Can our democracy be saved?

bananaWhen you see Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, Joe Bullock elected in front of Louise Pratt, Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker, Tim Wilson given a job as a Human Rights Commissioner, Sophie Mirabella building submarines, and Alexander Downer showered with gifts from every direction, you know democracy is ailing if not already dead. It’s time for change.

As things stand politics in Australia is now the province of a political class that now offers a lifetime career path in federal and state parliaments, the public services and quangos. Entrance to this world often involves nepotism and cronyism. There can be few other legitimate jobs with salary packages over $300,000 that can often be obtained with virtually no experience and qualifications and little restrictions on second jobs or holidays.

Equating integrity with paying more money, flies in the face of history. By paying politicians starting salary packages of over $300,000, more people are attracted who could not get that salary level elsewhere. In fact people pursuing material gain should be discouraged from entering politics.

There is certainly no evidence that the massive increases of salary packages in recent years has increased benefits to the public or improved the quality of members or ministers compared to governments of the past. Far from paying peanuts and getting monkeys, paying more peanuts seems to attract gorillas.

Our system of government is an archaic farce. It was developed in the 18th century and did not anticipate the corruption of process that the two party system and the various factions, lobby groups and donors have produced.

An enormous amount of time and money is wasted on useless bickering and out-dated ceremony. This is an organisation entrusted with the role of running our country. It’s important. But our system has led to many professional politicians with little or no general life experience and unscrupulous opportunists, unburdened by ethics, who obsessively pursue power, money or both.  Parties gift electorates to family connections, malleable party hacks and mediocre apparatchiks.

The money spent on spin doctors and advertising and polling and campaigning and jetting around for photo opportunities is outrageous and to what end? Why should parliament be adversarial? Do we really need an Opposition? Why can’t it be a collection of men and women whose experience and expertise make them suited for this most important responsibility?

If the 150 federal seats were awarded by the percentage of first preference votes received, the two major parties would have 118 seats rather than the 145 they currently occupy, the Greens would have 13, PUP 8, with 11 “others”. This would actually represent the “will of the people”.

Switzerland has been described as the closest thing to a true democracy. Parliamentary elections are organised around a proportional multi-party voting system and executive elections are organized around a popular vote directly for individuals, where the individual with the most votes wins. The third type of election, referendums, concern policy issues.

Parliament, known as the Federal Assembly, is made up of the Council of States (46 seats – members serve four-year terms) and the National Council (200 seats – members serve four-year terms and are elected by popular vote on a basis of proportional representation).

The two chambers of Switzerland’s national parliament meet several times annually for sessions of several weeks and in between, conduct meetings in numerous commissions. But being a member of parliament is not a full time job in Switzerland, contrary to most other countries today. This means that members of parliament have to practise an ordinary profession to earn their living – thereby they are closer to the everyday life of their electorate.

The government is a seven-member executive council, elected for a four year term, that heads the federal administration, operating as a combination cabinet and collective presidency. It is a Coalition of the four major parties, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The President, elected for a one-year term, has almost no powers over and above his or her six colleagues, but undertakes representative functions normally performed by a president or prime minister in single-executive systems. They share the role around.

The Swiss executive is one of the most stable governments worldwide. Since 1848, it has never been renewed entirely at the same time, providing a long-term continuity. Changes in the council occur typically only if one of the members resigns (only four incumbent members were voted out of the office in over 150 years); this member is almost always replaced by someone from the same party.  Most members retire after two or three terms. Since 1990 Switzerland has had some 22 ministers in federal government. In the same time we have had a kaleidoscope of around 300 ministers.

The really remarkable thing about Switzerland’s political system is Direct Democracy – the extraordinary amount of participation in the political process that is granted to ordinary citizens.

Any citizen may challenge a law that has been passed by parliament. If that person is able to gather 50,000 signatures (out of 5.1 million voters) against the law within 100 days, a national vote has to be scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority of the voters whether to accept or reject the law.

Also, any citizen may seek a decision on an amendment they want to make to the constitution. For such a federal popular initiative to be organised, the signatures of 100,000 voters must be collected within 18 months.

The parliament will discuss the proposals, probably set up an alternative and afterwards all citizens may decide in a referendum whether to accept the original initiative, the alternate parliamentary proposal or to leave the constitution unchanged. Initiatives that are of constitutional level have to be accepted by a double majority of both the popular votes and a majority of the cantons, while counter-proposals may be of legislative level and hence require only simple majority.

The frequent use of referenda is not only encouraged by Switzerland’s Constitution, but practised with enthusiasm by the citizens. Approximately four times a year, voting occurs over various issues; these include both Referendums, where policies are directly voted on by people, and elections, where the populace votes for officials. Federal, cantonal and municipal issues are polled simultaneously, and the majority of people cast their votes by mail. Between January 1995 and June 2005, Swiss citizens voted 31 times, to answer 103 questions. Several cantons have developed test projects to allow citizens to vote via the Internet or by SMS.

