Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy

Stuck in the middle with who?
An inquiry identifies extremes on both sides as threats to faith in democracy

Source: Facebook

Liberal democracy in Australia is under threat, suggests a discussion paper released yesterday by the Senate’s inquiry into nationhood, national identity and democracy. “Around the world, voters seem increasingly dissatisfied with how democratic politics works for them,” the paper opens. “Public trust in democratic institutions is declining. Notions of national identity, which can be the roots of a democratic community, are changing as our world becomes increasingly interconnected. Political divisions appear to be increasing in the face of rapid economic, social and cultural change.”

The paper cites damning figures to illustrate the decline. In 2007, 86 per cent of Australians were satisfied with how democracy works in Australia. The figure is now less than half of that, at 41 per cent. Only 31 per cent of Australians say they trust the federal government, and the approval rating for politicians is at 21 per cent. People surviving on the lowest incomes are least satisfied with democracy and the current order.

“As dissatisfaction with democracy has grown, the weight of political opinion has shifted away from the political centre,” the paper adds. “Political ideologies that were once considered fringe now command substantial support.”

The Labor-led committee considers politics in Australia, and identifies clowns to the left – eco-fundamentalists, postmodernists and adherents to identity politics – and jokers to the right – populists, conservative nationalists and nativists. Stuck in the middle, presumably, are the rest of the political class.

While the discussion paper was released to invite submissions, its clumsy references speak to two very real problems with democracy in Australia, and across most of the Western world. Firstly, the paper suggests that “both sides” are equally culpable for political extremism, and, secondly, it looks outward to find reasons for blame, rather than inward.

Inquiry leader Senator Kim Carr tried to walk the first issue back somewhat, telling Guardian Australia that the greatest threats to democracy were coming “predominantly from the right, not left, in this environment”, and citing “radical nationalism” in Europe and the Americas.

Branding postmodernists as an equally extreme force as nativists echoes the dangerous rhetoric spouted by President Donald Trump and others after white nationalist terror attacks in America. Admirers of obscure French-language theorists are not gunning down scores of worshipping Muslims, and fans of teenage climate-change activist Greta Thunberg aren’t shooting up schools to signal their rage.

That the discussion paper reads like the opinion pages of The Australian on a bad day shows the extent to which the appeal to civility politics is media driven, as many journalists and opinion-makers feel the need to appeal to a “silent majority” that is the mirror image of themselves.

It is telling that the inquiry has not thought to consider why people might hate the system – with the decline especially pronounced in the turmoil since Kevin Rudd was elected and deposed.

Such an inquiry is ripe to be hijacked by special interest groups keen to blame imaginary ills such as postmodernism – though they can scarcely define it – for all manner of problems. If the inquiry is to get close to understanding and resolving these problems, it might want to consider that the reason poor people are the least satisfied with the system is that they are repeatedly being done over by it. It might concede that people at the margins are rightly furious about our political system, and have no interest in being polite to those who degrade and humiliate them. It might acknowledge there very real differences between identity politics and the wave of white nationalist terrorism infecting the globe.

Any political leader who cannot understand why there has been significant erosion of faith in liberal democracy is not worthy of the title. It’s not kids participating in climate strikes who are responsible for the decline in trust in our democratic institutions. The rot is the responsibility of the political leaders who have failed to do anything about these issues in the first place.

“We will allege that Medibank incorrectly rejected claims or eligibility enquiries from over 800 members for benefits that they were entitled to and were paying for.”

The consumer watchdog has launched civil action against private health insurer Medibank, accusing it of incorrectly telling customers they were not eligible for some benefits, with serious health and financial consequences for those affected.

“This is the country that has seen off the Spanish Armada, the French emperor and the German Kaiser. Against Louis XIV, against Napoleon, against William II and then against Hitler, this country did not need Europe – it saved Europe.”

Tony Abbott has shown off his anti-elitist credentials by flying to London to give a speech on the virtues of Brexit at right-wing think tank Policy Exchange.

Reporting the Panama Papers
The reporter behind the Panama Papers, Bastian Obermayer, on how he handled the leak and what he has found in Australia.

The value of Australia’s current account surplus, the first since 1975. Driven by booming exports of iron ore and coal, the number isn’t as great as it looks, given most it goes back out of the country to resources firms that are majority foreign owned.

The Australian Medical Association has formally declared climate change a health emergency, joining other doctors’ groups around the world. The AMA points to “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future”.

The list

“Already it’s clear that The Nightingale will be divisive. The film’s Venice Film Festival premiere was marred by a journalist who hurled bizarrely personal abuse at the director at the conclusion of a press screening – Kent later responded with characteristic empathy ... In the wake of #MeToo and the phenomenal success of Game of Thrones, oft-criticised for the casual expediency of its rape scenes, the depiction of sexual violence onscreen has never been more contested. ‘Which is perplexing to me,’ says Kent.”

“From 2009, a series of successful Chinese-Australian entrepreneurs were targeted by the Chinese security system in ways that other Australians were not ... They were each jailed on fanciful charges, stripped of their assets, and mistreated until breaking point during interrogations. Henry Yang (Yang Hengjun) told me that if foreign governments could not fight to protect their own citizens, by pressuring Chinese officials to uphold their own laws, then what hope could Chinese citizens have? Then he was himself detained.”

“As if shoring up its allies and pissing on its foes, the Queensland government had one more announcement to make. Mines Minister Anthony Lynham declared that the state would open up more land in the Bowen Basin for coalmining. And so, alongside the ignition of rigs and machinery, there is an acceleration of protest, commercial pressure and civil disobedience.” 

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at www.ellehardy.com



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