The reaction of the political class and some journalists to the protest in parliament house on Tuesday is an example of the kind of arrogance and entitlement that has alienated many in the US from their major political parties, and voting patterns would indicate a similar disaffection is well under way here.
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek advised citizens that if we wish to engage in the democratic process, we need to get ourselves elected. This remark seems to indicate that the democratic process belongs to politicians: citizens, once we’ve elected them, are excluded.
On reflection, this is pretty much what democracy has become in Australia. We elect a government based on many factors, among them promises made by candidates. Government then disregards the very undertakings that enabled their ascendance, and voters are thus excised from the “democratic” process. Plibersek isn’t that far off the mark. Citizens participate only insofar as we vote. After that, we do as we’re told.
Protesters are invariably described in pejorative terms, as if protest in itself is regarded as contemptible by politicians. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, for example, claimed that she and her staff could “smell the protesters, they hadn’t even bothered to shower.” This is in keeping with the long association of legal protest with “the great unwashed.” During an Occupy Melbourne demonstration, former Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom turned Liberal politician Tim Wilson, tweeted that peaceful protesters should have the water cannons turned on them. Insults such as grubs, vermin, losers are hurled at peaceful protesters: a metaphorical association with “dirtiness” the political class assumes it is entitled to protection from.
The arrogance of the political class, their belief that they are superior to the citizens who elect them and pay their wages, nowhere reveals itself as starkly as in their attitudes to legal protest.When protest occurs in the House at Question Time they are confronted on their own turf, turf they believe to be sacred and protected from the citizens who put them there, citizens who are now irrelevant until the next election.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed Tuesday’s protest was “the exact opposite of democracy.” Really? I thought protest was democracy in action, and protest in the House of the people the fulfilment of democracy’s promise.
Journalist Malcolm Farr also stated on Twitter that if we want to speak in parliament we should get elected. Or perhaps we should all become journalists with press gallery credentials.
The “us and them” narrative has shown itself in all its ugliness, in these reactions. Perhaps parliament ought to be sacred ground, perhaps the HoR ought to be regarded with the reverence ideally due to democracy’s engine. But a House and a parliament is only as good as the people in it, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve had good people driving our democracy train.
The only power we have, in between elections, is the power of peaceful protest. Take it right up to them. Protest in the House politicians have so thoroughly defiled.
Peaceful protest is not terrorism, nor is it the threat of terrorism, though they will attempt to frame it as such in an effort to suppress. Politicians want to be protected from the sight and sound of dissent. They want Parliament House to be their safe space. It isn’t. It belongs to everyone. This is still a democracy, Ms Plibersek, Mr Shorten. Shame on you.