News & Current Affairs
12 September 2014
by John Lord
Seriously. Is our Democracy stuffed?
Two books have recently been published that address the state of our democracy. The first “Triumph and Demise” is by The Australian’s editor-at-large, Paul Kelly. In the final chapter Kelly suggests that our political system is in trouble and that, if that is the case, then by definition so are we. The Prime Minister launched the book and in doing so fundamentally disagreed with the authors assertions.
Paul suggests that the relentless negativity of our contemporary conversation, the culture of entitlement that he thinks has sprung up over the last decade or so, means that good government has become difficult, perhaps impossible."
“It’s not the system which is the problem, it is the people who from time-to-time inhabit it.
Our challenge at every level is to be our best selves.”
Paul kelly In the first quote two words, negativity and entitlement jump out at you. Not necessarily in the context of the difficulty of governance he was alluding to, but rather as self-descriptive character analysis. He could not have chosen two better words to describe his own footprint on the path to our democratic demise.
The second is a disingenuous, even sarcastic swipe at his opponents that leaves no room for self-examination or blame for his own period as opposition leader and later as Prime Minister in particular. And in another indignant self-righteous swipe he said that Labor was “much better at politics than government.
These are quotes by Kelly at the launch.
Kelly said he increasingly felt there were “real problems” with the mechanics of the political system as he worked on his book.
“I have always believed in the quality of leadership. I have always felt that leadership was fundamental … to the success of the country,”
“I do think the system today makes governing, and in particular serious reform, more difficult, and I think the record does show that.”
I have not read the book but I agree entirely with his diagnosis. In the first quote I believe he is referring to a breakdown in the conventions and institutional arrangements of our democracy.
The second is a general commentary on the dearth of leadership over the past decade or so. Although he was a Howard supporter and he has recently said this of Abbott.
“Abbott is governing yet he is not persuading. So far. As Prime Minister he seems unable to replicate his success as Opposition leader: mobilising opinion behind his causes. The forces arrayed against Abbott, on issue after issue, seem more formidable than the weight the prime minister can muster.”
The third quote is a direct reference to the 24/7 News cycle and negativity as a means of obtaining power.
“The Political Bubble” by Mark Latham also addresses the state of our democracy.
“Australians once trusted the democratic process. While we got on with our lives, we assumed our politicians had our best interests at heart.”
He suggests that trust has collapsed. In this book, of which I have only read half, he freely explores and travels up and down every road of our democratic map. On the journey he talks about how democracy has lost touch with the people it’s supposed to represent. Like a fast talking cab driver he gives view on how politics has become more tribal with left and right-wing politics being dominated by fanatical extremists.
An entire chapter is devoted to how Tony Abbott promised to restore trust in Australian politics and how he failed to keep his promises. Another chapter is devoted to what can be done about fixing the democratic deficit as he calls it.
“Can our parliamentary system realign itself with community expectations or has politics become one long race to the bottom?’”
I have alluded to both these works, not as a review of each, but rather to highlight a growing concern over the state of our democracy. Indeed, I have written of my concerns in a piece titled “A Crisis in Our Democracy“.
There is no doubt in my mind if one looks at all the ingredients that go into forming a strong democracy, and you make a list, the traditional recipe is no longer working. Or it has been corrupted by inferior ingredients.
Take for example the seemingly uncontrollable bias and market share of Murdoch. A desire for unaccountable free speech that is weighted toward, extremism. The attack on the conventions and institutions of parliament by the Prime Minister. The precedent of invoking Royal Commissions into anything as a means of retribution. The rise of fanatical right-wing partisan politics and media. The decline in parliamentary respect and behavior. Add to that the right wings dismissive contempt for feminism.
Corporate sway and the pressure of the lobbyist can also be added to the mix, together with the voice of the rich that shouts the voice of inequality. The idea that with political servitude comes entitlement via financial benefit and privilege. And you can throw in the power of personalities over policy within the mainstream parties. Then there is the uninhibited corruption from both major parties. Then there is the acceptance by both sides that negativity is the only means of obtaining power.