The threat of a referendum called by a party defeated in parliament on an issue causes the parties to be more willing to negotiate and compromise. As extreme laws will mercilessly be blocked by the electorate in referenda, parties are less inclined to radical changes in laws and voters are less inclined to call for fundamental changes in elections. There is no need to dismiss the government after a lost referendum, because the referendum solves the problem – preventing an extreme law – more efficiently. On the very same day, three new laws may be accepted and two others rejected.

Most people today believe they should have a right to have their say in all decisions that affect them. Yet the usual position of politicians is to say “we were elected to make the decisions and if you don’t like it vote against us at the next election”. This view is totally unsatisfactory. It is the decision people are interested in, not revenge some time later. In addition general elections provide only a mandate to govern – they do not provide a mandate for all or any future decisions except in rare circumstances.

 Serious reform in Australia is perhaps many years into the future and the obstacles and enemies of democratic reform are many. The political parties and their partisan supporters’ overwhelming interest is in gaining power and preserving the political duopoly. Big business is implacably opposed to more democracy. It wants more centralisation of power. It currently employs more than 600 registered lobbyists in Canberra and spends millions of dollars to subvert democracy. Big media is always constrained by its owners’ interests. Since the Second World War there has been a growth of corporate propaganda to protect corporate power against democracy.

With the possibility of a Republic back in the front of mind thanks to Tony’s knights and dames folly, it is time to reignite the discussion about just what sort of a democracy we want.

 

 

 

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Categories: Politics

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46 replies

  1. These were the questions asked in the last Swiss referendum in February

    Funding of railway infrastructure
    Private funding of abortions
    Re-introduction of immigration quotas

    http://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/swiss_news/Vote_results.html?cid=37851262

  2. Once again you have elucidated the problems but now I think it’s time for you to as you threatened/promised yesterday, to start proposing alternatives.

    We know what’s wrong but where do we start with correcting things? The Swiss system sounds like an alternative but to go there would require bipartisanship of an unprecedented level because of the cost to individual pollies. Also The Swiss system works because it is a relatively small. Heterogeneous population with a history of (selfish)isolationism .

    Hmm does some of that sound like what we have?

    I despair at the size of the task required, and the difficulty of mobilising the effort required but that’s why the smug bastards can continue as they do, they know how hard it is to mobilise against them.

  3. “Serious reform in Australia is perhaps many years into the future and the obstacles and enemies of democratic reform are many”

    It would certainly help if the voters understood that they ARE a democracy, rather than believing that the live IN a democracy. It’s not just something that happens every three years. They have to hold their leaders accountable at all times. They can’t just base their choices on a few slogans and bribes thrown around on the campaign trail.

    The people have the power to elect their leaders, but with it goes the responsibility to their fellow citizens to do it wisely. Assuming, of course, that the government is open and transparent.

    Then there’s the role of the “fourth estate” in enabling the electorate in making responsible, informed choices rather than acting out of short-term self-interest.

    To paraphrase Freddy Mercury… it’s not the real life. It’s just fantasy. Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality…

  4. To suggest alternatives has me going in circles. I have some ideas, but then if you ask me how to get them into practice I cannot answer. Becoming a Republic will give us a chance to change. I am hearing rumblings from various different quarters about how this system is broken. Perhaps I can call my ideas a “discussion paper” like the Coalition do when they leak an idea to see how people respond. But until someone recognises my true potential and makes me benevolent despot, I will just keep typing away, learning from you all and hopefully prompting people to think about how things could be better.

  5. Kaye Lee…. this is your best work IMHO. Well done.

    Before one can be cured, one must recognise being sick. This is what the Australian people need to face.

  6. Excellent article.

    This will give me something to contemplate over the Easter holiday. My initial thoughts tend to be that it’d be much easier to just move to Switzerland rather than tackle meaningful change in Australia. That might sound somewhat defeatist but given the enormity of how tainted Australian politics is by Big Money it’d be a whole lot easier.

    I suspect any change can only come about by breaking the political power duopoly. But as Kaye Lee observes there is considerable vested interests that want the LNP / ALP status quo maintained.
    Obviously the media landscape in Australia would have to change significantly before there was reform in Australian politics. And that is not necessarily out of the question. The Australian newspaper is becoming a significant loss-maker and you would think its end was nigh.

    Hmmm… that’s quite a big question that Kaye Lee’s article asks. And it’s a question we need to find an answer to because I am utterly dismayed that Australia has a nutter like George Brandis as Attorney General!

  7. @mars08, the problem is we have no tangible means of making our politicians accountable. Their policies are formed in back rooms, influenced by money and vested interests, their decisions made in secret – only revealed after 30 years, or never as discussions with business are more inclined to be classified as “commercial in confidence”.

    Apart from a few opinion polls, some headlines and loads of people complaining on social media, the public has no true recourse for politicians who lie, cheat, steal and prostitute our nation to the highest corporate bidder.

    Certainly, the media nowadays are completely flaccid in challenging the government and keeping them to their word because the media owners and the government are in bed.

    Apart from summarily executing non-performing politicians, which I dare say would force them to smarten-up their act considerably, we have no way to ensure they act in our best interests on a daily basis.

    We vote every 3 or 4 years, but the money gets to vote every minute of the day. Even when we do get the rare opportunity to have a say in our supposed democracy, the choices we are offered are not the people we would choose, they have been preselected for us from a limited pool.

