Saturday, July 5, 2014
Our Fragile Democracy
I am really concerned about our government here in Australia at the moment. I know the rest of the world doesn’t give a fig about our government; and perhaps most Australians don’t, either. Nevertheless, my concerns are now way beyond the usual party-political differences that plague this country. It would be easy to dismiss my concerns as those of a radical lefty, but I really hope that those who situate themselves on the right of the political spectrum will take the time to stop and listen and think. This is not just about which political sports team we happen to support.
These comments are again inspired by the government’s response to asylum seekers, but the issue is much broader than this. At the moment there appear to be two boatloads of asylum seekers somewhere in the Indian Ocean, seeking to make their way to Australia. I say ‘appear to be’ because the government is refusing to say anything, refusing even to confirm the existence of these boats. The Australian people are being told nothing about this situation; we know nothing about the government’s response to the situation, or about the current state or ultimate fate of these asylum seekers. The silence is being maintained on various pretexts, none of which should be convincing to the members of a democratic society.
Silence is one of the main tactics of this government. I think the government believes that if it says nothing about this and a range of other issues, they will eventually simply go away. And what frightens me is that they may be right. People have short memories. In a day, a few days, a week, the issue will have been forgotten as another issue seizes our and the media’s attention. Furthermore, whatever they are actually doing will be a fait accompli before we know about it (if we ever actually do). A totalitarian government often tries to silence its opponents. The Abbott government is being much cleverer than that: it is silencing itself. Any objections that are voiced are simply descending into this well of silence. Opponents end up shadowboxing. The government offers us only vague, empty, paternalistic assurances that they are doing the ‘right’ thing. We are expected to take their word for this. I don’t. The silence makes me very suspicious. They are hiding their actions from public scrutiny. Unfortunately, any outrage that is currently being expressed will eventually die down. Those of us who continue to shout will be made to appear silly; we will likely be reviled and ridiculed.
The second issue with this government is the ‘age of entitlement’. The government is keen to warn us that this age of entitlement (which they have invented) must end. Australian citizens must no longer regard themselves as ‘entitled’ to pensions, unemployment benefits, health care, affordable education and so on. What is actually happening, though, is that we are entering into a new and unprecedented era of entitlement. For the government believes that it is ‘entitled’. They use the word ‘mandate’, but it amounts to the same thing. This government believes that it is entitled to do whatever it wants to do because it won the election. I for one am glad that we have a complicated senate following the election, because it is the only thing that will set limits on this sense of entitlement. The senate is, in fact, the true seat of democracy. Those who voted for the current government may (at the time) have represented a majority. But democracy is about much, much more than majorities. A truly democratic government gives a voice to minorities and respects that voice.
We need to be very vigilant concerning the democracy of this nation. It is a fragile thing. We are not a democracy because we get to choose a new dictator every three years. Being elected does not give blanket entitlement to the government of the day. The government is accountable to the people who elected it today, tomorrow and every day, not just once every three years.
A secretive, silent government, that swaggers above the people with a sense of entitlement, is already straying far from the path of true democracy.