It’s been a while since I last put my political thoughts into this tome. Primarily, because I have simply lost any interest in the Australian political process. Since the election of the current conservative government, and the abrogation of any pretense at holding said government to account by the current opposition under Shorten, I – undoubtedly like a great many previously engaged Australians – have simply decided to wait out the three years in the hope of change. I was, until recently, a fully paid up member of the Australian Labor Party. Having been privy to the internal machinations of that party during the pre-selection contest for the State seat of Capalaba, my disgust and disenchantment rose to such a level that I could not in all honesty to myself, remain a member, such was the display of personal ambition, ruthlessness and tribal in-fighting. What was made patently clear to me was the glaring fact that the political movement I’d been brought up to believe in no longer existed. It was feeding on itself, returning nothing to those who desperately wanted to keep it’s ideals alive.
On the other side of the divide, over the past 20 years, I have seen the once grudgingly admirable Liberal Party – the ideology of which sprung from the Mill-Burke schools of philosophy and morphed under Menzies into what we in Australia now understand as classic Social Liberalism. Whilst my Father had no appreciation for Menzies, having been born into an era of socialism – his oft quoted stance in philosophical terms was always the greatest good for the greatest number – he did have a condescending admiration for the likes of James (Jim) Killen, Malcolm Fraser and John Gorton. Men who stood by their own beliefs, come what may. Their ideology was wrong, for Dad, but he admired their fortitude. That ilk of representative no longer exists in Australian politics, and hasn’t done for more that 20 years. Since the early 1990’s – which encompasses the Keating years – the Australian body politic has become one of an American presidential style, where the leader of the party elected to government, runs the country by seeming self-appointed right. The Cabinet serves only as a vehicle for the expression in the media of the party leader’s ideological aims.
Of course, mentioning the media as a separate influence on the political process is a non-sequitur. In this country, as with the United States and Great Britain, the media have overtly “taken sides” and now operate as publicity arms of the political body. Rupert Murdoch, who owns more than 70% of all media outlets in this country, calls the tune for conservative governance according to his own antediluvian mindset, while socially democratic ideals are left languishing in the arms of the moribund Fairfax businesses. Thankfully, some respect for socially democratic ideals is expressed daily by Guardian Australia, but I find a perverse irony in the fact that any form of ideological balance in our media has to come from another foreign owned corporate media organisation.
I stay in touch with political events through social media, surely the most honest of all forms of so-called ‘news’ propagation. I find a mild form of amusement at the perpetual ranting of anti-conservative activists against the blunderings of the current Federal government in its daily rough-riding over Westminster-style Parliamentary conventions. What these grossly upset anti-conservatives fail to understand is that Australian democracy, for all of it’s failings, is cast in stone on the day after polling day. All of the whining, finger-pointing, hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth does nothing but create personal angst for the aggrieved. On the plus side, those aggrieved would be well advised to remember that the Australian political cycle is, thankfully, three years long and has clearly defined phases. In year one, an elected government will do whatever it wants to do, regardless of pre-election promises. In year two, providing sufficient political capital is retained among the proletariat and commentariate, the programs begun in year one are bedded in. In year three, given as usually occurs, political capital is exhausted, the elected government will embark on a process of buying it’s way back into power for another three years. That process, often known as Pork-Barrelling, is selective and targeted. Sometimes it works, as with the Howard government terms 1998-2001 and 2004-2007 in particular. Increasingly, since 2001, we have seen successive governments both conservative and non-conservative, embarking on clearly defined programs of fear-mongering amongst a populace which has been deliberately ‘dumbed-down’ by media favourable to governmental aims. It is this most recent of political machinations which is most concerning to me.
Politicians will come and go. Some, very few, but some will actually engage with their constituents to represent the majority views of their constituency. To date, I see only progressive thinking aspirants being actively involved in such consultations. Conservatives have always, and will always operate on the self-belief that they speak for all and the few dissenters need only be ignored or shouted down as antithetic to some warped version of pseudo nationalism. The anarchic term, “UnAustralian” continues to be raised in such circumstances. As Australians concerned for not just ourselves, but for the global community we are an integral part of, we don’t need to be singular voices shrieking into the howling gale of nihilism, as seems to be the case in social media. We need to be aware, educated and alert to the way our political system functions. A classic example I noted today is the highlighting of this piece in the Melbourne Age (Fairfax) by former Howard Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone. In the piece, she opines on the supposed solidarity of cabinet processes. Sure, she makes a point about the proposed arbitrary rescinding of an Australian’s citizenship on the grounds of alleged terrorism involvement, but the crux of the piece is her defense of an entrenched governmental process which excludes you & I, the voters, who elect representatives to do exactly that – represent us and our majority opinion. Never forget, dear reader, that Vanstone, in company with Phillip Ruddock, instigated and oversaw the odious and on-going Pacific Solution under Howard’s authoritarian regime. Her claims of holding fast to Libertarian ideals (NOT ‘Liberal’ ideals as she claims) fly in the face of how history decrees she acted. In short, she is using the media to pad out her own legacy, making it softer & more palatable to the gullible. What her article seeks to do is further undermine someone who is clearly not within her own ‘camp’. The current Parliamentary leader of the so-called ‘Liberal’ Party and Prime Minister. This is the Australian political system at work. There is absolutely no involvement from you or I in this process, which leads me once again to highlight the inescapable fact that we, the electors of representatives, have only one say in what happens in this country, every three years. What happens in the interim is only window dressing and grist to the media mill. You and I can do nothing about events. Evidence Howard’s declaration of war against Iraq in 2003, against over-whelming and massively expressed public opinion at the time.
I write in such terms today because what I see in social media is nothing more than anguished regret over a failed democratic system. The only way we – you and I – can ever hope to change the system is by being alert to subterfuge, increasing governmental control of our lives and erosion of what little remains of our rights as citizens. We need to move away from religiously oriented, fervent and nationalistic jingoism, toward more inclusive, progressive and encompassing interest in wider events that impact all, not just a privileged few. Yes, terrorism exists. Terrorism has ALWAYS existed. It has had many names down the ages and will always be with us as the true anarchists among us strive for their own selfish aims. If Vanstone makes one accurate observation, it is her allusion to Shakespeare. We are the trees Roper – in the current case, Abbott – would have cut down. The Devil – terrorism, fear of the unknown – Islam, will always remain. Unless we make ourselves aware of these truths, all the things we would wish for a better future will be as Roy Batty states in the closing moments of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain.