’s case (200 sacked) that the $100s of millions ripped from its budget is affecting its capacity to investigate.

ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft at the commissions Annual Meeting last year said that they were “very thinly resourced”.

In 2013 he said Australia was too soft on corporate criminals and that the Country was a “paradise” for white-collar criminals and the regulator could do little about it because it lacked the resources.

So it seems they have heaps of power with no one to enforce it.

The argument that Labor opposed a Royal Commission last year is a nebulous one. Things can always get worse to the point where a change of mind is not only justified but necessary.

A change of mind when it addresses the common good is a worthwhile thing to do.

Or one also could argue that Labor is making a stand against the greed and corruption being perpetuated on us by big business and the right of the political spectrum in general. If you want to put this to the test, go to a pub or apply Turnbull’s own fairness test.

We don’t live in a right-wing democracy. When you only have Royal Commissions into matters relating to your political opponents and ignore those associated with you, you leave a stench of hypocrisy that has a whiff of gutter politics about it.

As for the banks reaction they are considering a mining type advertising campaign against the opposition.

To quote marketing consultant Tony Ralph , who has apparently worked on a number of similar campaigns.

”no doubt the banks can run a campaign that will turn the political opportunism of a Royal Commission into an electoral nightmare for Labor”

And if Labor gained power and I hypothetically were leader I would have no hesitation into having a Royal Commission into the Ashbygate Affair.

2 Monday’s ABC Four Corners, if nothing else, confirmed that Clive Palmer is a grubby individual and that nothing in the world matters unless it is of benefit to him. His entry into politics was solely calculated to be profitable to him. The appointed administrator suggests that a “reckless” Clive Palmer instructed Queensland Nickel to pay him nearly $15 million and may have acted as a shadow director for the company according to an administrator’s report which recommends winding up the Townsville-based operation.

He might join a long list of corporate names like Elliott, Bond and Skase. Perhaps a Royal Commission into the breakdown of corporate law.

3 Tuesday’s Essential Poll still has the parties tied on 50/50 apiece. In my view 40% are rusted onto each party. The Greens have about 10% and the rest are undecided.

One should never pre suppose that in a democracy the party you support should be the only one that ever wins. But a vote for the Coalition this time would be an acknowledgement that you are satisfied with bad government and would be happy to experience another three years of it. That you would be happy with a further decline in the standards of our political institutions. You wouldn’t care if your children suffered in their education or if inequality increased. In short you would accept mediocrity, or worse. The right would of course interpret your vote as one of confidence and your regret would be twofold in the realisation that you had committed the same sin twice. Too late then.

I wrote this a short time after the last election:

“I have wondered since the election what I will write about for the next three years. I have concluded that it is my duty to hold the government to account. To see to it that the Government governs honestly and transparently and that the media reports news rather than opinion in the guise of propaganda”.

I think I have been true to my word.

“I feel people on the right of politics in Australia show an insensitivity to the common good that goes beyond any thoughtful examination. They have hate on their lips and their hate starts with the beginning of a smile”.

My thought for the day.

“Are you really doing what is important? What you believe in, or have you just adjusted to what you are doing”.

Day to Day Politics: Your corruption is worse than mine, and other taxing issues

Thursday March 31 2016

1 At the crux of the Senate stalemate over the ABCC legislation are two principles. Firstly the Government says the crossbench Senators, because some rorted the voting system, are unworthy participants. A DD will fix the problem it says. In itself that is debatable. Secondly the Government wants its ABCC anti-Union corruption bill passed.

The Senators suggest a compromise that would include all corruption. Not unreasonable you might say. After all corruption is knowingly rife in politics and business.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that corruption in the banking sector and its effect on ordinary people is far worse than that of unions in the building industry. And that corruption in politics is destroying our democracy.

Too unreasonably single out union corruption suggests you rate it worse than other corruption and leaves the Government open, particularly the Prime Minister, to further charges of hypocrisy. Union bashing in other words.

A recent survey by Essential Media found that most respondents opposed the reintroduction of the ABCC, and demonstrated that the Federal Government must be more active in countering misconceptions about the role and function of the construction watchdog.

It remains an open question as to whether the PM really wants a more democratic electoral system or if the ABCC is a more important matter than others that would seem more worthy of its attention.

If per chance the cross benches passed the bill, Turnbull would have some explaining to do as to what the real motive was.

The Essential survey on the following question:

What do you think is the main reason why the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull would call an early double dissolution election?

Showed that 14% thought it was because Parliament won’t restore the ABCC. 15% said it was because he wants to get rid of the independents in the Senate and 30% said it was because his Government is losing support and he will have a better chance of winning if the election is held early.

2 The Crickey Poll Bludger in the absence of any Polling over Easter reveals Newspolls quarterly breakdown. It shows the Turnbull Government sinking in Vic, and SA with Victoria leading the way. Another poll reveals that the government will have a hard time selling its budget. An internal poll also shows that Bronwyn Bishop wouldn’t hold her seat of MacKellar and the Nationals will almost certainly contest the seat of Murray. Sharman Stone’s former seat.

This week’s Essential Poll still has the parties 50/50.

3 Those interested in American politics should read this.

‘Justice Scalia’s seat is vacant. Ginsberg is 82 years old, Kennedy is 79, Breyer is 77, and Thomas is 67. Nowadays, the data shows that the average age of a Supreme Court retirement or death occurs after 75.

These are 5 vacancies that will likely come up over the next 4-8 years. The next President will have the power to potentially create a 7-2 Supreme Court skewed in their ideology.

Think about that… 7-2. If the next President appoints 5 young justices, it will guarantee control of the Supreme Court for an entire generation. And 7-2 decisions will hold up much more over time than 5-4 decisions which are seemed to be lacking in mandate’ – Colin Powell.

4 It seems Tony Abbott will run his own campaign in the forthcoming election.

He has expressed his readiness to participate in the 2016 federal election campaign to support colleagues who hold marginal seats. Senator Nick Xenophon said he would be delighted to have Abbott campaigning in South Australia. I suppose Christopher Pyne will also welcome him.

Nifty Nick knows when he is on a winner.

5 I know I’m always on about the NBN but when Australia slips to 60th position in world speed ratings it’s about time we all took notice. What a cock up this supposedly ‘innovatively’ minded Government has made of this medium.

It is just ridiculous that we are building a copper-based service that will be redundant in ten to 15 years. We should all question why we are heading down such an inferior pathway at such a huge cost.

6 How refreshing it was on Tuesday to watch Paul McClintock, a businessman and former staffer to John Howard deliver a speech ‘Deficit to balance: budget repair options’ for CEDA, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia minus the politics at The National Press Club.

‘No economic problem in Australia is graver than the persistence of large budget deficits,’ he said.

The research was conducted by a 12 member commission that included current Reserve Bank board member Dr John Edwards and three former secretaries of the federal department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Michael Keating, Dr Ian Watt and Terry Moran.

What struck me was the way in which McClintock demonstrated that when you dispassionately divorce yourself from the politics, and objectively address an economic problem, just how much clearer the answers are.

Contrary to the Abbott/Turnbull governments’ notion that budget repair can only be achieved with spending cuts, the report calls for revenue enhancement. It reckons that $15 billion in revenue ‘enhancement’ measures and $2 billion in spending cuts would bring the budget to surplus in 2018-19.

Now you wouldn’t call these committee members raging socialists but their preferences for revenue raising were suspiciously Laborish.

Singled out were superannuation tax and capital gains tax. Introducing a flat 15 per cent discount on super contributions ($6.9 billion), reducing the cap for concessionary contributions to super to $10,000 ($8.5 billion), halving the capital gains discount ($3.6 billion) and abolishing negative gearing on all assets purchased after December last year ($2.6 billion).

Other options proposed included increasing petrol taxes, cutting the fuel tax credit scheme, cutting industry tax concessions, clamping down on work related tax deductions and extending the ‘temporary’ the budget repair levy.

Without action, the commission found personal incomes would bear the rising burden of taxation.

It all sounds reasonable when you take the politics out of it.

Recommend you read this article by John Kelly on the subject.

An observation.

It seems to me that the wisest people I know are the ones that apply reason, and logic and leave room for doubt. The most unwise are the fools and fanatics who dont’.

7 My first reaction to the Prime Minister’s proposal to give the states the right to raise their own income tax is that the electorate will never buy it. Imagine the States with that sort of power. He is just handballing a problem he can’t handle.

Turnbull indicated that over time if a particular state had a problem it might say.

‘OK, we have got an issue with one part of our services. Can we fix it ourselves or do we need more money? If we need more money, then they go, the state would go to their parliament, raise the money, go to the people and persuade them of the merits of it.’

A hard sell this one. I wonder how long it will stay on the table. We might even see a perpetually shifting population seeking the least taxing state.

And didn’t Scott say:

‘This is not a government that has any interest in lifting the tax burden on Australians’.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just get companies to pay some tax and stop all the subsidies?

My thought for the day.

‘For the life of me I fail to understand how anyone could vote for a party who thinks the existing education and health systems are adequately funded and addresses the needs of the disadvantaged’

PS: I read last week that the actual plebiscite question that was supposed to be revealed prior to the election had been shelved. Yesterday I read that the plebiscite itself is to be shelved indefinitely. Can’t be true surely.

 

Day to Day Politics: The Great Paradox of Our Times

Sunday February 7 2016

I have a confession to make. Writing a daily post is time-consuming. It takes a lot of research and you have to be on top of things, constantly thinking a day ahead. And of course one is reliant on the day-to-day political gossip for source material.

Occasionally though one just feels flat, in want of a day off. Today is that day.

Filling in for me today is my friend Stuart Whitman. I met Stuart on Facebook about four years ago. We have had coffee together a few times. His engaging personality and kindly disposition always makes for enjoyable discourse. Until this week Stuart worked in the Senate Canberra. He is well versed in the machinations of government and that of the Labor Party.