    Much like a day old smorgasbord left out on a hot Summer day, the candidate choices presented to us during elections are often rotten, rancid, fly-blown, and surrounded with the stench of decay and corruption – yet we seem to be given no other choices. We willingly accept this limitation without question as we sort through the foetid mess and pick-out the least worst candidate and party, instead of complaining and demanding better for our money.

    And it is OUR money that pays for this service, so as customers we are entitled to the best available candidates. We wouldn’t put up with this kind of service in a restaurant or in any other industry, so why to we accept it in politics? Because the politicians say it is so? Because they set the rules?

    Those same politicians talk long and loudly about how increasing competition is good for everyone, yet when it comes to their own little duopoly arrangement, they will fight tooth and claw to prevent it.

    They need to be reminded that they work for us, not the other way around. Just like we would do in a restaurant, we need to stand-up and demand a level of service commensurate with the money we are paying.

  8. Why should parliament be adversarial?

    Indeed parliament is ‘adversarial’! But isn’t society in general adversarial? When it comes to who shares the ‘wealth’, isn’t that a contest? Are you suggesting that ‘parliament’ shouldn’t reflect the ‘reality’ of what actually happens on a daily and ongoing basis?

    Should government be about promoting ‘solidarity and stability’ ? Is it the case, there is a ‘common interest’ and if so, what is that ‘common interest’?

    The IPA suggest it’s all about ‘property rights’, ‘rule of law’ and the ‘status quo’, broadly defined. To put it simply, their view is ‘that when you’re on a good thing (the current arrangements) stick to it’.

    In general should we see society through a ‘structural functionalist’ perspective?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structural_functionalism

    (Well it is an introduction).

    Or perhaps through a ‘conflict perspective’?

    http://sociology.about.com/od/C_Index/g/Conflict-Perspective.htm

    So many ‘reality constructs’.

  9. Rather than customers, I see us as shareholders.

    Every citizen of Australia is a shareholder in its assets. We employ our government to manage our assets to pay for our daily needs and to be invested for the long term greater good of our nation.

    Every day working Australians donate a portion of their pay to the common pool of funds. Part of that money is income insurance against the time when they will be too old or sick to work or when they find themselves between jobs.

    This idea that Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey can use our money to pay people like Tim Wilson, or to give polluters handouts to upgrade their factories, or to buy female votes with the ridiculous PPL, is wrong. Self-regulation in a government with unfettered access to our money is not working.

  10. BTW, Michael, I’m sure you’ve noticed there’s so many ‘contributors’ who want to tell you how to ‘run’, ‘design’, ‘reformulate’, ‘improve’ your blog.

    Hilarious.

  11. Interesting Kaye Lee that you use words such as: ‘shareholders’, ‘assets’, ’employ’, ‘manage’, ‘pay’. ‘invested’, when you speak of the ‘role of government’.

    Further reinforced by: ‘can use our money to pay people like Tim Wilson’. And: ‘unfettered access to our money’.

    I suggest that you come across as someone who sees government as an agency of ‘economic’ interests and little else. A bit sad.

    There are arguments that go beyond the ‘economic’. And those arguments are deeper and more significant.

  12. You judge me very wrongly Matters Not. The decisions are far more important than the money. My point is that they don’t own a business, we are not their customers – we are their employers, we are the ones who bankroll whatever they decide to do. They are trustees and I agree in far more important things than money.

    Stakeholders would have been a better term, but a lot of it does come down to prioritising expenditure and questionable privitisation

  13. Kaye Lee, I think your language demonstrates my point:

    we are not their customers – we are their employers, we are the ones who bankroll whatever they decide to do

    The concept of ‘citizenship’ has no ‘seat on the bus’ while economic concepts abound.

    Yes, I know it’s now hard to think of relationships that are above and beyond the business/economic concepts, but we should at least try?

  14. Perhaps Michael could set up a process where we can meet online and begin the conversation.

    I have to say this is the third time this weekend I have seen something and there is a conversation beginning elsewhere involving over half a million Australians.

    Thoughts?

  15. Start here – a parliament with 70 independent reps. No party affiliation.

  16. Matters Not,

    Give me an example of government citizenship that has nothing to do with money

  17. Words can be important, as in the apologies to the stolen generation and forced adoptions. They also make a difference in foreign affairs and the constitution. Initiatives like John Howard’s gun laws are good, though that did involve the gun buyback, and would no doubt see us sued under the new free trade agreements. But when we talk about governing like action on climate change and income inequity, environmental laws, education, health, welfare, employment initiatives, affordable housing, infrastructure etc we get back to money.

