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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

the decline of liberal democracy « Previous | |Next »
April 26, 2012

Harry Evans, the clerk of the Senate from 1988 to 2009, has an excellent interpretation of the importance of the Slipper affair in our political life. He puts it into the context of both major political parties being guilty of using the speakership as a place to park people to get them out of the way of the ministry, or to reward or buy them off – simply another job within the patronage of the party heavies, or worse, of the prime minister.

The result has been notoriously incompetent and biased speakers, who have seen their task as helping the government rather than the upholding of proper democratic processes of parliament. Anyone who watches question time in the House of Representatives would be aware of the problems caused by incompetent and biased speakers.


He connects this problem in the House of Representatives to the larger one of the decline of representative or liberal democracy. What Evans has in mind is not the way the democratic processes have been captured by the corporations; or the way that Murdoch's media empire can threaten to shape public opinion in order to persuade politicians so in awe of Murdoch that they leaped to accommodate him without him needing to ask out loud. They allowed him to circumvent the regulatory media law so that his empire could continue to expand.

Evans is focused on the degeneration or decay of the political institutions themselves. The problem he points out is that:

The House is seen as a low-quality debating panel controlled by the prime minister and its speaker as another government hack. There is very little public consciousness of the House as an institution separate from government, as a representative legislature and a control on government. Law-making is seen as something that governments do and lobbying as the way to influence the process. The House as such is not a player. This is a sorry situation for a basic institution of the country.

Those who want to reform the House usually aim to turn it into a true Parliament able to insist on accountability of government. Some minor steps were taken the Independents in their negotiations with the Gillard Labor to form government.

He adds that the next majority government is likely to return to business as usual. The speakership will be a government appointment and the old procedures, so favourable to the suppression of accountability, will be exploited to the full. The effect will be that public cynicism about government and politics will be reinforced; a cynicism we can add, that emerges from the cynical appeals by politicians to narrow self-interests, a bickering among narrow partisan forces; and the use of ideology, spin and symbolism rather than rational discourse as a means of influencing public opinion.

A majority government returning to business as usual means the dictatorship of the executive; one that has been captured by corporate interests that use their power to block reforms that go against their commercial interests. So we have the squeezing of discussion and openess, which are two aspect of the liberal form of democracy--the affairs of states are to be conducted on the basis of open discussion between proponents of competing ideas. The inference is that the unrestrained clash of opinion (competition) will produce harmony.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)


Gee that cartoon is offensive propaganda on multiple levels.