The Great Paradox of Our Times

The paradox of our times is that we live in a pre-revolutionary age of massive global economic, environmental, social and cross-cultural convulsions as the old order of the world we have known to be “reality” collapses around us yet the political status quo internationally lacks the courage or vision to lead the profound systemic change or even ask the deep questions we need to be asked or to re-imagine how the world can work.

Yet forces such as climate change, the new industrial revolution and subsequent loss of a large part of the workforce, and the widening inequality will not wait for us, they demand a brave and visionary response.

We can’t put these global bushfires out with a garden hose.

Not wanting to unsettle an electorate they wrongly assume is unable to think critically or act rationally or behave humanely, we are told to accept the crumbs of piecemeal progress because anything of the scale of transformational polices required to see our civilisation through to the other side, renders any political figure proposing them nuts or “unelectable”.

Instead of embracing the challenge and adventure of the age and the hard work required to lead and channel the coming transition to make sure it is peaceful, democratic and wise we have timid responses and focus group marketing lines. Instead of working together to ensure the global underclass is finally lifted out of their desperation and afforded dignity instead of growing in ranks of misery, we have a generation of people who don’t seem to be capable of thinking beyond the entrenched Thatcher-Reagan worldview of the past thirty years. The only world so much of the electorate and political class has ever really known.

There seems to be deep fear of any alternative to the view offered by Thatcher and Reagan that we are not to trust the common will of the people in the democratic state offering grand scale programs of much-needed reform and change. God forbid we challenge the dogma that the market has all the answers and the constituent body of the people is not to be trusted. Better to go quietly about your business and not rock the boat. Trust the powers that be and your political patrons, and shut your mouth and you will be looked after.

In an age that demands courage, everywhere we look we see cowardice.

Why is it that in this time the world-weary old men and women are now the radicals and so many of the youth even on the left of politics are so illogically conservative and reactionary?

I am thankful that although I was an infant at the time, I still have a memory of a world before Ayn Rand ruled. I hope I get to see it again in my lifetime.

Stuart Whitman.

My thought for the day

‘It seems to me that the wisest people I know are the ones that apply reason, and logic and leave room for doubt. The most unwise are the fools and fanatics who don’t’.

 

Democracy: The Genie is out of the bottle

Equality and freedom are two core component of democracy. Whether it’s me, you or Malcolm Turnbull walking into that polling booth on election day – everybody’s vote is equal and we are free to vote however we like.

But there’s a lot more to democracy than that. In the often quoted words of American President Abraham Lincoln:

Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people.

The concept of democracy has been around for thousands of years, but the way it works in practice has started to change this century. And that change has seen the average person in the street unwittingly gain more power in the political process – here’s how…

The balance of power in a democracy

A democracy is arguably the only model of government that aims to distribute power equally – to give everyone an equal voice, an equal say. But history has shown that we – the people – are not particularly good at holding on to democracy.

Democracies have risen and fallen over the centuries. And when they’ve fallen, it’s been pretty much the same story every time – the average punter has let the balance of power that exists between the rights of the individual and the rights of the government shift too far in favour of the government. While this sometimes happens as a violent coup, more commonly it happens as people give up freedoms – like their right to privacy – one at a time. In the words of the 20th century’s most famous enemy of democracy, Mr Adolf Hitler:

“The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time. To erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.” (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf)

Historically, one of the reasons that people have let democracy slip away from them is that they have taken it for granted.

In Australia today, many people take democracy for granted because they misunderstand the crucial role that democracy plays in controlling so many key aspects of our daily lives. From what we learn in school, how we drive, how much pay we take home right through to which foods we are able to buy at the supermarket – there is scarcely an aspect of what we do that isn’t impacted by legislation which is created and managed by the government – and therefore ultimately controlled by the democratic process. And yet rather than embracing democracy – people are disillusioned by it.

Disillusionment with democracy

The main institution that most people associate with democracy is their right to vote for a Member of Parliament (an MP) to represent their area (or electorate). That MP – at least so the theory goes – takes their place in the House of Representatives and should be a voice for the people of their electorate. And through that MP – so the theory continues – we all have a say and a vote in how our country is run.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. But in practice, when we head to the polling booths these days – unless you vote for an independent – your vote is normally for one of two political parties rather than for someone to specifically represent your electorate.

When you combine this with the fact that elected MPs often act like they are voted in to rule over us rather than to serve us – the result has been many that many Australians have lost faith in the very concept of democracy, feeling both that their vote doesn’t actually represent their views and that those entrusted with political power through their vote are not using that power particularly well.

In the last federal election, despite it being compulsory to vote, the Australian Electoral commission estimate that one in five eligible voters didn’t vote! And one in four young voters didn’t even bother to enroll.

In fact, in a Lowy Institute poll earlier this year, only 65% of Australians felt that a democracy was preferable to any other kind of government. And among 18 to 29 year olds, it was under 50%. When the Lowy Institute delved into the reasons for this – it turned out that it wasn’t that people thought we should become a fascist state. In fact, the most common reason cited for not believing in democracy was:

“democracy only serves the interests of a few and not the majority of society”

Since democracy as an institution was intended to achieve the exact opposite of this – then the most important thing that this poll tells us is that there is something very wrong with the way we are ‘doing’ democracy today in Australia, and that if we don’t lift our game, we are at risk of losing it.

The good news is that although many don’t realise it, the face of democracy has been changing this century – and strangely enough, as a result, the balance of power has been shifting back in the people’s favour.

The changing face of democracy in the 21st century

The forgotten pillars of democracy

Despite the fact that the role of the average punter in the political process is often associated almost solely with our right to vote, the reality is that there are a number of other core principles of democracy that we often forget about – including our right to freedom of information and freedom of speech.

Our ability to take advantage of these freedoms has changed drastically this century – and that change has brought about what is arguably one of the biggest shifts in the way democracy works since Aristotle first said “Let’s have a show of hands” back in Ancient Greece. This shift has happened not through our antiquated parliamentary houses and the parliamentarians who sit in them – but through the information revolution brought about by the internet. Thanks to the internet, we now have far greater:

  • Freedom of Information through ready access to unfiltered primary sources of information around the Globe; and
  • Freedom of speech through an ability to both voice our opinion and connect with others in a way that we never have before.

And many politicians don’t like it.

Politicians are quite happy to talk philosophically about the importance of ‘Freedom of information’ and ‘Freedom of speech’ – because in days gone past, these were principals which in practice would cost an individual a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to use. This dissuaded most from doing so – and instead we all had to rely on the ‘fourth estate’ – the media – to check out and validate politicians’ claims and press releases.

This meant that the average punter had very little – if any – opportunity to personally check out whether what politicians were telling us was true. And we had very little opportunity to have a say about what was going on – other than through an organised protest march or perhaps a letter to the editor or your local MP. The media acted very much as an information filter – and on the whole , we had no option but to believe them and hope that they were doing their job to validate facts, identify discrepancies and tell us what need to know to make an informed judgment about who is running the country.

(Given the quality – or lack thereof – that comes out of some of the mainstream media outlets today, a number of whom seem to act more like extensions of the government’s press office than newspapers – this is somewhat disturbing.)

This century however, with so much information readily available on the internet, we don’t have to rely on the media to do our fact-checking for us. Each of us can download an individual politician’s expenses from the Department of Finance and see for ourselves exactly how many chopper rides they’ve taken. And once accessed, we can readily share this information with people around the globe – both known to us and unknown to us – in a matter of seconds.

The boundaries have shifted

Greater freedom of information and freedom of speech has brought about a shift in the boundaries of the democratic power-base. We – the people – have unwittingly claimed back some of the power that has been stripped away from us over the years. Politicians don’t have to wait for a poll now to hear what people think – they can go online and read all about it – in online comments on mainstream media news site, on independent news site like the AIMN, on social media, on blogs – the list goes on.

Where previously politicians could cultivate a relationship with key people in the media, and to some extent manage and control what was presented to the general populace and what was amplified – this has now become a lot more difficult. We now have a far greater say in what we think is important than we did before.

This shift in the balance of power has literally brought governments down. You need look no further than the recent Arab Spring democracy uprisings in the Middle East, which many argue would not have happened without social media.

Of course anything powerful can be used both for good and for bad – and we have also seen examples of how the internet and social media has been used to harm. But even taking that into account, the power to have a say in the destiny of our nation is now at least partially back where the founders of democracy intended it to be – in the people’s hands.

We now have REAL freedom of information and REAL freedom of speech – where previously we just had it in theory. Ok, maybe ‘real’ is a bit strong – we are living in the age of ‘on-water matters’ after all. So let’s just say that our ability to exercise freedom of information and freedom of speech is much greater now than it ever has been.

The Genie is out of the bottle

The internet – or information Genie – is out of the bottle, and governments around the world are feeling the pinch, and rushing to do what they can to get that Genie back under control again.

This change is upsetting the political apple-cart – and there are those in power who don’t like that they can no longer control the narrative quite as well as they used to be able to. Our recently dethroned ex-prime minister Tony Abbott was well known for criticising twitter – calling it ‘electronic graffiti‘ and Australia ‘at its worst’. And the government of Nauru recently shut down social media primarily to silence opposition.

The challenge that we now face is to understand and take advantage of this power shift, to use this Genie to correct the boundaries around our government’s power and restore the balance.

With these newly accessible freedoms, we can more actively participate in democracy – we can drive change from the bottom up instead of waiting for our politicians to get out of their hermetically sealed bubbles steeped in outdated political traditions. Without these freedoms, we risk going back to a nation fed on what the media tells us, blithely oblivious to key aspects of what our government is doing on our behalf and in our name.

