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Australian Democracy Needs Reform; China may have something to offer

This article explores why Australians are so frustrated with the lack of deep thinkers and serious policy makers in our political establishment. It asks why politicians only discuss peripheral issues and never seriously address homelessness. It comments on some recent flagrantly anti-democratic political acts, including the way LNP leadership has been hired out to Cambell Newman in Queensland. In the spirit of relocalisation, it offers some insights into local power in China.

One only need browse through recent events in Australian politics (Federal and State) over the last few months to understand why Australians are so frustrated with the lack of deep thinkers and serious policy makers in our political establishment.

In normal times, with a booming world economy, despite widespread incompetency in political leadership, Australia, blessed by its natural resources, has been able to flow along with the world trend of economic prosperity. Therefore the issue of political incompetency within our current system of government has not been sufficiently alarming to affect the livelihood of the average person on the streets. For example, Australia can simply ride on the wave of the Chinese boom, to go by these examples: "China the focus of our fortunes" (WA Today, 27 Dec 2010) and "Good year ahead for investors, depending on China" (The Australian, 29 Dec 2010)

Global connections; global problems

The world, however, has become so inter-connected that some problems are beyond our control. An event taking place in one part of the world can negatively impact upon the rest of the world. One such event was the global financial crisis ignited by the United States in 2008, which impacted in the subsequent global inflation. This global crisis was due partly to the then US President Bush’s and now Obama’s administration so-called ‘Quantitative Easing Monetary Policy.’ Plainly speaking, this is a money printing policy. This policy caused the world to be flooded with hot money and a depreciating US dollar. (Money Market, 25 Oct 2010 - "Is the US. Federal Reserve Setting the Stage for Hyperinflation?"

There are of course many other international factors that resulted in inflation beyond our control. These include:

1) The US administration's irresponsible policy in the sudden converting of 35 per cent of US corn into biofuel without taking into consideration the immediate impact to the rest of the world due to:

a) US exports accounting for about 60 per cent of the world's corn supply, hence a sudden shortage in supply of 35% of corn from US into the market caused the price to go up.

b) Many livestock farmers use corn to feed their livestock. Hence, inflation on meat and meat related products as well.

As a result, the Independent UK (23 march 2011) reported a complaint by Nestlé boss with a heading: "Biofuel policy is causing starvation, says Nestlé boss".

2) The recent mass protests across the Middle East and North Africa have also got to do with inflation in food price and daily necessities. The political turmoil in the oil rich regions fuels inflation across the world on another front with a surge in oil price, which affects the cost of transport, electricity and everything else.

3) Other factors also cause inflation, such as the appreciation of Chinese currency and labour cost. Corporate greed is also a key reason.

While the Treasurer claims credit on economic figures, can you find any politician commenting on the following topics?

Whilst our politician, Treasurer Wayne Swan, was quick to claim credit for the latest unemployment figures (Herald Sun, 10 April 2011 - "'Australia's jobless rate envy of world,' Treasurer Wayne Swan says", no politician (from government, opposition, minor parties or independents) seemed to want to comment on any of the following sets of figures over the last few months:

1) One in five Australians struggling with debt repayments," (Herald Sun, 7 April 2011)
2) "Shock rise in mortgage default cases," (News Limited, 28 March 2011)
3) "Australians raid superannuation to avoid home loss – it is as bad as it gets," (The Australian, 9 April 2011)

4) "Private rental too much for many families" (The Age, 29 March 2011)
5) "Going up and up - living costs outstrip the CPI, latest figures reveal," (Daily Telegraph, 15 Feb 2011)
6) "Rise in middle-class bankrupts," (WA Today, 24 May 2010)
7) "Health insurance hike double inflation rate," (News Limited, 25 Feb 2011)

8) "Construction sector shrinks again as federal stimulus winds up," (Construction News, 7 Dec 2010)
9) "Australians crippled by tax burden," (News Limited, 7 Mar 2011) where the tax office raises the following issues: “Documents show 4.3 million individual taxpayers have "not yet lodged" a tax return for 2008-09 - a staggering 26 per cent increase on 3.4 million in the previous year” and “About 700,000 taxpayers entered into special repayment plans with the Tax Office in 2009-10 - an increase of 32 per in four years.”

Homelessness in Australia

The reality on the ground is that, instead of having 105,000 homeless across the country during the "2006 ABS counting," the latest figure reported 4 years later by the ABC (30 April 2010) has become "1 in 100 homeless in past year." That is, the number of homeless in Australia has being more than doubled within 3 years since the last count in 2006. The problem is so serious that, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, “as many as 80 per cent of new applications for temporary housing by couples with children cannot be met on a daily basis.” The report also indicated that “of the total new requests for housing, 62 per cent of people were turned away, a rate stable with previous years”. (Brisbane Times, 22 July 2010 - "Homeless families are being turned away’."

