Assaults on democracy

There are at least two fundamental requirements for a functioning democracy. In various ways, in recent years, we have seen political parties in Australia attempting to subvert and limit these requirements. This is an assault on democracy itself. It may not be deliberate – political parties, like business entities, will work within the constraints of the law to achieve their ends, and loopholes and aggressive tactics are a part of the game. But dress it up how you may, attempting to coerce the workings of parliament and the electoral choices of a population is anti-democratic even if done within the limitations of the laws of that democracy.

In the business sphere, there is an overarching structure to act as a check and balance. The courts, and above them the legislature, ensure that eventually businesses that exploit loopholes to the detriment of the community can be brought back into line. Through the testing of legislation in the courts, through the drafting of new laws and regulations, there are means to help ensure that the system is fluid and no entities can subvert the intention of the regulations to which all businesses are subject.

Politics has no such overarching structure. The limits on politics are the various parties themselves – where one party oversteps the bounds, the only bodies that can pull them up on it are other political parties. Some of the time this works. And sometimes it does not.

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Winner takes all

With the commencement of the 44th Australian parliament, and the installation of Bronwyn Bishop to the Speaker’s chair, it is appropriate timing to look at the way that democracy in Australia has been subverted over the past two terms of government, how this subversion is likely to continue, and what may be done to address it.

The subversion to which I refer may most readily be summed up as the phenomenon of “mandate”, but in more practical terms is described as the disempowerment of individual politicians, and by extension of the people that they represent.

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Could they?

Next week, the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will be held in Warsaw. These sessions are a continuation of the process that included the important and internationally accepted Kyoto Treaty, and are building towards a final meeting with the intention of creating a binding, internationally agreed treaty on climate change mitigation, in 2015.

Not entirely surprisingly, the Abbott Coalition government will not be sending a Minister nor a senior representative. This omission is regarded as “highly unusual“, but from a government openly skeptical of the human impact on climate change (or the very existence of it) and hostile to most accepted forms of responding to it, it can perhaps be understood. It is disturbingly ironic that the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will instead be in Parliament trying to dismantle Australia’s world-leading attempt at carbon abatement through an emissions trading scheme whilst his international counterparts will be at a global conference discussing ways to implement exactly this kind of scheme.

More disturbingly, the government has cancelled consultations which were already planned with domestic business representatives and foreign diplomats to brief them on Australia’s stance at the talks. These consultations are traditionally held in advance of this annual meeting and some have suggested that their cancellation indicates rifts and disagreements within the Abbott government about the appropriate approach. But a more sinister possibility exists.

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What do we do instead?

So it’s over; the Coalition has triumphed in the contest of ideas and will (eventually, one hopes) form a government.

Tony Abott has been described as the most effective opposition leader in a generation. This may or may not be accurate, but it cannot be argued that he has achieved his goals with a combination of balls-to-the-wall confrontation and maintaining a small target on his weakest points. The question now becomes what kind of a Prime Minister he will make, and what his collection of Howard-era ministers will do now they’ve reached power in 21st century.

The first thing we need to understand is that what the Coalition government will do, now it’s in power, is not what they said they would do while they were in opposition. Continue reading

This is democracy

500 BCE, Athens
This is democracy.

Each year, 500 names are randomly drawn afresh from the pool of eligible voters. These 500 citizens will serve the next year as the legislators for the city. All citizens of Athens are required to vote on any new law that this body creates. Votes are won by a simple majority: one voter, one vote.

There are some people whose opinion does not count; who do not get to vote. In ancient Athens, these include women, children, and slaves. Modern estimates indicate that of up to 300,000 people living in the region at the time, about 20% have voting rights.

Political literacy is high. The opinions of the people are heavily influenced by the media of the day – political satire performed in the theatres.

There are no politicians.

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The government that doesn’t want to govern

Originally published on The Australian Independent Media Network on 26 August 2013.

On 1 October, the Affordable Health Care Act comes into force in the United States. It has split the US down the middle – by some polls, over half of the population hates the Act. Detractors call it “Obamacare”, as if to identify it with a single person is to devalue the raft of policy and the nation-changing effects it will have. Republicans, quite simply, hate it outright.

I recently requested clarification from a right-wing, evangelical Christian blog as to why, if the Act is of so much benefit to the poor and downtrodden of America, the right oppose it. Continue reading

Worse than disrespect

On the face of it, Joe Hockey’s statement that talking about things like “costings” in this election campaign will bore everyone to death seems like run-of-the-mill disrespect for the electorate. After all, we’re in week two of an official election campaign, and spin and mistruths are par for the course regardless of your poison of choice. (Actually, this is not quite true: I cannot find any examples of egregious mistruth or deliberate spin in any statements by the Australian Greens. This may simply reflect that they have such a low proportion of the media coverage.) Continue reading