There’s more to this …

Politics is not something many people talk about often. Democracy even less so. There’s a lot more to cover on this topic, so I’ve split the discussion on this into four articles – this one plus a further three – coming soon – which will cover:

  • Voting: it’s all about the money
  • Information: it’s all about control
  • Democracy: it’s all about you.

And finally – remember curiosity didn’t kill the cat, complacency did

One of the things our disengagement with democracy has done is to make many feel disempowered – like the things that are happening in the world today, or even just in our nation, are somebody else’s problem, that there is nothing that we can do to fix them. They aren’t somebody else’s problem. They are our problem. And there is plenty that each of us can do. Many pollies want us to stay out of it, to stay disengaged – a public that doesn’t ask questions doesn’t create problems.

But heed this warning from a previous president of the United States – John Adams:

“Remember, democracy never lasts long……There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

The way to stop this from happening is to get and stay engaged with what is going on politically. To have your say. To engage with others about real issues.

Public opinion matters big-time now – arguably more than it ever did. And you play a role in forming that opinion every time you have a conversation with someone about national and global issues. It turns out we really are all only separated by six degrees – even less so within an individual country. This means that the conversations you have with your friends, family, colleagues and even online connections matter. Whether those conversations are in person, on Facebook, on a news site, a blog or on Twitter – it’s those conversations that change public opinion. And changing public opinion impacts the way our government acts.

That’s true democracy in action.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

 

The relevance of Tony Abbott

By Paul G. Dellit

Now That The Lunatic Is No Longer In Charge Of The Asylum . . .

That’s unfair. Tony Abbott neither is nor was a lunatic. In the view of this writer, he was, at least as far as his Prime Ministerial persona was concerned, a brawling, misogynistic, serial-lying, duplicitous, incompetent, inarticulate, graceless buffoon. And he sought to mask all of these character traits with slogans and repetitions of slogans, and repetitions of repetitions of slogans said with animus as if to imbue them with the gravity they lacked . . . but he was not a lunatic.

We could go on, well into the night, reciting the many failings of this man in the role of Prime Minister and in the role of sensitised human being – but it would avail us nothing. It is not often wise to quote Senator Eric Abetz – in fact it is frequently impossible to quote the good Senator accurately, given the number of extra syl-lie-bles he finds for each word – but he said it all, ruby cheeked and trembling of hand, when asked about his prospects of a Ministerial position post Abbott. “The king is dead . . .”, he said. He didn’t add, “bur-i-ed, and cre-may-ted”. He didn’t need to. Former Prime Minister Abbott is now relevant to the current political scene in Australia only insofar as he is the exemplar of how not to do it.

However, it seems that life’s reversals are not learning experiences for Anthony John Abbott. He has already broken a post-Prime Ministerial promise to go gently into the night. He was, as he would have it, the victim of external forces, not personal failings, just as was Peta, she said, victimised because her name wasn’t Peter, even though she was responsible for the LNP winning the 2013 election.

But the purpose if this article is not to indulge in necrocide. Nor is it, in Shakespearean terms, to bury Tony Abbott without praise. And here I must crave your indulgence. The purpose of this article is to praise our most recently deposed Prime Minister.

It is easy to consider that man as little more than political carrion, but he did render a service to us for which we must be eternally grateful. It was for the fact that he was true to himself. From beginning to end, he was a shining beacon for right wing extremists in Australia (and Canadia). He gave them the status of having one of their own occupying the highest political office in the land. He gave the timorous within their ranks the courage to openly express their inner voices. He gave them licence to propose the policies and schemes, hitherto concealed, by which they would seek to transform Australia. And he gave them the belief that he had within his power the means to pursue those ends on their behalf. In short, the praiseworthy service Tony Abbott rendered to Australia was to expose the agenda of our extreme right wing while at the same time unwittingly laying IEDs along the road to their ultimate defeat.

Some of you may remember my article in May of this year, ‘Australian Democracy at a Tipping Point‘ which argued that Prime Minister Abbott was setting about the abolition of the rule of law and, given his way, would replace it, step by step, with rule by unchallengeable Ministerial fiat. The ratio decidendi of Ministerial decisions and the evidence upon which they were based would be kept secret, with any disclosure without Ministerial permission punishable by law. This attempt by the Abbott Government has largely been stymied by the effects upon the Senate of the outcries of respected lawyers and large sections of the public. While the rump of this Abbott initiative remains in play, a preponderance of legal opinion has it that these remnants to the original bill, if passed, would be struck down by the High Court. We seem to be out of danger on this score for now.

However, there are many precedents for democratic governments being overthrown by right wing movements. Their first item of business after gaining power is to restructure government in ways that would fit comfortably alongside the challenges to democracy proposed in the original Abbott bill. Had circumstances been different, had those with ultimate power in Australia decided they wanted that bill passed into law, its passing would have set a precedent for other such laws to follow. A clever strategist could then have set about introducing small changes, none of which would seem so egregious as to warrant a revolution, but by accretion would, like boiling frogs by raising the water temperature slowly so that they become inured to change, kill our Westminster system of government.

Minister Dutton and others attempted to promote the original Abbott bill by assuring the public that the LNP would never abuse the power it gave them. Yet there is evidence that even without the power of that bill passed into law, the extreme right wing abuse what power they do have.

A recent FOI request revealed a case in point: A man of some power and influence within business and politics in Australia, Maurice Newman, used that power and influence to arrange for The Australian newspaper to launch an attack upon the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). The willingly complicit Murdoch press manufactured evidence to claim that that the BoM had manipulated and falsified data to suit a left wing climate change conspiracy. With this campaign of misinformation successfully launched, Maurice Newman had provided the excuse for his close friend, Tony Abbott, to launch a Prime Ministerial foray into the data gathering and analysis functions of the BoM. The nature and tone of his intervention was manifestly designed to intimidate the BoM into toeing the Abbott/Newman climate change denial line – clear evidence of an attempt to smother science with extreme right wing ideology.

More importantly, the attempt to manipulate the work of the BoM demonstrated Prime Minister Abbott’s propensity for using the power of the Executive to covertly exert anti-democratic influence upon role of the Public Service to provide “frank and fearless advice”. How many other attempts, successful or otherwise, might he have made to pervert the fundamental principles upon which our system of democracy is based? We may never know, but, on balance, we don’t have to care. If there are further examples to be unearthed, they will be because, by his own actions, he has ensured that he will not be around to covertly carry them through. His interference with the BoM was undertaken before he had rendered the FOI legislation impotent. And all of his other assaults upon democracy in the prosecution of his extreme right wing agenda were committed before he had shored up his defences against the democratic backlash that was ultimately his undoing:

  • The appointment of his benefactor, Dyson Heydon to run the TURC (This is not to say that a TURC was not justified, whatever Abbott’s motives for creating it, but Dyson Heydon’s appointment ensured that the partiality of the Commissioner and his commitment to causing as much mud as possible to stick to the ALP was never in doubt).
  • The appointment Bronwyn Bishop (nee Setright) as a highly politicised Speaker.
  • Reposing in his unelected Chief of Staff the extraordinary executive power to control the actions of elected representatives, including Ministers, culminating in the directions issued from her Office which resulted in Border Force officers roaming the streets of Melbourne with the stated intention of randomly stopping and questioning members of the public under pain of arrest.
  • And of course, the law, passed with the supine collaboration of the ALP, that threatens whistleblowers with imprisonment for following their own professional standards and obligations – a law that allows the most egregious abuses of the human rights of people under the Government’s control without any legal means of exposure.

So I for one am grateful to Tony Abbott for dragging the extreme right agenda into full public view and epitomising, Pauline Hanson-like, the kind of irrational, ideologically driven, callous people who would prosecute it if they had the chance.

 

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.

 

The slide away from democracy

In 2004, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that lays out seven ‘essential elements’ of democracy, including:

  • • Separation and balance of power
  • • Independence of the judiciary
  • • A pluralistic system of political parties and organisations
  • • Respect for the rule of law
  • • Accountability and transparency
  • • Free, independent and pluralistic media
  • • Respect for human and political rights; e.g., freedoms of association and expression; the right to vote and to stand in elections

Checks and balances – such as independent statutory watchdogs, our independent court system, the rule of law, press freedom, and the ability of non-government organisations to speak freely – are vital to the health of our democracy and for protecting human rights, particularly in the absence of a constitutional or legislative bill of rights.

Since taking office, the government has actively undermined these protections.

Gillian Triggs submitted the AHRC report on children in detention to the government in November 2014. In December the government cut funding to the commission by 30%. By February they were demanding her resignation.

In February 2014, the head of Infrastructure Australia, Michael Deegan, slammed the government for plans to overhaul the organisation that he said “would damage independence and transparency in infrastructure funding.”

The Business Council of Australia expressed similar concerns.

“The BCA is concerned the bill in its current form provides for ministerial powers that could be used to prevent Infrastructure Australia from assessing certain classes of projects and which require the publication of project evaluations only under direction by the minister,” Ms Westacott said.

Two weeks later, Deegan resigned.

Today we hear that the chair of the Abbott government’s climate change advice agency, Bernie Fraser, has resigned without explanation.

“It is understood Mr Fraser had a difficult relationship with Environment Minister Greg Hunt. Fairfax Media understands Mr Fraser announced his decision on Tuesday after an all-day meeting of the authority. Many of his colleagues are believed to be deeply saddened by his departure. He is not believed to have quit due to personal problems such as a health issue.”

Government interference was also apparent in their directive ordering the independent Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to stop investing in wind and small-scale solar projects.

In the days before the election, Howard and Costello both advised Joe Hockey to keep Martin Parkinson as head of Treasury. But that call was ignored by Mr Abbott, who announced Dr Parkinson’s resignation in his first official act after being sworn in.

