In the recipe of what a democracy is there are many ingredients
but simply explained it is a political system where like minded people
come together to form ideas that become a philosophy. They then become
the foundation of political parties. These ideologies pull in different
directions in a quest for majority approval by the people. It is a far
from perfect system that has variations all around the world. It is
elastically flexible, (we even have democratic dictatorships),
unpredictable and at its worst, violent and extremely combative.
At its best it is noble, constructive and generally serves society
well. It is very much better than the next best thing and accommodates
diagonally opposed ideas, extreme or otherwise. All in all it’s an
imperfect beast that has served us well. Yes it’s government for the
people by the people.
Common to most Western Democracies (and in the absence of anything better) it has a capitalistic economic system.
In Australia the right to vote is the gift that democracy gives and
people are free to vote for whichever party (or individual) they support
but overriding this is the fact that people cannot possibly believe in
democracy, if at the same time they think their party is the only one
that should ever win.
A clear indication of an Australian Democracy in decline is the fact
that people are giving up this voting gift, literally saying:
“A pox on both your houses”.
Our political system is in crisis because our solicitations fail to speak with any clarity on issues that concern people.
Moreover, an enlightened democracy should provide the people with a
sense of purposeful participation. It should forever be open to regular
improvement in its methodology and its implementation. Its
constitutional framework should be exposed to periodical revision and
renewal, compromise and bi-partisanship when the common good cries out
But above all its function should be, that regardless of ideology the
common good should be served first and foremost. A common good healthy
democracy serves the collective from the ground up rather than a top
down democracy that exists to serve secular interests. One that is
enforced by an elite of business leaders, politicians and media
interests who have the power to enforce their version. That is
Every facet of society including the democratic process needs
constant and thoughtful renewal and change. Otherwise we become so
trapped in the longevity of sameness that we never see better ways of
Unfortunately, Australia’s particular version of the democratic
process has none of these things inherent in it and is currently sinking
in a quagmire of American Tea Party Republicanism.
I am not a political scientist, historian or a trained journalist. I
write this as a disgruntled and concerned citizen because it seems to me
that the Australian democracy I grew up with no longer exists. The
demise of Australian Democracy has its origins in a monumental shift by
both major parties to the right with the result that neither seem to
know exactly what it is they stand for. They are now tainted with
The Liberal Party has been replaced by neo Conservatism actively
asserting individual identity against a collective one and old style
Liberalism no longer has a voice. There is little or no difference
between the Liberals and the National Party who seem irrelevant as a
Conservatives have gone down the path of inequality with a born to rule mentality that favors the rich.
“The whole logic of the “lifters” and “leaners” rhetoric
so favoured by the current Government is a distillation of the idea of
that there is no such thing as society, that we and only we are
responsible for our own circumstances”.
The Labor Party needs to rid itself of an out-dated socialist
objective and invest in a social philosophical common good instead. And
recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile
The major parties have become fragmented with Labor losing a large
segment of its supporters to the Greens whilst the LNP is being
undermined by rich populist Clive Palmer in the style of Berlusconi.
In terms of talent both parties are represented by party hacks of
dubious intellectual talent without enough female representation and
worldly work life experience. Both parties have pre-selection processes
rooted in factional power struggles that often see the best candidates
miss out. Both need to select people with broader life experience. Not
just people who have come out of the Union Movement or in the case of
the LNP, staffers who have come up through the party.
Our Parliament, its institutions and conventions have been so trashed
by Tony Abbott in particular that people have lost faith in the
political process and their representatives. Ministerial responsibility
has become a thing of the past.
Question time is just an excuse for mediocre minds who are unable to
win an argument with factual intellect, charm or debating skills, to act
deplorably toward each other. The public might be forgiven for thinking
that the chamber has descended into a chamber of hate where respect for
the others view is seen as a weakness. Where light frivolity and wit
has been replaced with smut and sarcasm. And in doing so they debase the
parliament and themselves as moronic imbecilic individuals.
Question time is the showcase of the Parliament and is badly in need
of an overhaul and an independent Speaker. Our democracy suffers because
no one has the guts to give away the slightest political advantage.
Recent times have demonstrated just how corrupt our democracy has
become. We have witnessed a plethora of inquiries all focussing on
illegal sickening behaviour. There is no reason to doubt that the stench
of NSW doesn’t waffle its way through the corridors of the National
Parliament and into the highest offices.
