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Tag Archives: Democracy

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.

 

Does Aussie Democracy Exist Anymore?

I was prompted to write what follows after reading a post on this blog by Paul G. Dellit titled Australian Democracy at a Tipping Point in which he so rightly attacks Prime Minister Abbott for his proposal to, as he Paul puts it, ‘’Pass a law that would create a precedent for the end of the rule of law in this country’’. He of course was addressing the issue of taking away a person’s citizenship.

The Prime Minister, since coming to office, whilst achieving nothing positive, has thus far only attempted to, in various ways, ruthlessly manipulate and impose a right-wing agenda on a naïve and unsuspecting public. This instance is yet another attempt to dismantle a fundamental tenet of society: the rule of law.

The fact that so many of his backbenchers support the move simply reinforces the fact that as a cohort they are all tainted with a terrorist extremism mentality equal to their leader’s. I wish they had the same enthusiasm for family violence that this year has seen two women murdered each week.

I have been writing for this blog since November 2013 and in that time have written over 200 pieces. Mostly I have attacked Tony Abbott for his callous lying, his lack of character and trustworthiness.

Remember this:

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”.

Ask yourself this:

“Has Australia ever elected a Prime Minister so ignorant of technology, the environment, so ill-informed of science, so oblivious of the needs and aspirations of women, so divorced from the need to address growing inequality, and so out of touch with a modern pluralist society?”

My contention is that he is eminently unsuited to be the Prime Minister of Australia.

The egregious fanaticism of the Abbott Government is a symptom of the growing cancer that has nearly destroyed Australian democracy as we have moved rapidly toward oligarchy. U.S. Senator Sanders has characterised oligarchy succinctly as being a government controlled by a handful of the wealthiest and a concentrated corporate media dominating what the vast majority of voters get to read and hear.

However, as much as I have written about the Prime Minister, for me, my more important writing has been about the demise of our democracy.

When commenting on the attacks on our society by neo-conservative, wealthy and privileged oligarchs, it is easy to become negative and despondent, even ignorant of the totality of their purpose, and if we do, we freely concede to our rivals all the power they need.

But we cannot allow our despondency to get the better of us. We must press on because the left of politics is concerned with those who cannot help themselves whereas the right is concerned with those who can.

Thoughtful positive optimism is a worthwhile pursuit and together with consistency, truth and reasoned sound argument they form the basis of an influential, even inspirational, counter narrative.

When our voices are silent against unfair, deceitful and dishonest government we get what we deserve.

We need to digest words like these from a speech by Robert Kennedy in 1968:

“We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missles and nuclear warheads…. It includes… the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children.

“And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials… the Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile….”

The conservative counter to this is Margaret Thatcher’s:

“There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals making their way and the poor shall be looked after by the drip down effect of the rich”.

There are many ingredients in the recipe of a civil open enlightened functioning society. Two are interwoven and have a major influence on democratic functionality. In this piece I thought I would concentrate on two facets of society that are integral to its function and democratic survival: free speech and a free media that mutually co-exist.

So let’s look at free speech and ask why it is that people of the Bolt ilk pursue the extremes of it, or at least their interpretation of it, with such rigor. Why do they need to be more distasteful than they are already?

Do they actually want hate speech? It can only be for the pursuit of hate because that’s all the misuse of free speech can bring. Free speech does not mean it should be free from ethics like truth for example but the extreme right see it as a weapon of destruction.

I think that we can never understand the effect free speech has on people until we have suffered from the abuse of it ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves why, if indeed we live in an enlightened society, it is that we need to enshrine in law the right to abuse each other. If we were enlightened we wouldn’t do so.

Enlightened citizens would not tolerate the misuse of free speech and insist on individuals imposing their own self-discipline.

It seems to me that those on the right want unmitigated access to free speech to make up for the freedom of thought they seldom use.

The pedlars of verbal violence and dishonesty are the most vigorous defenders of free speech because it gives their vitriolic nonsense legitimacy. With the use of free speech, the bigots and hate-mongers seek to influence those in the community who are susceptible or like-minded. The original intent of free speech was to give a voice to the oppressed and to keep governments honest.