”You’ve got to understand that incoming governments do very much want to place their stamp on the economic policy of the country and that is exactly what we are doing,” Mr Abbott said.

”We are placing our stamp on the economic policy of the country and let there be no doubt, let there be no doubt, that Australia’s policy direction changed very substantially back in September.”

We have seen the exodus of basically every executive at NBNco over the last few years. At Delimiter, they ask the question “One wonders, one really does wonder, why so many executives signed up to help build the company but then quit so soon after. Could it be the complete and utter politicisation of the project, perhaps?”

Since Michael Pezullo took over as head of the Immigration Department last October, there had been 15 transfers to other departments by executives and another three senior bureaucrats had retired by mid-May.

Pezzullo told Senate Estimates that departing executives had told him they simply did not fit in with Immigration’s new direction under the Abbott government. He said that a number of his veteran senior bureaucrats had told him during “very sensitive” discussions that the Immigration Department they had joined was different to the one that was emerging under the reform now under way and that it was time for them to go.

Staff numbers at the ATO have been slashed by well over 2,500. Experienced staff are being made redundant and replaced by lower skilled new people.

About 450 Tax Office middle managers slated for redundancies will walk away with golden handshakes worth just under $90,000 each on average – an estimated $40 million in payouts as the ATO opts for a cheaper workforce. The latest cuts come after at least 780 executive level public servants were made redundant during the 2014-2015 financial year

Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan told the workforce in his regular bulletin that entry-level tax officials were to be hired.

The Australian Services Union, says the tax office, which has endured a torrent of criticism directed at its ability to collect the nation’s revenue, was getting rid of its most experienced and capable tax professionals, which seems counterproductive as it has been shown that every $1 spent by the ATO on investigation returns $6.

Even the courts are being sidelined.

Migration and counter-terrorism laws are granting extraordinary powers to be exercised at the personal discretion of ministers with court scrutiny curtailed. In a recent hearing into legislation that sought to restrict court review of asylum seeker decisions, Senator Ian Macdonald said the government “doesn’t want to be beholden to the High Court who will pick every comma in the wrong place”.

Legislation has been introduced to ensure there are no consequences under Australian law if the government fails to comply with international human rights law.

Likewise, the government is seeking to strip citizens of the right to contest development decisions on environmental grounds, labelling court action to uphold our laws as vigilante litigation.

A combination of funding cuts, changes to funding agreements and intimidation has been used to stifle advocacy by the NGO sector.

Funding can no longer be used for advocacy and no-gag clauses were removed from contracts. The threat of funding cuts has created a climate in which organisations are reluctant to speak out for fear of moving to the top of the list for the next round of cuts. Charity status is also under threat for political advocacy, unless you are a right wing think tank.

The ABC has had government interference in its programming and press freedom is being curtailed by new anti-terrorism laws that threaten up to 10 years’ jail for journalists and others who disclose information about operations the Attorney-General has deemed “special intelligence operations”. Journalists attempting to pierce the secrecy around the harm being done to asylum seekers have repeatedly been referred to the federal police in attempts to uncover confidential sources and whistleblowers.

Increasingly, the AFP and ADF are being employed in politically driven pursuits, with police raids being filmed and requests being made for a list of national security related things to announce and for bombing runs to be started before the byelection. We have seen the transformation of immigration and customs into a paramilitary force and the use of the Navy to deter asylum seekers.

Executive director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Hugh de Kretser, sums it up well.

“This undemocratic slide is deeply concerning. We need political and community leadership to respond; to create a climate in which the independence of institutions is protected; where the separation of powers and the rule of law are understood and respected; where freedom of information, not secrecy, is the standard; where NGO advocacy is valued, even when it is uncomfortable for government.”

It is up to us all to fight for our democracy and to demand transparency and accountability from those who would seek to rule rather than represent.

liberal democracy

This Week: the Fall of representative democracy

By François Crespel

Over the course of this week, some events have hammered the first nails in the coffin of representative democracy as we know it.

Last weekend in Melbourne the leader of ALP Bill Shorten changed his opinion and tried to align the party’s position to that of the Government’s on the treatment of asylum seeker boats.

The motion was voted down, but the facts are here. We were very close to have almost the whole spectrum of power Liberals and Labor agreeing on the Turn Back the boats policies of the government. A heated debate during the Labor’s national conference maintained the system of representative democracy alive, but just.

The two major parties in power would have had aligned policies, diverged from their promises and approved of the blatant mistreatment of people in the assessment of asylum claims. Both parties, disregarding Australia’s obligations under international convention and unashamed of their blatant disdain in baffling human rights.

The two dinosaurs Labor and Liberals are failing to represent the majority of Australian people’s opinions.

In the same week SBS aired their documentary “Go back where you came from”. A cast of six persons experience the life of refugees, travelling to refugee camps, warzones, in the middle east and in south east Asia. At the beginning of the show, four of the cast are pro “turning back the boats” with their personal reasons and the other two are against it. Upon travelling and experiencing the hardship, the harsh conditions of life and seeing the despair of asylum seekers, 3 of the 4 people who were pro “turning back the boats “ have radically changed their minds around.

The last remaining person of the cast whose name is Kim, remains the only person to stick to her original position, that of turning back the boats. She seems to stick to her original point of view despite having feeling of compassion when meeting refugees. There doesn’t appear to be any processed thought in her reasoning.

What these 2 events in a week show:

About two thirds of the people in parliament, close to 50 seats out of 76 in the senate since labor and liberal share 58 seats in parliament would advocate the “Turn back the boats policies” whilst in reality looking at a show with “informed” people, it appears that Australians are in a vast majority against the governments policy.

If 75% of representatives go against what 75% of what the population actually wants. The ratio validating representative democracy is negative and shows that the current system no longer works.

François Crespel, Online Direct Democracy Party (Empowering the people)

 

My Thoughts on the Week That Was

Saturday July 11

1 Kim Carr made a valid point yesterday when he said “we are entering a very dark corner. We are seeing the use of state power to silence political opposition”.

2 The ABC is an independent organisation. The PM has no right to place conditions on it before allowing his ministers to appear on the Q&A program is an absurdity. The people’s right to know should be the major priority.

3 He declared a United Nations report on climate change “got it wrong by almost 100 per cent”, but shock jock Alan Jones was the one who blundered, Australia’s media watchdog has found.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority on Friday found the 2GB host, described on the station’s website as “a phenomenon” and “the nation’s greatest orator and motivational speaker”, breached commercial radio codes in 2013 by making inaccurate comments about the rate of global warming as reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Sunday July 12

1 Earlier this year Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said:

“I have no right, no power, nor should I have, to direct the editorial content of the ABC”

“The responsibility for ensuring that the ABC’s news and information services are balanced and objective and impartial, and accurate, is in section eight of the act, and that responsibility lies with the board of directors.”

As one unnamed Coalition source said: “We can’t legislate for gay marriage and talk about national security at the same time, but we can talk about a TV show for weeks. Why on earth are we prioritising this?”

Well it’s because the Prime Minister thinks the solution to every problem can be resolved with a sledge hammer approach. It is warped sense of what he thinks leadership is about that he actually thinks people are impressed.

bruce

2 Proverbial motor mouth Bruce Billson (pictured above) would have us believe that “If Labor don’t declare political donations then it’s a sling, a bribe, and a conflict of interest”. Tony Abbott declared donations to his electorate of Warringah 5 years later. Hockey 14 years later and only after they got wind of ICACs interest. What more can one say?

But Bruce felt it was fine to attend a Liberal fundraiser when the Mafia was making donations.

Midday thoughts

1 I am convinced, if I wasn’t already, after watching a press conference in which the Prime Minister was asked a seriously genuine question about the Greek and Chinese economic situations that he now believes in his own political infallibility. So much so that he thinks people have factored in the thought that his inane answers to questions are acceptable. His political career is littered with irrational doings and sayings and his lying is legendary. However, this one takes first prize.

In this case a journalist was enquiring about what effect these financial crises might have on our economy.

groceries

His reply to the question was that we need a strong viable Australian grocery trade. In fairness he was launching something to do with that industry but his answer was so ludicrously silly it bore no relationship to the question. He suggested to reporters that his domestic grocery code of conduct would have prevented the various global market uncertainties. He obviously didn’t mean it because what he said was entirely ridiculous. To make matters worse he ignored the fact that we have a grocery duopoly that doesn’t serve us well. But that of course is beside the point.

He is now at a point in his Prime ministership where he has become bizarre, irrational and conversationally incoherent. He seems to have a preoccupation with trivial ideological pursuits such as the ABC.

And to quote Katherine Murphy of The Guardian:

” . . . choosing to micromanage a public broadcaster late on a Friday afternoon wasn’t quite as strange as the grocery code saving Greece but it was pretty darned strange behaviour, monstering the ABC like it’s one of your junior ministers or an arm of the state, digging yourself deeper in a fight which makes no sense and is only sucking up oxygen and hurting you”.

He has always worked on the principle that you say what you want at the time for maximum impact and tidy up the mess, if any, later.

However he is becoming increasingly untenable as a leader. Leadership has been replaced with dictatorship.

Of course Malcolm Fraser warned that he was a dangerous politician. Are we beginning to find out how dangerous?

2 If Bill Shorten’s dealings by some are viewed as suspect then so too must be the decision to award the Royal Commission a $17 million contract to the firm of lawyers with whom Senator Eric Abetz is associated.

The three Royal Commissions into Labor Leadership has now exceeded 100 million dollars.

Monday 13 July

solar

Oh no. It’s just wind turbines.

The Abbott government has opened up another front in its war on renewable energy by pulling the plug on investments in the most common form of alternative energy; rooftop and small-scale solar.

As a storm raged over the government’s directive to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to no longer back wind energy projects, it emerged that it has also put a stop to solar investments other than the largest industrial-scale projects.