And our democracy lacks leadership because our current leaders and
their followers have so debased the Parliament that there is no
compelling reason to be a politician. Well at least for people with
decency, integrity and compassion.
I cannot remember a time when my country has been so devoid of
political leadership. In recent times we have had potential but it was
lost in power struggles, undignified self-interest and narcissistic
The pursuit of power for power’s sake and the retention of it has so
engulfed political thinking that the people have become secondary and
the common good dwells somewhere in the recesses of small minds lacking
the capacity for good public policy that achieves social equity.
Our voting system is badly in need of an overhaul. When one party,
The Greens attracts near enough to the same primary votes as The
Nationals but can only win one seat in the House of Representatives, as
opposed to eight there is something wrong with the system. Added to that
is the ludicrous Senate situation where people are elected on virtually
no primary votes, just preferences. It is also a system that allows the
election of people with vested business interests with no public
One cannot begin to discuss the decline of Australian democracy
without at the same time aligning it to the collapse in journalistic
standards and its conversion from reporting to opinion. Murdoch and his
majority owned newspapers with blatant support for right wing politics
have done nothing to advance Australia as a modern enlightened
democratic society. On the contrary it has damaged it, perhaps
The advent of social media has sent the mainstream media into free
fall. Declining newspaper sales have resulted in lost revenue and
profits. It is losing its authority, real or imagined to bloggers who
more reflect a grass roots society. Writers with who they can agree or
differ but have the luxury of doing so. As a result newspapers in
particular have degenerated into gutter political trash in the hope that
they might survive. Shock jocks shout the most outrageous lies and
vilify people’s character with impunity and in the process do nothing to
promote decent democratic illumination. They even promote free speech
as if they are the sole custodian of it.
There are three final things that have contributed to the decline in our democracy.
Firstly, the Abbott factor and the death of truth as a principle of
democratic necessity. I am convinced Tony Abbott believes that the
effect of lying diminishes over time and therefore is a legitimate
political tool. So much so that his words and actions bring into
question the very worthiness of the word truth. Or he has at least
devalued it to the point of obsolesce.
The budget will be remembered for one thing. That it has given
approval for and overwhelmingly legitimised lying as a political and
Mr Abbott has long set a high standard when it comes to keeping promises. On August 22, 2011 he said:
“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.”
On the eve of the last election, after crucifying Prime Minister
Julia Gillard daily for three years, Abbott made this solemn promise:
“There will be no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to
pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS”.
This is an unambiguous statement that cannot be interpreted any
differently than what the words mean. To do so is telling one lie on top
In the budget he broke them all. As a result, a rising stench of
hypocrisy and dishonesty has engulfed the Abbott prime ministership.
When you throw mud in politics some of it inevitably sticks but there is
a residue that adheres to the chucker. That is now Abbott’s dilemma but
the real loser is our democracy. In Australian political history
Abbott’s legacy will be that he empowered a period emblematic of a nasty
and ugly period in our politics.
Our democracy is nothing more or nothing less than what the people
make of it. The power is with the people and it is incumbent on the
people to voice with unmistakable anger the decline in our democracy.
People need to wake up to the fact that government effects every part
of their life (other than what they do in bed) and should be more
concerned. But there is a political malaise that is deep seated.
Politicians of all persuasions must be made to pay for their wilful
destruction of our democracy.
Good democracies can deliver good governments and outcomes only if the electorate demands it.
You get what you vote for rings true.
Lastly but importantly we need to educate our final year school
leavers (the voters of tomorrow) with an indebtedness and fundamental
appreciation of democracy. A focus group I held recently at a nearby
college revealed two things. One was that our young people are
conversant with societal issues and have strong opinions grounded in
clear observation. They cannot however place them into a logical
political framework because (two) they are not adequately informed about
political dogma and its place in the workings of a democracy.
We deserve better than what we have at the moment. However,
if we are not prepared to raise our voices then our democracy will
continue to decline and the nation and its people will suffer the
Also by John Lord:
A Climate Created by The Abbott of Clive
Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage. ”July Update”
Sitting in Judgement of Abbott’s First Year
Murdoch. Where the Truth Goes to Die.