In the United States the first constitutional amendment is now used as a justification to incite racism, validate hatred and promote both religious and political bigotry. In a democracy the right to free speech in given by the people through the government. Therefore, it should be incumbent on people to display decorum, moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason, tolerance, civility and respect for the other point of view. Sadly, this seems to have been forgotten both here and in the United States.

The right also complain bitterly about television media bias and target the ABC while at the same time having disproportional representation on its current affairs programs. Right-wing think tank and Government advisor the IPA openly lobbies for its destruction while at the same time its representatives appear on its programs.  Insiders, The Drum and Q&A come to mind. Whether the ABC is biased is a matter of opinion and I have never seen any persuasive evidence that it is.

But if it were to go what we would we be left with? Well nothing more than a right-wing propaganda machine making you feel good about the wrongs being perpetrated on you.

In radio, with an abundance of right-wing (can you name one that is left-wing?) shock jocks, they rule the air waves. People like Alan Jones seem to take delight in being obnoxious. They enjoy huge audiences which seem to rise when they are at their most controversial.

In print ,Murdoch controls 70 per cent of distribution in the capital cities. But with the advent of new media sales have dramatically declined. To combat this it has, in order to maintain the reader’s interest, progressively become more outlandish – more tantalising – more seductive-more flirtatious-more provocative – more stunning and more enticing. And in their desire to maintain some dominance, that’s exactly what print media is doing. It has chosen to prostitute itself in the forlorn hope of remaining relevant.

You see articles are now written in a manner to suggest objectivity but subjective words are scattered throughout together with carefully phrased unsupported statements. These articles have no cogency and are just right-wing (and mainly Murdoch) propaganda. Lying in any media is wrong and when they do it with deliberate intent it is society that suffers. They just seem to think they have an exemption from moral consequence. It’s a pity that fact in journalism cannot be made compulsory and decency legislated.

What they haven’t understood is that along the way they changed from news gathers to opinion marketers who see their opinions as newsworthy. Then they pay people like Bolt enormous sums to be as bigoted, racist and hypocritical as they can be under the guise of journalism but in writing suitable for the intelligence of thirteen year olds.

I for one can get well written and creditable opinion from blogs like The AIMN. I quit buying newspapers years ago. And news in the electronic age is available from many reputable sources.

Sometimes at my age I tire from the sustained effort required to continuously write material that confronts the extremities of the right. Then I read pieces on this blog and the intelligent comments they illicit and I am enticed to the keyboard yet again.

 

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?

 

Exercising suffrage insufferable without a sausage

It was a bleak day for Democracy in Queensland on Saturday. As voters went to the polls, something important was missing. Those who truly know their onions will be aware that in Australia the sausage looms large in the electoral process.

Here in the Lucky Country we don’t have to catch buses to remote civic halls and queue for hours if we can get there at all to exercise our democratic right and duty.

Our polling stations are conveniently set up in local schools and elections held on a Saturday, a symbol of the universal nature of our suffrage. We vote with our neighbours, as part of a community, and the sausage sizzle is a powerful symbol of that.

So it was with some concern that voters at many polling booths noted a distinct lack of the usual bbq aroma which tends to accompany these things.

Not your Girl Reporter, who was able to feast on the Sausage of Democracy and carry home for later the Scones of Freedom and sweet Raspberry Friands of Unexpected Victory.

But that was in the Independent Socialist Republic of Stafford, and my thanks go to the highly organised Stafford State School Parents & Citizens Association, whose crack troops were mobilised to delicious effect.

Kate Wall tweetHowever, not every polling station was as well-stocked. The Gold Coast Bulletin reported the merest whiff of Democracy plus Onions emanating from only three locations. Ipswich voters also complained of a lack of cake, another essential dimension to our political process.

There were similar tales of woe from the gardens of Toowoomba to the Warrego Plains, on the dusty streets of Mount Isa and in the cosmopolitan playground of Brisbane’s Spring Hill.

Where were the sausages, a bewildered electorate was left to wonder. How can we vote if we don’t have any sausages? Where, oh where, is the promised pork?

