Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some months frantic tussle over power in Australia

The unconscionable defence of controversial Sydney radio broadcater Alan Jones by Prime Minister John Howard proves once more the aphorism: 'Those you love can do no wrong.'
To say that Jones merely 'articulates the opinions of many' means nothing.
Equally it could be argued that Mufti Hilali is merely doing the same.
A sane and orderly society does not benefit from these loose cannons.
Ours is a politically confrontationist society, the justification apparently being that the best government comes from competition. Neocon rubbish.
The best government comes from consensus, founded in open forum with free sharing of opinions.
Our parliaments do not reflect this objective as the hidden purpose in all debate is the contest for the role of government, with diverse opinions developed in isolation and fiercely promoted, ensuring that bi-partisan consensus is not sought and rarely occurs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Our Stunted Democracy

Michelle Grattan (Melbourne Age 7/4) deplored the captivity of party politicians
to party policies. Today (Age 10) Natasha Cica responds, upbraiding
Labor for maintaining the members' pledge to abide by Caucus policy.
If then it is so desirable that party members should be free to speak,
and vote according to their best judgement, why do we persist with the
notion that democracy needs parties, to operate in the best interests of
the people (who are routinely excluded between elections, and seduced by
promises in the run up to elections).
Obviously, independents could better represent us, but Michelle opines
that all independents in parliament would mean chaos. Quite wrong - if
all decisions in parliament were to be decided by ballot - electronic of
course. There is nothing so decisive in the affairs of men as the
secret ballot. Why then be afraid of entrusting our representatives to
truly represent us in parliament?
Curiously, the argument of the opposers of the secret ballot for
elections in 1856 in Victoria was precisely the same - 'CHAOS' they cried. They were
proved monumentally wrong.
The world desperately needs the very best democratic representation and
leadership we can have to uncover the very best solutions to our serious
problems, and enable us to move forward without delay, in unity and

Monday, April 09, 2007

A very interesting article by Michelle Grattan

My comments in yellow

The Age April 6, 2007

Too many team players make politics a dull game

KEN Henry is highly respected as Treasury secretary and no political innocent. Having been part of treasurer Paul Keating's inner circle didn't stop his rise under John Howard and Peter Costello.

But now Henry is being used for target practice by ministers and the PM, angry that he's embarrassed them with a private speech to his staff saying the Government's water and climate change policies would have been better if Treasury had been properly consulted over the years. In the (leaked) address, Henry also warned about the hazards of "bad" policies as the election approaches.

Henry has had to grovel, denying the obvious — that he'd been critical. The incident has been all negative for Henry, but there is a public benefit. Home truths (as he sees them) delivered by a top official have emerged into the light. Whether Henry's right or wrong is beside the point — we've got a glimpse of an insider's perspective.

The imperatives of our basically Westminster system require bureaucrats mostly not to speak out independently. But the rules bring costs. Henry's speech reminds how much we don't know about the debates bubbling within official circles.

Secrecy has become more oppressive under John Howard. Once, a good deal used to be in the marketplace about the attitudes of departments, especially those of a feisty Treasury.

During the Fraser and early Hawke years, then-Treasury secretary John Stone frequented the bar of the National Press Club every Friday night with his departmental acolytes (including David Morgan, later of Westpac fame), and was free with his opinions. Officials from other departments went, too, attracted by Stone's presence. Ministers (including treasurer Howard) mightn't have liked Stone holding court but they tolerated it and, while the chat was "off the record", it informed journalists' reporting.

Progressively, things have been closed up. A few public servants take calls from journalists but most are highly nervous. This Government is particularly ferocious in its pursuit of "leaks". It will be interesting to see whether there is a serious witch-hunt this time.

As in much else in politics, it is a matter of balance. Obviously ministers will want confidentiality from their bureaucrats. There are good reasons why, as servants of the government of the day, they're supposed to keep frankness behind closed doors. But equally, when the departments' views are in inaccessible black holes, the public policy dialogue becomes more stunted. The cynics would say that's the way modern governments like it.

Party discipline also often makes hollow the notion of real and robust policy discussion. Again, it's easy to see the need — running a modern government free style would be impossible. Independents often do good work but a parliament of them would be chaos.

Not necessarily so.Adoption of the secret ballot to rule all decisions in parliament would improve parliamentary government - out of site.

And when people vote for a party, they want to know their local member will do what his or her leader is promising, not go off on separate frolics.

And when people vote for a party, they want to know their local member will do what his or her leader is promising, not go off on separate frolics. i.e. They vote for a party leader, not for a real representative.

The other side of the coin, however, is that individuals are forced often into saying what they don't believe, or letting the party do their thinking. Quite.

This is shown by the dilemma of Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett. Laurie Oakes on Sunday this week asked him, "Can you see why your former supporters think you've sold out? … You've clearly changed your view on forestry policy in a couple of years. You did a backflip on American bases. On uranium, you say you oppose it, but at the end of the month when the party decides extending uranium mining in Australia's OK, then you'll support it … It's a very elastic conscience, isn't it?"

Garrett replied: "I've taken a big step to join the Labor Party, and when I took that step … I accepted that I would be bound by the decisions that the party made."

It was about being a "team player", Garrett said. "It doesn't mean I don't have the care and concern for those issues that I did in the past. It's just that it's expressed in different forums and it sometimes has results which might not always be satisfactory for me but I accept that."

The logic is clear but consider the implications. Garrett argues to the conference Labor should keep its restrictive uranium mining policy, loses, then spruiks the new line or holds his tongue. Why would you bother listening to him on the subject at all post-conference?

Gagged representatives cannot freely represent their people.

Frankly, if this was only Garrett it would not be here nor there. We know his real attitudes and can build in a discount factor when he contradicts them. But thinking across the parties, the implications of people not being able to say what they believe become more serious. How many Liberals think WorkChoices goes too far? What proportion of Labor MPs believes the party should at least consider nuclear power?

The current party player who regularly tries to balance discipline and following his own beliefs is the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce. While he hasn't actually made things excessively difficult for the Coalition, many of his colleagues hate his way of operating.

Discipline is most necessary at cabinet level but it is also clearest there how farcical it can become. Ministers are wall-to-wall around the media; when they are asked about a current topic they often produce not just the same lines but the same phrases, as though they have received a song book from central casting. As, of course, they have.

So the political debate becomes stylised and stultified. All inevitable perhaps. But no wonder ordinary people turn off politics, feeling overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and underwhelmed by the often parlous quality.

There is an answer to the cursed bondage of party politics sabotaging our democracy. People, open your eyes and your minds - secret ballot rule in our parliaments will produce:
'Pure' democracy,
Real representation by Independents,
Regular community consultation with the Member,
Ministers appointed by, and responsible to, an authoritative parliament,
A Prime Minister first among equals,
Respected government,
Fewer elections,
Etc etc etc,

And the end of chaos (and frustration) in parliament!