Saturday, February 28, 2009

Democracy and Survival

Australian manufacturing jobs are going offshore at a great speed in the midst of the world financial crisis, with fear and uncertainty prevalent.

A tax on emissions without any exemptions, which seems fairer, has been scrapped in favour of an emission trading cap scheme, with exemptions for trade-exposed industries. In addition, industry is resisting the scheme’s commencement before 2012. Sounds like too little, too late.

The solar power industry which might have turned out a good employer and exporter, along with wind power, has suffered without government encouragement of investment! Here, it seems, another worrying provision negates the advantage of private power production. It appears that heavy polluters will be able to simply increase their emissions by the amount of private power production until 2020. Private power ‘helpers’ are not one bit happy.

All the while, science is increasingly worried that we are failing to control the damaging rise in sea temperature. Droughts and storms are exceeding historical levels, underlined by a more severe bush fire season. Polar and Tibetan plateau ice are diminishing further, beyond expectation, threatening warmer sea temperatures, which would certainly accelerate climate change.

In the middle of all this it would seem logical to have government in Canberra acting as a unified cooperative parliament, drawing relevant people and all their intelligence together, to give us our best chance of winning the many battles before us.

But no. At each and every level of government we see the principle of cooperation and unified action continually flouted in favour of that of competition— for individual and party advantage—routinely and revoltingly displayed in the television ‘show’, Parliamentary Question Time.

It achieves nothing of value, disgusts visitors and viewers, adult and child alike, and should be replaced by programs in which those government policies and actions with which we who vote are most concerned, can be sincerely and clearly explained. To that we are entitled.

Our democracy may yet survive the depredations of party politicians on our territory, if we but stand up and be counted.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watchman, what of the night?

Reflecting on the news, the words ‘What of the … ‘came to mind, meaning something, but what? Where from? Isaiah 21:11, 12. ‘Watchman, what of the night?' Enigmatic --- prophetic. What does it mean?

From the horror night of the bush fires, in fierce winds and record heat, with many lives lost, we have been celebrating a morning, the strength of the human spirit, to meet the trauma and its aftermath in hospital ward, and determination to rebuild.

What of the night? Brief is the quiet of morning as hot winds threaten to return.

Taken by surprise, we suspect climate change has been a contributor. Not in one hundred and fifty years has there been such a dry climate. Is there worse to come? Can we win the battle against fire and flood, added to our world’s financial crisis?

Are we politically fitted to face such future onslaughts, especially if climate change is on the march? While government struggles with climate change, the world financial crisis, and virtual war in Iraq and Afghanistan, amongst lesser, normal problems, the opposition tugs disingenuously at its skirts. Our democracy is being pushed against the wall.

The Age (23/2) comments: ‘Professor Garnaut anticipated the difficulties and the political preferences for (climate change) cap-and-trade schemes, over a simpler and more transparent carbon tax. Indeed, Australia first leant towards emission trading because former prime minister John Howard ruled out a flat tax. Professor Garnaut shared his assumption that business would oppose it.’
It would seem that there is a gathering concern at the government’s cap-and-trade scheme and support for a tax on CO2 emissions as more transparent and not subject to the exemptions plaguing the cap-and-trade proposals, the attraction of which was to more easily gain agreement with the world at large. Governments are failing, with populations wanting the easiest solutions, which are likely to miss the essential targets. Political pressures hinder democracy from producing the strong, clear leadership needed to rally us to the unavoidable causes which alone can win.
Democracy is failing. Intelligent, alternative views are held at bay, and significant leadership is excluded, in the conflict between rival parties, rendering genuine consensus and durable decision-making out of reach.
Leadership must be set free. And can be wide open to any member, only in a parliament operating under the aegis of the secret ballot. Any member with a worthwhile proposal could be confident of an objective hearing and fair result. A decision reached through this process could be rock solid, with decisions based on a genuine parliamentary consensus. A meager majority would probably be deferred by general agreement, for further consideration, perhaps by conference of MPs with constituents.
With the problems of the world multiplying we need a sounder basis for our democracy. It is perfectly feasible to insist by referendum that MPs vote by secret ballot. The benefits to all would be outstanding.
Parliament could institute the change but party politicians prefer to retain their undemocratic hold on power - hence the conflict, the exclusion of the power of the people and the weakness of government to secure effective outcomes.
The idiotically simple thing is that they would all be much better off under a real democracy, with better tenure, better public stature and respect, and a much greater sense of fulfillment. But those labouring within the system are blind to its faults, and to the merits of a change to a genuine democracy. But parties offer the easy path to power – and chaos!
Some think that with ballots in parliament could not reach decisions, but the ballot decides referenda and elections with calm. Why would the ballot not fairly and calmly decide each outcome of the new process of open debate? Why would members not diligently work for their constituents? Why would constituents not make their member very uncomfortable if seen as less than devoted to their cause?
Why would ministers elected by the members of parliament not be sensible and effective servants of parliament? Why would the Prime Minister, elected by parliament, not be a most honoured figure in the land?
Why would we not have the courage to change to a better, more honourable form of democracy? Should we be happy to stumble and fall in the face of the storms of financial crisis, climate change and religious extremism, when real democracy beckons?
While governments struggle in the dark night of the party system and its indecisive ineptitude, the morning light of the secret ballot offers the sweet reason of calm and sensible decisions, flowing from the innate wisdom and strength of the people.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Something missing

"Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood." H. L. Mencken. This quote my son Peter came across and kindly forwarded to me, no doubt feeling it throws light on our slow progress to a better democracy.

Who then is Mencken? I went to Google and found an American journalist/ philosopher/atheist, the ‘Bad Boy from Baltimore’, 1880-1956, ‘renowned for his rather tough, cynical style’.

His ‘creed’ has much to say about the current condition, including: ‘Giving every man a vote has no more made men wise and free than Christianity has made them good.’
Obviously a man who had very clear opinions! I would like to discuss his second point a little later but I find myself basically in full agreement with the first. Why?

Clearly there is something missing in the manner and effectiveness of our democracy to fulfil the onerous responsibilities famously assigned to it by Abraham Lincoln—government OF, BY and FOR the people. A real democracy would have a much more significant power to unite us, both socially and morally. Our fragmented society fails us in many ways.

We have the vote, to choose who governs us, what more do we want? As Mencken implies, we need to be both wise and free. Popular wisdom requires popular participation which the Athenians had in spades, but we don’t, with our system of party politics excluding any serious relevance for popular participation in the decisions to be made.

And again, the domination of the election process by party candidates, loaded with money and man power, severely restricts our choice of who shall represent us, (a situation which could be improved by ‘optional preference voting’). It has been truly said that decision without choice equates to slavery.

In 1911, Hillaire Belloc and Cecil Chesterton in their book, ‘The Party System’, p 17, spelt out the essentials of genuine representative government:
1. An absolute freedom (of the public) in the selection of representatives;
2. The representatives must be strictly responsible to their constituents and to no one else;
3. The representatives must deliberate in perfect freedom; and
4. Especially must they be absolutely independent of the 'executive'.
So, that’s what’s missing! Pericles would turn in his grave!
Just how could we have got it so wrong?



Michael Backman's incisive article, 'Israelis are living high on US

expense account', The Age, January 17, 2009, wonders why there is no

peace in Israel. I wonder about it too. So what is going wrong?

The prophets used to blame Israel's apostasy for their defeats and

occasional exiles. Does today's Israel have any time for the wisdom of

Solomon? Proverbs 16-7 says "When a man's ways are pleasing to the LORD,

He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." Obviously that

applies nationally as well.

Backman's reference to the Parsees sect in India is also completely relevant.

Although wealthy, they show goodwill toward their neighbours,

generously assisting the people around them and enjoying peace. A contrast!

Politicians generally seem to support Israel's cause? Why? The fear of being accused of being ‘anti-Semitic’ seems to have been powerful in stifling Western governments’ criticism of Israel and neutralised efforts to resolve the issues.

However, we must distinguish clearly between anti-Semitism, an irrational hostility towards Jews over an event two thousand years ago (being irrational, and unchristian in view of the words of Jesus: ‘Father forgive them’), and an objective criticism of recent and current Israeli policies, which Malcolm Fraser undertook, reasonably and well, in his article (The Age 16/1) 'That Israel's actions foster extremism'.

The problems are complex and must be resolved. With the promising new leadership in America to help turn the tide, we look forward hopefully for the fresh wisdom that can break the deadlock.