What is Democracy without its handmaids the Sausage and the Lamington?

Sausage tweetBewilderment quickly turned to rage.

And, in the middle of a hot and humid Queensland summer, rage comes easily.

Campbell Newman should have been more careful. Calling a snap election in the middle of the long school summer holidays was always going to hit a snag – who, after all, was going to cook the sausages and bake the sweet treats?

The first signs of trouble came early, in his own electorate of Ashgrove.

Newmarket State School, where Newman cast his vote, did manage to lay on a good range of sweet and savoury election toppers.

But a volunteer was heard to chide him for giving them so little notice. It takes time to organise that level of baking and our schools only returned from the long summer break on Tuesday, after the Australia Day weekend.

In other words, they had a mere four days to prepare for what is traditionally one of their biggest fundraisers.

Was this the most egregious act of a controversial reign? Perhaps not. But as a final act of bastardy it’s hard to beat.

Maybe, just maybe, it was the tipping point that turned a wave of protest into a tsunami.

When the bruised and battered Liberal National Party gathers to consider just what went wrong, the role of the sausage in their downfall probably won’t rate a mention.

But know this, all ye who would seek power in Queensland: Deny us our sausage at your peril. There are things we hold dear above all others and our Election Day ritual of a vote, a snag and a catch-up with mates is not to be treated lightly.

Once I was a Girl Reporter, now I’m an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and anything else that takes my fancy. Read more Baxter here. 

Imperfect lessons in democracy

Newman

 

It’s been a quiet campaign in my Brisbane electorate of Stafford, writes Sally Baxter. Not a single piece of election mail has crossed my threshold and no hopeful candidate full of promises has knocked upon my door.

I can see why.

Stafford http://www.abc.net.au/news/qld-election-2015/guide/staf/ was the little electorate with the big 19.1 per cent message for the LNP in the by-election of July 2014. Perfectly reasonable for all parties to assume feelings haven’t changed much here in the interim and to concentrate their efforts and resources elsewhere.

Consequently I’ve been getting my democracy fix vicariously, following events across the state and waiting patiently to wave the sizzled sausage of democracy at my fellow citizens on Saturday.

It’s a tradition I value highly, as I came late to voting.

Hong Kong, where I grew up, was untroubled by democracy.

I did learn about it, mostly from honorary auntie Leela Tankha, whose kitchen was a magnet for a hungry kid when we visited the outlying island of Cheung Chau on weekends.

Leela was a story-teller but the stories she told were dramas of history – from the Mahatma’s salt marches to Britain’s suffragettes – all relayed as if she had just returned from the scene and I was the first person to hear the news.

She’d stand at the stove and stuff me with puris (my favourites) and other treats while telling me grisly tales of the force-feeding of Mrs Pethwick-Lawrence and Emmeline Pankhurst.

She wasn’t a teacher, she was a sub-editor. And a great cook. Food and well told stories – the pattern was set early.

My first recollection of Australian democracy was the Whitlam Dismissal, news of which did reach us in far-off Hong Kong. And that was the first I’d heard of Whitlam. The only thing I was aware of, out in the colonies, was that a democratically elected government had been dismissed by an unelected imperialist.

I’ve since been assured it was way more complicated than that.

And the first time I heard democracy mentioned in the context of Hong Kong’s future was in the early stages of the negotiations between China and the UK in the 1980s.

I was at a dinner of about a dozen people, all Hong Kong Chinese, when conversation turned to what they hoped, expected and feared for the future.

It was our host who proposed something so startling it took us all aback. Why shouldn’t Hong Kong people decide what happens to Hong Kong?

It’s an idea that’s still catching on.

I moved to the UK in 1987 but didn’t realise I was entitled to vote in that year’s general election.

I cast my first ballot in the next council elections with an air of grave solemnity, the hungry ghosts of the suffragettes crowding into the booth beside me and bringing with them a distinct whiff of curry.

I was late to the party but quickly became fascinated by politics in a parliamentary democracy. I came up hard against it in 1990 when the Conservative MP for Eastbourne Ian Gow was assassinated by the IRA.