What Luddites they really are. They say they believe in the science of Global Warming but their every action is contrary to that belief. It seems the combined advancement in battery and solar technology has escaped them.

An observation:

People often argue from within the limitations of their understanding and when their factual evidence is scant, they revert to an expression of their feelings.

Tuesday 14 July

Yesterday’s Morgan Poll with Labor on 51% and the LNP on 49% proves that Abbott’s decision to force Shorten to front the Royal Commission was a politically correct one. He has insinuated upon us the politics of negativity and the populace has fallen for It.

Midday thoughts

1 Has Australia ever, so blindly, elected a man so negatively characterless? So ignorant of truth and transparency. So insensitive to those who cannot help themselves. So willing to endorse and foster inequality. So illiterate of technology and science. So oblivious to the needs of women. So inept at policy formation and its implementation. So prone to the language of absurdity. So pugnacious, so confrontationist so self-righteous, in his attitude toward others. So dismissive of those who desire equality. And so out of touch with a modern pluralist society. A man so unsophisticated in deep worldly acumen or discernment, yet religiously motivated.

2 Indonesia’s decision to reduce its cattle imports from Australia must be directly linked to our more recent diplomatic differences. It’s simply payback time for Abbott’s awful diplomacy. Having said that, the National Party representing those affected will remain silent, weekly toe the line as people wonder why they are in the Parliament at all. They are grossly overrepresented as a proportion of their vote anyway.

3 Malcolm Turnbull and John Hewson,both voices of moderation on the right last night slammed the Prime Minister for his deliberate campaign to scare the people on National Security.

And on the issue of Ministers appearing on Q&A they both vented their dismay at the Prime Minister’s attitude.

Wednesday 15 July

An observation:

“We exercise our involvement in our democracy every three years by voting. After that the vast majority takes very little interest. Why is it so?”

1 This week’s Essential Poll has Labor on 52 with the Coalition on 48.

2 The Morgan Poll tells us that the government still lags behind Labor with voters between the ages of 18 and 34 comprehensively favoring the opposition, 63.5% of 18-24-year-olds polled saying they would vote Labor.

By contrast, voters over the age of 60 favor the Coalition, 58% to Labor’s 42%.

Does that tell you something?

Posted in “Your Say” in THE AIMN:

q and a boy

Q&A And a Boys Question

He is really Off His Rocker or He’s a nut case.

Thursday 16 July

1 Why does the Prime Minister feel the need to enhance his already well won reputation as Australia’s premier political liar by telling more of them?

bishop2

2 Speaker Bronwyn Bishop has charged taxpayers almost $90,000 for a two-week European trip partly aimed at securing her a plum new job. Mrs Bishop was entitled to take two staff members on the trip. And she charged taxpayers more than $5000 to charter a flight from Melbourne to Geelong in November. Her office has repeatedly failed to explain why Mrs Bishop needed to charter a plane for a trip that would have taken her about an hour in her much cheaper chauffer-driven commonwealth car.

Apparently she made a spectacular entrance at a golf club for a Liberal Party fund raiser.

Of course this is not unusual. Remember Tony Abbott’s claiming expenses of $9,400 from the taxpayer while on a promotion tour to launch his book?

And when he was opposition leader his office needed twice the budget of the Prime Ministers to function.

The age of entitlement is still with us. Right, Joe. When you have both the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House ripping off the system with impunity then you know your democracy is in trouble.

There was a time when parliamentarians with integrity resigned over such matters.

3 A group of Federal MPs say they doubt Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce’s reliability after his decision to oppose a Chinese-backed coal mine.

The fact that he was right in doing so seems to have escaped them. I don’t usually agree with him but on this occasion I admire him for standing on his dig. My God they are a feral lot.

4 Abbott’s response to Labor’s leaked discussion paper on Climate Change drew his usual response but this time there was a touch of desperation. He sounded shrill and over the top. So too were the media.

A Midday Thought

How is it possible that one Speaker of The House of Representatives can be hounded out of office, his life virtually destroyed by an Opposition with no moral compass other than hate and revenge over $900 worth of cab charges, yet another in Bronwyn Bishop get of scott free over a $5000 helicopter flight for a Liberal Party fund raiser? As I said yesterday, there was a time when parliamentarians would resign over such matters. She will probably be given the opportunity to repay the money and that will be the end of the matter. Slipper was never availed of that opportunity.

The question of Parliamentary expenses will never be resolved by politicians. It needs an independent inquiry otherwise corrupt practices will just continue and people like Bishop will continue to drink from the trough at the taxpayers’ expense.

Posted Morrie’s Letter to the Editor.

Friday 16 July

Continuing on from yesterday’s “Bronnies Expense Gate” I repeat again: She should resign. As the principal office holder in the House of Representatives, Bishop has an obligation not only to uphold the highest standards, but to set an example to all MPs. In the absence of a compelling explanation, she has failed on both counts.

One of the more humorous aspects of taking a daily interest in politics is watching politicians defend the indefensible. But more serious is seeing them get away with it.

The issue of claiming unjustifiable expenses has been going on for decades. In recent times we have had the Slipper affair (mentioned yesterday) that cost him his job, his health, and his reputation.

The Prime Minister, a lifelong habitual expense claimer, not so long ago claimed taxpayer expenses for the launch of his own book. Later he arranged a morning visit to a hospital so that he could claim overnight living expenses. The Speaker and the PM ripping off the taxpayer. “Unbelievable”, I hear you say. Reputably he is the highest paid politician in the world and she earns $370,000 a year.

To think that she can tick up $90,000 on a European trip partly aimed at securing a plum new job abroad is a scandal that we should not turn a blind eye too.

Even Treasurer Joe Hockey has called on Bishop to explain why she spent $5000 on short helicopter ride to a Liberal fundraiser, agreeing it doesn’t pass the “sniff test”. Mr Hockey admitted Mrs Bishop’s expenses were “not a good look” for the government, after he had personally declared the “age of entitlement” was over. He declined to say whether she should resign.

Unfortunately the public have become so used to this sort of behavior from our politicians that they just let it go through to the keeper without complaint.

I don’t wish to get into the area of who sniffs and where but this has the smell, the stench, of born to rule privilege written all over it.

Pigs with snouts in the trough of the public purse need to be identified, castigated and ridiculed in any way possible. I’m doing my bit. Are you? The PM, if he has any guts, should ask her to step down.

Midday Thoughts

1 Interesting take on Bishop’s helicopter flight by Murdoch’s The Australian. Their view is that her mistake was in not taking a cheaper price on offer. Really? On that measure Slipper would not have been in trouble had he used Uber instead of Silver Top? How is that for journalistic excellence?

reclaim

2 So George Christensen, the rabid right wing Islamophobic MP is to be a feature speaker at a Reclaim Australia rally. A group of swastika tattooed racist feral types who are anti anything that isn’t white.

One has to wonder why our Prime Minister would allow his MPs to speak at these race hate rallies but not allow others to appear on Q&A.

And the week ends with the Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives likely to be investigated by the Federal Police for allegedly misusing Parliamentary entitlements.

Shame, shame, shame.

This is the week that was. I leave you with this thought:

Good democracies can only deliver good government and outcomes if the electorate demands it”.

 

To Gillian Triggs, thank you, you do not walk alone

In less than a week we will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta – a 13th century document which is widely recognised as the bedrock of our democracy.

“It was a bunch of barons saying to the king, you can’t just do what you like, there is a rule of law and we would like you to abide by it, and we want it in writing. And it is fundamental to the rule of law that we have in this country today, that is still being debated,” said Libby Stewart, senior historian at the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Last Friday, Gillian Triggs gave a speech to the annual Human Rights Dinner where she spoke about “the vital role our parliaments play, whether State, Territory or Federal, in protecting our ancient democratic liberties and rights.”

She too made reference to the Magna Carta. After sharing anecdotal history that “King John was probably illiterate and did not sign the document, and the Barons forgot to bring their seals and wax to Runnymede on this historic day”, she highlighted two clauses that she describes as “the defining statements of the rule of law and limits on arbitrary power of the state” which “ring through the centuries and remain the bedrock for principles of justice we struggle to protect in the 21st century.”

No freeman shall be taken or imprisoned or stripped of his rights or possessions, or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, …except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. (Clause 39)

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay, right or justice.(Clause 40)

Ms Triggs continued…

“It has become a universal acknowledgement of the principles that the sovereign is not above the law and of the sovereignty of parliament. Other legacies of Magna Carta include the right to a fair trial and access to justice; habeus corpus; the ideas that ‘punishment should fit the crime’; that courts should sit regularly in one place; that laws should be written and made public; and that widows should have their inheritance.

Magna Carta is recognized as the foundation of modern democracy and of the common law principle that public officials should justify their activities as necessary and proportional, where they interfere with individual freedoms.

It is the symbolic power of Magna Carta that informs my concern that supremacy of the law over the sovereign (or in today’s parlance, executive government), is under threat in Australia’s contemporary democracy.

Respective governments have been remarkably successful in persuading Parliaments to pass laws that are contrary, even explicitly contrary, to common law rights and to the international human rights regime to which Australia is a party.

A growing threat to democracy is the expansion of discretionary, often non-compellable, ministerial powers that may be exercised with limited or no judicial scrutiny.”

Triggs goes on to express her concerns regarding the expansion of the detention powers of the executive, the rapid extension of counter-terrorism laws, the overreach of data retention laws, the inconsistency in having to obtain a warrant to access the metadata of a journalist when no-one else is similarly protected, the imprecise definition of “advocating terrorism” in the Foreign Fighters Act and its restriction on freedom of movement, the immunity of ASIO officers from civil and criminal prosecution while engaged in ‘special intelligence operations”, the chilling effect that new laws have on legitimate public debate about security operations, attacks on freedom of association, the undermining of judicial discretion by mandatory sentencing, the punitive detention of asylum seekers, the deletion of references to the Refugees Convention from the Migration Act, and the “breathtaking inconsistency” of politicians in supporting the rule of law and freedom of speech.