  18. I believe the opportunity to change will come when our economic system comes face to face with reality, as it must in the near future. It will be interesting to see then if we act in a dog eat dog way or a more unselfish mature way. Interesting times

  19. One of the chief criticisms of neoliberalism is its propensity to monetise ‘everything’.

    Curiously enough John Paul II spoke out against neoliberalism in the 80s & 90s:
    “More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as ‘neoliberalism’ prevails; based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust.” (http://ncronline.org/news/politics/strange-bedfellows-religious-liberty-and-neoliberalism)

    (See also – http://insidethevatican.com/news/analysis/america-and-catholic-social-teaching-an-urgent-warning)

    For some reason the words of JP2 didn’t make it into wide circulation in the mainstream media. Funny that.
    Likewise, Robert Reich is somebody who looks at the role of Big Money in American politics. He believes one of the ways to safeguard democracy is to break up the corporations that concentrate such wealth and power (http://robertreich.org/post/82938136466)

    I recently came across an article titled ‘The Liberal Party and the Future’ by JL Carrick, a Liberal Party official, that was published in the Australian Quarterly back in 1967. It’s a curious ‘museum piece’ in what it says about the then Liberal Party and the values it espoused. Among some of the things Carrick asserts is “Liberalism and laissez-faire can never co-exist. The true Liberal is always concerned for the welfare of the individual, for the creation of opportunities, for the preservation of human dignity and the development of human personality.”

    Carrick wrote that science and education were crucial for Australia’s future and acknowledges the significance of “the growth and adaptation of Keynesian economics” to Australian prosperity. Carrick goes onto note that “Full employment and rising living standards, together with comprehensive social services, are accepted as the minimum requirement from any government.” Hmmm… that’s a very long way from anything a modern day Liberal Party official would say at the moment.

    The most significant comment from Carrick’s article in regards to Kaye Lee’s question ‘Can our democracy be saved?’ is his observation that the strength of the Liberal Party at the time was “Its broad-based finance-raising enables it to be free from pressure groups and allows its Parliamentary members full freedom of conscience and judgement.”

    Funding for some in the Liberal Party had been a contentious issue. When the Party was being established many protested against receiving ‘donations’ from the IPA. The forerunner of the Liberal’s had been the UAP that self-imploded due to the excessive influence of Big Business. Perhaps what we’re seeing at the moment with Australian is just a case that the more things change the more they stay the same?

    It’s worth noting that Carrick had been a prisoner of war in Malaya & Thailand during World War II. I do sometimes wonder if the perceived lack of interest in politics and a sense of apathy in the electorate is due to people taking things for granted. Perhaps the biggest threat to democracy is that people just don’t understand history well enough? I’m really not sure how you would go about engaging the disinterested.

  20. NO – The same brainless public remain 😦

  21. Super great article and comments Kaye Lee.

    Becoming a republic could indeed create an opportunity for more substantial constitutional progress toward democratic governance.

    I know this is simplistic compared to many of the reasoned comments I’ve read here since recently becoming acquainted with aimn but here goes.

    I feel if people are looking for solutions to the depressing political mess we endure; they begin and end in the electorate. An electorate currently subject to effective conditioning by vested interests, better conditioned it seems here in Australia than most places. There will be little gained from a referendum on a progressive issue while we have an electorate willing to vote in the Abbott government.

    I think the potential of social media to affect political change has only been glimpsed up to now. What if every future orientated, fair minded, compassionate thinker was themselves a truly active source of sociopolitical media? Rather than for the most part being consumers of sociopolitical media and producers of little or perhaps producers of non political media. Every reasonable forward thinking person feeding simple communicable ideas from one another and into the broader community. Undermining the dominant discourse of fear and self interest with logic and hope. It’s not hard to win the argument it’s just about being heard.

    To that end I think one solution is in promoting the idea of continual publishing and re-publishing of material both the more complex ideas but also importantly, simple ones. To some it may seen like a road to info glut. But I feel that while the systems of control have the advantage of broadcast ability, those who hope to oppose this hegemony must use the advantage of numbers. And passion. The passion that comes with knowing you are on the right side of history (or so I hope).

    If 10% of the population suddenly became passionate advocates of political reform for example via the ready systems of social media the idea would radiate profoundly through the country. The barriers I feel are things like people not wanting to be viewed as political, general lack of self confidence and the disrespect that exists toward narsisistc over sharers.

    The problem is the electorate. It’s a manufactured problem. The solution aught to be able to be manufactured as well.

  22. We are ridding on the back of the US and here is what has happened to democracy there.

    And no we are no longer a democracy. It seems we are a little too late.

    http://www.policymic.com/articles/87719/princeton-concludes-what-kind-of-government-america-really-has-and-it-s-not-a-democracy?utm_source=policymicFB&utm_medium=main&utm_campaign=social

    Have been deeply considering your post Kaye and will take some time and thought to answer adequately.

    Given the above post we are in deep Do Do poo.

  23. Very well said philasophigas 🙂

  24. ABC Compass yesterday demonstrates how Australians wealthy are amongst the least generous philanthropists on the planet. A few brave business people were courageous enough to take their fellow wealthy to task over their unrivaled meanness.

    This says a lot about the attitude of power and privilege in this country. I notice The Guardian UK many bloggers ate starting to note that US style economics and politics is infiltrating the UK.

    We are on our own highway to hell. Just a few visits to Republican sites and even some Democrat media demonstrates how nasty and selfish the first world is becoming.

