Parliament was sold. No refunds.
We citizens, we work at political change part time – at best. The people on the other side? Have full time jobs doing this. The whole Internet erupted in self-congratulation when .. the SOPA legislation was overturned ‘because the public demanded that it be’ – but of course, then we go back to our lives and the lobbyists who are getting paid to work on this full time – work on this full time. They do a strategic retirement and continue to .. find another way.
Dan Carlin, Common Sense Ep 280
Australian parliamentary politics isn’t able to make high quality, timely decisions. Maybe it could once, but it can’t now. For a time I wondered if the Australian legislative system could repair itself, but no. It can’t. Its design doesn’t allow for it. And in any case, those responsible for its maintenance don’t recognise a problem.
As a response to this (and perhaps as tacit recognition of this), civil society have mobilised to more deeply and overtly involve itself in Australia’s legislative system. Just like the corporate assault on our political systems, the citizen-led defence has been full spectrum. This defence has been constant. But this defence has been ineffective.
Below are only a few examples of the fundamental failure we’re experiencing, and a sad catalogue of the failed attempts of citizen-led defence. This can’t be a comprehensive list of failings, rather it’s a horror-highlight-reel. The notable failures are a) the response to a changing climate, b) defending against corruption, and c) a complete failure to maintain and develop a liberal democracy, manifesting as a descent into Authoritarianism.
Australia’s legislative process is broken, and there is no cause for hope that it can be repaired, or that positive outcomes can originate from Canberra, Spring St or Macquarie St.
We’ve passed the point of no return, and at this point we say it’s just a matter of time before this glacier is completely disappeared to sea.
Eric Rignot, Glaciologist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, speaking on the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.
The Sea. It’s rising.
And there’s no plan.
There are plenty of ideas, sure, but no plan. The anthropomorphic debate doesn’t even matter any more. It’s moot. The sea is rising, and the sea will continue to rise, with the absolute best case scenario being a rise no less than a three metes in no more than 280 years. It’s called the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and there’s no saving it. It’s melting, and the point of no return has been passed.
Almost all of Australia’s (and the world’s) human population live along the coast-line. Much of Australia’s heavy industry and fossil fuel infrastructure is built on the beach.
And there’s no plan.
There are some absolutely fantastic ideas which you can read about, by the likes of the Climate Council, the Australian Greens, Pirate Party Australia, Quit Coal, Friends Of The Earth, the list goes on. All the ideas for addressing this catastrophe are developed and ready to be implemented. But tragically – despairingly — they’re not plans.
Plans, by their nature, have a commitment to action.
The Australian parliament has been unable to make the decisions necessary to avert this catastrophe and is making absolutely no attempt to mitigate the damage this catastrophe will cause.
Compounding this, fracking (or coal seam gas, or tight sands gas, or shale gas, or whatever other technical term the mining industry want to use to distance itself from fracking uses) is spreading like cancer. While not looking like the Mordor that is Canada’s Tar Sands, fracking fields have a distinctly End OF Days feel about them.
Fracking fields pollute the groundwater in ways hard to imagine, leaving everything that relies on it with drinking water that is quite literally industrial waste. Ancient aquifers are spoiled, never to recover. Tap water is sometimes green. Sometimes viscous. Sometimes able to be set alight.
This malignancy will continue to grow and fester, largely because of corrupted decision making.
The impending and measurable catastrophe resulting from a changing climate would be, if it were the only crisis the Australian parliament faced, almost insurmountable. A problem of this scale and pervasiveness would, understandably, be incredibly hard to negotiate. Of the many very good ideas, forming one into a plan would be a nigh-impossible task.
But it’s not the only crisis we face. It’s a problem compounded by corrupted decision making, and extending authoritarianism.
Now to the corruption commission in New South Wales, which has heard today that the former minerals minister Ian Macdonald stood to gain $4 million from the coal licence deal being negotiated by the Obeid family.
Eleanor Hall, reporting for ‘The World Today’ (ABC News), 07.02.2013
The parliamentary decision making process has been corrupted. While there’s only been one reported case of a paper bag full of cash being handed over in the back seat of a Bentley this year, that’s probably due to only one jurisdiction having an active anti-corruption commission, and not because it doesn’t happen more often.
The far more dangerous form of corruption is the other kind. The insidious kind. The “Look after me now, you’ll be looked after later” kind. The kind that’s not illegal. The Revolving Door.
Members of both the legislature and public service will leave their regulatory roles to take positions with the very firms they were regulating, then hop back in to regulatory roles again. Their salaries will make your head swim.
One of Australia’s most moneyed malignancies has the Prime Minister’s ear, and employs ex-ministers in mining jobs that seemingly don’t require any industry-specific experience of any kind. This moneyed malignancy is determined to see fracking continue and expand, and will spare no expense in achieving this. This malignancy is able to play the long game, full time.
