Monday, October 31, 2005

The media and all that junk

Sensational reporting is common but is it the best way to get things done?
'Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.' So said Ralph Waldo Emerson, eminent American social commentator of earlier years.
But editors can be bullies too, and good government can easily fall through the cracks between the two.
Reading today (the Age 31/10) about serious errors in the public hospital system, with patients dying who should not, through surgical and nursing errors etc it seems far from good enough to have this horrifying news long after the reported events. No doubt it helps sell papers to elicit this information through the unwieldy and often slow and unwilling Freedom of Information facility. And no doubt a handy tool for an Opposition to lambast the government in public, but does this help to quickly iron out the problems of our hospital system, in an ongoing scrutiny (with understanding of the problems) to give us confidence in our hospital system.
No doubt the government is doing this, but can it be fully effective in a climate of belated, trenchant criticism? The natural reaction of government is to be defensive and cover up. Party conflict only hinders ideal government operation.
In similar vein is the legal confidentiality restriction being imposed by the Federal government on the ACT Chief Minister's publishing an updated draft of the proposed 'terror laws' on his website.
With the urging of the Prime Minister to have it all passed quickly, in the midst of a public preoccupation with the Melbourne Cup, clearly close public interest is unwelcome.
Which is all rather strange, or should we say rather that our democracy has become estranged, when we remember the 1859 comment of Abraham Lincoln, "In this country, public opinion is everything." Our democracy has seriously drifted.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A New Leader?

We need a new leader. One who actually does believe in democracy, instead of claiming it while indulging in sham wisdom and blatant autocracy.
To exercise authority as a political leader over elected representatives is a democratic sham. The fact that a leader can claim that they are only there by reason of his marvellous leadership qualities merely indicates that he has powerful and wealthy forces (media and otherwise) behind him to steamroll elections in his party's favour, and to whom he is beholden for his policies and the exercise of his power.
Parliament is now rightly accused of being a rubber stamp for these powers.
Throughout history democracy has needed revision from time to time to rescue it, and the people, from the inroads of authoritarian powers.
The Chartists lobbied for better elections and we got the secret ballot for elections, after the Eureka stockade. We did well. But we now need further drastic change.
Since Federation there has been a takeover of parliamentary government by big parties, supported by powerful interests, and democracy is in urgent need of substantial revision to restore the power of the people to self-govern.
This requires intervention in the operation of parliament to exclude the means by which the major parties commandeer our parliaments' powers for their own advantage, while muttering about ruling on behalf of all the people.
People need more than 'bread and circusses', (prosperity - or the myth thereof) and entertainment (major sports and other events proliferating).
Without having an appropriate say in government, and having no sense of control of our destiny, we are becoming politically and morally puny, while party government goes on its merry way unchecked.
The origins of democracy do not suggest that the modern equivalent, consisting of powerful (robust!) governments, rowdy and ineffectual oppositions, strikes and occasional violent demonstrations, qualify as democracy.
Pericles defined it for us, saying:'We call ours a democracy because our decisions are made by the many rather than the few'. That is exactly what our systen of government is not. And there is only one way we can oversome the problem of elected dictatorships. Parliaments must be reformed to enable our representatives to all have equal power to decide on our behalf, after frequent local consultation. This can only be achieved by having our parliaments function by secret ballot for all debated matters, including the election of ministers. Thus selected individually by ballot of all members of parliament, they will form an executive which is both responsible and securely accountable to our representatives.
That is the reform we need to rescue our delapidated democracy.
Who will stand up for this and lead us out of the political murk into which we have allowed ourselves to sink?
We have big names protesting but noone to lead.
Who will bite the bullet?
My best bet is Dr. Carmen Lawrence.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Song of Democracy

You MPs and Senators leave us appalled,

With party-line voting whenever you're called,

You know very well it's the people you slight,

And we don't think you're all that engagin';

Well you can't have your way, hold the people at bay,

For the times they are achangin'.......

You've hung up 'the system' with parties so long,

You've forgotten completely democracy's song,

That government rights to the people belong,

And the system needs much rearrangin';

So get out of the way, it's the people's New Day,

And the people will soon do the changin'......

You know that the world's in a terrible mess,

With widespread anxiety, unemployed stress,

With war and disease of a terrible kind,

And hopeless political turmoil;

It's democracy's way - give the people their say,

Then we'll all get along with this changin'.........

by Basil Smith

(With apologies to Bob Dylan.)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The new force

For too long we have teated democracy as a done deal - in the West. It's never been more than a 'work-in-progress'. New and better ways to facilitate the involvement of the people in self-government should regularly be investigated if there is respect for the welfare of the people. The convictions and certainties of ideologues must never claim a greater importance, although they usually do.
For one hundred and fifty years we have seen the benefit to the people of the secret ballot employed for elections, with gross practices sharply reined in. Now we have the opportunity, with electronics, to similarly clean up the gross abuse of democratic practice in our parliaments. With electronic voting, decisions can now be made with electronic speed where they count most importantly in the affairs of the nation.
So, not only will the speed remove all excuse from those who want to use their personal power to control the affairs of the nation, but the secrecy of voting will finally remove the power they have, through the open vote, to control our representatives.
So the 'new force' is in fact an old force, but modern electronics now makes possible that which could only apply to elections for the last 150 years. We have now been dithering for far too long with the urgent need for the power of the ballot to restore the power and the glory of the people to our parliaments. That will be a return to a real Periclean democracy - where 'the decisions are made by the many rather than the few'.
We need to urgently reorganise the decision-making processes of government on such democratic lines; with the ballot operating in our parliaments to ovecome the political dominance of ideology and minority powers which destroys representation, frustrates policies of sanity and justice, substituting wild schemes (like war in Iraq) which resolve nothing, and create fresh dangers rather than securing us from the threatening traumas of the future.
There is no doubt that the people are more capable of exercising the care and wisdom that are needed for the best approach to the deep problems of the future. The powers of those so convinced of their own perfect wisdom and unwilling to forgo personal power in favour of real democracy can be thwarted by the ballot in parliament for the election of members of the executive. Government power belongs to parliament - not to the executive, whose place is to carry out the wishes of a freely voting parliament.
The best years for democracy, and the people of the world lie ahead. But without this revolutionary reform the years ahead can only be full of gloom. Population growth and the wildly out of control exhaustion of world resources make that clear.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Let there be - Peace!

Pamela Bone says (Melbourne 'Age' Opinion 5/10) 'calling for peace is an easy
option.' We know well that there can be no peace without justice, the rarest commodity on the planet.
If peace in Iraq only follows civil war, it will copy what has happened in America, and in Britain many times, and many other countries. The stronger side, not a majority, wins. It happens still - and usually minority government, often concealed behind a facade of dodgy elections. With political parties dominant, elections are merely struggles for (leader) power.
But that's not democracy, is it?.
No, and that's why there is no peace.
How to bring peace to the world?
1. Sidestep presidential and executive power with ballot controlled parliamentary government.
2. Eventually set up the UN on the same basis with each country having votes in proportion to its population - and no Security Council, of course.
"He's dreaming!" said the father (often) in the Australian film 'The Castle'.
It is, nonetheless, probably the only viable vision of real hope for the future.
If we will it, there will be peace one day - but not if the pressures of population growth on the world's resources beat us. And a nuclear end to the world is not impossible - or even unlikely.
The future of the planet, and our children, needs some fast footwork, on our part.