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Where is our democracy heading?

By Kyran O’Dwyer

In terms of the changes facing modern society, the process of change by erosion presents as the greatest threat, in my opinion. We have had an erosion of trust in our public officials, caused by their all too frequent abuses of the very trust upon which they are reliant. We have had an erosion of trust in our public institutions, caused by their frequent abuses of the very rules they are obliged to uphold and protect.

The greatest threat posed by erosion is not that the change occurs, but that the change occurs gradually, over time. The change is not noticeable on a daily basis, but at the end of a year, a decade, a century, you suddenly notice all that has eroded away. You suddenly realise what you had, only because you suddenly realise it has gone.

The ‘progressive’ government of the 70s were heady days. Criticisms at the time ranged from ‘trying to do too much, too soon’ to ‘not doing enough, quickly enough’. Whitlam’s changes were social changes, transitioning a society from the old Menzian thinking of the 60’s to the new thinking of the 70s. Whitlam was able to achieve this change not just because it had popular support. He spent years formulating policy and explaining it to the constituents, modifying it when necessary. “It’s Time” resonated with them as it attempted to enshrine basic standards for health, education, welfare, equality under the law. Basic standards for everyone. It was time to understand that women aren’t chattels, that our First People are our First People, that education is an investment that yields far greater returns than any corporation could ever dream of, that health and access to universal health care was a solid foundation upon which to build a healthy society, that a legal system had to be accessible to all if it was to have any value (let alone merit), that social ‘safety nets’ aren’t welfare as much as they are insurance taken out by society to ensure the safety of those who are most vulnerable.

It was a time when Australian’s took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to protest an indefensible ‘war’, in righteous indignation of what their government had committed them to.

It was a time when Australian’s not only developed an independent conscience, but demanded that their collective conscience be heard.

In the modern context, you have the likes of Corbyn and Sanders. Both of whom formulated much of their policy based on what their constituents wanted. Both of whom appeared to have won the fight for votes, but lost the war with ‘the establishment’.

The problem is that all of those hard won standards have eroded away. Gradually, over time, the ‘conservative’ elements have repeatedly established bulwarks against change, by stealth.

In my opinion, ‘conservatives’ don’t have policies. They have nothing more than ideology, devoid of substance, fact, evidence. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Can you imagine any politician or political party going into an election saying “Medicare will go”, “Pensions will go”, “Your rights, under the law, will go”, “There will be no National Broadcaster”, “Unions will go”, “Universal education will go”. The list is long, but the point remains the same. No politician or political party would do it.

The likes of the IPA/LNP know this. Their plan is to do it by stealth. Erode the protections, bit by bit, and hope no one notices. When MSM are on-side, there is an endless supply of distractions, blame shifting, obfuscation and outright deceit.

Can you imagine how many votes a politician or a political party would get if their ‘manifesto’ mirrored the infamous IPA Wishlist? A wishlist so blatantly partisan to corporate greed and removal of oversight that it would be unpalatable to even the most uneducated of voters?

A manifesto justified with a faux truth. “Be like Gough” was meant to create the illusion that it was, somehow, a social policy, rather than what it really was, an anti-social policy. That it was, somehow, a catalyst for change that would benefit the many.

As opposed to its real intent, protecting ‘the few’ and their outrageous fortunes, their sense of entitlement and their complete lack of accountability for any ‘adverse’ outcomes resulting from their rampant greed.

In its opening paragraphs is this gem:

“No prime minister changed Australia more than Gough Whitlam. The key is that he did it in less than three years. In a flurry of frantic activity, Whitlam established universal healthcare, effectively nationalised higher education with free tuition, and massively increased public sector salaries. He more than doubled the size of cabinet from 12 ministers to 27.”

If you need to look at the IPA wishlist, find it yourself. Its promotion is not my intent.
In essence, it promotes an idiotic notion. That only by empowering ‘the few’ can we progress as ‘a whole’. That we not only need to empower them, but to protect them by removing any oversight or accountability.

The problem with the first Abbott/Hockey budget wasn’t the ‘obstructionist Senate’. It was the crappy content of the budget.

There was an observation in a recent broadcast on a ‘religion and ethics’ radio show. It suggested that the global push for basic global rights (of all sorts) in the 70’s was met with a fierce attack from the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, promoting corporatocracy over society. Secrecy over transparency.

The observation that was interesting was that the ‘progressives’ became defensive of the hard won rights, rather than openly attacking the idiotic notion that a corporation could ever be more valuable than a society.

Since that time, the ‘progressives’ have relinquished rights on a gradual basis, the erosion occurring gradually under the relentless waves of ‘conservatism’.

The time to draw a line in the sand and say “No more” has long passed. The erosion has been so great that there is no possibility of a ‘retaining wall’ doing any good. It’s time for reclamation.

