Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Australian democracy has been sliding, if not cascading, into serious farce territory for some time. Section 44 of the Constitution, with all the dual-citizenship fiascoes, has made a mockery of our country. And what a tragedy for our democracy. I'll save my rant on s.44 for another time.
No, today, I am actually saddened by the demise of a politician. Yes, I know that's hard to believe about me, with my utterly undisguised contempt for our political charade, and most of the players within it.
But today, the ridiculous s.44 debacle claimed the scalp of Senator Jacqui Lambie. And I think that is a tragedy for Australian politics.
Now, to be clear at the outset, I don't agree with some of the views that Senator Lambie has espoused, don't get me wrong. However, let's look at the person who is the politician here.
Jacqui Lambie has been a genuine, heart-felt human being in our Parliament. Plenty of the people in there are just self-serving wankers. Even if you don't agree with her views, if you take the trouble to listen to her efforts in the Senate - her speeches for veterans, for people on welfare, for those at risk in society - here is a politician who IS a human being and who CARES. How bloody rare is that? And she's also been a soldier serving our country - even more credit to her, in my view.
So, Jacqui Lambie, I say this to you: I don't agree with everything you've said, but I do love you as a politician. You're an authentic human being, someone who actually cares about others (and not just themselves, like most politicians).
I don't live in Tasmania, so I can't vote for you. But I tell you this: if I could vote for you, then I would, even with my differences of opinion with you. Why? Because you're a decent and genuine human being. You are what an elected politician should be in a healthy democracy. Not like the usual egotistical strokers we get served up with.
I'll probably never meet you, but I give you my very best wishes, and I sincerely hope to see you on the political stage in the future.
If you follow my blog (as spasmodic as it can be - sorry, working on that!) then you'll know that every now and then I digress away from writing and books, and I have a rant about something in society that gives me the shits. Today is one of those days. Not that I thought of this today, it was on the weekend, but I'm finding the time this evening to blog.
Now, plenty of people have called for gender equality in our Parliaments. And I am so on board with that one. The thoughts I was having the other day, and I've no idea why (but then I often have zero idea why my brain heads off in various directions at times), concerned the issue of bunches of mainly men sitting around (which accurately describes all of our Parliaments in Australia) and making all sorts of laws about how women can, or more often, cannot have control over their own bodies. Let's mention abortion, sex work, tax on tampons, equal pay...and the list could continue. I won't even get started on how religions treat women, since I'm going to confine myself to Parliaments.
Now, whether or not women getting into positions of political power leads to any discernible changes to the way we're governed is probably another subject. I've seen plenty of women in positions of power in government agencies, and they're just as ego- and power-driven as their male counterparts. And quite a few of the women we currently have in our Federal Parliament seem quite indistinguishable in terms of humanity and compassion from their male colleagues (there are, of course, exceptions to this). Then again, there is an argument to say that these women become like this because they have to compete against the overwhelming male contingent. Anyway, this is not my point, as interesting a debate as it is. Maybe in a future blog...
As an aside, I have a personal friend, Fiona Patten, who is a Victorian MP. Fiona epitomizes the huge value that great, committed women can add to politics - 50% Parliamentarians of her humanity and ability, we wouldn't even recognize the place. I dream...
My research online this week: Here in Australia, at a Federal level, our Parliament (both houses) is 32% female. Our Canadian cousins manage 29%, and our New Zealand neighbours come in at 31%. The world average apparently is 23%. Over in Rwanda, they manage 64% - GO Rwanda! Who would have thought? Bolivia achieves 53% (outstanding), and Cuba cruises in at 49% (great effort, have a cigar!).
So, how could we achieve gender equality in the Australian Parliament? My solution is radical, but so bloody simple. I'm going to put it in terms of the House of Representatives (for overseas readers, this is our lower house, where government is formed), but the principle could be applied universally.
Now, our House of Reps has 150 seats, so 150 constituencies across Australia elect 150 MPs. And in the House, currently, 29% of those MPs are female. Now, we occasionally hear ideas about quotas and the like. The problem with that is that you may end up getting an MP to meet an artificial quota, rather than electors voting for the candidate they perceive to be the best for the job, in their eyes. And the latter is what democracy is supposed to be about, notwithstanding the corruption of democracy by the political party system - again, maybe a future blog...
So my radical but simple idea is as follows:
We don't want more MPs, so keep it at 150. However, merge the current constituencies into 75, and have 2 MPs elected from each, 1 male and 1 female. So whichever constituency you live in, you front up on polling day and are given 2 ballot papers - 1 to elect your male MP and 1 to elect your female MP. Et voila! Gender equality in Parliament - 75 male MPs and 75 female MPs. And all elected by the people, not pushed up via quota systems. Sure, the party political system will try to control this too, but, hey, at least there will be gender equality in our Parliaments. It has to be worth a try?!!!
Food for thought, my friends
I spent several years as a Chief Investigator at the ICAC, and I loved the work we did. The amount of entrenched corruption in the New South Wales public sector, both state government and local government, is truly staggering. If you are a taxpayer/ratepayer, you genuinely have cause to despair.