    We progressives certainly have a real battle on our hands. I am in agreement with many of you on this site and will hope to contribute something meaningful however the problems are legion and we definitely need a new approach to challenge LNP and ALP. I think it is critical to force the ALP further to the left. This floating of to the right is going to push a whole lot of people into hardship and poverty.

    Politics is deeply corrupt and while the two party monopoly remains we will have our work cut out for us.

    Another useful link covering French economist Thomas Piketty.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/13/occupy-right-capitalism-failed-world-french-economist-thomas-piketty

  25. We need a new political model, in essence a meta-theory, that espouses underlying principles of justice, equity and meaningful utilitarian redistribution of wealth. Capitalism, conservatism, neoconservative, Marxism, economic rationalism etc. fail to meet the demands of a contemporary progressive movement which must come to grips with science, technology and propositional logic. The thing is not to argue with religions per se, or joust with fundamentalist ideologues but to carry through on a truly democratic constitution that has no basis in religious ideology so that it can be a representative set of principles applicable to everyone. That is what a constitution is for. Politics is not a religion it is an idealized system of governance based upon democratic principles of justice and equity. How to get there? All I can say is we must try even if the framework is not yet clearly explicable.

  26. Dear Kaye, dear commentators,

    I am also deeply concerned about where we in Australia are heading.

    Whilst I like the Swiss model, I don’t see it working in Australia at the moment. It believe it developed organically over centuries, whilst the Australian political system was imported from the UK into a penal colony. When survival is the primary focus (as it would have been in the early days), I doubt even the finer points of the Westminster system would have made it across. Fast forward to today, and the two-party duopoly and very uninspiring main stream media (or should that be main stream entertainment?) make change much more unlikely.

    As odd as it may seem, this is actually where the Australian political system is much more flexible than the Swiss may be. Because the current Australian political system and society are relatively young (compared to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders or the Swiss), rapid changes in fundamental setting to the way the system operates are possible. This can be seen the the very fundamental shift that has occurred since the Abbott government was elected.

    Any significant change will require an approach beyond party boundaries. I don’t see Labor or Liberal embracing this, as they are – one more than the other – just able to hold their internal differences together. The way political discourse has been framed, it is competitive and adversarial to the core. I see little chance of that changing “voluntarily”.

    A key issue I see is the quality of discourse. There seems to be no widely accepted “authority”. Not too long ago, there would have been common fundamentals, be they the conventions of the Westminster system, international legal norms, or an acceptance of the advice provided by scientists. Now everything is “up for grabs”, and Brandis calling the “left’s” approach to scientific debate medieval is quite unbelievable.

    I find it exhausting. I read what the current government is doing and go through the stages of grief every day – disbelief/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, at times, acceptance. It is incredibly draining.

    Whilst it is important to keep track of what is going on, I find I am getting more and more to the point of choosing when to engage in debate. Ultimately a lot of politics is belief-based. Be it belief in God, the IPA, the labour cause, equality, social justice or science, to name a few. My own bent is to focus more on the social justice side and – as far as possible – solid data / science. The end doesn’t justify the means for me.

    So my current thinking is that I like to be up-front about the parameters for debate. There are certain things which I believe there is enough evidence for, and I would look to build policies based on these. I even thought of maybe founding a party which in my view would occupy the “middle ground”. Pragmatic, life-enhancing and largely science-based policies. When people are tired of “the old” and bouncing back and forth between the left and right, a calm, considered and measured voice may be what they are willing to listen to. Party membership would be open to all who accept the common, fundamental assumptions, but leadership positions only for those who have been members for a number of years.

    What are some of the fundamental assumptions for me?
    – AGW is a reality
    – Fossil fuels, that we have used to cause and what we use to mitigate impacts, will not be around in the quantities we are used to, meaning prices will go up and significant strain will be placed on our society (“peak oil”)
    – All decisions must be assessed asking the question: will this decision still enable a flourishing human society in 2080? Will it ensure a safe, clean water supply, healthy food and a healthy environment for people to live in. If not, then I would look for a different decision.

    The second point is the killer. A lot of the debate we are having will be academic in the not too-distant future. And we will rue the billions the current government is planning to invest in roads and airports.

    The sad thing in my view is – we are struggling to have decent political discourse in Australia now. What will it be like when significant numbers of people are more concerned about where their next meal is coming from?

    What gives me hope is that if the threat is clear, we are able to focus. War economy comes to mind. If we stop fighting with each other (left and right) and focus on the threat to our joint survival (and don’t externalise it through getting involved in another overseas war), a different world is possible. Imagine if all newspapers and media devoted a large part of their attention to a single topic: building a new society to mitigate the impacts of peak oil and climate change. That would change perceptions and be a debate worth having. It will be a debate that will be had, but the later we leave it, the fewer options will be open to us and the harder it will be.

  27. Here’s an idea to think upon…Every five years there’s an election and the winning party wins three years and the losing party wins two. The winning party is to decide how to implement their three years so the incentive is to become bipartisan. This would make the time a party has (and will have) productive and not negative.Instead of wilting in the wilderness waiting for an opportunuty and not knowing what to do with it, knowing there is a brief period to implement policy perhaps conflict may be reduced and solution focussed democracy enhanced

  28. Dear Curios201,

    I don’t understand your comment “This can be seen the the very fundamental shift that has occurred since the Abbott government was elected.”