I was working on the Eastbourne Herald and had assigned a photographer to some local opening Gow was attending that morning. “He hasn’t turned up,” was closely followed by the news of why.

The subsequent by-election didn’t seem like any contest. “You could stick a blue ribbon on a dog in this town and people would vote for it,” the Herald’s local government reporter said sagely.

He was wrong and a Liberal Democrat, David Bellotti, took the seat comfortably by 4,550 votes. Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said the IRA would be toasting his success.

My first general election was in 1992 and all signs pointed to a humiliating defeat for the Tories.

“There’s no way they can win,” I confidently told my father the Big Baxter in one of our trans-Atlantic calls. “They stink like rotting carcasses.”

Just before polling day the Herald’s politics reporter returned from his morning rounds in great excitement. He’d seen the results of the Lib Dems’ internal polling and they were showing a clean sweep of the southeast for the minor party.

That lunchtime three of the Herald’s finest – the politics reporter, the local government reporter and the heavily pregnant business reporter (me) – toured the town looking for a bookie who’d take an accumulator bet on just that outcome.

Not one would.

Conservative candidate Nigel Waterson duly won Eastbourne in John Major’s unlikely victory that year.

That’s polling for you.

I first exercised my democratic duty in an Australian election in 2004. I could have, and should have, voted before then while overseas but I never got that particular memo.

In 2007 I jumped aboard the Kevin 07 Express and was deposited with a clutch of how-to-vote leaflets outside a small primary school on the outer edges of one of Brisbane’s leafy northern suburbs.

Its location wasn’t helped by its omission from the list of polling stations in the local paper. It was a quiet day, with electors flooding through the gates at the uninspiring rate of one or two an hour.

My blue-shirted rival was a skinny old guy named Lance who enjoyed an intense interest in political systems of the world.

On hearing that I had grown up in Hong Kong, he revealed that he had once spent 10 months there in the 1980s.

He outlined the makeup of the Executive and Legislative Councils, both official and unofficial members, at a level of detail with which most long-term Hong Kong residents (myself very much included) would struggle.

Turning his attention to the UK Parliament, Lance described his visit to the House of Commons in the early 1990s. He listed the names of all the MPs he had heard speak and then the names of all of those he had missed.

When he mentioned Winston Churchill’s grandson I attempted a diversion by conjuring visions of Churchill’s granddaughter, frolicking naked at Glastonbury, but Lance was treading a firm path and would have none of it.

I made my escape at around 4pm, tiptoeing past Lance who by now was snoring gently in his chair, blue leaflets clutched to his skinny chest.

And now it’s almost time to exercise my rare and privileged right to vote once more. As for picking a winner, you’ll note my record is undistinguished.

Polling data (which got really troubling today) never looked that flash in Ashgrove during this short, sharp shock of a campaign. Logic always suggested the return of the LNP with a reduced majority and without Campbell Newman at the helm.

Which is why this voter, at least, has never stopped wondering about that apparently non-existent Plan B. At no point in this campaign has it been an irrelevant question and yet it’s hardly been asked, let alone answered.

Don’t believe me? In the words of the Premier, go ahead and Google it.

Until today, there have been a few news items on the subject but hardly as many as you’d expect for such a big and important question for Queensland, and even fewer providing any insight into who the LNP would choose.

When it has been addressed, as in this article in The Australian, the choice seems to fall between Treasurer Tim Nicholls (a pre-merger Liberal) and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg (former Nationals leader and one of the architects of the Liberal National Party).

Now I’m not privy to the inner workings of the LNP but I well remember the former Coalition losing the 2006 election almost as soon as it was called.

Why? Because they couldn’t answer a simple, and reasonable, question from a journalist: Who would be Premier – Nationals Springborg (and Leader of the Coalition) or Liberal Bruce Flegg – in the event the Libs took a majority of seats in the Parliament.

The loss of an election which should have been in the bag prompted the merger in 2008 which gave birth to today’s Liberal National Party but it took the extraordinary step of bringing in outsider Campbell Newman to prise victory from the grasp of a tired ALP in 2012.

What worked in 2012 from the outset has looked shaky in 2015, with polls consistently showing Newman behind in his seat of Ashgrove while pointing to an LNP victory across the state.