“These examples of the willingness of parliament to consider and pass laws that breach democratic freedoms, taken individually, might be justified on the grounds of necessity and proportionality. Viewed together they are more than the sum of their parts. They suggest an overreach of power by the executive, (or as Senator Cory Bernardi calls it, “power creep”); a declining willingness of parliaments to defend core freedoms; and the exclusion of judges from interpreting laws according to common law principles of legality or and the presumption that parliament intends to comply with international law.

The proliferation of new laws that diminish our liberties and expand executive powers suggests that respective Parliaments have failed to exercise their traditional self-restraint in protecting democratic rights. Rather, the volume of laws that currently infringe freedoms –Professor George Williams estimates over 350 such laws are on the books at present- suggests prioritizing governmental power has become a “routine part of the legislative process”. As he observes, the enactment of anti-democratic laws has become so accepted that they elicit little community or media responses.”

On Monday night on Q&A, a man who obviously gets his news from the Murdoch press, asked the following question:

JIM ANDERSON: The spin coming from the Left media is that “The Government has stepped up the attack on Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs”. I believe it was Triggs who stepped up the attack on the Government through her unfounded allegations made during the week. As an Australian citizen and taxpayer, when will the Government decide enough is enough, that she has ruined the credibility of the Human Rights Commission beyond repair and disband it?…. The damage that’s been happening to our country, our name,that she has caused is just disgraceful.

Jim Anderson, the disgraceful thing is that people like you and our Immigration Minister read a headline in a Murdoch paper and think you are being told the truth. The disgraceful thing is that a filthy rich meglomaniac uses our country as his plaything and people like you suck it up. The disgraceful thing is that a woman like Gillian Triggs is being attacked by ill-informed morons for doing her job.

To Ms Triggs, I would like to express my admiration for your diligence, your integrity, your fortitude, your intelligence, your tenacity, and your unwavering support for the most vulnerable in our society. You do not stand alone. For every Jim Anderson and Peter Dutton, there are thousands of Australians saying thank you for being such a formidable protector of our rights.

My Thoughts on the Week That Was

Saturday May 30

1 I put on the telly this Morning to find Greg Hunt giving a press conference self-congratulating himself on the UNs decision to not place the Great Barrier Reef on the endangered list. Then a half hour later a Greenpeace spokesperson explains that we are only on probation for 18 months and that the effect of future climate change had not been taken into account, nor the proposed coal mine.

What a snake oil salesman he is.

2 Sepp Blatter wins another term as boss of FIFA and gives corruption a serious boost.

3 It comes out that our Prime Minister and the Emigration Minister tried to put one over on the Cabinet and we’re suitably chastised. Abbott had even tipped off The Daily Telegraph without any Cabinet discussion.

When you try to dud your own Cabinet you cannot expect its respect.

4 Does the public realise that the Government has put a freeze on doctor’s fees which, in effect, is the same as applying a copayment because it will force the Doctors to raise fees to cover costs. Sneaky bastards aren’t they.

Sunday May 31

Australians were greeted yesterday with this headline in the Fairfax press.

“Deficit decade: Tony Abbott’s $100 billion black hole”.

black hole

Only weeks after presenting a budget based on pie in the sky predictions punctuated with so many ifs and crystal ball maybes, independent analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Office suggests the economy is in dire straits.

It is not beyond repair. All it needs is a government prepared to forego its ideology and govern with fairness for the common good. Too much to ask you say. You’re probably right.

Monday 1 June

1 Labor’s offer for a Liberal to replace Tanya Plibersek as co-sponsor of its Marriage Equality Bill will be rejected and it will lapse. Abbott, who vehemently opposes gay marriage, will present a bill in his own time so as to get all the kudos. Ironically it may be the only legacy this out of touch Prime Minister will produce from his tenure of office.

Abbott lies

2 Another stunning example of his lying is when he says it’s only the States who can change the GST. In 2004 a number of items had their GST status changed. Guess who the Health Minister was at the time. Yes none other than TA himself.

Tuesday 2 June

House of cards

1 After three seasons of “House of Cards” I have concluded that it is the most compelling television show I have ever watched. A superb production on every level. Can’t wait for season four.

2 In my experience young people are fully conversant with the issues of the day if not political ideology. The worldwide move to lower the voting age to 16 is a good debate to have but equally so is the need for a form of Political Education in our teaching curriculum.

3 After listening to Abbott’s press conference this AM I am left with the undeniable conclusion that he is going to fight tooth and nail to destroy marriage equality. He won’t win of course.

4 Someone is lying about what happened in cabinet about withdrawing citizenship. I am under no illusions who that might be. And if 27 back benchers supported the proposition they are as stupid as those who proposed it. They have denigrated science now it’s the law’s turn.

An observation:

“The word “Frugality” is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying and a consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”

Therefore life is about doing things not having things.

Midday Thoughts

1 Interesting to see the Government Benches empty when Bill Shorten presented his Marriage Equality Bill. Although it’s not surprising when, if you recall, they were also absent when the NDIS was introduced.

2 “We are on a steady path back to surplus” The PM said in question time. The Independent Budgetary Office tells us the opposite.

Bishop b&w

3 What an embarrassment the Speaker of the House of Representatives is. She seems to have a rule book of her own. Tony Burke, yesterday showed up her bias in no uncertain manner.

4 Morgan Poll has Labor at 53/47. Returning to pre-budget figures further confirming my belief that the budget did nothing for the Coalition. Well other than not making it worse that it was.

Wednesday 3 June

 

1 After doing some research I can explain what the term “come to Jesus” means in the context of politics. It is an American Tea Party expression to describe the instant at which team members recommit to working in unison or pursue their own interests. You’re either on the team or you aren’t.”

How did this religious nut job ever become Prime Minister?

2 The third last poll we are likely get from Newspoll-as-we-know-it, has Labor’s two-party lead at 52-48, down from 53-47 a fortnight ago.

3 Essential follows with the same numbers. In addition their polling on Same Sex Marriage has yes 59% no 30% and undecided 11%. That’s an overwhelming YES I should think.

joan kirner

4 Joan Kirner was underestimated as a politician and her work for women and the advancement of education will not be forgotten.

Thursday 4 June

1 A reminder:

“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.” (Tony Abbott).

Urinal

2 There are that many Cabinet Ministers denying they leak that one might wonder if they use the bathroom at all. The journalist in question is a friend of the Foreign Minister. Leave it at that.

3 Yesterday in Question Time the PM responded to a question from Bill Shorten about violence against women in a very bi-partisan manner. He must be reformed I thought. Remember he was accused of assaulting a woman at University and later acquitted. He was defended by a QC and the girl defended herself. Another women accused him of throwing punches at her and hitting either side of a wall she was standing against. He says it never happened but others collaborate her story. The newspaper involved settled out of court.

Posted my thoughts on Australian democracy.

Friday June 5

1 The worst trade deficit ever.

There are people who say what they think and do the opposite of what they say! There are people who say the opposite of what they think and do what they say! Then there is the current LNP who don’t think, say the opposite of what everyone else thinks and does absolutely nothing! This has been coming for a while and no, it’s not this governments OR the last governments fault but most definitely the Howard Governments fault and the current and previous governments have stuck their heads in the sand. However, only the Abbott lot have made such a song and dance about how bad Labor were at economics while at the same time adding to the problem!

2 Its called an own goal or a self wedgie.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has again put himself at odds with Prime Minister Tony Abbott by failing to rule out reforms to superannuation if the government wins a second term.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said super will not change in this or future terms, despite calls for an end to retirement tax breaks for wealthy retirees.

Reject

3 Tony Abbott’s Reject Shop photo aptly highlights the political worth of our PM. Every picture tells a story.

3 No wonder Parliament House cleaners are asking for a pay rise. People are leaking everywhere. Peter Hartcher, the journalist who got the leak in the first place, makes it clear that the cabinet dispute may never have seen the light of day were it not for extreme frustration within cabinet, not so much over the proposal of the policy itself but over the poor excuse for a cabinet process it constituted.

5 On World Environment Day UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says Australia is not taking credible action on Climate Action and calls us a free rider.

Two observations:

In terms of the environment. I wonder what price the people of tomorrow will pay for the stupidity of today

“We all incur a cost for the upkeep of our health. Why then should we not be liable for the cost of a healthy planet”

6 If the week in politics has revealed anything, it is that Tony Abbott is has never divorced himself from the negativity of opposition. He is continuously in electioneering mode. He told voters a Labor government posed a threat to their house prices and their superannuation.

“It is absolutely crystal clear what would happen if members opposite were ever to get back into government: the carbon tax would come back, the people smugglers would come back, the value of your house would go down – because hasn’t he been trying to talk down the economy for the last few days? And your superannuation is going to be raided again and again to try to get a Labor government out of trouble,” Abbott said.

He wants to pick fights with the opposition – even where there is agreement, or a strong prospect of it – and to deeply plumb populism. This maybe marginally helping in the polls, but it is degrading both policy and politics.

We are still waiting for the adults.

A final thought.

I am having trouble coming to terms with the unhinged nature of the rhetoric in which our Prime Minister now engages.

And this is the week that was.

 

Australian Democracy at a Tipping Point

By Paul G. Dellit

Well, we may well have reached the tipping point between genuine democracy in Australia and the beginnings of creeping fascism. You may think this to be one of those ‘shock-horror’ attention-grabbing opening sentences. It is. And I also believe it to be an unalloyed statement of the danger we now face.