    Are you talking about mainstream media generated opinion polls? Or, the fact a bunch of gormless folk suddenly discovered their self-interest was under threat… I’m just wondering if you could clarify what you mean by a fundamental shift occurring since the Abbott government was elected.

    I agree with your comments about the ‘framing’ of political discourse. At the end of the day that is all it is – something presented as entertainment, much like the footy – Collingwood Vs Carlton & ALP Vs LNP… It gets the punters passionate I suppose…

    The “authority” – as you call it – has left society. One only has to look at Easter. The 24/7 world of rampant consumerism doesn’t have time to stop…

    I would actually suggest most of what you sensibly propose as a political manifesto is how the world has thus far developed with a sense of peace and prosperity. It’s why regulation – red tape – isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Everybody needs boundaries. Every resource has its limits.

    You ask an interesting question “What will it be like when significant numbers of people are more concerned about where their next meal is coming from?”

    People forget. History gets lost. Deprivation and starvation is consistent with the Australian experience. That’s why Menzies was a Keynesian. Real gut-aching hunger was once a day to day reality for most Australians.

    In essence Keynes was a response to hunger & inequity and that seems to be something Australia is forgetting.

  29. The conversation and our aims can be framed simply, in terms of representatives of various thought processes including right and left leaning, Communist, mildly socialist, green etc by going after a bunch of non aligned independents whose only platform is the issues raised in their own electorates.

    We all keep talking in the current paradigm which is the 2 party system that has been used to fuck us for years until we all have no faith and a sore arse. The only people who have progressed under it are those who see their arses as a method of gaining something.

    I can only think of one person who has sold his arse, obviously to a fat 80 year old American newspaper printer, and it got him 5 months of free advertising to do it.

    I don’t really see that as the Australia we want to be seen as being part of. Same as the bullshit with putting babies into off-shore migration detention. We really aren’t that person. We care about others. Liberals don’t. For them all is measured in dollars.

    Then we suddenly realise that ALP also do that shit, so where are we left in terms of having our views of the national conversation portrayed to others? Half the world’s press refer to “our” arse seller as a fucking idiot. Where does that leave those of us who don’t see money as the measure of the who of us? How does that leave us feeling in terms of how we are seen by the rest of the world?

    Like it or not the election of that nonce changed the world view of us as a country in terms of our world citizenship. We aren’t that easy to get along with country where things are fairly laid back. No. No we are self absorbed incoherent fuckwits who can’t make a valid point for love nor money.

    At least John Howard made sense when he opened his mouth. This moron needs instruction from little boy head bashing abuser Alan Jones to make sense, or a microphone in the ear Amazon like Peta Credlin (though even that doesn’t work all that well).

  30. Dear jasonblog,

    happy to oblige.

    Re my statement about the fundamental shift that has occurred since the Abbott government was elected – I wasn’t looking at how it is presented in the media or how it is perceived by those affected. I was actually referring to the ease with which conventions (e.g. access to cabinet papers), institutions (the numerous that were abolished or had significant cuts to their funding) or programs can be altered. In longer-established societies with a stronger common understanding of how they want their societies run, these rapid changes to the political and social landscape would not be as easily done as they are in Australia. I see this as a risk, as Abbott is busily dismantling things that have taken years to develop. But also as an opportunity, in that if/when there is a change in public awareness, the system can be more easily changed as well.

    Working as organisational development consultant, though, I know that the damage that is and has been inflicted to the public sector in the past few years will take years to heal, if at all.

    The thing that really makes me angry is when one looks a bit further than 2 years back and 4 years ahead. The scientific method has taken 100s of years to develop and is the best method 1000s of deep thinkers were able to come up with over many generations to help us minimise the impacts of our biases in thinking. And in six months, the current government has simply tipped out 600 years of heritage and hard-won insight to pursue the short-term agenda of certain business interests. But at least the current government is not alone – look at Wyoming which legislated against a new set of national science standards that address climate change (http://news.yahoo.com/science-oil-dont-mix-wyoming-becomes-first-state-180008311.html). WTF!!!!

    Similarly, look more than 4 years ahead. In 20, 40 years people will most likely look back on this time in sheer disbelief. At least I assume they will. And the children of the current generation of politicians – I believe some will be embarrassed by what their parents did.

    But ultimately – and this is the strange part. Not getting what we want may be a good thing. We are heading into a time of great clarity and it will be clear where each individual’s priorities lie. I believe that when the suffering caused by the current way gets too large, we will create something new. Hopefully better, but that will depend on a range of factors.

    One of the things I’m hoping for is that we will develop a new relationship with money. From the quick reading I did on Wikipedia, Keynes definitely was one step closer than the previous paradigm.
    I believe in the future local currencies can play a significant role. Did you know there was one town during the great depression that had virtually no unemployment? http://www.lietaer.com/2010/03/the-worgl-experiment/

  31. It’s highly possible that I am drug-fucked and alcohol-insensible, but you make a good point Sir Scotch.

    I feel your pain.