Questions about what would happen if that polling was replicated on Saturday have been consistently answered with the frankly unbelievable claim that there is no Plan B and a loss in Ashgrove will condemn Queensland to an ALP government.

In some ways, therefore, it’s 2006 all over again – who will lead Queensland, a former Liberal or a former National?

The failure to address this rather pertinent question may have something to do with the latest swing in support towards the ALP.

The prospect that perhaps there really is no Plan B could, it seems, deliver the impossible. Perhaps the question of who would lead the LNP after Newman should have been addressed earlier.

Queenslanders, no doubt, have been chewing it over for weeks before having to turn up for a sausage and a vote on Saturday. In the end, it’s they who will answer the question, and it’s surely a tricky one.

Good luck, Queensland. See you on the other side.

Further reading:

Queensland Election 2006 – Research brief prepared for the Australian Parliamentary Library by Scott Bennett and Stephen Barber

New political force for Queensland – Marissa Calligeros, Brisbane Times 28 July, 2008

Queensland election 2012: a likely win for Newman and the LNP – Clive Bean, The Conversation 25 January, 2012

Once I was a Girl Reporter, now I’m an interested observer covering the past, present and future of journalism and anything else that takes my fancy. Read more Baxter here. 

 

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 http://www.voiceforindi.com/report_info 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”.

And now for something completely different . . .

I have been critical lately of our system of government and have been inspired by the words of Ted Mack, Tony Fitzgerald and others (including commenters here) as well as looking at other democracies, to think about a system that might address some of the concerns I have.

In my opinion, many of the problems would be solved if the electorate voted directly for people to fill Ministerial positions rather than them being MPs appointed by the government. Those Ministers form a cabinet which is the federal executive government. Membership of a political party is irrelevant. Choose the best person for the job.

First step is to work out how many Ministers we actually need. For each Ministry then work out essential and desirable criteria for the particular job. Applications/nominations can then be put forward either from political parties or from public/private organisations. The Public Service Board could narrow down the nominations to a set number of applicants for each job and the Australian Electoral Commission could produce a booklet/website that lists the candidates, their qualifications for the job, and a statement from them.

Do away with a single head of state. The tourism minister can do the meet and greet and wine and dine. If someone wants to talk trade then talk to the trade minister. If they want to talk defence, talk to the defence minister. If another head of state wants to have a general conversation, they either do it with a committee from the executive or with a minister that has particular knowledge of their country. Ambassadors could act as liason and tour organisers.

Each minister will head a department, not full of spin doctors and image consultants and parliamentary staff, but people with actual knowledge about the portfolio and managerial or administrative skills in the appropriate area.

State governments should be structured the same way.

Rather than electing a single representative for each electorate, both federal and state, elect the ministerial executive governments by individual voter majority and then have local councils be the ones to represent their areas in the vote. They are a representative body for their area, are aware of local issues, and are accessible to the public. After discussion they can come to a majority decision and cast their representative vote in proposed federal or state legislation. State legislation would have to be passed by a majority of councils, federal legislation by both a majority of councils and states.

There should be more referendums in which the people can take part in the decision making. A system should be developed where people can use the internet or SMS to vote on certain issues with postal votes as an alternative and perhaps onsite voting at post offices? Votes have to be in by a certain day rather than on a certain day. I wonder if making this non-mandatory would be the way to go.

As I have discussed in a previous article, Swiss citizens can propose amendments if they collect sufficient signatures in a set time frame that will then go to a referendum. They are a smaller country but it is an interesting idea.

This reduction in the size of government must lead to a clarification of the role and functions of each level. It must be clearly defined with duplication and overlap eliminated.

No need for Oppositions or Senates, no money spent on political advertising, an enormous amount of money saved by reducing the number of MPs and parliamentary staff, appropriate people for the job, more representative local vote, so much time saved because there is no them vs us arguing going on, eliminate the power of lobby groups, get rid of the need for spin, image and message control – I am struggling to find the down side.

There are no doubt things wrong with this idea and I will be interested to hear your views.  Let’s at least start contemplating the idea that we could have a different way.

 

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