History is littered with hindsight surprise that those with power and those who might have opposed those with power didn’t take action to avoid an obviously looming disaster. Of course, the ‘loomingness’ of disasters is often not appreciated by its contemporaries. It would be naive to expect otherwise. Couldn’t they see that the South Sea Bubble would burst? Couldn’t they see that a grossly overheated investment market populated with stocks that were either massively overvalued or worthless would result in ever-widening ripples of market failures and a worldwide Great Depression. Couldn’t they see you don’t fix Depressions by reducing the size of economies. Obviously they couldn’t see any of those things. And with the dawning optimism of a new century, they couldn’t even remember them, or if they could, they were playing that ‘main chance’ game of ‘I’ll make what I can make out of this and bugger all of the rest of them who lose the lot’.

Prime Minister Abbott and his acolytes, Ministers Dutton and Morrison, propose the passing of a law that would create a precedent for the end of the rule of law in this country. It would invest a Minister with the powers of policeman, judge and jury to act upon an untested suspicion of guilt to deprive an Australian of his/her citizenship. Following current LNP practice, the reasons for stripping someone of their citizenship would be deemed secret for security reasons. So this Ministerial power would be exercised covertly and absolutely beyond judicial or other form of independent review. The Minister would be required to form his suspicions on the basis of the intelligence provided to him. The name Dr. Haneef immediately springs to mind. But even if our security organisations and the foreign security organisations with whom they trade information were as infallible as our PM believes the Pope to be, and even if they had no self-interested agendas, the Minister invested with this power could exercise it to suit his own ends – say, just before an election – to manufacture a terrorist scare and then appear to be the ‘man of the hour’ who restores our peace of mind (coincidentally winning the votes of a few more undecided Alan Jones listeners to save his marginal seat).

The proponents of changing Australia from a Common Law country, based upon the Separation of Powers, to rule by Ministerial fiat, as their proposal would enable through the precedent it would establish, argue that they are honourable men who would exercise their new powers dispassionately, wisely, and in the public interest. Of course, this is irrelevant. Laws are not made to fit the character of current holders of high office. They are intended to safeguard against, as far as possible, abuse by those who are partisan, stupid, and prone to act in their own self-interest.

The proposed new law deliberately excludes those safeguards.

Consequently, we need some way of ensuring that the current and all subsequent Ministers, thus empowered, will ensure the intelligence they receive is impeccable, and will interpret that intelligence dispassionately, wisely, and in the public interest.

So let’s run an eye over the proponents of the new law, just for starters.

Malcolm Fraser considered Tony Abbott to be perhaps the most dangerous politician in Australian history. You may have thought that a little hyperbolic. I did. There can be little doubt that our current Prime Minister is the least equipped for high office since Sir William McMahon. And the record also shows that Prime Minister Abbott was able to pass through one of Australia’s finest schools and one of England’s finest universities untouched by exposure to academic research methods, the principles of logic and dispassionate evaluation, the values-free acquisition of knowledge, and even by the evidence that compassion and empathy are fundamental to social cohesion. It is apparent that his academic success is based upon often uncomprehended rote learning, the way he learned and then recited his Catechism as a small child. These are flaws in the makeup of the man that speak to his lack of intelligence and general incompetence.

But as we began to see in the run up to the most recent election, and as more information about Tony Abbott’s past was revealed, we began to understand that Malcolm Fraser’s assessment of him was, if anything, an understatement. We began to see his pathological need to win, we read of his violence against a woman when he lost, we observed his relentless, dishonest, misogynistic attacks upon Julia Gillard as part of his strategy to win office, we heard the litany of lies he told to win office, and the lies he has told about lying and about anything else to suit his purpose, after he had won office.

How could we ever contemplate granting power without safeguards to a person with such a pathological need to win, to get his own way, and to retain power regardless of the consequences for anyone else? Can we imagine Peter Dutton having the stomach to independently exercise his discretion against the wishes of Tony Abbott? It wouldn’t matter if he did. Tony Abbott has the Captain’s right to sack him and bestow that office upon himself if he needed to to get his own way. And can we imagine Scott Morrison doing anything that would compromise his leadership ambitions? Smug self-satisfaction was his only reaction to the human tragedy unfolding daily as the result of the exercise of his Ministerial discretion?

It was some small relief to know that the more intelligent members of Cabinet objected to the extreme Abbott proposal that second generation Australians could be stripped of their citizenship based on nothing more than a Minister’s suspicion, as we have said, covertly exercised and beyond judicial or other independent review.

But now, two thirds of the LNP Back Bench have signed a letter in support of the proposed Abbott law. They may be distinguished as a group for being considered not good enough to serve on the most incompetent Front Bench since Federation, but they may just give Tony the support he needs to make another ‘Captain’s Call’.

If Prime Minister Abbott does cross this Rubicon, so will Australia and God help Australian democracy when Ministers of any stripe use the precedent set by this law to expand its operation into other aspects of our lives to suit their own personal ends.

 

Forging the Wrong Leaders

rabbott-e1423656056322

 

“We are not the Labor party.” Amongst the leadership tensions of the past few weeks in the ruling Coalition government, Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears to have adopted this as a mantra of sorts, an incantation to ward off the attacks of his foes both inside and outside of his own party. A return to the internecine warfare of 2010 and 2013, he argues, would make the Liberal party as bad as their predecessors. He speaks as if there is something qualitatively different between the parties and the way they go about their operation, as if the Liberal and Labor parties have entirely different and incompatible DNAs.

Whilst the spill motion may have failed, the simple fact that the motion was raised shows that this is manifestly untrue.

Labor has not been slow to join in the chorus of jibes, directly quoting back invective initially directed at Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd by Abbott and his fellows. There is no shortage of material to use. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and others were incessant in their criticism of Labor’s leadership woes, all at the instigation of the consummate attack dog who now finds the tables turned. The rich irony is that leadership battles are only unpalatable because Tony Abbott made them so. They are not new to Australian politics.

Admittedly, leadership changes at the Federal level are rarer than in State politics. Additionally, many Prime Ministers step down “gracefully” before the inevitable push. It is not until Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – and the unedifying return to Rudd – that replacement of a sitting Prime Minister by force became somewhat common. However, the attempt by Liberal backbenchers to push a spill motion and depose Tony Abbott shows that leadership battles are not restricted to one side of politics. They are caused by something deeper – a malaise in politics.

“To lose one Prime Minister may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two looks like carelessness.” (With apologies to Oscar Wilde.)

Deposing (or attempting to depose) a sitting, first-term Prime Minister is, admittedly rare – at least, until recent years. So how is it that we’ve come to this?

Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007 with a sweeping majority and the hopes and aspirations of Australians behind him. Less than three years later he was pushed from office, a broken, tearful man. What forces wrought the triumphant visionary of Kevin 07 into the chaotic, vindictive morass he became?

The issue at the heart of Kevin Rudd’s downfall was his inability to govern. Rudd was a great communicator, an idealist, a visionary and a fantastic politician for elections. In government, however, he proved lacking in the skills and attributes required of a Prime Minister. This came about, essentially, because elections and governments require very distinct skill-sets. What makes a great leader during an election campaign does not make a wonderful leader in power. Unfortunately, the reverse is also often true: great leaders may be let down by their inability to win elections.

Our modern democracy revolves around elections. They are the fixed points at which the people can have their say. It has been argued that Australia is a democracy for a month or so every three years, after which it becomes an effective oligarchy. There is some truth to this.

Increasingly, however, the three years between elections are conducted with an unremitting focus on the next election. Oppositions have this easy: they spend their years in the political wilderness with nothing but the next election to think about. Government is a harder job. Making decisions in the greater good, aware that every action will have detractors, will be attacked by the opposition and by the media, requires courage. Making decisions aimed solely at bolstering the government’s reputation at the next election is easier.

During elections, enormous sums of money are spent on revealing and promoting policy, on attacking political opponents, and on strategising the message. How much do you reveal? How long can you keep your best offerings hidden, in order to best capture public approval whilst restricting the other party’s opportunity to respond? All is done with an eye on the prize – the all-important twelve hours when the electoral booths are open.

Elections are replete with unreasonable expectations, with impossible promises, and unfortunately often, dirty tactics. Throw a partisan media into the mixture and an election becomes so much froth and noise, a lot of the detail can be obscured.

But then the election is over. The winning party is expected to segue into governing. Suddenly there is no money for advertising. The messaging takes a back seat: governing is a long game. In governing, there is limited value to continuing to attack the other side. Even a party which had the media’s partisan support during the election can find, all too soon, that it becomes hostile. Sudden attention is paid to detail. Promises were made during the campaign, but when it comes to execution, any number of headwinds interfere: from the quality of the public service to unexpected financial setbacks. Changing circumstances require flexibility, but promises and public expectations are not flexible.
In the public’s view, the choice has been made. The election is over: it is time to make good on the promises. And woe betide a party that cannot deliver on its promises, the next time elections come around.

Promises are the currency of elections

Campaigning requires a particular skillset of a political party and its leaders. Leaders must bring inspiration and vision. An election from opposition can be carried on criticism of the government, but only insofar as plans can be proposed to address the identified shortcomings. Attacking your opponents will get you only so far; a party needs to explain what it would do differently. The universal truth of electoral campaigns is promises.
Kevin Rudd was a great campaigner. He brought vision and grand plans. His rhetoric inspired the young and the old alike in an idea of what Australia could be. He promised changes that would be difficult, but he made them sound easy, and he had obvious commitment to his cause. Kevin 07 was a whirlwind of hope, and with a strong team behind him, he made his promises sound convincing.

Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd proved to be terrible at governing. The essential qualities of a government leader are the ability to negotiate, persistence to follow-through on projects, focus on detail, delegation and empowerment of your team, and detailed planning. These were not Kevin Rudd’s strengths. In eternal search for polling approval, Rudd lacked the ability to push projects through to completion against critical media campaigns and public resistance. His inability to delegate power and responsibility was also a detriment. In an election, the leader’s visibility and personality are critical to success. But Australia is too large and complex for a single leader, however frenetic, to manage. Kevin Rudd and his centralisation became a bottleneck, and Labor was unable to effectively execute on its promises.

Kevin Rudd was a great “wartime leader” but a mediocre peacetime one. When he was deposed in favour of Julia Gillard, the priority was to regain some momentum on the projects that had stalled. Fulfilling at least some of the promises that won the 2007 election would go some way to address the electors’ buyer’s remorse. Such was Gillard’s success in a short period of time that she won Labor another term of office.

Gillard was amazing at the things that Rudd was not. Negotiation and persistence were the hallmarks of the Gillard administration. With Gillard’s direct intervention and follow-through, outstanding issues got resolved. Promises made at the previous election, sabotaged by poor planning and policy backdowns, were resolved in short order – perhaps with suboptimal outcomes, but enough to get them off the table.

Gillard was a very successful peacetime leader and history will likely judge her kindly. However, she was let down in the face of Tony Abbott’s incessant campaigning by a poor communication style. Gillard was not seen as a great campaigner. A last-minute return to the Great Campaigner, Kevin Rudd, in late 2013 was insufficient to address the extended election campaign Tony Abbott had run from the moment he ascended to the Liberal leadership.

Uncomfortable parallels

Tony Abbott was also a great campaigner. His approach was different to Rudd’s; he brought no grand plans or vision to the table. Instead his approach was to sow discontent wherever possible, and his pitch was for a return to the Good Old Days of prosperity under Howard. His messaging was consistent and strident and believable. With no grand plans to propose, details of execution were not required. Tony Abbott ran a three-year election campaign leading up to his election in 2013. The primary promise of Tony Abbott’s Coalition was to “Not be Labor” – a message he is still pushing today, over a year after taking government.

Abbott’s success on the campaign trail has not carried through to success as Prime Minister. Tony Abbott and his cabinet repeatedly point to their grand successes – the mining tax, the “carbon tax”, and three free trade agreements. Regardless of whether you consider these outcomes to be successes, unstated are the Attacks on Everyone of the 2014 budget, the ideological attack on industrial relations, the Captain’s Picks, or the reliance of the Coalition on a model of Australia’s prosperity (mining and export) that is rapidly coming to an end. Not described is the government’s lack of a plan for developing the country into a nation of the 21st century – nor the failure of the government to progress its plans to forge the country into the preeminent example of a 20th century country. Not mentioned is the changing circumstance which is the belated acceptance of the rest of the world that Climate Change is an existential issue demanding action.

Like Rudd, Abbott is also a centraliser. The inability to entrust his Ministers with management of their own offices, let alone their own portfolios, has led to internal dissatisfaction – just like Kevin Rudd. The inability of the Abbott government – with its hard right-wing policies and its head-kicker parliamentary supremos – leads to an inability to negotiate in good faith with their political opponents, which leads to legislation languishing in the Senate. In turn, this leads to further deterioration of the budget. This government seems to know only one way to respond to a budget problem, but this approach does not have the approval of the people the government is elected to serve, nor the Senate which protects them.

The skills and attributes that brought Tony Abbott to government are not the skills and attributes needed to effectively govern this country. This is the malaise of our democracy. The focus on winning government means that leaders are forged who can win elections but not lead the country.

The enormous political cost of changing from Rudd to Gillard, and back to Rudd, led to Rudd introducing new rules to the Labor party around leadership contention. This was good politics. It is not, necessarily, good government, if it serves to protect the interests of an incompetent or unsatisfactory Prime Minister. Such rules, ironically, would serve to protect Tony Abbott, and a similar set of requirements have been proposed for the Coalition that would further endanger Australia’s ability to unseat a leader who can campaign but not govern.

Where to from here?

History shows us that Tony Abbott is unlikely to survive as Prime Minister to the next election – unless the Coalition follows Labor’s lead and institutes new rules to prevent the unseating of a Prime Minister. If Tony Abbott is unseated, perhaps as a result of another poor Captain’s Call or a further string of poor polls and State election results, who would be expected to replace him? And would Abbott be replaced by a good governor – or a great campaigner?

Amongst the ideologues and right-wing extremists, the climate deniers and the silver spoon born-to-rule set, who on the Coalition’s side can be the great governor Australia needs? Malcolm Turnbull looks like the most likely candidate for the top job (despite the particular loathing which some of his Coalition colleagues reserve for him). Can Malcolm Turnbull the Despised become the negotiator, the facilitator, and the project lead that the Coalition so desperately needs?

 

Democracy at work

Just how powerful are we as voters? Very powerful, writes Sir ScotchMistery. And our power lies not just in how we cast our vote at the polling booth, but in how we can decide in whose name appears on the ballot paper.

Over the last few weeks we have all been moaning mournfully about the nature of “democracy” in Australia and the fact that today it really doesn’t exist. What we are suffering under the moment is far more an oligarchy led by three or four wealthy people telling another person who wishes he was wealthy (and as far as we can tell, still a pommy), what to do.

I have done a bit of tweeting on the subject and people keep coming back to me saying “30 independents in every house of Parliament in Australia will allow right wing nut jobs (RWNJ), to overtake the Parliament.

Whilst I accept that there is an element of this which may be true, the same possibility applies to left wing nut jobs but whatever the result, if done properly there is no reason for Australia not to have 30 independents in each house of Parliament, each representing the needs and aspirations of their electorate.

The electorate of Indi, with its centre in northern Victoria, took it upon itself to oust the sitting “liberal” member, Sophie Mirabella, on the basis that she didn’t appear to be representing anybody but the Liberal party, and most certainly not her electorate, which she had supposedly “represented” for the past 13 year, from 2001.

Indi did it differently.

In general, when we think of an “Independent” running for parliament, we see in our minds eye somebody deciding that they are good enough to take on the incumbent or conversely are prepared to put their time, effort and money up to run a campaign against the incumbent, in their own right. In fact the path to Cathy McGowan taking the seat of Indi, had nothing whatsoever to do with her deciding she was good enough to take on the incumbent.

During 2012, a small group of young people from the area decided they weren’t being represented properly or effectively, and from those 12 people grew a movement of over 3000 volunteers who basically door knocked the entire electorate, which was a task in itself when one considers that the division of Indi, which has been part of the Parliament of Australia since Federation, having been one of the original 75 divisions proclaimed at Federation, continuously, covers an area of 28,567 km² along the NSW border from Rutherglen to Corryong in the North, Kinglake and Woods Point in the South and Falls Creek, Mount Hotham, Mount Buffalo and Mount Buller in the east. As you can see, a huge electorate which needs a lot of miles driven to cover it.

Anyway, these young people and their volunteers who ended up numbering in excess of 3000, door knocked the entire place and asked people what they felt were the important things to take into Parliament as their “issues”.

The result of these “kitchen table conversations”, was a document Voice for Indi which became part of “Indi Shares”. The resultant Voice for Indi website became a way for those people who initially met, and their volunteers and the people who decided that the basic premise was correct, and that they weren’t being represented by Ms Mirabella, or the LNP, to engage, to keep in touch, to fund raise and eventually to launch a run into Parliament.

In June 2014, the “Indi Shares” at Oxley in the rugged hills around Wangaratta resulted in around 100 people getting together and talking about making a difference in Australian politics. Politics without the parties, in a space where the “candidate” was employed by the electorate directly, rather than having to survive on their own means.

My memory of it was that around $180,000 was raised by those people to fund the change, rather than being dependent upon the resources of the candidate, or more importantly, of a party machine with its associated apparatchiks, and their predilection for parachuting candidates into the house.

Once the document had been put together, A Voice for Indi advertised for a candidate to work within their guidelines (as set by the members of the founding group, the results of the document from the kitchen table conversations, and input from volunteers).

Again, from my memory, which is getting rather rusty, the money raised went to funding things like campaign paraphernalia, T-shirts, and operations office and the expenses of the candidate, to allow her to behave as if she had already been elected, from the time she was employed by the organisation. In other words, Cathy McGowan was employed directly by the members of the electorate.

In and of itself, this is not a hard call. It is rather a matter of finding a committed core group of people prepared to put time effort and some money towards the process of locating somebody to properly represent them as electors, and further to more widely represent the needs of the electorate, including the issues important to the mostly (in this case) Conservative electorate. No one in the whole process was disenfranchised by the movement and one of the people we met during the Indi shares conference, was a farmer who had never ever voted anything but conservative.

The one thing that has to be said is that nobody can launch an election campaign for election with no money and it would be unfair and inappropriate to expect someone outside of the likes of Clive Palmer perhaps, to completely fund their own campaign to unseat one of the party faithful. In this situation it requires a gathering of like minds to get together and sort out funding, directions, plans and vision, then to find somebody appropriate to present those issues to a Parliament which no longer represents the needs and aspirations of the Australian people, but rather represents the direction the ALP and LNP wish to take the country in terms of its interface with United States and Europe, including rushing into any war that the LNP decides is good for us, and signing and “Free” trade agreement the US tells them to.

We have 18 months to find 30 independents for both houses in the Federal Parliament, and a further three years to do the same thing in every State government house. This perhaps is the only way to change the current unicameral system in place in Queensland, and also get us back to a proper “democratic” form of Parliament not only in Queensland but in the whole of Australia.

In conclusion I would add, that to paraphrase Charles F Aked – ‘all that is required for the parties to win every time, is for good people to do nothing’.

I hope that somewhere in Australia are a few hundred people who see this, OUR COUNTRY, as something more than the indistinct shadow of a star on “old glory”.

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