    You wrote: “Like it or not the election of that nonce changed the world view of us as a country in terms of our world citizenship. We aren’t that easy to get along with country where things are fairly laid back. No. No we are self absorbed incoherent fuckwits who can’t make a valid point for love nor money.”

    True.

  32. Money sucks. You can’t suck money. I read it on a tee-shirt sometime. You can’t eat money. That’s true. You can’t eat money. YOU CANNOT FUCKING EAT MONEY…

    The WORGL Experiment is not that far removed from the bartering that was common place – (at least to the experience of my grandparents) – that occurred until recent decades.

    We now live in a comprehensively monetised “society”. The idea of being at ‘liberty’ and to be able to apply your own craft and ingenuity to comprehensively provide for yourself is limited. If a person does not have access to ‘money’ then their life choices are extremely limited. Realistically they cannot live outside of the ‘money’ that is controlled by the banks… and the government – in Australia it is either ALP or LNP and they simply do what the banks want – so they do what they can.

    The fucking bit that pisses me off is the greedy corporations. Honestly, we have this brain fucking dead political discourse that indulges in a wankfest of News Corp nutters deliberately deceiving people. The world without corporations is a good world. A world that lives within its means is a good world. A world that celebrates art & culture is a good world. A world that gets a bit of dirt under its finger nails from growing its own food that it eats – that’s a good world.

    I grow a bit of this that I trade with you for what you have crafted. A fair and simple liberal trade. Where did it all go wrong?

  33. It’s hard to craft a plasma tv and I’m not sure what they would accept in trade for your mobile phone bill. We have been sucked into consumerism. I learned to darn when I was at school…what a waste THAT was.

  34. Dear Sir Curios2012,

    I am happy to confirm that I am monumentally shit-faced. And I have a feeling you might be right.

    I agree that the assault by Abbott on what should be democratic institutions is a disgrace.
    The public sector is demonised because of the religion that is ‘neoliberalism’. What goes around comes around. And then it goes. Fleeting. Like a thing that fleets. Made no sense to me either.

    How did we all become so complacent?

    I agree with you Curios2012 – the brain-fuck comes from being able to look back & learn and be able to imaginatively project into the future and foretell a shit-storm. I guess we just never learn from history.

  35. @Kaye Lee

    But obviously the skill was considered important for the development of a resourceful person…

  36. Darning… it’s kind of like something Felicity Kendall and Richard Briers may have discussed in ‘The Good Life’. That was forty years ago. Who needs a plasma TV anyway?

    Is that the only meaning we can give meaning to life? Endless consumerism? Perhaps we need to create something like a God to discipline us?

  37. Kaye Lee
    Thanks, that was really interesting. Like everyone else I had heard that Switzerland had something like perfect democracy but I had no idea how it worked. The comments have been interesting also. Switzerland, I have discovered is also a Federation (26 cantons), formed in the early 19th century. Australia, the world’s sixth largest nation, is 190 times larger than Switzerland but has a population only three times greater. The population of Switzerland is about 8 million, roughly the same as Greater London. If evenly distributed this would give about 300 – 310,000 Swiss per canton. In Australia, if evenly distributed we would have about 150,000 people living in every Federal lower house seat. So some of the rough characteristics necessary to achieve more participatory democracy seem to be OK here in Australia. Historically distance has probably been a major hindrance to greater democratic participation but perhaps today in our hyper-connected online world this might be overcome if the will to reform could be manufactured?

    There are two classes of issue here. One is connected to the structure of our democratic system and perhaps the biggest is the limits to (or absence of ) independent oversight of the parliamentary processes. When political parties supposedly in opposition to each other engage with impunity in cartel activity which if it occurred in the business community would see directors prosecuted and gaoled, change is needed. Here the Greens’ proposal for a Federal equivalent of State based corruption bodies like ICAC is relevant. Anyone think the ‘old’ parties will support this? Neither do I.

    Another issue of this type is the mandatory distribution of preferences that reduces every election to a two horse race. When (as now) neither of the horses is really a suitable winner this becomes a major impediment to desirable change. Anyone think that our two ‘old’ parties would support a suggestion from the AEC that voters should themselves decide whether their vote should be allocated to any other party/candidate than the one they nominated as their preferred choice? Neither do I.

    The other class of issue your article raises seem to me to be as much about the lack of transparency in, and anti democratic nature of, the internal workings of political parties. In their internal workings both of our ‘old’ parties more closely resemble feuding medieval city states than modern democratic institutions. Anyone think that they would support legislated reform that subjected them to (for example) something resembling the rules governing probity and practice that apply to ASX listed companies? Neither do I.

    I am a Green. As with other politicians and political parties they should be adhering to the sort of legally sanctioned integrity standards that apply elsewhere in our society. Generally I believe they do a pretty good job but unfortunately worrying signs of the corrupting influence of the conditions under which they work also have begun to appear in the behavior of Greens’ politicians. Mark Bahnisch (co-founder of the late lamented Larvatus Prodeo blog site) has drawn attention on FB to a newspaper report of Qld Greens senator Larissa Waters’ luxury refurbishment ($400k+), at taxpayer expense, of her electoral office. I find this disturbing as I have regarded her highly. It is not so much the amount (excessive but this looks a relatively minor case of snout in trough syndrome to me) as what it suggests about politicians’ perceptions of acceptable standards of behavior in public life. Australians (particularly Greens members and supporters) who take these problems seriously should contact Larissa Waters’ office and let her know that this is completely unacceptable, that we expect and demand better.