In a recent three part series on The AIMN, “Bill ‘Horten – Labor’s Agenda”, John Lord offered something that has been missing from so much commentary. Not just an alternative to ‘what is’, but an opportunity to define ‘what can be’. Marcus Champ offered similar aspiration with “What if we had a better government” and Steve Laing’s “Can you beat a stacked deck” rounded out the trifecta.

One of Mr Lord’s comments pertained to the Constitution.

“We undertake to set up a people’s representative group to review the constitution over the next two years and take its recommendations to the next election.”

Our current Constitution, the ‘rule book’ of our society, is more concerned with the definition of federation than with the welfare of our society. Its lack of reference to any basic human rights, other than in an abstract form, is a sad reflection of where we are today.

By rewriting it, we have an opportunity to not only change the current political malaise, but to ensure that there will be no threat to the hard won rights we all deserve, through erosion.

If it starts with a Charter of Human Rights for every Australian, it can ensure a fundamental right to equality under the law. If that Charter of Human Rights includes fundamental rights of health, education and opportunity, it can eliminate the constant need for vigilance against the incessant erosion of those rights.

It has always struck me as idiotic that our current ‘entitlements’ are dependent on our geography. That our access to healthcare, education, the law, public transport, et cetera, changes merely because of which state or territory you may reside in. Changing the Constitution requires a referendum and is, historically, NFG (‘no good’, with an expletive in between). Rewriting it allows us to dispense with so much ridiculous inequity.

The ramifications of such change are profound. As are the benefits.

For decades now we have been told that there are different rules for different people or groups. Even more obscenely, we are told that this is as it should be. By rewriting our fundamental ‘rule book’, we have the unique opportunity of not just effecting change, but of protecting that change until such time as we, the people, think it’s OK to do so.

You may well call me a dreamer, but dreams are far better than nightmares. When we are living the nightmare, a dream can’t hurt, can it?

What would you put in our new Constitution? A unique opportunity to dispense with the politics of celebrity, identity, ideology and replace them with fundamental protections, for ‘we’, the ‘people’. Rewriting is far more realistic than amending. Surely?



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  1. Keitha Granville

    Sounds fabulous, when can we start ? Or rather who can start ? Not any of the mob we currently have on either side or even in the middle. The true progressive minds like Gough seem to have vanished, or they have been smothered by the poltiicians we have now. I can’t think of one currently in the parliament who actually wants to make a better society – somewhere along the road of our democracy that ideal fell by the wayside. Probably round about the time being a politician was a good lurk to ensure you would be looked after on the public purse for the rest of your life, rather than joining a group of people who wanted to serve their country.

    It seems that the Americans think they have done this by voting Trump into office – I fear they will be sadly let down.

    When anyone thinks they can get this idea going let me know – I’m in.

  2. James Mason

    More logic .. Well written with very good points, .. 2017 is starting off really well .. I’ve been driving many of my friends mad with my idea of borrowing France’s rusty old guillotines and lopping a few Pollie’s heads off (metaphorically of course) but now that AIM writers (and others) have come up with many good options I feel a shift in consciousness that just may lift us out of the swill and back onto level ground .. Viva la uprising .. Thanks Kyran.

  3. Florence nee Fedup

    Whitlam had an election in middle of the less than three years. Exciting times when one felt going out on the streets bought rewards. Which it did.

    The Constitution as Whitlam believed, should always be under review.

  4. townsvilleblog

    Florence, I agree Whitlam was a true leader who could explain the most complicated issue in a very simple way so that everyone could understand how the LNP government of that time was ripping everyday Aussies off, a skill that has been eroded to the point that it no longer exists within the political elite of Australian politics. In truth everyone should be interested in politics, but political jargon turnd everyday Australians off. Australia so badly needs a leader like Whitlam to emerge from the political mire.

    If and when that leader arrives and explains things simply so Australians can again understand what their politicians are actually doing to them, instead of turning away, if they can understand simply how much per week the everyday family/individual has lost in simple dollar terms, and the way that figure was worked out, I imagine they (like we used to be) also would be in the streets in protest.

  5. helvityni

    If I could have Whitlam, Keating or Gillard now, I’d feel totally differently about Australia, and its place in the world…Sigh and cry…

  6. David Grace

    An excellent article, and the time has come to not only stop the erosion, but build something stronger, and more durable in its place. We in Australia have strong foundations: a population that is healthy and literate; traditions based on collective effort, rather than individual competition; no real political violence; a country that is not too overpopulated. Now is the time to show what we can do with these gifts.