There is only one jurisdiction in Australia with an anti-corruption commission, because the people who decide if it should happen are too scared it will find things out about them or their friends.
This kind of corrupted decision making would, on its own, be almost crippling to a liberal democracy. It’s possible to claw back from it, to wrest control of a legislature from its corrupted officials and and return it to its citizens. Almost impossible, but doable.
But it’s not our only crisis. It’s compounded by an impending environmental catastrophe and advancing authoritarianism.
Regrettably, for some time to come, the delicate balance between freedom and security may have to shift.
Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia, speaking in Parliament on 22.09.2014
Authoritarianism has a few hallmarks which aren’t all that difficult to spot. They are;
a) The regime unreasonably limits political expression, political organising or parts of civil society,
b) The regime bases its legitimacy on emotion (usually fear) and its ability to fight an evil which (lol) it will identify,
c) The regime’s citizens aren’t very involved in political expression, sometimes due to the constraint of anti-regime activity or expression, and
d) The regime’s power is derived from mechanisms that are poorly defined and poorly understood.
I’m satisfied Australia meets these. I’m satisfied that Australia is, with a few of these characteristics, well down the road on authoritarianism. It doesn’t matter how far, because once this journey is started it’s never reversed.
There isn’t an example of a nation state that has willingly pulled back from authoritarianism — without first experiencing human suffering on a scale which a reasonable person is unable to fathom.
Also, and I think this is quite important, the Australian government is capable of inflicting unrelenting torrents of violence and suffering on its own citizens, as well as continuing to expand and resource the open ended and militarised abhorrent depravity experienced by the world’s most vulnerable as they seek its protection.
Both state and federal laws have been passed to severely curtail (effectively, ban) protest and the association of citizens not engaging in any form of criminal activity.
In a very recent display of fear-politik, the Australian legislature managed to simultaneously legalise eavesdropping on the entire Internet with a single warrant, provide immunity for security forces should (when) they act unlawfully, legalise the compromise and vandalism of a third-party’s computer without a warrant and, as some kind of perverse icing on the cake, ban much of Australia’s national security reporting.
Australia isn’t special. Australia is very middle-of-the-road when it comes to the defence and maintenance of its liberal democracy. People acting on behalf of the Australian Government are the very Australians most likely to commit acts of violence in Australia and overseas.
Walking back from authoritarianism — and thus avoiding all the suffering it entails — would be an heroic task. Almost impossible. Definitely a precedent. But this isn’t the only crisis we face now. It’s compounded by corrupt decision making and an impending environmental catastrophe.
Sam: Last game here I’m playing [against] myself.
Fresh: You’re losing to yourself.
Sam: Yeah, life’s a bitch like that.
From the film ‘Fresh’, 1994
Any one of these problems on their own would cripple a liberal democracy — but they’re not alone. Mitigating the damage which will be caused by the changing climate would normally be near impossible to do, but with corrupted decision making it becomes actually impossible. For Australia to walk back from a fear-driven regime would be a world-first, but the lack of preparation for a changing climate will only increase fear.
Parliamentary politics is, as a force for positive change, impotent and poorly served. It can’t be effectively defended by its citizens or civil society. This system of governance is the one citizens rely on for their collective decision making, and it’s broken beyond repair.
Do more than go to your elections – Next time they call for more bullshit circus games you dismantle it and you stop – hurting – people. [..] So don’t you tell me about Lucky Fucking Country, all right?
Viv Malo, First Nations Liberation, speaking at the Bust The Budget/March In May Rally, Melbourne 18.05.2014
Our communities will need to prepare for the crises we face, and at very least, resist further degradation as much as possible. The positive leadership we need will necessarily be localised and focused on its local communities — the answers and planning we need haven’t come, aren’t coming and won’t come from Canberra or Spring St. They’ll come from our neighbourhood houses, our community gardens and our cafés. Or they won’t come at all.
I’ll keep engaging in parliamentary politics, but not because of a hope good people can be installed to finally, finally make good decisions. No, I’ll be involved to try and help a small group of interlopers enter the parliament and vandalise the plans of Australia’s degradation. If we’re lucky, this can buy us all a bit more time to do effective work. Any parliamentary work I do will be lower in priority to the areas I will now concentrate on;
a) Securing local, independent, community based broadcast media,
b) Identifying local areas placed at significant risk by the changing climate, and assist in developing plans to mitigate this risk,
c) Securing free and open education and skills training,
d) Securing more sustainable and ethical food and general goods supply.
And, more immediately, I’ll be learning to be at peace with knowing that nice ideas like parliamentary politics and liberal democracies don’t actually work in practice.
I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. [..] Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.
Henry David Thoreau, taken from his essay ‘On Civil Disobedience’, published 1849