Any solutions and policies announcement by our political ‘Elites’?

From their complete silence in response to these news items, it would appear that none of our politicians have a solution or have any understanding of the actual causes of the problems. Otherwise, based on our political culture, somebody would have jumped in front of the media to give themselves some free publicity.

In a time of massive poverty and suffering, this is what our politicians do:

1) One of our independent MPs who holds the balance of power in the minority government - Andrew Wilkie - threatened to bring down the Gillard government over pokey game reform. (Herald Sun, 30 March 2011 - "Wilkie threatens PM over pokie reform." Andrew has won a seat in Tasmania with a tiny margin by campaigning against pokey games. It seems that the issue of pokey reform seems to have taken up most, if not all of his time since he got into the federal parliament 8 months ago.

2) Our former Prime Minister and now Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd appears to be still bitter over being dumped by his comrades months before the last election. He has been acting as a lone ranger against his own party with virtually no or little contact with Prime Minister Julie Gillard and other cabinet ministers.

Immediately after his dumping as Prime Minister, he began to make use of his previous status and “upsetting Labor insiders by holding high-level talks in the US (and the UN) even though he is now just a backbencher” (News Limited, 16 July 2010 - "Kevin Rudd's one-man show haunts Julia Gillard." He then is suspected of having gone further to leak information about his secret deal with the Gillard government the night before his dumping to ensure that he would be given a senior position in the new Labor cabinet if Labor win the upcoming election. ( WA Today, 16 July 2010- "Rudd's political ghost haunts Gillard." [Note: there were only 4 people in the secret meeting. Although Kevin Rudd never admitted that he was the one who leaked the secret deal, nearly everyone in the media is pointing at him].

When in the position of Foreign Minister in the newly elected Gillard’s government, Rudd used tax payer money to jet around 20 countries in just 100 days, apparently trying to get himself a high level United Nation position. This has some Labor MPs wondering: "Just what the hell is Kevin up to?"(The Daily Telegraph, 23 Dec 2010 - "Kevin Rudd's eye on UN hot seat." [Note: this is published under opinion].

While eyeing United Nation jobs, Kevin Rudd again tried to position himself as the next Prime Minister by continuing to disclose secret cabinet meetings to explain to the Australian public that his decision to dump certain policies prior to the election was a result of pressure from members of his own Cabinet. (News Limited, 6 April 2011 - "I'm not shutting up about my time as Prime Minister, says Kevin Rudd."

It has also been reported that, Kevin Rudd has “quietly launched himself on a one-man campaign trail, visiting electorates across the nation,” and “introducing himself to strangers, "Hi mate, Kevin. What's your name ?" (News Limited, 10 April 2011 - "Hi, I'm Kevin Rudd and I'm here to help."

Apparently, over the last few months, as a cabinet minister under the Australian Tax Payer’s payroll, Kevin Rudd has been working for himself, with no or little communication with the Prime Minister.

3) In a hung parliament with few seats short, Gillard’s government cannot survive with any single member of her coalition partners or members of her own party swinging their support against her. Therefore, her government can do nothing about the behaviour of her foreign minister beside creating her own “malicious leaks designed to discredit the former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.” (The Australian, 15 Feb 2011 - "Kevin Rudd backlash rattles cabinet."

In order to maintain her grip on power, Prime Minister Gillard reportedly offers Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie “more one-on-one prime ministerial contact than is enjoyed by most ministers and mandarins”. (WA Today, 27 Nov 2010 - "Gillard's grip on power."

The Gillard’s government is busily dealing with the Greens as well on policy direction to stay in power as she broke her own election promise on the issue of Carbon Tax. (See Herald Sun, 25 March 2011 - "Julia Gillard's carbon policy a desperate measure." When the public form a perception that it is the Greens who formulated Labor policy, Julie Gillard again repositioned herself by publicly claiming that her coalition partners, “[the] Greens don't share Australian values” (Adelaide Now, 1 April 2011) and then criticised the Greens as “Extremists” (Herald Sun, 7 April 2011).

Within the last few months since Labor came into power, there is more news of politicking within the party, with coalition partners and with the opposition party than any actual policy initiative being announced.