At the ICAC, we did what we could and we did a lot of good work, within the constraints we had. Frankly, the ICAC could do with being a lot bigger than it is - there is no shortage of work for it.
And being truly independent is vital. And I mean TRULY independent.
Yet now, the NSW Premier has taken a butcher's knife to the ICAC and its Commissioner.
Make no mistake, all of the recent castration of the ICAC by the State government is a direct payback for the outstanding work the Commission did in relation to exposing all the corruption in both major political parties in relation to financial donations.
Do not be fooled by the pretence that the changes now proceeding were the result of the ICAC's investigation of a state prosecutor - all of that story is a fancy sideshow, convenient to the government to provide a smokescreen for its true motives.
The changes are payback, pure and simple.
The ICAC took on both the major political parties, exposed their inherent corruption, and now revenge is being served up.
This would be a pitiful comment on our democracy at any time, but at a time when so many of our citizens view our political system with disdain and contempt, as utterly ruined and contemptible, and rightly so, it is nothing short of tragic.
The NSW Premier and his government should forever be viewed as Santa and his elves for those who crave corruption in the future - it will be so much easier for them as a result of the neutering of the ICAC.
And all in the month a former politician went to jail, as a result of an ICAC investigation.
They really don't like to be held accountable, do they?!!!
WTF? Did that really just happen? Probably not uncommon remarks across the Western world tonight (Australian time).
As we now absorb the fact that Donald Trump has won the election to become the 45th President of the United States, what should we take from this news? Well, I'm an author and I'm interested in world affairs, not to mention freedom and democracy, so I can't help myself but comment. I've been at home all day watching the process unfold in the U.S. Yes, I should have been writing, but it was rather distracting and compelling. And as an Australian, living under the comfort of the security guarantee provided by the U.S. since 1945, where America is going has to be of prime interest to me and my fellow Aussies.
There is so much going on in my head right now - I'll try and limit it to a few salient points:
1. Democracy, and the right to freely and genuinely vote, are very precious assets (not overly popular when you look at the world as a whole). The U.S.A. has always been the beacon for these values. Today, the American people exercised their democratic right to vote. Their wishes through their votes must be respected. Absolutely.
2. I've never met Mr Trump, so I can't really comment objectively on him as a person. Some of the things he has said, and some of the views he has espoused, really don't sit well with me. I am hoping that the worst of these were campaign bluster, spewed out expediently in order to win votes (as awful as that is in what it says about some voters), and that in reality as President he behaves differently. I hope...
3. I also hope that he can, as he espoused in his victory speech, unify the American people. I would love him to make America "great again", as long as that "great" is inclusive of ALL Americans, and it doesn't cause conflict elsewhere, and it has the value of freedom as the centrepiece. This will depend on whether or not he was serious in all the objectionable things he said. If it turns out that he was, then he hardly has a vision to treat all Americans with dignity and respect, and freedom will certainly suffer.
4. Australia and many other countries have enjoyed the largesse of American military protection for decades. This is likely to change, and we, as well as many others, may have to be prepared to pay substantially more towards our defence.
5. But for those still going "WTF?" Actually, we should not be at all surprised by today's result. What we are seeing is the manifestation of popular disquiet that has been brewing for years. In summary, and I stress this is my personal view, the political classes and our political establishments in our Western democracies have become so arrogant, so corrupt, so complacent, and so greedy for power, that very significant chunks of the population have been left voiceless and politically impotent. And now those disenfranchised masses are speaking up. We saw it today in the U.S., we saw in in the U.K. in the Brexit vote, we saw it in the resurgence of One Nation here in Australia, we are seeing reactionary political movements in various European countries, and we are going to be seeing it in other places as well in the near future. And, we are not short of arrogant and complacent politicians in Australia, I assure you.
6. The very fact that the political classes are shocked at Mr Trump's victory is overwhelming evidence in itself of their arrogance and disconnection from the people and their communities. As the rich get richer, on the backs of the poor who are getting poorer, sooner or later something has to break. History is littered with examples.
7. Who knows how a Trump Presidency will work out. But this is for sure; what we have seen is a major democratic country voting against the political establishment, against the complacency and corruption of the accepted political establishment, and for a change, hopefully for the better. I really do hope they achieve this. Again, I hope...
8. But democracy??? We cannot take it for granted - it is a fragile and precious gem. Our elected political leaders MUST learn to respect this, just as they must learn to respect that WE run the country, not them. And that they are in their comfortable, well-paid, and perk-laden offices to SERVE us. I am quite convinced that the majority of them have diligently learnt to forget what that word actually means.
9. What do I want from my elected representatives? I want ethics, honesty, humility, and competence. What I want to eradicate are self-interest, party politics, spin, and all the bullshit. Is it really too much to ask???
10. Did I mention I hope?
Cheers to a free Australia! And my very best wishes to our American cousins!
Today, 13 October 2015, is a day which should go down in infamy for us as Australians. Yes, today is the start of the Orwellian metadata retention regime. All our metadata records (phones, emails, social media, etc.) will be kept for 2 years and will be openly accessible to a whole range of law enforcement and security agencies without even a sniff of a warrant. And without even a sniff of any suspected wrongdoing by us.
Just where the hell is this country going? Or is hell the actual destination?
Think also of the proposed street operation in Melbourne (which was cancelled at the 11th hour) by this new Border Force agency back in August. Since when has it been acceptable for random checking on masses of citizens in the streets? And on the subject of the Border Force, I had the delight of seeing their new outfits recently at the airport as I came back into Australia. A stunning all-over black (perhaps to make them look slim?). Actually, it struck me more as a modern reincarnation of certain outfits in Germany in the 1930s.
And we all know how that ended. A version of hell indeed.
This disgraceful assault on the civil liberties and privacy of law-abiding citizens was brought in by a Liberal government (clearly having forgotten what "liberal" means) with the complete connivance of the Labor opposition (clearly having forgotten what "opposition" means). I applaud the efforts by the Greens and some cross bench Senators to oppose the legislation, but, of course, their voices were raised in vain.
I have no problem whatsoever with law enforcement agencies being given sufficient powers to do their jobs (after all, I spent years working in that arena), but what happened to warrants? Yes, those little bits of paper which at least provide a level of judicial oversight over law enforcement using intrusive powers against citizens. Exactly the sort of oversight there should be. And I've yet to see any reasonable, cogent argument put before the people of Australia as to why the concept of warrants is suddenly unfashionable and unnecessary. Perhaps the real reason is the desire of the government and opposition (who'll have their turn back in government sooner or later) to really embark upon totalitarian control of the citizenry. Big Brother is truly here. Let's just wait for the abuses of these new powers which are inevitably going to occur. Why? Well, notwithstanding the many honest and decent personnel in our law enforcement agencies, there are certainly also those who are far from honest. And, with no judicial oversight, it will be open slather for abuse by those so inclined.
This is supposedly all part of our benevolent government's efforts to keep us safe (from terrorists, I think is the usual glib rationale). I'm happy to have a level of protection, but at what cost? Does that mean my civil liberties disappear? If so, and a whole lot disappeared today, then what way of life are we left trying to protect? The tragic irony here is that these sort of efforts to "protect" us actually diminish and restrict our very way of life - exactly what terrorists are seeking to achieve by their own awful methods. As a society we rightly voice our revulsion at what terrorists do in their efforts to destroy civilised, democratic societies. When our own government and opposition engage in efforts to destroy our liberties we apathetically suck it up.
The problem is, as the freedoms evaporate, it becomes too late to speak up, to protest, to regain our lost way of life. Remember Germany in the 1930s. And remember this day in Australia, 13 October 2015. Perhaps each 13 October from now on we should mount a silent vigil to commemorate what we lost today.
Ethics are one of my most cherished of subjects, and one which is endlessly fascinating and full of stimulating discussions. When it came to thinking of a dedication in my first novel, Harry’s World, I settled on this:
“To ethics … And all those prepared to stand up for them.”
When ethics classes started being offered several years ago in NSW schools for those children who did not enrol in religious education, I thought that was a significant step forward for our supposedly secular society. And the way in which they have grown has been fantastic to witness; it is true social progress. After all, surely assisting children to become more ethical adults can only be a great thing?
But here we are, again facing the rising influence of the conservative and religious right-wing of our political classes. So are ethics now to be regarded, again, as only of value to atheists, heretics and non-conformists? (I’ll proudly count myself into that broad bunch).
The recent move by the NSW government to remove the ethics option from public school enrolment forms is nothing short of a disgrace and an offence to democratic and inclusive principles across the board. It returns us to an approach where those of us who are not religious are deemed as outsiders, unacceptable to the mainstream, heretics no less.
Personally, I think religious education should be confined to homes and religious institutions. As much as I disagree with religion (of all varieties), being a libertarian I fully respect the rights of others to be religious and hold those beliefs.
But my issue from a societal perspective is that religion does not equate to real ethics. And this, perhaps, is at the heart of the political and religious loathing of them.
Ethics, in their genuine application, lead us to have consideration for others, as a general principle, regardless of who those others may be. The reality about any religion is that the adherents have only consideration of any real sort for their own. If they profess to have consideration for “others”, then it is always provisional consideration, it being on their terms. In other words, any “ethics” preached by religious groups are selective and conditional in their applicability. Not to mention the rampant hypocrisy in religions, but I'll save that for another day.
Further, those in power, whether governmental, religious, organizational or otherwise, tend to have a fundamental problem with real ethics because of the implications for them and their hold on power. In order to obtain and/or maintain power, expediency and corrupt decision making will almost always be the most efficient and effective strategy. For many people in power I would venture that this is also the most naturally comfortable approach for them as well. And so ethics will always end up being unpalatable. Lip service gets paid, sure, but that’s as far as it really goes.
Ethics classes should absolutely be available to our children, on an equal footing with any religious education. Sadly this won’t be likely under our religious right-wing rulers.
But perhaps the real problem for our politicians is this:
If we teach all our children to be ethical adults, then where the hell will the next generation of politicians come from?
Bringing you hard-boiled and noir tales of crime and corruption. And various related opinions!