The end of the world is not nigh but we should watch our step.   

There's too much doom and gloom being talked about the decline of our political system.  To hear some commentators talk you'd think the end of the world is coming because there have been a few one-term governments elected recently.  More frequent political change is surely not a bad thing and simply shows increasing voter impatience with governments who don't perform or who persist with unpopular projects like Melbourne's East-West tunnel; it might even improve their performance!

The other thing that rouses the ire of commentators is the fact that the last two Federal Parliaments have been 'hung', that is that there are enough independents in the Senate to make it uncertain whether government legislation will be passed. Again surely it's also a good thing that governments are forced to take into account the views of independent senators if, as politicians are fond of saying, they are governing for all Australians? 

However there is a chalk and cheese difference between the three experienced and responsible National Party independents with the balance of power that the former Gillard Government had to deal with, and the current list of eccentric senators elected with low primary votes and the vagaries of the preferential system; all manipulated by a multimillionaire with an axe to grind about current mining, railway proposals and tax changes before the parliament.

There is no doubt that drastic Senate reforms are desirable; click to read some suggestions, 'Reform is in the national interest.'

Mr Abbott is fond of declaring the election he won has given him a mandate to pass certain legislation but that's not true: all he has is a mandate to pass legislation that is agreed to by both houses of parliament.  He also says he was elected as Prime Minister by the people of Australia, which also isn't true.  He was elected into the Parliament by the voters in his electorate and made Prime Minister by a vote of the parliamentary Liberal Party, a fact which current events are making crystal clear.  Changing the leader isn't a sign of instability but a necessary democratic (and survival) action to ensure continuity of government if the PM isn't performing.

Journalistic concern about the grave 'instability' of our politics culminated in the following sentences from a Tom Elliot piece in theHerald Sun;

"Massive electoral swings in Queensland and Victoria, plus leadership instability in Canberra, suggest democracy isn't working right now. It's time we temporarily suspended the democratic process and installed a benign dictatorship to make tough but necessary decisions."

It's dangerous stuff to suggest that democracy isn't working when if anything, it's working too well. Just what are the 'tough but necessary decisions' that would justify such an action?  And the suggestion that we might install 'a benign dictatorship' shows ignorance of the lessons to be learnt from the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in the Thirties. 

It bears repeating again and again how it happened. Hitler came to power through participation in the democratic process and the invitation of the lawful authorities.  The Nazi Party took part in five parliamentary elections, and on three successive occasions they increased their popular vote and number of deputies.  They never won an outright majority but in a short time had established themselves as the largest party in the Reichstag. 

In the aftermath of the Great War and the reparations imposed by the victorious Allies, the world wide Depression that followed ten year after the War, and a constant environment of unemployment and hyperinflation, conservatives were so concerned about the possibility of a communist takeover that they were prepared to overlook aspects of the Nazis that were not perhaps so apparent at that early stage. 

When a mysterious fire broke out in the Reichstag, Hitler claimed it was a Red plot, arrested the communist leaders, won 44% of the popular vote in a frenzied anti-communist atmosphere, then calmly passed an Enabling Act granting the Chancellor dictatorial powers for four years.  Following the President's death in August 1934, Hitler called a plebiscite to approve his own elevation to the new party-state position of' Fuhrer and Reich Chancellor with full emergency powers, and this time he received 90% support.  In the final path to the summit he had not breached the German constitution once.

In his magisterial 'Europe: a history', Norman Davies sums up:

'Hitler's democratic triumph exposed the true nature of democracy.  Democracy has few values of its own: it is as good, or as bad, as the principles of the people who operate it.  In the hands of liberal and tolerant people, it will produce a liberal and tolerant government; in the hands of cannibals, a government of cannibals.'

This is the point that should be emphasized at a time when the Abbot Government is proposing to pass new legislation about national security and the retention of metadata that will override some of our traditional civil liberties.  

Threats to our national security haven't changed in the last ten years, except their current use by a Prime Minister struggling to maintain his political position.  And there's not a lot that can be said as most of the security organisations like ASIO don't ever give out any information so whether they are efficient, whether we are getting value for money, just exactly what have they have achieved (including their fuck-ups) are all shrouded in secrecy.

There's a good article in New Matilda by Ben Eltham which attempts to answer the question and which concludes that 'the truth is, we can't really know. In 2013-14 alone ASIO carried out 159,288 counter-terrorism security assessments, and we also know that ASIO has a workforce of over 1,500 full-time agents and officers, and an annual appropriation of more than $400 million.  The Australian Federal Police has an appropriation of $1.3 billion and its own counter-terrorism force. The government also announced an extra $630 million for counter-terrorism and national security recently' 

That's a lot of resources being spent without any scrutiny, resources that could be better spent elsewhere.


Then there's the question of how people as a whole react to all this.  The above picture shows 40,000 Danes demonstrating in support of their government's defense of their Jewish minority.  I doubt our current government could get a crowd like this to demonstrate support for their policies on immigration or security?  Or could they?         

However try and imagine this larger scenario.  Imagine our government uses it's new, quite legal security powers to declare a state of national emergency and bans environmental groups as not being in the national interest because of their support for renewable energy and their opposition to the continuing use and sale of our massive coal resources.

The fine print in the Regulations attached to the Act banned all printed material and public meetings about climate change. What could individuals like us do?  What do I do when two gentlemen in raincoats knock on my door at midnight and 'suggest' I should discontinue this blog, that I was breaking the law and everyone who received it would be fined?

Claiming that global warming was a form of international eco-terrorism, what if government-backed demonstrations were organised with squads of 'Cronulla Boys' to keep order?  Who would oppose them, not architects or most of the professional classes in my experience!  Most people would simply be bewildered into inaction, the government had after all done nothing illegal and their overweening powers didn't require them to supply any information or answer any questions (it's about security remember).

It all sounds too far fetched, doesn't it, and while a black uniform, peaked cap and polished leggings would suit Scott Morrison, it couldn't happen here, could it? 
One hopes not, but remember Norman Davies' description of democracy, that it's only as good as the people involved, and also only as good as our willingness to stand up and make our opposition felt.  Journalists should be more responsible and not even hypothetically suggest 'suspending' our democratic freedoms.

 The end of the world is not nigh yet, but we should watch our step; people should stop shopping and pay attention!

Don Gazzard LFAIA
March 2015