4) The opposition is not doing any better. For instance, they have embroiled themselves in a number of poll driven racial issues, such as the asylum seekers issue, with a decades old slogan “Stop the boats,” and migrant-bashing such as in "Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy," (Brisbane Times, 17 Feb 2011). They offer no policy to assist Australians who are struggling with the cost of living. On the contrary, there are a number of policies to chop ofests across the Middle East and most disadvantage people in Australian society. Some examples: "Libs to cut incentives for poorer university students," (The Australian, 19 Aug 2010), "Tony Abbott calls for welfare crackdown", (The Telegraph, 31 march 2011)

5) Meanwhile, in NSW state politics, Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell managed to win a landslide victory without having to produce any detailed policies (Inside, 18 March 2011).

6) And, in Queensland, after years of political infighting with consistently poor poll rating, the LNP has decided to change their leader again. This time, they invited an outsider a person without a seat in the State Parliament - the Lord Mayor of Brisbane City Council, Campbell Newman, to be their leader for the position of Premier in the coming election.

This is in part because, during the recent floods in Brisbane, Campbell Newman, as Mayor of the city, has received exposure on national television every day for weeks and is now a familiar household name. This situation apparently prompted former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to "describe the circumstances of Campbell Newman's foray into state politics as 'weird'" (Courier mail, 23 March 2011).

Mr. Newman, while still officially the Mayor of Brisbane, and as somebody who have just entered state party politics suddenly in circumstances described as “weird” decided to give a fresh start to the LNP by simply binning all existing policies formulated by his predecessors. (Brisbane Times, 29 March 2011 - "All current LNP policies 'null and void': Newman declares new beginning,". Apparently, he has binned those policies without spending any time analysing and understanding wider issues and problems relating to the State of Queensland and the LNP.

The only thing that interests our politicians

As demonstrated from the above 6 examples, the only thing that interest our politicians is to stay in power. Election promises may be brushed aside. Existing policies can be binned overnight by a new leader who has charm but little experience in party leadership and state politics; politicians embroil themselves in race base politics because they believe it is a vote winner; cabinet minister can use tax payer money to run his personal agendas without having to consult the Prime Minister; an independent MP winning a seat with just a tiny margin, holding the balance of power in a minority government, may take up more prime ministerial time than ministers over a single issue “pokie reform”.

Individualism seems to rule the day. Who is going to serve the interest of the people and the nation?

Meanwhile, as a record number of Australians suffer poverty and homelessness, our Members of Parliament busily increase their personal wealth by being the top lodgers of dodgy tax claims on the one hand (News Limited, 17 March 2011 - "Australian MPs top lodgers of dodgy tax claims, ATO investigation reveals"), and boosting their own pay rises by the thousands of dollars just few month ago, on the other. (Adelaide Now, 18 Nov 2010)

Democracy Needs Reform

The world is getting more and more complex in the 21st century. Can any Tom, Dick or Harry on the street understand the complexity of the modern age? Will they have the knowledge, expertise, skills and ethical values to serve the very people that voted them into the Parliament? How long can we afford to have second, third or ninth rated people in the Parliament doing nothing right for us?

At a time of economic uncertainty, rising international conflict, and global inflation with increasing pressure on the cost of living, voters become so irrational that they simply wanted a quick fix on every problem they face. The popularity of governments is on a roller coaster. The life span of a government may become shorter and shorter. As a result, opponent parties are able to win election in landslide without having to put forward any detailed policy.

The charm of politicians has become more important than the substance of their policies. Will such a trend lead to political process where fewer and fewer deep thinkers will be able to make their way into Parliament?

Democracy is great! But should we begin to ask ourselves the following questions:

Is democracy in the current form known to the US, Australia and other English-speaking nations the best for the survival of mankind?
Is there room for improvement?
What is the purpose of democracy if people we have voted in fail to serve the interests of the very people that voted for them?
How long can we afford to have politicians not doing anything right for us?

Will the current form of western democracy eventually result in mass poverty and humanitarian disaster?

In this time of economic uncertainty, in the US, people are also increasingly conscious of the quality of their politicians. The Washington Post recently carried a report, "2012 Republican presidential candidates all have flaws," (30 Jan 2011). A survey by NBC News/Wall Street Journal (March 2010) indicated that the Congress enjoy only 17% of approval rating from the American public.

In the UK, the 2010 election also resulted in a hung parliament, with all three major parties failing “to disclose to the voters the scale of tax rises and public sector cuts required to tackle the financial crisis.” The outcome of this election has been labeled “No Choice Democracy.”

Other systems exist and China's, with which I am familiar, has been very much misunderstood by the Western World due to the disinformation of the mainstream Western Media. (I will try to find time to write an article on democracy with Chinese characteristics some time in the future.)