    The fact that only a minority of Australians apparently currently believe that we should symbolically cut the ties to the British monarchy (by becoming a republic) does not give me much hope that there is will to take on the much harder task of parliamentary and political reform however. Likewise the fact that the holders of power in our broken political system would be required to voluntarily relinquish it in any reform process gives me little hope that reform is possible. The inter-colonial rivalries that shaped the democratic system we invented for ourselves still live on today.

  38. Douglas

    It just begs belief that Australians support a monarchy which demands the Queen opens parliament by reading the Governments agenda of a crook and hypocrite like Cameron. Another debase and corrupt Christian. That’s what tradition does for you mutes decent through royal decree.

    That the scaredy bear fraidy cats cannot stand on their own two feat is abysmal. The British Commonwealth left a litany of destruction and redrawn borders that have caused untold international conflicts, suffering and misery. Brings to mind Keating’s uneducated swill.

    Do people ever read the true history of imperial greed and avarice? We only have to look a the plight of Aboriginal Australians to view the results of Commonwealth and monarchy. Many Australians appear to belong to the myopic walking ignorant. What a travesty of Justice.

  39. Switzerland’s Direct Democracy appears attractive on the surface but it means that any bigotry can get up and become legislation binding on the government. A lot of racism is is showing through in Europe and Switzerland is no exception.

  40. Rais
    Western Europe is experiencing a massive influx of economic migrants and refugees from elsewhere. Google tells me that net migration into the EU (roughly 854,000 in 2010) is more than 1.5 times greater than the number of babies born. Under these circumstances racism will flourish. The little that I know about it suggests that deep rooted conservatism and suspicion of outsiders is fundamental to the Swiss character anyhow. The history and particularly the geography of the place makes this pretty well inevitable. Racism is an expression of these characteristics so it’s no surprise to me if the Swiss are as racist as the worst of us. My question would be how much is this a function of national character rather than the system of government? Switzerland is surrounded by parliamentary democracies more like ours, (France, Germany and Austria for example) where racism is also on the rise.

  41. Counterpunch and Truthout have recently been running some good articles regarding the state of health of democracy – whatever that may be!!!

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/25/unite-against-imperialism/

    http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23253-prophecy-delivered-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-death-of-democracy

    http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/23306-neoliberalisms-war-on-democracy

    As it stands the world is heading towards war. I hope Larissa enjoys her refurb. The corruption of the Greens has only just started.

    The ALP will finesse and finagle its way through the next few years. It will probably get the big gig again sooner rather than later, but the consummate fascist – Abbott – will have achieved all he needs to.

    What is democracy? Nothing really but the hopeful reaction to economic liberalism. The more brutal laissez faire became with the industrial revolution the more the masses had to huddle together to protect themselves and plan the fight against being simply grist to the mill. To be something more than cannon-fodder in the grand pursuit of profits. To be allowed some sort of human dignity.

    Abbott is simply a tool in the great workshop of fascism that has its beginnings in the 1890s economic disaster of an unregulated market economy.

    Hockey’s budgetary attacks on pensioners while the military is upgraded is just par for the course. So, Australia will spend shitloads on dodgy fighter planes and creepy drones, but will enforce a perverse social-Darwinism view to the fucking ‘plebs’ who are not actively feeding the machine.

    In the name of efficiency perhaps we could just put them all against the wall and shoot them?

    The ‘Good Weekend’ supplement in this weekend’s ‘Age’ (26/04/2014) had an excellent feature on Malcolm Fraser by Robert Manne. It’s well worth reading and considering exactly what is Australian sovereignty, the idea of democracy in Australia, and how the ideals of political parties become corrupted by the incessant clamour of think-tanks and lobby groups.

    Something useful to check out is http://thinktank-watch.blogspot.com.au/1988/12/mission-statement.html and one can soon begin to comprehend the war being waged against democracy.

    If Australia is going to save its democracy it has one hell of a fight on its hands. But, I suspect the American economy need for a war against China or Russia (hell, why not both?) will prevail long before the average Aussie has woken up to what is actually taking place…

  42. Ok I am a bit slow, in catching up with social media, age shall not weary me though. At last I have found some debate on the ‘State of the Nation’ and its not pretty. Why is democracy almost dead, I suspect we have brought it upon ourselves.
    She’ll be right and our ‘so called ‘Lucky Country’ image has deadened any interest in what ‘our elders and betters’ are getting up to. We have to waken up, and start taking back what is our right as Citizens. but who is up for it?

    70+

  43. Welcome to the fray Patricia. We are doing our best to wake people up and need people like you to join us. 🙂

  44. For the love of accurate knowledge, please look up the qouta of foreigners who live in Switzerland. Eye-opening. We aren’t racist, our system just allows to say enough is enough. Funny how even the degrowth movement cannot grasp this simple fact.

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