    How do we do this? Well firstly we have to stop the erosion. A first step, is to attack the source…call the IPA, One Nation, Abbott, Bernardi for what they are – dangerous radicals destroying what decent Australians have been building since Federation. They are NOT conservatives…they are the exact opposite. Second, we have to say, as this article says, no more…no more pacific island concentration camps; no more demonizing the poor and oppressed; no more making a virtue out of greed and avarice.

    Second we need to build a vision of what can be done, and show that there is an alternative to the destructive path we are now on. We can do that by supporting the many parties that are forming that are offering a progressive vision of Australia very different to the unimaginative shortsightedness of the traditional parties, and so much more positive than the hate filled, greedy vision offered by the radicals such as Hanson, Bernardi and Leyonholme. If you want to get involved in such a party, have a look at the New Democracy Party

    We also need to talk to our families, our neighbors, our work colleagues to show that there is a different way to do politics than the one we are being offered. One where decent people can be involved from the local level, knowing that they will be respected, and their voice heard.

    The third step is the hardest…building our vision…that means getting actively involved in winning power, and doing the hard work of making our vision a reality…

  7. ozibody

    Indeed, talk of the 70,s (politically), stirs my memories and highlights the significant shifts since those times.

    Whilst politics has never been principally focused on ethics, there were nonetheless matters of principle in play, and borders not breached.

    Modern society has been ‘induced’ / brainwashed to accept that ‘life’ is somewhat of a Blur ! …… little, if anything, is clearly defined … e.g. ” Post Truth ” ! …. now, I ask you just what is that ‘phrase’ designed to indicate ?? !!

    Political movements are mainly focused on what is likely (in ‘bluriness’) to tip the power prospect in their favour. ….. and , particularly, the neo-cons currently in power are using the same ‘blurey’ factor to attain their particular aims, regardless of the electorate

    How well I recall John Howard’s ‘invention’ of the phrase ” Not a Core promise” ! … and, of course, Abbott’s total retraction of his election night fraud! … ( M T had the hide to declare Bill Shorten unfit to be P.M on the basis of confected ‘Mediscare’ ) … Come on !

    As a first generation Australian, born in the early 1930’s of English parentage, I vividly recall my parents emphasising how lucky we were to live in this country – well away from the class / moneyed factor in play in ‘the old country’ !

    Well folk, guess what ??

    If ever there was to be a ‘ Time ‘ …. it’s Now ….. for the A.L.P to cast off ‘baggage’ and step up for All Australians !

  8. auntyuta

    I really like this party’s principles:

    All people have their own inviolable value
    All people deserve to be respected and have the right to meet their full potential, which means all Australian citizens and residents have the right:
    To feel safe
    To justice
    To work and to make a decent living, for themselves and their families
    To retire in dignity
    To die with dignity
    To seek and receive assistance in times of hardship
    To shelter, adequate food, clean fresh water and clean air
    To medical care
    To education from early childhood to tertiary and beyond
    To all information on the policies, regulations and governance processes that impact them
    To contribute their ideas, strengths and abilities for the betterment of society
    To live their life in the way they choose as long as they do not hurt others
    To government representatives that act as credible stewards of the country’s common wealth
    The Government is accountable for effecting the above rights
    Australia’s real resources, both ecological and human are finite and must be utilised in a sustainable way

  9. Steve Laing -

    Great article Kyran. Yep, bold change is needed, or the 0.1%ers will continue to have us by the gonads. As you say, the conservatives are happy to chip, chip, chip away at social institutions until they no longer function, and then sell them off to their mates claiming they’ll be more efficient in the “free market”.

    Case in point. This year, we received only one overseas Christmas card prior to the day, the rest arrived (from the UK, the US, Germany) in the second week in January. Apparently its not Australia Post’s fault – the cards get held up in customs or some such nonsense – yet Australia Post is unable to tell their global counterparts that customers need to get their cards sent earlier… I suspect that when it comes to sending out threatening letters for Centrelink, however, they are bang on time.

  10. Florence nee Fedup

    Time to dismantle one post truth. It is farcail to say the Abbott/Turnbull done or achieved much. The truth is they were great success at cutting, leading to dismantling most of community based NGO. Legal Aid, Community welfare, mental health. DV support. The list is endless.

    Much of Medicare as universal scheme no longer exists. Education has been cut. Many entitlements of welfare benficaries gone.

    CEF. clean engery cut to the bone. Same goes for government science agencies such as CSIRO.

    They have been hard at work, putting in place IPA agenda. Are halfway down the list.

    Well on way to small government and low corporate taxes. Paid for by lower income earners cuts and user pay policies of this mob.

    No car industry, along with much other manuafacturing gone. The LNP is continuing in the states closing more dow, Building trains NSW gone. Electricity prices rising. NOthing to do with solar or wind power.

    We have to begin screaming from the rooftops what they have achieved. Worse is we now pay more for less. Economy in downfall. Deficit growing, unemployment growing, governmnet spending more.