In the meantime, this article in the Guardian (19 January 2011) under the heading, "China's tentative steps towards democracy," may interest you. The article ended by quoting a statement made by Daniel Bell, a Canadian-born professor of political theory at Tsinghua University in Beijing, who says China may be groping toward "a political model that works better than western-style democracy".

For the sake of humanity and the welfare of the Western Public, should we forgo our cold war mentality against China and begin to look objectively into the positive aspects of the Chinese Communist Party and their progressive political ideology and methodology?

Written on 12 April 2011

Copyright © 2009 - 2011 Outcast Journalist - Chua, Wei Ling

Comments

Thanks for this article, Wei Ling. Good to have a new commentator in Queensland.

I had a look at the article you recommend, on Chinese democracy, and note that perhaps China has recovered to some extent from the disorganisation of the cultural revolution in the rural areas. In Australia and in most of the English speaking western world we are severely disorganised by high immigration and industrialisation which have fragmented normal family and clan bases and their relationship with space. I am sure the same situation prevails in the big Chinese cities and in places where massive landscape transformations have occurred (as in the construction of that huge dam), however it may be that the still high proportion of Chinese rural population is quite well organised now along family, clan and village lines. If that is the case then the local governments would be potentially very important in giving better representation to their constituents. Australia, with well over 80% of its people in big, structurally disorganised cities, lacks these valuable potential sources of democratic power.

Candobetter is interested in reform of democracy. We don't endorse economic growth though, which we see as undermining democracy because it confirms more and more power on corporations, which are not democratic at all and which prefer financial gain over human and planetary welfare, with the trend to destroying life support systems.

I do agree with you that it is shocking that the LNP has brought in an outsider who has 'binned' all its policies, but I don't agree that he knows nothing about the rest of Queensland. I don't approve of his politics and I see him as a skillful marketer of growth lobby policies, a representative of the developers who are ruining our self-government, paving over democracy and the natural environment. Another spin-doctor. Unfortunately, trends are normalising the insertion of professional marketers into political office. Although the binning of former policies and the induction of a new leader from outside are novel political tactics, they are explainable by the fact that politicians are more and more salesmen for commercial lobby group ideas rather than actual representatives of their party or conceptualisers of real public policy.

You also suggest that politicians have failed to comment on significant problems in our society, and you are probably right in most cases, but we alternative journalists should look to Hansard Australia and the Hansards for each state, to be fair. Given that almost everything that occurs in Australian parliaments is reported there word for word, you do find that some politicians have made significant speeches there which don't get reported by the Press. What your article exposes, without saying it, is probably that the media only reports certain things, so even if politicians make comments on real issues, they don't get published. In fact that is how real politicians are selected out by the Australian (and Western) political process. Mr Murdoch and other major media-owners presumably choose their editors for obedience or like-mindedness and what gets out there is a reflection of newsmedia owner's tastes - and probably their financial investments as well.

By the way, the issue of poker machine debt is an important component of poverty and homelessness in this nation and the ALP makes a lot of money out of the ownership of poker machines, as does other big business, so to take issue with this may be to diminish a worthy issue. Candobetter would be happy to publish articles against gambling. Also, one wonders why, given the huge takes that governments make from gambling, if continuing income taxes can be rationally justified.

I suggest that you precise that you are referring to democracy in English speaking nations because there are different styles of democracy in Europe and they work better and don't suffer from exactly similar problems.

Residents of Hong Kong housing complex Mei Foo Sun Chuen say they first heard the construction trucks arrive and a few of them rushed downstairs to see what was going on. Resident Hewit Au confronted a truck driver, and then proceeded to lie down in front of the truck to stop it entering the work site.

Au and his fellow residents have become more than just middle class homeowners with a complaint against a local developer. Billion Star has permission to a build a 20-story residential tower adjacent to Block 8 of Mei Foo Sun Chuen. It will block the light and air, and be very close to their windows. How can the people "breathe"?

Hong Kong property prices have risen almost 69% since January 2009.

The Mei Foo residents organized a major street protest at the beginning of April, with hundreds participating.

Some activists claimed the raid on a ParknShop superstore at the Hung Hom Bay Centre on March 26 was a success, although one protester admitted it should have been planned better to avoid disrupting shoppers. They target developers because they are the boss of the government and the real enemy of the society.

People in Hong Kong are united enough to protest directly against inappropriate development. This should happen here in Australia. Despite our democratic system, property developers can't be said "no" to!

Nimby,
We would really like to hear more about this kind of thing in Hong Kong, which suffers from a similar British colonial system as Australia. In Hong Kong Australians can see what the nasty developers think it is their right to impose on us all.

Well said when you say that "Developers are the boss of the government and the real enemy of society."

This statement can be defended on every level sociologically, economically and environmentally.