Tag Archives: Democracy

Dear politicians. Parliament is not your safe space

2 Dec

peaceful_protest

 

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.

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Trump & Clinton. Clinton & Trump

6 Aug

Clinton, Trump

 

I recently read a characterisation of the US presidential battle as a struggle between a neofascist catastrophe and a neoliberal disaster. This latter description of Hillary Clinton will not please those among us who believe, some ardently, that a US female president will be a triumph simply because of her sex.

It surely is worth noting here that there have been (and still are) female presidents and prime ministers in countries other than the US for some time, including our own Julia Gillard. The US is breaking its own glass ceiling, not the world’s. I don’t know that women have done much better than men at the task, and it is probably slightly delusional to expect or demand that we will: after all, female leaders have to work within the same long-established systems as do males, and no one person of either sex is going to smash those corrupt systems and make the world a better place.

This is not to say women shouldn’t be equally represented in politics: of course we must. However, I sometimes wonder if we wouldn’t be better served fighting dysfunctional political orders, rather than pouring our considerable energies into the task of moulding women into the value systems of a hegemonic masculinity when once there, we can do little if our ambition is to keep our jobs.

On the question of entrenched and deadly systems of government, John Pilger argues in his Pilgeresque way that Hillary Clinton is a far more dangerous presidential prospect than is Donald Trump, partially on the grounds that Clinton is deeply embedded in a warmongering system whilst Trump is a maverick who condemns the Iraq invasion as a crime, and doesn’t want any trouble with Russia or China. Pilger continues:

Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.

Then there is the analysis of Trump as a self-saboteur, an outstanding example of someone who sets high goals while simultaneously working to undermine himself. Nobody in this narrative, not even Trump, envisaged his campaign coming this far, and the candidate’s increasingly successful alienation of significant supporters can be interpreted as the behaviour of a man who wanted the attention and publicity of the competition, but never really believed he could win it and is now in the process of finding a way out. Trump’s way, the author argues, is to behave so badly everyone rejects him, then complain that the electoral system is rigged and he is its victim. On the other hand, the author admits, Trump could simply be unhinged.

I’m grateful I don’t have to vote in the US election: it’s bad enough coping with our own. What I take from both situations is a sense that the old political order is in its death throes, a new one not yet born or perhaps not even yet conceived. What we have to work with are the dregs of democracy.

In the western world we’re desperately casting about for something better or at the very least, different. I can’t see Hillary Clinton as the answer, even though she has a vagina. She is solidly of the old order. Trump, like some of our maverick politicians, is different and difference is his appeal, even though he, like our mavericks, may be no better and could be worse.

I confess myself astounded at feminist support for Clinton. I have no desire to live under hegemonic matriarchy, anymore than I enjoy living under the constraints of hegemonic patriarchy. Neither improve the lot of women nor many men, other than those of the ruling class. I can only conclude we are living with the dregs of feminism as well as the dregs of democracy, and nobody seems to have any idea what might possibly come next.

 

 

 

In his own words: Abbott brings our democracy into disrepute.

17 May

 “It is an absolute principle of democracy that governments should not and must not say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards. Nothing could be more calculated to bring our democracy into disrepute and alienate the citizenry of Australia from their government than if governments were to establish by precedent that they could say one thing before an election and do the opposite afterwards.” Tony Abbott, August 22, 2011

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

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