    One could go on for pages. Most of Abbott’s cuts from 2014 budget were planned to come in from last July until next July. Planned to be felt after he called an election.

  11. auntyuta

    ” . . . Basic standards for everyone. It was time to understand that women aren’t chattels, that our First People are our First People, that education is an investment that yields far greater returns than any corporation could ever dream of, that health and access to universal health care was a solid foundation upon which to build a healthy society, that a legal system had to be accessible to all if it was to have any value (let alone merit), that social ‘safety nets’ aren’t welfare as much as they are insurance taken out by society to ensure the safety of those who are most vulnerable. . . ”
    Yes, under Whitlam we had all that or were about to get it. Where is it all gone? Over time more and more is to be taken away . . . And people are supposed to not notice it? Or be silent, once they do notice all these erosions? Well, so far we are still some kind of democracy where an “independent Media” is possible. I am grateful for this. It provides an education that is badly needed.
    Your article really makes me think. So the ideas of Whitlam are going to last on, or at least this is what I hope!

  12. Phil

    Yep – that’s it in a nutshell Kyran – a new, shiny contemporary Constitution – it’s not just needed – it’s an imperative.

    Too hard? You bet it will be hard.

    Worth doing? You bet it is worth doing.

    Worth dying in a ditch for? Absolutely, our kids and the grandkids and the great grandkids will sing about it in the decades to come.

    Australia is such a pimply adolescent in the global mix – time to grow up and become an adult nation.

    Let’s cut the infantile ties to the UK (sure, we can still love our friends there with their lovely old Queen)

    This is so much bigger and more important than left and right – such worthless divisions

    Let’s grow up huh?

  13. June M Bullivant Oam

    This story by Kyran has all the references that Mr Baird is using in NSW to destroy our heritage, sell the people’s assets, by just telling the people that the state owns them. Put high rise on every spare piece of land and amalgamate all the councils, sack our elected representatives. While Baird swept in for another term, he was popular, the shine has worn off now he has shown his true colours. And Mr Turnbull has a one seat lead, you would think he was ahead by large margin the way he carries on.

  14. Kyran

    Thank you for your comments and considered opinions.
    The ‘how’ is, indeed a critical component, and a significant problem.

    “Change will be possible, but only if it is patient, considered, and timely. This lecture series marks an event in 1891 that commenced a decade of preparation and consideration that culminated in the adoption of a new Constitution and system of government. One hundred years later, we can learn an important lesson from that event.”

    The only current discussion on Constitutional change that I can find is the discussion of the proposed reform of the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Even before the government has proposed ‘the question’, the process is highlighting one of the great weaknesses of the process. Our current political system is adversarial and our political parties are tied to a system that is reliant on discovering the differences, rather than identifying the similarities, before change can be effected. Our track record on change by referendum is not good, for that very reason.

    There is a ‘think tank’ in Melbourne, The Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies, that could be a vehicle.

    For what it is worth, any such change needs to be a discussion started by the people, exclusive of the political parties, IMO. They are not merely a part of the problem, they are the problem.
    The current government’s waste of the last three years has meant that issues such as the environment, health, education, etc, will have to be dealt with as matters of urgency for any incoming government, such is the damage caused by their ignorance and denial.
    Discussion of a new Constitution is, in that context, not of the same urgency. It is, however, a hope that never again will we, the people, have to suffer through such gross abdication of responsibility and profligate waste as this current shower of wasters have exemplified.
    Thank you AIMN for the opportunity. Thank you, readers and commenters, for your consideration. Take care

  15. 245179

    Reading the headline here, and the following posts, whilst eating my toast and drinking my fresh brewed coffee, was a great start to my day. The sooner we say…enough is enough, can not come quick enough.

  16. Zathras

    “The Constitution as Whitlam believed, should always be under review”.

    In the USA I think it was one of their founding fathers who said that the American Constitution should constantly be updated in the way that “a man should not continue wear the clothing of a child”.

    It should be reviewed and updated to make it more relevant by each generation.

    All that seems to be happening now is the gradual erosion of personal freedoms by the continual introduction of behavioural constraints.

    The movie “I, Daniel Blake” perfectly describes the loss of personal dignity and respect for citizens by the state and should be seen by all politicians when it reaches our shores.

  17. Stephen Griffin

    There’s no doubt that we need a Charter of Human Rights embedded in the constitution. Our rights are easily eroded by conservative politicians to suit their corporate-fascist agenda. Laws are too easily changed by these crooks. For instance,take Metadata, Brandis wants to hand it over to Foxtel and the like so they can prosecute people for breaches of copyright.

    A Government has to represent its people, not be the lackey of corporate interests, and the best way of guaranteeing this is to include a Bill of Rights in the constitution.

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